Genealogy

Amusement Among the Abstracts: Finding humor in the driest genealogical records

For those of a genealogical bent whose family history in the US starts in Colonial Virginia, you must be familiar with the Gentleman Genealogist, Mr. Beverley Fleet, who throughout his life as an historian studied the legal documents of the courts, wills, marriage listings, death notices, deeds and the operational receipts of landowners and merchants, and personal family documents contained in many county records and in the Virginia State Archives. In addition, he abstracted many documents in the hands of private citizens.

His most important work, The Virginia Colonial Abstracts, was contained in thirty-four paperbacked volumes, organized by county, which were created between the year of his retirement as an accountant on Wall Street in 1938 until the year 1948, the year before his death.

This man sifted the various documents collected through the courts and family records of Virginians, creating thousands of abstracts that have assisted genealogists in this country for approximately one hundred years now. Many of us who have sought even the faintest of glimmers representing the lives of our ancestors owe a great debt to the man for his dogged determination to reduce volume upon volume of loose leaf court entries, land records, etc., down to easily perused lists of abstracts containing only the most pertinent information necessary for family historians to find and document their ancestors lives. Recorded in the crabbed handwriting of court clerks, surveyors, plantation owners and often almost illiterate government officials in early Virginia, the vellum and parchment documents were succumbing to the ravages of time, fire, flood, and general misuse. 

Unfortunately, many of the records were not filed in any order and were often found mixed in with other groups of records that did not always have anything to do with each other. Obviously the clerks of the colonial era were as bad, if not worse, at proper filing techniques as many are today. This meant that as Mr. Fleet began working with one group of records, he often found records that didn’t belong with that group sandwiched in among the pages. Rather than pull it out of the group, he abstracted those as well and often included them in the volume he was working on at the time. While he recognized that placing these items within the record groups in which they actually did belong would have been ideal, his purpose was to document the records before time and mishandling destroyed them forever. As each volume was completed it was separately indexed within the volume, but there was not an index created covering the whole series.

Sadly, this made it made it difficult to quickly find the records one needed. To determine if a record of an ancestor was in a particular volume, one had to pull out each volume and read the index to determine if that ancestor was included in it. It was slow and tedious work, but far easier than actually goingthrough the stacks of primary documents and learning how to read the strange squiggles that sufficed for handwriting in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Armed with a pencil, paper and a magnifying glass Beverley Fleet spent the last decade of his life doing that for us. Eventually the Abstracts were typed up and bound in paper volumes that found their way into the Genealogy sections of libraries across the country.

These volumes have since been reorganized into three large volumes and properly indexed to make the records easier to locate. As a genealogist who has been dipping into the original works since the 1980s, I have always pulled the volumes off the shelves of libraries across the US, checked the index and put the ones I didn’t need to review back on the shelf. The ones I did review, I spent as little time as possible in that process. I checked that it was the county I needed, perused the index for the ancestors name and page number, then went to that page and copied the items that were pertinent to my research, and dropped them back in the return stacks. This is the time honored process every historian uses to determine if the information they are looking for is contained in a given volume, whether it is a book of extracts or a non-fiction account of an historical even or locale.

I have never spent any time learning about the author of such a work or reading the prefaces to each volume to gather the author’s thoughts on the work. Genealogy is a time-consuming past time in general. The faster one can find the information one needs, the quicker one can move on to another line of inquiry. I developed a method of skimming sections of histories and documents, without taking the time to read deeply unless the details of the events I was researching provided interesting reading in and of itself, or gave me good social background on the reasons our ancestors moved around the country and the events that touched their lives.

I have recently discovered that the volumes of Fleet’s Abstracts, as well as thousands of other books and documents, previously only available to read within the walls of libraries, have now been digitized into pdf files which are available for download from the FamilySearch.org website maintained by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I knew some years ago that this project was ongoing at the LDS Church’s Family History Library in Salt Lake, Utah, but had not realized the scope of how many documents and books are already available to any researcher armed with a computer or handheld digital device. 

Until recently, I mostly worked with the records that were indexed on Ancestry.com, because it provided the easiest, fastest method of reviewing large quantities of data to be included in the family trees I research and regularly maintain. With the advent of Ancestry and FamilySearch, most of my research has been limited to the databases on these websites. I was thrilled when I was looking for information on FamilySearch and decided to see if a particular title I knew existed might have been digitized yet. Of course, it was. Not only could I read it online, but I could actually download a copy of it to read at my leisure. For free!

That kind of price tag is thrilling to genealogical researchers, who have been used to years of paying for copies, buying important volumes for our own personal libraries, or paying fees to historical societies for the use of their libraries. Not to mention the savings in papers and pencils for note taking that invariably get lost. Of course, any book with an active copyright still needs to be either bought (most are available through Amazon, of course) or read at a library. But the number of genealogical materials whose copyrights have lapsed and relegated them to public domain is amazing. Currently the FamilySearch site has hundreds of thousands of books and documents available for use in research without ever setting foot in a library!

I began downloading the Virginia Colonial Abstracts this last weekend, and skimmed the author’s preface to see what the volume contained rather than going to the end of the volume to peruse the index. And there I discovered something I never had time to notice before.

Beverley Fleet was a man with a very droll sense of humor. He seemed to think nothing of providing little amusing anecdotes about the process of creating the abstracts in that particular volume. He often included stories about the people he met over the course of the research and even included some rather snide remarks regarding people who wanted to hire him to do similar work on their particular project, usually for pennies on the dollar. And he was a man who never pulled punches. Words that were generally censored out of novels and other tomes at the time he was researching and writing these, were not removed from his prefaces, which struck me as a delightful clue to the man’s character. He had a particular affinity for the word “ass”, which at the time more often referred to a donkey than a disgusting part of the human body. I began looking forward to reading the preface in each of the volumes I looked at and almost invariably ended up laughing over the things he shared there. It made me wonder that I had not really read any of them before. 

And because I enjoyed them, because I learned so much about the personality of the man who spent a decade of his life making research easier for other genealogists, I just had to share this with you all. 

If you have used his Abstracts before, you may have skipped over these little gems to get to the meat of your research. If that is the case, the next time you dip into them, take a moment and read the preface. I guarantee you some surprising entertainment in the middle of otherwise dry historical research. Sadly, the reorganized three volume version of his work most likely doesn’t include these little bits of oddity, and that is a true loss to our community.

The only problem I experienced while reading them was learning that he had not written more on his own that didn’t have to do with genealogy. It takes a strangeness of thought to make a person enjoy reading history in the actual documents of the period. I think if he had had the time left in his life, he might have become an interesting author of history. It makes me sad to think that he was gone from the earth before I arrived on it. 

I would have enjoyed meeting this man, I think.

Writing

On Being Alone with Fibromyalgia

Today I ran across an article on Medium.com, the title of which struck a latent tone in me. On ‘Going Away’ was written by Julieanne Smolinski, a thirty-something writer struggling to deal with being back on the dating scene after her first and only “true love” break up experience. A lot of the things she mentions thinking about while remaining unmarried in her thirties were very familiar to me. I have thought a lot about these as well, only from the perspective of someone about thirty years further down the road of Life.

I struggle to find myself, single once more after being divorced from my “life partner” of over forty years. I wonder if I am also “meant to be alone.”

I grew up alone. I should be used to it by now. I had no siblings and my parents (my dad and stepmother — my mother passed away when I was six) really didn’t spend much time advancing a great parent-child bond. They pretty much just wanted me out of the house and out from under their feet.

Their desire for my absence didn’t work out quite as they wanted. A naturally gregarious child, my mother’s early death had left me extremely introverted, and because of my dad’s work, we moved a lot, so friends were hard to come by. In fact, I got bullied a lot for just being the new kid in school. So I hid in my room and read. In the pre-internet world, I found friends and experienced the lives of the characters in the books I read. Even the worst villains in books were much safer than the bullies who lay in wait around every corner in my real life.

Yet, despite the joy I found in books, I ached with loneliness. I hated being alone.

Shortly after I left home at eighteen to join the military, I was lucky in that I found a man who loved me; a man who, as I believed for over four decades of marriage, I could trust to always be there for me. We married, had kids, raised them and then were back to just being a couple again.

This process of marriage and parenting was not an easy one. As most of us find out once we get into the meat of adulthood, life always has its ups and down. Family issues developed, a normal thing in any family group, but for the most part we clung together. Held each other up. We always stood together. I always thought we weathered the storms well. But maybe not. Periodically, problems not properly dealt with at the time later bubbled to the surface, seeming uglier than ever. We either dealt with them, or re-stuffed them, depending on their importance in the current day’s struggles. Looking back, I think we probably stuffed a lot more than we really dealt with them, but at the time it felt like we were doing well at maintaining our equilibrium in a difficult world.

Of course, work was a constant stressor for me, especially after I fell down a flight of stairs when I was 38. The damage caused by that fall made working harder and harder for me as time went on. And all the emotional pain of my childhood and the ups and downs of marriage, combined with the physical pain of the injuries from that fall, turned me into a bundle of screaming nerves.

