Jacki Kellum

Juxtapositions: Read My Mind

Category: Laura Ingalls Wilder

Volunteer to Increase Your Joy and to Become Part of a Community

Recently, I volunteered to teach art to people who are suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. In several ways, that was an eye-opening experience. Most of the students had never drawn or painted before, and I was not teaching a group of true artists. The ones who had drawn before were limited by the effects of Parkinson’s. In a nutshell, I was teaching art to a group of people who could not succeed by the standard that I had understood before that time, and yet, the program was a success. Everyone, including me, benefitted. The greatest benefit was the building of a community.

community

One day, I stood back and watched the interaction of the students, as they were painting. They were laughing and making constructive suggestions for each other and praising each other’s efforts. For a few minutes each week, my students who had Parkinson’s were removed from their disease and they moved into a more supportive and happier place. They moved into a brighter and more hopeful community.

I did some research and saw a great article that assures us of the importance of community. The article is primarily calling people to the action of volunteering; but it does offer insight into the importance of community–the result of peoples’ coming together, in a positive way.  I’d like to share that:

A Sense of Community: Increase Your Joy…

“In today’s light-speed, electronically connected world, we are bombarded daily by social media, text messages, email, voice mail, snail mail, tweets, event invitations, and somewhere among those, we try to find a little mental down time to keep our sanity.

“How is it, that with all this social and personal interaction going on, so many of us are experiencing a palpable emptiness and lack of connection that is hard to pinpoint? …

“It’s logical that community connection and the feeling of giving back are essential ingredients in our everyday sense of joy and well-being. It’s also probably safe to say that human beings have a natural instinct, even a need, to help one another. But,

…with busy work schedules, home life, and the convenience of social media to keep us “posted” on what our friends, acquaintances, and even our frenemies are up to, we are fooling ourselves into thinking that we have enough social and community connection in our lives, when the truth for most of us is that we’re sorely lacking.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kristi-blicharski/community-service-in-los-angeles_b_859589.htm

This year, I am teaching two classes at my library. I am paid a small amount to teach those classes, but the money isn’t what I’d normally expect. The pay is something else entirely. Through teaching both of those classes, I have found myself in two other communities.

join_a_writing_group_blog_to_memoir_800

One of the classes that I teach now began as a memoir writing class, but it has evolved into more of a writing group than a class, and the camaraderie in that assembly is almost like group therapy. Every member of the group shares what they have written during the week, and afterward, everyone else comments and relates to each other.  Everyone, including me, is uplifted. During this past week, one of the member’s mother died, and the member called me. The only way that I know this person is through the writing group, but somehow, she felt close enough to me that she wanted to contact me about something painful that was happening in her personal life. When we become members of communities, we find people who care.

Image result for laura ingalls wilder cookbookThe other class that I am teaching is the Life and Writings of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Part of my own writing is memoir, and I am exploring the way that my own family lived during the frontier period of history. My reading and preparation for the Wilder class have enriched my understanding of life in the late 1800s, and that is part of my pay for teaching that class. Another part of my pay is sharing and learning from the other people in the group.

I have especially loved learning about the foods that people cooked on the frontier, and since I grew up in the southern part of the Midwest, my own family cooked many of the same foods as the Wilders did. Thanksgiving is coming soon, and I no longer live in either the South or the Midwest. People eat differently in the Northeast than they do in the South, and I become especially aware of that fact during the holidays.

People in the North eat stuffing with their turkeys. People in the South eat cornbread dressing with their turkeys. In fact, people in the South eat a lot of foods that are prepared with corn meal, and that is not true in the North.

Image result for thanksgiving across the lake

Thanksgiving Across the Lake – Jacki Kellum Watercolor

I live a thousand miles away from my own family now, and during previous holidays, I have felt very lonely for my family and for my traditions. Last fall, I painted the above scene on Thanksgiving Day. I felt that everyone but me was somewhere else, having fun–they were across the lake, where life was bright and cheerful and merry. This year, I have decided to prepare a big, Southern Thanksgiving meal for all of the people that I am teaching now. These people have become my family away from family, and this year, I am bringing the light and the happiness to my side of the lake.

Before I began teaching these classes at the library and before I found new communities for myself, I had no one to share my Southern Cornbread Dressing and Chicken and Dumplings, but this year I do. Now, I have a new family in the North, and I found that family because I gave of myself and my time. For the first time in my life, I am understanding the cliché expression, “It is more blessed to give than receive.”

