Religion, Responsibility, and Writing in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle”

Cat's Cradle

I finished Cat’s Cradle last night in my journey through 1960s literature.  I don’t know if it brought me closer to my destination, but it was certainly provided me a wild and thrilling ride.  Before I move on to other works, I want to reflect briefly on three more passages of the book that demonstrate its depth.

First, when “Papa” – San Lorenzo’s fiercely anti-Bokonist dictator is dying an agonizing death, he demands Bokonist last rites.  Only his former Nazi doctor is willing to risk administering them (since the penalty for doing so would be “the hook”).  The narrator asks the doctor –

“Are you a Bokonist?”

“I agree with one Bokonist idea.  I agree that all religions, including Bokonism, are nothing but lies.”

“Will this bother you as a scientist?”  I inquired, “to go through a ritual like this?”

“I am a very bad scientist.  I will do anything to make a human being feel better, even if it’s unscientific.  No scientist worthy of the name could say such a thing.”

Earlier, the narrator had asked someone if anything was sacred in Bokonism and the answer was “only human beings.”  Though Bokonist teachings are based on self-proclaimed lies, the principal Bokonist value (honoring individual human life) is one that the heroic characters of the novel portray.

Next, Frank Hoenikker (son of Felix – one of the fathers of the atomic bomb), after being selected to become the next President of San Lorenzo, manages to pawn off the job on the narrator.  Reflecting on this, the narrator writes –

And I realized with chagrin that my agreeing to be boss had freed Frank to do what he wanted to do more than anything else, to do what his father had done: to receive honors and creature comforts while escaping human responsibilities.  He was accomplishing this by going down a spiritual oubliette.

An oubliette is literally a dungeon from which there is no escape.  The Latin root for the word is the same root for the word “oblivion”.  The narrator recognizes here, only too late, that to have power without accountability is a deadly recipe for any individual and for the society around him.

Finally, Vonnegut plugs the value of literature through a conversation between the narrator, Dr. Julian Castle (a humanitarian who founded and operated the San Lorenzo hospital) and his son Philip who wrote a history of the island before opening a hotel.  Philip ponders if writers should go on a general strike “until mankind comes to its senses”.  The narrator responds passionately –

“When a man becomes a writer, I think he takes a sacred obligation to produce beauty and enlightenment and comfort at top speed.”

I turned to Castle the elder.  “Sir, how does as man die when he’s deprived of the consolations of literature?”

“In one of two ways,” he said, “putrescence of the heart or atrophy of the nervous system.”

When we lack good literature, either our hearts become stone or our minds turn to mush.

So the message to those of you who write is… keep making beautiful sense as fast as you can, for the sake of humanity.

(image “Cat’s Cradle” from Megan Van Horn in To Read)

For Allison (my former muse)

Just a beautiful young woman by *katz
When I was a senior in college (before Al Gore invented the Internet), I set out to write a book.  To accomplish this, I needed a muse.  I had three requirements –
1)    She had to be beautiful.
2)   She had to be smart.
3)   She had to be passionate about creativity.
As if by divine decree, along came Allison.  Allison was a lively young woman with wavy shoulder length hair, an athletic build, and a wonderful smile.  Her eyes sparkled with hopeful curiosity as we talked about God, music, and mostly writing.
Every night after dinner I would turn to her and ask, “Can I follow you around like a puppy dog?”  She would smile.  We would walk to the Point (overlooking the Ohio River) and I would tell her about my story.  Her body reacted with each scene, she listened so attentively.
Some nights we snuck into the chapel and lay on the floor looking up at the ceiling.  I wanted  to reach out to her, but she was already touching me with her soothing words, her boundless energy, her hope-filled faith.  We lay beside each other and let the light between us fill the darkness.

With Allison as my muse, I finished Life (in obvious places) on the day we left for Winter Break.  I handed her the first copy.  She was eager to go.  I was looking forward to coming back from break, spending long nights together wallowing in her admiration for my work.

