Tuesday, December 29, 2009

It Happens

What is often forgotten is the most important thing to remember of all. People are more important than things. I know this in my heart, I believe it with everything inside me, and yet I get caught up in the disastrous blockbuster hit called Christmas year after year after year. Some one of these days, I'll get it right!

This year, I had a great reminder...the shattered lamp. Liam, the four-year old lampmaster, was rolling around at the end of our Christmas celebration, no doubt hyped up on the cookies and candies (Loves his Mike & Ikes...calls 'em jelly beans), when he knocked over the prized living room lamp. Everyone was all astir. I checked to see that his little paws were okay then got the broom and dustpan. No big deal. The lamp? Gone, of course, but who cares? I broke its partner two years ago in a similar way when I was compulsively vaccuuming and forgetting about the effect of cords on their attachments.

Last year, it was Grandpa and the red wine on the white rug...before that it was a broken coffee pot or something of the like. And what am I reminded of each time? It happens. When I was growing up, it happening would cause a sudden rampage, guilt and blame and then certain punishment for sure. My dad would remind me that he came from Ireland with five bucks in his pocket and that his children would one day learn to respect that. I didn't get it back then, but of course I do now. Still. Things are things.

One thing I know is that Liam learned his lesson (probably) when the crash of the lamp scared him half out of his wits. And as for the lamp? Well, my bro-in-law, says to send him the bill...and make it a $1500 lamp the likes of which his wife would want to buy! My sister-in-law, Trish, says go to Target, spend $20 and send him the bill for the $1500! (All tongue and cheek, of course.) They both make me laugh!

I'll do neither of the sort. I'm sure I'll replace that lamp eventually...or go green and light candles. But I'll definitely remember the fun we had that day...the food, the people, the stories and the funny reactions of the crowd. Our family has many more important things to think about. People are important, things are not. Christmas will come again...and all the things I chase after in stores? Well, they'll all break and let me down eventually. I love my family...the Lynch Tribe. No Murphys here this year...those crazy people from my tribe--and those are the losses that, in the end, are the hardest for me to overcome!

Monday, November 30, 2009

We Are Stardust...We Are Golden

Ingrid Bergman. That's who I want to be. Given a lasting contract to assure continual stardom through her "formative years." Absolute pure beauty, clear talent...and the tears? Well, forget about it! She made it all look so easy. But then, she did have three husbands to juggle, so you gotta know that in itself makes her a great actress!

I'm sitting here watching Crosby, Stills and Nash and Bonnie Raitt too, belt it out...you know, The Rocking Roll Hall of Fame's gathering at MSG. Last night, Bono and Sprinsteen and Mick Jagger, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel and a host of other voices that I could listen to forever. Tonight, we've been switching back and forth between Straight, No Chaser an acapella group and the rock show. And I'm actually amazed at how well preserved their talent is after all these years. I mean, c'mon...thirty years on the road and they can still harmonize, and eek out their emotions on the stage. Then walks out one of my all time faves...Jackson Browne, the greatest storyteller of all. Controversial, yes. But man the voice and the craft! He's got it all. "When the morning light comes streamin' in...I'll get up and do it again." Well, now that's a message that sure didn't come easily to me. I was far too busy struggling for the legal tender he sings about. But now? Well, I still struggle, but I've got it. The message is always in the music. Their message endures and so do they.
So, tomorrow morning, I'll be Ingrid, Bono, Jackson, Sting and Bruce and Bonnie too. I'll be focused and true. I'll get up and do it again, because it's what I do. Writing, like music, art and acting takes time, and no matter how long it took to get me there, I'm golden.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Daydream Believer

I woke up this morning to the most hopeful news! In fact, for me it was a validation of all the years I've spent out in space during my waking hours! I am after all, a hopeless daydreamer. It's something I can't help, and perhaps I shouldn't even try.

The NY Times posted an article relating the true nature of dreams to the daily functioning of the human brain. By day, in my most alert state...my brain apparently represses my dreaming. By night, my brain warms down, and the dream state takes over. Shaking loose all those electronic impulses? I guess. Freud and Jung would be crushed. Will their theories become the stuff of fiction like my daydreams?

I remember and always come back to Stephen King's reference to how well the brain is trained to be ready to dream at the same time each night. (This pearl came in his book, On Writing, a Memoir of the Craft.) Current neuroscience is apparently pointing to this idea too. My brain's on a schedule, that's all. Makes me wonder, though...about all those wonderful kids I have in my class who are a bit disorganized and at times out there somewhere in space. In today's world, it is said that they have 'executive functioning issues.' To my crazy mind, they're probably the next brood of artists, musicians, writers, and crafts people that will fill our eyes and our ears with wonderful sounds and gorgeous imagery someday. They're the doodlers, the drifters, the beautiful dreamers too! In my perfect world? Schools will one day validate them all, allowing large expanses of time for the pure pursuit of a dream.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

When the Darkness Comes

Simply inspirational? Well, I'm not so sure. When the darkness strikes, as it has this week, it suddenly turns the world on its end. I got home today and hit my chair instead of putting on my running shoes, as I promised myself I would. So...tomorrow, all right?! Jeesh.

I found myself ready for a nap, but fought the feeling. And now? It's 9:02 and I'm ready to put on my pjs. And tomorrow morning? My candlelight writing? Well, the darn sun starts coming up and it's got me so confused. I guess I should be grateful. But instead, I'm hatching a getaway plan. Could I live in the southern hemisphere with my cousins November to March and here in New England the rest of the year? What do they call those people? Snowbirds? I'll become a migratory old bird.

I sat in an inservice today and instead of keeping my focus, I was distracted. I couldn't help it. I'm disoriented, alright? Flocks of geese were hanging in mid-air, floating and gathering and then floating some more. There's a tree out back at school that's been half-red and half-green for two full weeks now. And that so-called last rose I posted about over a month ago? Well...that last rose lasted until this past weekend and now there are four more!

Personally, I'd be happy if it just stayed the way it was...dark in the AM with a longer day at the end. But, I guess I'll have to leave that up to the universe...and just do my part to make it through to the end! (Could we just hold off on the snow?!)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

An Omen on the Doorstep

My friend, Laura, sent me an message today...writing--it's a zen thing, or something like that...let it come to you! Well, here's what came to me today. And I am not lying.

A dead bird. Specifically, a mourning dove with one eye half-open...rigor mortis had set in, and she was belly up right smack in the middle of the doorstep to my oh-so-sacred writing cottage.

I went all flustered back into the house, and my husband (you know, the guy in the wheel-chair) says, "Well, I'd love to help, but..." And there was that smug, guy smile on his face. URGH. So I went to get my shovel. It wasn't until I returned, that I noticed the half-open eyelid. That was my undoing. I slid the shovel underneath the damn thing, cursed every coyote and red fox that I know living around my woods and sent the mourning dove flying (well, not so much) into the forest below...well, that was my hope. Instead, I did my lousy freaked-out hurling. Thought it would go out and down, well you know where this is going. It went up and came down instead!! At first, I thought it was gonna come down on me. I let out such a yell, that I'm certain the whole world of creatures heard me and ran in the other direction!