 ©Jacki Kellum October 22, 2016

Volunteer

Millions of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Books Have Sold and Some Still Wonder If They Are Politically Correct

 

In Wilder’s third book Little House on the Prairie, Ma makes some derisive comments about the Native Americans, and in doing so, she expresses the opinion of her time. Years later, Ma’s comments are no longer politically correct, but when Ma made those comments, they were representative of the way that white people acted in the 1870s, the time that the story took place. Little House on the Prairie was published in 1935, and even then, white American’s felt differently about Native Americans than they do now. Should Little House on the Prairie be banned now, simply because people’s opinions have changed over time or should it be accepted as part of the history that it reflects?

A Very Brief Summary of the Situation:

When the Ingalls family moved westward and settled in Kansas, Pa elected for them to settle 3 miles inside land that had been granted to the Osage Indians, and the reader is allowed to believe that Pa did not feel that he should have been held accountable for having done so. To make matters worse, everyone’s favorite mother MA makes derisive comments about the Indians, saying that she simply didn’t like them.

Although the Laura Ingalls Wilder books have sold over 60 million copies in over 100 countries since they were published, there are some who feel that this specific book should be either banned or that its content should be censored. Although I do not agree with Pa’s flippant attitude about illegal squatting in an area that belonged to the Native Americans and although I do not agree with or appreciate Ma’s denigrating comments, I also do not believe that publishers or even librarians should even consider withholding anything that Wilder wrote in her book. The Ingalls’ behavior is true to the way that white Americans acted at the time about which they were written, and I believe that the books should stand both as literature and as a record of history.

I was born in 1950, and I grew up in the South fifteen years after Wilder’s books were published, and I cannot overemphasize how dramatically things have changed in the past eighty years.

When I was a child, African Americans could not drink from the same water fountain as white people and they also could not watch movies in the same room or ride in the same parts of public buses as the whites. There were signs everywhere about what African Americans could not do, and these distinctions were an everyday part of life during the 1950s. While I am not a racist now, racism is part of my personal story, and if I wrote honestly about my life during the 1950s, I might very well mention the racism that was part of Southern life when I was a child. After all, writers are expected to write the stories that they are living. Honesty is part of authenticity, and when writers are expected to be mute about parts of their own lives or to alter the facts, they are expected to lie.

Now, let’s return to the book Little House on the Prairie. In my opinion, no one has any right to change that book now. It accurately portrays an attitude that was openly embraced during the 1870’s, when the story took place. And Wilder told the story in a way that was acceptable in 1935. If her words became offensive to readers later, I believe that the readers need to increase their own understandings rather than trying to alter the truth of history–or in this instance of her-story.

When writers change the historical part of their historical fiction, they are no longer writing historical fiction. They are writing the evil spawn of historical fiction–propaganda, and they are evangelizing and trying to ride the coattails of would-be literature. That sounds a bit too much like the Puritanical Primers for my taste. Expecting writers to “sanitize” their tales is very much like banning books?

I grew up in the Mississippi River Delta of Southeast Missouri, and I would be fighting mad if anyone tried to take away Huck Finn again.  For a time, Huck Finn was banned because it was an accurate portrayal of the racial platform of its day, and the more modern readers wanted to pretend that racism was never a part of America’s history.

I do not believe that we teach anyone anything by pretending things didn’t happen or by sticking our heads in the sand and by inviting others to do the same. The best way to teach is to allow everyone to take off their blinders and to have a closer look. If there are “adults” in the midst, they might explain the historical context of a book, but I do believe that these adults need be sure that their own biases do not overshadow the telling. I believe that it is important for every audience to keep looking at history–the entire history.

“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
George Santayana

In order to avoid making the mistakes that we have made before, we must be aware of our mistakes along the way, and literature is a great way to depict the way that people live their lives.

“History repeats itself because no one was listening the first time.” – Anonymous

©Jacki Kellum October 21, 2016

Millions

Fall Has Begun – Life Is Cozy and Laura Ingalls Wilder – Keeping a Writer’s Notebook

After it had rained for 24 hours, the temperature here began to drop. Today, the sun is brilliant, and a gentle breeze rustles through the silver grasses that line the edge of my pond. It is 60° outside, and even inside, I need to wear a flannel shirt. Flannel shirts make me feel cozy in fall.

Yesterday, I wrote that I am learning a great deal from reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. Today, I want to share with you a way that Wilder created a feeling of coziness in her writing:

wilder-big-woods-attic-jacki-kellum

“The fire in the cookstove never went out. At night Pa banked it with ashes to keep the coals alive till morning.