The next time I saw her, a serious expression had replaced the smile on her face.  She reached out and handed me a note.  “I want you to read this,” she said simply.  And she walked away.
It was a note about love.  She said she wanted to break off our relationship.  I was crushed.  We never once talked about my book.
One day, I found Allison on Facebook.  She is still smiling, now beside her adoring husband and two beautiful children.  Her oldest looks just like her.  There is so much joy inside her.
Some weeks back, Allison sent me a message to thank me for introducing her to the music of folk singer John Prine – who is now my muse.  I figure it’s much safer to have a muse who is as close as a button on my keyboard.
P.S.  I sent an earlier draft of this reflection to Allison for her blessing to post it and perhaps a picture of her in college.   She wrote back while her youngest was making a delicious fruit salad.  She couldn’t oblige with a photo, but she did offer her blessing and had some very nice things to say.  In spite of our mutually selective memories, I think we can agree that ours is a fond one.

(image above – “Just a beautiful young woman” from *katz, some rights reserved)

Racial Attitudes in “Heart of Darkness”

The following was written by my daughter Grace… 

joseph conrad

Joseph Conrad’s book Heart of Darkness is one of the greatest books I have ever read.  It isn’t an easy read.  The language is complicated with long sentences and archaic words, and the plot itself, while flowing, does not have a good sense of the passage of time.  But it is a great book.  It is meant to be very dream-like – more of an ambiance than a story – to convey “that notion of being captured by the incredible which is the very essence of dreams.”  And it does just that.  You may not understand the book, but you feel it.

One theme that caught my attention while I was reading Heart of Darkness was the attitude towards race relations.  Being set in colonized Africa, there is a lot of reference to the actions and reactions amidst white and black people.  From a simplistic outlook – and indeed this might be the final verdict- it seems clear, and historically accurate, that the white people’s view towards the Africans on the whole was patronizing at best.

The very setting that Marlow (the main character) is in, is that of Belgium setting up trade routes in Africa for the export of ivory. Belgium had “subdued” the areas and was hard at work, profiting on the African’s labor and resources.  The Europeans who came in to work at exportation – and those who came to stay just because – had a very high-minded, superior attitude towards the African natives.  Some people did not consider Africans to be human; others chose to ignore that they might have feelings and needs like their own.   Mostly the European interference was a reign of terror.

Others, including Marlow’s aunt who lived in Africa, had a slightly more humanitarian view.  She viewed the Africans as ignorant poor souls who needed to be “weaned from their horrid ways.”  The influence of English culture was considered for their good.  Even Marlow could see that she was very deluded about what was really happening.  Civilization in the sense of material things may have been being introduced to some degree, but the ones who were bringing it were brutal to the degree that they themselves became more savages than the “savages” they were exploiting.

Marlow touched on this idea more than once.  He traveled by steam boat, his crew consisted mostly of cannibals and a few Europeans.   At one point he had a shocking realization that the odds of cannibals to non-cannibals was 30 to 5.  The cannibals could have easily overpowered and eaten them at any time – and they had a reason to, for most of their food had been thrown overboard because some of the others couldn’t stand the smell.  But they showed a most remarkable restraint.  Marlow, at this point, admires them. And he is the only person who does.

Indeed, Marlow is the only person who pays any attention to the fact that the Africans are humans same as the Europeans.  He is saddened and infuriated, in turns, by the brutality that the white men show to the black – beatings, overworking, shooting for any reason.  He does not shoot any black man, even when being attacked – choosing instead to blow the steamboat whistle to scare them away.  He scares the natives away again when the white men on board are planning to attack.  He gives his dead black helmsmen a burial at sea – rather a hasty affair, but that ended up saving the dead body from being eaten by the cannibals.  Marlow gives a biscuit to a starving African.  He turns away from the sight of a chain gang.  And in this shows a remarkable sensitivity that one does not always see in older books.

