January 24, 2018

Old Friendships, Wordships – How We Met Them

Guest Post

Language makes us human. Many of us remember the exact moment when we first encountered a new, unfamiliar word. Over time, these bits of vocabulary became old friends. Such moments can occur for many reasons, such as a sentimental high school moment with a vocabulary card preparing for the SATs. This blog includes three vocabulary moments. The first word arrived as an unexpected guidepost for Cheryl Wilder’s career. The second taught Ellen MacMillan something about judging people. The third from your host, Bill Finger, reminds us how humor and grace can help heal humiliation.

Cheryl WilderCheryl Wilder, a writer and poet, shares her work at http://bornwilder.com/

I had the great fortune to work for an architect during the last years of his career. Part of my job was to research the history of architecture. My focus was on architectural space and not the material or engineering that made it all possible. The other part of my job was to find new language that helped define the spaces in which we live. [Read More…]

Lissome Lean into Lambent Laughter

Guest Post

James HollisDr. James Hollis, a Jungian analyst, has written 14 books and travels widely to speak. He is scheduled to be in Charlotte on September 29-30, 2017, where he has spoken at the Jungian society in recent years. For more on him and his work, go to: https://www.jameshollis.net/. I sent Hollis my blog posted in July, Hortatory Humor (available below on this page), which focuses on a paragraph in one of his books. He responded to my email: “You are the only one who has ever commented on the alliterative fun….in all these years. Most of the time people complain because of the vocabulary and I feel they should thank me because each new word opens a new world. That is how I have always looked at it, and I can see you do also. It is of course fun, and I am glad you joined the fun. It is a fine blog and when it runs, let me know and I will send something.” What he sent is below, dashed off within an hour of an email exchange. My thoughts on his lissome lean follow his remarks.

Following Finger’s felicitous foray into fine fun in his blog on Hortatory Humor, I offer a few reflections on wringing ringing prose from the possibly pretentious or prosaic prospects of one’s perspicacious perceptions.
[Read More…]

LOL: Hortatory Humor

Humor, unlike hubris, ranks high in the hierarchy of hortatory writing. But where does alliteration alight in such alignments? Whether in allegory or analysis, alliteration can sometimes suggest subtlety in craftsmanship. But too many of the same letters or sounds falling close together on the page may ring clumsy or clunky instead.

Humor and alliteration have formed an unexpected and delightful couple for me. I have laughed out loud more than once, not because I finally learned what LOL means in text messages from my adult daughter. Why not “lots of love”? The alliterative arrow that found my heart came with, I promise, the letter “q.” [Read More…]

Award – Validation and Connection

Book Award“2017 Next Generation Indie Book Awards – Important Announcement!” The subject line on the May 3 email grabbed my attention, and the text was even better. “Your book has been named a Finalist in the MEMOIRS (Other) Category.” I took a deep breath and kept reading. “Your achievement will be published in the next few weeks at www.IndieBookAwards.com along with the other Finalists and Winners.”

I jumped up from my chair and pumped a fist in the air with a whoop. This award not only filled me with joy and validation but it also helped me clarify the connection I feel with my memoir, The Crane Dance: Taking Flight in Midlife. And, the award reminded me that writers don’t work alone.

“Your book will be listed as a Finalist in the 2017 NGIBA [Next Generation Indie Book Awards] catalog and distributed at Book Expo America in New York as a countertop handout at registration desks.  Your book will be promoted to book buyers, book lovers and library reps along with media and industry professionals.”  [Read More…]

Sanity and Spirit, Finding Your Lupine

Guest Post

Chris Abbate

Photo by Sharon Penn

In his book, The Story of Your Life: Writing Your Spiritual Autobiography, Dan Wakefield provides what he calls a “step-by-step approach to exploring your past and understanding your present,” including excerpts from what workshop participants have written. Bill Finger has used this approach in leading workshops at his church and among men’s gatherings. In evaluations, participants have said things like, “inspiring and joyful… I loved hearing what people wrote. I liked that we didn’t critique but just listened.” Finger is scheduled to lead a similar class at the Five Points Center for Active Adults, Raleigh NC (May), and at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, N.C. State University (October). Chris Abbate, who participated in a 2016 workshop led by Finger, wrote about his mother, Mass, poetry, and lupine, a good example of how reflecting on the past can illuminate the present. A portion of what he wrote follows in this guest post.


The highway to work each August was purple. A huge purple field on the east side of the highway, that in the morning, a big orange sun would rise over and create a purple haze. It sparked something deep within my spirit. It gave me an awareness I hadn’t had before. It was new life. [Read More…]

The Power of Telling Our Stories

Bill discusses his book and the power of stories at a reading in Raleigh, NC.

Bill discusses his book and the power of stories at a reading in Raleigh, NC.
Photo by Georgia Springer

Mary Karr, in her book The Art of Memoir, says, “In a great memoir, some aspect of the writer’s struggle for self often serves as the book’s organizing principle, and the narrator’s battle to become whole rages over the book’s trajectory.”

