A Surfeit of Archies

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Ask any author. Naming characters is a solemn task. Some of us agonize for hours. Days. Consider and cast away dozens of names till we are satisfied.
But.
Sometimes the name drops from the sky and flutters down onto the shoulders of our protagonist or antagonist or bit player and it is JUST RIGHT.

So when an ex-punk rocker showed up in the book I’m writing, I needed a name that would suit his pierced, tattooed, working class Brit persona. It came to me out of the blue.
Archie.

 

Perfect!!!!!

Archie

No, this is not my Archie.

 

Archie Bunker

This isn’t my Archie either

The more I wrote about my Archie the more I liked him. His name buried itself into his psyche and mine and now whenever I write—or rewrite—a scene with this particular character, he is the personification of all things Archie. The name has shaped the man.

Well, too bad. I’m going to have to perform major surgery and remove “Archie” from Archie and give him a new name. It is all the fault of a 7 pound infant born in England.

I blame his parents. Prince Harry and Meghan, in spite of hundreds and hundreds of names available, chose my punk-rocker’s name and that has changed everything.

Don’t try to convince me to keep the name. I have my pride. Even though my Archie was named before the couple even got married, anyone reading the book (if it gets published. Please let it get published) will be reading it AFTER the world has fawned all over that other Archie. And will assume I got my name from little Mr. Popularity.

Am I bitter? You betcha. This has happened to me before. In my first book, my wonderful hero was originally named Tubal. After Tubal in the Bible. My publisher thought it was after tubal—a woman’s surgical procedure. (Note: my Tubal’s Biblical namesake was around thousands of years before the first woman had her tubes tied.)

I could see her point, though, and after agonizing and searching Scripture I came up with “Ezra.” But he will always remain Tubal in my heart.

So anyway. My Archie needs a new name. A great sort of Cockney or maybe Scots working-class kind of name. It has to be just right for him. He isn’t any happier than I am about this and we are both trying not to hold it against that newborn living in Frogmore Cottage across the pond. We assume him to be unaware that he just stripped my Archie of his name. Nay. His whole identity. Nothing suits my Archie as well as Archie.

So blessings to Baby Archie and his royal family. Maybe I will get literary vengeance if, when he hits 16, he wants to look like MY Archie.

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THIS IS MY ARCHIE

Top Image by Mihai Surdu from Pixabay

The n-word (or, the fully unclothed truth)

The “n” in the title is deliberately lower case, to differentiate it from the very Nasty N-word that makes most of us grit our teeth.

Nevertheless, this particular lower case n-word has great power over me. The power to make me blush.

No. I am not going to write it out. I’m relying on my favorite way of dealing with words that offend my prudish sensibilities—
the euphemism.

Two of my favorites for this particular n-word are “birthday suit” and “in the altogether.”
Figured out what it is yet?
No? How about a synonym.
Never mind. I don’t like any of those either.

Here’s one of my own.
“Fully unclothed”

The first time I remember reading the n-word was maybe in 2nd grade? One of the Little House books, I think. The description of a tornado and the devastation it left hit me hard. I’ve been terrified of twisters ever since. But then. THEN. The narration described a survivor of the storm as being “n-word as a jaybird.”

Well. Yuck. That was my first reaction. I didn’t want to be caught up in a tornado and I especially didn’t want it dropping me off fully unclothed.
Hot on the heels of that gut-level prude reaction came judgement.
How could a book for kids print a word like that? I think I half expected it to incinerate before my eyes.

Cartoon birth

“Ick” and “that wasn’t nice!” are two of the natural-born prude’s natural reactions to things of the flesh. The final is embarrassment. What if someone—say God—caught me reading the n-word?

(This is a good time to take the blame for my prudishness off my parents and put it squarely where it belongs. An unknown genetic anomaly that develops freeform and randomly in a limited number of human children. [The animal kingdom appears immune. To my consternation. Many is the time I wished Rhesus monkeys were partial to pants.] If you’re worried that your offspring might be susceptible, don’t be. The prude gene is becoming increasingly extinct. My point is, my parents, although never given to swearing or vulgarity, are not responsible for my prudish nature. I was born this way.)

