Return to Snail Mail: A Personal Handwritten Letter Campaign

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint 

2014 started as my year of gifting good stories. Buying books for friends and family members – mostly my mom and my boys, providing moments of escape from their every day lives. Or sending recommendations of interest to those who keep a running list like I do.

Slowly this gift is morphing into stories of my life via handwritten notes and cards, like a personal history or memoir through correspondence. I’m not quite sure why …

Maybe it’s the thrill of “real” mail or the fact that simple things are important.

More than likely it’s due to seeing old friends and realizing our interactions are social media driven only. We could call or write but why when Facebook feeds run like a life highlights newsreel? Because Facebook is usually the good times without room for the difficult and sad, the intimate moments of life.

It could be the fact that while on vacation my dudes sent postcards to some of their friends, whose parents told me of their excitement upon receiving the quick note. How can we not spread that joy again?

Maybe it’s because we have friends spending a year abroad. Wouldn’t it be sweet for them to get letters from home? To feel connected and not far away despite the distance?

Or it could be thanks to my dear friend, whose daily walk includes checking the mail with her infant. A tradition in the making, I think. Of course they need mail to retrieve from the box.

The reason doesn’t matter much. Only the desire to send some love: signed, sealed, and delivered.

I’ll still give books but they may have a personal story penned in my own hand, tucked between the pages.

Here’s to great stories!

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Postcards from Southern California: Family Fun in the Hot Hot Sun

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

It was like a furnace. Temperatures ranged from 90 to 105 degrees. Too hot to do anything other than lounge; which we did.

Trying to find a cool spot and stay hydrated were the top of our activities list while visiting my family in High Desert. [Side Note: Mom’s house doesn’t have central air-conditioning.]

We spent time with the family we don’t see often enough. Shopping and bowling. Eating our favorite Southern California foods like In-N-Out.

We had the opportunity to catch up with life-long friends and hit the beach.

Plenty of ‘selfie’ style photos exist. My boys will have pictures with me in them as well as their cousins, aunts, and Granny. Usually, I take tons of food shots but this year I promised myself, I’d feature the people. Interesting how different this vacation slide deck will look.

I read 3 books:

  • A Better World by Marcus Sakey, exceeded my expectations. It’s better than book one in the saga, Brilliance. Trust me a must read.
  • The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt, was amazing. Another must read.
  • The Secret’s in the Sauce by Linda Evans Shepard and Eva Marie Everson.

We saw 2 movies which were family dates with my sisters, niece and nephew:

  • X-Men: Days of Future Past
  • Transformers: Age of Extinction

We had 1 date without the kiddos. Just hubby and me. It’s hard to pull off when we’re home.

These are bonus tracks on the vacation album.

Cousins in the surf. © 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Cousins in the surf.
© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Seaweed Collection © 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Seaweed Collection
© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

There were lots of items on our ‘to do’ list that we never got marked off. We didn’t have our Read-A-Thon which the boys wanted to do in Colorado originally. I’m so glad we gave our books their own suitcase to travel with us. Oh well we will plan it for next month.

New meaning to book bag. © 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

New meaning to book bag.
© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Now we’re home, a little jet lagged and struggling with the return to routine, but color me grateful for the days we sat on the front porch in the setting sun with the people I love most in the world.

Judgment Seat

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint  Judgment Seat

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint
The Golden Throne of Judgment

When I click “publish”, “post”, or “tweet”, I am essentially saying, “Criticize me, please!”

We have an open invitation to sit in judgment; whether we are consuming music, books, films, photos, meals, or even other people’s lives, from neighbors and friends to celebrities and strangers, and much more.

We are encouraged, almost expected, to give our opinion. We are prompted to share and often incentivized for it.

It’s a function made easier and easier every day:

  • Service surveys on receipts e.g. restaurants and retailers
  • Social media icons everywhere e.g. blogs and articles
  • Popup windows e.g. websites and apps

In one click, with little or no commentary we can tell the who, what, when, where, why, and how of our misadventures and mundane undertakings. We can be a cheerleader or a naysayer in another person’s story.

Some would consider lending a voice to our likes and dislikes, hopes and dreams, a privilege. Others would call it a right. You know, freedom of speech? Or maybe a Public Service Announcement? We have something to say.

Regardless, our opinion matters to someone somewhere at some point in time. Possibly it will only matter to us.

We are like snowflakes. Individual and unique, falling from the sky with the power to collectively blanket the world with our thoughts.

Our voices shape the world we live in, its future; and so, some would also label it a responsibility as well as a privilege and right.

