Sunday, June 23, 2019

A Little More Lindbergh

At the thrift store I found another Lindbergh book, this one called No More Words, by Anne's youngest child, Reeve. Reeve wrote this short book about her mother's final 17 months, living in a tiny house just up the hill from Reeve and her family. At the time, 1999-2000, Anne was 94 and Reeve was 55, my age.
Thank you, Lisa, for the beautiful bookmark. I use it every day.

I was used to Anne's voice, so I had to accustom myself to Reeve's voice. And I thought I knew Anne. I'd read three of her books, two of which were journals. How could I not know her? But seeing a woman through the eyes of her child is a different perspective. Seeing the home, the father, the marriage from Reeve's perspective was illuminating.

Reeve loved her mother devotedly, desperately, and seemed both awed and scared to have the privilege of being the child to care for her at the end of her life. Reeve went through stages of care, of coping with her mother's approaching death, and she frankly evaluates herself as she responds to the shifting timeline of death. I think, as we all watch our parents age, and watch ourselves approach the precipice as well, it's wise to read how others have coped and reacted. After reading Reeve's open confessions of her weakness, ineptitude, and misunderstanding, along with her dedication, delight, and humor, I feel better prepared myself going forward. 

Anne Lindbergh had the best possible care after her strokes a few years before. She had round-the-clock professionals, a whole staff. She stayed in her own little home with family visiting daily. She had professional hair styling and nail treatments each week. She had house calls from doctors and therapists. Still, it was a struggle for Reeve. How do people cope who have almost no resources, who have to enter poorly-run nursing homes, or live with family members who neglect or abuse them? This book helps me think soberly and honestly about these things. It's scary.

Some aspects of Anne's old journals are given new eyes in this book, which Reeve also calls a journal -- "A Journal of my Mother." Most people would consider Charles Lindbergh the more famous of the pair, but the child who speaks for the family, the writer, chose to write of her mother.  Here are a few telling passages:

"She rarely answers, in fact she rarely speaks, and she does not write at all. This astonishes me. Words were central to her life for as long as I have known her, and yet she appears perfectly comfortable without them. She does not miss them. I, on the other hand, am at a loss. I am bewildered, confused, absolutely at sea, in my mother's silence." (14)

This gives a little taste of how Reeve continuously ponders both her mother and herself, contrasting, comparing. Always tender, often puzzled.

Caring for an elderly patient is a very physical activity, especially when she cannot care for herself in even the simplest ways. 

"I like to watch Janet [a caregiver] working with my mother, who is now so completely, so uncharacteristically, willing to be touched .... My mother, who once so resisted physical tenderness that I wondered during childhood if it was an imposition to kiss her good night, now submits to care and coddling as never before. Her previous body-shyness has melted away ...." (80)

This, of course, is an aspect of Anne's personality and life that she never mentioned, but that her children were intensely aware of. Can you imagine being the child of a mother who you weren't sure if you should ask to kiss goodnight? How did that impact the home? Why was she that way? 

Perhaps the most interesting and telling passage:

"My mother's resistance to circumstances beyond her control has always been subtle .... My father used to say, 'Your mother devastates with silence.' ... I can recall what an effective weapon her silence was against his sudden tirades of opinion and mood. I remember well those times when he moved through the house like a strong wind, shattering everybody else's peace and concentration. It wasn't necessarily a matter of his being in bad humor, it was just that he was so much bigger, so much more energetic, and so much more active than anyone else we knew. When he was walking and talking and moving around, our father sucked up all the space in his vicinity like some kind of whirlwind, sometimes benign, sometimes ill-boding. If he was indeed angry over something his children had done or, more likely had neglected to do, the atmosphere was then twice as electric and doubly powerful, the house itself shaking with what my sister used to call "Ambulatory Wrath of God." If we could do it, we children would scatter out ... but our mother would remain silent, resting in her own silence, and sooner or later, our father would laugh ruefully, as if to acknowledge that she'd won .... He recognized that his wife ... was by far the stronger of the two." (154/155)

In her own journals, Anne's description of when Charles would come into the house was quite the opposite; she described him as bringing LIFE back into the house, as if the house and the family and she were all rather dead, or at least comatose, until he blew in, and everything leapt to life again. But clearly the children didn't feel that way, or at least the youngest one didn't.

Anne Lindbergh died early in 2001 after a long and productive life. I felt Reeve's goal in part was to continue to give nobility and worth to that life, even when the words were gone for which Anne was so respected. 

