Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Write On Wednesday-Writing All Over the Place

"I write all over the place. I mean, I take my book along in a suitcase and write in very temporary places, in Mexico, Guatemala, India, up in my mother's house in Cold Spring, and in this funny apartment in Brooklyn. It is the opposite of fancy, a tiny room in an apartment full of grumpy roomates. I usually start in my bed with coffee and end up at my desk with rum, looking the opposite of gorgeous in every way."
~Kiran Desai~
Last week, on one of several trips to the local Barnes and Noble, I picked up a datebook (on clearance for $2!!!) called "The Writer's Desk." It's filled with photographs taken by Jill Krementz, of contemporary authors and their writing "spaces" - for certainly not all of them use a conventional desks!
Memoirist and poet Mary Karr uses a stand up desk "to keep my aching back in order when my yoga schedule is undermined by literature." Monique Truong writes at her kitchen table, because she "loves to cook, and its a space where I know I've produced something good in the past." And David Henry Hwang likes to write in longhand while lying in a reclining position on his stomach, propped up on his elbows. As does the great Truman Capote, who describes himself as a "completely horizontal author," who "can't think unless I'm lying down, either in bed or stretched out on the couch."
Similar to Kiran Desai, I've lately been "writing all over the place." In my home in Florida, I have a lovely sunny den, where I like to sit and watch the sun come up.

That room also has a big desk, where I can sit in more conventional style to catch up on blogs, and do some writing of my own.

But, I'm back in Michigan now, and my little room here was once my son's bedroom, so it doubles as the guest room, the extra TV room, the place where I put things when I don't have time to put them away, and - my "study."

Another cozy chair awaits me, and I usually end up there with my coffee and morning pages notebook. Oddly enough, I can watch the sun rise through the window here as well. Here too, is my desk, where I sit in the same spot my son used to sit, staying up late into the night writing his own stories.

Sometimes, I dream about the "perfect desk," a huge, antique oak desk, with lots of drawers and a hutch over top filled with niches for some of my favorite photos, objets d'art and keepsakes. I'd have lots of room to pile books, propped open on some of their most inspirational pages. Of course, this desk would be in front of a wide open window, preferably with a view of a crystal clear lake, where the ebb and flow of the water could serve as background music to my musings.

In reality, though, I've found it doesn't much matter where I write. Last night, killing time in the airport when our flight was delayed, I ended up writing my haiku for this week's One Deep Breath. When I'm lucky enough to be "in the zone," that place where words and ideas are flowing faster than I can transfer them to the page, I'm completely unaware of my surroundings, which could easily be "the opposite of fancy" as Desai describes her apartment.

So, how about you? Where are some of the places you've been writing lately?


Monday, January 29, 2007

One Deep Breath-Roots/Connections

element of life
water sustains me
connecting me to earth

seeking clarity
I gaze inward
toward my soul's reflection


Sunday, January 28, 2007

Sunday Scribblings-Chronicle

He was young to lead the dance, but the whole village agreed Nazar was the best, his movement and rhythm always perfect as he formed the circle, quickly pulling the other men into formation, while the women stood by clapping their hands, wide grins on their faces, their black toed shoes tapping on the dusty earth. Only 15, Nazar loved the music and dance above all else, for it filled him with a feeling of joy and freedom that helped him forget the monotony of his daily work at the loom.

It would turn out that Nazar had little time for dancing that spring of 1916, for rumors were flying that the Turks were on the way, and soon the men began packing their families and leaving the sleepy little village tucked into the foothills of Mt. Aarat. Nazar's father, fearing for the life of his only son, arranged secret passage on a steamer bound for France, where some cousins had agreed to take him in.

"Father, I cannot leave you and my mother behind!" Nazar protested, his mind filled with stories of the atrocities left behind by the Turkish army, bent on "cleansing" the Ottoman Empire of the Armenian people.

"You must go," Nazar's father replied, holding his son close to his heart. "We will follow as soon as we can, I promise."

