Thanks so much for being here and making Four Days A Week
a special place since March 15, 2010. Although today's post marks the closing of my Monday Musings blog
, the spirit of following our dreams and doing what we love lives on.
Stepping out into the sun and on a different path. Come. Take a walk with me. Let's go to my new home online at www.miatstarr.com
~ where I'm building a treasure chest of moments, musings, and inspiration from behind and beyond my desk, sharing and creating.
To my regular readers, or perhaps those just passing through, here's to a wonderful year following your dreams. May each step forward be filled with unforgettable moments, inspiration, and joy.
It's a new day. Dare to reach beyond your grasp. I hope to see you out there. And for those days when you need a little lift and inspiration, or a room with a view, please stop by my home. The door is open
Do. Dream. Believe.
Writing from the heart ...
On one of my visits home to Grand Rapids, Michigan in 2001, I asked my seventy-year-old father to write a journal about his life and days in Viet Nam.
I said to him in English and part Vietnamese:
"Write whatever comes to mind. Don't worry about time and having things in order. Write from the heart. Write in Vietnamese. Don't worry about the language, or the form. I will figure it out later."
My father did not ask questions or why. He simply nodded and said, "Okay."
Two years later my father gave me his seventy-five page, handwritten journal and said, "My memory is good ... sometimes too good that it can be bad. My writing is not so good. It can be better."
I thanked my father for giving me what will later become the voice and inspiration to MORNING SUN
, a historical fiction about a Vietnamese boy coming of age in wartime.
Clouds. A visible dark mass lingers in the air, lowers and threatens and destroys. Spring arrives.
from 14 December 1944, Thursday
to 2 March 1945, Friday
My parents say I am stronger and smarter than I appear. They have known this from the moment I was born on 8 April 1932 and stretched out my long fingers to touch my father's face. My brother before me was not strong. He died on the second day. My parents do not talk much about my brother's death. When life is difficult, my parents often call out my name, Manh, which means strength in Vietnamese. They say Manh with tenderness and a quiet defiance against the hardships of life.
I am twelve years old. I never doubt my strength and intelligence when I am with my parents, not even when sheets of gray skies linger in the air like today on 14 December 1944. It's that time of the year when the sun fades and disappears, sometimes taking as long as six days to return to Mong Phu, my little village on a low hill, forty-eight kilometers northwest of Ha Noi in Viet Nam. Two hundred people live in Mong Phu, and we have not seen the sun in four days. I know it's impossible, but sitting with my family near a stream, I wonder if the clouds, out of hunger, have eaten the sun.
The sun is rising.
The ocean is speaking.
The moon is dreaming.
* THE MOMENTS BEHIND THE PHOTOS ABOVE
(sun, ocean, moon, and wind from top to bottom)—Mia at the Shadowcliff
in Grand Lake, Colorado for the 13th Annual Lighthouse Writers Retreat in 2010. She steps out to meet the sun. * Stephen Lloyd Webber
(Mia's fantastic writing teacher at the Writing Immersion Retreat in Tuscany
in 2011 and 2012) shares a breathtaking photo of the ocean near Heaven Hill in Big Sur, California, where he and his wife, Jade Webber
, are building a private sanctuary for writers and artists. *
At night walking with the moon, dreaming and imagining. *
Mia remembers the moment from September 2009. She is on the mountains of Boreas Pass in Colorado, holding a prayer arrow. The wind is whispering. Mia closes her eyes and makes her wishes, trusting all will come to be.**
A top story in Anita's Finding Inspiration Daily
and The Becoming Daily
. May 2012.*
ON THE STEPS OF SPANNOCCHIA, coming together on a writing retreat. Full of laughter and joy. In a moment of happiness, in the photo above. Did we really just meet? It seemed we have known each other all our lives, celebrating Fourth of July every summer with each other. Sharing secrets and sparkles, our writings and wishes. In Tuscany.
We listened to the murmurs of our hearts. We followed our dreams.
✶ PHOTO ABOVE (top left by Josh Bowen):
An inspired group of writers celebrating the Fourth of July on the steps of Spannocchia, last summer in the heart of Tuscany
. From left to right: Melissa
, Melanie, and Michelle
. For more moments and photos from their writing immersion retreat, click here
. ✶ VIDEO ABOVE:
Capturing the beauty and spirit of Spannocchia, home of the Writing Immersion in Sustainable Tuscany Retreat
and much more.
TRAVELING WITH MELISSA SAWATSKY
, going with the ebb and flow. It is an honor to present Melissa, a writer and poet I met last summer on the Writing Immersion Retreat in Tuscany
, and her wonderful post, In The Meantime
(originally posted at her blog
on August 16, 2011).
Thank you, Melissa, for guiding us through the currents, for taking us to a rare place. Thanks so much for joining us here next week on February 6, 2012 for a conversation about your writing and dreams
. -Mia IN THE MEANTIMEby Melissa Sawatsky
I am on a ferry boat, metaphorically speaking. The comfort of an established routine has been replaced by a propulsion of instability. I have maps, guidebooks, a vague idea of my destination, and short term plans for food and shelter. Beyond that, I'm a traveller in this transition period.
If there's one thing I know about traveling in unfamiliar territory—literally and metaphorically—it's that spontaneity and open-mindedness are just as (if not more) important than preparation and planning. If you fill up every hour of the day with a logistical plan of where to be at what time, you might miss the afternoon street dance battle between a group of young men in London, or the slide show of photos projected against the side of a building at dusk in Berlin. You would miss the alchemy of spontaneous assembly in the service of creativity, a cause, or some form of festivity. The popularity of flash mobs, and the various forms in which they come, is a testament to our need to stir up the daily monotony of our lives.
In a moment of reflection.
Being in transition is both uncomfortable and liberating. Part of me needs something I can count on—a routine to assist in the business of organizing and maximizing my time. On the other hand, it's been awhile since I've been so attuned to the world around me. I'm inundated with imaginary scenes of the future that lies ahead of me. Although I'm in a bit of a pickle financially, I have found a healthy perspective on the ebb and flow of wealth (beyond money) and the laws of giving and receiving.
When this ferry finally docks, I will see the destination in 3D. I will disembark and use my maps to guide me. At some point, no doubt, my navigational abilities will fail me. I may sustain some injuries, but instinct and intuition will steer me clear of cliff drops.
In the meantime, I pay close attention to life in suspension. What a rare place to be.
✶ MELISSA SAWATSKY'S
work has appeared in OCW Magazine
, Sad Mag
, and Rhubarb
, among others. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia and is currently working on her first book of poetry, a collection of short fiction, and a screenplay for an animated feature. Melissa is an Editor at Evolved Publishing
and facilitates a creative writing program for teen girls called "Hot Ink
." She spends much of her time in libraries (having worked at several), and worships the art of dance (call her a professional audience member and an amateur dancer). ✶✶ JOIN US here
next week on February 6, 2012 for a conversation with Melissa, and more great photos from her travels and journey into writing. Prepare to be inspired. ✶ ✶ PHOTOS AND MEMORIES
from a special Writing Immersion Retreat in Tuscany
, where Melissa and Mia met last summer. ✶
Find a purpose in life so big it will challenge every capacity to be at your best.-Jim Loehr-Above photo by Tet Shimoda.
From the White Rim Trail. Moab, Utah.
ACROSS THE SEAS
a daughter, Mia T. Starr, returns to the village of Mong Phu, her father's birthplace in Viet Nam. The true story you read below takes you back to that day, a journey that is now woven into Mia's MORNING SUN
, a historical fiction about an ordinary Vietnamese boy who must survive a time beset by famine, sacrifices, doubts, and two wars, if he is to honor his father's last wish and save their family.A FAMILY PASSAGE
MONG PHU, VIET NAMby Mia T. Starr
In February 2001 our Vietnamese driver and translator, Tuan, said in English, "We are almost there."
I was quiet, sitting in the back seat of the car and looking out the window at the peaceful countryside. A foreign landscape of tranquil rice paddies, farmers at work, mountains, and rivers rich with history unfolded before me.
My friend, Tom, who had hired the translator and made the trip possible, turned around in the front seat. He said, "Are you okay?"
I gave him a smile for reassurance. I said, "Yes."
"I'm happy we're here," Tom said and leaned back to give me space. He didn't want to be in the way of my journey home.
The car moved forward. The rocks beneath the wheels crumbled, and I thought about my father walking barefoot on this same dirt road sixty-three years ago. That was 1936. He was six years old and in search of work, food, and wood to keep his family alive. [read more to continue the story]
__A NOTE ABOUT THE WRITER: Mia T. Starr was born in Vietnam and
raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her writing credits include published poems,
an Honorable Mention for ASPIRING AUTHOR
in the New York Stories 2005 Short Fiction Contest, and a Finalist placing for CLOUDS
in the 2006 Glimmer Train Fiction Open Contest. Mia is currently working on completing revisions to her historical fiction, MORNING SUN. A NOTE ABOUT THE PHOTOS:
Each was taken from Mia's trip to Vietnam on that day in 2001 when she returned to the village of Mong Phu, her father's birthplace. For more photographs and the story behind them, continue here
. JOURNEY INTO WRITING: Read about Mia's writing moments
through her blog posts at Four Days A Week
. She shares excerpts from her works in progress, sharing her experiences as she moves toward her dreams of publishing MORNING SUN
and other works in multiple formats. Popular posts include:
ON A SUMMER DAY IN TUSCANY
I stepped away from my writing desk inside the villa at Spannocchia. I took a stroll with Casey, one of the participants at the writing immersion retreat
, toward the large green gate and into the Secret Garden. Six months ago in a magical place. I sat on one of the stone seats at a table constructed from a tree trunk and rock. Nearby was a keyhole pond and winding paths lined with cypresses.
I thought I had entered the world of The Hobbits
. Here where the sun and shades danced in a tango with the trees, the birds sang with the frogs, and the soft wind kissed you with a whisper full of wonderful things to come. I looked out into the garden and smiled. Casey snapped a picture (shown above). In that moment,
looking forward and thinking about my novel undergoing major revisions, my MORNING SUN
, I embraced my fears past my failures and said, "Hello again, my dreams." -Mia
A top story in The Becoming Daily
and The InterPlay Daily
. January 2012.✶
BELIEVING IN ONESELF
shares with us her 8th grade graduation speech: LOOKING FORWARD, LOOKING BACK. She takes us to the Emerald City ...THEY STOOD ON THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD, LOOKING FORWARD, LOOKING BACK.
Behind the Lion, the Tin Woodman, the Scarecrow, Dorothy, and Toto was the vast stretch of bountiful farmland, and in front of them was the Emerald City, sparkling brilliantly under the smiling sun. Behind them was the land of the Munchkins, who had provided amazing hospitality and prepared the four friends for the treacherous and exciting journey they were to embark on. In front of them was the dazzlingly bright city that towered above their heads, both intimidating and stunning. It held their dreams, their future, and all that they were fighting for. Before they could get there, however, they had to complete their march across the sun-colored bricks that stretched on for miles, like a glowing horizon.WE ARE HERE TO CELEBRATE A JOURNEY.
We, too, are leaving our familiar surroundings, the place where our dreams were nurtured and grown. Like Dorothy, we found friends that helped us through good times and bad times alike. Dorothy successfully reached the Emerald City, and in doing so, discovered a lot about herself and her friends. However, it was no easy task. She would not have been able to survive her journey if it weren’t for her friends and their special qualities. Like Dorothy, our journey will be successful if we learn how to use certain characteristics.
THE SCARECROW DEMONSTRATES THE NECESSITY OF BRAINS. As everyone knows, intelligence is necessary to get through school. We have all had times when there were loads of homework—so much that we could barely keep awake to finish it. We have all felt the need to please our teachers, to show them that we are capable. We have all had sticky situations with friends. We all have something that we struggle with, whether it be writing, geometry, algebra, history, or athletics.
The reason we emerged successfully throughout these many situations is that we made wise decisions. The Yellow Brick Road will only become rockier, with even more twists and turns. The homework load may grow larger, the teachers will expect more of us, and we may engage in conflicts with friends. With brains, however, we will skillfully decide how to solve problems and hurdle over many obstacles.
THE COWARDLY LION SHOWS US THE NEED FOR COURAGE. After all, brains alone cannot get us through life. We are all here because we were able to face our difficulties. The Cowardly Lion would sometimes start crying and hide so that no one could see him. There were times when some of us felt like that, too. “I cannot pass this class”, “I won’t have any friends”, “I will never achieve my goals.” Obviously, we have crawled back out of that corner and faced our fears, or we would not even be here. We used to be the “new kids at school”. The eighth graders picked on us and we were overwhelmed by our new surroundings. Still, we faced these problems with courage and now we are the rulers of the school.
Now we will be entering high school, and we will once again have those challenges. However, we were able to face our fears once, and we will continue to do so. If we remember how we solved our problems by using courage, nothing will keep us from achieving our goals.
THE TIN WOODMAN WANTED A HEART. He proves that love and kindness are necessary to achieve great feats. Was there ever a girl in the hallway who dropped her binders and you helped her pick them up? Was there a boy who was being bullied and you told the bullies to leave him alone? Showing kindness towards others tells them that you are a good friend and a kind person to work with. They will be more than willing to do something for you, and you will acquire many friends who will help you through life. We must strive to be leaders. Not only will we be people who others admire, but we will be people who are loved, and not feared.
A heart, brains, and courage are all qualities one should bring while going on a journey. However, Dorothy demonstrates the most important trait of all; she shows that it is necessary to believe in oneself.
If Dorothy, the Lion, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow had not believed in themselves, they would never have traveled on the Yellow Brick Road. Even the great Wizard of Oz doubted that they could conquer the Wicked Witch; however, they were able to defeat her because they believed they could. At the end of this classic story, Dorothy realizes that if she only believes in herself, she will be able to reach what she most desires—to go home.
LOOKING BACK, we solved many problems, some because we had to, and some, because we chose to. To solve these problems, we used kindness, intelligence, courage, and we believed in ourselves. Throughout the next four years, and also throughout our entire lives, we must continue to use these traits. By doing so, we will be able to reach our goals, our Emerald City.
“That must be the Emerald City,” said Dorothy. As they walked on, the green glow became brighter and brighter, and it seemed that at last they were nearing the end of their travels.”
✶ LOOKING FORWARD, LOOKING BACK
, was written by Clara and selected by a panel of teachers as the winning 8th grade graduation speech, which Clara delivered this past summer. For more on Clara, follow us this way
. Clara is also a contributor
at Four Days A Week. ✶ ✶
A top story in Anita's Finding Inspiration Daily
. November 2011. ✶ ✶ HEART ART ABOVE:
by Elaine Kean
of Red or Gray Art
. ✶✶ SUBSCRIBE
and be part of the journey. Aspiring and inspiring. ✶
IT WAS ALMOST TIME TO GO.
, and I packed our weekend bags and placed them in the hallway of the hotel Palazzo Rosa
. We had a couple of hours in Venice before catching the train to rejoin our writing group
. With little time to take in the last morning of our stay, we returned to a few favorite spots,
bending around corners in twists and turns. We said hello and goodbye to the wonderful Venetians we met at the Ristorante Al Vagon
, took more pictures, shook hands, and expressed our gratitude for last night's splendid dinner and service.
We visited the juice bar, where Rachel envisioned one day of opening her own poetry cafe (naming it after one of her poems and a desire to bring together all that she loved in life). We stopped by the Silvietta, an accessories and clothing boutique, where we met Alessia with her delightful smile and couldn't help but buy
a few dresses to take home. We went to one of the gelato shops
for one memorable taste of the sweet, cold cream. We strolled in and out of stores we missed the first, second, and third time around.
THIS TIME I WAS DRAWN TO AN OPEN DOOR ON MY LEFT—to the old-world interior, the leather-bound journals on the shelf, the whispers of something special inside. La Carta.
I raised my hand to Michelle and Rachel, who were steps and shops ahead of me. They hadn't realized I was wandering again. I said, pointing to the door, "I'm going inside. I'll be just a few minutes."
I ENTERED LA CARTA. The owner wearing a green smock smiled as he helped two customers with their purchases. I browsed through the tiny store filled with all kinds of treasures: a red airplane hanging from the ceilings, miniature library desks and gondolas on the shelves, a pair of scuba diving shoes in the corner, a craftsman's tools behind the cash register, photo albums and pens with the markings of having been made by hand.
I touched the shelf lined with the leather-bound journals, resting my fingers on a cover. I dared to open the book, telling myself I can admire but not buy (I had already exceeded my spending budget). I was in trouble from the very first page, falling in love with the grain, the long, leather string, and the blank pages inviting me to write inside. Imagine the stories. Imagine your ideas coming to life and within reach of your fingertips.
"His work is beautiful," the woman said, ready to pay for her journal. She smiled at me.
I agreed and surrendered to the moment, wanting to meet the man wearing the green smock, the owner, who made these treasures. I stayed, listening and learning, spending more than a few minutes with the man full of charm and passion.
Rachel came inside, wondering what was keeping me. Did I get lost? Fifteen minutes passed, maybe a half hour or more. Michelle followed in, checked to see. Soon we were all at risk of missing our train. HIS NAME WAS VIANELLO ELIO
, born and raised in Venice. He spoke English and told us his family had been in Italy since 950 A.D. He nodded when we raised our eyes in disbelief. He said, "It's true. Four hundred generations."
Rachel wrote it down on paper, words committed and etched as proof. She took down the name of the BBC documentary, Francesco's Venice: The Dramatic History of the World's Most Beautiful City
, that also featured Elio and his La Carta in an interview.
I listened, wondering if something was lost in translation, stuck on the possibility (or impossibility) of four hundred generations in a man in front of me.
Elio showing us the documentary.
Elio showed us an old copy of the documentary, passion and pride in his eyes when he talked about his city, his love of designing and crafting by hand his leather-bound journals and photo albums, all things created with paper and shaped in books to hold and cherish forever.
WE LEARNED HE WAS ALSO A COLLECTOR of great arts, rare finds, and books. His face lighted up when he spoke about the special journal he won at an auction. His smile twinkled. We asked to see. He bent behind the counter and pulled out the aged-old yellow journal, showed us the handwritten, Italian notes filling the pages, passed from priest to priest through Italy.
It was a rare treasure in our hands. Enchanted, we asked him to read a few passages. He did with happiness.
I DID NOT UNDERSTAND A WORD, but I heard the joy in his voice. Then and there my heart skipped, taking a leap. It no longer mattered whether Elio came from a line of Vianellos dating back to 950 A.D., if it was 4, 40, 400, or 4,000 generations of history in the making.
Elio's treasured journal.
Standing before me was a man who loved his treasures, his books, his handmade leather journals, his store (where he also met his wife), his city, his life. It did not cost me anything to believe in him and share in his joy.
It was almost time to go. We made our purchases, buying Elio's journals and photo albums bound with love and passion. I asked him if he would sign my two journals. He asked for my name. "Mia," I said. "Mia Starr." "Mia," he said and smiled. He signed my journals and drew the meaning of his name: A window, stairs made of four steps, and stars above. "It's the way to the sky, the way to the stars."
"Elio," I said. "The way to the sky
✶It was July 3, 2011 when we met Vianello Elio. For more photos and treasures from our travels in Venice, follow us here.✶
VIANELLO ELIO, the way to the sky, the way to the stars. La Carta, S. Marco, 5547/A (S. Bartolomeo), 30124 Venezia. Italy. TEL 041 52 02 325.
BOUND WITH LOVE AND PASSION.
Vianello Elio's handmade leather journals inside La Carta. Venice, Italy. Following our bliss