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Blogging from A-Z – Very fast and very high

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “V.” (I’m blogging the alphabet in April. Read the details at Suzy & Spice here or the Blogging from A-Z page here.)

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That's my honey, Bruce. He's fast, but he's not high.

That’s my honey, Bruce. He’s fast, but he’s not high.

Confession: I’ve made it all the way to V, posting a letter of the alphabet every day except Sunday since April 1, and I feel as though I’m cheating.

“Very” is such an easy word, a copout, no?

BUT … I’m writing a post late at night while out of state at a convention, just so I can stay on schedule and not miss a day, so I’m cutting myself a little slack. I’ve been thinking about it for more than a week and haven’t come up with a V word I like, so the event I attended this evening gets the honors. Or, more to the point, the fastness and highness of those crazy kids participating in the event are the ones I want to honor.

Bruce? He’s just in the photo because I like him. :-) Plus, he qualifies for the very fast part. He’s 55 and is chasing the 5-minute mile he ran when he was 14. (Well, back then he ran a 4.54 mile; I don’t think he’s going to go sub-5 nowadays, and he doesn’t, too. But he’s fast.)

DrakeRelaysTickets2015He and I are in Des Moines for the Road Runners Club of America convention. We sat in on some really great sessions today (with more to come tomorrow), got to hear from some great speakers (including some elite track stars – ever heard of Leo Manzano, 2012 Olympic silver medalist?) and, this evening, got to attend the renowned Drake Relays with the other RRCA attendees.

The Drake Relays are pretty famous. It’s where all the fast and talented and coordinated kids get to show off. These are the folks who are on the track running and jumping and hurdling while kids like me are in the library with their noses in books.

So, while kids like me look on, they do crazy things like jump 7-feet-7.25 inches in the high jump while breaking meet records. And run relays so fast my head spins and my heart pumps and I can’t believe my eyes. I can’t even imagine running with as much power and determination and focus and intensity as I watched those dudes and dudettes display tonight.

It was a beautiful sight – every single event. We even sat there in the rain because it was fascinating and awe inspiring to watch these high school and college students (and a few older ones in showcase events) show what they’re made of.

I was Tweeting and snapping and stopping to watch and cheering and clapping and marveling. We didn’t get a program and I don’t keep up with these kids regularly, so I don’t know their names, but I wanted to share a few photos with you. My team (the Arkansas Razorbacks) and Bruce’s alma mater (the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame) did us proud. The Razorback men and the Irish women won their 4×200-meter relays. (Apparently I failed to get a single photo of a women’s event. Silly me.)

Here’s a Hog. He was too far away to hear me say, “Hey, Razorback!” so I just had to zoom in on his unsuspecting soul.

DrakeRelaysHog2015

And here’s an Irish. I hollered, “Hey, Irish guy!” and he looked up at me and smiled (well, he smiled right after I took his picture).

DrakeRelaysIrish2015

I was trying to include a video of the relay where the Irish chased the victorious Hogs – just a little friendly competition between the Oakleys – but I couldn’t get the file size reduced small enough to import (just some technical stuff I’m too tired to keep messing with tonight). But it was good stuff, and I’ll try later to upload it.

I hope they heard us cheering. They were too busy to smile, I think. But we smiled. And cheered. The Razorback fan and her Irish-loving husband.

V is also for victory.

Woo, pig sooie!

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Monday: W is for Wes and the MorningSide Coffee House gang.

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Blogging from A-Z – ‘Unbroken’: the book vs. the movie

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “U.” (I’m blogging the alphabet in April. Read the details at Suzy & Spice here or the Blogging from A-Z page here.)

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UnbrokenQuoteI’m so glad I decided to read Unbroken before I saw the movie. I’m also happy that I didn’t finish reading the book before the movie left town. (The book is pretty long; then again, so is the movie.)

Now that I’ve read writing coach Kristen Lamb’s deconstruction of the story, the desire to see the movie has left me. It must have been eaten by sharks much like the ones Louie and Phil managed to evade for 47 days on a life raft in the Pacific after their plane was shot down.

Laura Hillenbrand’s reputation as a storyteller (Seabiscuit) had made reading the book especially appealing. And, by all accounts, her book Unbroken is far superior to what it was turned into for Hollywood. I agree with everyone who sings the book’s praises. Hillenbrand is a superb storyteller.

Unbroken_coverBefore I downloaded it to Kindle, I thought Unbroken was about Louis Zamperini’s running career. He was an Olympic runner (5,000 meters) in 1936 whom I had read about in Runner’s World magazine before I knew about the book or the movie. I suppose the book’s subtitle, A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, should have clued me in. (Read an excerpt of the book here.)

But I was concurrently listening to The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which I reviewed here on April 2. That book was, indeed, about the University of Washington rowing team and not so much about WWII. So maybe I was just hopeful.

Louie’s Olympic feats were featured, to be sure, but they were a minor part of Unbroken.

Our critic acknowledged that the book could have been turned into an excellent movie but made key errors that left viewers in the dark about certain motivations:

  • Why did Louie turn from being a thug and a thief in his youth into an Olympic runner?

In short: Athletics saved him. The book goes into detail about how Louie tried to reform, couldn’t, got in trouble with the high school principal and was allowed to participate in school sports. (Louie’s brother, Pete, had to charm the principal into giving Louie the opportunity. Pete may have saved Louie’s life.) We learn later in the book that Japanese officials kept Louie alive for leverage because he was a famous Olympian. So, not only did running save Louie as a teenager, it ultimately saved him from being executed as a prisoner of war. It seems that God had a plan for Louie.

