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Celebrating Joyce

Life in the country during summer means sweet corn and tomatoes, cooking, cleaning, and preparing for celebrations of one kind or another.

My daughter is coming home this weekend, bringing friends, and we’ll have a thirtieth birthday celebration with her at our cabin. There will be some games, and boating, a fire pit, and food. Plenty of sun and some firewater, too. The usual summer party things. My husband and I have some work to do yet to prepare for this. The inside of our cabin is almost ready, but the sand beach needs to be raked, the wood for a fire needs to be gathered, and I’m determined to figure out a better way to arrange the patio furniture. And then I’ll need to buy and prepare food. It’ll all fall into place. I have all week, I hope. But, then again, none of us know how much time we actually have.

Last week was a week to have a different kind of celebration — one of life and family. My sister-in-law Joyce passed away; too young at 70. She was one of the most interesting and intense people I’ve ever known; Intelligent, fierce, giving, and brutally honest. The church absolutely overflowed for her unique memorial service. The gathering afterward was a true celebration of life, dotted with hugs and tears, memories shared, lots of toasts—beers held high—Joyce enjoyed a good gathering and a beer or a margarita or two. She’d have liked seeing so many of us getting to know each other, reestablishing relationships, and making new friends, too.

So, here’s to another week full of work, family, friends, and celebrations. Here’s to these last days of summer with sweet corn and tomatoes, lakes and parties… and losses, too, which we only experience if we’ve had something special to begin with.

In Joyce, we had something special.

In honor of Joyce, here are words from Tecumseh, a Shawnee. No one honored Native American heritage as well as our Joyce did.

Live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart.

Trouble no one about his religion.

Respect others in their views and demand that they respect yours.

Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life.

Seek to make your life long and of service to your people.

Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.

Always give a word or sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, or even a stranger, if in a lonely place.

Show respect to all people, but grovel to none.

When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength.

Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living.

If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself.

Touch not the poisonous firewater that makes wise ones turn to fools and robs their spirit of its vision.

When your time comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way.

Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.


– Tecumseh
, Shawnee (1768-1813)

Joyce truly did die like a hero going home. She will be missed.

My brother Gary and his wife Joyce.

 

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Feng Shui—Fresh Face

This is a year of changes for me. Little changes, but still, I’m moving around the furniture in my life. Do you do that? Rearrange furniture? Yes? No? It’s an absolute necessity for me. Something deep inside me is always searching for Feng Shui, or a fresh face, something new, different… something other.

I used to think it was because I got bored, but I do believe it’s more to do with trying to get things right and find the appropriate spot for everything from furniture to clothes to websites, jobs, hobbies, and activities. Life changes. What’s right for one time in your life isn’t necessarily right for other times. Play groups with parents and toddlers makes no sense for me at age 54, but at twenty-eight, I spent a lot of time in groups of that sort.

So, what’s changing for me? My weight, for one thing. I’ve lost forty pounds and hope to lose anywhere from twenty-five to forty more. Having said that, clearly my diet has changed. So has my outlook, my self-esteem, my level of energy, my clothing, and the plans I’m making. I know now I can walk for blocks and blocks and I won’t need to rest. I can stand for long periods of time. How I plan vacations and parties are changing based on my ability to wear different things and do more. I may even, at some point, wear a swimsuit in public without feeling like everyone is embarrassed for me. Already, I don’t cringe as much when I see pictures of myself. Change can be incredibly positive.

Like poorly arranged furniture, cluttered or infringing on walkways, can make a room uncomfortable, I decided my old website was feeling the same way to me. I considered trying to rearrange things, but frankly, I just needed an entirely now house, so to speak. A coat of paint wasn’t going to do it. So, here it is. New walls and arrangement and similar pieces of furniture, but in different styles. Hope you like it. So far, I do, but it’s highly likely in a few years, I’ll change things again. It’s just how I roll. Let me know what you think. Oh, and follow me if you want to get email notices when I create new posts about new books I’m working on.

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My Writing World

Writers know there are elements of a good story. Good setting, good character development, rising action, evoking empathy and worry for characters, a satisfying ending, and the all-important tension and conflict. Tension and conflict has never been something I’ve struggled to achieve. It runs rampant and wreaks havoc in my stories, it drives my characters to near madness, and it keeps my readers on the edges of their seats. Whenever I hear a speaker at a writing conference or class talk about the importance of tension, I’m reminded of something from my childhood. Paper dolls.

A creative type from the get-go, I used to make my own paper dolls. I had entire families of cut out dolls and was always on the hunt for a good piece of sturdy paper to make a paper doll out of. Once my characters were in order, they needed clothes, which I drew, complete with tabs, and laboriously cut out with my little round-tipped scissors. Yes, I’ve been creating characters since I can remember, in one way or another. But the most telling memory that shines a light on how from my early years, I knew how to create a story, is that one paper doll in particular was of constant use in my played-out scenes.

The Blue Lady.

She was drawn on a sturdy piece of a dark blue file folder. Her hair was wild, and her mouth maintained a permanent frown. Her eyes were fierce and crazed. She wore too much make up and her voice was loud and screechy. Very bossy. Very mean. Demanding. Judgmental. Angry. She didn’t have a name. She simply was, The Blue Lady.

I used The Blue Lady to bring tension and conflict into the scenes I acted out with the other paper dolls. The boy and girl dolls would be playing nicely, and along would come The Blue Lady. Party over! Two lady dolls would be shopping, and then they’d run into The Blue Lady. Day ruined. The dark blue broad rarely allowed a moment’s peace for the other cut-out dolls.

