Category: reading

Back into Being

December. Wow. Have you recovered yet? Once again, it was a real season for doing, doing, doing. I’ve been resting since then, turning back into being. Practicing the good stuff that keeps me whole and in the moment. Sketching, playing my favorite guitar music, reading and writing.

What’s the difference between being and doing? Sometimes the two things seem worlds apart, and at others, beautifully synchronized. I’m not trying to start an existential quibble, here. Yet, I’ve noticed whenever I have a long (self-imposed and moderately ridiculous) to-do list, I shift into a state of less presence, becoming less settled in my being. I start to let my self-preservation practices slide out of priority, because that list of to-dos behaves like a loud bar customer sitting at my kitchen counter, bellowing for another drink. And maybe I’m not so good at announcing, “last call,” or being my own bouncer. And let’s admit it. I invited him, too, by my expectations!

The performance art aspects of the holiday (the cleaning, cooking, baking and decorating) took over for a while. My time with the Benedictines reinforced my notions of hospitality and my creative side sees holidays as an opportunity to go a little crazy. I hoped to extend hospitality and show the love I feel for each special person we invited. How that love was to be incarnated into handcrafted chocolates is a mystery I won’t explore now, after the fact, but it felt symbolic at the time. I wanted to create a beautiful holiday experience, full of fun and meaning. A lasting family memory of being back together.

Then everyday adversity, weather and illness ruptured my guest list, leaving more empty places at the glittered table than there were guests. There was little of what I’d planned, yet we still enjoyed bright visitations, abundant grace and presence, such as . . .

  • A Christmas Mass that filled my heart, reminding me of the layers of significance in incarnation, the ultimate being.
  • A two-year-old in polka-dot footie pajamas at my table, chattering and coloring.
  • Dave sitting on the floor, building an intricate, balanced marble maze with the two older grandchildren.
  • Quiet laughter with loved ones by woodstove firelight.

So what remains? What ushers me back into balance, back into being after a hectic time? Daily life anchors me in its blessed routines and my daily wholeness practices support my health, contentment and creativity. The everyday is even sweeter now, richer with memories of family presence. These linger, as bright as crayons and resonant with love.

Lyracrop72forweb

 

Golden Women Writing the West

Go West, Woman Writer…

IMG_1498Women weren’t specifically encouraged to “Go West” as pioneers in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, but many did, nonetheless. They went as single women, wives, entrepreneurs, investors, farmers and ranchers, including and beyond the stereotypes of madams and soiled doves. (Hollywood’s John Wayne in his Western characters never met most of those women, but if he had, he may have been delighted and a bit intimidated by their strength and spirit.) Some of their genetic and spiritual great-granddaughters, Women Writing the West, gathered in mid-October in Golden, Colorado, at The Golden Hotel and The Table Mountain Inn. I was delighted to join them as a new member. We came not to pan gold or rope steers or run hotels, and not even to brew beer (a nod to Coors, at home in Golden), but to consider what it means to write the history and experience of the West.

WWW logoWomen Writing the West is a nonprofit association of publishers and writers who set down the Western North American experience via journalism, nonfiction articles and books, screenplays, mass media and children’s literature. They write contemporary, literary, historical and romance novels, short stories, and poems, but these categories only begin to describe their artistic ventures. This year was the twentieth anniversary of the organization, and many Founding Members were present for special honors.

This autumn, Golden beckoned farmers, scientists, ranchers, teachers, and even businesswomen, from Canada, Alaska, South Dakota, Virginia, California, Oregon, New York, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, New Mexico…well, you get the idea. The West lives everywhere.

Key conference speakers included Sandra Dallas, Susan Wittig Albert and Corinne Brown. Panelists led us through sessions as varied as Writing the West for Kids, Women’s Fiction, Place as Character, Self-Publishing, Trends in Publishing, Social Media and Collaboration Strategies. Mystery series author Margaret Coel led an inspiring session, My Journey with the Arapahos, that I’ll never forget. I learned so much, and came away so inspired, it’s hard to sleep at night…but I keep a notepad on the bedside table, to catch ideas.

