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Thursday, June 30, 2011

How the Fortune Cookie Crumbles

Today for lunch I, against my will, ended up at the Chinese buffet. I despise a buffet, with all those bodies jostling for food with heat-lamp skim over the top. Total strangers touching serving spoons and ducking below the sneeze guard glass to get a better breath on what they're scooping in large portions onto their plates. Restaurant workers assigned to scrape the last gooey dregs of emperor's surprise from a metal server and slap the spoonful into a freshly prepared replacement tray, ruining the triumph of getting to it first.

And that only touches the surface of how I truly feel about buffets.

But at least at the Chinese buffet, the ordeal ends with the suspense and adventure of a fortune cookie. The waitress put a handful of five in the center of our table. I have this belief that fate guides my choice of which cookie to open. So I usually look at the pile of cookies trying to listen to my gut tell me which one is meant to be mine. Today, my gut was bound up in unspeakable gastric processes and was slow to pull the trigger. I ended up with the cookie no one else chose. That's fate at work too I suppose.

I cracked the hard shell of cookie to reveal the white slip of paper within. Placing the shards aside - I don't eat those, but won't bore you with the long explanation of that - I spread the paper in my fingertips. Lottery numbers and a Spanish translation of my fortune. Hmp.

I turned it over to read the other side. It said, "Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today."

What? That's it? Fate delivers this to me? I don't need to go to a Chinese restaurant for this, I think. Then it hits me, holy crap! My mother is writing fortune cookies now.

I tore off a piece of my napkin in a small rectangle and wrote on it, then slid it amongst the cookie pieces. It said, "Please tell my mother I want a fortune, not advice."

Monday, June 27, 2011

Five Lines from My Work in Progress

Today is the day! The Lovin' the Language Blogfest hosted by Jolene's Been Writing is here. And since I joined up, it is incumbent upon me to participate and bare my soul to the world.

Really, all I have to do is post five lines from my WIP, so I guess it's more like giving the world a sneak peek at my soul. Either way, it's a bit nerve wracking. I've worried myself to death trying to decide which work in progress, yes there's more than one, to pull from. Since it's so dang hot - we've hit temperatures above 100 already in my little Georgia hamlet - I'm going to share some cooler weather. I think we need a little Christmas.

My excerpt is from my book in progress, A Drinking Family Christmas, which is a non-fiction piece. Somehow during the those few weeks of the official holidays, my usually big-on-behaving family's tinsel comes untied and folks start doing things like stealing Christmas trees and composing irreverent carols and buying plastic Santa Clauses at the Salvation Army to use for riflery practice with the nephews. I blame it on stress, but that doesn't necessarily make it any more acceptable.

The selection I chose includes the finishing lines of a description of the state of my home and psyche in the dwindling days before Christmas, when school is still in session but the big guy in the red suit is pending like a hurricane on the weather radar. The carol lines in red just seem appropriate for framing purposes.

Haul out the holly, put up the tree before my spirits fall again . . .


“Mama, can I get a cell phone for Christmas? All my friends have one and I neeeeed one,” begged the 12 year-old.


“So he can call his girlfriend,” taunted his 10 year-old brother, sneaking in a jab to the ribs as he walked by.


A chase, a punch, and a loud argument ensued, accompanied by my daughter’s heightened volume of complaints and the sound of a large beast tearing through our upstairs, overhead.


I pushed my chair back from the table and stood amidst the Christmas clutter flirtatiously mingling with the everyday clutter. A change of heart swept over me like a burning fever. Giving in to the holiday spirit, I yelled, “Doesn’t ANYONE care that Santa is watching!”

For we need a little music, need a little laughter, need a little singing ringing through the rafter, and we need a little snappy “happy ever after,” need a little Christmas now . . .

How does Christmas arrive at your house?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Inviting Trouble with a Good Deed

In my e-mail in-box on Saturday morning (the time stamp indicated that it was sent at 4a.m., an hour I do not personally know to be good for anything but sleeping):

Dear Lucy Adams,
As a member of the UGA Alumni Association, I receive frequent e-mail announcements, the most recent of which had a recommended reading list, with that controversial Todd Burpo "heaven" book apparently recommended by you. Although most Amazon.com reviewers have rated the book highly, there has also been a very large number of highly critical comments. My suspicion is that this was a well-planned scheme to make money -- nothing more -- and it concerns me that the book is being recommended. I will end by saying that I am a Christian and I definitely believe in heaven, but this book seems to offer many clues that things did not happen as portrayed in the book. In fact, I would bet that everything stated in the book relating to heaven was made up.
Sincerely,
Tom Ryan (PhD, 1977)

I gave it some thought and Googled him,, naturally, to see what on earth he'd earned a Ph.D. in. Statistics, it seems. I decided he deserved a reply. I divided up the various arguments in his note and addressed them point by point. Tom's words are italicized, mine are bold:

Hi Tom,
I never expected to get an e-mail regarding my suggestion for the UGA Alumni Summer Reading List. I'm flattered that you took the time to respond. I have replied to each of your points below.

