"I can't think without a pen in my hand!" - Me

"I can't think without a pen in my hand!" - Me

A Friendly Guide to Navigating this BLOG

If you have visited this blog before, you will notice I've made some changes. A Pen in My Hand is going to be dedicated to lighthearted anecdotes and whatever else I feel like writing. I have started another blog for topics that are more serious/spiritual in nature. See the link in the sidebar to visit that blog.

I sincerely hope you find something here worth reading; but if not, take heart. There are about six billion other blogs out there to choose from.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Battling Mother-Nature

I am currently teaching the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin to a group of high school students.  One of the themes that emerges in the story is the natural affection a mother has for her children and how often this natural affection is associated with pain. This has gotten me thinking about the fact that as mothers, we live in a constant state of paradoxical tension. We are regularly called upon to suppress our natural instincts to shelter, comfort, and protect and instead subject our children to varying degrees of discomfort and even pain.

 My own experience with this has run the gamut from the tragic to the absurd.

When my oldest son was little, he was frequently hospitalized. Again and again, I had to sit and watch nurses poke him with needles to draw blood and thread him with tubes to administer anesthesia or nourishment. My maternal instincts longed to slap the nurse's hand and snatch my baby out of harm's way. I had to force myself to conjure up the deeper instinct to allow him to suffer temporarily in order to serve a greater good.

When my youngest daughter started kindergarten, getting her to leave my side each morning was her own personal trauma. She would gladly have snuggled me day and night for the first ten years of her life if I had let her, but I knew that wasn't what she needed. I'd pull up in front of the school, give her a squeeze and assure her that she'd be fine. Then I'd open the door and literally shove her out. Her older sister would hold onto her while I drove away to keep her from chasing the van.  I'd avoid looking in the rear view mirror because I knew what I would see: her tiny arms straining toward me and a look of sheer misery on her face. I'd remind myself that when she got home at the end of her half-day, she'd be all laughs and smiles – the pain of this parting forgotten until tomorrow when it happened all over again.

But perhaps the most unnatural of these maternal moments happened last Sunday when I brought my son to the airport so he could head back to Camp Lejeune. In a few weeks he will be on a transport to Afghanistan. I wrapped my arms around his broad shoulders and pressed my hands against his back. I froze that moment in my memory – the feel of his leather jacket under my hands, the warmth of his neck against my cheek, the pressure of his arms as they squeezed me tightly – and I stored it away in my heart. Then I did what so many other mothers have done throughout the ages. I let go. I drew back, eyes dry, smile confident, and said goodbye.

It would have been natural to cling to him and sob, but for his sake I had to do what was against nature. We tend to vilify the Spartan mothers for their stoic benediction to their husbands and sons, Come back with your shield or on it. But having bid farewell to both a husband and now a son, I think they had the right idea. They understood what their men needed from them. To do less would have been something like selfishness.

Mothering is full of such moments, and it never gets any easier.

As Christmas approaches, I find myself thinking less of mangers and shepherds and more of Mary, the young mother of Christ. The words of the Christmas story that echo in my mind are not, "Peace on earth, good will to men," but rather the words of Simeon as he stood before Mary and her baby in the temple. After prophesying a life of pain and conflict for her infant Son he added, "… and a sword will pierce your own soul, too."

Surely in Mary's case, the suffering her Son endured during His lifetime served an immeasurably great purpose. I am thankful she didn't hide Him away in a cave and smother His life in peace and safety.  

So, from dentist appointments to deployments, we defy our maternal instincts and let our children out from under our sheltering wings to do what is good and necessary for them to do. And though it may be but a small comfort to us mothers, at least we know when we act thus, we are in the very best of company.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Little Boxes

I'm not sure where the boxes came from. Honestly, I think they've always been there. My earliest memories of them are not so much the story of their creation as their discovery.

I remember getting a demerit in kindergarten in the strict private school I attended. The teacher had blamed me for something I hadn't done. She was scowling sternly at me, looking at me with furrowed brows and glaring eyes, trying to convince me I was a bad little girl. I knew if I continued to defend myself, she'd add lying to my crimes. I also knew, at the tender age of four and one-half, that I was right and she was wrong. My instincts, being scarcely beyond babyhood, nudged me to cry. But something else in me, something too complicated to name, whispered No, don't cry. If you cry, she wins. Look here! Put her in the box! So I put her in a box labeled, "People who aren't worth trying to impress." From her place inside that box, she could not hurt my feelings. I made my face impassive. I took my demerit, knowing that I had shown her I no longer cared.

One day, still in kindergarten, a photographer came to take school pictures. I sat on the little stool in my yellow flowered dress and looked at the camera.

"Smile!" said the photographer.

There was something in his tone that I didn't like. He was a stranger, telling me what to do. I felt my stubborn-self prickling inside.

"Come on, Honey. You have to smile."

Now he'd done it. I have to smile? Oh, really? I settled my face into the most serious expression I could muster – eyes blank, mouth relaxed into a delicate frown. 

The photographer proceeded to empty his whole bag of tricks upon me. Funny voices, stuffed animals, puppets -- the works. A few times I felt myself wavering, my mouth twitching towards a smile. 

But then I remembered the boxes. 

I traveled down to the place where I kept them, deep in my mind. I found one labeled, "Bad things that have happened to me." I opened it and conjured up a vivid memory of an accident I'd had with the clown swing at the park. A boy had been pushing the empty swing. I had walked within range. The seat of the swing had slashed my cheek, leaving me with a thin scar still visible to that day. I called up the memory of the fear, the pain, my mother's alarm. I thought of the fact that the scar would show on my face in this picture – and that was nothing to smile about. My face relaxed easily back into the frown. The photographer gave up and snapped the picture in defeat.

Weeks later, when I brought the pictures home, my mother said, "These are pretty, honey, but why didn't you smile?"

"Because I didn't want to," I said.

Throughout elementary school, I added to the boxes. I filed away troublesome teachers and unkind classmates. I filed away confusing feelings and nameless fears. Having a place to put such things, out of sight and out of my conscious mind, allowed me to be a happy, often care-free child. That's the way I liked it.

In junior high, my boxes failed me briefly. There was one teacher that I really liked, and I wanted him to like me. I got good grades in his classes, but that wasn't enough to make me stand out. He scarcely paid any attention to me at all. To make matters worse, he frequently spoke fondly of my older sister, who was in both his science class and his home room. His obvious preference for her stung like lemon juice on paper cuts. I tried to shove him into my "People I don't care to impress" box, but he just didn't fit. He left the school after my eighth grade year. I moved him to my "People who don't matter anymore" box and was able to close the lid. I rarely thought of him again.

