10/13/14

A BABY AND A BOOK

Twenty nine years ago I was put to bedrest during my pregnancy.  I faced several months on my back and I felt trapped, like I'd lost control of my life.  My husband gave me a yellow legal pad and pen and told me, "Mary Alice, for as long as I've known you, you have wanted to write a novel but didn't have the time. Now you have the time."

I wrote and wrote and finished the draft of my first novel.  I like to say I gave birth to a baby and a book!

Now all these years later, that baby, Zack, just had a baby of his own!  I'm finishing my twentieth novel and as I gaze at my sweet grandson, I can't help but think how sometimes life does come full circle.

My son and his newborn son

Looking back, I learned a precious lesson.  Back when I was put to bed I was miserable, thinking that I was facing a horrid obstacle.  In fact, it wasn't an obstacle at all.  The experience was an opportunity.  I learned from this that how we face hardship can change not only our outlook, but the outcome.  Each decision we make moves us toward the next, and the next, and the next. 

If I hadn't been put to bed rest, I might have lost not only my son, something I can't even think about without a shudder.  But I likely would not have finished that first novel that was sold and changed the course of my career and life.

We are writing the story of our lives day by day.  My bed rest experience and giving birth to a baby and a book was an important chapter.  Gazing at my sweet Wesley, this one truly has a happy ending! 

Meet my new grandson, Wesley!

9/24/14

JUST BREATHE!



It's been a long summer and as I face the summer's end I've begun additional research on dolphins, the focus animal of the Lowcountry Summer Trilogy. I'm hoping to spark new inspiration as I push through the end of the storyline, The Summer's End.  Writing is a lonely, confined, indoor activity.  For the past several months I've cut out activities and have been spending way too much time locked inside while outside my windows the seasons change.  I feel tense, uneasy, like a balloon about to pop.
I miss walking the beach.  I long to go out and stand on the Hunley bridge over Breach Inlet seeking out dolphins.  I miss my sea turtles that have left my island on their solitary journeys in the great sea. My only escape lately is to go out to my butterfly garden.  I rush outside multiple times a day, just long enough to steal a moment from my computer to search milkweed leaves for monarch eggs, feed the growing caterpillars and, perhaps, release a newly emerged butterfly to the garden.  Sometimes I just stand quietly and watch the sweet new monarch join the other butterflies to dance on the flowers, feeling the sun on my face. 

Yet, most of the time I'm  trapped indoors.  And it has been raining...a lot.  I feel a disconnect with nature--with the infinite vast and wild that takes my breath away and fills my soul.  Too much confinement makes me feel uneasy and agitated.  I'm out of sorts.  But... my deadline looms over my head (and I know y'all want the next book!) so I dutifully persevere.   

Which brings me to this morning.

In this grumpy frame of mind, I began prowling my library, digging through tomes for some new inspiration for this trilogy that is set against the adorably intelligent and compassionate dolphins.  I didn't know exactly what I was searching for but knew what I sought would be found in a spiritual realm rather than factual.  My hand fell on Ted Andrew's book Animal Speak. I paused.  Joseph Campbell stated that artists were the shamans of today and I believe this is true.  We must trust our intuition.  

I pulled out this book that is a dictionary of animal symbolism and the spiritual powers in all creatures, great and small.  These symbols are sometimes called totems. Since prehistoric times images have helped us transcend the physical to ascertain the spiritual.  To honor nature and to embody its wisdom in our lives.  Shamans believed that every species, every aspect of our natural world had the power to remind us of what we should manifest in our own lives.  They often dressed in animal costume to elicit the sense of wonder, even magic.  Shamans performed rituals that were tied into the rhythms of the seasons to bridge the natural world to the supernatural and offer richer, deeper meaning to their lives.

I can't say I fully understand how this connection to the spiritual power of nature works.  I do believe, however, that one can gain insights into one's life's journey and purpose by simply paying attention to the powers that surround us in Nature.

I realize some people think this kind of thinking is just silly.  Or "woo woo."  I, too, have second-guessed the messages I've heard, or ignored my intuition and the instincts that flared in my gut.  Too many times I've regretted not paying attention to the signals.  Never, however, have I regretted listening. 

