“Pen” Is a Verb Too–But “Addiction” Is Only a Noun

Back when my sons were young enough to go shopping with me, they used to work together to protect me from myself. Especially at places like Office Depot.

“Stay out of the pens section, Mom,” they would warn. “You know you don’t need more.”

Ahhhh…pens! Ink pens, in rainbow colors! How do I love thee? Let me count the ways brands.

When I was little, maybe 7-9, I loved those felt-tipped Flairs the best. I used them to draw. My drawings tended to feature the four Queens and Kings from the Narnia series–Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter Pevensie–with myself drawn in for good measure. Queen Gretchen. Every one of us outfitted in rich, royal colors. Sorry, I didn’t keep any of those drawings, but here are the Flairs…

Back then I bought these pens one at a time. A pack like this would have sent me into paroxysms.

Then I started journaling. As I’ve blogged about in the past, “journal” may not be an official verb yet, but it is to me! I started in 1975, and now, 44 years later, I’m still going.

A couple years of my life in here…

Flairs, I decided, weren’t as great for writing as they were for drawing. That’s when Sheaffer cartridge pens entered my life.

Remember these beauties? (Photo courtesy of Harvey Levine, MyAntiquePens.com)

Oh, those colors! Peacock Blue, Emerald Green…that delicious, chocolately Brown. My favorite journaling moments in those days involved switching colors when one cartridge ran empty, then watching the gradation of hues cross the page with my thoughts.

But boy, did I have some inky fingers in those days. And I doubt my teachers were too thrilled with my peacock-blue blots.

Somewhere along the line, though, the Sheaffers’ negative outweighed their glorious positives. Too many leaks, ink explosions, stained fingers. I got practical.

In my post on Journaling from 2013, I sang the praises of the Uniball. I still love those, but for more uniform, blot-free, downright sexy flow across the page, I now pledge my allegiance to the Pilot P-700.

Purple, and green? Be still, my heart!

After buying myself this multicolor pack, I had to go get my latest notebook and write. Did I have anything profound to say? Nope. I just lusted after the feel of that inky page-skating. And guess what? I got to capture that moment, if for no other reason than to laugh at myself a few years hence.

Don’t we all need a little more self-mockery in our lives?

Yeah…but now I’m gonna need a bigger steamer trunk.

Do you have a favorite pen, or paper for that matter? What writing implements speed up your heart?

A Writer’s Greatest Gifts: Time and Critique. So Why Not Writeaway?

Taking the ferry home from the Orcas Island LitFest last weekend, I could not get to my notebook fast enough. Twenty hours of writer-panels (I wasn’t able to attend the full weekend) had left my brain so full of ideas and challenges for my own writing that I could hardly speak to anyone. Now, a week’s worth of hard writing work later (journaling, deep character background, pitch practice, scene revision, and everything in between), I am so grateful for the chance to have attended.

And I want to remind my fellow writers of what a self-gift it is to stop, drop and enroll in SOMETHING every now and then, just to realign the wheels (and unmix the metaphors). Literary festivals are great for this. Writing conferences, even better.

But best of all…if you can afford it…is a Writeaway. Keep reading, and I’ll tell you why you can afford it.

First of all, what is a Writeaway? It’s a Writing Getaway–the brainchild of my friends and fellow writers, Mimi Herman and John Yewell. In the words of their website, “We provide writing instruction, fabulous food and company in beautiful places, and a safe place for you to take a writing vacation with your muse, and maybe a good friend.”

Yes, you read that right: Writing instruction. Fabulous food. Beautiful location. Support, personalized critique, a new writing community. Time to work…and do all those things my own brain needed to do after only 20 hours at a LitFest.

In case you need some creds: Mimi & John are better than good writers; they are passionate teachers of writing. (Big difference, right?) Mimi is the 2017 North Carolina Piedmont Laureate and a Kennedy Center Teaching Artist. Since 1990, she has engaged over 25,000 students with her warm and insightful teaching. A Warren Wilson MFA alum, her writing has appeared in The Carolina Quarterly, Michigan Quarterly Review, Shenandoah, Crab Orchard Review, The Hollins Critic and other journals.John is a writer and editor with an MFA in fiction from San Francisco State University and twenty years of experience in journalism.