So, smuggled onto the ship in a musty smelling steamer trunk, Nazar began his voyage to the other side of the world. It was a voyage that took him first to Paris, and then to a city in the United States, a city with a French name - Detroit - but with few other similarities to the city of light he had left behind. Nazar exchanged the monotony of the loom, for the incessant hum of the automotive assembly line. There were five children in Nazar's future, but there was to be no more dancing. And he never saw his mother and father again.

About this same time that Nazar was leading the dance, in another little village on the other side of the world, another young man was riding his favorite young mare hot and hard across the sweet meadows of Kentucky Blue Grass. The whole town agreed that Carl was young to have raised such a fast pony, but they were sure that this was the mare that would take the prize at the State Fair this year, and perhaps even go on as a contender in the Derby. Only 17, Carl seemed to be born and bred for horses, and his lean figure and flying dark hair were a familiar sight along the pasture land of his father's farm.

As it turned out, that beautiful mare wasn't to win any races that year. One hot summer day, and against his better judgement, Carl let Mary Mattingly ride the pony, for he could never resist the beautiful young woman's pleading requests. One look into her bright blue eyes, one touch of her soft white hand on his arm, and he was helpless to deny her anything. She mounted the horse with effortless grace, and set off across the fields, her long hair quickly coming undone from its pins and flying wildly behind her as she spurred the pony into an excited gallop. If only she hadn't tried to jump the fence, if only she hadn't been galloping so fast, if only...she might not have gone sailing over the horses's head ~ almost beautiful it was, the arc she made as she sailed throught the air~ before landing on the soft blue grass, which wasn't soft enough to save her pretty neck from being broken.

Not long after Mary Mattingly's funeral, Carl left for a city in the north, a cold, grey city called Detroit, for he had heard there was work to be had in the factories, making automobilies, those motorized contraptions that everyone said would someday be the only way to get around, and you'd never have to ride a horse again.

Two young men, who ended up in the same American city, at about the same time, coming from distant parts of the world. Their stories would converge in 1940, when Nazar's son met Carl's daughter, two young people with stories of their own, who would marry and continue the chronicle into the future ~ with me.


Friday, January 26, 2007

WithOut Words-Welcome Sun


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Write On Wednesday - The Buddy System

I've been thinking a lot about friends this week, probably because one of my closest working friendships has just undergone a huge change. Monday was my friend Pat's last day as a high school teacher. I've written about my relationship with Pat before ~ I was 36 years old when we started working together, and in many ways, she educated me right along with those high school students. She was my musical mentor, the first one I'd had since my high school days. She encouraged me to shed my fears, use my talents, and believe in myself, and in the process we became close friends as well as colleagues.

I was also thinking about friendships in the context of writing. I've been re-reading a biography of the poet Anne Sexton which talks about her friendship with Maxine Kumin, whom she met in a poetry workshop in 1957. The "extraordinary bond" which developed between these two women, was to become "the most important relationship in Sexton's life as a poet." Sexton, riddled with emotional problems and depression, was writing poetry as a therapeutic exercise, not a vocation. Kumin, a published poet, read Sexton's poetry and saw something "whole and quivering on the page - it was just wonderful." This validation from a "real poet," gave Sexton the impetus to consider herself a poet as well. In later years, after Sexton began to write (and publish) prolifically, she and Kumin had "special phones installed on their desks," which they used to stay connected with each other as they worked throughout the day, trying out lines and drafts across the wires. "We sometimes connected with a phone call and kept the line linked for hours at a stretch," Kumin recalled. "We whistled into the receiver for each other when we were ready to resume." This extraordinary friendship was to remain one of the few constants in Sexton's life until her death by suicide in 1974.

One of the most valuable keys to success is having someone who believes in you and your ability ~someone you admire and respect ~ to encourage you to keep working, try harder, believe in yourself. Participating in this "brave new world" of online writing gives us an opportunity to find mentors all over the world. I am fortunate to have a special blogger friend who takes the time to encourage me with emails and words of praise, sharing her thoughts about things I have written that have touched or inspired her in some way, nudging me toward future writing goals. In much the same way that my friend Pat encouraged me to overcome my stage fright and approach that big nine foot grand piano with excited anticipation rather than anxious insecurity, she has inspired me to keep writing, to try poetry and haiku, and even to dabble in other creative projects as well.

