Gratitude

thank you pic 3

On Valentine’s Day, this post is dedicated to all those souls who read/view and/or follow my blog.  I am ever grateful for your interest, kindness, support, and encouragement throughout the two years I’ve been composing posts for my blog.  

rw emerson quote on thankful to friends

Through your care and endorsement, you’ve helped turn my creative and written seedlings into a healthy, beautiful, thriving bouquet of appreciated style and prose. 

purple flower bouquet

May your day be filled with love and joy.  ❤

pink and white sparkly hearts

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My Short Play Making it to the Stage (Video Included!) & My Short Story Making it in the Finalist Category in a Writing Contest — All in One Week!

Book. Opened book with special light. Education

This week has been an amazing blessing from God.  I am so thankful for the gift of writing He has bestowed in me since childhood, that has been able to grow more than thirty years later.  As I have mentioned in past blog posts, I wrote a play for my creative writing class in 2015 when I was in my first year of online college at Southern New Hampshire University.  I had never written a play before.  It was really a screenplay at first.  I had to write something and had absolutely zero ideas of what to write.  I didn’t want to write something overdone, regurgitated too often, and for me, that meant a love relationship or some dire storyline.  But I couldn’t pull anything from my gray matter.  It sat there, lounging, out to lunch, not wanting to be present for this assignment.  So, I decided there was nothing else to do but to just start writing whatever came to my mind, no matter how stupid or incoherent.  Hey, it’s best to just get a gaggle of words down on the paper and worry about order and lucidity later.  In this process, I wrote ten pages of a play about nothing.  I named it “Falling Up Stairs” — the topic of the discussion in the play.  Ninety-eight percent of this play was written from a stream of consciousness, which tells you a lot about my brain’s functioning power to come up with ten pages of nothing.  The other two percent was making sure it made sense.  And lo and behold, it did.  What a relief!

I turned it in the week it was due, and shared it on the discussion forum the week after and got positive feedback from both my fellow students and professor.  They found my story funny and enjoyable.  This was good to know, not only grade wise, but that I was able to pull off a play that made some people laugh.  What a joy that is!

Fast forward to this past December when the director of artistic programming after several emails with me, set up a night for actors from the local theater in which she worked to read my two plays, “Falling Up Stairs” and “The Tricker’s Treat.”  Both plays came to life through these readings, and were enhanced by these actors’ brilliant jobs of reading with such animation and emotion.  I do hope that “The Tricker’s Treat” will come to the stage next fall.  God willing…!

And from that point, I signed up for the theater’s Open Mic night that was scheduled for January 20, 2018.  If you’ve ever seen the movie Noises Off with Michael Caine, Carol Burnett, John Ritter, and Christopher Reeve, you’ll understand me when I say I felt like Michael Caine’s character, Lloyd, the director of the play.  Yes, my nerves were just about as bad as his, worrying how the play would go down in front of the live audience, and wondering if the actors had their lines completely down.  I’m an anxious sort of person, so this wasn’t unusual or surprising.

Noises Off pic of Caine taking valium

Well, I fretted over nothing (which is usually the case).  My play was performed by these three fantastic actors to a receptive audience last night (January 20, 2018).  I couldn’t have been more proud of them and their great work, or more pleased.  I am so grateful to them for having agreed to act out my play, and I thanked them both verbally and with a small gift for their effort.  You can watch the performance on the video below.

On Thursday, January 18, I received an email from a publishing company who had ran a writing contest online back in November 2017.  I was informed that my short story, “Summer Memories” had been chosen as one of the twelve finalist pieces that they will include in their anthology of short stories for this year.  I can’t tell you how incredibly thrilled, but at the same time stunned, I was that my story had been chosen.  This past November had been the first time I’d entered any of my stories in writing contests. I entered three of my short stories in three different contests, and one of them was selected.  It’s nearly impossible to express the elation I have felt from this.  My work has been recognized by editors at a publishing company.  My work that I’d edited myself and submitted thinking I may have a chance, but if my work wasn’t chosen as a finalist or didn’t win, that was all right, too.  It was a great learning experience and helped me to overcome my fear of putting my work out there for people to read and examine.  The catalyst was turning my plays over to the director at the theater.  This was the first time I’d let those in a professional field (in this case, play related) read over my work.  It broke the huge wall of fear I’d constructed for the past two years.  This fear paralyzed my ability to make headway in my writing until last October when I sent my plays to this director who was so supportive and encouraging.  Things changed rather drastically after that.  It was as if God had opened the doors and windows ahead of me as I walked this path of mine, the writing path, the path I’d been given the gift to trek.

