Living the stories (and a winner!)

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“I can’t see the forest for the trees.”  I suppose in this case you’d say you can barely see the lake for all the trees. Until last summer, when the men had to cut down a few of them, the view from our summer cabin was only the portion you see to the right of this photo.

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{Click photo to enlarge)

It’s nice to be able to glimpse a little more of our lake now. We could remove more trees, of course (and the leaning birch may soon remove itself, although it’s been like that for at least a decade), but we aren’t anxious to leave the cabin too exposed.

BlowdownAtCabinOne year when my parents were still alive, they reported that a small tornado had gone through, uprooting many trees in its path. My mom took this photo from across the creek, showing one leaning on our [then] new cabin. Through the years other trees have fallen on and/or near it, but it has managed to remain unscathed. On each visit, as we climb the hill from our hand-hewn bridge, I hold my breath a bit, wondering what we’ll find — wondering what changes the wilderness has brought to it during our absence, if there will be any damage, or if the cabin is even still standing. Touch wood (and there’s a lot of it we could touch), it has survived the passing seasons.

Our cabin is primitive, but it’s a beloved family getaway. I tell people it’s like camping, but with a roof. The building’s gone through several transitions over the years, but it’s still small and rustic, without any city conveniences, and we still need a 4 x 4 to get there.

So, what’s the appeal? Yes, we think the view is pretty spectacular, but there are lots of wilderness lakes in British Columbia. This particular one, however, is the focal point for four generations of family memories (and a fifth generation is poised to begin making more). There’s something about ‘frontiering’ experiences — hauling water by the bucket from the creek, spending evenings playing card games in the weak glow of kerosene and propane lamps, trekking to the outhouse, and cutting the daily requirement of firewood — that adds a meaningful chapter to our family’s story.

I thought of this yesterday, when DD Shari Green shared her reaction to the death of Johnathan Crombie of Anne of Green Gables fame. In her post, “Gilbert Blythe and the power of stories“, she said,

“Judging by my social media feeds … Gilbert Blythe–and by extension, Jonathan Crombie–is absolutely adored by a great many people. And this has me thinking… How is it that fictional characters can come to be so significant in our lives? Why are their fictional sorrows and joys felt in our own hearts? How do their fictional dramas become entwined with our own real-life ones, causing girls to long for red hair and an expansive vocabulary and a boy just like Gil?”

Stories such as Lucy Maude Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables (1908) and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie (1935), have caused us to fall in love with characters who have endured through generations of readers. The account of their lives fills us with nostalgia. The power of stories is quite remarkable, but it’s most effective when it draws on emotions and relatable memories.

I’ve never given it much thought, but that rough little cabin is the setting for a portion of our family’s life story. Some of it is on paper, but most is held in our collective memory. Whether written down or not, each passing year and every new generation adds another chapter.

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Do you have places or events that play a significant role in your family’s story?

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As promised in Friday’s post, to help celebrate my 1,000th post, I’m giving away a $20 gift certificate for either Amazon or Starbuck’s. The name drawn at midnight was … ta-da …

**  JENN HUBBARD  **

Congratulations, Jenn, and thanks for helping me celebrate. I’ll be in touch by e-mail to find out which certificate you’d prefer.

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1,000 and still counting!

1000PostsWordPress tells me this is my 1,000th post. There are times when I wonder what you expect to find here when you visit, and whether you leave satisfied or disappointed. The truth is, when I write, I rarely worry about what readers want. Words spill out of my brain and spatter onto the page. If something is produced that appeals, that’s a good thing. If it falls flat, like a stone into a mud puddle, that’s okay, too. At least the words are out of my head and I’m free to move on to explore other ideas. You aren’t obliged to stick around either. But after Monday’s post, I’ve continued to think about my online identity and my purpose here. I never promised to produce brilliant treaties on meaningful topics. My mental meanderings on life and writing really do wander all over the place, and quite honestly, I’m not sure why you’d want to read any of them. Yet, since the summer of 2008 and after nearly eighty-two months in this space, you’re still turning up here, and so am I! It’s a comfortable place for me — a little like my family room, where I can curl up on the couch in front of the fireplace with the afghan and journal on my lap, and share anything that pops into my mind. The trouble is, some days not a lot of popping happens. On those occasions I clip my pen to the edge of the page, reach for my mug of coffee (sometimes it’s chai tea or a Diet Coke), lean back into the cushions and let the flames mesmerize me. IMGP6757_2 There isn’t always a story to be told … at least, not a specific one. Not one of significance or with an analogy and application. Sometimes there is, but not always. Today is one of those days. Today I’m simply celebrating one thousand posts and you. Thank you for being here and sharing this milestone with me.  You make it all worthwhile.

