Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Sharing with you a tidbit about a remarkable woman of the past

Who was Louisa May Alcott Really?

Although she lived a life and belief that caused her to travel in a completely different direction than me, one of my favorite authors of prose and poetry will continue to be the quintessential American Novelist from 19th Century, Louisa May Alcott. 

Here at A Pen for Your Thoughts  I look forward to sharing a little bit about this unforgettable and talented woman some information you might not yet know. Join me now as we enjoy a moment of learning about who she really was and how she came to be the woman many know nothing about to this day except that she wrote a few books that we have come to love and have enjoyed throughout our lives.. 

Who was Louisa May Alcott? What can we as readers and writers learn from her, this remarkable woman of the past? 

Louisa May Alcott an American novelist, was best known for her novel, Little Women, written and set in the Alcott family home where she lived in Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts. 
Little Women was based in part on Louisa's childhood experiences with her three sisters. One can get a hint of the type of woman she would become by delving into one of her primary characters in this novel.

We learn from reading her biography that in 1840, after several setbacks with the school, she and her family were compelled to relocate so they moved to a cottage along the Sudbury River, also in Massachusetts in the town of Concord.  The ever adventurous Alcott family later moved to the Utopian Fruitlands community where they resided from 1843-1844 and then, after its collapse went on to live in rented rooms and finally to a house in Concord purchased with Louisa's mother's inheritance and financial help from Emerson. 

Louisa May Alcott's early education included lessons from the naturalist Henry David Thoreau; the majority of her schooling, she received directly from her father. Louisa was also privileged to receive some instruction from writers and educators such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Margaret Fuller,  all family friends. 
What an amazing privilege!
Louisa later described these early years of her life in a newspaper sketch entitled "Transcendental Wild Oats." The sketch was reprinted in the volume Silver Pitchers (1876), which relates the family's experiment in "plain living and high thinking" at Fruitlands. 

She clearly lived an unusual and unorthodox life for her era, for by the time she entered adulthood, Louisa became  an abolitionist and a feminist. In 1847, she and her family housed a fugitive slave for one week, and then in 1848 Alcott read and admired the "Declaration of Sentiments" published by the Seneca Falls Convention on women's rights. 

Poverty made it necessary for Alcott to go to work at an early age as an occasional teacher, seamstress, governess, domestic helper, and writer. We also learn of her history that her first book was Flower Fables (1855), a book of tales originally written for Ellen Emerson, daughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson. In 1860, Alcott began writing for the Atlantic Monthly. She was also employed as a nurse in the Union Hospital at Georgetown, D.C., for six weeks in 1862-1863. While employed at Union Hospital, her letters home, revised and published in the Commonwealth and collected as Hospital Sketches (1863, republished with additions in 1869), garnered her first critical recognition for her observations and humor. Her novel Moods (1864), based on her own experience, was also promising. 
Ever the prolific writer, and in moments of totally different character, Louisa also wrote passionate, fiery novels and sensation stories under the nom de plume A. M. Barnard. Among these are A Long Fatal Love Chase and Pauline's Passion and Punishment . Her protagonists for these tales are willful and relentless in their pursuit of their own aims, which often include revenge on those who have humiliated or thwarted them. These works achieved immediate commercial success in their day. 

Ever the diverse woman of atypical character, Alcott also produced moralistic and wholesome stories for children, and, with the exceptions of the semi-autobiographical tale Work (1873), and the anonymous novelette A Modern Mephistopheles (1875), which attracted suspicion that it was written by Julian Hawthorne, she did not return to creating works for adults. 

Some might consider this remarkable novelist a contradiction in terms. 
Alcott wrote until her death, which was attributed to the after-effects of mercury poisoning contracted during her American Civil War service. She had received calomel treatments for the effects of typhoid before her passing which took place in Boston on March 6, 1888 at age 55, two days after visiting her father on his deathbed. Her last words were "Is it not meningitis?"
Much of this writing included on this page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia, modified in several instances by this author. 
Used by permission.

The verse that follows is one of my favorites of Louisa May Alcott. 

Hither, hither, from thy home,
Airy sprite, I bid thee come!
Born of roses, fed on dew,
Charms and potions canst thou brew?
Bring me here, with elfin speed,
The fragrant philter which I need.
Make it sweet and swift and strong,
Spirit, answer now my song!

