Interview with Sarah Mankowski
October 11, 2012
This interview was compiled from questions asked by visitors to my store and by readers. In most cases the questions were formed from multiple questions.
Q: What inspires the designs in your store?
A: I design, or ask my son J.D. to design, things that interest me. I love butterflies, for example. Therefore, my store includes many items with butterfly designs.
For several years now I have added Christmas cards, these being the cards that I wished to send to family and friends. They include original poems. Since the cards remain in the store, we have accumulated quite an assortment. In this way I have cards to send each year. Items purchased are an added blessing. I am very grateful to our customers for shopping at our Christmas store.
Q: Christmas poems?
A: Yes. I’m not much of a poet, but I try to write poems connecting the birth of Christ to our present-day lives. The message of Christ is always for the present. This year’s theme is The Bethlehem Star. In the poem I attempted to convey the idea that like faith unseen, this star soul-seen, remains our guide through the frustrations of everyday life.
Q: Your store includes many products created using your photos. Tell me about your photography in relation to being legally blind.
A: I was born with cataracts in both eyes. When this happens the cataracts are usually removed while the child is still quite young, and then corrective glasses must be worn. My situation was complicated by detached retinas. This left me almost completely blind in the left eye. I can only see light. For this reason the doctors left the cataract in my right eye. My “good-eye” sight is 20/200.
When I take photos, I am only looking through the right eye. One reason I take so many photos is, by doing so, I can study distant objects more clearly on the computer screen. This is certainly true when observing butterflies.
Q: Living in Florida, and as you say fourth-generation Floridian, how does location influence your work?
A: Living in a climate where I can garden year round keeps me outdoors year round, and enjoying nature with all my senses. I do not know if I can express this correctly, but when you must examine things much closer, it makes your little space seem much larger. My garden seems like some vast world with all the plants and critters as inhabitants. I suppose this shapes perspective in some way.
Q: You have been quite open about your faith after being agnostic for much of your adult life. How has your faith changed the direction of your store and your writing?
A: Regarding the store, The Christmas Store for certain. Christmas meant very little to me before I found faith, or rather faith found me ready to pay attention.
Gratitude to God for showing me that even when I believed myself alone, He was always there. I do not believe I possess the ability to properly express my gratitude, yet I try with the designs.
In writing, I said what I wished to say about faith and science in my novel As The Dominoes Fall. I have no plans to write another work of fiction that deals so overtly with Christianity. If I felt the need to say something, it would more likely be expressed in nonfiction. I am not cleaver enough to write these things without sounding preachy, which I would rather not do in fiction.
This past year I have rewritten and lengthened my novel Echo’s Voice into a six-episode series for Kindle. This is a novel set in the future. Religion only plays a role in the novel insomuch as religion is practically illegal in this future time.
Q: Has becoming a Christian changed the way you write?
A: Becoming a Christian has changed me inside, has filled me with gratitude for our loving God. It has made me think about my actions, including my creative endeavors. My boundaries, as I hope to be true with real-world neighbors, I do not wish to needlessly offend. Yet my characters will be who they are; just as real-world friends will be who they are.
Q: How do you think your writing is influenced by being legally blind?
A. That is really hard to answer. Because I do not see well enough to note facial expressions I tend not to add many details. I probably convey more through dialog.
Q: How did you become interested in writing?
A: My mother read to my sisters and me from babyhood. From earliest memory I was making up adventures for the characters, from the books she read. Many were the Doctor Dolittle adventures I invented.
Q: What are you currently working on? Future plans?
A: For the store, I am currently working on Our Christmas Store.
Writing: I am writing the seventh episode of Echo’s Voice. (Kindle only)
I am also working on a book about gardening. At this time I’m not sure if it will be Kindle only, or Kindle and print.
Q: How do you feel about reviews?
A: I am always grateful for reviews. Of course people will have varying opinions. Nevertheless, I am always grateful for feedback.
While visiting my sister this past Christmas, I found plenty of time to catch up on reading. At the risk of sounding like the most boring reader you have ever heard about, I confess that my reading included The Servile State by Hilaire Belloc Copyright 1912 and G. K. Chesterton’s The Outline of Sanity.
