We Have Missing

Votive

Votive (Photo credit: selva)

At times, the awareness of what it all means escapes us, and at other times, we totally comprehend the meaning yet cannot find the courage to share it.  Writers  have a responsibility to bring some kind of meaning to events both large and small, happy and sad, and we toil to bring sense out of the senseless.

This is where the authentic, sad, and monstrous stuff of life threatens to immobilize the very people who carry the light.  We stand with the votive candle in our trembling hands, fearful the rain and wind will extinguish the only light we have.  In past times it has.  This was before.  It was before we realized we had these candles for a reason.  We do not need to figure out why we have them.  We need to figure out what to DO with them while there is still time.  Tonight I will light and relight and keep lighting my small source of light until others find the courage to do the same.

At the Vermont Studio Center last summer, I made a tiny and casual observation at the conference table of twenty or so writers who had come to study the craft of candle bearing.  During the introductions, each was doing his or her best to present himself as someone who had studied, accomplished, published, and was continuing to do even more.  As I listened to each one, I was in awe of the talent, the degrees, and the literary work they were doing on a daily basis.  For example, one handsome youth who appeared to be about 17, was actually a college professor who was working to translate Chinese poetry into English.

I had nothing to compare.  I sat quietly, hoping to be skipped, but one of them said, “What about you?  Are you hiding back there?”  It was said in jest and with great kindness, but I actually was hiding because I had nothing to say to make myself relevant in such company.  Instead I proffered this, “I am Tandy Belt, and I write reality.  I am an online blogger.  I also write creative non-fiction.”  They seemed interested and also surprised.  I felt bold enough to continue,  “I have been listening to all of you and I must say the credentials are very impressive!  I am in awe of each one of you, but I want to say one thing:  In the dark of night, when you are alone and afraid you are not quite good enough, smart enough, or talented enough to continue, remember that you are.  In your own individual way, in all kinds of areas of effort, you are keeping the light alive.  If someone comes by you and blows out your candle, light it again, and again and AGAIN.  This is what I do, and will always do, and I will never let my candle go out permanently.”  I said it emphatically, because I meant it.

I am telling no lie.  Every single face around that table registered some combination of relief, agreement, empowerment and appreciation for what I had said, and I was surprised.  But simple truth has relevance, and is always immediately recognized.  It removes fear and brings goodness out of hiding.  It is empowering, even when stated with apprehension.

The next day, many came up to me, seeking me out for a private word.  I was absolutely stunned.  One sweet and shy girl said, “We had a gathering last night and talked for hours about what you said yesterday.  We all appreciated it so much!”  Then she embraced me, and kissed me on the cheek!

Seriously?  I learned something important right then and there.  It is not the published work, the PhD, or the high paying position at a prestigious school that brings security, because we are all afraid.  We all need encouragement.  We are all lonely, wounded, doubtful of our own worthiness to continue.  It is this pervasive fear that drives us to write, to light those candles, to hope.

Tonight I am struggling to light a candle whose wick is wet.  My matches are damp.  My hands shake.  Even here in the darkness, I cannot stop struggling to find a way to get it done.  AGAIN.

The numbing cold left behind by the massacre of kindergarteners in Newtown, Connecticut threatens to keep me in darkness once and for all.  Rain pelts my face, and has the sting of icy fingers around my throat.  I have nothing to say, I plead.  Let me hide my failure.  Let me give up my hope.  But my own words come back to haunt me so I keep struggling against the odds.  How can I think of even one thing to say?!  My candle is extinguished.  Yet I remember I am a light carrier, and people are waiting.  A feminine voice taunts from a faraway corner.  “And what about YOU?  Are you HIDING back there?”   THE VOICE IS MY OWN.

I strike the match one last time, and there is a small flame.  I hold it to the wick until my fingers get hot.  It fires and sputters, but the light has come.  The flame transfers to the candle and I drop the match with great relief.  I hold my candle carefully as the comforting light expands so I can see those who are suffering all around me.  I am not alone.  I was never alone.

I hold it up and the faces, though twisted with grief, turn to the sudden light.  There is an instant awareness not one of us was ever truly alone, despite our perceptions moments before.  The light reveals gaps in the crowd.  We have missing.  The small spaces between some parents…the tall spots among families with children.  We have 28 gaps all told.  We all see the gaps and say nothing.

What is most painful about being a light carrier is having to recognize both good and evil.  We must accept and acknowledge that both are true and exist simultaneously.  The simple truth I must share now is this:  It is in our own individual power to change the balance of it.  In addition, we are powerless to make that change for anyone else.

