Are You a Phony?

Megyn Kelly the former anchor turned morning show host recently recalled a conversation with Roger Ailes who told her she had an “authenticity problem.” Whether you agree or disagree with her perceived politics is not what I care about here. What troubled me instantly was the sense that a growing number of people (including myself) in an effort to impress others, avoid fights and seem agreeable have this same problem.

“Viewers can spot a phony from a mile away,” Megyn recalled Ailes telling her. In her book, she said she grappled with this issue. “Why can’t I make friends more easily? Why don’t more women want to be around me? I had been so busy for so many years building up a protective veneer that it didn’t dawn on me that I might be alienating others—from viewers to potential friends.” Vanity Fair

I grew up in a world where people assumed other people had differing opinions (sometimes radically differing), yet everyone managed to understand that listening to extreme and opposing ideas was often a good thing. It either alerted us to the holes in our arguments or sharpened them. The notion that some ideas could not be tolerated was frowned upon and seen as immature.

A few times online I have stumbled into debates about heated issues. My experience was telling and common. In each case as soon as I stepped out of line to one side or the other I was demonized. As some of you know my mantra is that we’re all flawed. This is now seen as an extremist sentiment.

I believe what I’m supposed to think is that most of us are victimized .  Not all of us, mind you. There are those people—those people we won’t talk about here who painted masterpieces and invented light bulbs and semiconductors, worked 18 hours a day picking cotton, died to end slavery or for civil rights and wrote The Bill of Rights etc. Okay I will say it. MEN. Can we stop the silly hatred of them?

We are all victims of fate. We didn’t choose where or when to be born. If I’m going to admire anyone it’s going to be the person who actively overcomes their fated victimization, the person who is heroic. What is heroism? Is it posting a paragraph or two about injustice? Is it wearing a t-shirt or slapping a bumper-sticker on your car? I often wonder at the people so eaten up by hate that they choose to show the Christian symbol of the fish being devoured by Darwin. Isn’t it enough for these people to be at peace with their own beliefs? Why be so provoking? But I’m fine with them ruining the look of their car if they want to. I’d never think of demanding they stop.

A verse comes to mind: “You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead.” Matthew 23:27

Another story I heard recently was about a professor who was discussing a “sensitive” topic. He was baffled by the students’ lack of participation until a “brave” student confessed that she was afraid to offend anyone. The professor asked for a show of hands. “How many of you have been doing the same thing?” The entire class raised their hands.

Bravery and creativity don’t usually thrive in group-think situations. Here’s my confession: I often lack authenticity. I want to be liked by strangers. I worry if book sales will stop because I mention I believe in Jesus and that I had a conversion experience I can’t explain. I say glib things to seem clever and modern. I have difficulty making female friends. BUT . . .

I know in these moments of weakness there is nothing brave or satisfying about being cowardly. There’s nothing uplifting or fulfilling in claiming your victim card. It’s such a hollow victory. It leaves you mired in misery. I know this from experience.

Most people seem to sense that we’re here on this planet to be more than victims. It’s why we fantasize about being heroes or at least tagging along with one.

In MY NOVELS I don’t quite have perfect heroes. I know some exist, but in my world most of us are saddled with baggage, scars of our upbringing, societal preferences that make us feel inferior, an unbridled need to be liked, etc. What makes my characters heroes to me is that throughout their long existences they keep trying to get it right. Often they get things terribly wrong. Their maddening like the real people I know. Like me. But they are active. On some level, though they rarely admit it, they think they are made for something better–something heroic if only quietly heroic.

My heroes are the ones saddled with poverty, addiction, abuse, neglect and cowardice. They are the people who lose everything and still get up the next day. Bitter moments, even bitter years, plague us all but love saves the day. It saves lives—all lives. Authentic love forces us to think of others first. It forces us to see the beating heart behind the opinion we think is ludicrous. Love is not just for the people we agree with and not just for those of us with authenticity problems.

