Thoughts on Father’s Day and Fathers

Father’s Day has always been special for me; I have such a good father, and the day also comes so close to my birthday that my birthday and being a daughter have always felt linked. Today we celebrate the fathers, godfathers, other family and friends who have raised us and in many cases, helped to raise our children. We also remember the fathers who have passed on, and those who miss them.

Aviya Kushner, author of The Grammar of God: A Journey into the Words and Worlds of the Bible, wrote about her father in a way I could relate to. In this book Kushner, who grew up reading in Hebrew, explores how differences in translation, language, and culture affect the understanding of the Bible. It is also a fascinating story about her  family and I highly recommend you read it. Here are her words from this memoir:

My father taught me what he has always taught me: how to ignore the disapproval of the world, no matter how loud it is. He taught me how to listen to myself, and how to hear that same thing in other people and places: the quiet beating of the individual heart.

I hope each one of us would have such a person in their life.

 

Practice Makes Progress

 

I’ve been taking a drawing class at the museum for several weeks. On the first day, our instructor asked us to draw a self-portrait. I started with the obvious—trying to capture the shape of my head, the size and slant of my eyes, the fullness of my lips, adding in cheekbones and topping the image off with hair, or enough swirls and poufs to make it look like hair.

The finished drawing looked nothing like me. Maybe there were a few aspects that resembled what I had seen in the mirror, but my drawing could have just as easily been a picture of someone else.

The takeaway for the day was to learn how to look and then sketch what I saw, rather than what I thought should be there. Next, I had to copy and draw a photo that was placed upside down, which forced me to look at lines, edges, and shapes to complete the picture. Instead of thinking, well, this is the arm, I know what an arm looks like, so I’ll draw an arm, I drew from sight, not expectation.

Guess what happened? My upside-down drawing was far more accurate than I thought it would be, because I made myself focus on what I noticed as I went along, rather than what I know.

Learning how to draw has been rewarding because the initial progress has been swift, hastened by learning some basic rules. My pictures look considerably more accurate than they would have weeks ago. There are basic principles and with practice I am learning how to employ them, observing shapes and shadows, how to measure and adjusting on the page.

I see parallels between my writing and my new drawing practice. When I write an essay, I often start out with an idea, not fully formed, just a sense of what I want to write about. As I keep going, noticing small details, or where my interest picks up, I make decisions about incorporating them into the work.

My drawing instructor recently said, “You have to bound your composition, you cannot fill everything in.” I decide which elements serve the final drawing, much as choosing the right words serves an essay or story. Drawing has taught me to look more closely at the world around me, and reinforces the truth that practice is essential to improvement. My goal is not to hang my work in a gallery or museum, although I share each week’s work as eagerly as a first-grader, excited that my hands and mind have tried to work in concert to create something. Like my writing, the process is as importance as the outcome, and the process and the practice are the two components I can control. The more I draw, the more I want to write, because they complement each other.

Writing will always come before drawing for me, but I’ll keep up with my sketches, if only because they are fun to make and use a different part of my brain. Practice does not have to make perfect, making progress is reason enough to keep on.

 

I Go to the Rock

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My husband and I sat with my father at mass this past Sunday, the ritual and order of the service familiar to each one of us, imprinted in a combined nearly 200 years of experience with the Roman Catholic Church. This church, which was renamed the Church of the Resurrection after three predominately Black churches, St. Andrew, St. Agnes, and St. Mark were merged, is where my parents attended church together for the last several years until my mother passed away in 2017. Continue reading

Day of Reflection and Preparation

Last week, I devoted one day—I call it my Quiet Day—to a day of quiet reflection and preparation for the year ahead. This has been an annual practice and it is my way to start the year in a less rushed state of mind. I don’t bother with resolutions, at least not in the traditional sense of the word. Nearly 20 years ago, I went through the training to earn a certification in coaching, and even though I no longer coach clients, I still use many of the tools when I want to work towards change in my life.

I began with a look at my 2018 calendar, going week by week to see how I had used the days. I remembered little victories, trips I took, days where I stayed home and enjoyed working in my yard. I thought about the people I spent time with, the meetings and events I attended, and then I wrote down on one sheet of paper the highlights of the past year. It is easy to quickly forget what we have done, felt, or experienced. I saw many happy, positive moments, and the exercise also helped me see where I had spent time doing things that I did not feel were in alignment with my goals, values or needs. Nothing to feel bad about, just something to observe.

Once I had looked over the past year, it was time to dream ahead. I identified a few areas where I want to focus, of course, one is my writing, and then I thought about the steps I would have to take to move forward. I felt a strong desire to try a new thing this year, perhaps something that is a stretch for me. I have not yet pinned down exactly what it will be; I have a few ideas, but I am certain the answer will come to me soon.

