Tuesday, February 27, 2007

One Deep Breath-Color

Long before my CD alarm had the opportunity to wake me with something lovely from Chopin or Debussy, the chirping of my cell phone sent me roaring from my warm nest of blankets and puppies. An unusual phone call in the wee hours of the morning always induces panic - especially when one's only child is on the other side of the world. Happily though, this call was nothing more than a bleary eyed teenager in search of someone named Devin.

Nonetheless, there would be no more sleep for me. Wrapping my flannel robe securely against the dampness of the winter morning, I pushed the start button on the coffeemaker and pulled open the blinds to greet the day.

stark winter white
unrelieved by color
crimson sun breaks through

We are in the midst of winter now, my entire world like a set from a vintage movie. Oddly enough, even the book I'm reading (Paint it Black, by Janet Finch) has a black and white cover. But thanks to that early phone call, I was up in time to see the only spot of color in the sky, a momentary blush as the sun passed through the thick cloud cover on its journey heavenward.

Determined to add some brightness to the dreary landscape, I filled two bright red mugs with coffee, laid them on a tray dressed in a colorful napkin, and carried them to the bedroom.

statement in stoneware
cheerful and warm
brightens the morning

Sipping my fragrant (black!) coffee, I surveyed the closet with a critical eye. My wardrobe definitely reflects my occupation - a performing musician wears a lot of black and white. Today, I was determined to add some color to my body - a bright turquoise sweater should do the trick nicely. And yes, there are earrings, a watch, and even a tiny turquoise bag to match.

reflecting desire
color of sky adorns me
my landscape brightens

So, armed with these touches of color, I'm ready to face the monochrome of my environment, sprinkling a bit of bright excitement into the greyness of the day.

I hope your day has its own CoLorFul moments...


Monday, February 26, 2007

The Greatest Thief of All

"Hi, this is Dee from Homestead Health Care, and I'm calling about Chris..."

Much like the dreaded call from the principal at your child's school, a call from the attendant care supervisor at my mother- in- laws assisted living facility strikes fear in our hearts. We've been getting several of these calls lately, and they're never good news.

"Chris is not coming to meals on her own, so we need to institute a meal reminder service..."

"Chris has been sick for the past couple of days, and we think she needs to go to the ER..."

and yesterday's call...

"Chris is becoming increasingly aggressive, and is hitting other residents, so you need to contact her physician and discuss sedatives..."

Oh my.

For the past six years, Alzheimer's disease has been stealing my mother-in-laws mental capacity, and with it her ability to drive, handle her finances, and care for her personal needs.
Now, all the processes that govern behavior and speech appear to be deserting her as well, for she's acting completely without inhibitions in her relationships with the other residents and aides. She hits them if she thinks they have more food on their plate than she does, she calls them vulgar names when they beat her at Bingo, and yells at them if they don't include her in their conversation.

My mother-in-law has never been an easy person to deal with. A true pessimist, she was never satisfied with anything, and seemed to have no idea how to enjoy any of life's pleasures, small or large. My husband's favorite description of her attitude is that "it's all about me." Although I'm sure she felt affection and warmth for him, she never knew how to show it, in word or deed. Now, she doesn't recognize him as her son, asking "Is that my brother?" or "Are you my husband?" My heart aches for him, watching him take on this responsibility for her welfare, knowing that there will never be an opportunity to improve the relationship between them, and sadly having very few good memories of his own.

I don't have enough fingers and toes to count the people I know who are struggling with this situation - parents, spouses, siblings, lost to this disease. And when I visit "Chestnut Village," the very nice euphemism for the "locked ward" at the assisted living facility, I'm struck by the proliferation of places like this, warehousing for elderly people who have lost their senses and can no longer live in "normal" society. Day in and day out, they sit in the "family room" staring blankly as old movies play on the big screen TV, perhaps moving into the game room to play an occasional round of bingo. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad there are safe, caring alternatives for the multitudes of people suffering from this disease. My mother in law has a nice studio apartment, with her familiar furniture from home. She has three meals a day, someone to do her hair and nails every week, and laundry services. She just doesn't have any mind.

