Northanger Abbey Chs. 7-9

I love these chapters. We continue to see Austen’s pragmatism, and at least for me, a great understanding of why Catherine is such a terrific heroine, even if she isn’t a practicer of sensibility and sentimentality. I love her moral compass. I love her value system.

What am I harking on about? Look at how she is with John Thorpe. How did you feel about him when you first met him? Well, I don’t remember my initial thoughts, since it has been many years ago that I first read this novel, but reading him this morning, I hated him immediately, even before he said much. His treatment of the horse was enough to put me off.

I continued to dislike him, but as the group was walking down the street through the throngs of people, and he felt the need to rate every woman he saw, I was done with him.

His xenophobia and anti-Semitism were further signs of a despicable person. Notice Catherine’s response to his slur against Mr. Allen. I love that Austen does not provide us with a new suitor to Tilney that is an actual rival. She continues to push against romantic tropes. I love it!!!!

I think Chapter 8 is incredibly important because it shows what matters most to Austen—a theme that runs through all the novels. It is obvious that James is infatuated by Isabella. By this time, we know not to trust Isabella. She’s not evil, she is just vapid. It is so funny (and not, at the same time) that James is so enchanted by her that she is everything and he wishes Catherine to emulate her while at the same time, we know Catherine to be her superior in pretty much every way. Catherine doesn’t know this, but we do. But, because Catherine is wonderful, and her brother truly loves her, (and all the ways that James is not Thorpe) we care for him, even with short acquaintance. And it was in this section that I begin to worry for James. I don’t want him attached to Isabella. She is not right for him.  Keep in mind that in Austen’s time, people didn’t divorce. You were married for life. Austen shows us in all of her novels unhappily married people. For me, this is the first sense of menace in the novel. It isn’t sweet and fun; for me, there is real tension here, and a real sense of foreboding.

In terms of Catherine and Thorpe, I have zero misgivings. I trust Catherine.

There are all sorts of moments that a lesser writer would make much of, and Austen doesn’t do that. I admire that so much. Do you see what I see? Are there moments where you assumed that Austen would go in one direction, but she did something else entirely? Do you wish she’d made other choices?

I love the foiling Austen does. We see Tilney’s sister Eleanor vs. Isabella. We see Thorpe vs. Tilney. We witness different family groups. And Catherine takes this all in, mostly without judgment. She is learning and widening her perspective.  Only occasionally does she make a decision about what she has seen, and at the end of Chapter 9, for example, she concludes, to herself, that Thorpe is disagreeable. I have no fears for Catherine on that front.

What do you make of Thorpe?

Thoughts on Austen’s use of the triangle? (or lack thereof?)

Feelings about Isabella, about James?

Northanger Abbey Chs. 4-6

Chapters 4-6

I love Austen’s commentary on empty-headed people. Her depiction of Mrs. Allen’s joy in meeting with her old friend Mrs. Thorpe is fabulous. Much is made of the fact that they talk more than listen with the goal of impressing the other. True communication is not what is important.

…Mrs. Allen had no similar information to give, no similar triumphs to press on the unwilling and unbelieving ear of her friend, and was forced to sit and appear to listen to all these maternal effusions, consoling herself, however, with the discovery, which her keen eye soon made, that the lace on Mrs. Thorpe’s pelisse was not half so handsome as that on her own.

Chapters 5 and 6 I think are most important for what they show us about Austen’s opinion of novels.

“In general, heroines do not read novels except as a prelude to seduction” –J.M.S. Tompkins The Popular Novel in England

Part of what I love about Northanger Abbey is all the reading and the shared love of Gothic and Romantic texts. In the late 18th/early 19th century, books were extremely expensive. Catherine’s family certainly were doing relatively well financially, but buying books would have been a strain. It is also unlikely that they belonged to a lending library, which at the time would also have been a great expense. Bath, with its bookshops and greater access to books would have delighted Catherine, and thus the lists of books she gets to read. This was a real vacation for her in so many ways.  While Austen likes to make fun of many of the tropes of romantic novels, she doesn’t make fun of the novels or novel reading itself. In fact, Austen’s own family did belong to a lending library service, and in fact, she notes in letters that all her family happily read novels and didn’t go along with the times in condemning novel reading.

