Saturday, April 25, 2009

New Replaces the Funk, With Sorrow

There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

Anais Nin

Several of my posts have included pictures of the dock out at a cottage we bought several years ago. Those pictures might make one think our cabin is rather grand. This picture has a little more reality to it-- our old dock. If you click up close on it, you will be able to see why the neighbors coined it the USS POS. The previous owner put the dock together from pieces of wood and sections of docks that floated along the lake after storms. He would go out in his boat, haul in the debris and nail it on. Hence, all the different levels.

We hang out on our dock, especially at night, under the stars. Before the new dock, if a refill or bathroom break were required, walking down the walkway became a mind game of remembering exactly where the boards stuck up two to three inches. The Long Walk, we labeled it. Especially after a couple glasses of wine.

This old dock matches the character of our cabin. A hodge podge of sorts, rooms and doors added here and there. Compared to all the McMansions going up around us, we are the hillbillies. And we like it.

Over 175 different people have spent the night in the past three years. We have two bedrooms and a bunk room, lots of floor space for air mattresses, and tents are often staked in the yard. (Did I say how the McMansion people love us?) Anyway, the dock held quite a concern for my husband and me. The rules of the house for new arrivals always began with an announcement upon entering the walkway, "If you hear something crack or snap, jump the hell off."

Every time we put the boat up or down or a kid swung off the rope swing, my husband and I would watch the beams of wood and the cables holding it all together as it screeched and creaked. We studied each beam to see if our eyes measured any larger seams.

With the numbers from friends, the baseball team, scout troop, Texas A&M fraternity, work, writing, book, bible, and bunco increasing, we felt the safety of our guests required our attention. The old dock had to go, and a new loan secured. This was difficult for me, as I am a creature of habit. I love things that have a bit of funk and their own character. It was hard to see it go.

When the LCRA lowered the lake as it does every few years (our lake was created from a series of dams on the Colorado River during the LBJ years) we took the opportunity to go after the dock.

Poof! The old dock disappeared.

Then began the arduous task of dealing with a contractor. Progress began. The seawall extended. Posts pounded into the the granite below.

In the Hill Country of Texas, life is slow. Workers die young due to their eating and drinking habits, not from working too hard. I will save the gut-wrenching details of how the project slated to take six weeks turned into a nightmare, and bring you to today, one year and four months later, as the project will be complete tomorrow.

See that section of new sea wall where it was filled in with dirt? That is the final project for this weekend. To lay the sod that extended the yard by a fifteen feet and took out the angled section that used to collect every log, floating beer can, tom, dick, and harry whenever the wind changed.

My husband, the youngest son and one of his friends are out there right now putting that sod down. I am lolling about on my bed, writing to you. (Oh, I am on my fifth load of laundry, have shopped for my youngest's 17th birthday on Tuesday, planted four flats of flowers, and dusted off four weeks of dust so I can remember what color my furniture is. I'm not a complete zug.) I figure if I time it just right, I can arrive at the lake today just in time to walk across that new grass and sit on the dock with a glass of wine. Come join me.

We don't plan on changing the cabin to fit the new dock. That would make everything just a tad too neat for my taste. As to that blank white wall out there (the shed my husband had to have) I'm thinking a neon Blue Moon Beer sign, complete with orange slice. As for the old dock, I keep the picture of it as my wallpaper on my cell phone. Every time I open it to make or receive a call, I'm reminded of that old POS which held a character I loved so well.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Ode to the Daily - Good Hair Not Required

Good thing we've still got politics in Texas -- finest form of free entertainment ever invented.
Molly Ivins

Since getting up at the crack of dawn for this job, many habits have disappeared from my long-established routine. This absence of the rituals that led to the leisurely beginning of my work-at-home-day pains me deeply, but one aspect I especially regret is the daily devouring of every word in the morning newspaper. My husband leaves it beside the toilet for me every day, but something about not being able to snuggle with a cup of coffee under the covers takes away the pleasure of fully scouring the pages. As a result, I’m a tad behind on the local news.

I quote Molly Ivins, who succumbed to breast cancer in 2007, as she was a talented columnist and a bold purveyor of Texas politics. I thought of her while driving to and from work the last few days for I’ve noticed a few of these red, white, and blue Texas flag bumper stickers flanked by the word SECEDE. Seems our above-pictured current governor, who Miss Molly tagged “Governor Goodhair” was revving up the old debate regarding the great state of Texas’ independence. (He does have good hair, doesn't he? Sort of cute, too. But... that's all folks.) So sorry I missed his speech at the Austin tea party on tax day. Other than the fact that seeing Secede stickers in Austin makes me feel like we've been invaded by Rednecks, I'm wondering what more important matters I've missed in the pages of the daily rag. I can only imagine.