So, what about you? Do you have some creative buddies who have made a difference in your life?

BTW, I've been thinking about friendships for another reason~ later today, I'm flying to Florida with my friend Millie, another "musical mentor" who has become a close and trusted friend. For the past several years, we've taken a few days each January and gone on a "girls retreat" -lots of reading, walking by the water, movies, a spa day, good food and wine ... you get the idea. So, if you don't see too much of me here at the Byline, don't worry ~ I'm just too busy sunning myself to write!


Sunday, January 21, 2007

Creating Connections in the Monday Mug Swap

A couple of weeks ago, I signed on to particpate in the Mug Swap at Create-A-Connection*...and...TA DA! my mug has arrived! Sent to me from Diana, this bright red beauty will hold enough of my favorite blend Gevalia coffee to get at least one eye open in the morning! And (lovely person that she is), she sent along the matching red bowl as a bonus. Wonder how she knew I like oatmeal to go with my coffee??

Thanks Diana!

Diana also tagged me for the "six weird things about you" meme. But that's going to take some thought~after all, there's nothing weird about me! (LOL)

*Create-A-Connection is a fabulous new blog with daily topics designed to inspire our creative connections with other artists and writers. Connections like these are incredibly empowering, and the world of blogging is an amazing way to create exciting new parternships in creative thought.


Sunday Scribblings-Fantasy

Like most teenage girls, I had a rich fantasy life. Granted, most of it revolved around things I now consider pretty juvenile - like clothes I imagined myself wearing, sports cars I imagined myself driving, and friends I imagined myself impressing. My fantasy life changed completely when I met my "prince charming." After that, it was all about my dreams of our life together - the home we would have (charmingly decorated and furnished), the children we would have (beautiful and supremely intelligent), the careers we would have (satisfying and productive), the trips we would take (exotic and exciting). I clearly remember lying in bed every night, lulling myself to sleep with glowing fantasies of all the wonderful things in store.

I was fondly recalling those inspiring fantasies a few weeks ago, as I was lying in bed thinking about the work piled up on my desk, a stack of bills I needed to pay, the people who needed me to do things for them, the pain in my back that kept getting worse - well, you get the picture. The fantasy life, like the old grey mare, just ain't what it used to be.

When did this happen? I thought, downright angry with the fact the my thoughts were consumed by such mundane and negative trivia. When did my dreams disappear?

In all honesty, it may be because many of those fantasies have actually come true. I do have not only one, but two lovely homes, a handsome, intelligent child, and a career that's generally quite satisfying. We've done a fair amount of traveling, although we'd like to do more, and most importantly, we're all basically healthy. So what's left to fantasize about? And why bother anyway - it's just a waste of time, right?

Not necessarily. It may not be a coincidence that most of my teenage fantasies have come true - at least to some degree. There is something to be said for the school of thought which maintains that "if you can dream it, you can do it." If that is indeed the case, then I better start coming up with some new fantasies!

So how are these for a start:
  • a little house by the sea with a huge writing/music room, where the walls are made of windows overlooking the water
  • a zippy little sports car to drive around town in
  • and bunches of little shih-tzu's cavorting all over the place!

Might as well throw these in for good measure:

  • a couple of best selling novels and another one in the process
  • a recording contract for my world reknowed piano quintet
  • and (my son and daughter in law may not want to read this one) bunches of little grandchildren cavorting all over the place!

I'd say those are a pretty good way to renew my fantasy life, wouldn't you??


Friday, January 19, 2007

WithOut Words- Unexpected Gifts


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Poetry Thursday-Night Thoughts

Thoughts of you keep sleep away
stabbing my heart
with cruel remembrance
of your lips on mine
the electric touch of
your warm hand
just there
where life gives form to life

I tangle myself
in this web of pale linens
angry at darkness
which summons you
to my heart, yet
fearful of light
that even now filters
through eyelids closed tightly in protest.