IMG_1524The Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum hosted the readings by, and reception for, this year’s WILLA/LAURA awards finalists. There were beautiful quilts on display, including the one WWW members made for this 20th Anniversary celebration.

CherokeeOn Friday Night, we met at the American Mountaineering Center to screen a new film, The Cherokee Word for Water, about Wilma Mankiller, the late Native American activist and modern Cherokee Chief. Her husband, producer and director, Charlie Soap, film producer Kristina Kiehl, and the young star who played Wilma in the film, Kimberly Guererro, met with us for a Q & A after the screening. View the film trailer and watch for this amazing story of how a community saved itself with hard work and “gadugi,” soon showing online or in a theater near you.

IMG_1508While the West is a physical region and encompasses an historic era, it truly lives, as one conference writer said, as a state of mind. In the West of the imagination, anything can happen. Fortunes can be won and lost, lives are wagered on a bright future and the wealth of our nation daily expands beyond our founders’ dreams, out where the tumbleweeds roll, the buffalo snort and the silicon harbors data.

418px-Baby_Doe_TaborBeing a woman in the West was always something special, yet usually untold. Many have heard of the Unsinkable Molly Brown, or even Baby Doe Tabor, Colorado’s Silver Queen, who lived in glitter and died in squalor. But if you want to know Grace Robertson, a teenage bride alone on the South Dakota Prairie, read Dawn Wink’s novel, Meadowlark. Karen Casey Fitzjerrell’s Forgiving Effie Beck, which just won the 2014 Will Rogers Gold Medallion Award, leads you through a mystery of a woman gone missing in 1930s Texas. To see frontier justice through a woman named Emilee, read Retribution, by Tammy Hinton, which garnered the 2014 Will Rogers Silver Medallion Award. To learn the secret of the Little House on the Prairie writing process, read Susan Wittig Albert’s A Wilder Rose, about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. For heartwarming Women’s Fiction, try Journey to Sand Castle, by Leslee Breene. If you prefer nonfiction and want to consider health, ecology and the power of connection with the natural world for healing, begin with Susan Tweit’s Walking Nature Home: A Life’s Journey. I met each of these women, and I’m saving more to write about in future posts, as I experience their work.

IMG_1586The highlight of the conference was the women themselves, and I basked in their warm welcome. Their voices, their love of writing and their encouragement inspire me to both live and write more deeply. As Margaret Coel put it in plainspoken Western style, “People tell you all the time what you can’t do. Don’t listen to them.”

IMG_1564On Sunday morning, to send us off in high style, many of us gathered for a High Tea, featuring our best historical costumes. Corinne Brown presented an amazing array of Western women characters telling their stories, deepening my appreciation for our foremothers’ sacrifices and endurance.

The great beauty of the West is in its still-to-be-explored history, changeability and multicultural fabric, reflected in and by this happy gathering of writers and publishers. Among them, this writer has claimed a new homestead.

WWW 2015 CatalogFor a pdf catalog of more great books by and about the Great Plains and West, go to this link and click on the “View the 2015 Catalog” button at mid-page. Take a leisurely walk through wild country…no cowboy boots or turquoise jewelry is required… but then again, they might get you faster service.

Who Doesn’t Like to Read?

Sometimes being an avid reader begins or ends in childhood…(click post title for video).

History, Courage & Learning to Remember

In college, I was no history buff. Dr. Lynwood Oyos’ legendary Western Civilization class at Augustana College nearly sank me in terms of my grade point average. He was a brilliant and personable professor who expected his students to immerse themselves in history, not simply learning dates, but absorbing the past in dimensions at that time beyond my grasp. I appreciated the man but came to fear history, at least as an academic pursuit.