One Sunday morning many months ago, I was sitting on the dock reading the paper. I had asked a visiting friend going into the cottage to refill my Bloody Mary. (I made the first batch.) She sent it down for delivery from my just-arrived oldest son, the employed new college graduate. Always good to have your children deliver your bad vices.

“You really need to change your reading material,” he said, arriving undetected behind me.

“What’s wrong with the obituaries?” I asked. "Where else do you get such good ideas on how to live life?"

He set my morning imbibement on the table and knelt down beside. “Mom? Is there something wrong with being normal?”

He’s just like his dad.

So, if asked what I miss most about not reading the newspaper everyday? The Editorial section, whether I agree or not. Second? Obituaries.

And just for the record, all Texans don’t have good hair. In fact, many of us are proud to say ours is out of place.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Honest Scrap Honor

When it rains it pours! From the Louisiana writing world of GUMBO WRITER, I am most grateful to accept the Honest Scrap award. As a busy mom of three teenagers (God bless her) and various other writing life distractions, Gumbo Writer manages to daily post, work on her novel and many literary pursuits while following and supporting many bloggers.

Gumbo Writer says:
"This award is bestowed upon a fellow blogger whose blog content or design is, in the giver’s opinion, brilliant."

It has been quite some time since anyone has labeled me brilliant, so I wholeheartedly accept. But now I have to follow the rules and as someone who has never forwarded an email chain letter in her life, I will try to fulfill this request.

1. When accepting this auspicious award, you must write a post bragging about it, including the name of the misguided soul who thinks you deserve such acclaim, and link back to the said person so everyone knows she/he is real. Misguided indeed. GUMBO WRITER

2. Choose a minimum of 5 blogs that you find brilliant in content or design. Or improvise by including bloggers who have no idea who you are because you don’t have five friends. Show the five random victims’ names and links and leave a comment informing them that they were prized with Honest Weblog. Well, there’s no prize, but they can keep the nifty icon.

The Five Victims to receive the Honest Scrap Award:

The Weaver of Grass
Margaret's Ramblings
Pseudonymous High School Teacher
In Through The Back Door
The Things We Carried
In a Soft Light

Yeah, I know. That's six, but you must know by now, I rarely follow directions.

3. List at least ten (10) honest things about yourself. Then pass it on!

1. I have three kidneys.
2. I'm stuck on page 183 of a new novel I'm writing and I haven't touched it since NANOWRIMO
3. I love to lie in bed on Saturday mornings and read, read, read.
4. I love to lie in my hammock on Saturday afternoons and read, read, read.
5. I love to lie in my floatie in the lake on Saturday and Sunday summer afternoons and drink, drink, drink.
6. I've been married to the same guy for 30 years.
7. I'm a huge Green Bay Packer fan.
8. I go to the YMCA several times a week and it does me no good, except I'm sure my heart is better off for the effort.
9. I currently have a crappy temporary job that ends in three weeks, and I can't wait. (They have offered me additional work, but I have declined. Might return later in the summer, but right now, I want my life back for a little while. I need a breath.)
10. My house is in dire need of cleaning - I wish I had cleaning fairies. And gardeners.

Thank you, Gumbo Writer.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Zombie Chickens Abound

The blog world continues to amaze me and I have to say I was most thrilled at becoming the recipient of the Zombie Chicken Award. From the prolific and fine writing of On the Front Porch, I am most grateful to add this coveted award as my first.

The blogger who receives this award believes in the Tao of the zombie chicken - excellence, grace and persistence in all situations, even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. These amazing bloggers regularly produce content so remarkable that their readers would brave a raving pack of zombie chickens just to be able to read their inspiring words. As a recipient of this world-renowned award, you now have the task of passing it on to at least 5 other worthy bloggers. Do not risk the wrath of the zombie chickens by choosing unwisely or not choosing at all...

I have no desire to mess with a chicken, and in no way a zombie one, so here I go. I award this fine piece of art work to......

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Could Be Time for Smut

She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain.