Beyond sleep now
I ache with yearning,
my body flush with rising heat
recalling stolen moments
shared by two souls
who wandered from their chosen path
only to be lost
on this road to pure redemption.

I savor this agony
these thoughts of you
that arrive under cover
of each night's dark mystery.
My daylight self lost
to this wild forest of memory
where you wait in secret
and torment me with love.

And yet all the while,
beside me he sleeps
lost in thoughts of his own.

I borrowed the first line of this poem from here, and I thank Rethabile who so graciously offered it for this week's Poetry Thursday objective.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Write On Wednesday-Serving Two (or Three, or Four...) Masters

For most of my life, I've been obsessed by two things - words and music. Of course, I've had obsessions about other things along the way - a purple sting ray bike with a white banana seat and sparkle streamers, Robert Redford as Hubbell Garnder in the movie The Way We Were, chilled Chardonnay from the Monterey Valley - but those things all pale in comparison to the two constants - words and music.

Ever since I was a tiny child, I have craved one or the other of these things. I can clearly recall the first time I set foot in a library and was surrounded by the amazing sight and smell of all those books - millions of words all to be devoured at my pleasure. My greatest desire was to grab them all up in my tiny three year old arms and carry them home with me. It was just about the same time that I fell in love with a toy piano my parents gave me for Christmas - fell so much in love that I tried to turn everything into a pretend keyboard, even the handle of the grocery basket, or the little white keys of the radio in my dad's big Buick.

Throughout my life, my heart has been torn between these two loves. Do I write? Do I play? Why did it never occur to me that I could do both? Is there something in society's expectations that subliminally deters me from trying to practice more than one art at a time? Does the world allow only just so much artistic expression in the life of one person?

I might have thought that was true, at least until recently. For much of my life, it seemed as if I had to partition my artistic interests - if I was mostly playing music, because of a job, or the circumstances of my life, then I stopped writing. And I have always been drawn to the piano in the way I thought that a "true artist" should be, often feeling a physical need to play, almost like a smoker needs a cigarette or an alcoholic needs a vodka tonic. But recently, I've begun to feel the same draw to this computer screen - this other keyboard that brings my words alive and sends them out into the world, like the keys on my Kimball grand piano send music into the air.

This shift in perspective has largely come from my experience and acquaintances in the blogging community. Getting to know so many of you who are marvelous writers and poets, as well as photographers, painters, collage makers, quilters, has hushed that nagging little voice that was saying "you can't do both things well, so you have to pick one or the other." I'm beginning to believe that not only is it possible to serve more than one artistic master, it's even preferable. The more I write, the more sensitive I become to the world around me, the nuances of life that I can express in words, in poetry, and also in music. And I'm developing interests in totally different artistic pursuits, which I've been having some fun dabbling with over the past couple of weeks.

So, what about you? Do you think an artist can execl in more than one creative area? How many creative masters are you serving?


Monday, January 15, 2007

One Deep Breath-Reflections

winter white keyboard
reflecting ivory images
requires four hands
inspiration from here
photo from here


Saturday, January 13, 2007

Sunday Scribblings-I Have An Idea!

"I have a great idea!"

This was my six year old son's favorite expression, and it occasionally struck fear in my heart. Brian was (and still is) an extremely imaginative, creative person, and his ideas as a child often centered around complicated scenarios of movie making, audio recording, story writing, play acting - all things that involved me as one of the pricipal actors, announcers, writers, and dramatists. Growing up as an only child (in a neighborhood where the next youngest person was 25 years old!) meant that I was usually his number one choice of playmate. Don't get me wrong - I wouldn't trade those times for a zillion dollars. However, I admit to occasionally getting weary of making up new stories about Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny.

But, those ideas were so exciting to him -he'd come bounding out of his room, bursting with enthusiasm, talking a mile a minute about this great adventure "the bears" would have, or this drawing he wanted to make, so he absolutely had to have a new posterboard right this minute, or a scene in a movie that required smoke effects, so could he borrow the vaporizer...

