Slow Down. Way Down.

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It’s fall. Or autumn, depending on where you are in the world.

Things are calming down on the school front — we’re settling into the 5-th grade routine, with common core and all it entails. During summer when school is out, life moves at breakneck speed with work, activities, vacations. Wild, considering summer’s for relaxation. But no, we’re crazy busy. I’m sure you know the feeling.

So, it’s nice to slow down. At least until the winter holidays hit with the force of a blizzard, but let’s not think about that quite yet.  

Last night I found myself slowing way down. In the silence of the night, I read for a good hour or two. While I have an intriguing Brad Thor thriller, I took a break from the international action and turned to the latest issue of the Red Fez Magazine — one of my favorite small presses.  

The Red Fez editor had sent an invitation to submit for their October issue. So, I did. A story titled IOANA, one dear to my heart as it’s the first such story set in my native country of Romania (at least the first written in English). 

Here it is with its beautiful cover art:

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IOANA

But there’s more: this issue is full of good stories, poetry, art, photos, comics, music & videos.  Just what an insomniac needs.

Thoughts of the next day, of relieving the past, all kinds of pesky thoughts fought for my attention, but I let them pulverize in the night mist. I slowed way down — just read — and everything was a-OK.

~~~ How do you give yourself headspace to simply enjoy life, to savor and appreciate each moment?

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Photo courtesy: Red Fez Publications; spaceclear.com

Quiet Confidence

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Introduced at a speaking circle

Quiet confidence is one of my favorite character traits.

Having worked in the legal field for many years, and living not far from Hollywood (in a neighborhood with many aspiring actors), I’ve seen my share of the opposite: loud arrogance. At least that’s what it looks like from the outside. But things aren’t always as black and white, are they?

To better understand quiet confidence, it’s probably important to look at other traits — insecurity, false humility — and the fact that many times we cover our insecurities with false humility. Something teenagers do, right? Boast themselves up in order to cover their chronic shyness.

I’ve never been extremely shy, but I grew up in a culture that placed emphasis on group over individual. Not necessarily in favor of the outspoken. If you had something to say (publicly, anyway) in Eastern Europe, you said it as a group. Everything was done for the betterment of the society. Cue the party lights and music, please.

Just another way to control people, really.

As a writer — or perhaps the member of a network-crazed society — it’s important, I think, to display quiet confidence, especially when showing our work.  Be excited enough without going overboard, and humble enough without sounding unsure. That’s where quiet confidence comes in. But how in the world does one display quiet confidence? Is it even teachable, or is it natural?

Let’s take a step back and see if we agree: networking, in person or online, has overtaken our lives. Online, that’s easier, but how about networking in person, running a meeting, doing readings? Selling something?

To see how this works, I attended a public presentation geared toward marketing some time ago.  Sat there and listened to various speakers — some very confident, some less so. When talking to them after, I learned confidence comes with practice. They get up there and do it time and again. Like anything else, I suppose. I joined the group (Toastmasters), as I mentioned before, and found I’m having a blast speaking in front of large groups. Of course, this involves a lot of preparation.

And here’s what I noticed about the best speakers. When all is said and done, when people come up to offer congratulations, say how easy it looked, the speakers display a good dose of quiet confidence. They accept the praise, discuss their work quickly, thank the person, then ask them about themselves or very tactfully change the subject.

How is that for the pleasant image of a person?

These are the people I want to learn from, talk to, watch give presentations, readings. If they have a book out, I’m likely to buy it.

While the quality of our work speaks for itself, we are its most important ambassadors. As one writer said to me: “Express confidence in yourself and your work without going overboard, and people will want to see it.”

The Crooked Lines of Life

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After the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Holly Michael of Wisconsin traveled to South India with her husband and joined hands with the army of volunteers to help in the recovery efforts. Holly’s husband is Bishop Leo Michael, a native of India, whom Holly met when asked to do an interview on the success of a small parish.

Two people from two different cultures, raised on two opposite ends of the world, found they are not so different when linked in the common goal of helping others. We need more like them in the world.

This is the story of Holly Michael, journalist, author, and to me: cherished critique partner. If ever there were a book that embodied love and compassion, a story written in such luminous, deeply personal prose, Crooked Lines is it.

Here is Holly sharing the inspiration behind her story — a short narrative complemented by photos.

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From AMDG Publishing

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Crooked Lines, my debut novel, threads the lives of two determined souls from different continents and cultures.

Having grown up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, I was enraptured by stories my husband and his friends would share about life in a strict religious order in India. In the late 1970s, they all left their villages as naïve teenagers to enter into the seminary.

They struggled through desperate situations in the slums of India, ministered to the untouchables from the caste system, served in leper colonies, and even met Mother Teresa.

My life was so different…but maybe not. Sitting around with these friends, I realized we could all relate on matters of the heart and while coming from different cultures, we all shared similar emotional experiences.

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So I began writing Rebecca and Sagai’s parallel, but emotionally-themed stories. In Crooked Lines, Rebecca’s symbol for peace in her dysfunctional life is India and she’s sure she’ll find answers when she gets there—a goal that she can’t seem to reach. Across the oceans, Sagai is called to the priesthood. He is refined and defined by the challenges he faces along the pathway toward his goal.

The two characters learn of each other through Sagai’s mentor, Father Michael, who meets Rebecca on a visit to America. He invites the two to pray for each other.

For the past ten years, during many visits to India with my husband, I’ve traveled to the places in Crooked Lines—walked the halls of the seminaries, visited with the heart-wrenching Mother Teresa Home for the Dying, and spent time in remote villages in India. Days after the 2004 tsunami, I stood among hundreds of coconut trees on the shore of the Indian Ocean and wept upon learning the saplings were grave-markers of children who drowned.

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I’ve also experienced pure joy standing at Tiger Hills in Darjeeling watching the sun come up over the majestic Kangchenjunga, the highest peak of the Himalayas.

Along the cooked lines of life, we all experience sadness and joy, but where ever we travel, like Father Michael in Crooked Lines says, “Peace can’t be found in a place, but in the heart.”

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Most every person who read and reviewed Crooked Lines asked for a sequel. The story does continue. The sequel will be released at the end of January. And in between that time, my husband and I are returning to India. Since December 26, 2014 marks the ten-year anniversary of the tsunami we will revisit the remote villages in Nagapattinam, South India and publish a small book; a before and after look at the lives of the orphans we helped and share the status of the villages.

