Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Fiction

Because I’m hard at work on my first novel, I’ve had reason to spend some of my time on the differences between fiction and non-fiction. All of my previous work – books, blogs and miscellaneous editorial assignments – has been non-fiction. An easy distinction is to differentiate events that actually occurred versus those that were created. Whether it is the subject matter or a new set of discoveries, I am finding that there is more fact to fiction than I previously believed.

Let me provide an example. There are four major characters in my novel that takes place primarily in Poland during World War II. They are characters defined by extraordinary accomplishments and they overcome obstacles that few of us who are alive can imagine.

Although I develop their characters within the plot I have constructed, I now prefer to think of these characterizations as biographies. Yes, I realize that biographies require subjects who are alive or have been at some time in the past. But it’s much more gratifying, historically and authorially, to depict players in my book who could very well have existed. And if my purpose (at least one of them) is to commemorate and honor those deserving of recognition, why not believe that they existed at some time, whether or not in the geography of my novel?

As I run through the catalog of the literary works that I’ve digested, I subject that many included persons or occurrences that were actual components of these authors’ lives. In The Great Gatsby, (one of my favorite books) for instance, Fitzgerald generously alludes to parties that he had attended in Long Island, NY. Through those experiences, Fitzgerald intricately relates the greed, frivolity and corruption – all traces of reality that typified the Roaring Twenties of the US.

Because I’m also a fan of Stephen King, it may represent a more formidable exercise to find truth in his numerous creations. At the same time, King is fastidious about detail and I suspect that his work is founded in history and embellished by his incredible imagination.

No, I’m not positing that true fiction is impossible (or fictional, if you like). I’m simply suggesting that any decision regarding the genre of literary work may be a little blurrier than it may initially seem. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Help

If you have been following my blogs for some time,   you’re aware that I have been developing and writing a book since May of 2019. I’m happy to report that I have completed approximately 2000 words or eight typed pages. But like any other life landmark, it’s not easy and will probably continue to be formidable until it’s published.

Here’s where my readers and the rest of my world can provide assistance. Most importantly, please have the faith, either privately or out loud, that I will complete this book that is so important to me. It is a work of fiction and takes place during the Holocaust of World War II. Those who know me know that I have dedicated a good portion of the last ten years to researching and understanding this immeasurable tragedy, making it certain that to write about it is an important component of my learning process.

Joking with my very special, cherished niece, I reported that I had written approximately ½ of 1% of the book but was plugging along. She immediately responded that what I had accomplished was more than zero – a statement of confidence and encouragement that means a great deal to me.

When I told my students that I was working on a new book and had published two others, they always wanted to know if I was a famous author and did I write any of the books in their classroom. Without any trace of sadness, I advised that I was not a famous author but that my books were written not for fame but for the message they convey. And this truth is for any and all who inquire, that I don’t seek fame but to convey the hope and lessons derived from my studies.

If you encounter someone who is on the same path as the one that I travel, it makes a difference to add your encouragement. Please remain with me on my journey and I pledge to add updates as they occur. Yesterday, in fact, I enjoyed the warmth of our New Mexico spring and wrote 300 words while sitting in the sun.

Being part of a support team will be gratifying for all concerned. If you’re not writing a book but have an idea, now is the time. If that’s not your area of expertise, do what makes you feel gratified and grateful. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

If I could

If only I could make difficult things happen in the school environment – my job would be a completely successful journey. That’s quite a request, far beyond the area of reasonability.

One of my third graders sees words that don’t make sentences or sense. If I could, I would inject him or inundate him with remedial reading that would create comprehension.

If I could, I would repair another student’s glasses. It doesn’t matter if they have been broken one day, one week or one month. They are a distraction for him and impede his learning.

If I could, I would make certain that all of my students eat breakfast before coming to school. It’s easy to tell which ones don’t, regardless of the reason. It may be poverty, lack of discipline or simply an unawareness of the importance of morning food. The kids without adequate nutrition can’t wait until snack or lunch and petition for seconds.

