Surviving Mother Nature

As I sit and watch the news, most of it is about the weather.  It gives me great pleasure and gratitude that I am in a very small area of the United States that has survived the current blast of winter weather afflicting the rest of the nation with barely any damage.  But everybody else – hooboy!  For all who don’t recognize the term, ‘hooboy!’ is an exclamation pretty much equivalent to ‘OMG!’.

I have been through forest fires before aerial support was available and blizzards with only a wood stove and been caught in flash floods in pitch black darkness.  I remember walking across a parking lot in Austin, Texas on a day when the wind began gusting to speeds I had never known, and it lifted me off my feet for a few terrifying seconds.  I’ve survived tornadoes, hurricanes, and blistering heat that took away my breath.

I’ve been grateful that Winter Storm Goliath (I just love that they’ve started naming them like hurricanes) has pretty much just left my area with a glancing blow.  The places I used to live were not so lucky.  I lost a cousin several years ago when he was a lineman trying to help Oklahoma blizzard victims get their power lines back up, and now Oklahoma is suffering again.  I’ve been praying for those volunteers trying to get the power restored for them.

One of my Facebook friends just posted that the local emergency alert system posted a warning about a freezing fog.  I used to live in his area, and I’m glad I no longer do, because – hooboy, again – does that bring back a memory!

When I was a girl we lived in the Ozarks in Missouri. One year while we were out of school during Christmas vacation, it became very warm. It stayed warm long enough for the dormant trees to have their sap start rising and flowers start blooming. It was like late spring and everyone enjoyed it thoroughly.

In those days before weather apps and satellites and accurate weather reports, families, farmers, and everybody else was caught by surprise and shock when, after a heavy warm fog descended and lingered for a day or so, the temperature crashed to below freezing. Way below freezing. We lived in the country up in the hills in heavy woods. We awoke to what sounded like a war outside.

Since our home was heated by a wood stove, it was also cold. While dad swiftly lit a fire that had been unnecessary for quite a while, we tried to rub the windows clear only to find the ice was all over the outside. The explosions and cracks and snaps were the tree branches exploding as the sap suddenly froze and expanded.  Tree limbs of all sizes were fragmented and sent flying through the air. 

The first thing we had noticed on getting out of bed was the lack of electricity.  Sure enough, the ice had coagulated on the power lines and brought them down.  My dad struggled outside after the trees quieted and looked around as best he could.  He reported when he returned that there was about an inch of ice on everything.  

We weren’t able to find out how the rest of the area was faring until the freeze thawed and the population was able to get around some, and the power was restored to our non battery radios and television.  We knew it was dire enough where we were, since we had to constantly struggle to get to our wood supply and bring it in, and worse yet, find a way to get water.  Our water came from an underground water supply that required an electric pump to bring it into the house.

So did all our neighbors, except for an elderly couple living a couple of hills away.  They still had an old fashioned hand pump water system.  Our dad joined all the other men on our road slipping and sliding their way to the couple’s house carrying what they could to haul water.  They had to walk, because vehicles could not handle the ice at all.

The cold was intense.  My sisters and I joined together in one old iron framed bed, just large enough to hold two girls at the top and two at the bottom, and my youngest sister, barely a toddler, stayed warm between our parents in their bed.  We huddled around the stove in the living room when we were forced to get up long enough to eat.  Our small home had been built before insulation, and was drafty.  Going to the bathroom was unpleasant, and we ignored personal hygiene until we had water again.  But we had it good, considering what others had to deal with.

Remember me saying that farmers were taken by surprise, too?  Our area of the Ozarks was farm country.  Lots of dairy cattle, beef, horses, chickens, livestock and pets of all kinds were out in the fields and yards enjoying the warm weather.  They stayed out in the fog, because who worried about a little water?  The cattle were almost all lying down, probably chewing their cuds and enjoying the warm ground, when the temperature dropped.

Horror stories emerged as the news began to filter to us.  Farmers awoke to the screams of their animals as the creatures tried to rise from the ground, only to discover the heavy ice now coating them had frozen their milk bags to the ground, and their lurching attempts to rise had torn their milk bags open and ripped the hide from their bellies.  Hundreds of animals had to be put down in the fields that first morning, then their carcasses disposed of after the farmers’ tractors could finally find purchase on the ice.  My gym teacher had to put her mare’s new foal down after she found it had tried to leap to its feet and ripped its hooves off.