Maybe other prudes can handle the n-word. Prudes who don’t so closely link spoken or written words with mental images. When I hear or read the term “birthday suit,” a picture of someone crowned with icing and a candle on the head cavorting in confetti pops into my mind. The phrase ‘In the altogether’ springs into my minds eye a pleasingly plump individual, slightly pink, and tastefully blurred from the neck down. No, I don’t know why.

Cartoon Buster

But the n-word? Or any of its synonyms? When I hear or see it or its associates— say ‘nudy-rudy’ word or the homonym for “bear”—and my mind runs madly for a beach towel or nice opaque sheet to cover the vision flashing in my head.

I have never been happy with the mess Adam and Eve led us into, but I’ve always been intensely grateful that in the aftermath, God at least let us wear clothes.

 

Note- the above cartoons are from “Cartoon Cavalcade” edited by Thomas Craven and published by Consolidated Book Publishers in 1945. Which means that although the cartoons I used were created before 1919 they may not actually be in the public domain and I could be in violation of copyright.  But dug-nub-it. I worked so hard on finding appropriate—in more  ways than one—images and adding text. I’m going to live dangerously.

Stand before kings, or stoop before peasants?

Proverbs 22:29 reads like this: “Do you see any truly competent workers? They will serve kings rather than working for ordinary people. ” (New Living Translation)

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How do we reconcile this verse with Jesus’ demand that we wash each other’s feet, as He stooped to wash the (no doubt smelly and dirty) feet of His disciples? After all, they were “ordinary people.” The unimportant, the powerless, the peasants. Do we stand? Or do we stoop?

The Scripture verse above gained some notoriety about a decade ago. At least that’s when I started hearing it batted around homeschool circles. It became a life verse that many teens chose for themselves. Or the teen’s parents believed heartily that it would apply to their child as they “launched” him or her into the world.
Work hard! Be diligent! You’ll stand before kings! Or at least presidents, legislators, or CEOs.
It’s a great verse! How can it not be? It’s Scripture. From the book of wise sayings. Work hard, be diligent, have confidence. And you’ll stand before kings. Or presidents, or legislators, or CEOs. It describes a lofty, world-changing goal.

May I share a story?

Recently I spoke to a friend who works in a school system as a paraprofessional educator in a high school classroom of special needs students. Students who are fully grown but need diaper changes regularly. Students who can only communicate with grunts. Students who sometimes leave bruises on her arms and scratches on her face.

She stoops to tie shoes and wipe up “accidents” on the floor. My friend is a grandmother and goes home at the end of the day exhausted. Her rewards are measured on a different scale than say, those assessed of the “gifted and talented” classes. On a good day, she will be rewarded with a sloppy kiss on her ear or a smile of recognition from a child who for months stared right through her.

Think of those who work in nursing homes. Not the lovely resort type homes with spas and golf courses and movie theaters. They labor where the destitute go to live out their days. You know, the places that reek of disinfectant vainly trying to cover the smell of urine. And worse. They feed, clean, clothe, diaper, and salve those who can no longer care for themselves.

They stoop to pull on slippers, trim toenails, place swollen feet on wheelchair footrests. On a good day, their gentle hug will be returned, a tender brushing of the hair will elicit a slurred “thank you,” or a carefully-tended bedsore will heal.

We all know those who work, who volunteer, who live lives of stooping to help those who can’t help themselves—-much less help the helper. The rewards are rated on a different scale than the usual success stories.

Please follow the link to Heartwings to read how I believe God reconciles the promise we will stand before kings and the directive that we stoop before the needy.

http://www.heartwingsblog.com/2019/05/stand-before-kings-or-stoop-before-peasants/#comment-20912

 

Really really REALLY good writing

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When I was quite young, I read a book whose themes were beyond the ability of my preteen mind to grasp. Nothing about it stuck with me except a description of a new wife who, with her up-and-coming husband, moved into an up-and-coming neighborhood. The author described her figure as so perfect that “every other woman in the room took one look and went off her diet.” There was no way to compete with such perfection of form.

