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March 13, 2010 - 5:16pm
posted by Joseph Langen in character, life.

Sliding Otter News, Volume 2, Issue 6, Appreciating the Characters in Our Lives

Skating van Goghs

Skating Van Goghs

~Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it: the tree is the real thing~
Abraham Lincoln

I recently asked a couple friends to read my novel in progress. Both thought the story idea was good but the characters were weak. Bob Fussell came to my rescue again and suggested I look up Nancy Kress. I found her book Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint.

Characters populate all the stories we read. The better defined and more interesting the characters are, the better we like the story. Lately I found myself immersed in Nancy’s book about characters as well as reading her stories and watching her characters in action.

Story characters can be drawn whole from the author’s acquaintances, modified from a real person or conjured up without any basis in reality. Some authors stress plot rather than their characters. Others base their stories heavily on their characters’ thoughts feelings and actions. It occurred to me that novels and short stories are not the only place we find characters. Our lives are also full of major and minor characters, sometimes passing briefly through our lives. At other times characters take up residence with us, perhaps for years on end.

In our haste to accumulate more things and to enhance our feeling of security or personal importance, we often do not take time to notice the characters around us. I recall a time in my life when the people I knew seemed more important than what happened around me. At times they still are.

As a child, I visited a series of older people whenever I had the chance. Sometimes it was for milk and cookies. Sometimes I helped them with chores. With one couple, I pored over an ancient copy of Land and Sea with color plates of real and mythical sea beasts. They eventually gave me the book.

All of these people are gone now, but I still remember visiting each of them, even if the stories they told are becoming fuzzy. I still remember the people although I don’t recall just what they said to me or I to them. Some of the people I have known over the years have reappeared in whole or in part in stories I have written. My first childhood love, neighborhood bullies, friends and mentors have surfaced from time to time to again form part of the fabric of my life.

Do you ever think about the characters who have passed through your life, whether recently or long ago, and how they have helped shape your personality. They are part of your context and they have played a part in who you have become.

Life Lab Lessons

  • Who have been the main characters in your life so far?
  • What minor characters had the most impact on you?
  • What good example led you to become a better person?
  • What villains have made you vow to never act like them?
  • What effect do you have on those whose lives you inhabit as a character? 
October 28, 2009 - 9:01am
posted by Joseph Langen in life, motivation, suicide bomber.



(Storm Clouds)

JOE: Good morning Calliope.
CALLIOPE: Good morning Joe. How are you today?
JOE: Wondering about suicide bombers.
CALLIOPE: What brings them to mind?
JOE: A program I happened on this morning on TV about the psychology of suicide bombers.
CALLIOPE: What was the jist?
JOE: Sometimes cells of people with similar thinking form bonds not necessarily at the behest of al Qaeda or other influence.
CALLIOPE: How do they get to suicide bombing?
JOE: They seem to form tight bonds beyond consideration of family or even strangers and depersonalize others. The group bond becomes the only thing in their life.
CALLIOPE: How does the suicide part fit it?
JOE: If they explained that, I missed it. The program stressed the importance of the group bond but did not address other motivation.
CALLIOPE: Does it make sense to you?
JOE: No. But then I'm not a suicide bomber. It's hard for me to even imagine.
CALLIOPE: Perhaps it is too complex to understand. Once people explode themselves it's too late to explore their motivation.
JOE: I agree. Another of life's mysteries at least for now. Talk with you tomorrow.




October 21, 2009 - 10:15am
posted by Joseph Langen in life, mystery, suffering.


