Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Odds and Ends

Yesterday, I drove over to my dad's place in Indiana and spent the afternoon with him as well as four of my five siblings and their spouses. Not long after I arrived, one of my brothers pointed to a family photo and asked me how old I was at the time it was taken. That photo is my all-time favorite of me. It shows my mom leaning against a tree with us six kids lined up beside her. I am at the end of the line, with about two feet separating me from the rest of my siblings. I'm standing kind of silly, and my face shows nothing but happiness. To me, that image says volumes about me and how I've always felt a little outside my family.

Anyways, back to the question of my age there. I told my brother I thought I was four in that photo. He just nodded. Long story short: there had been a discussion about our little brother and how old he was in that same photo. The brother who had asked me my age insisted our little brother was only one year old in the photo. Everyone else was saying no way, he had to be at least two or three. If I was four in the photo, our little brother would have been two. So that discussion went on for a while.

After a delicious lunch and a bit more hanging out, everyone began leaving. I stayed to chat for a little while longer then headed over to see an old friend from high school. She was in to visit her dad for the week, so I took the opportunity to catch up with her. I'm trying to turn over a new leaf -- taking the time to do things instead of saying, "Oh, I'll do it next time." There may not be a next time, so it's got to be now. When I drove away, even though it was dark and the roads were icy and I had a two and half hour drive home, I felt really happy for having taken the time to see her and learn about what she's been up to. My two and half hour drive turned into three and a half hours because of having to wait at the train tracks in one of the small towns along the way. I checked Google maps to see if there was a way around, but there wasn't unless I was willing to drive icy, unfamiliar roads. I wasn't. So I sat and listened to music for an hour.

This morning, I awoke, turned to look at the clock and saw that it was off. All of the power was off. Angel Baby came downstairs and said he and Lovely Beautiful Daughter had heard a loud ringing noise outside just before the everything shut down. I figured the negative temps had taken a toll on a transformer and it blew. I called in the outage, built a fire, and sat back to enjoy the morning. The house cooled off to the mid 50's, but the area in front of the fireplace stayed nice and warm. Around 11 o'clock, the power came back on. Ado and I snuggled on the couch then and took a nap together.

Now I'm looking around the house and thinking it's time to put all the Christmas decorations away. I'm ready to move on. I'm ready to greet 2018 and see what the year brings. At the beginning of 2017 I said it was going to be my year of persistence. I persisted through the separation from my husband and in the process found a new beginning, one that saw so much love and support from my kids. I persisted with the writing and sending my work out for consideration, and I received my first poem publication. And I persisted in being much kinder to myself, which found me looking at a photo of me just the other day and thinking, hmmmm, you look really pretty instead of the usual hmmmm, not a good photo of you yet again.

So, with just a few days of 2017 remaining, I'm going to keep moving forward. I'm ready to put my mantra together for 2018, and I'm ready to put it into action.

Monday, December 25, 2017

A Perfect Christmas

I know it's lofty saying today has been the perfect Christmas, but truly, I couldn't have asked for a more beautiful, fun-filled day. Though a frigid wind blew, the sun was bright and the snow glittered. I sat for a while, before anyone else was up and ready to open gifts, watching the birds at the feeder while a fire burned in the fireplace.

Right after we opened presents, Lovely Beautiful Daughter and I made our way to the kitchen to get the meal going. I made bread stuffing for the turkey, the bread stuffing I grew up eating every Thanksgiving and Christmas. Mom's bread stuffing. I snagged a bite as I made it, just like I used to when Mom made it. That stuffing is Christmas through and through. The turkey roasted in the oven for just over four hours, and during that four hour period, I made a couple of mincemeat turnovers to take to Dad tomorrow. He's the only one who liked the mincemeat pies that Mom made, so I thought I'd make a couple of turnovers just for him. In just a bit, I'll make the buckwheat pancake batter he's so fond of. Mom used to make these pancakes for him just a few times a year. It's a yeast recipe and has to brew overnight, so I'll get the batter put together and take him a jar of it for his Christmas present, to go along with the mincemeat turnovers. And the bottle of really good maple syrup I picked up last week. He's always saying he doesn't want anything unless he can eat or drink it. All of this he can definitely eat and enjoy.

With just me for quite some time this morning, I thought this is what my Christmases might be like from now on. The kids are no longer kids and go off doing their thing with their plus ones. I've always known I'm not the type to get all weepy over the kids growing up and leaving, and this morning that fact was reinforced. I was just fine here by myself. In fact, I liked being able to move around the house without worrying about being too noisy, without worrying if I should cook up enough bacon and eggs for whoever might wander into the kitchen. I've been told I'm "abnormally normal," so I'm not at all surprised I'm okay with the change happening in the family.

My husband did come over for the gift giving, though I didn't get him anything this year. I asked him not to get me anything, but he did. Surprise, surprise. It wasn't anything huge, but the same old issue of me asking him not to do something and he goes ahead and does it anyways is still a thing.

This afternoon, because of the snowfall, I finally was able to get the cross-country skis out and give them a go. Funny Delightful Son found the skis at a yard sale two years ago, but I've not been able to use them because we've not had much snow over the past two years. The shoes are about a size too big, and the poles are a tad long, but for $18 what can I expect. They're good enough to play around on, and if I actually put some time in and decide I want a proper pair of skis, I'll see what I can find at the end of this season.

Our meal was delicious. Lovely Beautiful Daughter did most of the work. I just did the turkey with stuffing and the mashed potatoes. She did green bean casserole, cheesy hashbrown potatoes, bread pudding, and a very tasty mustard gravy for the turkey. Some Hawaiian rolls and sparkling grape juice for the boys, a lovely bottle of red wine for me, and mimosas for Lovely Beautiful Daughter rounded out the dinner. Afterwards, we all fell into a food coma, though we did manage to watch a silly British movie, and the kids played a round of Taboo. Before heading off to bed, Lovely Beautiful Daughter said today was the best Christmas day she's had in a long time.

So yeah, today was perfect in every way.

 Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Snowy Christmas Eve Morning

I went to bed last night with the hope snow would fall for Christmas. This morning, around 5:30, I woke up. Through the lace curtains over my desk, I could see how bright it seemed outside, and I knew snow had fallen. I got up with Ado, went to the living room, and we both stood at the windows, peering out. Snow covered the back deck and lawn.

Now, it is 8:30 am, and the snow is still falling. The pine outside my window is snow-laden. Every now and then, a slight gust of wind will push the snow and an angle instead of it floating gently down.

The feeders have seen lots of action this morning. A few days ago, I counted 8 male cardinals at the feeders. This morning, I've only seen four. They definitely stand out in the white and gray world of my backyard. I could sit in my oversized chair by the window and watch all day. So beautiful.

Mr. and Mrs. enjoying breakfast together

Watching over the feeders

Buddha turtle serene in a cloak of snow
Wishing everyone a beautiful Christmas wherever you might be. 

Friday, December 22, 2017

In Need of Good Readers

The semester has officially come to a close, so technically my sabbatical has as well. The time away from prepping for classes, grading paper after paper, committee work, and everything else work-related was incredible. Not having to follow that routine came at a time in my life when I truly needed space to just see what happened. What happened was lots writing, lots of reading, lots of long walks with Ado, and sometimes just sitting to watch life swirl around me.

One step I took recently was to deactivate my FB page. While I find myself missing seeing what a few people are doing, I don't miss the whole of FB at all. At this point, I've whittled my social media down to the blog and the site I post my writing to for critique. Even with both of these places, though, my involvement is minimal (as you can see from the date of my last post here). I'd much rather put my time into writing the pieces that will be a part, hopefully, of my chapbook. 