Ideas should be exciting like that! As adults, we rarely have the opportunity to get excited about ideas, and if we do, we sometimes feel uncomfortable sharing it. That's one of the things I love about this whole blogging community. It's all about sharing excitement, wonder, and enthusiasm. Just last week, I wrote a post entitled "I'm Excited." During the time I was in Florida, I was able to give my mind and body a chance to relax, so I got a lot of "great ideas" about creative things I wanted to do. Right away, I wanted to share them with all my blog buddies, because I knew you would all encourage me to complete them.
Sometimes our own ideas make us fearful. Once we get past the first flush of enthusiasm, we begin to think in our practical, adult manner about the time, or the cost, or the effort involved in carrying out this project. Not to mention those niggling doubts about our ability to do it well enough. How many times have you rejected an idea for a creative project or activity because your inner critic whispers "you'll never be any good at that!" If only we could retain the innocent enthusiasm of children, for whom everything is possible.

With the hectic pace of daily life and the demands on our time, we become so entrenched in our routine that we rarely have the time for new ideas to develop. I'm hoping this year to allow myself time to cultivate new ideas, and then act on them. If I get discouraged, I can always remember the bright eyed sparkle in my son's blue eyes as he came running up to me calling out "I've got a great idea!"

here are more great ideas


Friday, January 12, 2007

WithOut Words-The Sound of Music


Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Write On Wednesday - Wordplay


Those are some of my favorite words. Yes, I have favorite words - I suspect all writers do. Words you want to say out loud, words you want to write with a fountain pen on thick parchment paper, words you want to link together to form a profoundly meaningful sentence that will touch the hearts of your readers. Writers play with words like artists play with color, photographers play with light, and musicians play with sound. We maniuplate these miraculous little tools of our trade to create atmosphere, character, and emotion, all brought to life by black and white letters on white paper.
In Poemcrazy, Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge writes about her word collection. "The great thing about collecting words is they're free; you can borrow them, trade them in, or toss them out. Words are lightweight, unbreakable, portable, and they're everywhere." One of Wooldridge's favorite exercises with her writing classes is to create a "wordpool" - everyone in class starts tossing out words which she writes on the chalkboard. Soon, she says, the words and voices begin to take on a rhythm of their own. Words evoke other words, and the students find themselves creating poetic combinations almost effortlessly.
You can even play this game by youself. The other day I was sitting in the mall waiting for my mom to finish shopping. I pulled out my notebook and started writing down any word that came into my head. Out of the list came combinations like apricot illusions, feathered whispering, illicit muses, percolating clouds.
Author Barbara DeMarco Barrett uses her word collection for free writing prompts. She collects meaningful words and phrases from her reading of favorite authors and copies them onto small slips of paper, which she tucks into an antique box. When she's looking for inspiration, or a way to prod her imagination, she reaches in, picks one out, and free writes for fifteen minutes, using this word as her starting point.
Both Wooldridge and DeMarco-Barrett advise keeping a notebook for words you love the sound of, would love to use, that impress you, that you've never heard before.
As much as we love to play with words, Stephen King has a dire warning for us when it comes to our vocabulary. "One of the really bad things you can do," he advises in his book On Writing, "is to dress up your vocabulary, using long words just because you're a little ashamed of the short ones. The basic rule of vocabulary is use the first word that comes to your mind, if it is appropriate and colorful. If you hesitate and cogitate you will probably come up with another word, but it probably won't be as good as your first one, or as close to what you really mean."
So, how about you? What are some of your favorite words? And how do you like to play with them?