After that, I grew more determined. I was not going to read into that omen. Was it an omen? No, I told myself! I was so done with that trauma. I'm going to block it out, and just go in there and get with that zen thing again. But then...I opened the door, sat down at my desk, and the fire alarm's high-pitched, very intermittent squeal sounded. You know the one. It usually goes off in the middle of the night and makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end? I was not going to listen to that all afternoon! I jumped up onto the couch and dangled from its back, ripped the stupid thing off the ceiling and tossed it inside the house. Remember that helpful, smug wheelchair guy inside? Well...I stuck it on him! For once, I got the last laugh.

Now...barring any other unforeseen disasters...the rubber meets the road. Why does it have to be so hard? Sing it to me, oh zen master...and make it loud!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Last Rose of Summer

I had a funny feeling that this would be the last one. I stopped, leaned over and sucked in that sweet scent. Everything that was once summer was packed inside that bloom: rose sherbert, perfect!

I hate when summer ends, fall comes and spoils all the fun! Who wants to get back into a schedule, who cares to go to bed as early as my kids' grandmother? And the beach...the sound of the waves crashing on the shore? There'll be no more of that.

But then, Autumn settles back in and I hear that lone screech owl in the trees at night. The harvest moon shines through my diamond window; there's a tinge of orange on the tips of the maples and a cool breeze wafting through my window. This weekend I had my first taste of fresh apple crisp and I thought about lighting a fire in the fireplace. But...I didn't. It was summer still.

But now? Well, now I'm bowing down to reality, giving up my denial and getting ready for those sweet Indian summer days. There's nothing like a long ride on a river with blazing colors in the background to put me in the mood for fall. I'll savor the warmth, spend a little more time outdoors and live in the moment forgetting, as best I can, that awful season that follows...that which will remain unnamed for now!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Hats Off to the Kennedy Family

My father came to America with the shirt on his back and five bucks in his pocket, or so he'd tell you. But to me, he came with much more than that. He came with great hope and the dream of a new tomorrow. My father's childhood was lived in post-famine Ireland...a time where the few left swallowed the grief and images of the past and got on with the business of living life for the generations to follow. Trouble was, there was never enough. So my father, like many others, left Ireland, but he never forgot her.

Today, the Kennedys come together again in a very public way to grieve the loss of one of their own, Senator Ted Kennedy. As a child, my father would've told you that we, the Murphys, were a member of that tribe! At times, we thought him to be somewhat delusional, but we humored him. On our living room wall hung a portrait of Jack and Jackie, over our door, hung a golden horseshoe wrapped around a small carving of Jack Kennedy, and on our coffee table, lay a Kennedy tribute ashtray.

Were we fanatics? Well Dad was, that's for sure! But now I understand. My father never lived to see the full measure of the Kennedy legacy but luckily, I have.

Over the years, the mere mention of the Kennedy name hearkens me back to Jack Kennedy's call to service, to Bobby Kennedy's valiance and to Ted's longstanding fortitude and commitment to his family's values and to those of the many more who came to America from Ireland. They knew what hardship was and they never turned their back on it. Ted Kennedy's affiliation with the poor of spirit is something that we of Irish heritage feel at the cellular level. That is why hostility lingered for so long on its shores. But the Kennedy tribe rose up and came here, rose in their social standing and brought everyone else along with them. My tribe is connected! And although I'm a Murphy/Lynch and clearly not a Kennedy, my tribe is named hope and the actions of that tribe are the good works that we are called upon to perform in our time on earth. We are asked to never cast a shadow on those less fortunate than us. For there are always the less fortunates, my father would say. And when he said that, there was always a sad and distant look in his eye. Now I understand. For even in this land of 'milk and honey,' there are those without healthcare, without a meal on their table and whose legacy has shortchanged them in their educational opportunities.

My father came from the soil, he came as a farmer, he came with nothing. The Kennedys gave him hope for the possibility of greatness. They modeled for him and for me the actions of good work that can help the least of our brethren. Jack Murphy was the least of Ted and Bobby and Jack's brethren. They sailed yachts and enjoyed the spoils of a good life, living with servants as royalty. We sailed in our Ford automobiles and were called to service for others of greater means. But one thing is for certain...in heaven, Murphys and Kennedys alike have many a great tale to tell! And of course, there's quite a feast to be had! My thanks this day to Jack and Bobby and especially Ted who was clearly not a perfect man, but who took on the work of three men in his short time here on earth!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Walk Along the Shore

Clouds swirl,
flags unfurl,
waves roll
and uncurl,
a carpet
of water unfolds:

Small scallop shells,
a bit of seaweed,
a mermaid's purse,
a single crab's leg too.

A bounty...
from the bottom
of the sea
to me!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Summer Surprise

Whitecaps rumble
and roll,
the ocean
is the loudest
voice by far
on the beach today.


And even when
an occasional high splash
rises up,
it is gathered up,
and forced
forward
toward the shore...


Where people wait
and watch,
barefoot yet bundled
building sculptures
in the warm sand.
Storm's coming, they say.
Kids and kites
and frisbees too
all tethered
to this wild wind.

But even as grey clouds
gather in the east,
their swirls
are still unformed
and undecided.

And then: Look!
Over there...
in the far-off distance--
a glimmer,
a ray,
and a hint of blue.

A surprise,
a smile...
a letting go.

That storm
blows off,
the beach
fills up,
and swimmers take
their places
along the shore
once more.





Friday, July 3, 2009

Blondes and Diamonds

Stuff. It's summertime...just the right time for getting rid of all the things in my life that I simply don't need. Clear the wreckage, cart it all off, and make things more manageable. Well, the thinking and the intentions were all there. The feeble mind apparently was not.

I looked down at my finger yesterday and noticed that my diamond was missing! I'd just gotten to the mall, stopped in the ladies' room and realized with horror that perhaps it'd taken a trip down the drain never to be seen again. I retraced my steps, ransacked the trash-twice, and went to security to leave all my information. I even had a mother and her four children rolling underneath my car to no avail. My husband sat calmly, watching another chapter unfold...he's been there before with me, but this time, it seemed like the real deal. In fact, he was certain the ring was probably at the bottom of the Great Swamp.

Last night, I was awake at 1:30, 2:00, 2:30...you know the drill: retracing a week's worth of movements in my mind. Mental torture, plain and simple. This morning...I talked things over with a few friends, and everyone agreed that the best we could do was pray to St. Anthony. So...of course I did. And just as the song says--"he's gonna find me some piece of mind,"
that is exactly what happened. I returned home, went through the car and my pocketbook just one more time, and then gave it up. I walked back into my bedroom and glanced in my jewelry box...and of course, you know the rest. Lodged underneath a few other random items, a familiar sparkle caught my eye. My anniversary diamond! It was the first very real evidence that my husband had a drop of money to throw around after...fifteen years of marriage!

