Tuesday, October 23, 2012

One True Thing from Carol Lynch Williams: Kindness is Always Significant

Author Carol Lynch Williams has crafted stunning Young Adult novels like Miles from Ordinary and The Chosen One, and when she agreed to be a contributor to the Break These Rules anthology, I was ecstatic. Now, I'm ecstatic all over again to share Carol's beautiful, heartening One True Thing. Writing from a place of authenticity that doesn't resist the hard stuff of life, Carol's words pulse with a dedication to hope and love even int he midst of pain and suffering. Carol's novels are infused with both tenderness and gritty reality--as are her words below. And out of these grappling with both the joy and pain of life, carol is able to share redemption and hope that are hard-won and secure.

Kindness is Always Significant
by Carol Lynch Williams

This morning I am on my way to a funeral.

There have been a lot lately. Too many.

I go to support my daughter who was a friend to this young lady and to support her mother who is my friend.

Though my heart is broken, it beats with the One True Thing I would share. It's this: No matter what anyone may say, the way you treat others is always significant, is MOST important. Kindness is a One True Thing.

The way you are to people who are different, or poorer, or richer.

The way you act to someone who's skin is a different color, or who may not be as beautiful, or who's clothing is not like yours.

How you speak to those who may act in an odd way, or don't vote the way you would, or who practice a different religion.

Being kind is the gift we can develop that puts us all on the same playing field because when we treat people the way we want to be treated, no matter what a crowd or voice or opinion may demand, we see the human-ness in others.

This morning, I am on my way to a funeral.

One day, people will come to my funeral. Yes, I want them to say I was funny, that I was a great Mom, and that I was an amazing writer. But more than all that, I want them to say, "Carol was always kind. To everyone."

That is my largest hope. My One True Thing.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


After a birthday party this evening, Jen and I rode our bikes home, with Tyler in the bike trailer, licking the icing off of the two cupcakes given to him before we left. Jen and I raced one another while Tyler called out who was leading. The air was cold--mid 40s--and the fog had rolled in with dusk.

We rode past a large field where sheep have been grazing for the past month or so. Over the entire field a fog as thick as maple syrup on a stack of pancakes stretched itself out. We rode faster, into it, gulping glee with every glimpse.

Tyler's sugar-heightened shrieks of laughter and amazement, my guttural assertions of beauty before us, and Jen's saying, wow all merged into one of those short segments of time where clarity no longer matters. It's what is hidden that is so stunning--how it's hidden.

With a little more than two weeks to the election, with manuscripts waiting on editors' desks in New York, with Jen's PhD thesis push, with Tyler's ever-more-inquisitive communication, with visions of what might be in the future enticing, enticing, enticing, fog helps.

Fog does more than help. Fog throws down a hammer of sorts and says, Stop. You don't have to know. 

All the questions of future possibilities rage in a riveting rotation, but the fog tonight reminds me that they don't always have to. Their power is only as strong as the stage-time we give them. Vision for the future is a beautiful thing--and chasing dreams, pursuing hopes, believing in the difficult coming to pass is all crucial. But just as important is letting the fog sometimes cover all those visions. Not because they don't matter or because we've let them go; but because seeing them so often in our minds can have the effect of ordering three appetizers because we're afraid the meal won't ever arrive--or when it does, that it won't be enough to fill us up.

Fog sometimes helps us do what we have such trouble doing ourselves: focus only on the precise moment of the journey we're in, rather than the beautiful vistas ahead.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

One True Thing from Beverly Williams: Everybody is Somebody

In 2007, English Language Arts Teacher Beverly Williams was honored with a Boston Educator of the year Award for her work at James Timilty Public Middle School in Roxbury, MA. I have been honored to correspond with Beverly over the past few years regarding writing projects and teaching inspiration. A former student of Ms. Williams has this to share: "By believing in me and holding me to very high expectations, Ms. Williams raised my level of confidence and made me feel that I can achieve great things." I am delighted to share Beverly's ONE TRUE THING today. 

Everybody is Somebody
by Beverly Williams

If we do not teach our children about civic responsibility, we will continually suffer the injuries from insensitive and disingenuous behaviors. The emotional, social and declining psychological health of our children will take us all out of here before global warming.

Social media is overwhelmingly unfolding the message that it is our constitutional right to have freedoms far beyond "establishing domestic tranquility." As an educator, I wish to see the Civics class as I remember back in my day. 

