Saturday, December 15, 2012

J.R.R.. Tolkien on Peril in the World...


"The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater."

J.R.R. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Pedigree Puppies Pay Their Own Way, Don't They? Part 2





This short story is (c) 2000 by Jeannette at Write Purpose

     When I set out to tell the story of how Gideon came into the world, I really had no idea that the account of his mother’s prior litter would demand to be told first.  I don’t think I had thought of that experience consciously for quite some time.  But then all that that might prove is that I tend not to focus on subjects that are tinged with my chagrin. Now that I have shared my memory of that day, I will as promised, and as straightforwardly as possible, tell you about how Gideon made his costly way into the world and our hearts.  If you are a person who believes in learning from other’s mistakes, this story could - well, forgive me, you can figure that part out probably better than I can. But in case you are afraid of sad endings, I will tell you, as Ma Ingalls used to tell her girls in the big woods, on the prairie and by the banks of Plum Creek, “All’s well that ends well.”  
     Well, well, two years after Josie had successfully whelped five healthy pups, my youngest daughter was reviewing the countless photographs we had taken during those happy weeks. “Look, Mom, here’s Josie’s five puppies all lined up and  nursing. Oh, look at them peeking out of their box.  And here they are the first time we played with them under the apple tree.”
     I was able to avoid saying, “And your point is?”  I knew it would do no good.  Stalling the inevitable would not be a good idea either; if we were going to breed Josie again, it should be at the soonest opportunity.  She had just turned five years old.  
     “It’s probably her last chance to have puppies again,” my daughter said. “ If she got pregnant this fall,” she reasoned, “they would be Christmas puppies.” 
     So my daughter had already thought about the timing. And I suppose that I should be thinking about timing too, as I did promise to tell you this tale forthwith.  So suffice it to say that a very convincing daughter appealed for puppies just one more time and the decision was made. Now I might have to send forth this account into the world without any family proofreading of the same, as it could easily depart from any discussions of my grammar, syntax or spelling and focus at great length on who gets the most attached to the puppies, or whose idea was it to do all this anyway? And so alone, with no support from the real instigators of this project, I submit my account.
     On September 9th, 1998, the expensive journey began.  In all due consideration to the prospective sire, even though Josie is a very proper stay at home girl, she visited her doctor to be screened for communicable diseases. Her clean bill of health stating she was not a carrier of Canine Brucellosis totaled eighty dollars and twenty-five cents. 
     We were disappointed to learn that the sire of her first litter had retired.   He was a champion fellow and- but wait, if I start thinking about him and all his charms that will take us back again to that first episode and we must press on to the tale of the second litter. 

