Write What You Know.

Getting a hug from Dad
Getting a hug from Dad

“People of mediocre ability sometimes achieve outstanding success because they don’t know when to quit. Most men succeed because they are determined to.” ~ George Allen, Sr.

“Self-knowledge is essential not only to writing, but to doing almost anything really well. It allows you to work through from a deep place – from the deep, dark corners of your subconscious mind.” ~ Meg Rosoff

“Every writing teacher gives the subliminal message, every time they teach: ‘Your life counts for something.’ In no other subject that I know of is that message given.” ~ Roger Rosenblatt

The last time I had my writer friends read through the latest revisions to my manuscript, one of them said she thought the men were too soft. “That’s okay if you want this story to be used for a Hallmark movie but I think the men need to be rougher.” I was taken aback by that. I said, “Well, I’m writing what I know. My father was soft, my husband, brothers-in-law, father-in-law, uncles, are all like the characters in my book. I guess I don’t know how to write any other way.”

Since my conversation with my friend, I’ve been thinking a great deal about whether or not I should take her advice. I considered it for a while because some of the movies on Hallmark are sappy and the characters rather one dimensional. I considered making the change, but, I can’t. There are a few men in my book who are not kind. They are reflections of people I have known who treated me badly. But the rest are like the men at church when I was growing up, or the men in my family. Maybe my book is more positive and Jenna and Morgan are surrounded by lots of loving people, but to me that’s normal and I have to write what I know.

Still, my friend’s comment nagged at me, and made me doubt what I had written. “Maybe it’s not true to most people’s lives,” I thought. Maybe it is sappy, like some of those Hallmark movies and shows, but I’m writing what I know.

I have to admit, I’m growing tired of the on slot of dark books, movies and television shows. It’s almost like perpetual Halloween with all the vampires, zombies, and shows about ad men treating their coworkers badly, or brewing up crystal meth to make money to leave their family after they die. Yuck. I don’t want to watch those shows. At least, I don’t want a steady diet of them, and if I don’t, maybe I’m not alone in feeling that way. I may be wrong but it seems harder to find positive stories, with loving characters that are genuine and touching in an unsappy kind of way. When I read a book, watch a movie or TV show, I want to feel good at the end, and like I learned something.

Last week I was looking for a novel to read. I have several on my Amazon wish list but I didn’t want to spend the money now, so I went to the long lists of books I have on my iBooks and Kindle apps. I found, Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts. I saw the movie several years ago and I remember how it touched me. It’s a quiet story about a seventeen year old girl who is pregnant, and on a road trip with her boyfriend from Tennessee to California. When she asks him to stop so she can go to the restroom for the umpteenth time, he leaves her in a Walmart in a small town in Oklahoma. Abandoned with no money, she lives in the Walmart until the night her baby is born. Along her journey she finds a number of loving people who take her in as if she were family, and she learns a great deal about herself along the way. It’s one of those stories where the struggles are mostly internal. There are no vampires, zombies, werewolves, or angry aliens to defeat. Okay, full disclosure, sometimes I like those kinds of stories too. But not a steady diet of them.

I finished Where the Heart Is this morning. The end was so touching that I cried. The book is beautifully written, and as I read the last page, I felt like there is hope for the human race after all, that no matter how bad your life is, you can find love and forgiveness. That’s the kind of book I want to write even if it’s not popular. I want my readers to cry at the end, or feel the joy my characters find. I want them to feel like the human race, despite our struggles, is headed in a positive direction. I don’t know how to write anything else and that is, I can finally say honestly, okay with me.

If you like quiet more positive reading or viewing fare, here are some suggestions. In books: Winter Solstice, by Rosamond Pilcher. I’ve read a couple of her books now and they are thought provoking and positive. Any thing by Madeleine L’Engle, but my favorite is the series beginning with A Wrinkle in Time. They are categorized as Young Adult fiction but I found that the young people at the center of the books must deal with adult problems.