At that time I planned to write a series of opinion pieces expressing my views about where we are headed as a society. However, by the time I returned home from this vacation, it was beginning to dawn on me that I had written about these very themes some fifteen years ago in the novel Echo’s Voice. My Christmas reading merely helped me to better shape the society described in that novel. The original novel seemed like an outline of what I wished to write now.
What can I say? Wiring a novel, particularly spending time with these characters, is a lot more fun that writing opinion pieces.
In the future world that I imagine in Echo’s Voice, centralization has practically destroyed innovation. Current political debates about big government being the problem or big corporations being the problem miss the point in my opinion. Centralization in both business and government destroy the possibility of the no-name inventor to invent. Excessive government regulations make it difficult for the family farmer or family business to function. Government and the too-big-to-fail type corporations have practically merged into something that is not exactly Socialism or Capitalism, but with the potential to evolve into something far more dangerous to those who value liberty.
As Beloc wrote a century ago:
“The most sincere and single-minded of Collectivists cannot but note that the practical effect of their propaganda is not an approach towards the Collectivist State at all, but towards something very different. It is becoming more and more evident that with every new reform and those reforms commonly promoted by particular Socialists, and in a puzzled way blessed by Socialists in general another state emerges more and more clearly. It is becoming increasingly certain that the attempted transformation of Capitalism into Collectivism is resulting not in Collectivism at all, but in some third thing which the Collectivist never dreamt of, or the Capitalist either; and that third thing is the Servile State: a State, that is, in which the mass of men shall be constrained by law to labour to the profit of a minority, but, as the price of such constraint, shall enjoy a security which the old Capitalism did not give them.”
As G. K. Chesterton wrote, The solution to centralization is decentralization. In other words, before it is too late we must strive to find ways to give as many people as possible the ability to control their own means of making a living. This can only happen if we really do believe in private property. I do not believe a move away centralization toward more family farms and businesses will happen with the passage of any law or regulation. No matter what the stated purpose of laws being passed today, they always seem to favor increased governmental bureaucracy and increased control by a few corporations. I believe that any move toward decentralization must come from us, the people, who make a conscious choice to purchase from small, locally-owned businesses, and to buy locally-grown produce whenever possible. I do not believe that change can come from one massive law or action. I believe it will require millions of small, seemingly insignificant actions by the people who still value liberty.
As Hilaire Belloc wrote in The Servile State
” . . . If we do not restore the Institution of Property we cannot escape restoring the Institution of Slavery; there is no third course.”
No matter your political beliefs, it is worth pondering how much liberty you are willing to sacrifice in the name of security.
“Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”
― Thomas Jefferson
When I say security, I mean such things as job security and life’s basics: food, housing and medical care in addition to safety. I wonder how many people would sign a life-contract today, becoming the possession of the government or a corporation, if that contract guaranteed all the basics of life for the entirety of life.
Imagine if the following option were offered to every citizen: You may have forty acres of land to farm or to start a business, or you must sign a contract binding you for life to the government or an approved corporation.
How many people would sign that contract? I don’t know if it would be the majority of people, but I bet the number would be impressive. Now consider current trends in society. Is the number of citizens who would sign this life-contract likely to increase after a decade? Two decades?
The six episodes of Echo’s Voice make for a fast-paced, entertaining read—I hope. Although a pre-release of the first episode Choose is currently available for Kindle (99 cents; free with Amazon prime) we plan to release the six episodes in weekly installments beginning in June; with the final released coming July 4.
A few days ago my sisters and I had a disagreement/argument, call it what you will. All three of us are opinionated and stubborn. We have minds of our own. I admire both greatly, so never feel the slightest bit bothered by a difference of opinion. They are who they are, and I love them dearly.
Anyway, our difference of opinion was about this Occupy movement. They view the movement much more favorably.