In high school, things got out of control. There weren't enough boxes to stuff away all the messes I was making of my life, so I shoved myself in a box. I labeled it "This isn't really me," and hid there for two or three years.

I emerged just in time to get married. I found a big box and labeled it, "Things not to let get on my nerves." That one filled up quickly and probably saved my young marriage.

Then, in the seventh month of my first pregnancy, the doctor expressed concerns that there might be something wrong with the baby I was carrying. Tests were inconclusive. They wouldn't know until he was born. I had a choice: spend the next two months in a state of constant tears and panic, or carry this down deep into the vaults and put it in a box. It was at this moment that I found the box that would serve me best for all of my parenting years. I labeled it, "I'll think about this when I have to – and not a minute before."

As it turned out, there was something wrong with my baby. After a major operation and three weeks in intensive care, we were told that he could go home but would need to return to the hospital in three months for more surgery. With a smile on my face, I brought my baby home. I enjoyed those three months as if nothing were wrong, fears of the pending surgery hidden safely away in Tomorrow's box. For the next fourteen years, there was always something waiting in that box – something unseen and unspoken looming in my firstborn's future. Something else to face – but not until I had to. In the meantime I would be happy.

More recently, there was the news of my husband's deployment: one year in the deserts of Kuwait. I didn't take that reality out of the box until the first night he was gone, when an earthquake shook our house and no one answered when I cried out, "What was that?"

Now there's something else in the box. My second son is in the Marine Corps. Very soon, his daily text messages and frequent calls will stop. For seven months, he'll be on the other side of the world in a place no one wants to think about – most of all, me. Soon, but not now. When the moment comes, I'll face it. In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy celebrating an early Christmas with our family complete -- all seven of us safely under one roof.

People who know about my boxes have mixed opinions of them. Some call them coping mechanisms. Others hint that I have denial issues. I am not sure who's more right. Maybe I'm like Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind, chanting her mantra, "I'll think about that… tomorrow." Or maybe I'm following the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount where He said, "Do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." I'd prefer to think the latter, but I can't be completely sure. Sometimes the boxes feel like faith, but other times they feel a lot like pretending.

Sometimes I wonder if the boxes are hereditary. When my youngest daughter was three or four, I was trying to get her to apologize for something she had done. I prompted her with the words, "What do you need to say to your sister?" I had in mind something along the lines of, "I'm sorry. Will you forgive me?" What came out of her mouth was, "Not my problem. Not my fault." 

In her laughing blue eyes, I saw reflections of my own. Already, she is protecting herself – sometimes in good ways, sometimes not so good. But perhaps, with guidance, her little boxes will serve her as mine did me. Perhaps they will let her keep smiling right up to the brink of her sorrows and then emerge quickly -- ready to smile again.

Considering the alternatives, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Zobelgrahams: The REAL Zombie Apocalypse (by Graham)

Zobelgrahams: The REAL Zombie Apocalypse (by Graham): Somewhere deep in the UNDERWORLD: President :      Are we on schedule? Everything going according to plan? Field Marshall:         Yes,...

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Becoming Nancy Drew

Between the ages of seven and ten, I read at least fifty Nancy Drew mysteries. By my fifth or sixth book, I had decided that I wanted to be just like Nancy Drew.

It wasn't her titian colored hair (or even the fact that she used words like titian).  I had never been partial to red hair of any shade. It certainly wasn't her wardrobe. I wouldn't have been caught dead in a smart beige suit or a green lawn dress. Her blue convertible was pretty cool, but I wasn't all that into cars. I admired the fact that she was dating an older boy (even if he did have a silly name like Ned Nickerson), and I liked that she kept stringing him along book after book and never let him tie her down. These things were interesting and made Nancy who she was -- but they didn't make me want to be her.

The thing that enthralled me about Nancy was one line that was repeated, book after book:

"Nancy stood there, lost in thought."

I used to read that sentence as a kid and think, "What would it be like to be 'lost in thought'?"

I pictured Nancy's mind as a labyrinth of filing cabinets, filled with knowledge, observations, and information. I pictured Nancy wandering the halls of her own mind leafing through those files, remembering, organizing, devising, and theorizing, literally lost in the sheer massiveness of her own brain.

Other times, I pictured Nancy, sitting in a plush armchair in a vast library, the walls of her mind lined floor to ceiling with bookshelves. She sat there quietly, her hand stroking her chin, thinking deep thoughts about  --  I didn't know what. And this is what inspired me.

I was desperate to understand how one could think at such a depth and to such a degree that one could become oblivious to the outside world. I just had to learn this secret and, if at all possible, become "lost in thought" myself.

I made some attempts at becoming lost in thought by simply assuming the pose. I'd stand with a finger on my lips, stare off into space, and ignore people on purpose when they called my name. Then I'd say, "I'm sorry. Were you talking to me? I didn't hear you." But I wasn't fooling anyone -- least of all myself. I knew my mind was a shameful blank. One could not get lost in a forest with only one tree.

Years went by. Nancy Drew slipped into my subconscious and camped there. As a teenager, I no longer idolized Nancy Drew per se; but the idea of her never left me entirely. Always I was propelled to read more, write more, think more, in hope that one day I might find myself lost in thought.

After high school, I kept reading and writing, but I also got married and had five babies in rapid succession. ("Rapid succession" is another phrase I learned from Nancy Drew books.) My days were full of highchairs and carseats, diaper bags and strollers, bottles and teething rings. I had little sleep and less recreation.

The one thing I did for myself in those early years of motherhood was take a non-fiction writing class. It was just a snail-mail correspondence class, not even for college credit. But it gave my mind something to do during countless hours of washing dishes, folding laundry, nursing babies, and driving carpool. I'd plan and outline essays in my head while my hands were busy with these "mindless" tasks. Then, during nap times or Sesame Street, I'd put pen to paper and write the essays down.

One day, as I was stirring something on the stove, I was suddenly aware of a little voice at my knee.

"Mummy, can I?"
"Mummy, can I?"
"Can you what?"
"Have some juice. I just asked you and you weren't listening to me."
"Oh, I'm sorry, Sweetie. Mummy was just..."

