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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Telling Your Story

If you are one who wants to write your memoir and keep putting it off, I’m here to tell you, just start. If you want to take writing lessons first (the Senior Centers often have teachers,) well, just sign up. But if you still want to tell your story and don’t want to bother with lessons, here are a few tips:

Pretend you’re one of your own children or grandchildren or a close friend, and then ask questions. Write the answers just the way you’d answer them if you were talking to them face to face. Don’t worry about being correct with grammar or spelling or punctuation. That can come later. Just tell it from your heart exactly as you would if you were speaking to  them. If the imagined questions get into areas you don’t want to discuss, just skip them a while, or altogether. 

One rule I learned in classes over and over was this: Show it, don’t tell it. We’re not telling about the past. We’re making it present, real again by what people do and say. “He avoided my eyes and looked down at his shoes,” says it better than “He looked guilty.”

Now maybe it’s presumptuous for me to be giving tips to many of you who are more professional than I. This is for you who feel you need help but I have had numerous articles and essays published as well as one book. Memoirs do not have to be professionally written. They just need to tell your story straight from the heart.

As for me, I’m beginning to write my own story today so blogging may take a back seat. It starts out with a poem. The kind of poem Robert Frost wrote, sort of random rhyme but with a point. Here it is:

Before I sleep I always pray
and then I think of yesterday
when Mama would sing
and Daddy would stay
to tell us a story 
of olden day.

More stories too he drew 
right out of the blue.
Ones he’d make up
and, though we knew,
Daddy could make
them seem so true.

Stories never really put me to sleep
but gave me something
to ponder and keep when the lamp went out. 
Later I’d give in to those old friends three, 
Winken, Blinken and Nod, and we
would sail swiftly off to their wonderful starry sea.   
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Now, as that other “night” hovers                                                  
I take up my pen, (not my covers,) 
so kids, grandies and all our progeny see
some leaves to this branch on our great family tree.
 Shadows will melt into light from above
when stories all fade into new morning’s Love.

Joyce Darling Hahn Wethe Robertson

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Rock, Rotate and Recline!

As I advance mentally, (note that I didn’t say physically,) I’m finding far more satisfaction in mental activity than physical. Now I don’t mean to put down the benefits of physical activity. I know that a brisk walk in the morning air, a good game of golf on a nine hole course, a cool swim in the afternoon, and a turn around the dance floor at night are all delightful. I’ve had the best of them all, but for now I’m enjoying mental movement and the new chair I bought this week sort of symbolizes this.

I’d been thinking that my old recliner Lazy Boy chair was not serving me best where it was, opposite the room from the sofa. Facing the sofa, as it would when I have company, it needed to be turned to the corner of the far wall when I was alone and wanted to watch TV. It was a heavy chair and hard to move.

“I need another recliner, Robin,” I said on our Monday outing. “Why?” she asked. “Your chair still looks good.” I said, “Because it lacks one feature that would be most handy. It doesn’t swivel.” She agreed. “Let’s go shopping for one that does,” she said. 

Well, the Lazy Boy store had moved somewhere so we tried Ashley House Furniture where I’d bought the new sofa bed. I didn’t go in but Robin checked it out. “They have a few recliners that rotate but they’re huge, made for men. Comfy though.” 

“Nope,” I said, “I need something smaller.”  Then I remembered someone had told me that Big Lots have recliners that swivel. “Let’s go look,” Robin said. Such a daughter! When she’s with me she seems to be just as enthusiastic as I am about my house. Well, the upshot of all this is that we found just the perfect chair. It’s the same chocolate color as the sofa with leather-like upholstery, sized perfectly to the space. Not only does it rock, rotate and recline but it has a small footstool that rocks with me. And I got it at a big discount because it was a floor model in perfect condition, all assembled and ready to go. 

It tickles me the way so many of my needs these days are met with such ease and economy. I was ready to give away the Lazy Boy chair but Robin had already pushed it out to the patio and set it under the roof’s overhang. Great comfort for my outdoor living room! On these cool mornings it is now my breakfast chair.

As usual, I like to play around with words and the three I chose for the title of this blog have significance beyond the new chair. They illustrate the mental attitudes we of the advancing generation can use to exercise our minds. 