So how could it be that anyone would be so stupid as to lose a diamond? Multi-tasking: the art of cleaning the jewelry box while talking on the cell phone. I was slipping off my ring to try on all the old rings of my past...and I walked off and forgot to slip the right one back on! Once again, evidence of my true blondness!

Tomorrow, I'll be off to the food pantry with yet another loaf or two in the name of St. Anthony...patron saint to the abstract-random blondes in this world!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Extreme Summer!

Kayaking for Dummies

This weekend, I went off on a little excursion in my brand new Calypso kayak. We're no extreme kayakers, just quiet water types...gawking, communing with nature, and lots of chatter too. My husband's boat is a fisherman's kayak...with huge pontoons to keep him afloat. He tells people they're his "training wheels." He has a pretty serious neuro-illness...spino-cerebellar ataxia, which has left him with very little balance in standing, and walking is pretty much out of the question. But out on the water...it's pretty darn hard to keep up with him!

We were cruising along having a good old time, when the wind picked up, the sky darkened and huge, storm clouds came rolling in. We raced back to shore. Obviously, Tom can't make a running dash...so we always have to plan ahead and know that there's no time to waste. We hoisted him out, ran for the wheelchair, and basically ran the drill.
Once we were pretty well set, we spied an eager, young guy standing along the shore getting ready to put in. His kayak was a definite rental with marker identification written all over it. He had a bike helmet on his head and in his hand was his single paddle. I didn't get the bike helmet, honestly. But, he was ready to go. I wanted to mind my own business, I really did. But the sky was pitch black and the mother in me worried.

"Are you gonna put in by yourself with the storm coming?" I asked. He bristled. How dare I question him.

"Of course I am," he said. "I'll just pull up along the shoreline and find a spot if it gets bad." Well, that would be fine anywhere else, but not in the Great Swamp. There is no shoreline...just tall weeds growing out of water...thus the swamp.

"There's not really a shoreline for parking," we said. We thought we were pretty funny.

"Well...I'm from NYC," he said, all puffed up. "I know everything about parking!"

Other kayakers were joining us, pulling into shore and disembarking in a hurry. We all chuckled a little bit, while he wobbled away from shore. Rotsa ruck, buddy. This ain't no bathtub, and I'm not seeing a rubber duckie either...but I'm sure it's there under the helmet. You'll be using your expertise parking in the weeds with those nasty junebugs, at least a few skeetoes...oh, and snapping turtles too!

It was, after all, just another day at the pond, where story abounds...and where the rock and roll is the real deal. (Maybe the helmet was to ward off the sparks!)

Monday, June 8, 2009

Got Talent?

Much has been written, blogged, twittered and Facebooked about Susan Boyle. You'd have to be an alien not to have heard of her.
Susan, a forty-seven year old church lady, decided to finally do something for herself. All her life, she'd wanted to be known as a singer. No doubt, she met with a fair amount of skepticism. But she brought her best game that first night on Britain's Got Talent. And you know what? The rest of us are all just a little better because she did. In fact, if you google talent, guess whose face you'll see?

Today Jane Friedman, of the Writer's Digest variety...There Are No Rules poses the age-old question: Does talent eventually get discovered? 

One writer is very candid in her frustration related to the many mountains we must climb in order to become published. Let's face it, there probably is a glut out there. Even if a project truly is print worthy, it has to find its way into the right hands. Luck? Timing? Well, of course.
But add in just a dash of hard work, commitment, a skin made of leather...lots of chocolate and a great sense of humor, oh...and flexibility too--that's all you need. You might as well pack a suitcase, because you're in it for the long haul. What Susan Boyle found on that stage that night was not fame or fortune...of course that will come. But when she lit up the world with that smile, it was all about the validation--YES, you can...and she did. And so...Susan Boyle, in her own small way, made believers of us all.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Easing Off the Internet

I've called a semi-halt to my chronic FB-twittering-blog-sapping brain drain. I'm back to mornings immersed in story and afternoons of revision. As a result, I'm feeling the threads of stories tighten. I'm more connected to the story arc, and thinking about my characters' wants and needs...and their back stories too. In fact, recently I've started dreaming about my characters again! It's not really surprising. I've got my groove back.

Many believe that authors need to spend their time in an array of self-promotional activities to launch their careers. For me...I am slowly learning the value of focus. There is no depth without it. 
So...back to work. As for my blog, I'm still be peeking in, adding content from time to time, but I'll be keeping a firm grasp on the old saying, 'first things first!' 

Thursday, May 14, 2009

May! Short Fiction Month

Finished up a six week poetry study/writer's workshop with my sixth graders last week. Loved every minute of it for a lot of reasons I'll save for my teaching blog. I decided to start a unit on short writing as a follow up. I wanted to sharpen my own writing skills and clear the wreckage of added writing, so I started carrying a small lined notebook around in my bag. All my people-watching is paying off. Every day, I wait for that moment...a character, a setting or an incident that catches my eye. I think it may have been Daniel Pink's website that got me started on this. (Try his 6 word autobiographies!)  I'm writing 50 word pieces, micro-fiction which are really small snapshots...a window on the world.

Turns out the universe was calling me again! Check out today's piece in the Afterword. It's short fiction month! I found it first on Dan Wickett's site, Emerging Writer's Network, with lots of recommendations for good shorts to read. 

My kids in school are loving it! At this time of year, they don't want to hear a word about grammar. They just want to write. So I let them. It helps them get their ideas down, share with others and then go back to their work as never before. They are not as overwhelmed as they were in longer forms of writing. And...I'm sneaking in all kinds of lessons related to crafting varied sentence structures, relating it back to the good old change-up a pitcher uses in baseball. It's about economy, fluency, a quick story arc and precision. Reluctant writers? Not in this format! 

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Ira Glass on Storytelling

Check this out! It's worth the twenty or so minutes. Ira Glass speaks at the Gel Conference on personal narrative and how it hooks us inside and out. I love the radio show, This American Life, and was therefore drawn to this site for the purpose of a casual perusal, quick glance at what's happening out there. 

What I found was a very informative, emotional discussion of how storytelling is an inside job.
It's tentacles tend to hook from the very deepest part of us...a true inside job!

If you're like me...a real story junkie, you'll love every minute of it!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Magnolia


A Rumphius Challenge

Last Friday in April! Get outdoors! The whole world's a poem!


Peepers 
emerge,
announce
themselves 
one by
one
building
a consensus
of rhythm 
and night songs.

Daffodils appear 
too
along the hillside,
a startling display
of dazzling yellow,

but magnolia
trumps them
all,

lasting only
a day or two,
she bursts
on the scene
a head full
of pale pink.

