Tag Archiv: writing

Grief, joy, loss, hope and living with contradiction

happy violinist, by hotblack, compliments of morguefile.com

happy violinist, by hotblack, compliments of morguefile.com

In September, 2015, the rhythm of my days took a radical change. I worried going into the school year what effect the addition of teaching for an hour every day would have on my writing. This, was, I would learn, small potatoes in terms of life changes. I drove home from the first day of school ready to celebrate the return of my children to school and therefore the return of my quiet days. Going here and there and everywhere, cell phones, and blah, blah, blah being not for me. A lonely life at times, but one that gave my writing a chance.  On the way I had a very straightforward car chat with God about the global crisis of displaced persons. I was tired of worrying about it. Tired of feeling sad for mothers unable to protect their children. Honestly, I said. Open the door for me to do something to help, or leave me alone from the sadness of it all.

Within half an hour I received a call about an ad hoc meeting. Could groups of people in our town do something to help the refugee crisis?  It seemed remarkably like a door, so I walked through it.

I managed to keep up with the writing until November when my new responsibilities filled every spare moment I had and some I did not. I finished my children’s novel as a consolation prize of sorts over the Christmas holidays.

I now bathe daily slathered in copious amounts of contradiction. I miss the writing terribly. I try not to remember the blog exists because when I do, I cry. I have faced the fact that the novel is not something a publisher wants (even though my very literate children sincerely love it). I have faced it as in it hurts too much to think about so I don’t. Meanwhile much of my free time remains rather taken with efforts towards helping new families resettle in a foreign land. I would not trade what I am doing. Much of the work is tedious and thankless, but alongside that is much joy and a sense of purpose. The season is of indeterminate length, but for now the season persists.

I ask myself what is next. Before September and the door I was running out of hope for finding “that publisher.” Isn’t there something kind of strange about telling yourself it’s worth spending half your life producing something you can only give away?  For the last two months, the thought of sitting down to write has simply been too painful. Part of what was beautiful for me in the writing was just the writing and what I was writing about. The other part was the belief that somehow, somewhere, sometime, it would come together in a form called a book with a thing called a paycheck. The belief in this elusive other part is no longer accessible to me.

Not that I have given up forever. For lack of a better metaphor, I’ve got the body parts frozen in the crypt waiting for the cure to be found and a proper resurrection to be had. But I’m not out waiting in line for a doctor. My mental new year still revolves around September. Right now, I’m finishing the year I’m in, but next year is anybody’s guess. I’m considering going back to school. I’m wondering if the current season will require me longer than I think. And I’m looking in the mirror wondering if there will be a rock somewhere from which I can pry open a little hope to begin another writing project. I’ve one in mind just in case.

In the space of now, I’ve a few blog pieces asking to be written. And amidst the sadness of loss in terms of the writing is a sense of quiet wonder, gratitude and yearning to get up and dance in celebration of all the unexpected gifts the last eight months have brought. Because both pictures are me right now.

cutting loose blackened by jduram, compliments of morguefile.com

cutting loose blackened by jduram, compliments of morguefile.com

 

Math and me

picture compliments of morguefile.com

picture compliments of morguefile.com

I am teaching grade 4-6 math this year. When I was asked, I agonized and stalled, then worried that I’d made the wrong decision. I didn’t want it to take too much away from my already limited writing time.

Math and I have an odd relationship. As a kid, I was quick out of the gate to “get,” that thing called math. Learning math was a physical rush. Numbers felt comfortable and friendly in my head. Patterns peeked smiling from all kinds of places.

Life happened and I began to see and believe that “real” math people innately understood things I didn’t. There was an “it” they had that I lacked. I still loved patterns and numbers but our friendship was private.

Grade seven math was the first class I was ever given to teach. The head of the math department was a legendary calculus teacher. That year it was my nervous lot to teach his son. Several times the legend found me. Each time I expected to be discovered for my lack of realness. “You’re a born math teacher,” he would say.  I told him of the myriad English courses, but not a single university level math course to my credit. “You’re a born math teacher,” he replied unphased.

That summer I signed up for a university Calculus course hoping to convince myself that he was right about me being a born math teacher. The first class was only housekeeping, but I could feel the thrill of math in the air. I sat down that night eager to read the textbook, but none of it seemed real. Just little exercises for the sake of exercising. Was there even a point? For a pop quiz the next day someone began pouring blue water into a bottle. “Write the function of the blue water going into the bottle,” said the monotone grad student conducting the class.

