It’s All Good!

As a big fan of Joel Osteen, the non-denominational Senior Pastor of Lakewood Church in Texas, with his positive messages about maintaining faith- even when “the chips are down”, I compare his mission to the writer’s task; “to share faith through her stories”.  While Osteen’s messages are directed toward the spiritual audiences open to them, the message of the writer is directed toward readers who are open to new possibilities, exciting new adventures, or to a life lesson. 

I have emphasized many times in my past blogs how our mistakes, or our struggles, are often our greatest teachers, just as Joel Osteen tell us difficult times are placed before us to make us stronger, and to prepare us for something bigger and better.  If you keep doing good even while something bad is happening to you, a new door will eventually open through which you are sure to find happiness and peace. 

I recognize that Osteen has his critics who say he is merely a self-help guru or motivational speaker, who does not preach true theological issues, and for some- that description fits.  As for me, I like the idea of self-help, life- coaching, motivational speaking, or anyone else who has a message of positive thinking.  Regardless of “how” preachers preach, or the extent to which they convey bible stories or messages of faith and positive thinking, I believe whole- heartedly that God’s main goal for us is to love one another, forgive one another and help one another, through whatever positive means we have available.  Perhaps, through love,  positive thinking and faith….. 

Whether we have a talent to teach young children, or to coach young athletes, or to preach soul- searching sermons, or to convey positive messages as writers- in order to make the world a better place, – so be it. There is a place for us to congregate to hear the Word of the Lord, within the confinements of our churches- for whatever religion we follow, and there is a place for us to open our minds and our hearts to the same, simple messages Joel Osteen preaches in his sermons…. through story. 

When I say simple I mean; easy to understand, basic suggestions of ways to become better brothers and sisters to one another, -yet far from simple in the meaning.   The idea to have faith, even when the going gets tough, is a large, and important message which we all need to receive, whether we listen to Joel or not, whether we are teachers or students, employers or employees,  parents or children,  church- goers or not,  writers or readers, or anyone else.  Our mistakes and our days of difficulty ARE our greatest teachers, but as students of life, it is up to each of one us to recognize our mistakes and our challenges, and grow stronger from them, rather than to succumb to their weight, and wither and die.

Joel Osteen uses Good Friday and the Resurrection as an example.  When Jesus was crucified on that dark Friday, the disciples, and Mary, and his other followers, would not have considered that Friday to be “good”.  On the contrary, it was the darkest day they experienced in their lifetimes so far.  Not only was their leader and friend and son taken from them, but their faith was in jeopardy as well.  Could they have been wrong?  Were they following the wrong man?  It was not until Sunday’s arrival of the resurrection, that their doubts were eased, their sadness changed to happiness, and their fear turned to courage.  Like a rainbow after the storm, a new door to brighter days will open- only once our courage allows for us to unlatch the door that has locked us in for so long. 

If we, as writers, can keep doing good while we challenge ourselves to balance our family time with working and writing time, judge ourselves less harshly when we are rejected or fail,  push through our periods of self-doubt, reconnecting with our absent muse, we can overcome those  times when something bad is happening.  We can turn our dark Friday into a good Friday as we are resurrected.

As I go through my own personal, family challenges at this time, I continue to believe that everything does happen for  a reason. God places obstacles in our path so that we can become stronger individuals, ….so that we become better equipped later to do something great, perhaps make a difference in someone else’s life without even knowing it.  If somehow, our struggles ultimately help us in some way to become better people, who commit less sins upon others, or help even one other person as a result of our own resurrection, then those bad times are a blessing in disguise.  The trick is not to quit, or give up faith, or to break under pressure, but to keep doing good- even when all we want to do is lay down and cry. 

Writing is not easy.  It is a painful sort of joy, but it is a part of a writer that is as real as an arm or a leg.  The writer can no more not write than she can stop breathing.  The key is to keep faith. Keep hope. Keep doing good even when something bad is happening.  In the end, when the new door opens and what we were waiting for and hoping for appears before us, because we never gave up our faith, or our writing, we will realize those bad things that happened, those mistakes we made, those times when someone else let us down, those times we failed, will have been “ all good” in the end, toward the bigger picture. 

In the end, it’s all good.  The bad times make us better people. 

