Monday, November 30, 2009

I'm a Peacemaker

I'm the peacemaker in my family. Perhaps it has something to do with being the middle child. I believe I read somewhere that's a telltale trait of a middle child--serving as the one who maintains peace between family members.

It's a tough job, riddled with responsibility and anxiety. I don't know if it's expected of me or if I expect it of myself. All I know is I have a serious need for harmony and peace. If two members of my family are fighting, I just have to intervene. I've always been this way.

It's certainly a plus for those who need a referee, but not so much a plus for me. I've stuck my neck out many times, coming to someone's aid, only to put myself in harm's way. Back in fourth grade, standing at the bus stop, a boy I considered a bully was harassing my sister and my girlfriend. He was my age, but, of course, a boy, bigger and stronger. I moved between him and the two girls, trying to get him to stop. His response was to pull his arm back and punch me in the mouth. Shocked and bleeding, my first and only thought was to run. I was, after all, 9 years old and a child of the early sixties-- a time when boys simply did not hit girls. It was unheard of. A major no-no. (At least, where I lived.)

This story had a happy ending for me with the boy getting yelled at by the principal, my mother, his mother, his teacher and my teacher, but still, none of it would have happened if I'd simply hung back and kept my mouth shut. But I just can't do that.

Fast forward to 2009 and I'm still doing my best to come between warring factions. Should I just let my husband and teenage son hurl obscenities back and forth like Frisbees, or step in before they hurt each other? Well, recently, I did nothing. It was just a war of words, but the blast in the air glowed for hours. I know I'll have to find a way to make peace between them because they won't do it themselves. Too much pride on each side.

I will have to choose the right time, the right words, the right approach. A hefty responsibility for me to shoulder.

But I'm a peacemaker. That's what I am. That's what I do.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

It's time to be thankful...


Are you ready for Christmas? No?

Well, why not? After all, when I visited my mom today in the nursing home the little Charlie Brown Christmas tree was already up. Or perhaps they never took it down. (Sadly, my mother passed away this past May, 2009)

It's kind of sad the way Thanksgiving gets lost in the shuffle. The media does make a big deal about Halloween with stores bursting with decorations, masks, costumes, and accessories. Why, my daughter even sent me on a frantic last-minute mission to purchase some fake blood. No costume is complete without it. So Halloween gets its share of attention.

And now, apparently, it's time to move on to Christmas shopping. Time to decorate, play those timeless songs, and get out there and hit the stores. Except...

What about turkey day? Where are the turkey songs on the radio? Are there any? Surely there must be SOME Thanksgiving songs? Is Thanksgiving really just one day in November? Or perhaps we should be celebrating it all month long. If the holiday is about giving thanks, maybe we should be doing that every day in November.

So today I tried to put aside my griping about the poor economy, my many bills, and lack of money. I have a roof over my head. It's a leaking one, but it's a roof. (We have since had our roof repaired!) I have clothes to wear. I have enough food to eat. I can feed my kids. My health is not perfect, but it's good. I have a great family and wonderful relatives. I have a one week old great-niece, just starting out in life who will move our family into a new era. (She turned one year old this past October!)

Today I told my sister, "I'm thankful for everything I have." And I'll try very hard to remember that all the days leading up to Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Gift or Guilt?

How do you feel about charities?

This is the time of year when we're bombarded with requests for donations from food banks, The Salvation Army, and a slew of other organizations.

Nothing wrong with giving. In fact, it's a wonderful thing to do. The problem is there are too many charities and each person's wallet only holds so much. And that's where GUILT comes in.

Every time I visit my local grocery store, I'm forced to walk past The Salvation Army bell ringer. There he is ringing his bell and we all know what that means. I know what it means. But my focus is on filling up my grocery cart with needed items. "Maybe I'll toss some money into the kettle on my way out", I think to myself. And sometimes I do. Believe me, I do. But the problem is I'm at that grocery store quite frequently during the week. That means I have to encounter the bell ringer on numerous occasions. I can't contribute every single time. But IF I have to walk past him without donating some coins, I feel guilty. Ah, the guilt!