Finally, I constantly find things to admire about Catherine. She misses Tilney. She likes Tilney, but unlike what Isabella claims that Catherine must yearn for him, Catherine basically say, hey, I’ve got a great book to read and others to follow, so I’m good. Isabella is a bit gobsmacked by this. Catherine is an innocent, but she is honest and remains true to herself. She really is not a very good Romantic heroine.

What do you think? 

Are novels and libraries, as a character in Sheridan’s The Rivals says, “evergreen trees of diabolical knowledge” ?

I think it is interesting that Austen gives a bit of a lecture (and she isn’t prone to lecturing at all!) on the value of novels. Clearly, she is passionate about this.

Anyone out there a fan of Gothics?  Have you read any of the books discussed on Isabella’s list?

Are any of Austen’s characters at all similar to characters in a Gothic?

Northanger Abbey Chapters 1-3

I desperately want to begin this first post by asking you what you love about Austen and this novel. It is pretty outrageous on my part because maybe you don’t like her and don’t get it.

But if it is OK with you, I am going to start this way.

Here are three things I love (and I need you to know this is difficult for me because there are at least 8 things I want to say!)

This is a clumsy way to say this, but I love how Austen is pitting her novel’s heroine against heroines of romantic literature. In Chapter One, Austen has our heroine’s parents say, in very unromantic fashion: “Catherine grows quite a good looking girl,-she is almost pretty today.”  Heroines are supposed to be uncommonly beautiful!

I will try to tone this down.

I love this opening paragraph to Ch. 2. (I copied and pasted this from The Gutenberg Project, and I would urge anyone who wishes to share a passage to do the same.)

 In addition to what has been already said of Catherine Morland’s personal and mental endowments, when about to be launched into all the difficulties and dangers of a six weeks’ residence in Bath, it may be stated, for the reader’s more certain information, lest the following pages should otherwise fail of giving any idea of what her character is meant to be, that her heart was affectionate; her disposition cheerful and open, without conceit or affectation of any kind—her manners just removed from the awkwardness and shyness of a girl; her person pleasing, and, when in good looks, pretty—and her mind about as ignorant and uninformed as the female mind at seventeen usually is.

Austen gently mocks her protagonist, but somehow, despite the wry humor (a term my colleague Kirsten Komara just used about Austen) there is such a sense of kindness about Austen, a deep humanity.

And finally, I love Tilney. I love his sense of humor. I love his kindness towards Catherine. And, I’ve argued in my past as a graduate student that Austen is a feminist and was influenced by Wollstonecraft (more on that much much later.) I love this phrase by Tilney in Chapter 3 when he and Catherine are arguing about accomplishments and aesthetics. “Excellence is pretty fairly divided between the sexes.”  He is perfect! He’s the one!

OK. I am now being a little silly.

What did you enjoy?

What do you make of her tone?

Did anything throw you off?

Did you read this and wonder once again why it is that everyone loves Austen and she just leaves you cold?

Let us know what you think.

If you can stand a final thought, I realized as I was reading last night that I had a constant smile while reading these chapters. Austen touches and creates such delight in me.

I’m eager to hear what you think.

Welcome to Northanger Abbey!!!

 “Jane Austen? I feel I am approaching dangerous ground. The reputation of Jane Austen is surrounded by cohorts of defenders who are ready to do murder for their sacred cause.” Arnold Bennett, 1927, Literary Critic 

While talking to a friend about #AustenTogether, she said she was eager to do this though she was a bit nervous because she considered herself “an Austen failure.” No!

If you are someone who loves Austen, welcome. We are excited to hear your commentary!

If you are someone who has never read Austen, but maybe you’ve seen the movies, and you want to know what all the fuss is about, welcome! At some point, we need to talk about the novels vs. the movies. I will make what might be an astounding claim right now: I have never seen a movie based on an Austen novel. (Don’t fight me on this yet—we can discuss later. 😉

If you have tried to read Austen in the past, and it just didn’t work for you, I’m hoping you’ll give this first novel a go. In some ways, it isn’t as practiced and smooth as Pride and Prejudice, the novel most are familiar with. But I think it is filled with wit, and with a love of reading, and great examples of friendship and family dynamics.

