On Forgotten Bookmarks

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my heart is with Charlottesville and those who stood for justice… and this post, perhaps a moment to think of a kinder world…

On Forgotten Bookmarks…

I love to write in books; I use highlighters with abandon; I dog-ear pages that I want to come back to. I’m speaking of those I own, of course, though I get a special kind of glee when I come upon a note scribbled in a library book. A glimpse into the life, world view, of a stranger who just happened to read the same book. What a delight. It makes the reading all the juicier.

That’s one of the reasons that I haunt used book stores, though, as a writer, I do have a twinge about keeping that author from his or her well-earned, well-deserved royalty. Still, I admit that the joy of finding a note, a card, a flyer, a grocery list, and, occasionally, a pressed flower, far outweighs my guilt toward the writer.

These days I am re-reading some of my favorite works, and I must say that I smile when I find what I consider to be an especially cogent comment, made by a former me, of course. Hmmm…how smart I was then. Other times I wonder what I could have been thinking. And sometimes, when I see nearly the entire page covered with yellow highlighter, I laugh to picture myself at what must surely have been a frenzy of head-nodding agreement.

My mother used old greeting cards to mark her places, so when I pull out a volume that had been hers, I sometimes find a Mother’s Day or birthday card, sent by me, or my daughter, with a child’s scrabbled handwriting that you never forget. In those times, I get to remember her, and me, and perhaps another little one who is now remembering her own now not-so-little ones.

So, no purist, I am mounting a campaign to ask all readers to write, scribble, leave book marks and memories for those who come behind, even though they might appear via a book sale. Let’s live life lightly, but also leave those anonymous traces of who we are.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

We Are All Connected…

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We Are All Connected …

I’ve been awash with truisms, sayings, slogans these past weeks.  From Teilhard de Chardin’s divine unification, to string theory, to Martin Luther King’s hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that, to Charles Eisenstein’s Hope, Grief and A New Story. I’ve included a link to his essay at the end of this post.

All these ideas, thoughts, point me in the same direction, because, these days, I find myself full of hate, an uncomfortable state of affairs, even as I tell myself that this energy is going toward, not only a good cause, but a cause that must be taken up – for the good of our country, for the good of the world. Yes, I am fighting Trump. I dare not ask myself exactly how I am doing that. By calling my two unresponsive Senators and my Representative, the latter who is sure that his evangelical god is on his side. All three Republicans. So not only do I find myself hating the president, I also find myself hating Republicans. Now I do know that making these arrogant and rash generalizations is not sound reasoning. And I realize that in doing this I am not different from those who continue to support the president. I recently read some Facebook responses to the announcement of Hillary Clinton’s new book, What Happened. I, for one, look forward to reading it, to learning of her insights, flawed or otherwise. For, on a personal level, I support Hillary as a hero for all of us, a person who can endure spite, maliciousness from those who think they know her, who can see a personal humiliation played out in the public arena and stand with her head held high. Would that we all possess such strength. So, even if I disagreed with her politics, she would still have my admiration.

I read the comments under the article, expecting to find kindred observations. Instead, I found much viciousness and malice. Strange, I thought, since, after all, Hillary lost.

And then a thought came to me – we really are all one. We all experience, or can experience, the same feelings. In this case, the feelings were the same – the focus of the feelings was not. For I realized that those responders feel about Hillary the same way that I feel about Trump. I appreciate that my animus goes far beyond the man himself. I recognize that his person and persona touch experiences in me, perhaps in many/most women, of years of misogyny. And that is just a start….

Eisenstein, in his essay, writes of a “deficit of understanding,” that each of us fails to understand the situation of the other. “What’s it like to be you?”

So, for a brief interlude, I theoretically asked that of the snarky responders to the announcement of Clinton’s book. I worked hard to get past my own subjective interpretation, to reach the theoretical soul of that individual.

As a writer, I come to the page without any preconceptions, I meet my characters where they are. I understand and preach that. But I found this exercise to be different, difficult. I wanted to give up, to move on to something else, something easier. I wanted to return to my familiar position of “I have right on my side.” But even as I said this to myself, I knew it not to be the answer. No, I am not ready to go out and meet the “enemy.” Not yet.

So, in this space between stories, I sit with my discomfort, and my platitudes. For now, that’s the best I can do.

https://charleseisenstein.net/essays/hategriefandanewstory/

www.cynthiastrauff.com

On Writing and Selling Same – Redux

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On Writing and Selling Same

Dorothy Parker is credited with saying, “I hate writing. I love having written.”  I agree. And let me add: “I hate selling. I love having sold.”

If this sounds a bit familiar to you (to those who memorize my blog posts), it’s because I wrote a post with this heading not too long ago – while agonizing over marketing my first historical novel, Another Sunday. And here I am again, back in that same misery, only this time with Echoes from the Alum Chine. And so, with this post, I once again share my wretchedness.

I’m in the midst of marketing (a less odious term for selling), setting up readings, sending out press releases, posting events on Facebook, and, I must add, writing blogs. It’s a nasty business, this marketing is, for those born without a silver tongue and a thick skin. Fortunately, as with most writers, I’ve had the opportunity to develop a relative resilience, born of a myriad of opportunities to be ignored or rejected by journals, literary and less-so, agents, and publishers, the latter holding the manuscript for months.