It's gotten so I've had to figure out some sneaky ways to outfox him. If he's at the left hand entrance to the store, I enter via the right hand side. (Even if I have to walk all around to the other side of the parking lot.) And of course I do the same thing when I'm exiting. Crafty, yes, but effective.

Then I'm riddled with guilt twofold. First, I've failed to give a donation. Second, I've chosen stealth to avoid giving a donation (or being detected).

But if my mounting guilt should get the best of me one of these days, I see only one solution. I'll just race up to the bell ringer with a big smile on my face, open up my purse and spill every last dollar and cent into his kettle. "Merry Christmas!"

Heck, I'll even throw in the purse. And my hat. And my gloves. And my coat.

Free of guilt at last!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

How Many Other Things Are We Missing?

I just read an interesting anecdote in an email I received from the songwriting group I belong to. I'll try to summarize it and then this post will be my response.

On a January morning in 2007 in a Washington DC Metro Station, violinist Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world, performed a little social experiment on an unwitting audience of about 2000 people on their way to work. In the course of about 45 minutes, he played 6 Bach pieces while men, women and children passed through the station. In that whole time only 6 people stopped to listen, about 20 threw some money into the hat, and Bell collected about $32.00. Now the crowd did not know who this musician was. They didn't know he had played very intricate musical pieces on a very expensive violin and had appeared just two days ago in Boston in a sold-out show to a crowd who paid about $100 per ticket.
The question raised from this experiment is if we do not have time to stop and listen to a very talented musician playing beautiful music with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made, how many other things are we missing?

I think this is an important question for us to consider. We lead busy lives, always scrambling to get to work on time, get to appointments on time, get to school on time--our goal is simply to get there. But what if we're missing something important along the way? How important is it to be on time anyway? What if someone falls down, collapses on the sidewalk? Do we step over that person because they're in the way? Or do we stop and help? And how about simply observing and appreciating something beautiful that pops up unexpectedly in our busy day?

What if you had been there to witness the violinist at Metro Station? Do you think you would have stopped to listen?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Enjoy the Ride

Life is a carousel ride. Choose your horse and climb aboard. Pick a pretty one or one that's just the right size for you. Hold on tightly as the ride starts up and spins you 'round and 'round. For once you're strapped in, there's no stopping, no getting off no matter what.

Life will take you where it wants to go. Close your eyes and listen to the music as your body's lifted up and down. Open your eyes and scan the beautiful sights flying by--rivers, grass, trees, children, babies in buggies.

When the ride is over, time has slipped away. You are still you, but older now. This carousel ride can be fun, exciting, scary, adventurous, short or long. But the length of the ride is not what matters; it's the ride itself.

Let's try to enjoy the ride!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Snip, snip, snip...

I am working on my novel for the National Novel Writing Month competition. Competition in a sense because I'm not actually competing with anyone but myself. This year I hope to finally complete my 50,000 words by the end of November.

So the following is a passage from my novel. I've been playing around with it, tinkering. We are not supposed to nitpick at this point, but I can't help it. After I finished reading the wonderful novel, Water for Elephants the other day, I found myself looking at my own prose differently, scrutinizing each line. The copy I borrowed was the large print version, and now when I close my eyes at night, I see big words running across the canvas of my dreams. Very strange.

This passage from my novel is pretty self-explanatory.

Standing before the mirror, April checked herself out. Her hair needed brushing so she removed a brush from her purse. As she swept it through her hair, a dim memory surfaced of her mother brushing her hair when she was little. A fond memory for sure, but one of the only good ones she could recall. Most of what she could remember was just a vast amount of time spent alone since her mother often neglected her. Alone in her room, she found solace in her books and drawings. And, of course, her imaginary friends. April stopped brushing and stared at her reflection. Her mother had told her she had beautiful hair, the kind men would admire one day. Her mother had the same kind of hair and primped for hours whenever she was going out. April was too young to know where her mother went at night. She thought perhaps her mom was a waitress at some cocktail place, but didn't know for sure. All she knew was that her mother went out night after night instead of being there to help her with her homework or talk to her or spend any time with her.