I love Austen’s style of writing, but it might take awhile for you to adjust. That’s fine. Please point out sentences you don’t quite get, and we’ll jump in and help. Also, Austen can be outright and sharply funny, but she also often writes in a very nuanced fashion. When you first begin to read her, you might find that you are missing things. She isn’t trying to hide anything (I have just come from reading freshman essays where a few of my students talk about the hidden messages in the text. I don’t think Austen is deliberately hiding things from us.) So please, if you think you are missing something, share. And those of you who notice an interesting nuance, please point it out. Every time I read Austen, I find new points to consider. This delights me. I see her work as being quite rich.

What is happening this week:

  • We will discuss the first three chapters beginning at noon, Monday, May 11.
  • If something struck your fancy while reading, either something that amused or confused you, please post about it. Anything you post on Twitter that has #AustenTogether in it will be seen by people watching that hashtag. If you want to be sure I see it, include @MysteryPhD too.

For example:

@MysteryPhD Reading Austen has changed my life! #AustenTogether

  • Our plan is to read 3 chapters a day every day.
  • I am going to create a separate section in the blog for people who are so inclined to share their connection to Austen
  • Before noon tomorrow, on the blog and on Twitter, I will post a thought about the initial chapters, which you can use or ignore as you wish. You may post your comments there if you would prefer not to use Twitter. The blog post will be up by noon on Monday.

Thank you so much for being a part of this. Thinking about reading Austen right now makes me feel giddy, and in these times, that is something that I need.

Acorn TV

In Pandemic Time, what I am calling Now Times, I am taking advantage of additional TV time.  I love British crime shows, and when I discovered that Acorn TV was offering a 30 day free policy, I was thrilled to take advantage of it.

It will cost me money if I choose to continue, and frankly, I haven’t made up my mind about that yet. I’ve surprised myself. I adore television, and I figured, since reading has become difficult for me, that I would be spending much more time watching TV. I haven’t. I do about 2-3 hours a day, and some days don’t watch any at all. I mention this because I’ve watched far less than I expected to.

This month, I have only watched Acorn so as to take full advantage.

Here is my list of favorite programs in order of delight.

  1. No Offence
  2. The Blue Rose
  3. Pie in the Sky
  4. Newton’s Law
  5. Agatha Raisin

Unfinished shows that are worth a look:

  1. Above Suspicion
  2. Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime

For the first five, I watched the entire series for each.

No Offence is one of the best police procedurals I’ve ever seen. I love it! It is female-centric. It, unlike so many other police procedurals, truly shows the different ranks of cops and how they work together. (Definitely fantasy, but still). This is not a show that suggests people in the lower ranks are not as vital as those in the highest. The show is crafty and sneaky and clever. I did predict some things—I am good at this. But I was also taken by surprise, several times. Just read there will be a fourth series. Yay!

I am surprised I placed The Blue Rose so high on the list. I actually think it is in a tie with Pie in the Sky, but I might rank it slightly above. Anyway, it has a terrific premise. Workers (and a couple of outsiders who are connected)  at a law firm come together to prove that the death of a fellow worker was murder. The entire series is these people working together to gather information. You will be guessing throughout. Terrific character development. Some wonderful humor. Lots of conflict. Very twisty. Blue Rose is from New Zealand and only one series.

Pie in the Sky is traditional/cozy mixed with some police procedural. Our protag is an inspector who opens a restaurant and for reasons has to continue to be a cop occasionally. The cop aspects often made me upset (you’ll see why), but the mystery part is often quite good. My favorite scenes though, and this surprised me, take place in the restaurant. Our protagonist is a true gourmand and wonderful cook. I also greatly enjoyed his relationship with his wife. Some really good political commentary, and its concern about issues of race and other things makes me even more confused about Midsommer Murders and its white as snow cast that lasted for the first several years. Pie in the Sky is a 90s show.

Newton’s Law follows closely on Pie in the Sky. It is from Australia and takes place in a law firm. Newton is a woman who runs rings around her colleagues. Wonderful multi-ethnic cast, and wow, some good political moments throughout. This is a comedy-drama leaning on comedy. It is a newish show and only has one series, and sadly, was canceled.

