Monday, January 17, 2022

Discovering Writers whose work I want to read

Recently while having time to scan places and people on the Internet that I had not visited before, I came upon this interview with Jill McCorkle, an author from North Carolina who is considered one of the best southern writers. She has published four short story collections and six novels, five of which were New York Times Notable Books.  Her stories have been anthologized in Best American Short Stories, New Stories from the South, and the Norton Anthology of Short Fiction.

I am reading one of her books now. The title is July 7th. Her writing is very different from that of most writers. At the beginning of the book, she gives each character a chapter so the reader will be very familiar with that person as the story unfolds. This was an early book and had some negative reviews, but I will read it and see for myself.

She likes to explore early life and the endings of lives in her novels. I found her remarks very interesting and I think you will, too. I will order Life After Life, one of her novels. 

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Happy 2022

 Happy 2022, Readers and Friends,

I have been very busy with my sister and brother-in-law, Gay and Stu, moving my belongings into the lovely apartment they created in their home for me. Although I have a bedroom suite that belongs to them, I have no living room or dining room furniture yet.

We made a trip to Hayesville this past weekend and brought back more furnishings. Gradually it is looking like a real home. 

This is the time for me to begin scheduling for Writers Circle Around the Table.
My plans for the coming year include inviting other writers to teach workshops and classes on writing - poetry, creative writing, creative nonfiction, and marketing writing. From 2010 until 2019, we held face-to-face writing events in my home studio. 

We can no longer meet in person, but we can continue our classes and workshops with writers who like to meet on Zoom. Our classes last year were well attended and received excellent evaluations. With the ability to teach online, instructors will not have to travel long distances and can live anywhere they have Zoom availability. 

Today I received an email from a former student who said she had joined the NC Poetry Society, and she gave my classes credit for her doing so. 

I am excited about the future and where this new year will take us. Possibilities avail! Let's see where we go. 

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Christmas Eve 2021

As this Christmas Eve is nearly over, I feel the spiritual side of myself rise up and even though I can't attend church these days I feel deeply about my Christian upbringing. I watch services online and sing along with the lovely music of Christmas.

I was raised to love not to hate, to give and be generous where and when I can. I was taught to care about those who are less fortunate and lend a helping hand when I can. I think of my parents who lived these examples I try to follow. They didn't preach to us, but their lives were lessons for their children. 

Tonight as a dear friend waits for her transition with Hospice caregivers and her children and other family members nearby, I know her faith in God has kept her strong as she fought cancer for the past miserable year. Although her passing will not be blamed on COVID-19, she and other family members caught the virus about a month ago. None of them were vaccinated. She said her doctor did not want her to take the vaccine because she was taking chemotherapy. 

Tonight we felt the danger close to us.  Although none of the three of us, Gay, Stu, or I have symptoms, Gay and Stu were exposed to someone in their church choir who now tests positive. They found home tests tonight although you could not purchase one in Roswell anywhere, and both tested negative. 

Gathering with people outside your bubble is the way folks catch this illness it seems. It only takes one person to infect a group of people. Christmas Day might be very different from the way we planned it. Although we have been triple vaxed, with Omicron surging, it is difficult to feel safe. 

This virus is hitting close to home now and I see myself going into hibernation again. But the bright spot is tonight I am sleeping in my apartment for the first time. I feel like I am staying in a nice hotel. Lexie is not sure this is where she should be. She goes back and forth, upstairs and down. Dogs are interesting creatures. She senses so many things such as when I am packing for a trip, when I am going in the car and she can go with me, when it is time for her to eat, to sleep, and when I go in the kitchen for anything, she begins tossing her toys in the air and wanting me to play with her. Perhaps she is excited that I am not in front of a computer screen and she can get my attention.

I hope my readers, my blogging friends, and other friends, will have safe, happy, and healthy holidays and we can start the new year, 2022, with joy and happiness. 

Merry Christmas,

Friday, December 10, 2021

What can your kitchen tables tell if asked?

Poet Laureate Joy Harjo writes this poem about the kitchen table.
We didn't have a kitchen table when I was growing up because we had a very large family with my parents and seven children, but the table where we met three times a day fits this poem by Joy Harjo. 

Did you have a kitchen table where the family met for casual meals? 
I like round tables and so does my brother, Max. When he goes out to eat, he asks for a round table. What does that circle mean to us? 

When Barry and I set up housekeeping at our mountain house in 1995, I insisted we purchase a round table. I like that anyone seated there can see everyone else at the table. On a square or rectangle, it is hard to see the people at the far end on the same side where you sit. I think round tables make for better conversation. 

