Category Archives: Authors

Bloom Where You’re Planted

Author Claire Cook considers herself a late-bloomer having published her first novel in her mid-forties. I knew of Claire’s work because I read the second book she wrote, Must Love Dogs and then picked up a copy of every book that followed.

Years later I met Claire online on the Goodread.com website. Our conversation started after Claire visited my online journal and read some of my writing. At the time I had just written “I Forgot that Sunflower’s Die,” which was just a few lines that touched upon the death of my daughter’s father. Claire had also lost a parent as a child and she shared her story which had recently been published in Good Housekeeping magazine.

Since then Claire’s periodically sends a note cheering on my writing, and with each book she writes I’m reminded that it’s never to late to follow your heart.

Whether you find yourself writing at a child’s swim practice or in the humid, hum of a bustling laundry mat, remember to love what you have and to bloom where your planted.

Here is Claire Cook’s interview on the Today Show…well done, girl:)

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On a Beautiful Day

Charles Dickens
Image via Wikipedia

The weather is perfect today and I plan to spend most of the day outdoors. First I need a very long walk because I committed a cardinal sin and ate 4 ice cream sandwiches in 24 hours, suffice it to say  that I refused to visit the scale this morning choosing to ignore her instead. After that there is garden work that needs to be done and sheets that I want to hang outdoors to dry. I plan to accomplish all of this with my MP3 player.

As I am typing this blog post my computer is transfering 33 hours of Charles Dickens, 7.5 hours of Claire Cook, 8 hours of E. Lockhart and the final chapters of Sinclair Lewis. Titles include Little Dorrit, Wildwater Walking Club, The Disreptuble History of Frankie Landau Banks and the the last chapters of Main Street. My favorite way to spend a day…is lost in a book!

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A Page From Alexa’s Journal

Kalli & Lexx

February 18th, 2006 Alexa’s father died. To mark the one year anniversary last year I posted the tribute that she  wrote for for his funeral. Since then Alexa has written more about surviving loss and living with chronic illness.

Since today marks the second year I have provided a link to the tribute she wrote and read at his funeral and I’m also posting the following tilted:  My Angel

“There is one person who  has gotten me through all the hardships in my life, all those nights I cried, all those days I thought that ending my life would be easiest on everyone.  My angel was the one who stopped me and she has been my best friend since birth. Complete opposites, she is wild and crazy and I am quiet and withdrawn. I watch life and she lives it. Her name is Kalli; she is my cousin, my best friend and my guardian angel.

My father had always looked at Kalli as a second daughter, so when I found out he had died I wanted to be the one to tell her.  Even amidst of our tears, anger and pain Kalli did what she always did, she made everything better. Within minutes of the horrible news she had me laughing so hard that I had forgotten what had happen. With lines like: “Well maybe you can get a puppy now” and “Do you think they’re naked in heaven since you don’t need clothes up there?” She never fails to make me smile even on days when it seems impossible.

At my Fathers wake Kalli never left my side, always there to hold my hand and to hold me when another sob rattled though my body. I remember not being able to take it anymore and I tried so hard to hide it but Kalli knew. Quietly she weaved me through the crowd and outside onto the sidewalk where I collapsed into a ball. I laid my cheek onto the cool concrete with Kalli sitting next to me brushing the hair away from my face and telling me it would all be okay. Like always, she was right. What would I have done if she hadn’t been there? If I would have stayed in that room crowded by people. What would I have done if she wasn’t there to hold me and keep me from collapsing to my knees, the thought still cross my mind.

kalli-lexx1I had written a speech to read at the funeral, everyone was unsure telling me I would most likely not be able to read it, that I would stop in the middle of it crying. But Kalli, like always, was there telling me that I could and I did. When the pastor called my named to come to the podium and start the speech, silently Kalli and I walked up hand in hand and faced the hundred people who came to mourn. Throughout the speech she stood behind me quietly sniffling and every second when I was sure I was going to quit, she  knew and squeezed my hand giving me the strength I needed to keep going.

I will always remember going to a grief group with my grandmother, I of course brought Kalli with me. We sat in the group shy, practically sitting on top of each other. I never noticed it before, but the people in the group became interested in how Kalli and I acted, how when she moved I  moved at the same time, without thinking about it, we fit together like a puzzle. Sometimes, I don’t think we are aware that we are two separate people when we are together.

