Armistice Day Resolution

calm daylight evening grass

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Interesting fact: you don’t have wait for New Year’s Day to start working on a goal. This November 11 marks the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that silenced the guns of World War I, or the Great War as it was called at the time. It had been one of the largest and bloodiest conflicts in the history of humankind, resulting in millions of deaths and immeasurable pain and suffering.

By the time it ended, the world was hungry for peace. It was supposed to be the “war to end all wars” yet many of the wars that have followed had roots in that conflict. It turns out peace isn’t something you get once, set on a shelf to admire and there it stays forever. Peace requires an active, sustained effort, always. We will never have to stop working for it.

Robert F. Kennedy said, “Each time a man(sic) stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

And Desmond Tutu has said, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

So my Armistice Day resolution is to do my little bit, starting with internal work, to create a ripple. To actively look for little bits of good I can do where I am each day.

A friend of mine recently passed away after a six-year struggle with cancer. She was truly a light in the world — one of those individuals who inspires the best in others. After the last presidential election, when many of us were on social media discussing what we could do, or what we would do to try to save the world, she posted that she was in the middle of chemo treatments and much too weak to go to meetings or phone bank or march. But she would spend some time each day on loving kindness meditations. That was her ripple.

I have decided, though it won’t be the whole of my action, I will try to help that ripple spread by focusing on the same thing as my main goal. My first concrete step is peace within myself, so I can then work on the world. In that spirit, and to honor my friend’s memory, I have the goal to engage in a loving kindness meditation at least four mornings a week. From there, my actions can build.

Advertisements

A Word About Redemption Stories

I love a redemption story as much as anyone. But there are certain necessary elements — remorse, concern for people who may have been hurt, an attempt to make amends, a change in behavior going forward. If those pieces are missing, it’s not a redemption arc. It’s a story of a stunted character trying to shirk responsibility.

Patricia Highsmith is the only author that immediately comes to mind who successfully made a character like this the main focus of her stories. Usually, a character of this nature would have a starring role only as an antagonist to the hero. And if said character gains power, that’s not evidence of redemption. That’s just upping the stakes.

Yes, these thoughts were prompted by current events.

 

Feel Good Nonfiction Reads

How’s your blood pressure? Edging up a little, like everyone else’s? Are you feeling overwhelmed by the daily news? We all could use some reading material that will buoy us right about now. I have put together a list for just this purpose. I’m sticking to nonfiction for now, out of a personal desire to remember the positives in the real world. Some of these books contain tragic elements, but also the overcoming of such. Here are a dozen titles I hope will comfort, inspire, amuse and make you feel better about the world.

x400The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba. My son told me this was the most inspiring book he’s ever read. Possibly the world’s most resourceful teenager builds a windmill from scraps he’s foraged and brings electricity to his village in Malawi.

 

Grandma Gatewood's WalkGrandma Gatewood’s Walk by Ben Montgomery. The story of an average woman who decided to do something with herself after leaving an abusive marriage. She liked to walk. Long story short, we can thank her for the preservation of the Appalachian Trail.

 

theboysintheboatThe Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. I never would have picked up this book if it had not been chosen for our community-wide reading selection a few years ago. Now I recommend it to everyone. If you’re in the mood for a tale of overcoming adversity to achieve something great through the virtues of teamwork and cooperation, this book is for you.

vgl_heroVery Good Lives by J.K. Rowling. A small volume containing the Harry Potter author’s commencement speech on the benefits of failure.

 

 

cvr9780743211239_9780743211239_lg

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio by Terry Ryan. The subtitle for this is “How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less.” If we could bestow posthumous Nevertheless She Persisted prizes, Evelyn Ryan would surely qualify. A genius at advertising jingles, she kept her family in laundry detergent, appliances and adequate housing  by winning contest after contest.

9781250057839All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot. Funny and (mostly) affirming anecdotes from the life of a country veterinarian. There are a few sequels if this one leaves you wanting more.

