Your Turn – 3

Your Turn – 3

2018.09.16

The Creative Soul

 

Last week I challenged you to use yarn and perhaps two other items.  One easy project involves yarn, a straw, and a piece of cardboard.  For this exercise you also need scissors but I am not really including them as one of the items.  Wrap the yarn around the cardboard and then when several layers are completed, slide the yarn off the cardboard and tie off in the middle.  Cut the loops on each side and then tie onto the straw.  You can wrap the straw with green yarn as well.  There you have yarn pomp om flowers on a yarn covered green straw!

 

Another project involves finger knitting, a centuries old craft.  Finger knitting is a great way to learn how to knit. It’s easy to do and you will quickly have something that you can wear or play with.   Finger knitting is quite simple and requires only about nine feet of yarn and your two hands.  Step 1: Turn your non-dominant hand palm-up. Leave a 6-inch tail of yarn between your thumb and palm.  Step 2: Use your other hand to wrap the yarn over your pointer finger, back behind your middle finger, over your ring finger, then behind your pinkie finger.  Step 3: Now wrap the yarn back around your pinkie, behind your ring finger, over your middle finger and behind your pointer finger. You should now have a loop over each finger.  Step 4: Repeat Step 2, starting at your knuckles.  Step 5: Wrap the yarn back around your fingers to complete two rows of yarn.  Step 6: Pull the lower loop over the top of your finger. Repeat for all four fingers.  Step 7:  You have just completed your first row of finger knitting and can release the yarn you are holding with your thumb.  Step 8: Push down the top row, and repeat steps 4-8 until you have the desired length.  Step 9: To finish the rope, carefully remove the remaining loops from your fingers. Cut an extra 6 inches of yarn and thread this through the loops and tighten. Add a double knot to secure in place.  When you’re finished, you’ll have a beautiful rope of yarn that you can use for lots of different things, such as a cool headband, a belt, bracelet, necklace, or even a scarf. Since there’s no need to worry about pointy needles, it’s a great craft to do on long car trips.

 

This week’s challenge involves pen, paper, and your imagination.  I’ve included some popular English words here and I want you to use them to write something – either prose or poetry.  For my non-English speaking readers, please make your selection from popular nouns, verbs, and adjectives in your native language.  Remember, the challenge is to be creative, not to write a Nobel Prize-winning piece.  Enjoy!

Nouns: 

  1. time
  2. person
  3. year
  4. way
  5. day
  6. thing
  7. man
  8. world
  9. life
  10. hand
  11. part
  12. child
  13. eye
  14. woman
  15. place
  16. work
  17. week
  18. case
  19. point
  20. government
  21. company
  22. number
  23. group
  24. problem
  25. fact

 

Verbs

  1. be
  2. have
  3. do
  4. say
  5. get
  6. make
  7. go
  8. know
  9. take
  10. see
  11. come
  12. think
  13. look
  14. want
  15. give
  16. use
  17. find
  18. tell
  19. ask
  20. work
  21. seem
  22. feel
  23. try
  24. leave
  25. call

 

Adjectives

  1. good
  2. new
  3. first
  4. last
  5. long
  6. great
  7. little
  8. own
  9. other
  10. old
  11. right
  12. big
  13. high
  14. different
  15. small
  16. large
  17. next
  18. early
  19. young
  20. important
  21. few
  22. public
  23. bad
  24. same
  25. able

 

Capturing a Moment in Time

Capturing a Moment in Time

2018.09.14

The Creative Soul

 

I remember my first grown-up present at Christmas.  It was a very inexpensive camera, but it was a gift that made me feel so grown-up at age seven and seemed to promise me the rest of my life would follow and be magical.  The art of photography continues to seem magical to me.  Photography is the taking of a picture of reality that somehow not only shows us the obvious but also the unseen, the possibilities of our imagination and beyond.

 

Photography not only can inspire us; it can improve our mental health.  IN a Dec 2017 article Danielle Hark wrote: “We all deal with mental or emotional struggles at one time or another in our lives. Whether it’s stress from work, situational depression or anxiety, or full-on mental illness, it helps to take time to refocus and gain perspective. One tool you can use may be right in your pocket attached to your phone… a camera.  It has been proven time and again that creativity and art therapy are valuable tools for emotional wellness. Photography is one such tool that you can utilize without going to art school or being professionally trained. Modern technology provides easy-to-use options including a variety of automatic modes on point-and-shoot cameras, digital SLRs (single-lens reflex cameras), and even camera phones. Now anyone can take photos — and just by taking a photo, you are taking a moment to stop and look at your environment through a new lens. This moment can be the moment that changes your day from a negative to a positive — or at least gives you a momentary distraction and calm.”

