A to Z Theme 2016

For my 2016 A to Z theme I used a meme that I ran across on the blog of Bridget Straub who first saw it on the blog of Paula Acton. This meme is a natural for me to use on my memoir blog. It's an A to Z concept and it's about me. No research and nothing complicated. I'm given twenty six questions or topics to discuss that are about me.

In April I kept my posts short and uncomplicated. In the midst of it all you might learn a few things about me that you didn't previously know.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Flannery O'Connor's Everything That Rises Must Converge

Everything That Rises Must Converge
Everything That Rises Must Converge (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
       Aside from the Little Golden Books that were a part of my life from my earliest memories, the first book that I could call my very own was a book about insects that my parents gave me at Easter when I was five.  I have no idea why they gave me that book, but this was the beginning of my passion for collecting books.

        For many years my home library primarily consisted of Hardy Boys mysteries and the Tom Swift science fiction series.  In adolescence I joined the Doubleday Book Club and began acquiring a broad selection of novels, short story collections, and non-fiction.  An eclectic reading interest flourished in me as I avidly consumed book after book.

        In my college years at the University of Tennessee I majored in English.  A new world of Southern Literature was introduced to me.  I began reading William Faulkner, James Dickey, Eudora Welty, Cormac McCarthy and a host of others.  It was unlike most of what I had read in the past.

        The author I'm here to proselytize about is Flannery O'Connor.  Her body of work is relatively small in comparison to many authors, but her stature and influence has been pervasive.  She only published two novels and three short story collections.  The short story is where she excels.  Her stories are strange, mystical, and sometimes rather frightful.

         The collection I would most recommend to readers is Everything That Rises Must Converge.   This book is filled with some of the strangest characters you will ever meet in some of the most outlandish stories you may ever read.   Keep in mind that this is literature from the 1950's with characters who reflect some of the racist attitudes of that time.  O'Connor's intent was not to offend, but to accurately portray what the people she writes about were like.

         Everything That Rises Must Converge is at times creepy, scary, and oftentimes funny.   O'Connor writes in a simple straight-forward style that makes her work highly readable.   Yet the profound nature of her themes will make you think and give you stories that may stick in your craw and haunt you long after you've read them.

        If you're interested in unique American literature with depth that is fluid and readable, I highly recommend starting with Everything That Rises Must Converge.  No matter where you start in Flannery's work, you will be rewarded with a memorable reading experience.  She is one of the greatest American female authors and a giant of Southern Literature.

         One of my favorites for sure!

          This post originally was a guest post that I did over at the Unconventional Librarian blog.

            Currently at Tossing It Out I am doing a data gathering and informational series concerning the topic of preferences and why we like what we like.   If you haven't read my post on literature yet I hope you will visit the post The Greatest Short Story Ever Written? and answer the questions to help me with my research.   Upcoming on Tossing It Out will be a Battle of the Bands post on music on Sunday June 1st and a special #IWSG post about movies.

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Saturday, May 24, 2014

Curiosity Kid

Nun Unknown
Nun Unknown (Photo credit: Todd Ehlers)

         Like children tend to be I was curious when I was a kid.   There were those mysteries about the world that puzzled me. Then there was my fascination with how things worked or what was inside of things.  It was not unusual for me to break something open to see if I could figure out what made the darn thing do what it did.  Or I'd just come up with some random question that would cause my mother to immediately shush me.

         When I was very young living in Cleveland, Ohio, my mother would sometimes cart my sister and me downtown as she ran her errands.  Since my parents only had one car in their early years together, my mother, my sister and I would have to walk a few blocks to the bus stop in order to take the bus downtown.   Looking back I've got to admire her fortitude in running errands via public transportation with two very small kids in tow.  At that time I would have been about 4 or 5 years old.  My sister was 20 months younger than I.  We must have been a handful!

        As the older child I was probably the more talkative and the one most prone to saying embarrassing things.   Like the time when I saw two nuns board the bus.  We weren't Roman Catholic and those were the first nuns I had ever seen.   My eyes must have been wide as they could be.   Tugging my mother's arm I blurted, "Look Mommy, ghosts!"

         My mother put her hand over my mouth and told me they weren't ghosts.  I don't remember her explanation, but thereafter I was aware that nuns had something to do with church.  For a long time after that the concept of nuns was a bit of a mystery to me.

           This was back in the mid-1950's and most neighborhoods were pretty segregated.   I'd seen black people on television, but I thought they were just characters with some kind of make up.  I had no understanding of racial differences back then.   My first actual encounter with a black person was on one of those bus trips with my mother.  I couldn't take my eyes off of the first black person I ever saw--the concept of skin color was puzzling to me.   Staring intently at the black man I asked my mother as surreptitiously as I could, "Mommy, if he took a bath would the color wash off?"