But is there a danger in our acknowledgement of the good events, bad events, and underwhelming events of our lives?

With a sense of immediacy, often while it’s happening, we become the real-time superstars of our own narratives. We begin to believe the artificial hype.

Don’t believe me? Check out this article. Now I ask again: Is it good for us?

One challenge I find is the lack of universal language or philosophy relative to the act of rating. It’s not regulated (nor am I suggesting it should be), but we need a shared language.

If we return to the snowflake analogy, we can comfortably say, we have differing definitions based on our personalities, preferences, and pasts which all act as filters.

There is one universal standard we could and should apply but don’t, at least not often enough. The Golden Rule: Treat others how you would like others to treat you.

Since opinion giving is pervasive today we sometimes forget the importance of reciprocity in relationships.

We tend to think it’s acceptable to use harsh words and accusatory or mocking tones, demean another person; especially because our sentiments often reside in cyber space. We tend to judge others without respecting the fact that on the other end of a post or comment is a real person with feelings.

I have to admit I’m on this reflective path because I was struggling with rating and writing a review on Goodreads for a children’s book I’d read. I agonized over it. Why? Who knows? After all, it’s just my opinion.

Keeper by Kathi Appelt was a story I enjoyed. However, there was a storyline that parents may be concerned about their children reading.

And I wondered if I needed to draw attention to the content in case other parents saw my rating and review and then deemed it appropriate for their kids. Would my review matter to the Goodreads community? Probably not. Would it matter to my personal circle of influence? Possibly.

I felt the responsibility tied to my privilege and right. The trifecta.

The whole experience had me questioning: “What does it ALL mean?”

What does a 5-star book rating mean to you on Amazon or Goodreads? Or the other extreme a 1-star book rating? Does it affect your decisions about what to read?

I am easily entertained. Therefore I tend to be generous in evaluating creative works.

Plus, I feel “bad” being critical of what an author or artist invested their time in. Again, generosity.

My ratings on Goodreads range from 3 to 5-stars with only one 2-star rating. Not everyone shares my view or operates as I do.

We have to wonder about the differences I referenced. Is our rating based on the merit of the writing, plot, and characters? Subject Matter? Reader enjoyment? Or something else entirely.

Maybe it’s not an issue for you, the idea of applying individualism to a collection. I actually considered editing my comments to address the storyline / parenting issue. I probably shouldn’t have allowed reading some of the other reviews to throw me.

Yet and still … How can we use the information that is so readily available, thanks to the opportunities we have to speak up, say what’s on our minds.

The irony of my blogging and asking you to engage in this conversation isn’t lost on me by the way! Now let’s see how many views and likes and comments I get on this post (I’m kidding … kind of).

Seriously, “Criticize me, please.”

What are your thoughts on rating? How does it impact your decision making, if at all? What can we all do to keep the process positive even if the feedback is constructive?

I Read White: The Issue of a Single Story

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

When I first started writing fiction I wanted to be intentional about representing a diverse cast of characters: race, culture, and socio-economic levels. For my first novel, which is still in process, my main character is black, her best friend is biracial and another central character is Latina.

Despite my desire to be intentional, I was also concerned about promulgating the stereotypes associated with race. This hope to handle well a people’s culture and race, a people’s story, has been one of the constant sources of writer’s block for me. What if I failed? What if I made a mockery of someone when I wanted to be honoring?

My reasons, of course, for being purposeful in character selection were well founded. I wanted to create a story that would have resonated with the eight year old me. A story that wasn’t accessible to my younger self but could fill the gap for another child.

I wanted to write a story where someone who looked like me, sounded like me, and acted like me, would take grand adventures and do amazing things in far off places. I wanted to write a book where main culture and lifestyle weren’t reserved for a single segment of the population but where anyone could take part in it. Such high hopes.

Every child deserves such a story.

My juvenile literary exploits were limited. Partly because of the topics that interested me and partly because of what was at my disposal More than anything, I had a fascination with white stories even though I wanted to see myself on the page.

Unfortunately, I read white. Regardless of how the characters are described, my mind generates Anglo images and I have to reframe what people should look like each time they appear in the story. It’s terribly annoying.

Sessions at the Festival of Faith and Writing 2014, like: It’s Just Fiction: Reading and Writing About Race, Culture, and Power with Mitali Perkins; The Power of Suspending Disbelief: Why I Read and Why I Write with Pam Munoz Ryan; and Issues Facing Writers of Color in Christian Publishing with Edward Gilbreath, Marlena Graves, Al Hsu, and Helen Lee; as well as the myriad of presenters, opened my eyes to a greater challenge …

As much as I encourage my dudes to read, I am guilty of raising another generation to read white. Looking at their bookshelves is a clear indication of how I’ve grossly neglected diversity in their literary lives.

