Why There’s More than Enough Love to Go Around

Mother with children

It’s tempting to think of love as finite.

A loving mother can help her children to trust the infinite nature of love.

Were you fortunate enough to have a loving mother? If not, how have you found love in your life?

Today’s writing prompt:

Can you tell as story of the day that you touched the hem of the infinite garment of love?

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For more memoir moments, click on the picture below and buy Blush now.

Blush Book Cover and image of farm


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Miranda, Mary Ann, and FriendStory: Bittersweet Childhood Memoir

We met in Brooklyn.

Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

She had written two novels.

I was writing my first memoir.

She lived with her family close to Fort Greene, where we were living in a high rise apartment, taking care of our grandson in another high rise close by.

Our meeting was mostly online.

But we did have one lovely lunch. We went to the historic Algonquin Hotel. This video shows you not only the hotel but the famous round table and the painting “The Vicious Circle,” depicting the literary giants of the 1920′s and 30′s who used to gather here. I liked to imagine that Dorothy Parker’s laughter still floated above the chandeliers.

Soon after that lunch, I left New York for Virginia. Both of us doubled down on our books. That could have been the end of our little FriendStory.

However, we stayed in touch on Facebook.

Miranda got a contract with Crown publishers for Bittersweet: A Novel. Since then, she has been doing the most amazing things to lay the groundwork for her book. She started a blog a whole year before the launch date of the book to share how she is preparing. Her first two books won prestigious prizes, and her next one already has fifteen reviews on Goodreads. What’s even more exciting, Entertainment Weekly named her one of fourteen stars to watch in 2014.

I haven’t read Bittersweet yet, but I plan to. I’m part of a community of people attracted to Miranda because she’s attracted to life itself, to gripping stories told in beautiful ways, and to the connection between reader and writer. In service of that last idea, she is using this long stretch before the publication of her book to create her fascinating booklaunch blog (see link below).

Today my cousin Mary Ann stars as the friend on Miranda’s Friendstory website. Please visit here to read the story and discover how we stumbled into trouble together at age thirteen.

Do you have cousin friends? I’d love to hear your story. Miranda would too! Tell it below or on the FriendStory page.

Miranda Beverly-Whittemore is the author of three novels: Bittersweet (Crown, May 2014); Set Me Free (2007), which won the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for the best book of fiction by an American woman published that year; and The Effects of Light (2005). Winner of the CrazyhorseFiction Prize, she lives and works in Brooklyn and Vermont. You can find her on her website, her book launch blog, or FriendStories.com.

Link for website: http://mirandabw.com
Link for booklaunch blog: http://wegrowmedia.com/bittersweet/
Link for FriendStories.com: http://friendstories.com

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Staring Death in the Face: How I Became a Gutsy Mennonite Memoirist

Are Mennonites “gutsy”?

How about memoirists?

My guess is that you may have had more problem answering “yes” to the first question than to the second.

So here’s a Mennonite confession. I’ve always admired gutsy-ness. If you read to the very end of this post, you’ll understand why.

First, let me introduce you to a memoirist who has cornered the market on “gutsy.”

Author Sonia Marsh

Author Sonia Marsh

Sonia Marsh can pack her carry-on and move to another country in one day. She inspires her audiences to get out of their comfort zone and take a risk. She says everyone has a “My Gutsy Story®” — some just need a little help to uncover theirs.

Her story, told in her travel memoir Freeways to Flip-Flops: A Family’s Year of Gutsy Living on a Tropical Island, is about chucking it all and uprooting her family—with teenagers— to reconnect on an island in Belize. Her memoir has received seven awards, including 1st Place, in the “Autobiography/Memoir E-Lit Awards 2012/13.

Sonia is the founder of the “My Gutsy Story®” series and has published the first Anthology: My Gutsy Story Anthology: True Stories of Love, Courage and Adventure from Around the World (Volume 1) which has been named a 2013 Benjamin Franklin Award Silver Honoree Winner.

She has lived in many countries – Denmark, Nigeria, France, England, the U.S. and Belize – and considers herself a citizen of the world.

Sonia now offers “gutsy” book marketing and coaching to indie authors. Contact her at: sonia@soniamarsh.com or visit her website: http://soniamarsh.com

How We Connected

We both attended the Santa Barbara Writers Conference in 2008 — six years ago! I told more of that story in this 2012 interview when Sonia’s memoir came out. When we both began blogging, soon after that conference, we stayed in touch. We also wrote and published our memoirs.