And that’s how I feel after finishing “A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles. The writing—each word, sentence, phrase, paragraph—is so beautifully formed and unified and presented that it makes me despair of even bothering to approach the perfection.

All envy aside, however, good writing makes me happy. Here are a few examples, all from Scripture, that delight not only my heart and soul, but my mind’s eye and imagination. (A quick disclaimer—most of the phrases below come from the New King James version. Depending on which version you use, you may or may not find the translation of these verses as engaging as I do.)

Sometimes good writing is really good because, in a few words, in perfectly pairs a mental image that perfectly portrays Truth. Like this phrase from Romans 5, the end of the 20th verse. Most versions have some form stating:

…but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more

And immediately grace is personified, leaping over the multitude of sins trying to trip it up. But there goes grace, bounding effortlessly over the top. And sin will never be able to keep up.

I don’t bother getting any more detailed than that in my mind’s eye. I couldn’t write a sermon or a homily or even an entire blog post on what I’m envisioning. I don’t know what the text says in the original Greek. But the image in the translation I use delights me with such precisely lovely writing.

Also from Romans (chapter two, the twenty-first through twenty-third verses) is a textbook example of how a writer can vary the rhythm in a paragraph to keep it fresh and avoid that singsong lilt that puts readers to sleep.

You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law?

Every sentence starts with “You,” and poses a sort of rhetorical/accusatory question, but the apostle changes up his verbs and varies the length of each question so that the reader can’t ignore the indicting finger leveled here, then there, then over there. Some day, I want to write a paragraph using this sort of repetitive variety.

My most recent find comes from Psalm 97, the first part of verse 11.

Light is sown for the righteous…

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What? How does one sow light? While the “grace abounded” verse gives me an immediate and clear image, I can’t come up with anything for light sown. Which is what makes this such good writing. I have to puzzle over it. Is there a “light seed” that one places in furrows? Is it scattered into the wind, to land where it may? What kind of conditions does light thrive on, how does it grow and how fast? I LOVE this phrase precisely because my mind’s eye struggles with an image to match the beauty of the words.

One more.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. 

This one from Romans 8 goes way back. Maybe my high school days? We used the Revised Standard Version at my childhood church. Most other versions use “groanings that cannot be uttered.” And maybe that is more accurate? I don’t know. But sighs too deep for words is my first love. The visual depiction and reality of these words didn’t just delight my imagination with its imagery and tickle my ears with lovely phrasing.

The comfort personified in that beautiful phrase carried me through decades of doubt and self-recrimination. And fear that “I wasn’t praying right.” The vehicle that carried the reality to me was really, really, really good writing.

 

 

 

Traveling in the Limp Lane

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No one can accuse me, once I get started on a metaphor, of giving it short shrift. (Have I mentioned before that short shrift comes from the ancient term “shrift” or the penance given to a confessing death row inmate? Since in the bad old days the sentence—usually hanging—was carried out almost immediately, the prisoner had, of necessity, a short shrift, or penance. Every cloud has a silver lining, no? Give the phrase a couple hundred years and it has come to mean “give cursory/little/no attention or consideration to.”)

Back to the metaphor (no one can accuse me of staying slavishly on topic). Everyone recognizes the one about life as a journey and all of us merely travelers. It should, I decided,  be expanded to an analogy. Add more body, more polish, more power, maybe a customized grille.
We may all be traveling the highway of life together, but most of those on the road with us will remain strangers. We barely glance their direction. Some, of course, catch our eye because they are fast and shiny, hurtling down the express lane. Some we watch limp to the shoulder hoping for roadside assistance, and we’re glad we aren’t them.SONY DSC

Some are fresh from the car wash and glistening in the sun. Some may be freshly clean, but the shine is camouflaged by a recent spray of mud and muck. A tune up lets even the most economy-ranked vehicles hit on all cylinders and make good time. For awhile. Soon comes a laborious lurching from one service station or rest stop to the next. Those with new tires guaranteeing 40,000 more miles learn that tires can sadly expire before the warranty does. The thing is, we are all so concentrated on our own journey, we don’t know what is going on with theirs. Except what we see—or think we see.