 

Photography is the act of taking pictures for sentimental reasons, as a hobby or keeping informed with new events. Similarly, taking pictures help us to stay in touch with past events, thereby enables one to appreciate history.  Most people use photography as a tool to keep in touch with past events. Looking at photographs taken in the past also helps to improve our knowledge on how we relate to past events.

 

Medically speaking, taking pictures can save a life.  The advancements made because of x-rays and modern photographic capabilities combines with nuclear medicine are truly life-saving tools.  There are other reasons for taking pictures, though.  Legally it is a good idea if ever in a traffic accident to quickly snap a picture of any damage done to your vehicle.  It is also a good idea to periodically take pictures of your home and its furnishings.  These can be used to document loss from theft or natural disasters.  Keeping hard copies of such pictures is also a good idea since digital photography is sometimes inadmissible in court.

 

What about the weekend photographer or the proud grandparent?  Are those being creative and are there health benefits?  Even the Centers for Disease Control recognize the advantages of taking pictures and the art of photography.  When community members photograph their daily lives, they may find that the bigger picture begins to emerge.  In young hands, a camera can be a gateway to healthy habits, life styles and communities.  Researchers gave cameras to teens in inner-city Baltimore and asked them to take pictures of positive activities that were alternatives to joining a gang. “The project gave participants courage to talk to adults about community issues,” says Seante Hatcher.  Ms Hatcher is the community relations coordinator for the Johns Hopkins University Prevention Research Center (PRC), one of 35 community-academic partners the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) funds to find innovative solutions to health challenges. The “Photovoice” technique shows that taking pictures can empower the photographers, document their perspectives and deliver their messages.

 

“Photovoice bridges age, race and gender. The pictures speak in a language common to everyone,” says Joyce Moon-Howard, DrPH, a researcher at the Columbia University PRC. The center has used Photovoice in interventions to promote healthy eating and in programs to encourage teenagers.  The process of taking photos can be used to involve young people in positive activities and engage policymakers in discussions about sensitive community issues. with HIV to share their feelings about living with the disease. “The project used both the lens of the camera and the lens of the HIV-positive young adult,” says Alwyn Cohall, M.D., director of the center. “Participation reduced the isolation and stigma of dealing with HIV and gave the teenagers a sense of belonging.” In a separate study, teens took and shared pictures of nutritious foods and were inspired to try more fruits and vegetables, he says. Dr. Moon-Howard identifies group discussion as a vital aspect of Photovoice. A set of photographs, she says, creates a “series of meaning” that helps a group identify issues of mutual concern and can motivate change.

 

By picking up a camera,, you are not only being present and creative, but you are actually practicing mindfulness, which reduces stress and helps leave you balanced and ready to take on the rest of your day.

 

 

A Vision for Living

A Vision for Living

2018.09.13

The Creative Soul

 

Ask a group of people who amongst them is an artist and probably no one will raise their hand.  Yet, most of us were given visual art assignments as a part of our schooling.  Therefore, at some time, we all were artists.  There are very good reasons why the visual arts are included in the educational process.  Children who receive art lessons are better students, not only while in school, but for life.

 

First of all, creating art relieves stress and encourages creative thinking.  In other words, art encourages positive thinking.  Art also boosts self-esteem and provides a sense of accomplishment.  We tend to lost that as we become adults.  Think about the delight in a child’s face when they have completed a coloring page.  We will discuss more about the hindrances to creativity next week.

 

Making art, whether it be drawing, coloring, sketching, or free form, increases brain connectivity and plasticity.  Brain flexibility allows new thoughts to form, new avenues of thinking, and opens the door for inventiveness as well as greater creativity.  Even viewing art has its benefits.  It increases empathy, tolerance, and feelings of openness, acceptance, and love.  Goodness knows the world certainly needs more of those!

