Saturday, November 20, 2010

Lost and Found

Aquamarine is Katie's birthstone. Fifteen years ago or so, I bought an aquamarine ring and started wearing it frequently. The plan was to eventually give the ring to Katie on her wedding day as her "something old" and her "something blue." (Her dress will be new. N will provide the "something borrowed.")

Six weeks ago, I lost the ring. Gone. Gone. Gone. Not in any of the places I would mindlessly set rings when involved in some messy task. Not in the safe. Not in the jewelry box. Not in the car or my bedroom or my closet. Not in the pockets of any rarely-worn jacket.

It was with me in Michigan when I was reading those carnival letters. I remember picking it up off the desk in the hotel room, thinking how horrible it would be to lose it after all these years. And then nothing.

I pulled the washing machine apart to check the filters in case it got washed in a pants pocket. Same with the dryer. Nada. I searched my car with a flashlight. Nothing.

Panic stalked me, but every time it flared, I calmed myself with a strange faith that the ring would show up. Not that bad things can't happen, but I believed my unconscious would not let me do anything completely foolish with this ring meant for so special a mission. Several times, I considered telling Katie what had happened but held out, still hoping to find it.

Yesterday, I was in my workroom, shaping armature for a Christmas ornament I'm making. I bent to retrieve a dropped tool from under the table, and there on the floor, leaned against the baseboard, sat the aquamarine ring.

Absolutely no idea how it got there, but the lost is found. I could not be happier to find any inanimate object.

Now, I can tell Katie.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

New Love

Life is so full, so rich right now. My biggest challenge is fitting it all in.

Yesterday, I needed to get the house ready for Katie's visit (she got here yesterday afternoon). Also, I needed to get some work-work done and I had Teagan for the day. The end result was that I didn't write yesterday, and it leaves a hole in my world.

Do you remember new love--the ache of being away from your beloved? That's the feeling I have now when doing almost anything other than writing (except caring for T, of course). I may be working on the work that pays the bills or cooking dinner because I've made a commitment to take better care of myself or cleaning the bathroom because...well...because. But in the back of my head, I'm counting the minutes until I can get back to where I most want to be, back with the story that fills my head and my heart and my soul.

This is a new feeling for me, this obsession with finishing the book. I like it.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

More Fun Than a Barrel of Monkeys

Dad and Mom with Teagan and Birdie, my sister's granddaughter and a mighty fine skunk.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


Kristin had portraits done of T in her costume, which touched me beyond belief. I'll post the finished pics, but you can at least get an idea from these proofs. Nothing more beautiful in the entire world. Nothing.

She's coming to my house to Trick or Treat. I have baby food bananas for her treat.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Chasing Shiny Things

So, today I'm working on a scene in which my characters shop for new underwear for an 11-year-old boy. I google around a bit and learn a few useful details. I also learn that Jockey briefs, introduced in 1935, sold 30,000 pairs in the first three months they were on the market, despite the Great Depression.

Still not sure what my characters would find in a department store in 1946, I check Amazon where I discover a history of underwear offered. It sounds fascinating. My cursor is hovering over "Add to Cart" when I realize that buying a book on underwear might--just might--be the slightest bit of overkill, given that the info wouldn't show up in more than one sentence in the finished piece.

And so goes my main problem in writing and in life. I'm interested in virtually everything and find myself chasing every shiny thing rather than keeping my eye on the prize.

I'd write more, but I've got to get back to my underwear research. Did you know that in 1938 Jockey advertised their Y-front briefs by having a bride and groom dress in cellophane evening clothes for their wedding? Viral marketing at its finest.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


In a scene I'm working on, a character smokes. I don't smoke and never did. I've never lived with anyone who smoked openly. Slowly, slowly, I've worked texture and physical detail into the picture, snatching an idea here and there as it drifts by and tucking it into place. Or saving it for later.

Many of the smoking details I'm using turn out to be long-forgotten images from my childhood. My dad's business partner chain smoked in the way my character does. I remember standing on a chair, washing dishes and watching him light one cigarette from another at our kitchen table when I was 7 or 8.

My grandpa had a particular way of picking bits of tobacco off his tongue and wiping them on his pants. The inside corners of his thumbs and index fingers were stained brown from nicotine. His nails were broad and square and heavily ridged. His are the fingers I see when my smoker character holds a cigarette or spreads his fingers wide and uses them like combs to slick back his hair.

Mom's brother continually patted his shirt pocket as though to reassure himself that a supply of nicotine was available. If something interrupted him during a smoke, he stubbed out the end of the cigarette and tucked it behind his ear for later.

All those images were locked away somewhere in my memory banks. I search for details to flesh out the story and memories rise to the surface, insubstantial as smoke and just as pervasive.

My friend and teacher Crescent Dragonwagon calls her blog "Nothing Is Wasted on the Writer." (She's quoting someone, but I'm sorry to say I don't remember who.) She writes on the theme fairly often and, of course, it came up in the magical Fearless Writing workshop I attended in September.

Now that I'm writing like a mad woman, I understand "nothing is wasted" in a whole new way. All the hours I've spent watching people, observing their movements and listening to their patterns of speech, haven't been wasted time as I've always feared. Images and memories are flaring into phrases or sentences that light my story like matches in the dark--brief, satisfying bursts accompanied by sounds and smells and warmth.

I feel like a child with a brand-new toy.

Photo by: Dave Barstow

Monday, October 25, 2010

Monkeying Around

Spent the weekend making a Halloween costume for my darling granddaughter. She will be the cutest monkey on the planet. I had to combine several patterns and revise my plans several times to work out something that fits her--her height is at something like 95% on those growth charts, but her weight is more like 50%. Anything that fits her around is much too short. Anything that's long enough flops around on her body. But that's why elastic as invented, I guess.

Anyway, monkey pictures to come. For now, here's a black-and-white peek at my darling. Is she not beautiful? She waved good-bye to me for the first time yesterday and I haven't stopped smiling yet.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

It's a Teagan Day!

Teagan and I are running errands together this morning. This afternoon, we're taking a friend to the doctor for a check-up after shoulder surgery.

Shopping with my beautiful girl is my favorite thing in the entire world right now. Every third person we pass remarks on how beautiful she is, and I get to agree and smile and be proud of and thankful for my darling granddaughter.

Kristin has started dressing T in things I've made when she's coming to my house. When someone comments on her clothes as well as her general beauty, my smile could light all the houses in the greater K.C. area.

Work-work got in the way yesterday, and I didn't hit my writing commitment until 1:00 a.m. Even so, I'm bright eyed and ready to go get my girl in a few minutes.

The sun is shining. The air is crisp. I have the day with my granddaughter. Who could ask for more?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

LOVES Me Some Interwebs

Tonight I realized one of my characters needs to visit the offices of the Billboard Magazine in St. Louis, MO. After less than five minutes of Googling around, I have the address of the building and photos of the interior and exterior at the time of my story. These images provide architectural details, directional orientation and info on surrounding buildings.

And I am thrilled, even though my writing includes very little direct description. Details like this mostly give me ways to let the characters interact with their surroundings. My character might leave finger smudges on the brass doors of the north side of the building or feel wary of the gargoyles guarding the entrance. His wife might browse the shops in the building's arcade while he does his business. He might join her at a 2nd floor coffee shop after his meeting. He's very likely to head straight from the meeting to the Post Office, which was then directly across Olive Street.

Right now, I don't know for sure what any of it means. I only know that tomorrow, when I peer into my 1-inch frame, the picture will be filled with life and color, richness and texture. All I have to do is watch what happens and write it down.