 Cognac Still

(Cognac Still)

JOE: Good morning Calliope.
CALLIOPE: Good morning Joe. What's on your mind today?
JOE: Suffering?
CALLIOPE: Please elaborate.
JOE: I'd be glad to. As I attended Laney's wake and funeral, I kept thinking of all the suffering he endured over the last few months in particular.
CALLIOPE: Did you have any particular questions?
JOE: I wondered about the point of all his suffering. Was it for any particular purpose?
CALLIOPE: You're not the first person who has puzzled about this issue?
JOE: I know. I have heard quite a bit about it over the years but nothing which adequately explains it.
CALLIOPE: You know that pain signals that something is wrong and needs corrective action.
JOE: I do. Where I get stuck is if nothing can be done.
CALLIOPE: Maybe the answers are just not evident yet and pain is an invitation to the medical community to keep searching.
JOE: That makes some sense. But it doesn't seem to be much benefit to the person suffering.
CALLIOPE: I can't argue there. Somethings are beyond our understanding.
JOE: I realize that. I guess it's just one of life's mysteries at least for now. Talk with you tomorrow.


June 27, 2009 - 8:59am
posted by Joseph Langen in writing, life.

Phalaenopsis Orchids

(Phalaenopsis Orchids)

JOE: Good morning Calliope.
CALLIOPE: Good morning Joe. How are you today?
JOE: Relieved.
CALLIOPE: On what account?
JOE: Having met the technological challenge of developing new websites and living to tell the tale.
CALLIOPE: Sounds like an accomplishment.
JOE: I like to think so.
CALLIOPE: So now what?
JOE: I';m taking a little time to enjoy summer.
JOE: Carol and I will walk down to the Leroy Farm Market this morning and this afternoon our friends have invited us to bask in their pool with them.
CALLIOPE: Sounds like fun.
JOE: I feel like the world has been passing me by while I became engrossed in my technological challenge.
CALLIOPE: With everything going on in the world it can still be a beautiful place.
JOE: I plan to remind myself of that this weekend. Talk with you on Monday.



June 21, 2009 - 2:26pm
posted by Victoria Rippel in life, wisdom.

Today is father’s day; my dad is in Baltimore for my niece’s graduation party. I have to say I love my dad so much. For most people when they look at our relationship they don’t understand it.

Me and my dad talk very rarely and about no much. But we really don’t need to talk, we just understand each other. My dad has been so important in my life. After my mom dead my dad said one thing… we have to do whatever we need to, to make her happy.

And he did, he might have not known always what to say or how to say it but he made sure I was happy. My dad hates to see me in pain and always looks at me as his little girl. Whenever a guy breaks my heart my dad in his fashion always tells me that there are more and that I will be ok. He never faults my tries to be happy or tells me what I want to do is stupid. He picks on me to no end to show me love. And when time goes by without him seeing me he sends me food to let me know his worried.

My dad has kept every time I am in the newspaper on the sun visor of the passage side sit of the car, at times them falling down because someone tries to use the visor for its intended purpose. He also looks in my fringe any time he comes over to check for food.

Dads are an amazing thing, I don’t know if I would have turned out as while if I didn’t have my dad.

wisdom of the moment- "Hope is a belief in a positive outcome related to events and circumstances in one's life. Hope is the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best."

April 7, 2009 - 9:11am
posted by Joseph Langen in writing, life, Americorps.

(Spring Blooms)
JOE: Good morning Calliope.
CALLIOPE: Good morning Joe. How are you today?
JOE: Invigorated.
CALLIOPE: On what account?
JOE: I have been thinking lately about doing something away from my computer and also about making some direct contribution to society other than writing about it.
CALLIOPE: Did you come to any conclusions?
JOE: I did. I decided to explore Americorps and sent in an application yesterday.
CALLIOPE: That's rather sudden isn't it?
JOE: I don't think so. I have been thinking about something like this and doing some research on it. Saturday I talked with my son in law who is in the program.
CALLIOPE: Does that mean you will be traveling about the country?
JOE: No. There are programs right here in Genesee County.
CALLIOPE: What interests you?
JOE: I have a couple ideas but don't know what projects are open yet. I have been thinking of doing something with teenagers or with ex-offenders.
CALLIOPE: Sounds adventurous.
JOE: I have worked with both before as a psychologist so it wouldn't be anything entirely new. I'll wait to see what they have available. Talk with you tomorrow.