Taking One Step At A Time

Like running a marathon, the first step in writing, or anything – I suppose,  often seems daunting because we can not see the finish line from where we stand at the starting point. Yet, if we take one step at a time, setting mini- goals along the way, we are able to pull that finish line closer, with each benchmark we reach. 

Anthony Robbins, businessman and author, says, “ The only impossible journey is the one you never begin.”  If we do not at least attempt the crossing, taking it step by step, we prophesy our failure. Whereas, on the contrary, the likelihood of reaching our finish line increases with each step we take.

I recently read the New York Times Bestseller, A Long Walk to Water, written by Linda Sue Park, based on the true story of two individuals struggling to survive in Sudan in different time periods, which supports this idea to take one step at a time toward success.  Both of the individuals in this story endure against challenges most of us could never imagine.  It is their perseverance and determination not to give up that ultimately saves them, despite the obstacles in their paths which they must overcome. 

Set in 1985 during civil unrest, during his quest to survive,  eleven year old protagonist, Salva Mawien Dut Ariik lags behind the group with whom he travels on foot toward a Kenyon refugee camp, and he cries so hard he could hardly breath, when his uncle finds him. Pointing to what Salva’s uncle decides to be a first benchmark,  he asks Salva, “ Do you see that group of bushes?  You need only to walk as far as those bushes. Can you do that?”  Salva admits he could see the bushes, which do not look too far away.  Then, when he and his uncle reach the bushes, his uncle asks Salva if he sees the clump of rocks up ahead and so they walk to the rocks.  “After that, a lone acacia… another clump of rocks…. a spot bare of everything except sand.”  They continue that way for the rest of the walk.  It was a long walk, but the journey becomes less formidable when broken down into smaller pieces.

Similarly, the other main character in the story, living in contemporary 2008, eleven year old Nya, walks eight hours a day to fetch water for her family.  Her journey is also challenging, and like Salva, she struggles to reach her own finish line, day after day.  Both characters ultimately achieve their purposes, by taking their journeys one step at a time, while neither individual in the story gives up, despite the many times they wish they could.

Likewise, Lao Tzu, the Chinese philosopher, quotes the following , “A Journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”  As long as we take that first step, and then a second step, and a third, and so forth, never giving up, we will eventually arrive at our destination.

In Ann Lamont’s book, “ Bird by Bird”, she recounts how her brother, ten years old at the time, had a report on birds due for school.  Despite that he had three months to do it, he waited until it was due the next day, feeling immobilized by the “hugeness of the task” ahead.  Ann recalls how her father sat down next to her brother, placing his arm around his shoulder, sharing the following advice, “ Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird”.  By breaking down our task into smaller segments, the undertaking shrinks in size.  In fact, it becomes downright achievable, rather than overwhelming!

This idea is further illustrated by Jeff Goins, Writer, Speaker, and Entrepreneur, “ You write a sentence, then a paragraph, then maybe if you’re lucky, an entire chapter. Writing happens in fits and starts, in bits and pieces.  It’s a process.”   Like anything else we do, from following a recipe -one ingredient at a time, to crocheting a blanket- one stitch at a time, to painting a house -one room at a time, we progress, piece by piece, bit by bit, -one step at a time.

Stephen King advises new writers to keep going, without stopping,” If you fail to write consistently, the excitement for your idea may begin to fade. When the work starts to feel like work, that moment can become”, in King’s words, the  smooch of death, therefore; he advises to “just take it one word at a time”.

In other words, keep at it, look at only one fragment at a time, while staying in the present, remaining mindful of the task in front of you at this moment.  Do not fear the future or the possibility of failure, and don’t let the past hinder you.  Just keep going, one foot in front of the other.

We do not stop driving our car at night, toward our destination, because the end point is not within sight.  Our headlights light up the road only so many feet in front of us, but we know eventually we will get there- so we keep going, taking our journey one street, one mile, one town- at a time, seeing more of the road before us the further we proceed.

That is the way we must think when it comes to writing, or again- to anything else we desire to pursue.  We may feel immobilized with fear as we stare at that first blank page before us, dreading the other blank, wordless pages to follow.  Yet, those pages will only remain blank if our thoughts and ideas are never permitted to escape past the gated borders of our minds, to their freedom, and on to the paper where they belong.

Unless we take the first step, the finish line we pursue will forever remain out of our reach.