So, where does all this end? Many thousands of dollars later, and after countless hours of care and attention, there is no stopping the steady progress of decline. Alzheimer's continues to rob its victims of their dignity along with their memory and physcial function. To me, that's the greatest loss of all - for everyone concerned.


Saturday, February 24, 2007

Sunday Scribblings-Puzzles

My work life has been a bit of a merry-go-round lately and I'm rather puzzled about it. I've been juggling two part-time jobs for three years now, and it's getting more and more difficult to keep the balls in the air. My first conundrum involves whether to give up the part time position as choral accompanist at the high school in favor of working more hours at my office job, where there is an opportunity to take on more reponsbility. However, this in itself brings up another quandry ~ because these new responsibilities would require more time working in the office, while a lot of my current job can be completed from home, giving me the flexibility to travel to Florida on a semi-regular basis.

As I ponder this current life puzzle, I realize that weighing the pro's and con's of one situation or another is a bit like looking at a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle scattered on a table. Each aspect of a situation is like a diffently shaped piece, each potential choice we make an opportunity to put the puzzle together correctly~or not.

I love working with the high school students, but the pay is abysmal. Unfortunately, this job totally disproves the theory that "if you do what you love, the money will follow." Nope. Not this time. Of course there have been plenty of other rewards ~but, let's face it, personal and creative satisfaction don't pay the property tax on three houses. My office job is not terribly challenging, and it certainly doesn't get the creative juices flowing. I enjoy the people I work with, and it's a pleasant working environment most of the time. But the salary, while certainly not a fortune, is worlds better than my school job.

So, here I am, trying to fit these pieces into the puzzle that's my life right now, feeling a bit as if I'm forcing a piece with a round edge into a square opening. I'm really wishing that someone will come by and discover that a perfectly fitting piece has actually been hiding in the corner all along!


Friday, February 23, 2007

WithOut Words-They Say It's Your Birthday (Happy Birthday, BJ!)


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Poetry Thursday-The Body Knows

The body knows
in love's first flush
where to cling
how to trust
the fiery pull
of limb to limb
the eager search
of groping hands
tracing patterns of delight
along its length and breadth
is all the body knows
The heart knows
on love's long road
how to cleve
where to hold
each moment burned
in memory deep
of struggles shared
and joys to keep
reminders as we travel on
join two lives into one
is all the heart can know
The spirit knows
in heaven's bower
where to seek
how to power
lovers lost to earth's embrace
toward soul's eternal wedded place
journey in this world unknown
seeking union deeply sewn
completing life's eternal spire
joined body, heart, spirit, one
is all that love can know


Write On Wednesday-Rewards

About 25 years ago, when I was a young mother at home with a toddler, I felt the urge to sharpen my pencils and start writing -essays about parenthood, articles about childcare, stories and poems for children, writing that emerged from the core of my life at that time. Inevitably, I found myself entertaining the idea of publishing, and I started devouring magazines like Writer's Digest, and studying Writer's Market. I stocked up on manila enevelopes and stamps, bought good quality typing paper (this was back in the olden days before computers, remember?) and created little charts to track the progress of my submissions. I actually published quite a few little pieces, here and there, and I proudly filed my complimentary copies in a special file box, where they're growing yellowed and moldy somewhere in the bowels of my basement.

I don't remember why I stopped, but stop I did. Perhaps I became exhausted with the whole merry-go-round of trying to tailor your pieces to fit the market. My son grew older and was no longer interested in being the guinea pig audience for my efforts. Parenthood and childcare became less the center of my life, and I began branching out into other creative efforts that didn't lend themselves to writing.

Last year the urge to write came back to me, a small, insistent voice whispering in my ear, nudging me toward the page, putting words into my head that were begging to be used somewhere, words like redolent, serendiptious, undulating, mesmerizing. The world started to appear differently, as if someone had drawn bold accenting lines around it, calling attention to even the most homely of objects and events. There were things I felt the need to say about my perception of life and my place in the world.

So I started writing here, and in morning pages, and it's been an amazing process of discovery. "Writing, the creative effort, the use of the imagination, should come first - at least for some part of every day of your life," writes Brenda Ueland in
If You Want to Write. "It is a wonderful blessing if you will use it. You will become happier, more enlightened, alive, impassioned, light-hearted and generous to everybody else." I have reaped all these benefits, and more, as I've become highly attuned to the ever changing beauty of nature, finely observant of the precious uniqueness of the people I know and those I simply observe, surprised and delighted at my own inner life and the ability to expand my creative horizons at this stage in my journey.