John & Mimi: ready to read, write & listen (and drink wine)

The shiniest, most awe-inspiring Writeaways of Mimi and John are held in castles in France and Italy, like these:

OK, you can close your mouth and get back to writing now. Dinner’s at six.

But they also offer domestic Writeaways in North Carolina, where they live.

Carolina-ish enough for ya?

Don’t live in North Carolina or feel like flying there? Mimi & John also offer the best choice of all (in my opinion): a Build-your-own Writeaway. 

“Have you ever dreamed of getting away to your favorite place to write – with friends and family, your writing group, your book club, high school pals, or colleagues from your creative writing program? Choose your own adventure and we’ll arrange housing, workshops, conferences, and fabulous food and drink for you and four or more of your favorite people. Let us know a little about yourself, and we’ll start planning.”

I can kind of, SORT of, imagine what it might be like to read the above and NOT think: HEAVEN! Yeah, I suppose some writers are the solitary type–and bless them. 

But if your Muse comes alive with a little stimulation BEFORE the necessary writerly solitude…oh, my. Why wouldn’t you consider a Build-your-own Writeaway?

Because of the cost, you say. Of COURSE there’s a cost. But Mimi & John are so passionate about what they do, they’re willing to work with writers to keep the budget as modest as possible. No castles. No fancy digs. Homemade meals. Whatever it takes to get you there. The time, expertise and inspiration is what you’d be paying for. If you’ve ever gone to a writing conference and come away thinking, “Well, about half of the workshops were worthwhile,” the Writeaway is the perfect answer, because it’s all tailored to YOU.

So I encourage you to check out this Writeaway Link for yourself. (And just in case you’re wondering, no, I’m not being paid to advertise. I’m just a big Mimi & John fan.)

If you do end up doing yourself the favor of signing up, though–please drop my name! We’ll all be thrilled. 

When Routine Is Anything But: Finding A Daily Path That Requires Open Eyes

Hey, welcome back to Wing’s World in its non-travel-blog iteration. If you’re hoping to read about travel adventures, sorry–you’ll have to wait till my next trip. THIS entry is about the art of staying home, one day after the next.

Home, for me, begins with a ferry ride.

If I were still teaching school, finding a daily routine would be no struggle; the struggle, as all teachers (and students, and parents) know, is keeping your head above water enough to teach/learn/communicate/eat/sleep/repeat with some minimal effectiveness. In my 20 years of teaching, I got all the news I needed during my commute.

As a former teacher, however, employed in one part-time, manual-labor job and one completely non-paying, artistic one, the idea of routine is usually just that: an idea. I gave up commuting, but I was fine with creating my own balance of baking and writing and keeping vague touch with the rest of the country for the first several years of my post-teaching life. Then came the election of 2016, and the real illusion was revealed: that America was on the right path, that Dr. King’s good ol’ Arc of Justice was bending appropriately.

Since that time I, like a lot of my White friends, have been working hard to re-educate myself in American reality, recognizing my own unwitting but comfortable complicity in helping make Trumpmerica possible. Routine is long gone as I cast about for the best way to make of myself a better instrument, a better citizen.

Going back to teaching is a decision I have moved beyond. I’m too deeply immersed in my writing career to be willing to sacrifice it, and too respectful of both jobs to be able to do justice to both at once. So I work at the bakery I continue to love, and fill my non-baking, non-writing time with a slew of different types of volunteer activity. This makes for a ragged schedule. I rather like the variety of my days…after breakfast. It’s that first hour that, since 2016, has really gotten to me.

See, my Mate is an early riser, and starts his day with a workout. Which he does in front of the TV, watching the news. He keeps the volume low, but our living room lies between our bedroom and kitchen. So by the time I’ve prepared my tea and sat down with my cereal, I’ve had, willy-nilly, an injection of CNN that makes my stomach hurt.

How I don’t want to start my day: angry, defeated, cynical, self-berating.

How I do want to start my day: hopeful, inspired, open-eyed, empathetic, challenged.

I’m lucky to live in a place where the scenery itself can inspire. But this view is NOT available to me first thing in the morning; it takes a 25-minute drive to the ferry dock. Not to mention clear skies.

