Saturday, October 24, 2020

"Laura's Project," a Poem by Nancy P. Gordon

One of the major life influences I had growing up was my late father's sister, Nancy (but she went by the childhood nickname "Toni," so she was always "Aunt Toni" to my brothers and sisters and me).  She was a constant presence, with a warm hand affectionately rubbing my back if she was nearby or a lovingly and eloquently written letter (in her instantly recognizable and inimitable cursive!) if she was not. She asked us kids probing questions and was unfailingly interested in the answers, no matter how unimportant they might have seemed to most grown-ups. But among all the ways she shaped my childhood, it was her deep love of literature and of reading that helped to inspire me to become a writer.

This beautiful octogenarian still plays golf and could
run circles around most people half her age.  She is
an inspiration to her aging nieces and nephews!

Aunt Toni was my Dad's only sibling.  Brilliant and accomplished, she was a high school English teacher for many years, and then she had a second career as a corporate lawyer.  For most of our formative years our aunt was single--so we were the lucky five children upon whom she doted. And how we benefitted from her love for us and her desire to give us culturally enriching experiences we never could have had otherwise!  She lived in NJ and we were in Upstate NY, but she planned once-in-a-lifetime special trips for us to come and visit her.  Each of her nieces of nephews, one or two at a time, would ride a Greyhound bus down to meet her (back in the days when parents thought this was a safe enough thing to do!).  She'd pick us up at the bus stop in NJ and we'd spend a few days at her apartment, being treated to trips into NYC to see Broadway plays and eat out at fancy restaurants (and not-so-fancy ones, too, like the iconic Automat).

When I was 11 and my older brother was 12, we rode the bus down together.  During our weekend stay, Aunt Toni took us to see "Fiddler on the Roof” on Broadway and then she bought me the show's soundtrack album as a souvenir.  I played it over and over on my little portable record player and had the lyrics "Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match, find me a find, catch me a catch!" in my head almost constantly for months afterward.  On that same visit, she loaned me a copy of Wuthering Heights to read; and although I might have been too young to truly "get" all of it, I can remember being enthralled.  "Someday," I thought to myself, "I want to write a book that a reader loves as much as I love this one!" 

In her late 30's, Aunt Toni married a kind and gentle man who was both a university professor of physics and a NASA researcher.  (They did not have children, so we have remained the lucky recipients of her maternal affection!)  Similarly interested in learning, traveling, and reading, they share a love of books and have an impressive personal library. I have given my aunt copies of my own two novels (not exactly on par with the likes of Wuthering Heights, to be sure, but a byproduct of my own lifelong love of the written word--a love she helped to inspire).  If they sit on the shelves of her library today, that is an honor beyond description.

Aunt Toni has been participating in a poetry workshop, and she recently shared this copy of a poem she wrote last month.  It was inspired by a memory from when she came to visit us at our home in 1960, when we were still living in NJ.  I am tickled to be the subject of this original work of hers!  And I thought I'd share it here at the blog.


LAURA’S PROJECT


My two-year-old niece is on a mission.

She is focused, doesn’t seem to notice

that I’m in the room.

She walks (more waddling than walking, still)

to a closet, which holds a bag

full of magical papers.

She picks it up for closer inspection,

but she has grabbed the bottom corner

and suddenly there’s a storm of papers,

covering the closet.

She looks, surveys the damage,

sits down on the floor.

She patiently picks up each piece,

puts each photo, each paper,

back in the bag.

She spends time on this task,

carefully replacing everything.

Looking satisfied with herself, she stands,

a balancing act for her two-year-old limbs,

plants her feet and reaches for her prize.

Again she picks it up by the bottom corner.

Photos and papers and envelopes tumble to the floor.

A pause.  No exclamation. 

She stands, looking, for a moment.

She shrugs.

She drops the bag on top of the mess.

Shrugs again, and exits the closet

heading for the kitchen, mom, and a snack.