At one point during the session a lady looked at us with such sadness in her eyes, she had lost her son a few years back, and she said, “you two are so lucky to have one another, to be so close. I wish I had some one like that in my life.”
It dawned on me that she was right, Kalli and I are closer than anybody I know. We remind me of twins, how they are said to be connected in a way and there is no question that Kalli and I are. I don’t think her and I will ever grow apart, she was sent to help me through my life and I was sent to help her.” – Lexx

 

I’ll close this post with a note to my daughter, an excerpts from the essay, “As I Stand Here Ironing” by Tillie Olson

Lu“I stand here ironing, and what you asked me moves tormented back and forth with the iron…when is there time to remember, to sift, to weight to estimate, to total? I will start and there will be an interruption and I will have to gather it all to gather together again. Or I will become engulfed with all I did or did not do, with what should have been and what cannot be helped…There is still enough left to live by. Only help her to know-help make it so there is cause for her to know that she is more than this dress on the ironing board, helpless before the iron.”

 

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OpenZine

I’ve been playing around with a variety of online publications for a project I’ve been thinking about launching. Among the websites offering e-newsletter I found OpenZine, a site where you can publish your own online magazine.  I’m not sure how well OpenZine will work for the project I have in mind but I decided to check it out because I was curious.

The cover of this particular issue relates to my online website, http://www.madelinewest.biz  but I thought Lost Marbles reader might enjoy the content and also the introduction to OpenZine website.Madeline West Click the magazine cover to view.

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The Familial Scattering of Statelessness

1915-1949 and Beyond

Open Wound : The Genocide of German Ethnic Minorities in Russia and the Soviet Union: 1915-1949 and Beyond by Samuel Sinner

Periodically I do research on my family history. With the explosion of the internet each year I gain increasing access to information regarding the Volga German colony in Russia where my grandmother was born.

Yesterday I discovered a vast wealth of information at the The Center for Volga German Studies website at Concordia University in Portland, Oregon. I clicked links and read detailed historical accounts of family history and found a request for Volga German descendants to contribute photos and artifacts to preserve what little remained of the 200 year Germanic history in Russia.

I contacted the professor and sent an MP3 file of a song written for my Volga German grandmother by Minnesota Public Radio host Jeff Horwich, after she made history becoming the second oldest person in the United States to obtain citizenship, she was 106.

The reply to my email was almost immediate, the Center for Volga German studies was thrilled to have the clip and asked for history and photos to feature my, now 108 year old grandmother, on their website.

I was very pleased to have a few items to contribute and will discuss sending additional items for historic preservation. Like my relatives and the Volga German language much of my family and our heritage has been extinguished. I grew up feeling the vacancies that I imagine children and grandchildren of refugees feel yet we look so American. It seems easier to grasp an individuals sense of displacement when the individual looks displaced but Volga Germans looked like any other American.  Yet our photos were only those from America and our belongings were American, we have almost no family articles prior to our migration to the U.S.. My grandfathers home and blacksmith shop was seized by the Russian government along with everything he owned, many colonies were burned to the ground and communities were savagely murdered. All that remains is my grandmother’s childhood shawl, a couple of pictures and horrific tales of the brutality endured by members of my family.

We are not Jewish Holocaust survivors yet our lives are marked by genocide. We are not Palestinian yet we too are refugees who are affronted by that which was wrongfully taken and we intimately understand the familial scattering of statelessness.

As a child I felt what was missing, as an adult I understood why.

– Jody

P. S. Upon contacting the Center for Volga German Studies the professor, knowning nothing more than my grandmothers family name, was able to accurately place us in the colony of Germans in Deitel. I was also able to find documents that traced our family history back to the 1600’s in Germany. Today, descendants of Volga German refugees are eligible for German citizenship under German “right of return” laws.

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Gladwell and the Influence of Personal Passion

In his book Outliers Malcolm Gladwell discusses the significance of the 10k Hour Rule which introduced the notion that among the keys to becoming extraordinarily successful in a field is the requirement of approximately 10k hours of practice. Gladwell’s theory is based in part on research by Anders Ericsson who in the early 1990s studied violinists at the Berlin Academy of Music. In his book Gladwell asserts the following:

“The curious thing about Ericsson’s study is that he and his colleagues couldn’t find any “naturals” – musicians who could float effortlessly to the top while practicing a fraction of the time that their peers did. Nor could they find “grinds”, people who worked harder than everyone else and yet just didn’t have what it takes to break into the top ranks. Their research suggested that once you have enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That’s it. What’s more, the people at the very top don’t just work much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.”

In his book Gladwell reviews a select number of individual who achieved extraordinary success by putting in their 10k hours. But there is another commonality that emerges among his examples…they are all personally driven to put in their 10k hours. The Beatles Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Bill Joy were all to varying degrees obsessed as though they had an internal need. My question is, would success have come to Bill Joy if he lacked the personal drive yet put in his 10k hours because his father insisted he learn and master computer programming? While 10k hours may be the magic number, is personal drive and passion also a necessary part of the Outliers formula?