This week, I've written two new pieces, both of which came from an idea that's been nagging at me for several months now. I initially thought I was going to have one poem, but the more I tried to make that one poem work, fewer and fewer words actually came to me. I would open the document, write some lines, delete those lines, try something else but nothing seemed to fit with what I was envisioning. I finally said to whatever it is inside me that has all these things it wants to say, "Fine. Just do what you want to do." Once I let the whatever take over the writing happened. The first poem kind of veered off the road, went over a cliff, and is not even close to what I had imagined it would be. I posted it to the writing site for critique, but I knew the responses might reflect readers don't understand what the poem is truly about. Of the three people who critiqued the poem, only one kind of got what is happening in the poem, but even this person didn't get the deeper effect. It's interesting how readers stay fairly surface-level when reading/responding to a piece. Or perhaps the meaning I'm seeing isn't truly there. It could simply be in my head and not in the words on the page.

The second poem, too, surprised me with how it ended up. While it does have some of the initial thoughts I had going into fleshing out the overall idea, it too, especially the ending, came about all of a sudden, as if a switch had been thrown to open the floodgate. I've posted this one to the site, but I'm not encouraged that I'll get readers who will examine the meaning. Most will take issue with sentence structure, how I've built the stanzas, and punctuation. I really don't care about any of that. I want to know if the meaning is coming through. I need an interpretation. So far, I've not gotten much of this from the people who critique.

In poking around the site, I've come to learn there are several members who post work but it's not available to the average person, like me. They tag it to keep those of us not worthy from being able to read and comment. These are the same people who won't read and comment on my work. I asked to be included in a particular group in hopes of getting to know these people and be able to discuss poetry with them, but so far I've not received any kind of response to my asking to be allowed in. Apparently, it's an exclusive club only for those whose work is deemed good enough. When I was telling Funny Delightful Son I can't play with the big kids, he started laughing. Seriously laughing hard. Then he said, "It's the internet, Mom. There are other groups. Tons of them. Join those." Who's the parent here? 

So now I'm searching for another group who might let me play with them. My hope is I actually find one that will read my work and look for meaning rather than just the punctuation, line length, and capitalization of the first word of each line (which several on the site I'm using adamantly say is a rule and anyone who doesn't cap the first word of each line doesn't know what she's doing -- yeah, that should have been my first clue to bail on this site). But, I'm in for the duration, and I know once I go back to work I won't be posting as much, so for now I'll just deal.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Late to the Fashion Show

Over the weekend I went shopping with Lovely Beautiful Daughter. I really hadn't intended to buy anything, but since we ended up at one of my favorite stores, I thought why not look for a dress? I made the decision to change up my wardrobe quite a bit: in with dresses and out with jeans (though I must confess I did just buy a very comfortable, just-want-to-wear-all-the-time pair of overalls). So I checked the dress rack and found four to try on (which is also a new thing for me per orders of Lovely Beautiful Daughter; no more buying an article of clothing and taking it home without trying it on). When LBD saw I had four dresses she was quite impressed though she did laugh at the range in sizes: one small, two medium, and one large. She's the one who also told me to stop selecting a piece based only on size, so I took her advice.

When I walked out of the dressing room, I found Lovely Beautiful Daughter waiting to get in line to pay for her purchases, so I joined her.

"What?!? Three dresses?" She raised her eyebrows in surprise.

"Yeah. Big step, isn't it?"

"I'm so glad you went with the burgundy one. That's a great color."

I even surprised myself with buying the burgundy dress. It's the most form-fitting (at least what I consider form-fitting) of the three dresses since it is the size S, but I'm working to get over the rather poor sense of self-image I've been told I have, so I decided this dress was going to help me do that. I put it on yesterday with some brown leggings and my brown cowboy boots, then added a colorful scarf. When Funny Delightful Son returned home from his finals, he looked at me and asked, "Where'd you go this morning?" I told him just around the block when Ado and I went for our walk, and he laughed, telling me I was pretty dressed up for a walk with the dog.

"I'm trying to decide if I like this dress enough to keep it," I said.

FDS looked at me and smiled. "Ahh, is that right?"

When Lovely Beautiful Daughter arrived home from work, she looked me up and down. "Well look at you in your fancy boots."

I was sitting in my chair at my desk.

"You really look all professor-like in that outfit," LBD said. "Should take a picture of you sitting there in front of your computer."

At this point, the dress is a keeper. It is really comfortable, and I know I'll be able to dress it up or down with just a switch of the shoes. Who knew at almost 54 years of age I'd finally develop some fashion sense?

The burgundy dress that's helping me break away from jeans and t-shirts


Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Lost-Found Ring

So, funny story.

Last Christmas my husband gave me a wedding band, one that matched his, even though from day one of our marriage I said ix-nay on the wedding band. Trying to be a good sport because it was Christmas after all, I slipped the band on my index finger as that was the only finger it would somewhat stay on.

Three days after Christmas, after Lovely Beautiful Daughter and I had gone to the mall where I'd tried on clothes and walked around several stores, after I had removed all the greenery from the window boxes and tossed it to the curb for trash pickup, and after taking down and boxing up all the decorations in the house, I looked down to see the ring was gone. It could have slipped off my finger during any of these activities.

Not wanting to say anything to my husband, I went about my day. I called the mall stores to ask if a ring had been found in the changing rooms. I retraced all my steps around the yard to see if I might find the ring glittering in the sun. Because the Christmas decorations had already been stashed in the attic of the garage, I wasn't going to pull down the ladder and stay hunched over in the crawlspace to search through the boxes. I figured the ring was simply gone for good.

When my husband came to me the next day and asked for the ring so he could take it to be sized, I fessed up about losing it. Needless to say, he was very unhappy with me.

Today, as I lifted out two tissue-wrapped glass Christmas ornaments from one of the boxes of Christmas decorations, there lay the ring. For almost a year, it was in a little box inside a bigger box inside the garage attic.

The day I lost the ring I thought it an omen. I'd never wanted a wedding band. I specifically asked not to be given one. Yet my husband did exactly as I asked him not to. Much like the diamond necklace he gave me one year after I had said never buy me a diamond. And much like the bouquet of flowers he got me for Valentine's day after I had said please don't buy me cut flowers. While these are small things, they are just a drop in the bucket of what I asked my husband not to do that he disregarded. Is it any wonder we now live in separate houses?

This afternoon, I placed the lost-found wedding band in my jewelry box. I haven't told my husband I found it, and I don't quite know what to do with it. Maybe one day it'll find a hand that truly wants it to adorn a ring finger.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Things That Trigger the Poet in Me

I've been working on a poem the last four days, and while I'm making progress, that progress has been excruciatingly slow. I decided to take on this particular subject in response to a poem I read on the site I submit my work for critique. Yeah, probably not the best reason to write a poem, but seriously, that poem made me want to stab my eyes out with one of the many black ink pens I have scattered across my desk. Sometimes I just don't understand what motivates people to write what they do. I take that back. I do know what motivates them: love or sex or both at the same time. It's like there aren't any other subjects worth writing about.

So this poem I'm working on, in addition to it being brought about in response to the poem that made me want to stab my eyes out, is also for a contest sponsored by the site where my work is posted for feedback. The general idea is to "graphically feature the preparation and/or eating of delicious food," specifically "winter holiday foods." I really don't care if I don't win, place, or even show for this contest. I just want to see if I can create a piece that captures the wonderful aromas and beautiful dishes that can be prepared during the holidays. I also hope to evoke a nostalgia through the imagery, at least for those whose families had the more traditional turkey with stuffing and mashed potatoes followed by pie kind of meals. I know not everyone has experienced this kind of holiday meal, but it's the only kind of holiday meal I can draw from.

I am having a lot of fun thinking this poem through, working with near rhyme while creating the scene. And the title came to me pretty early on in the process, so though the writing has been kind of slow it's also been a good mental exercise. I've learned the scientific process of what happens to a turkey when it's in the oven, which is quite fascinating, and I've learned what goes into making a mincemeat pie from scratch. I just might have to try making this pie this year as it does sound delicious now that I'm an adult, way beyond the child who thought just the name of the pie sounded so gross she wouldn't even try a bite. I think all the learning that happens when I'm writing a poem is one of the best things about writing poetry.

