A Word of Hope

“Fairy tales are more than true;

not because they tell us that dragons exist,

but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

~G.K. Chesterton~

English poet-essayist

(1874-1936) 

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Brunhilde’s Uncomfortable Secret

Everyone has secrets. Some have more than others. And Brunhilde Pomsel’s secret was a doozy. It wasn’t until she was 103 years old and almost blind that her past finally caught up with her.  From 1942 to 1945 she was the private secretary for Nazi propaganda master Joseph Goebbels.  Of course, she knew nothing about the Holocaust–or as she called it, the matter of the Jews.”  (According to the Nazis of the day, hardly any of them knew anything about it.)

So what did Brunhilde do for her vicious, anti-Semitic boss?  She wrote reports that understated Nazi casualties and exaggerated the rapes of German women by solders in the Red Army.

In the final days of the war, Brunhilde hid in the basement of the propaganda ministry with other government folks.  The day after she learned Adolf Hitler had killed himself, her boss Goebbels and his wife poisoned their six children with cyanide, then killed themselves.  Brunhilde helped sew white food sacks together to make a white surrender flag.  She spent the next five years imprisoned by the Soviets.

When people insisted to her that they would never have cooperated with the Nazis, as politely as possible she would answer, “I believe you are sincere.  But you probably would have.”

Thank you, Brunhilde, for causing me to think.  And consider.  And prepare to take a stand of my own.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

~ Margaret Mead ~

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Psssst… Want to Get Published?

“You’re a writer? Really? So, how did you get your start?”

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been asked that question. Fortunately, I have a ready answer: “I went to a good writers conference!”

When I first started writing, I had no clue what I was doing. All I knew was that from the time I was 12, I wanted to be a writer. Time was passing, so it was high time I got going. A friend invited me to go with her to the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference in California’s beautiful Santa Cruz mountains. She backed out, so I went alone. I arrived to cherry blossoms breezing across the road and dogwood trees just beginning to open their pink and white cross-scarred blooms. More importantly, friendly writers and un-intimidating editors strolled close enough for me talk to.

I hurried over to an editor and proudly handed her my amazingly well-written children’s book manuscript. She was amazingly underwhelmed. (Her exact words: “Keep writing, dear. You’ll get better.” Ouch!) My first inclination was to take the next bus home. Instead, I attended a Major Morning instruction class on the craft of writing (8 hours total) that turned out to be tremendous.  Plus I took in a plethora of workshops, and I spent my off-time rewriting like a crazy person. The result was my first published book.

That’s how I got started. And it is just one of the reasons I’m so quick to recommend writers’ conferences to writers–especially those starting out.

If you’re wondering whether or not you should take the time, and lay out the bucks, to attend such a conference, consider:

  1. You will get expert training. Most of what I know I learned at writers’ conferences. Believe it or not, the biggest reason manuscripts are rejected is because the writing isn’t up to par. Your writing may be good. Perhaps even really good. But to be published, it has to be great enough to stand out in today’s glutted market.
  2. You can get individual instruction. In some of the best writers’conferences, special mentoring tracks are available. (They are at Mount Hermon.) A published writer works with you and your manuscript to help you zero in on whatever it is you need the most.
  3. You can “network.” Okay, I don’t really like that word. In fact, I’m not that crazy about the concept. Gathering up people in order to use them? Uggg! But it can also mean easing into a group of people with the same struggles and concerns you have, where you can gain mutual support and wisdom. That’s a concept I do like!
  4. Hear challenging presentations. Most great conferences have a keynote speaker who is way more than just entertaining. He/she is an expert in the field of writing and has helpful, inspiring words to share.
  5. Interact with the Pros. Yes, pros. As in editors and publishers and agents and such. They are at the conference for one simple reason: to meet people like you. They want to read your work and consider it. They want to help you be all you can be as a writer.

Some really good writers’ conferences are coming up. But I especially want to mention the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference that’s just over a month away: April 7 – April 10. Need an extra boost to get started? Check out the “head-start” offering the day before.

So, you ask, “Will you be there, Kay?”
Will I?! Couldn’t keep me away!