 

Art develops the whole brain.  Research and studies have proven that art increases attention, strengthens focus, requires practice and develops eye-hand coordination.  Additionally, creating art means one is interacting with the world as well as the various mediums and tools being used.  As Pablo Picasso once said, “Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

 

Dr. Heather L. Stuckey and Dr. Jeremy Nobel, writing for the American Journal of Public Health, reviewed research in the area of art and healing in an effort to determine the creative therapies most often employed.  Four primary therapies emerged: music engagement, visual arts therapy, movement-based creative expression, and expressive writing.  In these forms of expression, arts modalities and creative processes were used during intentional interventions to foster health.

 

Drs. Stuckey and Nobel disclosed that art and health have been at the center of human interest from the beginning of recorded history.  “Despite that fact, and despite the invested effort and growth of knowledge and understanding in each arena, it is interesting that we often still find ourselves struggling with the “fundamentals” of art and health and their meaning in society. We make no attempt to clarify or resolve these fundamental issues.  Instead, our intent is to summarize current knowledge about the connection between art and health, identify the most compelling next steps for investigation, and generate further interest in researching the complexities of art and health. Legitimate research questions include whether certain art-based therapies are more or less effective than others, whether the impact of therapy can be tied to other important variables and preconditions, and whether health benefits are sustained or short term. These issues deserve vigorous continued attention.”

 

Art helps people express experiences that are too difficult to put into words, such as a diagnosis of cancer. Some people with cancer have explored the meanings of their past, present, and future during art therapy, thereby integrating cancer into their life story and giving it meaning.  Art can be a refuge from the intense emotions associated with illness.  There are no limits to the imagination in finding creative ways of expressing grief. 

 

In a quantitative trial of mindfulness art therapy targeted toward women with cancer, researchers found that those who engaged in art making demonstrated statistically significant decreases in symptoms of physical and emotional distress during treatment. In addition to the introduction of self-care through guided imagery, the art-making therapy involved the women drawing complete pictures of themselves and engaging in yoga and meditation. The relaxation and symptom reduction produced by creative expression opened pathways to emotional healing.

 

Pick up a pen, a crayon, or a paintbrush or a bit of clay and – poof – you have become a visual artist.  Artists pour out their emotions through the process of painting. This practice encourages artists to look at their own emotional state and take stock of emotions they may not even realize they have. Releasing emotions through artwork is a cathartic experience for many painters. In fact, even therapists suggest painting or drawing as a treatment path for patients who have suffered psychologically painful encounters. Letting out emotions by painting promotes healing through abstract emotional expression.

 

People that paint/draw/sculpt experience an increase in their emotional intelligence level. Allowing your emotions to come out in painting helps you understand your own emotional state and realize which factors contribute to your varying moods.  Experimenting with different visual art forms can help one understand what triggers feelings such as happiness, sadness, love, or anger. Often, the emotions you feel when creating this work project onto the people that view your paintings. Painters have the ability to bring others happiness, sharing their positive mindset with viewers. This skill makes the artist better company for themselves and those around them.  Art gives us all better living.

To Be Creative

To Be Creative

2018.09.07-08

 

Albert Einstein once credited his intelligence to his creative spirit.  What exactly do we mean when we say someone is creative?  Are they overly imaginative?  Do they think “outside the box”?  In an online journal, “The Journal of Effective Teaching”, Jose Gomez discussed the various connotations and definitions of the term “creativity”.  Designed to assist educators in developing a student’s creativity, Gomez’s abstract brings up some very interesting correlations between intelligence, divergent thinking, convergent thinking, reflective thinking, and the different ways we accept or reject creativity.

 

It is nearly impossible to find an all-inclusive definition of the word “creativity”.  New World Encyclopedia defines it as a process involving the generation of new ideas or concepts, or new associations between existing ideas or concepts, and their substantiation into a product that has novelty and originality. From a scientific point of view, the products of creative thought (sometimes referred to as divergent thought) are usually considered to have both “originality” and “appropriateness.”  Wikipedia states it more simply: Creativity is a phenomenon whereby something new and somehow valuable is formed.

 

We must also include the fact that creativity is considered differently based upon the situation or discipline in which it is found.  In education creativity is considered to be innovative while in business it is referred to as entrepreneurship.  In mathematics it is simply problem-solving but in music it is either performance or composition.  The World Conference on Higher Education proclaimed Creativity as “an innovative education approach” in their statement of Missions and Functions in Higher Education. 

