Friday, October 21, 2011

Cynsations: Helen Hemphill to Serve as Director of Highlights ...


Cynsations: Helen Hemphill to Serve as Director of Highlights ...: Helen Hemphill is taking over the directorship of the Whole Novel Workshop for the Highlights Foundation in 2012 and has an amazing lineup...

I came across this posting today, and couldn't help but think about my time at Chautauqua last summer. I made so many connections with really special people, like-minded in a creative way. Helen Hemphill was my mentor that week and I was fortunate to learn a great deal from her. At the time, one of my point of view character's narrative was written largely in verse. Helen helped me to craft my writing  in short visual bursts, rather than stretching the narrative out in a thinner elongated way. She encouraged me to read and study Shark Girl, by Kelly Bingham, a colleague of hers from Vermont College. It's a wonderfully well-written novel, which apparently received a great deal of acclaim from the faculty there.

Since my time with Helen, I've come to gather all sorts of ideas and thoughts about my work. Over the course of the past year, I've taken all that I've learned and turned myself inside out for a bit. I've hunkered down and really tried to see what it is that I envision for my work. The character I'd written in verse, was not really resonating with me. I found she was sounding just a little too cryptic to me. So...back to the drawing board on that one. The good news is nothing in writing is ever lost. I know for sure that verse character has another home in another book that will inevitably have its day in the sun.

I highly recommend Chautauqua and the Highlights Foundation Whole Novel Workshops. The mentorship is strong, the workshops are deeply meaningful, and the food is beyond belief! 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Dawn of a New Day


For the better part of the past month, I've been on the road, driving anywhere from 6 to 12 hours a day, making my way across this great land of ours. I've pretty much abandoned Small Circles and Teach Spot, my two normal blogs to chronicle about the journey for a small local online news service, The Newtown Patch. It's been a wonderful opportunity to expand my writing horizons and to share my work with a local population of interested readers.

But...Small Circles is still my home niche. It gives me a place to reflect on the people in my life and the creative universe that surrounds us all. For the past twenty-five days, I've expanded my circles, meeting people from a wealth of varying backgrounds...learning a little about them through conversation, and also in doing what writers do...listening in, because, well, we're nosy! I'm always looking for something new, and a few juicy characters to splash on the written page!

Just outside the Painted Desert, at a quick rest stop in Cameron, AZ, I stumbled upon a very small craft shop. I'd been looking for a turquoise necklace...nothing elaborate, and cost was a serious consideration, since we'd planned this long journey, knowing it was a huge expense in itself. I met a Navajo women, named Denise, whose small corner encompassed pottery, necklaces, earrings and all sorts of beautifully designed Native American crafts. I was struck as much by her work as I was by her beauty. She had gorgeous light tan skin, dark eyes and glossy dark brown hair. She was clearly dressed for the day, wearing one of her own creations, a beautiful three stringed turquoise necklace. I approached somewhat cautiously, because, as always, I do not want to engage until I'm sure I want to buy. This is the same in any store for me. I never want to get myself trapped.


Denise was a different story, though, I sensed it right from the start. She asked me what I was interested in, and I told her...something simple, yet elegant. She showed me a necklace on display that she'd made the day before. Two strands...of turquoise beads...varying in size a little along the neckline, with varying marks and impurities in the stone that made the piece stand out among the others. She told me the beads came from the Royston and/or Kingman mines. At first that meant nothing to me. But then, I realized, she wanted me to know more...to value the work. Both Royston and Kingman are mines from the state of Nevada. The turquoise is a deeper, darker aqua and the impurities have a brownish goldish tint. I loved the beads, her work...and loved her soft-spoken, gentle ways. I told her I'd like to bring my husband in, that it'd just take me a minute, as he's in a wheel chair. She told me to just take the beads...not to put him through all that. So I did. I took the beads out to the parking lot...and of course, my husband loved them.