  • The script lacked the dramatic tension that would cause Louie’s story to arc (change).

“He’s always the one who remains calm, the one who is levelheaded, the one who does the right thing. He takes the beatings while in captivity and presses on to stay alive. He is the same when the plane crashes as the day when he walks out of the POW camp. … We get a sense that Zamperini was already a ‘hero’ before his plane was ever shot down.”

This is where the book reader has the advantage: Louie did not always remain calm. Hillenbrand has him clenching his fists in silent defiance when he’s beaten by the sadistic Japanese corporal who has a special hatred for Louie and singles him out for arbitrary punishment multiple times a day. Louie and the other POWs take risks they might not have taken under less critical circumstances. Their freedom and their dignity are at stake.

You get inside the prisoners’ heads just a little when the author details how they sabotaged goods they were assigned to ship while on work detail. How they filled socks with contraband sugar to take back to the barracks. How they urinated on the bags of rice destined to ship out. How they stole tobacco, fish and wine and smuggled the goods back to the other prisoners.

Here’s how Lamb sums up the movie’s main flaws:

“In order to make a story into a movie (even TRUE events), it must be dramatized, meaning put into three-act structure. The biography did well (I assume) because the real story was actually Zamperini’s journey of FAITH. The crash and then time as a POW developed his trust in GOD and not himself. He survived, dedicated his life to God and then later returned and made peace with his tormentors. Forgiveness was how he triumphed, not just in taking beating after beating. He traveled to Japan and forgave them. But this is reduced to an afterthought in the film.

Those weren’t the only flaws that Lamb pointed out, but some of them aren’t relevant comparisons to the book. (Too many flashbacks, for instance: “often a sign of weak writing.” Showing Louie being starved and beaten for two hours is easier than writing a better script, she said.)

Commander Worf of 'Star Trek: The Next Generation.'

Lt. Cmdr. Worf of the USS Enterprise. He’s a Klingon.

She thought the movie would have made a good documentary, or perhaps be helped by the addition of Klingons.

“I see other reviewers also saying it wasn’t done justice, no character development, no emotion, etc. I personally find the story dramatic, but perhaps the movie structure killed it. It’s a shame. I think there was a story there to tell.”

Lamb complained about the three-hour length, specifically mentioning nearly two hours of Louie being beaten and an hour of unnecessary flashbacks. She didn’t mention the ongoing detail of Louie and Phil’s nearly seven weeks on the raft. I kept wanting them to just get off the darned raft. And then I wanted them to just get out of the darned POW camp. If I, the book reader, had those thoughts, how much more would I have been thinking them if I had been stuck in a movie theater, needing to pee, and watching two men stranded for weeks on open water? :-)

In my comment on Lamb’s blog, I thanked her for sparing me the three hours of torture (mine, not Louie’s).

I’m fairly certain that lots of people who didn’t read the book have enjoyed the movie and had no conscious thought about any of the critical elements Lamb mentioned. But she teaches writing, and this was a situation where she turned lemons (watching a three-hour movie she considered extremely boring) into lemonade (a writing lesson).

You may agree or disagree, but I consider myself $8 to $10 richer because I’ve skipped the movie. Thank you again, Kristen.

I forgive novice director Angelina Jolie for taking a great book and making an inferior movie out of it. After all, forgiveness is one of the main themes of Unbroken.

Have you read the book? Seen the movie? Read Lamb’s full critique here (same link as above), and give me your thoughts – good, bad or somewhere in between.

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Saturday: V is for (help me out – what starts with V?).

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Blogging from A-Z – Take Steps, Team Challenge

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “T.” (I’m blogging the alphabet in April. Read the details at Suzy & Spice here or the Blogging from A-Z page here.)

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    These are my Team Challenge teammates at the Walt Disney World Half-Marathon in January 2015. I had with withdraw before the trip.

These are my Team Challenge teammates at the Walt Disney World Half-Marathon in January 2015. I had to withdraw before the trip. But this is not about me; it’s about curing my husband’s disease.

Just before our first wedding anniversary, Bruce spent 16 days in the hospital, including Christmas.

Thus began my education about Crohn’s disease, something I had never heard of until Dec. 16, 1998, when I saw pictures of his ulcerated digestive tract taken during a colonoscopy the day after I checked him into the hospital. He had ulcers from his tongue all the way to his anus.

We’ve spent the past 16-plus years learning about the disease, fundraising for awareness and a cure, and trying to support others who suffer from Crohn’s and its companion disease, ulcerative colitis. (The two are collectively known as inflammatory bowel disease; the difference is that colitis involves only the colon but Crohn’s can attack the entire digestive tract. UC is no less awful, though.)

Looking back, I think that one reason Crohn’s was new to me is that it’s an uncomfortable disease to talk about.

So nobody was talking.

After all, who in polite society wants to discuss bowel movements, diarrhea, colostomy bags and anal fistulas?

Well, we do.

I’ve always been pretty modest, but having your husband diagnosed with a disease that may kill him tends to make you a little – no, a lot – less afraid of being “indelicate.” If talking about it could save someone’s life, it’s well worth the embarrassment. Here’s Bruce’s colon: Dec. 16, 1998.

This is Crohn's disease.

This is Crohn’s disease.

Besides, you can’t deal with the thing unless you’re willing to talk about it. And at some point, you have to see the humor in it.

