Some Words Sunday–Compassion and Awareness

(If you’d like to just hop to the ROW80 check-in, please click here)

A bit over a week ago I finished reading Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt.  It’s one of those books that makes me very glad for the life I live despite any issues I’ve had (or probably will have*).

Angela's Ashes

Angela’s Ashes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reviews of Angela’s Ashes are, as with any book, mixed.  Many who commented on it, criticized McCourt’s portrayal of the Irish people and how negatively he showed them.  I disagree…  I mean, yes, McCourt did shine a negative light on a majority of the people in the book.

I just don’t think he picked on the Irish so much as the global culture of the time.  He based his book in Ireland because that’s where he had the most experience (and a very small part of an Irish city at that).  If McCourt’s writing has anything negative to show us, it’s how closing ourselves off from others and allowing ourselves to concentrate on our own troubles harms both ourselves and others.

A (hyperbolic) comparison: people worrying about their sexual prowess as opposed to learning how to relate to their lovers and being better partners probably have saved us from the over-population of rhinos and sharks….

But I digress.

Last week, Beth Camp’s offered us a wonderful post on writing themes at the ROW80 blog: What Impels You To Write?  If you haven’t read it, click the link and check it out (I’ll even set it to open in a new browser window so you don’t lose your place here).

We all write according to a theme, some that occur regularly in our stories.  A search for true love, a need to avenge one’s self against real (or imagined) wrongs, growth and understanding…

Hallowed Halls

Hallowed Halls

Often several themes will fill one story.

Certain themes matter to us personally.  These themes affect our lives, not just in the stories we tell but in those we gravitate to as well.

One of these themes made it hard for me to finish reading Angela’s Ashes despite the easy flow of McCourt’s prose and his vivid imagery.  So many of his characters seemed self-absorbed and uncompassionate creating a theme of “we’re too hurt to heal, and we don’t want to”.

My stories tend to revolve around the themes of understanding each other and “to truly love (and hate) another, you have to know them (anything less is cheating)”.  I like to write about people who outgrow the evils of the past.  I like to write stories where (at least, my main) characters undertake the challenge of working with those they do not agree with (or even like) to make life better not only for themselves, but people they may never know.

I know; I’m a bit of an idealist.

Not so McCourt.  Many of McCourt’s characters still seethe with over 800 years of resentment toward England domination; they would starve their own children to perpetuate to the sense of being downtrodden.  Sometimes they do….  perhaps not consciously or intentionally, but they are so caught up in their own pain and distress, they cannot even see how they could make their own “backyard” a touch better.

Then the “compassionate” ones…  the ones who are supposedly compassionate because of their religious intentions…..  sigh

Read the book yourself.  It was an excellent story and well written.  McCourt painted a believable and richly layered world.  And I have no doubt that it was accurate to McCourt’s memories.  I’ve volunteered in food pantries and doing social services for inner city families; I’ve lived in an off-the alleys region of West (Arbor) Hill in Albany for years; and I’ve watched how self-absorbed people perpetuate the suffering they’ve experienced by ignoring the needs of the next generation.

It’s not an Irish thing, not  anymore than the suffering in Palestine was/is a Semite thing, or the politics of the USA are North/South things, etc..  It’s a human thing.  Somewhere along the line of our existence on this planet, human’s became self-aware… some of us didn’t stop–we became self-important.

And then to heck with anyone or anything else…  😦

Row80 Check-in + Fitness

Well, hello....

Well, hello….

Better news since Wednesday!  Writing, real writing, has come out of this scattered head of mine, most of it on the backs of pounded trees, I’m embarrassed to say.  (Is it wrong to say I’m a treehugger and then prefer to write with pen and paper?)

It started out choppy.  I didn’t feel much inspiration to write, and every day always seemed to be more full than there were hours available.  So I made a pact with myself.  I would write something, anything, before I went to bed (if I didn’t get to it sooner).  The only catch was it had to be on a story–not email, not a blog post, not a letter to someone, not even free-writing.  I had to write fiction.  Even just “5 Sentences“. **

The first day, I made six sentences, the next day half a page…  Things just keep progressing.