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Writing Plans

Hello, friends! It's the heat of summer now and time for me to sit in my study with a fan blowing and gaze into the pasture. The dogs are lolling in the shade. The chickens are taking dust baths. I'm writing.

It feels so good to be writing again. I know writers say this all the time, but those dry, dusty periods when words don't come (or we don't let them come) are so discouraging. You wonder if you'll ever create something again. These times of fruitful productivity feel like spring, like a waterfall, like joy.

What am I writing? Here's the plan:

The Mortuary Murders - a series of books (I hope) set in a small Southern town. The first-person narrator is a brand-new funeral director, a woman. These books will be "cozies," quick, easy reads. Beach books. I'm over half-way through the first one. I'm writing about a chapter each day, trying to get the story out of my head and onto paper. Then Adam and I will go back and edit.

Three Against the Dark - This book is old history, but Adam has reread it and is jump-starting it again with lots of platform and support this fall. 
Ten Days at Federal Hill - Its sequel. My next project after finishing "Mortuary Murder #1" is to finish this sequel and get it tidied up. Publishers (if we decide to go that route) like series, so I'll need to have a second book to offer them, and promise of a third. The overall plot certainly lends itself to that.

PICTURE BOOKS - Punkin and the Littlest Mouse is done; The Thanksgiving Mice is done; The Rescue of William Shrew needs ten more illustrations painted. I have a Christmas story in my mind that I want to complete by December. I have one or two other story ideas in mind for this book cluster.

Greenfield Civil Wars - Another finished book that lends itself to sequels and could also be considered a bit of a "cozy." I started a sequel but didn't continue with it. 

Poetry - I have lots of poetry, and some of it (I think) is good enough to gather into a small book for publication, if I already had other books selling well. It would be easy to put together a little book for this purpose.

Doing all this, especially the daily commitment to writing each morning, makes me feel like a writer. I want to be a writer, to use that skill, to leave these stories in the world. I'd never considered how important it is that those who are story-makers should tell their stories, give them to others who want to read stories. I assumed most people thought up stories in their heads all day long -- what did anybody need my stories for? Apparently most of the population don't write stories in their heads all the time! If a person has the ability to create stories and the skill to put them into well-written text, that person has an obligation (I think) to write for others.

We'll see. But that's the plan! Now I must go finish Chapter 14 before lunch.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Putting It Out There

Hi, friends. Sorry to not be blogging as I used to. Each of us has a finite amount of creative matter, and I'm getting to the point that I have to be careful not to expend mine without care. When I blog often, I write less elsewhere. And I need to write.

Adam is so very excited about all he's learning in connection with his new enterprise, Book Chats -- all about how to navigate the self-publishing/publishing world. It's a steep learning curve, and no wonder that so many writers never attempt the climb, and their books remain tucked away in notebooks, never to be enjoyed by the world.
Adam's new work area for doing Book Chats

That's kind of the purpose of this blog post -- putting your writing out there. Do you have writings (books, short stories, poems, even just ideas for them?) that you don't share with the world? If so, why don't you?  Because the world needs stories. People are reading more than ever, and most of them prefer not to reread a book. A bottomless appetite for reading is out there, and the publishers desperately want to find good books

In the interest of continuing "putting it out there," here's a poem I wrote last month in my journal, which is the place where my poems go to hide.

There's a safety that the soul
and its body, its child,
know is right.

In the trauma of the bombs,
The ripping claws of friends,
The starvation of loneliness,

We know a quiet green place
must be there,
Where we may sleep.

Adam is now busy resurrecting my old children's book Three Against the Dark. It's an experiment. He's said for years that it's a good book, a story that should be more "out there" and read. So he's throwing all the skills he's learning about marketing a book, at this endeavor. He wants to see what happens when you take a book that you know is a good story, and put knowledgeable muscle and a little cash behind it -- can it become more successful? Not a best-seller, obviously, but can it generate an ongoing income? I wrote that book so long ago, when my kids were little, that it feels a bit like taking the old grandma out of her rocking chair, putting running shoes on her, and telling her to go do a half-marathon.

Right now, he wants me to be the writing machine, so to speak. And I am writing again, which is exciting! But to do so I must be careful how I expend the creative resources -- the subdermal  aquifers of words -- and save them for things that we might try to publish in the future. 

