Thursday, May 31, 2012

The North Star

Until today, I'd sworn off buying more books for two reasons. First, because I realized I had become more of a book collector than a book reader. And second, because there's simply no room left. I was doing fine with ignoring my addiction/collection until someone sent me this picture in an email today:

Now why would my dear friend send me that picture, knowing I have a serious habit? Look how pretty they are! All the colors! And the illustrations! And there are so many of them!

And why would I want this entire set when I've only read the first book? Why do I love a book filled with sailing terminology I can't decipher, a book in which nothing much seems to happen, and does so slowly? Why would I want a huge set of stories that seem to be about kids and for kids but don't have the same sort of pacing and action as most of the popular children's series you know of, being not necessarily for kids and being published in the 30s and 40s? Mostly, I want them because of my short stay in the Lake District during my first summer in England and because of what the trip meant to me...

...and because I found the first book (whose location is based on the one in the image above) to be quiet and comforting, just like the lakes themselves. Something doesn't always have to happen in stories, you know. Sometimes it's nice to just sit out in the middle of the water a while and let the rest of the world sail on by. And so, though my copy is in good company on the shelf...'s without its brothers and sisters, thus, the book buying bug returns...which is a good thing, because, for a minute there, when I stopped wanting to get new books, I was secretly afraid I was dying on the inside, but which is a bad thing, because I haven't got $230 laying around. For Christmas maybe...

From Arthur Ransome's note at the beginning of Swallows and Amazons: " children, my brother, my sisters and I spent most of our holidays on a farm at the south end of Coniston. We played in or on the lake or on the hills above it...We adored the place. Coming to it, we used to run down to the lake, dip our hands in and wish, as if we had just seen the new moon. Going away from it, we were half drowned in tears. While away from it, as children and as grown-ups, we dreamt about it. No matter where I was, wandering about the world, I used at night to look for the North Star and, in my mind's eye, could see the beloved skyline of great hills beneath it."

From Swallows and Amazons, Chapter 1: "...they had seen the lake like an inland sea. And on the lake they had seen the island. All four of them had been filled at once with the same idea. It was not just an island. It was the island, waiting for them. It was their island. With an island like that within sight, who could be content to live on the mainland and sleep in a bet at night?"

Friday, May 25, 2012

One writer's experience

This is me with my big sister Wendy:

I'm the baby, and Wendy holds that unlucky position of being next in line, even though she's 7 years older than me. That means that when two of us kids needed to share a room, poor Wendy got stuck with me. She suffered such ills as my leaving a basket of Easter eggs to rot for six months in the closet, endured issues like my frequent nightmares, and even survived that short period (thanks to her protest) when I decided to sleep in the nude (or, for even more fun, to sleep with a long skirt pulled up over my head). When I pretended to be sick every day for the better part of second grade, Wendy was the one who got pulled out of class to come home and babysit me. She's the one who had to answer the call back from 911 after I gave in to that greatest of childhood temptations--calling and hanging up. And she was the one who got the blame for my being attacked by that dog (with demonic red eyes, if I recall correctly) and who had to put up with my hanging around her cool Halloween party and my drooling over the cute boys in her yearbook. As I remember, she took it all pretty well. My impression of her back then was that she was thoughtful and intelligent with an attitude. And, though I hadn't realized till now, I'd say the same of her today.

But now I think of her as a mom too. And as a wife and an incredibly hard-working nurse. And as someone who smiles a lot. Wendy is one of those lucky people who can get laughing so hard they start crying and have to leave the room. She likes to read and take baths, and be with people and have fun. She likes creating things from scratch and seeing them succeed. And she's really really good at telling it like it is, which she got from our dad. The thing she's pretty awful at is keeping secrets, but the great part of that is, if you kinda sorta wish everyone knew about something but don't have the courage to tell them yourself, go to Wendy. She'll get the job done for you, because courage, though I didn't know it till this year, is Wendy's specialty. As you'll know if you've read the blog before, my sister is a breast cancer survivor. That's not what this post is about, and it's not what she's about, but once you've gone through something like that, or anything world-shaking, you'll know everything that comes after exists in the light of that experience. Among her other experiences and interests and talents, Wendy is also a writer. I recently asked her to do a guest blog post on her writing and describe her experience with self-publishing, and she kindly agreed. Here's her answer, and see below for links to her non-profit organization and to her books:


I write for two reasons. Primarily because I believe every person's voice is important. By writing I am able to express views that I feel are of benefit. For example, I don't believe you can ever tell your children to "be considerate" too many times. By writing in a format that is appealing to my children, I am able to teach them lessons, such as the importance of family, that they would otherwise not be open to hearing from their mother. 

I also write because it is something I have always wanted to do. By using the self-publishing process, I was able to fulfill a dream and to show my children that there are unconventional ways of achieving your goals. I wanted them to know that if they set their minds to do something, it can be done.

My ideas come from situations I encounter in every day life. The two Harvey books were written as a tribute to Robin, my sister. I have three books that have not been published to date. Henry the Hairless Gorilla was inspired by my brother-in-law, Mack, and is geared toward pediatric cancer patients. You Are Not Wearing That to School was inspired by my other sister, Saundra, and her cooky sense of style.

