Monday, June 30, 2008

Ideas R Us

I came up with a new book idea this afternoon, another how-to book. I can hardly wait to get this one to the proposal stage. 

Once the general idea took shape in my head, I was off to the races with bits and pieces that could fit. I truly love this part of what I do—letting my imagination run wild with possibilities. Not quite as fond of the narrowing-it-down-to realistic-choices part or the make-all-the-tiny-details-work part, but it's all good.

Today's idea germinated from seeds planted at a summer recreation program when I was six years old. 42 years, but I remember parts of that day so clearly they could be playing on a movie screen directly in front of me. 

Don't you just love how life knits itself together? 

Sunday, June 29, 2008


"Hang tight," I say to my children when I want them to wait a minute, to friends before they embark on scary undertakings, to myself nearly every day. "Hang tight."

Hanging tight has turned out to be a less-than-successful strategy, and I'm ready to loosen my grip.

As I once thought good writers followed every rule of good grammar, I once believed I could find something to hold on to, some person or some truth or even some pretty lie that would let me grasp reality tightly enough to shield myself from it.

I have wanted certainty like a barefoot woman walking on broken glass wants shoes.

In a series of posts and comments on her blog, Nothing Is Wasted on the Writer, Crescent Dragonwagon wrote this in reference to the writing process:

A) accepting that anxiety and uncertainty are part of the ticket in, and
B) learning to acknowledge such feelings yet not be stopped by them; to gradually see fear as a partner, rather than an enemy bristling with weaponry.

Mark Twain is often quoted as saying that courage is the mastery of fear, not the absence of it. Mastery is a pretty tall order, a lot like certainty. I prefer Ambrose Redmoon's approach, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than one's fear.”

In this case, "something more important" is telling the stories that burn inside me, the ones that reach through my dreams and wake me with a voice demanding, "Write this. Write this story."

In a brief essay, Why I Write, Pam Houston says:

"Above all the other reasons, I write because the world is both heartbreakingly sad and heartbreakingly joyful, and the only way for me to bear the pain, the only way for me to bear the world's bright beauty is to catch it up like a giggling baby and to set it down in front of you, gently, honestly, in words."

"To set it down...gently" takes an open hand. I'm working on it.

* Drawing by Karen Edgar

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Inside Out

As a small child, I wouldn't eat much. So little, in fact, that my folks took me to the doctor when I was 5 or 6. His advice was to absolutely restrict food for a while and then gradually give it back.

And so, for several days (my memory is that it was a week, but surely that can't be true) I could have nothing but fruit juice. The next week, I could have one measured tablespoon of fruit at each meal. The next week they added vegetables—one tablespoon of fruit and one of vegetables at each meal. The next week I could have one tablespoon of each food served at each meal. After four weeks of restrictions, I could eat anything I wanted, and I wanted it all.

By the time I was 7 or 8, my mother's worst threat was that she'd make me wear Chubby sizes.

My body experienced a metamorphosis the summer before 7th grade, but my mind never caught up. "Chubby sizes" have haunted me for more than 40 years. They haunt me today.

Check this out.

24 years old. Married about 5 weeks. I made the skirt for the occasion, the wedding of one of my new brothers-in-law. The waistband was so tight I couldn't button the button at the top of the zipper. It didn't show under the blouse, but I was mortified. All day, the only thing I could think about was how fat I was and how awful I looked.

Well, okay. It was a wedding and a party. Maybe I thought about the bride and groom a little. I hope I got over myself enough to truly wish them well and think about their happiness, but if I did, it was only between bouts of horror over the button that would not.

I stayed out of pictures that day as much as I could, but my husband insisted on taking this one. I hid in a bathroom and cried afterward, not the first time or the last.

Fat is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Seeking comfort, I eat. Feeling fat, I need comfort. Around and around it goes.