But this time, I've felt no impulse toward "publishing," at least not in the conventional sense. Maybe this little corner of cyberspace is enough, a place to lay my small offerings about life in general for the gentle perusal of anyone who cares to accept them. The reward is in the process, in searching my heart for feelings I need to share, in probing my mind for the oh-so-perfect way to express them, in offering this truth within me as a gift to myself and to you.

So, how about you? How does writing reward you?


Monday, February 19, 2007

One Deep Breath-Spices

Our daughter in law is from Thailand, a country well known for the spiciness of its cuisine. When the four of us dine at a Thai restaurant here in the states, Jim and I always order our food "mildly" spiced. Brian has "graduated" to "medium," but the server usually takes one look at Nantana and asks, "Very hot?" She simply nods her head in reply.

craves spice
hotter is better
pungent reminder of her home
my palate is mild mannered
cool flavors are best
at heart
Brian and Nantana are in Thailand now, where they celebrated Chinese New Year with some authentic Thai cuisine. Read more about their activities here.


Sunday, February 18, 2007


"Reading is an escape, an education, a delving into the brain of another human being on such an intimate level that every nuance of thought, every snapping of synapse, every slippery desire of the author is laid open before you like~well, a book." ~Cynthia Heimel

It's been a good book year so far. I've been "delving into the brains" of some very fine authors, and their words have been like~well, Natural Opium, if I may borrow the title of my most current selection, a book of travel essays by Diane Johnson that reads more like a witty memoir or eclectic collection of short stories than a travelogue.
My literary travels have taken me to the court of Henry VIII via Phillipa Gregory's The Constant Princess. Gregory's portrait of the young Catherine of Aragon, Henry's first wife, and her fiery determination to be the Queen of England, puts a new spin on this often told tale. "I shall not give myself to heartbreak," Catherine writes after the death of her beloved first husband, Henry's brother Arthur. "I shall give myself to England. I shall keep my promise. I shall be constant to my husband and to my destiny. I shall plot, and plan, and consider how I shall conquer this misfortune and be what I was born to be. How I shall be the pretender who becomse the Queen." Lush with drama, atmosphere, intrique, and sensuality worthy of the finest of romance writers, this entry in Gregory's series of historical novels was both informative and enchanting.
From the courts of medieval England, I was carried to the far east where Lisa See immersed me in a fascinating novel set in 19th century China. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, is a story two small girls who are committed to each other as laotang, or lifelong friends, and their struggle to survive in 19th century China. They communicate in nu shu, a secret "women's writing" developed by Chinese women to convey their deepest thoughts and feelings. See's writing is absolutely luminous, and her depiction of a woman's place in Chinese society is heartbreaking. "We women are expected to love our children as soon as they leave our bodies," writes Lily, the narrator of the tale. "We may love our daughters with all our hearts, but we must train them through pain. We love our sons most of all, but we can never be part of their world, the outer realm of men. So we love our families, but we understand that this love will end in the sadness of departure. All types of love come out of duty, respect, and gratitude. Most of them, as the women in my county know, are sources of sadness, rupture, and brutality."
After these travels through history, Patry Francis' first novel, The Liar's Diary, catapulted me right back to the 21st century. Liar's abound in this chilling suspense novel, and their web of deception results in devastation and death. Jeanne Cross, a school secretary married to a hotshot doctor, has spent her life portraying the part of the perfect wife and mother, ignoring the way her husband's behavior is destryoing the life of their 16 year old son, Jamie. Enter 46 year old Ali Mather, a free sprited, seductive musician, whose own secret past allows her valuable insight into the evil that lurks in Jeanne's family. Her struggle to help Jeanne and Jamie face the hard truth about their lives results in chilling psychological suspense and violent death. Francis' characters had me hooked from page one, and I eagerly followed this thrilling roller coaster ride to it's surprising and satisfying conclusion.
I've also been working my way through Reading Like A Writer, Francine Prose's "Guide for People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want to Write Them." Prose offers the idea that one should "learn to write by writing, and by example, by reading." Her book is a look into the method she uses for carefully studying great writing, for "putting every word on trial for its life," for absorbing, "almost by osmosis" what works and what doesn't in the realm of literature.