You should hear the potty humor around our house. (Between Bruce and our 10-year-old dog who’s still not potty trained, we engage in lots of potty talk.)

We’ve discussed buying stock in Kimberly-Clark; we’re pretty sure we singlehandedly keep that company in business.

TPNwithborder

Information from WebMD.com

Bruce got out of the hospital on New Year’s Eve, and he was still pretty sick (so sick that I was a bit miffed at the doctor for discharging him, but I now realize it was just fear of the unknown). Once Bruce was home, I had to learn how to start and stop his TPN pump (via a surgically inserted tube) so he could “eat” a few times a day. He wouldn’t start eating “food” for another month, and then it was baby food. Anything rough wasn’t good for his gut or his butt. When the home-health nurse visited on Jan. 3, I mentioned that it was our first anniversary. We chatted about that for a minute, and then she left. A few minutes later, the doorbell rang. When I opened the door, the nurse said, “Happy anniversary!” and handed me a bag. Inside: a tube of butt cream. We got a good laugh out of that.

You either laugh or you cry.

In late 2009, I started asking the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America how you go about getting a CCFA chapter in your state. All the events I knew of (fundraising walks, educational seminars, support group meetings) were taking place all around us, but not in Arkansas.

In 2010, Bruce and I joined the team that went on to organize CCFA’s first Take Steps Be Heard walk in Arkansas, and we’ve stationed our butts at the Mission tent each year since. The first walk was in Little Rock, and now we also have one in northwest Arkansas (we’ve driven the 280 miles to volunteer at a couple of those, too). Because of that first walk in 2010, we now have an Arkansas chapter of CCFA! (We sort of blew them away at national headquarters that first year – participation and money raised were way more than expected.)

The Take Steps walks are just one way we fundraise.

TeamChallengeQuote_A-Z_rectangleIn 2012, we got involved in Team Challenge, CCFA’s fundraising and endurance training program, and I ran my first half-marathon in Nashville that September. That was tough – the fundraising part, I mean. Running 13.1 miles wasn’t exactly a piece of cake, but it was way easier than the fundraising.

So why did I sign up for a second, and then a third, half-marathon with Team Challenge? Not because I’m a running junkie but because I want to kick the crap out of Crohn’s and colitis. Even though the fundraising part makes me extremely uncomfortable, I was recognized as the fifth-top Team Challenge fundraiser at our Nashville race that year. I couldn’t have done it without a worthy cause to support.

I certainly didn’t drive 300-plus miles just to run 13. If it were just the running, I could sign up for any number of half-marathons in my home state; in fact, Bruce and I co-direct a half-marathon (for charity) right here in Batesville each December.

My poor body apparently wasn’t made for distance running. I had to withdraw from both the second and third Team Challenge half-marathons because of my own health problems. Heart surgery sort of took priority over running around Nashville for 2 1/2 hours, and later I had a few issues that caused me to withdraw from this year’s Disney Half-Marathon.

Bruce is equally uncomfortable asking for money (even for a good cause), and yet he and I have held a couple of local fundraising concerts for Team Challenge. He wrote a song called “Gut Works” (to the tune of Johnny Cash’s “Busted”) and performed it at the concerts each year. Talk about using humor to deal with your condition …

The Oakleys are rank amateurs when it comes to fundraising, but we are fortunate to be blessed with generous friends who make up for our shortcomings. They support us with their prayers, their presence and their money. We could not do it without them – without you. We also have formed some incredible friendships with the other Crohnies who are helping us kick the crap out of Crohn’s.

Today’s post is NOT about asking you for money. It’s really not. (Blame the “T” in the A-Z challenge; seriously, what else was I supposed to write about?)

However, I would be remiss if I didn’t include a link to our donation page. I keep one updated at Suzy & Spice throughout the year so that I can have a static URL on my business cards without worrying about the links that change with every CCFA event. (The link stays anchored at the top of the blog, and as of this writing it’s tiny and a bit difficult to see if you’re not looking for it. When the A-Z challenge is over, I’m going to work on a redesign.)

Our spring Take Steps Be Heard walk will be Saturday, May 30, in Little Rock, Ark. If you choose to donate, thank you. If you choose not to, we love you, anyway. You can always support us with your thoughts, prayers and cheers, and we really like those, too. :-)

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

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Friday: U is for Unbroken: book vs. movie.

Follow me on Twitter: @OakleySuzyT

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Blogging from A-Z – ‘The 7 Habits of High Effective People,’ Part 1

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “S.” (I’m blogging the alphabet in April. Read the details at Suzy & Spice here or the Blogging from A-Z page here.)

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Habit 1

This is the first in a four-part series, starting with Part 1 of Stephen Covey’s critically acclaimed bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change (1989). I’ll be reading the book with you and walking us through each of the seven habits, which Covey groups into three sections. This series isn’t designed to regurgitate all the lessons in the book (it’s packed full of them) but to encourage you to read the book and consider new ways of looking at the complex areas of your life.

Author and speaker Stephen Covey (1932-2012) tells of a time when his son was struggling in school – academically, socially and athletically. Covey and his wife felt it was their job as parents to “help” him. They tried everything: psyching him up, using positive reinforcement, praising him when he improved slightly, reprimanding others who criticized him. Each of their actions came out of loving motives, but their approach wasn’t working.

At the time, Covey was researching the topics of communication and perception for some leadership development presentations he was doing for business clients.