           My mother quickly shushed me on this one.  If the black man heard me he didn't show it.  I kept looking at him wondering about that skin color.  I really wanted to understand how some people were darker than others.  I'm sure I was not much more curious than other kids my age.  After all when the world is new and we are learning everyday, we want to know about everything.

          Where you a curious kid?   What kinds of things did you wonder about when you were a small child?  How often do you think your curiosity embarrassed your parents?

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Saturday, May 17, 2014

Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen...

Pain (Photo credit: Rickydavid)

         Please excuse me if I start off with a bit of a rant.  Trust me, this will have something to do with writing memoir.

           I'm getting tired of people saying "Nobody knows what I've been through!"

           You've probably heard others say this.   You may have even used this line yourself   These exasperated words will sometimes come up in the midst of an argument or a feeling-sorry-for-oneself tirade. This is either the communication ender or the catalyst for even more heated exchange.  The statement may come with a gushing of tears or be part of a screaming fit.  The person saying this typically has used this utterance in times past and with some frequency.  It has become a habit that makes those subjected to the words a bit weary.

         Certain members of my own family will say these words when they feel backed into a corner.  I don't know how many times I've heard the "nobody knows" statement brought up at work, in church, or even on television.  I've decided I'm going to counter the statement with a comeback.

          When I hear someone say, "No one knows what I've been through", I'm going to return with something like:
"Of course I don't know everything you've been through because I'm not you.  I don't know what's in your head.  I only know what I witness and what people tell me.  So stop saying that.  If you want everyone to know everything that you've been through, why don't you write it down so we can read about it"
             I don't mean to sound insensitive, but I do think that writing can be great therapy.  Even if no one reads what you've written, having written can help put things in better perspective, add clarification to the complex issues of the past, and organize sometimes chaotic memories and thoughts into a more manageable system that can be examined more rationally.

            This is how many memoirs come into being.  Ambiguously referring to your pain in an emotional flurry of passion is not a very effective way of getting your point across.  When somebody can read through your story and have time to reflect on the words, they can gain greater insight into what you have to say.  They can reflect on the words and digest the story without having to guess what you've "been through".

           Keeping pain locked up inside, but letting everyone around you know that you have a painful secret can only create more stress and turmoil in your own life and resentment from others when you throw your secret at them to defend your sometimes irrational behavior.  Even if something seems too embarrassing to tell others, your telling them about your painful experience might help someone else who is dealing with something similar.  And opening yourself up might help others to know how they might help you.

           I've been fortunate in my own life.  My painful circumstances have been relatively minor when put beside the experiences of some other people.  Sure, I've experienced some real unpleasantness in my life, but I've gotten past those things and hopefully have grown from having experienced those things and dealt with them.   Carrying the burden of unhappiness on my shoulders does nothing good for me or anyone around me.

           The way I look at it is that what has happened in the past can't be changed.  No point in dwelling for the rest of your life on those bad experiences and letting them control your life now.  If you need to sort it all out or get closure or whatever it is you need to do to get over it, then write out your story.  Write it in a memoir or even write it as a fiction.  Use the story to help yourself and help others.  If that is your goal, then you might just rid yourself of your pain and move on to brighter days ahead.

          After all, what would you rather your epitaph say?   "Here lies a person whose life was shaped by pain and nobody knows the trouble I've seen"  or "I escaped from the prison of my past to help free those imprisoned by their own"

          Don't be a martyr for your pain.  Write the story instead.

          Do you ever use a line like "No one knows what I've been through"?   Have you known anyone who says this when in an emotional corner?   Do you think it's good to write out your bad experiences in order to get them out of your head?    Does cathartic writing work for you?


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Saturday, May 10, 2014

Music As A Memory Prompt

In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (album)
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

          Prior to the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge of 2014 I did a series of posts about music and some of the memories inspired by music.   This concept came about as a cross promotion for my Battle of the Bands posts I do on my main blog Tossing It Out.

          Thinking about how certain music and particular songs prompt memories for me, I came up with a few identifiable music prompts.   Here is my prompt list:

1)   Music of an Era:   There are songs that immediately evoke memories for those knowledgeable about historical musical eras such as the Jazz Age, the Swing Band Era, the British Invasion, and other historic music eras.

       In my own life I also can identify certain time spans that I might refer to as personal eras.  These were time periods--months and maybe years--when I was hearing the same songs repeatedly and there was a heavy listening preference regarding certain types of music.  Some of the personal eras overlap.   There is my parents' music that I listened to in my childhood, the AM top forty era of 1963 to about 1969, a disco/new wave era in the late 70's to early 80's, my 80's music era, and so on.  

        Now if I hear a song by the Zombies, the Allman Brothers, The Police, Depeche Mode, or Daniel Amos (a Christian rock band), I will often be reminded of certain times of my life when I was listening to that type of music.   If I listen now to songs by such artists I can be taken back to that time and use the memory as a writing prompt.