 

npg  September 2020


There are some snapshots of two-year-old me playing in the closet--as a matter of fact, I think they were taken at the very time of the incident described in Aunt Toni’s poem.  (Apparently, along with the bag of papers and letters, I found a pair of my mom's high heels to try out.)



I had this post almost finished, sitting in my “drafts” folder and waiting for an ending, when my husband and I went to daily Mass this past week. During his homily, the priest said something about thanking God for the blessings we receive via the people He puts in our lives...and I thought “yes indeed, how very true!” I am no poet, like my aunt; but Father’s words were like poetry to my ears.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

A Cautionary Tale about Social Media (Twitter, to Be Exact)

You guys...the online world can be a scary and exceedingly unkind place.  I knew this, and yet something that happened recently really drove that truth home in a big way.

I had fashioned a piece of candy corn into a miniature Donald Trump for the amusement of my husband's family (it's the perfect candy to do this with, as you can see: big yellow hair, orange face!).  And on a whim, I decided to post it on Twitter on Saturday.  (Along with the picture I wrote, "Make Candy Corn Great Again!!  #Trump2020.)

Well, I woke up Sunday morning to find that someone had replied to that tweet by posting a photo of my husband and me that had been distorted into something hideous.  Then as if that wasn't bad enough, another person (with a Twitter handle I can't even repeat here, because it's nothing but a string of obscenities, including the F-bomb) retweeted the ugly photo!

There are a few things about all of this that make it particularly disturbing.  For one, I am a nobody on Twitter.  I'm a nobody in the blogging world and in the Instagramming world, too; but truly, I'm just a complete nobody in the Twitterverse, where the blue check marks rule the roost.  I have a whopping 216 followers there.  I am not even close to being an Internet “influencer” and no one cares what I have to say. (In fact, I say very little on that platform; I mostly use it as a means to find news stories that don't always show up elsewhere or to read the clever observations of the people I follow.) But what is even more concerning to me is that this person actually went to the trouble of finding a nice photo of my husband and me to use as a way of trashing me for tweeting something positive about a presidential candidate they despise. I'm not even sure where they found the photo.  Here on my blog?  On my Facebook page?  I had to do a bit of digging myself to find it online--and it's my photo!  (I did find it on Facebook, in an album of profile pictures I've used in the past.  Do you think this person who is a complete stranger to me went trolling through my FB photos?!)

People can be mean.  And 2020 has really brought out the vitriol.  We are no longer allowed to have differing opinions without cruelty and violence erupting--or at the very least, unkind remarks (and distorted photos!). Even a simple “#Trump2020” is enough to make someone angry enough to scour the Internet looking for a photo to weaponize against you. God help the truly influential people who dare to express an unpopular opinion; they have to endure much crueler retaliations than I, such as doxxing and receiving death threats aimed at them and their families.

As our pastor said in his sermon on Sunday, we are at a crucial point in our country’s history, and much of what is happening on our streets and in our media is reminiscent of Germany in 1939.  Prayer and fasting are more important than ever in these dark days.  God help us all!!  And God bless America. 

(P.S. My husband and I are feeling a little self-conscious about our teeth right now...but we also think the altered photo is pretty hilarious.   So thanks for the laughs, @WhoeverYouAre.)

Saturday, October 17, 2020

The Holy Face (Tears into Pearls)

I got in a creative mood today and just had to draw something, so out came my sketch pad and various other art supplies.  And I knew exactly what I wanted to draw.  For several days I'd had an image in my head.  It was inspired by these words, part of a Prayer to the Holy Face printed on the back of a St. Veronica card that I have started to read daily during morning prayers:

"I am consumed with the desire of loving Thee and making Thee loved by all mankind.  The tears that streamed in such abundance from Thine eyes are to me as pearls which I delight to gather, that with their infinite worth I may ransom the soul of the poor sinners."

Wow, isn't that beautiful?!