Agatha Raisin is based on the book series by M. C. Beaton. My favorite series by Beaton is her Hamish MacBeth one (I’m speaking books, not TV. There is a television series based on Hamish, and I couldn’t get through the first episode.) Anyway, It took me awhile to appreciate the Agatha Raisin book series, but I came to love them. The TV series leaves me uncertain. Aspects of it are terrific, but in other ways, it doesn’t work for me. I have watched all 3 of the series, and I’ll probably watch more, but it doesn’t fill me with delight. And I think I preferred the first series, and series 2 and 3 have completely changed the writers etc, so hmph. But, I am glad I saw it. These are comedy/drama leaning on comedy. Cozyish/traditional.

Unfinished Shows:

Above Suspicion was a really good show, but the first episode bugged me, and I am nervous to start the second. It is a feminist thing—and depending on the direction the second episode takes, I’ll either love it or hate it, and I in the sort of mood that I’d rather not be even more pissed off then I am already. I think it is worth giving the second episode a look, so if I end up loving this show, I will let you know. I can tell you it is leaning hard boiled/police procedural, with one male and one female as leads. He’s her boss and very much a jerk. (Perhaps you can understand what my problem might be.) Anyway.

Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime is also quite good. I love Christie, but I have a problem with historical shows. It’s me. And sometimes I’m fine with them (I adore David Suchet’s Poirot, for example) but I don’t know, sometimes I’m not. The first episode of PiC was fine, but aspects just bugged me and I never finished it. Again, I know myself well enough to believe that many people would be delighted in this series, and I might even come back to it. Too much else to see on TV so I’m letting it go for now.

If you would like to check out Acorn TV and get 30 days free:

You can also get free access to Acorn TV at Cuyahoga County Public Library (scroll down to “Hoopla”) and several other library systems as well.

Do you have a favorite show on Acorn? Please share! And also, let me know if you think this is now a service I should pay for. I believe the cost is $5.99 a month. If you have it and use it, I would love to hear.

There is so much I don't know about publishing

I recently posted a blog about how my book was finished. I have, since that post, sent it to my crappy draft reader (who liked Chapter 5, the last chapter). I then tweaked Chapter 5 and have since sent Chs. 4 and 5 to The Four Readers. I then melted into a small ball of despair, thinking that it was silly for me to think that this book would ever be published.

Then my friend Barbara, one of The Four Readers, sent me an email today saying she loves Chapter 4. (She’ll be reading Chapter 5 after the departure of a house guest.) I’m afraid she won’t like Chapter 5 as much as Chapter 4, but she gave me energy with her comments. So, based on Barbara’s incredibly encouraging words, I began to do my looking for a publisher work.

I already have generated a list of possible publishers. In a previous post, I wrote about coming up with a list of those publishers who had published non-fiction mystery work that had been nominated for awards. Last night, I ranked these publishers by how often they were mentioned. It turns out that Harper Collins, Random House, and Penguin were the big winners in terms of publishing non-fiction mystery genre books. I went online to find out what their submission requirements were.

I’m guessing you are smarter than me (because it seems that most people are) and already figured something out. None of these major publishers accept unsolicited manuscripts. Nor does Midnight Ink (I’d call this a small publisher), Crown, Hatchette, or Harcourt Mifflin. We need to also include in this list of naysayers MacMillan, Minotaur, and St. Martin’s. By the way, one of the things I’ve learned in this process is that the publishing world is really confusing. Little, Brown is part of Hatchette. Minotaur and St. Martin’s are part of MacMillan (I think, or vice versa).


I don’t give up that easily though. I just started going through my list. I found a couple of places, small publishers like Henery Press and not so small publishers like Kensington, that will accept unsolicited manuscripts. So will McFarland. I’m sure there are others as well, but I haven’t checked them out yet.

So this raised a whole slew of questions for me, and I will definitely be asking my published writer friends for advice. For example:

  • Besides the obvious, are there publishers that are preferred? Like, is there anything wrong with going with a medium-sized publisher or small one?
  • How does one get an agent?
  • Would it make sense to go with a small or medium-sized publisher and then look for an agent?
  • How do I know what a good publisher is?