What about you? Are you authentic? Do you have any advice for those of us who can sometimes be slaves to our desire for approval?

***Featured Image: Vanity by Frank Cadogan Cowper (1907)

HYPOCRISY DISPLAYED IN HOLLYWOOD

OUR MINDS CAN BE HIJACKED BY SOCIAL MEDIA

INSIDE MEGYN KELLY’S SLOW MOTION COLLISION INTO MORNING TELEVISION

 

 

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50 Books Before I Die (or in the next 5 years)

classic book club

I’ve gone against type and joined a club! The Classic Book Club!

I’m so excited to begin my FIVE YEAR JOURNEY reading through and blogging about 50 classic books! My goal is to read and post about a book each month.

The list below is in no particular order (though while compiling the list I’ve nearly finished War and Peace and can’t wait to write my first response post).

I’ve set my starting date as August 1, 2017 and my end date as September 1, 2022 (I think I actually have 51 books on the list and may want to sneak in a few extras).

Any last minute suggestions? I’d love to hear them!

Classics Club Book List

War and Peace Leo Tolstoy

Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy

Tom Jones Henry Fielding

Clarissa Samuel Richardson

The Count of Monte Cristo Alexandre Dumas

Jane Eyre Charlotte Brontë

Vanity Fair William Makepeace Thackeray

The Wind in the Willows Kenneth Grahame

A Passage to India EM Forster

A Light in August (or The Hamlet) William Faulkner

The Pursuit of Love Nancy Mitford

The Woman in White Wilkie Collins

Three Men in a Boat Jerome Jerome

Candide Voltaire

Cecilia Fanny Burney

The Life and Opinions Tristam Shandy, Laurence Sterne

The Vicar of Wakefield Oliver Goldsmith

The Nun Diderot

The Prairie James Fennimore cooper

Blithedale Romance Nathaniel Hawthorne

Tess of the D’Urbervilles Thomas Hardy

Black Beauty Anna Sewall

The Perpetual Curate Margaret Oliphant

Lilith George Macdonald

Washington Square Henry James

Silas Marner George Eliot

The Tale of Two Cities Charles Dickens

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge Ambrose Beirce

Love Stendhal

The Little Prince Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Moll Flanders Daniel Defoe

Remains of the Day Kazuo Ishiguro

The Prince Niccolo Machiavelli

The Sailor who fell from Grace with the Sea  Yukio Mishima

 The Misanthrope Moliere

 Writings on Nature John Muir

Animal Farm George Orwell

Doctor Zhivago Boris Pasternak

The Story of an African Farm Olive Schreiner

The Red and the Black Stendhal

The General CS Forester

The Divine Comedy Dante Alighieri

Lord of the Flies William Golding

Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Edward Gibbon

Kim Rudyard Kipling

Flowers of Evil Charles Baudelaire

Night Elie Wiesel

Moonstone Wilkie Collins

Miss Ravenel’s Conversion from Secession to Loyalty John W. De Forest

elizabeth
My reading companion Elizabeth

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Family Histories: How Family Can Be A Driving Force in Your Writing

Welcome to Family Histories, a series of guest posts by some of my favorite bloggers in which they explore family . . . and history. The families and histories are sometimes their own and sometimes not.

This week JACQUI MURRAY discusses how her children’s military careers inspired her writing.

Family History and It’s Part in My Writing

Jacqui MurrayThank you so much, Adrienne (author of The Tenafly Road Series), for inviting me to participate in this wonderful exploration of families. When I received Adrienne’s invitation, my knee-jerk reaction was it didn’t fit me. My stories about ancient man (the upcoming Born in a Treacherous Time) and my Tech-in-Ed writing didn’t have obvious connections to my family; they were tangential at best.

