In Memoriam: Anjuli Seth Nayak, MD

My goal was to break the shackles of bondage I felt in India, to flee the social stigma of being a woman, and the battles I had to fight just to have a career. The only way to achieve this was to get out of India. America was my best chance.

anjuli-memorial

These words sum up much of what drove Anjuli Nayak, who recently lost her battle with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).

She fought her disease nearly to her last breath. Her love of life didn’t allow her to do any differently.

Anjuli Nayak was diagnosed with ALL nearly six years ago. As a physician, she knew instantly that her life would never be the same. ALL has a 20% survival rate after five years.

Anjuli decided she would beat the odds.

And so began her journey with cancer, a journey I had the privilege to share. Over the six years of treatment, she underwent 40 rounds of chemotherapy, one bone marrow transplant, two genetic transplants, a port on her chest and one in her head. For the last months of her life, she lost much of the use of her legs and much of her vision.

But she never gave up. Even to the end, she was up on current events. She rejoiced in the Cubs’ World Series victory and the fact that she was able to vote for a woman president. This last meant so much to her that that she insisted on going to the polling place, pushed in her wheelchair, to participate in the election.

She also kept up on the arts in Chicago, and purchased tickets for the Opera, plays and concerts months ahead of time. If she was going to be still around, she was going to enjoy herself.

And she never let illness get in the way of enjoying her time with her sons, grandchildren, other family members and friends.

I met Anjuli in Russia when I was serving as a missionary. The city asked me to help with a team of doctors which was coming from America. My role was to be a second interpreter.

Little did I know that would be the beginning of an 18-year friendship with an incredible woman.

Over the years, Anjuli not only helped me with various medical problems, but was a friend who demonstrated what is so often called a zest for life. When I went to visit her, I never knew what we were going to do. It was clear she was in charge of the plans.

But she never disappointed. One time we got pedicures. Another we went to a lecture. I don’t remember who spoke or what about. What I recall so vividly was the way the speaker worked the crowd afterward. Never have I seen such courtesy and grace. I still try to imitate him to this day.

A year or so into her cancer journey, Anjuli asked me to be the ghostwriter for her memoir. I joyfully agreed. During the writing of the book, I gained such an appreciation for what she endured and overcame in her quest to have a career. This was not something that a woman in India could take for granted.

I also gained a deeper insight into this deeply spiritual woman. She converted to Christianity from Hinduism many years ago, and still was seeking to know God on a more intimate level.

The suffering of her disease caused her to examine her faith, to test it, and ultimately, find peace and solace. In her words:

As I prayed, I thanked God for the upcoming suffering, trying to be obedient to the command to give thanks in everything. I thanked Him that the suffering would bring me close to Him and that He was preparing me for what I would need to endure. I asked Him to heal me and to reduce the pain that I would face, and that His will—not mine—be done. I didn’t want to wallow in asking, “Why me?” I wanted to embrace God’s will for me. Accepting His will was all I had to cling to, the only thought that gave me any sense of calm.

Cover of Plucked from a Mango TreeHer memoir, Plucked from a Mango Tree, tells Anjuli’s inspiring story of her journey. How she overcame discrimination in early life, setbacks in career and personal life, and finally, the suffering caused by cancer.

Her story bears testimony to her strength of will, her refusal to give up, and most of all, her faith in God. She was able to face her cancer and impending death with peace, knowing that the end of this life was only the beginning of the next.

I’ll miss you, my dear friend. May I live my life to the fullest, as you lived yours.

 

Note: The link in this post is an affiliate links, meaning if you click it and make a purchase, I get a small commission, which helps cover some of the costs of this website. You are not charged any additional amount because of this.

 

 

 

 

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The Knee-Jerk Reliance on Social Media

social-media-1430512_640For the past three years, I’ve been an enthusiastic participant in NaNoWriMo, otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month. This year was different. Many factors led to my decision to not participate.

One reason is that I have my fantasy series drafted. All four novels. I can hardly believe I’ve got them all on paper.

Now I’m on what I think is the hardest part: revision. If there was a NaNo for revising a novel, I’d be the first one to sign up.

Another reason is that I didn’t have an idea for a new novel to work on anyway.

The third reason is that life got in the way.

I knew that this November, I had a lot of prior commitments that couldn’t be put off. A conference, A short trip to celebrate our 9th wedding anniversary. A week away to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family.

