Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Morning Dove

"Is she hurt?" I asked my husband.

"No, it's so windy the birds are grounded."

The bird then hopped on the outside table. I ran for my camera, changed lenses then shot through the glass first, our dog Scout next to me, straining to see what I saw. She loves to chase birds.

My husband held Scout while I opened the door to get a better angle and clearer shot, feeling the blast of cold sucked into the room.

The bird reminded me of the Robert Louis Stevenson poem from A Child’s Garden of Verses:

Time to Rise 

A birdie with a yellow bill

Hopped upon my window sill,

Cocked his shining eye and said:

"Ain't you 'shamed, you sleepy-head!"

Now my husband says, “What are we doing here?” since this little photo op and story vignette disrupted our work.

“I’m posting a blog real quick.”

“There’s no such thing.”

Alas, time to rise. 

Friday, March 27, 2009

ABC News Person of the Week: Greg Mortenson

Caught just a glimpse of a preview of tonight's newscast which will spotlight Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea. Delighted that he is getting this national media attention. 

Catching up on World magazine reading last night, an article in the March 28, 2009 issue titled "Wealth Effects" introduced a woman I had never heard of, Roberta Green Ahmanson. Fascinating. 

Because her husband is rich, I mean "someone whose family name is on half the buildings in downtown Los Angeles," she has learned about philanthropy. Learned what, you ask?

"You can't make people do for money what they don't want to do anyway. If you see things you think need to be done in the world, you look around to find the people who share that vision and the skills, ability and drive to do those things and come alongside them."

Like Greg Mortenson, who from the beginning did what he did without special funding because his mission mattered that much to him. And now the money and the media and the imagination of readers have caught up with his passion to help educate children in Pakistan and Afghanistan, a venture aimed especially to help young girls. 

I think Greg would still be doing what he has been doing, going where he goes until he is gone.

Should be interesting to watch how ABC spins Greg's remarkable story.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

Precious. An overwrought, saccharine-sweet word, the name Precious fits the “traditionally built” African woman Mma Ramotswe, the main character in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Perfectly.

Last night, my friend Kelly and I got to see a preview of the new HBO film series based on the Alexander McCall Smith book series at the Angelica theatre in Dallas. The series premiers on Sunday, March 29 with the two-hour movie, and six one-hour episodes follow. 

About half of the crowd stayed for the Q&A with Producer Amy J. Moore , pictured here, who described the nine-year-saga to bring her dream to the cinema. I don't go anywhere without a camera:)

Amy said, “I dream big.”

 Seeing the beloved story come to life through characters on a big screen, as one among a packed-house audience comprised of fans of the book series, I sensed immediate approval.

“Your reactions are fantastic,” Amy said afterwards. “I worried about how Americans would react or relate to Africa,” and she went on to say that she felt the themes in these novels “are very universal.” 

I agree. Elegant storytelling with no heavy-handedness, author McCall Smith created a world enviable for its simplicity. 

When asked about the job of Producer, Amy said, “A real Producer brings material, talent or money” to the endeavor, which in this case she brought the material to British Director Anthony Minghella who also helped write the screenplay. Minghella died on the morning of the British premiere, and Producer Sydney Pollack died two months later, two sorrows that hint at the difficulties she personally experienced in addition to 12-hour days, 6-days a week—“rigorous”—during filming on location in Botswana.

“In Botswana, there are smart people but no film base,” she said. “We asked for a table and we’d get 3 chairs,” something that demonstrates the resourcefulness of the people of Africa. One thing she hopes to share through the film is the spirit of the African people who even though much of life is “laborious,” they are “a people with so little who are joyous.” 

Amy told a story on herself.  She went up to a group of young people and asked, “Where’s the bathroom?”

These youths looked at her, one spoke, “In our culture we greet each other first.”

That encounter describes what Alexander McCall Smith captured in these books, like a "fable," she called it. Amy noted from page 225 in the African edition, page 234 in the American edition and I found on page 232 in the British edition of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, book one in the series, Mr. JLB Matekoni’s reflection on the character Mma Ramotswe:

He looked at her in the darkness, at this woman who was everything to him—mother, Africa, wisdom, understanding, good things to eat, pumpkins, chicken, the smell of sweet cattle breath, the white sky across the endless, endless bush, and the giraffe that cried, giving its tears for women to daub on their baskets; O Botswana, my country, my place.

Amy Moore said, “If someone can depict that, get that so right—the rest of the world needs to know that. We don’t get that anywhere.”

Don’t you think that’s Precious?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Five-year-old Little Girls

Last week I helped my daughter do some painting.  While we cleaned up the mess, she asked her daughter Ava to play with the boys. The boys are two-year-old twins, Beau and Beck. 

When Beau found me, I knew to go looking for Beck. Still in the backyard with Ava all right, Beck had made his own mess.

When my daughter saw Beck's face, he acted like he was proud of how he looked—smiling, searching for if not certain of her approval.

“That's what happens when you ask a five-year-old to watch a two-year-old,” she said.

With four kids, how does she stay so calm?

Timing punctuated those images. Waiting for me when I got home, my aunt had sent a package of letters my mom had written to her. Eager to explore these treasures, the next morning I pulled out a few random letters to read, not knowing what to expect.

