The David and Jet Lag, 2016

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This post isn’t likely to be particularly erudite as I am suffering from jet lag; Barry and I are just home from a glorious trip to Rome and Florence. While I am extremely passionate about today’s topic, I’m just beginning my extended research into The David, so even if I weren’t suffering from jet lag, I’m not sure how learnedly I could speak about this. But I have to write about him so I can get back to writing my novel! I’m preoccupied with him.

In the summer of 2011 I saw Michelangelo’s David for the first time. I think I’ve written elsewhere about my stunned reaction. While I do suffer from Stendhal’s Syndrome (basically being overwhelmed by great art to the point of crying or fainting), this was an extreme case. I didn’t want to leave The David. I had the urge to move to Florence and protect him, visit him every day. I cried when I had to leave, ugly tears, pleading tears. For a moment I refused to leave, stamping my foot as if I were five. I kept looking backwards, telling him I’d return to him some day. Not that I really imagined I would.

Then I wrote a tedious, 15-page essay trying to explain the experience and my personal connections to the statue. My apologies to my classmates who had to read it.

I was going through some life stuff at the time not worth talking about now. I assumed part of my reaction to Michelangelo’s masterpiece was due to that. So when we decided to return to Italy, I wanted Barry to see The David with me, confident that though I would be happy to see the statue, surely I would be composed.

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Uh, not so much. When we got in front of him, I barely stayed still long enough for us to get a blurry selfie of ourselves with our Carrera-carved friend. I may have said something snotty to the person with the camera about this not being a tourist trip. My husband who knows me so well knew I’d regret it later if I didn’t have  a photo with David, so he persisted.

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I did take photos to study later.

Then I began circling the marble man. (Wait, that’s hokey. Don’t care.)  And the tears started. Mine, that is. Don’t ask me why I was crying. I can’t explain it, not really. Which made me cry more when I tried to explain to Barry why I was crying. Not that he was asking because the man has been married to me for 25 years.

Again, a recap of things I might have written about before: I first heard of The David when I was taking Art Appreciation as a senior. It was a college class but I was able to take it concurrently with my other classes. The class was enlightening. At the time, I never imagined that I would ever make it to Italy once, let alone twice.

When I said farewell to David this time, I again told him I’d be back. Not sure when, but I will be.

That sounds like a wrap, but it’s not.

The reason I can’t work on my novel right now is because I’ve wanted to write something substantial about The David since the first time I saw him. Fiction, no doubt. But The David’s been done. And besides, you have to have an angle that hasn’t been approached before and that’s not easy.

Finally, I think I do have an idea. At least for a short story. While I tend to write about women, I also believe artists are a breed unto themselves. Art is about no limits. (Within reason.) And if I can’t stand in front of this statue without crying, something in me surely wants to write about him. Which is exciting and scary.

But I’m not committing to more than a short story. (Please, oh please let that be true.)

In the meantime, I just may take a nap. Jet lag’s a bitch.

 

 

 

 

Chicken Soup and Popcorn!

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Exciting news! My personal essay “Uno, Popcorn, and Laughter” has been chosen for the Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Gratitude collection. I’m honored, especially as it features my hubby and my beloved kids. (Maybe I should make them sign the books too??!)

Who knew when we went through such tough times that our story would help others? I always believed there must be a reason for the difficulties, and the book’s subtitle says it all: “Being thankful can change your life.” I agree!

As always, I can’t give too much away about the story until it’s released this August. I can say that it features a treasured family pastime. (Clearly playing Uno is one of those. Oh, and feasting on popcorn. Then there’s laughter.)

Barry says these stories are my sneaky way of writing my memoirs. I don’t know about that, but I do know I am incredibly honored to be a part of this series. It gives me the chance to take a look back at events that might have been stressful at the time, but that on reflection helped strengthen our family.

While I am in no hurry to have grandchildren if we ever blessed with any I look forward to playing Uno and eating popcorn with them. And laughter. There will always be laughter.

 

Ten Seconds? That’s a Mighty Long Time…

We all complain that we don’t have enough time to write. I get it. (My apologies to our dearly beloved, departed Prince for ripping off his song lyric for my title, but he’s understandably on my mind. RIP.)

