The Importance of Self-Education

When I was a senior in high school our school newspaper sponsor, our English teacher, assigned me the job of editing the various articles that would be posted in the local town newspaper.  I’m pretty sure I got the job because I was the best speller.  We posted little ‘what’s been happening’ paragraphs by each grade’s representative reporter and occasionally published poetry.  One introverted girl who rarely spoke offered a pretty decent poem once that I thought would be excellent with just a change to a couple of words.

When I suggested it, though, she blew up.  You would have thought I suggested sacrificing her first born child on Satan’s altar!  It was my first negative reaction to my editing, and I decided if she wanted an inferior version of her work, then so be it.

Later, when I submitted some of my fiction for critique by editors and agents, I understood her reaction.  My writing is my baby!  Nobody knows my story – or poetry – or anything else – like I do.  Nobody can improve my deathless prose (and rhyme)!  Of course, none of it sold.

Then at work, I was assigned to teach some of the worst training material I had ever been forced to use.  I complained so much that of course, they then assigned me to revise it.  Trust me, there is nothing like technical writing for educating a writer.  I was paid to write it and therefore was forced to do it the way my supervisors wanted it, or be able to successfully argue that my way was better.  Since my supervisors generally had college degrees in education, they tended to win more often than I did, until I got some real experience and self-confidence under my belt.

It was very humbling to realize how much I didn’t know about the technical aspects of writing.  I never got to go to college and graduated from a very small rural school that was unable to provide much of an education.  During my first session of revising the training material, I was totally unprepared for the supervisors’ total dismissal of it and their orders to rewrite it.

I was astonished to discover they wanted me to return and write more training material, but one supervisor told my team bluntly that even though we weren’t perfect, the others who wrote essays for their applications were even worse, and read a few anonymous essays to prove it.  Over the years, my technical knowledge combined with my improved writing skills gained me the name recognition necessary to be allowed to unofficially edit many of the technical procedures we used in our jobs. When I sent in a needed correction to a section because it was either incorrect or made no sense as written, it was accepted without argument.  Many times, it was the way it was written that was the problem.

As a teacher of adults learning new complex procedures for dealing with our job, I quickly discovered that a huge problem was the technical language used.  The instructors, including me,  were experienced and used to the terms and acronyms used on the job.   Since I encouraged questions from the students, not to mention being able to read their expressions, I realized that learning a new language had to be the first step in every training session for new employees.

Once I retired, I didn’t worry about teaching new terms and acronyms to bewildered students or trying to simplify complex procedures into a step by step list that could be easily followed.  I was relieved, thinking that finally, FINALLY, I would have the time to concentrate on my fiction and see about finally getting published.  I began reading various professional writing blogs to see what was selling, by whom, and why.

It didn’t take long before my forehead began wrinkling just like my former students. What were all these terms these writers were using?  Sure, I could look them up in a dictionary, but they didn’t make any sense in the context they were used in the article I was reading.  Nuts.  I had to go back to the basics and learn THEIR language.  Why bother?  Because one very old saying still holds true: “He who pays the piper calls the tune.”

If you want to write without worrying about being paid for your efforts, you can do it however you wish.  If you want someone to give you money for it, it has to please them. If they ask you about it and you don’t understand the question, it’s up to you to learn the language they are using.  Very few professionals in the publishing business have the time or interest to educate an amateur for free.  They don’t have to.  Writers, even incredibly talented writers, are a dime a dozen.  Sure, some editors probably bitterly regret passing up J. K. Rowling, but life happens.

Don’t think that self-publishing offers a way around that problem.  I have a Kindle, and about 1500 ebooks so far, to go with my print library of several thousand soft and hardbacks.  With ebooks especially buyers can return the book if they don’t like it soon after they buy it.  Most can be previewed and if they are badly written the books may never be bought.

I once bought a book that started out sounding terrific, then evolved into such excruciatingly bad prose, I gave up on the rest of the book.  I was furious.  The book was only about a dollar, but I was angry because the promise of an interesting plot, fascinating characters, and plenty of action was ruined by poor grammar, worse spelling, and ridiculous punctuation.  The only time I have seen worse writing is work by writers who don’t believe in using capitalization, paragraph breaks, or punctuation at all.

