Archive | March, 2014

How Should I Feel Today?

19 Mar

How Should I Feel, Today?

Today a man died who spent the last thirty years of his life hating me, disrespecting me, disrespecting my children, and taking great glee in my many misfortunes—and I gave him much over the years to be happy about. And although I must admit at times I yearned for this day to come, that yearning subsided many years ago. At this stage of my life, rarely does an event happen for which I do not have a clear-cut stance, emotion or response, but today I have no idea what I am supposed to feel.

I tell my students that many times the best writing happens when we have no answers to our questions. Writing then gives us the opportunity to explore our feelings and exorcize our emotions if necessary, so I thought I’d write an elegy this morning.

Perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay this nameless soul is that he forced me to become a better man. The day he laughed in my face when I told him I was going to law school provided the motivation I needed to see my way through seven difficult years of college. The fact neither he nor his wife showed their faces at any of my graduations just made the accomplishments that much better. But later, as my life imploded and he laughed and mocked my many failures, he taught me another great lesson.
Success is the greatest revenge.
There is an old cliché about trying many bold things will result in many bold failures—something like that. I tried many bold things and had many bold failures. I also had many failures because of my own stupidity. At one time of my life, I often ascribed my failures to bad luck. After my law office was destroyed in a fire that consumed one whole city block of my hometown, I lamented the bad luck of having my insurance lapse three weeks before the fire. An attorney friend of mine replied that wasn’t bad luck, that was just stupid. His words had a tremendous impact many years later on my life. I say many years later because I still had a whole lot of “stupid” left in me waiting to come out.
All of that stupidity gave great pleasure to this deceased man who delighted in my many misfortunes and who never missed a chance to be rude to me or my family. Then came a day when rock bottom slapped me on the cheek, and the thoughts of others no longer mattered. I found myself in a desperate struggle to survive.
I discovered who truly loved me, the friends who were more than friends, the family who were truly family. I also learned that no one else mattered.
The good thing about rock bottom is you have two options. You can lie in the filth you created and quit. That was never an option for me. The other: there is only one way out, and that is up!
I began a systematic reclaiming of my life. I returned to school. I started a new career. I took control and instead of blaming my mistakes on bad luck, I began to make my luck. I took all the small steps necessary to place myself in a position to be successful. I went without instead of using shortcuts. I worked endlessly and tirelessly, educating myself in areas I had little or no knowledge. In 2002 I didn’t even know what an email was, but I had decided to return to college. Once again, I could hear the laughter of my number one detractor in my ears. Once again, I felt that old motivation.
Over the years, many things changed–including me. The thoughts of my detractor no longer provided motivation, or anything. They no longer mattered. If someone could profess to be a Christian and still act the way he did, then they had bigger problems than their hatred for me. It still upset me that I believed he punished my children for keeping me as a part of their lives, but he soon saw he could not interfere in that arena. Sadly, all he did was affect their feelings for him.
Today my greatest concern is that he is being judged by his maker for his actions, and I am sure my name will be mentioned prominently. I take no satisfaction in this. I would much rather have a positive impact on a person’s life. I would rather help a person achieve in a positive manner instead of in a negative way as this man affected me. I would hope to leave positive memories in the minds of those who may even mourn my passing.

But today, my thoughts are on the waste of life and precious time that occurs when lies and bitterness, hatred and hypocrisy control our existence. Because no amount of attending church on Sunday morning or eating of communion can atone for the way we act during the week. Perhaps the greatest lesson I learned from this person was that a lifetime of bitterness and hatred shrinks a soul to a life of inconsequence. Eventually, people will forget you and your feelings for them, and go on with their lives. You will be left with your hatred and bitterness as your own communion. So today I now know how I am supposed to feel. Today I know I must release any old grudges; I must forgive and forget all grievances.
There was a time when I had sworn to drink a 12 pack and be the first to piss on this man’s grave. Today all I can do is say a prayer for his soul. Perhaps in the end, this man made me a better man than I could ever have been without him.

I hope this thought doesn’t cause him to roll over in his grave!

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My trip to the Dahlonega, GA Literary Festival

10 Mar

 

The Dahlonega Literary Festival

This past weekend I traveled to Dahlonega, GA for the Dahlonega Literary Festival. I had a wonderful time, traveled through some beautiful country, met some wonderful writers, and met some dedicated and inspiring “Aspiring” writers.

Let me first begin with the travels. I drove from Paragould, Arkansas, to Dahlonega, Georgia, driving through Jackson Tennessee, taking a loop through Franklin, TN, skipping Nashville, after passing through Chattanooga, I cut off at Dalton, Ga. And took US76 and then GA 52 through Ellijay to Dahlonega.

This route skirts the edge of the north Georgia mountains that I had never seen before. By the time I hit Dalton, it was dark, and the mountain vistas provided a special beauty as I watched the glimmering lights of life twinkling miles below in the canyon valleys. Eighteen miles west of Dahlonega is Amicalola Falls State park where I spent the night sleeping in the back seat of my truck. This was a minor inconvenience caused by my delay in reserving a hotel, but it also seemed to add to the experience. I couldn’t see the park in the dark, but travelled up to the lodge, which was awesome, and was told just to go park under a tree away from the lights and I’d be okay.
The next morning I was awake before dawn and traveling on to Ellijay. I didn’t have my camera, and I missed some tremendous opportunities. Being an old turkey hunter I had to stop at the top of several ridges and give a hoot-owl hoot down the mountain to see if I could get a turkey to gobble, and I was not disappointed.
Dahlonega is an historic college town with a town square laid out in the 1830’s. The town was a part of Georgia’s historic gold rush and one can still pan for gold in the area. The southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail is nearby at Amicalola, so the area seems to have a robust tourist economy as well as the steady presence of North Georgia College and University. The downtown area was littered with excellent, though a bit pricey, restaurants.