     A likely second father was found.  I know all the reasons I am supposed to say that we picked him; we had read just enough about line breeding, when to outcross, and how to seek virtues while avoiding or genetically compounding faults to be a bit overwhelmed.  Let’s be honest, we liked his looks, he was spunky and he had a pedigree. 
     Not only was the young fellow sporting a name of a large stock brokerage, and running under the nickname of “Broker,” but his sire also carried the name of a very old and large bank. Was I seeing dollar signs?   It was not until we explored back into the previous generation that we found that a Dame named Dark Memory and a sire called The Black Bandit had also contributed their genetic gift to whatever progeny were to be born from the union arranged and paid for with Broker’s groom price of four hundred dollars.  I suppose it is only fair to reveal that Josie herself had a bit of infamy in her background having a grandsire who earned the moniker of Tom Foolery.
     Alas, Christmas came and went and although Josie gained a wee bit of weight from the treats and goodies pressed upon her to compensate for her supposed condition, she was not pregnant and no puppies were in her Christmas stocking or ours.
     When a reputable breeder offers a dog at stud, there is a guarantee that if the mating does not produce two live births, a second mating is offered at her next regular season. So, on April 14, 1999, Josie once again, in consideration of her mate to be, visited her doctor and this time, for a mere one hundred and fourteen dollars, was pronounced both healthy and fertile.  Are you prudent accountants, keeping track of this?  At the time, the running total did not bother me, because everyone knows for how very much we could sell all the puppies; but I think we are now up to five hundred-ninety- four dollars and twenty-five cents.
     This time we were sure the happy day would truly approach.  We had noticed some abdominal swelling around five to six weeks after the honeymoon and sure enough her appetite had increased.  The normal gestation period for a Shetland sheepdog is nine weeks. We made those little purchases that you hardly think twice about; iodine, surgical soap, straw and shavings for the bed, milk replacer just in case, and a new nail trimmer.  Twenty-two dollars and fifty-five cents here, and thirteen dollars and seventeen cents there and five dollars and thirty-four cents later, we were ready for the big day. I think that brings us to a grand total of six hundred fifty-three dollars and thirty-one cents invested in this prospective new little family.
     As the time approached, we dutifully took her temperature from the nether end, every morning and evening. When it dropped we knew that labor would come within the next twenty-four hours.  We clipped the inner layers of her feathering coat from her hindquarters and washed her tummy with surgical soap.  We sterilized our tools; no plastic handles allowed this time.  
     Josie woke up irritable and anxious.  She whined and wouldn’t eat; the day had come.
Whatever appeared in my backyard, skunk, possum, fox, deer, or a fire breathing dragon, you can be sure I wouldn’t be calling the animal control for any help this time. 
     I just love the books about the birthing of puppies that tell you how you shouldn’t worry or disturb your dog, just speak gently to her and show her the nice clean whelping box you have prepared and she will settle in and begin her labor.  My dog was convinced that where she belonged was outside under a bush in a dirt hole she had constructed under the innate guidance and direction bequeathed to her by her creator, but of course we were there to help her and she eventually capitulated probably out of sheer exhaustion.
     And then the really long night began.  She had roamed around and rested throughout the day.  Finally after our dinner her labor appeared to begin in earnest.  She panted and moaned and let us hold her quivering sides. One by one, exhaustion struck us all. Everyone had had a full day of work or school, but we vowed to always have one of us stay awake with her.
     It seemed strange that she had been through so much and her water had not yet broken. When it did break it should mean that the first puppy was in the birth canal and should emerge within about fifteen minutes.  It was now after midnight and if we were to need assistance we would have to go to the emergency animal hospital.  Every time she got out of her whelping box to pace around we had to disinfect her feet before she got back in. 
     I slept for several hours and then my husband shook me awake at 4am and said, “It’s your turn and she insists on sitting outside on the deck.” 
     I turned two cushioned chaise lounges to face one another and Josie and I began the next watch of the morning together.  I had never felt quite so close to her before. Her soft brown eyes were looking at me with such appeal.  “I know girl, I see your plight.  This is the point of no return; you just have to do it.”  I remember thinking that it has been about this point in the delivery of my first child that I wished that I had been a nun in a convent.  I pet Josie’s head in sympathy.  I had a blanket around my shoulders against the chill of the early summer morning.  The stars comforted me. I thanked Josie for getting me out into a time of the morning I usually miss.   An owl flew from one great tree to another and I lifted my head just in time to see him float over me.  It took my breath away. 


Josie's Owl
     
     Josie’s contractions seemed hard, but nothing that was supposed to happen was happening.  My heart sank.  Light began to creep up from the east.  One of the great white heron that nest in the neighbor’s evergreens flew over the deck.  I got the message.  We had to get this girl some help.  I woke my husband and we mobilized ourselves to be waiting at the veterinarian when he opened.  Her water had broken so now things had to proceed rather quickly.
     We were asked detailed questions about how long she had been in labor and how far apart her contractions had been, had there been bleeding, had she kept moving.  “You should have called me last night,” he said.  It’s amazing that she is still alive. How could you let her go so long?  We’ll have to take an x-ray,” he said. “Something is wrong.”
     I hung my head.  When I expressed my fear that an x-ray might not be good for the puppies.  “Neither would missing their birthday,” the doctor had replied.  My husband and I waited alone in the small room while she was taken off for an x-ray.  
     “There is just one puppy in there,” the doctor said, as he clipped the x-ray onto the light panel in front of us.  “I doubt that it is alive.  I will have to deliver her cesarean to save her life.  She is getting weak.  We’re monitoring her right now.” 