By the time the kids were finally out of the house, I was living my daily life with horrific pain. My body just didn’t do what I told it to anymore. I gradually lost the ability to do even normal, everyday things. Multi-tasking, something I had always been pretty brilliant at, became impossible to do. I found it hard to concentrate. Even reading a book became a chore because I couldn’t concentrate on the words for more than a few minutes. I easily got lost on the page I was reading and would have to re-read it again and again. It seemed like I lost days and days on end wrapped in a blurry blanket of something I later learned is called “brain fog.” This was a scary experience for someone who loves the written word as much as I do.

I slowly let my husband, sweet man that he was, take over most of the chores around the house because I simply did not have the energy to do them. This was definitely not fair to him, but I had no choice. The pain I was experiencing was horrific and the exhaustion I lived with was pervasive. Work took more and more energy until I felt like I had run a marathon by the end of every day. I could only hold the exhaustion off so long before I seemed to hit a wall that stopped me in my tracks.

By the time I got home from working a full day, I felt as if someone had beaten me with a baseball bat. Half the time I would go straight to bed with a migraine, or anesthetize myself with a few drinks and a handful of over-the-counter anti-inflammatories. I began using my sick days more and more, which made my bosses look at me suspiciously. Depression crept into the corners of my mind and made a home for itself there, gradually strangling and killing all the joy I’d had in my life.

Seeing my life falling apart by this mysterious illness that I couldn’t find a way to get away from, I began experiencing severe anxiety. I thought others must surely see that I was losing my edge and I had frequent panic attacks that I would lose my job because I just couldn’t handle it anymore. I lost faith in my own abilities.

As time went on, my husband had difficulty believing my pain and exhaustion was as bad as I claimed. He resented what must have seemed to him like sheer laziness and self-centeredness on my part. I can imagine he was wondering what had happened to the fun girl he had married. He often asked me if I had just stopped loving him, which was no where near the truth. Unfortunately, no matter what I told him, he believed this lie rather than accept that there was something physically wrong with me that couldn’t be fixed.

When I was finally diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, he had even more difficulty dealing with the disease than I did. After all, the medical community at the time did not really understand the disease, let alone know how to treat it. Even many cancers and heart disease now have treatment plans that keep people from dying from them as they had once done. But Fibromyalgia has them stumped.

At the time I was diagnosed, most of the medical profession didn’t even believe Fibromyalgia was a real illness. Many still don’t. They all believed it was all in the patient’s head. New doctors often told me the Fibro diagnosis made by another doctor meant they were just too busy to actually look for a “real” cause. Many doctors just thought “Fibromyalgia” was a catchall phrase for lazy medicine. It didn’t help that Fibromyalgia patients had many other physical problems (called co-morbidities) complicating this condition of horrific muscular pain and exhaustion destroying our lives. And because it did not kill the patients who had it, no one really dedicated studies to figure it out what caused it and how to cure it.

As a result, Fibromyalgia became an invisible disease that has decimated the lives of millions of people around the world. No one can see it’s effect on you, so it doesn’t really exist, right?

Of course, the medical profession is trained to ease pain. At the time, that meant prescribing drugs to combat the many symptoms we all described. And Big Pharma was happy to design more and more drugs that were supposed to help, but really didn’t. In fact, many of the drugs made it worse or caused serious side-effects. Doctors would treat one symptom with one drug, then treat the next emerging symptom with another one. Before long I was literally a Walking Dead from all the drugs they had me on. Looking back, it’s a wonder I could function at all! I am still surprised I did not overdose on them as so many others have done.

Eventually, I found a pain doctor who was able to get me off the opioids and other drugs. Thankfully I got my mind back. I could read again. More importantly I could write! Yay!

Unfortunately, it also meant I was back to living with the excruciating pain. Nothing had really changed, except that I had my mind back. Now of course, I have arthritis increasing my pain. The joys of aging.

In any event, after nearly twenty years of living with me in constant pain, my husband finally had enough and walked away from it. He was the perpetual “Fixer” in our lives, and apparently I was the one thing he could not fix. He said couldn’t handle watching me deal with my pain while not being able to do anything to help. He said he blamed himself because he just wasn’t good at being a caregiver. He also blamed me for not wanting to get better. He figured he only had a few more years to live and just couldn’t see spending them with me. He felt he deserved some to have some happiness in his life again.

So he left me to move in with another woman with whom he felt he could once more have a fun life.

So after over forty years as part of a couple, I am alone again.

At my age, dating is not an easy thing, even with a healthy body. Most men in their sixties are like my ex, looking for playmates. They want younger, fitter women, who enjoy sports and travel and partying. They’re not interested in someone who isn’t physically perfect. It’s truly depressing how cliché this attitude is among older men.

Unfortunately, the specter of Fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, depression, and the host of other ailments controlling my life make it hard for me to even think about dating. After all, anyone who enters my life has to take on the Fibro Monster and allow his own life to be limited by it. The resulting depression over this conundrum nixes any desire I have to find someone to help me feel not quite so alone.

The fact is, I don’t want to put any other man in the same situation that drove my ex away. I don’t think I could go through another breakup like this one. My self image is tarnished enough for one lifetime.

I began to ask myself if it was even fair to try to develop friendships when this disease makes it hard for me to do anything from one minute to the next. I can’t plan on anything. My body won’t let me guarantee that I will “be there” or be able to “do that” at any given time. I know it gets old for everyone who knows me. It gets old for me as well, but I don’t have the luxury of being able to walk away from it.

So I am coming to accept the reality that I am always going to be alone. For the rest of my life. Not a fun thing to come to grips with, especially for a romantic soul like me. The future I see for myself stretches off into the distance like a bleak, gray road I have to travel alone. It’s a depressing thought, but it is what it is. There’s no magical miracle cure waiting for me just around the bend.

However, reading On ‘Going Away’ actually made me laugh about the situation a little bit. I secretly commiserated with an introverted thirty-something who was also struggling with being alone. I understood her pain and the irony she has found in her own experience.

It made me feel not quite so alone — for a little while anyway.



Writing

Happy National Grammar Day!

It always amazes me whenever I find out that the day I woke up to is a day designated to celebrate something no one in their right mind would ever think needed to be celebrated. 

For example, when I logged in to LinkedIn this morning, I found out today is National Grammar Day and getproofed.com wrote a blog on things to do to celebrate grammar. Check out their post here if grammar is a favorite thing you want to celebrate.

Personally, I don’t know anyone who loves grammar, not even writers or editors like me. It’s a tool for us, usually one we’re relatively good at using, either because we’ve been trained to use it by having the rules drummed mercilessly into our heads for years, or because we are just naturally good at it. Some people are good at math and some people are good at grammar. Interestingly, both are a form of language. But I digress.

Grammar, however you feel about it—and sometimes its a real love-hate relationship—is only a framework for organizing the other tools we use —words—to create the things we love most in the world. Stories.

Of course, it’s the stories that matter, and the words and grammar we use to tell them make them understandable and memorable to others. Without them communication between one person and another, or many others, would not happen. Novels would not be written, cookbooks would not help us create tasty meals, and how-tos would not help us fix that pesky leak from the pipe under the kitchen sink. Even plays and movies would not be around to teach us or move our souls.

Without grammar, we would still be communicating momentous events and common everyday experiences to each other through interpretive dance. While that might be a fun and interesting way to tell your friends and neighbors that the neighborhood store has chicken on sale at a fantastic price, it’s definitely not a practical use of your time and effort. It might be a great way to loose a couple of pounds or stay in shape, but it’s not going to get your point across quickly and easily—and most importantly, accurately.

I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without the ability to communicate with words. I would not have been able to feed my family. I would not have gone to college. I would not have been able to shake off the stress of my work day by immersing my mind in a novel. I would not have been able to write down the strange musings of my mind or express the creativity that tumbles around my brain at all hours of the day or night.

Whoever invented grammar should be knighted, at the very least, or given the Nobel Prize and lauded in every country around the world. For without it, our world would be nothing like what we have now. We would likely still be at the caveman stage of civilization and constantly on the verge of starvation.

So yes. Today is a great day to celebrate grammar. For that matter, every day is a great day to celebrate grammar.

Happy National Grammar, everyone!

Oh, and if you want to know what other interesting things you can celebrate today (today is also National Hug a G.I. Day, for example), or tomorrow (National Cheese Doodle Day), or any day of the year, for that matter, check out the website at nationaldaycalendar.com. They have a list of everything there is to celebrate, whenever you want to celebrate anything. I’m not sure who determines these things, but if nothing else, it’ll give you a laugh.

Have a great rest of your day.

Writing

How to Survive Depression During the Holidays

The Christmas season is supposed to be a time of joy, family, fellowship and kindness. From Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, we center our minds and spirits around the holiday season and its celebrations. Life seems to speed up. The family and friends we rarely see the rest of the year reach out to each other. Many of us focus on giving to others who are less fortunate than we. Others spend their time searching for the perfect gift for those they love. But the season is not always a happy time for everyone. It can be a busy, busy time.