Here are some steps I’ve taken to try to shape that first hour:*

  1. Hum to myself to drown out any CNN until my tea kettle does it for me.
  2. Before turning on my computer, re-read the poem I read yesterday from the collection of poetry I keep on the kitchen table. (Currently: Seamus Heaney.) Then read a new poem. (By this time CNN is a mumble in the background, nothing my brain cares about.)
  3. Turn on my computer, but before going to email, read some news stories. Lately, after finding myself turning to BBC, NPR and the Christian Science Monitor to escape CNN’s Trump focus, I decided to subscribe to the good old “failing” New York Times. The story that really got me today was about the escalation of violence against women in Honduras.
  4. Again, before email, I look at the weather forecasts, not just for Lopez Island, but for the whole country. I try to imagine how different people are being affected in different states and regions. (Road trips help with this–we know a lot of folks in a lot of different states and regions!)
  5. OK, now it’s time for email, Facebook, all that delicious focus on ME and my near-and-dear, or far-and-dear. But because I started with the bigger picture, it stays with me in perimeter even as my focus narrows. And because of the poetry, my brain feels brighter, my noticing muscles primed to do their job.

*on baking mornings, which start around 3 a.m., this routine is foreshortened, of course. I don’t need to worry about the Mate’s news habits; I’m actually up before him. But I spend the first ten minutes of my ride (if biking) or my drive, saying the names of people in need of special attention and love–anyone from an ill neighbor to, for example, the people of Puerto Rico.

I have tried, by the way, to internalize this kind of empathic meditation and make it part of my day when I’m not leaving for the bakery. But I haven’t yet found a place and time that feels natural. Still a work in progress.

“No man is an island, let that be my prayer/ no matter how alluring be the shore…”

Because of that, I would love to hear of other people’s routines. What special things do you do to start your day off on the right foot, for both brain and soul? 

 

Return To Kiwiland, Part V: In the High Country, Better Sheepish Than Cowed

My first research stop on our just-completed journey back to New Zealand was a sheep station. Previous stays in New Zealand had involved mostly towns or national parks. I needed to learn more about the rural life. And although NZ has huge (and growing) beef and dairy sectors, I needed the good ol’ pastoral life of sheep.

And I did learn a LOT–not without a bit of sheepishness myself.

An internet search turned up the perfect solution for my research needs: a farmstay at Dunstan Downs High Country Sheep Station: nearest town, Omarama, itself not too far from Aoraki/Mt. Cook, in the middle of the South Island.

Home, home on the range

Sheepish Realization #1: “Upcountry” sheep farming among 6,000-ft. mountains is very different from “downcountry,” on the east coast. Where my novel is set. So I’d more or less taken myself to Montana to learn about farming in, say, Arkansas. Oh. But the east coast is…right over there!! Who knew such a small country could contain such contrast?

I also learned that the live-action version of “Mulan” had just been filmed right here.

Sheepish Realization #2: Having scheduled this trip based on my own free time, I hadn’t bothered to learn what would be going on at the sheep station in mid-January. Turns out: nothing. Lambing was long past, as was mustering; shearing hadn’t started yet. Oh.

Well, never mind. The Innes family, who runs Dunstan Downs, was absolutely delightful, taking the time (which they actually had in this lull) to drive me around their enormous holdings, answering every one of my naive questions, plus those I hadn’t even thought to ask, like, how do you muster by helicopter?

Two generations of the Innes family, plus other guests on their deck

So I learned a ton. Like this terminology:

mustering = round-up (and yes, they have sometimes used helicopters to drop shepherds off onto mountaintops, and even to help herd)

mob = flock

crutching = shearing the dags off a sheep

dags = the nasty, crusty wool around the sheep’s bum

strong-eye = what a good sheepdog has, the ability to mesmerize the sheep into doing its will

The stay itself was a real home stay. Meals were with the family, full-on Kiwi roast, pavalova, the works. (Sorry, no food pictures–didn’t want to be obnoxious.) And my bed had belonged to one of the Innes children.

Just as cozy as it looks

Also not pictured: sheep. I mean, come ON. You know what sheep look like! But I did learn why merino is marketed as a separate brand from other wool…and that sheep farmers consider merinos pitiful when it comes to hardiness: “They’re dreadful mums. They’ll just walk away from the lambs.”

