Wednesday, December 22, 2010

From Luke's Gospel

The Holy Spirit depicted as a dove above the H...Image via Wikipedia
When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord  (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: 
“a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him.  It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. 

When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required,  
Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
   you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
   and the glory of your people Israel.” 

Luke 2: 22-32*

*The New International Version of the Bible
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Friday, December 17, 2010

Originality in Literature and Art

Treasure: the person C S Lewis
"Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it." --C. S. Lewis

 "You don't have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body." --C. S. Lewis

The quote themes links with Lewis's views expressed elsewhere that emphasize the art of living fully, without "cleverness," and that every human we meet, whether we like them or not, is a living soul. In the nonfiction works of Clive Staples Lewis, these are among the many expressions and concepts that remain with me. I see them linked in this way: Man, male and female, is an original and the highest concept of creation, a living soul made by God. What "originality" and life we have as humans is derived from the Origin of all things. (Great discoveries, we know from biographies, seem to have come unexpectedly through the living seeker--scientist, artist, inventor, e.g..-- in an inexplicable moment of "Aha!"clarity or understanding.)

Especially for writers, the soul of the writer inserts itself, if only between the lines. It happens. In my opinion, that is true for fiction, as well, where being "original" is expected. But originality must be explained like this: think of how many stories are variations on different themes familiar for ages. Literally. What ensures originality from a skilled writer is that the person behind the writing is "an original"--a unique, individual human soul.

As far as style is concerned, have you ever tried to write what look like simple openings of well-known American authors, such as Hemingway, only to find how hard their simplicity was to do well and...well, originally?

Getting back to C. S. Lewis's quotes about the soul or souls...think of how many books sell because they mention soul in the title? Chicken Soup for the Soul series is an easy example. Before that, and maybe the inspiration for the Chicken Soup writers, were "soul food" and "soul music."

Joining originality and meaning, God put into Man, male and female, something meant to last--a soul. I think there might be not so much weirdness to suggest a soul DNA, for each soul, like each person, is similar to others and yet uniquely able to relate to God...or to be ignored or starved. Meanings in all of this are worth  exploring, for the soul's value is suggested in sayings like "He sold (or nearly sold) his soul for that deal," very like the words, "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?"

And there's Faust, a frightening, dynamic soul story if ever there was one, and inspiring its own variations by other authors. 

How to give originality to themes like soul, heart, love, life, meaning, risk, obsession, mystery....? There are endless questions for the writer to choose, puzzle over, or get writer's block from. Yet it keeps getting done. 
To ease the mind about being "original" there is the advice to just write. Begin to fill a page on a theme you've already thought through countless times. Write it your own way, in your own style, and with its own needed balance from your heart, life, mind... while, as C S Lewis said, telling the truth. Truth runs through the best writing, including fiction.


CS Lewis quotes: Source
Updated/revised from Advent to year-round: 6/11/12 
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Wednesday, December 08, 2010


Deadline: 31 December 2010

Photo from CityLit Website-2009 Winners
Maryland Young Writers' Contest Looks to Break Record
Entire article from CityLit Project website (emphases added below)-posted 10/15/2010

This year marks the third annual Maryland Young Writers' Contest sponsored by CityLit Project and Baltimore's Child.  In 2008, we received 400 submissions. Last year, we received over 900 submissions.  Come on teachers and young writers, let's not just break 1000 this year but push for 1500!

Young authors, poets, and playwrights need a forum for their work and Baltimore's Child and CityLit Project have teamed up to offer these young people the audience and recognition they deserve. Each fall, the Maryland Young Writers' Contest for students in grades 3-12 as well as home-schoolers recognizes outstanding short stories and poems in three age groups: Grades 3-5, Grades 6-8, and Grades 9-12.

Prizes are offered in each category and first place winners are published in Baltimore's Child. All winners are invited to read their entries at a local Barnes & Noble in the spring. Pictured... [above] are some of the winners from last year's contest who read at the Barnes & Noble Inner Harbor.

Deadline is December 31, 2010, so get writing today!
The interior of the Barnes & Noble located at ...Image via Wikipedia

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Opinion: The Present Age Needs Psalms and Prayer

Mental prayer is the most effective means of a...
The Angelus
Image via Wikipedia

"Prayer and the computer age may strike us as incompatible. However, I see their intersections, don't you? Prayer, both individual and communal, is to me like a resting place of praise and thanksgiving amid information saturation. I see us choosing to respond to and live in the world in either belief or disbelief. We can stand at the crossroads and decide. The question is to pray or not to pray."
Thoughts adapted from Psalms for All Seasons

A boy concentrated on features of a mobile phone while the grownups talked before Thanksgiving.