When I returned, I bought the beads (for a third the cost of others I'd seen...which were lesser in quality for sure), and she gave me her card with all her information...Native Expressions, it said. She wanted to be sure that if anything went wrong with my necklace, I wouldn't regret my purchase at all. I too, am a person of my word, and so I loved this about her. I scanned the austere shop...only three other craftswomen set up with small tables in a room that could've held twenty or more. It was not nearly as luxurious as the shop next door, but Denise, to me, was another creative, working her craft one bead at a time along the road. I left there, tickled by the fact, that here she is on the outskirts of the Painted Desert, in a minimalist desert landscape as remote and quiet as I'd seen, bringing beauty to those of us who may never travel that path again...but enlivening the understandings that come and go between our two worlds.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Meeting Along the Shore


What is the true measure of a person...their life, their loves, their quirks or all the stories that surround their corner of the universe? Who do we count as important, the ones that touch us so deeply they fill a crevice in our hearts? When you leave, will I reach you again? Why are we here, anyway? So many questions, so few answers. But somehow now, I don't feel compelled to know.

Words and stories, faces and lives weave their way through our existence each and every day. Do I stop? Notice? Sometimes. After all, I call myself a writer. I am interested, curious. But not always. Am I a willing participant in the lives of those I hold dear? Do I come, or do I need to be dragged? Mindful in the moment? Some of the time, I guess.

Recently, I was given a golden opportunity. A clear chance to be really present in the very dear and painful last moments of a very, very special person in my life. Words, to me, have such great power. But I realize I don't always hang on every word. This time, I was given the presence of mind to know...to listen...to witness and to cherish every last word that was said.

But eventually...there were few, if any words at all. The eyes became the true windows to it all. The heart communicated in silence...a gentle grip, a tender look, the small acceptance of love. Life's end, just like its beginning, is a thing that gives me great pause. For we are all witnesses to one another. Here, not for ourselves, but for that which happens when one steps in and carries the other...into this life, or out onto another shore.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Whispering Wind


Driving around early this morning, inspired by the little things...cows in the field, old corn-stalks--dangling remnants of last year's crop, and the clear blue sky towering above. On the radio comes an old fave of mine...one that was so overplayed back in the day: "Stairway to Heaven." I was such a Zepellin maniac back then!

I worked at a local grocery store and saved just about every cent I made for music, first, and clothes too, which took a close second for sure. I'd come home, run upstairs and blare that vinyl on my sad excuse for a stereo. Drove my poor brother crazy...he, after all was of the Elvis generation or maybe even Frank Sinatra, I honestly don't know. We were ten years apart. I was 18, and he, at 28 was stuck with the job of raising an angst-filled teenage girl. Led Zepellin and Mountain too, did that in a way that nobody else could.

But today? I heard it all in a different way, like the artists had changed the words. There was no angst, and no confusion...just a message I could use in my life.

"There are two paths you can go by, but in the long run there's still time to change the road you're on."

Still time! Not only is there clock time, but there's the time of the spirit...that remains still once in an actual while: that rested spirit, one that stops, looks up and wonders at clouds, chases the dreams that come only in moments, and not in weeks and years. I realize how quick I am to measure myself by accomplishments in the time of man and the world. In my life I am also trying to take two paths at once. It doesn't work that way.

So, today, I took a seat and looked up at the huge white pine, the one that towers over my cottage. I studied its wide scape of powerful branches, and witnessed our partnered hawks building another year's nest. The breeze scattered magnolia's elegant white petals on the lawn. And for the very first time, I thought of that other road.

Sitting there all quiet and still...I found an answer to a story I've been working on for three years. Of course. It came to me, just as it always does. But in its coming, this time came a lesson too. For it's only in the stillness that these inevitable whispers can be heard.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Making It Manageable: Stepping Back from the Whole and Savoring the Parts


Plain and simple. My father used that phrase all the time. And yet, it's only now that I begin to wonder what he meant. Oh...I knew back then, seriously. It was a stringer placed on the end of every command. "Go and do your homework (then the look of course). Plain and simple." In other words, get your motor moving and sit down at the table, and get started right now.

I am, however, a little more complicated than that. I need to know how and why and how long and where to start. Analysis. It kills me. My other favorite game is canvasing the whole world to figure out what they think about what I've done. When I have enough interpretations of the same piece of writing, then I'm set to begin to revise. Confusing, right? Well, of course.

Complicated people crave complications. Creatives complicate, embellish and enrich. But sometimes we complicate in order to hide. If I create enough of a smokescreen, I'll never have to get the job done. My dad had a word for that too...procrastination, sloth in five syllables,
he said. On that, he was wrong. I can spin my wheels (and have) for what seems like a lifetime. But when I'm spinning, I'm also imagining.



