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The Things I Find–Post #6

You might do the same

My husband and I spent time last week in Taos, NM. We enjoy lodgings that might be called quaint or maybe even old fashioned. Taos and some other places in New Mexico offer many such places. One of the reasons we choose such spots is that we often meet people there who make our visits interesting. Last week didn’t disappoint us in that regard.

The photo with this post shows the car that pulled into the space next to ours at the Kachina Lodge. We were sitting outside our door, enjoying the afternoon clouds, which hinted at the possibility of showers. When the car’s two occupants greeted us as they unloaded, it wasn’t necessary for them to tell us they were from Texas. The license plate on the vehicle and their accents told us. Before long, they joined us outside. Their hometown is near the Texas Gulf Coast, and they were heading to California.

Conversation soon turned to an explanation of the car. It’s the third one the husband has painted. The first two had more than thirty coats of paint each, those coats applied by brush, décor supplied at the whim of the owner. In October, it would be Halloween themed; December calls for Christmas trees, and so forth. The longhorns on the front remain no matter what the message or other décor. The passenger side (wife’s) window carries a sign notifying passersby that “A person who rides in this car has to be really secure.”

We heard the whole story. The car painting began when their son returned his first car to them after he was able to purchase one of his own. It was old to begin with and after ten years of his college attendance and young manhood, it was worth nothing as a trade in. So Mom and Dad had a “free” car. Why not paint it? It would be the perfect conversation piece. So over the years, after the first car gave up the ghost, a second “free” car followed, and now this third, with its thirteen coats of paint.

The next day, as they departed, I thanked the driver for the story of the cars. His parting words were, “If you had a free car, you might choose to do the same.”

I have reflected on his words several times since. I wonder how many of us would make that choice—to entertain others, to prompt conversations with strangers, to be viewed as a bit odd, at least on first acquaintance. Would I be the one who thought of myself as really secure, able to ride in a hand-painted vehicle and do so proudly? Mostly, I’ve wondered what makes a person think of a car as “free?” Is it because he’s free?

What do you think?

 

The Things I Find Post #5

When I set out to write posts on this blog, I hoped to point to things that cause me to wonder, to reflect, in hopes that they might do the same for you. Publicizing my writing was not my intent. But something I found yesterday did make me wonder and reflect. And the fact that it relates to my most recent publication is less the subject here than are the thoughts it brought to mind. Here’s a link to what I found. It’s the review in Kirkus Reviews of my recently published collection of short stories, Nowhere Near. https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/teddy-jones/nowhere-near/

If you read it, you’ll see that it was easy for me to accept that as a positive review from a reputable source. Great!

Then the elation I felt gave way to reflection. It’s easy to believe a positive review and disregard a negative one. That’s a way to stay happy. I reread the review. Although it’s positive, I can see that this reviewer (reader) took away meanings from some of the stories that differed with mine. Reflecting further, questions came to mind. Is it ever possible for me to convey my intention in writing any fiction what prompted me to create the characters and situations that become the story? Or is it only in the mind of the reader that the “meaning” occurs. And what prompts a reader to extract anything similar to the thought or feeling that prompted the writer to create that work (those characters, their situations) in the first place? Does it matter that there’s sometimes little, if any, congruence between what the writer hoped and what the reader takes away? I wonder. Surely there can be many meanings, not only a single one. In the process of writing, did I learn something about the characters and their situations that changed the “meaning” (meanings) for me? Those are questions that will stay with me, even in light of this review that brightened my day because its tone as well as the overall comments suggested the reader saw the stories as valuable in some way.

A larger question, beyond those about readers and what is written, relates to human communication in general. It’s this–is there a way to know whether we’ve ever communicated exactly what we intend? The only inkling I have about an answer is an old answer about communication–the exchange of meaning requires patience and both delivering and receiving messages. Seeking a response that tells me what you understand/feel/think about what I say or write is the beginning of knowing whether meaning/intention has been shared or if it has only been written or spoken in a vacuum. So now I ask, what are your thoughts about the nature of communication between a writer of fiction and those who read it? And on a grander scale, are you ever fully satisfied with your own communication, either in written or oral interchange?

I’d love to receive a message from you.

 

The Things I Find #4

Do you wonder why that sign caught my eye? It was taped to the glass door of a barbeque restaurant in my home town a while back. It’s the town I came from, not where I live now. Of course, I understood the meaning right away. Who could miss the wisdom of warning customers pushed there by winds gusting to near 40 mph that injury could result from daring to enter? I snapped the photo because that sign prompted me to reflect, later, on the choice behind posting that sign.

We humans are choice-making machines. Each day, whether consciously or not, we choose each action we take. Some bits of behavior we choose so often that they become habits. Which shoe goes on first? Chocolate or vanilla? Coffee or tea? For many of the choices we make, we may even justify them by telling ourselves it’s the most efficient, or the only logical, or the simplest (or any other rationalization) thing to do. Posting that sign probably fell in the “most logical” category. But was it really? Or was it simply expedient?

The notion of mindfulness has caught wide attention in the past couple of years. Attempting to be more aware of each moment can certainly prove beneficial. But for me, awareness of choice making is at least as important. This sign brought to mind one particular sort of choice a person can make, sometimes beneficial, sometimes not. That’s the choice to cope, to manage to get through a particular situation without major distress or harm. That sign might be an example of coping. In the face of something that couldn’t be changed (the wind), the poster of the sign managed to keep the eatery in operation and reduce the possibility of harm. Coping has its benefits. It reduces stress in the moment, it can help one persist in difficult times and places.