I still have quite a bit of time to finish the poem. The due date isn't for another three weeks, so hopefully between now and then, the poem will pull together into something I can be very happy with.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Finding My Way into Good Music

I am so in love with Michael Kiwanuka. His music, for whatever reason, strikes a chord in me. I can listen to his songs over and over and over. Not many singer/songwriters do this to me.

My love affair with Kiwanuka's music started a couple of weeks ago when I had a mix streaming on YouTube. His song "Cold Little Heart" came on while I was in the kitchen doing dishes. When his voice started, I had to stop and go watch the video and listen to the song. I must have been in a fragile place that day -- the tears started slipping down my cheeks as I listened. Maybe it was the lyrics. Maybe the style took me back to my childhood. Maybe the young man dancing in the video made me feel the despair that comes from trying but not making headway. Could have been all of this that struck me that day. Ever since, I've been listening to Kiwanuka and really enjoying his work.

I didn't realize at the time that this song is from Big Little Lies, which I watched earlier this year. I thought the song sounded familiar but couldn't place it. Then I read some of the comments below the video and saw others saying it was because of that show they found Kiwanuka's music.

I just finished watching the first season of Dark on Netflix and am now caught up in the soundtrack from it. The show is fantastic, one that I couldn't tear myself away from. I watched it with the German language and subtitles, so I really had to pay attention, but it was totally worth it. Just a wonderful show. The music, too, caught my attention, so now I'm listening to the soundtrack quite a bit.

I'm really examining music more closely these days, I think because of the poetry I'm writing. I can see where poetry and music overlap, so I'm paying more attention to lyrics, rhythm, cadence, etc. Even Funny Delightful Son noticed the near rhymes I'm using in one of my poems and remarked about it being similar to what rap artists do with their songs. I love being able to have conversations about using language with my kids. That's what I consider fun times.

If you haven't watched Dark, here's one of the songs to give you an idea of what the music is like. Really, really good stuff.

Enter One by Sol Seppy

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

A Bird in the Hand

An interesting aspect of living in this house with its one wall of large windows is the number of birds that fly into the glass. About a week or so ago, I was here at my computer and Angel Baby was sitting on the couch looking through some videos before heading off to class. I heard a very loud thunk and thought maybe he had dropped his phone. After a few seconds, Angel Baby called out, "Ummm, Mom, a bird just smacked against the window and there's a huge hawk sitting on top of the bird feeder." I dashed to the living room, wanting to see the hawk, but it was gone by the time I got there. The little bird, though, was crumpled on the deck.

I went out to check on the bird. It was still breathing, very quickly, and its beaked opened then closed as if it was gasping for breath. I cradled it in my hands for some time then took it over to the edge of the yard and set it down in a bed of fallen leaves. For the next 45 minutes, I checked on it to be sure it was hanging in there. The last time I went to see how it was doing, it flew away when I neared. I was so happy to see it go on its way.

This morning, I heard another thunk as I was sitting here working on some writing. I went to the windows and peered out. Another little bird sat stunned on the deck. I went out and scooped it up, just watching it for a few minutes. This one didn't seem as rattled as the previous, so I took it over to the edge of the yard and nestled it into some leaves. In just a matter of ten minutes or so, the little one was able to go on its way.

Funny Delightful Son came in as I was finishing this up and says, "That's worth two in the bush."

Monday, December 4, 2017

Still Working on Simplifying

After long thought (seriously long, like more than a year long), I finally decided to step away from Facebook. I almost did so in June, but Funny Delightful Son suggested I stay on for a bit longer. I did, but I keep coming back to wanting to simplify my life even further, with social media being the area I want to work on most. I had closed my LinkedIn and Twitter accounts earlier this year, so the last big step is Facebook. After talking briefly with a friend yesterday about him deactivating his FB account and being all the happier because of it, I was inspired to take the leap and deactivate mine. I posted a note letting friends and family know of my intentions, and in a day or so I'll go in to hit the Deactivate button to complete the process.

For many years I've wanted to simplify my life. I thought, though, this meant finding that dream farm and having the milking cow, chickens, and a large garden. Then, my husband and I separated. I moved into a rental with no garden to tend, and all of the lawn upkeep is taken care of by the landlord. I have learned over the past few months that simplifying is about moving away from things rather than bringing more things into my life that involve doing. The garden, while very relaxing and wonderful to watch grow, involved a lot of work. Many things I used to do that I no longer do required a lot of time and effort. Now that those things have been removed from my life, I've found I have time. Time to write. Time to read. Time to watch the birds at the feeders. Time to just sit and watch life. 

Even my desire to become a yoga teacher involved time, travel, and money. And I realized I was bringing something else into my life when I kept saying I want to simplify. While I loved the classes and I've learned a ton over the last year, I realized how much time and effort I was putting into doing it. I could feel myself spreading thin again, just doing too much when my real desire is to do less. After careful thought and talking with Lovely Beautiful Daughter about putting the yoga teacher training on the shelf for a while, I made the decision to take a hiatus until further notice. The moment I made that decision I felt a huge weight lift from my shoulders.

One other area of simplifying my life involves my car. I am playing with the idea of going car-free during the spring semester to see how I manage. I live close enough to the grocery store that I can ride my bike for whatever I might need. Public transit stops right up the street and will take me to Uptown Station where I can catch the bus that will take me to work. I walk a lot since the places I frequent are maybe a mile or less away. If I do need a vehicle for going a longer distance every now and then, I have access to Lovely Beautiful Daughter's car. I love the idea of not having a car payment, not paying for gas, not having to deal with oil changes and other car maintenance issues, but while all of this sounds great, I know I need to ease into being car-free, test the waters during the spring semester to see if it's really something I can make a part of my life.

While I won't be on FB, Twitter, or other social media, I will be here. This is the place I've been the longest. This is a space that holds the good, the bad, and the not so pretty. This is where I am most me.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A Happy Late-November Day

Today is a happy day for me. My first ever published poem is out there. Honestly, I don't care if I don't get anything else done today. I just want to keep opening the website where my poem has been offered alongside many other wonderful poems for all to read. I feel very honored to have been granted this opportunity. If you'd like to read "Shivering in the Passenger Seat," click here. You'll be taken to the latest issue of Tipton Poetry Journal. Read all of the poems. I know you'll find one, maybe two, perhaps even ten that will move you.

With just a little over a month left of my sabbatical, I'm feeling a bit sad. The time off from prepping for five classes, from grading 100+ essays several times a semester, from committee work, etc. has been just wonderful. I finally got a sense for what it's like to be a full-time writer. I've always wondered what this kind of life would be like, and now I know a little bit better. I wish I could live this life all the time.

But I still have a month, and my intention is to continue creating new pieces. These last few days I've spent my time revising what I have, and what I have at this point is enough for a chapbook, which means I can start seeking out potential publication opportunities. I think I'm getting better at seeing what the weaknesses are in each piece, as well as getting better at revising to strengthen each piece. I think. I'll find out once I start submitting the chapbook to publishers. My hope is that even if a publisher doesn't accept the chapbook for publication, perhaps said publisher will give me some actual feedback to help me revise and strengthen my work further.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Finally, A Yes!

Last night, just as I was shutting things down to call it a day, I checked in at my email account to see if anything new came in. The only new item was from a poetry journal I had sent a couple of poems to. As is wont to happen these days, I felt that familiar sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I asked myself: do you really want to open that now? Self replied: well, no, but now or tomorrow, it's all the same. I really didn't want to go to bed disappointed, but my curiosity got the best of me and I opened the email.