Yes, it's been a very good book year so far. And more to come...two of my favorite authors have new releases this month. Jodi Picoult, and Chris Bohjalian. Good thing my birthday's coming up...


Saturday, February 17, 2007

Outside the Comfort Zone

I've been thinking a lot about a lovely comment I received from my friend Star just the other day. Her comment was in reference to this post, and my son and daughter-in-law's trip to Thailand to spend six weeks visiting my daughter-in-law's family. Star wrote that she wished me "peace of mind while they were out my comfort zone." So comfort zones have been on my mind today, as I drove them to the airport, watching them set off on their journey.

When I first became a parent, almost 27 years ago, I had a very tiny comfort zone when it came to Brian. For many years he was rarely out of my sight. His only caregivers, other than Jim and I, were my parents. When he started school, I drove him there and picked him up every day. Occasionally, he slept over at a friend's house, and once or twice as a teenager he actually went away for the weekend with a couple of his buddies. He seemed quite content to remain within this circumspect sphere -until the day he met Nantana. Suddenly, he decided to break out of "the zone" in a big way, traveling on his own to meet her in Australia, becoming engaged at 19, then traveling to Thailand to meet her parents. Huge risks for a very shy and relatively sheltered young man. But he was determined, and brave, and it all worked out wonderfully well.

As you might imagine, all this activity outside the comfort zone was more than a little disconcerting for me. I was raised within a very restricted comfort zone. My parents, as much as I love them, had an extremely limited tolerance for any activity that might be unusual, possibly uncomfortable, or, god forbid, carry any aspect of danger. My marriage at the age of
20 was the first step outside the safe little box I had spent my life in so far. Even then, I married a young man I had known since the age of 13, and we moved into a house less than a mile away from my parents. Not much of a leap into danger, was it?

The narrowness of my comfort zone had a lot to do with my need to control life. I admit it, I'm a control freak of the highest order. Deep down I truly believe that nothing will be done correctly if I'm not the one doing it...that goes for child rearing, music making, cooking, cleaning, you name it. And of course, the perfectionism that accompanies the need to control means that I have to do everything or nothing will be perfect, and that is unacceptable.

My friend Pat first encouraged me to step outside the safe perimeters I built around my life. As I began following in her wake, traveling, performing, watching the way our students were following their dreams, I became more and more comfortable with taking those small risks that make life so exciting. I began traveling more, auditioned for musical groups, went out looking for a "real job" in the business world, and about a year ago started writing again. I learned that the process is sometimes more important (and enjoyable) than a perfect outcome.

My emotional comfort zones have changed as well during the past years. I am much less fearful of life in general, much less apt to become paralyzed with anxiety, much more likely to speak my mind if I disagree with someone. Because of the positive experiences I've had outside my comfort zone, confidence in my own abilites has increased, as has my satisfaction with myself as a person.

While my comfort zones are certainly wider than they were 15 years ago, they remain relatively circumspect. I would probably never sky dive, or bungee jump, or go on safari in Africa. I would, if given the opportunity, go ballroom dancing, spend a season in Paris, or take a race car driving course. However, I've learned to enjoy stepping outside of the areas in life that I know are safe for me, places where I know I can easily succeed, and foray into activities and attachments where I'm not so sure the outcome will be perfect.

I did wake up occasionally last night, thinking about my son and daughter-in-law flying somewhere over the China Sea on their 17 hour journey from Las Angeles to Bangkok. But rather than the fear and anxiety I might once have felt, my emotions were more reflective of this saying:

The teacher said to the students, "Come to the edge."
They replied, "We might fall."
The teacher said again, "Come to the edge."
And they responded, "It's too high."
"Come to the edge" the teacher demanded.
And they came, and the teacher pushed them, and they flew.
~Apollinaire Guillaume~


Friday, February 16, 2007

WithOut Words

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Poetry Thursday-Prose Poems

Being totally unfamiliar with prose poetry, I turned to the one I consider "the master" of all things poetry. I wasn't disappointed...

