Tuesday, November 28, 2006

One Deep Breath-Legacy

fierce determination
to follow your dream
always inspires me

For the past 26 years, I've been amazed and inspired by my son's determination and drive. When he makes a decision, whether it involves the educational path he plans to take, the work he wants to do, the type of car he drives, or choosing a life's partner, he will move heaven and earth to make his dream happen. Throughout his life, his diligence, resourcefulness, and plain fearless hard work, have made me more proud than I can say. So, today's haiku is in honor of his "reverse legacy" to me.


Monday, November 27, 2006

A Rare Rant

Lola Valley Park

There is a man living in the park across the road from my house. He spreads his tattered sleeping bag on the banks of the Rouge River, tucked in between the overgrown bushes and low lying tree branches. His rusty bicycle, propped against one of the oldest, biggest trees I've ever seen, has a wire basket on the front piled high with plastic grocery bags filled with whatever possessions he has managed to acumulate. During the daytime, I see him riding up and down the road, or parked at the gas station on the corner. Sometimes, he's just sitting on the bench in the middle of the green, a couple of those plastic bags by his side, too precious to leave out of his sight for a moment.

I have to admit, he frightens me a little bit. I've tended to avoid walking the dogs down there now, since I'm know I'm sort of trespassing through his living room. But at the same time, he breaks my heart. We've had a very temperate fall, with dry conditions and mild temperatures - but this is late November in Michigan, and the weather is bound to change. What happens when the snowy days of December arrive? And the icy cold of January? The freezing rain we often get in February? That sleeping bag on the riverbank will be a horrible place.

Yes, I'm a little scared, a lot sad, and even more angry. While this man (and who knows how many hundreds more like him in cities and now in the suburbs) goes hungry and homeless, our government spends billions of dollars to finance a war that the majority of the America people now realize is a huge mistake. Every day, I hear stories of men and women who have lost jobs. I know of more than one middle class couple who have lost their home to foreclosure. And each day, prices for food, health care, and fuel rise even more. And now, to add insult to injury, we're being bombarded with the media frenzy to buy! buy! buy! because we're all just desperate for more sweaters, perfume, jewelry and televisions. AGHHH!

When I was a little girl, my grandmother's home was located in the city, and her back yard faced an alleyway where "hoboes" sometimes gathered. Once in a while, they would come to her door, asking for food. She never turned them away, always finding some food in her pantry to pass along to them. I remember her telling me that you should always feed the hungry when they came to you - "You never know," she'd tell me, stuffing a paper grocery sack with sandwiches and fruit, "one of them might be Jesus come back to earth."
I think about that when I see my vagabond neighbor riding his bike down my street. I'm not a terribly religious person, but I believe the basic tenets of Christianity make a lot of sense. "Love your neighbor as yourself,"or "treat others as you would wish to be treated," is advice that could only benefit the world in general if more people adhered to it. In this land of plenty, there shouldn't be so many people who have nothing. There should be so much more wealth to spread around. My small efforts in donating to our church's food bank, clothing drives, and Christmas gift giving programs, seem like such a tiny drop in this very huge bucket.
Normally, I don't rant about social issues because I don't feel well enough informed to share my opinion. But it doesn't take great knowledge to know that people in middle class American suburbs should not be living out of bicycle baskets and sleeping in the park.
It really bothers me.


Saturday, November 25, 2006

The End - Or Is It Just the Beginning?

Here it is, the prize for setting 50,000 (well, 50,101 to be exact) words on the page in the last 24 days. The final 2,301 odd words were uploaded just minutes ago, making me officially a "novelist."

Lots of interesting lessons learned from this experience. One was, of course, that I actually had the persistence to finish this, which is a really big revelation for me. I've started a number of projects during the course of my half century on the planet, and many of them have gone down in ignominous flames.

Another was that if you come to the page, the words write themselves. Every book I've ever read on the craft of writing has said this, and it's absolutely true. Most recently I've been reading Elizabeth George's book Write Away, where she says that "So much of writing is showing up...of being at the computer every working day, of not waiting for inspiration to come, because it's not necessarily going to come in the way one might expect it. So much of inspiration rises from the act of writing in a stream of consciousness manner...which seems to get me in touch with a well of creativity that I'm not able to tap into in my everyday life." In most of my experiece completing NaNoWriMo, writing was like turning on a faucet. Once I sat in front of the keyboard and started to type, the words kept coming, sometimes faster than my fingers could keep up. I'm not saying that all the words were necessarily good -but they're on the page, and they're a start.

