March 2023 Story Sparks

Some of you might have joined me over the years for a presentation or class I titled “Seven Stories that Hold us Hostage and How We can Transform Them.” They are stories/beliefs that keep us from moving forward, “doing” — as Eleanor Roosevelt once said — “the things we think we cannot do.” The idea was to help people who were stuck — especially writers — be able to write that novel or poem and not let the negative voices (I call them Harpies from the Greek tragedies) have their way. Fear. Anxiety. Anger. Hurt Feelings. Perfectionism. Sloth. Unworthiness. Each of the seven has an antidote and that’s what I hoped to encourage people to focus on, to change their story.

One of the hostage-holding stories I’d forgotten about until I woke with the word on my tongue is unworthiness. Such a familiar state of being! There’s my cooking: Jerry used to do most of the cooking saying it was “self-preservation” while I got lost in writing but now it’s too painful for him to stand (or sit) so he’s stuck with my efforts. I get distracted with cooking. The other day I put a cup of almonds in a pan of water to boil and blanch. That’s a good cooking word, right? Anyway, the pharmacy texted that Jerry’s prescriptions were ready. Off I drove. I have an app on my phone that tells me when the doors are left ajar and as I drove home my phone pinged that ALL of the doors were open. I called Jerry and asked him why and he said, “Because you tried to burn the house down.” Well, there are things to do while almonds are waiting to blanch, right? I am unworthy as a cook.

Ditto for caregiving. Most caregivers have moments when we realize we just aren’t the best people to be looking after another! This has been a pretty steady feeling of late as Jerry has new challenges. Then there’s being the Alpha with a new puppy. Who is leading whom? The last thing I want is a poorly behaved pup.

And as a writer, I often feel unworthy, comparing myself to older and then younger writers with so much more talent and impact using their gifts in powerful ways. I’ve felt a bit adrift without having a project deadline and that’s added to my sense of unworthiness and wonder about what I might become when I grow up. I suspect I’m not alone with some of those thoughts with others who have retired — or made major changes in their lives.

What I had forgotten with my ruminating was how to “transform the stories.” For the story of unworthiness, it is “recommitting to the goal,” that is the path forward. In some ways it’s like answering the question, “What do I have control over here?” Getting clear about what truly matters and having the courage to act on that: we all control those thoughts. I am comforted knowing that this is the season of Lent when even Jesus felt unworthy of his mission and needed time in prayer to recommit to the goal.

And so, the goal isn’t to become the next celebrity chef. It’s to give him food to keep his weight up and there’ll be a few glitches now and then. Nor is the goal to somehow be able to relieve Jerry’s pain and discomfort. With Rupert, we began a weekly session with a dog trainer and I’m feeling better about my Alpha skills already. And the goal isn’t to write the next bestselling novel. It’s to take care of myself and to seek creative outlets that remind me of the power of story. So, at the suggestion of my film agent, I’m downloading a screenplay program. Something to do in the early morning hours when unworthiness tries to steal my sleep. The dictionary says unworthy means “not deserving effort, attention or respect.” I must remember that each of us is deserving, even when we try to burn the house down. I’m recommitting to that bit of wisdom. Maybe you will too.

Some of you may have noticed that I didn’t get a Story Sparks out in February, a month full of so many fascinating subjects. The war between Mexico and the US ended in February, 1848. President’s Day. Valentine’s Day. February supposedly comes from the Latin meaning “to cleanse.” It’s my birthday month! My great niece’s birthday months. My nephew, my grandmother, godchild, best friend, cousin…all have birthdays in that short month. My grandmother — subject of A Flickering Light and An Absence so Great — was born on February 12th. It was Black history month. In 1870, women in the Utah Territory won the right to vote in February. What a fabulous month. Short and sweet.