Those of you who have read and loved J. Allen Boone’s books, do you remember Kinship with all Life? Another favorite of mine is his You Are the Adventure. In it he recommends the use of a rocking chair to get into the rhythm of the universe. Great advice! Try a good rocker and see what it will do for you.

Then  there’s the word rotate. Maybe swivel is a better word but in any case the idea is to change your perspective, look in another direction, see another side to the question. Now that advice is priceless too. A great exercise for the mind.

And lastly, the word recline. The word harks back to its original meaning which is to bend backward in a relaxed position. It also means to be supported in this. With a reclined attitude you are forced to look upward. What might you see? I’d say a more mental and spiritual view of things, and in a reclined position you don’t get stiff-necked. You let go somewhat from your stolid opinions. (The word stolid originates from the late 16th century and to the word stultus, meaning foolish. Hmmm.)

Rock, rotate and recline. My new chair lets me do all three. But these three mean so much more than physical activity. They set the mind on a trip filled with adventure. They help us exercise that little word “let.” They send us off to destinations previously unseen and awaiting our arrival. 

Who needs a treadmill, or even a magic carpet? I have a new chair that rocks, rotates and reclines but it takes me to get it going. Now, in my advancing years, that’s my favorite kind of exercise!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

There's A Salvaging from every Shipwreck

Yesterday I spent the whole day and well into the night doing nothing much but watching movies on TV. A day without something on the calendar is a treat. Only the commercials broke the mesmerism of my movie day, and then I had to use the mute button on the remote and toggle over to the news or something else. I told myself not to scold; the day may have been put to better use, but there are worse forms of decadence. 

Today I’m in the same boat, nothing special to do, but I haven’t even checked to see what’s on TV. I’m thinking more about the pros and cons of looking back, looking forward, and trying to glean some real meaning out of the present. With the news stations vying to capture our attention with the latest terror real stories I’m reminded of another old movie, “Stop the World, I Want to Get Off!” 

Those words must tempt us all at times. I wasn’t going to mention it, but the tragic death of Robin Williams has saddened me. I was not a special fan of his until the movie “Mrs. Doubtfire” came along. I think it could have been a portrayal of himself, the clown with the teary eyes. He just wanted to get off the world. The problem of depression many suffer in today’s world is so evasive they say that one mustn’t ask why. There’s no common answer to the fact that others living under similar circumstances can float while they sink. 

Fear and sadness and terror and cruelty along with poverty, sickness, sorrow, hate and all the ills that flesh is heir to can be too much for the tender hearted. The look-at-the-bright-side optimists, (that’s me,) get scorned off the stage. Unless they become comedians or preachers.  

My theory of it all goes something like this: If the agonies seem overwhelming, do your little bit to help and know that each loving thought and tender gift you send out will snowball and fill someone’s need. Or be spurred into doing a lot. I’ve yet to see how despair and magnifying of the downsides of human life can do much to solve the problems of the world, however their one usefulness may be in rousing us to action. 

Mister Robin Williams, you knew this. People who knew you best have much praise for you and your generous, kind, loving nature. Old theology may try to condemn you for taking your own life. I do not, but neither do I recommend it to anyone who thinks he’s reached a bitter end. The beauty of each new day is that here or hereafter there will be another chance to live freely and gratefully. This is only one small chapter in our book. The indestructible spirit we can never disown is the seed of us that germinates after the shell is cracked. 

The innocent, pure, delightful child of every one of us will bring smiles to the world whenever we reclaim our childhood. You have done that. You are in Love’s arms, and all the mistakes and error’s of the past will go down with the boat while you find yourself safe on shore, exploring a new world and salvaging only the treasures of the old. 

As for your family, they will, I hope, think of you as an angel presence, just as I have with my mother’s passing when I was fourteen. We all die sometime only to find that death is the mere turning of a page at the end of a chapter. Let the new chapter begin!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Story of the Golden Fish Hook

“What kind of bait could a woman use to catch you?” That was just one of the questions I posed to Wally G. on our honeymoon back in April of 1945. That’s what honeymoons are for, isn’t it? To get important questions like that answered. What I was aiming at, of course, was to know what I’d done to catch him.