This moment came with a great deal of clarity. I didn’t care even the tiniest bit what the function of the blue water was. I left and found a course whose functions interested me considerably more (a women’s studies course, if you’re curious).

Meanwhile, anytime I was asked to teach a math class I said yes. The irony was always that, as much as I love teaching English (and I really did love it), I was always a better math teacher. I privately debated the possible existence of a born math teacher with no knowledge of higher math. A 2003 book, “The Myth of Ability” by John Mighton, said it was more than possible, so I made it my bible and never looked back.

Math is about magic. Teaching math is about inspiring magicians. Unexpectedly  back at a chalkboard, I’m not sure how all the balancing will work. I’m 80% through my novel’s umpteenth rewrite. I have the blog and have other writing things on the go. But fifteen minutes into the first math class I knew that sometimes magic trumps time. People in love don’t worry about the time spent together that could have been used for other things. Teaching math is like that for me.

My concession to reality is to keep County Road 21 postings to twice a week. The number of typos and grammatical errors may trend upwards.The times I can’t manage a post may increase. But in the long run I believe that my writing and teaching math will make fine friends.

So here’s to the magic!

Retreat time

2015 winter spring 206

I am on a writing retreat this weekend. Originally it was a retreat with a friend, but it turned out to be a retreat for just me. (I wish her a good weekend of peace and love tinged with a small amount of appropriate sadness that she is not here.) With only one retreatant to consider, plans have evolved to high levels of flexibility. The place I am staying  became available sooner at the last minute, so I started my retreat twelve hours early.

Besides full kitchen and private bath, my quarters come with access to a state of the art kayak and nearby river, accessible bike paths and a slew of bikes to choose from. Anything I could wish for is in walking distance. My picturesque room overlooks a neighbor’s black paper roof in reasonably good condition. Couches in my sitting room are clean and comfortable. I am expected to take out the paper recycling on garbage day and give a one time drink of 1/4 cup of water to a very unpromising bit of green sticks who claim to be an ailing orchid. Presumably I am to do my own dishes, although that wasn’t mentioned. Besides that, I am tasked to sit quietly, write, rest, and eat.

My inaugural retreat meal last night was red pepper humus, cherry tomatoes, extra old cheddar cheese, a fat slice of homemade bread, and some red wine. Preparation: one minute. Clean up: approximately 15 seconds. Perhaps the wine was slowing me down. First deep consideration: How can no one in my family like hummus?  First deep conclusion: There should really be more meals like this.

In keeping with good retreat etiquette, I’ll be out of commission and away from the blog until Wednesday, July 1. By that point, half of you will be celebrating Canada Day, which incidentally is much more retreat like than the bombastic chest thumping of the American 4th of July. So here’s to the written word, beauty, truth, the yearning need to create, mental health, rest, re-charging, and Canada. With a nod to them all, I am on retreat. :)

Weekend Joys

DSCN1337

With the family away, I wrote Friday until 6:00pm in order to earn the right to drive the tractor until 8:00pm. I ran the bushhog on our far field while keeping a close on eye on the ground for rocks and creatures. Last year I stopped just short of a partridge on her eggs. No partridges were disturbed by me this time, but I saw a painted turtle and jumped off to move him out of harm’s way. As I bent down, instead of curling up inside his shell, he ran. I got back on the tractor laughing. What if all turtles can run, but it’s one of those things that just isn’t done? What if this one was running because he was too young (or too socially awkward) to know better?

Boy one’s barn chores were uneventful except for Misty, who snuck in behind me to the sheep barn. The children love the pony. Boy one talks to her, grabs her mane, cajoles her, puts his arm around her, pulls her, and generally does whatever he wants with her like she’s his sister. Misty and I don’t have that kind of relationship. I spoke, she ignored. I pushed, she rolled her eyes. I didn’t try pulling because it seemed ill advised. After ten minutes, I went and got the whip, which I didn’t plan to use but I wasn’t going to tell her that. She saw me come in the barn and stand in the corner. She glared at me and took one deliberate step at a time toward the door. Before she left she turned and barred every one of her senior citizen horse teeth at me.

Outside she walked around to her stall which was not in great shape. I pointed out to her, while cleaning up her stall with a close eye on her, that the crap she was standing in was thanks to her boy who could do no wrong, whereas the clean floor with fresh straw was thanks now to me.

