Category Archives: a reason to read

Those people…..

by Ellen Weeren
@EllenWeeren

I just read this post by Seth Godin about “those people”. window washer car wash

If you aren’t familiar with the name, Seth is a guru of sorts on everything “thinking”. And that’s just what his posts do – they encourage you to think about things. And the posts are generally short, so they don’t hurt your brain too much. 😉

Seth’s latest post reminded me of a man I saw at the car wash the other day – in fact, that man has been on my mind a lot lately. I had thought about writing about him – but never took the time to do it.

Seth’s post reminded me that I should give this man his due.

A few weeks ago, I had my kids take all of their stuff out of the minivan so that I could drive it over to the car wash and pay $50 to have it cleaned, vacuumed, and spit shined.

And, please don’t even ask – of course, they were bothered by having to remove all of their c.r.a.p. so that I could pay someone else to clean up their mess.

Their shoes, their trash, and their basketballs (oh how I hate those basketballs clanking around in my car) … and I couldn’t reach the van-cleaning fairy … so they actually had to get off their arses and get their stuff out of the car so that I could spend an hour watching someone clean it for them.  And yes, I might have yelled out something just like that right before they leaped into action.

Maybe.

Probably.

Okay, I did.

Anywash, I got to the car wash and paid for the super clean option because that’s exactly what it needed – a super cleaning.

This option takes a while so I brought a book with me. I sat on a bench in the warmth of the sun with a cold Diet Dr. Pepper and read while my car was being cleaned. (And no, the irony is not lost on me here. I get it.)

One of the washers caught my attention and I lost all interest in the words in front of me.

He was absolutely fascinating. He cleaned my car with all the pride of ownership. As if he had saved for months for just that very car. Like it was a special car. He was even smiling while cleaning up someone else’s mess.

He’d polish a spot, lean back, and clean it again.

The window, that would have taken me all of a minute and a half, consumed a good eight minutes of his focused attention. This was not a “oh, if I take longer, I’ll have to do less” situation. It was very clearly a “this is my job and I’m going to be the very best at it I can be” situation.

He’d clean the back area of the car and then close the hatch. But, then he’d open the hatch again and double check – just to make sure everything was clean.

It seemed like he did this for every crevice he came across.

I’m sure I was sitting there like a fool with my mouth agape.

My doctor probably isn’t even that precise.

Now, I haven’t applied for a job at a car wash lately – but this guy can’t make more than say $12 an hour.

And it struck me how unfair this all really is. My kids were sitting at home on their arses with a litany of opportunities waiting before them (many that they can’t be bothered with) and this guy is busting his arse with probably not that many options.

To be fair to my kids, they do work hard too.

But not the way this guy does. They don’t have that kind of pride in the mundane things they do – heck, they don’t do too many mundane things.

I’m not really sure how all of this will change but imagine what that guy could accomplish with more responsibility and more opportunities.

It’s heart-breaking that he might not have the chance to do anything more than clean a window.

Places to hear authors speak in the DC Area….

by Ellen Weeren
@EllenWeeren/@AReasonToWrite

I just recently discovered these two things and I want to share them with you so we can all come out into the light.

Authors are speaking all over DC, and we’re invited.

Mark Athitakis

This well-known book critic publishes a calendar/guide of speakers throughout the DC area on his blog called American Fiction Notes.

Sixth & I Historic Synagogue
(This excerpt was taken directly from www.expressnightout.com)

Since Sixth & I was rededicated in 2004 (the building started out as a synagogue in 1908, then was an African Methodist Episcopal church for several decades, and is now a working synagogue again), it’s become one of D.C.’s hippest venues for indie rock concerts and big-name author appearances. Tina Fey’s sold-out reading and Q&A in April was the see-and-be-seen nerd event of spring, and the calendar promises an equally compelling fall. Some of Sixth & I’s programs are co-hosted by Politics and Prose, which doesn’t have nearly as much room. Expect a swarm when novelist Jeffrey Eugenides reads on Oct. 31. S.M.

Sixth and I Synagogue, 600 I St. NW,  202-408-3100 . (Gallery Place)

Connecting with Authors….

by Ellen Weeren
@EllenWeeren/@AReasonToWrite

In just the past few days, I have spoken with 4 well known authors. Shaken their hands, asked them questions. Gotten super inspired. And I now have signed books from all of them. Yea!