Because of the extensive damage to the power lines, the dairy farmers who had surviving cattle had to milk by hand and soon found themselves unable to deal with the cows who were loudly expressing their pain as their milk bags distended without relief.  They called on the local agricultural agents for help, and generators were finally discovered and flown in from all over to power their milking machines.

All the children my age were affected (some to their delight) when it was discovered the sudden freeze had broken the school’s steam heating system that had been shut down over Christmas vacation, but not drained.  New parts were brought in, only to freeze and break before the steam heating could beat back the intense cold.  We had to go to school through June that year to make up for the time we lost in January.  That was no fun, since our school had no air conditioning.

It was a rough winter, but the lessons lingered.  Work together with family and friends.  Know your neighbors.  We always have water stored, and a way to keep warm no matter what heating system our house has.  I don’t understand people who have all electric homes and apartments.  Always have food that doesn’t have to be cooked, and keep the freezers full so the foods can keep themselves cold in there.  Have a way to light the house in the absence of electricity, and very importantly, have a way to pass the time without computer, television, video games, or recharging smart phones.  Keep the gas tanks full in the vehicles and bug out bags prepared in case of evacuation.  Those lessons have got my family through bad weather, and bad times, of all kinds.

My prayers go out for all the travelers trying to get home, the homebound worrying about food supplies, warmth, and water, and the professionals trying to bring them relief.  I pray for the law officers like my nephew in law, the truckers like my relatives, and the commuters like my sister.  I pray for us all, and pray that you find it in your hearts to help where you can, and find help where and when you need it.

 

Saving the Potential

There is a song called “Do Something” written and sung by Matthew West.  It is a contemporary Christian song about how we should stop complaining about the state of the world and do something about it.  I was reminded of it last Saturday when our local Baptist Association’s Women on Mission organization hosted a WorldCrafts bazaar.  WorldCrafts (http://www.worldcrafts.org) is a division of Women’s Missionary Union, part of the Southern Baptist Convention.  Say what you will about large religious organizations, WorldCrafts is a great idea.

The whole point of WorldCrafts is the realization of that old saying “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish, feed him for life.”  Poverty, famine, war, and various other unpleasant situations are rampant around the world, including here in the United States.  But there is something else also rampant – potential.  The potential for creativity, for making something out of nothing is found in the same places.

It’s easy to throw money at a problem and assume somebody will take care of the unpleasantness, leaving us to kick our feet up in our favorite recliner and settle down to our favorite sitcoms and ball games, feeling righteous at having done our duty.  But what happens when the economy tanks and we can’t donate anymore?  Those who were receiving all that food (if the money or food wasn’t being stolen or mishandled) are suddenly left hanging in the wind.

It also doesn’t cover the problem of shelter, clothing, health, education, and transportation.  It is only maintaining an unpleasant situation, like feeding refugees in a tent city.  But suppose the impoverished and destitute could start a business, creating a product they could sell worldwide and make enough money to buy their own food, buy transportation, buy a house, buy clothing, and employ others, who could do the same?  Suddenly, you have an economy, a growing economy that raises a community and allows growth.  You have potential at work.

WorldCrafts is a remarkable organization that takes potential and develops it, raising the living standard of not only individuals, not only families, but eventually whole communities.  It takes those who were without hope and help and makes them self sufficient.  Many of the participants are women, simply because there are so many of them who are helpless and hopeless, single mothers who have lost their husbands to war or disease, as well as many who are rescued from the sex trade.  They have no education, no transportation, no way to grow their own food, and frequently not even a home.  There are many youth who have no future, many crippled and maimed by war and disease, and men who cannot find employment in the areas where they are.

The organizers of WorldCrafts try to find products these people can make and sell.  They bring together people willing to donate their castoff material that can be changed into a beautiful and useful product by those in need.  Instead of keeping the poor on their knees begging for charity, they put them into a merchant’s booth, selling a product they can feel pride in, making a profit that they can reinvest in their business, in their families, in their communities.  Potential has been realized.

So many times we see the poverty stricken on the media and can only feel vaguely relieved that we are not there.  We don’t see the art hiding in the dirty rags of the street people, the magnificent inventions that may come out of an uneducated child’s head if only they could learn science and technology.  Who knows what cures for diseases are hiding in the brains of people with eyes dull from hunger?