A couple of movies I’ve seen recently that I thought about long after the last frame went black are: The Age of Adaline and Brooklyn. In both, there is a woman protagonist, which I loved. The women in each of these movies have inner conflicts to work out which is what the story revolves around. I found both deeply satisfying.

There are many others, of course, like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movies, or almost any movie written by women (or Joss Whedon). Then there are the classic movies like Random Harvest, Now Voyager, To Kill A Mockingbird (both the book and the movie), PinkyPeople Will Talk, and, of course, I Remember Mama about a writer who learns to write what she knows. You don’t want to get me started on classic movies. I could write a book about what I’ve learned watching them. Maybe someday I will.

I guess I’m on a mission to change the world through entertainment and through my own writing. I hope you won’t settle for watching only blockbuster movies or reading only the latest best sellers. While those may be fantastic, there are so many exceptional authors and movie makers doing extraordinary work. And if we celebrate their work, then maybe these quieter, deeply human stories will get more recognition.

Thanks for reading.

P.S. I just saw a trailer for a new Amazon series, Good Girls Revolt. It’s based on real events at a news magazine in the late 1960’s during the Woman’s Movement. This looks a lot more interesting than Mad Men. (I’ve never seen Mad Men. It may be really good, but it seemed to me that men behaving badly is what that story is about and I’m looking for some quite different.) I think I’ll check out this new series and see if it fits what I’m looking for.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016

Terrible TV

Statue of Zeus in Greece
Statue of Zeus in Greece

“A moment of anger can destroy a lifetime of work, whereas a moment of love can break barriers that took a lifetime to build.” ~ Leon Brown

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” ~ Anne Frank

“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” ~ Joseph Campbell

The other night I had a rare evening to myself and I thought I’d watch something on television. I’m pretty picky about what I watch. The series, movie, or educational program has to be informative, positive, and/or shed some light on the human condition. I couldn’t find anything to watch that I thought was worthwhile, or that I thought was interesting.

Ever since the first episode of Survivor aired, I’ve watched television decline into competitions, name calling, with a dog-eat-dog kind of mentality as a major part of the program. TV, like all visual/emotional story telling, is a powerful tool for impacting the viewer. We are often unaware of how deeply our thinking and feeling has been influenced by what we watch. I believe these divisive kind of shows have contributed to the change in our society from kind to mean.

I know that TV is entertainment and people have the choice to watch what they want. But I wonder if this kind of dumbed down programming has also contributed to other declines in our society. The masses get one kind of entertainment, while the more well-to-do get another. If that’s the case it makes me sad.

Yet there may be hope. Great programming has emerged in unlikely places. Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and other networks outside the traditional stations are offering interesting documentaries, and fictional shows that people are talking about. PBS is enjoying a resurgence in popularity since Downton Abbey aired. They, of course, have always offered great programs of all kinds. Choosing our entertainment is just a matter of deciding what kind of energy we want to put into our brains, mindless bickering, or something enriching.

Not all modern programs and movies are bad. For example, I have heard people lament the proliferation of superhero movies. Some people think that we should watch nothing but classic movies and television. But I disagree. Entertainment reflects what’s happening in our society. So to me, the abundance of fantasy, sci-fi, and superheroes in our entertainment is a clue to what is going on in our collective unconsciousness at this juncture in history.

I think it was Joseph Campbell who said about the popularity of the Star Wars movies, that we modern humans hunger for our own myths. These new kinds of stories strike a cord with people who want their own kinds of heroes to look up to and emulate. These modern mythological characters deal with their inner and outer demons much like in ancient myths, however, they do it differently.

One of the ways heroes in modern mythological stories are different than those of old, is that they band together to face the common foe. Like Harry says to the villain in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, “I’ve never fought alone, you see. And I never will.” It is only in working together that wrongs can be righted, or a problem solved. It is tempting to think that we are fighting the big battles alone, but we don’t have to. It’s harder to break ten sticks bound together than it is one lone stick. That’s a good thing to teach our young people.

