Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Joy of Grandsons

When our daughter, Dawn, was pregnant with her second child, she and I both dreamed of it being a girl; one we could dress in frills and bows.  Not that we didn't love her firstborn, Alex, but a part of us longed for that female offspring.  Instead, she gave birth to Christopher, her second and last child.  It only followed that when Dawn's brother, Sean, was awaiting fatherhood, we revived our conversations about his family addition being female.  It was never to be.  That birthday brought Fletcher to the family.

Each of these grandsons is a delightful and unique addition to our creative households.  Alex, now almost 16 and pushing six feet tall, is the quiet and introspective one, yet still quick with a sarcastic jab.  His 14 year old brother, Chris, is the outspoken, comic relief of the family.  The two of them have a special bond with their mom - who raised them most of their lives as a single mother - and they also share a great relationship with my husband and I.  They are spending a week plus with us now; always fun and a treat - even if I don't get much work done while they're here because we're playing games, watching movies, creating in the kitchen, sightseeing in our beloved Chicago, or just talking and learning more about them.

The youngest of the grandsons, Fletcher, at four-and-a-half, is the smallest but a dynamo that can keep up with his cousins and he adores them.  Fletch's nonstop conversation and exploration of the world never fails to bring a smile, and time spent with him always reminds me of how fleeting these young days are.  I try to make as much time as I can to be part of his discoveries.

Seeing Alex, Chris and Fletch together is a rarity these days because the older boys live in another state, and school and other responsibilities don't allow for it.  When it does happen, I'm reminded of that time when I longed for a granddaughter, and I really can't imagine what I was thinking.  These three males have given me a new dimension in my life; one that I wouldn't trade for a dozen girls.  I have been given the best gift of all; the chance to be part of the maturing of these special lives - and their gender never enters into that at all.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Reflecting On The End Of An Era

I just finished watching the movie, "Apollo 13".  It's not the first time I've seen it and definitely won't be the last.  I consider it Ron Howard's best directorial effort.  The performances are so moving that I never fail to sob at the movie's closing scenes even though I know the final outcome.  For me, the most touching portrayals are given by Ed Harris, Gary Sinise and Kathleen Quinlan for their characters must endure the waiting on earth.

In the spring of 1970, when the events took place on that fateful Apollo mission, we experienced all the drama along with the rest of the U.S. and the world as we waited to learn what would happen to astronauts Lovell, Swaggert and Haise.  Whenever I watch this film, I am reminded of those long days and the relief and elation we felt when they returned safely to earth.

For twenty years, we lived only fifty miles from Cape Kennedy (Canaveral).  There were many mornings we were awakened by the "boom boom" of the shuttle as it re-entered earth's atmosphere so close to our home, causing me to sleepily respond, "Shuttle's back."  And we were witness to many launches we could see from our back yard.  We'd watch the countdown on TV and, as soon as we heard the words, "We have lift-off", we'd hurry outside and wait until the spacecraft cleared the horizon and we could watch it climb majestically into the sky.

Then there was that morning in January, 1986, when I watched the Challenger vapor trail hang in the wintry air all day.  Usually such trails disappeared shortly after launch but, on that disastrous day, it remained almost as a testimony to the lives that were lost.  It is a visual memory that is still vivid and emotional.

These sense memories began back in 1969, as my husband and I pulled off the highway to view Apollo 11 as it left the Cape carrying the first men to land on the moon.  There wasn't a single car moving on the busy turnpike that day.

I guess that's why I was so sad to watch the televised video of the final shuttle landing yesterday.  It brought to an end an era of U.S. exploration that we must be certain to teach the next generations about.  My daughter, who now has teenage sons, wasn't even born when the drama of Apollo 13 occurred.  But she was raised, as was her brother, to appreicate what the space program meant to our country.  Our explorers were the first on the moon, weathered tragedy as well as triumph, and exemplified the best of what the United States can achieve.  That's what I hope we teach our children and grandchildren.  Watching "Apollo 13" would be a great way to introduce it to them.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

In Defense of Cursive Writing

It was recently announced that the state of Indiana will no longer require cursive writing to be taught in their public schools.  They reason it is more important to teach typing for computer use than to try and read "scribbling".

I'm not against teaching typing, nor am I foolish enough to think that having students master cursive writing is going to get them to abandon e-mails or texting.  But I do have a list of arguments about the need for future generations to know how to write in cursive.

First of all, I like the terms joint writing and real writing which are commonly used for this type of penmanship in the UK (I often think the Brits have much better words for things than we do, but that's a subject for another post).  Those expressions denote exactly what the joining together of letters with a pen on a page do.

The next thought that comes to mind is: how will they sign their own names to legal papers or documents of any kind?  Oh, yes, I suppose signatures could be done with an electronic fingerprint, but isn't that sort of a dumbing down of society?  What comes to mind are those in previous generations who never learned to write and signed with an "x".  Is that what we want to progress to in our electronic rush?