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To mark the occasion and also help express my thanks, I’m giving away a $20 Amazon or Starbucks gift certificate (your choice). I’ll draw a name at random from among those of you who leave a comment here between now and midnight Sunday (11:59 p.m. April 19th). I know not all of you who stop by here like to leave comments, but it’s the only fair way I can think of to choose someone. Check Monday’s post for announcement of the winner.

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“… I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you.” [Romans 1:8]

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Who Am I?

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Many years ago there used to be a television game show of that name — “Who Am I?” — where contestants had to guess which guest was telling the truth about their profession. Two guests lied; one was required to be truthful. There is a different series, “Who Do You Think You Are?“, currently airing, where celebrities journey to trace their family roots.

I was reminded of these programs last week when I came across two articles posted on social media that involved personal identity. In order to get to my point I need to share a few excerpts.

In one article, Michelle de Rusha wrote about the hard work of growing authentic relationships online.

“I think one of the hardest parts about being a writer, and specifically a memoirist, is that it’s often challenging to know where to draw the line, how much to tell, how much of myself and my private life to reveal…Sometimes I avoid writing about [certain] topics because they are controversial, and I like controversy about as much as I like flossing my teeth, which is to say, not at all.

“On the other hand, sometimes I don’t write about [other] topics because I’m afraid you won’t like me, or will be disappointed in me, or will see me differently or less-than. I’m a people-pleaser at heart; I don’t like to ruffle feathers or disappoint.

“And sometimes I don’t write about certain topics because I’m afraid they don’t fit who I think you think I am. Does that make sense? Take time to read that sentence again, because it’s a bit convoluted.

“Part of this disconnect is simply a natural by-product of writing publicly. The truth is, you can’t know every facet of who I am just by reading what I write here … this blog and my memoir, even though they are about me, aren’t me entirely. They don’t fully represent me; they don’t reflect every facet of my personality, who I am inside and out. Part of that is because I have presented myself in a certain way, not to be deceptive, but simply because that’s what happens, even in in-person communication. And part of that is because you have interpreted me and defined me in certain ways according to who you are and what you believe.”

In the other article entitled ‘Goodbye, Facebook’, LL Barkat compares her sustained online presence to being at a constant party.

“What would it look like to attend a party for years? The music never off. Always the same snacks. No room of one’s own. Chatter, chatter, chatter, chatter. And always the ready smile, because that’s what we do at parties… The day I lost my will to speak, I realized I was tired. I have been at a party for years. You could say the cause of this fatigue was all of digital life. But you would be wrong. If you said, “Facebook?” I would say I have been doing an experiment.

“Here is the thing. Facebook is “push” technology. Things keep popping up without you asking, and the algorithms pretend to take your wants into account, but you really have virtually no control. What’s more, you are connected (semantically) to “friends,” not interests, and friends put all kinds of things out there at all hours of the day regardless of your mood and intentions at any given moment, and because they are linguistically labeled as “friends” and not “people I follow,” there is a subtle emotional obligation that comes when these posts pop up, saying whatever these posts might say.

“All the while, you are swinging from extreme to extreme. Laugh! Cry! (Someone died. Someone just said the damnedest thing. Oh, that’s cute. OMG, carnage. Or, here comes a carnal clip of something you hadn’t wanted to see) … and it’s confusing, but you keep … on … eating, because these are friends and you are at a party, after all.

Respond. Respond. Respond. And? Express. The party has trained us (or have I trained myself?) to lay out the details of our experiences and our thoughts, in an unnatural constancy, until we have given over much of our inner life to the flat sameness of a digital wall.”

She suddenly stopped talking; her voice became mute. She’s said goodbye to Facebook, perhaps permanently, perhaps not. She may come back once a month “for a day of party-going”, but first she needs to overcome her social media exhaustion. 