And yet there are incongruences in his actions.  In many ways he treated the Africans with more humanity, but in his thought and speech, you can tell he did not think them equals.  He used many derogative terms, several times mentions them as lazy, and does not provide for his crewmen.  He expounds on the primitiveness of their ways in a way that is both belittling and wistful.  He says, “…you would admit to yourself that there was in you just the faintest trace of a response to the terrible frankness of [their dancing], a dim suspicion of there being a meaning in which you – you so remote from the night of first ages – could comprehend.” In that he seems to call it savageness, yet wishes he could take part.  When asked why he didn’t go and dance with the natives, he replied that he might have, had it not been for the work on the steam boat, which required complete attention.

Needless to say, Marlow was alone in his sentiments. Even Kurtz – arguably the real focal point of the novel- who was the most intimately involved with the Africans, far more than any other European, viewed them as people to be manipulated, first for their own good, but later for his own.  And as I have stated, this was the common viewpoint. Unfortunately, this led to a long and cruel European reign in Africa which is still being healed.  May God, and Africa, be merciful for our sins.

 

(image “JOSEPH CONRAD//Józef Teodor…” from NCMallory, some rights reserved)

Happier Than a Pig in Slop

pig in slop

I’ve been riding a natural high for some time now when it comes to my writing life.

After a slow start the first couple weeks in December, my blog has steadily picked up in traffic: visits, views, comments, and followers.  I won’t mention many specific numbers, but I will say each week’s summary has indicated a percentage increase and I was particular thrilled when it showed 1,541.18% growth one week.

I am finding personal satisfaction in the awareness that my writing is improving – particularly in fiction and poetry.  I give a lot of credit to the collaborative blog Today’s Author for inspiring me with helpful writing prompts and words of encouragement.  Before I stumbled across their site, my creative writing muscles had not been exercised in over 25 years.  I am learning that it is a lot like riding a bike – only now with this great laptop my bike has a really fast motor on it.

Yes, as my cousin Cam would say, “I’m happier than a pig in slop.”  And let me share a little about why.

Responding to a Today’s Author prompt on January 9, I wrote a post called “The Pursuit of Happiness (scene one)“.  I had a hunch it was only the beginning of a larger story.  Two days later I composed a piece called “Leaving for Good (part of “The Pursuit of Happiness” project)“.  Then, I took a trip to New York to visit my children.

I had a lay-over in Cleveland on my way to Rochester.  The plane was having mechanical problems and the representatives couldn’t guarantee me a flight out that night.  I was scheduled to see my children the next day and only see them once every 4-6 weeks, so I decided to rent a car in Cleveland and drive the six hours to the Rochester area.  Then, on Sunday, I would I drive back to Cleveland for the flight home.

This afforded me 12 hours to think about various things.  My mind kept moving toward this story – “The Pursuit of Happiness”.  By the time I returned home Sunday afternoon, I had sketched out the plot in my mind, created the characters, even imagined an ending.

I set a goal to write 2 chapters a day, so as not to overwhelm myself.  Since my two posts made up nearly all of chapter 1, I had time on Monday to finish the first chapter, write chapter 2 and give titles to all 34 chapters I envision the book will have as well as write out 1 sentence summaries for each.  I was able to meet my goal of writing two chapters on Tuesday, Wednesday, and today as well.  So now I have 8 chapters.  With 26 to go, I’m projecting a completed working draft in two weeks.

Since I’m hoping to publish conventionally, I don’t want to give away too much of the story until I understand copyright laws better, but I will give you a one paragraph summary to peak your interest and give me some practice writing a query to potential literary agents…

Steven Johnson is a modern-day Puritan who believes it is best to accept the good with the bad that God provides.  His wife, Rachel, wants to be happy and runs off with a lottery winner.  Steven then faces a barrage of positive-thinkers, artistic athiests, belly-dancing yoga instructors, well-meaning believers, and psychotropic-prescribing psychiatrists who simply want him to pursue happiness (like the rest of the world).  Steven struggles to maintain his faith in the God who is in control while attempting to live in peace, as far as he possibly can.  Will he find true happiness?  Will it find him?