I now wait to work with this publishing company through further correspondence on what comes next for my short story in their anthology.  I look forward to it.

The video is under eight minutes.  Please share your thoughts after watching my play on what you liked about it, and if it made you laugh.

 

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Miyazaki’s Masterpieces Center on the Human Condition

miyazaki movies collage

Have you ever seen any of Studio Ghibli’s animated movies? In particular, Hayao Miyazaki’s animated movies through Studio Ghibli? I know that many of you probably have, but if you haven’t, this blogpost is for you (and for fans of these movies!).  They are drawn in the anime style and are fantastic.  My family has a stack of them sitting in our DVD bookcase.  What makes the movies so superb is their depth, their artwork, and their focus on the human condition.  Below, I go into detail about two specific movies of Miyazaki’s that portrays the characters, their relationships, and good and evil through the lens of the human condition.

In Disney movies, there is a strong distinction between the heroes and the villains, especially the earlier animated ones.  I would go so far as to say many of the villains in Disney movies are two-dimensional, fail to show remorse most of the time, and lack the full makeup of human beings–good and bad qualities.  But with such movies as Spirited Away, the human condition and the more rounded personalities of the characters are present and great to watch.  

Spirited Away

This movie is long, engrossing, and deep.  So deep that you forget you’re watching an animated feature (this is the case for all Miyazaki’s films).  Chihiro, a young, 10-year-old girl is riding with her parents in their car heading for their new house in a new city.  She possesses a bratty mentality who is not happy about moving, which is typical for children who like to stay where they grew up, for the most part (says the daughter of an Air Force officer who moved every two to four years. Haha).  Anyway, her parents and she end up going through a type of stone tunnel that opens up to green hills and a little village with a bunch of shops.  Her parents get caught up in the smell and devouring of delicious food, and their gluttony takes over, transforming them into huge pigs.  Chihiro is left alone, desperate to help her parents.  Later, she becomes an employee at a bathhouse run by a nasty witch who steals people’s names.  Still, aspects of good show through this witch, which makes her more “human” and interesting.  

A teenaged boy, Haku, aids Chihiro using his special powers, as he’s also a white dragon.  And then there’s No Face.  This character doesn’t speak, and appears and disappears in and around the bathhouse where Chihiro works.  He followers Chihiro and tries to give her handfuls of gold, but she isn’t interested.  All those that do take the gold blocks are eaten by No Face.  He becomes gluttonous, and can’t stop eating.  He’s miserable, and he sees Chihiro as the person to save him from this.  Instead of kicking him to the curb for his destructive behavior, she eventually helps him, and his passion is squelched. Also, the witch softens towards the end of the story.  

Through helping others, learning to be independent and resourceful, Chihiro matures and loses the brattiness and ungratefulness that had been part of her at the beginning of the story.  There’s the element of redemption in this that I love–that people aren’t all bad or good, and that they repent and change.  All of these elements in this Japanese movie show Christian aspects but are globally understood because it’s part of humanity and its ability to transform through the love of others that shines the light of Christ, from my perspective.  If you haven’t seen this epic film, I highly recommend it.  Although it’s a “children’s movie,” (I wouldn’t say very young children), it’s for adults, too.

Howl’s Moving Castle

This movie is enchanting.  It, too, is long and engrossing.  Again, you forget this is animated. Main character, Sophie, is a young woman who works with her sisters in her since deceased father’s hat shop until she encounters Howl, the Wizard, and then The Witch of the Waste.  The latter casts a spell on Sophie, turning her into an old woman.  Sophie did not consider herself beautiful, and so, although she isn’t happy she’s been turned wrinkly, it’s the struggle with her aching body that causes her the most difficulty.  She finds herself inHowl’s magic, moving castle and works for him as a cleaning lady.  Throughout this is a war going on in the country where she and the others live.  

Howl suffers from vanity.  He is particular about his hair color, his clothes, and how he looks.  If something comes between him and his appearance, he crumbles, and this happens in one of the scenes.  Black forms of demons slither out and around him while he’s melting in the chair.  Why?  Because he’s allowed his vanity to overtake him, causing him the danger of being destroyed.  But Sophie is there to talk to him and help him.  

Ultimately, Sophie’s compassion toward Howl, the Witch, and other characters brings about remorse and repentance for those characters that were doing evil.  Sophie does not have a high regard for herself and believes herself to be unattractive.  But she grows through dealing with the curse of being old.  I don’t believe she cared that she was old because she didn’t think she was beautiful anyway, so she didn’t lose anything in appearance.  But she learns through helping others, and these people’s respect for her, that she is truly worth something and she learns to like herself.  In return, Howl tells her she’s beautiful and helps her get back home.  If you haven’t seen this one, please do.