The most surprising thing was how much I came to care about my characters. When I knew the death of my narrator was imminent, I found the writing really stalled out for the first time. I finally realized that I was putting off getting to that particular portion of the story. Tonight, when I typed the last scene, I was slightly teary eyed because my relationship with these people had ended. It was like saying goodbye to old friends.

As I was writing the last third of the novel, I felt my writing ability move into another level, like it finally "clicked in." It was like the moment when a really difficult piece of music begins to flow perfectly. That was perhaps the most exciting lesson of all - that practicing writing works like practicing the piano. The more you do it, the better you become. And regular practice is also the key. As George wrote, I learned to "show up at the computer" every day about the same time and write my 2000 words. To help me maintain this habit, I'm thinking about starting another blog, just for practice writing, where I can review the books I'm reading on the craft of writing, and participate in the writing exercises they offer.

Although I technically wrote "the end" on this particular story, I think finishing this novel might have been just the beginning of a new dimension to this hobby of mine. I've never thought I had any affinity or interest in writing fiction. I've never thought I had it in me to complete a lengthy piece of writing. Now, I know differently. A very interesting lesson...

Postscript: A major impetus in completing the novel was being part of a group effort - the NaNoWriMo project in general, all the encouragers and friends in the blogsphere, but particularly my "writing buddies" (Star, BB, Tammy, and Greenish Lady) whose progress on their own novels encouraged me to continue. Working with a group to create something wonderful is one of the things I've always loved about my musical activities. I had no idea that the same concept could be so effective in the world of writing!


Sunday Scribblings-Nemesis

nemesis (nem-i'-ses)>n., pl. -ses (-sez') 1. A source of downfall or ruin. 2. An implacable or unbeatable foe. 3. One that inflicts just retribution; avenger. 4. Nemesis Gk. Myth. The goddess of retributive justice or vengenance.
Time. The implacable, unbeatable foe that is, more often than not, my source of downfall and ruin.
From the moment I awake each day, it pursues me like a demon, nudging me while I drink my morning coffee, gaining on me as I finish my morning pages, and in flat out pursuit by the time I shower and dress for work.
For the next six or seven hours, I attempt to outwit it by doing several things at once - making phone calls while I'm driving (dangerous, I know, but after all, I'm at war here!), editing while eating lunch,working on my novel at the mall while my mother does her shopping. Still that evil enemy nips at my heels.
I haven't quite figured out why she's so hell bent on destroying me. I've never tried to cheat her by lying about my age, having plastic surgery, or dating younger men. I've never recklessly wasted her by sleeping until noon, or spending hours in front of the tv eating bonbons. And until recently, I seemed to be able to manage my time quite well - actually, used to have my days quite well controlled. Now it seems, time has taken control of me, and I'm constantly trying to outrun the clock.
Maybe that's the goal - this nemesis time intends to make me surrender control of my life to the whims of the clock, to sacrifice doing the things I love in order to complete the ever increasing number of necessary tasks that fall to me each day.
No, I say! I refuse! I will take this demon time by the throat and make it work for me once more! If it means rising at the crack of dawn and staying awake until midnight, I will not have hours stolen from me!
There. I feel better. But, egad, I have to run! It's nearly 5:00 and I haven't started dinner yet, there's still 1000 words left to write on my novel, I need to get a head start on work for next week, and I really should do some laundry. As usual, I'm running out of time...


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Random Thoughts of Thanksgiving

Invited by Bug and further inspired by January (and also because The Novel is Going Nowhere tonight), here are my random thoughts on thankfulness:

~“The only people with whom you should try to get even are those who have helped you.” - John E. Southard.

This quote, borrowed from here, came with a challenge to list people in your life who have helped you along the way, those who have encouraged, inspired, comforted, and supported you along life's journey. As I think back throughout my life, there are so many of those, family and friend alike. And just in the past few months, I have made many new, and inspiring friends through this blogging adventure. I name them and thank them in my heart...namaste~

~I am also thankful for the way my writing practice has inspired me. It has enabled me to become more aware and attuned to life and the world around me...the blue of the sky, the vibrant colors of fall, the family of swans I pass each day in the pond on my way to work. I stop, savor, and look at these things more intensely now~

~I'm thankful for the gift of music, and being able to share these next few weeks with my friend who is about to retire after teaching young people for the past 18 years. Such a big change lies ahead for her, and I'm honored to have shared her journey with her. I'm so thankful for the many wonderful young men and women I have met and come to love in my work with her~

~On a more practical note, I'm thankful that I have four days away from my office. It's been an extremely stressful place for the past few days, although I feel I've grown a lot in my abilities and in my relationships with co-workers. As usual, there is sweet with the bitter in life and in work~

~I am eternally thankful for the health and well being of my children, who have recently come through a stressful time and have made some difficult decisions about their own future. As always, they make me proud, and inspire me with their ability to chart their own course~

~I wish all of you many blessings of the day...may you enjoy and savor it, whatever you do...