In writing my memoir, The Crane Dance, I did struggle to understand my core identity. As the drafts unfolded and finally formed a coherent arc, my narrator’s battle did in fact help me “to become whole.”

The writer and memoirist Joan Didion says, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live… We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of narrative line upon disparate images.”

In The Crane Dance, disparate images bounced about from India to Boston, then to North Carolina, back to Mississippi, to Atlanta and Mendocino, Cairo to Stonehenge, the beach to the mountains, then finally back to Jabalpur, with home in Raleigh the center of this crazy journey. What drew the line straight and true, finally, was the journey of the heart, determined to find the right compass coordinates for the larger story. [Read More…]

Joy and Sorrow

16 02 02 labyrinth at Brookgreen Gardens

Photo by Georgia Springer

How can pain and happiness sit together in our heart at the same time? The poet William Blake made this paradox more understandable, even inviting: “Joy and woe are woven fine, a clothing for the soul divine.” The next lines contain the paradox: “Under every grief and pine, runs a joy with silken twine.”

In recent months, I have noticed this juxtaposition of joy and sorrows as I review parts of my life. One of our ministers thought it was a good topic for a Sunday evening vespers service. In helping to prepare the service, I came across the famous Blake verse, which I vaguely remembered from high school English perhaps, but had never absorbed. Working with the Blake phrase opened up layers of another gift for healing, the power of music.

Growing up in the 1950s and early 1960s, I sang in the youth choir at the large downtown Methodist Church in Jackson, Mississippi. The youth sang in most Sunday night services, and our introit was nearly always the beautiful and familiar hymn, “Now the Day is Over.” [Read More…]

Finger and Myers Share Beauty and Inventiveness in New Books

Guest Post

Lou Lipsitz

On August 30, 2016, in Raleigh, Bennett Myers and Bill Finger, long-time members of The Men’s Council, introduced their new books to the community of men’s groups that have supported both of them for many years. The Men’s Council and the Triangle Mankind Project (MKP) sponsored the event, part of a monthly meeting series to provide a venue for men to meet and celebrate camaraderie and connection. Women were invited to this event. About 45 people attended. Lou Lipsitz (shown above), long involved in The Men’s Council, introduced them. A widely published poet, Lou won the 2010 Blue Lynx Prize for Poetry; for more, go to http://www.loulipsitzpoetry.com/. Below is Lou’s introduction and his summary of Bennett and Bill’s presentations.

The evening with Bennett and Bill presenting their books was special. We heard from two men who have been through intense struggles, who have gone deeply along, what Robert Bly calls “the road of ashes, descent and grief.” Such a passage is not done easily or quickly. We know that even as boys, men are often steered away from the path of emotional honesty. Better to be tough than vulnerable. Better to hide our wounds and hope somehow they will heal. Often they do not. We cannot microwave our losses into some quick transformation. Instead, it is more like the work of miners and archeologists – the hard sweaty work of digging and digging, and at the same time, the careful discovery of invaluable artifacts that must be treated with tenderness. Such a passage is not done easily or quickly. [Read More…]

What’s In a Title?

The Crane DanceThe Crane Dance finally arrived as the title for my new book. Like a savory soup, options simmered for a long time. I tasted it, smelled it, spiced it with new flavors, and sought opinions as trusted readers took a sip.

One of my favorite stories about titles comes from Doris Betts, the long-time teacher of creative writing at the University of North Carolina before she died in 2012. “I overheard someone in a store asking for one of my books,” Betts told her students during a class I was covering for a profile on her years ago. “Instead of The Gentleman’s Insurrection, the customer asked for The Gentleman’s Erection.” Before the slightly embarrassed students quit laughing, she pushed on, telling them about a television interview she was about to do after publication of her short-story collection, Beasts of the Southern Wild. Just before going on the air, her long-time colleague at UNC, Max Steele, “leaned over and said, ‘Doris, don’t call your book, breasts of the Southern wild,’ trying to make me do just that of course.”

Betts knew her audience – college students who loved a touch of her bawdy wisdom, mixed with her quirky and steel sweetness. And she knew how to tell a story. The students loved her and her anecdotes. But they needed to find their own voice, their own titles. [Read More…]

On Writing and Memory

Bill as a boy, at his deskA memoir, after all, hinges on memory. What do I recall and why? What do I make of the themes in my life? How did my choices lead to inevitable or perhaps surprising outcomes? How much did circumstances limit my options compared to the degree of courage or vision I exercised? What about the battles of nature and nurture, including social norms in my time and place? What is the best way to engage in memory – for me, for you, for the world?

I’ve been pondering all of these questions and more as I prepare to launch my memoir. Focusing on midlife transformation in The Crane Dance provided a time parameter, but flashbacks to my childhood cried for attention, as did “bookend” trips to India as a 22-year old Peace Corp volunteer and a return to my India family at age 56. [Read More…]