The first thing I noticed was how long the email was compared to the previous rejection emails. So I started from the beginning, kept reading, and learned one of the poems had been selected for publication in this poetry journal. Then, I started crying. Yep. I cry over the Thanks but no thanks emails, and I cry over the Congratulations emails. I am that person.

Funny Delightful Son came in as I was sitting at my desk, still basking in the feeling of having finally received a yes. I told him about the poem being accepted, and he said, "So now you're done with your sabbatical. Mission completed. You can play all you want until you have to go back to work in January." Tempting. Very tempting.

But I'm going to keep working. I have more words that are pestering me to play with them. I can see my chapbook coming together, which I'm finding more and more exciting with each poem I add to it. With each piece I write, I feel the desire to really push myself to explore, experiment, play, and I have several poets sitting next to me so I can examine what they did in their poetry, how what they did might work with what I'm doing. And I have a quote from Dylan Thomas' "Poetic Manifesto" propped up next to the computer, a quote I absolutely love, love, love: "The best craftsmanship always leaves holes and gaps in the works of the poem so that something that is not in the poem can creep, crawl, flash, or thunder in." Yes. This.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Seeing Holy in Melancholy

As I was writing this morning, I used the word melancholy. I've always loved this word. Not only does it get at a deeper sense of sadness, but the sound of the word lends itself to the sensuous nature, the depth of which this kind of sadness can be felt. All the sudden, I realized the word holy is part of melancholy. Not in the etymological sense. Just in letters spelling the word inside another word sense. And now I'm all excited, finding myself working up a piece that hopefully will hint at the connection between being holy and feeling a profound sadness.

Along with being really excited about seeing a word inside another word, I'm also totally in love with the idea of duende, a concept Federico Garcia Lorca explored in depth. I've been reading whatever I can find that addresses duende and Lorca's thoughts about it. His lecture "Theory and Play of the Duende" offers many examples to help shed light on what duende is and how it plays a role in writing, especially poetry. This part reached out and captured me, I think because I've been feeling the wound that never heals:

"When the angel sees death appear he flies in slow circles, and with tears of ice and narcissi weaves the elegy we see trembling in the hands of Keats, Villasandino, Herrera, Bécquer, and Juan Ramón Jiménez. But how it horrifies the angel if he feels a spider, however tiny, on his tender rosy foot!

The duende, by contrast, won’t appear if he can’t see the possibility of death, if he doesn’t know he can haunt death’s house, if he’s not certain to shake those branches we all carry, that do not bring, can never bring, consolation.

With idea, sound, gesture, the duende delights in struggling freely with the creator on the edge of the pit. Angel and Muse flee, with violin and compasses, and the duende wounds, and in trying to heal that wound that never heals, lies the strangeness, the inventiveness of a man’s work."

All my life I've felt these wounds. I've tried to move beyond them, and at times I've thought they've scabbed over then gave way to new flesh covering the spot where the wound occurred, but more often than not, the scab just got torn off over and over again. The wounds are still there. Maybe that's why Lorca's ideas have my head spinning. I feel like Tracy K. Smith, who wrote:

"[T]his concept of duende . . . supposes that our poems are not things we create in order that a reader might be pleased or impressed (or, if you will, delighted or instructed); we write poems in order to engage in the perilous yet necessary struggle to inhabit ourselves—our real selves, the ones we barely recognize—more completely."

This is what I'm finding out about myself. It started with the yoga practice and became more pronounced in my meditation practice, and I now see it happening with my writing practice. All of my writing, be it journaling, sketching out a poem, or posting here on the blog. I'm engaging, finally, purposefully and openly in the struggle to inhabit my real self, the one I barely recognize. Somewhere along the way I stopped expressing the amazement I feel about life. I'm not sure where or when this happened. I do harbor, though, a very faint, very foggy memory or memories that my thoughts, ideas, zest weren't received well, were poked fun at, and that's why I stopped inhabiting my real self. 

This sabbatical has allowed me time and space to immerse myself in the struggle, and what I have found myself thinking at odd times throughout my days is I feel so free.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Slowly Figuring Things Out

A couple of days ago, Funny Delightful Son came in from work and sat in the overstuffed chair in front of the windows overlooking the backyard. I had been lounging on the couch most of the afternoon, binging a program I didn't have to give much attention to keep up with what was going on. Mostly I was simmering in self-pity over receiving yet another rejection.

"What're you doing?" Funny Delightful Son asked.

"Soothing my sobbing soul," I said.

"Hmmm. Is that right? Why is it sobbing?" I could see Funny Delightful Son trying really hard not to laugh at me.

"Another editor telling me my writing sucks."

"So Mom . . .." This is what Funny Delightful Son always says just before he launches into his practical, matter-of-fact take on a situation. " . . .why is it so important to you to have someone else tell you your writing is good, or at least good enough for whatever publication they are putting out?"

All I could do was look at him with what I'm sure was a classic blank face. I had no answer. I still have no answer to his question.

Why, indeed, is receiving validation from the editor of a literary magazine that practically no one reads so important to me?

We sat and talked further, me saying publishing is just something I've always wanted to happen. Funny Delightful Son then said, "But why? How is publishing going to make your life any better than what it is right now?" Again, I had no answer, and I still don't.

During the course of our conversation, in addition to the questions I have no answers for, Funny Delightful Son asked, "Why not self-publish? Why give away your artistic freedom? Why not keep all the control and call all the shots yourself?"

In all honesty, I know the main reason I am hoping an editor says yes at some point is to be able to say, "See, someone who doesn't know me, who isn't related to me, thinks my writing is worth putting out there for others to read." It's vanity.

That being said, if I'm truly wanting to walk the path of non-attachment, of non-competitiveness, I need to move away from the vanity. I need to focus on bringing to fruition the beauty I see in all that surrounds me and find a way to share those expressions in a way that isn't about what others think. Perhaps Funny Delightful Son is onto something with the self-publishing suggestion. I mean, just recently I sent a couple of poems to a literary mag and the editor emailed me to let me know he'd received the poems. Then he wrote, "Please note that we do NOT accept simultaneous submissions." At the time my reaction was fine, no problem. Now, the more I think about it, the more my reaction is along the lines of eff u! (yeah, I have some work to do in walking a more peaceful path). It's my work and I'll send the same poems to as many literary magazines at the same time as I deem necessary. Most publications even say now that they won't accept work that a person has posted to his/her personal blog. As Funny Delightful Son pointed out, why am I willing to let others control the decisions related to my artistic work?

I think today is a good day to take full control of my work. In that spirit, here is a recent piece. Totally in draft form. Still tinkering, still rearranging, still wondering where it might be headed.

Breathing Lessons (yes, I know there's a Pulitzer prize-winning novel of the same title, so any suggestions would be greatly appreciated; any and all suggestions for the poem itself would be greatly appreciated, as well)

When the breath falters, a tiny bit
of doubt finds the crack to seep past,
like winter cold
curling around loose window casing,
trickling inside to dilute warmth
from the fire.

When the breath falters, attention shifts
from soft caress of air
spidering in, through, down,
casting gossamer threads
to couple mind with fleshy matter
and is left untethered.

When the breath falters, the posture
begins to decompose, those tomatoes
left untended in last summer’s garden
where tiny black bugs snip
past skin to eat juicy pulp

until first frost.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Aye Yi Yi!

At this point, I'm not sure what to think about the pieces I'm writing. I remind myself all the time, I mean All. The. Time., not to be emotionally attached. I keep in mind how writing, especially fiction and poetry it seems to me, is incredibly subjective. Both of these notes-to-self notwithstanding, I still wonder if I'll ever produce anything that will be deemed publish-worthy. If the feedback I'm getting from the readers at the site I joined is any indication, I won't ever make the cut.