How had I missed this?

I guess I could make excuses. I could say it’s because there isn’t enough diversity in their areas of interest. A sure sign that we as writers have work to do and we as readers need to support what is available.

How is it that I could be acutely aware of this injustice in my reading experience and miss the signs in the singular experience I am delivering to my dudes?

How had I, one who’d been victim to single story, been negligent? How could I see the importance of raising readers as a response to my personal history described in a recent post, yet overlook this distinction in theirs?

I could make excuses, but I won’t.

Honestly, I don’t know how I missed it. The good news is there’s time to change their reading trajectory and mine. I need to apply the same intention to selecting books for my family’s reading life as I’ve attempted with my writing life.

And, there’s so much more to “diversity” beyond what I’ve previously stated, like: religion, sexuality, politics, gender; the possibilities of variety are endless.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie beautifully conveys the issue of a single story in literature in this Ted Talk, recommended during an FFW session. I encourage all of you as readers and writers to take the time to watch this video.

Ahh! Awareness!

During teacher appreciation week I usually buy books for my boys classrooms. Mrs. B. responded to my inquiry for what books she was hoping to add to her class library with, “Of course, any books with multicultural characters.”

A wonderful reminder to me for which I am grateful.

Since hearing this cry for diversity at FFW, I notice it everywhere. My Amazon trolling looks different, my search criteria for a good book is broader, but it’s only the beginning.

Another reminder I am thankful for is the #weneeddiversebooks campaign that is currently storming the social media world keeps the issue in front of me. This article is one of many that shows how important it is to tell every story.

I wish I could accurately express how I feel realizing that I’ve fallen short. I wish I could help you understand how far we’ve yet to go. But it starts with being aware. It starts with passing it on.

Help me change the way I read. What books would you recommend, for my dudes and me, to expand our horizons and build a richly diverse library? How have you battled this issue? Please share…

Best Beginnings

“There is no beginning too small.” ~Henry David Thoreau

Currently on my nightstand  ... some on loan from friends. © 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Currently on my nightstand … some on loan from friends.
© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

My best beginning is steeped in words and was the best beginning twice: once as a little girl and once as a parent.

My reading journey began with trepidation … halting steps.

Picture an awkward first grader, uncomfortable in her skin early in life, already different because of the color of her skin and body type. I wanted nothing more than to fit in, to be “normal”.

The youngest child in my family who was replaced as such by a surprise baby sister, school was the environment where I could be myself and where I was most alive.

One challenge … academically I struggled. Often I was in the lowest levels of each subject: math, writing, reading. I didn’t care much about math but reading made an impression.

Life in the late 70s and early 80s wasn’t like today. Few people sent their kids to school knowing how to count to one hundred or read by sight. Back in those days reading went hand in hand with phonics.

It’s no wonder that I was “behind”.

There were lots of books in my home but they were mostly adult reads. Both my parents were insatiable readers but I don’t have memories of mom and dad reading to me, although they talk about doing so.

I was frustrated watching my friends and mortal enemies (as if that exists at 7) dive into more complex books than See Spot Run or Dick and Jane. They were growing their skills and vocabulary, sounding out words and counting syllables with fists striking tabletops. All my words were short single beats.

Devastated to find out I wasn’t equal, that I work to do, that I didn’t fit in, it was a heartbreaking time.

You’re wondering how this could possibly be the best beginning?

Well, it forced me to fight for written words. Envy drove me to become the best reader in my peer group instead of the worst. And in the process I fell in love with language, with literature.

Now I experience the world in words similar to conversation bubbles in comics and cartoons. (There’s a book, A Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd, that I am dying to read because the description of how Felicity views the world feels like how I see it.)

Words and stories and books are how I fit in.

Their Spring Break reads which were done before Spring Break started. © 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Their Spring Break reads which were done before Spring Break started.
© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Round one of in my two part best beginning saga put me on the path of a life long love affair with great stories. Round two is less “hero’s journey” and more practical but no less tied for best.

Looking back at the initial trauma I lived through made me determined that my dudes would have a better tale to tell.

Their reading journey is my second trip to unlocking the wonder of words. It’s a personal mission. Even though it shares the title of best there is something sweeter about walking through it with my boys.