Today? I went out into my yard and perused all the buds and blossoms out there. My magnolia was calling me again. And it's then I realized the sum total of that tree is not nearly as sweet as its parts. I studied the buds...with their velvety smooth encasements, the bit of dew on its petals. And it's then that I thought about my dad...about plain and simple, about the when and how. The time is now...the how was right there in those devilish details. 'As plain as the nose on my face!' (Yup, another Jack Murphyism.) When I write, I tend to get the sum total of the idea down on the page. Now that I'm revising, the small details, just like those velvety leaves will emerge to make the work real.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Living a Creative Life: Taking Stock



Chicago! A city, a neighborhood, a living and breathing sports city. My kind of town, really. Streams of people parade up and down the streets of Wriggleyville in the hours that lead up to game time. This visit, we were welcomed with snow! Baseball was a definite no-go. With wind chills, and rain, I'll bet it was below thirty degrees at night. But I didn't go to Chicago for the baseball; I came to visit my girl. And in that, I'm never disappointed. There were countless meals with long conversations, afternoon pastries with a half-caf. latte or two, and on Saturday, in the pouring rain, we went off to take care of toes and nails.

Two days during my stay, though, I was left to fend for myself. Unfortunately my daughter had to work. I contacted a friend, Mary Jo, whom I'd met at Chautauqua last summer, and we met for lunch to catch up. Mary Jo writes picture book and is currently about ready to send her latest work out. Since Chautauqua, she's published a non-fiction piece in Rethinking Magazine and has a few other pieces in the works. Mary Jo is a life coach, a writer, a real estate entrepreneur. She, like her mom before her, has many, many pots on the fire. So I was honored, really, that she leaped at the chance for lunch.

We pulled up along a quiet street in Roscoe Village and settled upon a beautiful Italian place, Pizza Bella. The restaurant, of course, was half empty...a grandmother with her seven year old granddaughter were celebrating a birthday, a trio of working people seated themselves at the table behind us, and a pair of new parents came in with their little one, and that was just about it. Mary Jo had a number of questions for me, which of course, is exactly how I remembered her to be. "How's the work...what are you working on...", all the usual stuff. But somehow, she tapped into a chink inside my walls. She got me thinking about my work, my crowded life and all the extra angst I've welcomed into my life. She spoke of priorities, and made me think about all the clutter in my life. Committees...and more committees, living in the political grindstone, it's a wonder I can even think at all!

So...in the wake of our visit, I'm still thinking about this conversation, and how counterproductive the life I'm living is to the creative part of myself. No wonder I've had so many periods of being stuck. Now I'm listing, prioritizing and trying to get it all straight. Extra-curricular for me...means counterproductive to the craft. Instead of being able to generate more...I'm diminishing my ideas, renting out space in my brain to things most people don't care about at all! In the upcoming blog, I'll share some of my thoughts on creativity...and my plans for nurturing those tiny seeds in my life. Work needs to be that means to an end, because in the end, if that's all I've done...I've left nothing of personal creative meaning for me.

After two very long cups of coffee, the waiters started rattling around. Mary Jo had set a plan in motion, and she had inspired me to do the same. So, of course...I get home, and on my counter is a copy of Whole Living...with an article, called Second Act: How to Reinvent Yourself!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Kirsten Hubbard: YA Author + Travel Writer: author Michelle Hodkin would have given anything to be like...

Kirsten Hubbard: YA Author + Travel Writer: author Michelle Hodkin would have given anything to be like...
my older sister! She was a beautiful flirt, with great taste in everything she set her eyes on. Now, I too, am happy just the way I am! I ran into a 22 yr. old girl this week though, on the brink of chucking it all and going on tour around the US with her journal and her camera. And for just a second or two, oh, how I wished I'd done that myself! Great post Michelle! Best of luck with your book, Kirsten!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Inevitable Red Pen: Five Steps to Restoring Sanity

Shift happens...and it couldn't have happened soon enough for me! I spent an inspiring night out with the girls from my writing group. We didn't come with pages or computers or even red pens; we didn't come to write, or critique, or to get too heavy into plot. We came to have fun, to laugh, tell stories, and validate all that we do.

I'm most honest with this group of trusted writing friends. And yet, I've recently put my writing into a variety of different hands. The result: I became blocked and paralyzed for a while, sinking into a winter of stalled pages and forgotten ideals. The critique itself was largely positive and helpful to my overall work. But, like most writers, I'd braced myself for more. And of course, I have to remember the law of averages...which meant that one negative comment would come. And when it did, I let it take the legs right out from under my work.