2)   Songs of a season:  Most typically these are Christmas songs, but they can also include songs that remind me of Fourth of July (Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever"), Easter ("Easter Parade"), and even songs that were signature hits that I relate to times of the year ("Sugar Shack" for the beginning of the school year or "Summer In The City" for the summertime).   Some of these songs I rarely hear now, but a time of year might make me recall certain songs or vice versa.

3)   Music that relates to a specific time:   There are certain songs that I recall exactly where I was, what the time of year was, and what I was doing at the time I heard the song.   For example, Alan Parsons Project "Eye in the Sky" I first heard on the radio while sitting in the parking lot of a supermarket in Billings, Montana in mid-June of 1982.    Or Steve Miller's "Abracadabra" on the radio as I drove late one night in 1982 toward Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan with lightning flashing on the horizon.  Then there was a Sunday night in October of 1968 when I picked up a St. Louis FM station long enough to hear them successively play CCR's "Suzy Q" and Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida", changing my view of music in a drastic way.

       The concept of time also applies to certain precise times when I can recall hearing a song to the point where it caught my attention and stayed with my memory.  Many times these were songs I had heard frequently and not paid much attention to until that magic point in time where the song registered in some special way.  This might have happened due to hearing it on the radio, on the piped in music system at a store, at someone's house, or some other place where the listening choice was out of my control.

4)    Songs related to an event:   These would include Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance March #1" at graduations. Wagner's "Wedding March (Here Comes the Bride)",  or any number of songs traditionally used for ceremonial purposes.   This also includes songs that might be specific to a personal event such as a party, a wedding, a funeral, or some other occasion.

        An example of the personal event experience was a funeral that I attended--I don't even recall who the funeral was for--where a young lady sang a song called "On Eagle's Wings" by one Michael Joncas.  That song stuck in my mind so strongly that for over a year I searched for a recording of it.  Thereafter, whenever I listened to that song, I recalled it being sung at that funeral.

          Concerts I have attended will also be vividly replayed in my memory when I hear a song that was performed in a concert that I had seen by that artist.  Jethro Tull's earlier music is a good example of this.  If I hear cuts from Thick As A Brick or Passion Play, parts of the concerts I saw with this band will replay in my mind.

5)   Songs that evoke a memory of a person:  This very personal category is frequently thought of in relationship to a romantic interest, but for me it also relates to friends and family members.   There are certain songs that will make me think of my father or mother or my sisters or brothers.   Some songs I identify strongly with certain friends, especially musician friends who may have performed the songs.   If I hear one of these songs my mind will immediately begin thinking about the person to whom I relate the song and in some cases more than one person.

6)   Songs that evoke a place:  This category can go together with any number of the above or it can stand alone.  For many songs and albums I hear, I am taken back to the basement of my parents' house in Tennessee or my old bedroom in our family's house in Indiana.  Some songs might take me back to a unique venue where I heard them performed in concert.  When I hear "Walking in the Sand" by the Shangri-Las I remember the old gym at lunchtime in the junior high school I attended.  When I hear Dan Fogelberg's "The River" I remember sitting late at night with my first wife in our VW Rabbit parked in front of her parents' house in Richmond, Virginia.   Some songs can transport me to an exact place where I remember hearing them.

       I'm sure there are other prompts or variations on the ones I've mentioned here.  Sometimes I enjoy just putting on an album or listening to a song and letting the memories flow.  I find that music can do that.  For me the music does that very well.

         Do you make similar connections with the music of your life?   Are there other types of memories that music can prompt for you?   Do you ever write stories, sketches, essays, or other work using music as your inspiration?   

Please visit Tossing It Out this Thursday May 15th for the next Battle of the Bands post.

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Saturday, May 3, 2014

A to Z Reflections 2014 #atozchallenge

About Wrote By Rote

         This blog has been my pet project since its beginning in October of 2011.  At that time my main blog Tossing It Out splintered out into three additional blogs in order to move my interests in memoir, dreams, and Bible study onto their own sites and leave the main blog with more focus on issues of writing, promotion, and controversial topics.  The memoir pieces that I had been writing on Tossing It Out had been particularly popular and since I have a strong interest in writing memoir Wrote By Rote has been the blog I've been trying to grow.

         For the 2014 A to Z Challenge my thematic approach was as follows:
"During the month of April I will be doing a different spin on my memoir posts. It starts with a song. Each song will be followed by a brief essay that is evoked or inspired by that song. You might want to click on the YouTube link to hear the song as you read the piece I've written. Or you can listen to the song lyrics first and then read. Whichever way you choose, I mostly hope you'll read and leave a comment with your thoughts about my post. "

April Results

            Since the opening of the 2014 sign-ups Wrote By Rote has gained another dozen or so new followers.  If you are not yet following I'd love it if you'd be so kind to click on the "Join This Site" button in the sidebar at the right.   It would be nice to see the block of followers hit the 300 mark as a result of the 2014 Challenge.