I have no words for the joy this gives me.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Fearing Less

Since Labor Day, I have been gathering family stories and researching and writing. And writing. And writing.

The words in the books on writing have become more than theories. I get how they work. And why. Where I once "knew" about Anne Lamott's "1-inch frames," now I can peer into my own frames and see things worth describing. I'm no longer afraid I won't find the story. I just keep showing up, confident the story will find me.

This confidence was born over four magical days in the Green Mountains of Vermont at Crescent Dragonwagon's Fearless Writing workshop. Crescent will weave similar magic November 12 through 14 at the Mount Sequoyah Retreat Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The $895 fee includes three days of instruction from Crescent, lodging, and three meals a day.

To quote Crescent, "Fearless teaches students how to harness the anxiety generated by chaotic or unknown conditions or apparently immutable limitations as a powerful creative force."

I still have anxiety. I'm still surrounded by chaos. But now I wave to my limitations as I pass them on my way to work.

If you're interested, I highly recommend checking out Crescent and Fearless. You can find more information here.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Voices in My Head

Home. Safe.

I usually listen to audio books on long drives, but the voices in my head entertained me all the way home. The 14 hours flew so fast I drove past my last turn home--just didn't notice it until too late and had to circle around.

The letters fascinate and thrill me, but the big thing is that they inform my story with telling details. I'd been struggling with one specific transition for about two weeks. When I woke yesterday, the answer hung in the room, so tangible I could have folded it up and packed it along with my toothbrush.

In a letter to one of his girlfriends, Mr. P. gave intricate details of building a trailer and mentioned that he was going to take the trailer to have the seams welded. From that, I know the seams could erode and develop leaks. The condition of the seams of his trailer is something my character can inspect, which gives me the opening of the transition and helps me show that this once prosperous carnival is wearing out and wearing down.

The detail will show up in a mere handful of words: it may not even register with some readers. But it gives me a place to start, details to build a world upon.

More happy. More joy.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Trickety Trot

I'm headed home again. I got exactly what I came for and much, much more I could not have imagined.

Two weeks ago, I tripped across the existence of a collection of correspondence from a man who traveled with carnivals and circuses for forty years. So, naturally, I got in my car and drove across four states to see it.

The man corresponded with hundreds of different people, some as often as twice a week, for years. He kept every letter, card and telegram he received as well as carbon copies of the letters he wrote. It is, hands down, the most interesting thing I've ever read.

It's also something like a giant puzzle because the letters are filed by name of correspondent, and show people changed names frequently. One central character has five different names I'm aware of so far and may have more. The letters progress through the years in each file, so cross referencing stories is a challenge. For example, he writes to a girlfriend, her husband, her mother and father, her sisters, her brother, and the brother's wife. The same stories wind through each set of letters, but the versions vary. Wildly.

Through the passage of years, you see the man transform from a young cad to a solid family man. You see him help people over and over, even when they burn him time after time. You see a kind of desperation most of us can't imagine: people whose lives turn on less than $10. Babies are born. And die. And are lost to divorce and disinterest. Men go to prison. Women wait. Or don't. Everyone scrambles to pay their bills and stay alive.

The letters fill 35 file boxes. I couldn't stay long enough to read all or even a large part of it, so I resorted to photographing one page at a time. (Photography is easier on the old paper than photocopying. And cheaper.) I'm going home with images of 500 or 600 pages waiting to be read like a vein of gold waiting to be mined. I hope to come back next spring. I may pay for copies of some of the letters to tide me over through the winter. I didn't get to the letters to and from his mother or his father or his wife. (The girlfriends were so compelling!)

I am exhausted. I worked very early and very late so I could read/photograph from 8 to 5 while the library is open. I haven't slept more than four hours a night for five or six days. Tonight I plan to sleep like a mid-winter grizzly. Tomorrow I plan to read and write. Same thing the next day. And the day after that.

Following my nose leads to the most amazing blessings. I am so grateful.

Monday, October 11, 2010


Apparently, it's my day for struggling not to make public scenes.

First, I had to take several gulps of tea to keep from laughing out loud at the middle-aged blonde with three sizes of wedding dresses in her closet.

Then, I started reading the correspondence I came here to find. OMG! OMG! OMG! I wanted to find people in the hallways and read to them. Or make them read. Just share with someone. Anyone. A couple of times, I gasped so loudly everyone in the room looked up and stared.

Tomorrow I'm having lunch with the archivist, and I can hardly wait. She's read every word and I can't wait to ask questions and compare notes and laugh. And laugh. And laugh.

It's a little crazy to drive 800 miles (1600 round trip) to read a bunch of old letters when you don't have any idea whether they include anything you need or want for a story you're not sure you're capable of writing. It's a little crazy to spend all day reading in a library and then all night working to keep up with regular work. It's a little crazy to spend time and money chasing dreams.

Except it's not. I'm going to get old if I'm lucky and die someday, no matter what. I might as well chase my dreams, even when they lead me through the Michigan woods in the dark, unsure of where I am, where I'm going, or what I'll find when I get there.

This is exactly the life I want to live.

Happy. Happy.

Dear Me

Overheard @ breakfast in a hotel in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, where I have come to read an archive of letters vaguely related to the story I'm working on.

"I've gained so much weight over the years, each of my wedding dresses is a bigger size than the one before. I have three sizes of wedding dresses. (sigh)"

It was all I could do not to laugh out loud.

Monday, October 04, 2010


Over the last few weeks, I've had several conversations with several family members I've never talked to beyond the basic "good to see you, how's the family" conversations at weddings and funerals.

Generally, I ask an opening question and step out of the way as a flood of fantastic stories pours forth. Every single time, I am reminded of how we all long for someone to listen.

Listening is enriching my story and my life. Between Teagan and work and writing The Story, I don't post much these days, but I am alive and well and listening to stories.

So. Much. Fun.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Living as a Writer

My mother was a cheerleader. Somehow, she's managed to leave out this fascinating tidbit in the telling of her life story.

My dad looked quite dapper in his basketball uniform. He was the cutest boy in his high school class, too.

My dad was one of seven members of the last class to graduate from the high school, which was then consolidated with a bigger school nearby. Dad's class picture hangs on the wall of honor in the town's community center.

I know these things because I visited Mom and Dad's hometown yesterday, gathering research for a story. I also visited a coal mining museum and the general store where my grandfather used to take us kids. A carefully invested dime returned a fortune in penny candy at the general store back then. It's a wonder the man who ran it didn't strangle one of us or my grandfather, considering how many times we changed our minds between paying two cents for a Sugar Daddy or giving up a whole nickel for a box of CrackerJacks. (In later years, he murdered his wife then killed himself. I'm pretty sure we weren't the ones who pushed him over the edge. He hadn't been forced to spend 10 minutes listening to us waver between candy cigarettes and Sugar Babies for years by the time of the unfortunate event.)

Yesterday was a wonderful day -- the kind of day when possibility shimmers in the air, swirled with memory and loss and love and hope. I saw family folks and being with them felt as right as if 30 days had passed rather than 30 years.

After all these years of making a living with and through words, I am not just writing but living as a writer. That shift brings me joys like yesterday. In the next week or two, it's going to bring me a trip to central Michigan, where an archivist has catalogued the extensive correspondence of a carnival showman. Talking to her on the phone yesterday, I made up my mind to pack Paula and hit the road. The stories are there waiting, and I'm a writer.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Not All Dogs Bark

In the Fearless Writing workshop, we created a list of words and used them in several exercises. It's challenging to work in 35 or so words into something that makes sense and tells a story in 15 minutes or so. In the first few exercises, all my dogs barked and all my shovels dug.