The rest of my weekend retreat was writing, plus a birthday lunch for a friend. I got drenched doing Saturday night’s chores. It felt like a fitting baptism for the new hope I was feeling. I gave Misty a night off on her diet so she could stay outside to eat all night with the cows. For my part, I found myself a good documentary (on sugar!) and settled in to watch with not a stitch of laundry folding attempted.

The gang returned safe and sound to a house with no electricity and one roll of toilet paper. Everyone took it in stride for the hour of waiting. On the camping trip, the family found clay, discovered a cliff they could climb, watched a raccoon try to steal their food in the middle of the day, saw a porcupine on their hike, and swam in the still frigid lake. A resounding success all around.

Finding fence holes

"A Herdsmen With Cattle On A Countryroad, Drenthe," by Julius Jacobus Van De Sande Bakhuyzen

“A Herdsmen With Cattle On A Countryroad, Drenthe,” by Julius Jacobus Van De Sande Bakhuyzen

Chasing cows is similar to chasing dreams. I learned this on Monday. My husband had noticed the cows missing. After a bit of searching, we found our two bovines settled in on a neighbor’s property (newly set up for skeet shooting). Finding them was the easy part. Despite the black, “no trespassing,” signs, we got a good sense of the neighbor’s property (who knew he had such nice interconnected paths mowed through his brush and trees?).  But through all that brush and trees we weren’t quite sure precisely which way to head the animals because we didn’t know where they’d broken through the fence.  My idea that we’d just get them moving and they would lead us to the spot of their escape was, as my kids would say, an epic failure.

Anabelle and son Buster were content to wander up and down the fence line crashing through as many trees and bushes as we pleased and not the least bit interested in showing us where a break in the fence might be. So it took an, “us,” (my husband and I) for an hour chasing cows. Of course chasing cows makes it seem like they were running, which they never did for more than thirty feet, and only when they saw a chance to move in the wrong direction. The rest of the time it was pushing cows, prodding cows, and cajoling cows. The dog was of no use.  She would get them moving but then make them crazy going too close. Buster, especially, doesn’t take to having her at his heels.

We finally got them through by guessing that they leapt the fence (due to the slope of the land it’s easier to do going off the property than back on) so we lowered a section and lured them back. Then I went inside and my husband fixed the fence.

I had been annoyed, it is true, to find my afternoon interrupted by lost cows and by forcible teamwork with a man who failed to properly appreciate the magnitude of grievance the interruption caused me, not to mention the good sense in my ideas. Yet somehow I went back to the house encouraged. About writing of all things.

Hopes, dreams, editors, kids and cows . . . it’s all about the same thing. A little confusing, a lot of work, but you figure it out the best you can, consulting the guy beside you as you go. . . and eventually, you find the low spot in the fence.

Fishing for Solomon

file000877095388

 

FYI 1:  If you are a publisher of middle grade fiction, God is telling you to call me TODAY.

FYI 2: If you are in a positive relationship with a literary agent or publisher of the same, God is telling you to contact them and then call me. (Or vice versa)

54 days ago I submitted my children’s novel to yet another venue. The pattern is optimism followed by a submission, followed by fleeting confidence that This. Is. The. One.  After a week or less, everything mellows to faint hopes which trickle dutifully until the rejections arrive.

This time a friend of a friend sent in a word for me, so this manuscript had at least a guarantee that someone would read it. “It may take up to six to eight weeks to get back to you,” said the woman who wrote me.  She probably meant, “don’t expect a quick answer.”  She probably didn’t intend a guarantee. But eight weeks is what she said.

Accordingly, I am scheduled for rejection or acceptance within 48 hours.  (Any comments telling me it doesn’t work that way will be deleted. )  Rejection would fit in better during Holy week. Acceptance would go well with Easter. I’ve got decades of experience that say God doesn’t agree with my sense of rhythm. I mentioned it to Him anyway.

One of my struggling lads was stomping in gym class recently.

“I refuse. I quit. I hate it.” Etc.

I tried talking.

“I’ll be mad forever. I’m not playing,” he snapped.

“You’re going to be mad at me forever?” I asked.

“I’m not mad at you. I’m not mad at anyone. I’m mad at me. I’m no good.”

I was teaching a sport new to the class. New rules. New skills. No one was brilliant; it was hardly time to label lost causes.

“It’s just a game,” I said. “I think you’ll get it. But even if you never do, even if you turn out to be the worst setter in the history of volleyball, ever in the world, it doesn’t change anything about you. About who you are, or your value as a person. How you learn to move the ball is just fingers and leather and air. It’s not you.”