And then I thought about my novels, in the Rowe-Delamagente series. Lots of you know my daughter is a Naval Officer, my son an Army Sergeant, and my husband a saint, but I don’t say much about my family beyond that. Yet, they have been the driving force behind my writing. Here’s a rundown:

Building a Midshipman

This is a personal how-to on preparing for and applying to the United States Naval Academy.  It’s based on my daughter’s experience in high school where she first thought such a selective school was out of her reach and then was accepted into a life-changing activity that would change her forever. My daughter wasn’t the 4.0 (or 5.0 if you’re an IB school) student, the hardest-working or the one with all the answers but as it turns out, that’s not who USNA wants anyway. They wanted tenacious, never-give-up, critically-thinking applicants who always had another way to solve problems. They might as well have stuck her picture by the profile. I wanted to share her story so other high school girls who might think they could never be good enough for an Ivy League college like USNA would think again.

I wrote Building a Midshipman in about two weeks by replaying in my mind how my daughter had accomplished this feat.

To Hunt a Sub

jacqui murray 3This story comes from time spent with friends of my daughters from the Naval Academy who had served on or were serving in the Silent Service. It is a story of brain vs. brawn, creative thinking, and the importance of family in our lives, but at its core is patriotism. Many of my ancestors were in the military though I wasn’t, and by the time I started writing this book, both my children were committed to their paths. I respect the patriotism, single-mindedness, and stalwartness of our warriors–this story reflects that.

This book took about five years to write. I think being my first fiction book, I had little faith in its success so was afraid to turn it loose.

Twenty-four Days

This story takes place in large part on a US warship, the USS Bunker Hill. This was my daughter’s first ship after graduating from the Naval Academy. She secured amazing access for me during my research to the ship and its people. She put herself way out there to help me. For that I am forever grateful.

It took about three years to publish, slowed down a bit because I had an agent at one point, from whom I parted amicably.

Book 3 of the Rowe-Delamagente Series

This third in the series deals with satellites and the weaponization of space–in a nod toward my Army Signal Corps son. I’ve barely begun the outline so I don’t have a good sense of where it’s going but I do know it will be an action-packed thriller where Otto and a new AI friend Ascii will play a major role.

Born in a Treacherous Time

For this book, I go way back on my family tree, long before man was even man, to 1.8 million years ago. It’s always amazed me how our ancestors survived a world filled with vicious predators, not the least of which was the more improved iteration of man. That’s what I explore in this book, Born in a Treacherous Time.

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and  Twenty-four DaysShe is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

***Please visit next Sunday for the next guest post!

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Family Histories: Kin Types by Luanne Castle

Welcome to Family Histories, a series of guest posts by some of my favorite bloggers in which they explore family . . . and history. The families and the histories are sometimes the writers’ own and sometimes not.

This week Luanne Castle discusses how the exploration of family history has enriched her creative life:

By combining a passion for family history with my creative writing, I felt able to—for a brief moment—inhabit the lives of women and men from previous generations and imagine how their stories felt to them.

Family history as done by genealogy buffs only interested in filling in the dates and places of lineal ancestors miss the point. Everybody has ancestors. What becomes fascinating is that by recreating and listening to the stories of previous generations, we learn from the experiences of those who have lived on Earth before us.

Family history is a messy, complicated, and very loose collection of stories bound together with overlaps and gaps and sharing. Those are all the reasons I love it.

And all the reasons that I keep picking at the loose threads, following clues left in documents and photographs, and searching for information to fill in the empty stretches of time—or so it can appear from this angle—of the people who have come before me.

Researching family history is never ending. I’ve been at this for a long time. New information can refine, surprise, or alter what I think I already know. As a writer, this makes my path difficult. There is no moment where I can say to myself, “OK, my research is done. Now I can write.”

Therefore, research has to be done for the sake of the hunt, the rewards fate doles out to me, and an appreciation for the continuous process. In this way, Kin Types is the slim fruit of years of difficult “gardening,” but not the final fruit or the final say.