It also occurred to me that our future society might not even be able to read historical documents like the Declaration of Independence, or archival letters and such in museums.  Again, I would predict that these could be replicated in bold print letters, but at what loss to their appreciation and even their self-esteem at interpreting the original script?

My curiosity about just how widespread this opinion about cursive is led me to some research and some heartening facts.  It appears that cursive is still being widely taught between grades 1-3 in U.S. public and private schools.  There are exceptions such as Tennessee which teaches practically none, and there are teachers who claim they are too busy to teach it.

The most interesting fact I learned, in support of continuing to have students learn cursive, is that it's been proven to be conducive to brain development and language fluency.  It allows a child to overcome motor challenges by causing both the left and right sides of the brain to work together as he masters the exercise, activating parts of the brain that lead to increased command of vocabulary, while stimulating intelligence and improving neural connections.

As that previous paragraph states in academic terms, there are sound reasons for the instruction of cursive far beyond the obvious ones, and the arguments against it, including the influence of the internet, the pressure of teaching standardized testing that leave no time, or the push to be technologically literate don't wash with me.  Regardless of what else our young people need to learn to survive in the twenty-first century, real writing needs to stay in their curriculum.

I'd really like to hear your thoughts on it.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Dialogue Voices

This won't be the first post where I've extolled the invaluable help of the members of my writing group, and I'm sure it won't be the last. Each time their critique and counsel aid me in improving my writing, I want to pass on my added knowledge.  At yesterday's meeting, I experienced one of those sessions.

The first draft of a book, for me, is written quickly and without much serious thought about the details.  I'm lucky because, by reading the draft chapters to my fellow writers, I gain wisdom about what I might be failing to notice as I pound the keys to get that story on paper.

Yesterday had to do with the dialogue I had penned, involving the protagonist and her parents.  It was pointed out that the words sounded too formal for a family just talking to each other, and that my characters voices all tended to sound alike.  My son, Sean, who is a member of my group, did say that the father's voice (whose character name is Gene, which was my father's name) did remind him of his grandfather; that tickled me that he made note of the similarity to name and voice.  His suggestion was to leave his dialogue as is because that was how he spoke, but work on the other two.

I certainly didn't mean to make it too wordy, nor did I realize that I was creating dialogue clones.   This is a major reason for every writer to have a group of wordsmiths to review your work as you go, and help make it better.

Ultimately, as our group agrees, what goes into a writer's work must be that writer's decision, but a good writer should always seek and value the opinion of other members of his group.  I hope I never fail to remember that lesson.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Independence Day Revisited

It was troubling to hear that, according to a recent media poll, only 58% of those questioned could identify the year the Colonies declared their independence from England.  And many did not know what country we broke away from!  I could do a lengthy blog on my frustrations with the education system but that's not the focus of this post.  I do find it an upsetting statistic, however.

This most recent July 4th found my husband and I (and our daughter-in-law, Sande) viewing a local parade, waiting for the appearance of our son, Sean, and his son, Fletcher.  They were riding one of the last floats in the parade.. Sean recently portrayed John Adams in a theatre production of "1776", so he had donned his costume and wig for this appearance, and Fletch wore a shirt, vest and cap that reminded me of a 1930's waif; he was adorable.  They both happily waved and called out to the crowd; Fletch loving the spotlight as he usually does.  That moment spoke to me about what this day means; about freedom, and family, and the many reasons we have to be thankful for where we find ourselves, despite our hard times.

But it also brought to mind again the nights that I sat in the audience, watching Sean and his fellow actors (including my husband, R.J.) recreate the lives of the men responsible for our Declaration of Independence.  I was cheered by the positive reactions of the audience, including their standing ovations at the end of the play.  I wondered what percentage of them were learning history as they sat there.  It gave more than inner pride for my son's talents as the lead character.  It brought me joy and satisfaction to realize that this entertainment venue, with its first class production values, was giving those patrons a glimpse into all the reasons we should feel proud and strong on every July 4th.

If you've never seen "1776" onstage, you've missed something.  And I'm sorry you couldn't have seen my son as John Adams because he captured the role brilliantly.  But, if you're curious about this drama and you can't find a production of it being done, rent the movie.  It stars some of the original cast from Broadway, and is similarly moving.  I defy you not to feel national pride after viewing it.  And, should you know some young people who aren't schooled in the beginnings of our national history, have them view it with you.  Sean grew up with that movie, and always wanted to be part of its cast.  When he and R.J. (who has acted in two previous productions as well as this one) were chosen to be onstage together in this one, it was a dream come true for them both. And the memory of it will always be a cherished part of our family history.

Yes, it's personal pride I've been talking about, but it's also national pride.  And this play, first created over thirty years ago, is one of the best ways I know to instill a sense of that kind of pride in anyone.