~~~

I read this story in its early stages and couldn’t recommend it more.

——-

Images courtesy: Holly Michael.

Common Core: Do you Approve?

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“Education is life itself.” ~ John Dewey

If you live in the U.S., and even if you don’t, you may have heard about the Common Core Learning Standards and how they’ve been adopted in schools throughout the country.  Many parents and educators like the new system, but just as many hate it.

Since the beginning of the school year (my 5th grader above is required to prove his answers in class, per new system), that’s all I’ve been  hearing. I left the back-to-school meeting with a folder filled with common-core literature, and soon received an invitation to a “Common Core” conference. A new system comes with loads of info.

The news media, sensing a huge conflict, jumped into the fray, assembling groups of politicians and educators, even Hollywood stars arguing — some very passionately –for or against the standards.

While I’ve heard more than enough criticism, nothing seemed watertight, with the exception, perhaps, of the one size doesn’t fit all argument. Meaning, we shouldn’t demand schools everywhere to adopt the same standards.  Fair enough.

I understand certain kids do better if allowed freedoms with emphasis on individualism rather than being dictated how to learn. But I don’t see how that can be done in a state-run school system with thousands of kids. If what we want, as parents, is individualism and freedom within limits, then perhaps the Montessori education system is best and not a taxpayers funded system.

Here is my understanding of what common core does: The tests will require more elaborate answers, and students will be learning to comprehend, analyze, and discuss. The old standards (pre common core): students memorized facts for multiple-choice tests. So, while multiple-choice may still be around, the new system requires kids to think deeper and show how they’d arrived at an answer.

I was never a huge proponent of multiple-choice tests. My Eastern European school system had no such thing. A test required a mini-essay answer for each question, one I had to prove. An answer to a question was, sometimes, a page-long. That encouraged critical thinking, and focused not only on the end result, but on showing how and why the specific answer was chosen.

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Little thinkers in my son’s class

College in the U.S., especially the first year or so, was ridiculously easy once faced with multiple-choice tests. I remember joking with friends: They give me the answer, and I use the process of elimination.

How does that encourage thinking? Sounds very robot like. 

While the jury’s still out on the Common Core principle, I’m in favor of anything that promotes high expectations, anything pushing the student to not only memorize an answer, but dig deeper and understand how and why he came to such an answer.

~~   What say you, dear blogging friend?  If you’re not in the U.S., how does your country’s education system compare?