Sweet Memories

"Memories" by Kaptain Kobold

“Memories” by Kaptain Kobold

“One lives in the hope of becoming a memory.” – Antonio Porch

We may not spend our time consciously trying to live a life worth remembering, but I imagine many of us would like to mean enough to someone that we become a memory. A good memory.

I think the people who become the best memories never really give it much thought at all. They’re too busy living their lives and impacting ours by being themselves.

My best friend’s grandmother passed away recently. She was 99 and then some. A real Spitfire. The sort of woman who reminded me a great deal of my own grandmother.

I wasn’t able to attend her memorial service, but my friend was asked to say a few words. He hadn’t prepared anything, but as is his way he rose to the occasion and delivered a very thoughtful and sincere eulogy. He was later asked to write down what he had said for a few members of the family who weren’t there and he shared his words with me this past weekend.

I’d like to share what he wrote here in tribute to his grandmother especially, but also in tribute to him.

To those people who touch our lives. Family and friends who shape us just by being themselves. The people who become memories to us and who aspire us to become memories of our own.


“Sweet Memories”

I am a rich man. Perhaps not measured in the way that others may measure it with money or fame, but rich in memories.
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Being Different

“Being Different” by Niccolo Caranti

“Being Different” by Niccolo Caranti

“It is better to be hated for what you are

than to be loved for something you are not.” ~ Andre Gide

True as Gide’s statement is, being hated for any reason can be pretty ugly sometimes. Especially if it seems to be a collective thing.

One person hating you is, perhaps, to be expected, but a group of people (whether it be classmates or affiliations or countries or entire races) can be beyond overwhelming. If you feel isolated, on your own, with no support, it might even lead to your undoing. Which, of course, suits no one but the people hating you.

I know this. Too well.

Here are eight of my favorite books with a major theme of being different:

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Black Boy by Richard Wright
The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt
Fat Kid Rules the World by KL Going
The Crystal Shard by RA Salvatore
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Nearly all of my own work (fiction and poetry) centers around the theme of being different. Otherness!

I suppose that is because it’s at the essence of who I am. And I’ll admit part of that is the result of being treated as if I was different. You can fight such treatment. You can acquiesce.

You can change who you are (by trying to become more like everyone else, yes, but also by resisting through the act of embracing the opposite, not because that is who you truly are, but ironically to be contrary to those trying to change you). You might, however, also realize that your difference is an essential part of who you are. Not all. Yet important!
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The Gift of Generosity

Lafayette & Sis at ChristmasToday I’m going to write briefly about Christmas and the Gift of Generosity.

I don’t remember a lot about my childhood. I’m not sure why, I just don’t. Even less from my teen years. Perhaps, I’ve just tucked it all away somewhere. The events I recall most from my early years tend to be embarrassing and funny, though a few were frightening. I alluded to several of those last week in the list that appears at the end of this post and I’ll get to those incidents after the holidays.

Two things I do remember from my childhood, though, are how my family showed me the importance of GENEROSITY in the things they did, and CHRISTMAS.
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Family, Friends, and Our Stories: Continued

famsmallIn the beginning, FAMILY is pretty much all we know.

While we’re infants, they’re perceived as an extension of us (in regards, mostly, to how they meet or neglect our basic, inherent needs).

Most of the early truths and discoveries we make are learned through our experiences with family. Our values, our beliefs and attitudes, are influenced by them (as we grow to accept or to resist theirs).

As we age, as we approach and then navigate the muddy waters of adolescence, our FRIENDS assume a much larger role in shaping us (or at least in influencing how we shape ourselves) into the people we’ll become.

All of this may be true. All of it may, and does, and will influence our stories.

But, as Willa Cather stated: “most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.” I can say that most of my personal stories, most of the memories I draw upon when I write, are from that time in my life. They’re related to experiences I had with my family, and adventures I had with my friends back then.

A few of them, in particular, have in some way influenced the novels I’ve been working on recently, but not in the ways you might think. Not for the events themselves, in most cases, but for something more.