 

 

outcastsppbk-smOutcasts United by Warren St. John Refugee youths from disparate backgrounds come together to form an American soccer team.

 

 

41lxckpvall-_ac_us218_Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit. Why there’s still hope.

 

 

antidote-240

The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman. Even curmudgeons need something uplifting occasionally.

 

Lunarb9781449479930_frontcover-tmbaboon by Chris Grady. Cartoons depicting the life of a woke moon monkey dad.

 

 

cvr9780743285001_9780743285001_hr

She Got Up Off the Couch by Haven Kimmel. I laughed. I cried. I cheered, as the author’s mother fights her way out of the depression that kept her glued to the couch for years and overcomes every obstacle to make a better life for herself.

 

51hli3qtxcl-_sx358_bo1204203200_Dear Data by Giorgia Lupi. Where art, friendship and data all merge, you’ll find this book.

 

 

 

 

Meditative Librarian

pile of books

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I saw a job listing for a meditative librarian. But on second read it was metadata librarian.

Nonetheless, now that the position of meditative librarian has been created, even if only in my own mind, I aim to fill it. I will be your meditative librarian. Let’s begin.

Find a comfortable position, in a meditation hammock perhaps.

Feel the weight of the book in your hands. Allow the pages to open naturally.

Breathe in the new book or old book smell.

Feel the weight of the words in your soul.

If reading leads to thoughts, no matter. Let those thoughts occur naturally with no resistance. When you notice them, simply turn your attention back to your reading.

Feelings may arise. Allow them to be.

Let yourself sink into the words on the page. Feel the connection to the world created therein. Hold the characters in your mind. May they be happy. May they be healthy. May they overcome the story’s conflicts.

You are as one with the other readers who have inhabited this same world. All are interconnected.

Allow yourself to continue to read, not trying to control or direct your emotional responses.

Breathe in, rising action. Breathe out, denouement.

When you are ready, end the reading meditation gradually. Close the covers slowly. Take a few cleansing breaths. Stretch and allow your gaze once again to take in your surroundings.

Remember that a regular reading practice contributes to health and well-being. Set aside a time every day if possible.

Poem: Allegiance

Allegiance

The city filled with flags proclaims
its puffed-up patriotism
the billowed colors clamoring
for adoration, for awe.

The crest of a cardinal catches
my eye instead, my loyalty pledged
to saving it, to a future of
scarlet feathers brightening trees.

A constellation of white wood
anemones on the creek’s bank
garners my allegiance, my hope
for beauty in the years to come.

The first blueberries of the year
bring with them a taste of wonder
and a wish for a republic
filled with enough fruit for all.

Tomatoes, roses, rainbow stripe,
great whales, clean snow, and polar bears,
blue morpho butterflies, clear skies –
all things for which I take a stand.

-Ida Bettis Fogle, 2018

***

I’m sure I will still wear my red, white and blue as I usually do on July 4th. I will not miss my city’s fireworks display. And I still find things to celebrate about our country.

But I wrote this poem because I feel that patriotism lately is being overtaken by nationalism, and that too many people — especially those who are positioned to really do something about the environment — are more interested in immediate personal gain, while not looking at the big picture.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?: Thinking About Fred Rogers

Mister Rogers

Credit: Daren McClure, flickr

We didn’t have a television when my kids were little. We occasionally popped a DVD into the computer for them, but TV as such didn’t come into their lives until they were out of grade school. The only thing I’m sorry they missed was Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. we did read some of his books and we owned a cassette tape of his songs that they listened to again and again. So he still influenced their lives.

These days I work in a public library. Fifteen years after Fred Rogers passed away, parents are still coming in looking for his books to help their children through difficult issues. One mom recently said to me, “My first thought when I was trying to figure out how to help my son (through a loss) was, there has a be a Mister Rogers book we can find.”