So I thought I’d skip it this year.

My decision turned out to be a good one.

Halfway through the month, we got one of those dreaded midnight calls. First the landline rang. We ignored it. Then the cell phones started ringing. That was when we know someone wanted to get hold of us.

And then we learned a beloved niece had died, unexpectedly and inexplicably.

We moved through the next days, going through the motions. My husband described the feeling like having a flat tire.

Nine days later, I learned of the death of my dear friend, Anjuli Nayak. I had the privilege of ghostwriting her memoir Plucked from a Mango Tree. Her death, while sad, was not a shock. She battled Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia for nearly six years.

In the midst of grieving, we found that well-meaning friends and relatives made things worse.

Some of them seemed to have a knee-jerk reaction to publicize the news of death, and their feelings about it.

These seemed to be an invitation for condolences. While we all grieve in our own ways, the feelings of the closest person or people to the loss need to be considered. If they haven’t posted anything publicly, there might be a very good reason for it.

Maybe they are trying to decide how to notify others, and when.

Or maybe they don’t want to inform to world of a sudden, tragic death. Some people might want a few days to process the loss, without having to deal with questions from casual friends and acquaintances.

Others put up lovely tributes, expressing their appreciation for the departed, and their hope that they are in a better place.

On the surface, that seems like a thoughtful thing to do.

But again, it’s for the closest family member to decide when to start this.

And it’s never right to reveal the person’s secrets or their personal struggles that they have chosen to share with only those closest to them. Even the dead have some right to privacy.

Because of this rush to publicize, we found ourselves in the awkward and painful position of having to ask people to take down posts until we got word from our niece’s sister what she wanted to do.

Which brings me to a larger question.

What is this need to share everything with everyone?

For some people, it’s almost like a knee-jerk reaction. Something happens, publicize it. See how many people respond.

We throw our words out into the ether, hoping for connection. That’s not a bad thing.

But we need to think before we post, of how our words can affect others, how our words can be taken.

Social media can be a wonderful thing. But its lightning fast communication can be used to delight or to pain.

This experience is a reminder to me.

Think before you post.

 

 

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As the Year Ends

ice-skates-1082514_640My writing group holds a poetry contest each year. The rules are simple: write a poem on a given theme. This year’s theme is “Holidays.”

This is what I came up with:

 

 

As the Year Ends
Wind blows cold and
Wind blows fierce.
Cheeks grow red and rough.

Snow drifts gently,
Snow piles high
Roads all turn to slush.

Sleds skim hillsides,
Skaters glide.
Children laugh and cheer

Wild bucks clash.
Quarterbacks dash.
Spectators raise their beer.

Holidays abound,
Gifts form mounds,
New calendars appear.

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By the Shores of Gitche Gumee

ls-shorelineStanding on the shores of Gitche Gumee, fwatching the waves crash onto the black rocky shore, it didn’t take long to understand why the Native Americans often called it the Big Lake of Shining Waters.

Not just for its massive size (it is the largest fresh water lake by land area in the world), but for the way the sun leaves a reflective trail on the water for most of the day, at least this time of year.

The English settlers chose a less descriptive name, but still accurate: Superior.

I couldn’t help but wonder what the first settlers to the area thought when they came upon this massive lake.

lswaterfallThe Native Americans, migrating from the west would have come to the north shore after passing through the boundary waters and some rugged hills, past waterfalls and sheer rocky cliffs.

The Europeans, coming from the east would have already passed the other Great Lakes. Many were seeking passage to the Pacific Ocean. Their first sight of Lake Superior might have made them think they’d succeeded. Had they found an ocean?

All kinds of possibilities came to mind.

The lake itself is ferocious. A gentle wind kicked up 2-foot waves. They crashed into the black boulders that formed the shoreline, spray leaping twenty feet into the air. I could only imagine what it looks like when a storm hits.

And storms are what the area is known for. The Edmund Fitzgerald, immortalized by Gordon Lightfoot, went down in a November gale. When shipwrecks had become extremely rare on the other Great Lakes, they weren’t unheard of on Superior.

There’s a wildness to the north shore, as sense of adventure and exploration, called into being by the clash of the lake’s waters on the black rocks of the shore.