But my biggest set of Sheepish Realizations came on the second evening of my stay. After being toured around a bit, I left Tim & Geva alone to get their hospitality chores done–one of their lodging options includes this adorable wagon:

Available for booking now!

and got some writing done at the edge of their river.

I know, right? If you book a stay in that wagon, this spot could be yours.

In order for me to experience a fuller extent of their lands, and get my exercise,Tim arranged to drop me a few miles down the road so I could hike home. So around 5, with the summer sun still high, off I set into the hills, with Tim’s instructions rattling vaguely in my head, something about following the creek till I hit the track (track = trail). Last thing I remember him saying: “From the top, just follow your nose downhill and she’ll be right.” And maybe something about a fence.

I followed the creek, hopping over it a couple of times, stopping to drink out of as Tim assured me I safely could. (Tim, if you’re reading this…so far, so good. No giardia yet.) All was well, if a bit scratchy…till the creek disappeared into a mess of matagouri. I was swearing too much to take a picture, but…

THIS bloody stuff. (Photo credit: Taranaki Educational Resource)

No way was I pushing through that. The trail must be elsewhere. Feeling fit and confident, I decided to go straight up the hill and spot the trail from there. And I do mean STRAIGHT UP.

What followed was 40 minutes of all-fours scramble, using tough tussock grass for handholds, trying to avoid taking an unintentional ride on the flinty scree Tim calls “mountain taxis.”

Impossible to capture the steepness of this slope in a picture. Let’s just say I ALMOST said farewell to my water bottle.

Stopping to ease my shaky legs, I looked down to see–oh yeah, there’s the trail all right: on the other side of a cliff and a ravine from here.

Oh great–alpine plants. Did I mention I was up near 5,000 feet?

There was nothing to do but continue up, praying that I would eventually meet up with the trail at the top.

Spoiler alert: I did.

Ah, the top at last. Now, what was that about a fence? Follow it? OK, but first I’m crossing over to where the track looks flatter. I’ve HAD IT with climbing. In the local parlance, my legs are “knackered.”

Ah, the fleeting bliss of being up top. Okay…down we go.

You can probably guess what happened next. The fence led me, in fact, away from Dunstan Downs, and by the time I realized it and cut across the tussock, lo and behold: another thorn-filled ravine separated me from the ridge I should have walked.

By now I’d been gone a good two hours, maybe more. Determined not to embarrass myself by being late to dinner (planned for 8:30), I decided just to head STRAIGHT DOWN, damnit, and walk home on the road.

At least the view was nice. Too bad I had to keep eyes down to watch my footing.

Did I mention the matagouri? It grows in great big bushes, yes–but the smaller version also awaited my every footfall, disguising itself in the lengthening shadows. Trying not to trip on rocks–every good hiker knows going down’s when you have to pay attention–I bulled my way instead through the thorns. And tripped anyway.

When I finally reached the road, legs bleeding, there was Tim in his Land Rover, out scanning for me with binoculars. It was 8:40. Had I not turned on the radio he’d given me? he wondered. Oh. Forgot about that. (Truthfully: didn’t want to worry my lovely hosts.) And what about the fence–hadn’t I kept it on my right?

Oh, so that was the thing about the fence. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I’d lost the trail at the very beginning.

For dinner Geva served venison Tim had shot, and warm raspberry-chocolate brownies with ice cream. I would say it all tasted like humble pie to me, but it was too delicious…and my Kiwi hosts were much too nice to tease me. 

So if you happen to travel to central Otago, remember: Dunstan Downs High Country Sheep Station. And keep the fence on your right.

Return To Kiwiland, Take 2: Author’s Cut

A quick catch-up: twenty-two years ago, my family spent an academic year in southern New Zealand.

Two years ago, the Mate and I returned, with two objectives: 1) tramp (hike) the Milford Track (Trail); 2) learn about the Coast to Coast cross-country multisport race for a novel I’m writing.

Objective #2 was mine, not the Mate’s. And this time, the purpose of this trip is ENTIRELY due to the demands of my book. But lucky me, the Mate’s coming along anyway, and so is Wing Son Two, who can keep him company when I’m off learning about sheep farming and Maori culture.

There will always be sheep.

Will this trip feature some adventures? Of COURSE–this is NEW ZEALAND we’re talking about.

Rugged rivers? High probability.

Aoraki (Mt. Cook)? Could be!