Two-Fer Tuesday Meme

I had fun with this one (courtesy of DebR)~

Two names you go by:
Becky, Becca

Two parts of your heritage:
Armenia, Scotch/Irish

Two things that scare you:
Enclosed spaces, Snakes

Two everyday essentials:
Coffee, Computer

Two things you are wearing right now:
Jeans, My "creativity jacket"

Two of your favorite bands or musical artists (at the moment):
I don't listen to a lot of music, actually, but I've been playing these two cd's in my car for quite a while: Josh Groban, "Alive," and The Wreckers, "Leave the Pieces"

Two things you want in a relationship (other than love):
Independence, Trust

Two truths:
I drive too fast, I act without thinking

Two favorite hobbies:
Writing, Reading

Two things you need to do this week:
Oh god, if only there were just two...let's see - two things out of the ordinary are taking Magic to the vet for an (overdue) vaccination, and filling out some financial paperwork for my mom

Two stores you shop at:
Borders, TJ Maxx

Two favorite sports
Walking, preferably with a dog, and bike riding, preferably without a dog

Two shows you like to watch:
Big Love, Grey's Anatomy

Two things you’d buy if money were no object:
A month in the south of France, and a big screen TV for my husband because he wants one sooo much

Two wishes for 2007:
Health and happiness for my family and friends, and peace in the world

If anyone else wants to have a go at this one, consider yourself tagged...


Sunday, January 7, 2007

Star Sunday

We have a lovely tradition at our church that takes place on Epiphany Sunday. Each person in the congregation receives a Star upon which is written a word that may impact on their life in some way during the coming year. The words refer to qualities of life, both temporal and spiritual - like prayer, forgiveness, acceptance, rejoicing, family, goals, community, music, worship. The Stars are all placed (face down) in the offering plates and passed through the congregation - our minister always jokes that it's the only Sunday when we each to get to take something out of the plate rather than putting something in. A buzz of excitement filters from front to back of the church, as people dig around in the plate to get just the perfect feeling Star, and then discover what their word is. Sometimes, it's all too uncanny, the way the words seem to fit the person. One of my dear friends, who is a well known and respected music teacher, composer, and conductor, has picked the "music" star for 5 of the past 10 years - no kidding! (I got the "music" star once.)

I've missed Star Sunday for the past three years because we were in Florida on Epiphany Sunday. So I was excited to be there this year. I was even more excited because during the past year, one of my favorite blogger friends just happens to go by the name of "Star," and I was eager to pick one of our Stars for her, too.

So, when the offering plate came to me, I picked a star for myself, and then held her in my thoughts as I picked another one. Here's the result:

My star was "reading," which is of course, one of the most important elements of my life, and has been ever since I picked up my first book at the age of 2. But lately, reading has become even more valuable to me, as I read with writing in mind, studying the craft of other writers in an effort to improve my own writing abilities.

My friend Star's star was "stories," and it will be up to her to tell you how this manifests itself in her life over the coming year. I know she's written some wonderful stories of her own in the year gone by, and I have a feeling there are a lot more waiting inside her :)

I'm not surprised that our stars would match up like this, because it's pretty uncanny how often we seem to be on the same wavelength - on line at the same time, reading the same blogs at the same time, and thinking along the same lines about numerous things.

This is the prayer after the gift of stars has been received:

Leader: Creator of all light, today, as in every day of our lives, we have received another gift from you. Perhaps it is a quality of life, a spiritual value, or a dimension of being.

People: We ackowledge that we do not yet fully understand this gift, but we receive it with thanksgiving. We pray that through these next 12 months, your Spirit will enable us to make this gift our very own.

May you each find a star to guide you through the coming year, and make it's light your own.


Saturday, January 6, 2007

Sunday Scribblings-Kiss

When my husband and I got engaged, my mother gave me a coffee mug that said "Kissin' don't last...cookin' do." Since I was only 19 years old, she was obvisouly trying to warn me that the fun bits of a relationship (like kissing!) don't endure with as much stability as the not so fun bits (like cooking!) I was not pleased with the gift at that time, and now, more than 30 years later, I have to say she was wrong. Kissing does last. It's different of course - it's laden with history for one thing. It carries the memories of all the wonderful, heartbreaking, angry, delicious moments that have occurred while you've been setting up housekeeping, raising children and pets, working, cleaning, buying groceries and cooking! It's just as poet Steve Scafidi writes in his poem Prayer for A Marriage -kisses now may not be the "first wild surprising ones," but they are the ones that make the "sadnesses we have known go away for awhile."
Prayer for A Marriage
Steve Scafidi
For Kathleen
When we are old one night and the moon
arcs over the house like an antique
China saucer and the teacup sun
follows somewhere far behind
I hope the stars deepen to a shine
so bright you could read by it
if you liked and the sadnesses
we will have known go away
for awhile - in this hour or two
before sleep - and that we kiss
standing in the kitchen not fighting
gravity so much as embodying
its sweet force, and I hope we kiss
like we do today knowing so much
good is said in this primitive tongue
from the wild first surprising ones
to the lower dizzy ten thousand
infintely slower ones - and I hope
while we stand there in the kitchen
making tea and kissing, the whistle
of the teapot wakes the neighbors.