Over the course of the past few weeks, I've been writing and reading, and looking for inspiration to get back on track each day. And now, I'm finally back on top and pushing forward again. But in the event of the inevitable next time, I've chosen a few simple ideals to restore me to sanity again.

1. Who is your first...and second reader?

Who is that one person that can name your problem...put a finger on your work and get you back on track? My husband has always been my first reader. He always hears me out, and gives it to me straight every time. My second reader is that other writer-the one who's entrenched in the work too. She can look me in the eye, tell me the truth, and I know I won't fall apart.

2. Don't disregard your own common sense.

Ask yourself, 'Does this comment match my belief about this work?' If not, set it on the back burner, ask a lot of questions around it, and then enlist a few other opinions as well. Like a bad novel, a snap judgment can be an awful thing. My dad always said, "Always consider the source." If it's a caustic, hurtful comment, that doesn't seem in the least way right to you? A comment like that will never move your work along. The purpose in critique is to find absolute truth as best you can...to find that one trusted opinion that knows story and is well-seasoned at reading story, and knows the market as well. If you do get a lot of opinions that match that one, then, of course, you have a problem on your hands.

3. Establish a good boundary: you are not what you write.

Don't wrap yourself in steel, (Natalie Goldberg) but perhaps a little dark purple velvet will do. Keep a healthy distance, so you and your writing are separated in a way. You are not your writing. Earlier on in my writing, that was hard to believe. If it works, it'll show itself. If it doesn't, perhaps it simply is not there yet.

4. Shut the door...and write like your hair's on fire!

Self-doubt is poison. There's a time to write and a time to be critiqued.

Stephen King says, "Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction can be a difficult, lonely job; it's like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub. There's plenty of opportunity for self-doubt. If I write rapidly--I can keep up with my original enthusiasm and at the same time outrun the self-doubt that's always waiting to settle in." (Stephen King, ON WRITING)

5. Do I have to take this or can I let it go?

Writers have to take critique with a kind of grace and tough-skinned welcome at the very same time. In the end, the process is mine. I have to put the work away for a while, and begin to let it go. Later, I can trust my gut, and actually begin to have a clue.

In WRITING DOWN THE BONES, Natalie Goldberg says, "Give a piece to one hundred people, you could possibly get one hundred different opinions--not absolutely different, but lots of variations. This is where the depth of the relationship with yourself is so important. You should listen to what people say. Take in what they say. (Don't build a steel box around yourself.) Then make your own decision." (page 157)

For today, thankfully, I'm unstuck. I've got all that I need to get back on track with my work. I'm spinning words and images are floating around in my brain. Writing, like old age, is certainly not for sissies. But the cycle, the torture, the magic in the words and the images that float around in my head? It's what I love more than most anything in the world. And in the end, it's that gentle return to laughter that really makes that shift finally happen for me.




Sunday, February 20, 2011

Filling the Table Again

Last night, my table was filled with quick snippets of conversation, raucous laughter and stories from long ago. It was not a typical Saturday night, for too often I take the easy way out...stay at home and watch a movie, grab a bite at a local restaurant and sometimes meet friends there. But now, I've made a decision, or so I've convinced myself...to shed all the formality, the cleaning and perfectionism, and just pick up the phone instead.

It's been a long, snowy winter here in New England! 72" of snow to date! All of us are cramped inside our houses, far too often stuck in front of the t.v. screen. And while I am not much for t.v., I do find myself succumbing to the dull malaise of it anyway.

When I was growing up, we never, ever stayed in on Saturday nights. We most often went to my Aunt's house, or she would come to ours as well. We'd go to a movie...at the drive-in, a concept not too many would understand now. (Oh man, how I loved that drive-in! Was it my imagination, or didn't they wait on us by car? Maybe I'm thinking of Stewarts' Rootbeer, another favorite Saturday night treat.) On a rare occasion, when there was just a little bit of extra money, my dad would take us to Snuffy's, a local restaurant that came complete with an organ player. Did we know how to live it up, or what?!

But now? I do have a few friends who'll drop everything and go out on a Saturday night. The minute I pick up the phone, they'll meet us just about anywhere. But only a few. Many of the people I've known over the years, are locked into their living rooms now. What is this awful phenomenon, I've wondered. Is this what it means to get old? Because...if it is? I'm not subscribing at all!