A more recent piece is one in which I'm exploring the juxtaposition between enjoying a life of exploration, being able to experience the feelings brought about through travel and being able to make the calls versus not having this kind of freedom. The title of the poem is "Rift," which I was hoping would help the reader see there is a line/break/hole/chasm/difference of opinion that separates the two. The way the poem is set up, I thought, also gets at this idea of line/break/hole/chasm/difference. The word choices, if thought through carefully, point to this same idea. One person who offered a response to this particular piece said, "After reading the complete piece, I could not connect the opening to the closing stanza. I mean, you started off really well and closed well too - but both the stanzas seem a little disconnected." Ummm, cue title? The disconnection is the point. Perhaps I'm trying to do too much in the poem and it's just too muddled. While it makes perfect sense to me, this doesn't matter. What matters is how the reader sees it. 

Another piece I posted for feedback, one reader took it upon herself to strike out words, add in words, and take what I had intended to be unadorned to being rather sappy. She also wrote, "I prefer you break your lines into stanzas." Well, she can prefer that all she wants, but I intentionally decided not to do that to create less interruption while reading. I realize I'm putting myself out there for others to critique, but I think there is a fine line between offering thoughtful feedback and taking ownership of another's piece. I know my role as a writing instructor for upwards of 25 years, with lots of hours invested in how to respond to the writing of others in a respectful, thoughtful, and helpful way, not by taking ownership of it, is influencing my response to this person's critique, so now I'm finding myself wondering if I should let her know I'm not too keen on her method or just let it go. Knowing myself, I'll end up letting it go. At least this time.

So the trials and tribulations of writing and publishing continue. I'll keep plugging away as I'm not the type to give up. If nothing else, my kids being witnesses to my ups and downs might be what this part of my life is truly about. My resolve to keep writing, to continue learning, to be gracious to those offering their thoughts might be useful to them one day. 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

A Stranger Gives Me Hope

I wrote a poem the other day from an idea that I've been batting around for about two months. Whenever an idea occurs to me, I jot it down in one of my far too many journals scattered around the desk, or I open a Word doc and write down the basic idea. I returned to the idea a few days ago, set to work, and after several hours of what felt like slogging through ankle-deep mud, I had a draft in place. I tinkered with it, got up to take Ado for a walk, came back to tinker a bit more, then closed out the file. I felt like the poem was taking shape, but could feel something more needed to be done.

Today I returned to the poem and the something more appeared to me as if it had been right in front of me all along. I slashed about six lines. I changed a word that made me stop every single time I read the poem. It's amazing to me how one little word can have such a huge impact on reading. At that point, I decided to post the work to the online site for feedback. After typing in the title, I realized I unconsciously changed two words from what I had on the Word doc version. I sat back, wondering if I should leave the new title and decided that yes, this title does something subtle to the overall reading that the previous title didn't.

Just a few minutes ago, I received a comment on my poem. The person who responded started out by saying he doesn't usually read or critique poetry as it isn't where his interest lies. He went on to say he decided to check out this poem because of the title, and after finishing the poem, he went back to read the other poems I have posted to the site. This person continued, offering such kind words about this poem that I found myself wiping away tears.

Many days I wonder if what I'm writing is any good. So far, the editors of all the literary magazines I've submitted to haven't thought my work is good enough to publish. This person's comment gives me hope, and I will continue trying. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

This Beautiful Rainy Day Monday

Today I moved between writing, reading, vet, landlord, more writing, and sitting in front of the fire just watching the flame while listening to the rain patter against the roof, accompanied by a favorite jazz album playing softly. It was truly the kind of day to stay inside, snuggle into comfy clothes, and sip on hot chocolate. Although, to be honest, my choice of beverage this evening was a very delicious warm and fuzzy apple cider. Just lovely to sip on.

The toughest part of the day definitely had to be the writing. I have three new pieces going at the same time while trying to revise two pieces that are closer to being "finished." I had one of the pieces workshopped by members of the online site I recently joined, and the critiques have been mixed. Several readers weren't able to make the connection to the time element working, which I thought might be problematic. That being said, the last person to critique did pick up on the lapse in time. A couple of other issues pointed to gave me several things to consider. One especially. In this piece I refer to two young Black men, capitalizing the B in Black. I capitalize to show respect and that I'm not just referring to the color black, but rather to a culture, a group. One reader actually struck through the B and lowercased it. Another reader asked if the B should be a lowercase b. To better decide what I wanted to do with this part of my poem, I did some reading and found the B to be the best way to go for the intentions within the poem.

A couple of other comments regarded line breaks and word choice. Both of these I give serious consideration, maybe too much. I typically make a break at the end of a line when I want the reader to settle on a word for a reason. I'm constantly thinking about how the word will impact the meaning of the line, what comes before, what comes after. I'm constantly thinking about rhythm, how it affects the overall reading of the poem. Perhaps I'm thinking too much while writing. I do believe there's something to be said for letting go of the thinking and just writing, let come out what wants to come out.

Which is kind of what I did with one of the new pieces I have going. I've been staring at the jumbled mess I vomited onto the page and tried to get something sensical happening. Nothing. Then I just said screw it and went with whatever popped into my head. All the sudden, 142 words spilled out, just like that. I know 142 words don't sound like much, but when I read those142 words, I know they're going to take me somewhere. Where that somewhere is I don't really know yet, but I think the beginning has at least started. And now I'm all excited about what might happen here.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Putting Myself in the Hot Seat

So I signed up to be a member of a writer's group online. One where I can read others' works and offer feedback. I can also put myself in the hot seat by uploading my work for feedback.

I've become totally consumed by reading others' poems and offering critiques. Seriously, I could spend my entire day just sitting here reading not only the poems but also the critiques others are offering. Even though the critiques are not in response to anything I've submitted, I still find them extremely helpful when looking at my own writing.

With this site, I have had to gain karma points before I can submit anything for a critique (since I'm tight with a nickel as Angel Baby is fond of saying, and went with the free version of this site). The karma points come from reading and critiquing poems submitted by other members. They also come from the writers of those poems responding to the feedback in a positive way. I earned enough karma points today to submit one of my more recent poems. This poem was mostly an exercise in going out of my comfort zone and writing whatever popped into my head, not forcing an idea or theme. To be honest, I have no idea what the poem is even about. What I do know is this: it is the poem I've had the most fun with.

I posted it for critique earlier today, and so far, three people have responded. One person just said he thought it was wonderful. I'm glad he liked it and it was nice to get a positive response. The second person was more thorough and pointed to some specific places in the poem that could be worked on. The third response was the most helpful. The person who responded showed several words that aren't necessary, marked a sentence that has too much going on, and discussed the theme she sees at work. When I went in and made the changes she suggested, I could see the poem pull together a bit.

What I find most interesting is it took this person reading my poem and her thoughts about the theme working for me to see it. I guess I kind of knew it was there, but after reading what she wrote, I can see it much more clearly.

Another interesting takeaway: I feel energized to write and share. For years it's mostly been me responding to others' works. It's exciting to have the opportunity to share my work and receive feedback to help me make my writing even stronger.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Beautiful Face of Andrea, Part II

Last week, I shared a write-up about Andrea Wilches, one of the cyclists on the Northern Tier ride, summer 2016. I had the pleasure of riding with Andrea again this summer, both of us completing the Pacific coast, and I was able to sit with Andrea to catch up, get some insight into how the rides have impacted her life.

The Beautiful Face of Andrea, Part II

“I think the ride last year almost changed me completely.” The ride Wilches refers to is being a cyclist for Bike the US for MS, an organization based in Blacksburg, VA. For Andrea Wilches, the change she experienced affected her view of having MS, of what it means to be strong, and about life in general.

Though Wilches was four years beyond the diagnosis of MS the summer of 2016, she was still grappling with how it fit into her life. Right up to the point when her application to be a cyclist with the organization was accepted, she’d not told many friends and co-workers she has MS. The acceptance forced her hand. If she was to raise the required $1 per mile, she had to reach out.