Ken Smoke and the folks at the Catholic Church did an excellent job of hosting and taking care of the needs of the writers. We had a good, though small turnout of readers and sight-seers. I served on a panel that talked about writing in general and experiences as a writer, and I was impressed with the questions and response.

If I had a criticism of the conference, it would be the lack of knowledge of the local community about the affair. Every place I went to eat or buy supplies, I mentioned I was attending the conference. Of the many locals, I met one that knew of the conference. Perhaps a bit more effort could be made to advertise the conference locally and to enhance its status as a local event. But that is not a criticism as much as a suggestion for the future.

I left early Sunday morning to return to Paragould, and arrived at Amicalola around 7:30. I paid the five buck fee again and travelled through the park and finally got to see its beauty in the daylight. I hiked to the base of the falls and then drove to the top of the falls. Beautiful. Majstic, Humbling. Awe-inspring. All words that came to mind. Then I enjoyed an eight dollar breakfast buffet at the lodge. The buffet included fresh fruit, drinks, any type of breakfast food you wanted, and even eggs cooked to order. It was an excellent value!

The rest of the trip home allowed me to see the mountains in the daylight and the beautiful apple orchards that populated the north Georgia terrain. Apparently the peaches are further south, but I’d love to return to Georgia during the apple harvest and bring back several bushels to put in the freezer of T-giving and Christmas.

Chattanooga is beautiful in the daytime or nighttime, and the trip through Franklin is always delightful. But on this trip I loved coming off the final ridge near Dyersburg and seeing the Mississippi River Bridge in the distant haze. The sun had set to where its bottom touched the top of the trees that lined the distant river bank, and by the time I reached the bridge, it had set below the horizon. But the haze of the distant river reminded me of those dog-days of summer coming soon.

            I will be returning to Georgia in June for the Southeastern Writer’s Conference on St. Simon’s Island, and then in August at the Decatur Book Festival. I am excited to see more of Georgia.

            Perhaps now, for the first time in my life, I truly understand the lyrics of the old song “Georgia on my mind.”

Upcoming Travels and Appearances!

4 Mar

Today I made further arrangements for my travels coming up promoting both of my books. This Saturday, March 8th, I will be at the Dahlonega Literary Festival in Dahlonega, Georgia. I will also make an appearance on a Regional Authors panel where along with several other authors I will be discussing the writing experience.
Dahlonega will be a new experience for me. I have travelled to many writer’s conferences but always as a teacher and a reader of books. This will be the first time I will appear as a writer, and I look forward to meeting people who will be in attendance and searching for books to read.
I was also making arrangements for my travels to the Dallas/FW Writers Conference to be held at the Hurst Conference Center on May 3rd and 4th in Hurst, Texas. I will be teaching two classes: Setting as Character, and Yearning: the Heart of Quality Prose.

I look forward to sharing my thoughts on both of these topics. Far too many times novice writers overlook setting, or even believe that by offering a few details and visual images they have created a compelling setting. But this class will deal with creating a setting for your stories that is itself a character. Setting that is a character in your story makes it impossible to pick up your characters and set them in any other location.

In the past when teaching creative writing workshops I have always used the Annie Proulx short story “Brokeback Mountain.” The Wyoming setting for that story became a character as important as Innes or his lover. If the story were picked up and moved to San Francisco, New York, or any other urban setting, it is not the same.

For setting to be a character, it must have a significant influence on the plot and or characters—an influence that is unique for the locale. I can think of several other stories that come to mind as examples of setting as character. John Steinbeck’s “Chrysanthemums” is another example I use in my classes. Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” with the lush green on one side of the tracks and the barren sand on the other provides another example of the importance of setting and how setting plays a crucial role in the piece. In this story, the setting even provides an ticking clock as they wait for the train and the seconds pass away, leading to their separation.
I became aware of the importance of setting while writing my MFA thesis. In trying to create a thesis of stories with a common thread, I attempted to move the setting of my story “Stud Fee” from atop Mount Nebo near Dardanelle, Arkansas, to a point on Crowley’s Ridge in northeast Arkansas. After reading the story again and trying to find how I could properly edit the story, I discovered I couldn’t without making significant changes. The mountain top setting of the Mt. Nebo State park, with the hang gliders and the cabin overlooking the home of the characters of Lani and her husband could not be changed.
Ever since that epiphanic moment, I have done my best to make setting important in every piece I write. I think my greatest success using setting as character was in the story “Healing Waters” from God’s Naked Will.  The setting there is in a valley that flows with hot, mineral spring waters that flow from the same sources as the springs in the Hot Springs National Park. The stream flowing through the property purchased by Elias nurtures the ginseng he grows and provides crystals he sells, and once provided hope for a miracle of healing for his wife.

I have never taught a class dedicated to this topic, but I look forward to sharing what has worked for me with the folks in Dallas.

Yearning is another topic important to quality writing, and I will be teaching a another class in Dallas on Yearning and its importance to quality prose. Yearning is that uniquely human trait that causes us to do things beyond reason. It causes us to do things that others simply shake their heads at. In this class, we will talk about identifying examples of yearning as they exist all around us. Recognizing those examples will help writers create examples of their own.
For instance, I cannot walk through Dillard’s without stopping by the Estee Lauder table and having a saleslady spray a card sample with Private Collection. Just this past week I did this, and the sales lady asked if I were going to buy this for my sweetheart.
“No. It’s what she used to wear. Every once in a while, I just like to remember her.” I thought the lady was going to cry!
“That is so special. I want to be someone’s fragrance someday!”
I guess there was a yearning there for both of us!