My new manifesto: friends, fun, family and laughter. Back in the sixties when t.v. was just a fledgling at best, we had a different kind of 'herding mentality'. But now, we're far too entertained by that box. I also believe that all the screen time at work, the demands in the workplace and a million other factors are keeping us all apart. So? I'm putting it out there...to all my facebook/twitter friends and to everyone else in this cyber universe: Let's bring back Saturday night--make it social, and get away from the t.v. screen!

What do you do with your Saturday nights these days?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Savoring all the Sweet Spots


Spread it, roll it, bake it all up and slide it into that red-hot oven...and that's when the waiting began. My favorite was always the sticky white icing that criss-crossed over that gooey top. But on that day? I said, "Easy on the frosting," I was trying to watch my weight. She immediately vetoed that, because she always had the final say. "Who counts calories on their birthday?" she said. And of course, we both started to laugh. She put her arm around my neck, gave a yank and pulled me to her, the two of us knocking heads. And even little Jen in her stroller started to laugh and kick her feet. Sugar, of course, was always our thing, and on that day? Jen was our partner in crime.

I turned back to the guy at the counter, and watched him squeeze that pastry tube and smother that bun in white. She always had it right. Massive doses of sugar was the cure for most anything. That day I was reminded of the many Sunday mornings--after church, then after the cemetery...when we went, two little girls, off to the bakery shop. Jellies, crumb buns, sugar-crusted crullers and even a cupcake or two! I'm sure my dad spent half his paycheck there, but of course we'd never let him off the hook.

The last time my sister and I celebrated our birthdays at TJ's, we figured there'd be so many more. Why wouldn't we? I mean, life just strings on and on...especially when you're in the middle of raising massive numbers of kids, like her with a tribe of five, and me with my own little three. We were right in the heart of our lives...that virtual sweet spot we'd worked so hard to get to. But here it is, February all over again. And even though she's not here to celebrate...you can best believe I'm not really alone. Because any time, I'm savoring one of life's sweet spots, seeing pictures of her grandkids on Facebook, or hanging out at a baptism or birthday, I'm seeing her and remembering, paying witness to all she was and all this next generation will be. And nothing will ever take that sweetness away! So today? On my B-day, I'm thinking of her and sending sweet vibes her way.

And as for that sticky bun? We gave it that slow savor, taking turns pulling off only a piece at a time. We fed some to Jen, and unraveled a little bit more. When we got to the end...she suddenly announced, "I'm done," before I could open my mouth to do the same. She turned her head, and forced that final piece on me. And then I watched that smirk stretch over those lips and I saw that gleam in her eye. She was turning 41, and I was not that far behind, but she was still the biggest boss of me!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Snow, Rain, Wind and Other Natural Disasters

Red boots. My main staple all through my little kid years. Just try finding a pair of boots like these now. They don't exist anymore. Ours had a little elastic strap to pull them together a bit at the top. And boy, did we live in those things!

Today, I was outside shoveling snow (my least favorite past time these days) in my pale aqua boots. They're not exactly the same as my little girl boots, but they give me that little girl feel. I picked them up for gardening a year or two ago, and I've been slogging around in them ever since. I've always been either of two things: a barefoot baby or a rubber boot mucking around kind of kid!

The other day, I traded up for a pair of 'Chookas', a fancy brand of rubber boot with polka dots and stripes. I found them on sale, and honestly couldn't resist. But...somehow, they just don't have that same appeal. That got me thinking about my little girl roots in boots.

When I was a tiny thing of a girl, at a point where I first stood on two feet, I remember toddling around in a pair of big girl boots. Those boots, the original ones? Definitely...not my own! I could barely stand up, I teetered and toppled and landed at my father's knee. They were my sister Dub's boots, I think, and probably Carol's before her. Dubbie was six full years older and Carol, a year older than that. I coveted everything that belonged to her; I wanted it all for me.

Imagine. Six years on this planet, and then the likes of me shows up. No way my sister was going to stand for that. She was large and in charge, a personality to be dealt with for sure.But back then, my father was the boss, and she, of course, was given no choice. One time, I was bundled to the point of suffocation in my little blue snow suit and wrapped all around in a scarf. And Dub? Well, while no one was looking, she gave a hard tug on that scarf...you know, the one around my neck. And of course, when I opened my mouth to tell...but she gave me her most evil grin. That became her MO back then, and of course, I had to succumb. But down deep inside? She always had my back. And as for me? I worshipped the ground she walked on, even though it was a little tipsy at times!