I am deeply impressed with how little I know about this. I did find what looks like an interesting book by Richard Curtis called How to Be Your Own Literary Agent. I also learned (because on every single publisher site that refused unsolicited manuscripts it was mentioned) that I need to look at The Literary Marketplace, which is all about finding agents.

I also learned from a published friend that I really do need a book proposal (which Shelley and Casey also told me. I get it now.) Yet, some of the places that will take unsolicited manuscripts want a query letter and/or partial manuscript. Though maybe that was just for fiction? I don’t know. Color me confused once again.

I know what I’m going to do next in my publishing journey. I’ve got a lot of reading to do.

Why Doesn't Jessica Fletcher Have PTSD?

I’ve recently started  binge-watching  Murder, She Wrote, and I mostly enjoy it. But lately, I’ve begun to worry about Jessica Fletcher. Why isn’t she a basket case? Why isn’t she in therapy? Why isn’t she suicidal?

I’m in the 11th season of the 12 year long series. At the end of practically every episode, we see a smiling Jessica, often laughing at a silly attempt at humor. (For the most part, except for Seth, the character played by William Windom, I don’t find anything particularly funny. This is no doubt a result of its being family-friendly show, which in the 80s and 90s meant, I think, that the humor had to be so understated, it was boring. But I digress.) The important thing to note is that no matter what circumstances have transpired in the show, by the end of an episode, Jessica is happy, emotionally light, and care-free.

Well, that’s good, right? Aren’t mysteries supposed to return to the status quo at the end? Isn’t everything supposed to be right with the world? Sure, but in the case of Murder, She Wrote, there really should be some sort of an emotional toll, shouldn’t there?

Think about it this way. How would you respond if someone you knew, even slightly but had seen recently, died violently? Pretty shaken up, right? How about if you discovered a dead body of an obviously murdered person? Very likely, this would upset you and your horror of the situation would probably affect you for longer than a few minutes.

New scenario: Suppose the dead murdered person was a former beloved student, or a person you had dated, or a close friend. Perhaps this would make the situation worse?

Nothing fazes Jessica. Over the course of 12 seasons and 22 episodes per season, Jessica has been, at a minimum, associated with over 264 murders. Of course in some episodes, it’s worse because there are shows that have 2 or even 3 murders! So every episode, Jessica encounters victims of violent crime, and nearly always these people are at minimum her acquaintances; usually, they are friends, if not close friends of many years.

(Yes, I know that there were a series of episodes around season 6 where Jessica just introduced the mysteries and didn’t discover the bodies, but really, is only discovering and solving 230 rather than 264+ murders supposed to explain why she is the very picture of robust mental health?)

Let’s consider a few other facts as well:

  • In the first several seasons, most of Jessica’s nieces and nephews are charged with homicide. They all get off, of course, but only because Jessica saves them. Her nephew Grady (the one that Jessica raised) becomes accidentally mixed up in a minimum of 5 murders. Geez! If Grady were your nephew, how often would you want to visit him? Ever?
  • Many multiples of times, the person who has done the killing is a close friend of Jessica’s. In one case, it was the man she almost dated instead of the love of her life, Frank. In another, it was a woman who considered Jessica her best friend. In yet another, it was a former student she considered a close friend. WTH? Think about how your life would be different if you discovered over time that numerous people you loved and trusted were not only capable of, but had actually committed murder. Perhaps you would be thinking about issues of trust and communication and how we really can’t know anyone, thereby turning Murder, She Wrote from a traditional/cozy show into the darkest noir.
  • In the course of solving crimes, Jessica has been subjected to threats and insults.  Frequently, she is told that she will be injured or killed if she doesn’t stop meddling. While looking momentarily rattled or chagrinned, she never listens and stops. The most common insult she receives is to have her books attacked. She is often called a liar and/or a person unable to distinguish fantasy from reality.
  • Jessica has regularly been manhandled and assaulted. Having this happen once is enough to slow many people down. Jessica has these events occur routinely throughout the year with no change in her demeanor or actions. She laughs in the face of death and doesn’t care how often she gets slapped. Actually, Jessica has never been slapped, but she has been pushed down a flight of stairs and held at gunpoint too often to count.