From board books to picture books and from comic books to chapter books and even eBooks to audio books, my boys have fallen in love with the power of stories. And it’s the only gift I felt qualified to give them.

What a rewarding opportunity to observe:

  • Stillness because they’re lost in another world.
  • Peels of laughter that is private joke between them and the pages.
  • Vocabulary beyond their ages and catches me off guard.
  • Expressions of sadness or anger that result in books being thrown down.
  • Conversations that start with “Mom you have to read this because…” Followed by a plot summary or character analysis (and they don’t know that’s what they’re doing).

At ages nine and seven, they own more books than I did when I was old enough to work full time and buy my own. Plus we take advantage of the local library and visit our local bookstores. Another joy is borrowing and loaning books to friends. This summer I hope to facilitate a “book club” experience for them and our small group buddies.

Readers surround them. They believe that readers are leaders.

How wonderful it is to have their reading origins shape their interests. My nine year old is planning a future as a comic book writer and illustrator. His seven-year-old little brother is a fledgling filmmaker.

I pray that this reading life is worthy of best beginning in their estimation. May storytelling stay in their blood. May they bring to words to life for others. May they continue the legacy of reading being the best beginning, twice.

What about you? What are your thoughts on beginnings? What is your BEST beginning?

 NOTE: This was a reflective journal exercise for me. Thanks to Lisa Sonora for sharing her 30-Day ROOT Journal Project with the world. And thank you to Stephanie at Visible and Real for writing the post that led me to Lisa.

Summer Reading 2013

The first Captain Underpants book.

The first Captain Underpants book. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The best gift my dudes gave me for Mother’s Day was cuddling up on the sofa at Grandma’s, cracking open the newest Big Nate book: Big Nate Flips Out.

It does my heart good that my dudes have reached the point where they’ll choose Momma reading to them at bedtime over anything else (including screen time).

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about what our reading plan will look like this summer. Last year we transitioned from reading picture books to chapter books; which was met with opposition. This year will be easier. I hope.

We’ve overcome the qualms of our oldest not wanting to read independently. As a matter of fact on our road trip to Grandma’s for Mother’s Day weekend, he spent two of the three hours’ drive reading. Woot!

And we’ve moved our youngest past sight words to reading with confidence. He’s good at sounding out words he doesn’t know. His teacher tells us: “Wow is he a reader.” Yay!

With less than four weeks left of school it’s that time again … and my list is already started thanks to soliciting titles from friends and family via Facebook.

The stories or series they fell in love with since summer 2012:

  • Captain Underpants – We’ve read all 10 and now have to wait for the next one to be published.
  • Sweetfarts – Anything with bodily functions appeal to 8 & 6 year old dudes. We’ll tackle books 2 & 3 in this series.
  • Big Nate – As I said we’ve just started the most current novel.
  • Roscoe Riley Rules – The first 5 books were a Christmas gift. There are more for us to finish.
  • George Brown Class Clown – Received 2 for Christmas. Again there are more to read which makes us happy.
  • Origami Yoda – We’ve only read book 1 (they were reluctant at first, now they’re hooked)

 

The books that fell short since last summer:

  • Geronimo Stilton – Surprisingly, they didn’t like the bright colors and font treatments as much as I did.
  • Magic Tree House – Our oldest loved them when his teacher read them to him in school but lost the love when I read them at home.

So here’s what’s on the horizon for summer 2013 (in addition to the different series we need to finish):

  • Jigsaw Jones Series
  • Chronicles of Narnia
  • Paddington Bear
  • My Father’s Dragon
  • The Cricket in Times Square
  • Because of Winn Dixie

For my youngest we will invest in the Pigeon books by Mo Willems. He loves the snarky and indignant pigeon. Plus he can read them on his own.

And, there are always more to come, like the books we stumble upon during bookstore visits.

For me … I have more 20 unread books on my Kindle to work through and the list is ever growing. I can’t help myself. I download at least one book a day.

Then, in a sneak attack mom move, I’ve told my oldest I will be reading the Secret Series by Pseudonymous Bosch; which I will because they sound like a load of fun; but I will buy physical copies just in case someone wants to dive in too.

He said, “You should read it to us because we like mysteries.” Right! The idea of it being something for me and not for him has piqued his interest. Oh the reverse psychology!

I didn’t offer it to him because his primary response to my book recommendations is rejection. We’ll see if he makes it to reading these.

LOTS of options. A good book is only a click away for us. And amazon.com has a summer reading adventure map. Plus you don’t know where to begin they have recommendations by age group (including adult) for summer reading.

Happy Reading! What’s on your book list? What will you read this summer? What will your little people read?