Objectively, I have been fat at times. I have also been thin. Or, my outsides have been thin. My insides have been fat since the first time my thighs rubbed together under my dress as I ran across the playground, since the first time a boy told me I was too fat to be his girlfriend, since the first time a picture documented a truth I didn't want to know.

I am fat today, outside and in, and probably will remain so until or unless I fix that inner camera, the one that pictures fat no matter what the rest of the world sees.

I am not alone in this obsession/delusion/endless trap, not the only woman with a faulty inner camera. The trap may be baited by media that tells us a size 4 is fat, by airbrushed magazine covers, by 14-year-olds posing as adults in ads, but the true struggle is with the pictures we have of ourselves.

It's time to look at this from the inside out. 46 freakin' years. It's really time.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Bagnell Dam(n) Shoes

Came across this photo yesterday. 4th grade, I think. The dress, a straight shift, is thick, red cotton with wales like corduroy but without the nap. I'm guessing Mom intended its vertical lines to be slimming. The shirt she made to match was white with red outline drawings of sails and anchors and ships' steering wheels, the same thick cotton, but without the wales.

I wore this ensemble with bobby socks and saddle shoes. Oh, how I hated those black-and-white saddle shoes. I had to wear them until they were entirely too small or entirely worn out. Since I had no hope of making my feet grow faster, my mission was to wear the shoes out. Sitting on the back step, I dragged my toes over the concrete of the carport to scuff through the leather, a little like trying to dig to China with a teaspoon. Damn thick leather.

Thick was the word of the day: My outfit. That leather. My body. Damn was a problem of another sort.

About this time, I learned that I was allowed to say "dam," even though it sounded exactly like "damn," which would get my mouth washed out with soap. Daddy worked on Bull Shoals Dam right after he and Mom got married. Bagnell Dam held back the Osage River to create Lake of the Ozarks. They were the good kind.

Mom passed by the back door one afternoon and caught me scuffing my toes across the concrete. "Dam saddle shoes. Bagnell Dam saddle shoes. Bagnell Dam shoes," I muttered quietly. Not quietly enough.

I hated the taste of Tide almost as much as I hated those dam(n) shoes. Both lingered quite a while.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Sort Of

Yesterday started innocently enough, with coffee at Mom and Dad's. Evan brought his new dog (!) over to meet us. Mia is a large critter and fearsome to me, but I'm not going to live with her, I remind myself.

My next stop was the salon, where I encountered my sister beside an overturned pedicure throne, up to her elbows in trouble. She'd come in early to meet a plumber who was going to work on the conked-out hot water heater. (Try to run a salon/spa without hot water. Not good.) While waiting, she decided to do a little deep cleaning on the pedicure thrones and discovered that the footrest on one of the thrones was in seriously bad shape. Water had gotten under it and destroyed the plywood foundation. When I walked in, she was struggling to remove the bolts, which were rusted into immobility within the nuts.

We tried WD40 and something called Nut Buster to no avail. I held the nut while she turned the bolt; she held while I turned. No go. We sprayed something else on the bolts and left it to work magic while I went off to buy 6-inch foam and new vinyl to build new footrests. (I used the old one as a pattern, and it didn't turn out to be very difficult.)

While I was at the upholstery shop, Deb called with the news: $1200 if we could find the part in town, $1300 if we had to overnight it, $4,000 if we decided on a new hot water heater. Yikes! It's a hot water heater. How could it be that expensive? Turns out a hot water heater vented in a way that can be housed in a small closet is a very valuable commodity.

With the new footrest in hand, I went back to the problem of removing the bolts. Just me and my trusty hacksaw blade. Good times. Perched inside the foot basin, I sawed and sawed and sawed. While I was sawing away, a flood developed beneath one of the shampoo bowls 10 feet away. For unknown reasons, a joint in the drain pipe separated, flooding the area with sudsy (cold) water.

Having my hands full with the pedicure throne and all, I asked the plumber to fix it. Took him less than 10 minutes. He added $200 to the bill. (I'm gonna be a plumber in my next life.)