* * * * *

Hither I come,
From my airy home,
Afar in the silver moon.
Take the magic spell,
And use it well,
Or its power will vanish soon!     

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Easter Flowers

Easter Flowers Lilies Victorian Illustration

“We are going to church,” smiled the lily;
“We are going to church,” smiled the rose;
“Then I certainly think,” said the pert little pink,
“We should wear our prettiest clothes. 

“So, heliotrope, put on your lilac;
And crocus, your bright yellow vest;
Sweet violets. You must wear bonnets of blue
While the rose shall in crimson be dressed. 
“Our lily shall don her white satin, 
And in white, too, They could be seen.
While the hyacinth fair shall wear pink in her hair;
And the smiles have ribbons of green." 

Then the bright Easter lily looked upward,
While her smile the whole garden illumed.
"Oh, dear little sister; there ne're had been Easter
If passion-flowers never had bloomed."  
The church bells were joyfully ringing
When out of the garden they passed.
And down through the porch and into the church;
Till they came to the altar at last. 
They climbed over archway and pillar,
They nestled in baskets of moss;
The rose found a place in a beautiful vase, 
And the passion-flower clung to a cross. 
And they swayed to the breeze of the organ,
That sent its great throb through the air;
When "Landamus" was sung all their censers they swung.
And they nodded "Amen" to each prayer. 
They smiled in response to the children, 
So like them in innocent grace.
When the sermon was reached and the minister preached.
They all looked him straight in the face. 
“Oh my people,” he said, speaking softly,
Looking down on the listening throng,
"On this day of all days it is meet we give praise,
With offerings of flowers and glad song. 
“But desolate homes are around us  
Where dwell the distressed and forlorn,
Their carol a strain full of discord and pain,
Their lily of Easter a thorn.
“Go forth, O beloved, and find them,
Your hearts with pure love all aglow;
E'en the lowliest flower that fades in an hour
The Lord's resurrection may show." 
The great congregation departed;
The flowers looked around in surprise.
"And must we stay here?" said the rose, while a tear
bedimmed yellow daffodil's eyes. 
“I think we’ve a message to carry,”
Was the heliotrope's gentle reply.
"But how can we know to what places to go?"
Said the gay little pink, with a sigh. 
A flutter, a rustle, a whisper,
A step light and fleet as a fawn,
And, behold standing close by the royal red rose
Was a child with a face like the dawn.  
The angels to both are akin,
And without spoken word
all the bright blossoms heard
Where the dear little maiden had been. 
She told them a wonderful secret.
They blushed with exquisite delight;
With tremulous haste down the long aisle they passed,
Until they were lost to the sight. 
The heliotrope found a dark cellar,
A home of grim want and despair;
The white pink was led to a hospital bed,
And a rose climbed a rickety stair.  
The daffodil followed a beggar;
By its side the hyacinth pressed;
The violets crept where a dear baby slept,
And laid themselves down on its breast. 
The passion-flower caught on its purple
The tears which an erring one shed;
In a dark, shrouded room Easter lilies bloom
Waved their banner of hope o'er the dead. 
A dream of the fancy you call it?
Some dreams have a touch that's divine;
And a child's simple act may turn fancy to fact
In fulfilling his vision of mine.  

                      Easter Flowers By Mary B. Waterman                         
 Published in Harper’s Young People, March 27, 1888.  
Illustrated by Jessie Shepherd, “Easter Flowers”

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Cancer is too real to be ignored