Tree ferns there WILL be. (I love me some tree ferns.)

But when I return, will my accounts of New Zealand be travelogue, or Author’s Notes? Stay tuned. Ta for now.

Luis Urrea and the Serendipity of Inspiration–With a Side of Humor and Grace

Have you ever experienced one of those wonderful moments of confluence, when suddenly all the trickling aspects of your life seem to be pouring into the same inspiring river?

Consider these trickles, seemingly unrelated:

  1. I’m teaching myself Spanish for a few years now.
  2. Since the 2016 election, I’ve been listening to podcasts of On Being, with Krista Tippett, on a semi-regular basis, to give me inspiration.
  3. I’ve been contemplating opportunities to bridge our national divide on a local level–whatever that means.
  4. Ursula LeGuin, a writer who felt like more of a teacher than an author to me, died this year.
  5. A friend recommended Luis Urrea’s The Hummingbird’s Daughter.

Last week I tuned into my favorite podcast, and found, to my surprise, an interview with Mr. Urrea himself. The topic: “What Borders Are Really About, And What We Do With Them.” I also discovered that Ursula LeGuin had been Urrea’s mentor. She called him Luisito.

Luis Urrea at the Texas Book Festival, 2015 (courtesy Wikipedia)

Urrea knows about borders. He is the son of a woman from Philadelphia and a man from Tijuana. On his website, he sums up, in eerily tidy prose, how he lost his father when he, Luis, was 20:

I won’t belabor it here–many of you know the story already.  But some of it is central to the Ursula story.  In short, my dad had gone to Mexico to retrieve money from his bank to give me a graduation gift.  And on the long drive back to the United States, he fell afoul of some Federales and local cops in Sonora.  He died awfully in their care.  And then they sold me his corpse.  He cost me $750.

The details of those days are ugly.  Suffice it to say that by the time I got home, I had forgotten certain words in English.  My bestie, Rick Elias, was waiting for me at my house.  He couldn’t stop laughing because I had returned with a heavy Tijuana accent, and he thought I was kidding.  Because I was always kidding.  But I wasn’t kidding this time–I was broken.

As I listened to Urrea and Tippett talk–hey, is it cool if I call them Luis & Krista? Yeah? great–the streams of inspiration just kept building. Luis is a teacher, like I was, and here’s what he has to say about bridging divides in his classroom:

As a teacher, I teach in Chicago, and I watch students fear each other. I come into a class, and African-American students are on one side, and white students are on the other side. Or I come into a class, and there’ll be two young ladies with the hijab, and no one will sit near them. There’s an empty arc of seats around them. And so I’m always trying to find ways to stop these things, because it only takes this much, I think, for us to see each other, know each other, and then, love each other. And that’s what’s so dangerous. That’s very dangerous.

So one of my writing rules with my students, which I use all the time — and it’s why the books are so comedic in places — is, I always tell the students that laughter is the virus that infects you with humanity. And if you sit with somebody and laugh — not at them, but laugh with them wholeheartedly, how in the world can you get up from that table and say, “Pssh, those people.” You can’t. And if you’ve laughed with them, you’re going to cry with them too. That laughter is a very dangerous portal for humanity.

Yes, please! I want that infection. Don’t we all?

Luis’s book, The Hummingbird’s Daughter, is itself inspiring, being the fictionalized story of Teresa Urrea, “the Mexican Joan of Arc,” “Saint Teresita”–who happened to have been his real-life, great-great aunt. It’s full of humor, and pathos, and faith, and Spanish. Gaps are bridged all over the place, between races, between theists and non-theists, between men and women. I could not have found a more apt book for this moment in my life, and the life of our nation, if I’d done research.

Speaking of our nation’s moment, Luis also gives the background of his nonfiction book The Devil’s Highway, a look at the path traveled by people crossing the desert to enter the U.S. without papers. That story hit me harder than anything else he said. While researching the Border Patrol–and being essentially hazed by its agents, he had a moment of epiphany:

...the supervisory agent of Welton Station, Kenny Smith, a lovely man, a 30-year veteran of the Border Patrol, while they were basically eating me alive, tearing my sinews off my bones, he came out, and he said, “What’s going on?” They said, “This idiot’s writing this book about the…” And he just looked at me, and it is what I call grace. I don’t know what else to call it. But this moment came, when his eyes focused and he looked at me, and he said, “I sent out the rescue. I sent out that big banzai run.”