As a member of the UGA Alumni Association, I receive frequent e-mail announcements, the most recent of which had a recommended reading list, with that controversial Todd Burpo "heaven" book apparently recommended by you.

It obviously was suggested by me, as I am credited for it. Yes, this is sarcasm. I apologize. The word "apparently" always irks me. It's a horrible adverb and should be deleted from the English language. I promise this is the last sarcasm you will read from me. The rest of my reply is sincere.

Although most Amazon.com reviewers have rated the book highly, there has also been a very large number of highly critical comments.

As a writer myself, I read a wide range of literature, from memoirs, such as The Liars Club, to mysteries, such as Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, to historical fiction, such as Sarah's Key, to chick lit, such as Men and Dogs, to classics, such as Fahrenheit 451. I enjoy studying other authors' writing styles and content.

As for Heaven is for Real, the writing itself leaves a lot to be desired. It is awkward and herky-jerky. The content, however, is intriguing. It generated a great deal of healthy discussion in my household amongst my four children, ages 10-15, my husband and myself. The best way to become a critical reader is to read a wide range of material and analyze it with other people. I strongly encourage this intellectual activity.

Also, the number of reviews and the mixture of reviews indicates to me that this book has people thinking. Isn't that what we want, for people to think?

My suspicion is that this was a well-planned scheme to make money -- nothing more --

Of course it is to make money. That motivation doesn't make the book any less valid. Money is not bad. It's how we buy food, pay for vacations and send our children to college. I very much hope the authors do make a little money from their efforts.

and it concerns me that the book is being recommended.

Recommended does not mean required. As this list went out to alumni, the recipients of it are educated enough to choose reading material that suits their tastes and able enough to read selected works with a critical mind.

I will end by saying that I am a Christian and I definitely believe in heaven, but this book seems to offer many clues that things did not happen as portrayed in the book. In fact, I would bet that everything stated in the book relating to heaven was made up.

I cannot say whether it was made up or not. Certainly, the accuracy of the content depends on the accuracy of the authors' memories. Memories of events generally evolve over time, with some details added and other details forgotten. As a writer of creative non-fiction, I can also attest that I work hard to make it entertaining; otherwise, it would read like a monotone police report of facts and bore my audience to death. The authors of Heaven is for Real probably did the same. Again, writing to entertain doesn't necessarily mean they fabricated their message. Ultimately, the reader must decide for him or herself which parts, if any, to believe and which parts to remain skeptical of.

Finally, and this is for my own personal curiosity, why were you up at 4am worrying about the summer reading list? Was I the only person you e-mailed or did you send something to every person who made a recommendation?

Thank you for reaching out. This exchange has been good for my brain on a Saturday.

Sincerely,
Lucy Adams

Though I had hoped for a rebuttal to my rebuttal in the spirit of bantering, I have not heard back from Tom. I suppose he has moved on to save the world from some other mundane literary threat.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Lovin' the Language Blogfest

Hey writer friends, this is a fantastic opportunity to showcase a piece of your work. It's a one day blogfest and sure to be a great way to network with other writers.


To join the blogfest, go here and add your link: http://jolenesbeenwriting.blogspot.com/.

The best part is that there's only ONE rule: Post five lines from your work in progress (WIP).

Don't have a WIP? Well then, this must be a sign that you need one. Post the first five lines of the book you'd like to write. Getting started is the hardest part.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Homework Burning

Through high school and college and graduate school, I took my "job" as student seriously. Though I had a  lot of fun during those precious years of youth, I applied myself academically. Studying and learning, however, were secondary to the thrill of checking off assignment after assignment, class after class, quarter after quarter toward an end goal. And the many notebooks filled with class notes, graded tests, term papers, and quizzes became the tangible evidence of my efforts and successes. Unable to let go, I saved everything in boxes in my parents' attic, just knowing that someday I would bring it out again to reference, to admire, to run my fingertips over the ink impressed pages.

Now, 20 years later, I'm raising children who horde old schoolwork. The DNA they inherited from me predisposes them to want to hang on to things, even if they never plan to look at the stuff again. By the time the oldest finished first grade, I knew I had a big problem on my hands and that my attic would never have room for my old school papers if my kids kept stuffing it with theirs.

Thus I've instituted an annual homework burning party.

Not because I'm irreverent about the necessity of education.  I just don't want their fire hazard in my attic.

My children, along with several of their friends, start in school September with sights set on saving several pounds of papers to gloriously set aflame in 9 months. The better the school year, the bigger the blaze. And the emptier my attic.

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