Singin’ Praises to Jesus

In the Church of Christ, my maternal grandparents’ church, there is no instrumental music to wrap around singing voices. Church-goers sing a Capella  because believers are sure there is nothing sweeter than the human voice lifted in song.

My grandfather had a strong booming baritone, and his voice rang out above most others. The sound rousted my soul.

I remember one Wednesday evening in particular. Caught up in the spiritual moment I sang “Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, jingle all the way…” to the tune of “Onward Christian Soldiers.” My grandfather looked down at me and grinned broadly. He slipped his arm around my shoulders and held the hymnal so I could see better. We both knew I couldn’t read, but it didn’t matter.

Just as the members of the Church of Christ didn’t need musical instruments to sing, I didn’t need the words to the hymn. It was a holy moment between grandfather and granddaughter, and surely God smiled at the sight.

What’s in a Name?

I met new friends at Jung in Ireland (in the week-long seminar I recently attended). One basically told me the story of his life through his name. Here is his account:

“My name is ‘Leonard Robin Clark.’ Both my grandfather and father were also named ‘Leonard,’ so my family called me ‘Robin.’ When I went off to school, the teachers asked me what was my first name? I told them ‘Leonard,’ and that’s what they called me. When I joined the Navy, they called me by my last name ‘Clark,’ which changed to ‘Mr. Clark’ when I finished OTS. Then, after I got my Ph.D. in chemistry, folks called me ‘Dr. Clark.’ And when my wife decided to go into politics I became known as ‘Mr. Rita’.”

Isn’t that interesting? I sure think so. I began to think about my own name changes and how it has shaped my narrative.

I was named “Joyce Elaine Murray, Junior,” after my mother. My dad wanted to call me “Junior” (and he did), but my grandparents called me “Little Joyce” and it stuck during my younger years. I was “Joyce” during my school years, except when my older brother Stone’s friends nicknamed me “Rocks-Ann” (and called my younger brother “Pebble”). I was Miss Murray when I started teaching, and then I became “Joyce Anderson” and “Mrs. Anderson” when I married at 25. My son called me “Mommy” (but calls me “Mother now that he’s grown). I went to court to reclaim my maiden name when I divorced at 30. “Joyce Boatright” became my moniker when I married for a second time five years later. A colleague, Frank Thornton, used to call me “Joyce Murray Anderson Murray Boatright” to remind me I had gone to the altar twice. Guy humor. Sharp with a sting. When Texas A&M University conferred its doctorate of education to me in 1984 I became Dr. Boatright. Through those same years,  I’ve had my share of nicknames: Joycie, Jerse, Juice, to name a few. Now that I’m retired and living with the love of my life, I think I’ve come full circle. Just call me Joyce.

How about you? What is the narrative of your name?

Retirement: reinventing priorities

The best part of retirement is that I get to choose how to spend my time.

My friend Kathy (Bunny) Adkins says she is as busy as she ever was prior to retirement, but that now, she’s doing what feeds her intellectually, emotionally, and physically. For her, that means being involved in leading travel groups (I just went to Italy with her and 20+ other fun women!), actively participating in church and civic organizations (paying it forward!), and working as a Zumba instructor (she’s in the best shape ever!).

Another retired friend, Joyce Wiley, spends her time as a community leader and activist, especially in the Aldine and Acres Homes area of Harris County. Mayor Sylvester Turner takes her call when she phones him—and he listens. Others do as well because she has proven herself as one who wants to improve the lives of others. She continues to do the meaningful work she did when she worked for Lone Star College, but now she does it for the greater good, no longer for a paycheck.

My friend and mentor Jackie Crowley has accomplished so much in “retirement.” She coached me through the last several decades of my profession (no easy task), coordinated the creation and production of the CASA book Just for Now: Kids and the People of the Court to help assuage fears of abused and neglected children caught up in the court system while she served as a CASA volunteer (an amazing feat), served as a Lay Chaplain for Texas Children’s Hospital, and became a certified Laugh Therapy facilitator (to give sick children the healing power of laughter). Now, with three magnificent grandsons, she is sharing her wisdom and unshakable sense of humor with them so they can grow into the men their father is.

So… here I am 91 days into my retirement. What’s on my horizon?

Travel. I am finally mature enough to go to Italy and other places and soak in the culture and history instead of knee-walking myself through a “Bar Crawl,” which is what many young adults seem to be doing. When you read this, I’ll be in my paternal ancestor’s homeland, Ireland, with my sweetie. I’m enrolled in a workshop “Aging with Panache.” My friend Karleen Koen and I are going to lead a condensed 1-day workshop on the topic at the Jung Center later in this month.

Teach. The great thing about my profession is that it’s a lifetime commitment. What makes it so desirable in retirement is that there’s no more grading papers. In addition to the one day April 26 “Afternoon of Life” workshop, I’ll be teaching an 8-week class in memoir writing, tentatively titled “Writing Stories from a Well-Lived Life,” at the Jung Center in the Fall. Prior to that, I will offer a 2-day workshop entitled “Turning Points in the Arc of Memoir” at Writepace, June 22 and 29.