You should check out the website for WorldCrafts.  See the beautiful products, read their stories of the situations they have been rescued from.  Read what they are doing with their profits.  Think about the potential finally being realized.

WorldCrafts is not the only organization doing this.  Heifer International (http://heifer.org) is another “investment” organization that doesn’t just give once.  They provide animals of all kinds for families that can be bred and a certain number of the offspring passed along to other needy families.  Training and help is provided.  Seeds, trees, water wells, and other things needed for self sustaining communities is provided.

Other organizations all over the world do it.  They invest not in a faceless stock market, gambling that the companies and funds and stocks and bonds produce a profit for them, but in people and their growth potential.  Seed money, indeed.

If you’ve ever wished you could do something besides watch and hope somebody will do something to end a problem, check out these organizations.  You may be amazed how easy it will be to help fertilize a situation and create a tree of life, developing potential that will change the world someday.

They don’t need thousands of dollars to start.  They are already in such poor situations that what we consider a small amount of money can change their lives.  The potential found in an acorn produces a mighty oak.  What we spend on a cup of coffee could save a village.  When I was at the bazaar, I was able to buy one product, but I also offered several ideas for products that somebody might be able to produce and sell and raise their families out of poverty, send their children to school, and maybe change the world someday, somehow.

I’ve been so poor I was grateful for a bowl of beans a day.  I know how being dependent on charity grinds the soul.  I have felt the pride of earning my own money, felt the warmth of being able to help my family with that money.  I have learned self confidence, creating solutions that solved major problems.  It has been my greatest pleasure in life to help others help themselves.

Many wealthy people have learned the pain of poverty in the past few years as their world turned upside down and the skills and talents they had were no longer wanted or needed.  Situations change.  We are not guaranteed anything but salvation.  We could wind up on the streets, digging through trash cans for food, at the mercy of whoever wants to abuse us.  Would we rather stand in a bread line hoping the food lasted until we reached it or in the checkout line, using money we have made for ourselves?  What potential is being lost right now as the poor search for food and shelter in cities around the world, in our own streets, in the countrysides of countries, dodging war and famine, in brothels and sweat shops trapped with no way out?

There but for the grace of God go we…

It’s a Family Thing

“It’s the family joke,” my 88 year old uncle told me over breakfast at our favorite pancake spot.  “My brothers and sisters used to tell it all the time.  Lucky for them I think it’s funny, too.”

“It’s like this,” he explained, staring at his coffee as he concentrated on remembering the exact wording.  “It all started when I married my sister’s niece.”  He scowled at my expression.  “Not MY niece. HER niece.  There’s a difference, you know.”  Then he paused.  “You should write this down,” he suggested.  “So you get it right.”

I thought that was a good idea, so I pulled out a notepad and pen.  He proceeded with the explanation.  “You see, when I married your aunt, I became my wife’s uncle, my sister’s nephew, a first cousin to my nieces and nephews, and finally, my own uncle.”  I thought about it later, and realized he hadn’t mentioned he and his wife were also first cousins to their own children and to each other.  Huh.  I’ll have to point that out to him.  He’ll probably get a laugh out of that, too.

Relationships interest me.  I’m one of five sisters.  People often ask us if we have any brothers.  It’s our family joke that we used to, but we got rid of them.  I wonder why they always look like they’re not sure whether to believe us or not…

I live with one sister.  The others all  live alone.  If my sister and I could afford it, we’d probably live alone, too.  We’re all happy hermits, with our own preferences and habits.  Even the two of us who share a house can spend hours in silence, cheerfully ignoring each other.  One sister did get married and stayed that way for thirty years till she became a widow and raised two lovely daughters, but now she lives alone and enjoys it.  We’re close, though, when trouble looms, like when we all wound up with various forms of cancer, or somebody needs some transportation, or a hand moving something around.

Facebook has been a real boon to us, because now we can keep in touch with each others’ lives without getting on each others’ nerves, which was always a problem before.  Keeping in close contact can create friction and heat, just like with brakes.  I’ve found it’s the same way with friendships.  I’m a whole lot closer to people now that I don’t have to look at them all day, like my coworkers.  It works for us.

