Influences That Shaped My Writing: Fellow Authors, Part 1

If I could sit down with each of my favorite authors for an hour, do you know what question I would ask every one of them?

            What influences have shaped your writing?

Today I’m going to begin answering that question for you, because I imagine many of you would ask the same question.

There are far too many people who have influenced my writing to put in one blog post (ahem, mammoth post) so let’s make this a post series, shall we? Maybe another time I’ll write a series on experiences that have shaped my writing, but for now, let’s focus on people, and specifically, fellow authors and teachers, who have helped me grow as a writer.

So grab your cup of coffee (or tea, if you must), snuggle up under a blanket, and journey with me through my relationship with literature, starting with… (drumroll please) …

Marcus Pfister.

I’m not even joking.

You still think I am, don’t you?

Hear me out for a minute.

I was three years old. Maybe four. My family went to dinner (or something…I don’t really remember) at my preschool teacher’s house. Her husband happened to be my dad’s business partner at the time. There’s a fuzzy picture in my mind of a room and a book in a basket. She read me the book.

Marcus Pfister Rainbow Fish It was The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister.

Now, those who know me should be able to easily name one reason why I love that book: I have an affection for anything that sparkles. Who knows – maybe that book is the reason for my sparkle fixation! Reading that book for the first time…I was hooked on books. My mom read to us four kids a lot when we were little. She loves reading to children – and children love hearing her read. I have no doubt that The Rainbow Fish certainly wasn’t my experience being read to by an adult, nor my last.

I could name several other favorite childhood picture books, but The Rainbow Fish sticks out because it was the first time a book had me, heart and soul, forever locked in that favorite place in a reader’s heart. I was drawn into Marcus Pfister’s underwater world through the captivatingly colorful illustrations. I felt the pain and subsequent joy of the rainbow fish as he experiences the loneliness of having no friends followed by the warmth of sharing with others.

My heart still skips a little beat when I see that book. Even as an adult, the book takes me back to that happy reading place, the place where books give us a glimpse into another world and into the experiences of another person (or fish).

How, then, did The Rainbow Fish influence my writing? I think it’s suffice to say that had I not fallen in love with reading fiction, even as a small child, I would not have fallen in love with writing fiction. The Rainbow Fish taught me that books have the power to move the soul, transport the mind to another world, and teach invaluable lessons that shape us more than we’ll ever know.

What’s your favorite children’s book? What’s your earliest memory of reading?

Death Has Come Calling

Day One

I brace myself, expecting it to be bad. I’ve been preparing myself for the past week to do this. It’s something I need to do, for me. I know it will be hard. I know it will be painful. I know it will be emotional. But I need to. For me and for her and for my mom. 3087, 3086…5 more steps and I will be standing outside her room. As I take those final steps I think to myself, “I can do this. I can do this.” I enter the room. It’s not bad. It’s worse. Drawing in a deep breath, I come next to the bed.

Everything inside of me is screaming, “Get out! Leave! You’ve done your duty; you’ve seen her, now go!” But I stay, as if there is a hand on my shoulder holding me in place. I take her hand and stroke it gently. She opened her eyes slightly. Mom says, “Mom, she’s here.” She’s pretty agitated and unaware, but I’m sure she knows I’m there because she squeezes my hand ever so slightly.

For whatever I expected to see, I didn’t expect this. Her hair is gray. I’ve never seen it gray – she’s always kept it perfectly dyed red. I’ve never seen her without makeup. She looks…old. And she’s never looked old before. She’s never acted old before either. Heck, she won’t even let us call her Grandma. “Merlin” it’s always been, as if she could make herself younger like the magician did.

Now she’s just lying there, unable to speak due to the tubes down her throat, agitated and frustrated and tired, and hardly aware of anything going on around her. Gone is the vibrant personality. Gone is the butterfly. Gone is the youthful spirit that has always made her seem decades younger than she really was.

I stand there holding her hand, wanting to break down and cry. But the owner of that hand on my shoulder places another in my free hand, holding me still, and whispers, “You can’t. I can.” Somehow I am filled with an inner strength not of my own, a strength that keeps me at the hospital for the next three hours, talking with my mom, waiting with my mom, offering her the strength and support that she needs after spending a ten days at the hospital every day.