Here are a few specific events I recall from when I was between six and nine years old:

The Great Carpet Incident
Broken Bones & Concussed Noggins
Shattered: Or Wrong Place, Wrong Time, Wrong Body
The Land of Up & So Much Falling
Climbing the Walls
Rooftops & Hurricanes

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Family, Friends, and Our Stories

Lafayette Wattles & His Little Sister“Other things may change, but we start and end with family.”

What is family? For some, it is the heart, the marrow, the soul. For others, the dragon, the demon, the darkness. If we’re lucky, family is a light that guides us toward our own light, the one inside us.

I’m one of the lucky.

I don’t feel guilty for that, but I AM hyper-aware that not all families are created equal, and that when it comes to family I struck the mother-lode (and father-lode and sister-lode, so to speak).

I don’t come from money. My parents didn’t go to college. They got jobs after high school (before and after the Army for my dad, before and after my sister and I were both school age for my mom) and they spent their entire adult lives working extremely hard.

I was lucky because my grandparents never felt entitled. My parents never felt entitled. My sister and I never had a reason to feel entitled.

We did, however, feel happy! And loved!
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What Is Elizabeth Wein Writing For?

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Although I became “a reader” rather late, I’ve had the good fortune of encountering some truly wonderful books and remarkable authors whom I have enjoyed again and again over the past two decades. I only recently discovered Elizabeth Wein, however, and have just begun her acclaimed novel, Code Name Verity, which was recently voted #1 on the YALSA Top Ten Teen Books for 2013, but am quite confident she’ll be one of those novelists I return to time and again.

I have to say, so far the experience has been wonderful. One that has me salivating for her other books. I have some catching up to do, after all.

For the past three months, Code Name Verity has been on my To Read list and it only recently moved onto my Reading Now list. A novel about World War II that has been called “an Allied Invasion of Two,” Code Name Verity focuses on two young women (one a pilot, the other a spy) who seem to defy norms on so many levels. If the beginning is any indication, I’m sure this book will soon move to my You Have To Read This list.

So, how lucky am I to have had Elizabeth Wein write a special guest post for this week?

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In Defense of TV, Sort Of

Spanky McFarland & Charley Chase by twm1340“In my opinion, television validates existence.” – Calvin and Hobbes

TV has been part of my life since the very beginning (not unlike children today who grow up with computers and social media). By the time I was a teenager, we were being warned about the dangers of television.

In 1981 “children spent about 2 hours each weekday watching TV” which meant that after fifty years they’d have spent over three years of their lives watching the tube as we called it back then. The primary concerns seemed to be that kids would grow up to be sedentary, that in addition to being inundated with violence (cartoons, westerns, police dramas which were beginning to get a lot edgier . . .) kids would spend less time outdoors, less time reading, less time interacting with each other.

So glad that didn’t happen. Er, um, well . . .

“In 2000, the average number of hours spent watching TV was 1,502, or 4.1 hours per day” and by 2008, the “projected average number of hours an individual (12 and older)” was expected to spend watching TV was up to about 4.7 hours per day.

Of course, today Americans spend over five hours a day online (including approximately 2 hours each day with their smartphones) while we only spend about an hour-and-a-half with our partners.

I’m not going to pretend to know all about the dangers of TV or about the potential dangers of smartphones or other forms of technology. I certainly don’t. I actually just spent over three years without television and, in general, I didn’t pine for it much except when March Madness rolled around.

Over the past few months, however, I have discovered a few television shows (some from a few years ago and others somewhat current) that I think are excellent:

A Game of Thrones
The Walking Dead
Veronica Mars
Freaks & Geeks
The Blacklist

And those shows got me thinking (always dangerous). So, you could say this post is simply one guy’s take on the way some television shows can be valuable tools for writers.
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A Thing Called Fear

Shark by Deja Photo

Shark by Deja Photo From Lens To Picture

“I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” – Woody Allen

Fear. At a basic level, fear is an emotional response to a perceived threat. Essential, historically, to the survival of humanity. Yet a potential catalyst to the undoing of an individual.

It should probably be noted that this is just MY take on fear. For what it’s worth.

I’m not going to get all psychoanalytical here or even very philosophical, but it seems that fear can be the spark that saves a life or that gets us headed in the right direction. It can also, in a manner of speaking, end a life when it becomes paralyzing, when the threat is viewed as a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to happiness, success, dreams.

