Monday, December 31, 2007

Teddy Turns Fifty

It's amazing how a gift can lead to a lifetime of memories. This is my niece's favorite toy, a small yellow teddy bear appropriately named "Teddy," at age fifty. Here's his story:

It all began in December, 1957. I was a spinster school teacher in West Virginia (actually, I was only twenty-five, but earlier marriage was in vogue then) when I got the news that I had become an aunt. My younger brother and his wife were the proud parents of a baby girl, Cynthia Marshall. They lived in Iowa City, Iowa, where my brother was a graduate student.

Since Cindy was born on December 22, my Christmas vacation was the perfect time for a visit. Of course I knew nothing about babies, but I knew that a gift was appropriate. I headed for a toy department (Marshall Field's in Chicago, as I remember). I'm not sure why I was there--I didn't live in Chicago then, but I was probably visiting my parents in nearby southeastern Wisconsin. The store clerk suggested a very small, soft, washable yellow teddy bear as the perfect gift for a small baby. I bought it. Thus was Teddy born. I planned a trip to Iowa City to see the new arrival.

It was love at first sight when Cindy saw Teddy. From that day, he lived in a corner of her crib. As she moved along to larger beds, he was always her companion. Somewhat tattered, he endured a bit of repair work and even accompanied Cindy to college at Texas Lutheran.

Cindy remained in Texas after graduation and married, and I was barely in touch with her over the years. Of course I had forgotten Teddy, as I'd long ago forgotten any toys I might have had myself. As it turned out, Cindy remembered.

In 2005, I made my first holiday trip to Houston, Texas, to visit Cindy, her husband Scott Truby, and my grand-niece Lauren. Imagine my surprise to learn that Teddy still existed! By then, Teddy--and Cindy--were forty-eight years old, and I was seventy-three. I mentally filed away the fact of Teddy's survival, but I didn't actually see him then. Cindy delighted in telling me about him.

This year, I decided to take a picture of Teddy to commemmorate his fiftieth birthday. How proud I was at age seventy-five to realize that at least once, I'd found the perfect gift, one that has lasted for fifty years. Happy birthday, Teddy and Cindy, and I'll hope to see you both again next year!

Holding Cindy in 1957. Note the 1950's clothes and hairstyle. I don't look very comfortable!

Cindy sleeps while Teddy keeps watch.

Cindy holds Teddy.

My Niece, Cindy Truby, at Fifty (with new tree Santa)

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne.
Photos by John Marshall and others unknown, 1957 and 2007

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

More Reasons to Talk, Listen, and Write During and After the Holidays

A survey by uncoverd some surprising results, including the following:

-- Young Americans are looking to their roots. 83 percent of 18- to 34-years-olds are interested in learning their family history. Following closely are the 35- to 54-year-olds at 77 percent and Americans ages 55+ at 73 percent.

--Half of Americans know the name of only one or none of their great-grandparents.

--Twenty-two percent of Americans don't know what either of their grandfathers does or did for a living.

--Although America is known as a nation of immigrants, 27 percent don't know where their family lived before they came to America.

Never assume that no one cares about you or your family's history. Whether or not you want to get seriously involved in genealogy, listen to family stories and write them down. Otherwise, they may be gone forever. Write your own story. We're all part of our family's histories; we all count! The family get-togthers of this season make great opportunities for learning and sharing.

For more of the survey, go to this link:

Happy holidays! I'm off the Houston, Texas, tomorrow, but I'll be back by December 27. For more about my activities, see my other blog, "Never too Late!"

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Monday, December 17, 2007

Ever Try to Write a Rictameter Poem? Here are Two

The "Rictameter" is a nine-line poetry form in which the first and last lines are alike, and the syllable count is 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2. I'm no poet, but I'm fascinated by mental challenges like this. Why not give it a try?

Northern Winter

White, beautiful,
Silent, soft, inviting
Snow angels, snowmen, sleds and skis.
Time for warm mittens, scarves, parkas, tall boots.
Drivers' challenge: shovel, plow, clear.
Parents' work, children's joy,
Winter's wonder:

On Writing

Challenge, career,
Pastime, necessity.
What we love and what we practice,
Source of joy and livelihood and respect,
Or what we hate and what we dread.
Time-consuming, source of
Rejection slips.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

How About a Top Ten List?

At this time of year, you hear and read many, many Top Ten lists: movies, books, TV shows, world events, celebrities, everything. How about writing your own list for 2007?

For some ideas and my personal list, see my other blog, "Never too Late!" at (or use one of the links on the left).

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Enjoy the Holidays, and Prepare to Write About Them

At this time of year, you may be too busy to think about writing your life story; hopefully, you're busy living that story. However, as you savor every positive experience, chance meeting, or family reunion, think about what you can write later. Don't forget the unpleasant experiences or funny mishaps. either. Remember the stories of holidays past that you may hear from family members.