I get in my car to go home, start the engine, and play a song. For some strange reason, I don’t break down. I go home and practice piano and simply don’t think about the way shelooked or the pain of seeing her go through so much and my mom trying so hard to be strong. I resolve to go back again, tomorrow and the next day and the next, because if I can bear it once, I can bear it again, with that same strength not my own.

Day Two

I arrive at 11 this morning expecting that they will have already taken her to surgery. She’s still in the room, weary and ready for the surgery to be over. She’s more alert today though. She definitely knows who I am; she pats the bed beside her and I sit down and hold her hand. I tell her about recent news in my life; I haven’t seen her since before all this began, except for yesterday, which doesn’t count.

The first hour passes slowly as we wait, expecting them to take her down to surgery at any moment. They don’t. Finally, two hours later than projected, they pack her up and roll her up to the O.R. Before she leaves the room, I blow her a kiss. It could be the last one. That may sound pessimistic. It’s not. I’m at peace, but I’m realistic. She’s 77 years old with a collapsed lung, kidney and liver problems, and a boatload of other problems including congestive heart failure.

Over three hours have gone by. The clock ticks slowly. Can time pass any slower? Each hour feels like days. I sigh. Thank God for WiFi. I’d be going crazy without it. I know I could leave; Mom says she’s all right, but I know she can use the company and I’d like to be there when the surgery is over. Just in case.

Day 3

She made it through the surgery. I’m back here again today. Being here the last two days has shown me just how strong my mom is. She’s been doing this every day – watching her own mother in pain and discomfort, unable to communicate, near death at times, growing years older within a week – and yet she comes every day all day, enduring, bearing, doing what must be done, putting herself aside to be here for her mom. Now that’s what I’m doing, because someone has to be here for my mom too.

When I see her, her skin looks ashen. Her hair is whiter than it was yesterday. The cumbersome tube is still in her throat. Her hand feels light as a feather in mine. Her eyes do not twinkle. She does not call me by my nickname. She just lays there breathing with painfully labored breaths. We sit. We watch. We wait. Nothing happens, but so much happened.

Though she made it through the surgery, deep inside I know: this is the beginning of the end.

Death has come calling.

 

 

Wet.

Some days are just plain ironic. And wet.

The first time you get drenched in the rain as you sprint from the door to your car (which, by the way, is less than 30 feet) and back again (due to a tornado warning), you have a pretty easy time laughing it off despite the fact that you’re wet and cold. (Maybe it even reminds you of an oh-so-common scene out of a movie: pouring rain, drenched girl, boy shows up, both drenched, tears mix with rain, resolve conflict, kiss in the rain, rolling credits). It’s easy to laugh off getting drenched the second time you dash out to your car (that is, as long as you have access to warmth and a towel to prevent the onset of a summer case of hypothermia) – the irony is that you just put a dry shirt on.

You drive home (in yet another downpour of rain from suspiciously green skies, dodging 3 burst storm sewers and gliding through 8 inches of sitting water in some intersections, mind you) and your car is rattling, again, making a noise it wasn’t making last week before it went into the shop. So, once more you take your car to the shop and wait for someone to pick you up. There goes your afternoon nap, and you’re still sitting in wet jeans (at least the repair shop has chocolate in their candy dispenser).

Finally, you’re clean and dry and warm, the wet jeans discarded and a fresh pair put on after a hot shower. Your family goes out to dinner, and just before you order your little brother knocks over his entire adult-sized glass of coke. Where does it go? Not hard to figure out – all over your clean, dry jeans, of course. So, for the third time that day, you’re sitting in wet jeans, and now you have the added pleasure of being sticky. Your little brother managed to not just get the front of your jeans wet, but the back too, and, honestly? That takes talent (although it’s probably not a talent worth pursuing if he has any desire to live to his next birthday).

For a moment you’re just stunned, not sure what to say or do, then you go the restroom and try your best to soak up the coke, but really, it’s quite hopeless until you can take them off (which the restaurant might have a problem with you doing). You return to the table, look your brother in the eye, and burst out laughing. What else can you do? It seems to be your lot to be wet, and rather than let it ruin your day, why not choose to enjoy the irony? Plus, perhaps it’s a sign from God that perhaps you should wear a raincoat for the rest of your life.

