Friday, May 28, 2010

My Favorite Heroes

There are no great men, only great challenges that ordinary men are forced by circumstances to meet.

~ William F. Halsey

A lot has been written about the Nisei during World War II. The Japanese-American soldiers made it quite clear where their loyalties lay. So on this Memorial Day, I’m remembering the Seino brothers – two of the many who fought as loyal American soldiers, while not abandoning their Japanese ideals of honor and integrity.

Uncle Jim, as the older brother, enlisted as soon as he graduated from high school. Dad had to wait until he graduated in 1945. He enlisted, but the war ended before he had a chance to deploy. He settled for going to college and working, becoming an accountant. Uncle Jim stayed in the military, his career taking him all over the world.

And then the Korean Conflict broke out. Dad re-enlisted and went to the other side of the world. He fought, was wounded, and was sent home. And then he went back again. He and Uncle Jim connected there in the Orient. Dad said he always appreciated the way his brother looked out for him. It was because of Uncle Jim that after the fighting was done, Dad worked at the Central Exchange in Japan, where he met Mom.

I think both Dad and Uncle Jim would agree with Halsey’s quote. They both considered themselves ordinary men, forced by necessity to endure hardship, first through poverty during the Great Depression, a second time through social mistrust during the Second World War, and then living through combat itself. I never heard either man talk at length about any of these hardships. But we learned a lot about Uncle Jim’s integrity from the many testimonials during his wake. And we learned about Dad’s point of view from a letter he wrote to an army buddy. To our surprise, Dad wrote about the battle in which he was wounded in both legs by automatic weapons fire:

“I don’t think about it very often and I don’t let it bother me. I just think of it as another occurrence of the past and let it go at that, even though I am reminded of it constantly because of the leg problems. I am just glad that I had the chance to prove to myself what I would do in combat.”

They both definitely proved what they would do. They fought with honor and integrity. So on Monday, as we offer our support for our current men and women in uniform, I’m sending a special thanks to my favorite heroes – Robert and James W. Seino, US Army.

Goals update:

Slow progress on all fronts. Hope to have more to report next week!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Rubbing Elbows With the Elite

I remember watching episodes of the television show “Dynasty” and being enthralled with the lives of the rich and famous. I used to wonder what it would be like to have the kind of wealth people like those characters had. If they wanted something, they simply got it – or had one of their servants pick it up. It was so at odds with the life I led.

This past week I got a chance to peek into that world. Mom and I volunteered at a fundraiser for the Grand Rapids Symphony called the Showhouse. One of the buildings on the Wilcox Estate was renovated by various area businesses and designers each took an area of the house to show their talent. For $20, you can go through the house and admire the beautiful furnishings, the likes of which will never grace my home.

While the Showhouse home speaks of elegance and wealth, it doesn’t compare with the affluence of the original Wilcox family. The renovated building was originally constructed as a community house for the family estate. It housed the garage for the five homes (the parents’ original home and the four children’s houses) on the estate, as well as gardener’s facilities, servants’ quarters, a squash court, indoor pool, and laundry facilities (a full-time laundress washed, dried and ironed for a different household each day of the week).

I can’t imagine belonging to that set. I see them in movies and television shows, and I read about them in books, but I just can’t imagine living in a world where there are people at your disposal to do everyday tasks like laundry, cooking and driving. It makes me wonder if books about wealthy people are based on the author’s experience. A long time ago an English author named Betty Neels painted fabulous word pictures of wealthy English families and the lucky women who married into them. From her biography, it seemed she described a world she knew a lot about.

Then again, not everyone who writes about murderers, vampires, and other worlds have actual life experiences in those worlds. And I don’t remember meeting any actual samurai soldiers. So I guess it comes down to research. If I have an affluent character, I’ll have to do a lot of reading and interviewing. Maybe I’ll have to befriend someone in that circle so I can describe it accurately! All in the name of research, of course.

I'm not complaining about my own way of life. I know there are a lot of people who wish they could enjoy the things I have. But I can't help being curious.

The community house is now the residence of an illustrious Grand Rapids attorney, who graciously allowed the Women’s Committee of the symphony to overtake his home for five months or so. What a great way to get a home makeover!

