Monday, December 29, 2014

Letting go, clearing space

My post at YAOTL this month celebrated the beauty of holiday breaks, and the restfulness (for many of us) of this week before New Year's. I am generally not good at letting go of the holidays, returning to the hectic routines of regular life. I am not good at letting go in general.

But 2014 was a year of letting go. Things I had hoped for didn't happen. Things I'd had once could not be kept. I also began seriously decluttering my physical space--a project that will take quite a while, but I can see improvements already. I became willing to let go of some things I've been accumulating and holding onto all my life.

People my age often have grandparents who lived through the Great Depression. And while my own grandparents were not hoarders, I did know of what I call "Depression hoarders." These were people who had survived that era when you had to save everything--every bit of string, every scrap of soap--and even when times improved, they were unable to shed their fear of waste and impoverishment. So they never threw anything away, and their homes filled with stuff. People who cleaned their houses after Depression hoarders had passed on described the stacks of newspapers, the piles of cans, the balls of rubber bands. The glass jars and even the plastic microwave trays and styrofoam packaging.

I am not a Depression-style hoarder, but I don't like waste and I have kept things "just in case" or "because they're too good to get rid of." One thing I've been gaining, though, is the willingness to let things go. I used to think that if something came into my life, I was obligated to hold onto it until it disintegrated. Which explains why my recent cleaning efforts have turned up shoes I haven't worn in 10 years, clothing I haven't worn in 20. A gag gift someone gave me in college that has been gathering dust on the top shelf of my closet. A picture I clipped out of a newspaper back when the Berlin Wall was still standing. Electrical bills from the apartment I lived in before I got married.

I'm clearing things out because it will give me breathing room, but also because I'm hoping to have more room for new things in my life in 2015.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Carpe diem

I had a whole list of things to do today, and I did a few of them, but then the woods beckoned. It was another sunny, blue-skied day after a long stretch of what had felt like (and maybe was) weeks of dreary grayness. And tomorrow the rain returns.

So I left some of my indoor chores undone. I went on a hike with my husband and our local hiking club. Stretched the legs, enjoyed the sun and the scent of earth and the quiet trees biding their time until spring, and the song of a white-throated sparrow (thanks, Cliff, for telling us what that was). Seized the day.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Festive links

Here are some festive links, for a holiday mood, whatever and however you celebrate:

Nathan Bransford's annual fundraiser for Heifer International, where all you have to do is comment on his blog post and/or tweet the hashtag #NBHeifer on Twitter (he pledges $2 per tweet or comment). I will also be donating a flat amount myself.

A white winter's walk in the woods, for those of us missing snow, from LizzieBelle

A post about the joy our furry friends can bring (and ways for us to give back), from Alissa Grosso at YA Outside the Lines

Wishing you peace and joy!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Two quotes

"What a strange feeling to be done with [writing] The Book. It had weighed so like a stone these many years, you'd think I'd be tripping about in ecstatic jubilation. But I felt rootless. Empty. Lost. I sunk into a slough of discombobulation."

"I sighed. It just might be that The Book was unpublishable.
I wasn't feeling sorry for myself. I had gotten the job done, I was proud of it ... Besides, I had found myself through the arduous writing process. Even if we were never able to publish our book, I had discovered my raison d'etre in life, and would continue my self-training and teaching."

Both of these are from Julia Child's My Life in France, and capture pretty well some of the emotions associated with finishing a manuscript and receiving early rejections.

Been there, done that. Probably most writers have!

(By the way, "The Book" she was referring to is Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which not only did get published, but became a classic in its field.)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A new story

The excitement of putting a story out into the world never gets old.

My latest arrival is a short-story chapbook, part of The Head & The Hand Press's project to put chapbooks into a school (specifically, the Science Leadership Academy). CBS Philly did a story on the chapbook project.


"In Memory of Lester" is the sometimes humorous, sometimes serious, story of a very unusual memorial.

I'm honored to be part of a series that also features Tara Altebrando, Melissa Sarno, Autumn Konopka, Robert Marx, Eliza Martins, Ruby Jane Anderson, and Lilliam Rivera.

If you're interested, my chapbook and the rest in the series are available here, along with the rest of the offerings from The Head & The Hand Press.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Older books worth another look

These books were all published quite a while ago, but they say that what goes around comes around. Or everything old is new again. Or something.

I think these could serve as interesting springboards to discussions of current events:

1984, by George Orwell. This novel, considered a futuristic dystopian when it was written, is newly relevant. Orwell paints a picture of a society with constant surveillance, political doublespeak, revisionist history, and the end of privacy.

Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis. This story takes place in the World War I era, yet the divide that we would now call red-state/blue-state is exemplified in this story of a marriage in a small town. Are we too polarized to ever get along?

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. I've been considering doing a blog read-along of this one. It also takes place in the World War I era, yet the economic struggles of its main characters are part of many families' stories nowadays. This is also a book with the "strong female characters" readers look for today.

David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, or A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. News reports can go on and on about wealth inequality, the rise of homelessness, and the burden of debt, but I wonder if any of that has the same impact as the classic scene of Oliver Twist begging for more gruel in the orphanage. I could have put almost any Dickens book on this list; he continually brought readers unflinchingly to the workhouses, the debtor's prisons, the factories that used child labor, and the street corners and haystacks where the homeless sleep. Oliver Twist is probably the most muddled of these books; having created sympathy for his gangs of young characters driven to thievery and prostitution, Dickens seemed troubled by the morality of having a thief as a hero. Therefore, Oliver improbably reforms by falling into prayer in the middle of a burglary, and the novel eventually veers away from him altogether, as Dickens became more fascinated by the fatal relationship between Sikes and Nancy. (However, Dickens did give the Artful Dodger some eloquent parting words on the brutality of the criminal justice system.) A Christmas Carol probably hammers home most directly the hazards of trying to live without a living wage, and the need for compassion.

What other classics do you think can speak anew to us today?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Winter walks

Winter is a turning-inward time; the sun rises late and sets early; the air chills; the sky spits nasty bits of ice. Yet I enjoy a daily walk out there, among the bare trees, through the quiet brown landscape.

The land is only asleep. And who couldn't use a bit of rest?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The writing space

Jenny Gordon writes of redecorating her writing room to make it more conducive to writing. "Our writing spaces are precious. ... We are invoking magic when we tap into our well of creativity, and we need to create our sacred space in which to do that."

I can write almost anywhere when I have to, but my favorite place to write is in my home office. These are the comforts that make it welcoming:

--Stereo next to me, for music. Or I can click open iTunes on my computer.

--Chocolate supply in desk drawer.

--Bookcases full of books.

--A window right in front of my desk. Some people advise against such a setup, saying that the window is too distracting. I love having the window here. I can see the weather, the change of the seasons, some birds and squirrels. (Once a bat even roosted on my window screen.) When I have to look away from my computer to think for a minute, I have something to look at. Yet it's not overly distracting, since the view is mostly of tree branches.

--A bed. Handy for putting stuff on top of, and for lounging with a book when the day's writing is done.

--Posters. I have several and can change them around. Right now I have a mountain view on one wall and a vase of flowers on the other.

This is the room where I've written all three of my published books. When my husband and I first started house-shopping, I told him that one of my requirements was to have a writing space of my own. This is one of my favorite places.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Mystical grape

I could probably write at length about color names in catalogs, and how they can be little poems in themselves.
For now, I'll just note that Lands' End has a color called "mystical grape." And that I envisioned a children's picture book titled, The Adventures of the Mystical Grape.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Short and sweet

Jenny Gordon has been hosting a weekly writing exercise, 50-word vignettes, on her blog. She posts a topic (usually it's one word), and we write on that. I've enjoyed it because of my passion for very short fiction (and nonfiction). Also because I like the quickness, the doesn't-have-to-be-perfect, aspect of writing exercises. Here are a few of the prompts and the way I responded to them:

Prompt: Toolbox
I made the wooden toolbox for my dad but it sat, unused, on the shelf in his workshop. He kept using this old tackle box instead. Finally I said, "How come you hate the toolbox I made you?" His face wrinkled. He rubbed the side of the box, which I'd sweated over, sanding it to silk. "It's too good to use," he said.

Prompt: Circus
We juggle staplers, mouse pads, pens. We hold paper clips in our mouths. We slide under the desks to jiggle the power cords back to life. Cutbacks, they say; more layoffs are coming. They pile more work on our desks. Don't expect a safety net either, they tell us.

Prompt: Second chance
The next flip of the coin
Erases the first; heads
Turning tails, the do-over,
The rewrite, the mulligan.
Nobody's looking. Flip
Until you get the answer
You want.

Prompt: Safe
You said it would be safe, the branch was sturdy. "Look," you said, your heels planted on the wood, flexing your knees. The branch trembled but held. You extended your hand. I laced my fingers in yours and stepped out. With a crack, the wood splintered.

If you want to read more, check out the vignettes on Jenny's blog. If you want to play along, join in on Fridays.