I certainly respect the participants’ right to free speech and assembly, and defend their rights absolutely. But there was something about the movement that bothered me in a way that I couldn’t adequately express because, honestly, I hadn’t thought it through. Then, this morning, I was rereading Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance (1841). I like to read this essay and several other writings on occasion as a check, to think about where I am at spiritually, where I agree and disagree with certain thinkers that I admire. But that wasn’t my reason for reading the essay this morning. I have been thinking about unemployment and there was a quote I wished to share. I will get to that in a moment; first, another quote that jumped out at me. I suddenly realized why I find the Occupy movement so disturbing.
“There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.”
As I read the passage I realized what has bothered me about the occupiers and their supporters. I have heard from several supporters that many are participating who don’t even know why they are participating. They simply take to the streets because they are angry. I do not doubt the truth of this. Neither do I doubt that others know very clearly what they are doing. And from what I can tell, to accomplish their agenda they wish to instill as much envy as possible. And they wish to make the unemployed feel like victims.
Envy only leads to bitterness, anger and resentment. When we envy another person we are envying said person(s) or what they possess, in that specific moment. What can we know about the person’s past or future? What do we even know about their life in that moment? The person being envied may be suffering in ways no one imagines. Envy is very destructive to the person who permits it to rule their mind.
Victims? I know of absolutely no person who could not find grounds to claim victimhood if they chose to be ruled by self pity. That mindset is no good! Again, it only harms your own mind.
We, every one of us, are human. Our lives contain too much death, disease, disappointment, disillusionment, defeat and danger to envy. You are no victim if you have experienced any of that. It’s called being alive.
Being unemployed is no reason to feel like a victim. Question the motive of anyone who wants you to believe that it is. We are in a very tough economy. Hypothetically, let us say fifty people apply for one job opening. This means that 49 will not get the job. Does that make those 49 victims? Certainly not.
Now let us say that another job becomes available at this same company. Once again, fifty people apply. This time you are hired. Would you then think that you or your new employer victimized the other 49? I hope not.
Some say that some employers will not consider a job applicant if that person is already unemployed. Again, consider a job opening where fifty applicants apply for one position. Let us say that 40 applicants are unemployed. Ten have jobs but would rather work for this employer. The employer must pass on 49. Knowing that ten are already employed but would rather work for this employer probably does give them an immediate advantage. They would certainly seem motivated to work for this particular company. If you think this through for a moment you will realize there is no reason for the 49 who were not chosen to feel like victims. This is basic math: more applicants than jobs.
The job market is very competitive right now. Please don’t fill your mind with feelings of resentment and victimhood. If there is such a thing as a job where such destructive thoughts are application enhancements, could that job possibly lead to contentment?
Here is the passage I wished to share when I read Emerson’s essay this morning:
“If our young men miscarry in their first enterprises, they lose all heart. If the young merchant fails, men say he is ruined. If the finest genius studies at one of our colleges, and is not installed in an office within one year afterwards in the cities or suburbs of Boston or New York, it seems to his friends and to himself that he is right in being disheartened, and in complaining the rest of his life. A sturdy lad from New Hampshire or Vermont, who in turn tries all the professions, who teams it, farms it, peddles, keeps a school, preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in successive years, and always, like a cat, falls on his feet, is worth a hundred of these city dolls. He walks abreast with his days, and feels no shame in not ‘studying a profession,’ for he does not postpone his life, but lives already.” Self-Reliance (1841) Ralph Waldo Emerson
Written 170 years ago; just as relevant today. Those who allow themselves to feel like victims or failures risk becoming exactly what they are teaching themselves to believe.
Energy would be better used finding ways to become more competitive. Around here, many have been forced to relocate. That is not always a viable option of course.
Even while unemployed, be productive. Learn new skills. Volunteer. One problem with long-term unemployment is that the person loses confidence. So if you are in a situation where a job really seems unlikely, become a volunteer. Not only will you be productive and helpful, but you may discover a path for your life that you never considered before.
Who can say what good things await around the next corner as you plod on. Plodding on, despite the disappointments and setbacks, is still the way forward when you are too discouraged to race forward. Believe in yourself, nevertheless! Plod on!
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Only a few weeks ago I wrote about the amazing quantity of grapes that began fruiting after I pruned the vines.