In the poetry classes I sometimes teach, I offer a prompt for my students. I ask them to list and describe all the tables they sat at in their lives. Of course, they only list the ones they remember and they have a good reason to remember those particular tables. 

If you are a writer or even if you are not, try doing this exercise: beginning at the earliest age you can remember, describe the tables where you usually ate at your house with your family. 
List other tables you remember and write your memories of eating at that table. You can go on and on if you have had many tables. You will be surprised how the memories will pop up in your mind. 

In Joy Harjo's poem, she writes:
"At this table, we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory."

What was done or said or felt around your kitchen table? What was the purpose or role played by that table?
If you are motivated to write a poem or a short prose piece, send it to me. I would really enjoy reading your work.

Hope you are enjoying this weekend. I had lunch with my sister and one of my nieces today. I also had dinner with Paige, another delightful niece. I am so blessed to have them in my life and to be able to visit with them now. 

Let me hear from you, my readers. Stay safe and healthy.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Writers' Digest through the years

Over the years, I have read and collected tons of useful articles by top people in the writing community.
I subscribed to Writers' Digest long before I published anything. I was a very young person down in south Georgia when I applied for a correspondence writing course through Writers' Digest magazine. That was the only writing course I had taken until I moved to North Carolina and became involved with the NC Writers' Network and NCWN-West.

Some literary snobs scoff at Writers' Digest but I think it is an excellent source for beginning writers who have no idea how to format and submit a manuscript. There are many helpful articles that teach us the basics of writing. That is why I have saved articles by Robert Lee Brewer. Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Editor of Writer's Digest, which includes editing Writer's MarketPoet's Market, and Guide to Literary Agents. He once came up from Atlanta to teach a workshop for Writers Circle around the Table, my studio. He is a very nice, personable man and I follow him on Facebook.

From reading some of the older posts by Robert, I came upon this blog that I now love. I am struggling with my blood sugar and nothing seems to help get it down to something resembling normal. Carol Early Coney has a great sense of humor and she shares recipes that only require four or five ingredients. Her husband has diabetes and, like me, he loves the white stuff. You know, potatoes, rice, bread, which I consider the staff of life.

Carol says she is not a good cook and she doesn't like to cook. But this blog, The 9-inch plate, is entertaining as well as good for me. The recipes she shares actually make me want to cook!

Carol found proof that having a cluttered room, home, office, or anyplace, increases stress and stress makes us crave foods that are not good for us. I think that is really an issue with me lately. 

My sister is having some of those problems because workers are in and out of her house as they remodel her basement to make an apartment for me. This will be my home away from home when I visit the big city. The work has gone on for months now and she wants to lose some weight, but feels her eating is untameable at this time. Of course, I think she looks fabulous. See the photo of her I took tonight as she and her husband were heading out to a party.

Back to writers and Writers' Digest and Robert Brewer:
Read my essay on Robert's blog: 

A reader could spend hours on the Writers' Digest website and still come back for more. I like to take online courses from Jane Friedman who was once an editor for Writers' Digest and is still involved with the company. I have found that a subscription to certain writers' magazines is extremely helpful for writers who want to write but have no way to learn the basics. 
Thanks, Writers' Digest, for always being there.

Friday, December 3, 2021

My Word this Week

My friend, Maureen Ryan Griffin, sends out a great newsletter and in each one she gives a word for the week as a prompt for writers.
Most recently her word was failure. It made me think of a word that is popular with Americans and probably most people everywhere. The word is competition

I don't like competition although most children seem to be brought up with the idea they must compete with others and then winning becomes their goal. I have never been very good with competitive games. If I win, I don't feel like gloating and celebrating. Perhaps because I am an empath, I feel sympathy for those who lost, for the people or person I defeated. When I lose, I am not disappointed.

Growing up in the country on a farm my little sister was my playmate. We never played competitive games. We played together and gloried in our creativity and imagination. We did not participate in team sports because we did not have a team. The other children in our community lived too far from us to gather 
and play ball or any team games.  

All I knew about team sports I learned was when Daddy managed a baseball team and two of my older brothers played on his team. On Saturday afternoon or maybe it was Sunday, Mother made a picnic basket and bottled water from our well. She and Daddy along with Gay and me climbed into the pickup truck and drove a few miles to a farm where the owner had laid out a baseball field in one of his pastures. Ray and Hal, my brothers who were pretty good players, would not miss a game. Gay and I played with other little girls, ate from the picnic basket, and paid little attention to the game. 

