Friday, December 30, 2011

Welcoming 2012

My bouquet of GRANDchildren.
Do you begin each New Year with a list of resolutions? It seems almost required ... right along with those "the best of" lists that abound regarding the year we've just come through. The more "mature" I become, the less inclined I am to make exhausting lists of things I intend to change in coming months. However, one resolution I know I'll keep regarding my personal life is the one that involves spending more time enjoying the little people pictured to the right. 

When it comes to my writing life, I'm also going to spend more time learning about CRAFT this next year. Other than an English minor in college, a correspondence course in journalism, and a community college class in writing, I'm mostly self-taught when it comes to writing. So in 2012 I'm challenging myself to teach myself more ... a book a month on the nuts and bolts of my job. With the help of some writers I admire, I've compiled a list (given here in alphabetical order by author):

Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell
Characters Make Your Story by Maren Elwood
The Key by James Fry
Plot Vs. Character by Jeff Gerke
How to Write Best Selling Fiction by Dean Koontz
Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas
Story by Robert McKee
Fiction is Folks by Robert Peck
Fiction Writing Demystified by Tom Sawyer
Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
Stein on Writing by Sol Stein
Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain
The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler
The Moral Premise by Dr. Stanley Williams

If you're counting, that's FOURTEEN titles. We shall see. 

In my educational life, this year in May I'll do the walk in the funny hat to receive my Masters' Degree in history. I'll post a photo of the funny hat, and even though I'll turn sixty before graduating, I'm honestly thinking of dancing down that aisle, because this is the fulfillment of a dream I've had since earning my B.A. in 1975. Perhaps there's a message in there ... never give up and you're never too old!

Lest I leave this blog without actually saying something history-related, let me share one of many fascinating things I'm gleaning from David McCullough's book The Greater Journey about Americans in Paris. First, I'm astonished by the number of "great Americans" who spent time studying in Paris. I'm not even half-way through the book, and already I've met Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Fenimore Cooper (did you know he WROTE The Prairie while in Paris?!), Samuel F.B. Morse (did you know he was a painter before inventing the telegraph?), Emma Willard (gotta learn more about her), Elizabeth Blackwell (first female physician in America), William Wells Brown (African-American abolitionist), George Catlin, Ioway Indians, P.T. Barnum, Charles Sumner, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Goodness! My mind races with amazement and joy as I devour this book. 

"Hatty" Stowe, "gazing upward within Notre-Dame, felt a 'sublimity' she found impossible to analyze or express." I relate to that. I've been there and felt that. At the Louvre, Stowe began to compare painters to her favorite writers. A fascinating thought. Rembrandt seemed to her to be like Hawthorne. Here's what she said:

"He [Rembrandt] chooses simple and everyday objects, and so arranges light and shadow as to give them a somber richness and a mysterious gloom. The House of Seven Gables is a succession of Rembrandt pictures done in words instead of oils. Now this pleases us because our life really is a haunted one. The simplest thing in it is a mystery, the invisible world always lies round us like a shadow ..."

I love being challenged to see familiar things in a new light, and McCullough has succeeded in making me do that on nearly every page of this wonderful book. Once again ... the man is my hero as a writer/historian. 

For me personally, there is no better place to spend the week approaching a new year than Paris. Since I can't be there in reality this year, I'm grateful for McCullough's taking me there in my imagination ... and combining Paris with history puts two of my favorite subjects in tandem. Let the good times roll!

I wish you each one a blessed New Year.                                                                  ---Stephanie Grace

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Seizing the Moments

Me and my cousins, 1955. That's me sucking my thumb.
 At this special time of year I’ve been thinking back on a bit of personal history, and the issue of time passing too quickly. And what to do about it.

I’d like to say I have the answer to making time slow down, but alas, that bit of quantum physics or science fiction or Divinity escapes me. But I have figured out a way to minimize my regrets.

My concern about time-passing started a few years ago when I realized I didn’t remember my 30's. An entire decade was a blur. Why? Because the years were consumed with the logistics of being married, working, and raising three kids. My days were completely filled with have-to-dos and should-dos and love-to-dos. When I looked to the left then looked to the right, ten years had passed. Whoosh!

The prime years of my life a blur? That made me incredibly sad. But recognizing this made me stop a moment to think about the happy moments in my life that I did remember vividly. Chaotic Christmases with extended family, the abundance of cookies and laughter filling us up. The family vacations where I packed a Goody-Bag full of small surprises to be doled out to wiggly children when the miles seemed to go on forever. Or waiting backstage for my entrance in a community theatre production of “My Fair Lady”, looking up into the dark recesses of the ceiling where catwalks, lights, and scenery lay waiting, thinking about the joy I got from being on stage. These snippets of my life still make me smile and feel warm inside. But they were snippets that couldn’t be retrieved because life has gone on.

In hindsight I recognized how special these times were--but did I know it at the time? Did I stop and think, I need to appreciate this moment because it’s precious?

Not often enough. And the regret made me ache inside. Why didn’t I wallow in those moments? Why was I so busy with today and the next day, that I took those treasured times for granted?

How could I eliminate this regret in the future?

It was a wake-up call. I had to find a way to more fully appreciate the moments of life because now, at age 57, the years are rushing past way too quickly. Ten years from now I do not want to look back on this year and find it a blur.

And so I became determined to have no more regrets—at least not about this. I vowed to enjoy each moment and appreciate it for what it is. To pause just a wee bit and think, This is special. This is good. This is what life is all about. To really see and hear and touch and smell and taste life.

To pause. That’s the key. To pause and relish it all.

I'm not always successful in remembering “to pause”, but I'm getting better at it. For instance, we now have all three kids and their spouses in town and see them and the grandkids often. I do not take that for granted, but fully engage myself in now, and absorb the moments we have together. Like a sponge in water, I soak it all in.

This attempt to appreciate the moment has also made me more defensive of my time. Recently I've dropped two big, weekly obligations that I was involved in for years because I realized where I wanted to be was home. It was a been-there-done-that realization that has given me the gift of time. Free time. When we're younger we feel an obligation to DO. But that's fading for me. I'm content to HAVE DONE things, and move forward with fewer HAVE-TO-DO burdens.

To remind myself to appreciate the here and now, I created a plaque in my house that says, "Now is the most wonderful time of the year." It’s displayed every day, through every now, because the truly memorable moments of life aren’t always connected to the big celebrations, but to the small moments, the tick and the tock of two seconds that are perfect and splendid because we are simply alive.

And so dear readers, start giving yourself the gift of NOW. Now. Amid the busyness of life find peace and joy in one fine moment. And then, another. And another. For God is good, and life is a gift to be cherished.

And now is the most wonderful time of the year.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Book Lover's Christmas Tree

This isn't my tree, but I couldn't resist sharing it ... an editor I work for sent me the photo.

Hope the holiday is bringing you joy.

My own Christmas decorations await in the boxes I stored them in last year ... stay tuned! And perhaps I'll even have something to say about Christmas in the 1800s. Sorry I've been away.