Both authors are dabbling in the quagmire of what determines an authentic online identity and I can relate to their struggle. None of us can be positive that what we know of our cyber-acquaintances, or what they know of us, reflects the reality. The dilemma is, does it matter?

I think it does because in our effort to utilize social media to expand and maintain communication, the loss of a unique personal identity is becoming a byproduct. Online, we become who we want people to think we are. Consciously or unconsciously, we display snippets of positive reality for public consumption while we abstain from revealing anything that might adversely reflect on our persona.

Keeping up pretenses is exhausting. Combined with the addictiveness of the Internet, it’s no wonder digital communication is affecting us.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the Internet is a fabulous tool for communication and professional promotion. But, more and more, I’m coming to believe it’s also leading us into an identity crisis. We can’t seem to function in the everyday — or don’t feel complete — unless we’re logged into our digital world. That can’t be a good thing!

We’re enriched by our cyber relationships, but our continuous connection is depleting the inventory of who we are.

When my late Aunt Norma was establishing her blog, she went through an exercise to provide a blurb for her ‘About Me‘ page, setting out a list of what she felt defined her identity. We might all do well to create such a list, and then keep it handy for reference.

Do you know who you are?

If you’re inclined to take inventory, I’d love it if you’d share your list.

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The Harmony of Words

If you look back, you’ll notice the titles of my recent posts seem to have a common theme: music, rhythm, and now harmony. I’ve been relating those themes to our writing.

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Much of this past weekend has been spent with family. Four generations of one branch came together to celebrate Easter at our son’s home. My hubby and I were the oldest; this smiling wee miss was the youngest. In fact, at just eighteen months, she is currently the youngest member of our entire clan.

When I reflect on the weekend, after the cross and resurrection, I think of family. It’s hard not to remember the food, too — turkey and ham with all the trimmings that accompany a sumptuous meal, mugs of coffee and multiple desserts. The next day’s leftovers were unforgettable, too — a help-yourself lunch with heaped plates taken out on the deck to consume in the warm sunshine. And at random moments there were always chocolate morsels to unwrap and pop into one’s mouth.

After the church services, with their prayers, praise and singing, there was a dishwasher to be loaded, emptied, loaded and emptied again, and pots to wash. There were repeated attempts to convince the dog to stay out of the kitchen, bubble blowing sessions on the front porch, and storybooks read by conscripted aunts and uncles, and, inevitably, the usual spills to wipe up before someone walked through them.

It was typical family stuff, but it was memorable because of the harmony. Good-natured banter, frequent hugs and laughter. Our faith and a common appreciation of the Easter events that drew us together. It was a weekend warmed by love and harmony.

Harmony is hard to define. In music we think of a pleasing blend of sounds or the absence of discord. There is a comfortable sense of balance when the parts meld into the whole. In real life it’s all that, and more, but what about in our writing? How is harmony achieved by words? I believe it’s one of those illusive things, like voice, that we can’t easily describe but must experience. We know it’s been achieved when a story leaves us satisfied.

Is harmony something you strive for in your writing? Harmony can be expected in the romance and inspirational genres, but do you think it needs to be present in others? In mysteries? In science fiction?

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#wipMadness Day 19: Memories That Matter

IMG_0979 - Version 2Heritage items intrigue me although I’ve never been one to collect antiques. I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, either. I like things with a history that is significant to my family — with some kind of personal connection. That’s why I treasure this glassware. I doubt the pieces have any monetary value, but they belonged to my maternal grandmother. They are older than I am, and I remember her using them on special occasions during my childhood.

IMG_0980 - Version 2Is it the memories or the items themselves that attract me? In this case, definitely it’s the memories. My personal taste doesn’t lean towards ornate anything, but I keep these pieces displayed in our china cabinet and enjoy my regular glimpses even if I don’t normally use them.

Memories are a big part of our existence, and yet when it comes to giving memories to my fictional characters, I forget how important they are.

After spending time creating  plot, conflict, and setting, too often I let my characters’ personalities develop solely through their actions and words. Without a past, characters can be two-dimensional. I’m trying to correct that in this manuscript. One of the reasons my progress has been so slow during March Madness, is because I’m taking time to get to know my characters better … finding out what happened in their past that is bound to influence their present.