Deb arrived with a new hacksaw blade and fresh arms. We managed to get both bolts cut off. It took half an hour to clean away all the solvents we'd used, but we finally got that accomplished, righted the pedicure throne, and reinstalled the water supply and drain lines, only to discover we had a leak. Damn. Dad came over to help us try to resolve that. Turned out we needed new supply hoses.

We finally got everything operational and clean, and I headed home to start my day's writing work. It was 4:00 pm. Before I got home, the manager called to report that one of the toilets had overflowed. She handed the receptionist a plunger and told her to knock herself out.

Nothing to do but laugh.

In the midst of it, it wasn't actually all that bad. Expensive, yes. Frustrating at times. But even lying under the pedicure throne with filthy water dripping onto my face, even crouched inside the basin with my legs and arms cramping as I sawed and hacked at those nuts, even writing checks we'll have to scramble to cover, it was just life, just one crummy day of that life.

I'm feeling a big shift lately, a turning toward something I don't yet recognize and can't imagine. Feels like something's waiting for me to discover it. And whatever it is, is bigger than broken water heaters and rusted bolts. Bigger than everyday annoyances of any stripe, really.

I've been thinking about what I came here for, who I'm meant to be and how grow into the place I've been given. No big answers yet, but the questions.... Ah, the questions themselves are worth the price of admission. Even on a day that involves hacksaws and Nut Buster.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Color Me Flabbergasted

As much as I read, I've still got huge, gaping holes in the Great Reading List of my life. Improbably though it may seem, until yesterday, one of those holes represented To Kill a Mockingbird.

I can't understand how I managed to live 54 years without reading that book, can't understand why I've been writing so many years without studying this how-to manual for my life's work. It's a masterpiece. The layers of meaning behind the title alone give me chills. Harper Lee's dialogue, her characterizations, the way she weaves delicate threads through the storylines—the power of it stuns me.

I'm probably the last literate person in America to read the book, but it may have been a while for some of you. Do yourself a favor, especially if you're a writer. Pull your copy off the shelf and read it again.

I've started again already. This time I'm not reading for the story, not even for the language. This time I'm reading it simply to roll around in the art of Ms. Lee's craft.

Join me, won't you?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Inflation and Deflation

My bike tires needed air and Paula (my VW Bug convertible) is ill-equipped for bike hauling, so I borrowed my folks van last night. In my west-facing driveway, with my little dog Cassie bouncing around the front seats and the sun boring down on us both, I wrangled my bike into the back of the van, pushing from the back then crawling in from the middle to hoist and pull the damn thing. Back and forth. Back and forth, until the back wheel cleared.

"I do not want to do this two more times," I thought and then slipped into the comfortable idea that someone at the gas station would offer to help. Off we went.

When the kids were young, I bought a three-person SeaDoo. We had a flotilla of floaty things upon which I pulled my them and their friends around many of the 10,000 lakes in Minnesota plus quite a few in other states and Canada. We had the routine down pat. I pulled the trailer around and stopped near the ramp. The kids grabbed their gear and piled out onto the nearest grassy area. I unloaded whatever floaty things we'd brought, along with coolers and ropes and whatever.

By the time I got back to the driver's door, some guy was always, always lurking there, offering to back the jet ski down the ramp and put it into the water. Honest to God, even if there wasn't another car in the parking lot or another soul in sight when we pulled in, some guy would materialize out of thin air the moment I parked that trailer near a ramp.

I always declined. Mostly politely, but to tell the sad truth, it kind of irritated me that random guys thought they knew more about backing my vehicle and my trailer than I did. After struggling to learn, I took perverse pride in being able to put that trailer down any ramp, any where.

(Yes, I WAS overcompensating. Thank you for noticing.)

Anyway, history suggested that help might arrive if I needed it.

History was wrong.