A swirl of
wind 
could wisp
her away...and
so 
I'll stop
this day,
and look
and savor,
for soon
that burst
will 
be gone.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

My Own Backyard

Yesterday, I left the backyard of my dreams...in a way. Well-manicured, shady in just the right spots, a lazy river and a kind person that brought food or drinks at my beck and call. Well, that's jut not reality, and I know that even I would get bored with that after a while.
So, we packed up, just the two of us and hit the road...cuz heck, we were having way too much fun! We hit the road with our bags and our heads stuffed full of the sounds and sights of  another great time at the beach. 
Traveling with a wheelchair is a huge hassle, so...we put on our patience. I dragged the wheelie monster suitcase, and we rolled that wheelchair homeward. There were bags slung over my back too. I cursed myself for all the stuff I packed (Eight books, all read--and then my sketch book and journal, laptop too.) We put on our armor and got ready to do battle with the airport, on this the weekend that marks the end of spring break. What we found, though, was what we almost always find: the miracle of the stranger...willing to hold the elevator, watch the bags, wait that extra second or even extend a hand when we needed it. It always happens. So...even as we progress in this crazy process called illness, I have to remember not to awfulize, we are not alone. I sometimes tell myself we'll never be able to travel again...well, no. People are happy to help. Well most normal people...that crabby butt guy last night at the airport? Karma, and not me, will bite his butt! Miracles of kindness abound. It is at the core of human nature.
As for me? I'm happy to be back to the rhythm of my unmanicured backyard...where there's sunlight, hawks nesting, daffodils and magnolias in bloom, and a calm I can count on today! The rake will have to wait, though, for at least another day!


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Alli-gator Inspires Fear: Paradise Lost



Okay, well...I've been warned. We are living in their ecosystem. But...
all's quiet on the western front, in fact who would imagine anything
was lurking there? 
     Well, today, "Ali" decided to go for a swim in my backyard. But not to worry, I've gotten a lesson in how to run away from an alligator. If it's a girl alligator, she's won't be more than ten feet long. No big deal, right? Wrong!

So...I'm thinking maybe a girl originally from New Jersey, transplanted in Connecticut should be happy with the icky things we have like daddy long legs, wood spiders and itty bitty mice and forget about any plans of relocating to this sunnier locale. It sure is tempting, though, especially after the two million feet of snow I shoveled this past winter. Brother. There is no paradise after all!








Sunday, March 29, 2009

What no Vampires?

Rollin' out some garlicky meatballs today, a memory popped into my brain and I found myself in the kitchen laughing away. My BF is used to this. If I'm not talking to myself in there, I'm often laughing...and sometimes singing too. I know, a bad scene. 

But today, I started thinking about those Sherman Avenue Murphys again...you know, my roots. What a street that was! Many small homes, cape style, but Dutch colonials and a few old farmhouse from the days of the apple orchard too. Ours was a cape...very cute, I like to think. My dad was meticulous about it.

The Cucurellos lived in a Dutch colonial down the street. I could sit on my porch and just about inhale the smell of garlic coming from Grandma Cucurello's (Angie) kitchen. It was there that I first tasted the love of my life: pasta! When I'd come home from their house, my dad (aka Archie Bunker) could smell the garlic. "Go right upstairs and change your clothes!" Oh brother. "I didn't come all the way across the ocean to smell that abnormal smell." 

"But Dad!" Well, you know what ensued after that. Archie, I mean DAD, always got his way. Then one day, the Cucurellos invited Mr. I'm-ALL-Irish-ALL-the-TIME to dinner. We were all so excited, we could barely stay glued to our skin! Imagine. Well, he went alright, but not after a WHOLE bunch of dawdling and dilly-dallying...something he'd never allow in me.  

We sat down at the table and they stuck a medium-sized bowl in front of him. The larger bowl of pasta and "gravy" with that wonderful garlic smell was divvied out by Rose Cucurello, the diminutive mom of the household. I could see my dad's expression of fear from the corner of my eye. I feared for the Cucurello household. Big Dan (weighing in at about 350) was in his place, at the head of the table, getting ready to say grace. A few words were mumbled by my not-so-grace-filled Dad under his breath. It was then that Angelina, his partner in prayer (another story), hopped up from the table and grabbed another bowl from the kitchen. This time, it was the butter and pasta for wimps bowl. Archie B. was saved! Boo-hoo!! But...what my dad didn't know was that he needed to pace himself. He fired down the pasta...believe it or not, he'd never even had THAT before! And then came the leg of lamb and all the trimmings! I thought my father was going to die! It was so worth the price of admission, I laugh even now thinking about it.

But that was the end of our garlicky pasta days...in fact, we didn't even have pizza in our house until my dad died. As sad as his death was...there was a silver lining. As he would say, before he was even "cold in the ground," we were concocting all sorts of things in his kitchen.And what did we fire up first on that Irish stove of ours? It wasn't meat and potatoes, that was for darn sure! 'Twas our own bootleg version of Grandma Cucurello's pasta sauce that we'd tried so many times before of course! (Don't tell Dad!) 

Thursday, March 19, 2009

I Can Hardly Wait!

National Geographic's  Africa (1996) is a wonderfully epic series entitled, Africa, which explores the vast regions of this immense continent through the eyes and therefore the lives  of its people. There's a spiritual essence that grips and binds the viewer to the very real day-to-day struggles, the simplicity and the camaraderie of a people fighting for their livelihood, for their day-to-day survival and for an embedded system of beliefs that has endured there for centuries. The cinematography is breathtaking. But what stands out for me is the carefully crafted respectfully told stories within the narative of these productions.

Then comes along a little book with a very strange title: The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. It was placed in my hands and honestly, I gave it little attention at first, setting it aside for the larger stack of books on my list. When I finally got around to it, I fell in love. Precious Ramotswe is a highly endearing character. Kind and confident, she takes on the small problems/mysteries that fall upon her doorstep as a most unlikely private investigator in Botswana. The authentic voice of Precious is most unmistakably captured by Alexander McCall Smith. Imagine that! A white Anglo-Saxon tells the story in the voice of a Botswanan female!

And now, HBO offers its fans the a seven part series beginning March 29th. Facebook has established a 'fans page,' with interviews with the master-storyteller, Smith. He speaks of the idea for the detective agency as a "literary device," a useful tool in exploring the lives of the occasional agency visitor. Small plot lines become entwined in the life and travels of Precious, of course. "Everyday somebody can come in with a fresh issue."

More than a few editors at the SCBWI mid-winter conference challenged authors to think outside their comfort zone. They spoke of creating stories that were less known to them, residing instead in the outer realm of possibility for us all. Stretch ourselves, they said...invent rather than recreate. In my estimation, that is exactly what Alexander McCall Smith has done. He has captured the very nature, the spirit of Botswana in a way that is so very real and appealing. And yet this is no travelogue, no recounting of his own experiences there. Could it be that he is the reincarnated Precious Ramotswe in the body of a 20th century white gentleman? 




Monday, March 16, 2009

Kathleen's Irish Soda Bread Recipe

The story goes that good Irish cooks never measure, so when I took down this recipe at Kathleen's table some twenty-five years ago (on the back of an envelope), I was given that disclaimer. It took me many a try to get it all straight. 

Irish Soda Bread: Preheat the oven to 375*

Sift together: 
2 1/2 C flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 "generous" tsp. baking powder
("a bit of salt") 1 tsp.
"a few" spoons of sugar (3-4)

Cut 3 tbsp. of softened buttered into the dry mix.
Add 3 tsp. caraway seeds
1 egg
1 C buttermilk
1/2 box of raisins ("In good times, I always add more!")