On our first date, Goodhusband and I met in a bookstore…yes indeed, an auspicious sign. Thumbing through a published collection of World War II photographs, he told me more than I’d ever learned about that war. While he and I were in high school, some teachers claimed that it was “too soon” to teach or learn about it, that time must bring perspective. Maybe it was just too near and painful to talk about.

World War II holds my interest as a writer because of its complexity and endless potential for storytelling, so I read quite a bit about it. My as-yet-unpublished novel, The Darkwater Liar’s Account, is about a woman who survived that war and lived to regret it. Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, as a reader I’m attracted to stories about people caught in events so devastating, so pivotal and yet so real.

Last week I read Sarah’s Key, a novel by Tatiana De Rosnay that revisits a World War II event in Paris. Beginning on July 16, 1942, Paris police herded thousands of French Jewish families into the Vélodrome d’Hiver before deporting them in train cars to extermination camps. Sarah is a fictional character at the center of that catastrophe who captures the interest of the novel’s main character, a journalist named Julia Jarmond. This Rafle du Vél d’Hiv, or the Vél d’Hiv Roundup, is seen from both Julia’s and Sarah’s perspectives as De Rosnay explores the multi-generational and cross-cultural suffering generated by indifference and complicity with Nazi racial extermination. Her story also explores healing, which is an essential, elusive but excruciating process for individuals, families and communities at war. It’s a great story and I highly recommend it, although it depicts intense tragedy and its aftermath. Don’t go into this story expecting to emerge unruffled. For more information about Vél d’Hiv, Ms. De Rosnay and her fiction, I recommend her website. Background on  Vél d’Hiv is widespread on the web, but the Guardian ran a cluster of features on the historical event, De Rosnay’s novel and the related motion picture, featuring Kristin Scott Thomas. The Time World page on the 70th anniversary of the Vél d’Hiv roundup, this past July, is worth viewing, as well.

Denise Madeleine Bloch

My random WWII research this week also led me to the story of a survivor of Vél d’Hive, Denise Madeleine Bloch. As Parisian Jews, she and her family must have felt the tide turning; they fled Paris just in time, crossing the demarcation line into “free,” unoccupied Lyon on July 17th. There the Special Operations Executive, a British World War II organization, recruited her into resistance as a wireless operator and courier. A successful and resilient agent, she learned the art of deception, memorized cryptographer codes, underwent rigorous physical and psychological training and even gathered the courage to parachute jump. Her codenames included “Ambroise” and “Crinoline.” Ensign Denise Block was executed in early 1945 at Ravensbrück and received several posthumous awards. You may read more about her where I found this information, here.

These women–an author, an undercover agent and fictional characters you’ll never forget–their lives, events and stories demonstrate that facts can expand and live through storytelling, whether academic, journalistic or fictional. Resounding with meaning in our senses and memory, stories lead us to embrace and remember people and events that must never be forgotten.

That’s probably what Dr. Oyos wanted me to learn, once I was ready.

Tragedy on the Great Plains: The 1888 Children’s Blizzard

winter 2010, outside our back door

Weather humbles us and we’ve bowed to it frequently during the last several years. Hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, wind-whipped wildfires, blizzards and floods demolish our attempts to humanize our landscapes and keep ourselves safe. We can’t quite imagine, though, what it must have been like before our dopplers and satellites and well-educated, attractive weather forecasters on television (who are starting to look like 12-year-olds to Goodhusband and myself). Now we take for granted our 24-hr satellite channel devoted to weather. We can even follow it on our mobile phones.

A terrific thunderstorm with seventy-mile winds blasted our Little House on the Prairie last Saturday night. On surrounding farms and in town many tree limbs fell, some even blocking roads. West of us, the wind peeled back the roof of a large steel building. We lost our power for several hours, which always adds a dramatic touch to late night storms; there’s just something about that kerosene lamplight… I didn’t hear that anyone was injured and fortunately, the corn plants are yet too small to have suffered from the pebble-sized hail. We did gain a much needed one and a half inches of rain.