I need some photos in this blog post, so here are a few watercolors I've done recently:
 Sorry about the smudgy reflection of the plastic sleeve on the one below.
 Can you tell what season I'm eager for ...?

Thanks, dear friends! I'm still trying to visit each of your blogs a bit when I have the chance. Carry on!!

Monday, June 10, 2019

Anne Lindbergh's War Years

I've just finished Anne Lindbergh's diary and letters, spanning April, 1939-October, 1944, years of isolation, instability, and the beginnings of self-discovery for her -- War Within and Without.
In those 5 1/2 years, Anne lived in 6 houses, moving her growing family, possessions, and all the extra items particular to them -- art collections, a writing shed or trailer they placed in each backyard, secretaries, cooks, nurses, nannies, maids, and handymen whom she was constantly losing and rehiring, plus all their writing documents and paraphernalia. In the middle of the chaos Anne was always trying to write. The children were often ill. Charles was perpetually gone for work. 

A few traits define Anne Lindbergh for me in her marriage. Toward Charles she is loving, serving, patient, deferential, trusting. The war brings out traits in Charles also, that are hard for her to keep in step with. He was vocally, unbendingly against the U.S. entering WW2. His fame, his European travels, and his aviation experience gave him a national platform from which to instruct the nation in many speeches. The Roosevelt administration became a particular target, a particular enemy. Anne sees Charles as tough enough to bear all the animosity and attack without flinching, almost without feeling. But she felt every public and private barb against Charles and against herself. These crushed her. Charles spoke; Anne wrote, and her writings got her into trouble also. She seems at first to mimic his ideals, his politics. Gradually she finds some of his speeches disagreeable -- she doesn't disagree with his thinking, but with his expression of it. She increasingly wishes he'd remain silent or soften his tone. Then in 1941 she writes a friend, of Charles's beliefs and "his policy," -- "I do not agree with it," and that his speech would be "disastrous." (200)
Image result for Anne Lindbergh

Even in 1944 she states, "Nowhere could I find, could I have found, a better husband -- a husband to whom I could give so much, who gives me so much -- no marriage as good .... Charles is earth to me, the whole world, life." (396) Charles is life to her, and each return from his travels brings life back to the home, back to her. When he is gone, her life is empty, airless, bleak. In December, 1943: "Charles came back last night. It is unbelievable, like sunshine; I feel full of life and hope and happiness." (286)  In 1944, after he returns from flying in the Pacific for a few months, she writes, "It is hard now to go back to the days without Charles. To remember what it was like -- that strange unbalanced creature that I was, never really at rest, suspended, never touching earth." (399) 

If I had to give one overarching trait of Anne Lindbergh in her diaries it is her unrelenting search to understand and know herself, particularly as a writer. She often describes her writer-self as her true self. She struggles daily to balance her roles: wife, mother, writer, and the other Anne, the one who longs to lie under the elm trees at night and look at stars and merely think. "The problem of the woman and her 'work' is still so unsolved. It eats at me perpetually." (151) For a tiny woman of 105 lbs, inside she was bursting with creativity, with beauty, with effort to unpuzzle the mysteries of life, a spiritual woman, almost a mystic.

During these years the Lindberghs begin unknowingly to dip their toes in the life of marital separation they would transition into permanently. The war produced this. Charles was driven to be involved in spite of his opposition to U.S. entry. Before Pearl Harbor he traveled to speak at rallies; after that date he traveled to find a way to get his foot in the door of participating in his country's fight. Anne repeatedly finds herself alone with bickering house staff, unruly children, a life full of people but desperately alone, longing for Europe and France, exhausted but longing to write, and craving Charles. To read as she slowly treads the road toward independence, self-trust and self-confidence, autonomy -- a road she did not want -- is difficult. She traveled alone to California, hoping to meet Charles there. "The extraordinary freedom and independence of it. I hadn't been entirely on my own like that ... since before I was married .... When I travel with Charles I am immediately known." (390)
Image result for Anne Lindbergh
But behind it all is her talent, her writing, the inner friend she will keep with her when everyone else leaves. Here are a few snippets of the beautiful word she crafts, just in a diary:

"A terrific storm comes over the bay, white and blind with rain and the trees tortured and twisting. People run to shut windows, and there is the sound of sheets of water. The evening is misty and cool. The tall trees drip a summer mist; the bay is satin smooth and full of light." (13)

Her words soften and simplify as the weather does the same. The parallel structure in the last sentence is calming. Did you note all the alliteration?

