I was thinking about the story of Jesus… and Peter… walking on water. I looked at the reasons why Peter was able to walk on water, however short-lived the experience was. The obvious reasons are because he had faith… and Jesus was on hand to command him to do it. But beyond that… before that… he first imagined that he could do it… he dared to think that he should do it… and then he asked Jesus to allow him do it. I thought it was a good thing to think about as we look ahead at the things we want to accomplish in the new year. We always focus on the things we want to change about ourselves… to work on our faults. What would the year look like if we imagined something big… dared to think we should do it… turned to God for the approval and the assistance… and had the faith to do the seemingly impossible. That’s my resolution. Happy New Year, everyone.
I am looking through my 7th grade yearbook. Back in my day, we called it junior high. That awkward, life-altering time when we were all transitioning from children to teenagers. I have fleeting memories of those days. Sitting in the gym cheering on our basketball team. Playing softball and kickball on the fields outside. I have images in my mind from science class and social studies and math.
I lived in a small town, so I remember most of the classmates I see in these pictures. I attended school with many of them from elementary through our senior year. I keep in touch with several of them to this day. But the person I want to tell you about presided over a room along the long back hall downstairs. My friends and I first had him as a teacher when we were in sixth grade. It was language arts, and it lasted two periods. By a stroke of luck, he was moved up a grade the same year we were, so we had him again in seventh grade.
His name was (and still is) Mr. Rhine. Actually, his first name is Gene, but he will forever be Mr. Rhine in my mind. And Mr. Rhine changed my life.
I’m sure we were all a bit gawky and graceless back then, but I was all of that and more. Daunted by the world, simultaneously bossy and intimidated, I had more than my share of the immaturity and insecurities of a 13-year-old girl in a developing body.
My family was relatively poor, so that was an embarrassment to me. (I was 13 after all. Everything was embarrassing.) I was overweight (though I’d kill to be that “fat” again now!) I remember in Sunday School, they’d always have us draw pictures, but I couldn’t draw. I played softball some, but I was definitely not good at it. I made good grades, but I worked for them more out of anxiety than drive. I found my haven in Mr. Rhine’s class.
Mr. Rhine treated us as if we were smart. And in his class, it was fun to be smart. I remember we would play “baseball”, where a “hit” was a right answer. Mr. Rhine had us writing research papers with footnotes and bibliographies in sixth grade. We would head to the library and spend hours looking up information in encyclopedias and resolutely writing it all down. I remember creative writing assignments in which he encouraged us to make up elaborate stories.
To this day, I remember his look of approval when he read something I wrote. Maybe he gave that look to everyone. I hope so. Because that look, that little smile, that pat on the shoulder told me that I had found what I was good at. I believed him, and it transformed me. Not overnight. I still had to make it through junior high. I was still awkward and insecure at times, and still can be! But I had a foundation to rest on, to stand on, to work from. I wasn’t pretty. I couldn’t draw. Or play sports. And I’d never be popular. But I could write. Mr. Rhine said so.
I went on to become an advertising copywriter. Then I wrote scripts for broadcast radio. I’ve written songs all my life, and after three years of effort, I finally completed my first novel. The entire time I was writing it, I thought of handing Mr. Rhine a copy and thanking him for spurring the dream so many years ago. I was afraid he would pass on before I got it written, but I would ask friends back home and they said he was still around.
When I did a book signing at my hometown library a few months ago, I tracked down Mr. Rhine. He was in an assisted living place in the next town over. When I walked into his little apartment, he was sitting in a recliner, covered with a blanket, his tv at full volume. I couldn’t find the right remote to turn it down, and I think I was making him nervous messing with his things. So I shouted at him who I was and why I was there. He didn’t remember me, but I didn’t really expect him to. I shouted that way back in the 70’s, my friends and I were in his class for two years in a row. He joked that we must have gotten tired of him.
No way, Mr. Rhine. You molded us. You inspired us. You challenged us. And I will forever be grateful. I gave him a signed book and told him it was because of him that I had been able to write it. He was touched and thanked me for taking the time. Then I left him, sitting in his chair, covered up to his chin, his tv blaring, holding my book.
I don’t know if he’ll read it. Or if he can. It doesn’t matter. I just wanted to give it to him and to tell him how much his encouragement meant to the timid, anxious, fearful little girl I was way back when. I am so glad I was able to do so.