Failure and Practice

We achieve success through failure. By learning how not to do something, we learn how to do it correctly. When we fail, we learn.  The old proverb, originated by Thomas H. Palmer, meant to encourage children to do their homework, and later popularized by Edward Hickson in his Moral Song, If at first you dont succeed, try, try again, applies to any task in which individuals engage. Whether it relates to school work, a job, sports, exercise and dieting, a hobby or to anything else- such as writing, the idea not to let failures hamper us will ultimately lead us to success.

In E.G. Scholl’s  Blog, Roll Call: Failures , the author writes the following: Failure can exist in our lives without success, but success cannot exist without failure.  He explains that we cant avoid failures and in fact, we should admit when we have faults, make mistakes or allow fear to hinder us. He further says those people, who are least afraid of failing, are the same people who are most likely to succeed.

Using this idea of failures as a preface to success, I point to another famous quote to inspire us to reach the success we are meant to achieve; Practice Makes Perfect . Without failure, and practice, our chances to realize our dream diminish. 

This phrase Practice Makes Perfect, originated in the mid 1500s in the American English language, points to the importance of practicing in order to achieve.  Baseball players, as well as other professional athletes, practice over and over before they take their places on the field at the packed stadium.  Musicians practice their instruments many times before going on stage in front of a live audience.

To further support this notion, Martha Graham, a modern dancer and choreographer quoted the following:

        Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired

Whether ones pursuit is to dance, play ball, create music, or produce art, it takes practice to get there, and along the way there WILL be mistakes and failures.

All my life, from the time I was five years old, I loved to ice skate (in addition to reading and writing of course), and later as an adult- to play tennis.  I was never a natural athlete, so I had to work hard to do well.  Really Hard!  Consequently, in time I did learn, after much practice and many falls on the ice, to skate well.  But, when I got older and wanted to play tennis it wasnt as easy. Nevertheless, I remembered that it was practicing every day at the ponds in the woods by my house, that helped me learn to skate, so I applied it to tennis. 

After taking tennis lessons several times and always being the worst in the class, I decided to practice alone at the wall, in a park by our house.  The first time I hit the ball against the wall I missed- horribly.   I could not even hit the ball twice in a row, yet I never gave up. After going to the wall several times a week for an entire summer I could finally keep that ball going at least 35 times, without missing.  It was practice, and messy, really bad playing that taught me.  I told myself I was not giving up and I didnt.

In writing, we must practice every day if we want to get better.  Sure, there are some of the lucky ones who may have natural talent, perhaps J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, to name two, but for many of the rest of us it takes practice to make perfect.  By combining practice with study (learning the craft), participating in critique groups, and learning from our failures, we have the ability to make our dream come true as writers.

For me, I have dreamt of becoming a writer since I was between five and eight years old and now, many years later I still have that dream.  While it is difficult to find the time these days to write every day, I do try as often as possible to practice write the same way I practiced hitting that tennis ball several years back. I learned the hard way that to fear failure will only lead to more failure, therefore;   I know now that, through failure and practice,  it is only a matter of time before I succeed.

Wrong Turns

Often, it is in the wrong turns we take that we find our next story, or the narrative that will connect universally with our audience.

When a writer seeks an idea for her next novel she might look toward a current event depicting a heroic action or tragedy, or she might research through pieces of history that intrigue, inspire, sadden or anger her. Or perhaps, she will look within herself for her own tragedies or pain. Regardless of the place from which our stories might come -the objective is to find and write the story that stirs our hearts, connects with a piece of our soul or haunts us so much that we can’t let it go,  until the story enhances our life in some way or it ultimately heals us.

Over the course of the many years I have been reading and writing, I’ve read and written projects inspired by  loss, regrets, abandonment, dysfunction, and forgiveness to name only a few, but the theme that seems to thread its way through my own work  lately is  guilt and the feelings of regret and shame that come with it.

How do we forgive ourselves for the wrong choices we’ve made and the subsequent events that changed the direction of our lives and the lives of those we love?  How do we forgive ourselves for going off course and how do we move past the guilt and regret that plague us like a splinter throbbing deep under our skin?

Yet despite that burden of shame that we carry, it is in those wrong turns from which we grow stronger and learn, and it is in those bad choices we made that we are able to share the gift of forgiveness and healing with our readers.

If we look for those pivotal moments of our lives, or to the torment that follows us around like a shadow from which we are powerless to separate ourselves, it is possible to discover and develop a story of breakthrough and mending.