After listening to other folks read, I recognized the limitations of my thinking. If I'm brutally honest with myself, it is one of my great failings as a human being that all too often, I consider my first interpretation of something the only interpretation.

On a chalkboard in my writing space, I wrote "Not all dogs bark." Before I sit down to write each day, I pick a random word and make a list of ways to use it. Not all dogs are canines, and a "bark" isn't always a sound made by a dog. Truly, I am dogged about making my dog-eared lists of doggeral regarding hot-diggity-dogs and their doggone variations.

"Bark" can't make up its mind, either. Sometimes it's candy made with almonds; sometimes it's the action of speaking forcefully; sometimes it's the outer surface of a tree.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Writing Exercises

We did several writing exercises at the workshop. One of them involved a word list and a title that provided a scenario. I put the words from the list in bold here.

Ella Moon, 30, contemplates an ashtray in the laudromat at 5th & Palmer in Deep Gap, NC, 2010

"Oh my hell of God," Ella cursed. "Here I am, looking like 10 long miles of bad road, and Friday is adrift under the freakin' dryer. I don't have time for this kind of crap. I need to get some color on these roots before Buster gets home."

Maybe Friday wasn't all that important. After all, the pink was a bit faded and the lace was beginning to fray right where Ella's Rottweiler, Raucous, got hold of it. But Buster preferred that she wear a day on a day, and Ella preferred not to jump into an argument the very minute Buster got back from Arizona. She knew this was now a game of beat the clock. Buster should be rolling into town in less than an hour.

Ella stomped outside and grabbed a stick from under the birch trees on the boulevard. Good thing she'd decided to hit the Suds and Duds on Palmer, the only street in town with any trees left. Back in 2008, Deep Gap had surrendered nearly every living tree and bush to an early season hurricane. The storm transformed most of the Gap, once a verdant village, into an unsettled tract, waiting for Japanese developers to figure out what to keep and what to raze.

Optimistic as always, Ella came up with a scheme to retrieve the panties without getting down on the incredibly filthy floor. She pulled over two orange plastic chairs and draped herself over them, her luscious butt facing God and her poor, tired dogs pointing at the devil. If she squirmed at just the right angle and remembered to keep her wrists cocked, she could wedge the stick under the dryer and shovel out the panties.

Right about the time her first attempt came up empty, the lights flickered. Ella jumped, sure Quentin had come to shut up the place for the night. One glance at the clock reassured her, but with closing time less than 20 minutes off, she needed to get it on.

Truth to tell, Ella didn't mind a deadline. She did her best work under pressure. Extemporaneous was her color. She called upon the Bodhisattva, all the angels, and anyone else up there willing to help her keep her happy ass out of trouble. It was a short list.

Ella's next smooth swoosh with the stick turned up one Bubble Up bottle cap, two quarters and three dried up ground cherry husks. On the third swoosh, the stick got well and truly stuck. "Damn it all," she sighed.

Back and forth. Up and down. Ella pushed and pulled, see'd and sawed with the stick, trying to dislodge whatever had settled back there, in front of or on top of Friday. When the stick broke free, Ella pulled back, slow and careful.

Friday's lace emerged first, rosy and decadent in the fluorescent lights. Tangled in the lace and elastic was a flat aluminum ashtray marked, "Relax tonight. We'll do the cooking. Call Hutch."

God alone could discern how long the ashtray had been under there. Hutch himself had been dead and gone more than a decade. Buster owned the place now, and he hadn't ordered ashtrays since the lung cancer carried his dad home to Jesus.

Ella shook out the dust bunnies, stepped into the leg openings, and shimmied into Friday. She tucked the ashtray into her purse for Buster. He could use it for target practice. He always had wanted to shoot that old son of a bitch.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Fascinating Rhythm

Energy pulses like an erratic heartbeat in a room filled with 15 creative folks. People who've spent a lifetime as performers struggle to be audience. People more comfortable in the aisle seat wilt at center stage.

The last five days have been exhilarating and exhausting. Much of what I learned was re-learning but necessary relearning. I don't yet know where to put some of the new stuff.

We did yoga every day: I did a handstand with the help and support of the fabulous young woman teaching the classes.

We walked to a sugaring operation and saw how maple syrup starts its journey to breakfast tables everywhere.

We wrote. And wrote. And wrote.

In four hours, a plane will carry me back to my own life, where tomato sandwiches are topped with bacon rather than smoked tempeh, where speaking one at a time is the norm, where women rarely fart in public. I'll be glad to be home and sorry not to be here.


Friday, September 03, 2010

Fear Less

I am trying to fear less. Today's session may or may not help in the long run. One of the other students is an attorney who worked with the Department of Justice as a Nazi hunter. He read aloud during an exercise and his language sang an aria. Mine hummed "Three Blind Mice."

I know. I know. Comparisons are odious.


More soon.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Wherever I May Be

Things did not start well. I woke three minutes before the alarm clock. My clothes were laid out and my things were packed. Mostly. But every little detail took just a minute or two longer than I planned. It was raining. Hard. My no-traffic-at-5:00am prediction turned out to be slightly too optimistic.

When I got close to the airport, I decided to park at the regular terminal rather than the super-cheap, off-airport parking. Just didn't have the time/energy/umbrella for the "economy lot." But then I got to the airport and discovered parking is $20 a day. $100 to leave my car for five days. Great.

The security check point held another surprise: a long line. The KC airport rarely has any line at all, let alone a long line. It got within two people of the security guard with his drug-detecting penlight when an ugly thought hit me: I couldn't remember turning off Paula's lights. After 18 years of cars that turned off their own lights, I haven't quite gotten comfortable with Paula's bronze-age lighting system. Nothing to do but leave the line and go back to the parking lot to check.

I had, of course, turned off the lights.

Another 20 minutes in line. (Sigh)

My little black dress is comfortable and easy to wear, but a barely-above-the-knees hemline is not the best choice for taking off your shoes and putting them back on in the security line. Bend over with your back toward the room and you're flashing the crowd. Bend over with your back to the conveyor belt and you're flashing the security guards. No good option.

Bonus! The little restaurant where I had lunch in Atlanta had crabcakes, my favorite. Unfortunately, they must have treated the crab with sulfites, to which I am allergic. You have not lived until you've distress in an airplane bathroom at 12,000 feet. Twice.

My rolling bag saves my back, but others may not love my inability to roll it in straight lines. On the bus to the rental car place, I thought I'd lost my wallet. I hadn't.

The little town where I booked a room is in New Hampshire, not Vermont as I thought. I spent an hour wandering the 91, lost. A kind young man in a McDonalds explained how to get back where I needed to be.

None of this dimmed my enthusiasm. Not even a little. Not even in the airplane bathroom, with the head flight attendant sitting 6 inches from the door.

I've had a fabulous day. The place I'm staying tonight is one of the most beautiful small inns I've ever seen. My under-$100-room has two vintage brick walls, plantation shutters, an incredibly comfy bed, and a stack of books with a note saying you're welcome to take one with you. The public spaces are beyond charming. Their restaurant has an outdoor patio overlooking a small waterfall. As darkness gathered, the staff lit 27 torches surrounding the edges of the patio. I savored every sip of two glasses of pinot grigio; every bite of a salad of artichokes, roasted red peppers, white beans, kalamata olives and spring greens; grilled salmon.