I learned to be a citizen. I developed a social consciousness that said to look out for my fellowman and treat others with respect.  When I prospered I was taught to give back to my community ungrudgingly, not just look for opportunities that advanced my own agenda. I learned there was honor in blue-collar jobs and if people did not go to college, or, become a superstar entertainer, they still were somebody.  

I was taught to be proud of my country and to respect not only my neighbors but the servicemen who fought for my freedoms, and for my president, as well.  Voting wasn't a privilege; it was an obligation. It was my responsibility to make this world a better place to live in.  I don’t think the children of today realize this and I weep for them, and for us.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

One True Thing from Mr. Looney: Love is Effort, Not Entitlement

As a fifth-grade student, I was confused, insecure, hopeful. Very confused, very insecure, very hopeful. And when I walked into my first day of class that year at John F. Kennedy School in Windsor, Connecticut, it took only moments for my young brain to register that this year was going to be something beyond cool; it was going to be magical.

Mr. Looney stood at the front of the class, holding a pen like it was gold. He talked about stories, he talked about Robert Frost (his favorite poet), he talked about Flair (the name for his self-designed writing program that included enough inspiration to light a rocket ship), he talked about love, about the stuff that matter sin life, and about the power of learning. His curly hair rising off his head like ideas-made-tangible, Mr. Looney became, for me, the very essence of creativity and passion.

He encouraged all of his students to write in ways that made our hearts beat fast. As I previously shared on author Peter Salomon's blog Mr. Looney's Flair program included lots of creative writing,  revision, reading to one another, and sharing our imaginative narratives and ideas with him and with the class. We kept folders, and I often wrote about these family vacations my family took to Cape Cod. Only two hours away from us (Windsor, Connecticut), nevertheless we always managed to get lost, and we’d end up taking four or five hours, easy, and there’d be chaos in the car–until finally, we’d pour from the navy blue Ford station wagon onto the Mayflower Beach, build a sandcastle big enough to shame a blue whale, and watch the tide take it away, piece by piece. Mr. Looney laughed with tears in his eyes as he read my stories–and the way he made me feel like I could use words to create mood, emotion, possibility…well, that never left me.

Mr. Looney touched something inside me and woke it up. And ever since, I’ve tried to never let that part of me go back to sleep. 

When all of us students got Mr. Looney Robert Frost poetry books as teacher-gifts, he smiled and said thank you as if each one was a divine gift from God, shuttled to Earth straight to his desk, and it wasn't until years later that I finally asked myself, How many duplicate Frost collections must he have!? But Mr. Looney is the kind of man for whom there is never enough poetry, never enough life and love and passion and joy: because he creates it. His energy and enthusiasm couldn't be contained, and both sprtead out to all of us--his students. The reverberations and ripples are endless today: a whole army of story-loving (and living), imagination-thriving kids whose hearts he touched in remarkable ways that still walk with his words today, decades later.

So it's an honor to include ONE TRUE THING from a man I've admired for many years, my fifth grade teacher. 

Love is Effort, Not Entitlement
by Bob Looney

I have learned no person should expect lasting love or friendship from another.  These are not entitlements; they require effort.  You need to nurture the relationships which are important to you.   As you grow and develop, you must display tolerance and acceptance of the inevitable changes in others.  Ego is a detriment to a relationship.  It is not beneficial if you think it is important to consider whether you or the other has given more.

Yes, loving relationships require diligence and effort, but they are worth it, for they give incalculable meaning to our lives.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


The perks of working as writers / researchers / night-class teachers: yesterday, as Tyler was in pre-school in the morning, Jennifer and I rode our bikes to the Starbucks in town, ordered two coffees, lugged backpacks heavy with books up the stairs to two comfy chairs whereby we look out the window, and also at one another.

Our goal was reading--Jen for research purposes, me for novel purposes. But soon into a few sips of our coffees, we both sensed that our outing would be more one of those delve-deep-and-reflect missions than accomplishing much reading. (But hey, later that night, Jen would be elbow deep in research and I would be teaching a Public Speaking class, so we gave ourselves the leeway to let the momentum carry us where it would.)