She wrote the email explaining her situation and her desire to do the ride, but she didn’t send it right away. Fear kept her from clicking the Send button for several days. When she finally found the strength to send the email, the near-immediate responses blew her away.

“So many people called me back immediately, asking if I was okay.” For Wilches, this was the first step of changing her narrative. Until that moment of sending out that email, Wilches was afraid of what people were going to say, of what people thought was going to happen to her, because what she imagined they would say were the very things she thought as well. But they only showed they cared and wanted to help. She goes on to say, “I felt relieved.”

That first step to changing her narrative of living with MS led to Wilches joining the rest of the Bike the US for MS cyclists when they reached Minneapolis, MN., and while the first step was difficult, the second step proved even more so.

While in Minneapolis, the group spent time at the Fairview MS Achievement Center located in St. Paul. There, they met individuals living with MS. There, Wilches was confronted with having to face more fears: what the MS could possibly do to her mobility, what the MS could possibly do to her vision, what the MS could possibly do to her language abilities.

“It hit me,” Wilches says of walking into the center, the hallway lined with individuals at various stages of debilitation, some using a walker for support, others confined to wheelchairs but able to propel the chair on their own, and still others who required constant assistance with every facet of daily life. She remembers thinking, “Wow, this is real. This is serious. Tomorrow it (the MS) could do this, that, or this.”

After having spent four years circling around the MS diagnosis, Wilches found herself thrown right into the middle of the ring. The fragility she’d been hiding from everyone surfaced that day at the Fairview MS Achievement Center and at various other points from the moment the group left out of Minneapolis to make their way to Seattle, WA. To keep herself going when she thought she couldn’t, Wilches remembered what one individual at the center, a woman confined to a wheelchair, said to her when Wilches confided in her that she, too, has MS. “She told me I needed to have a positive attitude.” That woman’s words became Wilches’ mantra for the rest of the trip.

Not long after that day in Minneapolis, Wilches found herself again amongst individuals living with MS. This time, instead of breaking down in tears, she stood in front of the group and said aloud, “I have MS.” She looks at this moment as the first time since the diagnosis that she truly began to own the fact that she has MS, and as the moment she began facing all the fears within. Other moments of meeting individuals with MS occurred during the ride. With each interaction Wilches found herself becoming stronger, feeling a sense of community with those who understand what she is going through.

By the time Wilches reached Seattle, she knew she was well on her way to creating the narrative she wants for her life. “Last year (at the end of the Northern Tier 2016 ride), I knew everything will be okay. I still believe that. If it’s not, it’s the mindset and I have two options: change the narrative or not.”  

After Seattle, Wilches set about changing her narrative. Since finishing the Northern Tier ride, she began practicing Buddhism, which she believes is key to helping her take care of her mental health. Wilches smiles as she says, “I look at the ride from last summer as my one-month meditation. I was able to focus on just this one thing of cycling the mileage for each day. Just one road for hours and hours, miles and miles. I took the time to take care of my thoughts and self.”

Another takeaway from the ride Wilches returns to often is feeling empowered. When she signed up to do this year’s Pacific Coast ride with Bike the US for MS, and people asked her, “Can you do it?”, Wilches confidently replied, “Of course I can.” While last summer was her “crash course” into the world of cycling long distance, this year, cycling “doesn’t feel new any longer after completing the Northern Tier.” Wilches admits she still has more to learn about cycling, and laughs over still being confused about “which is my big ring, which is my little ring?”, but she can confidently clip into her pedals and complete the mileage for each day.

This empowerment led Wilches to fulfill a childhood dream. “As a kid, I always wanted to be part of a band but doubted myself,” Wilches says. After returning home to New York City last summer, Wilches thought, I just biked 2000 miles. Why can’t I be part of a band? She checked around and found a spot singing and playing auxiliary percussion with a folk band. “I feel like a superhero,” Wilches laughs.

Wilches is quick to point out, however, there are days she doesn’t feel so much like a superhero, like the day her cycling partner had to offer some tough love to keep Wilches from spinning into misery. “It was one of those hot days. The route leader told us we only had about five miles to the turn-off. I thought okay, five miles is manageable. Then the route leader called and said it was actually more like eight miles. I went into a negative spin and started crying.” At that point, Wilches was ready to give up.

Her cycling partner had other ideas, though. “She looked at me and said, ‘Get on that fucking bike and pedal!’” And that’s exactly what Wilches did. She completed that day, thankful to have someone who wouldn’t allow her to sink into negativity by her side, and she completed each day after until arriving in San Diego, CA, for a total of 1852 miles along the Pacific coast.

Now, with two long-distance cycling trips to reflect back on, Wilches sees the positive changes in herself. Before the rides, anything about MS triggered a meltdown. To an extent, she felt like her life was over after receiving the diagnosis. These days, she feels more whole and takes things on a day to day basis. Wilches says of the rides, “I learned how to jump in and put myself out there every day. Why not? Even with the folk band, I still get stage fright, but what’s the worst that can happen? No one’s going to throw tomatoes at me.”

“I’m owning my passions,” Wilches says. “That is empowering.”

Wilches trying her hand at clamming during the Pacific coast ride, August 2017.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Beautiful Face of Andrea, Part I

Last year, during one of the final days of the Northern Tier ride, I sat down with Andrea Wilches, one of the cyclists with the Northern Tier group, and talked at length with her about how the ride impacted her life. Andrea joined the group when we reached Minneapolis, which is where we also enjoyed a rest day. During our stay there, we went to the Minneapolis MS Center to meet those who participated in the programs made possible in part because of the donation given by Bike the US for MS. My memories from that day I’ll always treasure; the people I met, both those with MS as well as those who care for them, the beautiful garden, and witnessing Andrea begin her journey to finding a way to accept that she, too, has MS.

Each day until the end of the ride last summer, I was constantly amazed by Andrea’s perseverance. She went into the ride with very little experience cycling long distance, and on the first day of cycling, not being completely comfortable with clipping into her pedals, she found herself with a nasty gash on her calf after getting tangled up. This mishap and others didn’t deter Andrea from continuing on the journey she signed up for.

More recently, in August, Andrea and I met out in Seattle, both of us having signed up for the Pacific coast ride. At the end of this ride, the night we camped at Carlsbad under a full moon, Andrea sat down with me again, humoring me with my questions about how her life has been impacted by the rides with Bike the US for MS.

This is the piece about Andrea from last summer, for those who may have missed it when it was posted in my Beautiful Faces of MS project. Within the next few days, check back to read the follow-up profile from this summer.


The Beautiful Face of Andrea, Summer 2016

“We see lesions, and we think you have MS.”

To then 28-year-old Andrea Wilches, this statement translated to, “I’m going to be in a wheelchair tomorrow.”

Now, three years later, Wilches, of New York City, knows differently. Now, after cycling the Northern Tier route from Minneapolis, MN to Seattle, WA, over 2000 miles, Wilches feels hope and see possibilities for her future.

An active individual, Wilches enjoys participating in running events. During a 10k three years ago, she experienced intense pins and needles down her legs to her toes. She also felt the pins and needles through her torso, as well as a sharp spark down her spine when she lowered her head. Wanting answers, she searched online for what might be causing her symptoms. What she found pointed to Multiple Sclerosis, so she made an appointment with a neurologist who ordered an MRI.

“The image (of the lesions on her brain and spine) is still hard to get out of my head,” Wilches confides as she sits on the floor of the trailer where the cyclists for Bike the US for MS store all of their belongings in what are referred to as “cubbies,” boxes big enough to hold a tent, a sleeping bag, a few changes of clothes, and other must-have’s needed for the two-month long cycling trip across the United States. “My immediate thought was life was going to change within the month. Things were just going to start happening.”

