Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Population: 485 - Meeting Your Neighbor One Siren at a Time

I like to read.  I read a lot, actually, and have a general opinion about everything I read.  From magazine articles to cereal boxes to books to political pieces.... I have an opinion.

I like biographies the best.  Every once in awhile I read a book and find myself so delved in that I don’t want it to end.  Like the little kid afraid to turn the page with Grover and find the Monster at the End of the Book, I hesitate the page turning in hopes to prolong the inevitable.

Population: 485 : Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time by Michael Perry was exactly that kind of book. 

I probably would never have picked it up to read on my own.  It’s about small town life, which I’m living enough of these days.  Stories of a volunteer EMT/firefighter, of which I know nothing.   A co-worker, however, suggested the book to me.  “He writes like you.  I think you’d like it a lot.”

Like me?  Well, now that makes a difference.  Maybe I could unravel the mystery of why anyone reads my rambles.  After having read Michael Perry, I understand what she was saying, but he and I are very different.  I am honored to have the comparison made. I think what she meant was we write with the same first-person transparency.  But I am nowhere near as polished and smart as Perry.

I hope I write like him when I grow up.  I hope my words will shift someone’s paradigms, but that’s hard to measure.

What did I like about the book?  I liked how it drew me in and made me want to know more.  I liked his turns of phrases, use of language and honesty.  I liked the funny stories, the poignant memories and the simple portraits drawn adjective by adjective. 

What didn’t I like?  Well, it ended much too soon for me.  I felt as though I was finally getting to know the characters and then it ended!  There I was all alone again without my new-found friends.  Ugh!  Where’s the justice?  I want to know more!  

It’s honestly been awhile since I’ve gotten so involved with the characters of a book that I felt I could recognize them walking down the street.  That’s how much life Michael Perry gives to characters.  Although, to be honest, his characters are real people and perhaps that’s why they are so alive in these pages.

Perry’s viewpoint is the key to what I love and hate about this work. I haven’t quite come to terms with, haven’t quite gotten a grasp of, don’t understand mostly the small town culture.  There I said it.  I’m a city girl.  Urban bred.  I know how to behave in a world of clashing, clanging, clinging dust and noise.  Navigating personal city relationships is an easy thing for me. 

Small town life, not so much.

Perry’s insight into cause and effect of small town culture was a treasure trove of references for me.  Why people talk about some things and not others, how people perceive my intentions, which actions are intrusive, which are expected.... it’s all different in a small town because everyone is so intrinsically connected.  Everyone is related somehow. 

In a city, people are expected to come and go frequently.  Ties are less binding.  Change is the only constant.  There is a freedom in knowing you will acquire other friends as time moves along in a shifting city.  Small towns are made of  consistency, of continuity, of connections.  Relationships are slower to bond and have older foundations.

At the end of a particularly tragic scene in Population: 485, Perry comments on the comfort of sharing grief with those who have shared most of his family’s history.  The chord that binds these families and friends together is beautiful and mysterious to me.

Michael Perry will sit on the shelf of  favorite authors in my mind.  He joins Mitch Albom and Andrew Bridge on the list of those I’d like to meet to thank for changing my perspectives. 

I highly recommend Population: 485.  I have just dug into Truck, A Love Story and can’t wait to meet the truck, and the love, of his life.  Maybe this one will teach me how to be a writer when I grow up.

If you want to know more about Michael Perry's work, his website is here:  SneezingCow

Monday, October 22, 2012

Autumn Joy

The following piece from A Book of Pages About Crossing Bridges is one of my all-time favorites.  The memory of the smiles on my grandbabies' faces, the glowing tree we played beneath, the warm sun and the crisp air alternating dominance.  Mmm.  Yes, I do like autumn.  


Autumn Joy
September 2009

he change of seasons is one of those things that catch writers by surprise. We always notice it and it always is new to our senses.
            I noticed autumn the other day. I was taking a walk with my grandbabies in the sunshine. Anna was properly holding to the side of the stroller which contained her two brothers. We were chatting about motorcycles and trucks as they passed us by. A luscious, Saturday stroll casually going from here to there when all of a sudden we were confronted by a carpet of golden sunshine.
            Of course, I am a grandmother so I do my best to maintain proper decorum at all times as is becoming a lady of my age. (You can laugh out loud here. That’s allowable.)  So, when I saw the leaves I did what any Bapka of my stature would do. I stopped. Pointed. Shouted!  “How fun is that!” 
            Well, those well-behaved grandchildren of mine didn’t know what I was talking about. They looked up to see if it was a bird or a cloud or a star. All of which I have been known to call to their attention. They looked down the street to see if a car or horse or being of distinction were coming toward us. Then they looked at me in confusion as if to say, “what now?”