Part of the enjoyment of writing is the cathartic relief it provides as we work through our self-doubts and misgivings. As we sift through our mistakes and confront the cause of our guilt, analyzing what or who inspired us to make the choices we made, the story and its lesson will rise up like the proverbial phoenix rising up from the ashes of destruction.

When we look to the wrong turns we have taken and our regret over the choices we made, we often find ourselves asking what if?

What if I wasn’t in too much of a rush to kiss her goodbye that morning before she left for school?  Or-  What if I took more time to see the signs of his illness before he let it go so long that it became too late by the time he finally sought help?  Or- What if I did not let him take the car out that day, or what if I didn’t let her walk home from school? What if I did something wrong to cause the miscarriage that perhaps could have been preventedWhat if I did not get divorcedWhat if I had been a better daughter, mother, wife, sister or friend?

Often, it is not in the right turns we have taken that we find the most evocative stories but in the wrong turns. That is because readers want to connect with a story that resonates with their own self-doubts, torture and pain.  Our audience seeks a story to which they might turn for the answers to their own painful questions and to a place in which they won’t feel alone.

It is in the writer’s story that our audience looks to find their own stories.

The writer will open a vein to bleed in order to face the honesty she has been dodging. It is what we have been afraid to admit to ourselves that we can somehow confess on the page. It is that deep honesty of our guilt that gives rise to the story that transcends universally with our readers.  After all, which of us on this earth has not made a wrong turn in our lives to which we wish we could go back and re-do.   It is those wrong turns from which we gain the strength to rise from our own ashes of shame and regret and it is from those wrong turns from which we can eventually heal and ultimately, from which we discover our story.

If we look into our past for the moments we wish we could change, or to the decisions that led us down the wrong paths, we might finally recognize what really conflicts us, haunting us like an old ghost who won’t go away.

It is those stubborn old ghosts that trouble us and the wrong turns we’ve taken, and our courage to finally face and accept our choices that provide the inspiration we seek and ultimately, the gift of healing.

 

 

Taking action in the face of fear in order to achieve change.

     It is the start of a brand new year and with that comes a brand new vision, brand new goals and brand new ideas- or basically, the desire for or need to change!  Last year the themes of my monthly blogs centered around children’s books and while it was fun working on them it is time to change direction a bit. However, since it is The Writing Queen site’s five year anniversary this month, (yup- I can’t believe it either… Where does time go?) and since we are discussing change, I have decided to make my own change- to do something different this year with my blogs.

     This year’s blog theme will contain or come from an eclectic range of topics.  One month my blog may continue to focus on a children’s story (since I didn’t get enough last year!), another month I may take readers on a journey through a Y.A adventure I enjoyed while providing helpful writing advice for Y.A writers based on that story, another month I may write about an adult novel I appreciated, dissecting it as a way to learn what worked, and of course what didn’t work, for that particular author or for me as the reader, while another month my blog may come from a how to article borrowed from one of my favorite writing magazines or how to write books.  Additionally, – who knows- I might even throw in a blog or two with excerpts from some of the writing projects I am currently working on, though only enough to wet the reader’s appetite until and if the projects are ever fully completed.

     Basically, anything goes this year!  2018 will bring with it a real smorgasbord of Writing Queen blogs, with one common denominator, of course, as the only condition-  all of my blogs will continue to focus on some aspect of writing and reading. After all, the two go hand in hand- like morning and coffee, movies and popcorn or bread and butter!  Without good writing we won’t have good reading and without individuals who love to read there won’t be a need for good writing——- so, without further adieu, I give you my first blog of 2018 on writing and reading and because it IS the start of a new year, and time for change!

     Why is it that so many of us create new year’s resolutions only to eventually break them?  After tiring of the same old perspective and routine, or the same old self, we become eager for change, therefore;  we set a goal and cross our fingers that we will grow strong enough to attain it. In writing, as in life, many of us find it difficult to recognize we need to change, or to make decisions.  We struggle with going outside our comfort zone to try something new, to discard the tattered old process in which we write our stories, create our art work, or live our lives, therefore; we fail to attain the change we desire or need.   In order to secure change we must first realize and accept that there is the need to change to begin with.

     For instance, in Bob Mayer’s informative article in the February 2018 Writers Digest, he writes about making changes to our writing processes, and finding a way to fight our fears in order to accomplish success.