Like many diagnosed with a disease, Wilches began reading about MS, which she admits was probably the worst thing to do. She also talked with her neurologist, who confirmed what Wilches was learning from her readings: MS affects vision, MS affects mobility, MS affects language, and other functions we don’t think about until confronted with their loss. For Wilches, a lower school Spanish teacher who also knows Portuguese, the thought of losing her language abilities hit hard. “I love language,” she says. “It scares me to think about losing something I love.”

For the past three years, since being diagnosed, Wilches admits the MS has consumed her life. If her eyes get blurry, it’s the MS. If she stumbles, it’s the MS. Even the MS used to identify the middle schools throughout the city turn her thoughts to having Multiple Sclerosis. Much of this she kept to herself, with only her family and a few close friends knowing she was even dealing with an autoimmune disease. She was scared to talk about the MS out loud because that makes it real.

Deep down, though, Wilches knew she needed to come to terms with and own her MS. “I see it as a general theme of changing your narrative,” she says. “I thought my life was going to be one way. Then there’s a ripple. What am I going to do now? I could do the crying thing, which I definitely did. And I was kind of like ‘why me’? But I changed my mindset.”

That change in mindset began the day Wilches signed up to ride with Bike the US for MS. As a teacher with her summers free, Wilches likes to involve herself in opportunities to travel, share her teaching abilities with other cultures. For this summer, she had applied for and had been accepted to travel to Ghana where she was to help with a reconstruction project. However, she wasn’t feeling enthusiastic about going. “You know, I was like I really don’t want to do it.” So she stepped back and thought about what she does like to do.

Riding her bike came to mind, which led her to wonder, “What if I just biked across the United States?” This prompted her to begin researching cycling cross-country, and what she found fascinated her. “I didn’t know there were already so many people doing it. Whole communities,” Wilches says. Eventually, her online searching took her to Bike the US for MS. As soon as she began reading about the organization, Wilches felt a connection and knew she’d found what she wanted to do during her summer. She also knew in signing up for the ride she was going to have to confront having MS. She applied and was accepted.

The fundraising part of being a cyclist for Bike the US for MS forced Wilches to talk about her MS. She wrote her fundraising email, asking for donations to support her ride, but she didn’t send it right away. A few days passed before she found the courage to hit the send button. The response and support from friends was overwhelming. “So many people called me almost immediately, asking if I was okay. It felt great.” Wilches also felt relieved being able to tell her story.

On this balmy July evening in Withrop, WA, after cycling 71 miles for the day, with only a handful of days remaining until she arrives in Seattle, WA, Wilches smiles brightly and says, “I don’t think I would be where I am without this trip.” From meeting others also living with MS, like Rita who assured Wilches that 95% of the time everything’s good, and Marie whose smile and attitude more than made up for her loss of mobility, and the woman at the Minneapolis MS Center who asked that we all be her legs because she would have loved to bike across the US, Wilches has learned she has been given the gift of time and space to process through her spectrum of thoughts.

“This trip is teaching me to focus on the present,” Wilches says. “If it (the MS) beats me at one point, I’ll deal with it then. Right now, it’s too much to think about the what if’s.”

What she’d rather think about is how incredible it has been riding her bike across the United States. From seeing the open fields that make up the Great Plains to the climbs that have taken her up mountain passes, from meeting her fellow cyclists who are focused on helping raise awareness of what MS is, as well as those newly diagnosed with MS, Wilches fairly beams about how amazing it all has been. “It’s so hard to describe what’s happening to me. I feel a strength. I’m getting used to hearing about MS, saying the words out loud.”

After a short pause, while looking around the campsite where her fellow Bike the US for MS cyclists are sitting and chatting, Wilches says, “Yeah, it’s amazing. Like connecting the dots. Here’s a group of strangers who don’t have that much in common, but we all sat down and opened up the Bike the US for MS website. This one thing connected us all.”

For several seconds Wilches sits silently. Then, in almost a whisper, she says, “It’s gonna be okay. Yeah.”

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Wandering Amongst Possibilities

I've read many books about writing. How to get started and write until a full-length novel can be spit out from the printer. How to mine memories to find ideas that could be turned into either a poem, a short story, or even a novel. How to get past writer's block. How to craft beautiful sentences. How to. How to. How to. In the end, most of the books come to the same conclusion: write a lot, read a lot, and write even more. 

Today, I found a bit of advice I'd never heard before, and I had to sit back to let the words digest. I then went to my desk, pulled out a neon-green index card and wrote the advice on it, propping the card next to my monitor so I can see it all the time.

Write Into, Not About

I'm so guilty of saying, "I'm writing about . . .." when someone asks me what my project or anything I may be working on at the moment is. Today, keeping in mind the idea of writing into rather than about the idea I have been chewing on the past few days, I allowed myself to drift, to let the idea lead me rather than me lead it. I wandered amongst the possibilities. 

In the end, what shaped itself is far removed from what I initially had in mind. It is lighter than what I've been creating. It hints at hope, and it is this more than anything I want the reader to take away.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Dorky Me

I am such a dork at times. I just sent three poems to a literary magazine, and almost as soon as I hit the submit button of the program I use, I realized I'd not put my last name as part of the closing. I just put my first. I guess I could plead my case, saying I only now go by my first name. Or I could tell the truth--I was mulling over the idea of typing my maiden name, and in the process of considering this, I went ahead and attached the file I wanted to submit. Once the file was attached, the very natural next step is to click on Submit. So that's exactly what I did. Hopefully, the editors won't hold my lack of a last name against me.

I've been thinking a lot about returning to my maiden name. In a way, doing so will take me all the way back to the day I went to the DMV and the Social Security office to change my name after marrying my husband. I was angry that day. I didn't want to change my name. I resented having to go to these agencies and having to show documents that proved I'd married. I resented my husband for pressing me to change my name. Later, I would resent having to change my passport to reflect my married name.

Now, with what's happening and my moving forward with separating from my husband, I've been considering going back to my maiden name. Another thought that occurred to me is to go with my mom's maiden name. Definitely some thinking to do.

Another dork moment: I've been posting here regularly, well, semi-regularly since earlier this year. With each post, I wondered why no one was leaving a comment. I can see people are reading. I sometimes get an email here or there from a reader. Just no comments. I finally figured it out yesterday. I have the comment moderation selected. I had several comments from back in the spring awaiting moderation. Yep, dork moment for sure! Now that I know, I'll be sure to check the comments awaiting moderation each day. To those of you who commented and never saw your comments posted, they're now up.

On another note, the bird from the feeder that I thought might be a Black-headed Grosbeak is in fact a juvenile male Red-breasted Grosbeak. So the people from a FB birding page tell me. As I was working today, I looked up to see this beauty in the neighbor's yard:

I thought it looks like a Peregrine falcon, but again, the people at the FB birding page tell me it's actually a Cooper's hawk. Either way, it is gorgeous.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Friendship Makes the Rejection Sting Go Away

Yet another rejection. At least this one only took just over two months to show up in my inbox. I have two other pieces out, one that's been hanging for over five months, the other almost at the year point now. To be honest, I'd forgotten about the one that's been out for a year, so I sent an inquiry email today, asking about its status. I'm figuring since I've not heard anything, the answer will be a no. When Funny Delightful Son came in and asked what I'd been doing all morning, I answered, "Crying in my coffee over being rejected again." He thought my comment funny. I was being serious. Well, just a little bit, anyway.

But I just marked the submission off the list I've been keeping, made note of the pieces that are open to being sent somewhere else, and researched more possible publications. I read some more poetry, hoping to soak up what it is about them that got them published, but more often than not I found myself sitting back in my chair, not having the faintest clue as to what the editors saw in the poems. Three of them I had no idea what was even being talked about. I felt incredibly stupid. 

Maybe my poetry is just too shallow. Maybe it's not cryptic enough. I really don't know. I've had people whose judgment I trust read my work, and they tell me I have some solid pieces going. These are people who read, who write, who have Ph.D.'s and MFA's. I am totally lost as to what to do.