What do you think?  Would you buy a copy?  If so, how many can I sign you up for?

(image “I just fell asleep in my food…” from Chewonki Semester School, some rights reserved)

“The Metamorphosis” and Euthanasia

On a recent visit home, I asked my daughter Grace to share with me some of her writings.  Grace is a prolific writer, but she can be very private about her work.  She has several drafts of works in various genres: historical fiction, fantasy, contemporary fiction… and I’ve read snippets, but when I asked if she would share them, she replied, “They are not ready.”  My sense is that Grace is an even more ruthless editor than I am and, unlike me, is leery about giving birth to a piece of writing before its time.

But she did agree to share with me some writing she is doing for a course she’s working on at home.  The subject is “20th Century History”.  When she told me the course title my first thought was, “The 20th century isn’t history!  I lived through it.”  The course design is to read some of the best fiction and non-fiction books depicting each decade.  She then writes theme papers on certain books and summary papers on each decade.  Grace agreed that I could reproduce her work on my blog.  The following is one of her essays.

The Metamorphosis and Euthanasia

By Grace Roberts

1/9/13

Week 7

The Metamorphosis was one of the most interesting books I have read in a while.  Also, one of the most disturbing.  It reminded me a good deal of All Quiet on the Western Front – perhaps the similarities are due because both were written in German around the same time; and the content is disquieting.  Both do not hide unpleasantries. Both are superbly well-written.  Both deal with death.

Which brings me to the reason for this paper.  It was my assignment to tie The Metamorphosis with euthanasia.  While the story doesn’t directly deal with “mercy killings”, it brings up a side of death that is not nice.  What should happen when someone is unable to enjoy life anymore? When their sufferings have become too great?  What about if they are also a drain on society?  And they are dying anyway?  Should they be endured, or “put out of their misery”?  When is it mercy, when is it killing?  Is there a way to tell?

Franz Kafka did not seek to answer any questions, only ask them.  I myself don’t know the answers; it’s a topic that is beyond me.  But God has been pretty clear on some major things.  He created life.  It is sacred, not something to be taken lightly.  He is also love.  His way of loving is completely opposite of our preconceived notions.  We seem to think an object of affection must have value to be desirable.  God doesn’t think that way.  He calls the things that are not as if they are.  He gives value.  He tenderly takes care of things that, if we could see what He does, would be repulsed.  He endures with everlasting patience and love.  We need to keep that in mind when we talk about the sanctity of life.

franz kafka

Franz Kafka
(from INeedCoffee.com, some rights reserved)

Nomination #3 (will it be assassination or failed revolution?)

very-inspirational-blogger

I have been nominated for this “Very Inspiring Blogger Award” by Veronica of charlottesville winter.  I accept this award with much fear and trepidation.  It is my third blogging award, so it puts me right up there with “Lincoln” and “Les Miserables” – and look what happened to them.  Assassination.  And a failed revolution.  Nonetheless, I accept (both this award and my fate).

The conditions for acceptance are –

1. Display the award logo (see above)

2. Link back to the person who nominated you (also see above)

3. State 7 things about yourself (see below)

4. Nominate 15 other bloggers for this award and link to them (see further below)

As for 7 things about myself, I thought it would be good since this is about being inspiring and my blog is about writing if I were to mention 7 persons who have inspired me to write.  (There have been and continue to be many more, but I’ll limit myself now to 7).

1.  Larry Roberts.  Growing up, we would visit my Uncle Larry and Aunt Linda (and their daughter Leah) in Chicago.  Larry would often break out his guitar and sing songs.  I thoroughly enjoyed all the music, but my favorite songs were the ones he wrote himself.  I hope to convince him to let me publish a sample in upcoming posts.