     Acknowledging that plots and characters “come and go”, the author points out that for successful writers, it is the passion for the process that must burn on that will lead us to success.  As we writers know, any good story will center around a fully rounded character arc, but in order to accomplish that feat the character must pass through three stages of change, just as we must do in real life if we want to achieve our resolutions, or simply clinch any goal. Those three stages include the moment of enlightenment ( such as the moment we come up with our new year’s resolutions (or we create a goal) because we realize we need to change something about our process, or about ourself. This stage is followed by the decision stage, which Mayer points out binds the character in a sudden obligation, either externally imposed or internally motivated.

     Finally, the third stage that actually accomplishes the change, and the one that has the most potential  to break our resolutions, or prevent us from procuring the change- if not realized, -the most difficult stage, is sustained action.  Through sustained action in which we have “trained” the new behaviors into becoming habit, we can obtain change.

     As Mr. Mayer indicates, most of us struggle with decisions, not because we are afraid of the decision but because we are afraid of making a mistake, or of failing. He further points out that the only way to become an artist is to take risk, or to accept that being wrong is an inherent process of creativity.  By testing different methods and identifying which areas you have the most trouble with, you can figure out… who you are as a writer, what type of story you most desire to write, what message you want to send, what idea excites you, what types of characters you want to create and what type of problems they will have as well as what changes they will or won’t attain as part of their character arcs. And you will figure out what changes you need to make to the process you use, or the path you take,  to work toward getting yourself across your finish line- whatever that may be.

     The author adds that fear of making a mistake or of failure is the number one problem facing every artist, just as it is for individuals in life, and it is that fear that should push us toward recognizing our need to change to begin with.  Courage, Mayer says in his article, is taking action in the face of fear.  Further, the author embellishes this idea with a great quote from essayist Anais Bin;

     “ Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage”.

     And, adds Mayer,  “so does our art”.   It is our passion channelled by our writing (or any ) process that fuels our courage.  Therefore, in order to attain and maintain sustained action, we – like the fully rounded character arcs we create, must first identify the need to change, make the decision to take the necessary action that will push us forward down the path, and keep at that action until the brand new process becomes a part of who we are as a writer, an artist, or as an individual.

     Just as our characters’ have a need to save the day, marry the guy, find the lost treasure, get the bad guy, or become a better or changed person, or whether the every day individual’s need to change includes a resolution to lose weight, exercise more, or save money, it will be possible to achieve that goal only as long as we push fear out of the way in order to clear our cluttered path toward success.

     Through identifying our need to change and taking sustained action in the face of fear, we can do anything we set our minds to do, even if it means ripping up the story we have worked on for three years that we know deep down isn’t working, or discarding the size two clothes in our closet that we know will never fit again.  It is taking action in the face of fear that will allow us to procure change, reach our goal, or achieve our ever faithful new year’s resolutions, this time for once and for all.

Hope in a Brand New Light and Our Own Special Place in the World

What better way to end this year’s “children’s theme” blog collection than to combine the enchantment of imagination with the inspiration from poetry, and the magical sprinkle of Christmas charm into my closing blog of this year as a final pitch to bring hope back into our everyday lives.  After all, my blogs this past year have ultimately been about hope -and although these blogs are about the craft and passion of writing and reading, it is the human condition in some form or other about which most stories are written.

I began writing poems and stories when I was about eight or nine years old, at a time when I viewed the world from beneath a child’s veil of purity and pixie dust and through starry- eyed, rose- colored glasses.  In our young innocence there is always hope, not yet tainted by tragedy and disappointment and the life experiences that eventually reshape us and it is through story that it becomes possible to somehow find the way to hope again.

Finding magic and charm in nearly every situation and experience as a child, from the sound of rain falling against the side of my family’s bi-level home to the silence of the season’s first snow falling gently upon the outstretched boughs of the tree nestled upon our front lawn, to the trailing growl of airplanes in the distance flying across the flawless skies on a warm summer day as I worked in the garden with my father,  it wasn’t difficult to find  story ideas in ‘everywhere” and ‘everything”.  It was easy to find words that could rhyme or sound lyrical, or to create characters  capable of bringing fairy tales to life while spinning together happy endings into which I wished I could slip, making my character’s hopeful endings my own.