A feeling of profound satisfaction washed over me in that instant. I was wearing sweatpants instead of a smart beige suit, and I drove a grey station wagon instead of a blue convertible. But in the only way that mattered, I was Nancy Drew. I had been really and truly lost in thought over a pot of simmering chili.

During the years that have followed that moment, I'm afraid I've taken my inner Nancy Drew to the brink of dementia. My thoughts are so talkative, that I can sit in a room or a car full of people for hours and be unaware of the fact that I haven't spoken a single word out loud. My mind frequently abandons conversations with other people, leaving my mouth to cover for it, while it wanders off to do more interesting things. When I arrive home from a long drive, I often make a bee line for a notebook so I can record strings of sentences invisibly composed during the trip before I forget them. I get lost in thought so easily these days that I have to make a conscious effort to re-engage with the physical world around me.

I'm not sure that being like Nancy Drew is all I imagined it would be when I was seven. I am beginning to understand why Nancy only had two friends, never bought new clothes, and was unable to make a lasting commitment to poor Ned. Still, as my own children read volumes 35, 40, and 45 of Nancy Drew's mysteries, I find myself watching them eagerly for signs of absent-mindedness. I wouldn't mind if a few of them grew up to have minds that have a mind of their own.

At the very least, maybe one of them will own a blue convertible someday. I think I would be OK with that too.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Artist and his Principles: A Metaphor

What follows is an essay I wrote for my graduate class. I share it here because writing it was not just an academic exercise for me. This essay addresses the tension that I feel as a writer striving to balance the marketability of my work with the need to be true to my own deeply held beliefs. In reading Anna Karenina recently, I found myself identifying with Tolstoy, whose work has been criticized (and even despised) by some who did not share or respect his religious convictions. I can't help but believe Tolstoy wrote himself metaphorically into the chapters discussed below. In these chapters I found practical advice and encouragement reaching out to me across centuries and continents -- from one writer to another. That in itself was an experience worth blogging about!

Embedded in the center of Leo Tolstoy's novel Anna Karenina is a detailed metaphor of the writer's life.  Through a string of brief scenes in Part V, chapters 10-13, Tolstoy uses a character referred to as "Mikhaylov, the artist" to illuminate the tension the artist (or writer) feels by being forced to simultaneously occupy two realms. These realms could be labeled as the spiritual and the material, or simply as the creative and the pragmatic.  It is in the vast region between the places where his mind and his body dwell that the artist must reconcile matters such as inspiration and execution, criticism and appreciation, conviction and necessity.  This tension both frustrates and fuels the artist.

In these brief pages, Mikhaylov first appears in an argument with his wife over money. He shouts at her and calls her names, then shuts himself into his studio to work. Tolstoy writes, "He never worked with such ardour or so successfully as when things were going badly with him, and especially after a quarrel with his wife. 'Oh dear! If only I could escape somewhere!' he thought as he worked." (p. 467) Mikhaylov then finds a discarded sketch which his young daughter had smudged and in the smudge finds inspiration for a new and much-improved drawing. These details illustrate the dual world of the artist – a world in which the chaos of money troubles and messy children actually cultivates rather than stifles his creative energy. We see that though part of him longs for a solitary life in a painter's loft, the true artist in him knows that his inspiration depends on the very things from which he longs to escape.

Mikhaylov the artist cannot create without inspiration. Inspiration is the key to executing his art successfully. It is clear that Mikhaylov will not paint just anything. This perhaps explains why he is poor. He can paint only what he sees and feels through the eyes of his soul. That is why he is so irritated by Vronsky's use of the word "technique." Tolstoy writes, "[Mikhaylov] often heard the word technique mentioned, and he did not at all understand what was meant by it. He knew it meant mechanical capacity to paint and draw, quite independent of the subject matter. He had often noticed…that technique was contrasted with inner quality, as if it were possible to paint well something that was bad." (p. 472) In his opinion, "the most experienced and technical painter could never paint anything by means of mechanical skill alone, if the outline of the subject matter did not first reveal itself to his mind." (p. 472) Mikhaylov had not just to see something but to see into it before he would even consider painting it.  That is why he was so eager to paint Anna. He didn't just see her beauty and long to capture it. He saw something of her soul, and that was what he wanted to reproduce on canvas. Not being a true artist, Vronsky did not have this second sight.
Thus, when Vronsky sees Mikhaylov's portrait of Anna he sees her "sweetest spiritual expression" (p. 475) for the first time on the canvas, even though it has been apparent in her face all along.

Mikhaylov the artist is at the mercy of, though not defined by, other's criticism. When Mikhaylov enters his studio and views his own paintings, particularly Pilate's Admonition, he is quite satisfied with his work. It seems perfect to him. Then, as he anticipates strangers coming in to view it, he becomes agitated. When Golenishchev, Anna, and Vronsky enter, he knows they are not qualified to judge his art, yet he is filled with self-doubt as they scrutinize his work. Then Golenishchev makes an observation about the figure of Pilate, rightly discerning the character traits Mikhaylov had attempted to portray. This thrills the artist, but not as much as Anna's comment about Christ's expression: "One sees he is sorry for Pilate," she observes. The irony in her statement is the reason she makes it. Far from discerning the deep spiritual truth about Christ which the artist has deliberately communicated, Anna merely "felt that it was the centre of the picture, and that therefore praise of it would be agreeable to the artist." (p. 471) Still, Mikhaylov devours the praise eagerly and allows it to nourish his artistic soul.

Mikhaylov the artist must paint out of his convictions, not to please the consumer. In spite of the fact that he needs to earn money to provide for his family, Mikhaylov must paint what he believes in. To him, interpreting Christ as both deity and humanity is "the highest theme open to art," (p. 473) therefore he paints it. However, this theme does not resonate with every viewer. In fact, some (like Golenishchev) find it repugnant. Fortunately, Mikhaylov also has a gift for portraying lofty truth in the most mundane contexts. It is not Pilate's Admonition that fills his visitors with delight, but a painting of two boys fishing by a stream. Yet even in this simple painting, Mikhaylov has managed to display the duality of matter and spirit, as one boy is preoccupied with the act of fishing while the other has abandoned his pole to gaze dreamily at the water. Though they were turned off by this theme in an overtly religious painting, Anna and Vronsky are irresistibly drawn to it in this relatable context. They decide they must purchase the painting – and thus the artist survives, true to his principles yet palatable to his market.

Through these chapters on Mikhaylov and his painting, Tolstoy gives the reader a glimpse at what was certainly his own experience as a writer. First, Tolstoy's work bears witness to the fact that he did not attempt to write without inspiration. He saw humanity with a second sight that penetrated to the matters of soul and spirit, and it is the spiritual condition of men and women that he lays bare in his characters. Tolstoy also wrote without undue regard to criticism, though he took it to heart. Through Mikhaylov, Tolstoy reveals that it is far more painful to have one's work misinterpreted than merely disliked. Liking or not liking is a matter of taste, but if misunderstanding is possible then the writer feels he has failed in his work. Finally, in the same spirit as Mikhaylov, Tolstoy wrote from his conscience and convictions, with an aim to tell the truth – not to please his market. His writing was laced with religious themes and the spiritual principles in which he firmly believed. Surely it was Tolstoy, the artist, speaking through Mikhaylov when he said, "I could not paint a Christ whom I had not in my soul." (p. 472

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Books and Promises

In the summer of 1985, when I was fourteen years old, I caught a terrible cold. It was the week of our family vacation at Long Beach Island, New Jersey. Stuck in a rented house with neither television nor radio, I had literally nothing to do but lie there feeling miserable while everyone else was on the beach having a wonderful time.

After a few days, my father came up to my room carrying a white paper bag from the corner drug store. In it, he promised, was something that would make me feel better.

I reached into the bag expecting to find medicine. Instead, to my surprise, I pulled out a book. It was a fat paperback, maybe three inches thick, with the homeliest boy I'd ever seen painted on the front cover. David Copperfield, it said, by Charles Dickens. I flipped through the pages, letting them fan rapidly off my thumb. There were no pictures. And the print was very small.

"It's a classic," my dad said, as if that meant anything to me.

If my father had given me that book in any other setting, I would probably never have read it. But given nothing but the peeling paint on the ceiling to compete for my attention, I decided to read. And I kept reading day after day, week after week, until I came to the end.

I remember the moment vividly. It was 2:00 a.m., and I was babysitting for some friends of my parents. As I read the final pages, tears poured down my cheeks, and my nose ran shamelessly. I couldn’t bear that I was alone. Such words, such happenings were meant to be shared. I decided to call my mother.

My mother answered the phone and was instantly thrown into a panic. The combination of the late hour and my sobs filled her imagination with horrors. Oblivious to this, I started to read her Dora's deathbed scene, in which she entrusts her young husband to the care of dear Agnes – the woman who had loved David in secret all along. Agnes descended the stairs, hand upraised to heaven, indicating Dora's death.  It was simply the most beautiful thing I had ever read.

Through reading David Copperfield, I became fascinated with people. The characters in the story consumed me and knit themselves into my heart. They became the archetypes for all the other people I would meet in my life. Through the novel, I came to understand that there were weak but well-intentioned people, like Clara and Mr. Micawber; selfish, manipulative people, like the Murdstones and Steerforth; unimpressive but good people, like Daniel and Ham; trapped people fighting their own hearts, like Annie; people who create their own problems, like Mrs. Gummidge and Em'ly; strong, redemptive people like Betsey, Peggotty, and Agnes. As I read (and re-read) David Copperfield, I formulated an idea in my mind of the kinds of people I could respect – and the kind of person I wanted to become.

Thanks to David Copperfield, I also became enamored with words – so much so, that it has ruined all other forms of art for me. It was with words, not pictures, that Dickens breathed life into his characters and made them living souls. For example, one cannot read these words without conjuring not just a mental picture but a kindred sympathy with young David, face to face with the Aunt who had rejected him at birth – his sole fault being his gender:

Not having as yet finished my own breakfast, I attempted to hide my confusion by proceeding with it; but my knife tumbled over my fork, my fork tripped up my knife, I chipped bits of bacon a surprising height into the air instead of cutting them for my own eating, and choked myself with my tea, which persisted in going the wrong way instead of the right one, until I gave in altogether, and sat blushing under my aunt's close scrutiny.

It is that connection with souls through words that has stayed with me. To this day, when I visit a museum, I wander around feeling restless and bored until I happen to find a glass case in which are displayed journals or letters. Then I pore over the faded strokes of ink or lead in a tireless attempt to decipher meaning. Here, in their words, I find a connection with the people of the past -- not in their clothing, tools, or trinkets.

Young Copperfield's aunt once told him, "It's in vain to recall the past, unless it works some influence upon the present." That is why today that tattered copy of David Copperfield is preserved in a glass shadow box in my office. Like a framed muse, it hangs over the desk where I hammer away at my first attempt at a book – which is, ironically, a memoir. As I begin writing my life story, I hear the echo of Dickens' young narrator: "Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show." I relate to this statement on a whole new level now. On the days I find myself blocked, unable to string five words together, I fondly recall Mr. Dick, brought to a standstill in the writing of his Memorial by the unwelcome intrusion of Charles the First's head, which "had been constantly getting into it, and was there now."

To this day, when I pass out copies of David Copperfield to my high school students and hear their groans as they eyeball the cover, binding, and typeface, I make them a promise. I tell them that if they will bear with me to the end of this book, they will never be the same. So far, no student has proved me wrong.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Glimpse at my Memoir -- and How I'm Writing It

I am writing a memoir for my MFA thesis. This memoir (mentors permitting -- and barring a radical change of mind on my part) is going to be written in two parts. Part one will cover early childhood through my 18th birthday and part two will cover ages 18-41. Part one will focus on my father who began to raise me when he was little more than a kid himself. Part two will focus on my own adulthood, which began very suddenly when I got married and started my own family at 18.

Two time lines were necessary to my planning because I wanted to notice and draw out connections between my father's life and mine – ways in which our stories are eerily similar and ways in which they are conspicuously the opposite of each other.

For anyone interested, here is the method behind my writing madness.

Making the Timeline

Step 1: Get a very long piece of paper.

Step 2: Using colored masking tape (sold with art supplies, scrapbooking stuff), mark off two parallel lines in two different colors. This could also be done with highlighters, but the tape can be peeled off and moved – a definite plus!!

Step 3: My two lines ARE NOT to scale. I marked my ages (and dates) on each line separately, spreading them out proportionately because my second line covers fewer years than my first. If they covered the same time period, I would have made them to scale – two inches per year, for example.