2. Ivan Lancaster.  Mr. Lancaster taught 5th and 6th grade English at Nineveh Elementary.  After lunch, he read to us from classic books (I remember Johnny Tremain).  He also encouraged each of us to write our autobiographies and this 30+ page bound notebook with line sheets written on in ink was my first sustained piece of writing.

3.  Robert Waldon.  (Joe Rossi on “The Lou Grant Show”) I was captivated by the character of Rossi – his persistence, his commitment to truth, his courage.  He made me want to become a journalist.  One episode was about book banning.  Rossi was appalled that his favorite book – The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger was on the list.  Immediately, I checked it out of the library.  It became my favorite book and redirected my focus from journalism to creative writing.

4.  Kevin Ballard.  Mr. B. filled in in the English department one semester and I took his class on “Contemporary Drama.”  He wasn’t the best lecturer, but he was very accessible and showed an interest in my ideas and writing beyond class.  He introduced me to a good friend from his college days – Jim Leonard – a playwright who has won awards for “The Diviners” (which he wrote while at Hanover College).

5.  Buran Phillips & George Love.  I list them together because together they helped keep my creative juices flowing while at seminary as co-creators of our satirical newsletters – “The Institutes” & “Rude Dogma”.  While we wrote most articles separately, we developed concepts together and I was inspired just by our shared laughter.

6.  Alice Roberts.  The woman who would become my wife of over 20 years was for many of these years my most prayerful and careful editor.

7.  Veston & Connie Roberts.  A few winters back, my dad and step-mom offered to type my up 500+ sermons and catalogue them on the computer (and on CDs).  Dad in particular has been my most devoted blog follower.  As I write my new novel (on their computer), I debrief after every finished chapter by telling them what it was about (then Dad goes to read it).

Now, to share the “Inspiring Blogger Award”, I nominate the following (in no particular order)…

russellboyle posts classic, inspiring poetry that helps soothe the troubled soul.

Defeat Despair offers inspiring quotes and brief reflections that lift your spirit.

Teacher as Transformer suggests insights on education, leadership, life, and transformation.

larrywtrimm writes on the blessing of being a Christian author.

Confessions of a Bookworm celebrates the inspiration found in reading good books.

The One Thing I Know for Sure presents thoughts and pictures intended to inspire deeper reflection.

writing young adult lit… and the occasional face plant explores the creativity behind a writing life.

liveconsciously publishes inspiring, life-enhancing, mind-altering books and media.on

Write here, Joel reflects on life, faith, and laughter.

The Twenty Something: An Ordinary Girl Serving an Extraordinary God shares her faith passionately.

Dreams Will Catch You provides refreshing perspectives on life and faith.

todaysdailyword brings God’s Word to life in fresh ways.

hankrules2011 provokes thought for an examined life.

I’ve Got This Friend reveals the personal side of a relationship with Christ.

a surrendered year looks at what it means to give in to God.

Check these out and see let them know they have “A Way With Words” on their side.

Pondering the Mystery of Death in “Entering the Blue Stone”

Ya’ know that old trees just grow stronger,

And old rivers grow wilder ev’ry day.

Old people just grow lonesome

Waiting for someone to say, “Hello in there, hello.  (from “Hello in There” by John Prine)