This is my favorite part of the house. Designer Jeffrey Roberts made this bedspread out of men's shirts found in thrift shops! The pillow shams feature the collars and cuffs. Maybe someday, when I finish all the projects I have started now ...

Goals update:

Health: Plateaued

Writing: Got 2000 new words on my samurai story, worked on my non-fiction story for Chicken Soup, and wrote this blog.

Creativity: Made some more quilt tops and went to the quilting group workshop at church.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Imaginary Conversations with Imaginary People

I had a long talk with this woman. She’s having trouble making up her mind. The issue is quite important. Should she marry this guy and have all the worldly goods she could want, never to worry about bills again, and get a handsome, sexy husband in the bargain? Or should she stay single, poor and destitute, with her independence and pride intact?

The woman is a main character in a novel I’ve been working on for about five years. I have a lot of the story done. There are about 60,000 words in the manuscript, but there are a few holes in the story. Unfortunately, they’re large holes. I have to get the characters from point A to point B, and from Point B to point C. I know what happens when they get there, but the “bridge” is missing.

I’ve got this particular bridge started at both ends, but I’ve had trouble getting the two ends to connect. She’s been married and burned before. What’s going to make her take a leap of faith and realize that this time it’s not going to be the wrong choice to put her life, and her heart, in someone else’s hands?

I decided to study other independent women and find out what made them take the chance. I started to look at the lives of successful women like Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin and see if I could find out how they managed to fit a personal relationship in their lives. But I realized that wouldn’t quite fit the character I’m creating. She’s strong, but not so successful that the “hero” would be intimidated. She’s more afraid of losing herself. In the male-dominated society where she lives, she would lose what little she has, both in material belongings, and self-sufficiency. But I’ve got to get these two people together. How?

The only way to know anyone’s true motivation is to go to the source. So I sat down and interviewed her. I laid out my questions, and waited for her to give responses. And she replied! The answer was so simple I can’t believe I struggled for so long. I’m going to my semi-annual writer’s retreat in Fremont, where my laptop and I will be constant friends. I’ll get to work putting this on paper (figuratively speaking), and then I’ll be able to go on to the next part of the story.

Until I reach another hole. Then I’ll have to have another conversation with my imaginary friends.

Goals progress:

Health: let’s not discuss this till next week. The scale still isn’t fixed. Besides, we writers LOVE to eat.

Writing: slogging along, writing a little bit each day. Hoping to make a LOT of progress this weekend!

Creativity: made some baby hats out of some spare fleece I had. I need to find some pretty silk flowers or other decorations to pretty them up. No, they’re not for any particular baby – just to have around, or maybe bring to a craft show this summer.

Friday, May 7, 2010

On Being a Daughter

Lately, I’ve written a lot about being a mother and a grandmother. Since Sunday is Mother’s Day, I figured I’d turn the other way and share my thoughts about being a daughter. Since Mom isn’t on facebook and she doesn’t usually cruise the internet looking for my blog or anything else, I figure I’m safe from having her see anything early.

So here goes. To me, being a daughter means all of this:

It means I grew up knowing I was safe and had all I needed.

It means I had the encouragement to pursue anything I wanted to do, and to be anything I wanted to be.

It means that even when I became an adult, I knew I had a place to go, a listening ear, and a shoulder to cry on.

It means that when I found my Prince Charming, I had a celebration fit for a princess.

It means that when I became a mother, there was someone who understood all I went through.

It means my kids had someone to call when they felt their mother was mean.

It means I have someone to measure myself against, when I want to kick back and settle for what I am.

It means now that the love of her life is gone, I can be there to assist her when she is lost, afraid, or unsure of herself.

It means that no matter what I do, I’ll never be able to fill her shoes. She’s one of a kind.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. Love you lots!

Goals updates:

Health: eating better, but the battery on my scale died so I don't know if it's doing any good.

Writing: Other than this blog entry and the minutes for my writers’ group meeting, not much writing done.

Creativity: I finally got around to making a quilt (pictured above) out of some fabric I bought in Fremont over a year ago. I had enough to make a matching pillow. I just need to tie and close up the quilt, and close up the bottom of the pillow, and then my Mother’s Day gift is done! Of course, I’ll probably be closing up the pillow as my mom pulls into my driveway on Sunday morning.