And when he had lived long, and was borne to his grave a hoary corpse, followed by Faith, and aged woman, and children and grandchildren, a goodly process, besides neighbors not a few, they carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone, for his dying hour was gloom.
What can I say about this year that everyone else hasn’t already said? It sucked. COVID, mask mandates, and lockdowns. Financial losses. Loss of real celebrations of big events, the things that make us glad to be humans. Worst of all, loss of loved ones, not to COVID, because yes, people do die from other things. Heartbreaks. Election mayhem. Anger, confusion, worry. Raging for a return to common sense. (I am one of those people who does not like to feel out of control and who equally does not like being told what to do if it makes no logical sense. “Just do THIS because we said so” doesn’t cut it for me. I can see what is working and what is not, and I know what the definition of insanity is. In short, I know a hawk from a handsaw.) As I plodded along this year, my fists clenched, I tried to remember that in this world there would be trouble, that I am not a citizen of this world so I shouldn’t sweat the small stuff (and compared to eternity in heaven, everything here is the small stuff), but I confess, I failed and failed and failed in the hope department. I think that was the worst part of all. Sneering, ugly 2020 held a mirror to my face, and I found out how shallow my faith is and how easily I let the enemy steal my joy. I’m not afraid, but I’m not loving, either, and without love, I am a clanging cymbal.
My only resolution for 2021, my prayer, is that I will try harder this year to love and forgive so that the same epitaph for Young Goodman Brown (and 2020) won’t be inscribed on MY tombstone one day.
Happy New Year, friends. I can’t say it will be better, but I can say I hope to be.
This is actually a retelling of a story I posted a few years ago on an old blog. It did not happen in the church I now attend. Our changing churches is completely unrelated to the following tale.
Christmas Sunday. Everyone is present and accounted for and looking mighty pretty in their special red and green sparkly Christmas clothes. The church, with its three Christmas trees, huge wreaths, and pots and pots of poinsettias, is not looking half bad its ownself.
A man and woman stride to the darkened stage and begin to speak solemnly about Christ’s coming. After awhile, they invite the congregation to participate in a corporate reading, praising God for His greatest gift to mankind: His son, Jesus Christ. A holy silence falls as the couple lights two sets of advent candles on either side of the stage–the purple candles of peace and hope, the pink candle of joy. As they finish lighting the final purple candle (love), everybody bows their heads.
Suddenly, a not-turned-off-as-it-SHOULD-be cell phone begins to sing out tinnily, softly at first, and then louder as its sheepish, blushing owner (a man, I must add) scrambles to shut it off.
And the song it sings? Well, let me give you the part we heard, and see if you can identify it:
“Ah–you gonna take me home tonight? Ah–down beside that red firelight; Ah–you gonna let it all hang out . . .”
I look down the row, past my kids, to my husband, who is looking back at me. We grin at each other in gleeful, horrified disbelief and simultaneously mouth the rest of the song: “. . . fat bottomed girls, you make the rockin’ world go round.”
It had to be Queen, and it had to be that song? God has a delicious sense of humor. And I bet somebody never brings his cell phone to church evereverever again. Fat bottomed girls, indeed.
Happy Advent season, y’all. And leave your phones in the car.
Some of the most fun I’ve had writing my book was creating the dedication and acknowledgements page. I understand that some publishers (and some grumpy readers) don’t like acknowledgements (more pages to print = more $$ spent, I guess; thankfully, my amazing publisher never batted an eye about including both a dedication page and an acknowledgment page).
I personally love reading these tiny slivers of reality. After I’ve been walking around in the dream of fiction and reach the end, where I sit for a few minutes, easing myself awake, the acknowledgements serve as a nice bridge between not real and real. Here, the author reminds me that she’s a human as well as a creator; author Anna North once noted that “We often think we’re seeing the author’s real self when we read her fiction, but as any author who’s ever been asked what happened after she fled her family of international superspies and threw in her lot with a group of itinerant circus performers knows only too well, this is a delusion. The acknowledgments at the back of a novel are tantalising because they’re often the only true thing amid a pack of lies.”
The other purpose the acknowledgements and dedications serve is to show that the author is thankful to those who helped her along the way. No writer is an island, and in a world full of people often obsessed with being perceived as uniquely superior (it’s the reason Instagram filters exist, right?), it’s nice to see a slice of humility.
Also, gratitude is just a great read.
Acknowledgments run the gamut from the utilitarian, where the author spends time thanking editors, publishers, and agents, to the very personal. As a practical consideration, writing experts often encourage authors seeking publication to look at the acknowledgement page in books in their genre and note the agents and publishers as people they may want to reach out to. It’s good advice that I took myself. I discovered my publisher by following a rabbit trail that began while I shelved books at the library part-time. As I pushed my cart around, pausing to fit a book in its tidy alphabetical or numerical place, I’d also sometimes scribble down publishers’ names I found in books that looked similar to mine, and as I later researched those publishers and sent out queries, I found a treasure trove of more publishers. A couple offered me contracts, one of which I happily accepted. So if you’re an aspiring author, I concur with the experts: Don’t neglect the business of reading acknowledgements
Beyond the practical, however, far more interesting to me in the acknowledgments is the personal, the human. Stephen King regularly adds a quick note of thanks to his “Constant Readers,” which is a nice touch. Craig Johnson, in one of his Longmire books, finishes his acknowledgment page with the following for his wife: “To Judy who, like the stars, wonders if she shines brightly enough and always does.” Leif Enger, in one of my all-time favorite books Peace Like a River, begins his acknowledgements thanking his father and his mother, Wilma, “who read us Robert Louis Stevenson before we could talk, and who writes better letters to anyone since the Apostle Paul.” In Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs, death queen Caitlin Doughty ends her acknowledgment page with “And finally to Ryan Saylor, the shroud to my casket.” (I LOVE this woman.)
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my favorite anti-acknowledgement, E.E. Cummings’s “No Thanks” poem, dedicated to the publishers who rejected him. (Cue the scene in Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts’s character comes back in to taunt the snobs who make her feel bad: “Big mistake. Huge.”)
The story with Cummings is that his mother believed in him in a way that the publishers did not (ah, moms and their mom-goggles) and gave him the money to self-publish his book of poetry. His “dedication” page is as follows:
Note that the poem is in the shape of funeral urn; Cummings was feeling ALL the salt! All of us who have suffered the pain of rejection after rejection can now stand up and cheer.
One of the best dedications, of course, is C.S. Lewis’s dedication in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
To Lucy Barfield
My Dear Lucy,
I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand, a word you say, but I shall still be your affectionate Godfather,
I mean, COME ON! We all want to be Lucy now, don’t we?
When I started counting my blessings in the writing of my own book, it was hard to stop. All the people who helped me as a writer, as a person, who love me in spite of my shortcomings—as I made my list and tried to, in my inadequate way, let them know how much they mean to me . . . well.
It wasn’t enough, but I did my best. Since I’ve been feeling very grouchy and UNthankful for this weird masked world lately, it was nice to take an unfettered breath and remember that for all the bad 2020 has thrown my way so far, there was once and has to be yet again, someday, so much to be thankful for.