His uncle watched a while, then finally asked the boy: 

"What if you spent as much time getting to know the Bible as you do that phone?"

This was said gently, and we could ask a similar question about our digital distractions. When we think, we know that no Age, however advanced it may seem, can outdo or drive out prayer. Age to
Age, God remains high and lofty and yet as near as our breathing. He is the same, and prayer takes us near Him.

Source of the opening quote is the book Psalms for All Seasons by John E.Craghan, 1993, The Liturgical Press, pp. 1,2
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Monday, November 08, 2010

Writers: Veterans Day, This November 11, What Did You Write?

A bagpiper with the U.S. Naval Academy Pipes a...Image via Wikipedia

What did you write about Veterans Day if you know no one who is a veteran?
If you know no one who is now in Iraq, Afghanistan, or elsewhere?
If you know no one who is now in one of the training institutions, like West Point, US Naval Academy at Annapolis, MD, or the Air Force or Coast Guard academies, or the Marines? The answer is obvious, isn't it? Do you appreciate freedom won for nations by the sacrifices and shed blood of others?

Professional writers do research for fiction, news columns, and other purposes. Special days like Veterans Day are a time to pay attention and do the research.

Thankfully, my brother Gerald returned home near the end of the war, having flown more than the maximum number of combat missions in his (second) P-38 Lightning fighter. Yes, I am proud of his service during WWII. I was old enough to pick up the quiet feelings in our home, to remember the service star in our front door window, and to remember the photos taken of my mother when he sent flowers for her birthday. American services organizations helped veterans to send special gifts or notices to family, as well as mail, and they were able to keep in touch on special days. I remember my mother crying then smiling on such a gift occasion. Although I was in preschool, the impressions remained.

It honors veterans and their families whenever a writer honors their service, no matter what they did. Military cannot function without fighters and also without those who are part of provisions and other logistics, as well as medical teams.

It will mean a lot to families of military now if you write on some "angle" of service, including how the family support helps each person in service. Write about the families. Encourage the children. Let them know how much their loved one's service means to this country.

What did  you write?

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Thursday, November 04, 2010

What Good Are A News Columnist's Thoughts on Unknown Soldiers?

     "No writer can adequately express the beauty of the service person’s call to duty; no painter can paint it, no song can capture it’s fullness no matter how beautifully each measure is written. But at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier the beauty becomes clear, in silence and dignity, and something that feels like a hint of angels guarding the guards themselves. And that beauty is something we can be worthy of if we develop souls that aspire to honor only that which is good, and turn away from the trivial, the fleeting, and the evil. Time is shorter than we think, as a country and as a society. Let us use the service person’s example to shine a light that will show us the way out of the darkness. The guard walks the mat, with thoughts known only to himself and to God, who also knows the identities of the Unknown Soldiers – all of them."

Those words come at the end of a moving article by columnist Deirdre Reilly, about the 2010 U.S. troop surge in Afghanistan, after she visited the Tomb of the Unkowns, formerly known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, representing all unknowns. Written for the Reading Advocate and syndicated by Gatehouse News Service, her article is titled:  Sobering Thoughts on New Troop Surge to Afghanistan. Are you a columnist? Do you ever wonder "What good are a news columnist's thoughts about...matters of importance?" Read Deirdre's entire article and see what you think then. Be encouraged to take your writing where it needs to go to be of some good. Bravo.

Opening Quote Source: Reading (MA) Advocate newspaper, of Gatehouse News Service, 2009.
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Friday, October 22, 2010

Opinion: The Big Story of Stigma Behind NPR Firing of Juan Williams

Juan WilliamsImage by Fairfax County Public Library via Flickr

There is no need to repeat the recent media news of National Public Radio-NPR-firing political analyst Juan Williams for expressing a certain personal view about Muslim attire aboard airplanes (Muslim terrorists and planes being joined in the acts of 9/11). Mr. Williams expressed personal feelings that do not conform to the NPR image. The lack of conformity was the problem. Mr. Williams made it clear that he was speaking only of the iconic effect of Muslim garb plus airplanes, an effect that remains in the American experience. Nevertheless, he did not conform his reactions to the expressed ideals of NPR, it is now clear.

There is no need to put up a shield of words to defend Mr. Williams here, for Mr. Williams fights verbally very well. In fact, in the context of his remarks about airplanes and garb on Fox News, he said that his feelings are not directed toward all Muslims. The larger story that NPR exposed is its intolerance of Mr. Williams' personal expression, then exacerbated the situation by its leader's efforts to stigmatize Mr. Williams.