Jessica, throughout the run of the series, never waivers in her pursuit of the truth, nor does she ever pause when it comes to helping a friend or righting a wrong. These are admirable traits indeed, but how does she do it?

Maybe those summers off rejuvenated her?



I Want To Be a Wish Granter, Part 2

So last week, on my birthday, I wrote a post about Make-A-Wish and wanting to be a volunteer wish granter, and I said I would call them on Wednesday and ask a bunch of questions, and hopefully, push through some of my emotional and psychological reluctance. In a bit of a swivet, and allowing stress to push me to do something I didn’t want to do (I hate the telephone), I made the call.

The volunteer coordinator wasn’t there.

Because I am me, and impatient and easily frustrated, and because I had worked myself into making this contact, I was not happy. I was also disappointed because I wanted to report back in this blog post. Oh well.

I received a call the next day while I was at work. Of course. This week, I finally had time today to call them again, and the coordinator was out, again. By this point, I couldn’t wait any longer. I practically pleaded with the person who answered to be put in contact with someone else who could talk to me and answer my three questions. I seriously was willing to call someone long distance. This was getting ridiculous.

Two friends of mine who know me really well (Mark and Donna) have told me that when I’m frustrated, it is an indication that I’m being prevented from doing something I really want to do, and I should (sort of) see this as a positive thing. I like that. It is an interesting insight into my character. I also know that I think I have something I’m going to call emotional ADHD. I can have a limited attention span, and delay can cause me to deflect. Put me off too long and I’ll move onto something else. There are a lot of kids who need help, and Make-A-Wish is not the only organization.

But I love Make-A-Wish. The training I went through made me into a fan.

An hour after I pleaded and was transferred to yet another answering machine, I got a call from a brand new person. I think whomever I spoke to realized that I really needed someone to talk to me. And the person who took on this Herculean task was terrific.

I explained that I was a new volunteer having trained in March and that I wanted to grant a wish. I was concerned though about three things:

  • Most of the wishes in Ohio (my Make-A-Wish group is actually made up of three states: Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. That’s a lot of area.) were far away from me. The closest Make-A-Wish kids were over two hours away. This was fine with me; I love driving, and certainly, it would be worth it to drive that far, but, was that fair to the kid? As volunteers, we are expected to make the journey to the child and family at least twice. Would it be a problem if I couldn’t go more often?
  • There was a child who was 45 minutes a way from me, but his family speaks a foreign language. I have some German and some French though not enough to discuss wishes at any deep level, and the family didn’t speak these languages anyway. Did the child speak English? Should I only go to families and children who spoke English?
  • The way we new volunteers find out about children in need is through an email newsletter. The children are listed with their geographic location, the disease that they have, some identifying characteristics about things they enjoy, and the number of days that they have been waiting for someone to pick them. It is very difficult to pick a child based on a geographical location when a child who lives far away has been waiting for 5 months. That seems so awful to me. I wanted to know how best to pick a child and wanted Make-A-Wish to help me with this.

April, the kind woman from Make-A-Wish who was willing to answer my questions, was great. It turns out that we really do only make two trips, though we can make more if we wish. Most of the communication with families is done through email and Skype and the telephone. Also, when we visit a family, there are always two volunteers. As long as one of those volunteers is fluent in a language, it is fine for the second volunteer to know only English. (OK, OK, I really do need to crack down and really learn French. I’m chagrined at my lack of a second language.)

Finally, before I even finished sharing the child I had been considering helping who was 45 minutes away, April knew who I was speaking of. It turns out that this child has been waiting for three months, and they are eager for him to have volunteer. She was as excited by my phone call as I was to have someone talk to me. I will not only help a child, I’ll be helping someone who has been on the list for too long. Yay!

Am I now relieved and excited? No, but I think I will be. Here’s how I am going to help myself feel less nervous about this. Let me share with you what I’m most enthusiastic about (besides of course helping the dying child have a happier life, helping the family, yada yada yada 😉

My job as a volunteer with Make-A-Wish is to

Get to the Heart of the Child’s True Wish

Doesn’t that give you goose bumps? It does me. What could be more wonderful?

And Make-A-Wish has a strategy to do just this. I see this as being a two part strategy, and if you read my blog in part for the writing prompts, you can use this as either a prompt or as a goad to creating some wonderful goals. For those inclined, grab a pen.