Louisa May Alcott

I used to read one to two books a week. Since taking this job of reading 200 essays a day on a computer screen, I don't have the energy at night to pick up a book. If I do, my mind (not to mention my eyes) only has the strength to read three paragraphs at a time. With the brain fry I experience at night, I now understand why people watch reality TV - and drink.

I’ve always read with such passion, rarely not finishing a book. Now, I’m fickle. The other night a friend saw Journal of a Solitude on my counter and said, “Don’t you find that book depressing?” Yes, I thought to myself. Might be why after a month I'm only on page 10. Her comment gave me license to take that one off my list. Maybe I'll return to it another time, another place in life. Maybe not.

Perhaps because my time is more limited now, I'm forced to become choosier as to how I spend it. Out of necessity, as we do need clean laundry and food to eat every now and then (and there is that garden of mine I want to tend) not many productive hours remain for my own private pursuits. But I definitely need something easier on the mind and eyes while I sink into my chair at night. Staring at the television is not fulfilling my creative needs. Perhaps this is where smut might edge its way onto my shelves.

I’ve always been rather a snob with my choices of reading material, often chastising my friend the history curriculum leader of our state, former editor, and great writer in her own right, for reading garbage. I often trip over boxes and boxes of bodice rippers in the far recesses of her kitchen or next to her easy chair. Her defense – that she works hard and reads such loaded material all the time, that the last thing she wants to read about are people’s troubles and screwed up lives. That she just wants to race through the words and get to the good stuff.

Hmmm. Although it is words put together well that attracts me to a good book, along with a good story and characters I see sitting next to me, at this point in time, smut just might be my ticket as well. But for me, it will still have to be well-written smut. In the past couple years I have re-read Lolita (scumbag Humbert Humbert) and Lady Chatterley's Lover. I enjoyed the romp in the Outlander series (or perhaps that main male character that I would like to bed about 5000 times.) But I don’t do Nora Roberts, vampires or paranormal, and I’m not a mystery fan. Any suggestions for quality bodice rippers with an actual story line and good character development? Big print a plus!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Mealtime Distraction from the Mundane

Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.
Douglas Adams

Let me tell you, lunch time is definitely a plus these days. Thirty minutes I spend in my car eating my almomd butter sandwich and whatever assortment of veggies/fruits I've thrown together that morning. Thirty minutes that passes in a heartbeat.

While sitting in the car, I did read a funny one page story written by Woody Allen in one of the New Yorkers I find myself six weeks behind in reading. Two characters had been reincarnated as lobsters in a tank where Bernie Madoff happened to be eating lunch. Much to Madoff's poor luck, the two had been cheated by the money man. Lobsters unite to make Madoff pay. Cute story and definite Woody Allen humor.

Just wanted to let you know I am out here. Plan to spend time this weekend writing something of substance. Meanwhile, these are delphiniums in Alaska. I 've tried to grow them all my life. I guess the secret is to grow them in a place where they only have warm weather for two months. All over the tiny town of Talkeetna we saw these beauties. First prize at the fair, for sure.

Until the weekend where I promise new material, all take care.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

No Caramel Apples at the Fair

Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark, for the straightforward pathway had been lost.
The Divine Comedy

The Mower County Fair in Austin, Minnesota always takes place during August. When I was a little kid, any description of heaven required this event. Flower shows, cow barns, tractors, the Tilt-a-Whirl, Scrambler, and the Rock-o-Planes. Exhibit halls. Real A&W Root Beer. My grandpa at the steam engine display. Horses. And guaranteed, the headliner at the grandstand was a regular on the Lawrence Welk show.

Dusk crept up on these summer skies offering a glimpse of the night-lighted rides and the hope of a teenage life beyond my ten-year-old 7:30pm boundary.

Even though cotton candy had its place, caramel apples captured my culinary taste. Sold out of an Airstream trailer, as I recall. Always so hard to take the first bite, to get a grip of the sweet delight and the tart apple inside.

Last Saturday I went to a fair. Drawn by the word “fair”, I had no idea it might not be fun. But what makes anyone think taking something fun and putting an ugly word like “job” in front of it will make it fun? Oxymoron at its best.

Offered by the local school district, this Midlife Jobhunter arrived late in the morning with my haphazardly prepared resume clutched close to my heart. Having been a secondary teacher in a past life, I always assumed I could return to this profession if needed. But as a rookie walking into the midway of this fair represented by all the schools in the district, all I saw was a mirage of ants moving throughout the room. Long lines of almost uniform black and white clad job hunters holding their quiver of resumes to their own hearts.