The following prose poem from Kin Types explores a moment in the life of my great-great-grandfather’s sister, Jennie DeKorn Culver, the custody battle during her divorce.

What Came Between A Woman and Her Duties

14 May 1897

On this Friday, in our fair city of Kalamazoo, Recreation Park refreshment proprietor, John Culver, has applied to the Circuit Court to gain custody of his two young daughters from his divorced wife. The girls currently reside in the Children’s Home. They were accompanied to court by Miss Bradley, the matron of the home.

Mrs. Culver, the divorcée, and the children were represented by J. W. Adams. The father was represented by F.E. Knappen.  Mrs. Culver, pale and stern-looking, wore a shirtwaist with tightly ruched collar and generous mutton sleeves. The strain of her situation shows clearly on her visage. In the past, Mrs. Culver has been aided and abetted by her female friends in the art of painting, as an article of 6 February 1895 in this very daily can attest.

A large number of friends of both parties were in the courtroom and heard emotional pleadings on both sides. Judge Buck ascertained that Mrs. Culver is engaged in the pursuit of an honest living at this time and so ordered that the children remain in the mother’s care. She was given six months to bring them home from the orphanage or they will go into the care of their father and his mother. Let us hope that Mrs. Culver can stay away from the easel.

I used articles from the Kalamazoo Gazette, as well as legal documents, to recreate Jennie’s fight for custody of her two daughters. The only documentation I can find that Jennie was an artist is a newspaper article commemorating the gift of an easel to Jennie during the term of her marriage by her female friends.

Finishing Line Press has published my chapbook, Kin Types, a collection of lyric poetry, prose poems, and flash nonfiction that interprets the lives of some forgotten women in history—my own ancestors.

 Kin Types can be ordered through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Finishing Line Press.

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BIO

luanne-headshotLuanne has been a Fellow at the Center for Ideas and Society at the University of California, Riverside. She studied English, history, and creative writing at UCR (PhD); Western Michigan University (MFA); and the Stanford University writing certificate program. She taught college English for fifteen years. Her scholarly work has been published in academic journals, and she contributed to Twice-Told Children’s Tales: The Influence of Childhood Reading on Writers for Adults, edited by Betty Greenway. Luanne is an amateur genealogist and publishes some of her family history research on the blog thefamilykalamazoo.com.

Winner of the 2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award, Doll God, Luanne Castle’s first collection of poetry, was published by Aldrich Press. Luanne’s poetry and prose have appeared in Phoebe, Six Hens, Story Shack, The Antigonish Review, Crack the SpineGristTABRiver TeethLunch TicketThe Review Review, and many other journals. Luanne’s 2017 chapbook Kin Types, forthcoming from Finishing Line Press, was a semi-finalist in the Concrete Wolf Chapbook Contest.

She divides her time between California and Arizona, where she shares land with a herd of javelina. Her heart belongs to her six cats and the homeless cats at the animal shelter where she volunteers.

Luanne’s sites: THE FAMILY KALAMAZOO

WRITERSITE

LUANNE CASTLE: WRITER AND POET

 

 

Please come by next Sunday!

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Are You a Critic?

“Reader, I think it proper, before we proceed any farther together, to acquaint thee that I intend to digress through this whole history as often as I see occasion; of which I am myself a better judge than any pitiful critic whatever. And here I must desire all those critics to mind their own business, and not to intermeddle with affairs or works which in no ways concern them; for till they produce the authority by which they are constituted judges, I shall not plead to their jurisdiction.” Henry Fielding

I’m (sort of) on vacation and reading Tom Jones and War and Peace (Prince Andrei just had an epiphany on the battlefield about striving for glory). The above passage by Mr. Fielding made me laugh.

ellen casinoLast week we visited the Oneida Mansion (the inspiration for Buck Crenshaw’s experience at a utopian society). My husband spotted the Oneida Casino (forget the name). It seems casinos are noted for their buffets(?). We stopped by after traveling back in time (at the casino it’s as if time stands still). I think we won $.50 but we only played about $5.00. The buffet was pretty good, but can anyone explain why there’s such a thing as an Ellen slot machine?