 

In his article Gomez refers to the fact that the literature on creativity is sparse, but it is becoming apparent that there may be several kinds of creativity. Donald N. MacKinnon outlined three different kinds of creativity used as a basis for research at the Institute of Personality Assessment and Research Laboratory (IPAR), Berkeley, California. The first is artistic creativity, which reflects the creator’s inner needs, perceptions and motivations. The second type is scientific and technological creativity, which deals with some problem of the environment and results in novel solutions but exhibits little of the inventor’s personality. The third type is hybrid creativity, found in such fields as architecture that exhibits both a novel problem solution and the personality of the creator.

 

In studying creativity, the IPAR group, along with most other research groups that have investigated this process, have assumed that all kinds of creativity share common characteristics, and these assumptions seem to be true. It appears that most creative persons are relatively uninterested in small details or facts for their own sake; that they are more concerned with meaning and implications. Creative people have considerable cognitive flexibility, communicate easily, are intellectually curious, and tend to let their impulses flow freely.

 

It was generally assumed that creativity and intelligence were closely related.  However, the incidence of highly creative individuals, such as Edison, Churchill and Einstein, who at some time experienced difficulty in school, led to a closer examination of the issue during the 1960s. One of the most widely publicized studies was done by Getzels and Jackson (1992), who produced evidence that creativity and intelligence were largely independent traits.  On the other hand, just a few years later Hasan and Butcher(1996) found creativity and intelligence so highly correlated that they were almost indistinguishable.  The subject remains controversial today.  Perhaps the most prevailing view today is that beyond a minimum level of intelligence necessary for mastery in a given field, additional intelligence offers no guarantee of a corresponding increase in creativity.  OF course, since most intelligence tests only test for convergent thinking, we may never really know the relationship between intelligence and creativity.  Usually, there is only one correct answer, and correctness is determined on the basis of logic, rules, or laws. However, even the best known creativity tests are somewhat invalid because of the subjective nature of the elements they measure and the lack of any predetermined right answer.

 

What exactly is convergent thinking?   Convergent thinking emphasizes reproduction of existing data and adaptation of old responses to new situations in a more or less logical manner while divergent thinking is characterized by flexibility and originality in the production of new ideas. Convergent thinking is characterized by the reproduction of known concepts and the adoption of known responses to new situations. Divergent thinking, on the other hand, involves fluency, flexibility, and originality, and is essentially concerned with production of large numbers of new ideas.

 

Perhaps Einstein, Churchill and others had difficulty in school because institutional classrooms seldom allow for flexibility or creative approaches.  The teacher gives a test and said test is graded based upon the answer key with only one set of choices for the correct answers.   An idea is creative when it brings a new insight to a given situation. The process of creativity includes the ability to change one’s approach to a problem, to produce ideas that are both relevant and unusual, to see beyond the immediate situation, and to redefine the problem or some aspect of it.  The standard test does not allow for a creative response.  In addition, there is the myth that to the truly creative and talented, their skill comes naturally, and the creative works they produce come with ease. However, the evidence shows that the creative experience only comes after considerable effort and time has been put into the creative work.

 

Reflective thinking and evaluation of thoughts are, as we mentioned yesterday in the two creative process models discussed, basic to the process of creativity.  Ideas are best when evaluated for the purpose of facilitating the problem-solving process at every step.  However, continuous evaluation limits the generation of ideas. A suspension of judgment enables one to further examine seemingly wild or impossible ideas.  Wrong ideas may be right in the final analysis. Emphasis shifts from the validity of a particular point to its usefulness in producing new arrangements or patterns.

 

Gomez lists basic attributes of the creative person but I think they could also be considered steps in the creative process.  They include originality, persistence, independence, involvement and detachment, deferment and immediacy, incubation, verification, discovery of problems, generation of alternatives, the challenging of basic assumptions, and minimizing labels and/or categories.

 

Gomez also lists strategies for encouraging creative thinking.  They include the most obvious – make a start.  He also lists taking notes as not only effective but also necessary for not only observing the world around you but also making note of various ideas as they come.  A surprising strategy involves making deadlines.  Deadlines are often considered the killer of a creative spirit but Gomez feels the creative soul should use them to do the necessary daily routines we all have more efficiently.  That in turn frees up more time for creativity and encourages the self-discipline needed in accomplishing goals.  To this end Gomez also advises to “fix a time and place” to lure one’s muse out.  While this may sound far-fetched it is very similar to the bedtime routines we employ to tell our brain it is time to turn off and go to sleep.  One cannot schedule a masterpiece of thought to happen, perhaps, but we can create an environment that encourages creative thought, relaxation and a safe environment for exploration of said creativity.