           During the month of April my highest number of views came on day two with 161 visitors and my best day for comments was on the opening day when I had 26 comments.   As would be expected, after the first few days my numbers dropped significantly to an average of about 50 views per day and 10 comments.  This is much lower than my average per post views during the rest of the year when a post gets an typical average of about 250 views, but keep in mind that this rate is for posts that are active for a period of a week rather than posts coming up daily.  And my comment per post rate averages at about ten most of the time so that rate shows little change.  Taking into account the six posts per week count in April, my weekly numbers are considerably higher.

           The turnout was somewhat disappointing as most of the time I was promoting Wrote By Rote by using the signature link to this blog in all of my comments.  Reciprocated visits nevertheless mostly went to Tossing It Out.  I don't know whether to attribute this outcome to a fear of clicking on the links in the signature or the bloggers I visited just going to my main blog as a matter of habit or clicking on the name that leads to my profile.   Not many visits were reciprocated to Wrote By Rote.  

         Also it is important to add that I fell very short in my visiting to other blogs and leaving comments.  This was mostly due to issues with slow computer or internet as well as other interferences to my blogging activity.    I'll blame most of my shortfalls on all of my blogs to this factor.  There is a direct correlation in regard to reciprocated visits based on numbers of blogs commented on.    I scored very poorly on this account and my stats show this.   I don't blame the Challenge as much as I blame my own performance.  The large numbers of participants certainly diffuses visits on all blogs, but the active blogger is more assured of increasing visits to their own blogs when they show more attention to other bloggers.

My A to Z Posts Can Still Be Read

        I still have hopes that some of you might go back to read through my Challenge posts and leave your comments.   This is the blog that I had hopes would have the most readers.  My thanks go out to the following readers and I include what some of them had to say about my April posts on Wrote By Rote:

        First a somewhat lengthy endorsement from Faraway Eyes at Far Away Series:
I’ve read all of these A to Z posts this year.  I have not commented before this because I didn’t want to be tempted to start in on some of my own ‘stories’ that might relate to your post. Cheap, I know, but then, ‘you know me’. It’s my opinion that NOTHING should take away from the sheer beauty of your words here.
Today I decided to come back because I wanted to tell you something about you. These are marvelous posts, wonderfully written, the best thing I’ve read anywhere in the A to Z Challenge (or elsewhere for that matter) EVER. I have also been reading and following your posts at ‘Tossing It Out’ and perhaps if I was more interested in marketing or currently had something to market I would be more excited, but really it’s just more of what everybody else is posting, BUT these stories here are something I could read/listen to all day.
You state openly that your desire is to be a published author. Well, my friend, here is your ‘gold mine’.
I hope you don’t take this wrong, but after reading Wrote by Rote, I’ve decided you are a writer with real author potential and not just a yakker, like most of the bloggers out there. Oh look, now I’ve offended a whole ‘nother group of folks. Oh well, like I said earlier; ‘you know me’.
Please feel free to use any portion, or all of what I have said in your A to Z Reflections post. Actually I would be honored. I wish more of the A to Z posts were this interesting and well written. I've been faithfully following about a half dozen or so of the A to Z blogs, and some of them are really interesting, but not as well written as yours. So many of them are the same old, same old. So many of the participants are writers or at least wannabe writers, that it becomes easy to see who has any chance of making it as a real author. 

          Teresa at Journaling Woman, who posted her A to Z entries at her memoir blog The Ruralhood with some her own wonderful stories with accompanying photos, was another regular visitor at Wrote By Rote with uplifting comments like:  "You know what???? I'm really enjoying your Wrote by Rote posts. Love your choices of songs and artists."   My thanks to my long time blogging friend Teresa.

           JoJo at Tahoma Beadworks & Photography blog was incredible in her support at not only this blog but my other blogs.  I believe she left comments everyday and on a few days at my dream movie themed posts at A Faraway View  she was my only commenter.  A long time supporter of the April Challenge JoJo didn't participate in the A to Z on her own blog, but she played a big role behind the scenes as a member of Tina Downey's Terrific A to Z Team.   Thanks JoJo! 

            CW Martin at Tilting At Windmills said:  "What a wonderful life you have led. Every story makes one wonder how you packed it all in."

            I want to give a special mention for the support given by my long-time blogger friends Larry Cavanaugh at DiscConnected and Stephen T McCarthy at Ferret-Faced Fascist Friends.

            A big thanks also to all of the rest of you who visited and commented during April and the rest of the year as well.  I hope you will keep coming back.

For more Reflections Posts see the Linky List which will open on Monday May 5th at