Quotes I Copied in 2016

From this year’s journal, for the patient and curious reader:

GPS sets us in the center of the map and then makes the world circulate around us. In this miniature parody of the pre-Copernican universe…  —The Glass Cage

If your husband knows you love and want him, you empower him in every other area. —For the Love

We’re headed for Lost Wages —Southwest flight attendant

Grief is a strange thing. —A Man Called Ove


What I always say is, God sends the weather and it’s not for us to grumble. —Shoulder the Sky

Without habit, the beauty of the world would overwhelm us. We’d pass out every time we saw—actually saw—a flower. —Four Seasons in Rome


Alex now saw that his relationship with his father was the taproot of his character and temperament. —The Father’s Tale

Life is like a bog. If you stand still too long your feet begin to sink into the mud. —Anna and Her Daughters

I was learning that when you’re with someone who is dying, you may need to celebrate the past, live the present, and mourn the future all at the same time. —End of Your Life Book Club

Cilantro, Satan’s own herb (I disagree, but I laughed!) —The Pat Conroy Cookbook

There are no billboards in Iceland. — Iceland: Land of the Sagas


In teaching your child, do not forget that suffering is good too. — A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

The disappearance of tools from our common education is the first step toward a wider ignorance of the world of artifacts we inhabit. — Shop Class as Soulcraft

…the small morsel of beard which he wore upon his chin … — The Golden Lion of Granpère

A French study released in 2013 even found a solid link between continued work and avoidance of dementia. — Get What’s Yours (Maxing out Social Security)


…ecologies of attention… — The World Beyond Your Head

Today, a whole generation has grown up as a take-out culture. The food is convenient, and some of it is even good, but it has none of the ring of the familiar; it can never be personal enough to become part of our past. — Christopher Kimball

Talkers never write. They go on talking. — Parnassus on Wheels


For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry. Yes, indeed. — A Poetry Handbook

MARTIAL is an anagram for MARITAL. — The Spectator Bird

I’ve seen far too many people awash in genuine desire to change only to lose their mettle when they realized just how difficult change actually is. — Hillbilly Elegy


Wisdom is long, violence is short. —  Benjamin Franklin

Time used to tumble for me. Time was narrow, then, and very fast. Now time has widened. — Letters from the Land of Cancer

Manage time less and pay attention more. — The Rest of God

Everything she did and loved, everything she was, required language. — Still Alice



Reviving A Comatose Pencil


Curt and I, young and pre-children, had moved and were getting to know our new pastor at our new church in our new city. We explained that we’d loved to involve ourselves, but were burned-out and needed a season of rest. This wise man replied, “Take time. Sit down. Be still.  When the urge to serve comes back—and it will—, call me.” 

While I am not overburdened with my writing schedule (cough, cough) the urge to write is back. It’s time to revive A Living Pencil. Beginning with a few random thoughts.

::        ::        ::

Has there been a decline in blogging? I think Facebook/Twitter/Instagram is to blogs what Walmart is to downtown boutiques. I find it oh so easy to post a photo to Facebook or write a sentence about the irony of including Man-Pleasing Chicken on our Mother’s Day menu.

The problem: so much content on Facebook (read Walmart) is generic and/or derivative. Most blogs offer a unique perspective. And most of the small blogs have closed up shop.

 ::        ::       ::

I made it through the toughest weekend of my calendar. The anniversary of my mom’s death was on Saturday and Mother’s Day was Sunday. I also remembered my friend Carol, (my surrogate mom’s youngest daughter) who died in January, and her beautiful daughters experiencing their first Mother’s Day sans Mom.

I never want to drum up grief because of the day on the calendar. No. There was no need for drumming.

But this is what I realized this cycle: I always—for 48 years—carry grief with me, deep in the warrens of my soul. But May 7th is the day I give sadness permission to surface. I give myself permission to acknowledge the wound. I think that is a good, even healthy, thing to do.

What’s on Your Nightstand, March 24

DSC_3970Although I love the concept of What’s on Your Nightstand, a monthly overview of one’s reading, I have only participated a few times. In a rare and wonderful synchronicity, I  deep cleaned my nightstand area yesterday.

My husband had surgery two weeks ago (he’s fine, thank you) that allowed me seven hours of reading in the waiting room. There was a huge flat-screen TV that looped through Travels in Europe with Rick Steves for 4.5 hours. Eventually, a penguin documentary came on. Occasionally I glanced up, but it wasn’t bad background sound.

Keeping my mind occupied was A Pianist’s Landscape, a book of essays about playing, learning, performing and teaching the piano. This was a book sale find. The cover and title drew me in. Carol Montparker is a Steinway Artist; her essays have been in the New York Times. Delightful!

I’m working on consistently reading poetry. It’s one of those things that takes an effort, but offers rich rewards. I found Wis£awa Szymborska (w sounds like /v/, £ sounds like /w/; thus, Vees WAH vah shin BORE skuh) funny, dark, random, full of irony, beauty and profundity. Many poems didn’t strike a chord in me. But some did. When asked why she didn’t write more poems, her answer was “because I have a trash can at home.” I kept forgetting that these poems had been translated from Polish. The translations are magnificent!