Someone blew my candle out, but I have managed to light it once more.  I will do this again.  This is my decision, even if I were the only one left who was able to do so.  I encourage you to do the same.

Blood Crying Out from the Ground

Blood Sweat and Tears. Number 2

Blood Sweat and Tears. Number 2 (Photo credit: Jakob E)

When Cain killed his baby brother Abel, he thought he got away with it, but the Bible says God confronted him, saying, “His blood cried out to me from the ground.”  It isn’t that God did not see the murder as it happened, but the death was just the beginning of the story.  Cain, in typical sociopathic fashion had already put it out of his mind.  He felt no remorse.

God asked him where his brother was, and Cain replied, “I don’t know.”  Then in an even more off-hand remark, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” or in today’s syntax, “How should I know?  I don’t care where he is or what he is doing.”  But the blood soaked soil was ringing into God’s ears at that very moment.

To GOD he said this!  Lying to God’s face is a not a good idea, and Cain paid the price.  He was not struck down, but God put a mark on him, and cursed the ground that had been his line of work.  Cain, from that point on, wandered the world as a marked man.

I have to wonder if this is true of all murders.  Because blood is an important life force, I believe it is.  If so, America is a blood soaked land.  In thinking it over, we must stop lying to ourselves, especially but to God in particular.  We should CARE.  And we do, momentarily, but ten minutes after hearing of another victim we forget about her.  We move on, as if we are not her keeper…

Think of the number of outright murders (in the world at large) we have processed during our lives!  Even if you limit it to premeditated murder, it is a huge number!  Limit it to just America and it is still astonishing.  Daily we hear of another and another and another…and we have come to accept it.  But this unending violence in our streets and homes is sickening beyond comprehension.  All this blood!

This blood cannot be disregarded by a civilized society.  We must never even think of saying to ourselves, much less to God, “How should I know?  Am I responsible for others?”

America’s society of tolerance and restraint has arrived at the point we cannot go on and remain a civilized society.  The violence against innocent women and children at least should force us to cry out to each other and to the Holy God Himself.  We are each other’s keeper, and to continue believing we are only responsible for our own selves and our own well-being is just too thin a cover.

Keep Writing!

Casting about for a worthwhile blog topic, I clicked around online, reading many great pieces of solitary thought, and stories about historical and inspiring characters, and many other things…but I knew I was procrastinating.  I had no inspiration of my own, yet I had the itch.

I decided to write about character development.  When humming along in a story, I do not construct characters.  They appear from the mists fully developed and with their own opinions and dialects.  My job is to “record what they say and do” which helps my story along in ways I never could have anticipated!

Gunny is one character who came into life in just that way.  Here is an excerpt:

         “Name’s Gunny.  What’s yours?”

         “William O. Barrett, sir, please to make your acquaintance,” Billy responded automatically, still staring at the food and ignoring the man’s outstretched hand.

           Gunny turned his back on the boy and turned toward the fire, pouring a cup of coffee into an enamel cup.

           “Here you go.” he said, rising and turning, holding the cup out to Billy.  Billy took it without saying anything, and took a careful sip, testing the heat of the black liquid before taking a mouthful.  The aroma filled him as much as the liquid itself.

He blew across the top of it before taking another sip.  He leaned against a large granite boulder.

           Gunny stared hard at him while he drank.  The old man’s powers of observation surpassed even his own awareness of them.  They had built up naturally over time.  His curiosity had a patient quality about it, a self contained and non interfering quality.  In the same way that Billy had assessed the red mare, Gunny now assessed his visitor, sensing more than knowing that something was amiss.  He checked the fish, and turned it over in the pan, saying nothing.

          Billy’s voice cut into the atmosphere, saying,

          “What happened to the mare?”

           This truly surprised Gunny.  His preliminary assessment of the kid did not include the power of observation as a probable skill.  Gunny did not respond.  It wasn’t out of rudeness, but was simply due to the fact that he did not know for sure what was wrong.

           In the world of horsemen silence is preferred to openly stated ignorance.  The ultimate way to display ignorance is to pretend you know more than you do. 

Gunny is a favorite character of mine, even though Billy is the real protagonist in my novel. I believe I may write another where Gunny plays a featured role.  He is an amazingly generous  person who helps to save Billy’s life and later dies at Billy’s hands when the situation is reversed.  I would love to develop a novel about Gunny’s life and times.

I like to use dialogue for character development, allowing each character to speak for himself.  Gunny is a man of very few words, but even his reticence relays much about his character.