As he and his wife discussed his findings, they realized that they perceived their son as “inadequate” and had been communicating to him, in unspoken ways, “You aren’t capable. You have to be protected.”

They needed to change their perception of their son before they could truly help him.

PERSONALITY VS. CHARACTER

Covey had been studying the “success literature” published in the United States since 1776.

“I began to feel more and more that much of the success literature of the past 50 years was superficial,” Covey wrote. “It was filled with social image consciousness, techniques and quick fixes – with social band-aids and aspirin that addressed acute problems and sometimes even appeared to solve them temporarily, but left the underlying chronic problems untouched to fester and resurface time and again.

“In stark contrast, almost all the literature in the first 150 years or so focused on what could be called the Character Ethic as the foundation of success – things like integrity, humility, fidelity, temperance, courage, justice, patience, industry, simplicity, modesty, and the Golden Rule.”

“But shortly after World War I the basic view of success shifted from the Character Ethic to what we might call the Personality Ethic. … Some of this literature acknowledged character as an ingredient of success, but tended to compartmentalize it rather than recognize it as foundational and catalytic. Reference to the Character Ethic became mostly lip service; the basic thrust was quick-fix influence techniques, power strategies, communication skills, and positive attitudes.”

Covey realized that he and his wife had been relying, subconsciously, on the Personality Ethic rather than the Character Ethic in trying to help their son. They determined to focus their efforts on themselves – “not on our techniques, but on our deepest motives and our perception of him.” They began to see their son in terms of his uniqueness. They adjusted their approach, accepted him where he was and let him work things out on his own terms.

Thus begins the introduction of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

INSIDE OUT

In the book, Covey takes an inside-out approach to this “personal change,” decrying Band-Aid remedies for deep, complex matters. He acknowledges that some elements of the Personality Ethnic are essential to success. “But they are secondary, not primary traits.”

If there isn’t deep integrity and fundamental strength of character, Covey writes, “the challenges of life will cause true motives to surface and human relationship failure will replace short-term success.”

Next, Covey starts talking about paradigms – our frame of reference, or how we see things. You’ve probably seen his illustration of the young, beautiful woman and the old lady. It has circulated for years and is a fascinating example of how our perceptions can change depending on our frame of reference. This video doesn’t tell the original story (about a class at Harvard Business School) but gives a technological twist on the illustration:

In the book, Covey provides several examples of paradigm shifts, including his own, before giving an overview of the 7 Habits. Part 1, referenced above, is “Paradigms and Principles.” Here’s the rest of the list, which we’ll cover in one post a week for the next three weeks:

PART 2: PRIVATE VICTORY

  1. Be Proactive: Principles of Personal Vision.
  2. Begin with the End in Mind: Principles of Personal Leadership.
  3. Put First Things First: Principles of Personal Management.

PART 3: PUBLIC VICTORY

  1. Think Win/Win: Principles of Interpersonal Leadership.
  2. Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood: Principles of Empathic Communication.
  3. Synergize: Principles of Creative Cooperation.

PART 4: RENEWAL

  1. Sharpen the Saw: Principles of Balanced Self-Renewal.

Stop by Monday, May 4, for Habits 1-3.

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Tomorrow: T is for Take Steps and Team Challenge (working to cure Crohn’s & colitis).

Follow me on Twitter: @OakleySuzyT

 

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Blogging from A-Z – 4 benefits you can gain from reading

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “R.” (I’m blogging the alphabet in April. Read the details at Suzy & Spice here or the Blogging from A-Z page here.)

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JohnGreenQuote_books

I think I came out of the womb reading. My memory of that day is a little fuzzy, so I can’t be sure, but it certainly wasn’t long before you could catch me with a book in my hand just about any time you saw me. When I was pretty young, I started reading the daily newspaper along with my dad. (Dad read almost every article in every edition – Mom always said he read the words right off of the paper.)

Reading is such an obsession for me that I:

  • Sometimes read while walking. Those texting-while-walking daredevils have nothing on me. (Mom, no, I don’t mean while walking in traffic.)
  • Always have something handy in my purse or tote bag to read (in case of a reading emergency).
  • Have been known to read while in the swimming pool (on an inflated raft, with a nice glass of iced tea in the cup holder).
  • Keep my library card on my keychain, right next to my Kroger card.

So, if you thought I was going to use my R to write about running, you were wrong. Today it’s all about the books (and newspapers, and magazines, and …).

Some of what I get from reading can be yours, too. Here are four benefits of reading:

IT BRINGS ENJOYMENT.

As many people have said (more eloquently than I), books can transport you to places you never imagined. When I was younger, I read strictly because I enjoyed it. Teaching your children to enjoy books and words is something you’ll never regret. As Theodor Seuss Geisel so eloquently put it:

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn,
the more places you’ll go.” – Dr. Seuss

IT PROVIDES INFORMATION.

I may be an information junkie, I don’t know. I’m not sure there’s a 12-step program for it, but if there were, it probably would take a family intervention to get me to a meeting. I love reading materials of all kinds – it’s almost a compulsion. (I’ve even been known to read the back of a cereal box if that’s the only thing available.)

“The best advice I ever got was that knowledge is
power and to keep reading.” – David Bailey

IT HELPS YOU UNDERSTAND THE WORLD, AND IT FOSTERS EMPATHY.

