Saturday, December 30, 2006

Sunday Scribblings-Destination

Do you know where you're going to?
Do you like the things that life is showing you?
Do you know?
Theme Song from the movie "Mahogany", originally recorded by Diana Ross, 1994
Last fall, my husband and I purchased new bikes to use at our home in Florida. It's a perfect five mile ride around the perimeter of our gated community, with lots of inland waterways to admire as you're pedaling along, and very little traffic to avoid. We try to get a ride in every morning, and Jim gets the bikes out of the garage while I lock up the house. Then its time for the big decision - where do we go? Basically, you can ride to the end of our street and turn right or left, making a perfect, neatly prescribed circle around the outside of the complex and returning right where we started from. There are no obstacles , no choices about turns, not even any bridges to cross. There's a couple of speed bumps, but it's generally smooth sailing - a real no-brainer of a ride.
However, you can also ride through the interior of the community, which becomes a veritable maze of curving streets, glittering ponds, and arched bridges, requiring fancy gear shifting on the bridges, sharp braking on the downhills, and directional decisions all along the way in order to ever find your way back home.
Jim will usually say, "I don't care which way we go. You pick." Those of you who know me can probably guess what my first inclination would be - the safe route, with no chance of getting lost, no challenges to face, just easy riding. Lately, though, there's been a nagging little voice inside urging me to take the more adventurous way, the "road less traveled" as it were. My husband, gentle encourager that he is, will sometimes save me from the decision and say, "Why don't we try riding toward the Town Center?" which takes us on the path into the unknown. And I'm game to follow his lead, nimbly shifting into lower gear on the uphill bridges, flying down on the opposite side and whirling into a sharp turn at the bottom. We've gotten lost a time or two, requiring us to stop, take stock, and then venture bravely toward the way we think we should be going. So far, we've always landed safe and sound at our original destination.
Generally, I like "knowing where I'm going to." I've traveled through life on well traveled routes that have taken me toward safe destinations with a minimum of challenge or risk. But I have to admit that sometimes I don't "like the things that life is showing me." My choice of destinations, while safe and secure, can be - dare I say? - boring. Maybe the destinations for the next part of my life's journey should be a little less predictable, a little more out of the way. Perhaps I shouldn't be quite so afraid to head down the opposite side of the road, where adventure might await. After all, I have become quite fond of flying down those bridges, full speed ahead.
here's the destination for more sunday scribblings


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Leavin' On A Jet Plane

By the time you read this, I'll be headed south to visit my son and daughter-in-law. It's been about three months since I've seen them, and though we talk often and stay updated through our respective blogs, it's not the same as being with them.
My son left home fairly young - he was just 18 when he moved to Orlando to go to college back in 1998, and he's not lived at home again since. As most mothers can attest, those first few "empty nest" months are horrible. Lucky me, I was able to make frequent trips to Orlando to visit. Gradually, I got used to having him far away, and spending holidays apart - I can't say I like it, but I've grown accustomed to it. And now, there's not only just my son to miss, but my daughter in law as well, who quickly won all our hearts with her gentle nature and loving ways.
My husband and I have always lived near our parents, and it never occurred to us to move far away from home. We're both only children, and possibly that's why we felt (and still feel) an extra burden of responsibility regarding our parents. So we chose our first home to be near our parents, and we've stayed here, mostly to remain near them. And now that they're older, their need for us is more acute than ever.
We bought our second home, the one in Florida, to be near our children, thinking that perhaps we might retire there someday in the not too distant future. But things change. My son and daughter in law are very young themselves. They're making new decisions about their lives, which is as it should be. Their careers allow them to the flexibility to work anywhere in the world, and they should take full advantage of that opportunity.
Along with many of our friends, we're at an awkward stage in our lives. Not quite ready to retire, but tired of working. No longer responsible for children, yet caring for elderly parents. Not as healthy as we once were, and starting to feel the pull of time to enjoy life while we still can. Longing for change, and not quite knowing how to make it happen. But there's one decision we have made. Our next home will be where we want it to be ~ don't know where that is, just yet, but we'll be looking.
Meanwhile, I'm winging my way to the Sunshine State. I'm ready for some rest, relaxation, and some quality time with my family.
PostScript: As I think about visiting my son, I am reminded again of Darlene and her son Mark. Darlene has been visiting Mark in ICU for the past week, as he struggles valiantly to recover from injuries sustained in a horrible car accident. Every day my thoughts are with her, Mark, and her family.