Third Day Book Club-Suite Francaise

Last week when I was in Florida, I indulged in one of my favorite pastimes - beach reading. I took my book, my sand umbrella, and my tinted reading glasses, and parked myself where I could hear the Gulf of Mexico's gently lapping waves. I took a break from reading to stroll down the beach a ways, doing a little people watching, and was really surprised to notice someone reading Irene Nemirovsky's Suite Francaise (this month's selection for the Third Day Book Club). This historical novel was written in the thick of World War II; Part I, Storm in June, chronicles the mass exodus from Paris just prior to the Nazi invasion in 1940, while Part II, Dolce, depicts the complex lives of residents in a small occupied village. Not exactly what I'd call light beach reading.

"I just finished that book myself," I said to my sun worshipping neighbor. "What do you think of it?"

"I was hoping it was more of a love story," she said with obvious disappointment. "I mean, this picture on the cover is very misleading, don't you think? I didn't realize it was so much about the war, and all these horrible things happening!"

"It is certainly a realistic look at that time period," I agreed. "After all, the author lived through it herself, you know, and actually died in a concentration camp."

"Oh, I know all that," she said dismissively. "I was just hoping for a little more romance. I'm just not really into all this history stuff."

"Mmm," I replied vaguely, wondering how to extract myself from this dead end converstation. "Well, enjoy your day!"

"Thanks, you too!" she replied, and went back to reading.

Suite Francaise is certainly not a romance, despite the cover photograph of a man and woman in 40's dress, his cheek pressed to her forehead. It is a fascinating, heartbreaking, extremely realistic account of what it meant to be a resident of France between 1940-1942. War affected everyone, from the wealthy Pericand family, to the Michaud's, a lowly bank clerk and his quiet wife. Everyone's life was changed as they took to the streets on foot or to the highways in their cars packed to the gills with their most prized possessions.

This book was hastily written as Nemirovsky and her husband tried to keep their two daughters safe from the Nazi regime. She intended the book to be more than 1000 pages, planning to construct it like a musical composition, in five movements based on theme and tone.
It has the feel of a rough draft, a real sense of the author writing everything that comes into her head in an effort to get it all down on paper. When she was arrested in 1942, her young daughter managed to salvage the manuscript she had watched her mother spend so much time writing.

As I read the book, particularly Storm, I found myself thinking about the leveling factor of war, and of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina. Rich or poor, upper class or lower class, suddenly everyone has the same goal -survival for themselves and their family.

"Who cared about the tragedy of their country? Not these people, not the people who were leaving that night. Panic obliterated everything that wasn't animal instinct, involuntary physical reaction. Grab the most valuable things you own in the world and then...! And on that night, only people - the living and breathing, the crying and the loving- were precious. Rare was the person who cared about their possessions; everyone wrapped their arms tightly round their wife or child and nothing else mattered; the rest could go up in flames."

My fellow reader on the beach in Naples was about my age, but, judging from her designer swim wear, chic haircut, and quietly understated makeup, she was probably a lot richer than I am. Perhaps she even lived in one of the multi million dollar high rises that litter this beachfront, or was a guest at the Ritz Carlton, only one of many resort hotels on the same path. However, come national disaster, like a 9/11 or a category five hurricane, she and I could end up in much the same position - just trying to save our lives, and the lives of those we love. Perhaps that is one of the great lessons of war, and one Nemirovsky makes perfectly clear ~ we come to know what is most valuable to us, and to what lengths we'll go to save it.