He thought for a moment and then said, “No bait at all. Just a plain little gold fish hook would do it for me.”

(Now I must say here that Wally was the kind of fellow people instinctively like. Not that he sought attention. He was just natural and fun to be with. But when it came to women he could kid around with them, dance with them, talk with them, but not flirt. You see, he was plagued with the fear of being turned down. He might have got that from his mom who used to tell this story about herself: “My sister, Hattie, could flirt and boys hovered around her like flies around fly paper, but I never could so one day I asked her how to flirt. She looked at me pitifully and said, ‘Gosh, Gracie, if you have to ask don’t try!’”)

I said to Wally, “Did I catch you with a golden hook?”

“Yup, you did. Or I should say, your grandmother did.” I’d been living with Grandmother Darling for two years while attending Riverside Junior College. She had been a friend of his and his family for many years and had set her eye on Wally as an ideal match for me even before he got home from the South Pacific during WWII. When we did get together it was a family affair including his parents and his sister, Carolyn, six years younger and about my age. We had a good time and I was quite impressed with that young Marine officer in snappy uniform, but nothing more came of it. I figured he was the big brother type.

Getting back to that conversation about the fish hook...(it seems like I’ve told this before so I’ll skim through.) 

Wally said, “Carolyn told me about your short unsuccessful engagement to that other guy and I was surprised you’d even be thinking of marriage. You were the kid sister type to me, but then I began to see you in a new light.” He went on. “I’d been included in a group of Officers Club gals in Hollywood, and had my eye on one of them, a short cute perky one, but hadn’t had the nerve to ask her out. Then she up and married someone else! I was shook. It was the story of my life, the too darn slow guy. Shortly after that Mom got a call from your grandmother asking, “Has Wally ever thought of dating Joycie?”

I’d have died of humiliation if I’d known! But it was after that when Wally started coming down from L.A. on his bi-weekly leaves to "spend time with Mrs. Darling and Joyce." These visits would start with a home-cooked dinner by Grandma on Friday night and on Saturdays a fancy date for the two of us in Hollywood. First, a stop at Cedric’s Flower Shop for a corsage, and then one of the Sunset Strip restaurants on Saturday. Afterwards a stage show or dance at the Palladium or ballet. It was a delightful courtship and led to our marriage the following spring.

I’ve been wondering lately if Wally would have ever broken the ice with me or any other girl if it hadn’t been for a matchmaker like my grandma. Turned out he was an excellent flirt when he knew it would get smiles or laughter out of me. He was careful not to flirt with anyone else, thank goodness! I was young but could play the part of a young bride quite well, and later a mother of three lovely children. It was a good marriage. Lasted 40 years. And all it took was a plain gold hook! 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Are You One Of Those People On The Beach?

On my computer desk top monitor I have a photograph of one of Laguna’s loveliest beaches. On a distant cove two people stand. They appear to be having a conversation. Behind them are a couple of colorful beach umbrellas with a few more people enjoying the real live moments where a gorgeous day, the wide blue ocean, waves, rocks and sands put a perspective on life that takes away petty problems. And I’m quite sure these people have no idea they’ve been immortalized on camera. Wouldn’t it be fun to meet them and say, “You don’t know me from Adam but I see you many times every day. On my desktop?”

This is just one of the countless bits of trivia that march through my mind. Like the wet sand down on the shore they beg to be shaped into in sand castles. Words can do that. Likely as not both words and sand get washed away with time but they work in moments. As kids we used to build a dike around the building of a sand castle first to fend off the inevitable as long as possible. 

My blogs are like that, thoughts wide open to innovation and imagination, even small ideas trying to find that mini-second of time and space to be caught on camera. Some might say I’m wasting my time and they may be right but playing with thoughts, like playing with dribble-wet sand, is fun for me, and to those few who like reading blogs and tell me they enjoy mine, I say, Thanks for saying so! 

I’d like to tell all those who think they might enjoy writing memoirs, essays, whatever, to build a dike around the castle site so the incoming tides of discouragement, complication and blockage can be fended off. Then just start. Let it all pour out any which way at first. Don’t edit as you go. That comes later. Those first drafts seldom make it to publication anyway but they give you something to work with. Like sand or clay they can be done and redone until something good comes out, something satisfying. 

