Hope Rebounds with “Little Women”

Little Women coverOn Valentine’s Day, I treated myself to the movie, “Little Women.” It was a fabulous version of the classic story, told with back story and references to the Civil War time period. The movie was true to form, credible in its costuming, setting and historical accuracy.

The theater was filled with mostly women, probably like me — those of us who grew up reading all of Louisa Mae Alcott’s books and loving the March family.

Halfway through the opening credits, I found myself smiling with anticipation, remembering my younger self climbing my tree with a book tucked in my sweatshirt. Then reading in my branchy nook as Jo and Meg, Amy and Beth galloped through my imagination.

Leaving my own words behind in my office, I reveled in the words of this talented author whose journey came alive on the big screen.

But what struck me the most was my own history and how it ended up intertwining with the life of Jo March.

Louisa Mae Alcott and her writings inspired me to become a writer, around the same age as Jo March discovered her passion for words.

I understood how as a tomboy, she liked to climb trees. My private space was nearly twenty feet up, within yelling distance of the house in case Mom called.

Several years ago, an Oklahoma spring storm destroyed my tree. I still grieve when I visit the farm and see its empty space, remember the naïve girl who disappeared in its limbs.

Jo March wore her “one beauty” with pride. Her long hair became a key scene when her mother needed money to tend her father’s wounds. Jo and I liked to braid our hair or wear it in a long ponytail, playing with it as we tried to find that perfect word for the next sentence.

How crushed Jo was when her words were rejected by editors. As my files of rejections grew, I empathized with her yet never lost my hope that someday, I would see my books in print. Both of us accomplished that dream.

When little sister Amy burned Jo’s manuscript, I also swore with my heroine that I would “Never ever forgive her.”

The ultimate insult is not the rejection of our words, but the destruction of them.

Jo and Louisa cared more for their principles and their freedom than they did for romance. Unlike her fictional character, Louisa never married either Teddy or Fritz. But to sell her manuscript, Louisa had to either marry off her main character or sentence her to the grave.

Even today, publishers still insist that characters act a certain way, find a certain pathway to their dreams. This is one reason why I primarily write independently. I like the freedom of letting my characters be who they are without preconceived ideas that might sell more books but will damage my creative soul.

The Alcotts were progressive thinkers. They believed women’s rights should be fought for, championed in spite of society’s morays. If Louisa had lived longer, she would have been a central figure in the battle for women’s voting rights. And I would have joined her in the protest line.

How difficult it was to be poor! It still is. Louisa and her family struggled financially, and it was always her intention to help support the family with her words. Wisely, she fought to keep her copyright and the highest royalties possible on her Little Women contract. Ultimately, her writings did help keep food on the table.

Louisa and Jo loved the family and hated the idea of growing up. So totally my story. Wearing a bra seemed like torture and becoming a “woman” with the curse of Eve wrecked my chances of being drafted into professional sports. My teenage years occurred before Title IX, but fortunately, I attended a high school that included girls’ competitive athletics.

Hormones still destroyed many of my athletic dreams until I learned to accept who I was. I learned how to exercise for my health rather than competition. Even today, the channel I watch the most does not include soap operas or Hallmark movies. My remote most often clicks on ESPN.

In spite of perilous times, poverty, tragedy and the uncertainty of her future, Louisa and her Jo continued to write. The passion for words was her driving force, her reason for existence and her burning desire.

In spite of my travels, life changes and various ministry assignments, I have always returned to writing. Journals, articles, stories, blog posts and books make up my resumé, and I don’t regret a moment of the time used to create sentences and paragraphs, to shape characters and envision plots.

Louisa was lucky enough to discover a story that resonated with a publisher and continues to delight to this day. Her words are evergreen, precious to those of us who grew up with them.

Some of my older books continue to sell, surprising me at the end of the month when I check my reports. Even after I step into eternity, I hope they will continue to provide an income supplement for my beloved son.

