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The Meaning of Life by Debra H. Goldstein

Debra HeadshotThe Meaning of Life by Debra H. Goldstein

Recently I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the meaning of life and its other alternative. This isn’t a new topic for me to explore. I first started thinking about it shortly after my fiftieth birthday when I woke one morning to find my arms had turned to flab and I had become my mother. The thoughts were generated by a discussion with a friend who was in the last stages of cancer. She was questioning what purpose living in her debilitated state had and whether after we die, we are remembered or the life we lived fades away.

I couldn’t answer her questions. I was too focused on reaching outside my comfort zone to find ways to ease her journey. When she died, I decided her purpose was the seed of herself planted in others through charitable doing, mentoring, and touching people at the right time. Her nourishment of others left ideas, feelings, and values to reseed the next generation.

Time went on and I didn’t spend much time dwelling on the meaning of life. I was too busy enjoying the life cycle events that constantly were occurring in the lives of my friends and my own family. Trips to visit and cuddle new babies, writing events, the coming of age Bar Mitzvah ceremony of a nephew, graduations from pre-school through professional school, and the joy of watching my daughter walk down the aisle to be with the man she has chosen to spend the rest of her life with consumed my waking hours. Why dwell on life and death when so many things were going on?

I was attending a writer’s conference being held on a property in Disneyworld when I glanced down at my smartphone and noticed an email entitled “OMG.” Above “OMG” was an endless string of responding e-mails. A friend who was a wife, mother, respected professional, devoted kayaker, and person who was taking me out for a birthday lunch the next week had had a cerebral bleed and died within minutes the night before. Everyone, including me, was in shock that this young and healthy vibrant woman was gone. No “why” made sense.

My other friends and I went on living. At one of the other planned lunch celebrations for my birthday, one of our lunch bunch mentioned she was celebrating her 25th wedding anniversary. Knowing she had married a much older man and that part of his proposal had been he would be hers for at least twenty-five years, we asked what he had given her for their special anniversary. The answer: the promise of trying for another twenty-five years as wonderful as the first. Last week, our lunch bunch held our breath when this man who never gets sick was hospitalized with pneumonia and a low blood count. We all feared he wouldn’t be able to keep his promise. Happily, his positive response to medical treatment has given them the opportunity to share many more years together.

In Jewish tradition, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is decided who shall live and who shall die. At the time of Yom Kippur, one’s fate hopefully is inscribed in the book of life. I don’t know how or why the final decision is made. I cannot venture a guess as to our true purpose in living or if there is an existential meaning of life, but I do know I value every moment of it that I share with my family, friends, and those individuals I will meet in the future.

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Guest Blogger: Carol Robbins – Enticing the Muse

March 10, 2014 6 comments
Author Carol Robbins

Author Carol Robbins

Enticing the Muse by Carol Robbins

I envy writers who say “It just came to me, the whole book. All I had to do was write it down.” From what I hear, that doesn’t happen for many of us. The muse is illusive, sometimes staying away no matter how desperately we long for a visit. So how might we attract the muse?

When I was an art student, a professor teaching a class in drawing urged me to be ready through disciplined practice, reminding me that the production of outstanding work would not happen without the basic skills. On the days when the muse didn’t show up, rather than doing nothing I was to practice, to hone my skills. Clay fascinated me. Although not my main medium, I may have learned my most important lesson from it. One day at the wheel I felt like I was truly “in the flow,” one with the clay, with everything. It was an exhilarating experience that I’ve rarely been able to duplicate. I’ve tried to analyze what happened that day. I’d prepared following what I’d learned, from arranging my tools, preparing the clay, to throwing the pot. The sequence of steps that I had done over and over, almost like a ritual, made it possible not just to create the piece, but to feel that flow.

So how does any of this apply to writing? I think the process is much the same. We have to learn the basics whether it be through classes, workshops, reading, or other methods. Then we must establish a routine for writing, preferably daily or at least several times a week, putting in the time that leads us to the outpouring of words.

Perhaps you noticed, when relating the experience with the clay, I stopped at the forming of the vessel. Simply forming a lump of clay into a vessel was not the end of the process. The pot had to be dried, trimmed, bisque fired, glazed, and fired again before it was finished. Likewise, even if the muse visits us with divine inspiration, we’re expected to edit and polish. The muse can be fickle, and rarely visits if we don’t do our part in preparation or if, once given the gift, we won’t finish the job.