I don’t want people criticizing my work for poor writing, so I am learning to write like the authors of books I like to read.  I hope someday to have my work praised by well-known professionals, and if I have to learn their language to understand their criticism, to be able to answer their questions about my work, and to discuss my work in order to improve it, I’ll do it.  I have the Internet.  I may live out in a rural area and still not have transportation and money to get to college classes, but I can still educate myself.  I must, if I want to engage in the conversations I want to, with professional writers and editors and publishers. It’s my responsibility to find a way to make my dreams come true.

 

Not Just a ‘Writer’

I’m not just a writer.  I’m a storyteller.  I started telling stories before I learned my alphabet.  Once I discovered how to read and write, I learned that I could write something on paper and I could show it to others who had not heard me tell the story.  But writing my stories came later when my family could afford the extra paper and pencils.  Poverty sucks.

When I was a child, I was very introverted.  My family members were the only people I could tell my stories to.  When I was in elementary school, recess was an ordeal of loneliness until I started worldbuilding in my head.  It took a while to realize I was interacting with my imaginary world.  I would come out of it to see the other children staring at me.  I had been walking around, miming various actions and moving my mouth silently.  Finally one of them asked me what I was doing, and I began telling him about the sandwich factory I had built.  For some reason – hunger, maybe? – I was fascinated by the thought of automated assembly lines surrounded by machines slicing and stacking and wrapping meat and cheese sandwiches.  I had never seen an assembly line, but I guess we had been studying something on the subject.  Where were all the sandwiches going? I didn’t know and didn’t care.  It was the process that fascinated me.

The other kids thought I was nuts, but they began talking to me more, and I slowly made friends.  It helped me get through school.  Then we moved, and I had to make new friends. Since I was still introverted, it was difficult.  In the fifth grade, our English teacher discovered I had written a story.  I think it was about a horse since she had been reading a chapter a day from a novel about a horse to the class.  My story had several chapters as well, and she read a chapter of it every day to the class.  They did not seem impressed.  But they were happy they did not have to face a quiz about it, so I got no criticism.

I continued writing, the plots changing as I aged.  In the tenth grade, I was writing a teenage romance.  I had a thick spiral notebook dedicated to it.  A couple of weeks before the end of school, our history class teacher had pretty much finished everything on his curriculum and just told us to keep it quiet during class.  I immediately hauled out my notebook and began writing on my story.  The seat to my left was filled by a hulking football player.  He was a nice guy, but physically imposing.  I didn’t realize he was reading the page I was writing until I filled the page and started to turn to the next with my left hand.  He pinned my hand to the desk and leaned over.

I was speechless with shock and mortified by the immediate teasing coming from his friends behind us.  He ignored them and me and finished reading the page.  Then, still silent, he took the notebook away from me, flipped the pages to the story’s beginning, and read the whole thing.  I sat there too terrified to protest.  Luckily he caught up before the end of class.  I had no idea whether he’d let me have it back.  I had no idea what he was thinking as he read it.  It was a teen romance, written by a girl who had never had a boyfriend.  Would he make fun of me? Would he tell me it was trash?  Would he think it was about him?  It wasn’t, but would he be able to tell?

Just before class ended, he finished and handed the notebook back.  He looked at me, a warning clear in his expression.  “Finish it before school is out for the summer,” he said. “I want to read the end of it.”  He got up and left the room, still majestically ignoring his friends as they swarmed after him, demanding to know why he had held hands with me and then read my notebook.  I finished the story.  I did NOT want to find out what would happen if I didn’t.  After he finished it on the last day of school, he finally announced his opinion of it.  “A good story,” he said with an approving nod.  Nothing else, but I didn’t need anything else.

I lost my introverted nature over the next few years, but I never lost my love of story telling.  I wrote stories, I wrote poetry, I wrote songs.  I sent two books to publishers, and the editor told me that the beta readers had really liked them, but it wasn’t quite what the publishers really wanted at the moment.  I had learned about genre publishing by then, so I wasn’t surprised, but I was glad the beta readers had all liked my work.

One day I got the chance to have a science fiction/fantasy work of mine critiqued by a couple of professional writers and several amateurs as part of a science fiction convention.  You paid a fee, you sent in a chapter or short story, and received a copy of their work for you to critique.  I was always taught that if you need to offer criticism, make it constructive or leave it alone.  I learned that not everybody felt that way.