Unlike some sisters, Gay and I were never in competition. 
In fact, I remember that we encouraged each other in whatever we attempted. Gay tells me now that she never liked to ride a horse, but she always rode with me until I was old enough to leave the farm and meet my friends who also rode horses. 

You can imagine how I felt when I went to school and was expected to play kickball in fifth grade. I hated recess because I had never played such games and I was awkward and embarrassed when I had to kick the ball. In junior high, now called middle school, I had to take physical education. I was mortified because I had to change clothes in front of other kids I didn't know. In my family modesty was ingrained in all of us. It didn't help that I was a skinny little self-conscious girl. I often heard my aunts talking to Mother about how thin I was. They were not being mean but were concerned that I was not healthy. In those days, a plump child was considered a very healthy child. 

The children who had grown up playing team sports could not wait to get outside to play softball for an hour.
I would have given my right arm if I could have gone to the library for that hour to read. My P.E. teacher was a petite blond, tanned, pretty woman with all the curves in the right place. When possible I tried to hide in the dressing room and evade going outside at all. I also found that being a skinny kid, I could hide behind a tree when the teams were being chosen. No one told on me because they didn't want me on their team anyway. 

Seventh grade was a deeply disappointing year for me. From the first grade and through the sixth grade, I was proud of my perfect report card. I was a good reader. I always did my homework and was a person who enjoyed learning. You can imagine how upset I was when I took home my first report card in seventh grade. My P.E. teacher gave me a 3, equivalent to a C, as the grade for my first semester. That meant I was no longer on the Honor Roll. My studies and my good grades gave me the distinction of being on the Honor Roll. But Miss Bishop didn't know or care what this did to me. I was devastated when I showed that report card to my parents. Miss Bishop, who had another name by the time I entered eighth grade, never taught me how to play anything. She simply ruined my life by judging me as a poor student because I could not play basketball or softball. 

When I entered Albany High School, my brother, Ray, began his first year teaching at the same school
We had the same last name so students and teachers quickly figured out we were related. Although physical education was an abominable disaster for me, the teacher chose to ignore me and my grades did not drop below a 2 or B which allowed me to join the Tri-Hi-Y club. Members of that club were respected for their good grades, moral standing, and academic ability, not for how well they played ball.

As an adult, I found team sports boring and could not get interested in college sports or national sports. While the men in my family cheered for the University of Georgia football team and the Atlanta Braves, I had other interests. If UGA lost a Saturday afternoon game, my husband and my brother Ray, were depressed for a week. 

Living in the south and with a mostly masculine family, I learned that men have a common language--football. After I married, I found it benefited me to read the newspaper articles that referred to players I had heard my husband talk about. He was impressed when I threw out something I had read about his team or the coach and players. 

I could not watch football on TV or in person without wincing and turning away when the players slammed into each other. It all seemed so uncivilized to me. I still can't understand what joy the players get or the fans get from someone on the other team getting hurt and having to leave the game. 

For a number of years, Barry and I joined my brother, Rex, and his wife, to drive for hours to Athens Georgia for the football games. 
I enjoyed the company but endured the game. Once, on a hot September afternoon, I fainted as we left the stadium. In those years, women dressed up for the football games in pantyhose, dresses, and high heels. We also made food for a tailgate picnic. I could not believe it but found that people were in competition for the best tailgate party. How dumb, I thought.

Competition divides people. Competition creates a place for poor sportsmanship. Competition brings on pain, hurt, humiliation for anyone who loses. Winners develop a sense of power over others. They often shame the ones who lose. The word Fight is used all the time in sports. Fighting makes me think violence.

This is why I don't encourage competition in my writing classes. In fact, we don't attack the writing of others. We encourage! I tell my students that when we hear our peers read their work, we first talk about what we like, not what we think is wrong with their work. After we talk about the positive, then we can suggest ways the author might improve his/her work. My students love this method and they learn so much about their own writing. They bond and develop trust in each other.

Many critique groups fail because members of the group destroy the author with their harsh comments. 
Writers avoid groups because they are afraid everyone is a better writer, or that they will be embarrassed or be shamed by the comments of others. How sad. They feel shame and they should not because we all start somewhere, and we all write those abysmal first drafts. But when those early poems or stories are shared without competition in mind, and they hear what is good about their work, they find the suggestions made let them go home and try again.

It hurts me to hear from good writers that they felt attacked in the writing group they attended and will not go back. 