Another morning and I wake with thirst
for the goodness I do not have. I walk
out to the pond and all the way God has
given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord,
I was never a quick scholar but sulked
and hunched over my books past the
hour and the bell; grant me, in your
mercy, a little more time. Love for the
earth and love for you are having such a
long conversation in my heart. Who
knows what will finally happen or
where I will be sent, yet already I have
given a great many things away, expect-
ing to be told to pack nothing, except the
prayers which, with this thirst, I am
slowly learning.
~Mary Oliver~

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Write On Wednesday-Love Letters

In my Keepsake Box is a ragged piece of notebook paper, folded into quarters, that came in the mail on Valentine's Day 1966. Here's what it said:

Dear Becky,
Someday when we grow up, I want us to get married. We will live in Canada and raise dogs, cats, horses, chickens and cows. We will have five children. I love you and want to make you happy forever.

This little missive captured my 10 year old heart (in spite of the writer's notion that offering five children and a menagerie of animals was romantic!) I immediately hid it away in the bottom of my desk drawer, and obsessively re-read it until I wore the paper thin with folding and unfolding. Even now, 40 years later, those carefully penned words of love have the power to bring a little lump to my throat.

Just a few years after receiving that letter, I would be the recipient of dozens more love letters, the letters that Jim and I wrote to each other on a daily basis during his first semester away at college. The 35 mile distance between us seemed endless, and envelopes stuffed with 8 and 10 page letters passed back and forth between our mailboxes every day. All those letters now reside in two shoe boxes, sitting side by side on a shelf in the bedroom closet, a record of that time in our lives when we poured our hearts out on paper, exploring emotions, and dreaming of our future.

My most precious love letters of all, of course, are the hand scribbled, crayon drawings proffered in my son's grubby little hands. Like the one written on a half sheet of paper torn from a spiral notebook that reads "Mama, I love you sooooo much! I want to kiss and hug you! From your best boy in the whole wide world!" (followed by his full name, address, city, state, and zip code!)

Not long ago, I happened across a box of letters my mother-in-law had written to my father-in-law in 1944, during the first summer after their wedding. She had apparently returned to Colorado for the summer, leaving him in Michigan. Her letters were full of the same tone she continued to take with him during the years I knew them -reminding him of the chores he should be doing, providing detailed accounts of her daily activities, along with complaints about the weather. These were certainly not conventional love letters, yet he had kept them together in a box for over 40 years, this record of their time apart which her voice clearly communicated in the words she chose to put on paper.
In written communication, we are often able to express things that are difficult to verablize. Writing letters gives you a chance to consider your words carefully before putting them to paper, and offers the advantage of being physically distance from the recipient while they're reading. Sometimes it's easier to share feelings we might otherwise be reticent about -both positive and negative.
And love letters certainly provide history for the life of a relationship. In a recent essay in Newsweek magazine, journalist and novelist Anna Quindlen wrote about the power of writing in the lives of ordinary people. "Words on paper confer a kind of immortality," she writes. "Wouldn't all of us love to have a journal, a memoir, a letter, from those we have loved and lost? Shouldn't we all of us leave a bit of that behind?"

That's certainly why I've safeguarded all my love letters. Like miniature time machines, they transport me back to moments in my history, providing me with a tangible artifact that lets me connect with the writer as they were at the moment of writing.

How about you? Have you written and/or kept love letters? Perhaps Valentine's Day is a good day to write one to someone you love :)


Monday, February 12, 2007

One Deep Breath-Shelter

enclosed within me
my womb guarded you
impenetrable fortress
your fierce protector
my arms enfolded you
sweet shelter from life's storm
flown from the nest
my love surrounds you
safe haven for the spirit

The most elemental of life's shelters is the relationship between a mother and child. I am reminded of this lately, as I recall my son's birth 27 years ago this month. He flew from the parental nest long ago, and later this week will fly even farther afield as he and his wife travel to her home in Thailand where he will spend several weeks with his "other family." He has certainly attained every parents goal for their child - a fulfilling relationship and a satisfying, independent lifestyle. So, there is little I can offer him in the way of "shelter," except the most basic of all life's protections - my unconditional love.

