The Monday Book: ENTERING THE SILENCE by Thomas Merton

capI picked this up in Philly at Neighborhood Books, run by the kind colorful local character Curtis. I didn’t know at the time it was a near-famous book; I was writing about silence and thought it would be interesting as research. But it’s actually the second volume of Thomas Merton’s surprising bestselling autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain. Merton became a Cistercian (Trappist) monk and wrote a lot about his spiritual journey. In Silence, he wrote about visiting two other orders, and how he decided to join.

The book is in three sections, each dealing with an order. One is the hardworking Trappists, who Merton says pretty much consider prayer, work, and hardship as all under the umbrella of prayer. When he asks one of the monks what it feels like to be part of such an order, the monk asks, “Have you ever been in love?” When Merton affirms, the monk says, “Well, like that.”

The first description will speak to writers, because it’s as much about Merton–who has come to the silence of the monks to get away from distractions and allow himself to write–discovering he is distracted by the silence. He needs to fill it up, get away from it, silence it. He almost fears it. And it doesn’t help him write, not until he gets to a new idea of time and commitment and passion (which is very eloquently described).

The next two descriptions are more just depictions of the living Trappists and the deceased Capadocians, where he visits the little caves that used to be their homes and pretty much comes out of that description thanking God it isn’t a choice anymore, or he might have felt compelled to make it. (That’s them in the photo at the top.) This isn’t a book with a story, more like getting inside someone’s head for an hour. If you’ve ever read A Grief Observed, it kinda reads like that – completely different subject matter, but just “here, and that’s all I have to say.” Yet said with such thoughtful eloquence.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, Wendy Welch, writing

A Picture from 1000 Words…..

Rainbow 041“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

“The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed. It is so ordered.”

– majority opinion of Justice Kennedy.

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TWO WRITING SCHOLARSHIPS AVAILABLE

December folder 047Every year we hold WRITES COMES TO THE CUMBERLANDS, a one-day workshop focused on narrative writing (fiction or non). We talk about the mindset of making time for writing, techniques for getting the ideas formed, writing until the draft is done, editing, editing, editing, editing, editing – and tips for editing. And we have a great time.

The workshop is limited to five people, and this year as always scholarships are available from the American NewMedia Education Foundation, courtesy of their president Debra Lee Hallock’s generosity.

However, this year, two people who were taking the scholarships were teachers from Wisconsin, where I had done author visits last year. All set to come share the fun, one of the women discovered she was in stage 4 breast cancer. Her best friend wants to stay and help her through the next few months. Our prayers go out to them.

This means two scholarships are still available if you want to join the day. You need to be in the education field. If you’d like to talk to someone who has attended these in past years, Jim Wardell, Angelic Towe, Lizbeth Phillips, or Vicky Marcum Evans (all on Facebook) would be happy to describe their experiences.

It all happens Saturday, July 25. The morning is a bit of discussion, then writing exercises, half an hour for lunch (bring your own or eat at Our Good Chef Kelley’s Second Story Cafe and an afternoon of feedback, discussion on experiences and writing “issues” personal to the attendees, a little brainstorming, and some final discussion.

WRITE COMES TO THE CUMBERLANDS works well for those who have an idea or a page or two down on what they want to write about, or as a kick-starter for those who “are gonna get to it someday.” If you have any questions, drop me an email at jbeck69087@aol.com; people who are not teachers, the day is $100. We start at 9 and finish at 4:30.

And there are kittens. :]

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, crafting, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch, writing, YA fiction

The Monday Book: WHERE TROUBLE SLEEPS by Clyde Edgerton

Edgerton’s books tend to circle a few themes; think of them as small circles that actually go down into the core of human beings. On the surface it looks like a simple, small concept, but the roots go into the fabric of what makes us tick.

Like when “rootless amorality meets deep-rooted morality” as he puts it – drifters come through, they do wrong, they’ve been doing wrong, they meet people who do right, and don’t you forget it. Little old ladies who sing in choirs. Churchgoers whose idea of sin is fishing in Sundays. And then this guy shows up driving a stolen car….

It’s kind of adorable, and symbol of Edgerton’s genius, that the Gypsy Man driving the stolen car takes a cabin at the Settle Inn.

It all kinda goes from there, in hilarious yet poignant directions. Gypsy man, the call to repent, the church goers, and life in small-town North Carolina in the 1950s. You laugh until you cry. E

Especially at the ending, which I won’t give away, but suffice it to say, never miss with a church-going little old lady who isn’t as old or as little as you think.

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, humor, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, Wendy Welch, writing, YA fiction

A Bittersweet Scottish Interlude

valkyttie cuddlingJack’s weekly guest blog

This week I fly to Scotland to lead my annual tour – usually a fairly carefree occasion. But there is an additional purpose this time. I am carrying the ashes of our beloved Valkyttie to spread along her favorite walk–around the perimeter of our tiny village of New Gilston, where she spent her happiest years. Like many of you, I’ve shed a great number of tears for departed pets – both dogs and cats. They teach us so much about how to really live! And Valkyttie did that for Wendy and me – our marriage cat.

We first saw Valkyttie in the cat and dog shelter in Leith near Edinburgh. The first few months of her life were spent near my home town of Dunfermline, where she quickly developed from a frightened little black powerpuff of a kitten into a confident territorial ‘Wha Daur Meddle Wi’ Me” cat. When we moved to New Gilston, near St. Andrews in Fife, she took over the village and the surrounding farmland and would often accompany us on our evening walks. She brought a live mouse into the house once and when I didn’t immediately dispatch it, realized she needed to lower her expectations. The next day, she brought me a moth to practice on.