Because of my interest in relationships, I’ve been checking into genealogy and asking a lot of questions of my relatives.  If it weren’t for my preference for tact and manners, I’d ask lots of rude questions about their marriages, and family lives, and what are their children doing running around with that crowd?  Oh, the things I’d like to know, but know it’s rude to ask, and some questions might get me arrested for stalking…  So I stick to the relatives that aren’t around any longer.

My father and uncle’s mother told her children when they asked about him that her daddy was hung for a horse thief and that’s all she would say about it so never ask again or else!  They took her seriously.  She was the kind of woman you took seriously.  I knew her for a short while, and I totally understood.  My mom told me when I asked that as far as she knew, during the Civil War her forefathers had spent the war raiding the farms of those whose menfolk had gone away to fight.  Sheesh! Outlaws on both sides?  But a few years after that, she was listening to a history program on the radio and heard some names she recognized from her family’s lineage, and found she might have some relatives who were Union generals commanding prisoner of war camps.  My uncle and father’s paternal grandfather was a doctor in the Confederacy for all of three months.

I decided to spend some time on Ancestry.com and see what I could find.  It’s been very interesting.  My dad’s maternal grandfather’s death certificate said he died of heart disease in 1918.  Either she was wrong (or couldn’t stand her dad – apparently he was abusive) or the doctor was trying to be polite.  It also listed his father, but his mother was unknown, at least by the informant, who had his last name but an illegible first initial.  Handwriting, people!  It’s important!  Someday some genealogist will be trying to read yours! His wife died six years later of exhaustion as a result of senile dementia.  She was 62.

The Confederate doctor spent his time in the military hiding in a tent.  No, he wasn’t a coward; he had asthma, and the dust raised by all the soldiers was killing him.  But the soldiers discovered he was a doctor and formed long lines at his tent every day, because even without battles going on, you could easily get injured.  When the army was preparing to move, his commanding officers told him to go home before he got worse and just take care of the folks at home.  He obeyed, and rode horseback in a three county circuit to provide medical care for the citizenry. He had lost a young wife after a ten year marriage and seven children, and had joined the cavalry to try to get over not being able to save his own wife and child.  It was time to get back to his remaining six children.

But his three months in service was enough to score his second wife and widow a pension from the state after his death and a bed in a Confederate widow’s home in Austin until her death.  I have a copy of her application for the pension and her death certificate.  She died of ‘cancer of the heart’.  Studying her life history, I realized she had at 22 married a man old enough to be her father and started her married life with six children.  Then she got to run the homestead and his children while he doctored the public.  Tough lady, she lasted until she was 84.

I’m still working on my mom’s side.  She’s great for remembering names and I now have several pages of names and families and locations to look up.  Both she and my late father come from very prolific families and the men seem to have outlived more than one wife and had kids by all of them, so there is a lot to look up.  It’s very interesting, though, and I keep running into unexpected side trips, like the book of oaths I found from Georgia that all the men over 21 had to sign and swear they would not rise up against the United States after the end of the Civil War.  I love history, but I am so glad I didn’t live through it.

My uncle brought over the family Bible he found in a back room some years after his wife died.  I photocopied the list of births and deaths such old family Bibles always had and thumbed through the rest of it, because I’m always interested to see if the owners ever made notes in the margins like some people (read, me) do.  To my surprise, a tightly folded thin piece of paper fell from between the pages.  Opening it carefully, I discovered it was a letter written by my father’s and my uncle’s father, a farmer and carpenter, that was never sent.  It was a ‘day in the life’ kind of letter, that people used to mail to each other instead of putting it on Facebook in bits and pieces.  At the very end he mentions that his stomach is bothering him and he would take a shot of medicinal whiskey to see if it would settle.  I glanced up at the date at the top and realized in shock it was the day before he died of a burst appendix.  My uncle and I just stared at each other.  Talk about hearing ghosts of the past.

I am eager to see what else I find about my family history and any interesting little side trips.  I know my family has traveled far and wide.  A few years back, we held a Perry family reunion in a recently discovered rural cemetery.  No, we’re not weird; most cemeteries in the country were next to churches, and we are used to big celebrations involving food and faith surrounded by gravestones.  We saw several very small cars pull up next to the big pickup trucks and SUVs most of my relatives drove.  A flood of Japanese tourists, complete with collections of cameras around their necks, came up to our group as we paused over our barbecue, potato salad, watermelon, and chocolate cake.  We figured they had managed to get thoroughly lost, because this tiny Civil War era graveyard was waaaaaaay out in the sticks.  Instead, their spokesperson grinned widely, pointed at the banner somebody had hung among the trees and said “Perry?”  When we nodded, fascinated, he pointed at himself and the rest of his group and announced, “Perrys!”  We now have a large family photo of short Japanese folk surrounded by tall gangly Texan cowboys, all grinning proudly.  I can hardly wait to see who else I might be related to.