From a letter my mom wrote in 1956 when I was five-years-old and my sister Renée was three: 

“The kids are bratty as ever. Carol went to church yesterday alone (we live about 3 doors down) & I told her to come back right after Sunday School. So she dragged in about 12. When she gets out of my sight she takes things in. And Renée talks to me something terrible--tells me how ugly I am, to shut up, dammit, & go to hell. I washed her mouth out with soap & it helped for about 5 minutes.”

That paragraph is verbatim, down to the numbers and ampersands. Growing up, I remember going to church by myself; I just didn’t know I started at age five.

Every mother was at one time a five-year-old little girl. Five-year-olds do indeed “take things in.” And mothers somehow learn to keep their cool.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

What Just Ain't So

A Google search for a quote my pastor used in his sermon this morning led to a book by Ralph Keyes, The Quote Verifier.

Citing Mark Twain, the Pastor made the point, we don’t know too little but know things that “just ain’t so.” We need reliable information, he said.

I wanted to get the quote right, but also the point taken, how easy it is to believe a lie.

Discriminating between facts and opinions when so much bad information comes at us­— more in a day than people a century ago confronted in their lifetime—gets harder by the hour depending on who you listen to, talk to or read.

Here’s the quote and what Ralph Keyes said in the book excerpt: 

“It AIN’T so much the things we don’t know that get us into trouble. It’s the things we know that just ain’t so.”

In various forms this popular observation gets attributed most often to Mark Twain, as well as to his fellow humorists Artemus Ward, Kin Hubbard, and Will Rogers. Others to whom it’s been credited include inventor Charles Kettering, pianist Eubie Blake, and—by Al Gore—baseball player Yogi Berra.

Twain did once observe, “It isn’t so astonishing the things that I can remember, as the number of things I can remember that aren’t so,” but biographer Albert Bigelow Paine said he was paraphrasing a remark by humorist Josh Billings. (In Following the Equator Twain also wrote, “Yet it was the schoolboy who said, ‘Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.’”) Billings, whose real name was Henry Wheeler Shaw, repeated this theme often in different forms.

On one occasion Billings wrote, “I honestly beleave it iz better tew know nothing than two know what ain’t so.” A handbill for one of his lectures included the line “It iz better to kno less than to kno so much that ain’t so.” Across this handbill Billings wrote longhand, “You’d better not kno so much than know so many things that ain’t so.” Apparently the humorist considered this his signature “affurism.”

Verdict: Credit Josh Billings.

Keyes also wrote The Courage to Write, a book I read for the message captured in the subtitle, “How Writers Transcend Fear.” Yes, writers must tackle fighting within and fears without, including the fear of making mistakes.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Blurred Calendar

Nothing blurs my calendar like travel. Trains and planes and automobiles, I wish I had started a mileage log years ago. The past three weeks I have traveled coast-to-coast. Almost.

Working from most recent events, this past weekend in Orlando for the Synergy Conference brought me face-to-face with one of my favorite contemporary Christian writers, Lauren Winner. She wrote/ published her first book at age 24, a memoir called Girl Meets God

Lauren spoke to the group gathered in Orlando on writing memoir. Lauren admitted, “I had book lust,” as a way to emphasize the difference between writing and publishing, encouraging those of us interested in memoir should write first. Worry about publishing later, if at all. Her speed editing of a piece I had written elicited some helpful comments and book recommendations. What a gift.

The night before the Florida trip, my friend Sandi and I attended an Austin College reception for author/humanitarian, Greg Mortenson, who wrote the NYT bestseller, Three Cups of Tea Greg received a $100,000. cash award from AC, The Posey Leadership Award, set up to recognize outstanding “servant leadership.”

Greg said he plans to use his gift “as seed money” to fund scholarships for girls with “a fierce desire to go to school,” to pursue education beyond secondary school. Greg repeated a principle, guiding his efforts from the beginning of his work in Pakistan and Afghanistan:

“If you educate a boy, you educate the individual.

If you educate a girl, you educate the community.”

Greg listens to and asks people in the countries where he works, “How can I help you?”

The people respond, “We don’t want our babies to die. We want our children to go to school.” Who doesn’t want that? 

What Greg Mortenson has done testifies to power beyond mere human aspiration or resolve. Where he continues to work, to invest his life, has yielded astonishing results. General David Petraeus now requires U.S. military officers headed to Afghanistan to read Three Cups of Tea. Greg quoted a saying, “The ink of a scholar is greater than the blood of a martyr.” 

When Greg Mortenson signed my copy of his book, “Carol—God bless” with a flourished “G” [for Greg] underneath, those two words “God bless” answered the main question I kept asking as I read his book. Who does he rely on for strength, the resources needed to accomplish the extraordinary tasks set before him? Does he know Whom to thank?

A footnote to story, not in Mortenson’s book, he spoke of growing up in Tanzania where his father and Dr. Robert Jensen worked together to build the Kilimanjaro Medical Center. Yes, that’s Rosemary Jensen's husband, Robert. She served as former Executive Director of BSF, now heads Rafiki Foundation headquartered in Florida 

My calendar blurred, my eyes crossing, my feet hurting, I thank God for the opportunities compressed into these past few weeks and trust that in days ahead I can devote some time to share more with you.