The stories about her are legion and legend, not just in Scotland, but with her two years in Lancashire in England, and a further two years in Florida (where she preferred to be indoors because of the heat) and finally her halcyon days here at the bookstore. As long as there are copies of The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap around she will live on; she’s on the cover of the large print edition here in the US from Center Point, and hiding on the front of the main US edition from St Martin’s Press–as well as the Korean, Polish and Portuguese language editions. Many’s the school author program we’ve done with “spot the kitty” featuring our own Vals.

I must finish (with a lump in my throat) by paying respect to the Sainted Beth (of Powell Valley Animal Hospital) who understood how much Valkyttie meant to us and went to extraordinary lengths to ease her final journey over the Rainbow Bridge. I’m very honored to have known Valkyttie and to be chosen to take her to her final resting place along her favorite ramble. And I’ll be crying my eyes out when I do.

Editor’s note: Jack scattered Valkyttie’s ashes yesterday. We waited to run the blog until then but left it in future tense because we cry every time we get near it. Thanks all!

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, Wendy Welch

Do I have a Secret Admirer??!!!

Strange days here in the bookstore – stranger than usual, I mean.

Yesterday I opened my microwave and a wee box from Blackbird Bakery sat there. Inside I discovered the Mother of all Pink Cupcakes – tall icing, silver sugar sprinkles, wee flowers, the kind of thing Our Hadley would have picked out if she’d been taken to the bakery, shown the cakes, and told she could have any one she wanted.

tshirts 014It made a lovely breakfast. That’s how things go around here – you find a cupcake in the microwave still in the box, you check to see if it’s anyone else’s, and then you eat it. Delicious.

So  now the mystery remains to be digested: who left it there?

Was it the same person who, about four days before, left a bar of peppermint goat milk soap on the paranormal romances?

Ohhhh, the plot thickens, just like my waistline after eating the Pink Cupcake.

(I regret NOTHING.)

Anyway, if it was you, thank you. It’s lifted my spirits while Jack’s been away, and I smell of peppermint. Actually, I’m taking the soap back to the writing cabin this weekend to put in my sweater drawer, where it will keep mice away, plus counteract the hard water of northeast Tennessee.

So, random chaos abounds in a good way here at the bookstore. It could be elves, one supposes – but don’t they more often frequent shoe shops?

No, it’s probably a human or two. My friend Elissa guffawed when I said, “Yes, but only a few people have access to the microwave.”

“Everyone in Big Stone knows where the key is kept, plus half of Facebook, and you’re narrowing suspects by access? Stick to memoir writing; you have no future in crime novels.”

She has a point.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch, writing

The Monday Rant: Fed up with Starvation

jessie 6The Monday Book will return next week.

Dear ____:

You asked me for a cat, but on learning you’d have to put $20 toward her spay, went to a yard sale site and got a “free kitten” instead. Then you posted on Facebook that you were “all for rescues but I can’t afford to help with the costs.”

I see.

Via Facebook, you also complain about welfare recipients taking this country apart with their demands for free services and refusal to contribute to the common good. This week, four of my friends are trying to feed, foster, and find homes for: 14 kittens and 5 adult cats; 18 kittens and 7 adult cats; 6 kittens and 4 adult cats; and a feral family of five. Most have some form of infection from lack of care.

We live within ten miles of each other.

In each case, we are paying–from our own pockets, from crowdsource begging, from crafts we make–to get them all spayed and neutered. Because we know if we don’t, five months from now we will be bottle feeding another sick, starving family of neglected cats.

This doesn’t count the litters that go to the shelters because their owners “couldn’t afford” to spay Mom.

Here is some information on what it costs taxpayers to run an animal shelter:

 In 1972, American shelters spent approximately $800 million on animal welfare versus around $2,400 million in 2007.there is a direct correlation between the dollars spent per capita on shelters and the decrease in shelter populations/euthanasia. (http://www.humanesociety.org/animal_community/resources/timelines/animal_sheltering_trends.html)

In other words, it is cheaper to kill than to adopt. It is understandable that you need to live a frugal lifestyle, but does that mean you euthanize the unsold Doberman puppies from your backyard breeding business? $900 as the going price seems like it might offer a little bit of discretionary income, but hey, it’s your money.

None of us object to you living on what you can afford; we object to you leaving us to clean up your messes. What you refuse to pay for, my friends and I are covering in sweat, tears, and cold hard cash: sick cats whose suffering could have been prevented with a $16 vaccination package; unweaned kittens left in roadside boxes where it takes them two days to die of starvation; 6 of 10 cats entering our shelter euthanized at taxpayer expense because $67 on the Margaret Mitchell van was “too much.”

The cost of refusing to spay/neuter is exponential, but if I have understood you correctly, so long as you don’t pay, you don’t care. Let bleeding hearts like me pick up the tab and the kittens. It’s a kind of legal blackmail based on personalities: we care; you don’t. La-la-la-la.

Not taking responsibility for your actions does not remove the problem, just passes it to someone else. Sorta like those welfare people you complain about.

You are not despicable. You are evil.

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, post-apocalypse fiction, small town USA, Wendy Welch