Tomorrow morning I'm having breakfast at one of the 10 best breakfast places in America, according to Travel & Leisure Magazine. (I happened to read the T&L article last week and realized I'd be within an hour of Quechee, VT. Too close to miss it, right? I think so, anyway.)

And my niece volunteered to go drive my car home from the airport. No parking fees at all!

Driving through the Green Mountains this afternoon, joy swirled in me like fall leaves in a strong wind. I love being slightly lost. I love finding new, unexpected places. I love waterfalls and torches and old brick walls. I love stepping into the unknown.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Got Kleenex?

Seriously. Get a hankie. Or three.

Danny & Annie from StoryCorps on Vimeo.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Hamster on a Wheel

Between working and taking care of Teagan, I feel like a hamster on a wheel these days. Some interesting stuff has happened. More is about to. I'll write soonest.

Monday, August 16, 2010


Sometimes you know a dress is right for you the moment it settles on your frame. That's how I felt about the dress Katie bought me last week. That buying decision took about 39 seconds, which is all we had with Teagan screaming.

Katie was concerned that the simple black dress was not fancy enough for the wedding, but I had a plan: layers of pearl necklaces. Just before time to go on Saturday, I pulled six or seven pearl and pearl/crystal necklaces from a hanger and settled them around my neck. On a whim, I pulled one strand around to hang down my back rather than over my chest.

Katie looked at me and said, "You look weird."

"That's ok," I said. "I am weird."

All night long, friends and family and total strangers told me how fun and appealing my outfit was. Personally, I think the appeal was in not being afraid to be weird.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Times They Are a Changin'

Katie arrived Wednesday night. In a few hours, we'll be off to the Missouri wine country (who knew?) for my nephew's wedding. We're driving Mom and Dad and ferrying the flowers. Should be fun.

Thursday night we had dinner with Mom and Dad at a local restaurant. Dad was sitting directly across from me, and several times I noticed a slight glint from one of his teeth. I leaned across the table and looked carefully.

"Dad, I think something is wrong with one of your lower teeth," I said.

"Yes," he sighed. "The tooth has worn away and the metal post from the root canal is showing through."

"Does it hurt?"

"Not really."

"Can they fix it?"

"Why? I'm wearing out all over. It will last as long as I do."


Katie and I went dress shopping the first afternoon she was here. We had Teagan with us, so we traded off trying on/tending Teagan. By the time we finished, Teagan was hungry and shrieking. I handed the dress I was buying to Katie and started digging through the stuff in the stroller for my purse.

"I'll get it, Mom," Katie said.

"Thanks. I'll get cash and pay you back when we get Teagan settled," I answered.

"That's ok. You've bought me hundreds of dresses. I can buy you one."

Is that Bob Dylan I hear singing?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Marine Corps Him

My dad is a Marine. It's a central fact of his life, as much a part of describing him as saying he has black hair and hazel eyes. He taught me the Marine Corps hymn so early I have no memory of not knowing the lyrics and the tune. He taught me to count cadence before I could actually count and showed me how to do the Queen Anne salute with a stick as soon as I could hold one.

Marines are tough. I know this as surely as I know the sun rises on the halls of Montezuma and sets on the shores of Tripoli, as surely as I know the biscuits in the Army can kill you.

Yesterday Dad drove up just as I was leaving after coffee with Mom. I stopped and asked where he'd been.

"To the doctor," he said in a low, slow voice.

"You okay?" I asked.

"Yeah. Just needed her signature."

"On what?"

"An application for a handicapped parking permit."

The earth trembled on its axis. I did not know what to say that wouldn't bow his shoulders even more, would not drop his head a quarter-inch further. I concentrated on breathing. In and out. In and out.

"Cool. Can I ride with you?"

He laughed a little and rolled up the car window. I drove away quickly, before he could see the tears glistening in my eyes.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Survival and Celebration

Made it through the shower for my niece. Three days of cooking and baking followed by a day of fixing, fussing, and arranging. But everything turned out pretty and delicious. Plus, I tried two new recipes to add to my 100 new recipes for my List.

"Bought" my tickets for the trip to Vermont for the Fearless Writing workshop with Crescent Dragonwagon. The air quotes on "bought" are because I used the last of my frequent flier miles from the old days. Can't think of a better way to use them and can't wait.

More later. Must get ready for Teagan now.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

No Worries

My cousin took the "Angry Sky" photo last week. The formation was so unusual the weather service had to name it. A new name for a cloud formation had not been required for over 50 years.

People in the area were turning their lives over to Jesus as those clouds rolled in, according to my cousin. She said even the emergency responders were out in the streets, staring and wondering what to do. In the end, no one and nothing got hurt.

I posted it simply because I think it's beautiful and wondrous. Plus, I didn't have time to write. I've had Teagan a lot this week and two people are on vacation at work, so I've been taking up some slack there. The shower I'm giving for my niece is tomorrow, so I'm baking and getting things ready for that.

The faster I go, the behinder I get.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Simple--And Not So Simple--Abundance

A dear friend pointed out that I've focused on lack a lot recently. Following principles in which we both believe, she suggested I focus on abundance instead.

Yesterday was the first Monday of the month, the day I help cook meatloaf and mashed potatoes for the homeless. It was a cookie month, and I started the day baking cookies at 5:00 a.m. When I pulled the staples from my pantry--flour and sugar and brown sugar and chocolate chips and M&Ms--the jars lined up on the counter created in me such strong feelings of abundance that I had to stop and take a picture.

I thought of my grandmothers, raising their children during the Depression. They could not count on having enough staples to bake whenever they felt like it. Sugar was rationed. Flour was expensive and butter hard to come by. Today, my pantry holds everything I need to bake cookies--or nearly anything else. Simple abundance.

Paula--my little VW convertible--has been having indigestion. (Her "check engine" light came on last week.) I avoided driving until yesterday, when the mechanic could check her out. Meantime, I fretted mightily, imagining enormous and costly repairs. The problem turned out to be with the light itself, and the bill came to $65. Simple. I have $65 to spare. Abundance.

Sunday evening, Crescent Dragonwagon emailed, offering me a partial scholarship and payment terms for her Fearless Writing workshop--the one I hoped to pay for with the grant I did not get. Turns out I have just enough frequent flier miles for a ticket to Hartford, CT. Meals are included in the workshop fee. All this makes it possible for me to go. After a brief struggle with ridiculous, stiff-necked pride, I decided to accept Crescent's incredibly generous offer. I will be spending Labor Day in Vermont in the home of a woman whose history has been distantly entwined with mine for 39 years. Not so simple, but definitely abundant.

Monday, August 02, 2010


Karen Walrond is an incredibly talented photographer and writer whose upcoming book, The Beauty of Different, was introduced to me by Michelle O'Neil.

Over the weekend, Karen saw a CNN report about a church in Florida planning to hold a Quran burning in September. She's asking people to send her prints of peaceful images. Her plan is to pack up the photos and send them to the church. Her only rule is that the photos and messages written on them must focus on peace. She refers to this as a "photobomb."

Peace is a broad concept. I checked my photo files and found dozens that would work. I'm sending five or six later today and hope you'll join me in supporting the project.

Karen plans to beat their swords with peaceful images. Plowshares anyone?

Sunday, August 01, 2010

No Grant

The grant I applied for was awarded to another writer, one whose work knocked me on my butt. Brilliant. Funny. Imaginative and wise. Today, not even a sliver of any of those things feels available to me. While I honestly celebrate for her and with her, I am bereft. Not about not getting the grant--I always recognized the realistic odds of that. It's the comparison between the best I can offer and the piece she wrote that pains me.