We only saw one mood of the north shore, the quiet of early November after the leaves have fallen, the season of patient hunters instead of busy boaters and hikers. The calm weather is treasures, knowing the wrath of storms that pummel the area most autumns.

ls-viewThe winter becomes busier, with skiers who take to the slopes, rewarded with a stunning view of the lake from the top of the mountain

As I think of the moods of the north shore and how they could fit into a novel, it strikes me that this is a place where on the surface, nothing happens. But the conflicts that rage, like the waves that hit the shore, are eternal, and because of that, nearly invisible.

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Conviction of a Multitasker

albert-einstein-401484_640My husband has recently become enamored with some of the wit of Albert Einstein. One of the quotes he’s shared with me is “A man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is not giving enough attention to the kiss.”

Who knew Albert was such a funster?

Still, I have to laugh at myself. For I am an unreformed multi-tasker. I’ve been wondering why I’m not making better progress. I think it’s because I’m multi-tasking too much and not giving each project the attention it deserves.

In our world of multi-tasking it’s easy to try to do two things at once. After all, who doesn’t want to be efficient? We all only have 24 hours in a day, so use them wisely and well. That’s what many of us we live by.

Life itself has a way of interrupting our plans. Last month I had to take time out to renew my driver’s license. Next week, we have an election. And it’s open enrollment time for health benefits. Then I need to start thinking about Christmas.

How I long to be able to have only one thing in my list!

On the other hand, I thrive on the variety.

If you’re like me, you find it easy to cater to a short attention span by doing more than one thing at a time. That way boredom doesn’t sink in.

Heaven help us if we ever have a moment of boredom.

This double obsession with efficiency and constant stimulation takes its toll. It’s so easy to become distracted and give only a piece of our attention to the path we are on, side tracked by a shiny new object ahead.

The old, now boring task gets neglected.

And therein lies the rub.

Just when the work gets a little difficult, we drop it.

No one ever get better at anything by giving up with the going got tough.

The other thing is we need the boredom. I read an article that said the worst things parents can do is constantly entertain their children. It’s when the children become bored that they use their creativity to entertain themselves.

So it is with us. When we are bored with a task, that’s precisely when we’re most likely to get creative with it, if for no other reason than to stop the boredom.

There’s an old story a time management expert told about teaching his kids to make a game out of irksome chores. Tired of washing dishes? Pretend you’re in a prison camp, having to clean up for your jailers. Or see how long it takes you to wash with your left hand versus your right.

But whatever you do, focus on the task at hand. Give it the attention it deserves. (Hint: just about all.) You’ll get it done faster, will enjoy the process more, and will feel less stressed out because your mind hasn’t been pulled in six directions at once.

So I’ve given myself this pep talk. I’m convicted. I need to reform.

But how?

Attack my to-do list?

Revise my list, to focus on one project at a time?

What do you think I should do?

 

 

 

 

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Between the Leaves and the Snowflakes

late-fallThis month my writer’s group came up with the prompt “between the falling leaves and the first snowflakes.”

Here is where my imagination took that:

It happened in a blink of an eye, like the time between the last leaf and the first snowflake. I know, some years we go a few weeks after the wind has blown the last tenacious leaves from the branches they cling to before we see those first soft specks floating in the chilly air.

But lots of years the snow flies early. Sometimes even while the leaves are still swirling in the streets, piling up in the corners of the porches and gathering around the shrubbery and the dried remnants of the hostas.

This year was different, like a perfectly orchestrated ballet. Those final hardy leaves gave up and fell to the ground, almost as if they knew their time had come. They did not fall in a straight line, but let the wind take them, now swooshing higher, now twisting lower.

Within seconds, the next group of dancers appeared on the scene, the gentle snowflakes following the leaves ever downward. They, too, circled and spun, making patterns that only they understood as they let the inexorable force of gravity draw them to the ground, where they would melt in an instant.

As I sat in my car, idly watching the leaves, then the snow, I waited. Waited to see if my suspicion was correct. I hoped I was wrong. I so wanted to be wrong. But all the evidence pointed otherwise.

It all hung on the identity of the two meeting in the bar. If one or both were strangers to me, then I could breathe a sigh of relief. I still wouldn’t have any answers, but at least the horrible alternative wasn’t true.

A man came out. I held my breath. This one I knew as no good. But who was he with? A few snowflakes fell as the man looked over his shoulder and smiled at the man behind him. Another heartbeat, and I saw him and felt my world fall apart, as desolate as a barren forest in late fall.