“The attic was a lovely place to play. The large round, colored pumpkins made beautiful chairs and tables. The red peppers and the onions dangled overhead. The hams and the venison hung in their paper wrappings, and all the bunches of dried herbs, the spicy herbs for cooking and the bitter herbs for medicine gave the place a dusty-spicy smell.

“Often the wind howled outside with a cold and lonesome sound. But in the attic Laura and Mary played house with the squashes and the pumpkins, and everything was snug and cosy.” Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods, p. 19.

______________________________

Yesterday, I also wrote that I have committed to keeping a writer’s notebook. I said that I am deliberately keeping my entries short. The first words of this post are my notebook entry for the day. I have made a commitment to carry a small notebook with me everywhere I go and to spend about ten minutes a day looking at my world. Then, in just a few, basic words, I am going to record what is before my eyes.

I may or may not elaborate on my initial few words later, but my challenge for myself is to do one thing each day: look carefully around myself for ten minutes and record what I see. Why don’t you take the daily notebook challenge, too?

The Writer’s Notebook Daily Challenge:

Go outside, look carefully for ten minutes, and in a few words, record what you see.

I have several reasons for setting  time and word limits.

  1. All of us are busy and when our notebook exercises are short, we will be more inclined to follow through with them. 
  2. As writers, we sometimes engage in wordplay that becomes too mental and abstract. I believe that an exercise that requires close observation and a few honest words about what we actually see, smell, hear, touch, etc., is a good way to pull us back into writing that is more immediate and concrete

©Jacki Kellum October 10, 2016

oct-wc

Laura Ingalls Wilder on Autumn – Let’s Journal the Changes of the Season – Daily Notebook Challenge

“The days were growing shorter and the nights were cooler. One night Jack Frost passed by, and in the morning there were bright colors here and there among the green leaves of the Big Woods. Then all the leaves stopped being green. They were yellow and scarlet and crimson and golden and brown.

“Along the rail fence the sumac held up its dark red cones of berries above bright flame-colored leaves. Acorns were falling from the oaks, and Laura and Mary made little acorn cups and saucers for the playhouses. Walnuts and hickory nuts were dropping to the ground in the Big Woods, and squirrels were scampering busily everywhere, gathering their winter’s store of nuts and hiding them away in hollow trees.”  Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods, p. 215.

_________________________________________________________________________

Image result for little house in the big woodsI am teaching a class about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life and her books, and this past Thursday, my class discussed Wilder’s first book Little House in the Big Woods. I have discovered that Wilder has a cult following of older women. As children, they read Wilder’s stories and the books made a lasting impression on them. I did not read the Little House books as a child, and I must admit that until I studied them, I had sold them short.

Although the Little House books were published for children, they were originally written as a type of memoir for adults. The writing is simple, but it is not childish, and I have discovered that Wilder’s use of description is worthy of study. I admit that I have read more elaborate descriptive writing in other books, but there is something about Wilder’s simplicity that is touching.

Most of the United States are about to enter the season of autumn. During the next few weeks, most of the people in America will watch nature as she kaleidoscopically shifts from color to color to color. Trees that are currently bulbous and full will begin to drop their leaves and within a month, crooked and stark limbs will be scrawled across the sky.

I am a gardener, and yesterday, I did some things that I do in fall. I transplanted some roses and I repaired my rose trellis. Today, it is raining at my house. A slow and steady rain has been peppering my roof for about 24 hours. I suspect that as soon as the rain moves away, the temperatures will drop, and nature will begin to shift.  Before the day is out, I am going to buy myself a notebook that will fit into my bag. I have made a commitment to carry it with me everywhere I go and to spend about ten minutes a day looking at my world. Then, in just a few, basic words, I am going to record what is before my eyes.

I may or may not elaborate on my initial few words later, but my challenge for myself is to do one thing each day: look carefully around myself for ten minutes and record what I see. Why don’t you take the daily notebook challenge, too?

The Writer’s Notebook Daily Challenge:

Go outside, look carefully for ten minutes, and in a few words, record what you see.

I have several reasons for setting  time and word limits.

  1. All of us are busy and when our notebook exercises are short, we will be more inclined to follow through with them. 
  2. As writers, we sometimes engage in wordplay that becomes too mental and abstract. I believe that an exercise that requires close observation and a few honest words about what we actually see, smell, hear, touch, etc., is a good way to pull us back into writing that is more immediate and concrete. 

©Jacki Kellum October 9, 2016

Careful

© 2017 Jacki Kellum

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