I got the bike out okay but failed to understand the Free Air machine. Rather than adding air, I let every stinking bit out of the front tire. When I finally figured it out and filled the tire, part of the tube inflated outside the rim. Ooops. The only way to tuck it back into place was to deflate the tire, but I couldn't do that with the air running and I didn't know how to turn it off. Struggle ensued.

Cars entered the area. Cars left the area. The place was crawling with guys, the kind of guys who once tripped over themselves trying to help me. One sat in his truck not five feet away the whole damn time this was going on.

Finally, the air machine went off. (It's on a timer!) I got the front tire straightened out, inflated the back tire, and wrestled the bike back into the van. Only five trips from front to back before I got the door closed—not bad.

On the last trip around the van, I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the van's windows. A lot has changed since the SeaDoo days, and it isn't the guys.

Back when I could attract help, I was too damn stubborn to take it. Now that I want it, the magnet's lost its charge.

C'est la vie. Even I have to admit it's pretty funny.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Puzzlement

Walking at the Little Blue River last night, I saw something that still has me scratching my head.

A young man and a 10 or 11ish boy on bikes approached us from the opposite direction. From a distance, the boy's motion looked odd, but I couldn't figure out what made it so. As they got closer, I could see that he wasn't peddling the bike. Instead, he was using his left leg to push it along, as one would a scooter or a skateboard. Except, he was seated on the bike.

As they passed me, I could see that not just the pedal, but the entire pedal arm was missing from the left side of the bike.

Neither the boy nor the man had any bike pieces sticking from their pockets or their persons. Neither appeared concerned or distressed. They rolled past as though it were completely normal for a stocky, red-headed boy covered in freckles to be using one leg to propel his bike through the woods on a beautiful Friday evening.

Okay, check that. Normal is a poor choice of words. If I've learned anything on this trip through time, it's that normal is a pretty narrow concept. Typical. As though it were typical.

Based on these guys' demeanor, I don't think the bike was broken. I think there's a story there. I barely saw the river or the wildflowers for the rest of my walk. I was too busy trying to figure it out.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Expanding My Shrinking World

When what I recently saw described as the "brown meanness*" descends, I give up bigger and bigger bits of my house until I find myself spending most of my time in my bedroom.

It's pretty much the same with my life. When my internal sun is shining, I wander far and wide, but when the brownness comes to call, I live inside mostly inside my head. (Which, at that point, becomes a pretty tough neighborhood.)

The brownness. Let's talk about that for a moment. Not black. Not darkness, exactly. More a dimming of the essential nature, the vivid colors of life. Cooking fresh food for myself becomes too much trouble and I eat from boxes and bags. (Yuck!) The basement corners need attention (spider webs and bug detritus), and I don't go down there for months on end.

A psychologist once noted my ability to comparmentalize and asked me if I'd been abused as a child. No, but I somehow developed an uncanny ability simply not to acknowledge anything that doesn't fit with my view of the world, not to see anything troubling. One could call it "rising above." One would be fooling herself.

Recognizing a problem begs action. Me and my buddy Thomas Gray got a good thing going: "Where ignorance is bliss, 'Tis folly to be wise."

Sometimes, being wise does not merely rock the boat, it capsizes it. To avoid huge losses, I cede small ones, day after day. And that, I've come to understand, is the source of the brownness. I don't end up living in my head in my bedroom because of the brownness. Instead, the brownness settles over me because I've shut out the light with the blinders required not to know that which I do not want to know.

The National Eye Institute describes cataracts like this: The clear lens slowly changes..., adding a brownish tint to vision. ...At first, the amount of tinting may be small and may not cause a vision problem. Over time, increased tinting may make it more difficult to read and perform other routine activities.

Yep. That's it. And, like cataracts, when the brownness becomes intrusive, it's time to get out the lasers, to open the doors and windows and let in the damn light.

I've spent the last two evenings cleaning corners of the basement. With the blinds open and the moonlight streaming in.