So how do we entice a visit from the muse? Remember, the muses were sisters. Whether asking how to attract the muse for our expression in music, visual art, or writing, the answer is the same as the punch line to the old joke “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” Practice, practice.

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Carol Robbins Hull writes as Carol Robbins from her home in Montgomery, Alabama. The author of a yet-to-be-published cozy mystery, Catalpa Worm Wettin’ and Caterpillar Crawl, her current project is the completion of My Mother’s Story, a memoir begun by her mother. Previous work may be found in on-line volumes of the Alabama Writers’ Conclave yearly publication, Alalitcom. Her blog site is http://www.carolrobbins.blogspot.com.

Using Words – A Not So Subtle Message by Debra H. Goldstein

December 23, 2013 17 comments
Debra H. Goldstein

Author Debra H. Goldstein

Using Words – A Not So Subtle Message by Debra H. Goldstein

Communicating through words is what sets us apart from other species. Certainly gorillas, puppy dogs, and other animals communicate between themselves or with humans through looks, movements, and sounds, but the use of words to convey meaning distinguishes us.

Words can be spoken, signed, or written. They can be in English, French, or even Pig Latin. The key is that we use words to define and make others understand our thoughts, feelings, and ideas.

Sometimes though, we are silent. We may have a thought, but we don’t express it. How many times have we read about people who wish they said “I love you” before the opportunity passed them by? Ever wonder if a kind word or an offer of help would have made a difference in a life?

I can’t answer these philosophical questions, but I can suggest that during this holiday season you take a moment to use words. Write a card or e-mail, pull someone aside for a chat, make a call or send a text. Use words to show you care. That’s what I’m doing now:

Happy Holidays!  May 2014 be a year of health, happiness and prosperity for you and yours!!

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Debra H. Goldstein’s short story, “A Political Cornucopia” was the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable featured November 2013 story.  Her debut novel, A Maze in Blue, received a 2012 IPPY award and will be reissued by Harlequin Worldwide Mystery in May 2014.

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Guest Blogger Terry Shames: The One Thing That Defies Organization

August 18, 2013 18 comments
Terry Shames

Terry Shames

The One Thing That Defies Organization by Terry Shames

With the lead-up to publication of my debut novel, A KILLING AT COTTON HILL, came months of unaccustomed work preparing for marketing and promotion. I had heard how much time and effort it took, but I was unprepared for the fact that everything else pretty much came to a standstill. I plunged in with great enthusiasm—and with a wave “goodbye” to my usual, organized self.

The novel came out mid-July, and at some point I realized I had to tackle the chaos in my life. I bought a filing cabinet and instigated a filing system; read through several months of “I’ll get to it later” emails, flagging and filing them; and made a list of the blogs I’ve posted for the last year so I know who I blogged for, and when. So I have managed to whip my professional life into shape, but what about my home life?

I had managed to keep up pretty well, but recently I took on the big one: I dragged out all the picture albums, boxes of photos, and negatives (remember those?) from the cabinet where they seemed to have multiplied. I thought I would take everything to one of those places that scans pictures into digital format. Before that, though, I was determined to ruthlessly throw out all the duplicates and the photos that meant nothing to me. How many pictures of a hike my family took in Colorado when I was 16 did I really need?

Looking through the albums, my first thought was, “Who are these people?” There were pictures of people I haven’t seen in thirty years. I don’t remember where they went—or even their names! The best thing I can say is that they remind me of my past. Then there were countless photos of my son’s friends from childhood—kids I don’t remember or recognize. They are darling pictures, but I don’t know who they are!

And then I started wondering whom I was going to all this trouble for. My husband and I are busy and don’t sit around reminiscing over photo albums. My sister has plenty of pictures of her own to deal with. My son hasn’t a sentimental bone in his body. I can’t ever see him looking through these pictures and thinking fondly, “Oh, there’s my mom’s Aunt Lottie when she was in her 30s.” More likely, he’d say, “Who’s that?”

I have piles of pictures of me as a baby, and of my parents and their parents, taken when for some reason people thought it was better to take pictures of people standing far away. Half the time I can’t even see who is in the pictures. None of the people are famous, so it’s unlikely a future biographer will lament my profligate destruction of the pictures.

That’s not even to mention my husband’s family pictures. Removed from my mother-in-law’s apartment when she died a few years ago, the albums and loose pictures have stayed exactly where they were when they came into my house—in shopping bags in my husband’s study. Pictures of people I never knew.