Step 4: I used different colored tape to block off significant life markers – like the four houses we lived in each in a different color running parallel to the timeline. I find that many of my memories are "tagged" chronologically by location, so this helps me organize my memories. I also marked the birth of each of my five children on the timeline.

Step 5: I wrote in the chapter titles (or tentative titles) for chapters I have already written and those that I am planning IN PENCIL in the order that I envision they will appear. For chapters still in the planning phase, I used the large amount of white space to jot "notes to self" on what will be in those chapters.

Step 6: I used bright yellow tape to "connect the dots" between the two timelines, noting events and themes in my father's story and mine that I want to develop or explore. These don't line up neatly chronologically, so these lines criss-cross all over the place. But as I get deeper into writing part 2, these connections will keep me focused so I don't lose my theme in a jumble of anecdotes.

Basically, what this project has accomplished is helping me to orient myself in time and organize my chapters in an order that makes the most sense. It has also helped me to identify and visualize connections between the two stories – which will allow me to tell my story in a way that is (I hope) satisfying to the reader in a "coming-full-circle" sort of way.

Remember:  Leave lots of white space for jotting notes and always, always, always use pencil!!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Battle of the Arts

As I write this, I am at a scenic island resort with about 150 other people. Half of these are Artists. The other half are Writers. Some may argue that Writers are artists, so our two groups are really just one. To that I reply, you would not say such things if you were here.

If there is one thing I have learned from this week's juxtaposition it is that Writers may be artists, but they are not Artists. The rising tension on Star Island attests to the fact that we are two very different Animals.

The dichotomy is apparent as soon as we open our eyes in the morning.

The Artists do yoga on the porch at dawn before helping themselves to a rich variety of herbal teas.
The Writers wander the porch groggily, hugging their coffee cups and trying not to see the wrinkled old ladies bending and stretching, many of whom have made the unfortunate choice to wear their bathing suits to this activity.

The Artists, toting their easels and sketch books, go looking for something to paint. They jockey for position, managing to look serene even while fiercely competing for the best views. They sit or stand in solitude, framing the landscape with thumbs and fingers, ostensibly seeing something that no one else has seen in the two centuries that artists have been coming to this quarter-mile island to capture its vistas.

Occasionally the Writers scatter, notebooks in hand, seeking a quiet place to scribble down thoughts. But before long they gravitate back toward each other. They sit in clusters laughing robustly and telling each other stories that have no endings because they are only half written.

The Artists spread their craft projects on the dining hall tables. They arrange them in neat little rows, much like an elementary school Open House. They bid on each other's works in a silent auction, privately taking offense at each low bid.

The Writers spread manuscripts on laps or picnic tables, ruthlessly critiquing each other's prose. They scrawl comments in margins, mincing no words. It stings, but they do it because each knows it is for the other's own good.

The Artists relish the retreat from technology.
The Writers dodge the Artists' frowns, while slyly texting on their smartphones.

When an Artist has to leave the island unexpectedly, the others send her positive energy, loudly chanting a mantra.
When a Writer is called away by an emergency, the others "Like" his updates on Facebook to show their support.

The Artists are ethereal.
The Writers are paying for Ethernet.

The Artists wear sweater vests over their button-down blouses.
The Writers wear t-shirts with sayings like, "I make stuff up."

The Artists carry tote bags with the motto, "My spirit's home is on Star Island."
The Writers would prefer to take their spirits with them when they leave.

The Artists explore spirituality in chapel services morning and evening.
The Writers explore a different kind of spirits long into the night.

The Artists sing "This Little Light of Mine" in a round.
The Writers holler, "ARRRGGH!" and cheer like pirates.

The Artists insist upon a strictly enforced schedule of quiet hours.
The Writers resent this as they would a legislated coma and are frequently scolded by the staff.

The list could go on and on.

I think, based on my observations this week, that the greatest difference between Writers and Artists is that Writers would much rather create a moment than capture one.

Saturday, May 5, 2012


The first time I ever heard of Anne was when I was in the fourth grade. I was sitting on the floor in the hallway of my elementary school playing Password with my boyfriend. Between turns, he casually mentioned that next year he probably wouldn't be my boyfriend anymore because a "gorgeous blonde" was going to be coming to our school, and she was going to be his new girlfriend. In retrospect, I suppose it was very forthcoming of him to give me some notice on the termination of our relationship. But at the time, I was devastated. I didn't even entertain hopes of keeping my boyfriend, because I was completely certain there was no way I could compete with a "gorgeous blonde" even if she was only in the sixth grade. I tried to keep my dignity intact. I acted nonchalant.
"What's her name?" I asked.

"Anne," was the reply.


The summer did much to diminish my anguish over losing my boyfriend. After all, fourth graders don’t actually date; so we didn't see each other all summer long. By the time the next school year began, I had pretty much accepted the fact that this mysterious blonde was going to replace me; and I was OK with that. During the first few weeks of fifth grade, I didn't give this "Anne" person much thought. I was far too busy adjusting to a new teacher and classroom. To my surprise, as the weeks went by, my boyfriend wasn't giving me the final shove-off. As far as he was concerned, we were still together. Maybe Anne didn't come to our school after all. Or maybe she didn't like my boyfriend as much as he liked her. Either way, I coasted along with the status quo, glad that for the time being nothing had changed between us.


I had a sister one grade ahead of me. She hadn't had a very good experience in the fifth grade. She was a bit of a teacher's pet, and the other girls were cruel to her. Basically, she had no friends. She had no reason to expect sixth grade was going to be any better. But to her surprise, something was different. There was a new girl in her class. This girl was pretty and popular and fun; but she was also wonderfully kind. She liked my sister – genuinely liked her. And the other girls liked this new girl. Before my sister knew it, she had friends. Not only this, but for the first time in years she had a best friend. Her best friend's name was Anne.


As my sister and Anne spent more and more time together, Anne and I became friends as well. My sister and I were about as different as two people could be, so it would have been reasonable to think that Anne would have gravitated toward one of us and left the other in the dust; but this was not the case. She was an equally good friend to both of us. Gretchen was her chosen companion for "good, clean fun"; and when she felt like doing something a little crazy, I was the one she'd call. We were an unusual trio, but it worked for us. Throughout junior high and high school, we were virtually inseparable.


Fast forward a couple decades, give or take.