The two man stood on the sidewalk, chatting. They shook hands and parted ways. But in that instant of time, like between the final leaves and first snowflakes, as definitive and irreversible as the change of a seasons, my world died and turned to ice, I knew. My father had in fact ordered the hit on my mother.

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What I’ve Been Reading

dsc02910Life is swirling around me like the autumn leaves before a stiff wind. Still, nothing can get in the way of me finding a minute or two for a good read. This month I found three worth sharing.

Lexicon

I picked up Lexicon by Max Barry because it had been praised by one of my favorite authors. We clearly have different tastes in fiction.

Having said that, I can see why so many people have enjoyed this novel. The concept is simple, but fascinating. Words have the power to persuade, and have been used for centuries, back when those who used words for their own gain were called sorcerers.

They’re still around, and active. Emily Ruff recruited into a secret organization because she has some kind of talent for language. She’s not sure what it means to become a poet, as they call themselves. But they appear to be set on taking over the world, through the power of words.

The story isn’t told chronologically, which makes things a little confusing, as do the constant shifts from Emily’s story to that of Wil, who was kidnapped from an airport. His captors claim people are out to kill him because he survived something he shouldn’t have. The problem is he has no idea what they are talking about.

This is one thing that makes this book a little difficult. Both Wil and Emily are swept up into events that they don’t understand. Since the reader is seeing through their eyes, the reader has no clue either. Much of the story is about Wil and Emily trying to figure it all out.

Which actually made for more interesting reading. I kept trying to guess along with them.

It’s a suspenseful thriller, well-written although a little heavy on the cursing. Lexicon would be a fun read for anyone who enjoys gritty, action packed speculative fiction.

Shudder

Shudder is the second in the Stitch trilogy by Samantha Duarte. I read the first one a few years ago, always meaning to come back and read the rest.

Shudder didn’t disappoint. It continues Alessa’s adventures after her escape from Paragon. She’s conflicted about trying to help the rebellion to overthrow the oppressors, wanting to just take the only people she has left with her somewhere safe.

But she has to face the facts that safety won’t be that easy to find. She has no idea if the virus that took out most of humanity is still circulating, and she’s followed by strange, sub-human beasts and plagued by disturbing flashbacks. Slowly she begins to learn what’s really going on, and faces greater horrors than she imagined.

A Pair of Docks

Jennifer Sinclair’s time travel novel is a fun read with lots of twists and turns. Fourteen-year-old Abbey Sinclair and her brothers accidentally find a portal to other times. After one of the brothers starts receiving strange and vaguely ominous emails, Abbey and her brothers set of trying to find out what the portal is for. When they realize that their mildly autistic neighbor may hold the key to understanding the portal, things only get more complicated.

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Finding New Reads

books-colorfulFinding a new book to read is like going on a treasure hunt. I open the pages, hoping to immerse myself in a new world and get involved with characters I start to care about.

Sometimes it works out that way. Other times, the adventure turns into a slog through an unreadable or just mind-numbingly stupid mess. Or something in between.

But there is a way to find new reads without spending a lot of money. I subscribe to two book referrals services, and there are lots more.

Here’s how they work.

You tell them what genres you like to read and supply your email. Then you’ll get daily updates about books, all available in electronic formats. Many of the books are free; few are more than $3.99. Keep in mind, the deal won’t last for more than a few days, so if you want the book, go ahead and get it.

I’ve learned to check the reviews before getting any of these books. A novel can have a hundred glowing reviews, but still be pretty bad. The negative reviews can reveal major flaws, objectionable language or other information that would cause me to pass.

In case you haven’t tried one of these services, here are some of the bigger ones:

Book Bub

BookBub.com has loads of categories, ranging from Advice and How-to to Thrillers, and all kinds of other popular genres. They sell through the largest retailers: amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple iBooks, Google Play and Kobo.

Book Barbarian

BookBarbarian.com caters to the science fiction and fantasy reader. Like Book Bub, most of the books are free or heavily discounted. They work with the major ebook distributors, so you can read your books on computer, phone, tablet or Ereader.

What Should I Read Next

Another great site to try is WhatShouldIReadNext.com. Simply type in the title or the author of a book you’ve enjoyed. A few choices will pop up. Click on the best match, and the site will generate a list of similar books.