So why do I keep all this stuff? All I know is that it makes me feel queasy to think of throwing them away. Do I worry that one of these days I’ll regret not having them? Do I imagine that one day I will want to pore over them? Who knows? I remember once going through a box of random photos with my grandmother. We ran across a photo of a man in a Civil War uniform. “Who is that?” I asked. My grandmother laughed, “I don’t know who it is. I don’t know why I have it.” And she tucked it back into the box.

I’d like to hear whether other people have the same impulse to keep all those pictures—and why?

Killing_at_Cotton_Hill-3

Terry Shames grew up in Texas. She has abiding affection for the small town where her grandparents lived, the model for the fictional town of Jarrett Creek. A resident of Berkeley, California, Terry lives with her husband, two rowdy terriers and a semi-tolerant cat. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America.

In A KILLING AT COTTON HILL: A Samuel Craddock Mystery, the chief of police of Jarrett Creek, Texas, doubles as the town drunk. So when Dora Lee Parjeter is murdered, her old friend and former police chief Samuel Craddock steps in to investigate. He discovers that a lot of people may have wanted Dora Lee dead—the conniving rascals on a neighboring farm, her estranged daughter and her surly live-in grandson. And then there’s the stranger Dora Lee claimed was spying on her. During the course of the investigation the human foibles of the small-town residents—their pettiness and generosity, their secret vices and true virtues—are revealed.

Her second Samuel Craddock novel, THE LAST DEATH OF JACK HARBIN will be out in January 2014. Find out more about Terry and her books at http://www.Terryshames.com.

Would We? Could We? by Debra H. Goldstein

August 11, 2013 10 comments

Would We? Could We? by Debra H. Goldstein

Picture a group of women sitting around a fireplace celebrating a special event in their lives.  Good food, friends, sips of wine, and conversation that slips from the present into the past.  While most share memories of happy times, children’s antics, and first romances, at some point in the evening the stories begin to be tinged with sadness and frustration.

Patches of the group become silent – lost in individual thoughts of what might have been.  It doesn’t seem to matter if the thoughts center on marriage, children, friendship, or career.  The questions are the same.  “Would we?” “Could we?” “And why didn’t we?”

The answers are consistent, too.  Time pressures, immaturity, being pulled in too many directions, trying to please everyone, and ignorance that anything was amiss or could be better are all excuses offered.

Awareness comes slowly.  We realize we tried.  The thought that none of us may have done it perfectly but we acted in the only way we knew at those times warms us almost as much as the new bottle of wine we open and drink.  We raise our glasses in a toast:  “We would.  We could.  We did.”

 

FRAGILE ANGLES by Debra H. Goldstein

March 31, 2013 16 comments

dhg-photo.jpgFragile Angles by Debra H. Goldstein

Recently, I had a birthday, but I didn’t have a lot of time to dwell on being a year older because my calendar was so full of “special” birthday events. Besides attaining another year of age, I’m sure I gained five pounds during the celebrations! What was important to me during what became my birthday month, were the friends and family members who wanted to share it with me. Each lunch, dinner, cupcake with a candle, was delightful, but three things put it all in perspective for me: receiving the Mildred Bell Johnson Lifetime Achievement Award from the Girl Scouts of North Central Alabama, an engagement party for my youngest daughter, and the unexpected death of a friend the day after he was part of a small, but joyful, birthday dinner party for me.

Three days before my birthday, I spoke the following words before almost four hundred people as I accepted the Mildred Bell Johnson award:

When Mildred Bell Johnson founded the first Girl Scout troop for African – American girls in Alabama and then worked diligently as a civil right activist, educator, Girl Scout district director, and assistant moderator of the United Church of Christ, she never dreamed that there would be an award named for her. She was doing what she believed was right for her community and for young women.

Today, I am humbled receiving the award named for Mildred Bell Johnson not only because of its namesake, but because of my admiration for the women who have received this award before me. They are a class of women whom I deeply respect for their integrity and their willingness to often forsake recognition while bringing others together to make a difference – or as Girl Scouts say – to leave a place better than we found it.

As a brownie, Girl Scout, and leader, I was taught and taught others to believe that we have a responsibility to be involved in any way we can contribute. I also learned that none of us do it alone – no matter how hard we work.

To digress for a moment, when my son, Stephen, was just beginning to learn how to print, he did something wrong and apologized by leaving a note on my pillow that he signed your little angle as he couldn’t spell angel.