Science fiction and fantasy is such a broad genre most people have their own preferences for a certain kind.  Some have strong likes and dislikes of certain subjects.  At our session, we were supposed to go around the table, offering our critiques of one writer at a time.  The writer under the microscope was not allowed to argue with someone’s opinion, or defend their writing, or even speak until the end.  When mine came up, one amateur writer hated the whole story because it was based on a parallel world.  I didn’t worry about his opinion because that was his only criticism.  He just didn’t like parallel worlds, so he blew off the whole story.  Another young man loved my story.  He told me he couldn’t wait to read the rest of it.  I’m hoping to finally get that thing published soon, so maybe, wherever he is out there, he’ll be able to.

The other amateur writers were more focused on the technical aspects, like grammar and punctuation, and didn’t really have much to say about the story itself.  My work had been totally different from theirs, so I wasn’t surprised.  Then one of the pro writers, a white middle-class suburban mom type, complained that my characters were not believable.  “A teenage prostitute?  Where were her parents?”  Yes, she said that.  Everybody stared at her for a minute, and she looked like she couldn’t figure out why.  I don’t even remember the rest of what she said, I was so flabbergasted by that naive remark.

The other professional writer was a Canadian who wrote urban punk fantasy.  He tore my story to shreds, slapping the manuscript copy on the table.  “Nobody talks like that!” he snapped, and proceeded to vigorously point out how terrible everything else was in my story.  I was speechless about that, too.  Everyone looked vaguely embarrassed as he wound up.  When he was finished and I was allowed to speak to all of their critiques, I just smiled at him and told him I’d work on the dialogue.  I was from the rural southern United States, and he was an urban Canadian with a teenage daughter.  Maybe he didn’t get to listen to the kind of conversations I listened to.  I ignored everything else he said since it sounded like opinion, which didn’t worry me.  I was just pleased that one young man, who was my target audience for that story, really liked it.  That meant I had done it right.

I have had other comments since on many different stories I have written.  One lady told me about one story that she laughed and then she cried and then laughed again.  I said good because I had as well while I was writing it.  One lady told my church that she had not finished one of my books yet, but felt that it had changed her life, and urged all of them to read it.  Whoa!  I’m not sure I meant to do that, but she seemed happier, so I was glad.

Strong ego?  You bet.  I love to read what I write.  I like getting good reviews, but bad ones don’t bother me.  I may have to publish my own books, and I don’t make money at it yet, but I’m enjoying myself.  I get to tell stories, and that’s all I want to do.

Conversations With God

I had an interesting conversation with God the other day.  No, not a prayer.  I have conversations – you know, the kind where I say something, He says something, I say something…

People often give me a funny look when I say God talks to me, as if they expect me to start waving a sign saying stuff like “Prepare to meet thy Doom!” or something.  Nah.  The folks at my small church gave me that look when I first joined them, but since I’m a cheerful sort and often have humorous conversations with God that I remark on, they’ve relaxed.

I’ve had these conversations for as long as I can remember.  My parents, bless their hearts, just nodded and said stuff like, “How interesting.”  They were used to my storytelling, which started about the same time, and they might have thought that was just another story.  But it’s not fiction to me.  To me, God’s voice is as real as my mother’s, more trustworthy than anybody I know, and I never have to ask Him to speak up, stop mumbling, or clarify whether something He said was sarcasm or a joke.

A little girl, hearing me say God told me something, asked what God sounded like.  “Ever had a friend stand behind you and say something over your shoulder?” I asked her.  “He sounds just like that.  You don’t see Him, but you can hear him clearly.  You know His voice because you hear Him all the time. That’s what He sounds like.”

Some people say God speaks to them through the Bible, others say they have visions.  That happens to me, too, but I also get the audio version, which is better for me, since I can ask questions and get immediate answers.  I don’t always LIKE the answers, and sometimes He tells me my brain doesn’t have the words to understand the answer.  Like calculus, I guess.  I still don’t get that, either.  Algebra barely got through.

The conversation I had the other day was fairly typical.  He’s never really been able to get me to learn two things: self discipline and patience.  Especially patience.  Ever heard that old joke?  “Give me patience, NOW!”  That’s me.  My sister and I were cleaning all the Christmas decorations out of the house and putting them back into storage for another year.  We got the storage bins out of the storage building outside, filled them up, opened the door to take them back to the storage, and discovered a downpour occurring.

“Come on, God, give us a break!” I complained.  “Cut the rain off for just half an hour, can’t You?  Just give us enough time to get these boxes back into the storage building and You can let it rain all the rest of the day!  What do You say?” No response, and the rain just seemed to come down harder.  A couple of minutes passed, and finally my sister and I both shrugged.  We’re not sweet enough to melt in the rain, after all.