And just how did I do that, you might wonder. (If you don’t wonder that, stop reading now. 😎  )

Well, I attended a panel discussion at Fall for the Book at George Mason. The discussion was focused on the definition of literary fiction v. genre fiction and if it’s even important to make the distinction between two any longer. The answer was basically that it’s nearly impossible to define literary fiction or appropriately capture its essence. Outstanding writing will be discussed without prompting from scholars and its words will be devoured – no matter what you call it.

My own definition/measuring stick will be that if a college professor picks up The Alligator Purse and discusses it in her classroom or if a book club can’t stop talking about it, then I will consider it Literary Fiction. (She says crossing fingers that one day that will happen.)

These three fantastico authors were at Fall for the Book…

Alma Katsu  – Alma inspired me because she was first published after the age of 50. There’s still hope for me! 😎 And her writing has gripped me – here is the start of her novel The Taker:

“Luke Findley’s breath hangs in the air, nearly a solid thing shaped like a frozen wasp’s nest, wrung of all its oxygen.”

That is some fabulous prose.

Louis Bayard is very simply a tremendous writer and a professor at George Washington Univ.

I also love the opening of The School of Night:

“Against all odds, against my own wishes, this is a love story. And, it began, of all places, at Alonzo Wax’s funeral.”

Now, I am curious as to what is going on.

and then there was Julianna Baggott. The movie rights to her latest novel Pure have already been purchased. She writes across genres and audiences. And, she speaks in poetry. The way she expressed her thoughts was beautiful. I can only imagine the prose in her stories will be scrumptious.

This is what Julianne said on her own blog about the panel discussion. She asked if it was worth her time – she sold fewer than ten books and her child was sick while she was gone. To that I say, “Thank you for coming. When you signed my book, you wrote Best of Luck With Your Writing, Imagine Wildly.” I don’t know if inspiring me was worth missing her sick child. But I was inspired and so were many others.

Mark Athitakis was also on the panel. He is a book critic and manages a guide to DC area readings. You can find that here. I hope one day that he will review my book.

Yes, you are right. That is only three authors. The fourth was one of my absolute faves – John Shors. He wrote the magical historical fiction about the Taj Mahal called  Beneath a Marble Sky. And, if you’ve been following for a while here, you might remember this review. His new book is called Temple of a Thousand Faces and you can preorder it here.

John was kind enough to call our writers group and share his insights on writing. Why did he do that? Because he is awesomesauce – that, and we asked him to.

It is amazing to me just how approachable some authors are. They share a unique understanding of how challenging this writing journey is. And they are eager to see other authors succeed. They want to encourage and enlighten them/us/me.

So, if you are thinking that you really missed out on some great opportunities – have no fear – American University is hosting a visiting writers series and you can get inspiration from some amazing authors. You’ll find the calendar here.

Shorten that url……

by Ellen Weeren/@EllenWeeren

I just read a great article about twitter handles by Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson). Of course, I wanted to share it on Twitter. But the flippin’ url was a katrillion characters long. As you might know, Twitter only allows 140 characters. Even the new fuzzy math won’t allow you to squish a katrillion characters in to 140.

So …. I went to Google and they have this tool. It will shorted your url. Maybe that new fuzzy math will work after all. 😎

And, even though Facebook doesn’t require you to use shorter url’s, it is a nice thing to do there as well.

A Book Review – Drinking Diaries….

It’s over here at A Reason To Read…

 

Book Review – The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot…..

It’s over at A Reason To Read.……..

www.amazon.com

 

Fall for the Book at George Mason University

Every fall, George Mason University hosts Fall for the Book and gives readers an opportunity to connect with authors.

This year’s festival will run from September 26 thru 30, 2012.

The schedule of events can be found here. The list of speakers can be found here.

Some of the events require tickets, such as Alice Walker, Neil Gaiman, and Michael Chabon. Reservations for those authors can be made by emailing reservations@fallforthebook.org. Most of the other events are open to the public.

Many of the events are held at George Mason’s main campus in Fairfax, but some are not. So be sure to check the schedule for locations as well as times.

When I’m not writing…..

artwork from clipart.com

Which should be never. But, alas, when I’m not writing, I am usually reading something.

As for books, I write book reviews over at A Reason To Read. So many of my book choices are not my own.

But I am a big ole lover of magazines. And I have subscriptions to several. They are…

Readers Digest – I love how quickly I can read through this magazine and I love the jokes!

Writers Digest – author interviews, prompts, advice, contests – really just a little bit of everything.