But I didn’t get that Sparks out as I was behind, having spent a few days in the hospital while in Mexico. I am happily monitored by Eisenhower Health in California and when they called to tell me to go to the emergency room in San Jose del Cabo as my blood pressure was blowing off the top, I did that. My friend saved Jerry from having to take the Uber to the hospital with me and kept me company until they admitted me and even after. I’m very fortunate. My blood pressure is back on track. My American cardiologist was very pleased with the care my Mexican cardiologist gave me. And now I have something new to remind me of February: being fortunate to have health care access in two countries along with friends willing to sit by my side and look after Jerry when I couldn’t.

Oh. And one more activity took my attention last month: we bought an Oregon home. Not the duplex we had considered but a cottage I call it. Once again, we relied on friends to scope it out for us. More about all that later but we are re-establishing our Oregon roots and that took me from Story Sparks. You can always read older issues in the archives at my website which I hope brings you a little joy.

Booklist Highlights All She Left Behind
Booklist is the magazine that libraries rely on to find new book releases, invite author interviews and consider all things books. Writers rejoice when we have a positive review from Booklist. Beneath the Bending Skies received one of those fine reviews. And this past week, my publisher sent me a notice that Booklist had grouped together titles called Vivid Settings, where the landscape becomes almost another character. I might have thought that The Healing of Natalie Curtis would be a book like that. Instead, it was a delight to see that a book published several years ago was highlighted: All She Left Behind.

That title features the lush landscape of the Willamette Valley, Salem and Portland and one woman’s desire to become a physician while dealing with tragedies in her life. It’s based on the life of Jennie Parrish and was a finalist for the WILLA Literary Award for Original Paperback Novel. “These novels will wow readers and listeners with powerfully and meaningfully evoked places,” noted Booklist. I’m happy to be on their list! Place is important in each of my novels just as it is important in our lives. (Could it be why we have purchased a cottage in Oregon?)

Future Events
A special e-book sale of All Together in One Place my biggest seller, adopted by quilt groups around the country, and celebrating 12 remarkable women as the first book in the Kinship and Courage Series. March 23-31, 2023. You can sign up for the e-book sale notice here.

May 12 — Activities at Aurora, Oregon to celebrate Emma Giesy. More to come.

May 21 — Presentation with historian/author Stafford Hazlett for Linn County Historical Society in Albany. The Mother of Oregon, Tabitha Moffat Brown will be the subject.

Some projects are in the works for the Midwest this summer. I’ll keep you posted.

Word Whisperings

The Postscript Murders: A Mystery by Elly Griffiths
Mariner Books, a division of Harper Collins, 2021

I know I’ve highlighted some other Elly Griffiths mysteries but this one is one of her latest and I couldn’t pass it up. It’s about writers! And amateur sleuths and jealousy. And agents and the publishing industry. There are some quirky things having to do with the setting in Britain, but Ms Griffiths is a gem at character development, landscapes, humor and suspense and this book is no exception. I’m especially enamored with her Sikh detective, a woman named Harbinder, through whom part of the story is narrated. The book is a stellar example of story-telling through distinct points of view. And it celebrates worthiness regardless of age. Enjoy.

In Closing
March is Women in History Month. It is also the Lenten Season for those of us of the Christian faith. I had already written about unworthiness when I listened to Dr. Steven Koski’s sermon from Bend First Presbyterian Church that echoed my unworthiness words. AND, he reminded listeners of all faiths or none, that Jesus said to each of us that “You are the light of the world.” He didn’t say we might be the light, or that we could be that light if only we were more perfect or better people or all the other restrictions we put onto ourselves. We are invited to live fully, reflect Jesus’s compassionate and loving light. And just like Rupert in the picture, this is just the season to contemplate that reflection of our worthiness. I hope you find renewal in this season and with me recommit to the goals that will move you forward.



PS. Don’t forget St Patrick’s Day. Mollie and Peter Ronan of Beneath the Bending Skies never did! They tell me it’s still a big day in Montana.

P.S. I often get requests from those wishing a book list of my titles. Incidentally, Wikipedia has some errors. Visit my Bibliography webpage for the real scoop.