After dinner, you go out dancing and pay 8 bucks to sit there for an hour and a half and only get asked to dance 5 times. That boosts your confidence (maybe they all have an instinctive feeling that if they dance with you’ll they’ll end up wet, which is quite possible – remember Pooh Bear and his personal rain cloud?). You’ve got a headache, and you just want to go home and crawl into bed while you wait for your boyfriend to call.

Your car is in the shop (remember?), so you drove your dad’s sleek but finicky 6-gear stick-shift car. You get in. You buckle up. Turn on the car, klutch down, emergency brake off (because you’re parked on a slight hill and you have a fear of your car rolling away without you. Or with you), ready to shift into reverse…But wait, the stick won’t go into reverse. Nope. You try for 5 minutes, your frustration growing and tears threatening to pour like the rain (yes, rain) outside the car. No luck; the gear will go into 6th but not reverse.

By this point, you feel like a complete idiot (who can’t get a car in reverse?)? You call your dad, who has no answer but to come help you (at least you can be thankful that he wasn’t already in bed as he usually is, and that he didn’t laugh in your ear). So you sit, for 20 minutes, in the dark in the car as the rain patters outside the window. It’s at this point you have the choice to laugh or cry, but right now you’re so tired and slightly sick of irony that all the emotion wells up inside and overflows down your face (notice that once again, you are wet; while not quite drenched, you are still wet).

Your dad finally arrives to save the day. Of course he is able to get the car in reverse right away. Your feelings of total idiocy are short-lived, because when he tries again it takes multiple tries and a lot of jamming (possibly some choice words, too). Obviously this proves something is definitely wrong with the car, not you (well, that’s slightly debateable, but don’t dwell on that).

Once safely at home, indoors and dry, you sit at the kitchen table, share your woes, and have a heart-to-heart with a your dad over a midnight snack (for you – ice cream. For him – a cream cheese peanut butter pickle sandwich. You don’t ask). Your confidence level goes back up as he does what any good father does – tells you the boys are the idiots and won’t ask you to dance because you’re strong and confident and beautiful.

And between a half hour of cherished late-night conversation with your dad, and getting to talk to your boyfriend before you fall asleep, you fall asleep laughing wryly inside at the satiric irony of the day. Tomorrow is a new day – and no rain is in the forecast!

Can I just stay?

Oh, Abba,

Can I just stay here in your arms? Here with you in the shelter of your wings?

Can I just hold on to you with my face buried against you to hide my tears?

Can I just stay up here and hide away with you in the Word and prayer and song?

There I feel so safe, so healed, so loved…then I step out and must face it all again.

Your arms are the haven I need to hold me still, to grip me in your grace when all else seems to fade.

I just want to stay here curled up at your feet, drinking in your presence and feeling your heartbeat

Let out a sigh and release it all to you, let your peace wash over me in that overwhelming way

I don’t ever want to leave this place, your love is so deep, so boundless and so free

It leaves me here in tears of joy and awe and love and peace

 

Can I just stay here? Can I just lay back against you and breathe?

Can I just spend all my hours like the four today with only you and me?

In those hours in that place you held me close and near

You bound my wandering heart and moved my soul to tears

I came crushed and broken and in desperate need of you

My heart had wandered, God it had, ashamed I say it’s true

But All my hurts and pains I placed into your  healing hands

And confessed my sin in heartfelt prayer so before you I can stand

 

So can I just stay? Can I stay where my heart finds its way back to you?

Can I just stay and soak up your light? Can I just hide away in this refuge?

Can I just hold onto you forever and not move?

Can I just be a little child helplessly clinging to the Father’s arms?

 

Oh, but I am hard pressed on every side, but not crushed

I am perplexed but not in despair; I am persecuted but not abandoned

I am struck down, but not destroyed

I am not burned or overcome by the waves, for you called me by name and I’m yours

Your joy will be my strength; your mercies are new every morning

Therefore I will not lose heart, though the army besieges me

You are with me; I am not alone

 

I will step out, holding your hand and press on, press on toward what You’ve called me

Face the world and the people and the pain and the things I don’t understand

For you are with me, your right hand will guide me; hold me fast

Therefore I will hope in you, you who never lets go, you who loves me with an everlasting love.