I read a variety of genres, and each one opens my mind to something or someone new. I am a white American woman in her early 50s. I have never been sent to a concentration camp, run an ultramarathon, been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or worked as the keeper of a lighthouse, but I’ve read books about all of those things. Reading opens me to perspectives I hadn’t considered. I’m free to accept or reject those perspectives, but never without thinking about them.

“It is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject from
various points of view.” ― George Eliot

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“Only the very weak-minded refuse to be influenced by literature
and poetry.” – Cassandra Clare

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“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people
to stop reading them.” – Isaac Asimov

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“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them
is not reading them.” – Joseph Brodsky

IT “SHARPENS THE SAW.”

When Stephen Covey talks about “sharpening the saw,” he’s speaking about all areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental and spiritual. In my opinion, reading feeds all those areas, aside from perhaps the physical (although I might try to make a case for that, too, because I listen to audiobooks on the treadmill :-) ). In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (which I will review tomorrow), Covey confines reading to the mental (“reading”) and the spiritual (“study and meditation”). I would argue that it could go legitimately in the social/emotional category, too.

I’m a member of a monthly reading group that meets in a bookstore and discusses books. (A second, smaller reading group [discussing the works of C.S. Lewis] is on hiatus for a few months – we just got too busy.) Those sessions enhance my social and emotional well-being, as well as the intellectual part of my brain.

If you’re reading solely for “pleasure” (only fiction, for example), you’re missing out on a great way to keep your mind sharp, and sometimes that means skills you’ll use in other parts of your life – business, volunteer work, parenting … Studies find that those who read are more successful in school and in life than those who don’t.

“You can make positive deposits in your own economy every day by reading and
listening to powerful, positive, life-changing content and by associating with
encouraging and hope-building people.” – Zig Ziglar

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“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” – Charles William Eliot

I know people who “hate to read,” and I feel sorry for them. Reading transports and transforms me. It makes me a better me.

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.” – Mortimer J. Adler

You don’t have to confine your reading to books. There are good magazines, great websites, newspapers, um, blogs …

Just read a little something today. Give your mind a stretch.

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Tomorrow: S is for The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Part 1.

Follow me on Twitter: @OakleySuzyT

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Blogging from A-Z – quotations

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “Q.” (I’m blogging the alphabet in April. Read the details at Suzy & Spice here or the Blogging from A-Z page here.)

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ShalaneQuoteHeadUpHeartStrong

I have this one on a bulletin board at home AND in my cubicle at work.

Picking a Q for today was a challenge. Not that there aren’t enough Q words but that there are so many to choose from. I love quotations, so this was a good chance to share some of my favorites with you.

They’re things I’ve taped to my bathroom mirror, posted in my home office, pinned to my cubicle wall at work … wherever I can find a spot! And some are quotes I’ve run across recently and are not posted, pasted or taped anywhere – yet. (A few of them should be tattooed on my forehead!)

There is no particular theme here. These are just quotes I’ve gathered over time. So let’s go.

Mother Teresa quotes are always an inspiration. She dedicated her life to loving the poor and unwanted.

“There must be a reason why some people can afford to live well. They must have worked for it. I only feel angry when I see waste. When I see people throwing away things that we could use.” – Mother Teresa

I have no doubt that Mother Teresa fueled her passion for loving people by remembering verses like this:

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” – 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NIV)

Most of the time, I don’t like change for the sake of change. But I know that sometimes change is necessary, or if it isn’t necessary, it’s good. Here’s the reality according to one novelist:

“Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.” – Arnold Bennett

This one’s in my cubicle at work and on my bathroom mirror, too. It reminds me that it’s OK that I’m ME, even when no one gets me. (And they frequently don’t.)

“If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.” – Maya Angelou

I’ve been in the business of embracing risk lately – a few years now. Otherwise, how will I ever achieve that amazingness that Maya Angelou thinks I should discover? This next one speaks to that:

“You can’t outwit fate by standing on the sidelines placing little side bets about the outcome of life. Either you wade in and risk everything you have to play the game or you don’t play at all. And if you don’t play you can’t win.” – Judith McNaught

Winston Churchill had some great quotes, but I decided to share one that may not be familiar to everyone (it was new to me):

“All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope.” – Winston Churchill

In the Beatles’ case, it could be argued that the single word is “love”:

“All you need is love. Love is all you need.” – John Lennon

Beatles-AllYouNeedIsLove

The Beatles in 1987, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary re-release of “All You Need is Love.”

With that, I’ll sign off with two messages from one of the great ones:

“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.” – Robin Williams

“Nanu nanu.” – Mork from Ork

What is your favorite quote?

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Tomorrow: R is for reading.

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Blogging from A-Z – peace

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “P.” (I’m blogging the alphabet in April. Read the details at Suzy & Spice here or the Blogging from A-Z page here.)

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PosterFrontWhenYoureAtPeaceWithYourself

I really don’t know what quality I possessed as a 17-year-old that would prompt my journalism teacher to give me a poster depicting a kitten asleep on a flowerpot with a message about being at peace with yourself. Baffling me even more was the note she wrote on the back:

PosterBackMissFeltsNote

Posters were Miss Felts’ graduation gifts to the 10 of us, her journalism class. That’s us, below. Can you pick me out? (P.S. I went by my exact middle name, “Sue,” instead of Suzy, in 10th through 12th grades; it was easier.)

SpiritOfThePioneerStaff1980

Juanita Felts (far right) and her journalism class, 1979-80.

If Miss Felts thought I was “at peace with myself,” I’m not sure what kind of Kool-Aid she was in the habit of drinking (seems to me she drank Tab), but I dare say that was not the case 35 years ago.