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Write On Wednesday-Dear Diary

The idea of keeping a journal has always appealed to me. I love the thought of having a special book to write my secret feelings in, or record my impressions of people and places, even keep track of my "social engagments." As much as I love the thought of journal keeping, I've never been very good at actually doing it, at least not for any significant period of time. And when I have, often the pages have turned out to be nothing but whining and kvetching about how awful things were going at that particular time.

Last summer I started reading The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron's popular book which outlines her method for unleashing the "inner artist." One of the key elements in this process are the "morning pages," three pages of free writing done every day. The key element here is "free" writing - there are no topics, no list of must-includes. You just pick up the pen, and write whatever comes to mind. I started doing morning pages last July, and I've filled six spiral notebooks with all kinds of things, from shopping lists to plans for my future. Sure, I've done some whining, but I've also come to some pretty interesting conclusions and had more than one "light bulb" moment in the process of writing out my feelings about a dilemma.

Cameron isn't the first to advocate free writing as a means of tapping the well of creativity that lies in our subconscious. Back in 1934, in her classic book Becoming A Writer, Dorothea Brande wrote "if you are to have the full benefit of the richness of the unconscious you must learn to write easily and smoothly when the unconscious is in the ascendant." Her prescription - "rise half an hour or an hour earlier than you usually rise, and, just as soon as you can, without talking, without reading the morning paper, without picking up the book you laid aside the night before - begin to write. Write anything that comes into your head." In this manner, she says you learn to train your mind to release words easily and freely, words that can later be whipped into some sort of shape.

I also love reading the published diaries of well known authors, and one of my favorite is Virginia Woolf's A Writer's Diary. Back in 1919, she had this to say about her own diary writing:

"I note that this diary writing does not count as writing...I am much struck by the rapid haphazard gallop at which it swings along. Still if it were not written rather faster than the fastest type-writing, if I stopped and took thought, it would never be written at all; and the advantage of the method is that it sweeps up accidentally several stray matters which I should exclude if I hesitated, but which are the diamonds of the dustheap. But what is more to the point is my belief that the habit of writing thus for my own eye is good practice. It loosens the ligaments."

I've become quite accustomed to "loosening the ligaments" of my mind each morning as I sit in my favorite chair, warmly snuggled in a cozy flannel blanket, with a steaming cup of coffee at the ready (sorry, Dorothea, I have to get up and make the coffee first!) I just replenished my supply of spiral notebooks - I've found that if I use just an inexpensive school style notebook, I don't feel any constraint about writing something worthy of a lovely bound book full of nice thick paper. I do like a smooth writing, fine tipped pen - right now my favorite is the Vision Elite by UniBall - it's gel ink glides effortlessly across the page but doesn't soak through.

How about you? Do you have a journalling habit? What kind of journal do you keep?


Bookmarks*-The Other Side of the Bridge

One of my favorite morning rituals is to grab my first cup of coffee, crawl back into bed, bolster my self with bunches of pillows, and read. Yesterday, I gave myself a Christmas treat and spent a long time immersed in a fabulous book. The Other Side of the Bridge, by Canadian author Mary Lawson, is based on a tale as old as time - the rivalry between two brothers. But in this luminous novel, set a in a small logging community in Northern Ontario, the writing makes this tale anything but ordinary.

Mary Lawson writes prose like Mary Oliver writes poetry. It's simple, and spare, but so evocative of person and place that you want to re-read sentences just to savor their richness over again. "The lake was the town's only asset. It was large...and deep, and very clear, surrounded on all sides by low granite hills studded with spruce and wind blasted pines. Its shore was ragged with bays and inlets and islands that you could spend your life exploring and never find half of them."

She brings her characters richly to life as well, and when we meet Arthur and Jake Dunn in the Prologue, they are just boys, but their character and roles are alreay well defined. "Jake had dark blue eyes in a pale triangular face and hair the color of wheat. In build, he was slight and reedy ("frail" was the word their mother used) and already good looking, though not as good looking as he would be later. Arthur, five years older, was big and slow and heavy, with sloping shoulders and a neck like an ox."

The story follows these boys through the mid-30's in past the Great War, and as their frayed relationship begins to unravel when a beautiful young woman arrives in their small town. The novel slips back and forth in time, with a parallel story taking place in the 1950's involving Ian Christopherson, a teenager who takes on job on Arthur's farm. Ian has no interest in farming, but he does have an interest in Arthur's beautiful wife, Laura, who fills the gap he feels when his mother abruptly leaves the family and moves to Toronto with another man.