Meditating on that prayer, a vivid picture developed in my mind's eye of Jesus' tears turning into pearls, and I wanted to capture this image with my colored pencils.  (Especially after it hit me that as much as I've always loved to draw human faces, I've never attempted a portrait of the one person who was both human and divine at the same time!)

I got to work.  I did my best, such as it is.  And this is what I ended up with.


This humble picture doesn't begin to live up to the image I've had in my head.  (That one was glorious, I tell you--Michelangelo or Raphael might have been able to achieve what I had in mind.)  I know it's not professional quality and a better artist could have created something truly extraordinary.  But I used the Shroud of Turin as a guide to get the facial proportions as accurate as possible, and I worked on this with joy in my heart, a song on my lips, and so much love for the subject.  I believe that all the Lord asks of us is that we use whatever talents we've been given by His Father to the best of our abilities--in a way that gives glory to God.  So I hope He is well pleased.

I wish I could make a portrait of Jesus that looked more like this one, which I found online (I'm sorry I can't figure out who to give credit for it!).


But that kind of work is not in my skill set!

When I showed my drawing to my husband, before he could say a word about it I made sure to tell him that I knew it wasn't very good, but I thought Jesus would like it anyway because I did the very best that I could.  And my husband answered that of course He would like it!!  "If one of your sons drew a picture of you, you would love it no matter what.  You are God's precious child; of course He would love any gift you made for Him!"  (I'm paraphrasing but those are essentially his words.  Doesn't he always know the perfect thing to say?)

I may tweak my picture a bit before I'm completely satisfied.  I think perhaps there is too much gray shading in the pearls, so I may make them whiter.  But otherwise, I think I'm going to leave well enough alone.

However...I won't be surprised if, at some point in the near future when the creative juices are flowing, I feel compelled to give Our Lord's Holy Face another try.  If I do, I'll be sure to tell you all about it! ;) 

Friday, October 9, 2020

An Open Book: Come Back to Me (& Ornamental Graces)

I've been somewhat down lately, worrying almost to the point of despair about the dark state of our world: about all the hate and violence; about the bitter divisions; about the intolerance for any belief that is not held by one and all (especially by those folks who tend to be anti-religion in general and anti-authentic Catholic in particular); about the endless "social distancing" (which I've come to think of a tragic loss of normal human interactions and which seems to be producing in many an actual FEAR of being near others); about the masks, which hide the wide range of expressions that normally play across the faces of people who have been created in the image and likeness of God, and which appear to be required for the foreseeable future (if this is our "new normal," no thank you!); about the all-too-real fear that, depending on how the election goes, the freedom to practice our essential Catholic Faith could be taken away from us and that we might, for the first time in the history of this great country, have to literally go underground and/or face true martyrdom...

But just when I think I can't bear it all anymore, I stop looking at news stories, pick up a good novel, and escape into another world (which, albeit fictional, is at least the pre-Covid world that I took for granted when I had it and now miss with every fiber of my being!).

So let's talk about books, shall we?  I'm joining the An Open Book link-up party, hosted by writer Carolyn Astfalk, and as a matter of fact the book I'd like to highlight today is a novel by Carolyn titled Come Back to Me.  


I was thrilled to win a paperback copy of this engaging and thought-provoking work of fiction from the author via an Instagram giveaway.  It is a well-written sequel to her 2015 debut novel  Stay with Me a pro-chastity love story which I read a few years ago and enjoyed very much, and I devoured her latest work of fiction in a few sittings.

I have been having an enormous amount of trouble carving out time to blog lately, so I'm going to keep this review brief.  Here is the synopsis on the back cover:
 
"Alan Reynolds slid into marriage.

When his wife kicks him out, it looks as if he may slide out just as easily. Forced to bunk with his newlywed younger brother and his pregnant wife, Alan gets a firsthand look at a blissfully happy marriage while his wife rebuffs his attempts at a reunion. 