There was no buying new anything back then, so those boots eventually became mine. I wore them everywhere, only taking them off for bed. I loved the scuff, scuff, scuff sound that they made. "Pick up your feet, Gael Susan." And I loved how my toes could lift them into the air. I marched in puddles and then turned around and marched back. When I was on the swings, I had to wrestle just to keep them on. But when it snowed outside, that was when I like them the least.

My dad would bundle me up, kiss the top of my head and wrap me in a scarf. He'd pull my sled down from a shelf in the garage and wax the runners with a bit of fresh soap. "Just the ticket," he'd say. "You'll be flying down that hill!" My sister, of course, would be out way ahead of me, and always made it clear that I was to leave her alone. But my friend, Nancy, was always there waiting with her brother, Peter, and her sister, LuAnn too. I'd sniff that air and fill my lungs and grab my sled by its side. I'd tuck that long pull rope right under my red mittened hand, and then I'd do the next natural thing...I'd let out a yell that'd echo through all of the yards, "Let's go!"

The four of us would race, with our sleds in the air, slipping and sliding all the way. And just as we'd hit the crest of the hill, we'd slam our sleds down, shoving off in the hard-packed snow. The goal was to make it over the brook, to get to the other side. Most of the time...we made it, but once in a while we'd land in the ice and crack through to the cold, black mud. It was then that I'd call for her, that crazy sister of mine...
"Dub!" I'd yell. "Help!" And before I knew it, she'd be running to rescue me. There are some things you never doubt. But then she'd run me back to the house, and my dad open the door. He'd give her one of his looks. "Who was watching her," he'd say. And oh man, how I dreaded those words. Everyone was supposed to be watching me, and so I was never supposed to get hurt.

"It's not her fault, Daddy," I'd say. But of course that held no water with him.

Dub would leave me behind again, and then the towel would come out. He'd wash me up and hand warm my frostbitten feet. Often, they'd be solid white all the way through. "You just don't know when to stop," he'd say. And of course I knew he was right. But honestly, it was the boots, the big sister, the smell of a little adventure, it was all that and so much more. When it came to being outside, there was no greater place to be!

And as for that big sister...the large and in charge kinda girl? Well she's wandering around in this wild universe somewhere, and I know she's heeding my call. I heard the tinkling of bells just a little while ago, a wind chime out on snow-covered my porch. That big sister of mine lives in the wind, and she's always got my back...and of course, I've always got hers!


Monday, January 17, 2011

House of Miracles

Funny what the small circles of our existence reap over time. Today is the sixth anniversary of our time here in this quaint little house of ours. It's an old hunting lodge that's been architecturally redesigned, added onto and then added onto again. It's a cute little sucker, but sometimes I just feel like it's a big old house of pain!

When we first moved in, I told everyone it was like little house on the unprairie...we lost heat almost instantly, one of our faucets exploded, and then we had no water at all. How did we buy this place we wondered? Were we really such big fat suckers? There's a trout up there on top of that cupola, but it might as well have been a mackerel, the symbol of our early existence here.

We moved cross town to a one level home to accomodate my husband's progressive neurological illness. He'd just gotten his wheels, and we knew it wouldn't be long before he would not make it up our old colonial style home's stairs. So, we packed up tearfully, said good-bye to our beautiful pool, and made this quaint little place our home. It even had a cottage for writing, so we all felt that the karma was there for us all.

Now, six years later, we've had a whopper of a snowstorm, a second snowstorm really, this season. First storm...eighteen inches. I shoveled and cleared the walkways and the decks. No sweatski. This one? JEESH. It's a pain in the buttinsky. Thirty back-breaking inches of snow. I saw on twitter someone said it was like a gigantic 'snow-barf'...well, disgusting, but really? We got clocked. Just before Christmas, the gigunda screen on my gigantic fireplace decided to let go of whatever is it was that it was hanging onto in them there stones. So...I can't even have a cozy fire. And now...I'm hearing the incessant 'drip, drip, drip,' a stream of water sliding down my daughter's bedroom wall. But today, a friend from a circle of long ago came and lent me a hand. He knew. He's a roofer, and right now has over two hundred calls on his machine. In fact, he's now posted a message that he's not taking any work...at all. But he came here with four of his guys and altogether they shoveled, raked and filled the gutters with calcium chloride. He promised to come back this Thursday after the pending storm and then over the weekend too.