Today, the gulf between where I am and where I want to be feels so broad, I am mired in fear and doubt. But these things I know: comparisons are not helpful in any way. The sun will rise tomorrow and if I'm still spinning on and with the earth, I'll still have opportunities to learn and grown and try. I'll keep breathing in and out, and my breath will mingle with all that lives and breathes.

I can focus on the pain of not being what I want to be or having what I want to have, or I can focus on those opportunities to learn. The Universe did not grant me that grant, but it always offers serenity. Accepting it is up to me.

What I need is a good wisdom teacher.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Art Therapy

I've been working on a logo for my 100 Things to Do Before I Go list. To tell you the truth, working on it feels a little self-indulgent, like I'm wasting time. But the thing is, playing with color and texture and shapes is like a deep breath for my brain, and, like mercy, I could use some of that right now.

Now that I've got the basic collage in place, I want to add wings to the heart and give it a title in Photoshop. I've been playing with ideas, but so far I haven't come up with anything I like. That could be because Photoshop remains mostly a mystery to me. But, like my Life List, I'm working on it.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Mercy Now--Life List Update #3

Mary Gauthier came to me through the 100 Things to Do Before I Go--one of my 100 new-to-me musicians. Had to listen to this several times before I got through the whole thing. The first stanza left me sobbing the first few times.

Every single one of us could use some mercy now.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Hard Rain

Dad had a CT-guided biopsy on the spots in his good lung on Tuesday. Well...he didn't quite have it. When the doctor inserted the needle into his lung, it collapsed.

Specialists were called--I imagine the scene as something out of "Grey's Anatomy," with doctors calling for instruments and nurses scurrying to "get the cart." I hope that's my imagination running away with me. In any case, they inserted a chest tube and reinflated the lung.

Yesterday, they removed the chest tube, and Dad's doing well--considering everything. He's home, playing with his doggie and letting Mom fuss over him. He says he feels much better "now that they took the 6-inch spike out of my chest."

We don't yet know whether they are going to try the biopsy again. The radiologist told me he sees no reason to put Dad through the procedure again, considering his age and general health. Apparently, knowing Dad has one fatal disease is enough for this doc. He sees no reason to go searching for another. For one thing, their treatment options are very limited, so how would they act on the information? The radiology doc believes the growth is very slow growing and not likely to compromise Dad's health further than it's already compromised.

The group of doctors who gathered yesterday at the removal of the tube don't seem to share the radiologist's view. They're going to discuss the matter and get back to us. I guess we'll discuss their recommendations and get back to them. At length.

When I left the hospital Tuesday, a storm was gathering. By the time I got on the highway toward home, it was raining like nothing I've ever seen. Biblical rain. Rain that made you forget the sun exists. Rain that clogged the storm drains and ran like rivers in the streets.

Hard. Rain.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Silver Eyebrows

Heather usually waxes my eyebrows when she trims my hair, but we both forgot last week. Thursday, I lit up my 10X magnifying mirror and settled my strongest reading glasses halfway down my nose. A shock awaited me: three silver eyebrow hairs.

Three. Silver. Hairs.

At first, I was completely bummed. I am so freakin' old. Headed for the long dirt nap. Subject to creeping decrepitude. But...wait.

I have now officially entered the "I Shall Wear Purple" years. I am going to wear what I like. Say what I think. Do the things I've always wanted to do. If not now, when?

Three silver hairs in my eyebrows give me all the permission I need.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Observations from this Weekend's Adventure

Best license plate, seen on an Audi A6: HAudi

Best Signage, seen on commercial building in Clinton, MO: Dull and Lowe, Attorneys at Law

This is the "Great Wall of Tomato," supported by a trellis Jeff built from timber he cut on his property.

Tomatoes like this are the reason Jeff built the trellis. Anything less couldn't support these monsters.

Jeff grows 9 different varieties of peppers. We had some of each in our dinner Saturday night. Whooooweeee.

Watermelon is the perfect desert when temperatures hover near 100. We gathered the seeds from our slices--this is an heirloom variety and Jeff returns the seeds to the seed company.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Hearts on Stony Ground

Jeff (my brother) lives on a small hobby farm about three hours from KC. His garden is a thing of beauty, especially when tomatoes are in season. I'm headed down there today to weed and pick and putter. Wine will be involved. And great food made from just-picked produce. (sigh)

On the drive down, I plan to stop at several creeks to search for heart-shaped stones. I do so love heart-shaped stones. I took this picture in a stream bed in northern Arkansas in 2008, when I went to the Outhouse Races and Bean Festival in Mountain View, AR.

Pictures to follow. Have a wonderful weekend!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Caro Mia

When my plans for last night fell through at the last minute, I decided to invest the unexpected free evening making one of my 100 lovely things. Although I love the Astrid sweater and look forward to making it, with the heat index hovering at 105, even the word "sweater" made me sweat. So, I decided to floof up a favorite white T-shirt.

The fabric is cotton batiste. As it's laundered, the edges of the trim will fray a bit more--at least I hope so. The ruffles actually are a series of individual heart shapes, sewn down randomly but strategically. I decided on heart shapes because the curves and points would create interesting shapes when the fabric curled up after being washed. I sewed them down one at a time, twisting and turning the pieces to fill space and create the effect I wanted. I'm really pleased with the way this turned out--especially because I had no idea whether it would work.

It did.

If anyone is interested, I can make a tutorial for the process. It took about an hour and a half, but probably wouldn't take as long without the experimentation required for a new idea.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Even my breakfast was happy today.

Mighty List

Maggie Berry, also known as Mighty Girl, introduced the Life List concept to Karen Walrond, whose blog introduced it to me. Maggie calls her list the Mighty Life List. I made my list less than a week ago, but already I can tell you, making a life list is mighty.

Yesterday, Teagan stayed with me for several hours, which I love but means working earlier and later to keep up with deadlines and responsibilities. The weather was miserable--high 90s with humidity over 90%. By the end of the day, I was hot and tired and cranky. I had planned to go hear Audrey Niffenegger speak, but when the time came, all I wanted was a glass of wine and my comfy sofa.

I flopped on the sofa, ready to blow off my plans, but my list nagged at me. "If you're going to 100 author readings before you go, you have to get off your butt," she whispered. "It's hot. You're tired. This means you should not live your dreams?" (She's a sarcastic bitch, but I like her, this mighty list whisperer of mine.)

Audrey was a revelation: smart and spunky and...well...a little odd--in the best sort of way. She dyes her hair a shade of red definitely not found in nature and her skin is ghostly pale. She answers questions with her tongue firmly in her cheek. She chose the setting for Her Fearful Symmetry--Highgate Cemetary--because she personally loves the place and wanted to spend time there. She has not seen the movie based on The Time Traveler's Wife because she doesn't want the actors playing her characters to supplant her imaginings of those characters. She can, she says, always decide to see it. She cannot unsee it. So...not never, but not yet.

Niffenegger worked on Her Fearful Symmetry for five years. Five years: two of them before the success of TTTW. This woman believes in her self and her work so strongly that when 30 agents passed on TTTW, she kept going. So strongly that when the character she planned to build HFS around couldn't sustain the story, she invented a whole new cast of characters and a whole new story arc. So strongly that she continued to research and imagine and write for five years until the characters in her head fell silent. That's when the story is finished, she says. When the characters stop appearing on the radio channel in her head, the one set aside for a particular book or story, the book is complete.