A writer’s aim is to emit a shiny new light on everyday situations, people and objects in order to mirror the universal human condition or emotion.  Some authors do this by breathing life into inanimate objects like misfit toys who hope to be found, little red cabooses who hope to succeed at their tasks or quaint little country cottages who hope to find joy in the city only to later discover they were happiest in the place from which they started.  Other writers infuse animated life into animals, like the three bears who come home to find a hopeful little golden haired girl in their beds, or into reindeer who fly through the fog in order to ensure that little boys and girls receive the dream gifts on their Christmas lists.

Regardless of the kind of pixie dust a children’s writer  ( or any writer) chooses to sprinkle into her creation, the key is to look at the subject about which she desires to write- from a unique perspective, then to shake her idea around, or turn it upside down, or flip it inside out if necessary- until a brand new story emerges.

Seemingly, most stories are derived from one of several basic plot patterns, some of which include the quest plot, said to be the oldest plot line of all, in which the hero goes into the world to search for something he needs, or the revenge plot in which the protagonist was wronged in some way and seeks to avenge, or an adventure plot line, an allegory plot line, and so forth. Same basic plot line, just different ways to embellish it. Finding a shiny new manner in which to create a unique story that follows one of those familiar ,not so unique basic plot lines- should always be the writer’s goal and the reader’s expectation.

For instance, in Clement C. Moore’s The Night before Christmas, aka  A Visit from St. Nicholas and Twas the Night before Christmas, a great big ole elf named St Nick sails across the star speckled night skies in a miniature sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer, as he visits the homes of children all over the world;

       More rapid than eagles his coursers they came, And he whistled and shouted and called them by name: “ Now Dasher! Now Dancer! Now Prancer and Vixen! On Comet! On Cupid! On Donder and Blitzen! to the top of the porch! To  the top of the wall! Now dash away, dash away, dash away all!

In this incredibly well known poem, published in 1823 and first written in response to a request made by his daughter, Moore enchants children (and adults) of all ages year after year as his Christmas narrative welcomes readers into a magical story that is as warm and cozy as the snug and welcoming house in which Santa and his reindeer visit in his story.  Taking an ordinary home, decorated for Christmas, from which an ordinary family dreams in their beds, Moore transforms a basic plot line into a beautiful poetic story as a forever Christmas gift to his readers.

Similarly, Children’s author Chris Raschka brings a lonely little pine tree to life in his picture book;  Little Tree.  Inspired by the E.E. Cummings inspirational poem Little Tree, Raschka weaves a simple and sweet children’s tale in which a little tree’s dream for identity, recognition and love comes true when he transforms into a beautiful Christmas tree, chosen by and adored by his new family.  In his new little home, a little girl and little boy decorate the little tree;     

       The little tree lifted up his little branches, like little arms, to show off all the little ornaments, ribbons, chains and lights.     

As the little tree basks in the light of his new found love and adoration, his dream is realized as he finally finds and accepts himself in a not so little way.  Similarly weaved through out thousands of stories lining the shelves of libraries and book stores, this universal and familiar need for love and identity is presented in a unique and imaginative light, through the dream of a pine tree who comes to life for the short span of less than twelve creatively illustrated pages while lasting a lifetime in the minds and hearts of children who read this story.  Sparking the connection for which readers desire to find each time they turn a page, this author turns a sweet, little story into a giant lasting lesson of love.

Seemingly, through the spirit and magic of Christmas, traditional tales that have persevered through the test of time continue to entertain readers through lessons of love and hope over and over again. A jolly snowman comes to life with the help of a magician’s hat and the hope of a child, who melts our hearts with his desire to give love rather than merely receive it.  A round- headed and disheartened school- age boy named Charlie melts hearts when he buys a skinny, broken little Christmas tree for the cast of the Christmas play he directs and is ridiculed for his hope that he could transform the broken tree into anything special. Of course, in the end, through Charlie’s and his friend Linus’s ability to see something special, and through the gift of love and the miracle of hope, the tree flourishes. Moreover, in Charles Dickens’ allegorical classic story; A Christmas Carol, a cranky and miserable, greedy old man named Ebenezer Scrooge is transformed through the guidance of three Christmas ghosts and the hope they inspire. 

To re-discover and preserve hope, we find out who we were always supposed to be and how big a deal love and acceptance is to each of us. Like the story about a nasty and grouchy old green grinch who eventually learns that love doesn’t come in presents under the tree but in the love we give to one another, Raschka’s own little animated pine tree comes to realize the beauty of that gift as well; 

     little tree had found his own special place in the world, a special little place that was waiting for him all his life.

