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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Did Whitney Get It All Wrong?

“I believe the children are our future…” So begins one of Whitney Houston’s biggest hits of the 1980’s.  It was a song my paternal grandmother liked to hear my younger sister and I belt at the top of our lungs on the car ride from our mother’s home to hers every other Friday afternoon.  We weren’t especially good singers back then (still aren’t today) but we sang with enthusiasm and that was all Mamaw required.
As kids we’re fed a whole lot of ego inflating rabble about being “the future” of all humanity, the hope of tomorrow and such.  It’s unfortunate that by the time we’re old enough to realize that the sun doesn’t shine from our every orifice, we’ve often let slip away our future’s true greatest asset:  the stories, experiences and expertise of our elderly.
My grandmother, who loved to hear my sister and I lay waste to 80’s pop tunes with such gusto, died last week.  What I’ve come to realize that I will miss most about her are her stories.
I found a video last night of an interview my oldest son did with Mamaw a few years ago about her experiences during WWII.  He asked about 20 or so questions, each one answered in thoughtful detail by my grandmother, but not before she got sidetracked in the way she always did when inevitably one question reminded her of one thing and then another that she had a little something to say about as well.
It was a joy to watch that video, but it also made me a little sad.  I’d always intended to video more of the talks I had with my grandmother, but I’ll never have that chance.  I have over an hour of video featuring Mamaw talking about life in the U.S. during the 1940’s, but I’ll never again hear from her perspective about the Great Depression, the Civil Rights Movement, or less epic tales of American history such as life in Small Town, Ohio or rural Alabama.
I recently participated in an exercise for one of my college courses that centered around a mock apocalyptic event.  My classmates and I were given a scenario that there had been a catastrophic event.  Shelter space and supplies for survivors were limited and we had to decide with whom to share them.  We were to choose from a group that included a doctor, lawyer, small child, drug addicted couple in their late 20’s and an 80 year-old woman.  I was surprised when I was among the very few to choose the elderly woman.
My rationing was this:  who are we without a sense of our past?  I wanted someone with some real life experience in my camp of survivors.  The little old lady hadn’t gotten to be a little old lady without seeing and experiencing quite a few things.  She and the doctor were the most valuable survivors in my mind.
We undervalue the elderly in our society.  We take them for granted in a variety of ways.  I know that I certainly took for granted that there would always be another afternoon to talk to my grandmother about the many adventures she experienced during her lifetime.  Every older person you know has a wealth of stories inside them.  I encourage each of you to take the time to coax those stories out of them.  Chances are, if they’re like Mamaw, they won’t need much in the way of persuasion.  I also encourage you to record them telling their stories.  The recordings could be of immeasurable comfort to you someday and valuable to the world as a whole when there are no more first-hand accounts of some of the greatest events in World History.
Thanks for the stories, Rosie.  You certainly lived quite a life!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Under the Influence

I spent a couple of weeks in October high on prescription drugs…and NOT by choice, mind you.  I had delusions of catching up on some much needed rest and relaxation (book in hand, natch) during my convalescence from stomach and esophageal surgery, even packed a couple of books to take to the hospital.  What a joke!

I’d never had an overnight stay in the hospital outside of various and sundried child births, and I tricked myself into thinking of it as a mini vacay of sorts.  Boy was I wrong!  24 hours as a human porcupine that somehow swallowed an entire paper towel tube decoupaged with glass shards doesn’t make for an eager reader…or lucid one for that matter.

Little Sister braved the horror known as a “Semi-Private” room with me until we were allowed to make a break for it at 5:30 a.m. the morning after my surgery.  Naturally, I was ever so much more comfortable at home in my own bed.  The following ten days of a liquid diet and more meds left me nearly twenty pounds lighter; but I ask who among you would have the energy or fortitude to hold even a paperback when you’re living on beef broth and liquid Lortab?  It was terrible…even if I was thinner for a few days.

I’m back on the good stuff now:  meats of all varieties and generally anything that will not fit through a straw.  I have been restored to good health and am incredibly grateful. 

In the last couple of weeks I’ve finished Polly Shulman’s The Grimm Legacy about a girl who gets a job at a NYC library that houses objects like Snow White’s stepmother’s mirror, a cloak of invisibility and other magical relics that can be borrowed by patrons.  An adventure ensues when objects from the collection, known as the Grimm Legacy, start to go missing.  I highly recommend the book to young readers and adults alike.  Ms. Shulman actually spent a couple of her teenage years as a Page in a NYC library and lends much expertise to the story.

I’ve also been reading R. Martin’s Introrse for an upcoming author interview.  The book is sophisticated science fiction and it’s taking me some time to get my head around it.  There are aspects of the work...threads of the story…that remind me of Star Wars and I’m enjoying those.  I’ll have more to say on the book and its author in an upcoming post.

I’ve begun The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  I ordered the title from Amazon after hearing an interview with the author on NPR.  The book has a gorgeously crafted cover and is just another example of a book I knew I was going to love with one look.  The story follows two star-crossed young magicians that compete in a deadly battle of magic within the setting of a mysterious circus.  Magicians are the new witches, wizards, vampires and werewolves, people.  You heard it here first!

On the writing front:  I’ve joined a local critique group.  There are some really gifted poets, storytellers and writers among them.  I’m really looking forward to working with the group, sharing all that I’ve learned in the last couple of years, and picking up some new techniques and advice.

November is NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month.  Everyone has a story to tell…why not get it down on paper?  For info, please visit, where you can sign up and track your progress as you complete a novel during the month of November.