Whenever watching these movies, everything around you melts away, and you’re sucked into the storyline, the characters, and the beautiful artistic scenes.

There are plenty of other spectacular Hiyazaki movies that are just as deep, and some a little lighter in content.  Below is a list of the DVDs we own that are all fantastic and enjoyable.

Princess Mononoke (my oldest son’s favorite, and very profound)

Kiki’s Delivery Service

My Neighbor Totoro

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (profound)

From Up On Poppy Hill (my favorite lighter film)

Castle in the Sky

Whisper of the Heart

The Secret World of Arrietty

Porco Rosso

Incidentally, if you’re in to real tear-jerkers, watch this Studio Ghibli movie called Grave of the Fireflies.  It’s a twenty-tissue film, and one I doubt I’ll be able to watch again, but it was incredible.

Take a look at this video that explains Miyazaki’s theme of the human condition in his works.

 

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A Guardian Angel’s Warning

Orthodox guardian angel for women

 

In the summer of 1993, Deanna drove her gray hatchback around the unknown neighborhood for a third time, seeking out a friend’s house.  After the past three years of a tumultuous and painful relationship with Kyle, she desperately desired a man who would fiercely love her back. She wanted to take a chance with her good friend, Patrick.  They had been fellow classmates in their sociology class at the local community college four years before and had kept in touch.  She knew he liked her more than just as a friend, so she believed her efforts to pursue Patrick would be worthwhile, as she struggled to unshackle herself from the dead end that was Kyle, the golf enthusiast.

The gray cloudy sky veiled the afternoon sun, as Deanna rolled down the same street for the fourth time.  Panic and worry settled in her chest as she faced the realization she didn’t know which house was Patrick’s.

As her hopes fell, the car rumbled to a stop in front of a modest, two-story house.  She checked her watch and found it was already after four o’clock. Anxiousness took hold of her, and the thought of calling Patrick flooded her mind.  The insistence grew so strong that she turned off the engine and exited the vehicle.

Walking up to the porch, ideas of what she’d say to Patrick floated through her mind.  Since she’d lost the chance to surprise him at his house, she’d have to surprise him with a call.  She knocked on the door with anticipation of the soon-to-be conversation.

A minute later, the door slowly opened, and a middle-aged man in a bathrobe eyed her with a mixture of irritation and curiosity.

“Hi, can I borrow your phone?” she asked with an impatient smile.

He hesitated for a moment, still staring at her, but then said, “Just a minute,” and retreated from the doorway, leaving the door cracked.

Eagerness and excitement bubbled inside Deanna as the imagined conversation with Patrick danced in her head.

Suddenly, a voice neither specifically male nor female squelched the talking in her head.

“What are you doing?”

Deanna froze, hearing this unexpected and unfamiliar voice.

“Leave the porch, get in your car, and get out of there.”  The tone was firm but not cruel.

Fear laced through her stomach as the realization of nearly entering a complete stranger’s home shook her.

Deanna bolted from the front of the house, got in her car, and fumbled for her keys, trying to shove the car key into the ignition.  As the vehicle hummed to life, she glanced at the house, where the man stood there still in his robe, behind the screen door, peering at her with a stony expression.

Heart pounding, Deanna flicked a wave in his direction and sped off.

 

(This story is based on my true life experience, with change in names for privacy)

 

 

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The Unique Ancient Christian Perspective in Fiction Writing

santorini sunset with church

In our Western world, we are accustomed to works by Christian authors of the Protestant and Catholic faith communities, but we’re lacking a voice for the rich and beautiful traditions of Eastern Orthodox (Greek, Russian, Romanian, Serbian, etc.) Christian faith in the fiction publishing realm and bookstores.

This reality struck me in the past two months, but only compelled me to the point of writing about it today.  Readers could learn so many fascinating aspects of the Orthodox Christian culture, traditions, and way of life with access to these writers’ works present in the fiction writing arena in the United States, especially.

I guess it was only natural that I, being an Orthodox Christian, would come to this realization eventually.  I only wonder if any of my Orthodox Christian brethren have thought about this and wished there were fiction books out there that delved into the traditions and beliefs of their own.

theophany cross dive

As a rather new writer in the past three years (coming back to writing after a nearly eighteen-year hiatus…you can read my writing history in a few of my previous blog posts, like my blog post “A Lifelong Dream Unfolding”), I’m still trying to get down the skills of writing, grasping good plot, and character development, but I felt compelled to share my thoughts.