I've just gone over this passage again, making a few more snips. I keep finding new things to fix.

So what's your writing method? Keep fixing as you go, or wait 'til later?

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Whenever I read that little abbreviated copy, I immediately think of Robin Williams as Mork in the old show Mork and Mindy. His trademark expression, "Nano nano" helped make him a star.

But participating writers know the above abbreviation stands for National Novel Writing Month. The goal: write a novel in a month. I've given it a shot for the past two years. The first time around, being a NaNo virgin, I didn't make the required 50,000 words by the end of November. It was much harder than I imagined. And I tried to do the unthinkable--write a good novel, one with a plot, character development, scenes that made sense, and sparkling prose. I edited as I went along, as I usually do when I'm writing. I guess that abbreviation should be more like "Nuh uh, nuh uh", as in "don't even try that." Why? Because stopping to edit and change things around takes time. In order to write 50,000 words by the end of the month a writer has to write approximately 1,666 words per day. Who has time to think, plan, and edit on a schedule like that?

So I failed at my first attempt. But I did learn some things. Sitting down to write each night requires dedication. I turned off the TV and secluded myself from my family members. No matter how much I wanted to run into the living room to find out what was so funny or what they were talking about, I didn't budge from my chair. And I found that the words flowed along, night after night, or usually did. Sometimes I got stuck. Then I got panicky. How was I supposed to complete my 1,666 words for the day if no words popped into my head? Sometimes I skipped scenes too hard to write. I'd go back to them later. Can't think of an interesting way to describe a character? I just threw in some "blah blah blahs" to fill the paragraph.

The second time around I believe I was dealing with illness and then family stuff. I still didn't complete the 50,000 words.

This time around I'm staying on track. I'll get this sucker written one way or another. It will be very hard to avoid fixing things since I was trained to do that in my job as an editor. I'll just have to shut one eye and keep typing.

The words will not be gems, but more like rocks. That's it--a bag of rocks.

So excuse me now. I've got some rocks to collect.

Monday, November 2, 2009

With a little luck...

I was discussing the notion of "luck" with some friends the other day. There are those who feel the good things that happen to us are a matter of hard work, perseverance, a positive attitude, etc., and those who feel it's simply a matter of good luck. I know Oprah thinks it's the former of these two. I've heard her say so on her TV show. I know I've always been cynical about this topic.

I'd like to believe hard work, setting goals, etc. will lead to dreams coming true, but I've never experienced it myself. While Oprah can claim these things are responsible for her being who she is today, I still say that luck plays a part in it. I hold fast to the belief that many, many people work hard in life, struggling to accomplish their goals and dreams. Let's take the example of a job interview. Let's say there is a good job in a given company, perhaps a copywriter for an advertising agency. There's only one job, but 50 people respond to the ad. Obviously, the decision maker has to weed out some candidates to get to the top 3 or so. Let's say three highly qualified candidates interview for this ONE position. One person will get the job; the other 2 will not. It is my contention that the person who is hired was LUCKY. If all three are equally qualified (for purposes of this discussion), luck has to enter into it.

And some people believe that a higher power is responsible for their good fortune in life. They pray to God for help, for good luck, for better health, etc., because they believe (perhaps) that happiness, good health, and success are beyond their own control. Or at least, they believe that God can help steer them in the right direction. I have no problem with this type of belief. My point is simply that some people use prayer as a way to try to make their goals and dreams become a reality. Let's say the person who got the job in the example above had prayed to God: please let me get this job! I guess he or she would believe that God heard that prayer and granted it.

But what if all three had said the same prayer? Two would be feeling a little let down.

So what do you think? Are some people in this world just luckier than others? Are some people doomed to fail over and over again but they never really know why? Does hard work pay off eventually for everybody? Is there some master plan for all of us in life, but it just takes some of us longer than others to figure out what that is?

What do you think?