It was somewhat frustrating to me as a writer to record Gunny’s contribution to the story.  I had to allow him time to show me, through his body language what kind of person he was.  I had to see deeply into him, and respond to the very few words he spoke to Billy.

I had no idea who he was when I first encountered him.  But as he revealed himself to me, I would laugh at his jokes, marvel at his kindness, and grieve for his losses.  I cannot fully understand how he “came to be” but to me, he is a very real human being.

October 4, 2012

Psalm 137

Psalm 137 (Photo credit: Mouse)

To be on the planet at all is a stupendous opportunity!  Each of us has the chance to improve conditions here, clarifying and identifying situations that could be ameliorated by our special attention.

How frequently I become overwhelmed with “things that something should be done about”!

It is so easy to get lost in the labyrinth of problems.  The planet is too large for me!  The old platitude occurs to me today:  Bloom where you are planted.  I have always chafed at the idea of being planted.  I yearn for lightness, airiness, freedom.  Still…

We all need the good earth to pull sap into our veins, to stay hydrated, to fully live.  My daily practice is to open the Holy scriptures before the day is fully underway.  Here is what I do:  I ask God to lead me to what I need.  Then, I open the Bible randomly to a place in the Old Testament, the story of the Jewish people, the chosen family of God.  His miraculous interactions with ordinary people all through it make exciting reading.  Though often callous and rebellious, God reached down to guide and protect them from their many enemies.

Next, I open randomly to the New Testament, reading the pages in front of me, and finishing at least one chapter.  They are usually short.  The sayings of Jesus are in red ink in my version.  But quite often, the passages I am reading are all in black.  Both provide immediacy and intimacy for me, drawing me (small inconsequential human) to know there is a plan, has always been a plan, and I am counted.  I have a part to play.

Next I go to Proverbs, a book of 31 chapters, one for each day.  Pithy, wise, simple to understand, if I were only be able to read one book, it would be Proverbs.  Today is October 4, so I read Chapter 4.  Verse 23 is circled in my Bible:  Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.  I ponder its meaning.

Last of all, I randomly select a Psalm.  For me, the Psalms are a book of comfort and reassurance.  Once I have read a chapter, I feel refreshed and close my Bible.  The entire process is about 15-20 minutes.  If I want to, I can read more, but normally I do not.  I am a busy girl!

The immediacy of knowing God is with me, even when I seriously doubt it, as others have done since the very beginning, way before my time, and long before these books were written consoles me.  I relax, knowing it has never been just up to me to solve every temporal problem on earth.  All things work together in some mysterious way.  All we have to do is align ourselves with goodness, love, light and peace, to get a perspective of knowing when we have choices, to make good ones.  It is a VERY individual walk, yet it affects the entirety.

I must bloom today, but could not do so if I had not been firmly planted first.

Alone Time

Arkansas River Valley

Arkansas River Valley (Photo credit: Pierce Presley)

My mom told my soon to be husband, “Be sure to allow her plenty of alone time, plenty of privacy.  She needs it,” which mystified me at the time.  I had never been aware my parents knew this, or allowed it.  I was one of six children!  We were seldom “alone”.

We were not just an insular FAMBLY.  At most times, we had grandmothers, uncles, stray cousins, and “shirt tail relatives” living under our roof.  Most of my childhood consisted of various combinations of adults and children coming and going, eating and working, and going to school under my Mom‘s watchful eye.  Everyone contributed and behaved themselves, or they did not stay long.  Those who did not pass the test found themselves packing to leave within a short time.   Not many failed the test, and we all benefitted by those who remained.

So where in the world did I get noticed for needing “privacy”?  I was in the middle of the pack.  I was third daughter, with three younger brothers.  I was not the prettiest, smartest, or most athletic, but I say with no arrogance whatsoever I was the most treasured.  The mystery of my life is why.  I got noticed among the crowd and not just by my parents, but by everyone.  I did nothing whatsoever to deserve special attention, but I will admit, I loved EVERYONE, and considered myself an observer of good in others.  I believe this ability to recognize the good in others is what it was that drew people to me.

But the “need for privacy” was a something I did not know I had enjoyed until my mother said so, and by then I was grown, engaged, and nearly out of the house!  Still, when she said it, I felt understood, loved, and accepted.  I was aware for the first time what I was leaving behind.  I left laughing, and with optimism in my soul.

The years that followed left me breathless with public and private demands that sapped my strength, leaving me empty, despairing, grieving for unspeakable losses, and knowing I had never been visible to the family I produced on my own.  I had failed to exist at all, losing myself in the process of attempting to be a good wife and mother.