I am honored and grateful today to accept this award, but it really is a reflection of the accomplishments and efforts for our community and its members by most of you in this room.

I thank the Girl Scouts of North-Central Alabama for singling me out today; I thank my friends who listen and help me connect the dots whenever I get a hairbrained idea, and I thank my family – especially my husband, Joel, who for thirty years has supported me in anything I try to do and our four wonderful children, three of whom are here today. They, and all of you, are the angles that combine to make me whole. Thank you again.

At that moment, I was a little worried that receiving a lifetime achievement award at this age was premature, but I was excited to be joining a class of women I deeply respect. It was a perfect day.

A few days after my birthday, five couples got together for a “special” birthday dinner. We laughed as we shared good food, friendship, and an evening where work and pressures were forgotten as we enjoyed each other’s company. It was a weekday work night, but we ignored that fact and stayed longer than any of us meant to. As we compared notes the next day, everyone who had been there agreed, it was a time good memories were made.

We flew to Houston two days after the dinner to attend a shower for my daughter and her future husband given by friends of his parents. When we landed in Houston and I turned on my phone, I saw I had voicemails, texts, and e-mails asking me to immediately call two people. We all know that when messages say urgent, but don’t say why, it isn’t good. It wasn’t. One of our dear friends who had been at the birthday dinner had had a stroke and died. He hadn’t been ill. He wasn’t old. My husband and I stood in the airport shocked remembering humorous exchanges with him during the birthday dinner, plans he had made to go to a basketball game next season with my husband, and realizing that in a matter of hours the love of his life was now a widow. We walked to the car waiting for us in disbelief. As my husband made small talk with the father of my daughter’s fiancé, I called our friend’s wife and other friends and shared a moment of shock, sorrow, and “what can we do to help” with them. Then, my husband and I had to put on our game faces to enjoy the weekend with our daughter.

I have blogged before about my reaction to my daughter being in love (My Daughter is in Love – 9/23/12) and once again, I felt excitement and joy seeing how happy she is. Her happiness brought me flashbacks of when I fell in love and got engaged. As the weekend progressed, I couldn’t help but think about our friends who also had a perfect love that now had ended as I watched this young couple just beginning their lives together. Aloud, I wished them joy and happiness, but in my heart I prayed for them. It was a prayer that comes from knowing how important the angles are that make us whole and how fragile keeping them together is.

An Arthroscopic View of Writing by Debra H. Goldstein

December 13, 2012 4 comments

An Arthroscopic View of Writing by Debra H. Goldstein

Life often gets in the way of planned obligations.  Normally, I write a blog every two weeks, but somehow arthroscopic knee surgery dropped the blog to the bottom of my “to do” list.  It actually turned out to be a nice break.

Not only did being laid up give me the time to sit back and prioritize what I needed to do for recovery, family, and work, but also it made me think why writing is important to me.  The most simplistic reason is that I love the feeling I get when my ability to string words together, like in my earlier blogs “Maybe I Should Hug You” or “My Daughter is in Love,” articulate emotions and thoughts that my readers resonate with.  I like hearing that I’ve expressed exactly what they feel, but haven’t been able to say.  There also is satisfaction in embellishing a funny moment or memory into a short story or novel.

In some ways, my writing is exactly like arthroscopic surgery.  For example, the surgeon made some small incisions in my knee and then inserted a small camera so as to get a clear view of the extent of the damage.  I take an idea and zero on it until I get a clear view of what in the idea would make a good article or story.  After getting the entire picture of my knee, the surgeon inserted another tool to hold, remove and shave the damaged medial and lateral meniscus tears.  Once I know my general theme, I use paragraphs to build my thoughts in an orderly manner from a topic sentence to the concluding point I want to make.  The surgeon did a last check for rough edges and then removed the tools and bandaged my knee.  I take the written piece I create and proofread it for glaring errors.  Then, I read it aloud to see if the words flow smoothly.  Based upon my observations, I make my final corrections and save the piece.  My surgeon sent me home with a walker, pain pills, instructions to tether myself to an ice machine, and a prescription for physical therapy.  I wait a day or two and read the piece again.  If it needs a little support, I make the changes to strengthen it.  Two weeks later, my surgeon assures me my knee is healing well and I soon will be back to my normal routine.  I submit or post the article or story not knowing whether it will be published or how readers will react to my work.

The only thing I know for sure is that after a few days of rest, I will have to write again.  The act of writing has become a part of my soul and very being.