So not hearing back from some book sellers, high-tone reviewers – well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. And hurray to those who reached out, said yes, welcomed me and my book warmly. It makes their percentage-take a bit more palatable.

Marketing involves a great deal of planning, implementation, and waiting – there’s a long lead time. It is also a very left-brain activity. And I thought, hoped, that I had left all that “business stuff” behind when I decided to devote my days (and nights) to writing. Well, not quite.

Now, finally, after immersing myself in selling, pardon me, marketing, these activities are slowing down – not ending, but I’ll take slowing down as a gift.

This week, I returned to writing — another book, this time, as far as I know, set in the 40s and 50s, a new period for me. As I carried my files to the dining room table, I felt that I was coming home. Not that it’s easy. Having written is still way preferable to writing. But I’m loving it. And the research – Wikipedia, the Greensboro Library, and I are best friends again. And I do hope that no one ever investigates my web searches.

So, I would be delighted if you’d read my book, thrilled if you’d buy it, print or e-book. If you can make it to one of my readings, well, that touches my heart; if you would post a review to Amazon and/or Goodreads, I will sing for you.

So, thank you, dear reader. You are my tribe.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

On Courtesy Upgrades…

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On Courtesy Upgrades

I thought that this post would be about how I am never offered courtesy upgrades. I look askance at those sitting in those first-class seats, sipping their complimentary wine, fingering their dainty hors d’oeuvres as I struggle past with my wheeled luggage and a hobo-pack filled with seventy-five pounds of books, shoes, and a change of clothes (just in case) slung over my shoulder, whacking seats on both sides of the aisle, all the while anticipating hours of cramped travel with unruly six-year olds kicking the back of my seat, and a squirming, crying infant at my left elbow (and that has definitely happened to me.) I do not apologize. Because, after all, I have never been offered a courtesy upgrade.

And then it comes to me that, yes, I have been the recipient of such largess. Not often, but once, or twice now that I think of it, I have traveled first (and business) class.  The first was an upgrade because all economy seats had been assigned, and, with the luck of the draw, I arrived just late enough to be the providential recipient. Alas, it was a short connector flight and only lasted an hour – so, just drinks (and I refrain from alcohol on flights) and a bigger bag of nibbles. Well, the soft, roomy seats were nice.

The second time – how could I have forgotten this?—was on an international flight. Somewhere a mistake had been made (I knew it and chose not to point it out) and I was assigned to a seat in business class. I kept mum, sat in my seat, and avoided all eye contact, particularly with the man who came, ticket in hand, to claim my seat. The flight attendant was most kind, pointing out to him that it was my seat. When he showed her his ticket with the same seat number, she was even more apologetic. I allowed her to handle the situation, hoping that he thought that I did not speak English. Eventually, he was escorted to a seat in the rear of the airplane (where there just happened to be an empty seat), fuming and, I’m sure, formulating a response to the airline in question. I spent the next seven hours alternating between enjoying this luxurious lagniappe and worrying that he would appear and drag me by my hair back to that ignominious seat in economy.

I’ve been offered upgrades on rental cars several times, and normally refuse. For me, a bigger car is not better. But there was one instance, during a vacation in Slovenia, where the only car available had an automatic shift. I was miffed, I who consider clutch-and-shift driving the only “real” way to drive. I accepted, but pointedly turned up my nose at this change of plans. That said, as I negotiated the seventeen-switchback Vrsic Pass, I gave more than one thanksgiving for the Hertz representative who smiled graciously when I told him that I preferred stick shifts.

So yes, courtesy upgrades have come my way. And I realize that life is full of them, that my life is full of them. Sometimes they come as airline seats, sometimes with rental cars, but most times they are right in front of us, if only we look.

This morning I stopped to listen to a cacophony of crows. I even put aside my newspaper to savor the sound and the moment. A courtesy upgrade to be sure. A bequest of joy, given freely and accepted gratefully. And every day, my lovely daughter Sasha, the best courtesy upgrade anyone could ever ask for.

And so, for you, I wish a life of recognizing your courtesy upgrades.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

 

On Gifts That Last Forever

Sometimes a book just appears in our lives — a delightful langniappe that stays with you, one that just might change your life. I happened upon Nuala O’Faolain’s Are You Somebody years ago – a chance encounter at the High Point Library, long before I ever dreamed that I could actually be a writer. I thought, reading her memoir, that if I ever wrote, that’s how I would want to do it. Her searing honesty stayed with me, and in every word that I put to paper, I endeavor to be as honest, as authentic, as she.

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Another chance encounter, shortly after I moved to Greensboro, came again in a library, this time a tiny branch that was soon to be replaced by a modern, up-to-date location. This branch still had catalog cards, and was a delightful escape from the pressures of my very modern job. And there I discovered Miss Read, a sort-of 1950s answer to Alexander McCall Smith. Her tales of an English village where nothing really ever happened proved just the ticket to an evening of unwinding from a job where my brain was full-wired and ever-alert.