Almost forgot to add this:  To complete the family circle, I just met the newest member of our large family.  (I’m pretty sure she’s the newest at only a few weeks old.)  The family on all sides makes adorable babies and boy, do we love to take pictures.  One of the projects I’d love to do is fix a baby book with the several generations of baby photos we have, and maybe throw in the oldest photos we have.  Family should be a thing to celebrate, and if you’d rather not associate with yours, start your own.  Family is not alway made of blood connections.  Go hug someone today, and tell them a joke.

The Gardeners

By Peggy Perry copyright 2015
The garden path was smoothed and cleared by the gardeners gone before.
Flowers bloom, birds fly and sing. It seems to need no more.

Butterflies soar gently by, sweet scents float on the air,
The sun shines warmly on the scene. Contentment is found there.

But this is not our garden path to simply walk along.
It only shows what we must do to keep from going wrong.

Our work starts at their garden’s edge with their work finally done.
Plow the soil, plant the seeds, and work for the Chosen One.

Can it be called a heavy task to leave behind such beauty?
To spend our lives doing His will cannot be called mere duty!

The best memorial to give the loved ones we recall
Is to continue on the work for which Jesus gave His all.

The Ides of August

Ugh!  Thank goodness August is nearly over.  What an awful month.  What an awful summer.  Summers are usually unpleasant for my family (none of us enjoy the Texas heat) but for some reason, August has become an annual trip through bad times for us, especially my sister and I, who live together.

We don’t know what’s going on.  It’s very puzzling, but reliable as triple digit temperatures and as unpleasant as being trapped at a political rally.  What usually happens is a nosedive in our finances, no matter how much we’ve prepared for the month during the year.  We know August is coming.  Unlike Congress, which likes to pretend there is no such thing as an annual budget to pass, we acknowledge that August will show up with some emergency financial drain, and we save up as much as we can.  But it’s never enough.  Ever.  No matter what amount we save, the expense is usually double.

Family health always takes a nosedive too.  If it’s not me or my sister, it’s a family member who depends on us for transportation and help.  This year, it’s apparently all of the above.  I won’t bore you with details, and my family would kill me anyway for talking about their business.  But wow, what a summer.  I provide most of the transportation to medical appointments, and I have been very busy.  Since my car’s air conditioning is broken right now in a very expensive manner, travel adds to the unpleasantness.

My sister and I often shake our heads in amazement at everything that happens during the summer and mostly in August every year.  Don’t dwell on the bad stuff, some people tell me.  You’ll draw it to yourself.  Hah!  If thinking about something drew it to me, I’d be living the life of a huge lottery winner…

My fellow Christians remind me we are not to be afraid or anxious, to rely on God’s grace and help to get us through.  Thanks, but that’s not the problem.  We’re not anxious or afraid.  We’re exasperated!

But we endure.  It happens every year, and we’re used to it.  We know it ends.  Health improves, finances recover, and the heat breaks.  The seasons in nature change, and so do the seasons in human lives.  Sometimes the season seems to linger too long, but relief finally comes.  I’ve had times when August lasted for years, but I held on, and the calendar of my life finally changed.

Bad times come to everybody’s lives, and some will last a very long time.  Don’t give up.  I’ve spoken to many teens who felt they couldn’t last another day, and reminded them that school does not last forever.  Often the only thing you can do is keep your head down and endure in silence, but it will end, and you won’t have to go back any more.

Some jobs are miserable and make you hate to get dressed and go in, but despite what many believe, they don’t last forever.  I’ve had them.  I used to moan about them, too, until one day I met a young man with very old eyes, and complained to him how I was stuck in a dead end situation.  He told me to think of one good thing about my job.  Just one, not a list, just one, and concentrate on it.  Remind myself of it over and over and over whenever I felt overwhelmed.  Just one month after taking his advice, I was promoted into a job I’d forgotten I’d applied for and enjoyed myself thoroughly at it.