As a young mother my 4 year old son insisted that he could be an actor so when an open audition came up in Minneapolis with a well known agency I took him believing that it would be a good learning experience…success doesn’t come overnight and acting takes hard work.

Parents weren’t allowed to watch the auditions, my son was lead into a room where he met agents and was rated on a scale for one to ten. The agency called later to say that Nick scored a perfect 10, that they not only wanted to sign him but that they also wanted to send him on an audition for Target the following day. I naturally verified that they didn’t have my son confused with someone else because he wasn’t notorious for being cooperative in preschool.

Nick and I went to the audition and I received a call that evening, Target wanted to sign Nick for their Christmas advertisement. Since they used the word advertisement I assumed he was doing print work, when I discussed signing Target contracts I discovered that Target had hired him for a television commercial. To recap, within 2 weeks of Nick’s audition he was on a set filming his first television commercial, by 5 he was a member of AFTRA and had his own medical and dental policy through the actors union. Nicholas went on to do oodles of print work, and a long list of television commercials including a McDonald’s Christmas commercial which aired for several years world wide and an ABC mini series. I eventually withdrew the boys from acting because of health complications.

The point of my story is that The Beatles, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Bill Joy and even my 4 year old son all shared a passion, a drive…and what appears to me to be an inner knowing of where in the universe they naturally fit best.

While Gladwell discusses the Matthew effect in Outliers, I’d like to introduces my own biblically inspired theory which I will call: many are called but few are chosen. Maybe Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Bill Joy were obsessed because their obsession was exactly where they belonged and they had an innate understanding of that fact just like my son did…maybe passion and obsession are intertwined with the personal destiny of certain individuals. Maybe Gates, Jobs, and Joy were the “chosen” referred to in the biblical text and maybe still others are merely “called,” meaning they lack a specific passion or drive and therefore are not destine to achieve an Outliers spectacular level of success.

While I have no disagreement with the 10k Hour Rule I do wonder if personal drive isn’t a necessary part of the equation. Are we assuming that an uninterested violinist may achieve an Outliers success with the right factors by merely completing of their 10k hours? Or do uninterested violinists quit playing because the volume of time needed is drudgery when you lack the drive, love and passion for the pursuit …THEREFORE those individuals did not end up represented in Anders Ericsson’s research because they stopped playing.

Gladwell again raises fascinating questions regarding our assumptions about the road to success. He suggests that a part of the formula may very well be a quantifiable amount of practice. I would seriously caution parents against making a child practice more rigorously in hopes of inducing an Outlier but I would encourage parents to pay careful attention to those things their children are passionately interested in and remember the 10k Hour Rule when worrying whether or not Johnny is spending too much time doing…X. In the cases of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, The Beatles and Bill Joy that obsessive dedication factored into their ultimate success.

* On a side note, I think many people have passion and drive but we’re often taught that this factor is unimportant. We see growing up and maturing as putting away childish dreams and notions…like being a television actor.  Had I not taken Nick on that audition, he may have never had the opportunity to prove me wrong. My motive was to help him gain insight into the world, that could have been a spirit squelching dose realism. Nick taught me to believe in the wisdom of the spirit. Author Paulo Coelho once wrote “When you really want something to happen, the whole universe conspires so that your wish comes true.”  Sometimes it does.

***On a quirky side note, I looked up Malcolm Gladwell’s biography and discover that he and I share the same birthday also, when I selected a fictional town name for a novel I’m working on I picked Elmira, thinking that I sort of made it up. Elmira is where Malcolm Gladwell grew up, just thought it was an interesting coincidence.

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Outliers and The Ecology of Success

Since it’s New Years Eve I’ll keep it short. I’m posting the radio interview with Malcolm Gladwell where he discusses his most recent book Outliers. In the interest of time I’ve only posted one thought I had regarding this interview and what I’ve read thus far. Since Gladwell raises so many facinating issues and questions many blog posts are sure to follow.

Malcolm Gladwell: On Outliers and the Ecology of Success online audio clip

My thoughts -Flawed by Design:
While Gladwell questions how it is that our society can observe biases but do nothing to correct them, thus missing a brilliant opportunity to exploit the vast wealth of human potential, it would seem that answer is rooted well within American history. It is true to say that American wealth was built on the backs of an enslaved subset within our society. It is possible that the reason we observe biases but fail respond isn’t due to a lack of knowledge or understanding but rather a more subtle and divisive reinvention of a replacement subset, thus giving a modern complexion to American slavery. Today,this assertion not only hold staggering implications for Americans but snares subsets on a global scale due to the implementation of inherently flawed, opportunistic international trade agreements.

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