 

Linda Naiman, founder of Creativity at Work sums it up best:  “If you have ideas but don’t act on them, you are imaginative but not creative.”  In their 1999 annual report the Hewlett Packard Company established their basic rules for a culture of creativity and innovation:  “Believe you can change the world.  Work quickly, keep the tools unlocked, work whenever.  Know when to work alone and when to work together.  Share – tools, ideas. Trust your colleagues.  No politics. No bureaucracy.  The customer defines a job well done.  Radical ideas are not bad ideas.  Invent different ways of working.  Make a contribution every day.  Believe that together we can do anything.  Invent.”

 

I firmly believe that when we throw the labels and criticism of the past away, anyone can develop their creative side.  Someday science will determine the genes that are creative and we will discover that we all have the ability to be creative if we will just take the time and have the courage to develop it. 

 

 

Lexi Rees

Lexi Rees

2018.08.31

Literature and Life

 

I must admit that, when going to visit someone, I am always a bit bothered when I do not see any bookcases in their rooms.  To be sure, I seldom go into every room, especially if it is merely an acquaintance or my first time visiting but still, as someone who has bookcases in practically every room, yes even the dining room and kitchen, I sort of expect to see a book case in every room.  My living room, den, previously mentioned dining room and kitchen, as well as every bedroom and guest rooms…well, we have a few bookcases overrunning with books.  So when this author said she went to her bookcases to find a favored but perhaps forgotten book…. I was delighted!

 

I asked Lexi Rees what was her favorite book.  Her answer:  “That’s an impossible question. My favourite book has changed over the years from when I was aged four, “Ernest Owl”, to aged ten, “Nancy Drew” and “The Hardy Boys”, to the wildly eclectic mix I read today. It could be Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” or Terry Pratchett’s “Mort”, depending on my mood. Of course I loved “Narnia” as a kid (it was pre Hardy Potter) and “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” still makes me laugh. 

 

“So I scanned my bookshelves for a book that surprised me, that was still fresh in my mind even though I had read it years ago and there it is – “A School in South Uist”, about an Englishman who is persuaded to take a job as headmaster on a tiny, remote island in the Outer Hebrides in the 1890’s. It’s survived numerous charity shop culls of my overflowing bookshelves, although I don’t know why since I’ve only actually read it once.

 

“It’s not a best-seller, although it ranks well enough in the fairly niche Amazon categories it’s listed under. I don’t have any family connection to the author. I’m not even sure how or where I first stumbled across it as I don’t recall a friend recommending it. I assume I bought it whilst route planning a trip. I’ve travelled extensively in Scotland (and around the world) and try to read a book set in every place I visit, but I’ve never made it as far as South Uist.  It’s an autobiography, but it’s one of those that could easily be mistaken for fiction – it’s got an interesting story, great characters, a fantastic setting, perfect pace and a wonderful voice.

 

I’ve just realized that the barren, windswept island where the elders have their gathering in my book, Eternal Seas, was probably inspired by the image this book conjured up of South Uist, even though the ruined castle I describe is Castle Gylen, near Oban.  I’ve put it back on my TBR pile. It deserves a re-read!”

 

Lexi Rees grew up in the north of Scotland but now splits her time between London and West Sussex. She still goes back to Scotland regularly though.  Usually seen clutching a mug of coffee, she spends as much time as possible sailing and horse riding, both of which she does enthusiastically but spectacularly badly.  Her first book, “Eternal Seas”, was written on a boat; the storm described in it was frighteningly real.