Sonia recognized the universal theme of her memoir was courage. Uprooting a family and moving to Belize from Orange County, California, took moxie, guts. As she searched for the right word, the idea of creating a website to help other people tell their gutsy stories occurred to her. I cheered her on!

Sonia invited me to contribute a story to her new website and enticed me (and others) with prizes and a contest. Maybe she already knew that Rosy Cheeks (my high school nickname) loved contests. Yet I didn’t offer a story or enter the contest.

Why Did It Take Me So Long to “Tell My Gutsy Story ©”?

My childhood memoir doesn’t contain the kind of drama we normally think of as being gutsy. I suffered no abuse. I did nothing heroic. Heck, it took me two years to get myself promoted from Blue Bird to Red Bird in elementary school! Who would call such small stories courageous? I had to re-frame my stories to fit Sonia’s lens. Then, when I was reflecting on my life, looking at my photos, this one punched me — right in the gut.

The Fear of Death

  “My Gutsy Story®” Shirley Showalter

Behind all our fears, often hidden even to ourselves, lies one big fear.

Yes, you got it. The fear of death.

We can’t become truly gutsy, courageous, until we accept the reality of death and consciously seek to live deeply and fully in its presence.

I first stared death in the face at the age of six.

Shirley Showalter as a child and coffin

Brother Henry and me, 1954. Mary Louise in the coffin

It happened this way:

On the evening of Dec. 20, 1954, my younger brother Henry and I were playing in a little stack of hay in our barn, making tunnels out of bales and talking about what we hoped for in our Christmas stockings. Cows chewed contentedly next to us. The DeLaval milkers sounded almost like heartbeats—lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub—as they extracted warm milk from each udder.

And then we heard it: a horrible, penetrating, animal-like scream, piercing that night and my life to this day. The terrible sound grew louder as Mother came toward the barn. She ran to Daddy and, still screaming, started pounding him on his chest.

“My baby is dead. Our baby is dead. My baby is dead.” That was all she could say, over and over again. Then she would throw back her head and wail.

I learned a lesson that night that I would have to learn again when my father died at age 55 and when several close friends died in sudden, untimely ways.

We all die.

From then on, life became even more precious. I decided to live twice, once for myself and once for the little sister who lived only 39 days.

Read the rest here on the Gutsy Living page.

I hope you voted in the contest. If not, please click here. It’s easy!

AND, you may have been thinking, “I wonder if I have the guts to write a story?” The answer is “yes!” Sonia has agreed to answer any questions you have about her story and her website. If she accepts your story, it may be included in My Gutsy Story Anthology: Volume II!

Of course, I am here to listen to any responses you may have to the idea in my story also. How have you connected the reality of death and the need for courage in your life?

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Three Reasons Why We Need Books and Authors

Imagine there’s a world without books. Without authors.

Now that would be dystopia! No Hunger Games, no Suzanne Collins, no archery craze that follows.

But also — much worse.

No holy books, no Shakespeare, no novels, none of the eight million books currently available on Amazon.

Empty Shelves

Empty Shelves Cry Out for Books

We depend on books, whether on paper or digital, for far more than we know.

Do we take them for granted?

Books Open Our Imaginations

Did you know that when the people in charge of prisons want to predict how many “spaces” they’ll need in the future, they base their algorithm on the number of current ten and eleven-year-olds who can’t read?! Author Neil Gaiman opened his lecture to the Reading Agency with that grim statistic.

Gaiman’s point was that fiction serves as a gate-way drug to reading itself. The desire to turn the pages and learn what happens next is the force that creates literate people, who are also more empathetic people, more creative, freer, peaceful people.

Books Help Us Accumulate Wisdom

If we enter another person’s world (the special gift of memoir), we leave that world better able to understand another personality, culture, and perspective. We are changed. Memoir helps us empathize with struggles, whether or not we have experienced them ourselves. A good memoir extracts wisdom from experience. It leaves a legacy — and we are the beneficiaries! Finding a good memoir is like discovering you had a rich uncle who left you a million dollars.

Authors Save Our Lives While Saving Their Own

Yesterday I learned from author Larry M. Edward’s Facebook post that the average author earns less than $1,000 per year.

Obviously only a few authors become rich and famous.

What keeps the others writing and publishing when they don’t gain material rewards?