If I could, I would be able to see bullying as it takes place, not after the fact. One student accuses another of bullying and the accused denies its occurrence. Do I believe the bully or the bullied? If I could have seen it happen, I could take decisive action.

If I could, I would magically transport my students to other cities, states and countries. We teach history and about cultures other than our own but wouldn’t it be wonderful to take them to Philadelphia and let them touch the Liberty Bell? What about a journey to California to teach them about sea creatures?

If I could, I would take them on a tour of the world’s greatest libraries. It’s one thing to understand the significance of the first printing press but quite another to see a building that contains many historic, irreplaceable volumes. If we need to persuade our students that there are worlds of knowledge out there waiting for them, what better place to start?

And if I could, I would convince my students that the world in which they live is safe. Right now, that’s as easily done as transporting all of them to Paris. The best that we can accomplish is to make them aware of methods to protect themselves and others while understanding the fundamentals of right and wrong. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Meet me for lunch

For reasons that I haven’t quite determined, I often think about the person with whom I would have lunch if it could be anyone in the world, past or present. Although there doesn’t seem to be any immediate benefit from the exercise, the long-term gains are significant.

Time and space are irrelevant to this activity and as a result, at the top of my list would be my mom who died many years ago. To be sure, the downside of this lunch would be that it would end and that I would be required to lose her again. The second challenge would be to estimate what I would ask her and what her responses might be.

Some of the others on my list include Leonard Bernstein, Steve Jobs, Mahatma Gandhi and John Lennon – who changed the world in their own spheres. My best guess is that all of them would have wisdom or information that I would deem valuable and available nowhere else.

No, I don’t recommend that you expend any significant amount of time in fantasy, imagining the conversations that you would have with the person whom you would most like to meet. But I do suggest that it’s a worthwhile endeavor, for these reasons.

Sometimes we postpone or delete meetings with those who are still within our worlds, for reasons justifiable or otherwise. We’re too busy, we’ve been told no the last time we asked, it’s the wrong time of year, etc. If someone is in your world whom you treasure or respect, make the effort to connect. Because life is uncertain at best, your chances of meeting that person may be more limited than you know.

The possibility always exists that you may be responsible for an action that will powerfully impact the other person. That human may treasure the fact that you were thinking about them. You may be the exact person to answer a question or listen to a story that they need to tell. Under no circumstances do I have any dreams of making significant impact on the universe I inhabit. But I do like the fact that my invitation to lunch (or coffee, or dinner) has the potential to brighten the day of another. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Joy

School book fairs are a mixed blessing. As a writer and an educator, it’s the epitome of both worlds. On the one hand, kids get fired up about reading. The downside is that the fair always causes major disruption to the daily routines.

Here’s an example. One student reported that she had bought a highlighter pen that went missing. Her neighbor had one (suddenly) that looked just like it. She advised that it had been purchased the day before.

One student whom we’ll call Jerry told me confidentially that the neighbor had truly stolen the missing item. But I didn’t see it being taken and I had no choice but to send the injured party to the book fair with the money to buy another. The only other option was to have expressed my sympathy that her pen was gone. Maybe I should consider a fingerprint kit to identify classroom criminals.

Jerry was a student whom the classroom teacher identified as an ongoing problem. Somehow, he never became one for me. During one of our conversations, he confided that he also wanted a highlighter pen but didn’t have the funds to make one materialize.

You probably know the end of the story. A blue highlighter pen magically appeared in Jerry’s desk. Though he never indicated he knew how it got there, I’m pretty confident that he did.  But I’ll never disclose that. Not surprisingly, he was polite and compliant for the rest of the day.

Shortly thereafter, I was doing my playground supervision when a little, sad-faced girl approached and asked if I had a quarter. When I asked why, she reported that she was hungry. Was I really going to let a child go hungry?

Maybe I’m a sucker for sad faces or just kids. Maybe I simply believe that I taught three children the true lessons of education. Shalom.

 

 

If I may assist you in any of your writing endeavors, it is my privilege to do so. You may reach me at csbutts19@yahoo.com and I hope that you use the address only for  professional purposes.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

America has lost a hero

Those of you who know me and have followed my writing path know that I have published two books. The first was my memoir and the second was the biography of a World War II and Korean War veteran. It became my honor and privilege to meet, get to know and write the story of this distinguished man.