My sister and I are one day less than a year apart in age, so we practically share a birthday. As usual, we planned to celebrate together. We pulled into the driveway of a large cape and parked our cars. There was no need to knock. We walked right in and were met with a beautifully set table lit with candles and the delicious aroma of an amazing dinner. And of course, there was Anne. She was there, as she is there every year, being the kind of friend few people are lucky enough to find in a lifetime. Being the kind of friend who can be a best friend to two sisters at the same time without ever inciting feelings of competition or rivalry. We had a wonderful evening of food, conversation, and laughter. We were as comfortable together as sweatpants and slippers because that's the kind of friends we are.


It was thirty years ago that my childhood boyfriend informed me that I was going to be replaced by this mystery person named Anne. Little did I know that she would play virtually no role in his future, yet such a significant one in mine.

I think that's what they call irony.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Tale of Two Siblings

"What is it, Addy? What do you want to say?"

The big brown eyes just got bigger as the little boy in the booster seat struggled to start his sentence. After about a five-second wait time, the conversations around the dinner table resumed; and whatever Addy had to say was drowned out by the louder and more insistent voices of his four older siblings.

"I'm really concerned about Adam's stuttering," our mom said one day.

"I think he's stuttering because he can't fit a word in edgewise in this family!" I said. "He is so nervous about  getting his words out before we stop listening to him that it's no wonder he stutters. Maybe if we stopped talking and just looked him in the eyes and listened when he talked, he'd stop stuttering."

It was a moment of sheer inspiration, and the reason I relate it is because I would love to take credit for unleashing the verbal expressiveness of my baby brother. My rational self knows that this is not the case, but indulge me…

As soon as the family implemented this eye-contact-with-no-interruptions policy, the stutter disappeared and Adam began talking with a vengeance. He not only talked to us, but he talked to himself. He talked almost constantly.  And most of what he said was in stories. He talked about "Big John Wayne" who lived in our back yard. He stretched our patience policy to the limits by weaving endless imaginative yarns. By the time that he was six or seven, he was writing Westerns and morality tales of all sorts. In the early years, he wrote with utter seriousness. But as he grew older, his story telling became much more imaginative -- even a bit crazy.

When he was ten, he shared a bedroom with his older brother Matt. As they lay in bed at night, they'd create stories together. Completely ad-lib and on the spot, they'd spin strings of dialogue that, when they related them to us later, would have us wetting ourselves with laughter.

Adam was homeschooled. When he was in seventh grade, he and I started meeting regularly for literature and writing classes. Among other things, we studied Great Expectations together and wrote numerous stories and essays. It was clear that though we were sixteen years apart in age, we were kindred spirits in many ways. We both loved a good story, and writing was in our blood.

Eventually Adam grew up, and we found ourselves interacting as peers. We shared our writing with each other, providing feedback on each other's work. We shared an obsession with old fashioned typewriters and with new-fangled technology. And, ironically, we both started college.

I had taken twenty years off from my education to have my five kids. But now, as I prepared to go back, I found the roles reversed. Adam was blazing the trail. He got his bachelor's degree one year before I did, and now he is a year into the graduate school program that I am just applying to.

So much has changed over the past two decades, but at the same time very little has changed. Adam is no longer a toddler who stutters. He is a budding novelist and short story writer. But we still love to read and write and share our ideas. We are also shameless members of each other's "Mutual Admiration Society."

We fantasize about teaching English at the same college one day, but for now we write together for a little fiction blog. If you care to check it out, go to zobelgrahams.blogspot.com and see what it looks like when a brother and sister who love writing together just have fun!!

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Plea to Ruin Books

Over the years I have met with high school students on a regular basis for instruction and "encouragement" in literature and writing. (I use the term "encouragement" because some don't need to be taught anything, really; they just need direction and prodding to stretch them in the kinds of things that they read and write about.)

Generally, I loan my students copies of my books and they return them to me when they are finished with them. From time to time over the years I've had a student who, instead of returning my book to me, would offer me cash -- apologetically explaining that they had "ruined" my book by highlighting and underlining all throughout it. When a student tells me that they have thus ruined one of my books, I give them a hug or a handshake and tell them that my work is complete. They have become "intelligent readers."

Last week one of my current students returned a book to me. I flipped through the pages, noting that they were as clean as new-fallen snow. I thought to myself, "This has got to stop!"

I went to my shelf and pulled off a book and showed it to her. She was aghast as I flipped through the pages. It looked as if a toddler -- no, a band of toddlers -- had gotten hold of it! Pink highlighter, pen scribbles in the margins, underlining everywhere, pages turned down, and sticky note flags splaying out from the edges in every direction. "Now THAT is a well-read book," I told her.

Perhaps it is because she is the oldest of several children, and she is programmed to think in "hand me down" terms. But this student had never written in a book in her life. As I handed her a clean copy of the book I had just shown her, with the command to  ruin it before she returned it, she almost asked me for a note to her mother to prove that this assignment was real.

Am I off base here? Is annotating a book (a fancy term for marking it up like crazy) simply the wonton destruction of property -- or is it (as I would argue) an important step in the process of becoming an intelligent reader? Margin scribbling has been a vital part of my self-education., but it's also more than that.  "A pen in my hand" is  more than  a catchy name for my blog. It's a way of life. Whether I am reading or shopping or listening to a the radio or in a class or driving down the road, I have the constant need to respond to what is going on around me. I have to make notes, write things down, capture thoughts, record questions. The absence of pen or paper to me is what duct tape over the mouth would be to some. It produces a feeling akin to panic. (I have actually been known to write on my steering wheel when paper was not available in my car. Thankfully, airbags make a nice large writing surface!)

I know that not everyone is like me in this way. Some people can go a whole day without writing anything down, and I guess that's OK. But when it comes to reading books, I would defend my belief that a pen in the hand is nearly as important as a lamp in the room. Just as light focuses the eyes, a pen focuses the mind. It forces the reader to ask the questions, "What is important here? What do I think about this? What do I agree with? What do I question? What do I want to know more about? What ideas do I want to keep track of so I can share them with someone else?"

Mid-week I got an exasperated email from my student asking, "Are you SURE you want me to ruin a perfectly good book?" I could picture her, highlighter hovering uncertainly over the page, battling her instincts. The mental image made me smile -- not because it was amusing to think of her stressing out over this assignment (although that thought did amuse me) but because I knew that this moment was far more important to her than she realized.

