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.

Advertisements

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?

Pigs in the Parlor

Terrible suggestion, right?  Years ago I read a book titled “Pigs in the Parlor”, and it was about deliverance of demons from human beings, in a literal sense.  I have forgotten most of it, but thirty years ago, it was quite a sensation.

I am not going to talk about the merits of the book, or even the merits of deliverance today, but rather the metaphorical idea of having pigs in our parlors.  First of all, in 2012, very few young people even know what a parlor is, and the same group only have a very limited idea of pigs.  Even in my own mind, a parlor has little meaning, and all I know of pigs is to stay as far from them as possible.

The parlor was a kind of salon in which the hostess received guests in the most precious and formal terms.  The very best furnishings, valuables, and serving pieces were on display for all to see and enjoy, and envy, truth be told.  Prim ladies sat at the edge of the chairs, backs Victorian straight, sipping English tea from porcelain cups and saucers, stirred gently (only two circles, never touching the side of the cup) while the general conversations continued in either hushed or tinkling tones.  It was a “presentation” room, where people entered with the understanding they would use their very best behavior.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parlour

We do not have parlors in this sense anymore.  It is probably never going to become stylish to have one.  Yet, in ladies’ circles all over the world, one can see remnants in our behaviors.  We like to present our best face to the outside world.  We try not to make mistakes, or look foolish in public.  We meet girlfriends in outdoor cafes, and gossip over coffee and a tiny snack.  We meet for “Teas” occasionally, dressing for the occasion, and feel very special, like tiny girls over toy tea sets.

What is a “pig in the parlor”?  Weeeelllll…let’s just say you will definitely know one when you see one!  It is the bully who pushes other kids at the McDonald’s playground.  It is the drunk who shows up at his best friend’s wedding, in a loosely organized tux, barely able to stand.  It is the husband and father acting in  complete domination over his family members.  Or it could be the haughty woman in spike heels demanding faster service or else.  These are the people who disrupt, embarrass, knock things over, the ones who are never punished, never caught, who go about muddying up the peaceful and tidy scenes of our lives.  They are arrogant, rude, loud, and unashamed.  We say to ourselves, “That’s terrible.”  But we do nothing, as if our failure to act is more “polite”.  Constrained by our precious traditions, we fail to act appropriately.

I have had just enough of both of these worlds to say emphatically, when a pig enters a parlor, it is time to act.  You reach for your fan, your poker, or take off a shoe and deal with that thing!  Pigs do not belong in polite society.  They must be dealt with according to what they are.  Until we accept the pigs for who they actually ARE we remain fearful, and ill at ease.  Our tolerance of pigs leads only to disaster.

You are wondering who I am speaking about.  (Refer to my three examples above.)  Surprise! I feel frustration with everyone BUT the pigs!  We cannot blame the pig for storming into the parlor for tea and crumpets.  This is his nature.  He loves to squeal, duck under things, bite and roll in the mud.  A pig in his natural habitat is a very good thing.  But in a room full of china cabinets and glassware, he is out of his element, and we must assist him out the door.

I am against you, myself, and any other person who feels tolerance for pigs extends to our front parlors.  It does not.  And every time we do not confront boorish behavior when others are victimized by it we are wrong.  We must throw off constraint, niceties, and precious good manners until the pig is roundly dealt with and we restore sanity.  Next time you see a “pig in the parlor” ask yourself why you fail to act.  Take responsibility for it.  Own the behavior within yourself which allows pigs to roam freely among us.

And one last thing:  While we are introspective, we should examine ourselves to ensure we are not one of them.  A pig does not care if you are polite, loving and tolerant.  He is going to do his muddy thing until you admit he is a pig, and run him out of there.  THIS HE UNDERSTANDS.  And if we act as one, he will stop seeing the merits of entering that space in the future.  He will remain in his pen, lying in the mud, sunning himself, with no recriminations, resentments, or grudges.  He will be smiling.

Think What You Want

A strongly held opinion is not something we arrive at lightly.  Normally it is born of life experience, and grows over time to be reinforced, eventually becoming crystallized into a foundational structure for every action we take on a daily basis.  The belief has become so ingrained we operate within it, without even understanding why.

We arrive at adulthood early in life, but from the day we leave our parents until the day we die, we operate within the life structure provided to us during our formative years.  For this reason, the study of early childhood development has always fascinated me.  When I observe a “dysfunctional” adult, I immediately see a child who has had some kind of early childhood life trauma.  One can only imagine.

I  had to stop trying to do interventions on these people.  They are already lost.  Though this seems a harsh stance, it has saved me from disaster more than a few times.  I am now using my personal energy and resources to assist young families with the arduous task of rearing healthy adults who will eventually do the same when their turns come.  As a mother who has completed the cycle of launching three daughters, I have enjoyed observing them “getting it right” even among huge piles of laundry, and supper boiling over on the stove.  Their children absolutely glow.  And they have friends with kids just like them, which gives me great optimism about the future of this world.

Mom was a school teacher, one of those very gifted and energetic individuals who could bring talent from nearly any child.  When she retired she said sadly, “Give me a child five years old, and I will tell you whether he will succeed or fail in life.”  WHAT?!!  She went on to explain her opinion.  “By age five, the foundation for the rest of his life has been set.  His love of learning, his courage, his willingness to cooperate within a group, and many other things are already in place.  When he arrives in the classroom devoid of good experiences it is nearly impossible to reverse the damage.”

Wow.  This was a very heavy thought for me as a young mother.  I played devil’s advocate, sounding the depths of her position to be sure she had said something she could defend, because if it were true, it meant parents play a critical role in the general health of our entire society.  Before we finished she had explained it has nothing much to do with religion, political views, or even the public schools.  Great kids and bad come from homes.  HOMES.

Now I am a “wisdom carrier” myself, one of the “elders” who observe from the sidelines, watching  young families struggle with decisions that could break a heart, yet still must be made.  They consult me daily, looking for some hint, a clue, some guidance in the process.

A little known secret of the elders is never spoken.  I will take the risk here.  The secret is simply this:  There is no escape.  None.  You must do the work of LOVE, and it takes a lifetime to understand all that this implies.  Ironically, it is what any newborn knows from its first moments.  We are born with every tool, every willingness to learn, every good intention, and too much trust.

All we can do as parents is preserve this or mess it up.  By age five, the windows are closed.  The child enters the larger world with the evidence of our choices.  The most important work we can do in life is to rear children with their tools, their willingness to learn, and their love and trust intact.  If we get even close to right, we have made an impact on the world at large.

When you have time, watch a large group of young children at play, and without a doubt, you will be able to spot a child who glows and a child whose light has been diminished.  One will graduate with honors, and the other one will have a criminal record later in life.  Sound extreme?  Think what you want to.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are  created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable  rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  Thomas Jefferson was referring to men all over the world.  For us to return to sanity in America, we must, MUST extend these tenets to include our children at the earliest formative stages.

Be a light carrier, for the days are dark ahead.  We must martial ever resource, and this includes our foundation, the children.  They are the real wisdom carriers. If you doubt it, sit down and talk to one of them.