You see, we Orthodox Christians don’t really fit into the tight guidelines of the evangelical Christian publishing, or completely in Catholic publishing.  Our beliefs are a bit different from the Western mindset, and our traditions are unique.  Wouldn’t it nice to have a venue to share these types of stories with you readers out there?  Maybe readers would find the cross dives done in a body of water nearest to a community’s church, why we make St. Basil’s bread, wear prayer rope bracelets, fast, wear crowns/stefana at our weddings, or wear wedding bands on our right ring fingers intriguing.  These traditions and beliefs may be refreshing interwoven in a fiction novel of a character of Eastern Orthodox faith.

stefana marriage crowns

While googling Orthodox Christian fiction writers, I found one from 2011 under a Facebook friend’s website.  With regards to fantasy (which is the genre of the story in the link), in my own personal opinion, I’ve not really been into fantasy about people with supernatural powers because they already truly exist in those who become holy in Christ–Saints.  There are plenty of stories of them in the Orthodox Christian world, but hardly known in the United States, my home country.  Incidentally, Ancient Faith Publishing has started accepting women’s fiction and other fiction by Eastern Orthodox Christians, and I hope other publishing companies follow…at least a few…because it gives us EOCs an outlet for our work.  🙂

I believe opening up this Eastern Orthodox Christian mindset in the Western World’s fiction publishing world would add a unique, fresh, profound, and brilliant expression of Christianity that’s so needed.

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The Day in Which the World has Joyously Changed Forever

the nativity of Christ

 

The birth of Christ God incarnate changed humanity and all creation forever.  The second Person of the Trinity condescended onto Earth and took on the flesh of the Theotokos, and through this, we Eastern Orthodox Christians sing many hymns celebrating this:

“Our Saviour hath visited us from on high…
And we who were plunged in darkness and shadows
Have found the truth,
For the Lord hath been born of the Virgin”.

“The wall of partition is destroyed,
The flaming sword is dropped,
The Cherubim withdraw from the Tree of Life,
And I partake of the fruits of Paradise,
Whence, for my disobedience, I was driven forth”.

“Heaven and earth now are united through Christ’s Birth!
Now is God come down to earth
And man arisen to the heaven”.

magi visiting Theotokos & Christ

“Today Christ is born in Bethlehem of the Virgin.
Today He who is without a beginning begins,
And the Word is made flesh.
The powers of Heaven rejoice,
The earth and her people are jubilant;
The Wise Men bring gifts to the Lord,
The shepherds marvel at the One who is born;
And we sing without ceasing:
“Glory to God in the Highest, And on earth peace, (God’s) good will toward men”.

Christ is Born!  Glorify Him!

Mary, Joseph, and the Christ Child Nativity

 

A Blessed Christmas to you all.  May Peace and Love fill your hearts.

 

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Don’t Forget This Hidden Christmas Gem

sparkly boughs on Xmas tree

 

There are so many wonderful Christmas movies out there. Christmas movies, such as It’s a Wonderful Life, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Christmas Story, Charlie Brown Christmas, White Christmas, and the various Claymation-style kiddies’ movies like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and Frosty the Snowman, are slid into our DVD players every other to every few years.

There are two, though, that we watch every Christmas. We can’t miss them because their messages are so beautiful (not that It’s a Wonderful Life’s message isn’t, but we’ve seen it so many times we have to take a couple years’ breaks in between). One of these two is The Bells of St. Mary’s, and the other one, which has quickly become our favorite that we just discovered only about three years ago when we first saw it—

It Happened on 5th Avenue.

It doesn’t seem to be as well known as the others, but it is quite a hidden gem that needs to be dug up and displayed every year for people to watch and fall in love with. It warms the heart and centers on the messages of love, family, charity, and compassion.

The synopsis of the story is posted below via IMDb:

Every winter, Michael J. O’Connor, the second richest man in the world, leaves his 5th Avenue mansion for warmer climes. Every winter, Aloysius T. McKeever, homeless man, moves into the 5th Avenue mansion. This particular winter, McKeever meets Jim Bullock, an army veteran who has recently been evicted from his apartment and offers to share the mansion with him. It’s not long before the mansion has a few more guests, including: Jim’s army buddies and their wives and children; runaway heiress Trudy; and even Michael J. O’Connor, himself.

It Happened on 5th Avenue 

If you’ve got room on your DVD shelf for one more Christmas movie, make it this one. It’ll make your Christmas just a little bit sweeter.

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