And right now, I'm inside, I've shoveled and upon his recomendation, shoveled to make little shelves to keep the snow off the path. I even went out and shoveled the cellar door...so God forbid, anything happens with the workings of this crazy house, I can lift that lid and do what I need to do to just get by another day! Life is good, homeownership...even at its worst, is a huge blessing. And a mighty lesson has been learned by me once more...ask, and I always receive!

So, how about those Jets, anyway?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Away in a Manger

Yesterday, I went to church and as the stream of little kids made their way up and down the aisle, I had such a vivid flashback. I don't know if it was all the Christmas music, the cast of wiggling kids that surrounded me, or the wiggler inside myself that just couldn't sit still. But it all just came together.

It was my dad I was thinking about again! The songs at Christmastime just play inside this head of mine. I was thinking about that manger just to the left of the altar. And I was thinking about all the ways that my dad kept me from exploding when I sat there in church. The peppermint lifesavers were a standard, and those he used all year long. But at Christmas? It was the manger and good old (well, young, I guess) baby Jesus that kept me in my seat.

"He's watching you, you know," he'd say. I'd look up at him...my dad, that is. 'How could that be?' I wondered. Baby Jesus was a statue, statues couldn't watch me...I don't think, anyway. I'd suck myself in and pull back, hidden by my dad. I'd stretch out my patten leathers and push myself further back. I'd look at the priest...Father Sico (pronounced like psycho...really!) and I'd make myself as invisible as I could. It worked. The wiggling would stop without even the sight or smell of a lifesaver. I'd look up at my dad from time to time and he'd give me a wink, or a sudden smirk. I'd smell his Aqua Velva (oh God, I loved that smell) and I'd really believe what he said. I'd make it all the way through Communion and then the rest was a piece of cake.

After Mass, my father and I would wait on line as all the other kids streamed up to the manger. Dad would always hold back a bit, adding to my anticipation and anxiety, I think. And then...that moment: the baby J and me. Dad and I would kneel up, and say a prayer...I'd stare at that huge barely clothed statue and not pray...but somehow make a wish--and while I did that, I'd open my eyes just in time to catch my dad...nipping a 'wee bit' of straw right from under baby Jesus' butt! DAD! I'd want to scream...but he'd already have his hand to his lips. And there it was...he'd tuck the straw inside his pocket without even looking around. So smooth, so casual, so clear.

Meanwhile, I'd be having a heart attack...ready to run to the confessional to tell. But Dad? No way. He'd escort me out the side door. We'd make our way to the car. And just before he'd open the door, (because of course, he wouldn't want my older sisters to see) he'd slip that little bit of straw into the pocket of my coat. "Just a little something from baby Jesus to you." He'd lean down then and give me a kiss. "Because you're such a good girl in church." And right at that moment, I really felt like the baby Jesus wanted me to have that little bit of straw. Right at that moment I was the most special one on the earth.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Getting Fired-up...AGAIN!

Inspiration comes from the strangest places. Take today, for example.I was engaged in all the mundane actions that follow the busiest, most chaotic season of the year: Christmas. Other than a well-orchestrated meal, the stringing of lights, or the placement of balls on a tree; it rolls into my life, and forces me to cast aside any possibility of deep, creative thought at all. So, I take a break from the tree. I'm surfing twitter, and I come across the writing challenge. Just what the doctor ordered to jump-start the writer in me.

Last night, I pulled out my sketch book, my journals from 2010, a half-finished manuscript and all the notes from Chautauqua, SCBWI workshops and the Whole Novel Workshop I attended this past fall. So much effort, so much love. My conclusion, I'm like a fish out of water when I'm not writing. I'm currently reading First Draft in 30 Days and reorganizing a major project I've hassled with for the past few years. But while the outlining feature is terrific, it's had me in stall mode for more than a month. Time to recommit, to write and to get myself fired-up all over again.

The answer is...writing, more words, more obsessing over the ins and outs of character and plot and more daydreaming that leads me back to the page! A day at a time, it all adds up, so my time is now, the day is here...and regardless of the outcome, I'm honestly glad to commit to 500 words each day. Yes, a thousand is possible...but 500 well-crafted is simply enough for me. Happy New Year out there in writing land! 2011 is going to be an awesome year!
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