Roll out onto a lightly floured bread board and knead for just a few minutes. Shape and cut with the "sign of the cross" using a sharp knife. ("Always remember to say a small prayer.")

Bake for 45 mins. Serve with a generous amount of butter, and a good hot cup of tea!
I make two loaves at a time and bake them on a greased cookie sheet.

(Be sure to read the story below for a bit more of the backstory on this recipe.)

My thanks to Mrs. Vokes for all the wonderful loaves that were dropped off on our doorway. We never caught you! You were a true Irish rascal!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Sweet Taste of Soda Bread

On any given March 17th one thing in the Murphy household was certain.
Kathleen Vokes would come and go, leaving a warm loaf of Irish soda bread on the front step for sure. My brother and two sisters and I would fight for the chance to be the one to find it there, but in truth...she was a sneaky one, so you just never knew when she'd come.

There were other times too, when Mrs. Vokes would turn up with her soda bread, quite often in fact, for she was the quiet white-haired matriarch in the neighborhood, and she had a very watchful eye and a kind spirit to match. We were a bit of an oddity in our neighborhood, having lost both parents by the time I turned eleven. My brother, ten years older than I, was the breadwinner, as was my sister Carol.  Mrs. Vokes had always played a quiet role in our family, tending to my mom when she was sick...for she herself was a nurse. She'd come up with one of the two daily pain injections, and sometimes Carol would run down to her before the time was up, because Mom was desperate and unable to wait.

But I was oblivious to most of that. Mom died when I was just a bitty girl, and then Dad later.
Mrs. Vokes, to me, was a mystical character. She had wild white hair and pinky toes that stuck out at the ends of her cloth sneakers. She always wore an apron or held a trowel in her hand. She, like my dad, tended that small plot of land as if it were a farm in Ireland. I'd skip down the hill and knock on her door and often find her in either place, the garden or the kitchen, and then I'd be enlisted to roll out the pie dough or dig up some lost bulbs, hidden deep in the soil.
But my favorite, by far, was the making of the Irish soda bread. 

I hadn't seen Mrs. Vokes in many years, having left to go off to college, to begin my first teaching job and to buy a home of my own and have my first baby. But, to my delight, on a trip to my brother's, I discovered her there once more. Matt was just six months old, and so I propped him up on the kitchen table. She was pulling an apple pie out of the oven and so the kettle went on and we talked. I asked her if she'd give me her Irish soda bread recipe, which of course she did. There was no recipe, really...it was a 'bit of this and a bit of that', but I've managed to figure out the this and thats and have made more than a few over the years. 

When I got in my car to leave that day, we were both teary. It'd been so long, and in that short visit, I realized just how much she meant to me as that bitty girl so long ago. As fate would have it, though, my car wouldn't start. We went back in amidst the fitful cries of my little guy, Matthew. He was starving. So, as only she would, she slipped him onto that generous hip of hers and got him smiling and laughing again. But then it all stopped and the crying started again. It was then that I realized the secret incredient of all my visits to Mrs. Vokes. She switched him then from her hip to a seat atop the table, dug into that sugar bowl of hers and shoveled a heaping teaspoonful of the white stuff right into his mouth! I was horrified, but hysterical at the same time. We both laughed and laughed, and Matt's crying of course stopped. Good old Tommy Sullivan rescued us then and we were off on our way. 

Sadly, that was the last time I saw her, but I have a lifetime of memories from that kitchen, some of which are stored in my Middle Grade novel, Forever and Always, a story of a young girl growing up with only a dad, who learns to find mom in the small places, in the stories of people and the events that shape her life, those nooks and crannies of the universe. 

Tomorrow's entry: Mrs. Vokes's Irish Soda Bread Recipe. Stay tuned!

Monday, March 2, 2009

More Will Be Revealed

Tomorrow is the anniversary of Anne Biggins Murphy's birth...circa 1911! Anne Biggins traveled the Atlantic, arriving at Ellis Island from County Mayo at the age of seventeen. She was blonde and beautiful with sparkling blue eyes. And best of all, she had a job waiting for her. She and her sister, traveled by boat. Kathleen, apparently, was so sick, she barely survived the trip, but eventually regained her health over time. Anne's destination was the Atterbury's home in Plainfield, NJ. The Atterbury's were  an influential family connected to the stock market, as far as I know.They lived in what was then considered a mansion in the Sleepy Hollow section of town, known for its grand homes. That was long before my time. I was a late-life baby, the last of four. My mom had lived through my dad's deployment to Normandy, Sicily and North Africa, where he was awarded the silver star for bravery.  She had raised four kids and built a home here with my dad. They were, as people tell me, the most Americanized of our tribe. Mom received her citizenship ten years after she landed and was proud as can be of that. 

But at the age of 46, just three short years after I was born, my mom died. In those days, no one talked about people after they died. Especially the Irish! My mother was a saint, that was all I needed to know. And...she was was watching down on me from heaven. Jeesh! Try stealing an extra cookie or lying to your teacher about homework when you know that. The 'old Irish', as we younguns called them, were always telling me how gorgeous she was and how I was 'the picture of your mother.'
On a trip to Ireland about three years ago, more was revealed. I got more of a picture of the woman, and the land from whence she came. Turns out, she was not a saint! Yay, I can stop trying to live up to that standard...it actually hurts to try! She was a spitfire, loved clothes ("a clothes-horse" they called her) and most of all, she loved people. I stood in the white cottage where she was born and got to see her school house down the hill. We drove up onto the small mountaintop to see where my Granny Biggins was born! 

My cousin Marilyn sent me a letter a number of years ago too, telling me how my mom cared for her and for her sister after their mom died, washing her hair and letting it dry out in the sun, and talking them into the next phase of womanhood during their early teenage years. Another cousin, Eilish, a member of the Australian part of the clan told me how my mom had arranged to have her mom come over too. But Nora met her man, and that kept her in Ireland...and then later off to Australia, so that was not to be.

Many angels have shown up in my life over the years, and like my mom, they've left their mark too. I've recently received all her papers in the mail, as I ready myself to apply for my Irish Citizenship. In that group of papers I found of course, her birth and death certificates, her baptismal certificate and her marriage license. That's what it boils down to, as my dad would say. But you know what...she boiled down to a whole lot more to a lot of people. So Happy Birthday, Annie Biggins! The world is a better place because you arrived in it!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

God Loves Penny Candy Too!

Story finds me, even when it's not supposed to. I swear. It's not my fault! Today we had a second collection, and on those days, I  often feel sorry for the very nice man that passes the basket. The second collection is an exercise in futility in these economic times. But that's not what struck me this day.

