The Dancing Master

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By Catherine Browning

 

When I attended high school, everyone learned the basic dance steps in PE class. This included the waltz, two-step, polka, and some square dancing. All right! I admit it was somewhere back in the dark ages. But when you were asked to go to the prom, you knew the steps. More important, your partner knew the steps, too. At the more informal dances, we all learned the twist, mashed potato . . . well, you get the idea. 

My grandson is a senior in high school. I asked him if he intended going to the prom. 

“Probably.”

“Do you know how to dance?”

“No.”

“Does whomever you will ask to be your date know how to dance?”

“No.”

Now I ask you, what are they teaching students at school these days? I’m allowed to ask this question because I’m a teacher. As of a few years ago, I just do substitute teaching, but I still qualify. 

So I asked my grandson if anyone actually danced at the dances. 

“No.”

So I offered to teach my grandson and his choice of dates how to dance. Place your bets now as to whether or not that will happen!

My daughter informed me I was too old-fashioned and that she didn’t even know the present day dances. Perhaps my granddaughter-in-law could teach him to swing dance?

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The Year I Turned Pro

By Kathy Dunnehoff

2018 is the year that I turned pro.

For those of you who know me, that might sound strange. I’ve been a writer and a writing teacher for more than 25 years, and I’ve got four novels published and lots more written. Hadn’t I already “turned pro?”

No, I had not.

Let me explain by telling you about a small book I read in 2017. “Turning Pro” by Stephen Pressfield (the author of several books on writing and the novel/film “The Legend of Bagger Vance”) is about the professional habits of a writer. He says it’s not what you’ve done or not done. It’s not whether or not you’re published or making any money or any other measurement you may use. Being professional is approaching your work with solid habits and a commitment to yourself to produce.

I think I’m a pretty fast writer, so I’ve been able to produce despite being a bit sporadic about it, but in 2018 I wanted to put my head down and treat my writing with the same level of professionalism I approach my teaching.

I started by setting a work schedule. I would write Monday through Friday every morning until I hit my word count for new writing or page count for revising. And I would not put other things ahead of it (with the exception of a fairly short meditation and a stout cup of tea). There would be no, “I need to grade these essays first, and I can easily write this afternoon.” Also forbidden before the work is done? Laundry, the internet, errands, a shower, or other writing related things like outlining etc…

What happened? LOTS MORE WRITING! And even more importantly, the emergence of a professional habit I feel good about every day.

2018 was the year I really turned pro.

 

Burial and Other Literary Plots

By Karen Wills

Respecting the last wishes of the dying, our cultural norms surrounding the preparation and disposal of the dead, the circumstances that determine what is possible…all of these may become part of our literary endeavors. They show much of how we want to depict our characters and their feelings and attitudes.

This can be done in poetry, too. Robinson Jeffers wrote the following after the death of his beloved wife, Una.

poem of death

But what about working the handling of the dead into mythology or fiction? In Homer’s Iliad, civilization itself takes a step forward. Achilles, grieving for his friend who’s been killed by the Trojan warrior Hector, slays Hector. He then drags Hector on the beach before the great Priam, the dead man’s grieving father. But in the end, compassion and respect overtake Achilles vengeful madness. He returns Hector’s remains to  Priam as a gesture of pity and honor in a time of incivility.

Let’s journey from the realms of Troy to the American West and the love of mortal men, close as brothers: Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call, the former Texas Rangers of Larry McMurtry’s classic Lonesome Dove. lonesome doveWhen Augustus lies dying of a gangrenous wound in a town in Montana, he makes an outlandish request of his friend. He wants Call to take his body back to Texas and bury him in a pecan grove where he’d once courted Clara, the love of his life.

Gus tells his friend that he is assigning him this task, a Herculean one in violent frontier days of primitive travel, in order to bestow the gift of one last great adventure. It is a sign of the unbending, proud, Call’s loyalty to Gus that he does fulfill the last wish of his longtime friend.

Set in more modern times we have Unsheltered, UnshelteredBarbara Kingsolver’s novel of lives of ordinary people in economically and socially precarious times. The protagonist, Willa, is beset by family and financial insecurity. She struggles to take care of everyone in her family, including her husband’s Greek immigrant father, Nick, a man of rigid, racist views. With her daughter, Tig’s, help she cares for him as he is dying. Then there is the matter of his ashes. He wanted to be buried in the Greek section of a lovely local cemetery. The problem is the cost of a plot there. They do what others have done before them in real life. (I know of at least one instance.) They bury him in secret where he wished to be laid to rest.