Tragedy abounds in this novel, for Jake's wilfulness and selfishness wreak havoc in ways both large and small. Then too, there is the Great War, which claims the lives of nearly all the town's boys. But somehow, the tragic occurrences are not overwhelming. Lawson presents them in such a way that we accept them as part of life, knowing that bad things happen to good people. Her characters react with wisdom and dignity, and in the end the reader is comforted to know that decency pays off.

I finished the novel yesterday, and immediately headed downstair to my bookshelf to pluck out Lawson's first novel, Crow Lake, which I had read in 2002 and loved. I started re-reading right away, simply because I needed more of her wonderful story telling and thoughtful outlook on life. This novel is placed in the same setting as The Other Side of the Bridge, and again takes a deep look at a family in crisis and the relationship between two brothers who are faced with enormous responsibility at an early age.

A reviewer from the Washington Post perfectly describes my reaction to both of these novels.
"Lawson communicates not only the lovely awe and beauty of the landscape but the way its inhabitants function within it. These are the kinds of books that keep you reading well past midnight; you grieve when it's over. Then you start pressing it on friends."

The Other Side of the Bridge was long listed for the Booker Prize, and deservedly so. Lawson has a marvelous way of presenting characters that stay with you, evoking a realistic sense of atmopshere, and providing a compelling story.

~To hear the author discuss The Other Side of the Bridge, go here

(*Bookmarks is a new feature here at the Byline, where I can tell you about what's currently on my bedside reading table.)


Sunday, December 24, 2006

Happy Christmas

From my family to yours ~
May your lives be filled with love, peace, and joy this holiday season

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Sunday Scribblings-Change

I don't watch much daytime television, but I love to watch the Oprah show when she features makeovers. I get crazy excited to see ordinary, frumpy people with outdated hairstyles and clothing become miraculously transformed into attractive, chic, confident looking men and women. There was once a 60-something grandmotherly type who hadn't cut her long grey hair in about 30 years. When she walked through those curtains wearing a stylish bob, close fitting jeans, a cute beaded jacket and boots, I actually burst into tears.

It's my secret wish - well, its not secret now - to be on one those makeover shows. I want to be changed, at least on the outside. It's not that I'm really unhappy with the way I look. I try to keep up with the style trends, and I can wear most of the new fashions without looking ridiculous. My weight is about normal for my height, and people always tell me I look younger than my age. But there's something extremely appealing about being made to look so different ( i.e. beautiful, stunning, glamourous) that my own mother barely recognizes me!

Now that I think about it, perhaps this desire for a metamorphosis is more than just superficial. Could it be that I'm longing for changes that go deeper than hair, eyeshadow and lip gloss? Am I really looking for something to jump start my life, not just my appearance? Hmm, could be. I know that beauty is really only skin deep, and lasting radiance can't be applied from a jar. It comes from satisfaction with your relationships, excitement about your work, and positive expectations about your future. And, in all honesty, I haven't had any of those things in abundance recently.

So maybe I should really be thinking about ways to makeover my life instead of just my looks?
Perhaps I should be making the kinds of changes that don't wash off in the shower or get ruined by a windy day. Changes that would result in an inner glow of confidence and satisfaction that create lasting beauty no matter what your hairstyle or wardrobe is like.

Oprah, are you listening?


Thursday, December 21, 2006

That's A Wrap

They came from all over the country - New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington DC - as well as from just around the corner. Literally hundreds of young men and women, between 19 and 35 years of age. They are singers, actors, politicians, restaurant mangagers, firefighters, teachers, parents. But last night, on the stage of their high school auditorium, they were all students once again, gathererd to honor their music teacher at her last concert.

My friend Pat directed her final concert last night, at the school where she has taught music and acting for the past 19 years. A long standing tradition at these holiday concerts is the singing of Handel's Hallelujah Chorus, for which any alumni in the audience are invited on stage to join in. Last night, the huge auditorium stage could barely hold all the singers, some of whom led their own children by the hand to be part of the event. There could have been no greater gift for her than to see all these "kids"- men and women now, pursuing their dreams just as she encouraged them to do.