That is one part of the big story, that NPR leadership claims tolerance and yet  behaves intolerantly--grossly so. The other part of the big story here is that the leader of NPR used a tactic often used by those of extremist views, by any name, to put down anyone who does not agree: to stigmatize critics. When the leader of NPR referred to Mr. Williams taking up his views with "his psychiatrist or his publicist," she employed that tactic of stigmatization.
There is personal relief that the effort was seen for what it was, by all who still maintain, in the public forum, that every citizen of a free society has the right to express personal views. The intolerance of NPR management in this instance caused the closing, even the slamming, of their open door... on a respected journalist and commentator.

(c) Jean Purcell
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Monday, October 18, 2010


Juxtaposed images of Superman and Clark KentImage via Wikipedia

If I did not live 45 minutes (in light traffic) from the nation's capital and did not read The Washington Post Metro section most days, would I pay much attention to public school kids' Education/College Prep/Future-building Superman of the book and movie, Waiting for Superman? This movie, a documentary, incites tons of anticipation. It starts this week across the country, and I can hardly wait to see it.

There are lots of discouraged kids all over this land. A man featured in the movie, who grew up in a struggling community, recently said on TV that he cried when his mom told him Superman was not real. He said his hopes for "getting out" were dashed. Maybe in thriving areas like Maryland and Northern Virginia suburbs, most kids do not know that feeling. But, in neglected urban, rural, and suburban neighborhoods, there are many kids waiting for something to get them out. Even if they cannot name what or who it is, they are waiting for something that will happen, or someone that will come to save their day.

I don't want to bog down in the DC school chancellor Michelle Rhee's dealings with union leadership, but when teachers cannot pass basic proficiency tests in math, science, or English, then remediation or See Ya Later, Teacher seem obvious options to me. Kids, says Rhee, should come first, not last. Buildings need to be qualified, too, and Eastern High School and other deteriorating schools in DC will no longer languish in decay, thanks to restorations under her leadership, even though opposed.

Maybe like me, you cried over your school, too, although for reasons like these:  Those doggone mean teachers expected a lot from you; they fussed if you worked below par. They called your mama if you didn't show up one morning, or have your homework done; or, they had the school secretary put in a call. Some people, even parents, may have shaken their heads over the teachers' old cars or clothes. Most parents, however, praised those "horrible" or "unfair" teachers that pushed you to succeed and got low pay for giving their best. 

Well, thank goodness teachers make more money and get better benefits now. And thank goodness there are some really good teachers. Yet, somehow with progress in professional recognition, in too many places the kids got left behind. They grew up without good teachers, and their kids and now grand-kids got the same, and are trailing, too. Maybe not in your town or mine, but in lots and lots of places. Way too many places have mayors, councils, boards of education, superintendents/chancellors, principals, and/or teachers that do not love kids, trust kids, or respect the needs of all or enough. If they did, don't you think we'd hear less about education budgets and new theories and more about how every student from age six to 17 can read and write at first, third, and sixth grade levels? But that's not happening in too many places. This is not a new problem; it's been worsening for over 30 years. And the solutions are not mysteries that need  Sherlock Holmes to solve.

Apparently, too many of us who want kids to have excellent and devoted teachers have been hoping, voting, praying...or, have we been waiting for Superman to come to the rescue? Where is the Clark Kent among us? Is it Michelle Rhee, and others hoping to be like her? Is it us? I'm going to see the movie, in hope of answers. I opine that Waiting for Superman will give every viewer a lot of ideas, surprises, maybe a few shocks...and fresh thinking about kids first in public education.

(c)2010 Jean Purcell
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Friday, October 01, 2010

The Need to be True: Opinion-Writing Tips

Official logo of the International Herald Trib...Image via Wikipedia
          The chief requirement of writing opinions is to make professional efforts to view and take into account facts, wherever they may lead. Not always easy, for each of us tends to disbelieve what we do not like and believe what favors our perspective. Every writer has personal history, influences, and philosophical leanings.  Great Editorials: Masterpieces of Opinion WritingThe main criticism of news reporting today is the joining of news with opinion, so that the reader may be influenced by another's viewpoint, thereby discouraged from one's own assessments, comparisons, and conclusions. Recently, I saw this happening on the front page of The Washington Post where one adjective, some could say "slur," turned what should have been straight reporting into a judgment intended to slant readers' views. The Washington Post has long been a leading US newspaper of international readership (see International Herald Tribune, the international newspaper in English, a combination of New York Times and Washington Post newspaper news and feature articles).