Strategy #1

Make-A-Wish says that there are Five Types of Wishes

(Can you guess? Try.)

See if you can come up with 10 possibilities, 10 desires per type of wish.

  • I wish to go…
  • I wish to be…
  • I wish to meet…
  • I wish to have…
  • I wish to give…

If you want to feel better about the world, let me share something I learned in training. There was a time in the not too recent past, when Make-A-Wish volunteers only had the first four of these in my list when working with a child. In recent years, “I wish to give” has become one of the more popular wishes.  In the past month, one Make-A-Wish girl wanted a neighborhood park to be cleaned. Over 1000 people turned up to clean it. I just read about another child’s desire to purchase beautiful, colorful bandages to give to children in the hospital. These children are amazing.

As a Make-A-Wish volunteer, I get to ask children and teens about their wishes. We are strictly prohibited from making suggestions or in any way pushing them in a direction, and I think that is right, but we are encouraged to do something quite wonderful instead.

Strategy #2

Getting to the Heart of the Child’s True Wish

Ahhh. I love that statement. We do this by asking a slew of questions, and I really love these questions. You should consider using these questions for your own desires. Here are some of the great questions:

  • Why do you want this WISH?
  • What would this WISH mean to you?
  • What do you know about this WISH?
    • I love this one so much. Let’s say a kid says he wants to go to Hawaii. Our job is to ask what the kid knows about Hawaii. It might turn out that what the child really wants is to surf, or to play with dolphins, or to experience climbing a volcano, or, maybe it really is to visit Hawaii. Make-A-Wish wants to know what is undergirding the wish so that we can give the child what he or she really wants and needs. That is truly awesome.
    • Why does this WISH/thinking about this WISH make you smile?
    • How does this WISH inspire you?
    • What does this WISH mean to you?

OK. I have to say now, after writing about these two strategies, I’m actually getting quite motivated to go and work on the first wish. I did sign up today with the child who lives 45 minutes away, and my name has been officially entered into the system. I could know as soon as tomorrow when our first contact with the family will be. I’m being paired with a seasoned volunteer, so that helps me greatly.

I have a whole packet from Make-A-Wish as to what steps to take (for example, we will be bringing presents to the child and any siblings in the home, and we’ll do that every time we go to the home. I love this.) and I’ll be reading and rereading the information beforehand. I will also be driving up with my fellow volunteer and will grill her with questions.

Besides wanting to grant wishes as a profession, I learned that Make-A-Wish kids and their families make some astonishing gains:

  1. 98% of parents feel the wish experience gives them the opportunity to be a “normal” family again
  2. 81% of parents observe an increased willingness by their wish kids to comply with treatment protocols
  3. 96% of healthcare referral sources observe increases in wish kids’ emotional health
  4. and 89% of nurses, doctors, social workers, and child life specialists say they believe the wish experience can influence wish kids’ physical health

For me, though, the most powerful thing I learned in the training was that “When a child knows you chose them, it has a profound social and emotional impact.” This has such a deep resonance for me. It didn’t occur to me before I heard this that this is what a Make-A-Wish child feels. The child who is granted a wish feels special. The child feels chosen.

What could be better than helping an ailing child and the family and making them feel as if they matter at a time when things seem so bleak.

It’s hard to imagine anything more worth doing.


*This information came from Make-A-Wish Foundation of America Wish Impact Study 2010, 2014



What Would You Do If…

Here’s a bit of a writing game inspired by a recent (to me) episode of Murder, She Wrote. I’m going to give you a scenario with some blanks. Fill in the blanks, and write your own story.  This scenario I’m presenting to you is the sort of thing I’d love to create for friends…or strangers.

You are at a _________ and a man in a tuxedo comes to you with a large, lovely, and fancy envelope in cream stock. You are surprised and eagerly open the envelope. Inside, you find a nearly equally large cream colored stiffened paper, and in red are the words: Midnight

What are your immediate thoughts and feelings when you see this word? What do you think will happen at midnight?

Next to the word Midnight is a symbol. The symbol is a code that you understand signifying a particular place. What is the symbol? Draw it.

How do you know what it references? Where are you going, or, do you choose to ignore this invitation?