Okay enough ranting about television for today. Maybe I shouldn’t care since I have reduced the amount of TV I watch over the years. However, I do want to see good stories being told in all kinds of mediums. I want to see stories where the characters learn something valuable, and are able to make themselves and their world a better place in which to live. Those are the kinds of stories that inspire me.

I will most likely address this issue again in my upcoming YouTube series, “Loving Literature.” Stay tuned for the launch date.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016

Word Power

“The thought manifests as the word; The word manifests as the deed; The deed develops into habit; And habit hardens into character. So watch the thought and its ways with care, And let it spring from love. Born out of concern for all beings.”

– Buddha, was the central figure of Buddhism.

Words have been on my mind a great deal since I began writing my novel and this blog. That’s not true, I’ve always been fascinated with words. I’m told I spoke clearly before I could walk. None of that baby talk for me. When I was in grade school, my teacher praised me to the class for saying the word “multiplication” clearly, enunciating all the parts of the word. The other kids looked at me with perplexed expressions on their faces as if to say, “What difference does it make”?

My favorite subject in school was English where I learned to love great literature. In college my majors were Religious Studies and Theatre and Speech and my Masters degrees are in Theater Arts and Education. So, as you can see, words and the ideas behind them matter to me.

That’s why I’m concerned. There seems to be a growing trend of speaking before thinking about the consequences of what we’re saying. Is it just me, or are we lashing out at one another more than we used to do? We’re making a habit of using personal invective against one another without realizing that words are made up of energy. When spoken they are sound vibrations that we’re sending out into the world. When read silently, they stir or damage our soul.

Maybe you don’t know what I’m getting at. Okay, let me demonstrate. In the “Declaration of Independence” the line we revere the most is this: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…” As Americans, aren’t we proud of that document? Would we be as proud if Thomas Jefferson hadn’t been such a good writer? What if it said: “This is what we believe to be the truth, that everyone’s created equal, with rights that can’t be denied. We state that some of those rights are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It doesn’t have the same ring does it? Here’s another example of a document we hold dear, “The Gettysburg Address” by Abraham Lincoln. “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” What if Lincoln had started his address with, “One hundred and seven years ago our nation was created.” See what I mean?

My point is that words have power. We continue to study the works of Shakespeare because of the way he stated his ideas through characters in interesting, sometimes desperate situations. It’s the same with all great literature, but our popular entertainment, with a few exceptions, is made up primarily of reality shows where the “real” people are bickering, tearing each other down with their brutal honesty, or using profanity that has to be bleeped out. What kind of negative energy are we saturating the air waves with and how does that affect us? I’m not saying that a good swear word should never be used. Sometimes that’s the best way to express our feelings. What I object to is yelling them in someone else’s face.

In a fantastic book I read last year, Every Word Has Power, Yvonne Oswald writes about the power the words we think and speak have on our lives. If we’ve got the habit of denigrating ourselves, it’s nearly impossible to be successful out in the world. For that reason she helps the reader notice their self-talk. Beginning to change ourselves is the way to change our outer world. For that reason, I don’t watch all those negative reality shows, or the news. However, because I’m sensitive, I feel overwhelmed by the negativity of our dialogue with each other. I can feel it in the ethers and I feel sad that we’ve lost much of our civility.

Now that I’ve written about the negative aspects of our media, I do want to point out that I see glimmers of hope. I think the big wigs at the networks underestimate those of us who are viewers. The popularity of Downton Abbey, on PBS no less, took everybody by surprise. It’s a literate television show. Oh, there are characters who can deliver a cutting remark with flair. But, we get to see them suffer the consequences of their actions. They don’t get away with being nasty for long. Another glimmer of hope is the fact that OWN is doing better than ever, and while I don’t watch all the shows on that network, the programming is heavy on personal growth and healing. I could go on, but you get the idea.

I know this one blog post, which will reach maybe 50 people, isn’t going to change the way we think about each other, or talk to each other over night. My goal is to be one voice added to many others, saying, we need to pay attention to how we treat ourselves and others. We need to think, and not just drift along. We need to wake up and be conscious of our actions. If we’re compassionate with ourselves, it’s easier to show compassion for others.