It doesn’t matter that Mr. Rhine doesn’t remember me. Because I remember him.
“Do you quilt?” asked the electrician, as I moved piles of stuff around in my laundry/sewing/craft area so he could get to the breaker box.
“No,” I was forced to admit.
Nor do I use 95% of the fabric and various and sundry other things I have in bins and drawers and piles. Much of it was inherited from my late mother, who loved the idea of sewing much more than she did the actual activity.
But I can’t blame her for all of my stacks. And I think I owe her an apology for the eye rolls over the years. Mom, turns out I’m a lot like you. While I don’t generally buy fabric that I’ll never use (at least not nearly as often), I’m still hanging on to some of what you bought. And I’ve kept all of the buttons and lace and tools and notions.
I think, more than the actual fabric and trim and fringe, it’s about the possibilities. It’s about what they could be, were we to invest the time. What we could be, if we took the time to invest. That’s much harder to let go of, I think.
You know what they say about home. They say you can’t go back.
I know why they say it. Because home isn’t just a location. Home is also about a time… and about people. So even when you can plant your feet in the same physical space, time has marched on. And people have grown older, or moved away. Or died.
For all intents and purposes, I left my hometown of Eldorado, Illinois back in 1982, the year I moved away to the University of Illinois. Thereafter, I always had a different zip code, and quite a few at that. I was often in Eldorado since that’s where my family was. But I no longer lived there. At the end of the week, or the weekend, I always went back ‘home’, to somewhere else.
For close to three decades now, the Nashville, TN area has been home. I currently live on a quiet street in a town called Gallatin. It’s a pretty good size, compared to Eldorado. I usually don’t run into people I know at the store. Some of my closest ‘local’ friends are still miles away. But it has become home to me. Meanwhile, back in Eldorado, my parents have both passed. Many of my friends are no longer there. I don’t find time to visit very often.
But a couple of weekends ago, I went home again. I stayed with my brother. I shared meals with family and with good friends. And I did a book signing for my debut novel BUKU at the Eldorado Memorial Library. I’ve known the lady who set up the event a good portion of my life. My brother stayed for moral support the whole time. My dear friends Bruce and Julie came and took pictures.
The first guy to walk in the door was Scott. Scott and I never did hang around together. But I’ve known Scott since we were in elementary school. The same with Jeff. And Mark. And Bonnie. I caught up with Chris and Janet and Sally and Mike. My neighbor Kim, who I spent countless hours riding bikes with back on Bramlet Street, was there. As was one of my besties from as far back as I can remember; Valery and I have so many shared memories of camp and school and sitting on the back row at church and giggling so hard the pew shook.
Former neighbors, mothers of friends, the husband of a former teacher. Jerri, who I was on a speech team with when we both attended the local community college. And Gary, my coach from those days. I hadn’t seen either of them since the 90’s, and we talked fast and tried to fill in the years.
There’s something about people who knew you when you were young. Who are a part of your history. Who know your family and have stories on your brother. Who remember your parents and your grandparents.
Eldorado isn’t the town it was when I was growing up. Many of the downtown buildings have collapsed due to age and neglect. My parents are gone; their house sits sad and empty. I can probably walk into the grocery store there and not recognize the faces. But how incredible is it, that thirty-four years after I moved away, I can go back and remember so much? And be remembered by so many. I was afraid I wouldn’t know people. But I did. I may have forgotten people I worked with ten years ago. But I remember the faces of my hometown, the people I knew, and who knew me, when I was young.
So here’s the thing. You can’t turn back the clock. You cannot bring back those you love. But turns out, you can go home again.
I have lived in nine different towns (and parts of Nashville) since I moved away. I now reside in Gallatin. But no matter how long I live, I will always be from Eldorado, Illinois.
I have written a novel. I am proud of myself. I am proud of my writing. I am proud of my book.
And I am delighted that people seem to be enjoying it. It is affirmation of the work I did sitting alone in a room for three years.
But it’s a little weird. It took me a while to come to grips with the idea of signing my book. It felt… pretentious. (I have gotten over that and am happy to sign, by the way.)
I love hearing what people think and am thrilled when someone tells me they like BUKU. But I admit, I also feel a bit vulnerable. (It is my first book, after all.)