Inspiration from here; photo from here


Saturday, February 10, 2007

Festival Day

The second Saturday in February is legion here in Michigan - at least for high school singers and their teachers. It's Festival day, the day singers all over the state gather for adjudication in solos, duets, quartets, or small ensembles. Today was my 15th year accompanying high school students at District Festival. It's a day that's at once exhilirating and exhausting, inspiring and innervating, surprising and predicatable. It's a day I've come to dread, but also anticipate, a day I wish would never come, but then one I hate to see come to an end.

At 6:30 this morning, the dark road leading to Eastern Michigan University was practically deserted, the few cars headed in that direction most likely carrying teenagers caterwauling in all sorts of vocal gymnastics in an attempt to work the morning frogginess out of their vocal cords. They descend upon the Alexander Music building like a busy group of locusts, all nervous energy and wide eyed enthusiasm.

My schedule today was lighter than most years - I accompanied 10 events, which included three ensembles and seven solo singers. My soloists ranged from a confident young man who has already won scholarships to the two most competitive music schools in the state to one who was so petrified with fear, his hands shook convulsively when giving his music to the judge.

My role on this day becomes so much more than just the provider of "background music." For a period of 24 minutes - 12 for warm up and 12 for performance - I'm like that kid's backup in a war zone. Especially for those that are insecure and unsure of themselves, one wrong note from me and they can completely lose their fragile hold on the music. I make sure the judge's copy of their music is all together, measures numbered, that they get to their room on time, that they do the proper warm up exercises, that I have plenty of water, kleenex, aspirin on hand, and generally provide moral support for whatever happens when they go in that room to sing. That's the exhausting part.

The exhilirating, exciting, inspring part is when a group of kids finally get it all together for the first time on stage, and what comes out of their mouths is so "luscious" (the judge's word, not mine) that you feel as if some musical fairy has sprinkled magical dust all over you. And no less emotional is the feeling you have for that petrified kid, who's barely able to open his mouth to talk to you, but somehow gets through two entire songs (one in Italian!) with notes and rhythms intact.

During the past few weeks, I've been trying to figure out how to simplify a life that's way too busy, overcrowded, demanding, and just plain out of control. I decided that this would be my last year doing this "part time" job at the high school. It's demanding, it's time consuming, and the pay is virtually nothing. Simple decision, right?

Not really. Not after a day like today, a day that reminds me of all the rewards I get from being around young people who are so passionate about their art, and who are willing to take risks in the pursuit of that passion.

On the way home, I was listening to this CD. Just six years ago, the artist was one of the students I accompanied at Festival. He now lives in New York city, has traveled the world as an entertainer, is writing and recording music for a new Disney TV series, and is up for the lead in the new touring company cast of Movin' Out, the musical based on the life and music of Billy Joel. Talk about magical fairy dust...

As much as I crave more time and space in my life, I am loathe to give up the experiences I have with these young musicians. I guess it's back to the drawing board in my quest to simplfy life...maybe I need a little fairy dust of my own.


Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Write on Wednesday-Girl With A Pen

The first book I ever read about writing was a children's book called "Girl With A Pen." It was actually a biography of Charlotte Bronte, written for children aged 10-13. I got it from my school library, and I can still remember the pale lavendar color of the binding, the gilded letters of the title.

My favorite part of the book was the beginning, when the author described Charlotte and her siblings as children creating a fictional world and writing stories to while away the long days and nights on the Yorkshire moors. Charlotte had a small rosewood lap desk she used to write on, and the children made miniature books from whatever scraps of paper they could find, and then stitched them together. They taught themselves to write in the most minute of scripts, since their paper supply was very limited. This minisclule script would completely fill the tiny pages of their handmade books, books they would then squirrel away within the rosewood writing desk.

I used to read this part over and over, simply enchanted by the thought of Charlotte and her miniature notebooks. Of course, I made little notebooks for myself, and wrote lots of "gothic" type stories in imitation of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, stories about "black rooms" and "wandering winds." My grandmother had given me a small cedar keepsake box that I kept them in - my version of the rosewood writing desk.