It also happened to be our eight-year anniversary of when we first became engaged. I had proposed on the rocks of Bearskin Neck, Massachusetts right outside of My Place by the Sea restaurant (where we dined after Jen had said yes, and a bus-tour of senior citizens from Texas had clapped heartily to celebrate with us). So it felt particularly appropriate for us to have one of those conversations where inspiration sparks inspiration sparks inspiration, and love just kind of hangs out all around.

The floods that swelled from the River Ouse here in York only a week ago had dissipated, leaving the bike trail along the river free and open. So we rode it, then rode the caffeine of the coffee, then rode the words and meanings and messages of the conversation. And I'm still thankful, thankful, thankful, that my bride said yes eight years ago.

After our conversation, we did actually do a little "work." And during that space of literary-focused time, I wrote the following poem:


We walk, and should our shoes scuff silence
Shame balloons and we cling
To its strings.
Higher, higher we rise
In condensating skies until we
Can view every mistake we ever made.
From that vantage point (as the
Strings stretch the skin of our hands
So tight we bleed)
We learn--nor know--nothing.
Should we sink back down to
Where the divine is always married
To reality, we find
Space for silence, and words for shame
So that it cannot rule our lives again.

Monday, October 8, 2012

One True Thing from Penny Blubaugh: Staying Power

For today's One True Thing, I am thrilled to welcome author Penny Blubaugh. Penny is the author of the ingenious and powerful novel Serendipity Market, which received a starred review from Kirkus and about which Booklist raved: "This beautiful novel will be a delight to those who enjoy spin-offs of fairy tales and folktales. Readers will find themselves flipping back and forth to figure out how all the different stories hidden in the fold come together to form the greater whole of this charming book." 

Penny is also the author of Blood and Flowers. She is an inspired word-crafter who is represented by Erin Murphy at the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Penny is a teen librarian in Chicago in addition to her work as a writer. For more about Penny, check out her website at www.pennyblubaugh.com. 

Staying Power
By Penny Blubaugh

One true thing I’ve learned about life is that there are things that I know that I might have lived very happily not knowing.  This is because most of what I know in the category of “important” deals with life lessons.  Life lessons can be hard to take.

Life lessons are usually learned because of a bad situation that climbed up the cliff.  The climb made the situation go from bad to worse.  And then the situation jumped. 

Once I recover from the fall, once the bruising and battering have gone, the lesson stays.  It might make me smart.  It might make me careful -- I don’t want that to ever happen again.  It might makes me reckless -- I survived and I can do anything.  Who knows?  It might even make me sexy.

Mostly, the lesson makes me realize that I’m a survivor, that I have staying power.  The next time something jumps, I’ll remember the last time.  Even though I’ll still feel like I’ve been gut-punched, I know that I’ll eventually get through this, whatever this happens to be.     
It’s the eventually that’s hard to take.  But if I let myself remember, I’ll know that I have resiliency.  

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

One True Thing from Chris Reynolds: One Trunk

Chris and I during an adventure to Washington, D.C--
in the office of Senator Chris Dodd

When I was in the eighth grade, I started running with my brother Christopher. I had never gone more than a mile before, but on my first run with Chris, he challenged and encouraged and inspired me to stay with him and make it the whole 3.5 mile loop. Ever since then, Chris has been a mentor, a best friend, a role model for living with passion and hope, and a partner on various (crazy?) dreams. Chris and I hiked Mt. Washington together, ran the London Marathon together (finishing with excruciating pain but holding hands), and partook of many French Toast Nights, where we would make 30 or so slices of french toast for dinner and then, well, eat them for dinner.

Chris has an infectious sense of humor and a depth of contemplation and love that amazes me. He is married to the lovely Mandy Reynolds, and they have two delightful sons Caleb and Evan. Chris is a social worker with the State of Connecticut, and counsels deaf people in their vocational and personal journeys. Chris is a man with incredible insight, remarkable compassion, and unconditional love. So I'm thrilled that my brother Chris shares this first guest post in the ONE TRUE THING series...

One Trunk
by Christopher Reynolds

Life works with or without our permission. We have many beliefs and comforts that we dictate. Others do the same. We have, rather fortuitously, created an amicable landscape in which these things thrive. However, the problem is when we meet up with each other. Life doesn't care. 

Our reactions are infinite commodities to a finite entity. Entropy pervades in the guise of well-meaning thinking, a charlatan hiding in bright sunlight. 

So we go, a sense of eternity in our minds but forgetting that our Creator is the tree to which we hang on as leaves. So many branches and one trunk.