I have had friends joke that they “knew me when”. I’ve heard phrases like “now that you’re rich and famous.” Let me assure you. I’m still in the hole financially, and there are 349,846 authors who are more famous than me on Amazon right now. (That’s my sales rank across all books on Amazon at the moment!) I’ve had friends who I haven’t spoken to in thirty years say they’re proud of me. That’s humbling.
So do I have a point? I think I do. And it’s this. Writing and releasing a book has been one of the most fear-inducing yet pride-producing things I’ve ever done. And I think both of those things are good. When we steer away from what scares us, we deny ourselves little moments of glory.
What I have done is small… minuscule in the scheme of things. Kinda like winning a trophy in t-ball. And yet, in my little world, to me and my friends, it’s a big deal. And they’re the people I care most about anyway.
So let me encourage you to do something that scares you. Terrifies you. Makes you feel vulnerable. Sing a solo at church. Post your latest poem on Facebook. Paint a picture of your dog.
Maybe it will go unnoticed. Maybe it won’t be very good. But how else will we ever be all that our Creator created us to be? How else will we open ourselves up to a moment of glory, no matter how small it is?
Stuff. When we were clearing out my parents’ house, filled not only with 70 years of their stuff but also with stuff from my grandparents, and their parents, I had a hard time letting go. Because stuff isn’t always just stuff. It’s memories.
My house is now jam-packed with memories in the form of old furniture, beautiful glassware, and the odds & ends that my family touched, used, and cherished. Family no longer with me, except in the form of their stuff. My poor husband, who is not nearly as into stuff, is a bit overwhelmed by my collections. I understand that but I can only hope he understands that somehow holding on to everyone’s stuff helps me to hold on to them.
Last week, a building was torn down in my hometown that once housed my father’s shoe repair shop. It had burned last fall and needed to come down. Oh, how I remember the smells of that place. Forget English Pear and Freesia, if someone made a candle that smelled like leather and shoe dye, I’d light it every day. Reeder’s Shoe Shop in Eldorado, Illinois had belonged to my grandmother and her father before her. Dad ran it for several decades but had closed it down years ago after he had a stroke. Since then, the building had changed drastically. Long gone were the stacks of never-claimed shoes, the old sewing machine that could stitch through anything, the table loaded down with scraps of leather, and the long bank of sanders that shaped rubber soles and created the fine dust that covered everything in the store with a layer of black grime. The shoes had been tossed. The dust had been cleaned. The smells had evaporated. But the building still stood, holding onto the memories.
Until now. So I sit here crying. Not for a building. Not really. Not even for stuff. But for the family whose voices I still hear, whose hands I still feel when I touch their stuff.
A family member just passed away. I have two friends recently diagnosed with cancer. I know people who are dealing with depression, addiction, chronic pain, and the inevitable march of time.
Some of the people in my circle are lonely, sad, overwhelmed, grieving, depressed, broke, jobless, friendless, faithless. So when I post on Facebook that I’m excited about releasing my first book, a part of me feels… guilty. Frivolous. Shallow. What I’ve done will not cure sickness. It will not feed the hungry. It will in no way change the world.
I’ve written a book about monsters chasing people through the mountains. And yes, there is a love story in the book. And a tale of good vs. evil. And a touch of spirituality. But it is, after all, entertainment.
Except to me, it’s more than that. I accomplished a dream I’ve had since childhood. I started a new career in my fifties. I figured out how to do something that I had absolutely no idea how to do. (And am still trying to figure out a lot of it!) I faced the fear of rejection and self-doubt and worked past it. I set myself a huge goal and (eventually) met it.
More so than that, I tapped into that awesome creative spirit that seems such a mystery to those fortunate enough to experience it. I can’t really tell you how I thought of the story of BUKU. I can’t really tell you how I came up with multiple characters and a storyline that seems to tie together. I can’t really tell you where the melody to “Iris’ Lullaby” came from. Creativity remains somewhat magical to me.
Which brings me to my point. In a world filled with heartbreaking things like death and cancer and pain and depression, creating can be essential. It reminds us that there are things far more fascinating than the everyday world. That there are things far more mystical, far more meaningful, far more enjoyable. It reminds us that there is something beyond us that we can connect to as we delve within.
I don’t say these things because I wrote a book. I say these things to encourage you to write a book. Or paint a picture. Or make a quilt. Or sing a song. Or take a photo. Or plant a flower. Or color with your granddaughter. Or whatever it is that is inside you, longing to be let out. We can’t stop the sorrowful inevitabilities of life. But we can interlace them with things we create with our hands and our minds and our hearts. We can bring beauty and peace and passion and godliness into this cold world.