Opinion writing, in the best of news tradition, is limited to established pages or sections. Different opinions, viewpoints, and perspectives are the hallmark traits of the best news media, whether print, online, TV, and radio. Film writing also thrives, gaining professional respect, on perspectives that influence opinions, even, perhaps, changingMemoirs Of The Life And Times Of Daniel De Foe V1: Containing A Review Of His Writings And His Opinions (1830) them. Learn Opinion Writing Now Faster and Easier with Subliminal Programming CDOriginal Letters of John Locke, Algernon Sidney and Lord Shaftesbury; With an Analytical Sketch of the Writings and Opinions of Locke and Other

Fact- and truth-based opinion-writing is most likely flawed, in some sense of the personal biases of the writer. Yet, the truth helps, and the more known by the writer, the more reliable the open-minded opinion writer. Facts and truth should affect our perspectives, balanced alongside personal experiences and philosophical biases. Truth about situations in flux often must involve a process of discovery.  For this and other reasons, news media that give a range of views, even from competing perspectives of thoughtful writers, thrive.

Opinari, opinion's Latin  root, tells us that opinion is a matter of thought, reason, and belief, based on the fact, experience, and conclusions known to, available, and personal to us.

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Friday, September 24, 2010

Be True: Op-Ed Impact with Appeal

Art Buchwald, Miami Book Fair International, 1989Art Buchwald image via Wikipedia
The Art of Column Writing: Insider Secrets from Art Buchwald, Dave Barry, Arianna Huffington, Pete Hamill and Other Great Columnists

The best, most lasting op-ed writers build their reputations on reliability--sticking to balanced facts, referring to evidence on both sides, making clear arguments, with examples, as powerfully as possible and without intentional distortion.

Art Buchwald, co-author of The Art of Column Writing (see book cover graphic, above) made his views and observations known humorously and unforgettably. I sometimes stood on the opposite side of his conclusions, yet I always enjoyed his work.

Mr. Buchwald knew well the art of likeability joined with honesty and frankness. There was no sign of the bitter write who tends toward fact-bending. This prolific writer never showed bitterness and kept his fans' attention from the first line to the last.

Aim to keep your readers' interest for a long time; help them want to read more, even if they don't always share your views. Argue the facts you know fairly. Inform and entertain in your own style. Keep developing your style. All along the way, you might even change some opinions. (Op-ed writing links are on this page, right column.)

Read "Trains, Airplanes, and Cars" - BELOW. 
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Thursday, September 23, 2010

"Airplanes,Trains, and Cars"-This Title Would Not Have Made It

"Airplanes, Trains, and Cars" could have been a title for this movie, but could not have brought the smooth-fitting tempo it deserved. And, it could not have fit the two unifying and high-level comedic performances that bring this story home. Steve Martin and John Candy deftly pilot, chug, and drive home this comedy of climate and technology foibles, complicated by the unpredictable human elements. "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" fits these actors' tempo. Within the framework of snowstorm and seemingly endless transportation glitches, life dumps on their characters trying to get home for spite of each other. Martin and Candy lead this hilarious story to its moving end--with comic misdirection via planes, trains, and, automobiles. 
Planes, Trains and Automobiles (Those Aren't Pillows Edition)
Titles matter.
Planes Trains & Automobiles [VHS]Steve Martin Comedy Collection (Planes Trains and Automobiles / Out of Towners / Leap of Faith)Uncle Buck

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Monday, September 20, 2010

What You Need to Know about Non-commercial, Free Photos

A breakdown of the different types of CC licen...Image via Wikipedia

Pie chart attribution-ShareAlike 3.0

You need to know how to use photos copied and saved from photo sites, beyond the technology. Copyrights come into play, so you need to read the terms and conditions every time. Some photo sites include a variety of permissions. Always give attribution for your photo sources on blogs and web sites.

Know your rights; learn the meanings and conditions for use of combinations of CC, Creative Commons, photos, as in the pie chart at left.

Save allowed photos to a computer file.

Look for graphics that enhance your ideas, information, and presentation.  

Flickr, Photoxpress, and other online photo sites have free photos. I have used Photoxpress for Baltimore Examiner articles. The article template helped meeasily insert photos and attribute them. (Baltimore Examiner is folding now. See article link, below.)

Streetwise Low-Cost Web Site Promotion: Every Possible Way to Make Your Web Site a Success, Without Spending Lots of Money (Adams Streetwise Series)Your best photo source may be your digital camera.  
D-Link DCS920 Wireless-G Internet CameraKodak EasyShare Z1485 14MP Digital Camera with 5x Optical Image Stabilized Zoom and 2.5 inch LCD (Black)Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W230 12 MP Digital Camera with 4x Optical Zoom and Super Steady Shot Image Stabilization (Silver)Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1 10MP Digital Camera with 12x Wide Angle MEGA Optical Image Stabilized Zoom and 2.7 inch LCD (Silver)

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