Audrey was inspiring and entertaining and fun. I'm glad I went, and without the list whisperer, I might have missed her. So, thanks, Maggie and Karen. And Audrey. I can't wait to see what happens next.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Life List Update #1

Journaling my Life List has reminded me how extraordinarily blessed my life has been.

For example, #16--Visit All 50 States. I started the journal with a brief memory of each state I've visited. Turns out I have clear memories of all but three states. Unlikely though it is--having lived in Missouri and MN most of my life--I cannot recall visiting Oklahoma, North Dakota or Nebraska. This weekend I plan to knock Oklahoma off the list.

And #55--Visit All the Great Lodges. Turns out I've already hit eight of the 16. These grand old buildings and the stories of their creation are fascinating. I look forward to learning the other eight.

The journal leaves a map for my children to follow--through my life and their own. This--having a plan, taking risks, creating and honoring memories--this is how you make a life, my dear ones.

I leave you with a message from Teagan.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Mothers of the Bride

N (Katie's birth mother) and I had lunch yesterday. After some small talk, I asked what her dreams are for Katie's wedding. Her answer makes it official: She is a real mother, too. Her dreams, you see, are for Katie to be comfortable and joyous and surrounded by love. She doesn't want to cause a stir. She wants to be present but not intrusive. She wants to do whatever makes things right and good for Katie. Real. Mother.

Together, we cooked up the beginnings of a plan. She's going to attend the showers and the parties and the events leading up to the wedding. The goal is for her to meet everyone in all the families--Bill and Kathy and Kevin and Julie (Craig's parents) and all the kids and stepkids and grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins--before the wedding. If she meets everyone before the big day and takes part in the celebrations, everyone will accept her as simply part of our family. As she is.

Here's an example of N's generous spirit: I asked if she would like to be escorted down the aisle immediately before the ceremony. She would.

I asked if she'd like to sit beside me in the front row (after I walk down the aisle with Katie). She would not.

That place, N said, is for me--the mother who raised Katie. She is thrilled to be recognized as special and important but wants to honor my relationship with Katie and the life we built.

"I gave her breath," N said. "You gave her life."

We are the mothers of the bride. And we rock.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Karen Walrond's book trailer and the premise of her book, The Beauty of Different, fascinate me. Both the trailer Michelle posted and a second one available on Karen's blog show many people who would not, at a casual glance in a crowd, seem beautiful in the traditional sense. But in these photos, each is beautiful. Truly. Beautiful.

In the clear focus of Karen's work--close up, shown in the best light, beauty emerges. If you look closely enough, everyone is beautiful. Deep attention creates beauty. Or, maybe recognizes is a better word.

Also on Karen's blog, I discovered a TED talk by Chimamanda Adichie about the danger of a single story--the problems that arise when we believe the one thing we know about someone or something is the entire truth about that person or thing. It never is.

And so, I ask myself whether everyone is ugly, just as we all are beautiful. This might sound uncharacteristically negative, but I hope it's true. I know for a fact that I am ugly--inside and out--at times. If everyone has ugly moments, it's easier to accept them in myself. I don't mean it's acceptable to behave badly or to be unkind. Not at all. But I find it comforting to believe everyone has dark moments, times they have to talk themselves off the ledge, times they don't make the most loving choice. I even find it comforting to think that--like me--everyone has moments when the dark circles under their eyes resemble caverns and their hair looks like a rat's nest.

Capturing and reflecting beauty is a worthwhile endeavor. The reminder that we're all beautiful is welcome. But how reassuring might it be to remind ourselves we're not alone in our occasional ugliness? I'm not sure how that could be accomplished, but it would be equally fascinating.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

100 Things to Do Before I Go

Blogging not only rocks. It rolls.

I introduced Michelle to Laura Munson who led Michelle to Karen Walrond. Michelle posted Karen's book trailer, which left breadcrumbs to Mighty Maggie and her life list.

This idea grabbed me and wouldn't let go. As both Karen and Maggie note, the point is not that you have to do all 100 things before you die. The point is that writing them down forms a commitment with your soul to reach further. To live bigger. And smaller. To remember that we all go. To recognize the time is now.

My list kept me up until 1:00 am and woke me at 5:45. I haven't finished, but I'm posting it here and now. I am committing to my self. I am committing to others. I am saying yes to life.

In no particular order...

100 Things to Do Before I Go

1. Fall in love again.
2. Ride my bicycle across Tuscany.
3. See the Grand Canyon.
4. Visit Yosemite.
5. Walk my daughter down the aisle.
6. Teach my granddaughter to swim.
7. Write a book from my heart.
8. Stomp grapes at a vineyard.
10. Fly a kite on a beach.
11. Take a barefoot sailing cruise.
12. Return to the Bay of Fundy.
13. Spend a weekend in Kinsale, Ireland.
14. Drive the Pacific Coast Highway.
15. Learn to bake good bread.
16. Visit all 50 states.
17. Take dance lessons.
18. Sleep at the Beagle motel.
19. Meditate at the Joshua Tree
20. Take a barge trip down the Seine.
21. Learn photography.
22. Make jam from strawberries I grew myself.
23. Volunteer for Habitat for Humanity.
24. Take a moon bath in the full moon.
25. Bike Mackinac Island.
26. Finish or give away all unfinished projects.
27. Make the Astrid sweater.
28. Take painting lessons.
29. Make 100 lovely things.
30. Sleep in a treehouse.
31. Get an essay accepted by the NY Times
32. Spend a summer in a small house by the ocean.
33. Spend a summer in Bayfield, Wisconsin.
34. Volunteer with a theater group.
35. Make pasta from scratch.
36. Find a spiritual home.
37. Hike in a fern glen.
38. Drive the Going to the Sun Road.
39. Stay at the Plaza when I visit my publisher.
40. Ride the Katy Trail from one end to the other.
41. Take my granddaughter to Disney World.
42. Learn 100 new words in English.
43. Waterski again.
44. Try 100 kinds of tea.
45. Donate 1000 books to a library.
46. Hike Kitchen Mesa.
47. Create a comfortable, funky workspace for myself.
48. Read 1000 more books.
49. Attend 100 local festivals.
50. Dance from dusk to dawn.
51. Watch the Leonid Showers from a desert or forest
52. Attend a concert at the Sydney Opera House.
53. Listen to 100 new-to-me musicians.
54. Make giant bubbles with my granddaughter.
56. Spend a long weekend in Mendocino, CA.
57. Record my father's carny calls.
58. Attend 100 author readings.
59. Learn to stand on my head.
60. Recycle at least 50% of all garbage I create.
61. Hug a redwood.
62. Learn Tai Chi.
63. Meditate 100 days in a row.
64. Buy a book at Over the Transom in Fairhope, Alabama
65. Get a story published in Glimmer Train.
67. Read 1000 poems.
68. Post a YouTube video.
69. Make an illustrated book of my favorite quotes.
70. Swing for 30 minutes.
71. Write a six-word novel.
73. Take fly-fishing lessons.
74. Make 100 angels.
75. Make my own Pandora radio station.
76. Find 100 heart rocks.
77. Make my blog look like me.
78. Donate 100 warm hats to Micah Ministries.
79. Can really good salsa.
80. Journal my progress on this list.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


I've slept 5,739* nights since the divorce, most of them alone. And despite my efforts to switch sides or move to the center, I cling to the edge. Of my bed.

Last night I stirred, started to turn over, and realized that if I moved even a hair, I'd fall off the bed. I had to move the dog and my pillows to adjust myself in the slightest. This morning, I woke on the edge again.