A phone call I received yesterday disclosed the news of his recent passing. David would have been 94 in September and according to his son, the length and severity of his discomfort for the last several months suggest that his death may have been a sad but timely relief from his misery.

David’s career spanned almost four decades. He entered the Army at age 16 when the US entered the war in Europe. His service was consistent, brave, intentional and characterized by his patriotism and irreverent personality. When he finally retired, he was a Major with numerous awards for service.

We met accidentally, while eating breakfast at adjoining booths. His son said, “Dad, you need to write a book about your life story.” This was said rather loudly, due to David’s hearing loss as a result of combat. Hearing that recommendation, I jumped up and handed him my business card, adding that if he would like to write his memoirs, it would be my pleasure to do so.

Our meetings were frequent, lively and filled with anecdotes and glimpses of his old-fashioned charm. We succeeded in publishing the book within two years and as I reflect on the time that we both spent in achieving that goal, I am more grateful than ever that we did so prior to his death.

Our world is now depleted of a man who gave his career and his heart to his country. He called me friend, confidante and the lady who made his history available for the world to see. From my perspective, having had the opportunity to be a participant in his life’s journey enriched my life beyond my ability to articulate it. May you rest in eternal peace and may your memory be for a blessing. Shalom

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Work

If you are anything like me, you have a difficult time putting aside your busy life to relax. Three or four days per week, I spend some time in a classroom,  a pursuit that requires my full attention and concentration. On an average of two to three days per week, I find myself completing some freelance work or maximizing my opportunities to secure new assignments.

On those days when I have no tasks to complete, I discover that I continue to find efforts to occupy my time. Sometimes that consists of cleaning a closet, regardless of the fact that I’ve cleaned said closet at least three times in the last three months. Sometimes it’s reorganizing my office, a space that consists exclusively of my possessions that were already in logical and accessible places.

What all of this means is that some of us find it difficult to do nothing unless it somehow resembles work. Be certain that I earned a semblance of retirement. My first full-time, permanent position happened in 1969 and except for a few months following my final job, I have worked nonstop since that time.

It appears to me that the problem is not a lack of endeavors on which I can spend my time but that I have spent so long doing work that it’s nearly impossible not to do something productive. Is that my version of the Protestant work ethic – work hard, thrift and efficiency? In other words, you will be doing that which you are “supposed to” do. Or is it the voice of my dad saying, “You’re lazy and always will be,” a voice that should have been silenced long ago.

Happily, I think that I’m just a person who derives satisfaction and gratification from building, creating and completing. So far, I don’t see that this has produced any negative consequences. Life is happy and without significant stress. My family brings me unequalled pleasure and I’m not missing anything that I can identify. Most importantly, I agree with a fifth-grade teacher whom I met recently. He said that he had been teaching for four years but had never had a day of “going to work.”

And so, if I am unable to stare at a wall and watch the world go on without me, so be it. When I am no longer part of that world, I hope that others will remember me as someone who always wanted to contribute more. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Write

What is it about writing assignments that causes otherwise verbal students to freeze? As we all know, some of us have strengths in math, some in art, some in technology and some in to be determined.

It’s always my personal challenge to identify those students who are writers. They express joy at the opportunity to articulate feelings and thoughts. They do whatever is necessary to prepare for the adventure.

Others will do everything imaginable to dodge the activity. I don’t have a pencil. I don’t know what to write about. It’s too noisy in here. It’s too cold. And in a few rare cases, I don’t like to write.

My observations suggest that too many would-be writers are halted because of fears of something. It may be fear of misspelling. Or it may be insecurity about a lack of words to communicate a finely developed thought.

Sometimes, the excuses are more sophisticated. In spite of about 200 books in the classroom, one pair of girls couldn’t find anything worth reading and then reviewing. As a result, there was their “legitimate” reason not to write several sentences.