*term used by the character Slim McIlmore in Liberating Paris by Linda Bloodworth Thomason.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Passion Fruit

Katie, who lived for years on various forms of bread and cheese, is having the time of her life trying new foods in Australia. She reports that their salads are "not normal," their pizza is "different" and that she's intrigued by something called "custard apples."

Today she described eating a passion fruit as though she'd gone on an expedition to a distant planet. "It's hard to explain," she said. "But if you get past the fact that it looks gross and feels gross and slimy in your mouth, it's delicious."

What? "...get past...gross and slimy...."

Is this the same girl who no longer eats Caesar salads because she found out most of the dressings have anchovies, who for years would not touch anything that had ever touched a tomato, who could not abide avocados because they looked "squishy"?

True, tomatoes are now among her favorite foods and she got past the avocado phobia a year ago or so, but I'm still amazed.

I'm bracing myself for the flood of "It's hard to explain if you haven't...." and "You can't really understand...." when she gets back. My daughter has sailed into a world I've never seen, and I'm thrilled and proud. Once in a while, I feel just a tiny bit like an old toy tossed on a shelf, a relic from a dearly-loved past life.

Just a tiny bit, really. And only once in a while.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Some Days You Feel Like a Nut....

I was in Barnes & Noble this evening when a man and woman began making one of the biggest scenes I've ever seen in public. They shouted at each other and at the store manager, cussing and calling names and demanding to receive the customer service to which they were entitled. At one point, the store manager politely asked them to leave, and they dared him to try to make them. "We'll sue you for false arrest!" the woman roared.

My dear friend Dee Ready once said of someone who was behaving abominably, "He's new here. Hasn't been through many lives yet and doesn't know the ropes."

Maybe these folks were on their first swing through the oxygen-rich atmosphere of Mother Earth. Perhaps after another cycle or two, they'll be better prepared for life's little disappointments.

Speaking of which, I went to B&N in search of Inventing the Truth, The Art and Craft of Memoir, by William Zinsser. Crescent Dragonwagon, a writer, teacher, and former Arkansawyer now living in Vermont, recommended the book in response to a comment I made on her new blog, Nothing Is Wasted on the Writer.

I've followed Crescent's work and life for quite a while now and was delighted to find her blog. I love the way she leaps from one thought to another and then circles back to tie the whole piece together with filaments as fine as spiderweb and just as strong and beautiful. If you don't know her cookbook, The Passionate Vegetarian, you should. Even if you're not vegetarian (and I'm not totally, I simply don't care much for meat or for what its production does to the planet), you're bound to find treasures among its 1120 pages. And then there are the stories of her life, which she weaves into the text. Delicious.

I'm anxious to read her new cookbook, The Cornbread Gospels, both for the recipes and the new stories.

Anyway, I didn't find Zinsser's book at B&N. Guess I'll have to order it online. Oh dear. I feel an order-fest coming on. Perhaps someone should complain to my manager.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Seeing It

Watch out, I've been reading again. This time it's Liberating Paris, by Linda Bloodworth Thomason.

The thing about Thomason's story that just knocks me over is how visual it is. That makes sense, her being a TV writer and all. (She developed Designing Women and Evening Shade.) But still, could you do a better job of showing how unprepared a character is for grief than by having him blow his nose into a scarf he found in the back seat of his car? Could you paint someone as low rent in a better way than by having him shove little sandwiches and cookies into his pockets and then fill a thermos with punch at a funeral buffet?

I'm thinking not.

I haven't finished the book yet, so I don't know what I think of it overall. I do know that I learn something about writing every time I read another book. I do know that Thomason's taught me a lot already by the way she shows me the world she's describing.

I LOVE seeing the world through writer's eyes.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Static Shocks

I'm headed back to Springfield today, this time to celebrate Father's Day with my dad and the rest of the family. I'm going to try to get time to wander by myself a bit, but that may or may not be possible.