I worked with a trainer for a short time at the gym Barry and I recently joined. She loved having me do planks on a bosu (half a ball on a platform, if you’re not familiar. This:)

I don’t mind admitting that my core strength is not what it could be. She’d time me on that silly, wobbly thing and say, “Only 10 seconds left. You can do anything for 10 seconds.” That got me to thinking about time and our perception of it.

A while back I was honored to visit my former workplace and teach a writing lesson. It was awesome seeing former students, meeting new ones. One of the assignments I gave them was to write for five minutes. Now some of these students freeze up if you ask them to write an essay. They are terrified to put pen to paper, yet some of them wrote a couple of sentences. Some of them wrote nearly a page. In five minutes! Was it polished writing? Of course not. I don’t care who’s writing, rough drafts are always that. There were gems in their sentences, though, to be mined later. I was impressed with what they accomplished and I hope they were too.

It took me less than 10 seconds to type this sentence. I timed myself. And that was with going back and fixing a typo. What if you typed ten-second sentences every time you got a chance? How much of a story would you have by the end of a day? (So I realize how difficult it is to pull yourself in and out of the flow, but it would be a fun experiment. Better yet if you can hook those short stints onto one another and give yourself five, maybe 10 minutes even.)

Back to that bosu: when you’re holding yourself in position and everything in you wants to drop, just give up, but there’s someone standing over you, believing in you, telling you that you can do it but can you really you think and then she says you’re halfway there and you can’t believe it’s only been five seconds and whoever said life was short must be insane because this sure isn’t and your abs burn and your arms say that they’re giving you all they’ve got, Captain, but is it enough and then she says it’s time but then maybe you go an extra second just to prove that you can. Whew. Yeah, I’m not at all convinced of the brevity of 10 seconds after all. (We call that stream of consciousness in writing, that big, self indulgent gush without air, by the way. Yes, it’s just as much fun to write as it seems. Not as much fun to read unless you’re me. I like the stuff when other people write it.)

Ten seconds is longer than you think. Five minutes? An eternity. So take those bits of time. Pull out your list of ideas and get started on just one. Maybe you’ll start stealing time from things that used to matter that don’t now. You know your time wasters better than I. Just never underestimate the value of 10 seconds. Hey, maybe we should all plank for 10. On second thought, I have some writing to do.

Seriously, though, consider sharing one of your ten-second sentences with us. It doesn’t even have to be polished.

 

 

Why I “Dirty Bulked” My WIP

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Yesterday at the gym I was talking with a trainer who said he’d gained 30 pounds by “dirty bulking.” My face must have told him I had no idea what he meant. In case you’re in the same boat, evidently it’s a method where hard gainers put on weight by eating junk food, massive amounts of it. “Oh, you mean what I do every day,” I said. Which isn’t entirely true, but it isn’t entirely false either. Depends on the day.

I recently dirty bulked my WIP. Yup. I’ve been changing directions/characters/locations in my novel, and I needed to print a copy because I revise best when I can see it in front of me and can mark it up, circle things, underline.

Because my MS was only at 185 pages or so and I wanted it to be a nice round 200 pages before I printed it, I dirty bulked. My writing version of eating donuts and ice cream, though, is “navel gazing” and philosophizing. (Navel gazing is just what it sounds like — you’re writing stuff that probably does not at all advance the plot. Likely no one else cares about it. Not an iota.) I was actually proud of some of it when I first wrote it. It flowed. It was “thinky.” I explored the meanings of words that are important to me such as loyalty and feminism.

So, junk writing done, I hit print and out of the printer flowed warm pages covered in ink. Happily I sat down, pen in hand, a chunk of the MS on my handy dandy book stand that my dear Barry bought me for Christmas last year. How excited I was to move things around, make big changes. Discover just how genius my new path was. That’s when the dirty bulk showed itself to be made of junk food. (Cue the “wunh wunh” music.)

Suffice it to say I have only put in the changes for 150 of those pages into my MS and I have already had to lose 15 pages. Fifteen bloated, useless (to the novel) pages marked out. Gone. Junk.