In the midst of me crying in my coffee, a friend texted me. In the course of the conversation, she said she is looking forward to reading my work when it's published. I did the LOL thing, saying at the rate I'm going the publishing thing isn't going to happen. Her reply was: It will happen. That little bit of encouragement made me smile. I know I have friends cheering for me, and the moment I smiled at her adamant "It will happen," all the sting of the rejection went away.

I set to work revising a newer poem, started in on another which is just pieces and parts that I basically just dumped onto the page, and sketched a few ideas in my sketchbook. At one point I looked up from my work and noticed a bird at the feeder, a bird I've never seen before. I tried to get a picture of it, but what I managed to capture isn't all that great. While I'm not certain, the only picture I've found that comes close to looking like this bird is that of a female Black-headed Grosbeak. It might be a juvenile male. Hopefully it'll return and I can get a better picture of it. The interesting thing about it being a Black-headed Grosbeak, if that's what it is, is according to the info I found, they usually are much farther west. 


Wednesday, September 27, 2017


My desk is right under two large windows, affording me a view of our neighbor's large backyard. There are several pine trees on the property line, so I put up a shepherd's hook and hung the bird feeder between two of the trees. Now, as I sit and work at my desk, I can watch the Cardinals at the feeder and the squirrels chasing each other in the neighbor's yard. Today, a mama Cardinal busied herself by helping two of her young manage the feeder. She'd fly in, and the two young ones would try to follow. They didn't quite get the gist of how to perch on the feeder, so she would take seeds to them as they waited in the honeysuckle bush. The squirrels are like kids playing tag. I watched one just the other day lay on its back and play with a stick, much like a cat would do. This while a hawk swooped in to try and grab up the squirrel. The squirrel pretty much just batted at the hawk and went on with what it was doing. The hawk landed in the grass about ten feet away and watched. It finally decided it wasn't going to be able to get a meal out of this prey and flew off.

This week I've been busy revising some pieces to get them ready for sending off. I even returned to my short story collection to tinker with it. I found a contest to send it to, specifically for a collection of short stories, so I figured why not? I have absolutely nothing to lose. So far, I've added nearly 1000 words to the first three stories of the collection, and I changed the order of the last two stories. I still have nine stories to tinker with before the deadline Saturday. I ran out of coffee this morning, so I definitely need to get to the store for more to help me keep going. Even though I only drink decaf, I like having something to drink on my desk all the time. Maybe I should take a page out of Hemingway's book and go with something a little stiffer. I wonder what words would come out of me with some help from Jack Daniels or Jose Quervo.

One thing I've been thinking about a lot this week is I've apparently offended a family member. I don't know what I did or said, but I haven't talked to this person since last Christmas. I've sent a couple of emails to the family group, and nada from this person. I had a hunch a few months ago something was up, but I'm pretty certain now this person is upset with me. I thought about sending an email just to this person, but then I thought no, I'm not going to. If this person has a beef with me, this person needs to tell me so. When or if this happens, I'll go from there. For now, I'm going to focus on my writing and moving forward with my life. If there's one thing I've come to embrace is time is the most precious thing/element/aspect/part (I don't even know what the best word is for the role time plays in our lives) of life. It's the one thing that we can never get back, so to spend time wondering about a family member who may be upset with me but won't say so is time wasted. I have better things to do with that time.

Like read a poem that brings me to tears, read a book that I'm so totally engrossed in I don't hear Funny Delightful Son walk up behind me, teach Ado how to open the refrigerator, sketch some ideas for my own poems, take a walk and enjoy the coming of fall, listen to the crickets through the open windows, ride my bike to the store for groceries, watch a funny movie, fix dinner with my kids then eat that dinner while talking and laughing, sit on my bed with Lovely Beautiful Daughter and talk about anything and everything, and, and, and. So much to that is worthy of my time. Worry that a family member is upset with me for whatever reason is not worthy of my time.

Now, I think I'll go get that drink I alluded to. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

When Failures Bring Positives

As I was sitting at my desk last night, Lovely Beautiful Daughter came in and wrapped her arms around me.

"I love you, Mama," she said. "I want you to know, too, how proud I am of you."

I leaned my head against her shoulder, unsure of what to say. When she sat on the end of my bed, I looked at her. I could see the little girl that had always made me laugh. I could see the young woman who is so kind. A free spirit who sees the bright side of life.

I smiled and told her thank you.

"Really. The last few weeks have been rough, but you've stood your ground. You're not giving in. You're moving in the direction you want to go."

I've been trying to keep the things happening with my husband quiet. I try not to say much around the kids. This past week, with seeing the lawyer and going over to get a few more things from my husband's place, I've not been able to keep things as low-key as I like. I've been tense.

And I know more than ever that I cannot and will not ever go back to him.

I told this to Lovely Beautiful Daughter.

"I know. I figured that some time ago," she said. "And it's okay."

I sometimes comment to my kids about how my failed relationships are not to be used as examples of how two people should be with one another. My kids, though, see my difficulties as examples of what not to do, and instead of telling me how awful I've done they turn it around and say I actually showed them how they should be with that other important person in their lives. I love them for seeing the positive when all I'm seeing is negative.

This weekend, I sat and watched my kids with their plus one's (as they refer to their significant others). I noticed they speak gently, smile at each other often, and simply enjoy being with each other. All six were sitting at the table at one point, eating pizza and breadsticks, laughing with one another, talking about movies, culture, and life in general.

I looked at Lovely Beautiful Daughter as she sat on the end of my bed and told her how much I love her.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Difficult, Painful Steps But Necessary

Though I didn't get any good news from the lawyer concerning the financial situation, I walked out feeling as if I'm moving forward. I now understand the numbers, where they're coming from, and how it all came to where it is now. My hands are still tied in beginning to pay the amount owed since my husband will not agree and is still appealing, so I can't really do anything yet. But I feel like no matter what happens, I am taking the steps needed to start down the path I want for my life.

The one thing the lawyer did take interest in was the fact that one person in the relationship wants to sign the agreement while the other person in the relationship does not. He had never encountered this kind of situation before and is looking into how to proceed with the matter given this. From my perspective, I think my husband is being extremely selfish. He's not the one they'll come after. He's unemployed. He has no income. They'll come after me, the one who has a good, stable job. The one who has the means to pay. While I don't want to pay it, I will own the responsibility. I stuck my head in the sand rather than stand my ground. I should have let him have all his little tantrums. I should not have given in. I should have protected myself like I vowed when I married him.

I've truly learned my lesson the hard way.

Next week I see the lawyer to get started on a legal separation. Six months ago when I made the decision to leave what had been my home for thirteen years, I thought maybe a reconciliation could be reached given time and effort. I don't believe this any longer. Each day that passes with me having quiet, space, and distance from my husband, the more I know I cannot go back. In his presence, I am a bundle of anger. As soon as I leave, I am in a better place.

Through all of this, I've found myself finding my way back to the strong me I was before I married him. I lost sight of that me through the years, only starting to see the faint outline again several years ago, after a particularly awful fight with my husband. I saw a side of him I knew I'd never be able to come to terms with. I know that moment is where the beginning of our end started, but I wasn't ready to admit it then. If I had, well, let's just say I now can look at it as one of those If - Dog - Rabbit scenarios.

One step I did take after talking to the lawyer was to inform my husband's family of the situation. My husband has repeatedly refused to tell his family of our separation. He has refused to reach out and ask for help. I understand the embarrassment he is feeling, yet his refusal has impacted me and how I want to proceed. I'm so done with that. Like I've said before, I'm done running and hiding. I'm done allowing him to dictate how this matter is handled. I love his brothers and their wives, his sister and her husband, and everyone else who is his family. I will no longer keep this from them.

I am getting my ducks in a row. I took the step to leave. I talked with a lawyer who helped me make sense of the situation. I have an appointment to make the separation legal. I have told family what is happening.

It feels so good to be taking back control.