Even if you intend to keep your scribblings to yourself they help in so many ways to see things objectively, to edit not only words and phrases but your life, your ideas, imaginations, secret desires, even frustrations. Yesterday’s blog was, for me, one of those healing efforts. It helped me out of a pit and prompted the communications that dispelled the mesmeric demons that could have done their dirty work. 

A day at the beach. I’ll see if I can take one soon. When something so precious is so easily available it is a crime not to take advantage of it even though I have the essence of such days tucked away in my mind’s cupboard to take out and remember. Who knows how many pictures we all have inadvertently happened into? “Who’s that little girl in the old-fashioned bathing suit jumping into the big wave at Divers’ Cove? See? The one who’s diving feet first and holding her nose.” They’ll never know it was me. Summer of 1938.

Today there is no shopping bus or any other special activity beckoning. It’s 11:30 a.m. and thank goodness no one has come to my door. I’m still in my nighty. Tommy’s cage is thoroughly cleaned and he’s about his business of song, seeds and swings. Although my calendar is blank I’m sure I’ll be thinking of something else to do soon besides blogging.

If this blog serves any purpose at all I hope it may be to inspire someone to sit down and write. Write anything. Just let your thoughts roll out freely. You can tell which ones are worth keeping so much better when they can’t hide anymore. I think writing is one of the healthiest things a person can do. Much more satisfying than Solitaire or Sudoku or even sand-castling. Of course if you’re an artist, a musician, or busy with some other talent, that’s good. But even then there is nothing like a pen and paper or computer keyboard to straighten out the kinks in life. No one needs to be depressed, obsessed, or possessed. The demons of life can’t stand the light, so think them away with writing. Or pack up your beach umbrella, towel, hat and shovel. Then head for the beach. It’s a beautiful day!  You might even get your pciture taken by a total stranger.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"My Friend Hit Me!"

One of the big disappointments of our friend, Dave Marshall, was that he and his wife Georgia could not have children of their own. So Dave used to play with his friends’ children. He knew he’d become one of them when little Mikey came over one day and rang the doorbell. Georgia answered it and Mikey, with his soft ball, glove, bat and baseball cap stood on the doorstep and said, “Can your little boy come out to play?” Of course Dave dropped everything and joined Mikey and the other kids.

Another day Mikey appeared on the Marshall’s doorstep but this time Dave answered the bell. There stood Mikey and he was a sorry sight with tears running down his freckled cheeks. In trembling voice he looked up at Dave and said, “My friend hit me!”
Inconceivable, isn’t it, that a friend of any age could hit you either physically or verbally? Yet it happens to most of us in a lifetime. You’d think that in a lifetime we might get that problem straight, but lately I have found remnants of those childish resentments that return real or perceived hurts in kind. I’ve seen a few unthoughtful or unkind words ruin lifetime friendships. What a price to pay for resentment! 

There are two people, one quite young and the other quite old, with whom I’ve been having similar difficulties that could put me in the same boat. As with both children and adults “making up“ after a rough patch can be hard on one’s pride. Rehearsing and rehashing and explaining can often reignite the flame. If a little voice inside says, “Drop it!” or “Forget it!” then you have to watch your response. Does it begin with “But...?” That little word is a banana peel under foot!

Today will be a test. I am going to be seeing one of them. At first I said I’d not get together with her. And whom did that hurt? Me! I realized it was not so much the apparent lack of love or appreciation on her part that grieved me as my own diffidence. I cannot bear the burden of lovelessness or indifference to anyone. It’s not in my nature. 

The day is still new and I’m turning over the problem to the One who can open our eyes to a higher, more secure sense of love. If the expected reconciliation doesn’t come today, it will come sometime. My job is to be ready with a clean house and heart.

I feel more comfortable, more myself, now that I’ve written this blog. The lesson I needed to learn was this: it’s not so much another’s love I need as the love I can find within for that other one. I need to love more than to be loved. 

I don’t know what happened between Mikey and his little friend who hit him, but I can almost guarantee they made up more quickly and thoroughly than the big kids do. My friend, Dave, was a small man but he had a big heart. I’d like to have watched that ball game. Oh, to be a little kid again!