Do I regret my self-indulgent dirty bulk? Not entirely; I saved some of it. Some of it was just for me in real life. Some of it was to know more about my characters and their struggles and their beliefs, which are sometimes in conflict with mine. I make them argue their side so I can understand them, even if I don’t agree. Sometimes I have to write characters I don’t like or identify with. (Mini-lecture: I refuse to say “with whom I identify.” Because I’m under 50 and because that flawed “rule” has been shown to be ridiculous and it is one with which I won’t put up — please tell me you get the joke.) I do respect my characters and their right to be who they are.

It will be interesting to see how much of this last 50 pages I lose. I enjoy purging my closets and cabinets, and it’s the same with words so it’s not as if I’ll mourn what I get rid of. I don’t think every sentence I write is priceless. When my agent asked me to prune my last MS, I was happy to do so, and she was pleased with the results so it’s a skill worth having. Still, maybe next time I’ll think twice before imposing an arbitrary page count on myself to spare myself the rapid slash of my inky sword across miles of words. (If you guessed that I would have cut the last half of that sentence if I read it anywhere else, you’re right. But I’m feeling playful so it stands.)

Whether you dirty bulk with words or junk food, there’s no judgment here. Let me know how it goes. On second thought, since I’m trying to stay away from donuts, maybe save the food porn and just let me know if you dirty bulk your story.

Write on, my friends, write on.

 

 

 

 

Featured on Chicken Soup for the Soul’s Podcast!

I’m so excited! First of all, I adore podcasts and Chicken Soup for the Soul is now podcasting. Did you know that? I’ve been enjoying them from day one.

Imagine my delight, then, when I recently received word that one of my stories will be featured on Chicken Soup for the Soul’s podcast tomorrow, March 10, 2016. They had a teaser for it on today’s podcast, and I found myself dancing around the house in happiness already.

It’s my story from “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Dreams and Premonitions” that I’ve blogged about before, based on a wake up call I had in the form of a dream a few years ago that transformed my marriage.

If you’re a podcast listener, please head over to ITunes tomorrow and take a listen to not just the broadcast featuring my story, but all of the other fabulous Chicken Soup podcasts for an uplifting moment in your day.

And if you happen to miss it tomorrow, don’t worry: it will be available in their archives to hear whenever you’re ready.

I’m taking my mom shopping tomorrow, and I can’t wait to put on this “radio show” when I have her in the car to surprise her. Shhh…don’t tell!

 

A Hunting We Will Go

  

Recently I did something long overdue: I read my Uncle Jim’s self published book of short stories,  A Hunting We Will Go.

First let me say that his name was James Tennyson Sizemore. With a middle name like that, he was as destined to write as I am to dream.

Though I would love to discuss his book with him, I’m also glad I waited. It was like having a visit with him, hearing him use his favorite pet names “Pal” and “Buddy” as I read them in his collection.

How many times did he say to me “Sit down, Pal, and tell me what you know. It won’t take you but a minute.” He said that to everyone. It wasn’t an insult — it was an honest invitation to sit and chat, one I took him up on EVERY TIME. I adored the man.

This is what Uncle Jim said about himself on his Amazon page for his books (he also has a novel called Cousin, Dearest that I read and helped edit slightly):

About the Author

I was born on 700 hill (the number of a coalmine), near Omar, West Virginia. I quit school in the tenth grade, joined the army, and passed the GED test there. I earned a master’s in philosophy, but had a stroke before I could apply myself in my field. I’ve had six strokes, a heart attack, and near heart failure. I will be sixty-four my birthday, have been married for 43 years, and have three grown daughters.

He must have written that in 2003, because we lost him in 2007, and when I say lost, I mean it in the sense that bright corner of my life went suddenly dark.

Where do I start to talk about his work?  I’m too close to the situation to even begin to hope I could be a good judge of the literary merits of the book, but I enjoyed it immensely. Every story yielded clues: what I already knew of his life combined with what I gleaned from his fiction.

He described a sweaty West Virginia view of Morning Glories and I knew just where his character was sitting. I felt the mosquitoes because I’ve been there.

I learned things, too. Like that The Appalachians are called “The Appies.” Who knew?