I lift my eyes up to the mountains, where does my help come from?

Oh, how I need you Lord, my only hope.

Can I just stay?

“I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”” (Lamentations 3:19-24)

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Confessions of an Economic Hitman

 Confessions of an Economic Hitman hit the literary scene in 2004 as a controversial but highly acclaimed work. In Confessions, John Perkins tells his nearly 30-year-old story about hit job as what he called an “economic hit man”, or “EHM.” Perkins relays the circumstances surrounding his entry into the position of an EHM and takes the reader through a spy-like narrative of his interactions with various countries concluding with his exit out of the position and his inner conflict about telling his story. Perkins’ book poses many interesting questions and challenges about the world economic stage, “coporatocracy,” the nature of the United States’ foreign relations, and links between exploitative economic activity and hatred toward the U.S. Perkins’ book leaves a lot to be explained, researched, and proven, but it does provide an important entry point into further investigation of the propositions he puts forth. While some have quickly adopted Confessions and its allegations as infallible truth, and while I do believe the book offers threads of truth throughout many issues, I am left wary of the full credulity of Perkins’ conclusions as well as his interpretation of what really happened.

Perkins describes his work as an EHM as that of a highly paid professional who travels around the world cheating other countries out of trillions of dollar using sex, deception, payoffs, bogus financial reports, bribery, and anything else that is necessary to get other countries to be forever indebted to the U.S. He does this by creating financial plans convincing these countries to take loans from the U.S. that in actuality they will never be able to pay off in order to funnel that money back into the U.S.’s economy. He considers this a march toward a global empire and propagates that the U.S. government exploits people in order to guarantee its global imperialism. Perkins argues that, though we have been taught to believe that capitalism and this approach is helping the majority of people, after a decade of working as an EHM and 30 more years in other global work, in actuality the system helps a few at the expense and exploitation of many.

While Confessions was an interesting read and inspired me to dig deeper into the startling issues Perkins presents, overall I find Perkins hard to take seriously. I did not find the book to have solid support, nor did it read as a credible, backed-up reliable source but rather one man’s speculation on vaguely explained events driven by his overstated guilty conscience. The lack of actual proof or examples of what he did leave room for question of what his actual work. I am also left to question Perkins’ reliability given the fact that after 10 years of lying and continuing his work despite his guilty conscience he so easily declined exposing the “truth” with one bribe after another. It makes me question just how sure he himself is of what he claims is the terrible truth—is it really that terrible? If he believed it was true and his guilty conscience was that great, would he not have felt a much more urgent need to tell it 30 years ago? His claim that 9/11 was the last straw because of his part in it seems a weak connection that is possible, but unproven. That is how I view most of the events Perkins’ explains—they are plausible, but not proven, and it will take much more that his interpretation alone without superior support or other testimonies to convince me that he was actually employed by the government, that the U.S. government is actually cheating and exploiting all these countries, and that a chunk of terrorism and assassinations in the past 40 years are inside jobs. Plausible? Yes, if far-fetched. Proven? Hardly.

 

Perkins writes from his own bias, as any person would. I do not discredit his story, and as I said before it causes me to think and desire to search deeper and find out if in fact Perkins’ interpretation is actual truth. If it is, then that drastically changes many things. But until that is proven, I am unwilling to let one book dictate my whole view of the government. Confessions is a necessary book to read; that being said, I think any person who reads it should do further research and make their decision after consulting many sources of various biases. Anyone who wants to find reason to hate the U.S. government and attribute terrorism and the world hate of the U.S. to be our government’s fault will certainly find their expectation fulfilled, but if read critically, Confessions leaves many questions left unexplained, or at best, vaguely elucidated.

Despite the uncertainty of its credulity, Confessions is a book worth reading for anyone interested in the economic and the political scenes with a touch of adventure, for it does provide much food for thought and many valid, important thoughts. Perkins sheds light on the global scene that is so ignorantly misunderstood by American people. His call for awareness and taking action on behalf of the millions of starving people is a valiant effort that cries for a response. His theme of exploitation of the underprivileged, while perhaps over-generalized and wrongly attributed, does expose the under-acknowledged fact that in the corporate world often exploitation does take place and often people benefit at the cost of another. But Perkins’ implications and allegations against the U.S. government, and particularly again the Republican administrations of the past 40 years, regarding exploitation, hiring of these EHMs, and terrorism/assasinations are unwarranted, unproven, and a stretch beyond believable. In conclusion, Confessions is a starting point in exploring the true workings of U.S. economics and foreign affairs but should not, by any means, be the end point.