Some people have a gift for inspiration, and Pat is definitely one of them. She has some magic way of prodding her students to give their best, try their hardest, take risks and accept consequences, and mostly to enjoy every experience of life to the fullest.

This gift isn't offered to just her students, however. When I started working as her accompanist 14 years ago, I was insulated in my own small world of being a stay-at-home wife and mother. I had let my music skills languish, hampered by a fear of performing. Within three months, I had played for her choir at a standing room only Christmas concert, and on stage at the University of Michigan. At the end of that first year, I traveled with over 100 students to New York City for a choral competition (my first trip "alone" if you can believe it!) where we walked the streets of the city en masse at all hours of the day and night, ending up on the observation deck of the Empire State Building at 12:00 midnight. There was a pay phone (this was long before cell phones!) and I called home to tell Jim where I was, knowing he would be incredulous that I had overcome my near crippling fear of heights and was absolutely glorying in the twinkling city lights spread out all around me.

That experience sums up quite well one of the most valuable lessons my friend taught me and all those people who stood on stage to honor her last night. You can overcome your fears, and when you do, the possibilities will sparkle endlessly before you. What a great gift, from a great teacher, and a woman I'm proud to call my friend.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Write On Wednesday - Finding Figment

Do any of you remember "Journey into the Imagination," one of the original attractions at Epcot Center in Walt Disney World? There's a little purple dragon called "Figment," who pops up all over the place as you're riding along in your automated vehicle. Through the power of the imagination, he becomes an astronaut, a mountain climber, even the Mona Lisa. Of course, the whole idea is that, if you let your imagination guide you, there is no end to the possibilities that await.

Those figments of the imagination are particularly vital to writers, who are always on the lookout for the next great idea. In her classic book, Becoming a Writer, Dorothea Brande talks about the "writer's coma," those times in our lives when we feel a desperate need for solitude and detachment from the hustle and bustle of life. At those times, she writes, it may seem as if our mind's are "barren," when in actuality, "something is at work," and will later make itself known in a flash of insight. She also says we can learn to "induce at will" this "artistic level of unconsciousness" where the "artist's magic" lies buried. It is our unconscious that sees the world around us on a different level - it's the place where all our impressions and experiences mingle and simmer in a savory broth of ideas, waiting for something to spark the imagination and allow the mixture to bubble up into our conscious mind.

I don't know about you, but my "figments" always seem to appear when I'm doing something totally unrelated to writing - like walking the dogs, vacuuming the floor, standing in line at the grocery, or even driving (which is the most frustrating of all, because there's no way to write it down!) I'm always certain I'll remember such a great thought, or phrase, or idea for a poem or post, but most times it escapes me before I have the opportunity to write it down. I don't always have a notebook handy (although I know every writer worth her salt is supposed to carry one), and even if I did, there are some situations where it's impossible to drop everything and jot it down.

According to Brande, it's quite normal for our "genius" to assert itself when we're involved in monotonous, repetitive tasks. In fact, she advises us to play around with such tasks until we find the one that's most receptive to calling forth our unconscious. Every writer, she says, has learned to put herself into a state of "light hypnosis," where the attention is "just barely held" by the activity at hand, but far beneath the surface level of her mind, a story is being "fused and welded together."

So tell me, how do you capture the figments of your imagination?


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A Prayer for Mark

A candle of hope for Darlene, whose son Mark was seriously injured in an automobile accident on Monday.

May the light of God surround you and the strength of God uphold you.

Monday, December 18, 2006

One Deep Breath-Storm

in dervishes
icy nettles
my cheeks
angry wind
my hair
in blazes
mother nature provided no inspiration on the subject of storms- it was a mild, sunny day graced with a cloudless blue sky~
but i've been caught out in a snowstorm or two, and i remember the frozen results only too well~
i also remember thawing in front of the fire, and how good it felt as the icy residue melted away, leaving me all mellow and warm, inside and out.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Poetry Thursday

