Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Loyola Writing Retreat - Day 2: Writing to Remember

Here is my assignment for Day #2 : Writing to Remember. I could have written about a lot of painful memories, but I chose a happy one. There's enough pain in the world. 

It’s dark outside and it feels late, but it is winter, near the solstice when the days are shortest, and it is actually only late afternoon. I’m a little girl - three, on the cusp of four - in the living room of the small ranch home where I grew up.

Christmas is right around the corner and I’m brimming with excitement. The Christmas tree is on the other side of the room, against the faux brick wall with the bricks that periodically fell off, requiring my father to reattach them with rubber cement. There are presents already wrapped and under the tree, waiting to be opened. Even that young, I know there is no Santa. My parents give me my gifts. I still look forward to them and enjoy shaking them, eager to figure out what they are. 

I’m sitting next to the orange-brown couch, circa 1960s, no doubt purchased when my parents were newlyweds. It is a concept hard for me, even as an adult, to imagine. Born when my parents were in their thirties, I somehow always thought of them as old. At the time of this memory, my father is turning thirty-eight and my mother is thirty-six, both younger than I am now. 

I sit on a stool in front of a stand-up organ keyboard which leans against the wall. Above it is the shutters for my sister’s bedroom, put there when the dining room was converted to a room for her so that she and I could each have our own room. She is ten years older than I and needed her privacy. At this age, she is my hero and I want to be just like her. She sits nearby with her guitar. I’m looking up at my mother, who seems to tower over me. 

My sister is part of the folk group at Church. She practices often and I sing with her, songs that would make traditional Catholics of today cringe, but brought my family such joy in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The group has asked me to sing with them at Christmas Eve Mass. What an honor! I get to sing with my big sister, way up in the choir loft in the back of the gigantic church. How exciting! 

We are practicing – my mother, sister and I. I sing my heart out. I think I have a beautiful voice. The world has yet to tell me different. In retrospect, it was the voice of innocence. I can still hear the music:

All night, all day, angels watching over me, My Lord.
All night, all day, angels watching over me.
Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
All night, all day, angels watching over me.

We practice over and over, my sister strumming her guitar, my mother singing along with me, until the headlights of my father’s car pull into the driveway. He is home from work. It’s time to put the music away and get ready for supper. We’ll practice more tomorrow.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Loyola Writing Retreat Day 1 - The Hope Chest

This week I'm taking part in an on-line writing retreat put on by Loyola Press. It's being directed by Vinita Hampton Wright, author of The Art of Spiritual Writing: How to Craft Prose That Engages and Inspires Your Readers

Today's topic is Writing to Pay Attention

Today’s assignment was to pay attention to an object that had some significance to you. I live in a home brimming with objects, many of which I am quite comfortable with. They are old, familiar, and like me, showing some wear and tear. But I am not a “things” person. I’m constantly trying to cull, to remove unnecessary objects from my environment. Therefore, this task posed a challenge. I had to choose an object that mattered. 

I perused my home. I ruled out photos, which I do value, because they are not prized because of what they are, but rather what they represent – the moment of time preserved by dots of ink on a piece of paper. I did the same with art prints which are like old friends to me, but are representations of something else.
I ultimately decided on a miniature cedar hope chest sitting on my bureau which I have owned for over twenty years. It is still in excellent condition, the surface polished to perfection, smooth to the touch, appealing to the eye. 

These 8 ¾” x 4 ¾” x 3 ¼” chests were made by the Lane company and given away by a local furniture store to all young women graduating from high school in the city. I imagine it was a marketing ploy by both companies in the hopes that we would one day purchase a much larger and more expensive Lane cedar chest or some other piece of furniture from the store. In my case, it did work. I ultimately did buy a large cedar chest, although it was an antique and from a different company, and I did purchase a bedroom set at the now defunct furniture store. Mission accomplished.

It didn’t matter. As a young woman, I loved that little box. It came with a lock and key which made it a perfect place to hide love letters, the kind that came on notebook paper folded into tiny squares or triangles, an art form perfected in the days before email and texting. A few years later, I would use the chest as the subject in a watercolor still-life. I don’t remember what happened to the original painting, but it lives on in a print hanging in my parents’ living room.

Today, the hope chest holds more mundane items: two combs, some ponytail holders, two hair clips, a barrette my daughter found at the park featuring the heroine from Tangled, a safety-pin, and a medal of our Blessed Mother - a somber visage on one side with a miniature depiction of Lourdes on the other. While I still own the key, I haven’t had a need to lock the chest in many years. 

Still, I keep the box because of its simple beauty and because it serves as a reminder of the young woman I once was in a time that now exists only in the mist of memory.  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

For Those Who Hate E-Books

I finished reading The Heroes of Olympus - Book Three: Mark of Athena today. My eleven-year-old son had asked me to read it, and given the number of books I ask him to read, it's only fair that he gets to pick one for me once in a while.

Rick Riordan is a great writer who has made reading and learning about the Greek, Roman, and Egyptian gods cool and I've read several of his books, but his books really aren't my preferred genre. Still, I came across the following passage and reading the whole book was worth it!

For the record, I don't hate e-books. I understand their usefulness and why some prefer them. Still, I do prefer to read an actual book.

"That is not a book," Achelous insisted. "He gave you that just to get under my skin, didn't he? He knows I hate those things."

"You hate . . . .books?" Piper asked.

"Bah!" Achelous's face flushed, turning his blue skin eggplant purple. "That's not a book."

He pawed the water. A scroll shot from the river like a miniature rocket and landed in front of him. He nudged it open with his hooves. The weather yellow parchment unfurled, covered with faded Latin script and elaborate handdrawn pictures.

"This is a book!" Achelous said. "Oh, the smell of sheepskin! The elegant feel of the scroll unrolling beneath my hooves. You simply can't duplicate it in something like that."

He nodded indignantly at the guidebook in Jason's hands."You young folks today and your newfangled gadgets. Bound pages. Little compact squares of text that are not hoof-friendly. That's a bound book, a b-book if you must. But it's not a traditional book. It'll never replace the good old-fashioned scroll!"

Friday, September 5, 2014

New Catholic Fiction Writing Contest - Aquinas Award for Fiction

The first Aquinas Award will be announced in the Fall of 2015. The winning author will receive a specially designed award and a cash prize of $1,000.

Any works of fiction (novels and collections of short stories) published since January 2014 are eligible. Books should be sent to me at the following address:

Joseph Pearce
Aquinas College
4210 Harding Pike
Nashville, TN 37205

The books will be judged by an independent team of reviewers.

Any books published in 2014 up to the deadline for receipt of submissions (June 30, 2015) are eligible.

At present, e-books do not qualify.
New editions and reprints are not eligible.

The judging criteria will be at the discretion of the independent panel of judges. I will not be on this panel.

Anyone is eligible to submit a work of contemporary fiction (i.e. novel, novella or collection of short stories), including those who have self-published.