 

Lexi writes action packed stories for children, and will be publishing a non-fiction book for grown-ups in 2019.  She also has a blog about her family’s adventures, which seem to include lots of kids’ activities, travel, horses, boats, cars and crafting.  You can connect with her at any of these links:  Website https://lexirees.co.uk/; Facebook https://www.facebook.com/LexiAuthor/; Twitter https://twitter.com/lexi_rees; Google + http://bit.ly/Lexi-on-GooglePlus; Instagram https://www.instagram.com/lexi.rees/

 

[Please go to my Facebook page for pictures that accompany this post.  https://www.facebook.com/n2myhead/?hc_location=ufi]

 

Writers are not perfect people although some do manage to construct perfect endings.  What they do is connect the written word to the living we all do – whether it is a book for children or adults.  I thank all whom I have featured this month.  They make our living immeasurably better and turn an hour into an adventure when we read their efforts.  What I hoped to illustrate this month is that we all have an effect on each other.  After all, as one of my favorite writers and actual distant relative John Donne, once penned:  “No man is an island.”

 

 

Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates

2018.08.21

Literature and Life

 

As mentioned before at the beginning of this series, the most often advice a would-be writer hears as “Read”.  I know of no other author who believes this as much as today’s featured writer, Joyce Carol Oates.  Reading is not only for learning the craft of writing, in her opinion; it is a way of life.

 

Oates taught at Princeton for thirty-six years, retiring in 2014 and published her latest book last year, “Dis Mem Ber”.  She grew up in New York State, attending the same one-room schoolhouse that her mother had attended.   She became interested in reading at an early age and remembers her grandmother giving her a gift of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as “the great treasure of my childhood, and the most profound literary influence of my life. This was love at first sight!” In 1980, Oates founded Ontario Review Books, an independent publishing house, with her husband, Raymond J. Smith, a professor of 18th century literature.  Oates has described their partnership as “a marriage of like minds — both my husband and I are so interested in literature and we read the same books; he’ll be reading a book and then I’ll read it — we trade and we talk about our reading at meal times…”

 

In an interview given in 2013 with ‘The Boston Globe’, Oates revealed that Dostoevsky was one of her favorite authors.  When asked her all-time favorite book, she replied:  “I would say Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”, which had an enormous effect on me.  I think young people today might not realize how readable that novel is.  The other book I worry no one reads anymore is James Joyce’s “Ulysses”.  It’s not easy, but every page is wonderful and repays the effort.”

 

For the writer, Joyce Carol Oates offers this advice:  “Novels begin, not on the page, but in meditation and daydreaming – in thinking, not writing.  For the reader, she advices: “read widely, and without apology.  Read what you want to read, not what someone tells you you should read.”  For all of us, she offers this pearl of wisdom:  “All that matters in life is forging deep ties of love and family and friends.  Writing and reading come later.”

River Jordan

River Jordan

2018.08.12

Literature and Life

 

The Jordan River, also known as the River Jordan, is a river in southwestern Asia, in the Middle East region. It lies in a structural depression and has the lowest elevation of any river in the world.  Flowing southward from its sources in the mountainous area where Israel, Syria and Lebanon meet, the Jordan River passes through the Sea of Galilee and ends in the Dead Sea.  The Jordan River’s geology and climate have contributed to its role in history as a political boundary and in biblical history writing as a site of community formation.

 

I’ve told this story before but in writing about one of my favorite authors, I must tell it again.  The first paragraph was not unknown to me so imagine my surprise when I see River Jordan on the spine of a book incorrectly shelved in the general reference, religious, philosophy and psychology sections of a local library.  Clever marketing, I thought; a bit too clever, in fact.  To pretend a religious or philosophical author’s name was the same as a well-known religious landmark was really rather trite.  I was in a hurry, however, so instead of taking the time to read the back cover ir inside flap of the book, I added it to my pile and proceeded to the self-checkout.

 

Later the next day I looked at the book I had no intention of reading and realized two things.  First, it was a book on prayer, a subject near and dear to me.  Secondly, the author’s name really was River Jordan.  River Jordan began her writing career as a playwright where her original works were produced, including “Mama Jewels: Tales from Mullet Creek”, ‘Soul, Rhythm and Blues”, and “Virga”.  Her first novel, “The Gin Girl” (Livingston Press, 2003), garnered high praise as “This author writes with a hard bitten confidence comparable to Ernest Hemingway. And yet, in the Southern tradition of William Faulkner, she can knit together sentences that can take your breath.” Kirkus Reviews described her second novel, “The Messenger of Magnolia Street”, as “a beautifully written atmospheric tale.” It was applauded as “a tale of wonder” by Southern Living, who chose the novel as their Selects feature for March 2006, and described by other reviewers as “a riveting, magical mystery” and “a remarkable book.” Her third novel, “Saints In Limbo”, has been painted by some of the finest fiction voices of today as “a lyrical and relentlessly beautiful book,” and “a wise, funny, joyful and deadly serious book, written with a poet’s multilayered sense of metaphor and meter and a page-turning sense of urgency,” and reported by Paste Magazine as “a southern gothic masterpiece.”   Her fourth novel, The Miracle of Mercy Land, was published on September 7, 2010.