 

Home

I wrap a shawl around me and slip away from the bed in the chill of the night with a quick glance behind me, quickly yet quietly, hoping to go unnoticed yet longing to be noticed. As silent as can be, yet wishing that some undetectable noise I make might be detected and my passage discovered. But no, I slip away in the quiet of the night in search of that secret place no one knows but myself and one other. That place…the place that envelops me with something indescribable…something that surpasses all understanding…something that brings understanding as silently as the dawn brings the morning…something that wipes tears away and washes me clean.

The night is crisp yet I feel I am burning up, sweating with the intensity at which I pursue my quest. I take with me a few guides – letter and journals, really – in hopes they might help me find that place again. I walk slowly, thinking, processing, reading, searching. Why is it always so hard to find? For when I arrive it is so familiar as if I never left, always leaving me wondering why I did in the first place. I am searching for that place of clarity, for all has been a quest in vain lately. It has been a search met with dead ends, or simply ending up in the place where I started, with jumbled thoughts I cannot make sense of.

Deep down I know what I am searching for beneath the clutter and the noise. I’m at the point of desperation, where the clutter and the noise make me insane and all I want is to be in that place..the place of Peace.  I feel incredibly alone, which makes no sense at all. At any moment I could return to the comfort, warmth, and company found in my bed, yet something inside me stops me in my tracks, or perhaps pushes me forward…pushes that longing aside in pursuit of answering a greater question, a greater longing. A longing that only One can fulfill.

Silent sobs accompanied by a lonesome tear here and there…silent sobs I wish someone would hear. Yet my steps become more purposeful, stronger, faster, taking me farther away from my comfortable world. As I read the journals and letters the path becomes clearer. I’m beginning to see things more clearly. I can make out the place ahead of me.

As the mist clears ahead of me my heart breaks with the realization that I have buried my own path beneath the clutter and noise of my heart. As I draw closer my heart feels it is going to burst with the depth of the longing I have tried to fill with other things, wonderful things, but things that weren’t meant to fill that place,and I am broken with that understanding.

My feet are running now and can’t seem to stop. The truth is becoming clearer, the longing more intense now that I remember what I am longing for. The noise is clearing, and the clutter doesn’t matter anymore; it can be sorted out later. My steps are pounding; I can’t get there fast enough. The directions line my path now, inscriptions on rocks written ages upon ages ago. They are there every time I journey to this place, like markers that reassure my heart with overwhelmingly familiarity with every step I take.

“He only is my rock and my salvation, He is my defense…”

“God is a refuge for us…”

“Your lovingkindness is better than life…”

“Your right hand upholds me…”

“The Lord is my portion…”

“My expectation is from Him…”

“Be still, and know that I am God…”

“These are not just idle words for you, they are your life…”

“My times are in your hand…”

“You forgave the iniquity of my sin…”

“On You I wait all the day…”

“The Lord is the strength of my life…”

Like a magnet pulled inevitably towards the opposite end I am pulled toward that place until I am standing there, in that secret grove, surrendered and abandoned and vulnerable.

When I look around I realize that the world is still sleeping; no one has noticed that I am gone. But He is here. He is always here. He is looking at me with that look in His eye that beckons me near, saying

All is forgiven, come my child, I am your deepest desire, your most intense longing…come and be filled

When He speaks those words I know I am there. In that secret place. The search is over, the quest is done; for now anyway, until I let some distraction lead me away again.

I throw my head back with a laugh of joy followed by crumbling forward into a bundle of tears.

The arms of Love envelope me so tight till I cannot move from their grasp, the Grasp that grips me again and again no matter how far I run.

The taste of the Bread fills me till I long for nothing else, the Bread that is my Life.

The whispers of Grace abound in my ears till I can hear nothing else, not even the noises of the night or the footsteps on the ceiling, only that Voice which tells me Truth.