And in the end, isn’t that what we all want in life for those we love, for the strangers who need our help and for ourselves?  A special place in the world, or in someone’s heart where we can cherish the one gift that doesn’t come wrapped with a bow, or bought in a store, where we are free to give and receive love without expecting anything in return.  By building memories and creating and passing down traditions and stories of promise -that never die even when we ultimately must, we spread hope.

In a time of instability, unraveling and fading optimism, it is time for each one of us to recapture the innocence of childhood, bring back the magic and true meaning of Christmas and ensure that the spirit of Christmas and childhood purity remains a part of each one of us all year and in all we do.

Once upon a time, a few thousand years ago a child was born who had hope and wanted nothing more than to pass that hope along to the rest of us as a gift from his father. That child would ultimately die for us so that we could live happily ever after even though his own earthly life was brutally and prematurely taken from him.  In our faith of his love and his selfless gift to the world,  and in our universal desire to give and receive love, and our wish to find our true place in the world, we can find, build or share hope through the magic of story. 

Finally, in unearthing hope in its brand new light, like shaking a snow globe in order to rejuvenate and emphasize its beauty while illuminating its message, the writer passes to readers the gift of optimism, promise, faith, rediscovery and possibility, all of which comprise hope.  And as that hope changes color or converts into something brand new and spectacular, shining brighter as it expands, it becomes easier and more natural  to pass that special gift along to someone else, just as we were always meant to do.

In closing, I want to wish a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday to everyone reading my blogs this year. Regardless of the different holidays or customs you follow, or the politics to which you subscribe, or the religion in which you rest your faith, as Charles Dickens’ beloved and hopeful Tiny Tim would say;  “God Bless Us, Everyone”!

Adieu to 2017 as we remember all those we loved and lost this year and over previous years (in dedication to the man who taught me that we truly can find magic and hope in everyday life- my father) , and cheers to 2018 in expectation that it comes with the gift of hope in a brand new light, so that we might all help one another find or re-discover our own special place in the world.

Literary Substance in Children’s Picture Books and Mastering Emotion

Through imagination and a well developed story, the picture book writer adds illustrations to provide literary substance to his story.  Pictures that reflect the characters’ goals and emotions reinforce the author’s storyline, further drawing the young reader in.

In order to uphold the literary significance of the late Maurice Sendak’s story: Where the Wild Things Are, Sendak created a protagonist who interacts with wild beasts to illustrate how children might master their emotions of fear, anger or frustration.

Sendak’s protagonist is a young boy named Max who is sent to his room with no supper as a form of punishment given by his parents for his misbehavior. In his frustration, Max turns his bedroom into a jungle where he is confronted by beasts he refers to as the Wild Things.  Max appoints himself as  the “king” of the wild things and romps around with the wild thing beasts on their jungle island.  But, after a while when Max starts to miss his parents and the safety of his bedroom he sails back home to find a hot dinner waiting for him.

Containing some of the elements of Wizard of Oz, the story depicts a character who escapes his perceived injustices by traveling to a more colorful land in which there might be opportunity to attain the justice he felt deprived of back home.  Of course, in the end the character realizes there really is no place like home, however,  it took an imaginative journey in order to come to this conclusion.

In Sendak’s story, Max acts out his frustrations and anger by conjuring up magical, ferocious beasts who are wild and free, something he desires to be, while in Oz Dorothy runs away hoping to find someone she can trust who will help her save her dog.  While Max creates beasts to represent each of his emotions; anger at his parents for not letting him do what he wants and frustration at being punished by them, Dorothy on the other hand- travels far away to a place where she hopes to find safety and love.  Neither character finds what he is looking for in the distant and strange places they create in their imaginations, rather they find what they desired in the place from which they started out, at home sweet home.

Balancing the merry go round of emotions that flutter around inside each one of us, Sendak’s  Wild Things centers on the emotional changes the child undergoes as a part of his growth and development. Max acts out his temper tantrum through his imaginative journey to the land of the wild things where he can finally be free. Yet after acting out his emotions and getting the freedom he thought he desired, he realizes in the end that he already had what he needed….that perhaps home, where he is loved, is not so bad after all.