P.S. It's about 6:30 p.m. now and guess what? Earlier, soon after posting this blog, I talked to my young friend and after her long silence I realized there had been no, I mean no intentional neglect on her part. Without a mention of problem or explanation her voice on the phone assured me that only love had been there all the time. My worries were for naught!

After that I used that little hand held device called a cell phone and called my older friend. "Hi there!" I said. "Just thought I'd give you a ring to tell you I try to check my e-mail every day but haven't had much of anything personal and I've missed hearing from you. How're you doing?"

"Good to hear from you," she said. "I haven't written much lately myself but there was something I forwarded to you recently. You didn't get it?" Sure enough, there it was hiding amidst the surfeit of ads and junk mail. We had a delightful visit. Nothing wrong. All was well, is well.

Honestly, I was hurting, really hurting, before I wrote the blog. In minutes I learned there was nothing at all to cause that hurt but my own imaginations. Now, I'm saying to you who may read this: Pick up your pen or pencil whenever things are going wrong. Write it out, reason it out, cast it out! Even if you really got hit, you can heal it instantly. Go back to the ball game of life and love and don't hit your friend. Hit that ball!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Friend I Met On A Ladder, An Allegory

A friend of mine clued me in to something years ago that keeps knocking on my door. She called it Jacob’s Ladder. You may recall that account in the Old Testament of Jacob’s dream one night in the wilderness. He saw a ladder reaching up to Heaven with angels climbing up and other angels climbing down. 

“I’ve thought about that ladder a lot,” my friend said, “and here’s how I see the rungs: The first rung is called Intuition. It’s an instinctive feeling that Heaven is true although you can’t prove that to yourself or others.” She smiled and added, “If you don’t believe there is a Heaven, even as a state of mind, then you’ll find getting to the second rung of the ladder is quite a stretch, if not impossible.”

“So, what is that second rung?” I asked. 

“Well, I call it Hope. You know, once you’ve declared to yourself that Heaven is a fairly solid idea? Then you find yourself hoping that it’s really true and wishing you could get there.”

“I’m well acquainted with Hope,” I said, “but what is the third step?” 

“That,” she said, smiling broadly, “is Faith. Faith is a certainty that Heaven exists, even though you can’t see or give proof of it yet.”

“I feel I’ve made it to Faith,” I said. “I’m quite certain that Heaven is, and that it is reachable. But how? That I’m not so certain of.”

“Well, the rung of Faith is where most people get stuck,” my friend said. “You’ll notice you have much company here. So many people cling to this step that it frequently breaks. Often they lose faith but not you, I see. Still we’re inclined to hang around on the rung of Faith because the next rung is a steep one.” My friend shook her head sadly and added, “It’s easy to believe something you can’t prove. It takes Understanding to prove that the good you believe in is true. To understand Heaven is to be willing to work to achieve that understanding. It takes interest, time, study, prayer, inspiration, humility, obedience, diligence, and countless other good qualities. But once you understand, then you see that you’ve been in Heaven all the time; only sleep and dreams have blinded you to it.”

“I’m working on that.” I said. “I'm finding it easy to believe in as a theory, but I know it will take much more of those qualities you mentioned. So can you tell me about the next rung in the ladder?” 

“It’s called Fruition in my book,” my friend said. “Understanding enables you to use what you’ve learned just as with mathematics. It gives you proof of your hope and faith. Proof in healing whatever comes into your consciousness that is not good and true.” 

My friend’s eyes lit up just then as if she were seeing something wonderful. “Look!" she said. "Can you see the next step after Fruition? That’s Reality, the top rung in the ladder. Reality is Heaven.” 

I thought I could see it then and after a bit I had to ask, “How do you account for the angels coming down the ladder? Why would they want to leave Heaven?”

“That’s easy,” she said. “The angels going down the ladder know that Heaven is everywhere and they’re coming down to tell us who we really are. You see they are our true selves who have no shady past. What a discovery that is! Like the proverbial prodigal son we too will come to ourselves, remember our perfect origins and claim our sonship and daughter-ship of God. That angel coming down to meet us is here to guide and comfort us. In fact,” (and here my friend whispered,) “You think I’m just a friend but I am more than that. I’m your real self, your angel from on high, and I’ve been with you all along. I’m not just your better self, I’m your only self!”