For more info check out:  mounthermon.org/writers
Want to talk to a real live someone? Call 888-MH-CAMPS

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Want a Better World? Educate the Girls

When I was in Sudan, I met a sweet 12-year-old girl named Hanna. I asked her the same question I ask most kids:  “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Without pausing to think, Hanna said, “A doctor.”  When I asked her why, she said, “Because everyone I know is sick.  Or dead.”

Hanna gets up every morning before dawn so she can get a head start on collecting firewood to sell.  Unfortunately, few in her village have the wherewithal to pay for firewood.  But she does trade the wood for food.  And each week she gives some to the woman down the dirt road in exchange for reading lessons.  That’s as much education as Hanna has.  But it’s way more than any other girl she knows.

Hanna’s mother doesn’t understand her daughter.  She wants her at home gathering and selling firewood.  “We need the food she gets,” she explained.  She also needs Hanna to help care for her three younger brothers.  She cannot see how an educated daughter can be of any help to the family.

But the fact is, education can break the cycle of poverty.  Because for every year a girl attends secondary school, her future earnings are 10 to 20 percent higher.

The very best possible investment for ending poverty?  According to the World Bank, it is educating girls.  So, let’s do it!

“Dream the impossible and go out and make it happen.  I walked on the moon.  What can’t you do?”

~ Astronaut Gene Cernan~

 

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When I’m 98

For Christmas, I got my dad a CD of  a Popular Mechanics-type magazine from 1919, the year he was born.  He loves mechanical type stuff.  Always did.  In two months, Dad will be 98 years old.  Here is the birthday card I found for him:

Funny how times change, isn’t it?

Dad has stories he loves to tell and retell again and again—always with different details.  The thing is, more and more his story endings evolve from the way things were to the way he wishes they had been.  No use correcting him.  No reason to.  He’s earned the right to own polished memories.  It’s what I will want when I’m 98.

 

“Nostalgia is the file that removes the rough edges from the good old days.”

~Columnist Doug Larson~

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Unintended Consequences

Wars… elections… laws… words.  We think we’re doing the right thing.  But too often the result is not at all what was intended.  Here are a few examples:

  • China’s one-child policy:  The intention was to control the booming population.  And it did that.  But since most families wanted that one child to be a son, it has caused a gender crisis. According to the Chinese government, by the year 2020, men of marrying age will outnumber women by at least 30 million.
  • CEO salaries:  Yes, many of us complain that they are way too high–which they are. So some years ago the SEC stepped in and required that CEO salaries be made public. But instead of shaming CEOs, it showed them that others were getting more, so they demanded more, too. The result? Between 1976 and 1993, CEO salaries leapt from 36 times to 131 times the average worker’s pay!
  • Prohibition: The 18th amendment to the US constitution was well-intended.  Surely less drinking of alcohol would benefit the country. In 1918, when the law was passed, New York had 5,820 legal bars. By the time it was repealed in December 1933, there were over 100,000 speakeasies.
  • Texting while driving: We all know the price we pay on the road for this.  There ought to be a law! You would think so, but when such a law was first enforced, auto accidents actually increased. Why?  Because rather than stopping their texting, too many people simply moved their phones from the steering wheel to their laps so the police couldn’t so easily see what they were doing.  Which meant their eyes were off the road for longer periods of time.
  • No more DDT: DDT dangerous to humans?  Obvious solution: ban it. When that happened, it had limited impact on people’s health. But it greatly crippled the fight against malaria. Which mean millions of deaths to people–especially children–in developing countries.

The lesson to be learned?  Be careful what you wish for.  Or vote for. It will likely have unintended consequences.  And some of those may well be catastrophic.

“It is much easier at all times to prevent an evil than to rectify mistakes.”

~George Washington~

 

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Love is Showing Kindness, Kindness is Loving

Breaking News:  We are in a kindness crisis.  Yes, in our own country, but also around the world.  Everywhere we look, there seems to be less kindness in public life.  Sure, different ones of us will pinpoint different people we think are responsible for it.  But whoever is to blame, the sad fact is that the lack of kindness in public is affecting all of us.  In ways large and small, it trickles down to us everyday folks, and then we follow suit.  The result is that we are less kind to our own families, to our friends, and certainly to the strangers among us.