It is much more the case today.

I wouldn’t say I’m totally at peace with myself, or my life in general, but I have learned that what I used to believe brought peace (the absence of conflict, the outward appearance of competence, “enough” money) is just an illusion.

After having walked my faith journey for so long (all my life, but beginning in earnest when I was in college), I’ve come to understand the things that bring true and lasting peace. (I know that ultimate peace comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior.)

Miss Felts gave me that poster 35 years ago – two-thirds of my life ago – because she saw something in me, and I’ve never forgotten its message. I’ve never ceased to ponder the message itself, why my teacher gave it to me, or why, in my yearbook, she said I had been “a great inspiration” to her.

On the contrary, she was a great inspiration to me. (Funny how that works.)

The poster stayed on my bedroom wall – just north of my headboard – until a couple of years after my dad died, when Mom sold the house I grew up in. I didn’t even realize we still had the poster until recently. It resurfaced when we started rearranging some rooms, going through boxes and drawers, purging clutter.

Finding it again was like getting a surprise visit from an old friend.

In high school, journalism was my favorite class, Miss Felts my favorite teacher, and every memory of that time happy.

Maybe she is the reason I had peace – or at least a high school girl’s version of it – for that nine months of my life (plus our time in sophomore English). I was as angsty as any other teenage girl, and Miss Felts was a calming force during that hour every day when we “practiced journalism.”

Or at least she tried to be. With half a dozen boys in the class, most of them pranksters, we didn’t have many dull moments. And Miss Felts could give as good as she got. When one of us whined, her version of “sympathy” was to rub her index finger around in circles on her thumbnail. Something like this:

“You know what this is?” she said the first time she used it. “It’s the world’s smallest record player.” Or sometimes she’d do another finger motion for “the world’s smallest violin.”

Translation: I’m playing sad, sad music for you poor thing.

(Imagine really dramatic music during the above 2 seconds of video. Please imagine that, because otherwise it just looks like you’ve caught me rolling a booger.)

I didn’t set out today to write about high school, journalism class or my favorite teacher – or even peaceful felines in flowerpots – but I guess those things began to converge when I got to thinking about my writing of late. I was reading Stephen King’s book On Writing (I reviewed Part 1 yesterday) and simultaneously pondering my P topic for today. On my lunch break at work, I had written parts of two drafts about “perspective” and was dissatisfied with both. I did a virtual crumpling of the paper. (Don’t you miss paper sometimes?)

Then, for some reason, “peace” came to mind.

As I read the book, particularly the section about good writing and bad writing, that “competent” writers can become “good” writers – and how that can come to be – I realized that I’m slowing moving from being merely competent toward being a “good” writer (at least in my own estimation, which admittedly is often skewed in my favor).

And the reason for that is that I’m at peace with my writing.

That’s not to say I’m satisfied. That’s a different thing.

I’m at peace.

I’m free. I’m unself-conscious. (Well, not really, but less so than I used to be. I still feel the need to qualify everything in parenthetical phrases. I still over-explain. I still don’t trust you enough to get what I’m saying on your own.)

Not perfection. Peace.

Not every day, not every time. But there is evidence that it’s true.

I’m comfortable writing about boogers. (If Stephen King can talk about the newspaper he created in high school called The Village Vomit, I can write about boogers.)

I didn’t say it was good evidence.

Peace is hard-won. It takes practice. It takes deliberate action. (Sounds contradictory, I know. Peace should be a passive thing. But it isn’t. It isn’t. You have to cultivate it. Water it. Give it light.)

Knowing I can admit things here, in this space, and not fear your reaction – you may call it self-confidence, bravery, stupidity, reading too many Anne Lamott books, whatever.

I call it peace.

Miss Felts, I’m raising a glass of Kool-Aid to you.

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Monday: Q is for … ??? Got any ideas? Toss ’em my way.

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Blogging from A-Z – Book review: ‘On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft’

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “O.” (I’m blogging the alphabet in April. Read the details at Suzy & Spice here or the Blogging from A-Z page here.)

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flanery-dont-know-what-i-thinkI’ve written before about my early-ish love of Stephen King fiction. (I discovered him in 10th grade, when I read his third novel, The Shining.)

In those years, I read a lot of his books, stopping somewhere in the mid-1980s with Misery. (Don’t ask me why I stopped; I guess I just outgrew the horror genre.)

Recently, after a shift in focus on my blog – new purpose, new goals – I was talking to an author friend about writing (now that he has published two successful novels, I refer to him as “my author friend”), and he suggested King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. It had been on my To Be Read list for years and, coincidentally, I had just been inquiring online about getting a copy.

This seemed to be the perfect time; I downloaded it.

I forgot what a wicked sense of humor King has. He infused this piece of nonfiction with as much creative juice as he has in any of his bestselling novels. Now I’m not only a fan of his fiction but of his nonfiction.

Heeere'sJohnny

Jack Nicholson in “The Shining,” 1980.

King ought to know about writing; he has sold in excess of 350 million books, including more than 50 novels, at least five works of nonfiction and a couple dozen other collections of fiction (200 short stories among them).

The first section of On Writing is autobiographical, although he points out that it is not an autobiography:

“It is, rather, a kind of curriculum vitae – my attempt to show how one writer was formed.”

