Monday, May 11, 2015

Mother's Day as a Celebration for Peace

I did as most people in the U.S. did, that is celebrate Mother's Day with my mother.  I traveled to my mother's home, brought her flowers and took her to dinner. Every time I visit with her, I learn something new about who she is, what she wants, and what she sees as her life moving forward. Though my father died last December, she is still a vibrant woman who loves life. At age 82 she still has that openness and agility to accept whatever life may bring her way. I must admit I admire that immensely.

Mothers Day as we know it today was founded in 1908 by Anna Jarvis who wished to commemorate the memory of her mother through small rituals performed in church and in towns. She later wanted to expand it across the U.S. What propelled the celebration forward was getting the financial backing of John Wanamaker, a wealthy Philadelphia department store owner. It took years of campaigning, until 1914 when Presidentt Woodrow Wilson finally signed a measure officially establishing the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. Soon after Wilson's signing, commercialization of the holiday became the norm and, in later life, Anna Jarvis tried to get the day removed from the calendar because it had morphed into such commercialization that she no longer believed it served the purpose she had conceived.

Julia Ward Howe

However, I would like to talk about an earlier idea for the celebration which was initiated in 1870 by Julia Ward Howe, an abolitionist and suffragette. Her idea for an official celebration of Mother's Day in the U.S. was not as a day for exchanging cards, going out to dinner, or sending flowers--not even as a day of memory for mothers. But rather it was a day asking all women to exercise their moral and political responsibility and stand up for peace. She exhorted them to use their minds and will to find a way to stop war by convening an international congress of women to actively look for ways to bring peace.

Howe, also a poet, was the author of The Battle Hymn of the Republic used in The Civil War. She was devastated by all the death and destruction of the war and wrote a passionate appeal to women, popularly called the Mother's Day Proclamation.  She requested that June 2nd be the designated day of the international congress of women. Unfortunately, this day was celebrated most in Boston each year and did not ever have a chance to become an official holiday. As you can imagine, in 1870 women were still not allowed to vote and held little power. Yet, I marvel at her belief and consistent activism in trying to make a difference.

In reading her proclamation I can hear her voice bemoaning the carnage of war, and her belief that women had both the political and moral responsibility to stand up and find a way to stop it.

Here are her words:

Again, in the sight of the Christian world, have the skill and power of two great nations exhausted themselves in mutual murder. Again have the sacred questions of international justice been committed to the fatal mediation of military weapons. In this day of progress, in this century of light, the ambition of rulers has been allowed to barter the dear interests of domestic life for the bloody exchanges of the battle field. Thus men have done. Thus men will do. But women need no longer be made a party to proceedings which fill the globe with grief and horror. Despite the assumptions of physical force, the mother has a sacred and commanding word to say to the sons who owe their life to her suffering. That word should now be heard, and answered to as never before.

Arise, then, Christian women of this day ! Arise, all women who have hearts, Whether your baptism be that of water or of tears ! Say firmly : We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country, to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: Disarm, disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence vindicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of council.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take council with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, man as the brother of man, each bearing after his own kind the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.

In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women, without limit of nationality, may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient, and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace. 

—Julia Ward Howe
 Julia Ward Howe (September 1870), "Appeal to womanhood throughout the world.", An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera (Library of Congress)

Today many women still celebrate Mother's Day with a march for peace. As we continue to live in separateness from one another--to not understand or even try to understand other races, cultures, belief systems, then I fear we will continue to support violence.

I believe that woman around the world have more reason than ever to make a difference and have the unique ability to do so. I do pray that one day we do find a way to stop war.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Spring Brings New Life and New Habits

It's hard to believe it's almost the end of April and spring is blooming all over. It seems that it was only a few weeks ago that the winter holidays were passing and we were celebrating the new year.

I've been taking pictures on walks as Spring keeps bringing new revelations in my local area. These walks always bring a smile to my face and make me feel hopeful about the year to come. These pictures were taken in the first week of April when cherry blossoms were blooming in orchard park--a small park behind my home. Now we have apple blossoms, pear blossoms, and most bulb plants are definitely out of the ground--daffodils and tulips are plentiful.

To add to the whole rebirth and new life this spring, my husband and I found out on Easter that a second grandchild is on the way. Nothing is more reaffirming than knowing that life moves forward--whether through spring blooms, new babies, or simply a realization that no matter what happens we can move forward and embrace life again.