I am a breast cancer survivor. It's been eighteen years since the day of that discovery when I found myself having to take it all in then to find myself in the midst of a number of surgeries, radiation treatments,a prolonged chemotherapy  regime, hair loss, nausea, and a plethora of diagnostic tests and biopsies to follow with the threat that my invasive cancer would return with a vengeance. I also came to realize we don't go through these times alone, for everything about our lives affect the lives of others. 
Even though years have passed since my first cancer revelation, the concern and fears for a return or a new cancer is in the back of both the doctors' minds as well as we who go through it. It has not been an easy time for me, for my husband, or for my family. We, unfortunately, continue to live with the possibility that mom and wife might once again have to go through the difficult experience and that other members of our family might be about to go through the same. If it wasn't for God and His grace I know it would have been much more difficult for us all. 
Recently, I discovered I am also a BRCA 1+ mutant.  It suggests that because of the numerous other members of my family both near and far who have gone through their own cancer experiences, I am not the  only one who carries this gene mutation. It appears to be rampant in my family's history.
We all carry the BRCA gene, I don't know if you knew. The gene itself is a normal thing, but the BRCA 1+ and 2+ mutations are not. The list of mutations that are related to BRCA add to the abnormalities we have to face. These particular ones run in high risk families including my own. The mutation along with a list of those others that surround it puts a woman and a man at very high risk for future cancers --  breast cancers, ovarian cancers, pancreatic cancers, several other forms of cancer. 
Learning of this has made me realize I have more likely than not passed along this mutation to my children, My children, in turn, could have passed it along to theirs. I've put my children and children's children at the same risk as me. I have put my daughter at risk for I have recently learned, she, too, has discovered she has also joined the BRCA1+ family.
Because I carry the BRCA mutation, and I've already had cancer once, I made a choice I thought I would never have to make. After going through my last open biopsy this previous Summer (I've lost count of how many I've gone through over the last several years -- Really there are too many to count), I finally decided enough was enough. It was then I decided to be tested; it was then I chose to get a (survivor) prophylactic bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction as well as the prophylactic hysterectomy that would lower my risk for ovarian cancer and be necessary regardless of the difficulties i might have by going through the experiences. (Reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy is something completely different from augmentive surgery which is more for the purpose of aesthetics' sake).  
I knew this wouldn't be easy for me or for my husband. I knew there might be difficulties for me during this process, and indeed I was correct about that. I'm no spring chicken anymore. I have this uncanny way of catching all the side effects one might catch in the process of cancer elimination. Because of past radiation and chemotherapy, infections abound inside my body (fun) but that's another story.
I will get through this and I am blessed to have a husband whose care for me has shown itself in the ways he's cared for me through this trying time. And for the sake oft my family  I know this is right. At least this can be one area of my life that will remove the fear my family has that I might get breast cancer again or ovarian cancer as has happened to so many others in this family of mine through the last several decades. This experience will take one step of worry off the table. 
With the prayers of loved ones, God can deal with the rest as it comes. He always has and always will.
For my family and likely for yours, I'm sure you will agree, cancer is too real to be ignored. 
My author friend Claire Fullerton has written a timely feature which deals with the very cancer of which I speak. I believe her feature is appropriate for anyone reading this now who've experienced cancer in their families. I hope it will minister to you as it has today to me. 

One of Us Has Breast Cancer
by Claire Fullerton

After a year and three months, we're just now coming up for air.  Surprisingly, it has taken this long to rise to the top, for we have been overwhelmed ever since we got the news that one of us has breast cancer.  I come from the south and grew up in a tight-knit circle of friends that can best be likened to the workings of a bee hive, so when something happens to one of us, in many ways, it happens to us all. 

It's funny the way the unexpected presents itself, how you never see it coming and how you can be going along with your life, making your plans and assume that they're going to be a certainty by virtue of the fact that you've made them.  That's exactly where things stood when we got the news about Tama.

One of us from our enclave in the South now lives in Sun Valley, Idaho.  Her name is Louise and she's the larger than life, funny one.  Louise has a sense of humor that literally reduces her to tears, and it tends to be contagious. She's also the organizer and plan maker who got it in her head one day to have Tama and me fly out to her home in the mountains for an extended weekend.  Tama and I immediately fell in line: our husbands were alerted, our dates were set, and our plane tickets were secured. Tama and I were on our way; she from her home in Memphis and I from mine in L.A.  Eight days before our scheduled departure, my phone rang.  I looked at the display illuminating Louise's name and thought, "No doubt some sort of instruction is coming," but it turned out that wasn't the case.  When I picked up the phone, Louise was crying.

 "What is it?" I asked. 

"Tama has breast cancer," Louise said without preamble.

"What?" I questioned again, only this time, with an entirely different inflection.  This time, I meant two things: Did I hear you correctly?  How in the world could this possibly be true?