One of my personal favorites is a story called Anna's Surprise Pies because it is about, and was co-written by my 9-year old Anna. We worked together on the story and on our idea of the illustrations. I wanted Anna to get a very early idea of the importance of self-expression.

I have considered writing for adults and have actually been working on a book called Chemical Dreams: How Cancer Treatment Affects the Subconscious Mind. This has been a journey for me, while being treated for breast cancer over the last year. I have been keeping a journal of my dreams and then trying to determine what those dreams were telling me. I have not decided if this will ever go to print, but it has been very healing for me.

The self-publishing process was very much what I expected it to be. There were options to cover from just printing your poorly written text, to complete editing, illustrations, copy writing the book and complete marketing with book fairs, etc. I chose to use an independent illustration group, but otherwise the group I used was Author House Publishing, and they were fantastic.

My two published books Harvey's Very Favorite Place and Harvey's First Halloween can be purchased through the Author House website, or online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Books-a-Million.

I encourage everyone to put their thoughts in print, either formally or informally. I have found that after being faced with my mortality through my battle with breast cancer, being able to not only write out my thoughts, but to go back and review how my hopes and fears played out in real life has been a very healing and personal growth experience.


To check out Wendy's books, click here.
For more information on Wendy's non-profit organization, click here.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Back to school, and other happenings

Teaching in the summer isn't much different for me than teaching in fall and spring since the university has 8 week sessions all year round. After my rocky term off, I'm glad to be back at it. In one more term, I'll have been teaching for a full year. I know that isn't very long, but it's been hugely challenging. Every class, every student is just a bit different from the last. But the students are all very interesting people, and, so far, the subjects have gotten more interesting to me each semester.

Another big milestone coming up is our one year anniversary of being in Georgia. By now we've seen all the seasons in this little house, and I guess part of me was waiting to decide on how I like the area until I saw it in the four colors. Surprisingly, I really like it. I say surprisingly because I thought missing the mountains would trump anything good this place had to offer. But, as sweet a spirit as our farmhouse in the South Carolina foothills had, it was a lonely place, and I turned into a pretty lonely person there. I remember talking to my friend Marly about the possibility of moving and the idea of being near people. She was sure it'd make a huge difference in my life, and it really has. Because here, there are people. Lots and lots of people. Though I hate almost all of them when they're attempting to drive cars, I like that they're around. I like passing them on our walks downtown and seeing them in the shops and knowing their names. Makes the world seem not so empty. In fact, sometimes it makes the world feel completely full.

Summer promises to be much hotter than it is today, which I suppose is still spring since the official start of summer isn't for a few weeks and since the mosquitoes (plight of our backyard) aren't too bad yet. What I saw of spring, after my travels, was very beautiful. I especially loved the yellow flowery vines that grew over the picket fence and archway, and the pink and purple bushes along the side of the house. They were a welcome brightness after the dullness of winter, a few cool months, rarely wonderfully cold, and with only one day of flurries that weren't even flurrying enough to catch on camera. If I had to choose now, I suppose fall and springtime would be my favorites here, partly because they're a repose from the seasons that precede them.

The other big thing that's happened since I last wrote was a week of birthday celebrations. Jonathan and I have birthdays a week apart, so the celebrating tends to happen over the days in-between. This year, we went all out with lots of food and big presents. I'm really happy about this because one of my personal goals is to bring back big holiday celebrations, which we've let die over the last few years. We had a great time with friends, and Jonathan got a grill, which he's been having much more fun with than I expected.

Being 32 now isn't a big deal to me. Still, I find myself, here near the middle of the year and possibly nearing the middle of my life, looking at my resolutions a lot (especially since they live in brightly colored chalk on my kitchen wall) and very often thinking: What should I do with myself for the next little while? The big question is whether or not I should go back to school, something I've been wanting to do for at least two years now. If I apply to the program, there'll be lots and lots of work ahead for the next three years, and I know myself well enough to question my ability to stay interested that long. Besides, I could use the energy on something else, like my dream of owning a B&B. So the future is swirling around in my head at the moment, but for now I should probably start by addressing the neglected and more generic chalkboard-resolutions written back in January. I may as well tell you, the hardest have been 'Use time wisely' and 'When impossible Smile'. The smiling one was a stupid idea anyway, but wasting time is probably my most grievous sin.

Lots of other things have happened since I last posted, like losing my wedding ring and finding it again (a heartbreaking two weeks), like visits from friends and a trip to Tennessee for my sister's cancer-free party, like house-hunting and my first root beer float and finding two abandoned eggshells in the grass after nearly 20 years of not finding any at all (which I'm afraid might have been due to not looking for them), like the projects I'm working on and the projects I hope to work on, like our first trip through the North Georgia mountains, like the losses too recent to mention and the gains too personal to share. I couldn't think how to connect them all if I tried, and even if I could, it wouldn't matter. Because you've got your own story, don't you. You've got your own part to play. So here's to another day for the two of us, and here's to us doing what we can with it.

"Treasure this day and treasure yourself. Truly, neither will ever happen again."
~ Ray Bradbury ~