     I looked at the x-ray. There was the spine of my brave girl and within her womb, as if lying in a hammock on a summer day was slung one very large puppy.  You could say that he was both upside down and backwards.  He looked so peaceful in there.  His front paws were crossed on his chest. I could see his tiny vertebrae and the line of his tail.  “Oh, please save them both,” I cried.  The veterinarian said he would do what he could at this point in time and asked me to step up front to sign the necessary releases.  
    We waited, watching others bring in their little friends for shots and removal of foxtail burrs and investigation of ear mites.  Oh the ills to which all flesh is heir.
     Finally a smiling doctor called us in. “I saved him,” he said proudly.  But when I asked if I could name the little fellow after him, perhaps his middle name, he declined stating that no one would want his middle name.
     Apparently Josie had developed cysts, so her ovaries were removed with her pup.  The vet said that it was amazing she had conceived even one pup. The cysts had blocked the release of hormones that would have moved her labor to complete birthing.  She could never have survived without surgical intervention.  We ever so gladly took our two doggies home and cheerfully paid the five hundred fifteen dollars and thirty-four cents bill.  If you are keeping track, this little guy now represented eleven hundred nine dollars and fifty-nine cents.  And when a puppy is that valuable, well, you just have to keep him.  
     I am happy to report that the two of them are happy and healthy together.  The only untoward thing that has happened to either of them of late was that Josie ate one peach pit too many this summer.  Gideon is quite a jumper and they had worked out a deal where he would knock them down and then they’d gorge together. I’m not even going to tell you what the bill was for that little episode.  But I will tell you this; pedigree puppies do not always pay their own way.

Pedigree Puppies Pay Their Own Way, Don't They? Part 1 of 2

a Short Story in Two Parts  (c) 2000




Our dog Gideon is truly fortunate to have found his way into the world.  His mother, Josie, a lovely Sheltie in the Banchory line, had whelped a healthy litter of five in her younger days, but Gideon was conceived in Josie's sixth spring.  Unbeknownst to us, she had developed some troubles of a delicate nature.  Her veterinarian later said that he couldn’t understand how she conceived at all. 

We however, had some idea of how she had conceived, having seen to all the expensive matrimonial arrangements with a sire whose registered name was borrowed without interest from a well-known large stock brokerage.  He is a handsome fellow who answers to the nickname of Broker.  I’m not kidding. 

All monetary considerations aside, the expensive honeymoon seemed to go well. Three days later we brought Josie back home and anxiously watched her for signs of pregnancy.  The weeks passed and she did seem to be with child. We fed her extra protein rich cottage cheese and made her chicken broth to nourish all those little puppies within her.

When she was ready, I was ready; after all I was experienced, this was her second litter.  I felt much more ready than I had been for Josie's first litter though I had tried hard to be prepared then too.  I had my emergency directions on three by five cards and studied several instruction books extensively. I bought sharp new scissors and borrowed a hemostat from my neighbor. But I still remember the afternoon of the first litter with chagrin.  I had been boiling my needed tools in a pot on the stove when a skunk weaving around in our back yard distracted me. It was broad daylight.  I was alarmed.  Was the skunk rabid?  I called animal control and ran around closing windows.  Josie was out hollowing out yet another nest in another flowerbed.  Some prospective mothers hang flowered wallpaper, but Josie went for the freshly dug cool bowl of earth with bowers of flowers above her. 

