WHAT JOY?

We have turned off the news at night in favor of a story. We’ve watched ALL of Midsomer Mysteries, all of Vera, Father Brown and then we started on Endeavour. We moved from there to Morse and now we are midway through Lewis. I will be sad to leave Oxford.

In each of these series I’ve found a catch phase that is like a through line in the show. In Endeavour it was Mind how you go…. that Inspector Thursday used as a send off. I liked that. Better than ‘cheers’ and sort of the Brit equivalent of ‘be safe out there’.

In Lewis the one that strikes me is ‘What Joy?’ when asking if there is good news. I like that too. Lewis’s joy relates information that will close the murder case.

Joy is, like happiness, something you can not seek, but it does find you, and when it does you hold on to it. When we were weeks out from dose#2 we decided it was time to leave the island, to land the skiff at the dock and go back to our home, going to grocery stores, getting to the hair salon, what might have been insipid or banal a year ago, suddenly felt like the most marvelous adventure. During our shopping trip we met the store manager who welcomed us back with flowers. A week later the flower still brighten our table. What joy!

Connect and Loss

In the late 1950’s my mom’s brother, Tom died. My sister and mom flew from LA to DC for the funeral. I stayed with the Burketts. I remember it clearly but at 11 I really had no experience with death or of someone I didn’t even remember. We had not seen that part of the family since we had migrated to southern California in 1948.

Almost fifty years later my mom’s brother, Bob died. We were all living on the east coast. My sister and mom drove to New Jersey from North Carolina. We drove down from Boston, the girls and me. We met with family we knew from a couple of visits and phone calls, but they were family!

Later, I could tell mom was having a tough time. I put my arms around her to comfort her but she would have none of it. According to mom, Bob had lived a good long life, seen his two kids, Bobby and Bettina grow up, have families. You see, by that time, both her sisters in law were gone, her brothers were gone, and although she had insisted for years on end, that she was the youngest, she was not.

What mom was upset about what that there was no one of her generation to tell the stories. The ones about she and her brothers growing up, about how they were when they were young, about what life was like in Blakely PA as the eldest daughter of a local grocer, about going to Marywood College. It was the potential lack of stories that upset mom.

It’s funny that I have taken so long to work at publishing; getting my stories out there. Storytelling has always been my refuge, my solace, my strength. Because if you can tell a story, if you can describe a setting, develop the central theme or conflict, and best if you can bring in humor, show a slice of life that is true but not terrible, then you have done a good job.

Mother Petronella would tell you it was my handwriting that held me back. Mother Bernadette would tell you it was my spelling. I think it was a weakness in the length of the story, thinking they had to be complete, involved, much like the books I devoured.

Today is my sister’s funeral. There are a lot of conflicting emotions. Connecting with the next generation who don’t have these memories, are not connected as I was to the history of the family, to the the stories of how my parents got together, why we moved to LA….all of that. These are not earth shattering stories but they are out.

We spent hours last night going through the pictures my sister had saved. We tossed and cleaned out, but as we were going through I would make my niece and nephew look and I will tell a brief story. They’d smile and nod, but not dwell.

But where we come from is important to me. I ask myself, who will tell the stories for the next in line who does want to hear? Who will connect our family, explain the loss and give us foundation. Heartbreakingly, if not me, who?

And so I will write!

Excited Like Christmas

It’s December. As of today we have been staying-in-place for nine months–on my calendar our last day out was March 13…so. We’ve missed celebrating holidays at Mass, celebrating birthdays and holiday with family. Yeah, yeah, we are all in the same boat. What a gawd awful prospect, because we’re not. but that is a rant for another time.

We have Zoomed, FaceTimed, GoogleMeet-ed and it’s not enough, truly. So we partied in our garage. We had a tree, lights, decorations, music. We distanced. We wore masks. There were no hugs.

I’ve been taking a break. Sending out submissions until the middle of November, getting one request for a full. Still, the holidays and all. I’ve been writing a short story for a SinC anthology for the Carolinas, the theme is music and that was helpful in kickstarting my brain. No the short story needs some tweaking, but being creative is a boost for me.

Our life is exhausting, at least for me. Yes, we have food, shelter, we are safe and secure in our little bubble. Taking care of someone who is well aware they are losing their ability to communicate, to move well requires more grace than I sometimes think is available—I feel like my guardian angel is working triple time just to keep our heads above water. It is only my faith and that guardian angel, poor dear, who has had my lifetime of hard work, that make this workable, gets me up every morning, helps me face a day that is more challenging than anything, anything I have ever done. So when a new idea comes to me, a new universe to explore, to write about that is a good thing.

The thing is, this is the second time, the first is out for submission, that I have taken a book written ten or twelve years ago and been able to reimagine, reinvent the characters, give the MC a new voice, because I now have a different voice.

Happy Christmas! We wish you all the blessings of the season, the grace and peace and joy that comes with faith. Write on!

Mind How You Go

Mind how you go.

It’s a phrase DI Thursday <ENDEAVOUR– INSPECTOR MORSE, the early years> uses regularly as a departure comment. We are now up to Series 5 but this week this statement has been like an ear worm. Mind how you go.