For most of us, the holiday season is a time of wondrous nostalgia. Our childhood memories of the holiday season are preserved in our minds like little snow globes, perfect and magical – and each is probably a totally unrealistic picture of what was going on around us at the time. Just as we try to do with our own children, our parents usually tried to protect us from the harder side of life, so it’s possible we may not even recall many of the bad things that happened during the holidays back then.

Unfortunately, the vagaries of everyday life continue during this season just as they did the rest of the year, bringing pain and uncertainty into our lives despite our best efforts to hang onto the joy. Somehow, we expect this period of the year to be free from the pain of loss, loneliness and insecurity we experience the rest of the year. Often, we try to protect ourselves by focusing on the holiday traditions in our past to inure us against the evils of the world.

Traditions are, in many ways, a myth. They are a by-product of being human in a fast-moving, fast-changing world. Traditions are a method people use to hold on to something we perceive as a constant throughout our unpredictable lives. In a world where life changes from day to day, even minute to minute, we seek any anchor point to which we can cling, even if only for the space of one month out of the year.

And most traditions we currently think of as having always been a part of this season’s festivities really weren’t even a part of life beyond than a century ago. Many of the ways we currently celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas were invented by modern day advertisers who were trying to make a market for a product they were trying to sell!

The problem with traditions is that nothing in the world ever remains the same. Bad things continue to happen to us every day, no matter the season. In fact, it often seems as if they increase around this time of year.

  • More people are on the roads, driving to and from parties, shopping trips, and visits to distant family.
  • Car accidents caused by drunk or stressed-out drivers unexpectedly rob us of family members or send us to the hospital.
  • The stress of trying to get everything done causes many of us to lose our tempers, creating rifts between us and those we love.
  • Dysfunctional family issues can add unrealistic expectations to our already jammed schedules.
  • People are robbed of the presents they’ve accumulated for their celebrations.
  • Others lose their jobs at a time when they desperately need extra money.
  • Many find themselves alone or homeless, struggling to live on the streets.
  • And unfortunately, people we love dearly continue to die from disease and old age, just as they did the rest of the year.

These kinds of negative experiences can leave huge holes of grief, sucking the joy out of a time that we feel should only be, well, joyous. And somehow they seem much more difficult to handle at this time than at other times of the year. For example, losing a loved one at this time of year can ruin the holiday season for years to come because the loss becomes forever entwined with our expectations of the perfect holiday experience. Is it any wonder, then, that this time of year sees such a huge rise in depression?

It is even more important for us to take the time to care for ourselves at this time of year than it is at any other time. Thankfully, there are a few ways to help lessen the impact of these kind of negative holiday experiences.

Plan ahead.

It’s important to make special memories with people you love, but whenever possible, try to limit the amount of time you have to spend with toxic people. Try to avoid uncomfortable situations and negative emotional triggers wherever you can. If possible, work with other family members to plan ways to enjoy the holidays that don’t add stress and anxiety into the mix.

Be realistic about your time.

Many of us have difficulty saying no to others at this time of year. Parties, charitable events, and work, school and church activities can overwhelm our already busy schedules, creating unnecessary stress, and setting us up for failure and exhaustion. Remember, you cannot be all things to all people.

Change your traditions.

If the usual celebrations don’t work for you, change them. Create new ones that break up the typical monotony. Believe it or not, the world will not come to an end if you decide not to participate in a particular family tradition. People have been changing traditions for millennia. The fact is, what worked for our parents and grandparents may not work for us. Don’t feel you have to continue a tradition just because that is how it has always been done.

One year my own family had a really tight monetary situation at a time when we had extra family staying with us for an extended period. One of the things I recall doing as a child at Christmas was going door to door singing Christmas carols and I suggested this as a way to keep our spirits up. Unfortunately, most of our family felt they did not have great voices for singing in front of people. My husband came up with a fun alternative that everyone enjoyed. On Christmas Eve, he handed out kazoos and we all went outside and treated our neighbors with buzzing renditions of our favorite carols. It was a great memory for our kids and our neighbors loved it.

Avoid isolating yourself.

It is easy for someone who is overwhelmed and depressed by life’s trials to avoid being around other people. Many times, we justify our own need to be alone by convincing ourselves that we will just bring others down.

If you are struggling to process negative events and feelings, just having a person to talk to can help ease the negative thoughts dragging you down. Others can sometimes listen to our problems and help us find solutions we might not think of ourselves.

They can also help you recognize ways to set boundaries and protect yourself from being caught up in situations that can intensify feelings of anger, fear and depression.

Avoid the alcohol.

Alcoholic drinks are pretty much synonymous with the word “celebration” these days. With the number of parties we are expected to attend at this time of year, it is easy to over-indulge. In fact, it is one of the most popular gifts given during this season.

Yet alcohol is actually a depressant on the nervous system. It causes sleepiness, reduces coordination and responses to emergency situations, impairs concentration, creates short-term memory loss and mood shifts. Alcohol has been proven to increase depression and suicidal thoughts, yet it is one of the first things we reach for when dealing with emotional trauma and stress.

Instead of that glass of wine or beer, choose a healthier “mocktail,” or your favorite non-alcoholic beverage.

Turn off the TV.

The Christmas season provides a plethora of TV shows and movies that show happy family gatherings and fairytale endings. Even commercials are overflowing with images of happy couples and traditional families. The constant onslaught of holiday “cheer” can seriously increase feelings of isolation and unhappiness when our own lives don’t measure up with the ideal “as seen on TV.”

Instead, take a walk outdoors, if the weather allows it, or head to the gym for a work out. Communing with nature and physical activity have both been shown to reduce the symptoms of depression.

Stay off social media for a few days.

Our social media feeds are generally full of our friends’ happiest holiday moments at this time of year. It is rare that people post about the arguments that flared up at their family get-together or admit that their spouse walked out on them over the holidays.

Our feeds create the illusion that everyone else is happy and their lives are perfect. This can be devastating in comparison to our own imperfect one. Recent studies have indicated that social media are actually bad for your mental health.

If you can’t quit your feeds altogether, at least try to cut back on them. Limit your screen time.

Find your own ray of sunshine.

Depression increases significantly at the end of daylight savings time. Fewer hours of daylight and being stuck inside because of winter weather can have a real negative effect on your psyche. In fact, there is a type of depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), that emerges at this time of year. It is caused by reduced exposure to sunlight and it can actually change your brain chemistry, causing profound sadness.

Invest in a light therapy lamp or full-spectrum light bulbs to ward off the effects of short days and long dark nights.

If you find it difficult to sleep at night, trying a weighted blanket may help. They are a popular aid for relieving anxiety.

If you find yourself agitated by the noise and bustle of the season, try using noise-canceling headphones to tune out excess background noise while working or shopping.

Reach out for help.

Everyone can benefit from seeing a therapist no matter what time of year it is, but during the holiday season it is especially helpful. A therapist can help you find ways to cope with the emotional problems that seem to be rampant at this time of year. Many therapists offer phone or Facetime/Skype sessions as part of their practice.

If you don’t have a therapist but are finding it hard to deal with the emotional upheaval of the season, try reaching out to a crisis hotline by phone or text.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

If you are afraid or embarrassed to talk to a stranger on the phone, the Crisis Text Line can be reached by texting HOME to 741741. They have volunteers you can chat with via text 24/7.

Every city and county in the U.S. has local suicide or crisis hotlines available to anyone in need. To find one, you can do a quick google search on “crisis hotlines.” Or if you’re more comfortable doing things old-school, just look them up in the phone book.

If you’re a veteran, identify LGBTQ, dealing with grief or a life-threatening illness, or any other type of problem, check out the crisis service categories on www.allaboutcounseling.com for any specific types of help you might need.

In addition, there are a number of apps available for when you need help at times that are inconvenient for making an appointment with your local counselor.

If you aren’t currently in crisis and are looking for a way to handle stress on your own, there are also a number of apps that can help you through directed mindfulness meditation all year long.

Give to others.

Interestingly, one of the best ways to help pull yourself out of depression is through the simple act of giving to others. This form of giving does not always have a hefty price tag. Rather, it only requires a bit of time donated in service to others.

Helping out at your local food bank or through your church group, collecting and distributing food and daily living items to the homeless or seniors in your community, or to the survivors of recent natural disasters, can work wonders for your own mood and your sense of self-worth.

If you know of someone who is alone over the holidays, invite them to join your own celebrations. Or if they are homebound, bring them a small holiday meal or a package of homemade cookies and other Christmas goodies, or just spend a little time with them.

Knowing that even a small bit of effort on your part can help someone else who is in need helps get your mind off your own troubles and gives you the opportunity for contact with other human beings.

For many people, the holiday season is filled with loneliness and despair. Helping others in this way provides them with a little bit of hope and human kindness.

How can you possibly feel any better about yourself than by knowing something you did for someone really mattered to them?