On A Tree Fallen Across the Road
(To Hear Us Talk)
Robert Frost
The tree the tempest with a crash of wood
Throws down in front of us is not to bar
Our passage to our journey's end for good,
But just to ask us who we think we are
Insisting always on our own way so.
She likes to halt us in our runner tracks,
And make us get down in a foot of snow
Debating what to do without an axe.
And yet she knows obstruction is in vain.
We will not be put off the final goal
We have it hidden in us to attain,
Not though we have to seize earth by the pole.
And, tired of aimless circling in one place,
Steer straight off after something into space.
It's been a while since I posted for Poetry Thursday. It seems I haven't had much poetry in me lately, nor have I taken time to read any. That's always a big mistake - as Robert Frost himself said, "Poetry is a way of taking life by the throat."
Most everyone is familiar with Frost's other "road" poem (The Road Not Taken), which is the one I intended to post today. But I came across this one in the battered paperback collection of Frost's poetry I had for my college America Poetry class. Unlike most of the other poems on those yellowed pages (yes, its been that long since I was in college!) this one had no scribbled annotations surrounding it, suggesting that I had never read or studied it.
Although this poem doesn't exactly follow this week's PT prompt (which is "the street where you live"), this "road poem" speaks to me right now, because I've had some some big branches come down in my path recently. It's good to be reminded that they won't "bar the passage" to my journey's end for good - they're simply forcing me to stop, take stock, and figure out how to proceed "without an axe." It gives me courage "not to be put off that final goal" I have "hidden within me," but to collect myself and steer "straight off" after my dreams.
for more poems, go here


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Write On Wednesday - It's All in the Timing

We are traditionally rather proud of ourselves for having slipped creative work in there between the domestic chores and obligations. I'm not sure we deserve such big A-pluses for that.
Toni Morrison
As I look back through my morning pages over the past several months and re-read my blog posts, there is one theme that recurs over and over again - my lack of time. I'm well aware that I try to pack too many activities and responsibilities in my day, but what can I do? All these things - work, household chores, helping out my mom and caring for my mother in law, tending the dogs, rehearsals, practicing, and of course, reading and writing- are things that I either need to do or love to do.
When I started writing on a regular basis last March, my daily schedule was already quite full. I had no idea that my writing would become a habit forming hobby! Now, I'm having a hard time getting everything done and still having time left to write. So I usually end up doing just what Toni Morrison describes - slipping creative work in between chores and obligations. And yes, actually I am pretty proud that I managed to complete NaNoWriMo and write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, while still going to work, preparing for a couple of concerts, and juggling my family responsibilities. And I'm amazed at the women out there who finished their novels while adding the care of small children in the mix. I think we do deserve A pluses for that!
But it isn't only women who face this dilemma. In his book, On Writing, Stephen King talks about the early days of his career when he honed his writing skills while teaching high school and working in an industrial laundry. He scribbled short stories for "men's magazine's" while waiting for huge loads of hospital linens to dry, and then went home to his wife and two kids in their "double wide trailer" to write some more.
In her book, Pen on Fire-A Busy Woman's Guide to Igniting the Writer Within, and also on her blog, Barbara DeMarco addresses this dilemma - how do we fit writing into lives that are already too full? DeMarco advises us to "set the timer" for 15 minutes everyday. She provides lots of writing prompts and ideas for those who might be fearful of the blank page. In just 15 minutes a day, she says, you can flex your writing muscles and start unearthing the "writer within."
But how about those of us who want more than 15 minutes? Where does it come from?
While doing NaNoWriMo, I was "stealing" time all over the place - I neglected the laundry so long, I think we were down to our last clean pairs of socks before I finally typed "the end"!
I stayed up late, got up early, and said little more than "good morning" and "good night" to my husband for the duration of November. Obviously, I couldn't keep up that kind of pace on a regular basis. But it did make me realize how much time I could devote to writing - if I had it, that is!
There is one practice I retained from that experience that's helping me nourish my writing habit. I've continued getting up about an hour earlier than I used to. That early morning time, when the rest of the household is blissfully sleeping, gives me a nice period of quiet time to read, write, and reflect. It satisfies my writing urge, and gets my day started on the "write" foot!
Where do you find time to write? And what's your favorite "writing time" of day?


Monday, December 11, 2006

One Deep Breath-Containers

spiral bound pages~
receptacle of thoughts
inscribed on blue lines
daily ruminations
warmly embraced
under cardboard covers
Last summer I started a practice of writing "morning pages," three free-written pages each day where my consciousness streams out onto the paper. These spiral notebooks contain those pages, all those messy morning thoughts safely tucked away between brightly colored paper covers.
For more container inspired haiku, go here


Saturday, December 9, 2006

Sunday Scribblings-Punishment and Reward

I don't believe in punishment - either in the cosmic or the personal sense. I don't subscribe to the notion that something in the univserse will strike me with a lightning bolt if I defy its mandates. I don't believe that any bad luck that befalls me is because I didn't go to church last Sunday, or because I swore seven times yesterday, or even because I took home a couple of pads of sticky notes from my office. Conversely, I don't feel I'll be rewarded just because I spent some extra time helping an elderly neighbor with her Christmas cards, or took an afternoon off work to take my mom Christmas shopping and out to dinner.