Standing in the middle of the crowd, I didn’t know where to go, what line to join, what to say. I saw the familiar colors of my kid’s high school banner and like a fly drawn to shit, walked directly to that table. No long lines stacked up before it as most of this school’s teachers have a hundred years of tenure, especially in the English Department. As I fiddled with the papers in my folder, I had to acknowledge to the interviewer that I was perhaps wasting her time. Great start, huh? But, honestly, if I were a math or science major, this might be a different story. We English majors are much too plentiful. And without my certification up to date, the kind woman explained that my resume would sit at the bottom of the pile. Seemed I wasn't the first attendee to not have the complete credentials, and having had them once didn't seem to serve me any better. I’ve known I need to get on the re-certification bandwagon. Have even found the site online and started the process. But I’ve dragged my feet finishing that task, not knowing why.

I left the comfort of a familiar school table and wandered to the middle of the room, activity continuing to swarm around me, hopeful job seekers in long lines eager to grab an interview or to leave an impression for a later date. In place, I turned in a circle, and then another, and then another. I didn’t know what line to get in, how to smooze for a job I didn’t want. Round and round I went, never leaving my one-foot space, the tables and applicants swirling while I twirled as though on a merry-go-round. And then it struck me. I didn’t want to switch to the Scrambler to toss me toward the endless lines, darting here and there. I was doing that aimlessly just fine on my own, but I now understood the reason for my delay on the road to recertification. I didn’t want this merry-go-round. I left.

I passed my husband in the garage as I arrived home. “I don’t want to be a high school teacher again,” I said as I walked by him.

“Okay,” he said.

This is what this job road trip is about, right? Discovering what I can do, what I want to do? That SOMETHING I've done all these years will qualify me for something beyond where I've already been? Trying this road and that one to find the one I want to take for a longer ride?

And if I come across another fair, they had better be selling caramel apples.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Batter Out!

My motto was always to keep swinging. Whether I was in a slump or feeling badly or having trouble off the field, the only thing to do was keep swinging.
-Hank Aaron

That sweet boy of mine is out for the season. Last Friday night he came up to bat and doinked a shot to the second baseman. The runner coming from first was thrown out and I looked to see if my youngest would make it to first base safely. Didn't see him running down the line. I looked back toward home and there he was writhing on the ground by home. Trainers, umpires, and coaches surrounded him, blocking him from my view up in the stands. I sat, patiently, as I said to myself, "Get up, get up."

When he did rise, it was with the help of the coaches as they carried him to the dugout. That's when my husband and I headed down. Apparently when he swung the bat, he heard a pop, and when he turned to run, he went no where but down to the ground. Took a mule to get him to the car and the help of the policeman in the stands to get him in the backseat. I called our friends, the doctors, who said to bring him over to their house. (Always choose your friends wisely.) Diagnosis - torn Sartorius muscle. This muscle runs from your hip across your thigh to below the side of your knee. Ian tore his at the hip. Further scrutiny from doctor friend at his office (we do pay them on occasion) revealed that the muscle had taken some of the bone with it as it tore. So the boy is on crutches until new tissue grows to rejoin the pieces. Those crutches carry also his broken heart as he cheers for his team from the bench. Lessons of life.

Just another day in the life of having boys. When they were young I always heard "Nice to see you again, Mrs. Anderson" whenever we came into the emergency room. The glass repair man always said, "See you next time, Mrs. Anderson" when he left my house.

Anyway, been busy with that boy. Discovering the balance to this job gig while tending to my kids is kicking my butt. Working parents, I so salute you. I'd like to say that is the only aspect of this balancing act of working full-time, but more to come on that later this weekend.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Bones, Wild Minds, and Old Friends

“It's the process of writing and life that matters... We are trying to become sane along with our poems and stories.”
Natalie Goldberg

In college, I assumed that since I’d mastered the art of sitting down at the typewriter to write first draft/final copy in one shot, I could easily become a novelist. Yeah, just sit down and do it. Twenty some years later, when I became serious about becoming a writer—as opposed to only talking about being one—I discovered writing the next, great American novel wasn’t going to come easily. That perhaps all the people who claimed they just sat down and the words flowed in final form were big, fat liars. That there was this thing called the craft of writing. That writing was rewriting. And that if I wanted to label myself a writer, I needed to get serious.

Not until I took on Writing Down the Bones did I discover that writing was like any other venture in life – to be good at it required practice. Shocked me. I hate to practice anything and I surely didn’t want to do no stinkin' writing practice. I only wanted to get published. But that was the beauty of Natalie Goldberg’s teaching. That practice is good.