Every story reminded me of what a good man he was. When his characters misbehave it’s so mild, so self consciously, that you know the author is deeply moral.

There are stories that sound autobiographical, even though I know how erroneous it can be to assume that. When a character gives up his dream of teaching at the college level to become a metal spinner to support his family, it’s hard not to recall that Uncle Jim did just that. I cried when I read the story where a character loses his job due to his escalating illness because I suspect it’s true.

Even though I know I wouldn’t really ask him such personal questions, I wish I could. I guess I feel as if I can assume that what he wrote tells me the emotional truth of his life. It’s important to me to believe that I truly “got” him. I think I did. Do.

Notice: Self indulgent uncle heroism ahead.

When I was a kid, Uncle Jim and his family would swoop into the hollow where we lived in West Virginia every few years. Grandma (just down the road from my childhood home) would start stirring up her famous fudge while singing, whistling, and cleaning as only she could.

Then the awaited carload of my beloved cousins, my Aunt Naomi, her mother, Aunt Pearl, and of course, Uncle Jim. No matter how tired the man was from driving all the way from Chicago, he always flung his wiry arms wide for me. I, the most backward child ever, ran into them.

He wore cuffed jeans, cuffed armed t-shirts and thick, intellectual looking glasses. They seemed just right on him. His skin was faintly olive and he wore his hair slicked back. He was a good looking man with a professorial voice and a confident smile. When he was making a point he’d extend his palm and let out a staccato laugh.

He’d take a huddle of kids hiking to his old WV haunts: up “Sizemore Holler” (which was a quarter of a mile above the mouth of Sizemore Hollow, where my family lived). He carried me on his shoulders, picking apples, handing one up to me.

I would sit and listen to him talk to everyone, his brothers, everyone else in the family. I was content to just listen but inevitably he would ask me my thoughts and treat them with great respect.

When my family visited his, he eagerly took us about Chicago. He bought me my first mint chocolate chip ice cream cone. The flavor remains one of my favorites. He took me on a carousel and bought me a paddle ball and a treasured box of crayons. He let me play outdoors until way too late, catching lightning bugs and singing with my cousins on the stoop.

Knowing he was a writer, I shyly showed him bits of my writing over the years. He was always beyond encouraging. I only wish I could have told him that I now have an agent. I know how much it would have meant to him.

While I was studying our family’s genealogy, at the end of one of our long phone calls Uncle Jim gently said, “Okay, enough with the genealogy. Back to writing.” And I listened.

In his collection, he worries whether or not his work will be read after he is gone. He need not have wondered. First of all, there’s no doubt that his beloved daughters and grandchildren will never forget his stories.

But I also know one proud niece who misses her dear uncle who will surely read his fiction, especially when she misses him. My daughter also had a sweet bond with him. Guess who’s getting a copy of his book next?😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Smitten in Indiana: “Something Rotten”

I am a huge fan of The Bard! This is also in 2008.

Shakespeare’s birthplace

A couple of weeks ago my dearest came home talking about a woman he works with who was going to be traveling to NYC this past weekend to see a musical.

Here’s where I reveal that clearly my head and entire body have been firmly wedged beneath a rock because I hadn’t heard of “Something Rotten.” Okay, I think I may have seen an ad for it in a magazine, but for some reason it didn’t register.

Enter Youtube. Ah, Youtube.

In case you are as clueless as I was: two writer brothers, Nick and Nigel Bottom, are struggling to write a hit play in the 1590’s, only to be constantly overshadowed by the egomaniacal “rockstar” William Shakespeare.

Desperate, a brother consults a soothsayer who advises them to write a musical. Except no one has ever written a musical before and the idea sounds barmy to them.

Alas, now all I can think of is that I want to see the musical!

Apologies to Christian Borle for the objectification he’s been getting (re: arms) that I won’t be rehashing here. (Dignity, people, dignity! Except when it comes to parodies of parodies.) While I am a fan of buff arms (if you saw the shirts I buy Barry you’d understand that, but then he’s a musician so, musician’s arms!!), I don’t abide with reducing a man of talent to his limbs.