I realized that I better bring her inside before she got skunked, but she didn't want to come in. She was in the pacing and panting stage of labor.  Oh my, I better get ready; puppies really were on their way.  The last thing I needed was for Josie or me to get skunked.  There might not be enough tomato juice in the world to cut the stench of a direct attack. And then there was the possibility that this drunk looking little guy might be rabid. Come on in, Josie, please.

I still hadn’t yet convinced my primally focused mother–to-be to follow my requests when I heard the doorbell ringing.  It must be animal control, I thought, I’d just go meet them outside, in front of the house.  I could hear the phone ringing inside and hoped the children would just let the answering machine pick it up.

At the front of our house was one of our blue uniformed local gendarmes, Officer Sykes.  He said he was responding to the skunk report.  I thanked him, but expressed surprise that he was from the police department and not from the animal control.

"They only work the county.  You’re inside city limits.  I can take care of it," he said, and laid his hand on his sidearm. 

 At that moment my thirteen-year-old daughter opened the front door.  "Mom, the pot smells awful."

Officer Sykes wrinkled his nose and pushed my front door open further.  I stood helplessly behind him on my own front porch.  He looked at my daughter. "What is that smell and why aren't you at school?" he asked.

Before she could answer him, my sixteen-year-old daughter appeared at her side to announce to me that my answering service had a client crisis holding on the line for me.  "And Mom, the pot smells just awful.  Do you have to do that?"

"And you too," Officer Sykes said, eyeing my darling girl with her long blond hair, padding around barefoot in her flannel pajamas. "Why aren't you in school?" he asked, pulling out his investigative note pad.

"We’re home schooled," the girls answered simultaneously.

"And today we are having puppies," my younger daughter added.

"Smells kind strange here.  I'd better check this out,” Officer Sykes announced as he strode in my front door. “This is toxic, we better open all the windows and air this house out.  Get outside girls.”  

I ran in behind him.  "But I just closed the windows so the skunk smell wouldn’t come in.  And I don’t want my children outside with a possibly rabid skunk,” I said. But the air in the house was worse then skunk.  It smelled perfectly poisonous.

"You know there’s a law that everyone under sixteen must attend school," the officer said as he heaved open a window in my kitchen and the unmistakable strong odor of fresh skunk rushed in to compete with the aroma of the melted red plastic handles of the new scissors I’d been sterilizing.

"Mom, your answering service is on the line, some lady is in crisis and holding," my daughter reminded me.

"Sweetie, just tell them to tell her I will be right there, if she could just wait one moment."  Just what I need right now, a client emergency.

I was more anxious than ever to get Josie in away from the skunk as I was totally bewildered about the officers approach to skunk control.

"How will you trap the skunk?"  I asked him.

He patted his gun again. " I'm not going to trap him, gonna shoot him," he said as he peered into my saucepan of melted whelping instruments.  “What’s the hemostat for?” he asked.  

“To clamp the umbilical cord of the puppies,” I explained. "If you'd excuse me, I've got to get my dog in and then answer this telephone call.  I thought you would just catch the skunk in some have- a- heart kind of trap.  I had no idea you would shoot it. Won't it stink up your patrol car to take a dead skunk off in it?"

"I'll put it in the trunk in a plastic bag," he said.  "I've got gloves.  Well, I'll just go take a look around."

"Let me just get my dog first," I said. "I'll be right back."  I darted out the back door wondering if I could scare that poor stupid troublesome little skunk off without getting sprayed.

As the door closed behind me I could hear the officer asking my daughter if we didn't have a fan we could put on to blow the plastic fumes out of the house. Why didn’t I think of that?  I found Josie under a huge fern in my shade garden and drug her up the stairs and into the kitchen.  The garden was ripe with his odor, but I’d seen no sign of the skunk.

Back in the kitchen, Officer Sykes unclasped his holster and said, "Okay, you’ve got your dog.  I will be having to check up on this home schooling business, but I guess it was just plastic I smelled in here so I will go get the skunk now. You girls stay inside, I may have to shoot it."  