The best reason is that they have to write. They have taken Rilke’s test in Letters to a Young Poet
and passed it:

This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your while life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse. Then come close to Nature. Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose. Don’t write love poems; avoid those forms that are too facile and ordinary: they are the hardest to work with, and it takes great, fully ripened power to create something individual where good, even glorious, traditions exist in abundance. So rescue yourself from these general themes and write about what your everyday life offers you; describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty – describe all these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity and, when you express yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects that you remember.

Must I write? Young Poet Angela M. Carter  has selected this phrase to describe why she writes: Poetry Saved My Life.

full bookshelf

The whole creation groans with this much accumulated wisdom

When poetry, fiction, and memoir save the author’s life, they save many others. When the open the author’s imagination, they free other spirits. When they solidify the wisdom gained in one life, they add to the world’s precious store.

So do something revolutionary. Read a book. Hug an author.

No, on second thought. Hugs aren’t enough. Buy a book or at least check one out of the library. Then write a review online. You will make someone’s day.

And you will make the world a better place.

Now it’s your turn to add to the list of reasons we need books. I know I have just scratched the surface of this question.

Also, my writer friends, especially Sharon Lippincott and Carol Bodensteiner, want to know more about you as a reader? Where do you go to find books you love?

Please offer your thoughts below. I’m not the only author who wants to hear from you!

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Crossing Cultures Through Memoir: A Guest Blog Post

Do you remember Jimmy Carter’s mother Lillian? She did many remarkable things, but what I remember most is that she applied to the Peace Corps at age 68 and then nursed leprosy patients during a two-year term in India.

Let me introduce you to another Peace Corps volunteer, also a Gestalt psychotherapist and sociologist, Janet Givens.

Janet Givens, Peace Corps volunteer,

Like “Miss Lillian” Carter, Janet enlisted later in life.  Her memoir about her Peace Corps experiences 2004-2006 will be coming out this year. Cultural diversity, boundaries, and borderlands fascinate her. When she read Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World, she read it through that lens. Her own book, At Home On the Kazakh Steppe, will launch later this year.

Janet asked me to write a guest post for her blog. I enjoyed a new way to look at my life because it has intersected with hers. Isn’t that one of the greatest joys of any artistic endeavor?

Here’s the beginning of the story. To read it completely, just click and you will find yourself in the delightful world of Janet’s blog.

A Little Fish in a Mennonite Sea

 

Until I was six years old, I was a fish.

 

Actually, I was like the fish David Foster Wallace described in his commencement address at Kenyon College in 2005:

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

I would not have said “hell.” I was, after all, a Mennonite kid growing up on a dairy farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. We worked on the farm from sun up to sun down. Not only did we not swear, we didn’t drink, smoke (well, my father’s cigars were tolerated, but only when he smoked them outdoors), dance, go to movies, or own a television set. The time: America in the 1950’s and ‘60’s. Read more.

Janet would love comments on her blog. Go show her some love and then come back if you have more to say about Miss Lillian or your own experiences of crossing cultures. Do you have your own Peace Corps or mini-Peace Corps experience?

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Book Clubs: Strengthening the Invisible Connection Between Authors and Readers

The poet Muriel Rukeyser most famously proclaimed, “The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”

No better proof of that dictum can be found than the conversation that occurs all around the world when readers assemble around a dining room table or a fireplace. The current name for this practice is book club, but it probably goes all the way back in time to the time of the cavedwellers.

Massanutten Area Book Club, January 2014

Since the publication of Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World, I have been invited to speak to five local book clubs. Each one has taught me something new, but in the end, they are all about the same thing.

Connection.

I’ve taken this word as my theme for 2014 and have placed it next to my desk.

Last night’s meeting with the great readers in this photo illustrated the point perfectly. Each person came with a list of questions and observations. We talked about similarities and differences among Mennonite, Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic backgrounds, all represented in the group. We discovered how few generalizations can be made about religion and how important it is to listen and learn from each other.

We also talked about cars, divorce, clothing, family, and, of course, the best subject of all: grandchildren.

Being part of this club at the invitation of my friend Linda Heatwole Bland warmed my heart. So did the shoofly pie Linda made herself. And the gift she gave me — a special collector’s edition of Shirley Temple movies. What fun!

I want to remember to take pictures of groups when I meet with them. I forgot to do that a few times in the past, but here’s another remembrance of a wonderful evening in Harrisonburg. One of the things I love about being invited to book clubs is the warm welcome into other people’s homes –and the chance to see their heirlooms, art work, and other objects that tell stories. That’s indeed what we are made of, stories.

When this group met, there were three Shirleys and two Karens in the room.