This is, after all, the reason for the season, isn’t it?

Merry Chistmas to you all!

Writing

Book Review: Journal of the Gun Years by Richard Matheson

I don’t spend a lot of time writing book reviews. Basically, unless I’ve been specifically asked by a friend or a client to do a book review for them, or if I find a book I desperately want to read on Goodreads or on the Online Book Club , you won’t see a lot of my reviews online. Writing book reviews remind me too much of having to write book reports in school. In other words, it’s drudgework to me. I’d much rather be writing fiction of my own or reading.

I have a horrifically long list of books I want to read. (No, I don’t keep the list on Goodreads because that is also too time consuming. Do you sense a pattern here?) I generally average between 15 to 20 books a month, and to be honest, not all of the books I read are significant enough in my mind to spend time writing about them. In fact I start and quit reading perhaps twice that amount because the writing or the story is a disappointment to me. For me to voluntarily write a review on a book means the book seriously affected me and I really want to share a true jewel of literature.

Well, I just finished reading one of the saddest, yet fascinating novels I have ever read. I was totally unprepared for how this book made me feel and that alone is why I am writing about it here.

I’ve always been a fan of Western movies and have enjoyed reading western history john-wayne-394468__340books and journals simply because I am interested in the history. My favorite TV channels are channels that play western movies or classic films. I grew up watching these things on TV in Southern California and never really outgrew them. Currently, I am not watching a lot of TV, despite the fact that I do have cable. I simply have too many other things to do and I enjoy reading books far more than I enjoy TV or movies.

Periodically I get a hankering to watch a western movie, so, rather than turn on the TV and watch a movie I’ve probably seen a hundred times over the course of my 60-odd years of life, I decided to do something I haven’t done in a long time: Actually read a western.

So I recently checked out a series of western novels from51xC0XWN2vL._SX272_BO1,204,203,200_ the library and picked this one out as well. I recognized the author’s name from his TV and movie credits, but I had never read one of his novels before. I decided to check it out, and boy was I blown away by it!

Let me say first off that it is indeed a novel. It is not a real journal, though you may be hard pressed to remember that as you read it. It was written by Richard Matheson, who wrote a lot of science fiction (often referred to by many critics as “space westerns”) and horror, both in written form (sci-fi/horror novels and short stories) and scripts for TV and movies.

Also being a big fan of sci-fi, and having enjoyed a lot of the movies (Somewhere in Time, Hell House, What Dreams May Come, and I am Legend) and TV shows (Twilight Zone) Matheson wrote, I thought reading Journal of the Gun Years might actually be worth my time. I have long been a fan of this man’s unique twists on the world in TV and movies, though I had never actually read any of his written works. I daresay that may be the case for most of us.

All I can say is, I was not prepared for the brilliance of this work.

The story is presented in the form of journal entries written by the fictional Clay Halser, a Civil War Veteran who goes west after the war to find “excitement” and ends up man-and-horses-2389830__340becoming a gunfighter and marshal in the Wild West. Through the course of the book, the character grows from a teenager into a man in his 30s, from a boy fighting an insane war, to a young man trapped in the western range wars, to a mature man trying to put his talent with a gun to some good use, and finally a man trying to come to terms with the deaths he has caused and trying to live down his legend, which takes on a totally out-of-control life of its own.

The changes in the daily entries this character writes as he grows older, wiser and sadder are so well written I had a hard time believing it was a novel. The early entries show a callow young lad with all the innocence of youth, with one glaring exception: He’d spent his formative teen years killing other men in the “War between the States.” Despite this, at the end of the war he does not present as a young man who has been broken by the horrific events he’d lived through. Instead, you see the kid in him shining through, wanting to kick up his heels and find fun and excitement in life again. But being at home again among his family and old friends, Clay finds that everyone else’s plans for him sound boring. In fact, he’s genuinely frightened if he goes along with what is expected of him, he will be trapped and never see anything interesting of the world.

Now I have read a lot of history about this era, and because I have read many journals written about the West by the people who actually traveled across the plains before and after the Civil War, I found this tale full of the truth and sadness of real life. Many of the stories Clay tells in his “journal” actually did happen to many people who lived through that period in our history.

Throughout the novel real people who lived and were legends in the West stumble in and out of Clay’s life, such as when he meets Wild Bill Hickok as a young man and later as the two legends sit down to have a drink and talk about life as legendary gunfighters. Or quickly meeting and losing a young friend to the violence of the range wars who just happens to be the younger brother of Billy the Kid and who wants be just like his big brother.

An interesting theme seems to run throughout the novel. As events unfold in his life, Clay begins to question who or what really is in charge of his life. At first, Clay believed himself to be the master of his fate, but after years of surviving gun battles where everyone else dies or is wounded while he is barely scratched, where it seems like just dumb luck that he manages to survive everything. It seems to him that its a series of strange circumstances trap him in dangerous situations where his only choice is to fight or die. Clay begins to wonder if someone or something else has designed his life to come out that way it has.

In addition to the vividness of the gunfights he’s involved in, the psychological damage that results from the life he’s lived is also strikingly real. Anyone in the present day, especially our returned soldiers, will recognize the symptoms of PTSD caused by a life spent shooting a weapon at other men. In fact, I believe it is Clay’s internal struggle with the guilt he bears for the killings he’s forced to do and his feelings of failure in trying to accomplish something good with the only real skills he seems to have that is the true tale here. His perceptions about how his life turned out are familiar ones to many people today, I think. Much of what Clay describes about his feelings in his journal are very common thoughts in older Americans who look back over the course of their life and are saddened that it didn’t follow the path they intended. What is disturbing about them is how young he still is at the time he ponders these questions.

To anyone who is interested in the West, magazine-2656180__340this novel is a testament to the realities of that overly romanticized period in history. It’s also a thumbed nose to the press and those who would rather believe magazine-manufactured stories about the real human beings than the truth. The press of that period in history wrote total fabrications about the gunfighters of the West and turned them into the superstars of their day.

If you decide to read Journal of the Gun Years, be advised, the tale gets very dark and bloody. But it’s one of the realest Wild West tales I’ve ever read. I highly recommend it.

Oh, and if you have an app for audiobooks, I really would advise you to listen to the audiobook. Stefan Rudnicki does a stellar job of narration. I can imagine the emotional wreck he must’ve been after getting into the character of this young man.

You can check out the particulars of the book here:

 

 

 

Writing

Poppies

IMG_2174 1I have recently taken to starting each day by coloring a drawing provided by an app I downloaded to my phone and iPad. The process I find soothing to my soul. It seems to lend me some measure of creative focus and gives me time to think about the things I want to accomplish during the day. And I find that on days when I have difficulty with pain and depression, the process of coloring apparently shifts my focus away from the pain and darkness that invade my life on a regular basis.

Today’s picture, as you can see above, was the poppy, which I found appropriate for Veterans Day as the poppy has long been a symbol used to remember soldiers who died in warfare. Despite this, seeing it immediately lifted my spirits. You see, the poppy is my favorite flower. You might have already got that impression from the background pictures I have chosen for my website and Facebook page. But you might not understand why.

I have especially loved the red poppy ever since I moved to Europe for three years. In Europe, red poppies cover huge swaths of open fields and grassland. My first sight of the poppy fields in Germany where we lived took my breath away.

selective photo of california poppy flower
Photo by Noel Ross on Pexels.com

Having been born and raised in California, the only poppie I ever saw were the orange and yellow California poppies that decorate the dry hills and fields of my native state. The California poppy is brilliant and beautiful during its short growth period in Spring, but with few exceptions it does not seem to grow here in the wild abandon typical of the European varieties. And the California poppy’s flowering time is extremely short.

field-of-poppies-brandenburg-nature-royalty-free-86431
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This poppy is a common weed in Europe and is found in many locations. They are natural perennials that reseed themselves every year, constantly increasing the number of acres they grow in every year. There are a lot of different colors available, but the red poppy has a long history of unique symbolism throughout history.

Poppies have long been used in many cultures as a symbol of sleep, peace, and death. The poppy is a symbol of Morpheus, the son of Sleep (Hypnos) and the Greek god of dreams. This may be because the poppy has been used by humans in a medicinal form since ancient times to aid people with insomnia and cause a restful sleep. The opium derived from the plant and seeds has been used to control pain for thousands of years, allowing the patient taking it to sleep through the worst of the pain. Victorian doctors often prescribed it to help alleviate the pain of grief as well. And patients who used opium described vivid dreams while under its influence.

Poppies were also sacred to Demeter who was said to concoct an infusion of poppies (like a tea) in order to sleep through her sorrow while her daughter, Persephone, was absent from her side. Persephone’s trips to the underworld to visit her husband, Hades, were cyclical and timed to the seasons. Her absence was believed to have caused the winter, and her time in the underworld signified slumber in the cycle of life. The appearance of the poppies in Spring symbolized Demeter’s joy at the return of her daughter.