March 31, 2009 - 8:26am
posted by Joseph Langen in life, good cheer.

(Snorkeling in Antigua)

JOE: Good morning Calliope.
CALLIOPE: Good morning Joe. How are you today?
JOE: Chipper.
CALLIOPE: Glad to hear about it. I was getting worried about you.
JOE: Why?
CALLIOPE: Yesterday's post seemed quite morose. I thought you were depressed.
JOE: Actually no. I probably would not have ventured here again except as an exercise for The Vein of Gold.
CALLIOPE: The events you described took place many years ago didn't they?
JOE: Yes they did. For me it was what John of the Cross called the "Dark Night of the Soul." Graham Ledgerwood describes this as "a lengthy and profound absence of light and hope." See what he has to say at www.themystic.org/dark-night/index.htm. Fortunately I didn't get stuck there.
CALLIOPE: What brought you out of it?
JOE: Two angels, Gerry and John, who came to my aid, accepted me for who I was and stayed with me while I learned to believe in myself.
CALLIOPE: You were fortunate.
JOE: I am still grateful to them for bringing me back to life and teaching me how to appreciate what I have and how to not take life too seriously.
CALLIOPE: Have you stayed that way?
JOE: I can't say there weren't ups and downs but I have been able to stay on an even keel and weather whatever life threw at me. Talk with you tomorrow.
March 9, 2009 - 2:35pm
posted by Joseph Langen in life, path, directions checking.


(Sailboat by Peter Langen)

JOE: Good afternoon Calliope.
CALLIOPE: I hope you didn't just roll out of bed.
JOE: You should know me better than that. I've never slept this late in my life.
CALLIOPE: So where have you been?
JOE: Doing my part for medical research. I visited the University of Rochester this morning for a blood draw.
CALLIOPE: What are they doing with your blood?
JOE: Trying to see if we souls with rheumatoid arthritis have any different reaction to flu shots than the rest of the world.
CALLIOPE: How's the study coming?
JOE: It's beyond me and any case too early to know anything while they are still in mid study.
CALLIOPE: Did it take you all this time?
JOE: No. I stopped at Barnes and Noble for some browsing while bookstores still stand.
CALLIOPE: What did you discover?
JOE: Julia Cameron's book Vein of Gold. It is a follow-up on her book, The Artist's Way.
CALLIOPE: Any reaction you can share yet?
JOE: Just that it looks interesting. I'll keep you posted.
March 4, 2009 - 9:27am
posted by Joseph Langen in death, life.


(Sunset- St. Lucia)

JOE: Good morning Calliope.
CALLIOPE: Good morning Joe. I'm Greek not Roman. I think your title is Latin though.
JOE: You're right. It means blank slate.
CALLIOPE: How did it get to be in today's title?
JOE: I arrived at the computer this morning without anything particular on my mind and thought it apt.
CALLIOPE: I agree. What's up today?
JOE: I am leaving for a funeral shortly.
CALLIOPE: Someone you know?
JOE: Not really. It is the mother of Carol's brother's sister in law.
CALLIOPE: Do you know the family?
JOE: Yes, from family gatherings.
CALLIOPE: So you are not directly involved?
JOE: No, but death and funerals have made me sit up and take notice more than in the past as I get older.
CALLIOPE: What personal meaning does it have for you.
JOE: It's a reminder to make good use of whatever time if have left to me. Talk with you tomorrow.
January 29, 2009 - 11:46am
posted by Lori Ann Santini in Spring, life, kids, Love, Gardening.

     There has been alot of discussion this week over issues and incidents. Clearly, opinions have differed. Some in support and some against.  People in this country have the blessing of freedom of speech. Sometimes we take it for granted. When the storm of comments wained, one thing became clear. We need to focus on the important things. Our health, our loves and our life.