I was startled to hear that, but couldn’t deny it. She looked like me, only better than I ever imagined myself to be. “Then this imperfect sense of me I’ve been struggling along with, who is she, an angel-in-training?”

“I guess you could say that,” she said with a motherly smile.

“Well,” I said, “let’s get going then. I’m ready to give this next step another try or two or three or as many more it takes. Will you stay with me and give me a boost now and then?”

“Of course, my dear child. That’s my work and play. I always go with you. We’ll reach the top for sure, be it slow or fast. I won’t leave you, even if you should fall. I'll be there to pick you up.” 

I must have blinked then for suddenly I realized that the one I thought was merely my friend was my angel, my true self.  

I’m thinking right now that the view on this ladder from the rung called Faith is beautiful but once in a while the rung breaks and the angels on it tumble down. I don’t want to get stuck here half way even if it doesn’t break. The next rungs of the ladder, Understanding and Fruition, are waiting to give me far better views. Besides I’ve always wondered what it might feel like to reach the top and find Heaven, which I’ve suspected all along was my original Home. Just imagine Who I'll find there! Why should I put that off? 

Say, do angels really have wings and fly? Maybe they don’t even need wings. Or phones. Or grocery markets. Or bodies that need our constant attention and still wear out.

Pardon me, I can hear my other angel calling. She’s saying, “Perk up, girl! Don’t get dreamy and speculative again. Work is a word that has not yet become obsolete! When you work the right way you can even call it play.” 

I love that better angel of me, the one that’s won her wings of joy and glory. She will lead me home to Heaven. If I stay close to her I’ll never find myself in that other state. Shhh! You know, too starts with the letter H, but I never could believe in that, much less long to go there!

“What are you muttering about now, dearie?” my angel-self is saying. “By the way, there are plenty of litter bins along the way. Be sure to drop your trash in them. Everything gets recycled these days.” 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Porches and People

I love porches. My patio is located by my front door so it’s a kind of hybrid porch and as I was sitting out there this morning I remembered fondly some of the porches I’ve known. Too bad there’s not a way to distill the unique pleasure we all find in certain memories so we can gift them to others. Words can only try. Here’s one porch I loved and the person who went with it.

The old stone house my great grandparents built in southeastern Minnesota had a screened-in porch on the side of it overlooking a barnyard and woods up the hill beyond. The screens were half covered with ivy and the sun got to peek through at certain times of day. What makes that porch stand out in my memory is the way it lent me comfort one afternoon when I was not feeling well. Aunt Ida let me lie down on the daybed on the porch and plumped a pillow for me to rest my head on. After a few loving words she sent my brother, Danny, and her children, Bobby and Donna Mae outdoors to play in the sand bank on the other side of the house. 

It was the first time I really noticed that old porch. A few birds chattered in the trees outside and a cool breeze drifted in soothing my feverish brow.  Aunt Ida softly hummed a few old songs as she sat on the edge of the bed while I lay there soaking up the peace and serenity I felt. In a while I fell asleep and when I woke up I felt fine. All my discomfort was gone but I stayed on the daybed enjoying the pleasure of that old porch. I could hear a few bees buzzing around the flowerbed under the windows and in the barnyard below Uncle Earl’s cows strolled into the barn, mooing to let him know it was time for milking. By then the sun’s last rays sprinkled through the ivy and at that tender age, around six or seven, I knew that farm porches were for people of all ages. Uncle Earl, who had washed out by the pump would come in for dinner after working in the hot summer sun all morning and sit on the wicker chair out on the porch. Later maybe Aunt Ida would find time to darn some socks out there. And sometimes a child whose work was play needed a nap closer to Mama than his upstairs bed. What sweet comfort, that daybed, its soft down pillow, auntie’s tender voice and the music of a farmyard was to me that day! Funny, isn’t it, how a screened-in country porch can stay so fresh for so many years in this great grandma’s mind? 

My patio-porch lacks only three things today. A daybed, ivy covered screens, and Aunt Ida.