In the wake of Tim Russert's death, I've been thinking about what allows the son of a garbage man to become one of the most respected members of his profession, one of the best known, most trusted people in the country. I'm pretty sure part of it is being in touch with who you truly are. Not simply a sense of your own family or the place you came from, although Tim certainly seemed to have those. Not simply intelligence or the willingness to work hard, because many people have that.

This morning I think it's a sense of the divine that allows us to become the best versions of ourselves. Not exactly of God, or certainly not in the traditional sense. More like a sense of what connects us all, of what lies beyond our day-to-day existence and personalities, of who we are at the core.

I'm pretty sure it's that sense of who we are that allows a person to step beyond the ordinary, to dare to do what's in his or her heart without worrying about failure. Or, at least to not be paralyzed by fear of it. Stretching beyond your boundaries requires believing you have the right to take up that much space.

I've had a few brief brushes with the Divine. They feel to me like static shocks, tiny currents of electricity. Remaining static provides a different kind of shock, the kind where you bump up against your own reflection somehow and see all that you haven't been brave enough to dare.

That kind of shock can either wake you up or knock you down. I'm going to try to wake the hell up.

How about you?

Friday, June 13, 2008

News (and Not)

Tim Russert died this afternoon. I respected Tim and feel terribly sorry for his death. My first thought on hearing the news was for his father, who undoubtedly will be brokenhearted. In Mr. Russert's shoes, I'd be wondering how in the hell such a thing could happen. Big Russ is in his late 80s. Tim was 58.

My second, and most enduring thought, is that life is tenuous for us all. Like I said, not news. But once in a while, something leaps out to remind us that we're all subject to the same laws of nature, no matter how rich or famous or powerful we are (and not). Tim's death is one of those things.

One of the things I admired most about Tim was the joy he seemed to take in his work, his life. His eyes often sparkled and he sometimes twitched as though he could barely contain himself. Love shined from his eyes when he spoke of his father or his son. In a profession marked by cynics, Tim Russert appeared to be a believer.

My prayers are with his family and friends.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Squires Tower

Down home, at the edge of the Mark Twain National Forest, we had towers where forest rangers watched for fires. Seriously. Someone sat in the hut at the top, sweeping the area through binoculars. If they spotted something, they used their shortwave radio to alert others.

Very few fire towers in the Ozark Mountains are manned any more. I suppose satellite technology replaced a guy with binoculars. But nothing will ever replace the thrill of sitting at the top of those stairs, late at night as a storm rolled in. About now you may be thinking that it's not terribly smart to sit at the top of a metal structure on the highest point in the county as a storm rolls in.

You're right: It wasn't smart. But it's one of the enduring memories of my teenage years. As soon as I got a driver's license and found a good excuse to get away from the house for an hour or so, I started going to this tower and the one on Dogwood Mountain to think. (Very colorful life I lived, at the base of Dogwood Mountain, near Cowskin Creek. Romance wasn't far away. Neither was Diggins. Those are real names of real places.)

When we drove through Squires this weekend, my brother mentioned that he and his friends used to go to the tower to drink. He was surprised to find I'd never done the same. But I never went to the towers with anyone else—check that. I only went to the tower with someone else one time, and there was no drinking involved. Ever. For me, the towers were for thinking, for seeing the world from a different perspective, imagining the sparkling future waiting for me on the other side of those hills.

Squires Tower is chained off and posted with No Trespassing signs these days. Too bad. I would have liked to see the world from up there, just one more time.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Rorschach Test

The vine wound 'round this post makes me think of a woman wrapping her arms around a man, begging for attention or at least some kind of reaction. See how she's reaching up to him, trying to draw him into her arms? No?

You probably see something entirely different. But then, you didn't waltz with my memories this weekend.

Turns out Jeff and Nancy have much the same musical tastes that I do. When I was in their office calling Katie, I noticed several CDs I wanted to add to my playlists. They were very gracious about sharing. Jeff even racked up some CDs for us to listen to while I downloaded music. An old favorite, Kathy Mattea, was among them.