Caught in the middle, Alan and his wife's mutual friend Megan grows increasingly unhappy with her own empty relationships.  If that weren't enough, her newly sober brother has found happiness with Jesus, a goody-goody girlfriend, and a cockeyed cat.

When Alan and Megan hit rock bottom, will there be grace enough in their bankrupt lives to right their relationships and find purpose like their siblings have?"

Although Come Back to Me is a sequel (Stay with Me tells the story of Chris and Rebecca's courtship), it is a stand-alone book.  The characters are fully fleshed-out and believable, even the secondary ones, and you will definitely find yourself rooting for them to each find their happy ending.  

This is a story about the ways that human beings, who are all fragile, flawed, and broken in some way, can wound each other deeply, but also about their boundless power, with the help of God's grace, to forgive completely.  Indeed, life isn't perfect, people aren't perfect, and every marriage--even the best of them--has its inevitable ups and downs.  Alan and Jamie hit a low point in theirs when they realize that they aren't on the same page about starting a family, and that perhaps they entered into married life too hastily, without truly contemplating the sacramental nature of their vows.  Jamie kicks Alan out in anger, and he goes to live with his brother Chris and his wife Rebecca, a besotted newlywed couple expecting their first baby.  As if it isn't bad enough to be going through what appears to be the dissolution of his own marriage, Alan has to endure daily reminders, by the lovebirds whose privacy he's invaded, about what a ridiculously happy marriage looks like.  I won't give any details about how it all turns out, because I think you should read this book!  But suffice it to say that Come Back to Me drives home the message that love is more than just a feeling, it's a CHOICE--sometimes a really hard one to make.  But when a couple puts God first in their relationship, they can weather all storms.  With God's grace, those promises made in their wedding vows--"for better or for worse"--are much easier to keep.

With the holidays fast approaching, I also want to give a shout-out to another sweet novel by Astfalk, Ornamental Graces.  I read it last year and thoroughly enjoyed it, and I think you will, too!
 

Here's a snippet from my review of this novel, which appeared here at the blog in April 2019:

When I looked at the appealing poinsettia-red cover of Ornamental Graces, which is graced with a Christmas tree ornament, an evergreen branch, and a love-struck couple embracing in the snow, I couldn't help but think that this book would be akin to a sweet and simple Hallmark Christmas movie (you know, a holiday love story with a predictable but satisfying happy ending), but told from a Catholic perspective.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  Astfalk's novel is so much deeper than a Hallmark movie; it tackles some of the most difficult subjects--human frailty, sin (sins against chastity in particular), faith, and redemption--while telling the story of Dan Malone and Emily Kowalski, two twenty-somethings who fall in love but spend most of the novel at cross purposes.  At times, I was reminded of Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind (one of my all-time favorite books), who never seem to be on the same page, even though it is plainly obvious to the reader that they are meant to be together.  Every time Dan and Emily grow closer, something--usually a hidden truth about Dan's checkered past, but sometimes a simple misunderstanding caused by poor communication--tears them apart again.  I wanted to strangle one or both of them a few times!  But those two crazy kids kept me turning the pages--just like Rhett and Scarlett did!

(If you'd like to read the full review of Ornamental Graces, here's a link to that blog post.)


One last note before I sign off:  I often worry about all the negative effects of spending too much time online.  But one of the great unexpected blessings of my years of blogging/writing/posting and scrolling at IG is my online friendship with other Catholic fiction authors--like Carolyn Astfalk, a writer whom I admire immensely for using her God-given talents so well to give glory back to Him.  When my IG giveaway prize arrived in the mail, here's how it was inscribed:


I can't tell you how tickled I am to be considered a great friend of Catholic fiction, a medium that I believe can be a powerful evangelization tool.  Thank you, Carolyn Astfalk, for this lovely compliment.  :)

Now head on over to the link-up, readers, for more book recs.  Because losing yourself in a good book can help you to forget the world's cares--at least for a little while...and perhaps that's good for your soul.