Poppies hold a special place in Chinese art, as they represent the loyalty and faith between lovers. According to Chinese legend, a beautiful and courageous woman, Lady Yee, was married to Hsiang Yu, a warrior with Herculean strength. When Hsiang led his troops into battle, Lady Yee chose to follow him and stood by his side in every battle. In Chinese symbolism, the poppy represents rest, beauty and success. Red and pink flower represent life and celebration. While white flowers represent innocence and purity in the American culture, they are the opposite in the Chinese culture. White represents death and ghosts to the Chinese people and so white poppies are often found at funerals.

Papaver_rhoeas_-_Köhler–s_Medizinal-Pflanzen-101In Christianity, poppy symbolism represents death as a period of tranquil slumber, and is a metaphor of the resurrection, as the red petals of the poppy symbolize the blood of a sacrificed Christ. Poppies have long been used as emblems on tombstones to symbolize eternal sleep and resurrection.

The poppy that is used for wartime remembrance is Papaver rhoeas, the red-flowered “corn poppy,” so named because of its annual appearance in the grain fields of Europe. Following the World War I trench warfare in the poppy fields of Flanders, these poppies have become a symbol of remembrance of soldiers who have died during wartime. Flanders is the setting of the famous poem “In Flanders Fields” by the Canadian surgeon and soldier John McCrae.

IMG_2178In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
-Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae (1872 – 1918)

In recent years, white poppies, a purely human creation, have become a political symbol indicating an anti-war mindset. Unfortunately, while this use of the poppy is designed to espouse a positive message against conflict in a war-torn world, white poppies have engendered a lot of controversary and have caused some very negative reactions when used to protest unpopular wars.

Yet, I think the poppy means so much to me because as a genealogist my work has been designed to remember our ancestors who have passed on. While the scarlet corn poppy has developed such a martial symbolism in our society, I prefer to think of it as a symbol of all of those family members who have passed on.

To me, the poppy is a flower which invariably brings to mind all the family whose lives led to the creation of me and my own family. They were the ones who went before us, many of whom died to make this world a better place. Yet many of our ancestors, including the women, worked hard to build a life here in America. Their efforts created a nation that is one of the few in this world where people have the freedom to say and be anything, without fear of government reprisal.

I have ancestors who fought in the Revolution. I have ancestors who fought in the War of 1812, and on both sides of the Civil War, and both World Wars. During the Twentieth Century many of the women in my family became nurses who provided care for the soldiers who were wounded or died as a result of those wounds. But before that there were just as many women who fought alongside their men to build a home in the wilderness. They fought pestilence, severe weather, more dangers than those of us today can even imagine. They often uprooted their families to move across the continent in an effort to make a better life than the ones they left behind.

Despite the problems of our society, I believe they left our country a much better place than it was when they first arrived on its shores.

I consider the poppy an emblem not just to remember the fallen soldiers, but one to be use in remembrance of all of those ancestors whose blood still run in my veins and the veins of my children.

sunset sun horizon priroda
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Accents, Writing

Speech Patterns

This post is the result of another blogger’s post. Earlier today, Grammar Girl posted a short item on LinkedIn that included a video on the Appalachian dialect, which you can watch if you click here. I hope you find it as interesting as I did

As a writer, studying the way people talk is important. Not only does it lead your reader to understand more about the character who is speaking, it helps your readers tell the difference between the various characters in a story. It helps to have enough of an understanding of how people speak in the culture you are writing about so that you don’t inadvertently create a stereotypical character who will insult readers from that area.

I have been lucky enough to have traveled a lot and spent a lot of time around people who spoke much differently than I did. But I have also been perpetually curious about the cultures that cause people to have the speech patterns they do.

I’ve always been fascinated by the dialects used by the people I’ve met all across this country. Having moved often as a military wife, as well as frequently traveling on camping trips to the state and national parks nearby (within a day or two drive from our home) with my small family, I had occasion to listen to and pick up many words and phrases I’d never heard while growing up in California.

I was also pretty good at mimicry so that after a few months of living in a certain area, you couldn’t have imagined me as anything but a native. I didn’t do it to make fun of the folks I was living among. It was just a natural effect of being surrounded by people who spoke that way every day.

My husband, Isaiah, was from North Carolina, though his own accent and dialect were very soft. After joining the Air Force in the 1970s, he worked hard to lose his accent as much as possible because he was always cognizant that a southern drawl tended to label one as stupid, or a “hick” or “hillbilly.” He felt that people who spoke that way were not taken seriously by people who lived outside of the South. Very few people in the Western US (where we lived from the 1980s onward) seemed to realize he was from the South at all, unless he got emotional about something or spoke with someone else with a Southern accent. That was when his drawl emerged.

His sister, Jean, on the other hand, embraced her southern heritage and created a drawl that was designed to mark her as “countrified.” Interestingly, Jean’s daughter, Rebecca, who was born and raised in the Carolinas as her mother was, has even less of an accent than her uncle. Jean and I attributed that to the fact that Rebecca watched a lot of TV and few people in the media speak with any accent at all. It makes me wonder if, over time, the amount of media we watch from all over the world will eventually do away with regional dialects all together.

Many of Isaiah’s family (on his father’s side) still live in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. His mother’s people still live in the Piedmont border country of North and South Carolina near Charlotte. After we lived in the latter area for about three years, I was able to find several distinct idiomatic speech patterns used by the people there, including that of the growing non-accented English-speaking population. The Charlotte area has a large number of transplants from all over the eastern seaboard and the rest of the country, so it is hard to pin down just one accent in that region.

My father was also a Southern boy, born and raised in Mississippi. Dad’s family also came from the Piedmont area of South Carolina originally, although they moved to the Mississippi Territory in the early 1800s. His accent was much stronger than Isaiah’s, despite the fact that he’d moved to California in the 1940’s. It eventually faded away quite a bit, but it was still very strong when I was a kid. When I was young, I used to get really tickled by the way Dad said certain words. My favorite pronunciation of his was “skoo” for the word “school.” He, of course, did not appreciate my amusement with this, but to be honest, it was one of the things I loved most about him.

In any event, after I left California to join the Air Force, I discovered the fascinating nuances in speech patterns used throughout the US. In high school, I enjoyed being involved in drama and was (still am) a lover of old movies, especially stories that took place in the UK. I actually learned a variety of accents from Scotland and Ireland, to Liverpudlian, Cockney, and the proper British accent indicative of the educated upper class. So, moving about the US and seeing how Americans spoke in various regions was very enlightening to me.

I found surprising changes in speech everywhere we lived and included them in my subconscious repertoire. They invaded my own speech whether I wanted them to or not, and I’ve been asked by other Californians just where in the South I was raised. Even now I hear myself choosing a word or phrase that’s definitely not used by most Californians. So apparently, I, too, have a bit of a Southern accent after years of living among them and being related to them.

Living among the people whose speech fascinated me so, I was quickly disabused of the notion so many “Yankees” have that Southerners are dull-witted. They are anything but. In fact, they tend to run rings around those of us who were raised elsewhere in terms of intelligence and general common sense. Most possess a sly, dry wit that can be downright dangerous if you aren’t on your toes. If anything, they tend to think of us outsiders as being “a might slow.”

Over the course of my life, I grew to be able to pinpoint where someone was raised simply by listening to them speak. So, I quite enjoyed listening to the Appalachian accent and unique words the people use in this short video. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. If you do, you might enjoy the other videos on the jstor.org site as well. If nothing else, they will help any writer who needs to use those type of dialects in their work.

Ya’ll have a great day now, ya hear?

😁

Writing

Start-Up Fever

Though it seems strange at my age to be investing in my future, that is just what I have been doing this week. I have been busy working with a new client on a book project. Thanks to this author, I have earned enough money to not only pay off some bills, but also to pay for some things I have been putting off doing for my business. I will be applying for a business license this week, renting a P.O. Box, talking with a tax attorney, setting up my accounting software, and writing a few things of my own. I need to finalize a couple pages on my website regarding the services I offer. And I recently bought a license for a highly regarded editorial software program that I’ve just started using and absolutely LOVE!!!

Depending on how things go this coming week I may even be able to afford getting a designer to design a logo for me. Have been using one that is a slightly edited version of one I found on a printing site. I’ve been ok with using that one to start with, but it’s not really what I would like for people to ultimately associate with me as my “Brand.” It’s just not quite what I had in mind. It just doesn’t scream “ME!”

 The most interesting part of all this is that the editing and research project I have been working on has taken me back into memories of my days working for law firms. Researching the evolution of law schools here in California (and elsewhere) made me kind of nostalgic for my job in Germany and the days when I was attending night school to get a paralegal certificate. Although the classes I was taking then (in 1990-1991) seriously taxed my stress levels, I really enjoyed the exercise they gave my brain.

 At the time, I was extremely lucky to work in the one American law office in Germany that possessed a complete US law library. I also had a boss (the one and only time I had a generous one) who allowed me to use that library for class-required research and who gave me the opportunity to research write and write briefs for cases he was handling at the time. He used my briefs to present arguments in two appeals cases in the States and won both cases from my briefs. We both won in this arrangement. For once I worked in a job where I was appreciated and nurtured.