     I had time to take a breathe and plan my attack. Instead of wonder how much worse this could get, I changed direction. I went to the local stores and searched for plant seeds. Spring was about to come to my little house. The weather might have different plans but I didn't care. This is a way to focus and plan.  To plot where every plant would go and to wait for the results.

     My kids are an integral part of the planning. First, are there truly kid friendly plants out there? The answer of course is yes. Kid friendly isn't the issue actually. Peas, carrots, corn and the occassional fresh tomato meet with the occassional "Mom can I have another one?" I  have concerns about their welfare however as I imagine  my 17 month old re-inacting Godzilla scenes through the rows of plants.  Things are going to get crushed like the city blocks leveled in the movies.

     For the girls in my life, the pick was flowers. "Mom can we get this one?" or  "OHHHHHHH, thats soooooooo beautiful."  I prefer the sunny disposition of sunflowers myself.(I can't lie, I love johnny jumps ups and crocuses too.) They are rugged and friendly. These guys could survive my son and his antics. For my son, I picked peas and beans. I have never met a kid more crazy about his vegetables. This kid could eat a whole can of green beans at one sitting if given half a chance.

     Just imagine his delight when they are fresh from the garden. Picked as the dew drips from the leaves. Mmmmm. I can taste it now.  The peas will never make it to the kitchen.

     Seeds are a cheap fix to anyones woes. A couple dollars can buy you healthy snacks that will last all summer long. Especially if they happen to be in patio pots filled with Cherry Tomatoes. Yum.

     This year we are going for some larger and more exciting prospects. We have a huge lawn now. My plans for the garden will probably  start small but will end up  taking over an acre or so. Just kidding!! I want to try potatoes, bright lights swiss chard, corn and pumpkins. I have made attempts in the past to try some of these but I never had the right soil or location. This year it will be perfect.

    I can see that the hose will need to be ready and available at all times. Bath time for the babes. I'm not talking plants either. In the past my  daughters have been knee high in the soil and mud. Now I have three that I need to keep  out of trouble. Guess what, the hose will be alot easier.

     I look forward to the joy on their faces as the seedlings emerge from the ground. We will care for them, nurture them, and weed them. ( I have a feeling it will only be me weeding them though.) The kids will rig devices to protect the new plants from the rabbits and other critters. Then we will wait. Wait for the first of the crops. We will share them with friends and neighbors. Ahh. I feel better already.

P.S. Does anyone have a rotor tiller I can borrow? :) This is going to take some help.

January 22, 2009 - 9:23am
posted by Joseph Langen in writing, priorities, life, challenge, aging.

(Oatka Geese)

JOE: Good morning Calliope.
CALLIOPE: Good morning Joe. You mentioned Joan Chittister's book yesterday. Any further thoughts about what she has to say?
JOE: I haven't finished reading The Gift of Years yet but so far I have read about her thoughts on the challenges and fears of growing old and look forward to reading her thoughts about the opportunities.
CALLIOPE: What do you think got you interested in this topic?
JOE: I just celebrated ( I was going to say "had") my sixty-sixth birthday. It seems like it crept up on me. Joan would say that people perceive us as old even if we don't feel old.
CALLIOPE: Do you feel old?
JOE: Not really. I have some difficulty with arthritis which I never had when I was younger.
CALLIOPE: So you're doing okay physically?
JOE: I can't complain.
CALLIOPE: What about psychologically?
JOE: I feel released from family and work responsibilities and able to set my own direction without anyone else getting upset about it. That's a freeing feeling.
CALLIOPE: What are you going to do with it?
JOE: I was thinking this morning that none of us knows how much life remains. There's no point fretting about it. Many people don't live as long as I have already.
CALLIOPE: So what challenge remains for you?
JOE: Right now, to use my writing to continue unfolding life's mysteries for myself and helping readers make the best of their lives for their benefit and that of others they encounter. Talk with you tomorrow.