But it’s not always bad news. Occasionally, I’ll have a student ask if he or she can write more sentences than requested. And sometimes, I’ll have a student say that she or he is writing a book, and can I help publish said book.

It becomes clear that our responsibility as leaders is to promote any and all forms of self-expression, no matter what shape, size or color they take. Needless to say, I’m not likely to include proficiency at video games or social media participation.

Spelling doesn’t matter and neither does having five sentences. (I learned from one class that their teacher said that paragraphs need to contain five sentences – I’ve never heard that before.) What matters is recognizing that you have something to say that is unique, important and exclusively yours. With those conditions met, writing can be sufficient in itself or as a starting point for many great accomplishments. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Never, forever and always

As we grow older and theoretically have fewer anxieties, the additional time provides occasion for various analyses. Such is the case with the words “never,” “forever” and “always,”  words that are so burdened with emotion.

We all use these words. Never lie to your parents. Always pay your taxes. This road goes on forever. Most of that is non-toxic and unemotional. But I’m thinking that in relationships of any significance, using these words must be done with greater care and consideration. Here’s how that looks:

You never listen to me.

You always leave your room a mess.

We never talk about anything important.

We are always doing those things that you want, never what I want.

Can it be that the person whom we accuse of never listening is truly guilty of never listening? Most likely, it’s a case of filtering out certain data and sticking with that which is deemed to be important. Maybe it’s hearing loss.

And when we tell our kids that their rooms are always a mess, we’re ignoring clean moments, serious intent and the desire to please mom and dad. When you put yourself in that child’s place, you can see the toxicity of casually delivered accusations.

The word “forever” is similarly loaded. You are forever talking about past relationships. Your debt goes on forever. We are forever fighting about junk. It’s a nice idea to think about forever love and forever faith but most of the time, we’re not so careful about invoking forever.

With regard to our most important relationships, suggesting that no important conversation ever takes place is a poor commentary on the priorities of both parties. It’s quite possible that a discussion about something truly important had taken place the day, week or month before this allegation. Suggesting that “we never talk about anything important” deletes or minimizes that conversation.

For my part, using these words must be done selectively and discriminately. Because I rarely got angry at either of my kids, I don’t think that I liberally accused them of never doing this and always doing that. If I did, I sincerely apologize for the thoughtlessness. As for the present, for as much as I can stay on top of it, I will choose a higher path than telling my loved ones that they are never, forever or always guilty of something. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Prose photography

It occurred to me recently that although I am occasionally lucky or timely enough to shoot remarkable shots on my phone or camera, I am by no means a photographer. Likewise, I am not an illustrator, gourmet chef, musician or interior designer.

That’s not bad or sad news. Our world is rich with those who can capture fleeting images, unforgettable likenesses, stirring sonatas, delicious meals and inviting living spaces. My role is to select any one of those arts and make it available or enhance it with words.

While mine may seem more limited than other art forms, I will hurriedly disagree. If I am selective, I can aspire to manufacturing images that are visual, auditory, tactile and olfactory. What an amazing challenge and incentive!

Here’s an example. Walk into a Roman cafe and scan your surroundings. As a writer, I perceive and capture the aged decorations and well-trodden wooden floor. At the same time, I am aware of the collection of voices large and small, intrusive and mellow. Through that, I can hear the scurrying back and forth of wait staff. And while my sense of smell is missing, I am advised that the aroma is a cornucopia of oregano, freshly grated parmigiano and bubbling marinara sauce.

You might argue that a photographer of this scene could capture all these nuances and disseminate them in a photo. Likewise, an artist could place you in this setting and faithfully duplicate many of the sensations. My hope is to provide the entire sensory adventure.

All of this is to observe the power of language, mine and others, to expound and elaborate on other forms of expression. To the musician, while I can’t hope to duplicate or improve on powerful symphonic subtleties, I can respond to them through prose.

To all arts and artisans whom I admire and enjoy, thank you for your brilliance. It thrills me to be an associate, joining the ranks of other wordsmiths who have sought to create enduring memories. My words will continue to celebrate and embellish your creations, for as long as I have the ability to assemble them. Shalom.