The basket was passed a few rows in front of me and I watched as a boy of about seven or eight knelt up on the pew and tried to put a couple bucks in after he'd missed his chance in his own row.
He obviously hadn't processed the fact that his mom had given him as many of those  green paper suckers as she did. He stared at the cash with eyes wide. "Whoops!" he said then. And in a flash, he grabbed back a dollar or two from his initial donation. A look of relief and a devilish smile spread over his face once he'd rescued his bucks. It amused me and the man passing the basket, "Candy money!" I whispered. He laughed and I did too. I'd have done the very same thing. That's why my dad never trusted me with more than a nickel, a dime or once in a big while, a quarter! 

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Just Hangin'

Well, I've been busy spinning my wheels again. You see, I am practicing what most writers love most: avoidance! Blogger and Facebook have wormed their way into my brain, taking up enormous amounts of time and what limited brainpower I have by day's end. This morning, I slept right through my writing time, because I was up way too late the night before. That cute little bugger, the internet is becoming a monkey around my neck. What am I avoiding?

The dreaded QUERY letter. Oh God, do I hate those things! How does one reduce two hundred pages of manuscript to one paragraph or two? I've always been a lousy self-promoter to begin with. My other obstacle--revision. I'm back to work on a completed young adult novel, straddling the two worlds of new work and old, trying to go back, while I'm addicted to the new story, that new character and the full array of possibilities there.

So, instead of getting back to work on any one of the aforementioned items...I'm hanging out, dangling, blogging and watching Katherine Hepburn and Bogie in African Queen. I've been warned about the black hole called the internet by all my friends. Bogie and Kate have encountered raging falls, massive swarms of mosquitoes and now they're lost. Boy, do I know how they feel. "You've paid your money, so make your choice," says Bogie. "That way," says Kate pointing. Ironically, 'that way' sends them into a swamp of muck. They've got to paddle, and push themselves..."All the twisting and turning we've done, we'll probably come back where we started. This river is crazy," he says.So what does he do, this Bogie. He gets out and into the murky water and pulls the boat along. When the leeches came, I had to turn it off!! Enough already. It's time to write again. Hangin' out always looks so good in the beginning, but then what looks cute always turns ugly. Time to hoist myself onto dry land, get my butt in the chair and focus on the next right thing. Query, revise...and work toward the new piece. 'That way,' I say! Let's hope I make a better choice than Kate. Brother!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Who Says?

Picture books are not wanted anymore...WRONG! They are much more expensive to produce, though. And therefor should become a coveted form of art and story. I predict that picture books, after a long period of absence, will re-emerge in a way that was never imagined even five years ago. I do. They are treasures of our culture...real windows into the dual world of writing and image-making. I can't imagine living without them.

I had to wait for Wabi Sabi, written by Mark Reibstein and masterfully illustrated by Ed Young. I'd read a piece about the lost original illustrations that showed up in the back of a church. By then,  Ed Young had completed the second round of illustrations. I was excited about the storyline, because I teach world cultures to sixth graders. But, Wabi Sabi, so it seems, was in high demand. There were none on the shelves. Now, I know why. 

Wabi Sabi is, on the surface, a pretty common type of kitty, one that would probably live its life unremarked upon by most passersby. She takes a journey, one my kids at school would call...'a steppingstone' type of trip, to find out the true nature of her name. It is in the less perfect, the ordinary, that she finds the absolute true meaning of who she is and what that means.

Wabi Sabi herself is a teacher, much like the picture book itself. In my collection, I have many, many picture books...most, you'd have to wrestle me down to the floor for! In fact, if there ever was a real fire at school...I'd probably be the last one out of the building. I'd be stuffing my bags with all the magnificent works of art that sit on that shelf along the wall across from my desk...not too far from my watchful eye. Picture books are incredible launching points for lessons...in writing, in world cultures, in life. In all of these hard times, I do think the picture book will survive...and perhaps make some sort of comeback. These are the times when our spirits need a lift, a small escape of the thirty-two page illustrated type, a little wabi sabi book that has it all...a small kitty, a little journey, a bit of haiku from the masters, and an eyeful of beauty!

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Curious Case of a Wonderful Movie


Curiously Wonderful!

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button deserves everything it's nominated for and more. It's a terrific story, which unfolds through the eyes of a wonderful character: Benjamin. Benjamin is somewhat reminiscent in a way of Owen Meany. (A much nicer version...very wistful and full of appreciation of life and people.) It actually has that southern feel of Fried Green Tomatoes too."You're odd," says Daisy. You bet he is. But it's the odd and irregular that we long for in great story. I love great writing. And what could be better than a deathbed revelation told through the words and vignettes found in a journal of a missing person. Benjamin Button is an anomaly from birth. He is born old, and lives his life in reverse, becoming younger each day. Kate Blanchett (Daisy) is the beautiful childhood friend, who becomes his love and soulmate over the course of their parallel lives.  Each night, whether near or far, they wish a soft good night to one another. Yet beyond this unfolding tale lurks death and Hurricane Katrina, both knocking all the while from the outer realm of time. This story is framed as a reminiscence and we begin with a huge clock set in 1918 in a train station somewhere in New Orleans. The clock's minute hand spins backward, and so does this tale. I fell in love with F. Scott Fitzgerald and the whole notion of writing in my own college days. But I'd never read this short story. The screenplay was so well done that my 'Doubting Thomas' sat there silently for once and even cried at the end right alongside me. Which in itself is a miracle! This movie crosses not only racial barriers, but age barriers, handicapping barriers and barriers of culture. My cup is full Benjamin. I hope you clean up! (Did somebody forget to nominate Kate?) 

The Wind Blows

The door 
slammed,
but went
unnoticed 
at first,

amid the clatter,
the raucous
laughter
inside, 
it came.

Footsteps
that scurried
toward
the door, 
were 
silenced and
rebuffed.

Laughter was
made silent too,
for there
was a newer,
more somber 
mood.

Grim news 
had come,
and stayed 
a while too.

But then…
after a bit,
a hopeful
smile, 
a giggle,
a wink...and a nod,
And 
darkness
lost its grip.

And it
was spring 
once more.

The wind
swung 
that door wide,
Leaving
winter's darkness
outside.

But inside,
the laughter
always
remains.

© gaellynch, 2009

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sage Advice from a Master

Saturday, February 14th, better known as Valentine's Day to some, is also known as Kids-heart-Authors Day. All over New England, authors flocked to independent booksellers to show their love and support to these last safe harbors of informed discussion related to the children's book industry. I don't mean
to demean the efforts of the big chains, but my heart still clamors for those small places in our world where children and books can be celebrated for their own sake...and under one small roof. Because, after all, I am still a kid. 
On Saturday, I went off to my favorite independent bookstore  in 
Fairfield, Connecticut: The Dinosaur's Paw, Jimmy Giff's store, where I am regularly delighted with the presence of my mentor,
the Newbury Honor Medalist, Patricia Reilly Giff. Pat's class is a treasured part of my writing life. I'm a regular there...and so are my 
good friends, many of whom have become recently published! But none of that matters when we're there. What matters is Pat. Her soft voice, her gift of story, and her keen sense of the market are all that 
matters. She's amazing! Just hearing the words I've written in that New York accent of hers is a treat. It gives me a real sense of possibility...of hope.