 Unfortunately, early in 1992 my husband, who was career military, got caught up in the drawdown in the military that occurred at the end of Desert Storm. My boss tried to keep us in Germany, but because my husband could not speak much German, the US Consul (who was a close friend of my boss) could not find a way to justify my husband remaining in Germany on a work visa.

 So, we got sent back to the States earlier than we had planned and for the first time in his life my husband was having to look for a job. It was an especially hard time to be out of work because the recession started about then and he was not able to find permanent work for a couple of years. In addition, our daughter graduated high school about that time and started college soon after we came back to the US.

 My plan at the time we left Germany was to finish my paralegal classes as soon as we got settled in California. As soon as I looked into starting up my paralegal studies again, I discovered that no certification program would accept my paralegal classes from Germany as transferable credits to their program. A California legal certification program required that the classes actually be taught in California. This, despite the fact that I had not had any classes except Legal Research and Writing that would have required access to state law archives or California court procedure! I would have had to start completely over from Introduction to Paralegalism!

 Interestingly, all the classes being taught in California at that time used the exact same books I used and taught the exact same curriculum as the one I had been enrolled in overseas. The classes I had taken were presented through an extension program from the University of Maryland. Had I been enrolled in a California university extension, I would have gotten credit for every one of my classes!

 Needless to say, I was devastated.

 I suspect that had I been able to finish, I might have eventually gone back to school to get my JD and become an attorney. As it turned out, though, all those things combined to make sure that I never completed my paralegal certification.

 Now, as I am working on this author’s project I am finding that paralegal (and even JD) program requirements have changed in this state. If I were returning to California now and looking at completing my coursework for the certification, almost every course I had taken would be accepted. In fact, if I wanted to go back and finish the certification, I could now use CLEP tests to finish the coursework. CLEP tests were not allowed in California law schools then and were severely discouraged by the California Bar for any legal training.

 These days the thing preventing me from pursuing this avenue of education is my age and my body’s adverse reaction to an accident I had in 1994. Stress almost completely debilitates me now and I really have to work to maintain a calm mind and body in order to prevent pain from overwhelming me. Even in situations that aren’t terribly difficult for a normal healthy bodied person to handle, my body rebels and pays me back for every moment I allow stress to get a toe in the door. Working in the law would definitely not be a positive thing in my life now.

 Instead I am trying to start a business, which is not exactly stress-free under the best of circumstances, let alone when you have no money in the bank. And my first paying client has hired me to help her develop, research and edit her book about—

 Wait for it…

 How to survive the first year of law school and use yoga to control the stress of that year and as a working attorney.

 The irony of this is not lost on me.

Author, NaNoWriMo, Writing

NaNoWriMo has begun

Hi, everyone!

For the third year in a row, I have committed to participating in National Novel Writing Month, affectionately known to authors everywhere as NaNoWriMo. The concept is for authors to commit to writing at least 50,000 words between November 1st through the 30th. They consider this arbitrary word count as a reasonable amount to accomplish in the 30-day time frame and their web site states that this should be enough to complete the first draft of an average size novel.

Note to NaNoWriMo folks: I write fantasy. They are usually a bit longer than that. And I tend to be very wordy on a first draft anyway, so I’m already set up to fail at the major point of this exercise — to complete a novel in 30 days.

This year, as I have done every time I’ve started this, I have tried to commit to getting focused and writing a certain number of words at least every day. In the past, though, while I usually started out really well, I have fallen far short of the goal because, well, November is a really busy month. In fact every year I ask the question, “Why November?”

I think it’s a reasonable question. In my family there are several birthdays in November, but the month is jammed with two long weekend holidays, not to mention preparations for Thanksgiving and Black Friday, setting up the Christmas decorations, writing my annual Christmas letter and getting cards ready to mail out. And then there’s this bizarre little thing I’ve been trying to do more of called a blog.

Now, I know I can’t be the only person out there with these issues in November, so again I ask, “Why November?” Who in the founding group was idiot enough to suggest November as the month that authors hide from the world (except from other NaNoWriMo participants and the website’s constant flow of challenges, social commiserations, atta-boy comment threads, and multiple group write-ins) to complete a messy, probably nothing but garbage first draft of a novel?

And who in their right mind joins the thousands of other writers across this country who absolutely know they have a novel in them somewhere in plunging themselves into the chaos and madness of trying to create something from nothing, knowing full well every other writer out there is looking over their shoulder at their word count?

Me. That’s who.

But that wasn’t good enough for me this year. This time around I’ve lassoed three writer friends to join me in this craziness. Misery loves company, right? Of course write…I mean, right!

See? It’s only November 2nd and already I’ve got “write” on the brain!
Anyway, in prior years, I’ve actually not taken advantage of the full breadth of the NaNoWriMo site. I’ve always written my WIP (work in progress), The Crystal Pool, in Word and simply recorded my word count on the site. This year, I am going to actually try to writing it on the site itself to see if somehow immersing my battered psyche in the site will somehow keep me more focused on the task. I mean, what writer doesn’t need a barrage of pop-ups telling them they’ve earned a badge for writing 1000 words, 1500 words, 2000 words….?

You get the gist.

Yeah, I’m totally nuts, but hey, it only happens once a year. Right?

Don’t even get me started on Camp NaNoWriMo!

By the way, If you’re interested in finding out more about NaNoWriMo, just check them out at https://nanowrimo.org/.

Oh, in addition, I am posting an excerpt from my WIP here today if you want to read it. I’ve already posted it on my Facebook page, but decided I should park it here as well. Please take a few minutes to read it, if you haven’t seen it on Facebook yet, and let me know what you think.

Excerpt:
Tamra moved more slowly this time, focusing on feeling the “fabric” of the world. Her eyes, while fixed on the crystal, saw nothing of the world through which her mind moved. Instead, she felt it.

Sebastian called the process “astral projection.” She’d heard the words before, of course, but always pictured someone lying on a bed, letting their mind wander in a dreamlike state. However, Sebastian told her, there were many methods of projecting one’s spirit in ethereal form. Using the crystal allowed for more control in how it was done and what could be done with it.

At the moment, she was letting her mind sense the way the world was made, recognizing what was normal and natural, searching for places that felt wrong or disturbed. She was unsure how she would be able to find the meeting place between her world and the one from which the demons came. According to Sebastian, there were certain places in the worlds that permanently connected each dimension to the next. These spots were static, unmovable. Elsewhere the demarcation between the worlds was more fluid and could be made to move from its natural place into the space of another, if the power of the one moving it was great enough.

In a way, this explained much to her about the reported “Ascension” of Jesus and those of other prophets who, according to Judaic, Christian and Islamic scripture, never felt the sting of death but rose into the air and disappeared before the eyes of their people. Not being a person of faith in anything except herself, Tamra had to force herself to believe she could find and touch something that had been an unseen border between this world and Heaven. Yet occurrences of people crossing this border had been ob- served and recorded.

If Judaic or Islamic writings were true, there were at least seven “heavens” between Man’s world and God’s. If that were true, were there other hells besides the one everyone referred to? She wondered if this particular partition led to one of them rather than to heaven. It made sense, since it was a Fallen Angel doing the manipulation of the border, but did it necessarily follow that the world she’d glimpsed in her mind was Hell? The only evil she had recognized in her brief plunge into the other world had emanated solely from the Fallen Angel and the demons that surrounded him. Did that mean they were in some other world besides Hell? Had they taken it over first, before making the attempt to enter earth? Had they already destroyed the good people of that world before attempting to take over this one?

Shaking off these bothersome questions for the moment, she moved her mind upward, amazed that she could smell the familiar scent of rain on the city streets mixed with the smoke the winged fiends left in their wake. She felt the cold freshness of the rain, despite the fact that she knew her face was really back in the crystal room, attached to the rest of her. Gusts of wind moved through her mind as if she weren’t there, yet she felt them as if they buffeted her body. The sounds of human voices raised in terror faded as her mind rose into the sky, replaced by the crazed screams of demons leaping through the openings that gave them unobstructed access to this dimension.

Then she felt it, a barrier, a rippling, invisible impediment that prevented her from going any further. She touched it with her mind and immediately felt wrongness in it.

She wasn’t sure what told her there was a problem, since she had no prior experience with this border between worlds, but she sensed it anyway.

Slowly, she began comparing the characteristics of each particle of the boundary, turning the connections between them over in her mind. Much of the construct eluded her. Her understanding of the strange tapestry of atoms and molecules definitely lacked at some level. The scientist in her explored it methodically, but after a short time she discovered she could not pull them apart and put them back together in the same pattern. If she didn’t understand how it was made, how could she possibly fix it?

Suddenly, she touched a structure that caused her to cringe. The atoms in this section moved in a manner completely unlike the others she had touched. It gave off such a strong sense of agony it seemed to cry out for relief. Tamra could feel a resonance vibrating through her body back in the crystal room, an electric reaction to the torment she felt. A pressure began to build in her body, a desire for battle that seemed to push against the back of her eyes demanding to be released against the invader.