I have always been a political junky. I blame the Hughes’s, Lou and Gloria. Friends of my parents, they lived not far from Villa Cabrini in Burbank in the 60’s and they were part of the Young Republicans. In the election between Kennedy and Nixon, even though they were Catholic, they campaigned for Nixon. Had nothing to do with Kennedy’s religion, but they disliked his politics, I couldn’t tell you why, I was thirteen and a freshman in high school.

I am still that political junky and I’ve been reading political books for as long as I can remember, from the the Federalist Papers to the ‘Camelot’ series 🙂 through to Primary Colors and beyond, newspapers with bents both right and left, pundits both right and left and posts and tweets both right and left. I unfriend no one.

Mind how you go.

Recently a letter writer to the WSJ commented that the essence of morality is the willingness to forego pursuing one’s self interest if it may be detrimental to the interest of others.

So it is worth noting that over the past four years there has been a general call of resistance within the democrat party. Democrats proclaim their willingness to forgo their own self-interest and that they are the party of morality, proving it by being for system-altering issues that encompass women’s rights, human rights, black lives, love and peace. And they have pithy maxims that exclaim these positions on posters, streets in some cases, flags and memes plastered all over social media. In their moral exuberance they declare Mr. Trump, his family, his administration, his supporters, and anyone who votes for him to be immoral. There is very specific language used if you disagree. You can be any number of -phobics as well as any number of -ists. It’s not important to name them here.

Mind how you go.

For me it is difficult to give the high moral ground to those who push morality without actually having small moralities. The letter writer commented on the shopping cart theory. To return a shopping cart is an easy task. The “Shopping Cart Theory” posits that an individual’s moral character and capacity for self-governance faces its ultimate test in supermarket parking lots. Do you return your cart even in pouring rain? When you are running late? I have no idea if it truly is a valid test, but it always has felt to me if you pack up your purchases and leave the cart in the lane, or adjacent to the spot you are careless and ill-mannered. The question is if you are so careless and ill-mannered as to not give a care to those who come into the lot after you, when and where else are you careless and ill-mannered?

Mind how you go.

There is a video of a military higher-up who claims that success comes from making your bed each morning. I do that! Why? Because I learned that competence and growth come from a place of organization. Order encourages care, care encourages thought and thought encourages understanding and understanding seeks to be good and moral.

The WSJ letter writer states that we are no longer a moral people. I suppose because s/he sees the world as a series of etiquette blunders– not saying thank you when you are handed your change at the store, not opening doors for others, not keeping your space clean and neat in your neighborhood, not being aware of your responsibility to the common space by using trash cans.

Mind how you go.

There are many on social media who do not denigrate, declare other opinions wrong, swear, call names, or attempt to do harm to other by accusation or innuendo. Perhaps we have every right to think less of someone because of their politics, but if we are a moral and just people we have no right to act on that thought.

Mind how you go.

The letter writer concludes that we are no longer capable of self-governing. I think that is too pessimistic. I think many lost their way and been blinded, treating every detail as consequential, falling into a bubble that is comfortable and pleasurable. There are big issues that require resolution. I get that. Before you can solve the big moral issues, you must have small moralities. Before you can have social justice you need law and order. Please and thank you. Before you can establish any group rights you need individual rights. Respect for others beliefs and opinions.

Being politically moral is the not the right to rule, create obstacles or tell others what or how to think. To be politically moral is to take on the a commitment to serve, not just the greater good, but the rights of each person.

Mind how you go.

paNDEMIC LIFE 3

My ‘ah-ha’ moment came this week. It’s really not that momentous but, well, yeah, it is. I had decided to stop work on a middle grade mystery that is a favorite. I love the character, I love the plot, I love the pacing. The problem is that I cannot pitch this story….I can not get it down to just a few sentences and describe the plot. So after all these online programs I decided it was time to put that character and her story to the side and concentrate on a story I was able to pitch. I could identify needs and wants. I got the physical and emotional. I had the pacing of the story. I was SOOOOO GOOD!

Then CLICK!

One online program that dealt with first lines/paragraphs/chapters. One earlier editorial critique that mentioned my character–actually the one I have dispatched to the lower drawers for a time out–needed a twist, a something that made her unique, different and, well, there is no denying it, a hook that gave this character a personality. Another one talked about using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to push the character’s action as well as emotions.

I have an upcoming online program on revision with the invaluable Emma Dryden and one with Donald Maass on secrets and mysteries. And that is exactly where I am…revising a story I also love. But to love it more the main character’s needs and wants should be woven into a better mystery.

That’s my goal. And I’ve got this. The good news is that I KNOW this story. I have worked it and reworked it to a very competent mystery with rising action and the failure of success being compounded until the main character has no choice but to act and to act alone. The Ah-Ha is how she gets there. I am excited. This will be the toughest revision I have ever worked on. I am working deep in the mechanics of the story and revising the nuts and bolts. But I feel like we’ve got this, Pouvey and me. Together we may just get her story out there.

Got a comment? That’s fine. Be nice. No flaming.