One of the things I do for my major freelance client is review the work of the 110 editors assigned to me. Writing each review is a laborious process that often involves making retroactive corrections and emailing various people on various matters. When I started in this position, my manager explained what needed to be done and how. I had no idea how many reviews I was expected to complete each week. I did some calculations and came up with what I thought they would expect. I've stayed up half the night, night after night, meeting this expectation that I made up. Earlier this week I discovered the rest of the team had been given a target. And that target is exactly half what I'd been driving myself crazy to accomplish each week. Half.

For this same company, I sometimes edit when the backlog gets too big. I'm not required to do this, but things get complicated for everyone when the system backs up, so I pitch in when I can manage it outside my usual hours. In an attempt to encourage editors to catch up, the company promised a bonus to the top 50 editors in terms of volume for a 30 day period. Yesterday I received auto-notification that I would receive the bonus. My "help when I can" habit put me in the top 50 producers out of 1200 editors--for a job that is not mine.

So often, I plug along, trying to keep up, only to discover that what seems normal to me appears excessive to others. Could this be why I've slept alone for 5,739 nights? The reason I'm on the edge? It's truly something to think about.

*No worries, folks. I don't keep track--I did the math just for this post. I'm working on my writing, and 5,739 says so much more than "a long time."

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Teagan Day!

It's remarkably difficult to take good pictures of a baby by yourself. You really need someone to hold the baby while you take her picture. Out of the dozens I took yesterday, only these reflect any portion of her gorgeousness.

My darling granddaughter, ready for our first walk together.

My darling granddaughter, after our first walk together.

My Teagan is coming today!!!!

I get to take care of her for a couple hours this afternoon. Pictures to follow.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


Today is Ringo Starr's 70th birthday. Seriously. RINGO frickn' STARR turns 70. Today.

I was 10 years old when Ed Sullivan me to introduced the Beatles. Sure, I knew the lads from Liverpool were adults and I was a child that Sunday night. But somehow I'm shocked to discover Ringo is closer to my father's age (79) than to my own (56).

Last night I took part in an open forum on Laura Munson's blog. Laura, the author of This Is Not the Story You Think It Is, led a discussion of "stopping." As in stopping to notice, stopping to celebrate the beauty around us. As in stopping to buy lemonade from a child's stand.

The conversation included talk of surrender. It evolved to a discussion of saying yes to the Universe. Now that I've had time to think about it all, I don't think we drifted from the topic.

Stopping is surrender. Surrender is saying yes to the Universe. Something inside us--that spark of God that connects us all--wants us to notice the glorious gifts we're given. Every single day. Jack Gilbert wrote, "The treasures hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes."

It feels like a few years ago that Ringo Starr was a skinny, mop-haired boy launching a musical revolution. Today, he's 70. And still on stage. Still saying yes to the gifts he was given. He still can because he still does.

Ringo has asked that everyone stop at noon today (each in his own time zone) and wish the world "Peace and Love."

Please say yes to that.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Open Sesame

Managing daily tasks on the computer and Internet requires user names and passwords and secret phrases. Transferring money from one account to another--within the same bank--means I have to remember a user name and three passwords. Getting online to work requires two. Paying my utility bills requires three more. Secret words and phrases fill my brain, and accessing them at the right moment gets more and more complicated.

I've been waking in the night again. Words circle me in the dark, phrases begging to be written down. I want to tell these stories. I want to be a disciplined person who writes 500 words every day, no matter what. I want to step forward, believing the path will appear. I want to plug into the current that flows through me when I write from my heart.

Part of what holds me back is the idea that I have to find a magical combination of words that will open all doors. Anne Lamott believes in "shitty first drafts."

Maybe that's the password.

Sunday, July 04, 2010


Some of you may remember my fascination with Crescent Dragonwagon, about whom I have written several times, including here and here.

Dragon, as she calls herself, briefly attended the same high school I did, although I can't say I knew her. Tremendously colorful and mysterious, she remained my most unforgettable character for decades. In the mid-80s, I ran across her work via the suggested reading list for a curriculum product I was editing. In 1993, she popped up again in various articles about Bill Clinton's inauguration. In 2002, my brother-in-law gave me Passionate Vegetarian as a Christmas gift. In 2008, I came across her blog, Nothing Is Wasted on the Writer.

Her presence is a recurring theme/dream.

Crescent runs a workshop called Fearless Writing. For years now, I've longed to attend one. I'm finally back at work on a "real" project these days. My biggest issue, as always, is the uncertainty, the not knowing where the story is going. Thus we circle back to Crescent and her workshop and fearlessness.

My major freelance client offers a monthly grant to help writers realize their dreams. I am not working today. I am not playing. Today, I am writing an application for the July grant. If I receive it, I will immediately sign up for the Labor Day edition of Fearless Writing. I will go to the Green Mountains of Vermont and meet Crescent again, for the first time. (She's changed. I've changed. We never really knew one another.)

In one way, this seems an impossible dream. In another, it feels like destiny. I can't know which is true. I can only write the best grant application possible and turn loose of the outcome.

Wish me luck.

* Green Mountains in fall. Photo from University of Vermont website

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Planning a Lunch and a Wedding

N (Katie's birth mother) and I are having lunch next week. We haven't seen one another since Mother's Day 2009, which is far too long. She's a lovely woman.

As the wedding planning ramps up, I realize how complicated this could be. My nephew and his bride-to-be are going crazy trying to mollify two two-parent families. Katie has four sets of parents in addition to her extended family, step-family and birth families.

Danger, Will Robinson!

My dream for Katie is that her wedding be peaceful and joyous. She will be at peace only if her families are. The night she asked me to help her find her birth mother, she said she wanted to know her well enough to have her at the eventual wedding. The eventual has become the actual. She has the dress, the guests, the cake, the whole darn thing. We're supposed to sign a contract for the reception location today.

I want to know Nancy's dreams for herself and the wedding. All final decisions are Katie's, of course, but I can influence the course of our ship of dreams. Knowing what N wants gives me a sort of star chart to work with. Katie is careful to be respectful of my feelings, and I appreciate that more than she'll ever know. Even so, I don't want the two of them to miss out on things they'd like to share. If I know enough to make the right suggestions, Katie won't have to worry about hurting my feelings, and she won't have to worry about disappointing N.

And so, I've asked N to lunch. My hope is that we'll talk and laugh and share our dreams for our daughter. My job here is to compromise. To make room. To live my love for my daughter. Come to think of it, N's job is pretty much the same.

We have a lot in common.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Grandma News

After saying they wouldn't be there, Evan and Kristin and Teagan came to the shower yesterday. I was thrilled.

The highlight was carrying Teagan around, introducing her to friends and family. Teagan is, of course, a particularly beautiful baby, and she looked darling in a little yellow dress embroidered with tiny cupcakes. I even got to give her a bottle. (Kristin had expressed milk so she wouldn't have to breastfeed during the party.)

This grandma thing is a good gig.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Finding My Grateful Heart

As Dad tells stories, one of the things most present to me is how blessed we--his children--have been. Through intelligence and hard work and love and loyalty, he and my mother transmuted our lives. The timing of my nephew's text about the limousines was ironic, to say the least, and I couldn't stop thinking about the metaphorical distance between the childhoods of my father and my children.

Those of you who've been reading a while know that my former husband can be...difficult. And loyalty is not his strong suit. know. But the challenging things about him are not the whole of him. The truth is, he is part of the reason our children will never live in a boxcar. His intelligence and hard work have contributed to our family's journey.