Driving home on Sunday, on a section of two-lane road winding through sunlit alfalfa fields, memories hit me so hard I almost pulled off the road. If there had been any place to stop other than a very narrow shoulder, I would have. Kathy Mattea was singing "Asking Us to Dance" from her Time Passes By cd.

I first heard Kathy lifetimes ago, when I was still married. I almost never bought or listened to music back then, but for some reason I'd gotten that tape. That afternoon at our lake cabin, I listened to Asking Us to Dance over and over as I worked around the house and yard. I rewound the cassette again and again until I could instinctively stop within a second or two of the start.

There's a full moon up and rising,
And there's a whisper of a breeze.
Blowing through the tangled silver,
Hanging from the cypress trees.
There's a river made of moonlight,
Flowing clear across the lake.
And there's a million stars just waitin',
To fall for any wish we make.

Darlin' tonight I am reminded,
How much these two hearts need romance.
You know it isn't all that often,
We get this kind of chance.
Why don't we get caught in this moment?
Be victims of sweet circumstance?
Tonight I feel like all creation,
Is asking us to dance.

There'll be time enough tomorrow,
To get back to our daily bread.
But there's something 'bout this evening,
That's put this notion in my head.
That heaven and the earth are meeting,
Tonight upon this very spot.
And all the things on earth worth havin',
Are things that we've already got.

Amazingly enough, that night there was a full moon and it was flowing clear across the lake. After the kids were tucked into bed and the dog settled down for the night, I begged The Wasbund to come out on the deck with me, to listen to the song and dance in the moonlight. He wouldn't even think about exposing himself to Minnesota mosquitos after dark but did finally agree to listen to the song.

When it was over, he turned to walk out of the room. I blocked his way and begged him to dance with me. "It's true," I said. "We do have all the things worth having. The moon is full and beautiful. The kids are asleep. All creation IS asking us to dance."

He stepped around me, saying, "I've got things to do, Jerri." He had a way of saying my name that hurt my ears. Derision dripped from each syllable like acid from a cracked battery.

Sometimes I whine about being alone now, but I've never been more alone than I was in that moment. The pain of it rode with me from Collins to Warrensburg Sunday evening. Time has not dulled its edges. In fact, they may have been whetted on the limestone outcroppings scattered in the ditches among the daisies and the Queen Anne's Lace through there.

Like I said, I see a beseeching woman wrapped around that stoic man-post. But that could just be me.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Bursting Some Bubbles

Last weekend I visited my brother and his wife in Springfield, the town where I went to college. We encountered the plant pictured above in a garden/park filled with plants native to Missouri. Isn't is great?

Jeff and I have never been close. In fact, I can think of only one other occasion in our adult lives when we spent any significant time together without other family members. We had a ball this weekend. Well...I had a wonderful time and believe them when they say they did, too.

I put up this photo because the plant makes me think of starbursts, and some of the things we talked about made me feel like fireworks were going off inside my head. For one thing, I discovered that one particular shadow I've lived under all my life—all my life—was a figment of imagination. Mine and others'.

Funny how the roles we had (or were given) as children dog us throughout our lives unless we make a choice to see things differently.

Choice is good, people. Choice is good.

Signs of the Times

On the side of a building just off the square in my home town, Ava, Missouri. Wasn't it nice of the tagger to coordinate colors?

Sunday, June 08, 2008

I Don't Know from Phallic

but this silo near Warrensburg, Missouri, makes me laugh.

My brother says I've been single too long.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Work of Writing

I don't think I'm lazy. Not really. But when it comes to writing, I have this feeling that talent is supposed to ooze out of my pores and flow across the screen or page. I expect that if it's good—if I'm good—polished writing will simply flow. When it doesn't work that way, I despair.

That's just plain silly.