Sunday, November 19, 2006

One Deep Breath - Come to Your Senses

Snowflakes gather
like silent stars
resting lightly on my shoulder
We had our first dusting of snow today, just a few soft, wet flakes that rested lightly on your body, and then dissolved in an instant. They were only the harbinger of stronger, more determined flakes yet to come that will blanket the ground with a silent covering of starry white.


Saturday, November 18, 2006

Sunday Scribblings-Holding Out For A Hero

I need a hero
I’m holding on for a hero ‘til the end of the night
He’s gotta be strong
And he’s gotta be fast
And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight
I need a hero
I’m holding on for a hero ‘til the morning light
He’s gotta be sure
And it’s gotta be soon
And he’s gotta be larger than life

I clicked over to SS today and as soon as I saw the prompt, this song popped into my head and just won't go away. It's an old Bonnie Tyler song, and I think it dates back to the 80's. And although it wasn't a real favorite of mine back then, it seems to be speaking to me today.

Fact is, I really need a hero these days, and I think this is the guy I'm looking for. You know the kind of guy I mean - a cross between Hercules and George Clooney - who would just ride in on his white horse, whisk away all my worries and cares, pamper and protect me, and send all those black-hatted bad guys off into the sunset. I can see him now, hot, sweaty, and fresh from the fight ~sigh.

Of course, this hero really is larger than life. But I think the reason I'm so fixated on this superman is that I've been trying to be my own hero for what seems like forever, and its making me tired and a little bit crazy. I want to hand over all life's worries - the health problems, the money concerns, the aging parents, the job woes - to someone strong and fast enough to fix them or make them go away.

But I kinda feel like I'm hanging out on top of that huge precipice, waiting for my hero to come along. I'll keep holding on...but he's gotta be sure, and it's gotta be soon.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Novel Mania Continues

We're halfway through November, which means the Christmas hype is in full swing. Some people (like me!) valiantly try to hold off acknowledging the arrival of the Christmas season until after Thanksgiving, but its getting more difficult to do that each year as media and retailers jerk us into Christmas before Halloween is even over.

Halfway through Novemeber also means halfway through NaNoWriMo (current word count 27, 308), and here are some things I've discovered as I muddle my way through this process:

I love the way everything I've read about the writing process is absolutely true...not waiting for inspiration, but just sitting before the page and letting your inner artist guide you, showing up at the page at the same time every day (and night!), just writing it down without letter your inner critic have any time to play with it...all these things work!

I love the way my characters are making me look at my own life differently...for example, the main character in my story is terminally ill, so a major focus is the way we spend time on earth. Its sobering, particularly because the basis for my story is a true situation, and also because I have some other friends who are also facing serious illness. It's forcing me to look at many aspects in my life - the way I spend my time and who I spend it with - in another light. I've been visiting a very interesting blog that speaks to this very issue, in quite touching and exciting ways.

I love the way this venture has empowered me (and lots of others!) to complete something most of us never imagined we could. Yea, encouragement for stepping outside the box!

I hate the way my creative energy is consumed with this project, so there seems to be nothing left for my other creative activities - like poetry and haiku, writing posts for the blog, and even music.

As you can see, the loves far outweigh the hates, which is always my test of whether something is a good idea or not! So, I will soldier on...more updates when time allows...


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Sunday Scribblings-Driving My Life

~I don't want to be a passenger in my own life.~

Diane Ackerman

I love to drive. I always have. I love racy little sports cars, and I've even owned a few in my time. I usually drive too fast, and I'd drive even faster if I wasn't afraid of getting caught.

There, I've admitted one of my few dangerous passions. My love of driving is a very concrete example of the way I feel about Diane Ackerman's quote. Because as much as I love driving, that's how much I despise riding.

Of course, it all comes down to being in control - of whatever horsepower you've got rumbling under the hood, and whatever dreams you have spinning in your heart. I like to be the one in charge of getting myself to whatever destination I have in mind - whether it's to work on Monday, or to my goal of completing that NaNoWriMo novel in 30 days. So, I get really irritated when construction barrels pop up on my favorite freeway, slowing me down, and impeding my progress. I get angry when circumstances (completely out of my control) play havoc with my plans and put the brakes on my dreams. When I suddenly have twice as much work to do, because someone at work quit their job. When the economic markets fall and my carefully crafted plans for vacations or retirement are suddenly rendered impossible. All of a sudden, I'm not only a helpless passenger, but one whose life is stuck in a traffic jam 100 miles long.