Dust storm, May 2012

It was a terribly dry winter here, as it was in many regions. Two weeks ago, after the funeral of one of Goodhusband’s dear friends, we experienced a dust storm that made us all shudder, as if it were the dirty Thirties again. Most of the people I know between 70 and 80 years old said they’ve never seen anything like it. I know I hadn’t. You can see it coming in my snapshot. The top part is cloud, but that dark roiling mass on the ground was prime Iowa topsoil in flight. As it surrounded me, I couldn’t see that nearby tree that’s still visible in the photo.

Storm Front, August 2009

In August, 2009, I captured this image of the leading edge of a thunderstorm, just north of our house. I knew the situation was serious as I drove home, when I saw a team of stormchasers setting up instruments on the highway at that very spot. But like the angel of death in Egypt, this one passed over without striking. 2011 was a banner, horrific year for tornadoes, though, across the Plains and in the South.

Yes, we all like to talk about the weather. As for reading about it, The Children’s Blizzard, by David Laskin, remains one of the most interesting and moving non-fiction books I’ve read. I’m a Great Plains and Western history and fiction lover, so this true story made my list years ago. It’s one I’ve lent out repeatedly, which may be why, when I looked for it today, I couldn’t find it on my bookshelf!

The Children’s Blizzard, by David Laskin

As Laskin describes it, “An evil genius could not have devised a more perfect battleground for clashing weather fronts than the prairies of North America. ” Yet, January 12, 1888 started out as a beautiful day on that battleground. Within 24 hours, the temperature dropped as much as 100 degrees and by the time that freak blizzard had swept through, approximately  235 people died. It’s undeniably tragic, but hard to grasp just by numbers. Laskin documents not only the meteorological event, but gives faces and personalities to the homesteaders and immigrants who gambled everything to settle the Plains, then paid the ultimate price. Even as he documents the weather monitoring and alert system at that time, he emphasizes the human element of failure and loss, particularly how humans can be so intelligent and courageous, yet so easily caught unaware.

It’s just the book to read, as our weather heats up into summer. If it gives you the urge to pack extra winter clothing in the trunk of your car now, so you don’t forget in October, console yourself. You’re not the only one…

The Children’s Blizzard, by David Laskin  2004  HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 0060520752 (ISBN13: 9780060520755)

The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D.

The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D.
cover art

This review is based on a pre-release reading of the uncorrected, “galley” proof provided to me by goodreads. Novel Release Date: June 5, 2012.

I just finished an early taste of summer vacation, with a rich and engaging book. Nichole Bernier’s debut novel, The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D., is a brave and breathtaking story about the subtle natures and interplay of womanhood, parenting, marriage and friendship.

The story begins as Kate Spenser, her husband, Chris, and their two young children begin their seven-week vacation at the beach. Kate is still processing the death of her friend, Elizabeth Martin, the victim of a plane crash in Queens that is abruptly overshadowed by the disasters of 9/11. As she mourns her friend, Kate also finds herself responsible for Elizabeth’s secrets and legacy; Elizabeth directed in her will that Kate alone receive the locked, antique trunk that holds Elizabeth’s journals.

Kate, although a reluctant interpreter of her friend’s written life, takes the responsibility seriously. Her commitment to reading Elizabeth’s journals influences not only her memories, but raises questions about Kate’s own decisions and marriage. Her fascination, which borders on obsession (as mine did, reading “over her shoulder”), stirs Kate into uneasiness. While ruffling the surface of her marriage, the responsibility also places her at odds with Dave, Elizabeth’s surviving husband, who struggles with his own suspicions about Elizabeth.