It would grieve me to see this generation grow up ignorant of the art of intelligent reading. So, (sorry, parents) as long as I am teaching, I will continue to pass along to my students my motto -- which is simply this:
Any book worth reading is worth ruining!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Who's the Hoodlum Now??

He pulled into my driveway on his motorcycle and revved the engine just to show off the sound he'd teased out of his custom pipes. He grinned from ear to ear as he cut the engine and pulled off his helmet. I just shook my head and laughed as I watched him dismount wearing his black leather jacket, matching chaps, and riding boots.

 "What's the matter?" he asked when he saw my bemused expression.

What I was thinking was: "Why couldn't you have been this cool when I was in high school?"  What actually came out was, "Who's the 'hoodlum' now?!"

 When I was in junior high I wanted nothing on this earth more than I wanted a leather jacket. My parents compromised and got me a plastic jacket that looked sort of like leather. It was red, like the one Michael Jackson wore in his Beat It video, and I wore it like he did with popped collar and sleeves pushed up. (Hey, I did what I could with the materials I had to work with!) Even then, I wondered why my parents got it for me in the first place because every time I wore it, my dad scowled at me and said, "You look like a hoodlum!"

 That annoyed me because the only picture I could conjure up in my head of a "hoodlum" was a scene out of  the Broadway musical Westside Story -- dancing street gangs in tight black pants with, you guessed it, leather jackets. This was really not the look I was going for. My parents (particularly my dad) objected not only to leather but also to denim jackets, high top sneakers, and everything else I truly loved. Three school days out of every five, I would come downstairs dressed and ready only to be sent back up to change into something "more suitable for school."

 So now, as my dad roared into my driveway looking like a combination of the AARP and the Hell's Angels, I asked myself,  "How is this fair?"

Then, all at once, I underwent a radical paradigm shift. I realized that this wasn't so much a change in my dad as a reversion to his younger self. During the years he was raising me, I had always thought he was in a state of (very convenient) parental amnesia, during which he forgot what it was like to be 14, 15, 16, or 17 and to be frustrated in all one's attempts at coolness by strict parents with high expectations and low tolerance.  But now, as I looked at the happy expression on his face, it occurred to me that he never looked all that happy when I was growing up.  Could it be that he had set aside part of himself for the sake of us kids, and now that we were grown he was free to relax and enjoy himself again? In other words, could it be that during my teen years, he was suppressing his inner hoodlum in order to be the kind of father he was sure I needed him to be?  That certainly put a different spin on things!

 Either way, as there I stood facing my leather-bound father, his smile gave way to momentary concern. "I don't look like a hoodlum, do I?" he asked.

The shoe was suddenly and unexpectedly on the other foot. He was looking for MY approval. What would I do with this sudden position of power? I did the only thing in the world I could possibly do.

 I answered,  "No, you look great, Dad!"

 And his smile returned.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Blast from the Past

Recently I was sorting boxes and I came across a bunch of my old college papers. I wrote this essay in 1989, when I took Freshman Composition at NHTI. I have typed it here exactly as it was written, resisting the temptation to edit.

Personal Narrative Essay: "An Awkward Moment"

We were drawing closer and closer to the clinic. My mind was already conjuring up images of the huge needle that would be stuck deep into my arm, sucking out my blood – my blood! I had never had a blood test from my arm before. If this were anything other than a pregnancy test I would have insisted on the finger prick method.

It was late. The parking lot was dark. I could see a woman vacuuming the vacant lobby. I wanted to go home. I felt a tug on my arm. Tom. He'd help me through this – even hold my hand. I was sure.

Suddenly the smell of plastic and disinfectant swept over me. We were in the lab. It was quiet. Too quiet. The only person in the lab hadn't looked up yet. There was still time to slip out unnoticed. No, I had to speak. I tried. No use. I coughed instead. She looked up.

Next the forms. First my fear of pain, now humiliation! I had to give my doctor's name – my pediatrician's name. I am married, possibly pregnant, and my doctor is a pediatrician. I felt eight, not eighteen.

Back to reality. It was time to sit in the little chair next to the table where the instruments of torture lay neatly in a row. First the elastic band to cut of my circulation above the elbow; then the alcohol swab to hopefully prevent infection; the test tube, soon to be full of my blood; and, last but not least, the needle.

Tom! Where was Tom? Still there, holding my hand. So far I was OK. But wait, who was this young man entering the lab? A custodian, I hope? Alas, no! He took his seat at the ominous table. He was reaching for the elastic band. Don't tell me this long-haired college boy is going to take my blood! This can't be happening! It was. He glanced at the form. I could sense the name "Dr. Deuger" leaping up at him from the page. I felt as conspicuous as Hester Prynne with her scarlet "A" flashing on her breast – except that my "A" stood for "Adolescent"!

Suddenly the needle was coming toward me. It was huge and menacing, of course. All pride aside, I squeezed Tom's hand. My knuckles were white. I couldn't look. Finally the needle was out. I could breathe again. My arm was still bleeding. As the young man put the bandaid on my gaping wound, I had but one consolation: he didn't draw a smiley face on it with his red magic marker. Tom helped me up. We were leaving. It was over!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Today, I Love Technology!