He tells tales of boyhood (second son of a single mom moving from place to place, paycheck to paycheck), illness, outdoor adventures with his brother (the poison ivy story is a horror tale in itself), his first attempts at writing, at publishing, his early career as a starving artist supporting a wife and two kids, and more.

To be sure, each author has a unique approach to the craft, but there are basic elements that normally can’t be argued with. (At least if you want to succeed, i.e., get people to read your work.)

King has his own brand of advice about the art and craft of writing, and it’s hard-won.

He starts with his first attempts at storytelling when he was 6, although this consisted of copying comic-book tales word for word, “sometimes adding my own descriptions where they seemed appropriate.” After reading one of the copied stories, his mother urged him, “I bet you could do better. Write one of your own, Stevie.” He did, and his mother paid him a quarter apiece for them, a dollar total – his first paying gig.

The King household didn’t get television until 1958, when Stevie was 11, and he considers himself fortunate.

“I am, when you stop to think of it, a member of a fairly select group: the final handful of American novelists who learned to read and write before they learned to eat a daily helping of video bull—-. This might not be important. On the other hand, if you’re just starting out as a writer, you could do worse than strip your television’s electric plug-wire, wrap a spike around it, and then stick it back into the wall. See what blows, and how far.

“Just an idea.”

King got a lot of his ideas from horror movies – namely, ripoffs of Edgar Allan Poe titles (yes, titles, not the actual stories). The first one, when he was about 14, was his “novel version” of one of those movies.

“I ran off about forty copies of The Pit and the Pendulum, blissfully unaware that I was in violation of every plagiarism and copyright statute in the history of the world.”

It was his first bestseller. By lunchtime the next day, he had sold three dozen copies to his schoolmates. (That the principal made him return everyone’s money did not deter him; come summer vacation, he sold about 40 copies of a new story, an original called The Invasion of the Star-Creatures.)

And then there was the night he got bored while working on his high school newspaper and came up with a rag of his own: The Village Vomit.

“That piece of dimwit humor got me into the only real trouble of my high school career,” he writes. “It also led me to the most useful writing lesson I ever got.” (I’ll let you read the story for yourself.)

King has a softer heart than you might imagine from a horror novelist (evidence: contrition at hurting a schoolteacher’s feelings with a story; sympathy for misfit classmates who were made fun of – the prototypes for Carrie; the tender way he speaks of his wife, Tabitha), but he’s practical in his advice about where good stories come from.

His unique spin goes something like this:

“Let’s get one thing clear right now, shall we? There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”

S&Hstamp

He illustrates this point with the story of “Happy Stamps,” the genesis of which came from his mother, whose tongue turned the color of S&H Green Stamps (remember those?) after she licked a few books of them. King sent the story to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, which promptly rejected it, although the notice arrived with a personal note from the great horror master himself, offering this helpful advice: “Don’t staple manuscripts. Loose pages plus paperclip equal correct way to submit copy.” Lesson learned.

If you’ve read a Stephen King novel (or seen one of the movie adaptations), you know he has a twisted way of looking at the world, right?

In On Writing, he talks about his love of movies. One of the two movie houses in his hometown Lewiston, Maine, showed Disney pictures, Bible epics and musicals when he was a teenager.

“They were boringly wholesome. They were predictable. During The Parent Trap, I kept hoping Hayley Mills would run into Vic Morrow from The Blackboard Jungle. That would have livened things up a little. … I felt that one look at Vic’s switchblade and gimlet gaze would have put Hayley’s piddling domestic problems in some kind of reasonable perspective.”

Perspective, eh? Gotta love him.

Sissy Spacek in "Carrie," 1976.

Sissy Spacek in “Carrie,” 1976.

Crediting his wife with digging the discarded first draft of Carrie out of the trash, King tells of his disbelief at selling the paperback rights to his first really successful piece of fiction.

“You’ve got something here,” Tabby said. “I really think you do.

She was right. Since its first printing in 1974, Carrie has sold millions of copies and spawned three films (including a sequel and a remake), a TV movie and a Broadway musical.

Just before he begins the section on “what writing is,” King talks openly of his alcoholism (including the fact that he was drunk when he gave his mother’s eulogy) and his drug addiction.

Some of his characters came out of an attempt to make sense of his alcoholism (although he didn’t realize it at the time), but that’s as far as it went. He doesn’t claim to have been helped creatively by the substance use; on the contrary, the clarity gained through his characters helped him give up the booze and the drugs.

“The idea that creative endeavor and mind-altering substances are entwined is one of the great pop-intellectual myths of our time.”

He says he barely remembers writing Cujo.

“Substance-abusing writers are just substance abusers – common garden-variety drunks and druggies, in other words. Any claims that the drug and alcohol are necessary to dull a finer sensibility are just the usual self-serving bull—-. We all look pretty much the same when we’re puking in the gutter.”

That sums up Part 1. There is so much to tell about this book, and I’m just getting to the part on “What Writing Is.” It includes the chapter in his life after the 1999 accident in which he was hit by a car. I’m saving those stories for Part 2. Come back in May (after the A-Z challenge is over), and I’ll tell you that tale.

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Tomorrow: P is for peace.

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Blogging from A-Z – The art of saying no

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “N.” (I’m blogging the alphabet in April. Read the details at Suzy & Spice here or the Blogging from A-Z page here.)

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AnneLamottQuoteI don’t know whether Anne Lamott is the one who first came up with the phrase “ ‘No’ is a complete sentence,” but when I heard Oprah Winfrey quote it several years ago, it resonated. (I bet she got it out of one of Annie’s books.)