I spoke to Pat during the break this week about an idea she had for my work. It was, as always, just the right thing to do. I spent this week deconstructing and then reconstructing parts of the book and now I see the characters in new ways...as they relate to one another. It works! 

But then Pat asked me, in a very quiet voice, "Why did you stop [writing]?" She'd never asked me that before. I've been with her for many years, but I went AWOL for about five years. I had no reason good enough...so I just told her I was a dope, that's all.  She smiled then. "It'll probably make for good story in the long run. Nothing ever gets wasted, you know."

We had a good laugh about the stupid things that take us away from ourselves. But as always, she got me thinking. Why did I stop? Well, I didn't stop writing, I just stopped pushing toward the finish line. I went to my critique group monthly and I did go to SCBWI conferences; Whispering Pines, New Hampshire. I spent a few sessions with Anita Riggio and learned to add depth to my work. (I-heart-Anita too!) But I stopped working toward the outside realm...with a real audience in mind and publication. I stopped understanding the buzz of the business. And worst of all, I stopped this terrific connection with Pat. My husband's illness, raising my kids, managing my teaching career. Sure, I was busy. But none of that is a good enough excuse. You have to write toward the finish line, no matter what. And that's what I get from Pat. She's right. There's nothing more satisfying in the world than the writing itself.
So...I, the kid, heart all you authors out there--published or otherwise! I no longer have that need to distinguish, although I'm in awe of all those that do make it over the finish line. They do it one idea, one word, a string of sentences...and with a butt in the chair, every day and always. 

And of course, I *heart* Patricia Reilly Giff, what a master she is!




Thursday, February 12, 2009

Cooking Up Story in the Grocery Aisle

I never understand why people would want to give up  those daily treks to the grocery store.  My husband has been trying to get me to use Peapod for about three years now. I'm just not the Peapod type. I'm a writer. I like to pick everything up, turn it around, squeeze it, smell it, and compare it to every other thing like it. I know, waste of time, right? Wrong. I've always been a little putzy. Used to drive my sisters crazy. They'd send me to the store, and I'd always get distracted. It's not that I love the grocery store. Really. And it's not that I so enjoy picking up and putting down all the things on my grocery list...well, I usually don't have a list. But I love to people watch. Especially in the grocery store. 

Today, I was pushing my cart out of the produce aisle, when a blonde-haired woman in a baggy twill kind of coat came straight out of nowhere in my direction. She looked me straight in the eye in a kind of expressionless way. Not like she didn't see me, but she wasn't processing me I don't think, a little worrisome. I didn't give it too much thought in that moment, though. She was quite pretty with very, very pale white skin, a little bit of leftover lipstick and bright blue eyes. But I kept thinking once she saw me, she'd let me go since I was there first, and it was the right move. I had her typecast as a pretty kind lady, fortyish, a little tired...probably waiting to pick up one of her kids in town. My cart was pretty well into the aisle, so I got ready to keep making my turn. And what did she do? Well...clearly, I am slipping. She came at me even faster. I had to veer to the right at the very last second and let her pass. She went by me with a smirk on her face. She was playing 'chicken' with me! Dared me, and I stepped down. 

Later, I came across her again. She was shaking her head and talking to herself. Now I'm thinking maybe she was late for a date with her therapist, I don't know. So much for my grocery shopping. My dad used to ask me what was going on between those ears of mine. I'm a writer...those wheels just keep on spinning. I love to take it all in, store it in the aisles of my brain. You never know when you might need a shopping cart maniac. Story happens, characters too! 

Monday, February 2, 2009

Quite a Storyteller


America can still rock out!
So...who would even know what's going on in the world, the economy, the job market...just to name a few? The Boss took the stage and rocked out to the heavens! Today, I was on my treadmill listening to a few of his tunes, and a few other assorted tunes as well, and I started to listen just a little more carefully to the lyrics. What a storyteller he is! That led my right-brained mind to think a bit about the conversation I had with my sixth graders today too as they recalled with exact detail all of the commercials they saw last night. We discovered one pattern in all of them...the one great ingredient: story! Maybe it's because we're studying African stories, naming the structures and likening them to anything that we know in our story world. I don't know. But one thing's for sure, marketers are much keener on story, than ever before. They have to hook us, hook us quickly and keep us from hitting the remote to change the channel. That was the message from all the editors at the conference...hook 'em quick, and keep those pages turning! Pages turning equate to dollars and cents, that's for sure. As for the Boss...I've been hooked for years. He makes me proud to be a Jersey Girl, that's for sure!
 

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Keep Writing, Keep Hoping...Keep Sending!

See this? This little tube represents hope!
I was worried about this year's SCBWI conference, I really was. Last year, so many of us were able to head down to NYC, and stay overnight there. Little did we know, that the days of luxurious spending like that might be behind us. Not to worry, I'm not going to add any more of the bleak thoughts on the economy to your day. I got a little worried, though, when Claudia
Gabel, my very first break-out speaker was half-way through her presentation and announced that we could not send our work to her, because she'd just lost her job. I began to wonder what my day would be like. There were many questions about what lies ahead, both spoken and unspoken, as we shuffled en masse toward the door. 
Next-up: Jennifer Greene from Clarion. Therein lies the hope. Jennifer spoke for nearly forty minutes about books, elements of good writing, and then...the future. "Everyone knows during these tight economic times, consumers will buy two things: a ten dollar tube of lipstick and books for their kids." Keep sending, she said, keep sending. I had the good fortune of crossing paths with Lin Oliver, whom I love! She brings such fun and laughter to these gatherings. We had a momentary conversation about the mood and tone of so many of the people there. She was worried, I think, about the tone. Lots of pessimism out there.
Me? I'm going with the lipstick factor. I'm not going to be unrealistic. But it doesn't matter. There's nothing we, the little guys and girlies, can do about this big monster they call THE ECONOMY. I've decided...yeah, there was a monster in my closet, and now he's out in the living room. But you know what? No one took away my computer, my ability to eject the words out of my brain, and to play on the page! Jane Yolen herself showed up on the screen...as did Tomie dePaola, The Blue Rose Girls and a whole array of others, but Jane said, "Just get your Butt In
the Chair," and so...I shall.  Just this moment, Tommy Lee Jones, in the movie In the Valley of Ella came on the screen and said to Charlese Theron's little boy, "That's how you fight monsters. You draw 'em in closer. You lure 'em in. And you smack 'em down." I'm smackin' that monster down too. I'm using a little hope,  a lot of determination...and a big comfy chair, so my butt, and my brain, will stay put.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