And at that moment, without knowing it, my life changed. And he took me in, and he began training me. And he took me out and showed me what it means to track people and how to know what time of the morning somebody walked by. It was incredible. I realized, this guy had a Ph.D. in dirt, I say in the book, because he could read a piece of dirt like we read a poem in a lit class; then he was saying things that were blowing my mind.

And there came this moment — the transformational moment, for me, was standing on the Devil’s Highway with him. And there’s nothing there. There’s no fence. There’s no barbed wire. It’s just desert, as far as you can see…

And I am standing there with him, and he says to me — and mind you, I still think they’re evil. He says, “I know what you think of me.” And I remember looking, because he’s got his .40-caliber Glock on his belt, and I thought, oh, man. And he said, “You think I’m a jackbooted thug.” And I was busted. I wasn’t gonna say, “Well, yes, I do.” I just stood there. And he said, “I am your jackbooted thug in shining armor.” And he started talking about his life.

And he told me all this amazing stuff that I couldn’t have imagined in 100 years: how agents park — they live 70 miles, 50 miles away from any station, because it takes that long to get into the game and change the human being you were when you woke up, to the human being that has to go out now. And he said, “And you gotta drive 70 miles home, because you gotta go home and bounce your child on your knee.” And he said to me at one point — it’s a white cowboy. He says, “My daddy was a rancher. I’m a rancher. You know what I do all day? I chase ranchers around this.” He said, “I know they’re my own people.” And he said, “My job is to save innocent civilians dying a terrible death. My job is also to arrest those same civilians.”

I could go on and on with quotes from the interview, not to mention quotes from the novel. (Can’t quote Luis’s other books ’cause I haven’t read ’em yet, but believe me, I’m going to.) But I think I’ve made my point.

Borders. Bridging. Grace. Hope. 

Any questions?

 

 

Placeholder Post: Still Here–Not Sure Why

You may have noticed Wing’s World has gone pretty silent lately. Usually when I’m planning to head off on a trip and ditch the cyber-world I’ll prewrite a few posts, or I’ll make a statement about taking time off.

This time, I just…stopped.

I don’t enjoy reading politically-themed rants, so I sure as hell don’t want to be writing them. But since my tax dollars have started separating little kids from their parents, I’ve haven’t really felt like writing about, oh, I don’t know, Canada geese or raspberries or bluegrass, in my usual random style.

I did consider a post about the joy of picnics. But when I didn’t even bother taking a picture of the rockfish/roasted kale/avocado & brie wraps I made, I knew my heart wasn’t in it.

(The wraps were still delicious.)

So I went on a walk/talk with myself today to consider my lack of posting-verve. Here’s what that sounded like:

I’m a writer. This blog is how I connect with my audience, between books. (Yes, I am working on the next one. No, I don’t want to write about that now.) Could I stop blogging? Of course. Should I? Who gives a shit? Is this the kind of blather anyone wants to read?

But when I got home a package was waiting: the new modem Centurylink had promised, to bump up our wifi speed and make uploading pictures to my blog take less than, well…a century to link. I’ve now hooked it all up, but I need to test it out.

So without further ado, here’s a picture of me at work in Holly B’s Bakery, taken by my photographer friend Robert Harrison.

Photo: Robert Harrison. Pie dough: Holly B’s Bakery.

Oh, MY! That was fast. (You’ll just have to take my word for it.)

Will the thrill of quick uploads be enough to re-ignite my blogging spark? Stay tuned. And stay useful. And kind, people. Please be kind.

Miss Havisham Fights Back: When Literary Women Refuse To Know Their Place

My friend Kathleen Holliday writes poetry that always appeals to me–witty, lean, wry, poignant. But this one, published this week in the online journal SHARK REEF, really strikes me as apropos, in this year of #metoo, #time’sup, Nasty Women, pussy hats and Nevertheless, She Persisted.

Remember Miss Havisham, the creepy old maid in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations? Well, Kathleen has given her a much-needed makeover. Enjoy.

Ms. Havisham

I, too, had great expectations.
		To be or not to be a wife
		defined my life.

		My dowry guaranteed
		 a husband, and I would be
		a mother, helpmeet, nurse.
		Nothing could be worse than 
		that damning epithet:
		old maid.