I hope you create something today. Or this week. Or this year. Not because the world needs more entertainment. But because it needs more hope.
I dedicated my first novel BUKU to my husband Mike because it would not have been possible without him. He was the one who finagled the budget so we could afford for me to quit my full-time job. He was the one who did that again when my freelance jobs dwindled away. He was the one who went to work every day while I pursued my dream of writing a book. BUKU would not have been possible without him.
But it was my mother Carolyn who taught me to love stories. Mom was a reader. Big time. She was a dichotomy, or as Kristofferson says, “a walking contradiction”. She battled depression, probably more so than I realized as a child. Because what I saw her doing was leading a 4-H club and coaching softball and teaching the youth at our church alongside my dad.
I also saw her read. All the time. I think she used it as a way to battle her depression. She was always in the midst of a book. And she made sure the whole family was too. She would go to the library and spend hours picking out a bag full of books, not just for herself, but for me and my brother and my father. Dad would read a few. My brother would read a few. I read a lot. She read them all.
My grandmother fussed at times about mom’s lack of housekeeping skills and the amount of time she spent reading. However, the thought occurred to me the other day that I don’t know if I gained much of anything long-term from Grandma’s cleaning skills. (Though I did from her cooking!)
But from my mom, I learned to love stories. And words. It was while diving into those books she meticulously picked out for me that I developed the dream to write my own books.
I didn’t get to tell her this, but I have no doubt that because she read, I now write.
When Lee Ann Womack won Female Vocalist of the Year at the Country Music Association Awards, it was a dream come true. Literally. Lee Ann used to watch the awards show as a child and dream of winning the coveted trophy. She worked hard, with single-minded conviction, until she actually did it. She was named the top female singer in country music in 2001.
But Lee Ann said that after the euphoria died down, she was left with a big question. What next? What do you do when you achieve what you’ve worked for for so long? Well, I am about to find out!
No, I’m not up for an award. And probably never will be. But I am about to release my debut novel to the world. Of course, my dream doesn’t center around one book. I hope to write many more. But here at the top of a hill I’ve been climbing for several years, I find myself contemplating the path behind me. It extends all the way back to childhood when I read books that transported me to other places and times. That’s when I told myself I could do that too. The adult me took a long time to get around to it, and I can tell you that path has been long and steep and even torturous at times. But hey, young Jenny. Look at the hill we have climbed.
There’s lots more to do. I’m self-published, so stuff like covers and formatting and marketing and websites is all in my hands. And of course, it’s time to start on the next book. It’s just that, right now, I want to acknowledge that I did it. Whether it sells or not, I have fulfilled a childhood dream.
And folks, I can tell you. It feels good.
I hope you remember your dreams. I hope you can do something that helps you accomplish them in some way. Maybe you can’t become an astronaut, but you can still explore the stars by studying about them. Maybe you can’t be a superstar, but you can still sing or act or paint or pick out a tune on a guitar.
What hill did you want to climb as a child? Have you tried climbing it lately?
BUKU the prologue:
The way it began is kind of sketchy. At least now. Maybe at some point in time someone somewhere knew if Dr. Buddy Givens truly was a benevolent genius concerned with saving the world economy. That was the image he sold to governments around the globe, and the one they all bought lock, stock, and oil barrel.
A precious few at the time, and many more once it was too late to stop, attributed his motives to greed, megalomania, or out-and-out insanity. Some labeled him evil.
Trying hard to be heard above the manic hype, ecologists warned of historical disasters like kudzu and Asian carp, when the introduction of foreign species overwhelmed delicate ecosystems. A handful of savvy farmers and ranchers resisted the tidal wave. The religious right, of course, shouted that a man-made creature was an abomination against God.
In the end, it didn’t much matter whether Givens was charitable or malicious or just plain naive. His scientific endeavors, once touted as the thousand-year solution to all the earth’s energy woes, directly contributed to the collapse of modern society, the deaths of billions of people, and the threatened extinction of almost every living thing on God’s once green earth…
So begins my debut novel Buku.