One day I approached the electric doors at the grocery store, and they failed to open.  I knew they were operable, as I had seen others going in before me, and they were opening as expected.  BUT THEY DID NOT OPEN FOR ME.  I stood before them, and at that moment I knew I had lost myself, and I was not visible even to an electric eye, whose opinion had been universally accepting moments before.  It was real.  I was transparent.  I did not have any substance whatsoever, and it was not my imagination as I had hoped.  I will never forget the day I knew I had ceased to exist.  As suddenly as they had blocked me, the doors opened, and I stepped in, and relief replaced despair.

My parents had died, my sister was gone, and I was living a life far from my parents’ dreams and my own.  I had no one to talk to.  I had left all familiar friends and family in places many hours from Arkansas, and I did not matter anymore, to those closest to me, to those I had invested in most heavily, my husband and half grown children.

It was “alone time”.  I am not able to describe that day with any kind of clarity, but I can say I was keenly aware something had gone very wrong, and it would be up to me to set things right.  This much I knew:  Nobody else could see me, and if I were to become visible, I had to change my life.

I took my groceries home, put them away and made supper, acting out my role the same as always.  Even my closest child noticed nothing.  But I knew, deep inside, that I existed. That I was visible.  That God made me, sent me, and valued me, and would take me home someday.  I knew I mattered, and I realized it was pointless to be “perfect” anymore.  I had given all my goodness away to those who did not even care.

Oddly, this was not the end, but the beginning.

Day One

My name often elicits the question, “Is that short for something?”  Tandy…it is unusual, but has become more common as I have aged.  I have four friends on Facebook with that name.  I “friended them” just because of the name!

The story of day one is one of those defining moments in my life.  Dad sat in the waiting room as I was being delivered into the world and heard a voice in his mind and heart:  “TANDY”.  It came without warning, and he knew of nobody with this name, but when he saw me, he proclaimed me “Tandy” and no protest from my mother could change it.

It was such a terrible argument, I am told they left the hospital with a baby named “Baby Girl Holter” and a promise they would send in my name within seven days.  It never happened.  I became Tandy Joann, with the nickname Tandy Jo.  I could not say it, and Dodo evolved into “Dodie” over many years.

When I entered school, I insisted on my proper name “Tandy” and Dodie fell out of daily use.  It was a hard choice to be Tandy.  School children mispronounced it, made fun of it and made it a much bigger deal than it should have been.  I grew to hate the name.  I dreaded saying it.  I began to hate introductions.  I hated my dad for choosing it.  I hated my mom for giving in to him.  She had wanted “Jane Elizabeth” and I secretly knew I should have been Jane all along…

At eighteen I decided to apply for a passport.  Much to the surprise of everyone involved, a certified copy of my birth certificate arrived, proclaiming me to be “Baby Girl Holter”.  Officially, I mean, legally.  I actually thought I might take that name “Baby Girl” just for fun, but it seemed demeaning to a half grown woman, much less a future achiever.  It fell to me to make the decision about my name.  I could fill in any name I wanted!  Not many get such an opportunity.

I did not make this decision lightly.  I thought about it, prayed about it, tried on Jane Elizabeth in my imagination, and other cool names while looking into the mirror.  Finally, I decided on Tandy Joann.

To step into one’s name is very empowering.  Tandy is not short for anything.  Tandy is a stand alone name and I love it.  It separates me from the crowd, and I still answer to Tammy, Candy, Tanya, or anything close.  I understand such confusion.  I do not demand compliance from anyone anymore, because I could have been anyone else I wanted to be, and decided to be my self.

P. S.  Those grandchildren of mine call me “Dodie” and I consider it an affectionate homage to the “Baby Girl” I will always be down deep inside.

31 Days in October to Write My Story

Portrait of Socrates. Marble, Roman artwork (1...

Portrait of Socrates. Marble, Roman artwork (1st century), perhaps a copy of a lost bronze statue made by Lysippos. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The challenge comes from Lisa Jo Baker at http://www.lisajobaker.com.  She suggests I write “my story” over the next 31 days in October.  I have been wondering about this lately.  On a Dr. Phil Show, he said we have 10 defining moments, 7 critical choices, and 5 individuals that have impacted us for a lfetime.  These external factors help to shape the life we live.

CAN THIS BE TRUE?  I will be writing about this for the next thirty one days.  “The unexamined life is not worth living.”  Socrates could not be wrong.  Join me, won’t you?