She mentions the hard wall of sorrow and loss in war. Then: "And yet the wall seems to have cracks in it sometimes, as it has in life. That night I lay under the elm tree in North Haven and looked up at stars shining through its bare branches, so beautiful, the elm's bare branches, fruited with stars, hung with the heavens. The heavens, milky with brilliance of many starts, veined with the dark branches of the elm. And there was a shooting star -- right across the heavens -- tearing it in half, ripping a great white gash in it." (397)

Here, the emotional movement is reversed, starting with a gentle image and gentle words, and ending with a "gash"! And that phrase, "fruited with stars," I am jealous of. This exquisite literary gift keeps me reading her, despite the unpleasant circumstances of their lives.

Image result for Anne Lindbergh
The diary is delightful because Anne is real and changing. She is a shifting, fascinating woman, always in flux, always self-examining. By 1944 she regrets some of her own writing about the war. "I feel rather ashamed of some of my arguments on the war stand ... the arguments, the logic .... They seem to me nationalistic." (273) She feels great sympathy for the Jews and supports their having a home land. She goes to a Inter-Racial Committee meeting in California with her sister-in-law, a meeting (in 1944!) with whites, blacks, Chinese, Filipinos, and she awakens to the knowledge that other races are superior to her own, have traits that are desirable and needed, that her own race lacks. Whatever Charles's views on subjects like race and social equality may be (Go read the last 4 paragraphs of his essay, "Aviation, Geography, and Race" for an idea! In 1939, Anne called this article his "best thinking" p. 46), Anne is certainly altering and learning. She admired Charles's nobility and unbending steeliness, and berates herself for her own seeming weakness and inconsistency, yet she is teachable and he is not. She is the greater thinker, the greater humanitarian, the greater person.

Image result for Anne Lindbergh I will probably order her final diary, Against the Wind and Tide, because I must know how she continues to change, and what personal events produce the woman who, in 11 years, will publish Gift From the Sea. The rift between her and Charles must widen, her adoration of him must wane, and she must burst from her cocoon and spread wings.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

A New Hymn Preys on my Mind

A dear friend introduced me this week to a hymn I'd never heard before, "God of the Sparrow." It's a sweet little song, and at first it seems a bit flimsy, almost silly --

"God of the sparrow, God of the whale,
God of the swirling stars.
How does the creature say Awe,
How does the creature say Praise?"

This Lutheran hymn is not in our staunch and starchy Reformed Presbyterian hymnal. Nor was it in the local Methodist hymnal. I had to look in the PCUS hymnal -- the more liberal branch of Presbyterians, the ones more likely to sing about sparrows and whales. I wondered what the rest of the lyrics would be like. Could I add this to our hymns sung at our church?

The song continues --

"God of the earthquake, God of the storm, God of the trumpet blast,
How does the creature cry Woe; How does the creature cry Save?

God of the rainbow, God of the cross, God of the empty grave,
How does the creature say Grace; How does the creature say Thanks?

God of the hungry, God of the sick, God of the prodigal,
How does the creature say Care; How does the creature say Life?

God of the neighbor, God of the foe, God of the pruning hook,
How does the creature say Love; How does the creature say Peace?"

What an amazing hymn! It's words have been preying on my mind all week. It pierces into some dark, difficult parts of the Christian's heart. Our God is all these things; all these things He is God of. Each item in the hymn is clearly from Scripture. How painful but necessary to remember that God is the God of storms as well as sparrows, of both cross and empty grave, of the sick one who dies but of the prodigal who comes home. He is the God of our neighbor whom we love, but He's also the God of our foe with whom we are angry. What cutting words! 

And look at the words that we, the creatures, are asked to respond with! When we think of the whales and stars, we sing awe and praise. When we are in earthquake and storm, we cry save! But God sends rainbows after storms and resurrection after death, and we respond with grace and thanks! 

For the hungry, sick, and lost we plead for care and life. And when we think that God loves our enemy just as He loves us? We are to say LOVE and PEACE. Peace with our foe. What powerful words!

The hymn ends with this stanza:

"God of the ages, God near at hand, God of the loving heart,
How do your children say Joy; How do your children say Home?"