Editing and social media are all OK.  I’ve been less active with wordsprints and chats than perhaps I could be, but I’m gearing up for JuNoWriMo (check out the new site; there has been a lot of changes there) when I’ll be hosting sprints again.  And I’ve avoided Facebook and G+ more than is socially wise, because they have magical powers similar to Fae Lands

The gardens are weeded (I ate two fresh stalks of asparagus from the garden yesterday–yum!), and the espaliered trees are all in bloom and growing well in their new shapes.  We may even have fresh apricots this year.



The camera walks have become longer and richer…  They’re not a replacement for exercise, but each one has added to my ROW80 Fitness progress.  And I think they’ve helping the fiction too.

The sunburns not so much.

That’s about it for this check-in.  I need to go write something in a world where eventually old quarrels will be resolved and people will find ways to help others because they feel called to public service, not public promotion.

How about you?  What kinds of stories do you like to read?  Why?

ROW80 is a writing community.  Check out some of our other wonderful member’s posts here at this week’s linky.

* Life involves good times and bad times.  If I grow enough to stop repeating the same old mistakes, I’m sure I can find some news ones to try.

** “5 Sentences” was my meme for my sponsor period during last year’s ROW80.  Similar in theme to Kait Nolan’s Test Mile, I would tell blocked ROWers and those who claimed they had no time to write to  just write five sentences each day, even if they could do no more.  The hope was that they’d feel inspired to write more, but at least they’d have that much done.  It works.

6 responses to “Some Words Sunday–Compassion and Awareness

  1. Thank you for the affirmation. I’m glad you liked my post on what impels us to write. In reality, I like to read stories about people who create good in their world and who overcome obstacles. I like to write stories like these too. Your post here (love that chicka-dee-dee-dee) suggests I will not be reading Frank McCourt anytime soon. And writing just 5 sentences of CREATIVE writing sounds just perfect for jumpstarting the writing once again. Bravo!


    • Oh, Beth, please don’t get me wrong about McCourt’s writing. It was lovely, and there are some wonderful moments in it. But he’s clearly the hero in his own story and everyone else either acted against him or didn’t/couldn’t help enough. He wrote about growing up during the Great Depression and the World Wars, and there was a lot of hurt in the world. I have a cache of similar stories from family and friends of family who also grew up during that period to weigh his words against as well as my own more recent experiences. They have some similar experiences to share about that time as well as more hopeful ones. Especially when it comes to city over countryside experiences…

      Thanks for your kind words about my 5 Sentences… I agree but disagree with the term creative here though. Creative writing could still encompass this blog and other types of writing. For me, it had to be fiction writing. But I won’t tell others what their five sentences should be. 😀


  2. Wonderful to hear about the sentences! Good luck on making them more. 🙂

    I like to read a lot of things, but what I write often has to do with a larger social context — even some of my short stories. *g* I guess I’m fascinated with the way society changes people or people change society — or how they don’t. Halfway through Clarion, I had the reputation of the “social conscience” writer. I think I can deal with that.

    Have a great week!


    • If I could choose a label, I think I would choose “social conscience” writer too. And I think the Clarion people knew what they were saying, Ruth, given what I’ve read of your works.

      I know what you mean too about reading a lot of things. It’s just what I am “drawn” to tends to be far more upbeat than books along the line of Angela’s Ashes. It wasn’t all negative… our “hero” does get free of his poverty and even manages to help some others along the way, but in order to be that positive, everyone else seemed to have to be so much more negative.

      I still recommend it. Just as I was “angry” (well, not really… I knew the ending before I started after all) about Trystan’s death in Yseult because I wanted the two of them to find happiness, I wanted people to be better than they were in McCourt’s Ireland. And yet, in both cases, I knew what was realistic as well.

      Thanks for visiting, Ruth. We should all love stories show such grand scale changes.


  3. well I’ll read almost anything – but guess my favs are character driven not plot driven – I like thoughts and feelings – like some social/anthropological slant – changes in a person – I dont need happy – a little hope is nice but not essential – do I write like that? probably a bit

    Sometimes we take a break from writing – ’tis okay:) if the words wish to come back they will- keep smiling:)

    don’t know the book tis a ‘I have been hard done by’ autobiography ? I try and keep away from autobiographies.


    • I totally get that, Alberta. I love to read all sorts of stories, but sometimes (perhaps it’s because so many things have been going wrong lately), I would rather sense the world is “not all that bad” as opposed to “it’s horrible and not getting better” … Or as you call it “I have been hard done by” memoir-writing.

      Thanks for commenting. Someday you should write your memoir.