I think most of us who love to create with words also love the tools we use to create with. As a child, buying notebooks and pens was much more delightful to me than buying candy or toys (really!) In those days, the single aisle of school supplies at the local Woolworth's was enough to keep me occupied for quite some time. Now, when I walks into a Staples, I'm in heaven!
Of course I love to browse the "fancier" stores like Papyrus and The Paper Merchant, where they have shelves of beautiful leather bound journals and Mont Blanc pens locked in display cases like fine jewelry. Alas, most of my "hand writing" is done with cheap Papermate stick pens ( I like them because they're skinny, and fat pens hurt my small fingers after a while.) And though I love to look at those beautiful journals, I prefer to write in plain old spiral notebooks or white legal pads - there's less pressure to write something befitting the elegance of your notebook!

Although I do most of my writing on the computer, because it's simply so practical, I think there's much to be said for the tactile sense of holding a pen in your hand and physically forming the words in your own unique handwriting. They are truly yours that way, formed in an way that only you can form them. My son's elementary school art teacher used to describe the way Brian drew as if a "direct line was flowing from his brain right through his pencil and onto the page." I've had that feeling with writing sometimes, and it's especially exciting when your hand is connected to a pen, feeding the letters directly onto the paper as if by magic.

One of the most memorable stops on my trip to England a few years ago was touring Haworth parsonage, home of the Bronte family, where I was able to actually see those little notebooks and the rosewood writing desk. It's amazing how those simple "writing utensils" were so inspiring to me, another girl with a pen.

So, how about you? What are your favorite writing tools? Are there any writer's tools that have inspired you?


Monday, February 5, 2007

One Deep Breath-Twilight

summer time
filled with endless play
day stretches until dusk
street light's amber glow
signals twilights arrival
mother calls me home
fresh from a cool bath
tucked snugly into bed
silver moon stands watch
What a pleasant memory - long summer days, when all the children in my neighborhood were allowed to stay out and play until dusk. The standard rule applied for all of us - when the streetlight's came on, it was time to head home. Since I was the "good girl" I was always appointed lookout. One eye peeled toward the big lampost on the corner, I'd try to wring every last minute of play from the day. Someone's mother (usually mine!) would start calling out our names, and we'd finally go racing toward open front doors, shouting breathlessly, "See you tomorrow!"
Inspiration from here; photo from here


Monday, Monday

"Can't trust that day"...remember that song? What is it about Monday that invites disaster?
I have been totally wrong-footed about everything today, and feeling as if some "fresh hell" (as Dorothy Parker so acerbically quipped) was waiting around every corner.

Perhaps it's this unrelenting cold that has an icy death grip on my city (and most of the mid-west) for that matter. Or perhaps it was realizing that somewhere between my trip home from Florida last week and this morning when I was waiting in line to cash some checks at the bank, I lost my driver's license. Or could it have been the bill for our Florida homeowners insurance which came today, with a price tag more than double last years? (Do you think McDonald's is hiring? I may need another part time job.)

Ah me. So enough with the sob story already. I just made myself a steaming cup of mint green tea, and I plan to hide in my favorite big chair with a microwave heating pad and lose myself in a good book. I've gotta hope tomorrow is a better day, even if it isn't a warmer one.


Sunday, February 4, 2007

Sunday Scribblings-Goodbyes

Since this is the 200th post here at The Byline, I thought it would be fitting to look back on some of the goodbye's I've said since I started my blogging adventure.

  • With my friend Pat's retirement, I said goodbye to our 14 year old working partnership. She keeps promising (threatening??) ideas for several new projects which will "require my assistance," so I'll probably be saying hello to a new collaboration before I know it~
  • And since my job sharing partner at the office decided to take an "indefinite leave of absence," I said goodbye not only to her, but to most of my free time as well, since I haven't been able to replace her~
  • I said a particularly wrenching goodbye to a young man I met during my years working with Pat, a young man so brilliant, but yet so troubled, he ended his life exactly one year ago~
  • On a much lighter note (pun intended!) I said goodbye to most of the 10 pounds I'd managed to put on over the past few years, and with them, said a very fond goodbye to several pairs of "fat pants" with elastic waist~
  • And today, when the wind is whipping around my house like a demon, and the temperature is a finger-numbing 6 degrees, I am looking forward to saying goodbye to winter, hopefully sooner rather than later!

