Archive | Kathleen Popa

First Time For Everything

Today’s post from the brilliant Kathleen Popa at our sister blog, Novel Matters | @kathleenpopa

My first kiss was forgettable. I just brought it up to you of course, so obviously I didn’t forget it,   but that is only because I was struck by what a non-event it was. The let-down was memorable beyond words.

His name was Gary. I wish him well.

Ever notice how wonderful first times are when they happen in books?

Around that time I liked to read the kind of love stories where the lead fell haplessly in love with the one man who wanted her dead, and the kisses in those books were nothing short of breath-taking. Lucky for my mental health, that phase was short lived. I read many other kinds of books, both before and after, and they provided me with many of my favorite firsts.

Like the time I picked up A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, read a few lines, and for the first time laughed out loud at the words on a page:

“HERE is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it.”

I think it was two years after that when L. Frank Baum’s Wonderful Wizard of Oz compelled me to view the world through new glasses – or more accurately a green shooter marble I carried in my pocket. Any time I wanted to see the truth behind the illusion, I could pull out that marble and peer through at the world around, and there it was: The Emerald City.

Not long after, Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince introduced me to that exquisite pleasure of reading something you know is deeper than your mind can hold, so deep you end up reading it again and again throughout your life, waiting for your mind to grow, waiting till you understand.

Similarly, J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey taught me, when I was in high school, that Jesus could be thought of – and talked of – outside of church, and that there was serious thinking to be done about him, that there was a mystery big enough to merit a second look:

“But I’ll tell you a terrible secret — Are you listening to me? There isn’t anyone out there who isn’t Seymour’s Fat Lady. That includes your Professor Tupper, buddy. And all his cousins by the dozens. There isn’t anyone anywhere that isn’t Seymour’s Fat Lady. Don’t you know that? Don’t you know that secret yet? And don’t you know — listen to me, now — don’t you know who that Fat Lady really is? … Ah, buddy. Ah, buddy. It’s Christ Himself. Christ Himself, buddy. ” *

It was in high school too, that I first stole a book. I didn’t mean to.

It was an anthology titled Being Alive, and in it were two essays by the poet, Dylan Thomas, and in those essays I found paragraphs like this one:

  “I was born in a large Welsh town at the beginning of the Great War—an ugly, lovely town (or so it was and is to me), crawling, sprawling by a long and splendid curving shore where truant boys and sandfield boys and old men from nowhere, beachcombed, idled and paddled, watched the dock-bound ships or the ships streaming away into wonder and India, magic and China, countries bright with oranges and loud with lions; threw stones into the sea for the barking outcast dogs; made castles and forts and harbours and race tracks in the sand; and on Saturday afternoons listened to the brass band, watched the Punch and Judy, or hung about on the fringes of the crowd to hear the fierce religious speakers who shouted at the sea, as though it were wicked and wrong to roll in and out like that, white-horsed and full of fishes.”

I only borrowed the book. But then one thing led to another, and I found myself in love. I discovered the deep melting pleasure of sentences written by skilled hands.

And I never took the book back.

You understand, right?

Could you let go of words like those? Could you ever pry your fingers from “ships streaming away into wonder and India, magic and China, countries bright with oranges and loud with lions?”

I thought not. Because you never forget your first time.

* Editor’s note: a bit of strong language was removed from the J.D. Salinger quote  out of respect for our more sensitive readers. Our apologies to Salinger who, if he was still around, would likely be preparing a very colorful tirade in his own defense. We like you J.D. Truly, we do!

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

read more

Falling Into The Hole

Today’s post from Kathleen Popa of Novel Matters | @KathleenPopa

I approach today’s post with an assumption about you: that some time in the past month – or week – you’ve felt a wobble in the wheels of your wagon of life. One more setback, one more bill, a single word more of bad news, and your wagon might collapse altogether.

I feel safe in my assumptions. I know so few people who haven’t commented that surely the present trial couldn’t last much longer. The five ladies I blog with certainly understand the feeling. When we first banded together – most of us strangers to each other, all of us newly published authors with big plans and high hopes – we thought our purpose as co-bloggers would be to encourage our readers and hoist each other to ever higher levels of publishing success.