When doctors told me I had some health problem, I didn’t waste time crying or moaning or complaining about it.  I just asked what I could do about it and got it done.  It usually amounted to removing some part of my body or taking medicine that did unpleasant things to me.  But I survived by reminding myself it could be worse, and endured.

I developed the habit of looking for some lesson I could learn from the situation, no matter how dire it was.  Every August of my life is exhausting, expensive, and very exasperating.  But I have found there is always something I can learn, too, and I love to learn.  Life lessons are rarely cheap, and never easy, but once they are learned, the rest of the classes are often simpler and the tests easy to take.  May the seasons of your life pass not quickly, but as pleasantly as possible, and may you not have a difficult time learning whatever lesson is there for you.

Dangerous Minds

I love my imagination.  It keeps me from being bored, it helped me survive an impoverished childhood devoid of books and televisions, saved me from shyness, and has shaped my life into something better than a boring rut.  But sometimes, just sometimes, it drives me nuts.

Case in point: We had to get our air conditioning system fixed in our house.  All that was needed was to reattach the ventilation ducts under the house where they separated.  It was fixed, no problem, the house cooled off, we were happy.  The air conditioning unit is next to my bathroom door.  My bedroom is across the hall.  I ALWAYS hear the air conditioner when it is blowing air.

Ever since the repair job, I hear voices coming from the air conditioner.  Sometimes they play music, that really irritating recorder music.  It is just coherent enough to make me originally think I was listening to the television in the living room, but not enough to really tell what is being said.  But it always sounds like several people having a conversation, or perhaps a news show.

The first time it happened I thought my sister was saying something while I was in the bathroom.  As it continued, I realized it was the air conditioner, and I have yet to figure out the cause.  The problem is listening to it at night.  In the dark.  All alone in my bedroom…

I don’t read horror novels (anymore) or watch horror movies (after a few deeply regretted ones).  Normally, I have very few nightmares.  I generally only dream of being overwhelmed when my calendar gets full.  But if I have a hard time falling asleep and start hearing that murmuring coming through my door in the dark…uhhhh.  Bad night ahead.  I’m trying to see if I’ll get used to them.  If I can’t, I’ll have to do something about some white noise or something.  Maybe ear plugs?  I’ll try something out.

Imagination can be a dangerous thing.  When I was a child, my sisters and I would spend many happy hours with our youngest aunt at our grandparents’ rural home.  We entertained ourselves during many summer days taking turns telling stories, or acting out various roles in an imaginary world. But one day our group imagination took a dark turn.

That was the summer of the Boston Strangler.  We rarely saw the television stories, but we listened to the radio and read the newspapers and listened to our parents talk about it.  The story was ripe fodder for our minds.  One hot day, the air was still, our grandfather, the only one left at home to watch over us, fast asleep in the shade.  The house was too cramped and hot to stay inside.  We wandered about from garden to sheds, to barn, trying to decide how to occupy ourselves.

The story began as a slow, sporadic commentary on how quiet it was, progressed to an uneasy awareness of how creepy the silence was, and began to speed along on an uncomfortable awareness of how many hiding places there were and how close they were to us.  We armed ourselves with sticks.  We fed each others’ imaginations like a mob feeds on itself.  In no time at all, we were clutching each other, darting eyes at one building after another, peering at shadows and straining our ears to hear any break in the silence.

The break came, of course, very loudly and suddenly.  A loose shed door banged, whether from a solitary breeze, a passing chicken, or a cat rubbing itself on it.  Who knows?  Who cares?  But suddenly we were several young girls screaming in sudden terror and running as fast as possible to our grandfather, the only available adult.

His natural and very normal irate commentary on being awakened from a comfortable nap by a bunch of silly noisy females calmed us down quickly.  We realized how we had frightened ourselves and laughed weakly, determining to never do that again.  But we stayed around Grandpa for the rest of the day.

That experience taught me a lot about letting my imagination control me.  It taught me a lot about mob psychology.  I don’t want to think what might have happened if we had access to weapons more dangerous than some big sticks.  Fear can turn to the flight or fight syndrome and not everybody runs, not every time.  This has become even more true the older I get.

I channel my imagination as much as possible nowadays into my writing.  I don’t want to dwell on something until paranoia begins to build, becoming dangerous to people around me.  Writing my imaginings helps to understand cause and effect, and the work of adrenaline on the mind.  Working out reactions to fear, anxiety, paranoia, and rage in fictional stories help me deal with tense situations in real life.  For someone who never goes looking for trouble, I’ve had to deal with a good bit.