For more goodbye stories, go here


Saturday, February 3, 2007

Balancing Act

Many nights, late in the evening, I hang out here at my computer, wandering aimlessly in blogland while Jim snores peacefully in front of the television out in the family room, and the puppies sleep curled up on the bed behind me, nestled in their blankets. I love meandering through the worlds and minds of other women, reading about their yearnings, their creative dreams, their struggle to overcome illness or grief. They inspire me, they provoke me, they make me gasp, and sometimes even cry.

Invariably, I come across something that jabs at my psyche, that speaks to me quite profoundly at whatever stage or mood I'm in. It's kind of like the game where you spin a globe, close your eyes, and point to the place you're going to take your next vacation. I can be just clicking along, following one trail of bloggers to the next, like Gretel following bread crumbs in the woods. And then, a comment or a photo will hit me, and I stop and read words that resonate in my heart, words that evoke a resounding Yes! in my spirit, words that I could have written myself.

It happened just now, actually. I ran across this post, on a blog I've never read before.
The writer was responding to an earlier post of her own, in which she discussed the difficulty she was experiencing maintaining a balance between all her responsibilities as a mother, wife, writer, worker, woman...all of the many hats we women try to keep on our heads throughout the day. The realization she came to, and the one that was my light bulb moment for tonight, was that balance is overrated. Life has to be a little messy for us to test ourselves, to allow ourselves to grow and change.

That's a hard thing for me - little miss perfect. I like to have all my ducks lined up in a row, a nice tidy schedule for my day (every day), and a nice tidy atmosphere to go about my day in.
I have noticed, however, that some of the most creative people I know are also (quite literally as well as figuratively) the messiest. As I have been exploring my own creativity during this past year, I've found the rest of my life becoming a little bit messier. I've been fighting that all along, thinking I should be able to keep all the other aspects of my life orderly and precise, and maybe that isn't possible when you start allowing your mind out of the confining box it's been in and letting it do a some wandering into other neighborhoods.

I have become quite comfortable with the idea of allowing myself to be messy in terms of creative work, of letting myself play with words on the page and not expecting them to be perfect, of trying out some art and craft projects, and being happy with whatever the results are because I've had fun in the process. Perhaps I can try and extend this idea into the rest of my life as well, and not worry so much about getting all the laundry done each weekend, or having all my work reports written two days ahead of schedule, or going to the gym every Monday, Thursday, and Friday. Maybe right now, the best balance for me is just being satisfied with life in general, enjoying and expanding my creative pursuits, and not constantly worrying that I'm not doing enough to keep everything running perfectly smoothly.


Third Day Book Club-Secret Smile

"Some things, when you look back on them, seem like a dream. But this wasn't a dream, although later I remembered it like a moment snatched out of time and haunting my memory forever." ~Secret Smile, by Nicci French
Imagine casually dating someone, breaking it off after a few weeks because you catch him invading your privacy by reading your diary, and then having that same guy turn up a month later as your sister's fiance. To make it worse, he's claiming that he's the one who ended your relationship, and he sets out systematically sabotaging your life and literally destroying your family. That's no dream, that's a nightmare! But it happens to Miranda, the protagonist of Secret Smile, a suspenseful psychological thriller by Nicci French, and the choice of this month's Third Day Book Club.
Secret Smile is quite a contrast from the other books I've read for Third Day, which were both "serious" works of literature. Book Club host Patry Francis offered us a less demanding read this time, and it came in handy for my week on the beach in Florida. Author Nicci French draws the reader in immediately, and kept me quite intriqued, wondering what insidious tactic Brendan would use next to undermine Miranda. Brendan stops at nothing - even murder - in his attempt to destroy Miranda's life.
I did feel the premise of the book was slightly unbelievable, and throughout my reading kept hoping Miranda would stand up for herself with her family and friends, who always seemed to accept Brendan's verision of things and were never willing to believe Miranda's assessment of Brendan's character. French very successfully painted him as a slimey, distasteful character, easy to dislike from a reader's perspective, and I was desperately hoping he'd get his "comeuppance" in the end.
Secret Smile, while not the best suspense novel I've ever read, successfully distracted me from the tedium of a two hour plane ride, and continued to entertain me for an afternoon in the sun.


Friday, February 2, 2007

WithOut Words-Contrast