Trust Yourself and Open Up

“One of the things that I’ve worked my way out of doing, and I knew I needed to, was comparing myself to other people. That just poisons everything…Your real job in the world is to be you.” India.Arie on Super Soul Sunday with Oprah Winfrey

I was watching Super Soul Sunday last Sunday and I caught the last half of Oprah’s interview with India.Arie. I’d never heard of her before that interview, but as she talked about her creative life and her spiritual awakening, she might have been talking about aspects of my life. I’ve struggled to be creative on my own terms. I didn’t think I was worthy enough to share my deepest, truest feelings, and gifts with anyone except for a select few. I was a people pleaser.

I was insecure about my writing in the beginning, so, I decided to take a writing class at the local community center. I worked hard on the pieces I presented to the class. When I read over my selections, I thought they were pretty good. However, I was devastated when the teacher told me she thought my work was guarded. I could be sharing so much more of myself and capturing the emotions of the readers. I felt like I’d shared some very emotional experiences in my work, but she didn’t see it that way.

Her good opinion meant so much to me. At the time I was writing a memoir. I took what she said to heart and worked for two years to peel away the protective layers to reveal my true self. My memoir went through lots of revisions. When I thought it was finished, I gave it to a couple of people to read for a critique. They liked it. So, I thought it was ready for a real critique. I contacted my former writing teacher and sent her my memoir.

In my mind, it was ready for publication. But, again, she told me that my work was too guarded. In her opinion, I was detached from the events I was relating. I needed to take more chances to reveal myself, the good and the bad. There was one ray of hope, though. She said that I should keep writing. That I had talent and that from the little she knew of me, she felt like I was a warm caring person. I just needed to let that person show through my writing.

She did me a big favor. Though I was deeply disappointed, I knew I was being presented with a fantastic opportunity. I’d been a guarded introvert for most of my life. Maybe it was time to let the real me out of her box. On the other hand I wasn’t sure I was ready to be that vulnerable. The next week, I told my writer’s group I thought I’d eventually turn my memoir into a novel, because it’s easier to hide my true self behind a fictionalized story.

My feelings about the failure of my memoir were too raw to pick it up again. I set it aside. The beginnings of a novel I’d started years before sat in a file on one of our old computers. I decided to make a fresh start and work on the novel thinking I could maintain my anonymity in a work of fiction. How naive I was.

During that time, I stepped up my spiritual practice and as always happens, little by little I realized that I couldn’t hide who I was any longer. If I was going to be an effective writer, I had to slice through the armor I’d been wearing and let people see the real me. The best stories touch us because the teller has revealed a part of herself.

It’s a scary prospect to reveal the real me to the world, but I’ve decided to risk it. That’s one of the reasons I started this blog.

Not long ago I saw the movie, Snow White and the Huntsman. One of my favorite things to do is to use the Internet Movie Database app on my phone and find out as much as I can about the movie I’m watching. It’s all part of my process of analyzing the plot, characters and themes of the story. I don’t often read the user reviews. When I was reading information about Snow White and the Huntsman, I noticed the titles of some of the user reviews and was appalled at the negativity. I liked the movie and decided I had an opportunity to share my true thoughts and feelings by writing a positive review of the movie. It’s a good place to start, because a review is supposed to be written in a little bit of a detached style, but the writer’s opinion still comes through. I have to say, it felt good to share my opinion and let it go out into the world. I plan to keep writing book and movie reviews when I feel the urge. It’s good writing practice.

If you want to see what I wrote about Snow White and the Huntsman, here’s the link. http://imdb.com/title/tt1735898/reviews-673

I’m still working on my novel. I’ll let you read portions of it from time to time. You can tell me what you think about it. Please feel free to comment on my blog posts too. If you think I’m hiding my true thoughts and feelings. I want you to tell me. Thanks for reading.