Over the past twenty five years I've worked with many different species and I am confident that our connections with nature--both physical and spiritual--are essential to our well being.  And that they are just as powerful today in our modern era as they were in ancient times, if we only open our minds and hearts to what is possible.  We need this inclusive wisdom, perhaps even more today than ever before. 

So, this morning I grabbed the book Animal Speak for no apparent reason.  Just an intuitive hunch.  I searched for the totem dolphin because I thought surely the dolphin would be my current messenger.  Here is what the passage said:

"If dolphin has shown up as a totem, ask yourself some important questions.  What are your words and thoughts creating for you?  If unsure, when dolphin arises you will soon discover. Are you getting outside and enjoying fresh air? Are you holding in tensions? Are others? When dolphin shows up it is time to breathe some new life into yourself. Get out, play, explore, and most of all breathe."

 Just breathe!

I had to smile, even laugh!  I believe this is no mere coincidence.  Yes, I could easily explain it as such.  But to do so would be to deny the intuitive power that I believe lies within myself.  And within each of us if we open ourselves to possibility and listen.

As Andrews states, "humanity has lost that instinctive tie to the rhythms and patterns of Nature."  I wonder if we are so caught up in our technology that we have lost--even deny and ridicule-- our ancient connection to the natural world?

I am listening. Today I will take a long walk in the fresh air. I will find time to laugh and play.  I will take deep breaths.  And in the quiet I will open my mind to creative ideas.  I smile, because I know the words will flow.


9/12/14

THE GIFT OF READING



This past week I had the honor and joy of speaking to thousands of high school and college students, many of whom had read either SKYWARD or THE BUTTERFLY'S DAUGHTER for their summer reads program.  Bravo to Principal Rodney Graves at Crest High School in Shelby, NC; Principal Jeff Stevens at Spartanburg High School; Dr. Terry Pruitt of Spartanburg School District 7, SC; and Dr. Colleen Keith at Spartanburg Methodist College and their staff and the entire communities for encouraging strong reading programs!  Especially the summer reads program that included contemporary books the students selected. Use it or lose it doesn't only apply to the brains of older folks. 

The students I talked to were excited about reading. The day I visited Crest High School was the culmination of their summer read program. I walked through the halls while 100 classrooms were filled with students all talking about books! Does that even happen anymore?  It was thrilling to witness.  At Spartanburg High I was part of a panel with students discussing my books. I sat back in awe and listened to them debate plot and characters with emotion. At Spartanburg Methodist College, a two-year college, I was impressed by the commitment of the faculty and staff to support their students so that 80% of the graduates continue on to a four-year college.  An astonishing feat that beats the standard. The faculty and staff of all these institutions are spreading excitement about reading, putting books in students' hands, making reading relevant in their communities.
Yet, literacy begins at home.  Encouraging reading is not only the responsibility of our schools.  We parents and grandparents model behavior for our children-- and that includes reading. Many of us read to our children when they sat in our laps as toddlers or very young readers.  Too often, however, as our children get older we relinquish our role as reading mentor to the teachers.

I challenge parents, grandparents, and concerned relatives to read a book that is being read by your child. Then discuss it! Bring the book discussion to the dinner table.  Unplug the electronics and turn off the TV.  Talk about it in the car.  How often do you ask your child, "How was school?"  And then get the dismissive answer, "Good."  Try asking your child who his/her favorite character was in the book, or did he agree with the choice the character made, did she like the ending or what did she think the characters might do after the book ended?

If we want our children to read, we must read ourselves.  If we want to improve communication with our children and each other, we must create a calm and safe atmosphere that encourages discussion.  As parents, we must listen to and respect our child's opinion, even if--especially if--it differs from our own.  My son and I have polar opposite political opinions. But I love that he feels he can share his ideas and thoughts with us. Books that are read together can be a great jumping off point for discussions.  You'll be amazed, as I was this past week, by some of the strong voices and opinions you will hear!

High school and college are golden years.  A time of self discovery and dreams. Of finding one's own voice. Give a child a book and you give him or her the keys to his imagination.  Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis said,
"There are many little ways to enlarge your child's world. Love of books is the best of all."