December 22, 2008 - 7:34am
posted by Joseph Langen in life, gratitude, perspective.

(Sunset in Leroy)

JOE: Good morning Calliope.
CALLIOPE: Good morning Joe. How are you today?
JOE: Not bad. Yesterday was quite a reflective day.
CALLIOPE: What was going on?
JOE: I attended a memorial service for a friend at Unity Church.
CALLIOPE: How did she die?
JOE: Metastatic breast cancer. Three members of our church were diagnosed with breast cancer in quick succession, including my life partner, Carol. Kat was the second one to die and Carol is the only survivor of the three.
JOE: I've discovered there is no way to predict what will happen in life. Carol and I are grateful that things turned out the way they did for her but are sad to lose the other two.
CALLIOPE: What did you learn from yesterday?
JOE: That life is precious, unpredictable and to be treasured one day at a time.
CALLIOPE: All good lessons.
JOE: I think so. It's easy to take life for granted when things are going well. It takes incidents like this to remind us that we don't live forever and have only today to count on for sure.
CALLIOPE: I hope you use your day productively.
JOE: I will do my best. Talk with you tomorrow.

August 25, 2008 - 11:48am
posted by Joseph Langen in life, challenges, choices.


(Curacao waterfront)

JOE: Good morning Calliope.
CALLIOPE: Gook morning Joe. How's the move coming?
JOE: I did some packing Saturday but was busy socializing and attending church yesterday.
CALLIOPE: What did you get from church?
JOE: A chance to reflect on my life, how it has progressed so far and where it is headed.
CALLIOPE: Are you satisfied with your progress?
JOE: I learned some time ago that we only have limited control over our life paths. I have no major complaints but wish I had done some things differently in hindsight.
CALLIOPE: Would that have made a difference in your life?
JOE: Maybe, but then I would have missed some of the experiences I have treasured.
CALLIOPE: I think of what Frost wrote about the two paths in the wood.
JOE: I have been thinking of that quite a bit lately as well.
CALLIOPE: You only have one life to live.
JOE: I agree. All we have are the experiences and choices which face us from moment to moment. We never get a chance to go back and relive our lives.
CALLIOPE: Quite true.
JOE: I am busy trying to make the best of today's opportunities. Talk with you tomorrow.
August 18, 2008 - 8:21am
posted by Joseph Langen in death, life, transition.

(Dewitt Park- Batavia, NY)
JOE: Good morning Calliope.
CALLIOPE: Good morning Joe. I missed you on Saturday. Too busy?
JOE: Yes. I did not have time to talk with you in the morning and did not get back from the writers' retreat until late.
CALLIOPE: Nice to have you back this morning. How was the retreat?
JOE: Very good. I got a chance to meet some new writers from the Western New York Meetup Group which met with members of the Lift Bridge Writers Group. I found the day very stimulating.
CALLIOPE: What was the best thing about it?
JOE: I think the enthusiasm of other writers and the mutual support for each others' writing. I also liked being with a writers' group I was not in charge of.
CALLIOPE: How did that help?
JOE: I did not feel responsible for the group and could concentrate on my own writing and interactions.
CALLIOPE: Glad you enjoyed it. Anything else happening this weekend?
JOE: Yesterday I attended a memorial service for a fellow member of Unity Church in Rochester. She was most alive just before she died and was fully prepared for her next phase of existence after physical life.
CALLIOPE: How does that strike you?
JOE: As a good example. I have been thinking about mortality lately. I find the prospect daunting. Donna's example will be helpful to me in living the rest of my life and being ready for the next phase of my existence when the time comes, or more properly, when my time ends.
CALLIOPE: An interesting prospect. Do you feel any different because of this realization?
JOE: I feel more at peace. I was beginning to become anxious about mortality.
CALLIOPE: That's a welcome change.
JOE: I hope that being freed from this anxiety will help me concentrate on what I can do rather than on what I might not be able to do in my life. Talk with you tomorrow.

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