I have always subscribed to the adage that you can "catch more flies with honey than vinegar."
I think it's true in parenting, in dog training, and in dealing with most human beings. If you reward the behavior you want to encourage, you'll be more successful (not to mention happier!) than if you're constantly punishing behavior that's wrong. How much more peaceful would life be if people operated on that principle?

I do believe that "what goes around comes around." In the ever spinning cycle of earth and life, there are difficult times and wonderful times. Sometimes, we can help bring one or the other to pass, sometimes it's totally out of our control. One of my favorite verses in the Bible says it perfectly..."To every thing, there is a season, and a time and purpose under heaven." (For those who aren't familiar with the Christian Bible, a group called the Byrd's sang about it in the sixties in a song called Turn, Turn, Turn.)

Sometimes, when life is hard, its difficult not to cry out "What did I do to deserve this?" It's hard to accept that in all of life, bad things happen, especially when it seems your life is filled with more bad than good. There is purpose in all of life's vicissitudes - we learn and grow during those tough times. When I'm going through one of those rough places, those times in life when I'm turning toward the dark side, I ask myself "what is the lesson? what is it I'm supposed to learn?" Although the answer may not be immediately apparent, it usually comes clear to me at some point. And therein lies my reward.

for more thoughts on this topic, go here


Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Write On Wednesday

Since I started this blogging adventure, and especially since participating in NaNoWriMo, I've been building my library of books on the craft of writing. I love thinking of writing as a craft -something that can be molded using the proper tools and process. In the spirit of practicing the craft, I'm declaring "Write On Wednesday's" here at the Byline. It's a day dedicated to whatever I'm thinking about writing in general, and my own writing in particular.

Recently, I've been reading
Write Away, by Elizabeth George. Toward the end of the book, she addresses questions she's often asked in her personal appearances. One of these is "What's a typical day like for you?" What interested me about George's description of her day was the amount of time she spent on "writer's warm ups," I call them. Similar to the way a musician runs scales and arpeggios before diving into a Concerto, George reads for about 15 minutes in a "great piece of literature," noting that while writing a recent novel, she was concurrently reading Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen. She then turns to her Journal of Novel for the last novel she wrote (she keeps an ongoing journal during the time she is writing each of her novels)and reads an entry. After reading this entry, to remind herself that "whatever she's going through now, she's been through before," she then creates a new entry in the journal she's keeping for her current book. After all this prep work is done, she's ready to work on the novel at hand.

I'm fascinated with reading about the "daily life of a writer," and I love reading their diaries (my copy of Virginia Woolf's
A Writer's Diary is filled with dog-eared pages and post-it notes.)
Unfortunately, like most of us for whom writing is not a full time profession, my time at the keyboard is limited to the 20 or 30 minutes a day I've managed to steal from my office job and my family responsibilities. But if I could fashion my days in terms of writing being my main occupation (oh, what luxury!), they might go something like this:

Get up about 6:00, have coffee (some things must never change!) and spend about 30 minutes reading my current novel. Then write morning pages (a warm up exercise!) and spend some time in morning meditation-I've been trying to do this for 10 minutes on a regular basis, and sometimes I'm able focus my busy brain that long, and sometimes I'm not! Exercise would follow - bike riding, or dog walking or both. I think the combination of getting outdoors and moving the body early in the day is not only healthy, but provides creative inspiration as well.

By now, I'm ready to get to work at the keyboard, so I'd head off into my well appointed home office (fodder for another fantasy post!) I would spend some time reading/studying a book on writing, perhaps do a freewriting exercise for about 15 minutes, and then settle in to work on my next bestseller! After completing my requisite five pages before noon, I'd have the remainder of the day free to enjoy lunch with friends, take in a movie or museum exhibit, indulge in another creative hobby like music or photography, or just sit in a cafe and people watch, taking notes for interesting characters that might later appear in my novels.

Well, that was fun. How about you? If you were living the writer's life, what would your day be like?