This hymn is so different from the norm, so true to both Scripture and the Christian life. It is soul-baring. It reminds us of how complex and astounding the God is whom we worship, and how we are to respond to Him. How do we respond as we should? The hymn doesn't answer that question, but we all know -- we cannot respond as we ought. But the Holy Spirit, constantly retooling us, constantly picking out the death in our souls and putting in the life, He changes us so that we learn to respond with Awe, Praise, Thanks, Care, Peace, Joy, Love.

Here's a Youtube video of a choir singing this hymn:

Book Chats is Born!

I've waited to tell you all about Book Chats until there was lots to tell. This is Adam's new enterprise/adventure, and it's going so well!

There's lots to read there, plus one "test" podcast up.
The first real podcast -- an interview -- will be released on July 9.

Adam has been listening to podcasts for years and finally decided to make his own. For those who don't know, a podcast is an on-demand radio show -- except it's not on the radio; it's on the internet. Adam is the host. His podcast is called Book Chats. Here's what Book Chats is about:

"Book Chats exists to remove the mystery from the publishing process, and our target audience is the writer who wants to know what comes next."

So many people want to write a book, have written a book, or are in the process of writing a book. Yet so many books never see the light of day because the publishing process seems worse than intimidating; it seems impossible. Adam crafts podcast interviews with publishing professionals and writers that will help new writers unpuzzle the difficulties. I've experienced this a little myself. I didn't even try to find an agent for my book, Three Against the Dark. I'd heard that it was impossible to be published if you weren't already published (how illogical is that?), or famous. The publishing industry seemed to me to be thoroughly broken, and e-book publishing seemed the only route. And my book, after all my hard work, fell into the deep, swallowing pit of self-published e-books on Amazon -- the place books go to die.

Adam is a voracious reader. He also loves talking to people, so the interviews are sheer delight to him. He's easily accessed interviewees that he never dreamed he'd talk to this early in the process. The first interview will go live on Book Chats on July 9. He plans to release a new podcast twice each month, on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays.

If you're into podcasts, this is the word! Book Chats is now available on whatever podcast catching software you use, or you can listen on the website. Thanks!

Monday, June 3, 2019

Bigger Watercolor

A friend said I should consider painting something a bit larger than 4.5" x 6" cards. I feel safe painting little cards. If one is horrible, I can drop it in the trash and feel not a pang of waste. But my friend is right. It's time to expand.

My son and daughter-in-law and daughter gave me a big 5 square yard roll of gorgeous watercolor paper for my birthday. How exciting! What should I do with it? That much pretty paper is kind of scary.
Little cards can be sold for $5 and don't accumulate around the house. But big watercolors? The only option for them is framing and hanging on the wall. Before I began this new project, I had to find a place for it. So I took this watercolor off the wall:
This was painted by Carroll Karlak, my mother's very best friend who has been in heaven for many years. She is very, very missed. I wish so much I could watch her work and pick her brain! This is my least favorite of Carroll's paintings that I have, but it was fascinating to remove it from the frame, hold the thick, cloth-like paper, and study it close up.
 Do you see the vase, below?
 Lots of pencil
 There's a window, and outside it a house in the distance and a tree.

Carroll left pencil marks in the white areas, and the loose, drapey watercolor effect is so fun to examine. I love being the first one to touch it, probably, since her fingers placed it behind the glass.

It's 14.75" by 22", so I cut a piece of my new paper that size. I'd already decided to give another try at the sunflowers that I've done 3 times before, but on very small paper.
The last sunflowers I painted, maybe 5" x 8":
I have so many brushes perfect for small dimension work. I don't own brushes for large work, esp. round or dagger brushes. Ah well. I taped the paper on my desk and went through the stages and layers, occasionally looking at the Youtube video I shared before of the man with his sunflowers. Here are the steps of my sunflowers.
 Of course, you sketch lightly first, and then lay in layers, although watercolor's challenge is always not to overwork the paint.

 At this stage, this (below) was my favorite flower. Just enough dark contrast, not overdone.
 The cobalt blue in the upper left corner is too much. Adam says I should read up on composition. I need a better single focal point.
It still doesn't seem "done." Perhaps it's merely not good. This is the expense of painting well: the practice needed to produce one excellent painting uses up so much paper/canvas/paint/time. When you pay a lot for a painting, remember that you're paying for all the practice paintings too, that made that final iteration possible.
My sunflowers are not better than Carroll's painting, but it will be fun to have my sunflowers on my bedroom wall, don't you think?
Carroll's lovely painting will be kept carefully and put back in there at a later date. But for now, I'll enjoy my sunflowers.