One more day until I'm off to this year's SCBWI Conference in NYC. The economy has certainly had its effect on that small circle of writing friends of mine. Lots of tough choices out there. This year, however, I am so very proud of my two good friends, Ann Haywood Leal whose Also Known As Harper (Henry Holt) will be available in May (mine's on order) and Jame Richards' Three Rivers Rising (Knopf) will follow shortly thereafter in 2010. Yippee! Two more babies over the hump and into the marketplace. 
Ann and Jame are truly magnificent writers, and to my good fortune friends of mine through Pat Giff's writing class. I do believe we own our seats there in the Dinosaur's Paw in Fairfield, CT. (There are only 20 seats in all!) We're dedicated to Pat and to her belief in us along with her knowledge of what works and what doesn't work on the page. There's a pattern and rhythm to her thoughts and ideas and if you stay long enough, you tend to infuse all those little understandings into the fabric of your work. Listening to Jame and Ann's work read aloud by Patricia Reilly Giff has been a little slice of heaven in my writing life.
Every year when the conference rolls around again, whether I'm attending or not, I get that sense of...okay, where am I in all of this? It has not been until recently that I have begun to market my work, and to feel that sense of urgency in doing so. Prior to that, I think I must've thought it'd get out there through osmosis, or even perhaps through the behind the scenes work of some all-knowing book fairy! Now, I've gotten that 'slap in the face' realism, in part, because of the state of the market, but also because I'm surrounded by a great group of friends in writing. We are each other's cheerleaders riding this shaky raft together.  The conference bolsters me through those very cold mornings when it's just me and that blue light of the computer screen. It gives me a hope, a belief  and a connection, which to a writer is everything and much more! For children's book writers and illustrators, this marks our New Year! (And for those who won't be there...it's dinner at Centro, that's for sure!)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Keeping Freedom

Innaugural
clippings
and shavings,
assorted flags,
and fluff,
the less historic
remnants
left behind.

     Moving vans
     and moving crowds
     have all
                                                     moved on.
                                                     
     In their wake,
                                                     a steady stream of
     comments and
                                                     commentary,
                                                     a well-trained
                                                     lens
     fixed on 
                                                     every breath,
     every word,
                                                     and every
                                                     action too.

     What it must be like
      to be Barack Obama,

      Taking the 
      Whole
World
in his hands,

Making a few
bold actions,
Waiting and watching
Listening
                                                         to Washington's 
response and reaction.

And all the while,
keeping cool,
holding tight
to his very own
                                                        blackberry,
                                                        a connection to
another world,
that small circle
of freedom
that keeps
the ground
under his feet.

                                                   

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Small Circles


I am a surfer! I twitter, blog and surf the net to study the current status of the writing industry, to find websites that inform my love for writing...but mostly to seek and find the footprints of those that are successfully becoming published in these turbulent times. Like it or not, this is the way to go these days. If I want to find my audience, I have to help them find me a bit first. I have to prove my viability in terms of networking in this wireless world. I don't mind it, but I know I can get lost in it too. And so...I keep coming back to my goals for this year. If I want to get my two books out there...and the third and fourth that I'm currently working on (it's a disease, this writing, honestly!), then I have to do what I've done all my life. I have to continue to rely on the small, but varied circle of friends that are out there...my army of good friends who know that I'd do anything for them as well. I didn't have this figured out when I was a young adult...trying to deal with all the crises and dramas of life, that's for sure! But over the balance of my life, I've learned to lean in and let my friends carry me sometimes...and at other times, stand strong and let them lean in on me. I travel in small circles, but they...are the best of the best people this world has to offer! As my circles travel...the network grows, and so, in turn does mine. For all my friends that are out there now...I have not lost my mind! I'm a blogger, a twitterer...but first and foremost, I'm a human and to me, it's more important that I hear YOUR ideas than for you to hear mine. My dad's highest compliment of a person was..."He'd give you the shirt off his back!" Well, dad...that's a scary thought! But how 'bout the last chip in my bag...my last french fry, or the last sip of my latte? These days, I think time is the proof of real friendship! So...to those of you that have been a part of my circle forever, or those that have just recently joined, thank you for helping me find my way each day. You are welcome to my time, the coat off my back and anything else that matters to me at this moment in time.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Larger than Life

Her absence
was so
obvious 
yesterday,

and yet 

her presence
was too.

We longed
for her
in our 
remembering-

her calico print
blouse in the 
framed picture,
the mom that 
wore that blouse,
so many 
lifetimes ago.

Even the gold 
ensconced edge 
of the Lenox dish,
she herself selected
as a very young 
bride. 
And then,
of course,
her wedding gown too
evokes a story,
bought on sale...
to fit the occasion.

Who else would
do something 
like that?

The details of her life,
remain so clear
in the small tangible
remains.

But then...
there are the babies
she'd never meet,
her granbabies
bringing
us all together,
uniting us 
once more
to take a look back,
and to look 
forward too.

For there-- 
in those 
impish grins,
in the silly chorus
of childhood voices,
and in the clatter
of footfalls,
she lives,
even now,
causing trouble,
stirring them up,

Calling our
hearts 
to always, 
always celebrate
the joy
in the laughter...

And isn't it 
the laughter,
the fun,
the trouble-making
that she
was most about?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Inspiration

   Ah, the wisdom of Snoopy. Thank you, Charles Schultz!             "Learn from Yesterday. Live for Today. Look to Tomorrow."

My life is a confluence of writing and story these days, and boy am I loving it. I'm finding inspiration in the darkened mornings in that dim light of my computer screen. I've connected with many others out there who are, like me, working the craft...and doing the day-job to keep the lights on at home too! Jill Corcoran's blog is loaded with all kinds of information related to marketing, writing, and life in general (http://jillcorcoran.blogspot.com/). Grace Lin's comments on the "Blue Rose Girls" blog (http://bluerosegirls.blogspot.com/) have also evoked a great deal of thoughts and ideas for me too. What I love most, though, is the fact that so many in the field of writing avail themselves to each other in such a giving way. Honestly, where else in the world do you see that? Could it be that our work is so satisfying, we don't feel the urge to pull the maneuvers we see in the all-too-political world of 8-4/9-5 out there? I love writing. I love writers. Edgy writers, corny writers, silly writers, sarcastic writers too. I'm blown away by the many out there, who, like me, live by that blue light, eagerly awaiting the arrival of that invisible critter...the morning muse that shows up with my morning coffee each day. This morning, I swear, there was a faint smell of coffee on his breath too. 

Meanwhile...back in the classroom~where the other hat lives:

Today I went off to work...to my classroom where we're immersed in a study of story. I told my kids their homework tonight will be very simple. These sixth graders are home scouring their shelves, looking for all the favorites that enchanted them or lulled them to sleep long ago. We've read Harold, the Mouse and his Cookie, Where those Wild Things Are, Brave Irene...and many more. They clamor for more...but I've got to get THEM writing. Tomorrow, we'll compare story arcs, plots and problems and then we'll comb through all my picture books. Following that, they'll start on all the favored novels that stack my shelves. All the while looking at the patterns they find there. They, like me, are searchers. We're looking to find what works, what doesn't and how we, as authors, can reach an audience. The process...the people, the writing, all of it flows together, and right now...it's all good! Writing and thoughts about writing encircle my life and make me eager to get up and look to tomorrow for more! Let's hope that Mr. Muse brushes his teeth before he joins me, though! ;)
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