Obscura Journal – this only comes out twice a year – but it couples beautiful photography with storytelling.

Poets & Writers – lots of info on contests, grants, and seminars.

The Writer – they tout themselves as having “advice and inspiration” for writers – that’s pretty much sums it up. Oh and some pretty wonderful author interviews and articles by top notch editors/agents.

The Sun – this is a lovely mix of interviews, non-fiction, fiction, and poetry. Truly something for everyone – except the advertisers. This fun little gem has no ads.

The New Yorker – because there is something very old school in me that believes if you want to be a writer worth your weight in ink, you must at least know what’s on the front cover of this magazine.

And, yes, I have them all come to me in hard copy right to my mailbox. That way I am getting something besides bills. And, I can stick it in my purse in case I am stuck waiting somewhere, which almost always never happens. 😎

Did I leave anything off the list? What are you reading when you aren’t writing?

Book Review – Defending Jacob

Over at A Reason To Read…..

The Ripple Effect………..

So, I pledged to participate in the Generosity Day Project and made some donations on Feb. 13th. On Feb. 14th, I pledged to myself that I would not just take the easy way out and make my contributions solely monetary darts thrown from the comfy, cozy chair in front of my computer.

The giver gets the gift

Every where I went, I tried to think, “what would be generous to do here”.

And while standing at the checkout line at Walmart, I tried to figure out something generous to do. Several people came up after me with much smaller loads than I had but the cashier had already started processing my items. It was too late to let them go ahead of me. Dang. Then I thought about offering to pay for their items. But there was that whole monetary darts thing. And besides it really would have just seemed, well, weird. Especially given that several of them were buying valentinesy kinds of things.

Can’t you just hear it:

Valentine: Honey, you shouldn’t have (brought me this fabulous gift from Walmart)
Gift Giver: Uhm, actually, I didn’t.
Valentine: What?
Gift Giver: Nevermind, it’s too weird to explain

Almost everyone who got behind me quickly changed over to the express lane. Except one man. He was a much older man in a mobile shopping cart. He was already moving kind of slow so my multitude of c.r.a.p. didn’t seem too daunting.

Ah-ha. There was my chance. I offered to load his items on to the conveyer belt for him. I was careful to say “would you like help” rather than “do you need help”, in an effort to not offend him. His face wrinkled and he kind of smirked and said he could do it. He wasn’t insulted but he also wasn’t thrilled that I had noticed that maybe he couldn’t do it alone.

Feeling a little uneasy and thinking he might be feeling it too, I joked that it was Valentine’s Day and said “hey, today of all days we should try to be nice to each other, right?”

He agreed. Then he joked back and said that if he wasn’t married, he would ask me to be his valentine. And don’t worry, it wasn’t in a creepy-I’d-better-be-careful-walking-back-to-my-car kind of way. Just in a nice, funny way. Totally like my grandfather would have done.

And I said pretty much the same thing back. And he laughed and looked a little sad at the same time.

He said that when he isn’t sitting in a cart, he is 6’2″ tall and that it is interesting to look up at people.He said it gave him a whole new perspective – this opportunity to look up. He almost seemed like he felt invisible when he was in the cart. That must be quite a change for a man who used to stand 6’2″ and tower over nearly everyone else.

Anyway, we laughed and had a nice chat. And when I turned to leave the store, we both had little bitty tears in our eyes. He seemed so appreciative of not being overlooked and he reminded me so much of my grandfather that I couldn’t help but get choked up a tad. And then he said, “your husband is a lucky man.”

I know, awwwwwww.

How I ended up with the bigger smile is maybe not such a mystery. I started out to just do something kind – something so simple as stop and help another person – and I ended up having a nice conversation, making someone smile, and being flooded with memories of one of my most favorite people in the whole universe. All in about 2.5 minutes. (All while I would have been otherwise just standing and waiting – doing nothing important.)

As I got in the car to drive away, I didn’t check my rear view mirror to make sure he wasn’t following me. I simply wondered why, why, why.

Why don’t we stop being so distracted so that we can enjoy interactions with those around us. Even if we don’t know them?

Why are we so busy that we ignore what a plain old smile or a helping hand can cure?

Why can’t we just slow down and breathe deeply and exhale slowly so that we can fully enjoy the precious minutes we are given?

I started off by trying to help him and his smile rippled right through my memories and warmed my heart. It’s true that the giver gets the greatest gift.