I understand Jo March and her creator, Louisa Mae Alcott. As one of my life-long she-roes, Louisa still inspires me to use a pen and write my first drafts long hand. Pentel pens don’t stain my fingers like ink and quill, but I love the scritch of the nib across paper, the allowance of time and thoughts to discover how deeply the words are buried — how they erupt once found.

God has allowed me these years to follow the same passion, to be a writer, to hold my published books, and I am grateful. From my current office, far from the nook of my tree, I whisper, “Thank you, Louisa. You and your Jo were my favorites of the little women.”

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my books on this Amazon Author Page. Louisa would have never imagined the internet.

 

 

Hope in the Retelling

Recently, another writer asked, “Are you working on your memoir? It seems you’ve lived an interesting life.”

journal writingIn fact, I have been writing my memoir for several years. Only one  piece remains, but I have to wait for life to hand me the answer for the final chapter.

It’s common for people in my demographic, especially writers, to look back and review our lives. But a good memoir is more than just an autobiography or a review of life’s circumstances.

The most effective memoir carries an ongoing theme which cements the pieces of life together. My cement becomes apparent with each telling of the facts.

Dad and I worked together as a ministry team for much of my childhood. Whether it was a downtown mission for homeless men or Sunday afternoon at the nursing home, we served together. Dad played his guitar and led the singing of hymns while I played piano and occasionally sang a solo.

Then I came home, opened my diary and wrote about the day. My Red Chief tablet became the medium for stories which I sent to Reader’s Digest. I tore up the rejections when they landed in the farm mailbox, but even that scathing critique could not stop the flow of my words.

After college, I traveled to Honduras where I taught at a school for missionary kids. I kept a journal during that time and later wrote The Plain Path, my first book. It is now out of print, but I gave it to several youth groups who were prepping for mission work.

Ministry continued as I served in my church with music and childhood education. Then followed several years in nonprofits such as a parolee recidivism program and a pregnancy crisis center with an adoption service. I worked as a communications director, a biblical counselor and an administrative assistant. During the evenings, I wrote articles and fillers, stories and books — still unpublished.

A group of supporters sent me to my first writers conference where I learned the basics of what editors want. By that time, I was a wife and mother, still serving in nonprofits and the church — writing more words while my son slept.

It was an article about miscarriage that catapulted me into the publishing world and became the impetus for more spin-offs. Then stories for children where I found ready markets about parenting and marriage. I still attempted books but couldn’t find an agent who wanted my work.

Then followed several years as an international minister at the University of Kansas. I loved meeting people from all over the world and helping them adjust to the US. During those years, I wrote curriculum for teaching English, devotions to send via email around the world and articles about cultural differences.

The hard years began with divorce, job loss, financial struggles and the responsibility of raising my son while working several jobs. But I continued helping a nonprofit that served uninsured people, then moved to a new position as administrative assistant for chaplains.

By this time, my articles sold regularly which padded the income and kept us fed. An accidental meeting with an acquisitions editor morphed into a contract for my first novel, then the rest of the trilogy. Finally, I saw my books on library shelves.

At another ministry assignment, I was offered the opportunity to become a certified life coach. That decision merged into multiple articles, but also the joy of helping women find their direction in life, especially when starting over single.

Coaching writers became a natural progression from life coaching, and my books started multiplying. I added editing as another stream of income and studied the pros and cons of Indie Publishing.

Through the years, I often envied people who worked in one job for 30+ years and retired with a substantial pension. But that was not the way my life worked out. I have filled numerous journals and to date completed 14 books. And I have met fascinating people who all have their own stories.

But always, my goal has been to help others with their journeys and move them toward some semblance of hope. When I look back, my memoir cement includes various ministries while always surrounded by some sort of writing.

At the heart of my life is the power of communication, especially with the written word. Writing has always been a dream, but essentially — my destiny. Through coaching writers, editing and continuing to write my own projects, the dream has become my vocation and now — my final act.

The memoir is not complete, but I will finish it. When it is ready to be published, hopefully it will bring my readers closer to another step of hope. Then I will know for certain — my life had meaning.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’d like to check out my words, have a look-see at my Amazon Author Page.