This story begins as an intriguing mystery about Elizabeth–her personality, relationships, changes and affections. Yet, this mystery is only the wrapping that conceals other, more tender dilemmas for the reader to unfold. Through her strong characters, striking observations and deep insights, the author leads us to ponder the dedication it takes to endure uncertainty; about the people we love, about seemingly random events and the “mere” coincidences that make the difference between life and death. The greatest mystery I savored in this moving story is the immeasurable cost of secrets, which protect, torment and shape us.

Nichole Bernier draws the reader into Kate’s private, conscientious point of view. Reflecting on her deceased friend, Kate considers that some people “don’t fit into a box. They grow to infiltrate everything, and when they suddenly go missing, they are missing everywhere.” In another post- 9/11 moment, Kate considers that, as for having a third child, “It seemed a dangerous thing, having more children than hands.” (Out of respect for the uncorrected proof status of my galley, I won’t quote more than this…although I could go on and on with great pleasure, thanks to many “aha” moments of literary and emotional resonance.) The author rings true with her characters and a timeless consideration of the dangers of love, in its many mysterious forms.

Please find more information on the author, book excerpts, the first chapter, release date and where to purchase at: Nichole Bernier’s blog and her author website. Thanks to goodreads for drawing my name out of the great hat of cyberspace. I will post this review on their site, as well.

Grimm Fairy Tales, Love & Trust

Snow White & Rose Red by Jessie Willcox Smith, 1911

In fairy tales, dangerous creatures live in the forest and children can get in trouble there. In Grimm Tales’ “Snow-White and Rose-Red,” the sisters are safe in their forest, collecting flowers and berries and “nothing ever harmed them.” The hares, deer, goats and birds love their company. As the story goes, “Because they were good and kind, all things loved and trusted them.”

The girls’ mother is also a trusting soul and welcomes a frostbitten bear indoors, to warm himself by their fire. Yes, this raises a red flag for me, too. But the bear does not eat them or their pets. He becomes a regular houseguest that winter.

As it turns out, he’s actually a prince in bear’s clothing. You saw that coming, didn’t you? This is a fairy tale, after all. Even though the sisters unwittingly help elves escape with his gold, the prince has a forgiving nature. For their hospitality, the sisters and their mother live with the prince in his palace. The Grimms don’t tell us if the prince marries either girl, or even their mother. Maybe he can’t decide.

In fairy tales, parents are often jealous, greedy, desperate or naive and place children at the mercy of dwarfs, animals, stepmothers and witches. So why do children love fairy tales? Because even if parents are sometimes selfish or stupid or wrong, if a child is good and kind, things can turn out well. Even if a girl or boy is confused and makes mistakes, like “Hans in Luck,” who started with lump of gold and ended up with nothing, he or she can still be happy.

Hans in Luck from Grimm's Fairy Tales, 1903

Parents love fairy tales, in part, because we once were children with imperfect parents. All grown up, we still have our vulnerable centers. Fairy tales also remind us to do our best, because there are wild things in the forests where our children play. Then they reassure us that even in our imperfection, on days when we think our parenting licenses should be revoked, we may accidentally do something right. You probably don’t want to let that bear into your house, but you can teach your children to be kind and safe. There is grace in the universe, so be loving and generous with a child today. Maybe even read a fairy tale, together.

*Snow White & Rose Red image in public domain, via Wikipedia

Something New

This blog is now designed for you. I’ll post good things here that you might not find, otherwise, so think of it as a place to refresh yourself with something new. You might even chuckle now and then.

Roses in February

Scrawling letters and shapes with a crayon, from childhood I was hooked on pictures, words and colors. Storytelling is a joy to me. I write fiction and I’ll write about that, sometimes. I do a lot of research for my writing and I’ll share what I learn. I also draw and paint and craft stained glass. My daughter is learning photography and I hope to share some of her photos, too. I do a little gardening, as well.

Seagull

As a child, I plunked on Mom’s piano and then learned classical guitar, bringing notes, melodies and harmonies to my teenage heart. My new guitar is an important part of my life today, so that might pop up here, along with mentions of my favorite music and musicians.