Now, as October slips away, my vines are yellowing and shedding leaves in preparation for winter. And still, many of the grapes are not yet ripe.
I stand under the arbor and look up at the still-ripening grapes. As the vines shed for winter some of the grapes shrivel without ever ripening. Many others seem to be ripening much more slowly than last summer. The days are cooler now. I suppose they can’t muster the energy to swell into juicy sweetness.
Look! This grape is plump and ripe. I pop it into my mouth. How juicy and sweet. Surely, this grape is sweeter than any I devoured throughout July and August. Tucked among the not-yet ripe grapes and the shriveled grapes I find a few more that are perfectly ripe. I eat slowly, savoring each grape as though it might be the last of the season.
Time: All of God’s creation is contained within Time. God created time. It is as though all that exists is contained within a book, and the book jacket reads TIME. We can only flip the pages forward. Time-travel truly is a one way journey.
We are the branches. We fruit. We are pruned. We fruit again with so much more promise. But time passes on. Things happen that we never saw coming. Situations change. The days seem too short and we haven’t the energy to ripen all our plans. Some dreams shrivel and fall away. Some are plucked from our hand by a hungry bird called Reality. Some will not have time to ripen before winter calls the branches to rest.
“Lord, what are you showing me with the bountiful branches that set fruit with so much promise? What is the point when so many will never ripen?”
I notice another ripe grape all but hidden behind the yellowing leaves. How good it tastes.
As the sweet juice fills my mouth the answer touches my thoughts. “Do not dwell on the fruit that will never ripen. Do not regret the ones that shrivel much too soon. Do not be angry that some are snatched from your hand by Reality. Savor those that have ripened and will ripen still. The quantity may not be what you wanted, for you wanted so much. Savor each ripe grape in turn. One grape is no less sweet than a handful. Each one is a blessing. Savor each fruit in turn.”
This past weekend was exhausting. I worked all day Friday to prepare for the book sale at our church’s fall festival, and then spent all Saturday working the sale. Sunday I was up early to prepare to teach Sunday school. The weather was perfect so I walked to church in time for the early service.
Don took me to lunch after that, and then I needed to run a few errands before coming home to rest. Believe me, I was more than ready for my Sunday afternoon nap.
Anyway, I didn’t feel like making several stops, but really needed to pick up a few groceries and also a couple of items for this week’s gardening. We went into Wal-Mart to do it all in one quick stop.
As I walked toward the gardening section I suddenly felt a wave of dizziness. I slipped, falling right smack on to my already-injured knee.
I will spare you the bloody details, except to say there was a surprising amount of blood. Immediately, I was surrounded by store management types.
Of course I understand that Wal-Mart, being the mega-company they are, is concerned about lawsuits. I sensed there concern was mostly about handling a potential problem. As best I could, still feeling unsteady, I assured them that it was merely a scraped knee. It was no big deal.
“It must have been your shoes,” one woman said.
What? Here I was doing my unsteady best to tell them it was no one’s fault, and they want to somehow make it my fault? I had, in fact, walked two miles in those shoes that morning, walked up and down stairs.
“No. I was tired. I had a dizzy spell. It is only a scraped knee. No one is to blame.”
Well, they insisted on taking my information, so they could call the next day to see how I was doing. I asked Don to take care of that and went on to the gardening section to complete my shopping.
Next day Wal-Mart’s claim department called.
Once more I explained that I was dizzy and slipped, re-injuring my knee. No one was to blame.
“Then, can we close out this claim?” she asks.
“What claim? As far as I am concerned there is no claim to close out. No one was at fault.”
How have we reached the point where someone must always be at fault? In every transaction there must be a loser and a winner, a right and a wrong. What are we doing to ourselves? Sometimes things just happen.
What bothered me most about this incident is the way I was treated with suspicion as soon as I slipped. Whatever happened had to be made my fault. Otherwise, I might claim that it was their fault. This is where we are at in this society. Someone must always be in the wrong.
I rather think we are all in the wrong. We are in the wrong for building a society where we live in perpetual fear of one another.
Occasionally, we absolutely must refuse to play the blame game.