 

Barbara pym chronologically:

And then there are the lovely suggestions of friends, those who know more about you than you imagine. One such friend, from my Chicago days, looked at me shortly after we met and said, “I’ll bet you’d like Barbara Pym.” And was she ever right. Those stoic women-of-a-certain-age and their quiet courage certainly influenced me personally and in the characters I portray in my novels.

And now toStoner. Ah…John Williams’s book reached down into the depths of my heart, and I am ever grateful to dear Jane for recognizing that resonance.

 

And from my Raleigh days, I learned about E.F.Benson and Mapp and Lucia. Kathy, a quilter, a knitter, and a reader, opened my eyes to this writer and his fictional band of characters. I even visited Rye to walk the bricks that Miss Mapp and Mrs. Lucas had fictitiously trod.

Alice Steinbach passed away on Tuesday.

And finally Alice Steinbach’s Without Reservations. This recommended by a distant relative, whose reading menu I respect impeccably. I thought that it would be a worthwhile read, but was delighted to read of Steinbach’s honest insights on being on one’s own, of learning, digging deep, to find just who she really is.

So, this are just a few gifts that have made my reading life, or rather my life, my soul, fuller, deeper, more committed. I pass these few on to you with the hope that some, maybe even all, will do the same.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

On Gifts That Last Forever

Sometimes a book just appears in our lives — a delightful langniappe that stays with you, one that just might change your life. I happened upon Nuala O’Faolain’s Are You Somebody years ago – a chance encounter at the High Point Library, long before I ever dreamed that I could actually be a writer. I thought, reading her memoir, that if I ever wrote, that’s how I would want to do it. Her searing honesty stayed with me, and in every word that I put to paper, I endeavor to be as honest, as authentic, as she.

Product Details

Another chance encounter, shortly after I moved to Greensboro, came again in a library, this time a tiny branch that was soon to be replaced by a modern, up-to-date location. This branch still had catalog cards, and was a delightful escape from the pressures of my very modern job. And there I discovered Miss Read, a sort-of 1950s answer to Alexander McCall Smith. Her tales of an English village where nothing really ever happened proved just the ticket to an evening of unwinding from a job where my brain was full-wired and ever-alert.

 

Barbara pym chronologically:

And then there are the lovely suggestions of friends, those who know more about you than you imagine. One such friend, from my Chicago days, looked at me shortly after we met and said, “I’ll bet you’d like Barbara Pym.” And was she ever right. Those stoic women-of-a-certain-age and their quiet courage certainly influenced me personally and in the characters I portray in my novels.

And now toStoner. Ah…John Williams’s book reached down into the depths of my heart, and I am ever grateful to dear Jane for recognizing that resonance.

 

And from my Raleigh days, I learned about E.F.Benson and Mapp and Lucia. Kathy, a quilter, a knitter, and a reader, opened my eyes to this writer and his fictional band of characters. I even visited Rye to walk the bricks that Miss Mapp and Mrs. Lucas had fictitiously trod.

Alice Steinbach passed away on Tuesday.

And finally Alice Steinbach’s Without Reservations. This recommended by a distant relative, whose reading menu I respect impeccably. I thought that it would be a worthwhile read, but was delighted to read of Steinbach’s honest insights on being on one’s own, of learning, digging deep, to find just who she really is.

So, this are just a few gifts that have made my reading life, or rather my life, my soul, fuller, deeper, more committed. I pass these few on to you with the hope that some, maybe even all, will do the same.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

On a Geography of the Heart

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On a Geography of the Heart —

In her collection of essays, Belonging: A Culture of Place, bell hooks speaks of a “geography of the heart.” Her geography was Kentucky. And despite the difficulties that she experienced as a black child living in rural Appalachia, and her subsequent extensive travel, education, and renown (my word, not hers), she speaks of the loss and loneliness she experienced when she left, this disconnection from place. In fact, her hunger to recapture that sense of place developed in childhood led her to return to Kentucky, where she is Distinguished Professor in Residence at Berea College.

Her words have stayed with me, as I think of the place where my “geography of the heart” endures. It is the house where I was raised. Isolated, yet in the midst of a city, “Rock Springs” had a profound influence on how I view both the world and myself. It was the subject of the first book I wrote, A Place Called Rock Springs, a memoir, a remembrance of things past, mostly melancholy, but, I realize, shaded with a sepia-tinted longing. This is a picture of the house, complete with the #9 streetcar that ran through the grounds – Catonsville to Ellicott City. It shows the house at its finest – the picket fence that surrounded the lower gardens, the house on the hill keeping watch.

It was a lonely life for me – the house isolated from others; I didn’t see another child until I went to kindergarten. And so I lived an adult life, teaching myself to read, write – the activities of a solitary child.

The house has also been an influence on my daughter, with, I hope, memories entirely joyful. She named her paper business, Rock Springs Paper Craft (www.rockspringspaper.com), part homage, part nostalgia.

And so, I ask you to consider your “geography of the heart.” Isn’t it in all of us?

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

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