Which Book

Found at Openingthebook.com, Which Book lets you set criteria for what you’re looking for. They have a list of 12 criteria (happy vs sad, no sex vs lots of sex, and so on.). You can click on a criterion and adjust the slider as you please, choosing up to 4 to manipulate. Then the site generates a list of books that fit your choices. No reviews are given, so you’ll have to look them up on your own.

Are you up for trying any of these? Let me know what new favorites these sites help you uncover!

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What Trump and Hillary Have Taught Me About Writing

presidential-election-1336480_640When I take a step back from my reactions to the churning of this never-ending election season, I realize it is providing great fodder for my writing.

Here’s what I mean.

During the past few months, we have some revelation of some low-down dastardly dealings by one of the candidates. Opponents pounce, declaring him/her to be the Worst.Person.Ever.

Reactions from supporters, however, vary. Some will be somewhat intellectually honest and admit that yes, their candidate was wrong to say x or do y.

Others will twist themselves in knots that would make a sailor proud trying to explain away or even defend the offensive speech or behavior.

That intrigues the writer in me. Do these people really believe the words that are coming out of their mouths? Or do they so passionately want their candidate to win (or the other to lose) that they will say anything to try to help the cause?

What does all this have to do with writing?

I see two major lessons.

The first is people often don’t really say what they are thinking or believe. As in the case of those who are becoming human pretzels to defend Donald Trump’s choice of language on multiple occasions. Or those who try to defend Hillary Clinton’s laughter as she recounts getting a 41-year-old man off a charge of raping a twelve-year old girl when she knew he was guilty, and she won her case by destroying evidence and blaming the victim.

So if people don’t really say what they believe, or resort to verbal gyrations to defend an indefensible position, then that provides some guidance for writing great dialogue, dialogue that sounds true to life.

Especially when the reader knows the person is lying, and the other characters don’t.

There are many ways to have a character win an argument, especially if they don’t have facts or right on their side. Name calling, playing holier than thou, ignoring the other person’s argument, willfully misunderstanding and misquoting, all these tactics can work.

The other lesson is in creating villains. Donald Trump fits too many stereotypes. Billionaire, crude, bombastic, he’d be too easy to make a caricature of.

But Hillary. The grandma in a pantsuit, claiming to be the champion of the poor and downtrodden, while behind closed doors telling people she has public and private positions, and allegedly destroys those who get in her way.

She could be the basis for someone really interesting, like a fictional character with completely different public and private personas. Or someone who started out with high ideals, out to save the world, determined to succeed. The zeal for the cause corrupted her, and she became an obsessive monster.

I think there’s a start of a novel here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Upside of Second Place

silver-medalThree times I’ve competed in the short story contest my writer’s group holds each year.

Three times I’ve come in second.

Sigh.

Coming in second is that place of being where you wonder if you’d just made a little bit more effort you could have won. Could I have tweaked a little more, found a better word or a fresher metaphor? What could I have altered that would have vaulted my story into first place?

The downside of second, apart from that not-quite-good-enough feeling is the temptation to listen to the voice of the inner critic.

You know, the one who says, “You’re not good enough. You’ll never be good enough. There’s no point in trying.”

There’s lots of quotes from successful people who say second place is a place for losers. Not exactly a motivating thought.

But if I remind myself to tune out the inner critic and listen to the voice of reason (when it does bother to speak), I get a different message.

First, second place is better than third. And it’s a whole lot better than fourth, or last.

Most people never make it to second place. So it’s a position to be celebrated. As Lauren Alaina said,

“I didn’t lose. I got second. That’s still winning.”

Second is the place that just a little more effort can put you into first. Second is where you dig a bit deeper and make yourself better than you thought you could be.

Second can be a very motivating place to be. The only losers in second place are the ones who allow it to discourage them from pursuing their dreams, or who are content with second.

The true winners who come in second are the ones that rejoice that they did as well as they did, and then channel that joy into making greater efforts to get to first.

And that’s where I am today.

The goal of the contest is to help us all become better writers, so everything learned by participating is valuable. I’ve learned a lot over the years about dialogue and scene, and how to tighten up the action or create conflict or suspense.

And besides, sometimes an early victory can lead to a later defeat.

Just think about the movie Star Wars. The original movie won awards only in the technical and soundtrack categories. But it went on to become the first in a wildly popular franchise that has made millions.

So it goes to show. Awards don’t mean everything. But they sure can be nice.

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