Currently, I am two people. One, certain that a publisher’s yes or no will answer important questions about me. The other, a student of underage teachers, observing their confusions and mine. The sun and the laundry mound will rise daily. Packing up tattered winter coats will feel good. And I will be me, regardless the fate of my book.

FYI 3:  If you are God, I told gym class lad he was a worthy fellow with or without sports credentials, but I still helped him with his volleyball.

The failure of success

file1761306949777A friend of mine was once taken with a motivational speaker. The enthusiasm and accompanying propaganda was overwhelming. To silence the onslaught, I agreed to read a book. The message was that success, as measured by making more money, was an achievable goal/sacred duty. Bullet points followed for execution, the result of which would save you and your children from being like them (the mediocre lovers/unsuccessful) and make you one of the great (who followed the bullet points to their destiny of success).

I hated the book. I considered burning it, except it would have caused my friend to buy another. Clarity is easy when it’s someone else’s words on a page.

I was voted most likely to succeed in my high school class. No one was picturing me as mistress of the laundry, master pot scrubber (cooking and other), professional child transporter, duchess of the schedules, former teacher, former secretary, former (you get the idea), and aspiring writer. By most measures, we would have to admit, the voters got it wrong. I have failed to reach the bars one envisions for “the most likely to succeed.”

I am happy. I am doing what I want to do (excepting the part where the publishers fall over themselves trying to buy my work). Frequently, I am so content with my lot in life that I feel waves of guilt not to be enmeshed in more miserable circumstances.

And yet.

Often, I worry I am failing in some important way. I trust myself as a parent/writer/person until I don’t. I’m one of those that holds with God’s promise to allow only as much as we can handle. Anything facing me ought by virtue of its presence give me confidence that I am equal to the task. But often it doesn’t.

A woman I deeply respect wrote yesterday about the rough stretch of road she’s travelling. I was proud of her. I  empathized with her worries of failure and feelings of falling short, but she was struggling, not failing. Courage and love she couldn’t see, poured out of her heart and words.

A few day earlier, another rejection letter on one of my book projects came. Another failure, I felt. So very discouraging, and I may never get it right. Admiring my friend’s unsung walk to help her daughter, has screwed my head on straight again.

Hilaire Beloc, once wrote: “When I am dead, I hope it may be said, his sins were scarlet, but his books were read.”  I’d love to be like Beloc (having my books read and all) but I’d also like to be like my friend. I have no intention of giving up on the books front. But if I can only have one dream or the other, I’ll take the love/courage option and let all the words flitter flutter away like grass. I’ll be who I think I should be and let the chips fall where they may.

With a thousand thanks to my courageous friend of the lonely road.

Concessions

My favorite but not the top vote getter

My favorite (I’m crazy about trees and wind) but not the top vote getter

 

I am not a picture person. I don’t naturally reach for a picture or ask to see pictures of other people’s children. Most of all, I am uncomfortable with pictures of myself. I have grown up enough not to hide when people take pictures of a group. (Maturity aided by hurt feelings of more than one event where I spent time wondering why no one included me in any of the pictures only to realize that someone had been me.) Despite growth, I have been reluctant to post a picture and my minor forays into electronic communication never include a tidy little avatar, real or sketched.

Read the words, I want to yell. Who cares about a picture? Wouldn’t it be more interesting to only know my voice? Pick whatever height, weight, skin, hair, face that pleases your imagination. I’ve told you I’m a woman, are imaginations so challenged of late that the rest fails to be adequately filled in as it suits?

Sometimes I like to see the picture of an author at the back of the book, sometimes I think it ruins it and I would have rather kept them exactly as I had them in my mind. Apparently, my views are not widely shared. A picture is not requested but required to even submit some other writing that I’ve done. Sigh. Procrastinate. Wonder if failed imaginations will rejoice if I have myself photographed in my lucky writing shirt, a blue plaid flannel? Somehow I know this is a bad idea.

I beg my friend to meet me at a nature sanctuary near her house with a camera. At least outside I don’t have to figure out what to wear. We spend exactly 5 minutes at the photo shoot. Me with navy coat and red hood showing, Me with just navy coat, Me with just sweatshirt. Despite cold fingers, my friend graciously offers to shoot more. I pretend to look around for another location for 3 more minutes and then pronounce the shoot finished. I can’t take any more of the pressure. Enough bending out where it feels a little dizzy. Time to get back down on the ground.