“Disappointing” — two historical novels. Widow of the South centers on the Carnton Plantation near Franklin, TN. I didn’t like that a major part of the plot centered on a contrived and fictitious relationship between Carrie McGavock and one soldier/patient. It was a weird Jayber Crow-ish intimacy.

A Separate Country tells the story of defeated Confederate General John Bell Hood’s life after the war in New Orleans. He marries Anna Maria Hennen, a young society belle, and they have 11 children in 10 years, including three sets of twins. The author uses a scaffolding of facts but most of the story is fanciful. The tone and language is a bit salty for my taste.

I made small progress on my goal to read through Shakespeare’s canon with Henry IV, Part 1 and Part 2. Before I read these, I had thought Falstaff was witty and clever. No, sirrah! His self-aggrandizing, manipulative, lying behavior erased any gladsome thoughts of this main Shakespearean character.

My Kindle read – did you know if you have Amazon Prime you can borrow a book a month on your Kindle? I’m a junkie for books on how to write. To say I have dozens would be only a minor stretch. I love to read them, to re-read them, and to promise myself that someday I will do what they say.

I was reminded to slash away at adverbs and adjectives. Yes. But I really enjoyed Rosenblatt’s comments on education: “Teaching takes a lot of wheedling and grappling but basically it is the art of seduction. Observing a teacher who is lost in the mystery of the material can be oddly seductive.”

Audiobook  This long audio book was mostly tedious, but I was so glad I finished this life of Anna Leonowens. I was reminded how powerful a teacher can be. Prince Chulalongkorn attributed to Anna the decision he made to abolish slavery (without war!) in Siam (Thailand).

For Fun   I love Jane Austen, but I don’t consider myself a Janeite. Among the Janeites was an entertaining read. What struck me was how many ways there are to read Austen. People see virtue, wisdom, feminism, eroticism, autism, therapy, and more in her books.

DSC_3968Reading in preparation for Easter: Silence, by Shushaku Endo and Nikki Grime’s At Jerusalem’s Gate, Poems of Easter.

Murder Your Darlings


I’m reading and thoroughly enjoying, in dribs and drabs, Alphabet Juice: The Energies, Gists, and Spirits of Letters, Words, and Combinations Thereof; Their Roots, Bones, Innards, Piths, Pips, and Secret … With Examples of Their Usage Foul and Savory. This section made me snort in laughter.

In his book On the Art of Writing (1916), Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, an eminent critic, anthologist, and adventure novelist, handed down a guideline for writers that people are still handing down. Usually people attribute it to Mark Twain, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, George Orwell, Noël Coward, W.H. Auden, Oscar Wilde, or someone else whose fame has lasted longer than Sir Arthur’s. Here is that guideline in its original form: “Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press: Murder your darlings.”

[…] What generations have taken from his admonitions, though, is that we writers should root out our own self-indulgent bits, the vivid turns of phrase that call attention to themselves instead of advancing the narrative for…you. The reader. […]

Yes, well. Sir Arthur’s pen name was Q. Some frills trimmed there. But don’t you suspect that after rejecting Kill your pets as too mean and Eliminate your sweeties as ambiguous, and then hitting, bingo, upon Murder your darlings—don’t you suspect that he thought to himself, Q, you are cooking?


Celebrating a Simple Conversation

Because I see my doctor once a year, more or less, I was surprised that she remembered me.

“You are a writer, aren’t you?” was her cheerful greeting.  Of course, I was *writing* in my journal as she came into the exam room.

[My first impulse is to refute her.  Well…um…not really. I snapped my fingers at my internal skeptic. An internal finger snap, don’t you know.]

“Yes,” I smiled, “Yes, I am.”

[Come on! Are you serious? Who is going to believe that? It looked like snapping wasn’t enough; I think my alter ego needed a slap down.]

The nurse joined the conversation: “What do you write about?” 

A quick breath, a smile…

“Well, I love to read and review books. And I like to search for truth, beauty and goodness in life…and write about what I’ve found.”

[Oh, great! You sound like a corporate mission statement.  My inner skeptic rolled her eyes.] 

“…and highlight simple pleasures…”

[Stop! That’s enough!! It was now a good time to obey that inner voice.]

I closed my mouth.

“I think it’s great,” my doctor replied, as she donned her latex gloves.

And that, my friends, was a simple conversation worth celebrating. 

Zinsser on Friday

Zinsser on Friday is a sweet reward for waking up on Friday.
What is Zinsser on Friday?
A weekly posting about writing, the arts, and popular culture
by William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well,
based on a favorite quotation or comment.

From today’s offering, Content Management:

Content management. Isn’t that what we used to call “writing”?
I’ve been in the content-management business all my life.
I look for content that interests or amuses me
and then I manage it into a narrative.