And as hard as I work to maintain my position on life's highway, there are times when I'm forced to crawl into the backseat because someone or something has wrested the wheel away from me. And when I'm huddled there, unable to clearly see the road ahead, its really easy to simply give up and go to sleep until the trip is over.

But then I hear that deep throated rumble of the engine, the rush of the wind in my hair, and suddenly I'm strong enough to take control of this journey after all. No looking back at what might have been, or crying over the if-only's. Just grab the wheel, put my foot to the floor, and aim in the direction I want to go.

To paraphrase Forest Gump, life is like a road trip...sometimes I'm the driver, and sometimes I'm just along for the ride. But, wherever I happen to sit in the car, I try to follow this advice from motivational author Byrd Baggett...

~Look at life through the windshield, not the rear-view mirror~

photo courtesy of stockxpert


Friday, November 10, 2006

Make My Day

I can't remember when I've been so happy to see Friday! It's been a long week, but here are some of the things that "made my day" today...

~a piece of stunning, original art, created for me by one of my fellow bloggers, arrived in my mailbox this morning...thank you, my friend!

~the sunshine and 60 degree temperatures, perfect for walking the dogs...

~and speaking of dogs..

~these two always make my day...

~getting very close to 20,000 words on my NaNoWriMo novel...maybe I can do this after all...

~a new tea, called Black Pearl, that comes in the cutest triangular shaped mesh bag, and has a light, mellow taste...yummy and very soothing...

~a trip to the library and bringing home Happiness Sold Separately, by Lolly Winston; On Agate Hill, by Lee Smith; What Remains, by Carole Radziwill; and for real fun, something called The Merlot Murders, A Wine Country Mystery, by Ellen Crosby. Which one to read first - always a delightful dilemma...

~the next three episodes of Big Love arriving on DVD from Netflix, my newest TV obsession since the finale of Six Feet Under...

~knowing that tomorrow is another day off...

What made your day today?

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Still Standing

Is it really only Wednesday? Wow, I feel like each of the days of this week has lasted about 36 hours, and I've been crazy busy for every one them. My life is like a whirlwind right now - there's my day job, which is nuts since I lost my "alter ego," a very good partner and friend, who made the difficult decision to take a leave of absence for family reasons. Then, of course, there's school, with the holiday concert season looming ahead. And of course, NaNoWriMo, and the drain on my creative energy trying to keep up pace.

I have literally not had one extra minute this week...and I really don't have one now, either. It's 11:37 pm - I've been up since 5:30 am, been to work, to school, back to work, home, to a church rehearsal, back home, on a long heart to heart phone call with my son, and then an emotional semi- finale of Dancing With the Stars ( it's one of my guilty pleasures). But I felt the need to touch base with all my guiding stars out there in the blogsphere - let you know I'm thinking of you, and that I value the wisdom and guidance you all offer me each day with your insightful, wise, and wonderful words.

Tonight I find myself thinking a lot about life, and what it offers us, and how we use it. Sometimes, the things that life puts in front of us are difficult, and painful, and we make choices that have the potential to do great harm. Then again, sometimes we are offered the opportunity to make something great out of something that seems very miniscule and unimportant. I have always believed that God, or the universe, or whatever higher power you might believe in, has a way of aligning events and circumstances for our greater good. The trick is to be aware of all the possibilities, and be open to them. So, sometimes, when things seem their darkest, there is a greater good hiding behind the seemingly endless quagmire of disaster. It might take some slogging through the muck to get there, but ultimately, you'll find something shiny and clean waiting for you at the end.

I'm slogging through the muck of life right now, and so are some of the people I most love and care about...but I've been around long enough to know that there are lovely green fields on the other side of this muddy pasture. We'll just keep plowing through until we find them.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Dona Nobis Pacem

Grant us peace, in the wide world, and in each of our little worlds...
Peace like a river, like a fountain, flowing from one of us to the other...
Peace, from me to you...
read more about the blogblast for peace


Sunday, November 5, 2006

Sunday Scribblings-Morning

Bright star of morning,
your gentle prodding
urges me to rise~
make haste
for the day slips by so quickly
Silence in every room
waiting to be broken
invites me to listen~
quiet now
for many voices are speaking
Birds all atwitter
the coffee pot is bubbling
clock ticking the minutes
just wait
for this time is so rare
Bright star of morning
commands my attention
I must pay homage
stand still
for the sun has yet to rise


Friday, November 3, 2006

A Novel Experience

Along with several of my fellow blogging buddies, I've embarked upon the NaNoWriMo project. We're all attempting to complete a 50,000 word novel between November 1 and November 30.