book cover
          Aging is a mystery to be prayerfully pondered and carefully approached, not a puzzle to be solved.  In Entering the Blue Stone, Molly Best Tinsley describes in sometimes agonizing detail what happens as her parents age and become increasingly dependent on others for the basics of living.
          Molly’s father, Bill Best, was a retired Brigadier General from the Air Force.  He was the former mayor of Lebanon, Illinois.  He was a man used to caring for himself and being in charge of others.  Molly illustrates this well early in the book as she describes his driving philosophy –
Dad pulled into traffic with something to prove…  The world would have to rearrange itself if he wanted to change lanes.
          Molly’s mother, Evelyn, once an aspiring author full of captivating dreams, had succumbed to debilitating depression from which no treatment seemed to relieve.  Molly’s Dad reveals to her the extent of the problem –
“You know, Mommy sleeps a lot.”
I said maybe she needed to.
“She slept thirty-seven hours last week.”
I pointed out that was less than six hours a night.
“In a row.”
          More than just getting older, diagnostically, Bill struggles with Parkinson’s disease. Evelyn display Alzheimer’s-like symptoms.  It soon becomes clear that they need more on-going care and must move out of their home.  Molly and her siblings find a modern assisted living facility that seems to offer the latest and best approach.
          Tinsley depicts the heart-wrenching process of sorting through the household items, deciding what to keep and what to do away with, attempting to fashion her parents’ new confined living space in a functional, yet meaningful way.  Her father, an avid amateur photographer, had documented the family well.  Tinsley writes –
We had to throw most of the pictures away, the loose ones stuffed into boxes, the albums whose pages crumbled to the touch. What else could we do? Time was running out.
          What else could they do?  This theme of limited options and having to make quick decisions based on the best information available at the time carries over to Molly’s parents care as they lose more functioning and need greater assistance. At first, they move to an mostly independent apartment with available services.  For a while, they Bill particularly took advantage of various therapies and activites.
          But before long, Evelyn’s condition grows worse and they must move to assisted living, then to the nursing home section.  Tinsley describes with poignant detail how decisions framed as for optimum care were often influenced by bureaucratic concerns.  Often, the administration reminds them they could go elsewhere, but where else could they go?
         While both Molly’s parents decline, Bill is the first to slide.  Clearly, the rapid rate he loses his independence causes his condition to worsen.  Tinsley is critical of quick decisions to prescribe potent psychotropics (like Haldol) to “manage” what could well have been simple frustration over his loss of freedom.  In spite of family protests, the prescribing doctor insisted he be in charge of medical decisions and only informed them after a shot was administered.
          Soon, according to staff, Bill was having “episodes” that required further restrictions in a newly opening wing, isolated and locked down.  Aggressive medication and treatment measures were attempted, which only made matters worse.  Bill resisted, but his body could no longer control his destiny.  Tinsley describes it in hauntingly beautiful detail –
Think of it as assisted suicide, we told each other, squinting against that whirling wind.  Our father had stumbled into the sort of no-win situation he’d always warned us to avoid.  The nutritionist who kept sending down the trays of inedible foods.  The nurse with the Haldol, the staff doctor and his Fellow from Duke with the bright idea – all became the witless accomplices in his decision to end a life whose quality had sunk below zero.  We waited for the moment that would set him free.
          As the moment of death approaches, the family shares some intimate moments that bring some measure of peace.  By this time, Evelyn is not with it enough to be fully cognizant of the situation, though she does appear and offers support.
          In contrast to Bill’s resistance to losing his independence, Evelyn at first embracing the limits imposed on her and even tries to quiet the children’s complaints about her treatment.  Tinsley conveys her mother’s chaotically poetic expressions wonderfully –
“Yesterday we glued little pictures on and sprayed them.  Later we’re going to eat them.”
“Pictures of what?” I asked.
“A chemist, a baby, and a rubber hose.  This is a hopping town,” she added, by way of summary.  “One of those places with peanut shells.”
           But Evelyn’s pleasant confusion was not enough to shield her from the changes happening within (medically) or around (administratively) her.  As with Bill, aggressive measures are taken without family consent.  Her decline was not as drastic as Bill’s, and was abbreviated by pleasant moments along the way, yet the trajectory had been set.  It was just a matter of time.
          Death lingered for Evelyn as the family gathered around her for encouragement and to bless her on her way.  They are forced to face difficult end-0f-life decisions (should she have a feeding tube?) with little clear guidance.  Patients and staff attend to her physical, emotional, and spiritual needs as she approaches death.  After almost of week of dying, she breathes her last.
          In my interview with Tinsley about Entering the Blue Stone, she writes –
A lot of crazy things happened to my siblings and me as we tried to shepherd our parents through a three-stage continuing care facility in their final years.  Some were the product of a seriously flawed system in the facility itself; some stemmed from our ignorance of the end-of-life process; and some were actually natural parts of that process—things it would be futile to try to resist or change.  I’m hoping that readers facing this process (as we all are) will take my story seriously and thus become better able to differentiate the craziness!
          I believe she meets her objectives well.  Entering the Blue Stone is a book that will help people who have faced, are facing, or will face aging and end-of-life issues by giving them a realistic and hopeful perspective.
          More than this, as a piece of literature, Entering the Blue Stone is about as good as a memoir can get.  I would rate it 4 out of 5, only because I like to keep 5s reserved for books as good as Kay Redfield Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind (which is, in my mind, unmatched).  One thing I particularly appreciate about Tinsley’s work is that her language is clear, concrete, and clean.  She knows how to tell an evocative story without compromising it with crude cliches.  While she admitted this book was personally cathartic, she doesn’t inflict on the reader the role of her therapist.  She describes her dilemma and lets the reader wrestle the mystery of the suffering in the story.
          Entering the Blue Stone doesn’t try to solve the puzzle of aging with formulas that won’t work, and will likely make things worse.  Instead, it is a faithful steward of the mystery of death and dying that leads us to appreciate the precious lives we are given.
          Book cover copied from fuzepublishing, used by permission. Entering the Blue Stone and other works (print and ebooks) by Molly Best Tinsley and her co-horts may be purchased at fuzepublishing  They are also available at Amazon,  pubit (nook) and itunes.