*Do not allow your energy to flow yet,* Sebastian directed, startling her. She had all but forgotten him in her journey through the crystal. *This is a hole created a while ago. If you stop to repair it now, you will not have enough energy to stop its creator from making more.*

Tamra considered that for a moment, then moved closer to the opening. Steeling herself against the waves of pain that broadcast the sensation into her own mind and body, she took a look at the construction of the tear, noting each change in molecular structure. She might not understand how the original barrier was created or how it worked, but she might be able to duplicate it to fix the broken sections. Eventually, she began to extend her mind from that opening to the next, comparing the differences in cell structure. Before long, she’d opened and stretched her mind over all of the section where rends had already been made. In addition, she began to recognize what she could only liken to a heat signature, in that she could tell which tear had been created first and which last.

Oddly, she noticed there appeared to be a familiar pattern to the angel’s creation. When her initial impression made her start in recognition, she pulled back and opened her mind’s eye to see it clearly. The cuts in the sky did not quite touch each other, but if seen from a distance they almost appeared to form solid lines forming two interconnected triangles, each sharing a long side at the top, both standing — metaphorically — on the tips of the extended arms of their nether points. The longest legs held both aloft and were intersected either by a capital “V” or the Roman numeral five.

Only two-thirds of the image had been created so far, but it was a very familiar one to her. She could not have mistaken it. In modern times it was perhaps the least familiar to most people, but it was by far the oldest, having been described in Enochian scripture as being used by King Solomon when he had built the first temple in Jerusalem. There were many symbolists who claimed it was far older, having been taught to Solomon by supposed witches from Babylon when they explained to him the practices and beliefs in gods and magic. These women were credited by many Jewish scholars with initially leading King Solomon away from the path of righteousness and into the practice of the mystical Kabbalah.

Before her last trip to Iraq, this image would not have even caused her to bat an eyelash. With all she’d learned over the past few weeks, the sight of this symbol made her hollow with fear.

This Fallen Angel was carving the barrier between his world and hers with the sigil of his Lord and Master — Lucifer!

If Tamra had felt the need to stop this creature from accomplishing his mission before, she was desperate to do so now. Although she’d never believed in magic or witchcraft, she knew that these sigils were supposedly used to call angels or demons from their normal dwelling places and bind them in such a way as to do the bidding of the witch without causing harm to them.

If this angel completed the sigil, would it call Lucifer? Would he be given entry into her world?

She pushed the fear to the back of her mind. She felt a demand throughout mind and body to put a stop to this. She could not allow this to happen if she were capable of doing something to prevent it. Sebastian seemed to have faith in her ability, at least, even if she did not. But she had to try.

Having recognized the sigil being formed, Tamra knew now exactly where the next door would be created. And having watched the process of its creation, she felt sure she knew the timing of the angel’s next strike. She quickly stretched her mental touch across every inch of fiery torment being incised on the fabric of the world by the angel’s staff. She tried to use thoughts of comfort and healing to reseal the cuts, but it didn’t seem to work. So she focused the greatest portion of her mind on the spot she knew the staff would hit next. There she pulled together water molecules with those of some of the particulate matter in the clouds. Instinctively, she used the energy within them and within herself to form those items into a swirling, shining disc of power. She held it below the clouds, keeping it away from the barrier until the very last second, letting the energy within her rush into a mirror of pure life force. Then . . .

She thrust upward with every bit of mental force she could muster and met the downward swing of the staff just as it started the cut. Tamra felt the angel’s power strike hers. She noticed a slight lessening of control as her own energy pushed his back, upwards into the staff.

He pulled the staff back from the unexpected obstacle. By his confused expression she knew she’d startled him, but it was not enough to stop him completely. A moment later he lifted the staff for another strike and again she prepared to meet it.

Sebastian let her know he was there to focus her power to a pinpoint and his presence strengthened her resolve. She almost believed she had enough force to destroy the staff until it struck again. This time the blow hit her with an even greater violence than the last and it sent her reeling.

As she started to crumple inward, she was unexpectedly filled with energy from a different source. It traveled through her like lightening, seeming to burn her from the center of her being, outward through her body and her mind. Yet the pain of it was fleeting. It was quickly replaced by a radiance that seemed to rival the sun, warming her, glorifying her from within and transforming her from the girl she had been into something else entirely. The last of the Druid’s restraining spells fell away from her mind like the chaff of winnowed grain.

Tamra was so overcome by this sensation that she barely noticed the shock of the explosion caused by the shattering of the Fallen Angel’s staff, or the inhuman howls that reverberated through both worlds as a result.

An instant later, she heard glass shatter. Sebastian cried out in pain and she was somehow flying through the air. Something amazingly hard stopped her trajectory, lancing her with sudden excruciating pain.

She fell into darkness.

Writing

What’s in a Name? How to Pick a Name for Your Character

It always amazes me where ideas for blog posts come from. Today’s post is a result of a conversation on Facebook with a friend who posted the result she received from nametests.com — something she plays far more than I do. However, periodically I get interested enough in the name games she posts that I click on the game myself just to see what they come up with. As usually happens with these things, I got a result that had no bearing at all in reality (not a necessity in these games apparently) and I posted my own results, indicating to her how the name chosen did not apply to my personality based on the meaning of the name.

 

  • Cheri’s Past Life
  • Name: Prudence Reeves
  • Year of Birth: 1727
  • Place of Birth: Vienna, Austria
  • Profession: Author
  • Death: Rescued children from a fire

Now, no one in their right mind would ever have referred to me as a prudent person. Ask anyone who knows me.

My friend idly wondered how many people actually choose a baby name based on the meaning of the name. Then, like the author I am (and apparently I was also one in the eighteenth century—go figure), I went into an analysis of why the name Prudence was inappropriate for any woman who was born in Austria in 1727. The comment thread got rather amusing as we tried to figure out how a girl named Prudence might come to be born in Austria at that time in history.

But the conversation got me thinking. How do writers pick the names they use for their characters, and why?

The fact is, a lot of fiction writers struggle over choosing the best name when creating characters for their stories. Being people who look for meaning in everything we read and actively layer subliminal meanings throughout our own work, having the right name for a character is as crucial as determining that character’s arc within the framework of the story.

Of course, some authors go to the easiest place on the planet for lists of names: the phone book. And while this is a great place to find names that are being used in the here and now, it doesn’t tell you much about the name. It doesn’t give meanings, origin or ethnicity for the names it lists. Therefore, if you pick a name that looks and sounds like it might be a Muslim name, unless you are Muslim or know a lot about the naming conventions for that faith, you really don’t know it is a Muslim name. Picking a Hebrew name by mistake could cause some problems for your readers who may very well be Muslim. Likewise, an author writing about Asian characters in a story needs to know that Chinese surnames are actually the name listed first. So while a female Japanese character named Setsuko Takamura would be referred to as Ms. Takamura, a female Chinese character named Lo Xiaoli would be addressed as Ms. Lo. Thus, you can see how important it can be to understand the sociological background of your character when choosing a name.

I began looking at naming rules about the time I first began writing at age 11. I had mentioned to an aunt of mine that I needed a way to determine good character names for my stories and she gave me a copy of a book she had purchased before I was born (and no, it does not include a section on dinosaur names) that listed the meaning and origins of names. It also listed variations of each name based on region, religious affiliation and historical time periods. It remains the best resource for names I have ever found. I would gladly list it here, but I’ve never found another copy of it anywhere.

The book, which is now out of print, also had a wonderful discussion on common rules for naming a child (click here for common naming rules  ). For example, choosing names associated with powerful attributes to hopefully influence the child to follow a life path of distinction (e.g., Rex, for those of us who are not logophiles, is the Latin word for king) might enable a child’s life path to end with him being a king, or at the very least marrying into royalty or becoming a powerful political figure. In addition, avoiding names and initials with negative connotations. I assume the latter was meant to ensure that the child would be less likely to be beaten up over an unfortunate combination of sounds or abbreviated letters (click here for examples of some poor name choices by parents. And be sure to read the comments for a good laugh).

The rule I found most arbitrary at the time was making sure that if the first name ended with a vowel, the middle and/or last name should start with a consonant to avoid the sound of the two names running together. Years later, while naming my own daughter, I chose two biblical names, Sarah and Elsbeth (the latter being a variation of Elizabeth), despite the vowel sound rule in the book, or perhaps just as arbitrarily because of it. I recall thinking at the time that spelling Sarah with the “h”on the end was technically adhering to the letter, if not the spirit of the vowel/consonant ending rule. And, since Sarah with an “h” was a very common girl’s name at the time my daughter was born, all the better. I grew up with a name that was in common use at the time, but that my mother, obviously adhering to the vowel/consonant name rule from that same book, chose to add a silent “e” between the final letter L of my first name and the beginning letter L of my middle name, creating a lifelong irritation of having to correct others’ spelling of my name and then explain the pronunciation on my first name, which always led to a discussion on exactly why my mother added the “e”in the first place! In naming my own child, I wanted to give her a unique name, yet not saddle her with the odd name conundrum I had lived with. I figured Sarah would be the safe, easy first name and Elsbeth the unique middle name. Problem avoided, right?