If you're a regular reader here, you'll know that I often post about my lack of time. It's a subject that's usually very near (if not dear!) to my heart. So I'm sure you're thinking I've completely lost every ounce of common sense I ever had. Why would someone who already feels time deprived, add one more activity, and a huge one at that, to her list of projects and responsibilities?

I guess I'm just a masochist.

Actually, it's because I really like doing stuff. I love trying things, even if I'm sometimes disappointed in the experience. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, is one of my mottoes.

Although I must say, at first the whole NaNoWriMo concept seemed like a complete joke. The main objective seems to be getting the words on paper. They don't have to be pretty - as a matter of fact, they'll probably be pretty ugly. It's like a marathon - just get to the end, even if you're limping and dragging your pathetic tail behind you.

Three days into the project, I've discovered what a powerful concept that is. After all, my name is Becca and I'm a perfectionist! But right now, in this particular instance, being perfect doesn't count - it doesn't even matter. So, when I'm typing away lickety split and a little nagging voice in my mind says, wait a minute, there's a better word for that, or oops, I think that's the wrong syntax, or yech! that's a really stupid thing for that character to say - well, I just shrug it off and keep on typing. I can fix it later, I tell the little voice, that's now sputtering uselessly where I've slammed it into the farthest corner of my mind.

Several months ago I read Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott's fabulous and fun book about writing. Very early in the book, she discusses the absolute necessity for "shitty first drafts. "
"Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts," she states. "You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something - anything - down on paper." She goes on to describe this first draft as "the child's draft," where you "let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is ever going to see it."

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way, is in total agreement with this concept. "In order to do something well we must first be willing to do it badly," she writes.

And where do all these words (shitty and otherwise) come from? It's amazing, really. Cameron says that our creative spirit is a natural instinct, and will "flow through us like an underground river, a stream of ideas we can tap into." Lamott counsels letting the "childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page." Natalie Goldberg, in Writing Down the Bones, warns, "don't think too much. Just enter the heat of word and sounds and colored sensations, and keep your pen moving across the page."

So far, it's been a rather fascinating experience. The first two days, words came pouring onto the page, so fast my fingers could barely keep up. Well, this will be a cinch, I thought, cockily noting a word count of over 4500 words in two days. Day three has not been such a walk in the park. My mind was a little slower cranking it out today, reminding me of a car engine on a cold winter morning.

I have no idea where I'll end up, or whether I'll "win" the NaNoWriMo challenge (winning simply means completing the 50,000 word requirement by November 30.) But I'm enjoying this process of letting my imagination have free rein on the page, without worrying overmuch about getting everything exactly right. So, I'll close with another quote, one I'm sure most of you have heard before, but it seems quite appropriate to this situation ~ "Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss it, you will land among the stars."

Happy writing!

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Poetry Thursday-Favorite Lines

Wild nights-Wild nights!
Were I with thee
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!
~emily dickinson
is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.
I do itso it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say, I've a call.
~sylvia plath
I first started reading poetry when I was a teenager -
well, who didn't? These lines were among my favorites, and pretty well
exemplify the roller-coaster ride that was my emotional life in those days.
No, I really wasn't bi-polar, although if there had been a barometer on my feelings, it
might have appeared as if I were.
For years, I didn't read poetry at all.
And then, thanks to Poetry Thursday (thank you, thank you, thank you!)
I found these lines:
Every day
I see or hear
that more or less
kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle
in the haystack
of light.
It is what I was born for -
to look, to listen,
to lose myself
inside this soft world -
to instruct myself
over and over
in joy,
and acclamation.
from "Mindful", by Mary Oliver
Not coincidentally did I place these words in the center of the page. These are the words that restore balance to my life, overfilled as it sometimes is with minituae and busyness.
These are the words and set me on the right course, when I seem to be veering off into some dark distance. These are the words that remind me "what I was born for."
I'm now long years away from being a teenager, and, no, my nights are not "wild" by any stretch of the imagination. But, neither do I dwell in thoughts of the "art of dying." I'm happiest when I can "lose myself in this soft world," and "instruct myself in joy and acclamation."