We lugged the plastic bins out of the house and into the storage building, getting incredibly soaked in the process, and no, we didn’t melt.  But just as I shut the storage building door and locked it, the rain stopped.  Perfectly timed.  I shook my fist at the sky.  “God, that’s not funny!” I shouted.  My sister just shook her head and laughed.  But God replied quite clearly.

“No, it’s not funny,” He agreed, sounding annoyed.  “If you had shown enough faith to wait a mere ten minutes, you would have been completely dry, wouldn’t you?”

I hate it when He makes a point so true I can’t argue.

A lot of the writing I do is at His order.  For instance, I’ve never been much into angels.  I just never paid much attention to the subject, other than the mentions of them in Bible stories.  But when I started writing a Christmas story for the Sunday School teachers in my church every year (I’m the Sunday School director) I discovered there were angels in every story, and so when I published the first collection of Christmas stories “Once Upon A Christmastime” I put an angel on the cover.  “Standing Next To A Miracle”, my second collection of short stories, is about the people who were friends and family of the people in Bible stories of miracles, but my third collection, coming out shortly (I’m planning, anyway) is all about angels.  “Angels With Attitude” it will be called.

I wasn’t planning on writing anything like any of these short stories.  I was planning to be a novelist, and already had a long list of novels I was planning to write as soon as I retired and finally got the time to sit back and pound the keyboard.  But when I finally do, what comes out?  Short stories about angels and Bible characters.  Huh.  I never know what will emerge.  I’m quite often surprised.  I usually can’t remember them, so I have to go back and reread them for myself.  I only half-jokingly remarked to my church members that I was ghostwriting for God.

This past Christmas was a hard one for our church.  Our church treasurer and a dear friend to many died of illness.  At her funeral we discovered a young man who had grown up in our church had died in an accident on his way back to his parents’ home the night before.  It was during his funeral a few days later that God spoke to me.  I never know until just before Christmas what the gift story will be about.   I always just wait for inspiration to strike, find stuff to go into gift bags that goes with the story, and type like mad when it hits.  But this time I got it during the funeral, and I was appalled.

You see, there was a story I had been planning to write for the “Angels With Attitude” collection, but I hadn’t got it on my computer yet.  God told me this story would be my Christmas gift.  I didn’t want to put it in a Christmas gift.  It’s a good story (I believe) but horribly inappropriate for any member of my church at Christmastime during our grief.  I was even more appalled when I discovered a short while later that the husband of one of the Sunday School teachers had just been diagnosed with a nasty form of cancer.

The story, you see, is about an angel of death (yeah, not THE angel of death – he explains it in the story) appearing to a young cancer patient.  I argued fiercely with God.  Okay, not argued; protested is really the correct word, since argument is a two way arrangement.  God doesn’t bother to argue.  You do it His way, or face the consequences.  What happens to me is I am placed under unction.  I heard that phrase once and thought it sounded appropriate, since that’s the sound I make: “Unnnn!”  Essentially, that means since I agreed a long time ago to do what He tells me to do, He’s going to keep nagging me until I do it.  In the Bible they called it anointing.  Wonder if any of those anointed folk felt like going “Unnn!”

He got His way, of course, but I added a letter outside the story to tell the teachers not to blame me for the story.  Apparently, God thought it was necessary for SOMEBODY to read it, so there it went.  I haven’t heard from any of them yet.  Maybe I’ll put an excerpt on my website and see what everybody else thinks of it.  Buy the book to read the whole thing.  Or look up one of the teachers I gave it to.  They might let you borrow it.  But I’d rather you buy the book.  You’ll like the other stories, too.  God said so.

Update: Just heard from a relative of the young man whose funeral I attended.  She said the story helped break her from her deep well of grief and begin to live again.  Whew!  Never try to second guess God.  I’ve learned to just ask to see the results of acting on His orders once in a while.  Got to get this third book published.

 

A Veteran’s View

I’m not the veteran I’m talking about this Veteran’s Day.  I never got to serve in the military thanks to my physical health.  Several other members of my family did, but the one I’m talking about here is my dad, William Almas Perry.  Born March 4, 1926, he was at the right age to join the military during World War II.