This has been a challenging 2015 so far for me. My father's death in December and the subsequent responsibilities after that were more trying than I gave them credit in the first couple months. So, I've been struggling in the first few months of 2015 to once again find the right balance of family, additional chores, non-profit volunteer work, managing finances for multiple people in my life, maintaining better health and getting exercise. I have managed to do all those things by trying a variety of schedules over the last couple of months--some more successful than others. Now I need to add back my full-time writing career.

There have been many times in the past two decades when I've been off my writing game for a month or two. Times when my work life became too crazy with travel. Or times when major events happened--marriage, births, job change, retirement. But this time it has been five months. I admit it is really hard to get back on a regular schedule.  Writing requires giving myself permission to take the time and make the space for creation of long work. I don't mean physical space. I mean psychological space. That place where I push out all my preconceptions of the world and allow whatever forms to be taken into account.

Short stories are never a problem. I can do those usually in a day or two (outside of editing). A short story allows me to dip into a world, present a type of vignette, and then get out and feel satisfied. Longer work requires daily commitment and making that space. It's like meditation. My normal world must be shut out so I can let the other worlds in--the worlds that my characters embody, that my themes require. A longer work forces me to make that psychological space every day for more than a day or a week--often for more than a month. It requires me to form a habit of writing and, when I break that habit, it is easier to let go and not re-commit again than to find a way to fit in the time and to make that space.

I've heard from some authors who say they can't "not write." They have so many stories begging to be told that it drives them crazy not to write. I have that same experience. However, telling a story that is the length of a novel (50,000 to 90,000 words for me) takes a daily commitment. No matter how much I want to tell that story it is never easy. I have to know my characters like I know my best friends. I have to pay attention to them and their struggles in the same way I would with my siblings. I have to listen, evaluate, discuss, help make decisions and move the story from challenge to coping to success. All of that, for me, is a type of psychological work that I am unable to do in 15 minute bursts. It takes more concentrated time and commitment.

For all of you who have suffered loss or massive change in your life, and find yourself unwilling to engage with your characters problems and leave the security of your "normal" world, I empathize with that struggle. I can only say that what has worked for me is to do small bits at a time. It's kind of like desensitization. I take only one chapter and step into the void with my characters with a promise that I can withdraw if it gets to be too much. Then I do it again, and again, and again until I can find a way to remain present in that world but not in so much empathy with the characters struggles that I can't continue. I have been doing that a few thousand words at a time and it's helped. I've written five short stories in the past few months--dipping into my three worlds for my three different series. It is definitely frustrating not to have made more progress on the longer works. But it's helped get me to that point of forming a new habit and not being scared to go back there.

I turned a corner last week, finally putting all the pieces together; and now I'm ready to return to my 10,000 words a week schedule. What I need to do is to figure out how to make the time for that. Now that I have very successfully avoided this by filling all my time with other things, I need to once again create a schedule that allows for five to six hours a day of writing.

Because of all that has changed in my life, the new schedule will be very different from what I had last fall. That means forming new habits. That means struggling with keeping those goals every week as the new habits solidify. Now it's time to execute the plan. Finally, I'm ready.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Live Radio Interview

I'm excited to let everyone know that I've been asked to do a live radio interview with Tan Talk 1340 AM.  They are a talk radio station in Clearwater Florida who cover the Tampa Bay region with a reach of about 50,000 listeners. My segment will be at 11am Florida Time (8am for all my fans here on the west coast) on Tuesday, March 31st. 

Patzi Gill runs a weekly show called "Joy on Paper" where she discusses everything books. The primary emphasis of the show is to be inspirational for authors and readers.  They want everyone to get a good idea of the variety of books available and the variety of markets and ways to get a book out there or to find a book.

I'll be talking about my Chameleon series of books and the YA market in general.  Patzi will be doing the interview and there will be a chance for listeners to phone in and ask questions as well.  So, if you are in the Tampa Area, tune in to 1340 AM. I'd love to hear from you.  If you are not within the listening area, you can listen on the web. They stream their live programs on their website Tan Talk 1340 AM.  They also do post them as a Podcast a couple of weeks later.

Truly excited and would love to know that some of my fans, authors or readers, will call in to talk with me on air.