The touch of Peace calms my heart so I can sleep, precious peaceful sleep that restores the soul.

And I am Home.

A riddle: like the dawn

Sunrise over harbor

It is like the dawn. It creeps up, slowly, gently, softly, like the sun creeping its way up over the horizon.  At first it is no more than a glimmer, a hint of light pervading the darkness. But then a hint becomes a ray, a ray that spreads across the sky painting not just one spot but the entire picture.

As it creeps, its warmth spreads all over. A warmth that wasn’t there before, but a warmth that is so natural and so awakening, so inviting. The warmth is at first so surprising that it sends shivers, but those quickly disperse as the warmth takes over.

And the colors. As the sun rises, as it rises, it brings new colors, each color new and exciting, bringing a perspective not previously seen, at least not in that light. Each stage of the sunrise, like the stages of it, is different. They change, they shift, they deepen, they lighten, but from the shimmer of light catching a piece of glass or water to the full illumination they present a fresh view on everything.

There is something about the dawn…something about this, so peaceful, yet so restless. Just waiting for full realization. The breathtaking moments as the sky changes from dark to light. A world awakened, brightened, warmed.

And suddenly, as sudden as it was subtle before, you look into the sky and realize that the sun is no longer creeping but rather right on top of the world. It has taken over, touching everythingright in front of you, and you could not help it just as you cannot help the joy and warmth that you feel. The sun has risen quite slowly and quite abruptly all at the same time.  One moment it is but a faint glow and you feel but the slightest twinge of warmth; the next it is radiantly encompassing.

So it is. From the faintest light it creeps, painting a beautiful picture, revealing new things and new perspectives, until all the sudden you realize it is upon you. It is absolutely breathtaking. It weakens you and strengthens you all at once. It warms you through and through, and you desire nothing more than to be basking in its presence as if basking in the sunlight.

It is like the dawn.

Take it all I’m letting go

Forgive me, Lord, for the things in this world

I’ve put security in

Forgive me, Lord for the things I’ve held on to

Unwilling to let go

Forgive me, Lord, for the things in my heart

I’ve been so blind to

Forgive me, Lord, for the things in my life

I’ve taken control of

 

Lord I’m on my knees, I can’t do it anymore

These reins are too much for me to bear

I mess it up when I’ve got control

Lord I’m on my knees, broken and ashamed

Here once more, messed up again

Distressed and weeping at your throne

 

Take it all, I’m letting go

I don’t want it anymore

I’ve held on far too long

I’m letting go of everything

‘Cuz without you everything is nothing

But with you nothing is everything

And I’d take nothing any day

As long as I have you

 

Though ashamed my head bows at your feet

You calmly lift my eyes to your own

Your love it breaks me, so redeeming, so deep

Though unworthy I feel to stand before you

You unhesitantly draw me into your arms

Your grace it amazes me, so saving, so vast

 

How could I live for anything but this?

There’s pain in this laying down of self

It makes me see how wrong I’ve been

But there’s more beauty than pain in the offering

For your blood covers me

And your joy strengthens me

 

When I lift my eyes up to your throne

Nothing else can I see, your glory’s too great

To take up your cross I have to lay it all down

I can’t carry both at the same time

But I’ve seen how empty all the other stuff is

Not carrying your cross leaves no reason to live

But with death to self greater life is found

I want to take up your cross and never put it down,

 

So

Take it all, I’m letting go

I don’t want it anymore

I’ve held on far too long

I’m letting go of everything

‘Cuz without you everything is nothing

But with you nothing is everything

And I’d take nothing any day

As long as I have you

It’s No Longer Safe

Nothing was the same anymore. It was as if some strange melody had turned from harmonious to dissonant, its eerie chords setting the mood.

The stranger peered in through the glass walls that separated him from the young woman. She was nearly trembling, her eyes wide with an uncertain fear as she scanned her transparent walls. He tapped lightly on the walls, startling her long enouh for her to catch sight of him before her eyes returned to their careful task.

“What are you doing, Angelica?” Her eyes continued searching until they found what they were looking for. She straightened up and lifted a finger, pointing to something. His eyes followed until he saw.

“There is a crack in my walls.” She dropped her hand down to her side. She turned and looked him in the eye, then spoke slowly, barely audible. “It’s no longer safe.”