While Officer Sykes patrolled our yard, I took the emergency client call. It was a very tender hearted woman that I had just started seeing who was worried that her husband might be having an affair.  "Sorry, to make you wait," I said.  "What's going on?"

"The skunk," she said, "the stinking skunk, he does have a girlfriend."  I managed to get myself oriented to her point of view and after we both calmed down a bit we scheduled to meet at my office the following day.

Anyway, you can imagine how relieved I was when Officer Sykes returned from our garden and announced that although the smell of skunk was pronounced (that's what he said), he saw no sign of the offending creature and I'd have to call back later if I needed 
more help.  Oh, and he would be in touch about the school business.

That’s what happened the day that Josie and I whelped her first litter.  As  I said, I was much better prepared and more calm the second time, when Gideon came into the world and into our lives.  

*Josie with her first litter of five*
 The funny thing is that retrospectively it was that first birth that was so smooth. It was such a perfect home birth.  Each one of the five pups was strong and beautiful and Josie was a natural at mothering.  Well, she did nip a tiny toe off one little fellow, but all in all, it was a breeze.

Seven weeks later, named and renamed, cuddled and all loved up, we reluctantly said goodbye to all those five puppies who each were sold to wonderful homes.  Even with all the usual expenses of stud fee, extra mama dog food, new scissors, vet bills, shots and food for the puppies, Josie had earned dog chow and vet bill money for years to come.  
*Growing up and ready for their new families*
So the second time around I wasn’t even worried. You might even say that I was guilty of counting my chickens before they had hatched.  But, if you'll forgive me, the annals of Josie's second litter are just going to have to wait until part two of this story.  These memories of Sykes, skunks and scissors and all have just done me in.  And the police sirens are howling and now the dogs are joining in.  But I'll be back, with further tales of my attempts to have pedigree puppies who would pay their own way and how Gideon actually made his costly little way into the world and our hearts.

Part Two...click Here
                       
all rights reserved (c) 2000 Jeannette at Write Purpose

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Read...Admire what is Good and Write

I received a hand written letter from a young friend last week who tells me she  has been "starting books but keeps on getting writer's block."  I was amazed and excited that this young  woman is aspiring in the realm of writing but dismayed that she had let the concept  of "writer's block" enter into her self motivated exploration of creative fiction.  



Isn't it amazing enough that we take these letters and rearrange them into thoughts and feelings that represent our inner and outer worlds?  And when words don't flow onto the blank page hopefully we are stacking up experience in other realms...you know...out there alive and well in life day by day!

It's true that troubles and stress and illness can require the energy and impulse needed to be creative but  rather than concede to the idea of being or having a "writer's block" I want to encourage my young friend that it is better to focus on foundational building blocks.  Hands on living and solid reading  have been the master teachers of many writers.   If we  read texts that have survived the fires of time and fashion, we can study with the best of the best.

The spine of an old book that caught my eye on a  used book shelf

                            
Read old books...read great books...read the Good Book.


In William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White's classic Elements of Style   there is an encouragement to:

Write in a way that comes easily and naturally to you, using words and phrases that come readily to hand. But do not assume that because you have acted naturally your product is without flaw.

The use of language begins with imitation. The infant imitates the sounds made by its parents; the child imitates first the spoken language, then the stuff of books. The imitative life continues long after the writer is secure in the language, for it is almost impossible to avoid imitating what one admires. Never imitate consciously, but do not worry about being an imitator; take pains instead to admire what is good. Then when you write in a way that comes naturally, you will echo the halloos that bear repeating. ( p. 70 3rd Ed 1979 Macmillan Pub.) 
Abraham Lincoln was known to advise : 
A capacity  and taste for reading gives access to whatever has been discovered by others.  It is the key, or one of the keys, to the already solved problems.  And not only so; it gives a relish and facility for sucessfully pursuing the unsolved ones. ( p. 30   Abraham Lincoln Wit and Wisdom  1965 The Peter Pauper Press)

Annie Dillard asks: 
Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed? Can the writer isolate and vivify all in experience that most deeply engages our intellects and our hearts? Can the writer renew our hope for literary forms? Why are we reading if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness, and will press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so we may feel again their majesty and power? ( p. 73 The Writing Life  Harper & Row 1st Ed.)

