To be a good writer, one must read. As soon as I learned to read, I became a voracious reader, devouring library books and the Weekly Reader books that arrived each month. Books were a big part of my childhood world, as I mentioned in my memoir, What Lies Within. The reading habits I established early have remained with me all my life. (more…)
Each day offers a chance to learn something new—or be reminded of what is important. I learned that lesson through laughter and tears last Monday when I attended the memorial Mass for my friend Maud. We met when we served on the Docent Volunteer Council of the Museum of Ventura County, and we bonded instantly. With her warm smile, outgoing nature, colorful and impeccable outfits, quick wit, keen intelligence, and love of food, she instantly attracted my attention. I was fortunate to join her circle of acquaintances and later become her friend.
Seven years ago I taught two life-writing classes to my fellow docents and volunteers as part of my museum service. Maud eagerly joined the class, which I offered because I felt strongly that if we spent our time preserving the stories of people who had made history in our county, we should also preserve our own. People eagerly shared their backgrounds and tales from their lives, which gave me new insight into so many with whom I’d worked but never really knew.
After the class ended, several members asked if I’d teach others. At the time I couldn’t, but many went off and continued to write on their own. Maud was among them. About three years ago she said, “I’ve written about my time in Africa, and I’d like to share it with you.” I felt honored and learned so much as I read her manuscript.
When she was about forty, she went to Nigeria with her husband, who had accepted an administrative position with the Peace Corps. They already had four children, one who had special needs, and magically during their two-year stint they conceived a fifth. Maud referred to her as her African-American baby because of her youngest child’s birthplace.
Maud enjoyed her time overseas, embracing the culture, caring for her husband and children, and becoming part of a team that contributed to so many people’s lives. While there, she wrote many letters home to her parents and in-laws, describing their daily lives and also revealing how much she missed her family. Maud believed family was everything.
When I met her, Maud was a widow, and she’d already lost one son. Three years ago, when our younger son died, she reached out to me with love and compassion. She knew how it felt to lose a child, even when that child was a grown man, as our sons were. I will always remember her kindness.
Recently, as her health began to decline, Maud said, “I only have enough money to live until I’m 95, and I’m already 94.” She felt ready to leave this earth, although those who knew and loved her were not ready to say goodbye.
At her memorial service, we were reminded how to live by her example, finding joy in each day and focusing on what was important. As the priest said, “She taught us to worry less and enjoy more.” That’s a lesson I’ll take to heart.
I read because I write. Simply put, this means that I read to learn from other writers. In the past three years I’ve read more than 70 books. I always take a book with me wherever I go and use any waiting time to read. I may seem like a dinosaur in an age when most people spend their spare time on their cell phones or iPads—and I do read on my iPad—but it’s great to have a hard copy book in hand, too. A few books I’ve purchased as e-books have found their way into my home in hard copy as well. This allows me to refer to them often. (more…)
Horace Ashton had been dead for 27 years when we first met. The man known as “The Spirit of Villarosa” did not appear to me in an ethereal manner. He jumped out of a series of transcripts he recorded in his mid-eighties that were sent to me by his son Marc.
As I began transforming the transcripts into a manuscript, I felt like I was channeling Horace’s spirit through his adventures. Imagine going to sea as a cabin boy at age 14; becoming an orphan at 15, as I had; and accepting a job as a photographer when he was only 16 and had no experience taking pictures. Young Ashton soon found himself photographing Washington’s elite, beginning with Alice Roosevelt and moving on to members of Congress. (more…)