Although fear might be an instantaneous response to a specific threat at a particular moment in time (a reaction to stimuli in a present moment), some are layered. They’re not merely a reaction to that one instant, but are often threaded deeply, intricately, inextricably to other (often sundry) past experiences.

It figures, doesn’t it, that something so influential would be so complex.

Here are My Four Biggest Childhood Fears (in order of severity, not in chronological order, from ages six to eighteen):

DEATH (as in no longer alive, as in ran out of time, as in the end, finito . . . I’m talking from the perspective of a boy who had absolutely no desire to be off pursuing evidence of an afterlife or a lack there of . . . not as a youthful resistance to the concepts of heaven or hell or purgatory, but simply as an I-just-got-here reaction to the whole idea of shuffling off this mortal coil)
STAGE FRIGHT/PUBLIC SPEAKING (being the center of attention might be a more apt name for this one)
HEIGHTS (a fear of falling, really . . . not of climbing, not of being UP, for UP was one of my favorite places to be – as Xero says, being there often allows you to see what everyone else can see, but in a totally different way . . . okay, so I guess maybe I did sort of morph into a misfit on my own)
DOGS (that’s right, man’s best friend . . . although I have a genuine affinity for dogs, I was attacked by two of them when I was in first grade so every canine interaction I’ve had since then has begun/begins with all out fear)

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Remember Every Scar

Got Pummeled Here

The Hurt Wall

“A little talent is good to have if you want to be a writer,
but the only real requirement is the ability to remember every scar.” ~ Stephen King

We all have scars: some physical, some mental, some emotional. Some are deep and dark, others superficial, others in between, but most leave their mark in some way on the person we become (it’s how we respond to the events that caused those scars that often defines us).

I look at my knees and my shins and I know full well that I don’t remember every scar, not all the physical ones anyway (the others tend to be easier to remember, or harder to forget).

There was that one summer afternoon and the banana seat bike at my aunt’s house with its shiny chrome fenders, the bike I tried to hurdle (whatever might have inspired such an act is a mystery). The front fender turned bloody pretty fast and somehow that scar remains on my left shin.

There was the time when I was five or six and I plucked the discarded razor blade (which I was specifically told to stay away from because it was sharp, because it could hurt me) the same razor that had been hidden in a folded Kleenex and stuffed at the bottom of the trash, the razor I tested on my index finger.

Still got that scar to remind me of my youthful curiosity (meaning my flat out stupidity, that is).

I spent a lot of time on the ground as a boy (sometimes playing with my plastic troops and my hot wheels, sure, but most often the result of some outside force acting upon my body – you know, like gravity, or bigger stronger older boys).

I never really thought about it until today, but remembering scars isn’t always bad. Sometimes it can be a lot of fun. For one thing, it’s a chance to give my sister a hard time. And when is that not fun?!? Like now, for example, as I remember the events that led to my propensity for climbing, for being UP. Those events are finding their way into my writing. So, you could say, they’re scars well spent.

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Dreams

Mask and Unveiling

Mask and Unveiling

“Writing is both mask and unveiling.” ~ E. B. White

That quote seems to sum up one of the most rewarding byproducts of writing for me: the paradoxical duality of simultaneously concealing and revealing oneself. On one hand, I’ve spent a lifetime trying to be invisible. On the other hand, I’ve spent many of those exact same moments trying to find a way to be heard (by myself first, by others second).

When I was about seven or eight-years-old, I revealed to my mom my dream (my grand life’s plan was all laid out in my mind and it seemed so simple back then to just know in your heart that you were going to do a thing and not question it at all). I was going “to make $100,000 a year,” I told her. And I was going to buy her a huge house and give her and my dad a whole heap of money (as an aside, I was reminded last year by my aunt who is now in her eighties that I had apparently promised great sums of money to other members of my family as well . . . oops).

How, my mom wondered, was I going to manage this.

It should be noted that back when I was eight-years-old settlers were still bartering with glass beads and animal pelts, so that annual salary was quite a lofty goal.

“I’m going to be an actor,” I said.
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