Thursday morning, after a night of fitful sleep and constant thought-loops about all this, I called him. Very briefly (he hates to hear me talk) I outlined the story of the boxcar and the limo. And then I thanked him for his part in the safety and comfort our children enjoy.

He did not say a word. I waited a moment, and then said, "That's all I need to say. Just 'thank you.'" More silence. "Good-bye."

In a voice so tight you could feel his vocal cords vibrate, he choked out, "Thank you for calling."

We hung up without another word.

Friday, he called to ask me to find a way to get Evan fitted for a tux for a wedding in his step-family. "If I just ask him to do it, nothing will get done. Can you help?" After receiving the emailed measurements on Saturday, he called to thank me. He was gracious and kind.

We've exchanged more pleasant words this week than we have in some years since our divorce.

Now, I've been down this road long enough to know this isn't a storybook happy ending. We will not ride off into some rosy sunset. We will not hold hands around campfires, singing Kum Ba Yah. But it is a crack in the wall of bitterness and anger between us, an opening in my own heart as well as his. Because, as much as I've worked on forgiveness, as much as I've tried to let go of resentment, the best I've ever managed is a shaky kind of inner detente. I may not dwell on the old anger, but I certainly leap to new irritation when his present actions confirm my beliefs about him. And the thing is, Anais Nin was right. We see things not as they are, but as we are.

A grateful heart is a fine filter through which to see the world. I'm working on it.

Photo courtesy of Haiyen

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Buster Brown Gets Busted

So, get this. Grandpa and Uncle Forest were driving their truck through a small town in Indiana when some sort of incident stopped traffic. They were sitting in a railroad crossing, waiting for the problem to be resolved, when they heard a train in the distance.

Uncle Forest (not known to be a tactful sort) jumped out and screamed at the driver of the truck behind him to back up. The driver, who must not have heard the train coming, took exception to Forest's language or his tone or his attitude. He backed up, but only a few feet. Forest backed the truck as far as he could, trying to maneuver around the other truck. When the other driver recognized what was happening, he leaped from his truck and ran for cover.

Forest was still trying to get his truck off the tracks when the train hit them. Grandpa, snoozing in the sleeper, was oblivious to the situation until the train hit the cab. After that, he was oblivious to everything for a while. Family legend has it that Grandpa's habit of sleeping with one pillow beneath his head and another over his face was the only thing that saved him. I have trouble seeing how a pillow protected him from a 150-ton locomotive, but maybe that's just me.

Anyway, Grandpa sustained a concussion and an impressive assortment of bumps and bruises. Shorty, Forest and Grandpa's guard, was not seriously injured. Forest was trapped in the burning truck. Good Samaritans finally managed to free him, but his body was broken and badly burned. After a week or so in a local hospital, he was transferred to a larger hospital in Indianapolis, where doctors amputated his leg to save him from the gangrene that set in.

Here's what I want you to picture: Grandpa and Forest were carrying a load of Buster Brown shoes. The train dragged the truck nearly three-quarters of a mile before it got stopped. The impact ripped the canvas cover off the back of the truck and scattered shoes for almost a mile. As darkness gathered, townspeople scuttled over the tracks and through the ditches, trying on shoes.

That just knocks me over. There, in middle America during the heart of the Depression, some of those people probably hadn't had new shoes for years. A shower of Buster Browns must have seemed like manna raining down from Heaven.

Can you see it? A crumpled truck. A derailed train. Flashlights dancing on the ground like fireflies as people searched for matching shoes amid the smoking wreckage.

Damn. Somebody ought to write a book.

photo: Jeremy Brooks on Flickr

Friday, June 25, 2010

From Boxcars to Limos

Working in the basement again last night, Dad was telling me stories of his life. Some I knew. Others I'd never heard.

Before Dad was born, his mom and dad and two older brothers lived in an abandoned boxcar for a while, probably during 1929 or 1930. Grandma baked pies and made sandwiches that Grandpa and his brother sold to men working in the train yard. Grandpa must have rigged up some kind of metal box Grandma could bake in over a campfire, because she sure didn't have an oven in the boxcar. Or a sink. Or a bathroom.

Eventually, Grandpa got a job driving a truck for Globe Cartage, and they were able to rent a small house. Times were so desperate that driving loads of valuable cargo--cigarettes and liquor--required two drivers and an armed guard. Grandpa and his brother Forest took turns driving/sleeping in the sleeper cab, and their guard Shorty slept in his seat with a shotgun in his lap. They once were highjacked, a story I'll write in detail later. That job ended when the truck got hit by a train, badly injuring Grandpa and costing Forest one of his legs. Grandpa used his $700 insurance settlement to buy a house, the first he ever owned.

While Dad was telling this story, my nephew sent a blast text to the 116 people coming to his Caribbean-themed wedding shower on Sunday. Not enough parking is available in my sister's neighborhood, so they've arranged permission to park at a nearby school. Limos will carry guests from the parking lot to the catered party, which is being held poolside.

He has no idea about the boxcar. His is a limousine life.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Come On In

As we were growing up, Dad sometimes sang while he worked around the house. More often, he "barked," in the sing-song, cajoling tones of a carny. "A winner every time for only a dime. One thin dime, a winner every time. Come On In."

Dad's father chased success from the bottom of an Iowa coal mine to the hills of Snohomish County, WA and back across the hills of Missouri and the farmland of southern Iowa. His favorite book was Think and Grow Rich. He never stopped believing his next idea would be The One. Handsome and charming, he could have been successful at most anything if only he'd stuck to it long enough. But no matter what he was doing, when some other idea glittered in the distance, he chased its sparkle, with his wife and five children bumping along behind him.

Dad was 15 when Grandpa dragged the family from St. Louis, Missouri to Bothell, Washington, where he started building houses. They nearly starved for a year or so, but Grandpa built good, solid houses, and his reputation got around. In 1946, babies and houses were booming. The family loved Washington, and they had a little disposable income for the first time in their lives. Until....

Grandpa came home one day and announced that he'd bought a cookhouse and some game booths and committed the family to traveling with a carnival. Dad and his brothers argued. His sister and mother cried. But in the end, they packed their belongings into a 1.5 ton 1941 Ford truck and struck out for the MidWest. For two years, they lived in that truck, cooking over a campfire and bathing in ponds or creeks. "Hot and Good and Good and Hot. Come On In."

Grandma and Grandpa cooked hamburgers. Well, to be more accurate, Grandma fried hamburgers inside a steaming tent under the summer sun of Iowa and Missouri. Grandpa stood outside, luring people to the counter. "Half a Cow on a Bun for One. Come On In."

Dad ran a string game. "Oh, these strings. These lucky strings. One thin dime. A winner every time. Come On In."

After that first summer, Grandpa rented a dilapidated old house and garage in Exline, Iowa for the winter. The garage gave him a place to work on the equipment he was building for the new and improved carnival he would roll out the following summer.

Mom lived in Exline. She and Dad met in school. The rest, as they say, is history.

Cleaning out the basement yesterday, Dad picked up a worn wooden stool. It had come, he said, from the carnival cookhouse. When they finally quit the carnival, his mother wanted nothing from it, so Dad gave the little stool to my mother's mother, whom he adored. Mom's mom used it in her kitchen and on her porch until her death, and then Mom's dad continued to use it. Dad claimed the little stool from the junk pile when Mom and her brothers and sisters cleaned out their father's house after his death.

And now it's mine. "Every Time You Play, You Win. Come On In."