Brown Girl Dreaming (review)

26 Comments

51-pl9bj7il-_sx331_bo1204203200_Poetry Camp inspired me to be a more regular visitor to my library (thanks, Janet Wong!). My fascination with verse novels prompted me to pick up Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.

I quickly discovered, though, that this isn’t exactly a verse novel. It’s a memoir—the story of young Jacqueline taking us through her childhood and to a time she comes to realize what her dream is and begins to see it blossom in her life.

The whole thing is told in verse—in free verse poems that are simple. I would say deceptively simple for almost all end in a way that put me on my heels and had me thinking: I believe there is more to this than what first meets the eye. In other words, these accessible poems also invite re-reading.

I love the real-life detail that makes the characters, the brothers and sisters, Grandma and Grandpa, mother, aunts and uncles, come alive. While reading this book I experienced the phenomenon of the particularities of Jacqueline’s life becoming a vessel for my own experience—even though the setting and characters are vastly different.

As I read I also enjoyed one of the advantages of verse novels—how quickly the pages slipped by. I read through this 338-page tome in mere hours.

The book touches on lots of topics:
– What it was like to be an African American girl in the U.S. in the 60s and 70s (Woodson was born in 1963). This book was a great empathy builder for me.

– Family—what is a family, how family members relate to each other, the joy of being together. The family theme runs deeply and widely through the book. I loved the mini family album of photos at the end of the book and the fact that the pictures were of family members as children—about the age that the target audience would be.

“Football Dreams,” about her father, is a poem about family:

Football Dreams

No one was faster
than my father on the football field.
No one could keep him
from crossing the line. Then
touching down again.
Coaches were watching the way he moved,
his easy stride, his long arms reaching
up, snatching the ball from its soft pockets
of air.

Read the rest…

Feeling different is another theme. Not only was Woodson’s color a source of difference, but she was brought up Jehovah’s Witness. “Flag” tells about having to leave the classroom when the students made the flag pledge but how inside she wanted to be there and pledge big:

flag

Alina and I want
more than anything to walk back into our classroom
press our hands against our hearts. Say,
“I pledge allegiance . . .” loud…”

The poem ends:

When the pledge is over, we walk single file
back into the classroom, take our separate seats
Alina and I far away from Gina. But Gina
always looks back at us—as if to say,
I’m watching you. As if to say,
I know.

Read entire…

The book tackles more themes including death, tolerance, and finding joy in life, relationships and one’s passion.

On this page of her website Ms. Woodson gives a bit more information about writing the book.

This was a beautiful, upbeat, and  educational read that would be perfect for children in the middle grades–ages 10 and up, Grades 5 and up.

Brown Girl Dreaming won the National Book Award in 2014. (In the second video on the linked page she reads from the book.)

**********
PF-2This post is linked to Poetry Friday, hosted today by the lovely Irene Latham at Live Your Poem.

Agenda-Less

12 Comments

A few months ago I heard Phil Vischer (creator of Veggie Tales) tell in a video lecture how his veggie empire and the dream of his film studio becoming the Christian Disney came crashing down. He was devastated.He came through that time wiser and having learned some lessons. I took a few notes as I was listening. Here are some bits from my scribbles:

“He who has God and many things is no better off than he who has God alone” – C.S. Lewis.

He learned to wait on God. His passion shifted from making an impact to God Himself. He had to die to his ambition and misplaced sense of identity.

He summed up his talk with three points:
1. God loves you the way you are even when you’re not doing anything at all.

2. When the time comes to be doing something for God, don’t worry about the outcome. That’s His job. The impact God has planned for us doesn’t happen when we’re pursuing impact, it happens when we’re pursuing God.

3. Beware of your dreams, for dreams make dangerous friends.
“Why would God want us to let go of our dream?
Because anything you won’t let go of is an idol.”

In the poem below, written some years ago, I grapple in my own way with living the self-directed life. It’s something I continue to battle. However, it’s important that I do because I believe the secret to true FREEDOM for a disciple of Jesus is the repeated and continuous relinquishment to Him of dreams, agendas, and outcomes.