But here’s the thing:  kindness isn’t simply frosting on the cake. Far from it. It’s what makes  respectful connections possible.  And here’s the good news:  opportunities for showing kindnesses are everywhere.  The difficulty is with knowing where to start. But that’s also the power of kindness.  You don’t need money and you don’t need a ton of time.  And you can start right where you are.  Some suggestions:

  • Pay a compliment.
  • Lend a busy mom a helping hand.
  • Run an errand for someone who is sick.
  • Speak a word of encouragement.
  • Remember someone’s birthday.
  • Do yardwork for an elderly neighbor.
  • Pay a complement to someone not used to it.

If we can help to change the anti-kindness trajectory, it will benefit us all in the long run.  But also in the short run. Because when we extend kindness to others, our own negative outlook will become more positive.  Let’s try it, shall we?

 “Love will draw an elephant through a key-hole.”

~Samuel Richardson~

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Writing is Like Living~

I just read a fairly long article on how to get started as a writer. It pretty much gave the same advice I’ve seen countless times before.  You probably have too.  The article suggests:

  • Write what interests you
  • Write about what you know about
  • Write what you like to read
  • Be willing to rewrite
  • Network to find writing jobs that will pay
  • Don’t give up

Ever heard any of these ideas before?  Yeah, me too.

Shortly after I read that, I happened upon a Dr. Oz article titled Living Long and Living Well.  Because I really want to do both, I read it. Pretty much the same advice I’ve seen countless times before.  You probably have too.  He suggests:

  • Get daily rigorous physical activity
  • Get 15 minutes of sun every day
  • Choose natural foods
  • Sleep at least seven hours a night

But he had one more suggestion:  Have a purpose.  Dr. Oz wrote, “There may be no better longevity booster than simply wanting to be here.  You have one life; it makes sense to love living it.”

Yes!  That’s the secret to writing, too.  Want to do it.  Write what makes you happy.  Write what doesn’t require you to neglect your family, your friends, your community.  You have one life in which to write.  It makes sense to love doing it.

Write on!

“Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.”

~E.B. White~

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America Today?

“America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”

~Alexis de Tocqueville~

Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville (1805 – 1859) was a French political thinker and historian. He is  best known for his books Democracy in America,  published  in two volumes in 1835 and 1840. The theme of his work was the effects of increased equality, both of individuals and of the state in western societies.  The result of his travels in the United States, the work is still well-known and respected today.   

 

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Metaphoric Confusion

Metaphor:  a figure of speech in that makes a comparison of two thing without using like or as. (“I fell through the trapdoor of deception.”)

Simile:  a metaphor that does use like or as. (“It was as soft as a bunny.”)

As a writer, as well as a teacher who teaches writers, I am well aware of the allure of literary devices such as metaphors and similes.  I’m equally aware of their misuse.  And in this last post of  January 2017–our month of truths–I am seeing a great metaphoric opportunity in the use and misuse of literary devices.

First the misuse, as written by various students:

  • He was as tall as a six-foot tree.
  • The red brick wall was the color of a brick red crayon.
  • It’s like trying to give an old dog new spots.
  • He was watching me like I was a hawk.
  • A loose tongue is like eating broth with no taste buds.
  • She will never be able to fit into the shoes of being his wife.
  • He did his research so well that he left no detail unturned.
  • It was her design, and it was selling like wildflowers.

Yes, yes. I know. You would never make mistakes so grave that I would be tempted to use them in a blog post.  And you can relax on that count, because I only use such material when I am 90% certain the author never reads my posts, and here you are reading this.

So here is our ninth and final truth to begin 2017:

TRUTH #9:  Be sure of your words before you speak.

In this new year, may you soak up what is good and true like a sponge, and squeeze out what is bad and false like dirty water  from a car wash rag.

“They laughed at Joan of Arc, but she went right ahead and built it.”

~Gracie Allen~

 

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