Time passes, and you arrive __________ a few minutes before midnight.  Where are you? What is waiting for you when you arrive?

Was it worth it?


I Want To Be a Wish Granter, Part 1

For the past two years, I’ve been trying to figure out what I should do for a living. For over 25 years, I have been a college English teacher, something I felt was my calling, and now I’m moving out of this profession as fast as I can. I’ve been wrestling with a variety of ideas as to what to do, and in the fall, I decided to try being whimsical as a way to come up with a new profession. I realized that one of the things I’ve always wanted to do for people (and I’ve even done it on a very small scale with friends, family, and few strangers) is grant wishes.

I can’t imagine anything more wonderful than finding someone who is in despair, who needs little, and being able to turn that person’s whole life around by taking care of the small problem or problems. I say small, because I don’t know how to cure cancer or replace the loss of a parent or friend, but perhaps I could shave away at a debt, pay the fees for a special program, buy books needed for a class. I don’t really have any money right now, which is frustrating, but there are other things I can do.

So, in the fall, when I was reaching for possible jobs, I thought to myself, I could grant wishes. Surely there is a job that does that. And then I remembered how years ago I used to give money to Make A Wish, and I thought, aha! So I did a Google search and discovered there truly is a job called a Wish Co-ordinator.

OK. Let’s be honest. I want to be magic and able to wave a wand, and Make a Wish doesn’t promise that, but I applied to be a volunteer, and went through an intense background check and waited, and finally, in March, I went through a training session. I assumed the training would have few people and be boring. The place was packed (maybe 40 people?), the training was terrific, and I, who am never late, showed up pretty much just in time to be close to the last person to speak. I was to say my name and why I was there. I heard people basically give speeches, and feeling grateful for having missed this (I hate this part of meetings where perfect strangers share information I don’t care about) I said, “I’m Katherine Clark, and I’m here because I want to grant wishes.” There was a long silence (people expected me to keep going), then laughter, then the presenter commented that that was perfect. I smiled and nodded. I had said exactly why I was there and no further explanation was needed.

Besides the fact that I had accidentally wowed the crowd (I really did assume that I would be the 10th person to say this), what I loved about the training was that it did three things for me:

  • It introduced me to an impressive and poignant history of Make a Wish, reaffirming my conviction that I was in the right place;
  • It showed me that there are many wonderful people in the Cleveland area;
  • And it introduced me to a slightly different way of looking at wishes. (I’ll explore this in Part 2 of this blog.)

I’m now waiting to be ready to select the first child or teenager to help with a wish. I hate the sentence I just wrote. It is convoluted and clumsy, but it matches well my psychological state. I love the idea of granting wishes and helping a child, but I’m finding this whole thing perhaps surprisingly emotional difficult.

I’m not sure what I’m afraid of. I know one thing that concerns me is that I will somehow fail and not do the right thing or I’ll say the wrong thing. Or maybe I’ll fail to successfully grant the wish. Or the wrong wish will be asked for and the kid will regret it. Or I won’t be empathetic or compassionate enough to the child and/or family, or I’ll be too entwined in the emotional issues surrounding a life-threatening situation.  Sometimes it is very hard to be me. My friend Mark has suggested that he should buy the domain name just for me.

And yes. I know this is not about me. This is about helping a sick child and a struggling family. In other words, I need to use my Army Brat background and suck it up.

OK. Here is my plan: on Wednesday, I will call Make a Wish with some questions that came to me after reading their weekly newsletter last week, and a few that came to me when reading an email from them a few days ago. I will then, based on their answers, look over my materials, and pick a child to help. Knowing me, I’ll probably pick the child who has waited the longest. (This is in fact one of my questions for Make a Wish. I don’t understand why there are children who have been waiting months. There is probably a really good answer, but it troubles me a bit.)

I deliberately wrote this blog post to help give me a push to get moving on this incredibly worthy project. I also wrote it to tell people about how cool a process Make a Wish goes through in order to help children select their wishes. (That latter was actually the initial reason for the post.) In Part 2 of this Make a Wish blog post, I’ll explore the wish process. I think there is something there to help all of us figure out our goals and desires. For this, among so many other things, I am grateful to Make a Wish.

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