Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Gem of a Book - My Southern Journey by Rick Bragg

More than one of my friends has commented that the first thing they do when their copy of Southern Living arrives is turn to the Rick Bragg essay in the back. Ditto for me. So when I saw the magazine had published a collection of those essays, I immediately bought the book. Unfortunately, it wasn’t for me. It was for a gift, and as it was a little pricey, I didn’t purchase one for myself. But until I could justify buying my own copy, I made the best of the situation. I read the book before giving it away. I very carefully turned each page by the corner and not so much as drank a cup of tea anywhere near it. I also had to keep pens out of reach. Whenever I read, I  underline words or ideas or clever or unique expressions that especially appeal to me. I knew if I had a pen anywhere near me while reading this book, every page would be covered in as much ball-point pen ink as printer’s ink by the time I finished. If “previewing” a book before giving it away constitutes re-gifting, so be it. It’s not like I haven’t done that before. (And don’t even try to tell me you’ve never done it!)
            I love Bragg’s writing because something in his Southern experience resonates with my own. Unlike him, I wasn’t brought up in the “deep South,” but I spent many days of my youth in East Texas, which—according to the movie Bernie—“is where the South begins.” I know about red clay, tar roads, and practical, no-nonsense pet names. Good Dog, the name my dad gave to a stray he adopted, comes to mind. 
            Yes, I love what Bragg has to say. But, even more, I love the way he says it. His ability to “turn a phrase” is genius bordering on magic. I challenge even Yankees not to find intricate beauty in silver chewing gum wrappers placed between the pages of a grandmother’s Bible. There's a multitude of story possibilities in that detail alone.
            I confess I usually hurry through book introductions and sometimes skip them altogether. But not in this book. I knew even in the intro there’d be words and phrases and imagery and  “southernisms” I didn’t want to miss. I wasn’t disappointed. I laughed and cried and laughed till I cried . . . all before reading the first essay.
            In addition to it being a pure pleasure, reading Bragg is a writing lesson for me. Unintentionally, I’m sure, he offers great instruction. I always keep an eye out for an especially creative technique to incorporate into my own writing. And on page twenty-one of this book, he offers an excellent piece of advice for writers. He confesses that whenever he finishes a book, he lets his mother read it first. He contends your first critic should be “in your pocket.”
            I laughed when I read that because it goes against all I’ve read or heard concerning beta readers. Conventional wisdom insists such people should be tough and relentless. I like Bragg’s advice better. I bet if more writers followed it, we wouldn’t be such a frustrated lot!



Friday, January 1, 2016

2016 A Year of Passionate Planning

         Usually, I’m like most people in that I look forward to the beginning of a new year. Even if it’s mostly wishful thinking, I like the idea of making a fresh start, establishing new and positive habits and all that. But this new year’s morning I woke up in a funk and at first wasn’t sure why. Many times when I go into one of these unexplained visits to the proverbial “dumps,” I can pull myself out by identifying the trigger. So after taking some soul-searching inventory, I discovered the source of my doldrums: my new Passion Planner.

I was excited to receive my
new planner...
until I realized I had to
make the plans
         Yes, a seemingly innocent-looking planner was the culprit. I’d been excited to receive it at our annual Inklings Christmas Tea and book exchange. I’m a big fan of day-planners in which I write down my activities for the day, week, month. In fact, I couldn’t function without one—or two. But when I got this little gem home and started perusing it, I went into a tailspin. This wasn’t an ordinary planner. It was a Passion Planner. Not one in which I simply wrote down the activities planned for me by others, but one that required I actually make plans. And not only day plans, but three-month, three-year, lifetime plans! Plans I was passionate about! For a pin-ball person like me—the kind who basically goes through life bouncing off and among the plans others make—an exercise such as this can be daunting . . . and a little depressing.

            But, this being the time for new beginnings, I reluctantly took the challenge. Fortunately, the planner gives some step-by-step directions for creating my “passion roadmap,” and I followed them as best I could, even setting a timer as suggested. As one who never made it past the introduction of Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, I didn’t have much hope going into this exercise. But I was pleasantly surprised by the results. I think it had a lot to do with the admonition to “not feel the need to be realistic or justify [my] dreams.” In no time at all, I had identified and prioritized some specific dreams and goals for the coming days, months, years, lifetime!

            Will all these goals come to fruition? Probably not. But that’s not going to discourage me from dreaming and planning. Because even if just some become reality, I’ll be in a much better place. And the dreaming and planning can be half the fun.

            Along with directions for planning, a month-at-a-glance calendar, and day-by-day scheduling, my new planner also provides a “Space of Infinite Possibility.” I pray that is what 2016 will be for you!