On the other hand, when Barry recently said he wanted to comment positively about my body but didn’t want to objectify me (well-trained feminist’s husband, he!), I told him we’re married, been married for almost 25 years, so he’s allowed, nay, obligated to objectify me privately to a certain extent. But I digress.

I so badly want to buy the soundtrack to the musical but it’s nearly my birthday and we have a mutually agreed upon moratorium on buying ourselves anything until after said day in our household, so I have been making do with playlists on Youtube. Wearing them out, you might say.

(My sweetie actually told me yesterday that I should buy the album, but I will not! Everything is better when someone else buys it for you, yes?)

I love wit, and that’s what drew me to Shakespeare in the first place. “Something Rotten” has wit in spades. And though some might complain about the low humor, if you are at all familiar with Shakespeare’s plays they are replete with bawdiness. That’s one of the things to love – this (to us) old-fashioned sounding language laced with rap-lyric worthy raunch.

(And Shakespeare, like rap, could use some de-misogynizing. Just sayin’. I’ll (partially) forgive him because he was of his time and because he wrote some really great parts for females as well.)

Then there’s the play-within-the-play, Omelette. (Sound like Hamlet to anyone else? Clever!) Hamlet, of course, has a play within a play to “catch the conscience of a king.”

Hey, I’m not a geek just because I have bits of Hamlet memorized, am I?

My favorite song so far of “Rotten?” Well of course “Hard to Be the Bard.” I suggest you watch the video version because it’s so incredibly well done and because you see a close up of Christian’s face so you get all of his inflections (perfectly acted). Though I am not recommending it for the view of his arms that other Youtube commenters seemed to enjoy so thoroughly, there’s that, too, if you have fewer qualms about that sort of thing.

The song is catchy and so apt for writers. It captures that blend of loving your work and yet having to be alone, so alone, to do it properly and yet when you are alone self doubt creeps in and threatens that very work. But you can’t do it unless you are alone sometimes…

“God I Hate Shakespeare” is another catchy track where the singer is, of course, jealous of Will. All humans have to endure having others envy them sometimes, but it seems counterproductive and reductive as well: it wouldn’t occur to me to be jealous of someone else because that would imply that I don’t believe there’s enough out there for me too and there is, sure there is, in every area. But it makes for a funny song.

As to the cast, I am one of those people who secretly enjoyed the TV series “Smash.” Sue me. I know plenty of people didn’t, but I did in part because it was fascinating to see what it takes to put a musical together, the highs and lows. It was a craft lesson.

To learn that the aforesaid Christian Borle and Brian D’arcy James (as writer brother Nick Bottom) team up again in “Rotten” was phenomenal.

Just before Barry and I married he bought me the gift of gifts: the complete works of Shakespeare! The tome was HUGE (redundancy alert)! I had to lie on my stomach to read it in bed.

I read every play. Avidly. (I have a pet project I intend to embark upon next year involving our friend the Bard. Stay tuned for details.)

I’ve just got to see this musical! Watch for an upcoming plea to get me to NYC on gofundme.org soon. (Not really.) But if you want to send my husband a Facebook message encouraging him to take me there for our 25th anniversary, I won’t tell him that I put you up to it.

Honorable Mention in the WritersWeekly Fall, 2015, 24-Hour Contest!

I was so pleased to learn a few days ago that my story, “Quenched,” has been awarded Honorable Mention in the WritersWeekly Fall, 2015, 24-Hour Contest.

Contestants were given a paragraph that we only needed to “touch upon” in some way for our story to qualify, a maximum length, and yes, only 24 hours to craft the tale. I decided to take the challenge. I’m so glad I did.

Let me say, it did not start out a fortuitous 24 hours: I had just had a huge caramel macchiato at our favorite café (those of you who know me well know that much caffeine is so not gonna do me well) when I received a text: our son was in the hospital. The poor guy started texting me that he was thirsty but they wouldn’t give him anything to drink, etc. That would wreck any mother’s concentration.

I had to stop myself from packing up the car and heading to his bedside. We had just been to see him days before, one of our cars was in need of repair, and Barry had no more vacation time to spare. All is well with our son now, thankfully, but that day I was a mess and he, of course, much more so.