And having read much  there is  just writing...a reader asked Annie Dillard, "Who will teach me to write?" Her answer:  "The page, the page, that eternal blankness... "( p. 58 The Writing Life  Harper & Row 1st Ed.)


I must thank my young friend for sharing with me that she has begun writing; it is an exciting adventure and one that I enjoy allowing myself.

All the best!
Jeannette

p.s. this post is with much love for A.M.M.











Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Stop, Drop and Write - First Aid with a Pen

Journaling never ceases to amaze me, not for the product on the page ( handwritten and tucked away, not these public pages) but for the internal trek across the landscape within.  Whether  the initial spark be troubles in the world, the arson of a stranger, accidental fire from a moment of carelessness in ones own camp,  or the spontaneous combustion of a loved one...a little time alone helps me to clean up my own tinder and wet down the vulnerable structures.

Often I start out removed, feeling the heat and not quiet sure I can battle the blaze:
6-26-12
Impartial, imperfect perceptions tangle up with each other and the amalgamations of fragments and dissimilar cultural artifacts pile up like junk yard sculpture. The noise of any channel of communication reduces the completeness and accuracy of the transmission.  To hear the trustworthy still small voice within, not only does the noise out and about need to fall away, quiet needs to well up from within me.

And then I plunge into the personal and descriptive  right after penning " ...but I am almost afraid to write in my own journal. "   But of course I do write in it, and I suppose I can always  do a little redacting with a black pen... process is messy... sorting out what others are up to can be helpful if it ultimately leads to kneeling down and checking out my own heart.

And eventually I wind up able to look out again...
There are wars and rumors of wars and boats on the bay and birds in the trees.  Pelicans fly by and elections take place in distant lands.  Men hold guns and children cower while grain grows in golden fields and bakers fire up ovens in the  early hours of unbroken mornings.  Trucks rumble by and birds cry out from their nests. 
And I get up and do the next thing...

I so often need to hear...."Therefore strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees..." ( Hebrews 12:12) and  "Let us not grow weary of doing good..."  ( Galatians 6:9).

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day serving as reminder...

Memorials, that we shouldn't forget ...

Two constellations are depicted in  bas-relief ,
 the winged horse,  Pegasus  and Pisces the fish.

Many of the World War II veterans that I know are getting on in years.  Most of them don't talk much about their experiences, but I remember Stan telling us one  afternoon about participating in the liberation of a camp in Germany.  Grammy  M. shared memories of her service as a nurse in Guadalcanal.   Paul's Normandy Beach memories and Herb and Paul sharing their perspectives of how world War II ended...what it mean to them,  challenged my understanding considerably. Mac, a special force for sure, served multiple times from Viet Nam to special duties in Bosnia...


In the the city of San Francisco, in  a grove of Monterey pine and cypress trees overlooking the Pacific Ocean, is a curved wall of native granite stone, a memorial for World War II Missing Soldiers.
"INTO THY HANDS, O LORD"
Last fall I stopped and  read some of the 413 names  of those who were lost or buried at sea in U.S. Pacific waters between 1941 and 1945. This Memorial was erected in 1960.




And now among us are younger vets from tours in Afghanistan and Iraq...and their families....and their families.


Recently I took a continuing education class on the spectrum of PTSD disorders:


    * Acute Stress Reaction
  **  Acute Stress Disorder
 ***  Acute Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
****  Chronic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
 "Post-trauma risks include poor social support and life stress.  A greater risk for developing Chronic PTSD may be conveyed by post-trauma factors (e.g., lack of social support and additional life stress) than pre-trauma factors. " This is a bottom line conclusion  from the VA/DoD  Clinical Practice Guideline for Management of Post-traumatic Stress.