Over the weekend I went with my husband and 20-year-old son to see Won’t You Be My Neighbor? — the documentary about Fred Rogers. My husband might have made it through with dry eyes. Maybe. Neither my son nor I did.

Spoiler: Was Mister Rogers really like that? According to everyone interviewed in the movie, yes, absolutely. The movie didn’t paint Fred Rogers as perfect and all-knowing. It showed how he had some growing to do through the years on some issues and that he struggled with self-doubt. He was human, but a pretty gosh-darned exemplary human.

The truly great thing about Mister Rogers was that he didn’t lie to children. He took on tough, tough subjects and let kids have their feelings about them. He never pretended children’s lives were easy. He never said, don’t be scared or don’t be angry. The vital part of his message lay in telling children those feelings are to be expected sometimes, but that there are healthy ways to express them and that you will survive having them. He also deconstructed gender stereotypes by showing that a man could be a gentle, patient, nurturer.

My newly grown son was a child who needed gentle, patient, listening adults in his life. After the movie, he seemed profoundly moved. All he could say at first was, “He really understood children and what they need.” Later we talked some more about the bigger philosophy of Mister Rogers and his message of unconditional love.

Go see the movie if you can at all. It’s a needed reminder in these dark times that there are people who strive for goodness and kindness, people who dedicate their lives to making the world better. It’s also a good reminder that heroism comes in many forms, including quiet small acts such as inviting someone of another race to soak his feet in your pool at a time when public pools were segregated.

I came away inspired to be my best self. I will try to be the person Mister Rogers believed I could be. And I will remember that even he had self-doubt, but he kept working anyway.

 

 

My Favorite Authors Pitch Their First Pages

I recently sat in a “First Page Reads” session where two agents, an editor and a creative writing professor collaborated to Gong Show writers on their work. Writers were instructed to submit anonymously the first page of a work of fiction. A moderator read each work aloud, while the panel of four followed along from printed copies, stopping the show when one of them found a spot where they would quit reading if the piece were submitted to them for publication.

Writers were expecting constructive feedback on the entire first page. But for the vast majority, it was only some snarky comment after a sentence or two, with the rest of the page not even being read. And it was all done with an air of this is the one right and true viewpoint. Also, without any positives to balance the negatives, or remarks about what was working on the page. This is a major peeve of mine, seeing aspiring writers bullied and discouraged by those who could be helping and encouraging them.

crumpled paper on gray surface

Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

I’ve had enough work published, and experienced enough legitimate editing and critique to be able to put the “feedback” in context and not take it to heart. But I could see this wasn’t true for some other participants. Attendees who entered the room buzzing with optimistic anticipation left an hour later looking defeated. At least one was muttering about giving up entirely. Well done, panelists! I can’t believe I paid money for that experience.

And here’s the thing. For every work they scathingly lambasted based on only a couple of sentences, I could think of a book I loved that would not have passed their muster. I imagined some of my favorite authors pitching first pages to this group.

You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.

“That’s enough, Mr. Twain. We don’t need to hear more. So much wrong in one sentence. The character speaks directly to the reader. Just no. Fiction is never written in second person. And the over the top dialect. Nobody has the energy to read that for an entire book. Stick to mainstream English. You know, how regular people (people like us) talk. Next!”

Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide.

“Stop, stop, stop. Ms. Hurston, you’re giving the reader no idea what this book is about or even whether a character is going to appear any time soon. This is mere philosophical meandering, not a story. Show us some action. Next!”

“To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth.”

“Mr. Steinbeck, did no instructor ever tell you not to open with weather? You never start a story talking about weather. It’s simply not done. Next!”

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

“Hold up. You’re telling, not showing, Ms. Rowling. Next!”

“To be born again,” sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, “first you have to die.”

“The first words of a narrative should never be dialogue, Mr. Rushdie. Next!”

So there you go. Put the literary world in the hands of this panel and we would have none of these wonderful works.

I hope the writers in the room who looked so downcast will come to realize this. I hope they will realize they are in excellent company.