Being part of conversations among neighborhood book clubs makes me remember with fondness the one I left behind in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

However, the mug my neighbors gave me when we moved to Virginia still holds many memories along with a grande coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. I wrote this post drinking from the cup of friendship that ties my story to many, many other stories.

Stratford Woods (Kalamazoo) Friends Mug

Are you part of a book club? What do you like most about your club? How does book club selection (and knowing you will discuss the book) impact the experience of reading for you?

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Reviewing 2013 and Setting Goals for 2014: Continuing the Search for Simplicity, Legacy

On January 1 of each year, I try to reflect on the good news of the past year, forgive the pain, and gaze upon the blank slate of the new with great anticipation.

As I get older, I think of each new year as an amazing gift.

A friend once wished me a happy birthday, on “your fortieth year to heaven.”

That was 25 years ago, but I still enjoy the image of life as a journey toward a destination, a mysterious, wondrous transformation even greater than that of birth.

Seated on stone bench in front of the Snyder family graveyard. Photo by Joy Rittenhouse, Spring, 2013

Each of us has a number for our gravestone, our date of birth.

Each of us knows that someone will chisel a new number after the hyphen.

Every time we turn a new page on the calendar, we are a little closer to that date. Within that context, we can savor more completely the joys of each year.

Top Events of 2013:

Goals for 2014

  • daily rituals that remind me of my mission: to prepare for the hour of my death by living one good day at a time, and to help others do the same. This is also my simplicity goal. Death concentrates the mind and the heart, to paraphrase Mark Twain and Samuel Johnson.
  • travel to at least eight places (plans so far include Laurelville and Lancaster, PA; Mexico; Kansas City and other Kansas towns; Elkhart County, IN; Holland, MI). I would love to do a West Coast trip, a Canada trip. I am planning my travel for the year now, so please let me know if you would like me to speak in a location near you or have a venue in mind for a book talk. Have book, will travel. :-)
  • a possible new e-book using the best of Magical Memoir Moments to help inspire other people to remember stories from their past and build a legacy. If you have signed up in the right-hand corner, you get these weekly photos and short prompts from me. Would you value having the best of them in one e-book at a low price (likely between .99 – and 2.99)?

I am about to set out with Stuart on a four-mile walk, one of the ways I am living a good day today.

With every step I take, I breathe out a little prayer of gratitude for the gifts of 2013 (especially for each of you, dear readers and friends who made so many of those dreams possible). I also breathe in the sunshine, the mountains, my partner’s smile, and all the goals for 2014 above.

This morning my friend Richard Kauffman asked his Facebook friends what has become clearer to them in 2013. Another friend, Jim Bowman, responded by quoting Fr. Richard Rohr:

“Indeed, the goal of mature religion is to help us die before we die, so we are ready for our real life!”

Father Richard and I appear to be thinking similar thoughts about the relationship of death to happiness. I take that as a sign that I am on the right path.

What about you? Here’s a chance to respond to my goals and to be accountable for your own goals of 2014 and to celebrate and/or lament that which you experienced in 2013.

Or, take Richard’s question instead: “What has  become clearer to you in the last year?”

 

 

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Sharing Nostalgia for Childhood at Christmas Time With Linda Gartz

Nostalgia. Comes from two Greek words meaning a longing for home. Probably Christmas brings out more nostalgia than any other time of the year. According to the New York Times, nostalgia is good for us.

I’ve been sharing nostalgic photos of vintage decorations and ornaments with those of you who subscribe to my weekly Magical Memoir Moments (just enter your email address in the box on the right if you want to join us).  Linda Gartz, an online friend, shared a story so delightful that I’ve asked her to share it with all of you. Linda was kind enough to review Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World recently. Here’s the link.

Linda Gartz, family archaeologist

First, a little background on Linda. She’s a documentary film producer and freelance writer turned memoirist. After she found an amazing cache of letters, a translator for the ancient German script, and an audience through her blog, she became a “family archaeologist.” Isn’t that a great phrase?

Today Linda is sharing on her blog the story she told me in response to my Magical Memoir Moments question two weeks ago: “What do you remember?”

Here’s her answer:

Linda Gartz waiting for Santa with her brothers, ca. 1957

Seeing Santa

On Christmas Eve, Dad pulled out the sleigh bells from the closet. “When Santa finishes putting out all the gifts, he’ll shake these sleigh bells as a signal that he’s done. Then, we have to give him a few minutes to leave. It we see Santa, we destroy the magic, and he won’t come back.”