But in that case,although the paper sign might have dealt with the problem expediently, for that moment, there could be wisdom in making further choices. Install a restraining arm on the door, build an small entry shelter in front of the interior door (a good West Texas choice). preparing for the next time the wind blows could be a wise choice. Metaphorically, wind blows into our lives fairly often. But it’s not necessary to feel defeated by its repeated arrival, to be buffeted about by its gusts. We can make new choices beyond simply coping.

Looking again at that sign, and thinking about choosing to cope, I wonder how often I examine fully the choices I make to cope, and why. Habit? Expediency? Fear?

Have you ever wondered about that? I’d love to hear from you.

It’s not always easy to hang onto the door.

The Things I Find #3

I consider myself lucky to have found the name Lee K. Abbott while reading a writer’s magazine. It mentioned his being a master of the short story. The fact mentioned later in the article, that he sets most of his stories or his characters’ backgrounds in the Southwest, sent me searching. The collection I chose first is All Things All at Once.

https://www.amazon.com/All-Things-Once-Selected-%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20stories/dp/0393330125/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

With the first story, I was immersed in the setting and taken with the character. As I continued I felt I knew the characters or someone like them. And his narrator immediately calls to mind That Guy, no matter what name he has in a particular story.

I wondered exactly how he accomplished the feat of making his character(s) so vivid. Rereading, I learned that it’s the combination of speech (the character speaks like a person from the Southwest), the setting (his stories take place in towns that seem familiar because of the landscape and the typical businesses and acivities), and most importantly, it’s the choices the character makes based on his perspective on life that made this reader care about the man, whatever his name in that story.

I wondered if other readers find themselves caring about characters in that way, hoping That Guy makes better choices the next time, laughing at his cockeyed view of the world.

Has some author that you enjoy written fiction that affects you that way? I’d love to hear about it. Just click on the comment icon and let me know.

 

The Things I Find–#2

Here’s something I found on Brain Pickings, a newsletter that is a work of love for its author, Maria Popova

www.brainpickings.org

Each week, she publishes this ad free newsletter filled with all manner of interesting things related to topics of her choice. Links within each edition take the reader to the sources that inspired her comments. Most of the sources are either in the public domain or available through a public library. So although there are some commercial links, this newsletter is designed, not to sell, but rather to prompt readers to think, perhaps to pursue some interest they find in the material presented.

This one caught my interest because of the recent increase in mass protests related to political concerns. It was the opening lines of a piercing poem titled “Protest” by Ella Wheeler Wilcox (November 5, 1850–October 30, 1919), from her 1914 book Poems of Problems (public domain | public library), written at the peak of the Women’s Suffrage movement and just as WWI was about to erupt.  “To sin by silence, when we should protest makes cowards out of men.”

Seeing that the poem was written back in the early part of the 20th century, by a woman, made me wonder if I could ever fully appreciate the importance of our right to protest. Beyond that, I reflected on occasions when I might have “sinned by silence when I should have protested.”  That took me a while as those occasions have been more numerous that I like to admit to myself.

I also thought that the word protest most often calls to mind action by groups, making public statements—marches, petitions, acts of civil disobedience—all of which can produce powerful results. But protest can take other forms. That poet, a female writing during the Women’s Suffrage movement, may have marched in public protest. I don’t know whether she did. But I do know, from reading that poem, that she “spoke” through her art, an important way in which protest can be lodged.

The link above (public domain) takes you to a fully readable, free edition of that poet’s work. “Protest” is on page 154. Once there, you’ll find in her art a strong voice raised in protest.

What are your thoughts on the forms protest can take, the issues that demand protest, and the value of the right to protest, personally, professionally, publicly? Use the comment icon on this post to open a comment window. I’d love to hear from you.

The Things I Find

This is the first time I’ve written a “real” blog post. Maybe it will be the last. That depends on whether there’s a good reason to post. There are plenty of words, thoughts, ideas, photos, and all manner of other diversions available to any who use the Internet. The only justification for my adding to all that content is if I have something useful to say. Because I spend a lot of time writing and reading, I do find things that others write and some that my characters may say or think which might be useful. So the theme of this and any other posts I make here on my website will be things I find. They will be things that give me reason to stop and reflect, to wonder, and sometimes to smile or even laugh aloud. Because I am fascinated by how we humans tell our stories, some of the things I find and will pass along may be bits of conversation (like most writers, I eavesdrop) or dialogue from the things I read. I offer them to you with the hope that my “findings” might do for you what they do for me—make you wonder, reflect, or even smile or laugh aloud.

Here’s today’s. Lucy Moore, a friend whom I admire, has written of her work as a mediator and facilitator in Common Ground on Hostile Turf 

She speaks eloquently of mediation as a process. In the introduction, she offers the definition of mediation that she prefers. Lucy attributes the definition to Peter Adler…”what he does is simply help people tell their stories to each other. Once the table is set, the ground rules are in place, and parties take their seats, the mediator’s job…is to help people express themselves honestly and to ensure that others are genuinely listening.”

What did I do when I found that? I reflected on the times I was responsible for attempting to bring differing sides to agreement on solutions. I wondered if there had ever been a time attempting that when I “helped people tell their stories to each other” or if I been more focused on my own version of the desired solution or worse yet, perhaps I’d told my own story rather than listening to theirs. What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you. If you’d like me to share more of the things I find, I’d appreciate knowing that, too.

If you’d like to read more from Lucy Moore, go to  www.lucymoore.com.