Tuesday, December 5, 2006

One Deep Breath-Close Up

pure trust and innocence
furry face of an angel
dreaming doggie dreams
I love this close up of Molly, which was taken last summer after a long walk on the rocky shores of Lake Huron. She was damp, sandy, and so tired from the adventure she fell asleep in my arms as I carried her home.
For more close up's visit here

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Third Day Book Club - Winter's Bone

In the musical groups I belong to, we sometimes program pieces of music we refer to as "just for us," meaning they're slightly different from the majority of "audience pleasers" we usually offer. They have chords sprinkled throughout that make chills run down our spine, or fascinating rhythm combinations that send our hearts racing while we play. The composers have a unique way with harmony or mixed meter that the trained musician can appreciate on a deeper level than the casual listener. Similarly, at least for me, Winter's Bone, Daniel Woodrells's compact and rough edged novel, is a "writer's book." Like those composers I referred to, Woodrell has a superior, edgy, way with words and sentence structure that makes his work particularly compelling to someone studying the craft of writing.

Woodrell has been highly praised for his ability to write "taut and lyrical prose," and this is certainly not an exaggeration. We're introduced to Ree Dolly, the 16 year old protagonist of the novel, as she stands on her front stoop in the Ozark mountains on a cold winter morning, wearing a sleeveless yellow sundress and her Mamaw's black overcoat. She "smelled the frosty wet in the looming clouds, thought of her shadowed kitchen and lean cupboard, looked to the scant woodpile, shuddered." In this collection of sentence fragments, Woodrell lays bare the scenery, the mindset, and the emotional and financial situation of his character. The book abounds with perfectly crafted sentences and images like this, that do double or even triple duty in setting mood, defining character, and moving the action along. Woodrell also has a mighty flair for metaphor, describing an automotive junk yard as "trophies for bad luck from many eras spread crumpled downhill beyond sight," and Ree's shotgun as feeling "like an unspent lightning bolt in her hands."

Ree's story is one of fierce pride, determination, and loyalty. Attempting to locate her runaway, "crack burning" father - dead or alive - so that her family won't lose their home in his defaulted bail, Ree endures everything from lewd remaks to a savage beating that nearly kills her body if not her soul. Yet she perseveres, set on preserving all that's left of her family's heritage for her addled mother and two small brothers. If she can't manage to save their home and land, she knows that not only will she "never have only her own concerns to tote," she will "never have her own concerns" at all.

Woodrell deploy's Ree's journey in less than 200 pages. In the hands of this masterful storyteller, the plot moves as swiftly as Ree's combat booted feet through the familiar backroads and woodlands of her Ozark mountain home. Since I just completed a short novel in the NaNoWriMo contest, it was especially interesting to me to see how skillfully Woodrell told Ree's story with such brevity.

All that being said, Winter's Bone is not a novel I would ordinarily read for pleasure. It's mean, dangerous, and brutal, and it made me angry more often than not. It was sometimes almost too painful to read, and I think that's why I found myself focusing so intently on Woodrell's method - the heart (and gut!) wrenching details of the story were more intense than I could handle.

If you're looking for a entertaining novel with sympathetic characters you can identify with, Winter's Bone is not your cup of tea. However, if a well crafted, fast-paced story with a fearless and hard edged young heroine who is willing to risk it all for her family sounds more your style, than this novel will not disappoint.

*For more impressions on Winter's Bone, visit Paris Parfait, who is hosting this month's gathering of The Third Day Book Club.


Friday, December 1, 2006


That's all I can say about this week. It's been a series of nonstop disasters, nothing life threatening, but some more serious than others. We were supposed to be at our home in Florida today, visting our kids and enjoying the near-perfect mid seventy degree temperatures. Thanks to all the calamities this week, we had to cancel the trip and are now "basking" in a combination of wind/sleet/snow that's blowing into its second day.

However...its Friday, things have returned to some semblance of normal, and I'm feeling grateful~

~for 40 minutes in Borders this morning, sipping coffee, writing in a brand new Moleskine, and reading Winter's Bone~

~Awake, a new CD from Josh Groban, especially Don't Give Up, my favorite song to replay (and replay, and replay, especially this week) ~

~that I finished my novel for NaNoWriMo before the beginning of this week from hell~

~three more days with no work, since my office is in total disarray thanks to a major renovation project~

~that I have not come down (knock wood!) with the nasty intestinal flu that's making the rounds, landing my mother in law in the hospital earlier this week~

~as always, these two:

don't you love Magic's "leaf beard"?