I'm still not sure I classify myself as a writer, but as I wrote in my last post, I had the pleasure of attending a reading/question answer period for new book, Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir. In a discussion of “memwhah”, Natalie described it as a cracking open of your life. We no longer need to wait until the end of our lives to write one and that it is a study of the human mind, the textures of the mind.

I find that most interesting. That I can take a tiny moment in my life and just by putting it down in words, discover such intimacies that often surprise me. The practice of letting my pen flow over the page and not be afraid of what comes out has released me to hone in on many aspects of my life, using my very own words and thoughts. Certainly saves money on therapy.

So much so that while taking an online class on personal essay, I wrote a simple piece about how I used to love gardening and now wondered why it had become drudgery. My most perceptive teacher, Ann McCutcheon, pointed out that the piece wasn’t about gardening. That it was about my marriage. AND that I needed to write about. No, I protested. Who wants to write about THAT? But I sucked it up and did, and discovered a sense of self I never knew existed. Also an understanding that even served to strengthen my marriage relieving the worry it might go the way of the dying plants in my untended garden. My garden now grows, sometimes with my help and sometimes not.

Ah, I’m seeing that writing a single post about how I perceived the reading on Wednesday night has only brought me to the middle of my first page of notes. I think I may have to continue this discussion during future posts.


MICHIGAN STATE ROCKS! Go Green/Go White for the Spartans Monday Night!

And that's me in the photo above - old days at MSU. Only thing missing is the beer and the cigarette. Timeline? Magic Johnson and I attended at the same time. I think he has gained more weight than me.

P.S. Wild Minds is the title of another of Goldberg's books.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

She Changed My Life And I Didn't Even Talk to Her

How often do you get to meet a person who changed your life? Okay, how often do you sit in the room with a person who changed your life (and you're too tired to stand in line to get her new book signed and have a thirty second chitchat of nonsense because you can't think of what to say in that short time even though this woman has done more for your license to write that has brought you more joy than any other teacher.) Whew! Somebody fix that sentence.

I had written in an earlier post that the book Simple Abundance has changed my life. That book did indeed come first. What cane next was the below pictured book - Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. A must read for anyone who wants to write. Whether you only want to journal, write an important letter, essay, or book, or explore where personal essay or memoir might take you. Or "Mem-whah" as Natalie says.

Last night, my friend the Busy Traveler made sure I arrived at a book reading for Natalie Goldberg's new book, whose title is somewhere in my notebook, which is somewhere here in the house. I was exhausted from a day of work, my eyes shot. Busy Traveler probably thought I was drunk when I met her after work for a drink and a basket of fried pickles and a mushroom/swiss burger. Drunk and dazed because I'm still so not used to working this job. And then, here I was immersed in the life I love so well. The life of writing and writers. I am so thankful I did go, for if not for Natalie Goldberg, I never would have finished a journal. How many of us begin a new one with high intentions and then after a few days of extreme effort, the pages are forgotten and added to the stack of beautiful journals complete with empty pages. And from that journal, I wrote another one, and another one, and a novel, and so many essays and...

I plan to write more about this lecture/reading with her. My impressions and notes that I took. I'll get to that right after I catch up on my sleep. I am, yet again, up too late. I have not adjusted to this go to bed early so you can drag your ass out of bed much easier and go to work. But, what the hell. It's Thursday. If you make it through Thursday, you can make it through Friday.

I do have a need to stay connected to the writing life, which is what this blog really does for me. My daily journal has become pitiful, now consisting of about three sentences a day rather than three pages as I learned from the great Julia Cameron. But, that's another story. Can't write now as I"m currently doing laundry so I don't have to do it this weekend. Groceries are purchased. A couple baseball games to attend. And then there is that MICHIGAN STATE GAME on Saturday night. Go Green! After all that, I hope to write more about Writing Down the Bones and this incredible woman who has inspired so many. I so would love to attend one of her seminars in Taos. Hiking in the mountains with Natalie. Meditating my way through a Zen experience then planting myself by a tree and writing my heart out -- just for practice. Although, as always when one meets someone important, you look at them, and realize they are just people. Gifted in something I am not, which makes it that much more exotic. That much more impressive, even though they could be someone next in line at the grocery store any other day and you wouldn't even know them.

Happy Weekend to all. Oh, wait, it's only Thursday.


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