		Left at the altar – jilted.
		My bouquet wilting,
		I drew my veil down over my face
		and let the yards of lace fall
		dragging through the dust.

		Years later, I still hold the knife:
		May I cut you a slice -
		a corner piece perhaps, with extra frosting?
		Don’t mind the spiders 
		and the mice racing in and out,
		tunnels crumbling behind them.

		Mr. Dickens, I implore you - 
		change mine to a happy ending.
		No funeral pyre,
		no more desires gone up in smoke.
 		Set me in some future time
		when I could say:
		never married,
		never needed to;
		earned a degree, had a job, a car,
		a condo in the city,
		a lover who never strayed.

		I’d celebrate my singular good fortune 
		with a cake - 
		not Mrs. Beeton’s recipe - 
		no butter, no gluten, no nuts.
		I’d clear up after with a cordless vac.
		I’d sweep the ceiling free of spider webs.
		I’d read a novel in one sitting
		then I’d take a nap.

[sorry about the formatting of the first line–it resisted fixing.]

Miss Havisham then…

…and now–fresh from her nap. 🙂 (Both pics courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

OK, you poets and short story writers–let’s hear it. Who else has a revised female archetype to share?

My Guru The Tree

If you look at my books you’ll see my publisher is Madrona Branch Press.

That’s me. All us Indie authors are our own presses. But Madrona Branch, the name? There’s a story there, which I’ve told before.

Don’t have time for the previous blog post? Just look closely at that loopy branch.

Here’s an update.

The other day I was out for a walk and stopped to hug “my” tree as I usually do.

Hello, Beautiful.

Then I stepped back and looked into its upper branches. My eyes found that astounding curl of branch which has become my personal emblem. Then, for the first time, they noticed something new that had always been there:

“I’ve been here all along, y’know.”

See it? Look closer.

“Lean on me…when you’re not strong…”

Not only is that never-say-die branch supporting itself with its own loop, it’s also leaning against an older part of the original tree trunk. A dead part. But not so dead that it can’t lend its bulk to keep “my” branch climbing toward the sunlight.

Excelsior!

So I’ve extended my metaphor. Yes, I accepted the “failure” of not being traditionally published, and supported myself to keep growing upward, into independent publication. But I was never alone in that endeavor. I leaned heavily on my writing group, on my editor, on my book designer, and on countless friends I knew only via internet, who helped me with technology or marketing questions.

Not to say any of those folks are “dead wood.” They are all solidly growing themselves. The “dead” part of that solid trunk is all the authors over time whose work inspired me and taught me. Shakespeare. Zora Neale Hurston. William Carlos Williams. Wallace Stegner. Barbara Kingsolver. Michael Chabon. And on and on and on, a trunk of growth so powerful it will never stop nourishing growth, even when it’s finally broken down into soil.

There’s also something to be learned from a tree which uses its own dead parts as scaffolding, rather than shedding them. That’s US, guys–the community of writers! We are the whole damn tree.

A little further on my walk, I ran into another new favorite tree of mine. But that’s a whole other story, so I’ll save it for my next post.

Any other metaphors strike you from these pictures? Or do you have a Nature metaphor for your own experience? I would love to hear.

Secrets To A Successful Book Launch: Have Fun

Isn’t “have fun” the best advice for nearly everything? Marathons? Weddings?  Even certain kinds of funerals? Okay…childbirth, maybe not so much. But book launches? You betcha.

Here are the ingredients I added to my launch of Altitude this past weekend:

1. Comfy environment—our sweet library’s main room, complete with fireplace

2. Refreshments—cookies and cake and savory nibbles provided by me and some wonderful friends

3. One brief, action-filled chapter read out loud in my most animated set of voices

4. A 15-minute armchair interview by my trusted writing friend Lorna, who asked challenging questions I had not seen in advance

Just readin’ a story to a few dozen friends…

That’s it! The rest was just selling and signing and hugging and thanking.

If you’re an author who happens to be shy, this format gives you some structure to hide behind. If you’re a show-off like me, it gives you a platform to share yourself beyond what your words on the page have done.

And refreshments? They ensure everyone’s goodwill. If your book is not their cup of tea, they can just go have a cup of tea. 🙂