Some days I hate the Internet. Today is not one of those days.
This morning my iPhone was working perfectly. Then, for some reason, it simply decided to play dead. I could not get it to turn on or off or respond in any way. After the initial panic wore off, I took a deep cleansing breath and sat down at my computer. I typed the following into my Google browser bar: "iPhone 4 won't turn on." Bam! The first hit was an article on some guy's blog talking about how his phone froze up. He described just my experience: "I pressed the home button. Nothing. I pressed the power button. Nothing. I plugged it in. Nothing. I connected it to my computer. Nothing."
"YES!" I thought. "This guy has been down my road. He feels my pain." Nothing was solved yet, but I felt better already.
Next he explained how HE Googled the problem and came up with the solution, which he proceeded to describe. I ran for my phone, tried his solution, and it worked! My phone was back and fully functional. Sweet!
But the real triumph of the World Wide Web came this evening when my son Curtis called me from his cell phone in North Carolina in a fit of frustration because he was having trouble finding a pizza place where he was supposed to meet some people. First he called for the phone number. Two seconds online yielded the number for Papa John's in Jacksonville. I texted Curtis the number so he could call for directions. We hung up.
Several minutes later, Curtis called me back to vent his frustration that he was still having trouble finding the place. Can you find a map? He asked. I found a map online, but it didn't have enough detail to help because I didn't know where he was starting out. Next I tried a satellite photo of the area. It had landmarks marked with labeled pins. I was able to scroll around, viewing a satellite photo of the entire area Curtis was driving in. Finally I found the landmarks he was seeing on the picture. Suddenly, it was like I was Air Traffic Control and he was my little twin engine plane in a pea-soup fog.
"You're OK," I said, "I've got ya. I'm going to fly you in. Do you see an Applebees?" I asked.
"No, but there's a Ruby Tuesdays," he answered.
"Is it on your right or your left?"
"Then you need to turn around. You're going the wrong direction."
He turned around. "OK, it's on my right now."
"Keep going straight."
"I'm at a red light."
"I know, I can see it. There should be an Applebees on your left across the street."
"Yep, there it is."
The conversation went on like this for another minute or two until he spotted Papa John's on his right. "I'm here. Thanks!" he said.
"No problem. Enjoy your pizza!" I replied.
I hung up my phone with a flourish, visualizing myself in a glass tower, pulling off my headset and wiping my brow. "He's there," I said dramatically to my husband. "He made it."
Tom spun his office chair to face me. "That was the most stressful phone call I've ever listened to," he said.
"Well, yeah, I guess that's true," I conceded. "But you have to admit, it's kind of amazing that it was possible!"
Now that it's over, I'm trying to remember how we handled these types of situations before we had cell phones at our ears and computers at our fingertips 24-7. I'm trying to remember…Wait! …Nope, I got nothing.

Friday, January 6, 2012

My Writing Story

OLAS I LOVE YOU Vary moch.
you do sed the prinses yes sed the prints.
the prints and the prinses got mared.
and the prints and the prinses livd happole.
until the prints went to ormy and left the printses all alown.
the printses wept as if her hort had broc.
but the next day the prints cam back.
and the printses sang with joy.
the end.

This was the first story I ever wrote. I was four years old and too young to write legibly by hand, so I composed this little story on my mother's typewriter. She saved it in a cardboard box labeled "Krista-Memories." Over the years that box filled up with a great deal more writing. There was my poetry phase when I was ten or eleven, my fiction phase throughout middle school, and finally my nonfiction phase which began at age fourteen and continues to the present. Regardless of the genres I dabbled in, two types of writing remained constant: letters and journals. Writing these has helped me cultivate relationships, formulate ideas, develop my personality, focus my perspective, and process my experiences. If I had not been inclined (or encouraged) to write throughout the years, I believe I would be an entirely different person today.

I grew up in New Hampshire, but my grandparents lived in New Jersey. We only saw them once or twice a year, so our primary contact was through letters. I distinctly remember when I started writing letters to my grandfather. It was just before my eleventh birthday. He had sent me a card with a check for ten dollars in it the previous year, and I had high hopes that he might do the same again. My only concern was that he might forget about my birthday altogether. (After all, he was at least sixty-five!) I decided to send him a letter a couple weeks early, working in a casual reference to my upcoming birthday. He wrote back, so I wrote back. Before long we were signing our letters "Pen Pal Krista" and "Pen Pal Pop" – which we eventually shortened to PPK and PPP. My grandfather was a Cornell graduate and an excellent writer. I believe my writing style first began to take shape during our ten years of regular correspondence. But more importantly, because of our letters we developed a close bond in spite of our rare face-to-face visits. (And the birthday checks kept coming!) When my grandfather passed away, he had very few possessions; but my father gave me his Cross pen-and-pencil set. I could not have been more pleased had I inherited a fortune!

In addition to letter writing, journaling has played a prominent role in my development as a writer. I kept journals during my teen years partly to help me cope with the drama of growing up, but also in order to preserve my memory of being a teenager and provide proof for my future children that I was indeed their age once. In fact, when I was fourteen years old I sat down and wrote a letter addressed, "To my firstborn daughter on her 13th birthday." What follows are half a dozen pages of loopy handwriting in purple ink, pouring out all the wisdom my fourteen years had to offer. I still have that letter, taped inside the cover of one of my many journals. I have enjoyed sharing excerpts of my journals with my five children, reading them accounts of my experiences that parallel their own – such as breaking up with a boyfriend or learning to drive.

In recent years, I have become more serious about my writing. I have found myself writing for a broader audience, dabbling with blogging, self-publishing, and publishing online. Having reached this point, I find myself in need of further education. I have two goals. First, I would like to write for publication. Second, I would like to teach writing at the upper high school or college level – including the class most of us know as "Freshman Comp." This may not seem like setting my sites very high. After all, who aspires to teach freshman composition? I know that many students see this class as the necessary evil of college education, but I see it as one final opportunity to inspire students to become life-long writers. I can't imagine anything more challenging or worthwhile.

In conclusion, I'd like to share the incredible irony of my life as a writer thus far. My first bit of prose was the story of the "prinses" whose "prints" went away with the "ormy." The following is an excerpt from my most recent writing project. It is taken from the first of a series of articles published weekly on the National Guard Facebook page, "Granite Thunder":

On Tuesday, September 14, at 5:00 a.m., I stood facing my husband in the parking lot of the National Guard armory. We had known for about nine months that this moment would come; but now that it was here, I didn’t feel ready. In the pre-dawn darkness, I looked at my husband, wearing his uniform, holding his computer carry-on bag and his army duffle. It was time for final words and last goodbyes. I wanted above all to reassure him that I would be alright. I tried to conjure up a bit of the Spartan spirit. I embraced him and said, “Come back with your laptop or on it!” With that, we parted.

Blogging Changes for 2012

I have decided to branch out and have two separate blogs for my random personal writing and my writing about the Christian life.

In doing this, I don't want to imply that my Christian life and my day-to-day life are two separate entities. If that were the case, I'd have a serious problem! I just think I will write more frequently and more honestly if I am not distracted by the incongruity of my posts, thinking how poorly one follows the other when I try to lump too many themes and genres under one heading.

A Pen in My Hand will be the place where I post writing on life in general -- family, anecdotes, whatever!! Over the next few days I'll be deleting old posts and re-organizing "A Pen in My Hand" to make its layout better suited to its new purpose.

For anyone who is interested, I have started a new blog called "The Spirit-Born Life" (spiritbornlife.blogspot.com). Visit that page for a complete description of what the new blog is all about.

Thanks for reading! Happy 2012 !!