As authors, we should remember that death and dying are inevitable in real life, so can be great sources of drama in fiction. Everyone dies. Sympathetic characters are those who behave as readers would have their loved ones do. They behave with compassion and respect. The best try to follow the last wishes of their loved ones.

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Explore the World. Explore Yourself. Read a Book.

By Deborah Epperson

Where does your inspiration come from? I find my greatest inspirations in literature. Amazing novels take me on journeys of imagination that open up new worlds to explore. They can make me laugh, cry, and empathize with people who start out as fictional characters and evolve into friends by the last page. More than that, they urge me to do some soul-searching by getting me to ask, “What would I have done in that situation?”

Poetry speaks to the soul and entreats me to be the best version of myself that I can be. Nonfiction educates my mind, causes me to ponder new possibilities, and entreats me to ask, “What if?” Histories and inspirational biographies reinforce my deep-seated belief that we can overcome life’s trials. We can persevere.

Television, movies, and any visual media can entertain us as well as move our emotions. But in viewing these media, I find much of the work is done for me. In a book, the author paints a picture of a place or character with words, but then readers must put those word-pieces together and come up with their own vision and their own understanding of who a character is and what he/she represents in the story. Our discernments about each character are unique to us because they come from a merger of our personal believes, experiences, fears, and dreams that create our personal truths.

To demonstrate the difference between written words and visual media, let’s pretend two people each give you a 1000-piece puzzle. One puzzle is completely finished for you, but the other puzzle is still in 1000 pieces and you have to look at each piece, think about it, and try to figure out where and how it fits together to create the completed picture. Which puzzle is going to require more of your time, your creative thinking, and your emotions? Which puzzle are you going to be more invested in? Which puzzle will bring you the most satisfaction and be the most remembered?  

After years of tragedy and triumphs, Becky, the main character in my novel,

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Breaking TWIG, concludes that, “We all filter the realities of life through our own personal fears, individual experiences, and the human need to cling to hope despite the circumstances, regardless of the odds. And in doing so, we each determine our own truth.”

Inside the pages of a book is where I find the people, places, words, and ideas that inspire and challenge me to continually seek and reevaluate my own truth. Where does your inspiration come from?

Thanks for stopping by,

Deborah

Threads of DNA

By Janice McCaffrey

I’ve been a genealogist for over forty-years. When I began there were no computers. I wrote letters to government registries, cemetery offices, and church personnel asking for help. Even enclosing the SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) didn’t guarantee a reply.

With the onset of online digitized records, books, family trees, and photos, I felt like a kid in a candy store. And most of the goodies were free!

Then Genealogical DNA testing came into vogue. First I had my son send his saliva off for three tests: 1) his ethnicity 2) his fathers, fathers, fathers DNA matches and 3) his mothers, mothers, mothers DNA matches. Years later I sent my own sample to a different organization. I like to imagine how my ancestors might have lived through the centuries.

Long before the DNA results I’d learned that there is no royal blood coursing through my veins. My ancestors were hard working farmers and tradesman (blacksmiths, weavers, saddle & harness makers, teachers, telegraph clerk, and prison turnkey). They migrated from the United Kingdom to Canada and eventually my father to the US moving to better lives. But, yes, we had bastards born out of wedlock, alcoholics, gamblers who lost fortunes, and some say insanity (though not proven).

A couple years ago my daughter and I visited Marseille France. The first day we strolled along the rampart of Fort Saint Jean beside the vibrant blue and green hues of the Mediterranean Sea. IMAG0457We stayed in Panier, the mysteriously ancient looking Old Town, and soaked up its ambiance. Then riding in a rental car keeping up with speeding traffic I caught a second’s image of a handsome bearded man standing on the sidewalk laughing with friends. He wore the traditional Moroccan jabador—mid-calf, off-white, cotton tunic worn over baggy trousers—and Muslim taqiyah cap.

I fell in love!

And a story began to weave itself through my brain. My protagonist, Madge a sixty-something widow, visits Marseille and finds herself on a quest. She must travel back in time to 12 century BC Lebanon to save the Phoenician civilization from the marauding Sea Peoples (see Ancient History Encyclopedia online for historic background).

Every few weeks I check my DNA results because people’s names are added as new DNA results match mine and as the organization’s DNA bank grows they tweak individual ethnicity reports.  Recently I noticed that my ethnicity percentages had been recalculated a smidgen. Geographic areas are listed with descriptions of its peoples and their migrations. The West Middle East region had been added to my report. I clicked on it and read the history. At first I sat silent—in awe.

Then in delight—I laughed out loud.

Traces of the ancient DNA I proudly carry match Phoenician remains. Threads of my DNA are telling me stories to share.