Previous the Jotter’s Joint reading posts:

https://thejottersjoint.com/2012/05/10/summer-reading/

https://thejottersjoint.com/2013/03/25/reading-for-screen-time/

https://thejottersjoint.com/2012/07/23/unplugged-turned-off-and-tuned-out/

https://thejottersjoint.com/2012/06/05/joint-venture-summer-reading-tips-from-raymond-bean-award-winning-author/

https://thejottersjoint.com/2013/04/04/how-to-commit-identity-theft-without-breaking-the-law/

Photo image from Zemanta via WordPress.com

How to Commit Identity Theft without Breaking the Law

Alachia GoodReads

Alachia GoodReads (Photo credit: alachia)I don’t usually do “how to” blog posts … but thought this was a worthy topic.

 

I don’t usually do “how to” blog posts … but thought this was a worthy topic.

It’s simple really. I do it all the time … this identity theft thing … but never thought much about it.

Have you ever considered it? That’s a rhetorical question, so please don’t answer out loud.

I will attempt to share my steps with you as an experiment to determine if it’s really as simple as I think it is.

Step 1 – Go to the bookstore or library
Step 2 – Select a book
Step 3 – Purchase or check out selected book
Step 4 – Go home
Step 5 – Get comfortable
Step 6 – Start reading
Step 7 – Lose yourself in the story

When you lose yourself in a story you are “experience taking”. You put on the life of the protagonist or main character. You get to feel what they feel; see what they see; and live through what they live through. For a brief moment in time you are that person.

As a reader, I love that moment when I’m whisked away to another time and place. I get to be someone else without the risk of committing a crime.

As a writer, it’s my dream that someone would connect so deeply with my characters. It’s my desire to create worlds that people will want to inhabit; stories where people never want them to end. That’s my writer’s utopia.

Sorry if you feel misled by the title but this really is the only way I know to steal someone’s identity. Writers actually would encourage you to do so … so I guess it’s not theft at all.

I was listening to a podcast called The Psych Files when this came to me. The title of the episode (#190) was Why Do You Get So Absorbed in that Book (or Movie)?

The host, Michael Britt, talked about a study that was done to determine what causes us to be engrossed in stories we read and watch. The first half of the podcast was most interesting to me but the second half he unpacks the study (a little too technical for me).

He explained the idea of “experience taking” and how being caught up in someone else’s story allows us to test our social identities or try things we wouldn’t otherwise try.

It was very reassuring. It validated one of the reasons #whyiwrite (check out other writers’ reasons for writing on twitter). Also, it reinforced one of the reasons I read: escapism. I love putting on someone else’s life.

Along with this podcast prompting, blogger buddy, Jordana East posted some thoughts on book selection … Which lead me to think about how I choose titles and make decisions about what to read, whether or not I should ditch books mid-read. Be sure to check out her “won’t read” list. 

How do I select an identity to assume (a book to read)?

  • I tend to gravitate towards books written by women. I don’t know why. In recent years I’ve been broadening my scope to include male authors. I guess I used to think that I couldn’t relate to things a man would write. Thankfully I’ve matured.
  • Likewise I tend to choose books with female protagonists. Probably for the same reason as above.
  • My #bookconfession (again check out this hashtag on twitter) is that I worry about cost per page. It started out when I was poorer in life, when I worked full time in my early 20s but survived by eating a lot of Raman noodles while barely making rent. It seemed to matter more how I spent my entertainment dollars. But I am still grappling this thought process and as a writer I am mortified that this exists within me. My budget is bigger now and I love hardcover books so I want to pay what a writer is worth. Surprisingly when it comes to buying books for the dudes this never enters my mind. Anyway … I am working on it.
  • I typically enjoy books with a “meet cute” element. One of my favorite “experience taking” moments. So you are likely to see romance or chick lit titles on my Goodreads page.
  • I like books that appeal to young readers. So I ask the young people in my life what they are reading and get to see them be excited about immersing themselves in a good book. Which is also why I probably like and write YA fiction.

I am sure there are other ~isms that lead to the identities will take on.

Anyway, a long post to ultimately say:

Goodreads Avatar

Goodreads Avatar (Photo credit: minifig)

GETTING CAUGHT UP IN A GOOD STORY IS LIKE COMMITTING IDENTITY THEFT.

This has been a public service announcement for literacy … read more … it could keep you out of jail … unless you choose a book on the topic.

What stories are on your list? What identities will you try on this week? Who are your favorite authors when it comes to creating great lives to steal? 

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