Friday, January 5, 2007

WithOut Words - Home(s)


I'm Excited!

This week of resting and relxation in the warm Florida sunshine seems to have jumpstarted all my creative energy. I've got all these ideas for things I want to do, and I'm so excited about them that I'm sharing them with you!

  • I'm working on the story I told you about on Wednesday, and I like it :)
  • I've got a new feature for the Byline that will debut later today. I'm calling it WithOut Words, a weekly Friday post of a photograph that's reflective of what's going in my Life in General that week...but no words, just the photo. (eek, that's pretty scary for me)
  • Remember how ladies in the Victorian era would "take up" something or someone? I love that phrase, and I'm about to take up a new creative project ~a craft project~which is also scary for me because I'm not usually very good at anything crafty.

I'm so excited about all these new things, that I'm not even thinking about the "T" word - as in where will I find the time to do all this :) It's a new year, and I'm ready to venture into some new territory. So, off I go...

Thursday, January 4, 2007

The Roots of Love (for Poetry Thursday)

I am lost without you~
deep down
I know this to be true.
Though I sometimes try
to deny
this gospel of my existence
you are necessary
as air to flame
as water to scorched earth
as breath to life.
Our lives grow together
deeply entwined
as the roots of our oldest tree.
While its branches may reach for the sun
toss in the wind
lay heavy with summer rain,
its true heart lies
deep down
entrenched, enmeshed
never to be moved.

The Poetry Thursday theme was "gumball poetry," so I offer a sweet love poem written for my husband on his last birthday. (I know, kind of corny. You can go ahead and say "awwww...":)

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Write On Wednesday-Get It Done

I've got a couple of interesting ideas rolling around in my head, ideas that could evolve into good short stories. The thing is, they've been just rolling around in my head for several months now, and I haven't done a single thing to bring them out and put them onto the page. So what am I waiting for? Why don't I just start writing and get it done?

One of the big reasons is motivation. There's much to be said for the power of the deadline. When I partcipated in NaNoWriMo last November, the scimitar of November 30 was hanging heavily over my head - write those 50,000 words by then or you're a loser! Added to that was the personal competition of several of my close blogger friends, making it feel somewhat like a horse race with our fingers pounding the keyboard like Secretariat's hooves on the racetrack. Now, as interesting as those story ideas are, I have so many other things to do - like traveling, and eating out, working and shopping, and writing this blog. There's no reason to hurry ~ I can write those stories anytime at all. But at this rate, that anytime could turn out to be the twelfth of never!

The other thing barring the door on these stories is my inner critic. That's the voice that says "Why bother wasting time on those stories? What's the point? No one's ever going to read them." In an essay entitled Calming the Inner Critic and Getting to Work, novelist Allegra Goodman wirtes that "the only way out of this trap is to concentrate on writing itself, for itself. The writer who is enamored of her material forgets all about censoring herself." Goodman also accuses this inner critic of being the writer's number one scapegoat. "There is no better excuse for getting nothing done than to lock yourself in battle with the the famous demons of self-criticism and doubt."

In Pen On Fire, Barbara DeMarco Barrett affirms this advice. "Write because you love doing it, because you like how you feel when you write... because the stories you long to tell are important." I would add to that last sentence, "even if only to you." As I learned in completing NaNoWriMo, the momentum of the story carries you forward, and you find you must learn the ending for yourself, even if for no one else.

Writing is definitely a challenge, and I need a challenge to myself - get those stories down on paper because they need to be told. Silence the inner critic that urges you to set them aside because they're "not good enough." Here's my challenge to myself, in black and white for all of you to see. I will complete one of those stories by January 31, 2007. I will get it done!

How about you? What writing (or other creative project) do you need to get done? And what's holding you back?


Monday, January 1, 2007

One Deep Breath-New Year

shiny new calendar
empty squares
wait to be filled

endless possibilities
beckon like
glittering confetti
I love getting new calendars every year, all those clean pages with shiny new days hovering out there before me, just waiting to filled with interesting and exciting things.
Here are more inspiring thoughts on the new year