So the take home message for all us who want to have a right response to those who have experienced real trauma is that the love, support, understanding,respect, admiration and opportunity that a person has after big trauma has more bearing on how they will ultimately do then who they were before the trauma. 


The statue at the San Francisco Memorial represents  a poetic and historical female personification of the United States,  the woman Columbia. 
 She has a lot of work to do...don't we?

                                         
                                                         


MEMORIAL from late Latin memoriale ‘record, memory, monument,’ from Latin memorialis serving as a reminder,’ from memoria memory.’










Thursday, February 2, 2012

"Nobody Owes You A Reading" The Writing Life of Ralph McInerny

Scholarly journals often have to arrive at just the right time in one's life to be fully read, unless you keep them around for a long time.  But time can sometimes take us even further from our stack of intentions.  Currently living in a small cottage I decided to gather up a pile of various publications and send them off to the second hand store.  Not long into my task I found myself sitting on the floor amidst the possible candidates reading with great interest, in a March 2006 publication, an article called "The Writing Life."  When I finished my read, I gently tore the pages from the journal and mailed them off to a friend who has every intention of writing a novel in his newly achieved retirement.


A month later I received a grateful note from said friend who had in turn made  copies of the article and sent it out to six of his friends. Why hadn't I kept a copy for myself?  Fortunately I realized I could reread the article on line.  I found The Writing Life  by  Ralph McInerny and enjoyed it again.  Now you have a link to the article too. Here's how it starts:
It is the rare reader of fiction who does not at some time or other consider becoming a writer. It comes and goes over the years for many, and some carry it about forever as an unredeemed promissory note to themselves. In their heart of hearts, they regard themselves as writers. When my first novel appeared, I got a note from a senior colleague to the effect that it was sly of me not only to think of writing a novel but actually to do it. ...


  Not having read any of the man's work,  I set out to make myself acquainted with him and learned that in 2009 he  retired from 54 years of teaching at Notre Dame and that he died in January of 2010.  He was both a published scholar and a prolific writer of fiction and it is quite evident through a number of eulogies that he was a giving man deeply appreciated by many.


In  the 1960's, in addition to his teaching and philosophical work, he began to write fiction. It is the story of how he made the transition from wanting to be a writer to becoming one that he tells in "The Writing Life" essay. 

And so it began. In the basement was a workbench, unlikely to serve its original purpose for me. It became my desk. It was L shaped. I plunked my typewriter on the short leg of the L and, standing, began. Every night, after we had put the kids to bed, I would go downstairs and write from ten until about two in the morning. The markets I was chiefly interested in were Redbook, Ladies' Home Journal, and Good Housekeeping. Their initial price for a story was a thousand dollars. I sent stories out, but I was always ready with others when they came back. There was never a time when I wasn't awaiting editorial word on one or more stories. This gave room for hope. In April I began to get messages on the rejection slips and then a letter from an editor at Redbook, Sandra Earl, telling me “close but no cigar,” and urging me to keep trying.


Those early times at my converted workbench were, I came to see, my apprenticeship. For someone who aspired to write fiction I was almost totally ignorant of how a story is made. The slick magazines operated on the Edgar Alan Poe principle that a story aims at a single effect. No sideshows, nothing that does not contribute to the point of the story. I would sometimes be asked what paragraph three on page seven was meant to do, would read it, find it lovely writing but effectively idle in the story. Out it went. I was learning that one writes for a reader. Writing is too often described as self-expression. But writing is the art of making a story that will engage and hold and satisfy the interest of the reader. I typed a slogan and pinned it over my typewriter: Nobody Owes You A Reading.