My parents, children and grandchildren give me more love than I thought possible. Sometimes I think they’ll make me crazy but they’d say, “Oops, too late. You already are.” Good crazy, I hope. I think it’s hereditary. They keep me emotionally flexible.

Life mapped my path in several directions. Sometimes I thought I was lost, but now I look back and enjoy the design. Thanks to social media, I’ve rediscovered old friends I feared I’d never see again. I’ve found new friends that way, too. So here we are.

photo by Karen Barefoot

I went to school (a lot). Looking for what I loved the most led me to love many things. Creative writing, literature, languages, visual arts, music and medicine. (We won’t talk about the school loans, but rather, life enrichment. That’s what matters, right?) We’ll have many topics to share.

I hope you like it here. Stop by again. I welcome your comments and conversation. This really is for you.

K. Lyn Wurth  (Kelly)

On Paper Wings

Have you ever read stories that resound with syncopation and flutter in your imagination? With pleasure that is almost painful?

I have.

Marly Swick was one of my creative writing instructors when I completed my M.A. at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She blessed me with her quiet and meaningful thoughts on my writing. Most days, I still wish I were in her classroom, so I could hand her my work and say, “What do you think?” I hope that I carry a bit of her nature in my own creative self, these years later.

She teaches at the University of Missouri now and every time I think of that, I tell myself, “Well, Missouri is close to Iowa; in fact, we’re neighbors. I ought to go take another class from her…” Then I wake up. But it’s a nice dream, even though I’m a big girl who’s supposedly been writing fiction for long enough to handle it myself. Sigh.

Today, I want to tell you about Paper Wings, one of her novels. Except that “about” is one of the hardest things to address in another writer’s work, as well as my own. I’ll try. Open this novel and you’ll find a mother, a daughter and a family. You’ll read it and wonder about how love is even possible, with people being as broken as they are, and yet…children grow up and most people survive longer than you might think. You’ll experience the early 1960s and a specific sort of neighborhood with clearly-drawn characters, but they spread open the wings of your mind to what is universal and truly human.

So, why are you still here and not buying this book? Go on, now.

And Marly, thanks for writing (and teaching.)

In a Grotesque, Yet Spiritual Place

Today, while bloghopping, I found a site where a Christian author, a year or so ago, had invited his readers to consider why Flannery O’Connor is so often disliked by Christian readers and writers. He suggested that discomfort with Flannery O’Connor’s fiction might be due to a limitation in Christians’ view of what fiction can and should be. Then followed a firestorm of strong opinions about O’Connor, ranging from “love her” to “admire her craft, but…” to “don’t like” and “hate.”

Was Flannery O’Connor attempting to write “Christian” literature? If so, to what extent did this involve her regionalism? For today’s meditation, I quote liberally from her 1960 essay, “Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction,” also published in Mystery and Manners. Either way, I encourage you to read her own words as she has authoritatively (if not divinely) ordered them.

Despite her strong Catholic faith, it appears that the author did not covet the badge of a “Christian writer,”  even as her intentions were mystical. Her focus was to tell a story, one strong enough to send a shock of spiritual magnitude through the reader, from which recovery would be slow and costly. Here are her words:

There is something in us, as storytellers and as listeners to stories, that demands the redemptive act, that demands that what falls at least be offered the chance to be restored. The reader of today looks for this motion, and rightly so, but what he has forgotten is the cost of it. His sense of evil is diluted or lacking altogether, and so he has forgotten the price of restoration. When he reads a novel, he wants either his senses tormented or his spirits raised. He wants to be transported, instantly, either to mock damnation or a mock innocence.

From the tone of that last sentence, we may conclude that O’Connor disapproved of absolving the one she calls the “tired reader” with spiritual reassurance and a closing hymn, as the story ends.

(next post, more on Flannery O’Connor)