But which picture to pick? Requests for advice from six friends yielded almost as many responses. Luckily, many told me their second choice so I could at least manage a quorum. Final decision narrowed it to three. I’m sending one for my submission, using one for social media, and using the other for the About Me page.

This picture taking business has me thinking of my mother.  She would have known exactly what she wanted for a picture and been content doing it for ages. She has no doubt come  to peace with the fact that I never will. But she’s probably happy that I at least gave it a shot.

Songs from tiny town

Winterfrost by Missy Friedl-Shipley

Winterfrost by Missy Friedl-Shipley

I am a blip on the screen in the only place I could ever say I came from, not a hometown girl. We lived there six years. A little space in the grand scheme of things, but the time it takes to go from age 12 to 18 is a whole lot longer than that.

At graduation, I was all about leaving. (I didn’t know how the place where you say goodbye to childhood sticks to you.) The town was an ailing general store and a post office, a railroad track down the middle, and ten or so houses, maybe fifteen. A mile up the road was a church. The school bus was an education in chewing tobacco, sibling beatings, pregnancy, and girl fights.

I don’t belong here, I used to tell myself. Yet if I wanted some  place to claim me now, it’s the only place that even might.

In grade ten, we had a writing class led by an eccentric teacher in her sixties, a writer herself. Outside of music, it was the only creative water I was offered to drink during those years. The rest I had to find myself.

In the fall I reconnected with an old friend. I lived in the preacher’s house at the top of the hill twenty-five years ago. She lived closer to the general store. We rode the same bus and took some of the same classes. We sang together in choir, but otherwise, we had different circles of friends. We were friendly acquaintances with a similar appreciation for humor.

We both hurt, but we never talked about it. I cried myself to sleep at the top of the hill, too self absorbed to note the torrents and rivers of tears washing from her soul down at the bottom. We are talking now as we didn’t then. I am a writer. She is a painter, a photographer, and who knows what else. I’m not convinced she’s finished becoming all that she is.

The name of her site is a good enough introduction to her humor. If want to see art that is beautiful, thought provoking, sometimes funny, and sometimes sad, check out Wigglebutt Studios on Facebook. I recommend it whether or not you’re an art person, and especially if you are.

How we two came from the barren soil of that place, I have no idea, but we did. Maybe seeds from tiny town aren’t so unlikely. Maybe they’re lucky. I’m from the same place as Missy Friedl-Shipley, for heaven’s sake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sending for Jeffery

I am in a small state of creative depletion. Two reasons. My daughter asked me to write her a book two years ago. It will someday be a gift for all of them. I had hoped to send it to a friend to peruse for the beginning of December. Then I hoped for January 1. Currently, I am a third of the way through my latest round of “final,” revisions. On good days, I knock off another 15 pages. It is a bit maddening. At times I am in tears that I am still not able to offer this gift. Other days, I think that since I don’t end up really running my life anyway, the completion of the book can rest where it belongs, in hands not my own. Lately, I am leaned considerably more towards the former sentiment (tears) and a little further from the latter one of peace, so I have put a self-imposed burn on and am trying desperately to get through this next stage.

(No doubt my need to finish the book is influenced at least in part by the suggestion of a friend that I begin preparing another book . . . one that I would very much love to write. I can’t in good conscience start that book while the latest copy of hacked up corrections sits on my porch waiting for me to finish entering them all.)

For the 38,000th time in my life, I call for Jeffrey. If Jeffrey would only come, I would speak the corrections to him as he typed madly, or better yet, hand him the sheaf and let him come to me when he couldn’t figure the arrows and notes. Jeffrey is my servant and has been so for years. His talents are many. His only shortcoming is his refusal to materialize from my imagination into a real, live, working assister to my needs.

The truth is, the book gives back at least as much creative energy as it takes away. It’s more the allocation of the time. The real creative depletion comes from making such big decisions recently. I don’t know if this is a common human ailment. For me, it is real. I can study things objectively, engage situations that pose conflict, and make decision not everyone will understand. But when it’s all over, I’m finished. All the considered risk taking, all the change . . . it takes it out of me. I need recovery time.

Last week, we decided to move the three youngest kids to a new school. It was a good decision. I’ll write more later. All the meetings and questions and more conversations have taken just about all the energy I have. I would like Jeffery to come now. Make breakfast. Eggs Benedict perhaps. Give the house a once over. While he’s at it, use the magical dead mouse sounder to find the decomposing bodies in the wall. Then use the carcass vaporizer to remove them. Thank you, Jeffery. That will be all for now.