This image is quite stuck in my head...he stood and he stuck to it.
I have never been a reader of mystery novels, though I have certainly heard of the Father Dowling series, and I am not sure that I am up for scholarly texts on Thomas Aquinas, but I might  give Mr. McInerny a bit more reading...intrigued as am by the  title of his  memoirs,  I Alone have Escaped to Tell You


I'll let you know if I do and maybe you'll let me know what you think...
P.S. Despite the perusing that led me to this article,  I did resolutely give away a stack of journals at least three feet tall but not before noticing a poem by Ralph McInerny that I just posted  on my Bread on the Water Blog.  


Sending off that stack of journals made quite a bit of room for more reading material of the "old fashioned" kind.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Capturing those Quotes that Stimulate further Reflection and...

What I have learned from about twenty-years of serious reading is this: It is sentences that change my life, not books. What changes my life is some new glimpse of truth, some powerful challenge, some resolution to a long-standing dilemma, and these usually come concentrated in a sentence or two. I do not remember 99% of what I read, but if the 1% of each book or article I do remember is a life-changing insight, then I don’t begrudge the 99%. ~John Piper 
I have not read the book this quote is from nor anything from the author, but when I encountered this quote,  I recognized an experience I too have had.   As one ages, forgetting 99% of what you have read becomes an ever stronger possibility. 

And of course much of what one reads over the years is forgettable, some of it best forgotten...but words that are life changing, have life in them can be, to paraphrase an instruction in The Book of Common Prayer, read, marked and inwardly digested.  You are what you eat...

I  am currently reading a book on short story writing that has some great insights. It's valuable on many levels and yet due to the tone and perspective of the author I find myself unwilling to broadcast her gems. I may not begrudge the 99 %  I forget, but when work as a whole is marbled with mixed influence that requires significant work to sluice the gold from the dross, I am reminded how much matrix matters.  And it is what we draw into the very matrix of our own beings that matters the most.  
What will I do with Write Purpose and Bread on the Water this year?  There are a few  posts I have put up and then taken down... It is again the issue of  influence.

Recently I looked over entries that I began and never finished or chose not to post and found several that I began on boundaries.  Sometimes, seeing others' personal revelations on line, I  scurry off.  I remember a mandated group process class years ago, where one member offered herself up and others lured her  deeper into the woods of self revelation where wolves snarled and as a pack devoured her.  She completed the coursework, but did not become a psychotherapist. Perhaps it was ultimately a service to her.  She didn't belong, standing alone out in that field of work, but I couldn't reconcile the willingness of other up-and-comers to use her vulnerability against her.  And of course I learned that good Samaritans were next on the menu.
So what sort of reticent goop did I find trekking around in my unposted archives? 

2-11-11 The idea of making a true journal entry here is really beyond me.  Boundaries prohibit some revelations that would be completely central to the fluid stream of consciousness and dot connecting that are the benefits and delights of private writing.  Some boundaries are natural, true to my identity and are worthy  of observation, but others, though I may feel  their strong mandate may be external and unnecessarily restricting...
Okay, I am good with this...I don't want to do an on-line journal per se.  Journal and memoir writing, as rich and wonderful as it is, best not be confused with the art of literary fiction.  I may be both too otherwise occupied and too lazy to ever do the work fiction requires. 
7-2-11 As regards boundaries, the demands of work, profession, and identity are powerful. People ask,  "What do you do?"  Some people answer that question all the time with their neckline, from  collared priests to those sporting plunging cleavage on dark streets.  Others don't find identity in the doings of life.  Identity transcends what we do and yet we struggle with what how what we do  might be shaping, defining  or redefining us. 
Who can avoid asking "What am I doing?"  "What  have I done? "  " What can I do?"   "What  must I do? "
"What do you do?"  as a question is often just an honest attempt to get to know another, but sometimes,  it is asked just to size another up and compare how one fits into their personal hierarchy of importance.  Sometimes people are just asking how you put bread in your mouth, how do you get bread? Some want to know, if by their standards,  you can justify your existence.


Well themes such as these two unfinished, un-posted examples, apparently important to me, but thus far, hard for me to write about as they bring me up against my reticence, may have to come into clearer focus.