And oh yeah — when I get stressed my blood sugar falls. Fast. So even before I started writing my long-suffering husband had to put up with me having a tearfest. He fed me (not literally!)and told me all would be well; that no, our son did not require my immediate presence. (I suspect Barry felt just as torn up to not be there.)

Then I settled in to write, because what else does a worrying writer do? Between my still-swirling feelings and the  (you know you read it too in the aisle at B & N!) dystopic YA I’ve been reading, it’s no wonder I came up with what I did.

Want to read my entry? I just re-read it and asked myself what I was trying to say. I think I’ll leave the interpretation up to you. Comments welcome.

Again, I’m chuffed to have won! Thank you, Angela Hoy and the crew over at WritersWeekly. What fun.

Now for my story…forgive the formatting…it shows up right on my screen but when I preview it, the words clump. Hmm…

Quenched  

“Catch her – she’s the last one,” the Convincer yells.
The cornfields have housed me for days now. I run for the sanctuary of a lone tree in the distance, stopping up short when I spy a door in the trunk surrounded by odd etchings.
The rough-hewn entry opens as if expecting me. I scrape my fingers against the rough bark of its interior as I duck in. I sense the tree’s benevolent intent.
I place my fingers, my cheek, against the inside of the tree. For a moment I rest, breathing deeply.
The last of the ten, I won’t give in.
“It’s painless,” the Convincers cried at the beginning. “All you need to do is drink this; nanobots will take it from there.”
That was their mistake, they’d say later, telling us, giving us a choice, because none of us who were still us trusted them after they said that. Those who gave in did so for every reason except belief and trust.
Those of us who resisted began avoiding tap water, hoarding the sealed bottles, those dated before the request for compliance.
Eventually we took to drinking in the forest, from cupped leaves after storms, by squeezing moss. We attempted to filter the water, but suddenly all of the supplies were restricted. You had to have a license.
“It’s to benefit us, all of us, not just you. You’re being selfish,” they said.
Again and again we refused.  
We’d dream and wake to someone standing over us. They wouldn’t make us, they swore, but if we wanted to buy, sell out. If we wanted to eat, drink up.
“It won’t hurt,” they promised. “It will equalize us.”
So apps full of games, rewards, reminders appeared on our phones warning, threatening. “Apt” analogies were drawn; peer pressure was applied like a tourniquet.
First to cave in were the young, because they were offered comfy jobs and double portions. They were so young they trusted, eventually.
Then the elderly, because they were too frail to withstand, complied.
The Midwestern corn buckled just as my uncle, too weary to go on, did. He drank from the conveniently cold bottle that the Convincers carried right to his side.
“Oh, try it!” he urged us. His change was abrupt.
The nine of us hurried on, including my two sisters, my brother, who fell early. Various neighbors were picked off by thirst. As soon as they gave in they smiled at us but their change set us fleeing.
One by one they left my side and I understood the plea for forgiveness in their eyes as they raised the longed for liquid to their lips. I’d watch and imagine the fluid flowed into my own mouth and for a moment, I was saved.
My best friend caved on Day 38 when the hunger got to him and he was promised an Elephant Ear, an Indiana delicacy made with fried dough and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, and his favorite, if only he would drink, just drink.
He was the last besides me. This time, I didn’t let go gracefully: “I hope you choke,” I cried as I watched the inside of him die as he became not-him.
“You’ll remain essentially yourself,” they claimed.
I was already me, so why should I want to change? I challenged.
They sighed. I wanted to cry but I couldn’t afford the expenditure of water.
The cornfield, our pretend sanctuary for the last week, was filled with the rustle of Convincers in thick shoes bearing backpacks full of food and, more importantly, water. Tainted water.
I ate the last of my jerky, and then the end of my mixed nuts.
Red leaves swirled, and they knew by the weather, soon they’d have me. Though why I alone filled them with fear, I can’t say. One cannot propagate alone.
The temperature dropped at night, and near my ear while I huddled beneath a sheaf of corn and shivered in my sleep I’d hear offers of a warm bed, thick quilts, if only I’d give in.
Sometimes it rained and I cried with my mouth open, cupping my hands, wondering how water, something I had taken so for granted was now the only thing I wanted. Clean water, that is. Uncontaminated by compromise, however good they promised it would be.
Fear of change? That wasn’t it. Rebellion? No. The spirit of the poet lives by its individuality, I argued behind tree stumps and over fences. Words were my bombs. Always they returned the volley. Always they had an explanation, an excuse.
Now I wander gratefully through this tree’s interior, past the toadstools (I didn’t know they could grow down here), past the holes plugged with nuts (do squirrels burrow so far in?).
Words are no longer mine, unable to be formed by my parched lips.
I am not a cheese but I stand very much alone.
Ahead, a pool of water reflects like a lake in a cave. Funny, I didn’t know trees could hold water. Don’t the roots take – I cease thinking and bend and drink. My mouth blesses me from the inside out until just like that, I’m one of them.
The tree halves and my fellow humans surround me. The water beneath my feet reflects my new features, indistinct now from any of them. We are all the same color. We are all the same sex. No wrinkles betray any differences in age.
Suddenly, I do understand. We are one, and finally, for the first time in my life, all of me is quenched.