 

It was her first non-fiction work, “Praying for Strangers, An Adventure of the Human Spirit” that I had picked up.  It was published in 2011 and was a book that was happenstance and one River Jordan never intended to ever write.  This acclaimed author teaches and speaks around the country on “The Power of Story”, and produces and hosts the radio show Clearstory Radio from Nashville.   She can often be found traveling the back roads of America with her husband and their Great Pyrenees lap dog. 

 

I felt a bit ashamed I had doubted her name (and yes, it really is her name) and was surprised that she lived less than two hours from me and had the same breed of dog that I did.  We also had one other thing in common – we both had sons in the military of this country.  Hers had been deployed to a war zone about the time mine returned from the same area.  Her non-fiction book begins with the week before her son was to leave and the feelings she described I knew all too well.  However, she had very little acquaintance with praying for strangers while I had spent the past eight years doing just that.  Still, I felt compelled to read the book, more a diary than a novel or autobiography.

 

E. M. Bounds describes prayer as “power and strength, a power and strength that influences God, and is most salutary, widespread, and marvelous in its gracious benefits to man. Prayer influences God. The ability of God to do for man is the measure of the possibility of prayer.”  We tend to overlook what prayer does for the person doing the praying, though.  River Jordan addresses both in this book as she embarks upon her journey as the parent of a child walking into war.

 

There are many different types of wars we face, especially as parents.  First it is colic, then perhaps first day of school anxiety.  Regrettably, some parents must face their child having a life-threatening illness or developing an unhealthy addiction.  Sometimes it is peer pressure that creates the war zone with destructive behaviors or ill-planned escapes becoming the enemy.  Long before our children are of an age to defend their country, we as parents have faced many battles.  Every person confronts life’s issues but it seems to be most difficult when it is our children doing so once they have “grown up”.  The concerns and fears of our hearts grow also and never are diminished in spite of how accomplished we may believe our children to be.

 

River Jordan has an encounter with a stranger, recognizing the pain of another similar to her own and offers to pray for this person.  To be certain she knows saying those words will not instantly change anything.  They are not a magic chant.  She is somewhat surprised, though, to see the calm they seem to give this stranger.  Within a few days, another incident occurs and again, she sees the power that offering to pray for a stranger can create.

 

It is very seldom – okay, never – that I will claim an author as one of my favorites when I have only read one book by said author, especially if said book is diametrically opposed to the rest of the volume of their writings.  And yet, it is that very fact that made me claim River Jordan as a favorite.  I have given this book to others, had a book club read it, shared it on this blog in years past, and still at least once a year reread it.  I could not leave her out of any list of influential writers.

 

Trying to get River Jordan to pin down a favorite writer, though, is difficult.  “Honey, I was raised by the tribe of Eeyore. I can worry about anything and everything….I want to read something that sets my soul on fire. I want to read words that tell me what it was to have been human and to set my feet on this planet for even just a little while. I want to carry some truth away about this life that I didn’t recognize before. To connect to another person’s life in the process. To cry, fight, laugh, love, and live more passionately than when I first turned that page.  I want the story to carry me somewhere wonderful whether it’s South America, or a riverboat, or even if it’s only a backyard on a summer night. And it doesn’t matter if it’s wonderful contemporary voices southern and otherwise, or the older voices of Mark Twain, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Flannery O’Conner, Harper Lee – the list goes on into eternity. Just give me that great story. Carry me away. The words can be soft or sharp, biting or butter, I just want the passion of the writer to be so intense that the words are like a white, hot light on the page.”

 

River Jordan has stated that “it is her deep belief that through our stories we discover the truth of our common ground and are able to celebrate our humanity, working together toward living at our highest potential.”  I hope you read “Praying with Strangers” but more importantly, I just you read.  By the way, River Jordan’s latest book, “Confessions of An American Mystic, Stories of Faith and Fiction” ( Jericho Books, Hachette) will arrive later this year.  Literature and life continue to reflect one another.