Now that I've read almost every single word of Stephanie Klein's blog, Greek Tragedy, I can tell you for sure that's now how it works for her. Publishers may have sought her out, and she may have gotten a two-book deal out of Judith Regan without writing a single query letter, but that woman works at her writing.

During the editing phase of her new book, Moose, Klein gave readers a glimpse of what goes on behind the curtain. Looking for an improvement on a single sentence, she considered dozens of ways to complete the phrase, "lazy as a. . . ," eventually settling on "Susan." At another point, she spent nearly a day trying to ascertain whether chickens have hair. Turns out the tiny, hair-like things she saw on a plucked chicken were pin feathers. This information allowed her to change two words, which made her manuscript the tiniest bit more accurate.

Klein also tells of polling her friends to find out what they carried in their purses and googling 80s slang until she'd read nearly everything available on the web and still asked her readers for additional suggestions.

Writing is fun. It's compelling. It's also work. The only way to get it right is to invest the time and effort necessary to link words into sentences into paragraphs into stories. The only way to sell a book is to tell stories someone will pay to read.

It only seems like that should be simple.

Lost and Found

A lighthouse disappeared from Cape Cod in 1925 and reappeared in California in 2008.

I like lighthouses, the windswept places they squat, the forlorn shores they announce, the economy of their scales. I like that the biggest thing the lighthouse keepers kept was faith. That's what all the glass polishing and lamp tending added up to: a two-way kind of faith. Sailors trusted the lighthouse keepers would be there and the keepers trusted that their vigilance mattered.

It's not easy to keep the faith when nothing happens. Nobody washed up on shore today. Break out the champagne!

Probably not.

Last night I dreamed I was pregnant and didn't know, not exactly. My stomach was huge, impossible to miss. I was stunned when the contractions started. Nothing had happened for so long, there had been no movement, that I thought it was over. Then I looked down and saw ripples beneath my skin, evidence that someone was about to be born. Ecstatic. That's the only word.

Maybe that someone was really something.

My book proposal has been out more than an month now. We've had two rejections so far. No word from the other 8 editors who have the proposal. My agent started out so optimistic that I was, too. But nothing has happened for so long that it feels like it never will.

Who knows. Impossible things happen every day. Hell, they just found a lighthouse that had been missing for 82 years.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Fear and Writing in KC

When I first lived alone, I was afraid. Of the dark, mostly. Or of what lived in it. As each night approached, fear made a pallet on the floor of my chest and slipped ice from its drink into my bloodstream. Every squeak or scratch, whether from tree branch or night owl, demanded that I fight or flee, but there was nothing to fight and nowhere to run.

Now I walk outside at 2:33 am to let the dog pee, disarmed and disturbed only by being awakened at such an hour. That may be progress.

I stumbled across the writing of Stephanie Klein the other day. I've been reading her blog archives for days, every spare minute. Believing she was put on this earth to write, she carries a notebook at all times, scribbles in journals, posts every day, or nearly so. Her writing is fearless, shocking even. She spares herself (and the reader) nothing. She worries. She frets and obsesses. But she writes every day.

She must have been right about being born for this because the publishing world flew paper airplanes through her transom, asking for her time and consideration, rather than the opposite, more usual order of things. Without a single query, without an agent, without a manuscript, she made a two book deal.

Stephanie started the blog after a painful divorce. In the beginning, she was afraid of lots of things: getting fat (again), spending the rest of her life alone, being too difficult (crazy, even). She did not hide under the covers. She used her keyboard to light a fire under her life, one big enough to keep the scary stuff away or at least circling at a pretty safe distance.

Four years later, she's married again, with twins more than a year old. Her fears are different now, but she's still facing them on the page and living the life she imagined as well as one she couldn't.

Like most people, Stephanie Klein is a lot of things. One of them is a writer. And a writer writes. Fearlessly.

check out Stephanie's books, Straight Up and Dirty and Moose.