I had two brothers, one three years older, Paul,  and one almost five years younger, Billy. We watched Dad lay out the leather strap, festooned with fat brass bells, festively jingling, and exchanged gleeful smiles.

No going to bed for us to wait for Santa! When he arrived, we would be right here, ears pricked for the jingle of sleigh bells. We weren’t like those dumb kids who had to wake up in the morning to find piles of gifts. No wonder they had no faith and didn’t believe in Santa!

It was obvious that while they slept, their parents just pulled stashes of gifts out of hiding to place under the tree. Santa would come while every relative and close friend was right in front of our eyes.

But now the tree was empty beneath. Closing my eyes, I imagined the brightly colored packages piled at its base. I grabbed Dad’s hand and skipped across the room at his side, twirling and babbling about Santa.

We passed through the doorway that separated our living room from the long hallway leading into the dining room. Dad closed the door to the living room, shutting out Christmas behind us. He then bent over to talk to us quietly, his tone impishly serious. “We can’t open that door until ten minutes after the sleigh bells ring. If we see Santa, he might not come back.”

Read the rest at Linda’s blog. And while you are there, wish her a Merry Christmas and check out the amazing collection of stories and letters at her site.

Stuart and I are off to New Jersey in twenty-four hours. Then we’ll visit Mother in Pennsylvania and then host all our children and grandchildren at our house. The Santa hat and boots will get a good workout.

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A Modern Farm Girl Bookworm Evaluates Blush and the Value of a Tobacco Worm Today

Meet Clara, my grand niece. Like all my “grands,” she’s amazing.

Clara and her sister Cassie decorate Christmas cookies

Clara loves to read. She estimates she read fifty books in 2013. She’s eleven years old and attends Ephrata (Pennsylvania) Intermediate School.

She bubbles with enthusiasm when asked about what she likes in books. But I was also warned by her Grandma Sue (my sister) that Clara doesn’t mind telling you when she doesn’t like something. So, even though I wanted a youthful reader’s opinion of Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World, I was just a little nervous when she and I sat down to talk.

Clara perched on the edge of the sofa at her Grandma's house. The photo hanging on the wall is of the farm her dad Andy is now in charge of.

Or I should say. Clara talked I listened and took notes.

The first thing I learned helped me relax: “My favorite book is Grace, Gold, and Glory My Leap of Faith about Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas. I like autobiographies. Real people’s life stories.”

Phew. That’s good, I thought.

I asked if she can read only her favorite kind of book.

“Oh no,” she said. “We have to pick from nine different genres.”

Genres??!! She’s eleven years old. I think I learned that word in college.

She must have a very good teacher, I thought. Turns out that her reports have to include the name, author, genre, date finished, and a rating on a scale of 1-10.

Oh boy.

So, I went for it: “What score did you give Blush?”

Nonchalantly she said, “A ten.”

My smile and my deep breath made Clara smile too.

“Tell me the stories in the book you liked best,” I requested.

“How you became a red bird instead of a blue bird in second grade,” she blurted out immediately. “I liked you the best when you were my age or younger. I liked the tobacco worm story, too.”

I laughed.

“So, Clara, would you bite a worm in two for five dollars?”

Asking Clara about that worm

“No!”

“How about twenty-five dollars?”

Clara hesitated for a second, then she smiled and shook her head yes.

She’s a girl after my own heart.

Do you know any young readers? Were you a young reader yourself? What genre did you like, and what was your favorite book?

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Do You Remember December 1, 1969? Another Chance to Publish Your Story!

I’m beginning to think about my college years, 1966-1970, since that’s where my memoir Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World ends and where a second volume could begin.

So I was very interested in the new memoir just about Denis R. O’Neill’s senior year of college at Dartmouth: WHIPLASH: When the Vietnam War rolled a hand grenade into the Animal House.

The telling of personal stories either in fiction or memoir transforms into a much deeper experience when others add stories to the author’s. Recently I heard Denis R. O’Neill , author of the book Whiplash, being interviewed on the Here and Now program on NPR. He is collecting stories of memories of December 1, 1969, the night of the Vietnam War draft lottery. He and I are exactly the same age. We’ve had quite different lives.

This is the second book I’ve come across that asks for your story. I think we may have spotted a trend!

If you have a story, here’s another chance to get published. And here’s also a chance to tell me whether you are interested in hearing more about 1966-1970, those war years, at Eastern Mennonite College.

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