And I love this quote from really successful businessman Warren Buffett:

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

A lot of us have trouble saying no. We have visions of being cast as self-centered contrarians who don’t want to pull our share of the load, who never want to have any fun or who just like being difficult (not that I know anyone like that). We don’t want people to think we’re NOT NICE.

In the past couple of years, I’ve developed the ability to say no (sometimes), mainly out of self-preservation. I’ve had some health issues, I’m getting older (and creakier) and my schedule is packed. At some point, I finally realized that it was time to STOP THE MADNESS, that it was OK not to be all things to all people at all times (I’m trying to teach my husband this lesson, too). I’ve learned that even if someone doesn’t understand my motives for declining an invitation or a request for help, that’s OK; I’m the only one who has to walk in my shoes, the only one who looks at my silly mug in the mirror every morning.

I’ve learned to prioritize what I need and want to do and trim out things that won’t help me maintain a healthy balance in my life. (Even with all the no’s, a healthy balance is challenging.)

Pleasestopthebeginning

Image via Hyperbole and a Half, hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com.

Saying no can be difficult when one of your main gifts is “volunteering” or “helping.” I’ve felt all my life that one of the things that gives my life meaning is helping others. It’s difficult when you belong to a church that has so many areas that need volunteers (all churches do, right?). I recently shared (unwisely, judging by the reaction) that I finally realized I wasn’t gifted to work with children. I love teaching adult studies (I’m a volunteer with a financial stewardship ministry), but I jokingly mentioned that a recent month helping out in Sunday school was like “a prison sentence.” I’m OK with the fact that God gave me a preference for adult ministry rather than children’s, but that is not always a popular admission among fellow churchgoers (probably not the best choice of words, either: prison sentence). Apparently this preference makes me a freak of nature (aren’t all women supposed to enjoy working with children?), but I learned a long time ago that I’m not like “everyone else.”

For years and years, I volunteered every summer at vacation Bible school, and I worked my tail off to prepare the lessons each day (I even had a co-leader say I did an “excellent” job with the lessons and was great with the kids). But I didn’t really enjoy it. I faked my enthusiasm. I had volunteered solely because I thought I was expected to (by others, by God, by the little Chinese orphans who went to bed every night without VBS).

Is that the person you want teaching your kids every Sunday (or for a week every summer)? Probably not.

Lots of people think this means I don’t like children. Please hear me. I like children. I actually love being a nursery worker, where the babies don’t talk or walk yet, where the most challenging thing is changing a poopy diaper, but I am not gifted for children’s ministry. I’m just not. (I could even tell you some of the reasons, but that’s not the point of this post.)

I finally got tired of faking it and started saying no to VBS and Sunday school requests. (Does that mean I stopped feeling guilty and sometimes defensive about saying no? No.)

Also, I stopped signing up for every women’s Bible study that was put on the schedule, whether as a participant or a leader. I was asked to lead a couple of them, and it was during a time when I was experiencing a lot of fatigue, so I did a crappy job because I was too tired to prepare properly and, to be frank, I was too exhausted to care. NOT GOOD.

Not good.

So … can you see where I’m headed? “No” is sometimes a good thing – a necessary thing – if you’re saying it for the right reasons. (“Too lazy” may not be the best reason, but “too tired” because of poor health or a demanding job – or both – may be. And sometimes “I don’t want to” is good enough; it just depends on the circumstances.)

Saying no takes practice. It takes some muscle flexing. But, just as with any muscle, with regular use the “no” muscle gets stronger and exercising it gets easier. (Then you get to move on to more challenging stuff.)

Here are eight tips for why and how to say no graciously:

8TipsForSayingNo

Can you think of a time you said yes when you should have said no? What lesson did you learn?

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Tomorrow: O is for “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” by Stephen King.

 

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Blogging from A-Z – music

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “M.” (I’m blogging the alphabet in April. Read the details at Suzy & Spice here or the Blogging from A-Z page here.)

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ConfuciusQuoteMusic4I would hate to live in a world without music.

Can you imagine? I can’t.

There’s something indescribable about music, something it does to your soul – a filling of empty spaces you never realized you had.

(And yet I apparently feel the need to try to describe it.)

Music can calm, uplift, unite, honor, inspire, rally, heal …

Read this story about a music rehabilitation program for severely wounded soldiers.

Music is transcendent.

Wrap me up in a symphony like a cocoon that keeps me safe and warm, and soon I acquire enough energy to become invincible. The harsh light of reality doesn’t seem so bright anymore …

… when I listen to music.

(Music awakens the feeble poet in me, just a wee tiny bit.)

Music is basic. It brings clarity, strips away pretense, speaks to our insides.

“For me there is something primitively soothing about this music, and it went straight to my nervous system, making me feel ten feet tall.” – Eric Clapton

And I suppose you could say that, sometimes, it can alter reality. Can you relate?

“Music has always been a matter of Energy to me, a question of Fuel. … On some nights I still believe that a car with the gas needle on empty can run about fifty more miles if you have the right music very loud on the radio.” – Hunter S. Thompson

I’m never the same after I listen to good music, even for a few moments.

“Music can change the world because it can change people.” – Bono

And even a standard poodle named Django can appreciate a good Beatles tune.

That’s my friend Conrad and his musically gifted dog playing “Norwegian Wood” along with a music student.

What’s your favorite kind of music?

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Tomorrow: N is for No.

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