            I smiled coyly and stooped to pick up a HUGE ARMFUL of golden drops of sunshine. Laughing as I did so, I threw them like snowflakes over the three astonished children.
            “Let me out of here!”  Mavrik shouted with joy as he pushed his way out of the stroller. He is always the first one to guess Bapka’s games. (It started with blocks and Godzilla, but that’s another story.)  
            Anna squealed and joined the melee. Before long, a storm of golden maple leaves clouded the air and almost covered Arthur whose giggle could be heard above the noise.
            We played as long as we wanted then we went on.
            Funny how we never found quite another likely pile of leaves to play in. There were other piles of fallen leaves, but not quite the same. Not as soft or bright or tantalizing.
            Autumn is not my favorite time of year. There are many shadows that pull at my heart in autumn.
            And yet . . . who can resist the smiles that overwhelm the shadows?  I visited New York first in autumn. My sister and I bridged many, many years on those October walks in the City. First days of school, of course, are part of autumn. Teaching and learning are two of my favorite things. St. Catherine University is a splendid place in autumn.
            Autumn is also the time of year when God gave us Arthur back.
            Autumn. Smiles. Golden drops of promise. Yes. I do rather like autumn after all.


To order a copy of A Book of Pages About Crossing Bridges or a Friend Named Jesus,
 please visit my website:  Writer's Pages

Facebook:  Author Kris A. Newman

Saturday, October 13, 2012

So Proud of You!

In the last month I have had the opportunity to see a lot of good things and hear about a lot of sad things.  Life is like that sometimes.  Focusing on the good helps us to overcome the bad.

Several times I heard my voice saying, “I’m proud of you” to one member or another of the younger generation.  And I mean it.  I am sure I enjoy children more than the average Bapka, but I revel in their grown-up accomplishments.  It makes my heart smile.

I don’t even have to have a real, solid, individual connection to an accomplished young person to feel pride for them.  It is not that I feel as though I had anything to do with their success.  I just like to see people doing well what they do.  I am energized by their energy.

So, what’s happened, you ask?  Get your coffee and let me encourage you a bit.

I went to a concert in Bloomington, Minnesota on a recent Friday night.  I watched a family of girls singing praises in perfect harmony and genuine joy who made my heart smile.  I saw a young man on the keyboard smiling, laughing, organizing an event which wove lives together from hither and yon.  I heard a band of young men playing in synch full of energy and life!  The next day, the same group got together for brunch.  Iron sharpening iron, their stories unknown to one another, but often read by me.  

They thought they shared a love of music and Jesus only.  If I had been an artist, I might have drawn above them a picture of the brokenness that really draws them together.  I know their stories, each.  I have watched them face tragedy, humiliation, trauma and other difficulties that - to someone else - might have justified drug use, alcoholism, violence, bitterness, cynicism.  Instead, there they were giving hope and compassion to the world.  Using their talents as a vehicle for good to change the world.   Doing well.

And making me say over and again, “I’m so proud of you.”

Another church, another day, I heard the words again repeated.  Different circumstances, different story, but the depth of the phrase rang ever more true.

This time I had spent a conversant hour with two very dear friends.  I listened, mostly, to them share their grief over someone’s failure.  Their personal sadness, their personal “did I do enough?” questions, their personal fears laid bare.  My heart hurt for them because I understand the personal sense of loss when you watch someone failing.  You can’t chose their path, you can’t walk their steps, you can’t turn them back when they misjudge.  

You can only question yourself again and again, “did I do all I could to help them?”

Funny how I feel so personally connected to someone’s failure.  As though it’s all my fault.  

But I never feel responsible for someone’s success.  As though it’s because of me.

I remember teaching my son, Johnathon, to ride a bike.  We lived at the bottom of a steep hill and it seemed a perfect solution.  I could help him up the hill a way and then gravity would help him go down the hill making it a little less strenuous on me.  Up we would go and down again with me holding the handlebars or the back of the seat and trying to help him learn to balance.  As soon as he would falter, I would be there to right him. 
Encouragement filled the air, “You are doing great!  Look at you!  See?  You can do this.”

It didn’t take long, not nearly long enough to me.  I let go and there he went!  Wind throwing his hair back, daredevil smile covering his face, laughter bubbling!  “You did it!” I called.

If he fell, it would surely have been my fault.  I would be readily on hand to clean the wounds, comfort the boy and fix the bike.  But when he rode away, it was all on him.  

That’s how I feel when I say, “I’m so proud of you.”  I mean I’m glad you are spreading your wings and doing well.  Go farther, do more, leave me in the dust!  

But if you start to falter, I’ll be here to catch you.  I'll do all I can to get you started again.  Heavy hearted, sad for the loss, disappointed in myself for not doing more to hold you up – I’ll be here.    

And when we get the bike off the ground and the wind is lifting you again, I’ll say even more decidedly, “I’m so proud of you!”


 To order a copy of A Book of Pages About Crossing Bridges or a Friend Named Jesus, please visit my website:  Writer's Pages

Facebook:  Author Kris A. Newman