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We watch our speedometer and odometer and check engine light. When we aren’t scanning the dashboard we’re watching the rearview mirror to see who might be going faster than us, taking up more lane space then seems fair, who is getting caught by their misdeeds and who isn’t. Which vehicles do we want to avoid, or whose slipstream can we take advantage of?

But the shiny vehicle speeding in the passing lane may crash just around the bend, or limp along on a blown tire, or get in trouble with authorities because so much attention is paid to shiny speeding vehicles. The rusting jalopy we passed miles back gets a temporary engine boost and zips in and around everyone else for miles and miles before falling back to the far right lane with everyone honking in annoyance. Expensive conveyances don’t last forever. No matter how well they are maintained. Everyone traveling alongside us needs maintenance, needs to slow down or stop at signs of trouble or danger, runs out of gas. Then we move to the limp lane.

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No one stays in the express lane, at least not for long.
We’re all limping.
We may not see our counselor, our hometown hero, our mentor limp because they are too far ahead or behind us.
But it will happen.
We all need to slow down. Let others in ahead of us, give roadside assistance, be patient with the old, and the slow and the damaged. Avoid envying those racing in the express lane, flying along the passing lane, because the speed is impossible to maintain.

We all came from the same place.
We’re all on the same road.
We’ll eventually get where we are going, whether we want or not. Haste and road rage and rudeness won’t make life’s journey any better.
Only cooperation and kindness can do that.
Let’s limp together.

Version 2

To every decoration, there is a season

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I knew I should have been taking more vitamins. Practicing those limber-up moves and establishing regular sleep habits. Repeating positive thoughts at regular intervals to myself.
Because the Big Day is tomorrow. March 1. The day that will require every bit of energy and organization and perseverance.
It is the day the winter decorations come down.

People, I have a lot of winter decorations. These are not to be confused with the Christmas decorations that come down January 2. After ditching everything attendant on that season, I perform a hasty cleanse and pull out the Winter Box.
Down with the Christmas tree, up with the Winter trees. Away with reds and greens and golds, in with silvers and whites. Angels are replaced with snowmen. So. Many. Snowmen. Poinsettias make way for greens and frosty pinecones.

 

For almost two months I enjoy the cozy season and my cozy decorations. Then, the last week of February, a strange restlessness sets in. The snow might still be up to our windowsills, the temps might still hover around freeze-your-nose-off, but I’m beginning to cast glances of disfavor at the snow globes, the ice fishing moose, the ice skating American Girl outfits.
That’s when I know. It’s time to strip my shelves and walls and tables of all things winter. The St. Patrick’s Day decorations, though paltry in number, will come out. The green reminds me that spring will come. In spite of the aforementioned sill-high snow.

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But before the greens and the shamrocks can claim their rightful places, hundreds of winter things must come down. Did I mention that a family of four could easily live in the Winter Box?
Tomorrow, March 1, you’ll find me chugging the coffee and repeating positive phrases and stopping for deep, cleansing breaths. At the end of the day nary a snowflake will be seen. Everything winter will be packed away, waiting, (Lord willing) to be greeted with shouts of approbation and great affection on January 2, 2020.

Version 2

Ode to a Germ

Two weeks ago, I WAS SO SICK. Every possible symptom of the flu attacked me, from the tips of my hair follicles to the ends of my toes, and every major and minor organ between. I was so, so sick that I couldn’t talk about how sick I was when I was sick, and now that I’m better I fight the urge to tell family, friends, casual acquaintances and our mail carrier about every symptom. In detail.

When I was sick I was too sick to really worry about how sick I was but now that I’m better I’m worried when a little grandson is down with fever and chills. This poem is for you, sweetheart. Get better soon and we’ll swap symptom stories.

 

THE GERM

A mighty creature is the germ,
Though smaller than the pachyderm.
His customary dwelling place
Is deep within the human race.
His childish pride he often pleases
By giving people strange diseases.
Do you, my poppet, feel infirm?
You probably contain a germ.

Ogden Nash

 

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