If you’re a psychiatrist, you may have some opinions about this. But if you’re an actor or actress, you know dramatic scenes are the juiciest to play. Think about the stories you’ve loved. Even the sweetest romance has conflict and tension. It really isn’t a story if something isn’t overcome. Even children’s stories have problem’s to solve. Real people must solve real problems. It’s called life. Writers are keen life-observers. They’re people watchers. Conversation eavesdroppers, situation-supposers, dream-analyzers, what-if wonderers.

I think all children when they play pretend, know this. It’s like when you hear two little boys play “Who would win?” One boy says, “Who would win in a fight, a lion or a bear?” Or, “Who would win in a fight, an elephant or a rhinoceros?” And ultimately, it may come down to the most classic of all little boy arguments, “My dad is stronger than your dad!” See? Conflict and tension. It’s the heart of all stories. It’s part of every day our lives. The room is dirty… that’s tension… I clean it and in so doing, have overcome the obstacle. I’ve won the battle. A school child doing difficult homework or having an argument on the playground is dealing with or overcoming conflict and tension… every single day, these things happen. It may be as simple as solving the problem of what’s for dinner, or as complicated as deciding to leave your job to find another or dealing with a difficult neighbor. Life is rife with tension and conflict of varying degrees.

So, welcome to my writing world. It’s just like every other writer’s worlds. Filled with problems and solutions, characters and settings, beginnings and ending. And forever and ever, it shall be, for all writers throughout time and history. It’s just like everyone else’s world… just written down by someone who’s been paying close attention.

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The Man with a Green Scarf, and a Story About France

A couple of years ago, I visited France with my friend, Delores. We joined up with another friend, Bev. I’d never been Europe, so this was quite an adventure for me, but Dee and Bev are worldly, and both speak French, so I chose the right people to discover the country with.

We stayed a few days in Paris, then visited Le Mans, Normandy, and Mont Saint Michelle, but spent the majority of our time in the medieval village of Fresnay-sur-Sarthe. The town had cobblestone streets and a castle captured by William the conqueror… twice. The village, if it could talk, could tell tales about a couple of King Henrys, the Hundred Year War, The War of Religions, and Huguenots devastating the castle. The last village census cited around 2,300 people, a town very much the size of the one in which I live, proving, even when I travel 4,500 miles, I’m still a small-town girl.

Today, I want to tell you just a little bit about one “character” we met in Fresnay. I think his actual name was Daniel, but they called him Bidiue (pronounced Bid- Doo– eee). I’m sure this isn’t spelled correctly, but it’ll work here. They told me the name Bidiue meant, town drunk.

I know. I go to Europe, visit Paris, dine on Duck Confit in Le Mans, see Omaha Beach at Normandy, and then, drink wine with the town drunk of Fresnay. What the heck? Well, this was Bev’s next door neighbor and we chose not to snub him. He’s a human being, after all, and I’m really glad we included the little fellow. It meant the absolute world to him and his wife, who I’m pretty sure they called Catay. Neither of them spoke a word of English, but drinking wine is the universal language. And truth be told, Bidiue reminded me of my Uncle Eddie. Little. Kinda smelly. Sorta dirty. I sure hope at least some people were nice to my Uncle Eddie like we were nice to Bidiue.

The first night in Fresnay when we sat outside drinking wine and enjoying the weather, we encouraged Bidiue and his wife to join us. They lived right beside Bev, and there they were, sort of watching us. “Come over, have a drink!” Dee and I called, wanting to meet the locals. What a great way to discover characters for stories, and these two were a couple of characters, to be sure!

They sort of snuck up to us like stray cats, afraid we’d shoo them off. But the longer we sat with them, the more they settled in and realized we weren’t going to make fun of them, or be mean. I suspect that’s what they were used to. What happened though, was they were just so darned grateful. It was bittersweet. Every kindness we showed them they practically cried over. Bidiue even sang for us. I wish so badly I had a video of it. Just imagine a wavering little old voice with lots of vibrato, belting out a French tune of some kind. I applauded! He beamed. His wife looked on proudly. This is truly one of the best memories I have of France. It was so unique.

There are more stories of Bidiue and I may tell them some day. I believe I’d really like to write a story about Catay and Bidiue, but it would probably be a sad tale. They looked to live a hard life, hand to mouth, so glad to be included and eager to impress in any way they could.

The last day as we prepared to leave, Bidiue gave me a gift. Keep in mind, he had little. Their home was like a lean-to on the back of a house. I don’t even know if they had running water or electricity. But he came to the door and asked to see me, then handed me a ball point pen. That was my gift. He seemed really proud of it. He said a bunch of things to me in French, then teared up and ran back to his home. Catay watched from their doorway. I remember taking the earrings out of my ears and going over to give them to her. I hugged her. It was quite touching. None of us able to understand what the others were saying. Me knowing these were probably the people in this town who were shunned and considered a problem. Them looking at us as Americans, these odd, loud people who sounded so strange.

Oh, it was a peculiar little scene. And surely, I remember it more poetically than it actually occurred. That’s what writers do, after all. That day, Bidiue also called into the local radio station and dedicated a song to me and Dee. I couldn’t understand anything the man on the radio said, except “Americans.”

So, why tell you this story now? Well, a couple of years ago when I came back from France, I noted that I had stories to tell. I’ve been mulling them over for a couple years now, and I finally got around to publishing one of them. It’s called The Man with a Green Scarf. This short story is based on an actual conversation we had in Fresnay with an elderly man we met near the Chateau. The rest of the story is the imagination of this writer. I love the scenes. I love the memory. I loved my time in France. And I hope you’ll buy the ebook on Amazon today, so you too, can know the tale of, The Man with the Green Scarf.