It’s what all writers do if they want to keep paying the bills.
Dickens did it very well. So does every good crime writer:
Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler.
Elmore Leonard was once asked how he keeps his novels moving so fast.
He said, “I leave out the parts that people skip.”
That’s content management.

What Fascinates You?


What I decided to do was to sit down and, very quickly, make a list of things that I most liked in other people’s fiction — these could be thematic, character driven, very general or very specific. I found that when I started this list, it began to incorporate ideas and items which I was inventing as I went along.

This post by Sherry at Semicolon made absolute sense to me.  I find too many things fascinating, but it was fun to write down my list of fascinating elements in fiction and memoirs. 

1.  Community.  This is what I like about Wendell Berry’s fiction.  What draws and holds people together?

2.  Island/Insular/Isolated life.  The rules seem different in closed communities and I find this fascinating.

3.  Loss of mother.  Since I lost mine at age ten, I’m always curious how other families fare when mom is gone.

4.  Homesteading and pioneer stories.  Moving to a piece of land previously uninhabited, and actually living on it.

5.  Clerical life.  Trollope, Pym, Chesterton, Karon.  Put a Father in the title and I’m engaged.

6.  Travel to different cultures.  Colin Thubron is my current guide; the observations of an outsider looking in.

7.  Scotland.  If it’s not Sca-ish… (Stevenson, O. Douglas, Buchan, Scott, Gunn); I can sniff phony Scotticisms.

8.  England: Victorian, Edwardian, Regency, Elizabethan.  Austen, Trollope, Gaskell, Dickens, P.D. James, Miss Read.

9.  Conversions.  When one changes his/her fundamental paradigms, I’m intrigued.  Why? When? How? My interest is in all directions: Protestant » Catholic or Orthodoxy, Islam » atheist, agnostic » Mormon, Armenian » Calvinist…

10.  Specific references to literature, art, music.  I look them up.  Google and I are good friends.

11.  Kitchen life: the preparation and consumption of food.  Specifics are special.

12.  Names: allegorical, patronyms, eponyms, clues in names.  (e.g. Malfoy means Bad Faith)  Dickens, Trollope, and Bunyan are particularly fun.

I’m interested in what you find fascinating in fiction.  Care to play? 😉

Six-Word Story

Have you heard of the six-word story?

Ernest Hemingway’s is the most famous:
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

The distillation process intrigues me.
Because all that is not written captures the essence.

Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser collected
six word memoirs and published them in
Not Quite What I Was Planning.
Here are a few.

Good, evil use the same font.
~ Arthur Harris

Detergent girl:  Bold. Tide. Cheer. All.
~ Martha Clarkson

Oh sweet nectar of life, coffee.
~ Daniel Axenty

I am considering starting Six-Word Saturday.
Perhaps in September?
Six words are not so easy.

If George Grant has eleven
and Abraham Piper has twenty-two,
why can’t we (you are included) do six?

It’s great practice.

The art of reduction.

~     ~     ~

Today is my son’s 27th birthday.
For Chris, I offer two sextuples.
Bookends of your life so far.

Beyond exhaustion, strength spent.  Baby Boy!

Backlit strength, silhouetting grace.  He stands.

Best Of

I picked up a book and learned enough HTML on Saturday to add a little module on the side called Best Of.  I put  links to my favorite posts there.  When I’m new to a blog, I appreciate reading the writer’s favorites, especially if I don’t have time to scroll from the 2005 to the present.

If you need a laugh, go to the post on Millet and read the comments.  If you need a cry, go to May 7, 1968.  It’s that easy! 

Now I can add links to non-Xanga blogs.  Woohoo!

It energizes me to learn something that, at first blush, seemed so scary-hard.  I remember when I felt that way about depreciation. 

One Paragraph, Eight Hours


Move over, David McCullough.  Make room for another Pulitzer Prize winner, Barbara Tuchman, to stand next to you on the pedestal of my high esteem. 

Folks, I have found an  Important New Author. (“New to me,” she shrugs and grins.) I’ve only read the preface, the introduction and the first paragraph, but I am twitterpated. Tuchman’s success in writing, given in the preface, is “hard work, a good ear, and continued practice.” 

…hard work, a good ear and continued practice…

What does that look like, fleshed out?  It took Tuchman eight hours (!) to write this opening paragraph, all five sentences, of  The Guns of August.  

So gorgeous was the spectacle on the May morning of 1910 when nine kings rode in the funeral of Edward VII of England that the crowd, waiting in hushed and black-clad awe, could not keep back gasps of adminration. In scarlet and blue and green and purple, three by three the sovereigns rode through the palace gates, with plumed helmets, gold braid, crimson sashes, and jeweled orders flashing in the sun.  After them came five heirs apparent, forty more imperial or royal highnesses, seven queens–four dowager and three regnant–and a scattering of special ambassadors from uncrowned countries.  Together they represented seventy nations in the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last.  The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history’s clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again.