We found out different. Even as our shared relationship flowered into a rare and special kind of friendship, we discovered that our purpose was in fact to help each other survive the coming wave of hardship. Maybe this is a case of “you had to be there,” but I cherish our lifeboat friendship much more than the hand-up-the-ladder kind. Or – to say it better, I hope: the surviving is more precious to me than success.

There is something lovely about falling into the hole you hoped to stay out of. Once you’re in there, you can walk its circumference, and feel the cool clay of the wall, and realize that you can settle in for as long as you must, and you’ll still be alright. The fear you might once have had of not being able to take it begins to show itself as the lie it was.

Even in the hole, you have friends. You learn, in whatever state you find yourself, to be content.

My prayer for you is that you will find the kinds of friendships that  make surviving a beautiful thing. In that hope, I offer a few suggestions:

Choose people with a capacity for affection and optimism, generosity and humor.

Love them well.

Cheer them on when the news is good, sympathize when it’s not. Be lavish about this.

Stay in close touch, close enough to feel the pulse. We ladies at Novel Matters live far apart, but we email each other every day. We may not know how to pull each other from the hole, but we sing to each other till the wind picks up.

You know the wind, right? Ever hear the Ojibwe saying?

“Sometimes I go about in pity for myself, and all the while a great wind  is bearing me across the sky.”

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

read more

Connecting To the Unseen – A Novel Matters Guest Post

Today’s post by Kathleen Popa of our sister blog, Novel Matters | @NovelMatters @kathleenpopa

It wouldn’t surprise you, would it, if I told you my two sons were exceptional? Even if you disagreed – if you’d met them and hadn’t found them special at all, you would at least concede that I would of course think they were, because I am their mom.

You wouldn’t disagree, though.

If you met them, you would find them handsome, kind, bright, creative and engaging. Really. That’s what I always hear from people who go out of their way to tell me. They truly are remarkable.

But what if I said that when I see them, I feel the light that emanates from their souls, I honestly see halos around their heads, I practically hear the angels sing? Well, you might believe me the way Scully believed Mulder ( “I’m sure you thought you saw… “), but you wouldn’t see the halos, and you wouldn’t hear the angels.*

Madeleine L’engle held that we are made like onions, with all the ages we have ever been still layered inside. The infant still lives, as does the two year old, the ten-year-old, the teenager. I believe this is true.

So the reason, I think, that I see these young men so clearly is that I have witnessed the formation of all those layers. Few others — their father does, and my eldest’s mother (I’m his step-mom) — understand the things I know because I was there.

I believe that when, as the Bible predicts, the lion will lie down with the lamb, then at that moment we will all see more clearly past our noses into the souls of each other. We will see one another the way I see my boys and be astonished that we ever passed a human on the street without looking up.

Because we will see what was formerly unseen.

Trust me — this all has to do with books.

Over at Novel Matters, we are having a long conversation about why the novel matters, and I believe the answer is connected to all I’ve just said.

The following video is an excellent interview with Eugene Peterson conducted in 2007 at Point Loma Nazarene University. Toward the end of the video (you can drag the slider to 26:11 if you’re in a hurry), he says something I like:

“Imagination is almost, not quite, the same thing as faith. It connects what we see with what we don’t see, and pulls us through what we see to what we don’t see. ”

When an author writes a novel, she must know her characters, layer by layer. She uses her imagination to blend what she knows of her own story with what she knows of the stories of others — some of them people she knows very well.

When you read a book, you use your imagination to flesh out the story the author has given. She has written down the words, but you supply the pictures. You bring to the page what you know of yourself and those you love.

And somehow, when this collaboration works at its best, the result is that you look at the stranger on the street with new eyes. You glimpse the light between the layers. You hear music.

*Their wives might, or if not yet, I think they will. You should meet the man I’ve come to know these past 27+ years. Light and angel songs.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

read more