Every experience is worth writing about, so think about the people you love (and possibly whose who cause you problems). Remember the wonderful gifts you give and receive, and the less-than-wonderful ones, too. Enjoy, experience, and think about writing your life, as the title of this blog suggests.

Monday, December 10, 2007

More Writing Ideas: Tracing Creativity (and Other Traits)

In his essay "Your character evolves through time-a memoir prompt," Jerry Wexler, of Memory Writers Network ( records steps in his development of creativity, from sewing costumes and assembling model warships to dancing, painting, and singing, and finally to memoir writing. He encourages others to try to same thing.

I second the motion, and it seems to me that this technique can be applied to many traits or personal attributes besides creativity. You might explore steps that led you to a certain career or hobby or special interest, or steps that led you to an awareness of yourself, or even toward religious faith or lack thereof. How about steps in your coming to understand a particular problem, and/or steps that allowed you to solve that problem?

The idea is to focus on specific memories and try to describe them in detail, creating pictures with your words. That's what good life story writers do

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Writing On Line

This is a shameless promotion for eGenerations, the over-50 web site for which I write a twice-monthly column. This is still a fairly new and struggling site still being developed, and the founder is eager to get suggestions for improvements. Why not join? It's free, it won't bombard you with spam, and it can offer a place to argue with other members in the forums, to express your ideas, and to publish everything from your memoirs to your recipes on line.

While you're there, read my column on writing, rate it, and "digg" it. It's nice to be appreciated.

Go to You can find my column on the "Connect" page, upper right.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Another Online Outlet for Your Writing

If you want to post your writing on line, with a chance to earn a small sum of money if it proves popular with readers, check out the This is by Us web site. Once you've signed on, you can post anything you want and comment on any other post you want to.

Be sure to comment on and vote for anything you like there, and once you've posted somthing, urge those you know to read it, comment, and vote too. I just discovered this site today, so obviously I have not made any money, and as is my common experience, I probably won't. But feel free to vote for my two contributions and to add your own. At the very least, it's an interesting experiment. You can find a complete explanation on the site.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

High School Writing: Has the Pendulum Swung too Far?

I have never been a high school English teacher, but as a college teacher, I shared the responsibility of teaching students to write. Once an English teacher, always an English teacher, I guess. I was fascinated to read the November 30 Chicago Tribune article, "Young writers knock out a book in a month," by Carlos Sadovi.

At least on the surface, this is good news. I'm a great believer in writing for all, and while my emphasis is on senior citizens' writing now, I'm all for getting an early start at being comfortable with the writing process. It seems that at Corliss High School, "140 students are scrambling to finish full-length novels in one month for teacher Kelli Rushek." In this offshoot of the National Novel Writing Month competition for adults that I've mantioned earlier, Rushek's aim is to "get students past the fear of loooking at a blank page. . . . I think the beauty of this is that I'm not grading what they are writing. It allows them to unhinge the trap door of ideas . . . . [I believe] that one must write before they write well."

I agree. When I began teaching many, many years ago, we English teachers tended to frighten students with our red pens. A person who agonizes over the correctness of every word and sentence as he or she writes it will not get very far. We probably turned off many potentially good writers in those days, and I'm probably as guilty as anyone. As Rushek points out, in the past, her students grumbled about having to write short essays, and now the writing portion of the ACT requires writing a five-paragraph essay in a half-hour. At Corliss, one student wrote about 900 words during her Thanksgiving break, and some dream of publishing their books for fame and fotune.

I have no interest in shattering such youthful dreams, but here is what bothers me about this project: "Students aren't graded on spelling, grammar or whether their stories make sense." To me, grading or the lack thereof is not the point. Will these students ever go on to the editing process? Will they ever learn correct spelling and grammar and how to express their ideas clearly? I can hope so, but my past experience makes me wonder. Toward the end of my teaching career, I encountered college freshmen who were incensed to be told that their writing did not deserve an A because there were so many errors. Instead of trying to learn about and correct those errors for an eventual A, they blamed me for being a tough, mean teacher. Too much experience with instant gratification?

To quote from my own book, Seniorwriting: A Brief Guide for Seniors who Want to Write: "Correctness can come as a final step. . . . Worrying about each word, punctuation mark, and sentence as you write it can produce serious writers' blocks or bad writing. . . . Unfortunately, some teachers, students, and writers have stopped believing that correctness matters at all, and that attitude has brought its own problems, especially for those writers whose work gets rejected by publishers on the basis of writing errors rather than content." I've recently refused to review a self-published book seriously in need of editing for the most basic writing errors.

To sum up, I applaud the Corliss program and Ms. Rushek's and her students' enthusiasm, but I would like some assurance that discussions of correctness and the need for editing will come eventually, sometime after this herculean effort. If this project is an example of a resurgence of interest in learning to write well, I'm all for it, and I hope that's the case. On the other hand, if it's another example of the "dumbing down" of education, I despair. The pendulum has swung far since the days of the overused red pen and grade penalties for errors, but has it swung too far in the other direction?

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne