Reading & Writing a Life

Carla Pineda's blog

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A Question or Two…

How do I read the events, situations, circumstances that happen in my life?

I love to read memoir.  Books like Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies, Kathleen Norris’s Dakota, Cloister Walk and Amazing Grace are favorites of mine.  I find myself  going back to them because I find snippets of my own experience or a resonance in them that strikes at the heart of things.  A Year by the Sea  by Joan Anderson is another favorite. I wonder where the titles come from?  Are they there before the book is formed or do they rise off of a page as it is being written?  Just curious!!

If my/your life was a book what would its title be?

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This Thing Called Writing

I was cleaning off one of the surfaces in my house covered with…guess what?  Yep, books and I came across one I had completely forgotten I had.  And, it was a book on writing…“Naked, Drunk, and Writing: Writing Essays and Memoirs for Love and for Money” by Adair Lara.  With such a catchy title I would think I would remember it.  Sometimes I think I buy books like this because I think I’ll find the magic formula for helping me write the perfect piece.  After all, these writers are in print…they must know something that I don’t, right?  Yet, when I start to flip through the pages and look things over I find there are, yes, some new things, but more often reminders of things I already know about this mysterious thing called writing…which isn’t really very mysterious at all.  It’s more about putting my fingers on the keyboard or picking up my pen and going for it.  Books I’ve read and writers I know just say, “do it”.  Practice, practice, practice!!  Revise, proof, edit, write some more, revise, proof, edit.  Funny, when I honor the practice I have so much more fun than when I get caught up in an end result or preconceived notion of what I should be writing or what it should end up being.  If it’s going to become something for publication or I decide I want to take it in that direction there will be a time for that.  (and it can still be fun!!).

My grandmother, Minnie, as she was known to us, was a writer.  I remember her sitting at her little metal typing table, the side wings extended to hold her onion skin papers (always with a carbon).  She typed on a manual typewriter, her long delicate fingers stroking keys with the same percision with which they played the violin.  Her typing eraser was neatly placed on one side with a sharpened red pencil for editing and correcting.  Her process was a meticulous one or so it seemed to me through 13 year old eyes.  I do not know if she ever had anything published but I do know she was faithful to a practice and discipline of writing that I admire; although she was such an intense and serious person that I can’t say if she had fun with it or not.  Maybe it brought her a joy none of  us could see.   All I know is I am thankful for her legacy; for the love of  words and writing passed on to me, her granddaughter.   Such a blessing!  Who in your life has passed the love of writing on to you?



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“Better Because of You”: A Book Reflection

Make the world better one smile at a time.  Be “an irrestible force for positive change”.  “Life is better because of  you”.  I love these positive, upbeat thoughts.   And, when they are the foundation for a great little book…well all the better. One of the perks of working in a bookstore for me is I get to see all the new stuff and also be around when authors come for signings and readings.  And, of course then I buy copies.  My husband use to say I could keep working in the bookstore as long as I didn’t spend more than my paycheck.  I never did the math but I am sure our bank account came out on the short end of the stick.  

Anyway, this book I’m talking about is Better Because of You by Ginny Hutchinson and Cathy Haffner.  I got to hear Cathy share hers and Ginny’s story of writing this little gem and starting  I bought 10 copies and gave it for Christmas presents to my best girlfriends.  What a gem on how to make life just a little bit better!! 

If it is to be let it begin with me” 

“It’s up to each of you to participate in life” (his Holiness the Dali Lama)

These are two of the inspiring quotes that begin the book and it goes from there with an alphabet of words of wisdom that are the kind I love to read and ponder.  A little bit of inspiration, simple, practical, a must read, enriching…I find myself just wandering through its pages.  I love the colored pages and the chapters full of words to live by;  of “true to life stories that can help you do small things each day to make a big difference in your life.”

How often do I think that for something to make a difference it has to be big?  I love the story of the star thrower in the village where star fish that wash up on the shore are caught and killed.  There is one lone man who walks the beach early in the mornings when he cannot sleep and if he sees a starfish still alive throws it as far back into the sea as he can.  Someone one time asks him why he does that; doesn’t he know that it is only one starfish and how can that make a difference?  He answers that to that one starfish it makes a difference. 

So, one little gem of a book, one starfish thrown by one man, one smile, one dollar donated…how can you and I make a difference?  Check out Ginny and Cathy’s book and website…make a difference.

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A new journal part 2

So, I made a decision which new journal to use.  It is one that I  had put away as an extra.  I purchased it almost two years ago when I saw it on a clearance rack and figured I could always use a back up extra. How did I know this?  I actually wrote about it in another journal that I was rummaging through the other day and found my entry.    And, so I am going to use it.  It is a light purple color, with a soft back cover, 6×8″ in size.  The paper is softly lined;  not so much like school paper that it would be a distraction.  I have embellished the first page inside with a rubber stamp: “I never travel without my diary.  One should always have something SENSATIONAL to read in the train” (Oscar Wilde).  And, so it is ready for my next entries.  I have been carrying it around for a few days but have not put pen to its paper. I’m getting use to the feel of it and its company so that when that absolute need to write comes I will be ready.   I love what Anne Lamott says about never leaving home without pen/pencil and paper; even just a 3×5 index card.  You just never know when you will see something or have a thought that must go on paper.  Maybe a writer’s motto is like the scout’s:  Be Prepared!  And, since the front of this journal is not embellished I will look for some image to put on the cover.  I may use a greeting card with a special or significant quote that speaks to where I am in this present time.  Or chose a picture or icon that draws me to it.  And, so I begin a new volume, excited to see what gets both put down on the page and what comes forth from the page.  It is always a fascinating, surprising and yet ordinary journey that I never tire of.