misc summer 2012 060

That Would Make an Interesting Paper

Drema and Rowan

If you’re not laughing at this post’s title, you have never had the privilege of having the luminous, engaging, and caring Rowan Keim Daggett for a professor.

When I transferred to Manchester University (at the time Manchester College), I was a shy first year student. Rowan’s small literature classes and exuberant take on books meant I quickly found myself speaking up without meaning to.

She made even the most obscure work easier and worthwhile to tackle. She introduced me to Atwood and Morrison. I later won an award from the Indiana Collegiate Press Association for a book review on Atwood’s Cat’s Eye which we read in Rowan’s Contemporary Literature class. And I have fallen in love with Beloved multiple times since first reading it with her. I once desired to emulate Morrison’s writing because of that blessed book. Turns out my writing is nothing like hers in form, voice, or content, but it gives me much pleasure to read her novels.

Okay, so I never took to Updike, but Rowan tried.

If you made a particularly salient point she’d say “that would make an interesting paper.” Nothing you said was ever stupid or off topic. You could make the most fragile connection and she’d support it.

Teachers and their ilk have often been a safe and happy place for me, and I must confess that I spent quite a lot of time in Rowan’s corner office just talking. She was knowledgeable and fun.

Her class was the first place I ever found myself uttering the “f bomb.” She was teaching us about voiced fricatives (I think) and she used the word to get us to feel it, telling us to put our hands to our throats. “Say —-,” she said and I did along with everyone else, though so quietly I doubt I could be heard. I was simultaneously horrified and delighted to utter the word.

I wish I could say that was the last time I ever said it.

She once had one of her classes (Women in Lit?) over to her lakefront house. There was great food, conversation, and I seem to remember a brilliant songwriter bringing out his guitar and later jumping off the pier — sans guitar, of course.

I unexpectedly returned to college from Christmas break a married woman (crazy kids that Barry and I were). He and I had a couple of Rowan’s classes together, and he soon loved her as much as I did, though I was scandalized when my naughty new husband passed me notes and whispered to me during her class.

When I decided to leave college with an AA rather than finish my bachelor’s (though I was pretty close to finishing my bachelor’s — someone time travel backwards and tell me not to leave!), I didn’t tell Rowan. I feared she would be disappointed, and I thought she’d try to help me fight the battle that may have allowed me to stay, and I just couldn’t handle it anymore and I didn’t think it was anyone else’s responsibility. I’d done all I could do. I’ve always regretted not telling her that I was leaving.

In 2007 I returned to (then) MC, determined to earn my bachelor’s. With age and experience under my belt, I figured I’d slay any dragon I must to accomplish my goal. How touched I was to receive the Rowan Keim Daggett scholarship. They had a dinner for scholarship recipients and I was able to sit with her for the first time in years and tell her how much she meant to me.