Cultivator in grass and flowers

Photo © 2015 by V. Nesdoly

AGENDA-LESS

“And when I stop telling God what I want, He can catch me up for what He wants without let or hindrance….He can do anything He chooses” Oswald Chambers.

All my life
I’ve lived by agenda
guided myself by purpose
– be the best piano player, student, teacher, writer
governed by goals
– practice four hours, study six, work ten, write always
derived meaning, direction, identity
by pursuing them.

But such a penchant becomes a burden
when I become drive-obsessed
my life possessed by looking for evidence
my purposes are planted in reality.
This turmoil stirs and shakes
the vat of inner life
especially when best efforts all fall short
or when reaching one goal
leaves me still thirsty
mirages into another.

And so I seek a new agenda –Yours
to keep in step with You
give You responsibility
for my agenda.

Do I now need to change my course
mount a different horse?
Leave home and family, say,
and be a missionary?
Go into a different
line of work?
No. That may well be taking
my reins in hand again.

It only means
to change place
from plowman to ox
labor under Your easy yoke
my efforts synchronized
with Your large purpose
as I plow my small
furrow in Your field.

© 2015 by Violet Nesdoly (All rights reserved)

spiritual-journey-framedThis post is linked to Spiritual Journey Thursday where the theme this week is Freedom. Spiritual Journey Thursday is hosted by Holly Mueller at Reading, Teaching, Learning.

Watch a video of Phil Vischer giving his talk on dreams to the Convocation of Liberty University.

Next Step (review)

Leave a comment

Next Step - Timothy K. LynnNext Step – How to Start Living Intentionally and Discover What God Really Wants for Your Life by Timothy K. Lynn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Next Step is a guidebook/workbook designed to help people evaluate their lives and plot a course for the future. In brief chapters businessman Timothy K. Lynn leads readers to first analyze their lives in the areas of time and people. Then he introduces them to what he calls the Four Pillars: Faith, Self, Family and Life’s Work. In a final chapter, “Conversations with God,” he talks about how God is central to the whole process and encourages the participant to converse with Him and journal those interchanges.

After a brief bit of text on each subject, the book has charts, forms and journal pages for the reader to fill in. The “Snapshot of Your Week” form, for example, has the participant noting what activities fill their time for one week, 24/7. Another form guides readers in discovering who the people of influence in their lives are. The chapter “Life’s Work” concludes with a “Lifeline Goal-setting Plan—Seasons of Life” chart, which gathers the observations and conclusions participants have made from previous chapters into one record/activity/goal chart that can be kept through the years—literally the seasons of life.

Next Step is a beautiful publication, but I found it a bit thin on content. About seventy of the book’s 128 pages are blank journal pages or duplicates of charts and forms introduced in the various chapters.

The charts and forms are excellent, however, in the way they are designed to give the participant a snapshot of his or her use of time, people of influence, core beliefs, goals, and dreams.

More examples of what the author expected as responses in some of the areas would have been helpful (like he did give for the “Lifeline Goal-setting Plan—Seasons of Life” chart, p. 62). Though the journal pages, with their question prompts are self-explanatory, I was never sure what process he expected the reader to go through to fill out the numerous “Conversations with God” sections. His instructions read:

“What’s God saying to you? Use this section as a notebook to make a complete record of your conversations with God.”

Does he expect the reader to sit quietly and listen for an audible voice, or a voice in one’s head, or God’s instructions from Scripture passages? The closest I came to finding help in this area was in the chapter “Faith” where he seems to presume that his readers will have a prior knowledge of scripture and a conscience trained by it:

“God has spoken to us and asked us to follow His word, but at times we need to simplify things and get to the true meaning of what is being asked of us. …This is not as hard as we make it out to be. It just has to occur one thought—indeed one step—at a time, because our actions help us to differentiate good from bad. At the very moment we do something bad, we move away from God’s truth. Most times we intrinsically know this in our hearts” – p. 33.

More specific instructions on how one converses with God would have been helpful. Without them, I felt this part of the program could become an exercise in whatever—listening to oneself, visualization, even opening oneself up to spiritual error, as the participant is never instructed to check what he or she hears against the clear communication God has given us about His will in the Bible.