March 11, 2018 — It’s pretty odd, when you think about it. Don’t get me wrong. I love Daylight Savings Time. Tonight my “day” will feel longer because it will still be light out at a time when it was already dark yesterday. That makes my world brighter, especially since I am more of a night person than a morning person. But think about it. The entire country (or most of it) was on board for: “Okay, everyone, on the count of three, let’s shift time!” And we all agreed that 2 a.m. became 3 a.m. And when our bodies told us to wake up, it was already an hour later. And we carry forward from there. It’s honestly pretty absurd. But, it’s what we humans do. We adjust our world. Instead of simply adapting, we manipulate it. We mold it to better suit us. And why not? The clock is a human construct. The rest of the animal kingdom rises and eats and sleeps to the whirling of the earth around the sun. We alone created a way to wrangle time for consistency sake. We as communities mutually agree on things like working hours and entertainment hours and eating hours and sleeping hours. We have molded time to suit our needs. So, why not agree to change it by one hour every spring because it suits our purposes? I know some complain about it. I know a few states cross their arms and refuse to participate. Me? Even though I “lost” an hour of sleep last night, I embrace the absurdity and applaud the folks who first said – hey, why don’t we change the clock every spring? And then again every fall? We are humans. We can do that.
Some friends were out of town, and I was over at their house walking their dog. Suddenly, their neighbor appears in his yard with his dog. Both dogs let out a yelp and strained at their leashes trying to get to each other, whining in frustration.
I wonder if we would be like that if we could easily spot fellow writers and other creatives. Would we have an instinctual urge to run up to them, check them out, size them up and shoot a hundred questions at them trying to figure out if they have a secret we don’t have? Just a thought.
Wanna read the start of the prologue to my novel Buku? http://jenniferandersonwriter.com/2018/04/10/buku-lock-stock-and-oil-barrel/
I head up a ministry in which we invite the at-risk students of an after-school program to our church once a week for classes in art, music, sewing, crafts, cooking — whatever I can find teachers for. It’s a lot of work, as you can imagine.
This semester, we are doing a music video. With the help of some of the kids a few years ago, I wrote a rap. (Yep, I wrote a rap.) A great guy in town who has a video company is going to shoot and edit it for us. What I planned to work on today with the kids was practicing the song.
Except they weren’t into it. Shyness, young teen “coolness”, the lack of a music leader — all of that resulted in a bunch of kids staring at me like I was asking them to eat rotten apples. I got frustrated and told them none of us had to be there. Their teacher stood up and read them the riot act. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next.
And then our star music student played a beat on the keyboard. Some of the kids started singing. The other kids joined in in loud boisterous voices. It certainly wasn’t pretty. It is still a long way from good. But all the sudden, we were having fun. And almost everyone was joining in. Even some of the girls who have been “too cool for the room” all year did the rap.
The lesson for me was, the kids weren’t at fault. I was. Because I was failing to make it fun. It wasn’t intentional. I always want them to have fun, but for whatever reason, I wasn’t accomplishing that. Once it became fun, they participated.
I think the same applies to ourselves. If we want to create, to be truly inspired in what we do, we have to include play. I’m not saying work won’t enter into it. Because it will. But first, it has to be fun.
In my quest to learn what I need to know about writing and publishing a book, I have subscribed to a dozen or more different blogs/email lists/Facebook pages/etc, all with instructions on how I should write, why I should write, what I should not do while I write. There seems to be a lot of advice and rules and suggestions and no-no’s. I find that some apply to me. Some I disagree with. Some are talking about the kind of writer I will never be. The only thing I know for sure… the one rule that I will state applies unequivocally to every writer, in every genre, for all time… all of my knowledge and wisdom summed up in one sentence is: If you don’t write, it won’t get written.
And by the way, I think this applies to all creatives. (And we are all creative.) What we have inside of us, the part that is unique to us… if we don’t express it in some way, we stop it from ever being revealed to the world. Or at least our world. Or maybe even, just to us.
Working on the novel. This is what I have so far, with the help of the cat.
“Shepherd,” she said. “He’s not our enemy.”
999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999He glanced at her, but his eyes returned immediately to Oso.
Today. I waited a long time for today. Dreamed about it. Worked toward it. Thought it would never arrive. But today I can officially say I have written a book. I just finished my final self-edit and am sending it off to a few beta readers. There are several more steps I need to take before I can hold a copy of it in my hands, but today is a big day. Today I can claim to be an author.
Check out the start of the prologue to Buku. http://jenniferandersonwriter.com/2018/04/10/buku-lock-stock-and-oil-barrel/