My tendency is to criticize noisy things. Like casinos. Despite my best intentions I ended up criticizing Ellen and the fact that slot machines no longer have levers which were the only things that made casinos even remotely bearable to me (I’ve been dragged to casinos three times in my life). My husband has no great love for casinos but he tends  to take flashing lights in stride–especially if there’s a good buffet to follow. 🙂

What about you? Are you a harsh critic? An annoying kill-joy critic or a more evolved person who realizes life is just too short to spend time criticizing? I’m somewhere in the middle (I think).

 

 

 

How to Have Sex to Make Better Children

“Sorry to say, but it’s mostly her gene pool,” the pediatrician said, as she glanced over the information about our foster kid. “No amount of ADHD medication is going to make her a rocket scientist.”

Theories abound about the essential things one must do to produce productive children. One theory that’s probably true is having parents who don’t tie you to a chair before going out for the night, but in the case of our foster kid even that behavior is hereditary.

Victorians loved the ideas of science and progress. They were so darn optimistic about the future and mankind’s place in that future. There were the doubters and the haters, but many people bought into utopian notions even if they didn’t up and join a communistic free-love society like my hapless Buck Crenshaw does in THE DEW THAT GOES EARLY AWAY. I give Buck a pass because he only goes to please a gorgeous girl (and gets himself in a heap of trouble).

I suppose most Victorians had sex that we’d consider pretty normal. Some had affairs and others–a small minority–practiced continence.

In his book The Science of a New Life, John Cowan (a 19th century “scientist”) urged sex to be saved for bi-yearly sex marathons:

“The core of Cowan’s program was his ‘law of continence,’ which, with certain variations, was echoed by many reformers: ‘The noble army of the continent of mankind’ is made up of those who don’t drink, smoke, wear corsets, dress ostentatiously, overeat, or live sedentary lives. They practice ‘voluntary and entire abstinence except when used for procreation,’ and they do not misuse the marriage bed for ‘the perverted amativeness’ of physical pleasure or sexual relief. Since Amativeness, the phrenological organ of the sex drive, is located at the rear of the lower skull along with other animal faculties, it may become an organ of animal lust.  But coitus that occurs when Amativeness has been subordinated to Spirituality, the organ of reverence located at the top of the head, permits the highest sexual magnetic impulses to be telegraphed from the brain of the parents to the brain of their child. The ‘law of continence’ mandates one heroic procreative session every two years during a sunny August or September morn, so that the child may be born in springtime. Following a four-week period in which the prospective parents, in a spiritual mood, have been focusing their will powers on those qualities with which they want to endow their child, their copulation generates and electrical transference of these very qualities to the child.” Excerpted from Pseudo-science & Society in 19th century America, edited by Arthur Wrobel

We smile a little at this but I wonder if a little more reverence, a little more thought taken for the future of offspring wouldn’t be a good thing.

 

 

How to Handle Criticism

“Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do.”
Benjamin Franklin

The other day my husband and I were discussing who we were going to hire to put in an asphalt driveway after two different companies sent their men with estimates.

One of the men who came by wasn’t a very good speller but had been laying asphalt for 20 years. The other came with his wife and laptop, fancy postcards and a brand new truck. My husband was undecided since the estimates came in almost the same. He took to his own laptop and started reading local reviews. The bad speller’s company had a perfect 5 star rating. The fancier guy’s company had one bad review.

The wife of fancy guy responded to the bad review. Not good. She passive aggressively pushed the blame for the customer complaints onto the customer. She then described the death of a family member and various other personal issues that may have prevented her in 2014 from returning the disappointed customer’s phone calls. She pointed out that her company was a family run business and one bad review could really hurt its reputation.