This morning, a question popped up as I mulled over an invitation. My inclination is to sometimes say yes, forgetting that no is also an option, often because it’s nice to be included, I am truly interested or curious, I like the people, the place, or the issue, or a sense of if I can, I should. But today I asked myself, “What is most in alignment with my goal or need for this moment, for this day?”Only then did I realize that although participating might be a good thing, it was not the best thing, for me, at this time. I’ve always said that as you get clear on your Yes, the No or Not Right Now becomes more apparent.

Because I can look back with gratitude and understanding that I am still learning, I can move forward with my dreams and goals for 2019, eager and excited to see how it all unfolds. Taking a quiet day is transformative for me, but it does not have to be done at the first of the year. Any time is a good time to look at your life and see if you are headed in the right direction.

Writing and My 2018 Reading

November will be over in a few days and it is time for another writing update. My progress on the short story has been slow, mainly because I have not decided how to end it. I worked on the piece today, and instead of writing with an absolute end in mind, I decided to slow down the pace and see where the story wants to go. It can take time to get to know my characters, even if I think I should know them better since I wrote them. I’ll continue working on the story, but I don’t expect to be finished by the end of the week.

Switching to fiction this month was also a reminder that nonfiction is probably my first love; it is what I write most often and what I usually read. Last December I set a goal to read 50 new books during 2018 and I’ve read over 40. I’ll have to see if I can actually make my goal, but the cold days of December are perfect for reading. I tracked whether the books were fiction or nonfiction and it did not take long to realize that over 65 percent of the books I read are nonfiction—essays, memoir, spirituality/inspirational, design, history.

So, it’s back to working on my essay collection, while trying to be intentional about reading more novels in the future. I missed working on the essays, and tend to believe being away from them for several weeks has given me a fresh perspective and new ideas. Changing my focus, if only for a month, made me miss that work and ready to get back in my chair and write.

Thanksgiving This Year

Autumn candle

This year was a milestone for me—I turned 60 and it was the first birthday that my mother was not able to celebrate with me, call me, or sign her name with my father’s to my card. When she passed away in late summer of 2017, I had no idea of how her passing would change me. I learned very quickly it was a hurt for which I had no words or experience.

I was excited about my 60th birthday and had planned a party (theme: Honey, I’m Grown) months in advance. As the June date drew nearer, I became apprehensive about how I would feel on that day, and wondered if in the middle of the celebration, I would realize that it was not a good idea. But that didn’t happen. Continue reading

November – Writing and a Road Trip

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The short story is coming along, at least the first draft of it. I am enjoying the process; this form is so different from the nonfiction I usually write and I am not quite sure of how the story will end. I think I know the ending but have to figure out how to get there, or if it is even the right way to finish the story. I’ll keep working on it, I have a little over two weeks to get it done.

I took a couple of days away from writing to visit a friend and we took a road trip to Amish country. We had a filling lunch, looked at Christmas decorations, and made a special trip to pick up the region’s best apple cider. At the market in Sugarcreek, the workers were sorting apples and filling bushels in an adjacent room. The aroma of different types of apples was enticing, but since I cannot eat fresh apples I had to make do with just enjoying the smell, watching the apples rumble and roll through the line,  and observing the cheerful chatter of the workers. Here are a two photos from that trip. I love day trips like this—they can be both relaxing and inspiring, and new story ideas often take root after some restful time away.

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Do you have a favorite day trip destination?

 

November Writing Goal

Reporter working at typewriter.

I am sitting in the middle of office clutter that I wouldn’t want you to see if you happened to stop by for a cup of tea and a chat. It is not junky, but it is not as tidy as I like. Pens of all colors fill jars, a tote bag, gray scarf, cough drops, and lip balm are nearby, and a stack of papers bump against my left elbow. I am ignoring all of it—right now it is more important to write than to clean.

You might remember two years ago when I did National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), a global event where you commit to writing 50,000 words during November. I participated, ended with more than the 50,000 words, and that stretch goal was a good exercise for me. I wrote a bit about what I learned here.

Now that book, or better said, draft, did not make it to the best seller list, but I enjoyed the journey into my characters’ lives, and it gave me the start for a different book I will complete one day. But this year I have decided to set a personal November writing goal.

It has been years since I have written a short story; I typically write nonfiction. But this month I am going to complete a short story that has been dancing around in my head for months. I will finish the first draft, and at least begin the initial round of revisions. I’m just starting out, so it is hard to say how long it will be, certainly longer than flash fiction (under 1,000 words) but no more than 8-10,000 words. I’ll let you know each Monday how I’m doing.

The office cleanup will have to wait.