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Happy Valentine’s Day

Happy Valentine’s Day.  This morning I was wandering in my church bookstore which is a small, quaint space thoughtfully stocked with great books, cards, and gifts.  I picked up a card with a heart on it that said, “Fall in love. Stay in love.  It will decide everything.”  The quote was attributed to Pedro Arrupe, S. J. (1907-1991), born in the Basque country of Spain.  On the inside is the entire poem from which the quote comes.  It touched me in its depth,  certitude and simplicity…no waffling or uncertainty of the power of this thing we call love.  Here is the poem for Valentine’s:

Nothing is more practical than finding God,
that is, than falling in love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination,
will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you will do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read,
who you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in love,
stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

Happy Valentine’s.  May you be blessed by this mystery named Love.














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A new journal

It is almost time for a new journal.  The ones that I use most of the time… about 5×7, spiral bound, unlined pages with a thick, plain black cover that can serve as a lap desk…the ones that I have bought 2 or 3 at a time for years to always have a spare… they are getting harder to find.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  I can find the brand I like out-of-town but the last time I went to get a few they had about a third fewer pages in them and the price had not gone down.  So, I got two of another kind of sketch book that I have tolerated…and now I am, thankfully, just a few pages short of finishing the second one.  I have not ever gotten totally comfortable with them.  And, so I am wondering what I will use next.  I have a few journals that I bought on whims, on a “just in case” I need it, maybe one was on sale…I should just use one of those.  Yet, I have found over the years that using a journal that does not feel comfortable…wrong or odd size (too big, too small), paper and pen don’t agree (this is a big deal for me!), lines or no lines, (lines make me think of school)…makes my writing process less likely to bear fruit. Yet, there is also the idea of trying out something new and different.  So, as I wind down my current journal I will be thinking of which one to use next.  Maybe I’ll just lay them side by side, close my eyes and reach for one.  Or, draw a number from a hat.  Who knows?  I may find a new favorite!  How do you pick a journal to read and write  your life in?

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A Bookshop

AGH!!  A gem!!  I was looking for something else in my pictures and found this.  This is  the sign at Hatchard’s Booksellers at 187 Piccadilly London, England W1.   They have been selling books since 1797. (  They are the oldest bookshop in the United Kingdom.   Their deep green plastic shopping bag  has stamped in gold across the top,  “By Appointment to Her Majesty the Queen Booksellers”,  “By Appointment to H.R. H. The Duke of Edinburgh Booksellers”,  and  “By Appointment to H.R.H. The Prince of  Wales Booksellers”.  This is an important little bookshop I think.  Last year I traveled to  England to visit my son and he took me to Hatchard’s.  He had discovered it on one of his meandering days and knew I would want to visit it.  He was right.  This was a  favorite stop on my trip.  I can still feel the warmth of the books calling me.  “Read me”, “take me home”, “here, over here…”.  And, of course I did come home with a book purchase.  It is a small volume,  “Making a Pilgrimage”  by Sally Welch, a rector, wife and mother.  It is a little gem filled with stories of ancient and modern pilgrims, inspiration, quotes and reflections.  It was a perfect traveling companion for my days roaming London, Canterbury and parts of Wales.  And, it stays visible on the top of my bookshelf, waiting to remind me  “that it is the journey that matters in the end.”  I return to it often and always with a sweet remembrance of my pilgrimage to London and of this journey called “life”.  A visit to a bookshop and the small volume purchased are etched into my “reading and writing life”.   What bookshop lives in your memory?  How is it part of your reading and writing life?

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Reading and writing as weaving

 “I am always a little skeptical when someone tells me they want to be a writer and then tells me they don’t read.”  (Oriah Mountain Dreamer in What We Ache For: Creativity and the Unfolding of Your Soul)

I agree with her.  So often when I have this yearning to write and I’m not sure where to start I’ll go to one of my books and pull out a sentence, question or phrase, place it in my journal and see where I end up.  Half the fun is not knowing what will end up on the page.  At times it is only random thoughts or comments.  And, then there is the gem, maybe right in the middle of the page that says “wow, where did that come from?” or “I never knew that I felt that way”.  I may feel a rush of emotion, feel a tear or sense a giggle coming on.  Then, that becomes the beginning for what I’ll write next.  I love to go back and retrace these kinds of threads and see what the tapestry looks like.  How about you?

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The power of reading

“Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed.  You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read.  You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride.  You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.”    (Cesar Chavez, 1984).   

Last week the bookshop where I work celebrated a grand re-opening after moving into their new home. The Twig Bookshop at the Pearl in San Antonio, Texas ( has been around for many years and is an icon of reading and learning for adults and children in the San Antonio area.  The opening focused on the children, with storytelling, puppets and even the very hungry caterpillar her/himself.  The store was full of people; parents, grandparents, babies, strollers, shoppers, people who are faithful patrons of the store and first timers.  It was wonderful.  But, what moved me the most were the times I would look around and see a child, legs twisted under her, sitting in a chair, lost in a book as if she were the only person in  the whole place.  The concentration and intensity in her eyes was a wonder to behold.    To watch a young person engrossed in the love of reading is a gift to behold and hope for our future.