He rarely spoke at all about his service, mentioning to his young daughters only that he had served in the Philippines and in England.  “But what did you do in the war, Daddy?” we pressed one day, probably on a Veteran’s Day.  He shut us down quickly with “I picked up dead people” and walked away, leaving us with the horrific mental scene of a battlefield filled with bodies.

It was not until his funeral and afterwards many decades later that we learned the truth.  His “I picked up dead bodies” was what he did after the war while finishing his service in England as an ambulance driver for the military.  He just didn’t want to talk about what he did in the Philippines.  We heard about that from the veterans who had gone to war with him, from the same small town, who had known him as a boy and a man.

My father, like many country boys who had to catch their own food, was a dead shot with a rifle and had a hunter’s keen eye for his prey.  The army chose him to save the lives of many of his fellow soldiers by sending him into the jungles of the islands first and taking out the enemy snipers waiting for them.  The fact that he came back alive is proof of how good he was at his job.  The fact that I never saw him use a gun in anything but a demonstration to my brother in law of his military shooting pose and his continued ability to hit a bulls-eye was proof of how his service affected him.

After his death, one of his many cousins gave us a couple of poems he had sent back to his mother during his service that she had sent to the newspaper for printing.  The exact dates of the writing are uncertain, but they were both written during the war.  She told us that there were more, but until more of the old newspapers are scanned into the computer and I can look them up, these are the only two I have.

 

OBJECTIVE – HOME!

By PFC William A. Perry, United States Army

O God, I did not

Come out to this war

From a park bench,

Or from a rented room.

I came from HOME!

And I brought with me family words:

Garden, crib, fireside, front door,

Wife, little fellow.

Now they are all mixed in

With the war jargon:

Jeep, tank, foxhole,

Tommy gun, blitz.

Help me, God, to keep

My thinking straight.

Grant the impossible –

Make home – our Home –

Seem real in battle.

Show me how to

Sort out my thoughts

And use the words about home;

Even when I am sitting in a swamp

Hours at a time,

Not daring to move

More than my eyes;

They’ll keep me sane.

I’ll be a better human,

And just now,

When fighting is my job,

I want to stay human.

It didn’t take a war

To show me

How I love my home.

But it has taken a war

To show me

How it will feel to

Walk out from Hell

Straight to a Paradise

That men call Home!

O God, let ours rest

Under the shadow of Your hands.

 

MY BUDDY

by PFC William A. Perry, United States Army

Hit again! That’s twice today;

Why don’t they get it over

And blast me all away?

Feeling mighty weary,

Losin’ all my stuff.

Buried in a foxhole –

That’s what I call tough.

Ain’t got strength to wiggle,

Must be awful weak.

Tongue is just one big blister;

I can hardly speak.

I’m no Christian soldier,

Never had the luck.

Just a no-good drifter,

Just a fighting buck.

Never had no learnin’

Never taught to pray.

Want to talk to Jesus –

Don’t know what to say.

Where’d you come from, Buddy?

Wasn’t here before.

Don’t look like no soldier,

You ain’t used to war.

Wanna use my foxhole?

Cuddle up right nice;

Have a drink of water –

Sorry, there’s no ice.

Gee, your hand is bleedin’

Guess they got you, too.

Nasty rats of Hitler,

That’s the way they do.

You and me together

Strangers in this sink;

Sharing drops of water,

All there is to drink.

What’s that on your shoulder?

Buddy, that’s no gun!

You should have some weapon –

War ain’t just clean fun.

Guess that blasted bullet

Threw me for a loss.

Eyes are getting hazy;

What you got, a cross?

Funny sort of helmet,

Looks just like a thorn.

Never seen one like it,

Never, since I’s born.

Aw, your head is bleedin’,

Let me wipe your brow.

I got strength to do it –

Strong as ever, now.

Say, you tryin’ to help me?

Well, that ain’t no use –

I’m beyond all helpin’;

Took too much abuse.

Still it makes me better

Just to know you’re here;

Yeah, I know I’m dying,

But I got no fear.

Crown of thorns and cross?

Golly, I remember –

You’re the King! The boss!

Thought I was unlucky –

All I’ve sacrificed;

But I’m dying happy

In the arms of Christ.

I’m a Christian soldier.

Got no pain, no grief.

Take me up to Heaven

Like you took the thief.

Jesus, gentle Jesus,

Got no pain, no fear.

Hidin’ in a foxhole,

And you found me here.

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…

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?