At church the other day an artsy acquaintance and I were talking about swapping my book for her music CD. “What if we hate each other’s work?” she asked, jokingly.

Critics have been around since Satan grumbled about his place in heaven, yet pondering the asphalt situation (my husband chose the bad speller) left me thinking that maybe being a critic wasn’t the best way to pursue a happy life. There is a savage thrill in expressing a heavy-handed opinion with a superior toss of the head during a movie about super heroes. But is it really fun for those people around you?

On the rare occasion when I actually leave the house to go to a movie I ask my husband what the reviews are for the film. He usually responds, “Who cares? I want to make up my own mind.”

My husband takes a bad movie in stride. He’ll admit to a movie being less than he hoped but does not get worked up about it. He also never sits down to write bad reviews. I never do either. I may rant about something for a few days, or complain to my husband about a dumb book that’s really popular, but I have no desire to put pen to paper if in my mind the book or film or asphalt company deserves less than 4 stars.

Some people seem to think they’re doing the world a great service warning a buyer against a book, movie or driveway but sometimes silence is just as appropriate as words. A book with no reviews leaves just enough doubt in a reader’s mind without having the author’s reputation tarnished forever (or until an EMP STRIKE takes down all electronics). Only once did I check out a reviewer’s other reviews when she left a bizarrely personal and vicious attack/review. It was very eye-opening. Let’s just say I wouldn’t want to live in her world of miserable negativity. I’m not sure I believe in karma exactly but wonder if in this age of YELP and Amazon we are not turning into the crows I see on my property who peck baby birds to death for fun.

the-noon-recess-winslow-homerWhen I used to teach 5th graders, the rule was that the kids had to think of three nice things to say about a fledgling writer’s efforts before the pecking began. My eleven-year-old students very easily learned this skill and the young writers flourished. Adults sometimes seem to think it would take too much time for such civility.

Critical thinking and perceptive critiques certainly have their place and it is almost never worth it to respond to criticism with whining or defensiveness, but I wonder if my mother’s advice, “if you have nothing good to say . . .” isn’t something we all should consider now and again. Maybe we should even consider what our true motives are at times. I can usually tell when I’m just in the mood to be a bitch (so can everyone else).

Once someone close to me said, “Well, it’s not like you’re the best writer who ever lived.”

REALLY? Who knew?  The person is someone I know loves me and her words came out wrong (or did they?) but they still annoy me . . . a little.

In the old myths the gods pecked at and destroyed each other in battles of ego, jealousy or stupidity. What kid didn’t love reading about such battles? But none of us are gods. We play them in critique groups or in dark movie theaters and basically just annoy and rob joy from others (again, I do realize that sometimes criticism is good and appropriate).

There may be some people who produce junk on purpose, but most artists and asphalt layers are just trying to do their best in life. Silence is golden in many (most cases).

My singer acquaintance at church and I decided that if we didn’t like each other’s work we’d say nothing. That way we could each pretend that maybe the other person hadn’t yet found time to read or listen to the works that bared our souls.

What about you? What’s your favorite example of toxic criticism? What has been someone’s most helpful criticism in your life?

PS~How great are the looks on the critics’ faces in the above painting?

HOW TO SPOT TOXIC FEEDBACK

I REWROTE MY NOVEL THROUGH A CRITIQUE GROUP AND LOST MY WAY

HOW TO HANDLE CRITICISM: THE TOP  TIPS FROM THE LAST 2500 YEARS

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“The death of the attention span may have been declared too early.”

WOULD YOU READ A ONE MILLION WORD BOOK?

“The death of the ‘attention span’ might have been declared prematurely,” she adds. “But at the same time, novels are competing with other entertainment forms that provide a lot of instant thrills. To start a long novel these days, I think the reader needs to feel certain that the tale will be worth the journey.”

25 BIG NOVELS THAT ARE WORTH YOUR TIME

 

WHY BIG BOOKS ARE BACK

What’s your favorite long novel?