Using my imagination in reading and writing has definitely helped me deal with real life.  I think that is why teaching a child to read and providing a large library is one of the most important things we can do for our children.  Television and movies can only do so much.  We should always talk to our children as well, discussing the characters’ actions and reactions and deciding whether they were appropriate or not.

Helping a child imagine how they would react in a scary situation helps them avoid panic when they come up against one in real life.  It also helps them avoid making bad decisions in less scary situations, like being pressured into sex, accepting a dare, or facing major changes in their lives.

God gave us our imaginations.  Imagination fuels creativity and comes from the Master Creator Himself.  But like every gift He gives us, it can be misused and twisted.  Read.  Write.  Create.  Work with your children. Don’t let them fall prey to a dangerous mind.

Be Nice or Else…

Have you ever seen that tee shirt for writers?  “Be nice or I’ll put you in my next book”?  I always laughed at that, because I knew exactly what they meant.  Some people annoy you so much you fantasize about killing them off slowly and painfully.  Wonder if any of George R. R. Martin’s associates wound up in his death scenes…

But people don’t need to be annoying to wind up in one of my stories.  I find people endlessly fascinating and often bring different people to mind when I’m writing.  I’ve had two criticisms of my work that just make me shake my head and shrug.  One was an online review of one of my short stories, where the reviewer remarked that the whole story was unbelievable because “people just don’t act like that”.  I told them I was sorry they had never met the sweet caring people in that story, because I had.

Another criticism I received was on the beginning chapters of a novel I am working on.  During a writers’ circle review where we all reviewed each others’ work, the professional writer in charge seemed to be disgusted as he flung my manuscript to the desk and announced “Nobody talks like that!”.  My characters were American teens.  I was astonished, because I know several teens who talk like that.  But he was from a large city and had a teen who had interests far from the hobbies and interests of the teens I knew.  It was interesting to see that the one person in the group who would be the real target market for the book was thrilled with the story and wanted to see more. Hope he sees it when I get it published.

Everybody looks at the world through eyes filtered by their own experiences, upbringing, and opinions.  Readers tend to have broader points of view, and tend to be more open to differences in characters, but occasionally you see a distinctly narrow field of vision in reviews.  If you decide to write a review of any author’s work, try to keep your own point of view in mind.  Try to remember you don’t have personal knowledge of everything in the world.

I’ve met lots and lots of people, and I can see where all of them would fit into stories I’ve got in mind.  I once stood behind several scientists/physicists/professors/engineers (I have no idea which they were, but the conversation was fascinating as they discussed something using words of more than five syllables.)

My aunt Marty was one of my favorite people to listen to, since she had a very interesting life.  “I collect men as a hobby,” she said, explaining her multiple marriages and boyfriends.  She told us her best birthday moment happened when, depressed over being alone on her 30th birthday, she wandered into a bar to drown her sorrows.  When the bartender demanded her identification to prove she was old enough to drink, she was so delighted she grabbed him across the bar and kissed him.

I have a friend who has gone to a local Renaissance Fair for thirty years and became one of the characters there (a wench, often bawdy and outrageous) in a costume she made herself.  She also likes to attend motorcycle rallies and paint fairy land murals on children’s nursery walls for her friends.  She has a vivid personality and a sharp tongue and a loving heart.

I know several cowboys who are the strong silent type who are always willing to help and are devoted to their wives.  I have met the rich, the poor, the famous, and the unknown.  I know people who should be locked away in a dark room so they can finally stop hurting the people around them, and saints who make total strangers want to hug them.  I have met truly eccentric folk who made me laugh, gasp, and watch them closely.  I have known the depressed, the desperate, the broken, and the healed.  I have laughed with and at children and dried their tears.

I love meeting people.  I never know how the meeting will turn out, but I always find it interesting, whether I roll my eyes later or make a note to contact them again.  Even when their opinions don’t agree with mine, they are interesting.  Sometimes I get the chance to shock them out of their comfort zone, and seeing how they deal with that is intriguing.  We are all characters in the Book of Life, and we are all individuals.  God did a good job on us.  We are interesting.

Did you  ever feel a character in a story was based on you?