I'll say this about all of us reared in the South: we know how to do. We know how to step up, we know the perfect gesture for everything, no matter what you're talking about, and we know how to meet all of life's emergencies. We pretty much slide into an automated code of proper behavior because that's what our Southern mothers passed down to us. We don't talk about it amongst ourselves, it's all just the way things are because it was expected of us while growing up, and now we expect it from each other.

"What should we do? "I asked Louise, because it was the first thing that sprang to mind.

"I think we should call off ya'll coming out here," Louise said.

"Alright, is that what Tama wants to do?" I asked.

"Tama doesn't know what she wants to do. Her family is freaking out," Louise reported.

"I'm not going to call her today- when did she find out?"

"Yesterday," Louise interjected. "They called with her mammogram results, said they found a mass and wanted to do a biopsy, which Tama didn't bother to tell us, and now they're telling her it's cancer. Now she's telling us."

"I don't even know what to say," I exhaled.

"Call Tama tomorrow anyway," Louise directed. 

You have to know Tama. I spent many years thinking Tama was the quiet sort but now I know better; Tama just doesn't let on.  What she is, is a woman of few words.  She's not one of those superfluous talkers; she simply contributes to a conversation with as few words as possible and leaves the floor to everybody else.  She doesn't feel the need to position herself front and center, and this is exactly why Louise and I have always deferred to her. 

"Hey Tama, Louise called me," I said to her on the phone the next day.

"It's always something," Tama said. 

"Seriously, is there anything I can do?"

"Yes, come over here and tell my kids I'm not dead yet," Tama said, deflecting the gravity of the moment. 

The three of us went on that way for days, backing and forthing over the telephone, vacillating between drama and sarcasm, comparing thoughts and notes and ideas and stories of who has gone through something similar and achieved a happy outcome, until Tama's doctors presented her with a concrete, step-by-step agenda that would begin within the month.

For somebody handed a rule book on conduct at birth, I was still uncertain of what to say or do for my childhood friend. One has to have a frame of reference in some things and I just didn't have one for breast cancer, or any other serious illness that came down the pike for one of us. 

"We need to get a plan," Louise declared over the phone.

"Good idea," I said.

"I think ya'll should still come out here," she said. "Tama says she may as well wait out here for the inevitable."

"Alright, let's airlift Tama on outta there, we may as well," I agreed.

I've found out that it's the little things you do in support of a friend who has breast cancer that end up truly mattering.  For four unscheduled days, we followed Tama's lead, monitoring the understandable, yet unpredictable fluidity of her emotions and finding the delicate balance between activity and restorative reprieve.   We had lunch with Louise's friends in Sun Valley, went shopping and took long walks on the mountain trails. When Tama teared up, we teared up ( Ya'll, let me cry now because I'm not going to cry in front of my husband or my kids when I get home," Tama said) and when the look on her otherwise stoic face suggested she was overwhelmed, we simply retreated to Louise's house and took a nap, no matter the time of day.  We spent a lot of time talking about our intertwined childhoods, our histories and our families, yet oddly enough, we didn't spend a lot of time dwelling on what was to come for Tama in the following months.  For whatever reason, Tama just wanted to be, and Louise and I had the unspoken graciousness to just be right alongside her. 

It's been a year and three months now, and in that time, the harrowing, incremental dynamic of Tama's breast cancer has included multiple surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, hair loss, on-going hives and reconstructive surgery.  As friends in support, Louise and I kept vigil by demanding blow-by-blow details, sending presents, making phone calls and hanging on every twist and turn of her progress.  It appears that the worst is behind her, as there is no sign of the cancer's return, Tama's hair has grown back beautifully and she looks and feels like a glowing million dollars.  

In my heart of hearts, I believe that Tama will forever be one of the fortunate breast cancer survivors, and although there were times during her travails when I questioned whether anything I could do would ever be enough, since then I have realized that it is enough just to try and it is enough just to be there in support and camaraderie alongside your friend.


With God's grace, we can survive these difficult times with the help of one another. How important it is to be an encouragement to a friend or loved one when he or she needs it most. I hope you will make yourself available to those you care about when they need you the most.  i pray they will be there for you.