Wrong. Unbeknownst to me, there were a whole passel of other young mothers out there at that time spelling their daughters’ names as “Sara”. That spelling became the norm for her age group and has apparently has stayed that way ever since. Because I chose a common spelling at a time when the trend was going towards unusual, unique and simple spellings, my child ended up having to spell hers out just like me. On the plus side, she loved her middle name because of its unique spelling, and even went so far as to use the nickname Beth for a time while she was in college. In addition, when she had her children, she used common names with unique spellings, thus dooming my grandchildren to lives spent having to spell their first names out for everyone else. (Author’s aside to daughter: No, baby girl, this does NOT mean I hate my grandchildren’s names. I absolutely love them. I just needed an example for the post.)

By using this book I became fascinated in the etymology of names, the naming patterns in various societies throughout history, and choosing a character name based on personality, period and location of birth, social status and other personal characteristics became almost an obsession with me. I started collecting names I ran across in the course of my daily life and in the books I read that struck me as unique and interesting that might make a good choice for a type of character I might use in a story.

And this is where choosing a name as a writer is so very different from choosing a name as a parent. Whereas the dos and don’ts of naming children still apply to creating a character, writers, who basically study people and society for a living, often add layers to their otherwise two-dimensional characters by assigning unique background or historical details to them. While many of these details may never end up spelled out in the final version of a work, an author who takes the time to work up a detailed personality sketch for the more important characters in his/her work-in-progress finds it much easier to write those characters as three-dimensional people and make readers believe in them.

One of the easiest ways to build that character in the writer’s own mind is to use a name that gives evidence of the character’s personality. If nothing else, using a name that is in some way descriptive of the character helps the writer keep that character’s personality in the forefront of the writer’s mind as s/he plots the storyline.

Not only does a writer need to study the meaning of the name s/he chooses for a particular character, there are a number of other areas of background that should be incorporated into the character study.

Setting, time period and family background should all play a part in determining the character’s name.

For example, let’s say you have a male character, a detective, who was born, raised and currently lives in New York City, the melting pot capital of America. New York City is the spot where the majority of immigrants entered the United States. Many moved on as time went by, but a large number of immigrants stayed in the city and its environs. The typical trope of the Irish-American cop seems cliché, something all writers try to avoid and yet the trope exists for a reason. During the mid-nineteenth century, the Potato Famine and resulting social unrest in Ireland forced the emigration of many poor, mostly catholic, Irish to America in search of work and a better life. Many of the new Irish Americans found employment on the NYC Police Department and during the period of the 1850s to the 1950s the political machine known as Tammany Hall was largely controlled by the Irish Americans who swelled their membership rolls. However, Tammany Hall worked to better the lives of all the immigrants who came to New York, not just the Irish, so it would be reasonable to assume that in the twenty-first century the employees of the NYPD are (or will be) more genetically and culturally diverse.

So, I imagine my detective is the son of an Irish American cop (going back several generations). Therefore, I need to pick an Irish surname. Nowadays there are so many name sites on the internet that it’s more time efficient to google search Irish surnames than to look them up in books. My trusty old name book is on the verge to crumbling to dust, but I still tend to bounce the names I find online against my book. It simply gives me so many more options for spelling and cultural meaning than what you find on the various name websites on the Internet.

My online Irish surname search took me here: Irish surnames

In going down this list, there were several names that could work well for the character, but I am struck almost immediately by two similar names that fit the personality I envision. My character needs to be a strong, level-headed man with an inclination to protect those weaker than himself, a man who will stand his ground when pushed, but I don’t want him to struggle with his temper too much. Cool under pressure and able to fight fiercely when needed.

The first name in the list that drew my attention was “Connolly”, which means “fierce as a hound.” The second was “O’Connell”, which means “strong as a wolf.” Of the two, the imagery that resonates best with me is O’Connell. Hounds are loyal beasts, and definitely fierce when they go after their prey on a hunt or when protecting their family/pack members, but I am looking for a name that fits someone who is strong and steady, able to lead, coolly calculating, yet able to attack and kill when necessary and at a moment’s notice. I see those qualities more vividly in the image of a wolf, but I really like the concept of a man whose greatest characteristic is strength of character rather than ferocity. So O’Connell it is.

But then who was his mother? Was she another Irish-American? Or would she likely have been from another demographic completely? Let’s say her family originally came from Greece. My detective has the black hair and brilliant blue eyes of the true Gaels of Ireland, but the swarthy skin of his Mediterranean mother. His religious background is a combination of Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox, though he personally claims neither faith. His mother was murdered in front of him when he was a child and this was the reason he followed his father into a job in law enforcement. He has yet to find the man who killed his mother, but finding the murderer is forever in the back of his mind as he goes about his daily work. I could pick another Irish name for him, but in a nod to his mother’s people I would like to bring out his Greek heritage. So I search for Greek baby names and got a link to the babynameguide.com.

Alexandros is a name of Greek origin, with other spellings that include Alexander, Alekos, Alexios, Alexis and derivatives such as Xander or Lysander, and which can be shortened to Alex, Al or Sandy. The names’s meaning according to the above site is “defender of mankind”, which fits perfectly with how I perceive this character. He’s not an attack dog; he’s a Defender with a capital “D”. To me this indicates a man with a softer inner core securely wrapped up in a strong leader with a focused mind. Since the story is set in America, I could easily name him Alexander or bring his Greek heritage purposely into the foreground by giving him the actual Greek form of the name. To make him more accessible to the readers of his tale, I will have him use the nickname of Alex. Use of the nickname could easily be seen as his way to play down the unusual combination of names. I can even use this nickname to put a bit of the author’s life into him. I mean, he could easily have the same aversion I have with having to spell his name to everyone.

So, now I have a basic character I can work with. Detective Alex O’Connell. I think I’m going to like writing about this guy.

Of course, he’s not remotely perfect yet. Every man has issues, and so will he. I can now add some more traits and experience into my character study of this man, but using his name as an anchor to his basic personality will keep who he really is in my mind’s eye as I write.

As a writer using today’s technology, it is super convenient to be able to do a quick google search for name lists and meanings. Just enter the kind of name you are searching for based on location, time period, religion, ethnicity, country, or whatever search parameters you choose. There are dozens of sites that can give you a list of names and their meanings. There are even sites that list names by fictional genre, especially for science fiction and fantasy. The Social Security Administration maintains a webpage that lists trending baby names and gives the popularity of the names based on decade. Disney hosts a website for baby names at www.babble.com. And babycenter.com provides an fairly informative baby name site at www.babycenter.com.

Personally, I prefer finalizing the character name with a well organized, well researched hardbound volume of names and their meanings, but beware. Not all name books are alike. For one thing, the majority of books out there advertise themselves by stating the number of names in their collection directly in the title, such as The Complete Book of Baby Names: 100,001+ Best Baby Names. With books containing such large lists of names, the meanings and origins have been minimized to the very basics.

As a writer, I like reading the historical significance of the names I am researching. Often the details given in the historical details can help an author chose a version of the name that is more historically or culturally accurate for the character and the story. Nowadays, though, these kind of books are rare.

The reason I so love my old name book is that the names were organized by the most recognizable form of the name in the United States, with alternate versions and nicknames organized according to origin, region, religious and language usage. It includes a synopsis of the name’s use throughout history, including famous people with that name.

Unfortunately, the books I have seen the most in recent years are basically just alphabetical lists with a very short blurb on the meaning, often limited to a one or two words, with absolutely no information on how the name was used historically or how it has changed over the centuries. In addition, most name books are paperbacks, not hard bound, and will deteriorate quickly over time with frequent use.

The great thing about living in the digital age is that you can get the same book online in a digital format, such as Kindle, iBooks, or Barnes and Noble’s Nook. In addition, local libraries now maintain vast ebook collections that make it easy to check out a book without buying it as long as you have a library card. Since I do my writing on my iPad, having an app that accesses my local library ebooks means I can download an ebook on any subject. My local library uses an app called Overdrive and since finding this app, I seldom need to actually go to the library to look for a book on any given subject.

Amazon.com lists a book actually organized by meaning. Baby Names Made Easy: The Complete Reverse-Dictionary of Baby Names by Amanda Elizabeth Barden. Here is the link for the kindle edition. While this is a great idea for making it easy to find a name appropriate for a character, the book still falls short in the historical/cultural information department.

If you want to really delve into the meaning of the names you are choosing for a character, I highly recommend going physically to a bookstore or library and compare the books side by side before choosing one. If you are at all like me, you may walk out with more than one book. But since when has any writer limited their reference library to one book on any given subject?

Happy Naming, everyone!