Q4U: Do you give your characters a past, complete with memories that play a part in your story?

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Denise tells me she’s drawn the name of another prize winner. This time it’s… (insert drumroll here)…

 TANYA

Yay! Congratulations, Tanya!!! You can stop by Denise’s goal-setting post to select your prize from those that haven’t been crossed off the list, and then email Denise your choice at d(at)denisejaden(dot)com  .

We’re almost three-quarters through the month. (Can you believe Spring arrives tomorrow?) Are you satisfied with the progress you’re making towards your March goals? If not, what can you do differently during the next ten days that will leave you with good memories of the month’s achievement when it’s over? There’s still time to make your efforts count, Wipsters! :)

And don’t forget to check in tomorrow with Tonette de la Luna!

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Monday Distractions

Yes, it’s Monday again, and yes, I’m late with today’s blog post, but I was distracted by three things this morning, and it’s all Jan Drexler‘s fault. (Of course, my short attention span might have had something to do with it, too.)

First, was her Facebook post sharing an opportunity to query a particular publishing house. It caught my attention and I had to go investigate.

Then I came across her meatloaf recipe on Yankee-Belle Cafe’s website. Meatloaf is a favourite around here, but hers looked and sounded like something special so I had to take time to copy out the recipe. At the end she also posted a link to this beautiful song with graphics that took me right back into my morning devotions.

So here I am, an hour later, still without a blog post, and it’s time to get on to other things. Sorry! Maybe you’ll check out the links, get distracted yourself, and forget my shortcomings.

I’ll leave you with some shenanigans by two of my other Monday morning distractions. (Did someone say, “Squirrel”?)

This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.

[Psalm 118:24]

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White… or not

I’ll warn you right now. This is one of those ‘musings and mental meanderings’ that gave rise to the sub-heading of this blog!

With Lent underway and Easter approaching, thoughts of Christmas should be well shelved, tucked away to rest in the basement alongside the bins of lights and decorations. Strange as it may seem, however, the anthem I chose for yesterday’s church service was joyously Christmas-themed: “I Bring You Good News.” (No, the link isn’t to our choir or even our church, but it’s a chance to hear a generic version of the song if you’re interested. I won’t mind if you’re not.) 

Christmas music in Lent. Eyebrow-raising? Maybe. But my rationale was that the good news of the Gospel is appropriate in any season. That, and the chosen scriptures mentioned good news twice, and I suddenly couldn’t think of a better title.

The trouble is, now I have the song stuck in my head. You have to know my quirky brain to understand how the tune in my head led me to notice the patches of vivid white Snowdrops that greeted me as I arrived home from church, which in turn led to conversations with myself as to why the makers of Christmas tree lights can’t seem to agree on what is white.

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It wasn’t so long ago that you could buy a new string of white Christmas lights without giving it a thought. Now, the choices include warm and cool whites, and goodness knows how many others, but the terms don’t seem to mean much when it comes to matching last year’s strings. And don’t get me started on shades of white paint!

I’m contemplating a minor redecorating project, covering a few grey walls with white to brighten the room, but who knew there were a thousand shades of white paint to choose from?

Choices come down to personal preferences. When it comes to Christmas lights, I prefer a crisp clear white, without blue undertones. Ask interior designer Candice Olson what her favourite ‘go to’ white paint is, and you’ll likely hear ‘Benjamin Moore’s Cloud White’…except it isn’t white. It’s one of the many off-whites with a hint of yellow.

Diversity is a wonderful thing, as are choices. That’s true in books, too. When it comes to writing and reading, there is a profusion of titles among many different genres — something for everyone. At one time it was simple to identify a genre, but now many authors are crossing genres with their writing. Old genre lists are no longer indisputable. I could use a good basic description of each one to simplify identifying exactly where my stories fit in.

Ah, but this isn’t the time to be worrying about that. I have paint chips to peruse. As for the colour, maybe I’ll grab a handful of Snowdrops on my way to the paint store and see if it’s possible to match them. Hmm, that might not be a bad way to choose replacement Christmas lights, too.

Do you have a favourite shade of white (white anything)? How on earth do you describe it?

(Sorry, but I warned you at the start this would be a mind meandering post. There’s no stopping my brain when it chooses a tangent to explore.)

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