I insist my students never compare their work to the others in the class. There are always more experienced writers as well as beginners. You cannot compare them and say one writer is better than another when there are many different levels of achievement in a group or in a workshop. 

If we all do our best to improve what we do, our only competition is ourselves. 

This essay written by my friend and former student, Rebecca Gallo, relates to the way people feel competitive even about their homes. 
What do you think? Are you competitive or not?

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Thanksgiving is over, but good memories will linger.

Dave the chef, Lee, cook and hostess, Gay who cooks and helps me, Mary who made delightful desserts and Lyn who has always been so dear and so good to me, especially after Barry's death.
Both Lee and Lyn, my sister June's daughters, are in Real Estate. Dave is a young retiree and so is Mary. I enjoyed hugging them all on Thanksgiving. Missing in the photo are Lee and Dave's son, Will, and his girlfriend, Abbie. They were present, but not available for the photo.

Three I love: Lee, Gay and Lyn.  

Lee and Dave had a table loaded with so much food. Sadly, we tried to eat it all, but still had leftovers to take home. Tonight, I ate a turkey sandwich sent to me from the home of Stu's brother, Doug and his wife, Mary. Stu was in Chicago for Thanksgiving day to be with his brother. 

As usual, we told stories and laughed our heads off. With a pandemic still ongoing, and memories of 2020 hanging heavy over all of us, it was fabulous to be with loved ones, to hug them, and know they were doing all possible to be sure each of us was safe. 

Well, I think there is some banana pudding left in the fridge. I had better go see about that. Gay uses Mothers' recipe and it turns out beautiful to see and delicious to eat. 

If you are shopping for Christmas gifts, don't forget books. They make wonderful gifts.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

She had doubts that COVID was real, or as bad as the news made it seem.

I am saddened to hear of the passing of Colin Powell, a man who was a reluctant warrior who hated war, and was the kind of man we need in leadership. He admitted the error of going to war thinking the enemy had weapons of mass destruction. Although he stood with President Bush, his last public statement was a speech for Barack Obama. I read the book he wrote about his life and was compelled to send the book to a young man in my family because I thought Colin Powell's values are what we should all aspire to. 

He died not from COVID but from cancer he was fighting and other health issues. He was vaccinated but caught a breakthrough case and because of his health issues, his age, 84, he could not recover.  This reminded me of the article I quote below from Everyday Health, an online magazine I subscribe to.


 Although she says she was taking precautions against the virus (like social distancing and wearing a mask), Fekken admits she had doubts that it was real, or as bad as the news made it seem.

Then she and her husband got COVID-19.

“I didn’t have to go to the hospital, but there were days where I wondered if this was the beginning of the end for me,” she says. “I’ve never experienced sickness like that before. I’m a pretty optimistic, upbeat person, but COVID made me feel hopeless because it truly shut me down.”

For three weeks, the normally hurricane-level-busy Fekken struggled to walk from the bedroom to the porch for fresh air — a distance of about 20 feet. She lost her smell and taste, suffered from fever spikes that left her soaked, and watched TV with her eyes closed because of ocular headaches. Every day, she focused on deep-breathing exercises suggested by her daughter, a paramedic, but even that was exhausting. Self-care meant simply surviving until the next day.

“We know people who have died of this, including three people who were in my high school graduating class, and once we started to feel better, I felt changed,” she recalls. “I had a huge sense of gratitude and a new respect for the virus. I started to appreciate everyday things I used to take for granted, like walking down the driveway to get the mail, or being able to smell what I’m cooking.”

Although Fekken’s sense of smell has returned, she still can’t fully taste her food, even six months after recovery. Her self-care now is more modest than it was at the beginning of the pandemic, she says, but also more meaningful. She’s not focusing on distracting herself during a lockdown, but rather on recognizing the seemingly small moments and tasks she once did without thinking.

“I’d like to think I’ve always appreciated my life, but getting COVID-19 made that take on a new meaning,” she says. “Everything I do feels like a gift.”


This woman was fortunate to recover, but if she had been sick with cancer or diabetes or other serious illness, she likely would not be here today. And I wonder how Colon Powell was exposed to COVID. Did someone who was not vaccinated come to visit him, or did he come in contact with an unvaxed person by going to his doctor's office or the drugstore? Those of us who are older and have a chronic illness, even though we get the shots, are at the mercy of others. Love thy neighbor. Get the vaccine.

After being tested for COVID this week, I had to quarantine until I got results. This morning, early, I received a call telling me the test is negative. I felt I was not sick with that virus, but to have the test verify, makes me feel much better now.