Altogether, however, this is a valuable and concise program designed to give participants information about their individual lives and the desire and impetus to make God-centered changes and improvements, no matter what their age.

I received Next Step as a gift from publicist Maryglenn McCombs for the purpose of writing a review.

View all my reviews

My (penciled) writing goals for 2014

21 Comments

Goals - Plans - Aspirations - Dreams Can you believe we’re almost halfway through January! By now those wonderful New Year’s Resolutions have been tested, perhaps broken (if you made any). And what about writing goals?

I always start the year full of bubbly optimism. The year is new. It’s a clean page. I can begin again. The possibilities are endless. Writing down goals is one way to attach a string to my helium-filled balloon. Having this topic as the first one in our BLOG HOP  gets me tying on that string in real time!

Goals are as useful or unrealistic as we make them. They  are most helpful when they come with details like what, how much, by when. Some folks split goals into two parts: Goals and Objectives. That’s what I’m going to do here.

I’m defining goals as  overarching ends I’d like to achieve.   Objectives are  the specific measurable steps that I need to take to achieve those goals. This article about writing goals and objectives  (PDF file) uses a helpful mnemonic for objectives:

SMART mnemonic

S – Specific
M – Measureable
A – Attainable
R – Relevant
T – Time-bound

Here are some of my 2014 goals and objectives:

Goal 1:
Contribute to the conversation about God, spiritual things, and what it means to live as a Christian.

Objectives:

  • Continue to post daily devotions at my devotional blog Other Food Devos. (Some of these are reposts.)
  • These will be written between 5:30 and 8:00 a.m. daily and scheduled ahead.

Goal 2:
Do my part on special projects and assignments (two poetry books and my FellowScript columns) to which I’ve committed myself.

Objectives:

  • Work with my colleagues on these projects by meeting the deadlines we set up. (Vague but some of  these projects are not in my control.)

Goal 3:
Make a little money with my writing.

Objectives:

  • Send out one article/poem/devotion/kids’ activity etc.  to a paying market the weeks I’m working (not during holidays and times of family obligation).

Goal 4:
Improve as a poet.

Objectives:

  • Write at least one new poem per week, with the exception of April (National Poetry Month) and perhaps November, when I usually join in on challenges to write one poem a day.
  • Enter at least six poetry contests this year.
  • Research and submit to poetry publications (try for one submission per month).
  • Read and review at least one book of poetry monthly on my poetry blog (Violet Nesdoly / poems).
  • Continue to be part of the Kidlit Poetry Friday community by posting weekly poems and hosting when it’s my turn.

Goal: 5
– Write another novel.

Objectives:

  • Work a minimum of 60 minutes per day on this (whatever stage I’m at: research, plotting, character development, writing, editing etc.) five days a week.

Goal 6:
Broaden my author platform.

Objectives:

  • Post a monthly Freelance Writers Almanac article on this blog.
  • Read and comment on colleagues’ blogs (Regularly; I’m not putting a number on this because I don’t want to track it).
  • Remain active in the writing and friend communities to which I belong by posting to Twitter and/or Facebook/Facebook author page.
  • Continue to read publisher- and author-offered books and review them on my blog, Goodreads & Amazon within the time frame that the publishers request.
  • Research publishing a newsletter.

Goal 7:
Work towards self-publishing some of my previously published blog posts, stories, poems etc. (This goal is at the back of the queue; I’ll be considering it later in the year).

Objectives:

  • Learn to make book covers using Photoshop Elements by ordering a Dummies book to help me understand the software and spending at least an hour each week working in Photoshop so I get some hands-on experience with the program.
  • Work on getting my U.S. ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) in order to circumvent the IRS withholding royalties should I choose to publish with a US publisher like Create Space.
  • Continue mulling over the idea of publishing an author newsletter.

Yikes, I feel like I’ve bitten off some rather big chunks here. I’ll definitely need the word I’ve chosen as my inspiration this year:  FOCUS. It’s what I’ll have to do in order to make progress on any one of the above, let alone achieve them all!

I remind myself, too, of something a speaker at one of our women’s events said:

“Remember, you write your plans in pencil. Only God writes in pen.”