Write. I will continue to blog. All writers need to practice and blogging is a place where I can explore ideas, recall life adventures, and explore the boundaries of my craft. Although I have a novel that needs revision, I’ve decided to devote the summer and early autumn to researching and drafting the story of Lane Murray, a pioneer in correctional education. (I’m still astounded that no one has done this before. Perhaps it is God’s way of inviting me to get a new perspective on my mother (yes, she is)—to understand her challenges as a professional woman in a patriarchal world in the ‘60s.

Of course, there are ingredients in my life that will remain no matter what tomorrow’s plans/goals may be.  I’ll continue to love two men with all my heart: my sweetheart Ronnie and my son Matthew. I am a hard woman to love (I’m bossy and often self-absorbed), but they both possess kind hearts, and they motivate me to be a better person.

I will continue to seek God, both in and outside of religion. I am so happy to find Him everywhere I look in earnest.

I will continue to nourish the friendships I have with the most extraordinary, creative women. They feed my soul with their fierce persistence, endless generosity, and bravely bold endeavors. I am so blessed to be in their company. (Yes, you, “Bunny,” Karleen, Jackie, Wynell, Maya, Barbara Jean C.C., Melanie, Cheryl, Bernice, Dorothy, MelissaCassandra, “M.E.,” Rilla, Susan, Pat, Sandi, and… and… and… Oh heck-fire, this blog cannot contain all your names! But my heart can, and does.)

How about you? What is on your horizon?

Writing roots

I began writing as a child growing up in a small Texas town. My parents were teachers, and they made sure there were books in our home and we kids had well-worn library cards.

My favorite books were biographies of people who led compelling lives filled with adventure. Davy Crockett, Thomas Edison, Eli Whitney, and George Washington Carver are among the ones that linger in my memory. I wanted to have similar adventures and invent things and defend the Alamo and die honorably as a beloved hero. But I had to be home every evening in time for supper, so my adventures were limited to my imagination. When I discovered Nancy Drew, I read every copy in the library. I’m still hooked on mysteries.

I received my first byline at age 14 with an article I wrote for The Hornet Hive.  Mary Burton was my teacher, and she told me she believed I’d get many more bylines in my writing life. Nothing like encouraging a middle child thirsting for attention to feed her writing soul.

I became feature editor of the Hive and learned so much under the tutelage of newspaper adviser Karey Bresenhan. I still think my best writing shows through when I’m writing lifestyle features and personality profiles. Both teachers taught budding writers like me the art of headline writing, photo cropping, editing, and newspaper layout & design. Some papers were still being printed with “hot metal” Linotype machines, but the Hive was printed “offset.” It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what I’m talking about; newspapers use neither process these days.

My first job out of college was working at The Huntsville Item as a proofreader and general reporter. I wrote my first obituary when someone called in a death. I took the information to the editor Don Reid, and he told me he didn’t want notes – he wanted the story. That’s the way it was on small town papers. You did a bit of everything and learned what you didn’t know on the fly.

A former colleague, a man who used to work at the LA Times, has everything he ever wrote. Yes, that’s right. Everything. I think an entire bedroom in his home is stacked with files of his published clips and background notes. I wish I’d had that kind of ego when I was younger so I could go back through old stories and see where I’ve improved. But I didn’t. Copies of those articles ended up in the trash. Not all at once, but a little each time I moved.

And how I regret it. Nowadays everything can be scanned and kept easily in a “cloud.” Like this blog. It will make for interesting reading material when I’m in my eighties and wonder where all the time went.


12 stages of life: Where are you?

A few years ago (in 2013), scientists claimed 72 is the new 30. The claim is based on the fact that healthcare and medicine is keeping us as healthy as any 30-year-old from antiquity. Seemed like good news to this old crone as I looked down the road at my 7th generation. But then last year, Georgia Dixon, posting on, decided 70 is the new 50. Uh-oh. Losing ground here.

Maybe I should be examining the stages of life rather than chronological ages.

“All the world’s a stage” is the phrase that begins a monologue from William Shakespeare’s As You Like It. The speech compares the world to a stage and life to a play, and catalogs the seven stages of a man’s life: infant, schoolboy, lover, soldier, justice, pantaloon and old age, facing imminent death.  It may be one of Shakespeare’s most frequently-quoted passages, but it’s not much help to me. These stages need further analysis.

I spent some time on the Internet and while Dr. Thomas Armstrong is no Shakespeare, he has done an outstanding job in describing 12 stages of life. Twelve is a number that gives depth to the complexity of life.  I especially like the one-word summary of the tasks he identifies as associated with each stage:

Pre-birth: Potential

Birth: Hope

Infancy: Vitality

Early Childhood: Playfulness

Middle Childhood: Imagination

Late Childhood: Ingenuity

Adolescence: Passion

Early Adulthood: Enterprise

Midlife: Contemplation

Mature adulthood: Benevolence

Late Adulthood: Wisdom

Death & Dying: Life

Imagine telling your amazing life story in 12 chapters. Each of these stages has such a optimistic theme. Yes, even the “last” chapter, for it brings us full circle. In Dr. Armstrong’s words, death teaches “us about the value of living.”  Dying reminds us “not to take our lives for granted, but to live each moment of life to its fullest, and to remember that our own small lives form a part of a greater whole.” In other words, fill that chapter with possibilities for the future as you like it… or, more precisely, as you’d like to see it.

Rather than struggle with holding on to our youth, let’s examine our lives for the gifts of each stage, and record our stories to share with humanity. Your life matters; your story is important.