A Beautiful Blogger Award (am I blushing, or is my blood pressure going up?)

Image

I just received word that Cathy from Expattery nominated me for this “Beautiful Blogger Award”.  I questioned her whether the nomination was for the quality of writing on my blog or the irresistible pensive expression in my Gravatar image.  She hasn’t responded yet, but I’m going to take my chances.  Either way, I could use the hits.

As with all human endeavors, this love in conditional.  Here’s what I have to do.

  1. Place the Beautiful Blogger Award in your post. (see above)
  2. Thank the person who gave you the award and link back to them. (done)
  3. Tell 7 things about yourself. (see below)
  4. Pass this Beautiful Blogger Award on to 7 more bloggers. (see further below)

Since my blog is about writing, I’ll make the 7 things about myself relate to my writing life.

1. The first poem I ever wrote was entitled “Ode to My Pet Rock”

2.  In high school, I wrote a parody of my senior class called, No Biggy.  This was before the days of blogging.  I hand-wrote the chapters and passed them around during class.

3.  I published a short story about a suicidal non-published author.  The last page was splattered with blood (actually red food coloring).  The problem was, the journal printed the page in black-and-white and it looked more like something from a Rorschach test.

4.  I co-wrote a collection of stories and poems with a friend under the influence of various substances.  It was entitled The Week That Was (Almost 10 Days).  My favorite poem was “How to Make Instant Pudding”.

5.  For my senior thesis, I wrote a collection of stories called Life (in obvious places) that combined family stories with quasi-fictional characters.  A lovely young woman named Allison served as my muse.  After I handed her a copy of the finished manuscript, she dumped me.

6.  In graduate school, I co-produced and wrote two satirical newsletters “The Institutes: A Publication of the John Calvin Men’s Society” and “Rude Dogma”.  They were short-lived, but one more radical professor deemed  “Rude Dogma” – “better than the book of Leviticus.”

7.  My current manuscript is a collection of meditations on mental illness.  It’s called From Sheol to the Highest Heavens: 101 Devotions for Persons with Bipolar Disorder and Those Who Love Them.  I am currently considering my publishing options.