I found myself talking with her about my latest paper on Woolf’s Lighthouse which she found, of course, “Interesting.” She had introduced me to Woolf’s “Three Guineas” and “A Room of One’s Own” in her classes years before, but she said it had been a long time since she’d read Lighthouse.  I refreshed her memory and then told her the connections I was making and she had, of course, wonderful suggestions. I felt as if I were back in her unadorned office surrounded by her piles of books.  What a memorable place that was.

Thankfully, I asked someone to take a picture of us at the dinner. The photo was taken during my pre-running days and clearly I thought Nashville sparkle was slimming, so please be kind.

Sometimes when I criticize an idea I have, I stop and just hear her words: “That would make an interesting paper.” And you know what? Usually that’s true. But nowadays I turn that paper into a story or a book. How sad that I wasn’t sharing my fiction in those days with much of anyone. How supportive she would have been. Maybe she would have said “That would make an interesting novel.” Chances are, I would have listened, and I would have gone for it much earlier.

Still, that I have gone for it at all is due in part to her gracious support. We love you, Rowan, wherever you are, and we hope you will be reading interesting papers and books forever.

Take it on the Chin? Only if Warranted…What to Do with Criticism

It’s going to happen. If you are a writer who ever shares your writing, it will happen. You will receive either solicited or unsolicited criticism. What you do with that can either improve your writing or make it worse. What to do?

Consider the source. Did you solicit this critique? If so, ask yourself why you asked this particular person and consider the remarks strictly within that context. For example, I have lit head friends I ask to read my work and I want them to Rip. It. Up. Sometimes they are too kind, but oh sometimes they bleed all over it, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am when they do.

I may not agree with their suggestions and conclusions and I revise with that in mind, but sometimes they are dead on and I want to worship at their feet for their keen observations.

Then there are those I ask to read who I just need to run the plot by for “uggy” points or inconsistencies. And to see if it’s a fun/emotional read. I listen just as carefully to those readers.

The worst person to ask to read your work? Someone whose approval you seek who maybe doesn’t have the chops to edit your work. Don’t do. Just don’t. Because A. It’s pathetic. And B. If they do love your work (and you’re brilliant so of course they will, right?) they may steer you in the wrong direction if they don’t have the skill level to truly help you.

You may well find your vision being subverted. Not. Good. The world needs YOUR voice, YOUR vision. (Skillfully edited by qualified, loving hands.)This nearly always means do not let anyone related to you critique your work. Unless you’re related to me; (delusion warning ahead) I attempt to be a competent, impartial reader.😉

Consider carefully the suggestion itself. Some things are truly a matter of style and it doesn’t matter a tinker’s dam(n) (it is spelled both ways in multiple places) which way you write it. But if it’s a matter of using nonstandard English and you’ve done it for effect, keep it in unless your critic makes a great argument against.

I was truly pleased with one of my early published stories, and I still re-read it in its published form occasionally for inspiration. Every beat feels right – almost. Those few lines that were edited that I didn’t quibble over, though, stop me every time. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not against editing, but those areas were not, in my opinion, improved by this person who doesn’t quite have my esthetic. In this case I should have fought for my words.

This surely doesn’t need saying, but if you receive unsolicited criticism, feel free to ignore it. But if you’re a good writer who wants to get better, still study it. It may be a gift from the Universe.

If you make a mistake and it’s pointed out (either publicly or privately), take it on the chin. You screwed up. Deal with it. I’ve learned from my mistakes. Often that sort of feedback comes too late to spare us present embarrassment, but thank goodness for short memories, yes? And for future opportunities to get it right.

Most importantly, know what you are trying to accomplish, know your style, and never stray from those two things and you will always be able to disentangle yourself from the chains of depression criticism can wind about you if you allow it. (And I do not!)

You are the only one who knows what you are trying to say. You are the only one who knows if writing ten miles out of the way and then coming back in and loping that off is the way to go. If it’s not a finished product (and is it ever, really?), feel free to accept or reject anything. Even if a salient point is made, what’s most important is your artistic goal. Don’t allow someone else to guide you off course. YOU are the final authority.

For your amusement: me as a little chunk muffin. Probably age 5.

For your amusement: me as a little chunk muffin. Probably age 5. Who put that outfit together? Looking at the colors, I’m guessing me.

Thoughts?