Now, for my 7 nominees (in no particular order), I decree –

charlottesville winter – a nifty collection of poetry, poetic prose, and prosaic photography.

Peaceful Partings  – spiritual reflections from a seeker for truth and beauty.

Julie Israel – a writer who reads (and reviews) classics to write even better.

Sky Saiyou – various writings and edited photos that looks as good as it reads.

Jessica Wretlind – humorous (and hip) takes on just about anything in the world.

Allen Fiction – contemporary (and refreshingly clean) fictional forays.

One Starving Activist – hungry for inspiration, and finding nourishment to inspire.

Eight Thrifty Writing Posts on WordPress Today

winter scene

The air is brisk outside.  Ice-encrusted snow continues to make walking hazardous.  It’s been a good day to stay inside.  Listening to George Jones.  Leaning back on this electric recliner.  Being grateful I’m not out filling pot holes or patrolling city streets.

Instead, I’m reading blog posts on writing to share with you.    Here are some good ones you might want to check out.

30 Stories, Day 6: The Door” (The Read Room) offers a review of E.B. White’s “The Door”… “a wonderfully nonsensical story by a renowned grammar nazi!”

7 Lessons Learned From Blogging Every Day of 2012” (Next Practices) reveals some insights gained from a discipline of daily writing.

Thank you, George Washington” (My Teaching Portfolio) shares a class writing assignment and gives an example of one wondrous result.

She Was a Few of His Favorite Things” (charlottesville winter) responds to a writing prompt by celebrating and bemoaning the unrequited love of artist and muse.

“… and our hearts forever” (mothering spirit)  pays tribute to an alma mater – Notre Dame – a place to grow in faith and love as a person and as a writer.

The black in my blood” (Writer Michael Burge) describes one man’s ambivalent journey from the country to the city (and back again).

A Christian Writer’s Confession” (John Erik Patterson) points to the temptation “just below the surface” to lead a wild and reckless life (for which many artists become known).

May All Your Dreams Come True, with No Expiration Date” (Kaye Munroe Writes, Too) details the hard work of one artist realizing her dream of publishing a book.

(image “Ottawa Ontario Canada March 2011” from dugspr — Home for Good, some rights reserved)

A Way With Words is Growing Up

father and infant

Having just celebrated the birth of A Way With Words about a month ago, I feel somewhat like a first-time father when his child comes home from the hospital.  I want things to be perfect (or at least as good as I can make them).  I never know what to expect.  Sometimes I dress her up in a new outfit only to watch her spit up and require a change.

Now we’re heading into our second month, some patterns are developing.  Nothing quite like a fixed schedule or format.  There will no doubt be interruptions, but there will also be things you can look forward to, some things you can count on.

Here are some of the features I anticipate you will find in A Way with Words this coming month…

1) Author Interviews: We had a good response to my interviews with Matt Robb and Rob Diaz II.  I have since arranged an interview with author Molly Tinsley whose new book Entering the Blue Stone is a memoir of caring for her parents at the last stages of their lives.  More information about Molly and her writing can be found at Fuze Publishing.

2) Book reviews: It is my hope to publish a review of Entering the Blue Stone after my interview with Molly Tinsley.  I just picked up a copy of Light in August by William Faulkner.  Also, I will continue to post periodic reviews and writing exercises inspired by Writing Well: The Essential Guide by Mark Tredinnic.

3) Creative writing: I have been privileged to get in on the ground floor of the start-up collaborative blog Today’s Authors.  I plan to respond to their “writing prompts” as often as I can.

There will be more.. spiritual reflections, John Prine, humor, best blog posts features…  Who knows what this growing child will get into as it explores the world and learns to toddle about and discover what life is all about?

(image “Happy Father’s Day” from Insight Imaging: John A Ryan…, some rights reserved)