I've been sleeping at the helm for over three months and if you're going to go back and check I'd like to say now it's more than that, much more. I resisted blogging because it's old hat and I resist doing things that have obedience in them of any kind. I'm serious. I prefer to be doing what I want at all times. I'm selfish. There, I've said it. But the weekly writing in Greenfield is helping unglue my stuckness and the doodling has even stopped for the most part (yikes!) so I'm glad I finally woke up from my slumbering self and - here's the rub - started something new (again). It is a little FB account and I swore I was done with them, but apparently not. I wanted to make a virtual hilltowns newsy thing, especially for Charlemont, which is the tiniest town ever, and I didn't see anything like that so I made one. Gee, is that a pattern? (well of course it is). So just getting going on it but it seems to have sprung a leak and now here I am leaking all over the page again. Like plumbing, which while I know next to nothing about I can vouchsafe to say, connectivity is too hard to explain. @charlemontnewsgram is the name. I hope I don't have to put it in the pile of discarded FB efforts b/c Charlemont can use a broadside type of thing. I'd like to find out why the taco place closed, what's going on at Avery's and who owns the Charlemont Inn and when is it going to be fixed up, and by the way, what's up with the ghosts? It's a small town but there's a fair amount going on. Here's a picture of the town hall just so you can picture us. I'll check in later and I don't mean six months from now but before the snow flies, not counting tomorrow. PS: there's going to be a holiday village bazaar at the Charlemont Federated church Saturday November 16, 2019 and it ought to be fun. I should be finishing a craft project (hello, starting it!) right now, but I've seen some of the things and they're very cool.
In my mind I know what dragons look like, or so I think, and then I try to draw one in a daily prompt that I follow but do not obey due to procrastination, willfulness and not having the right kind of pens when I need them. My dragon forgot his various bumps or I forgot them to be more accurate. I did discover that I liked trying to draw a dragon and that the daily prompt idea of drawing something every day is a good kick in the pants for me. It does get my right brain oiled up and running and I need that. While I'm typing this a large black ant walks along the table, hops up on the keyboard walking along the edge, jumps down and continues over to my other computer and disappears. It's alarming because solitary ants, well let's face it, ants are not particularly solitary, and I suppose I have to go and look for the rest of them. But let me share this dragon. It's my first.
So, after three months here in Massachusetts and quite a shift of lifestyle (oh yeah) I'm still here. We're all still here, aren't we, except those of you (God bless you, Mary Oliver) who have decided to move on. Winter's here and I have gotten used to the pace of it.
What's new is I've come to the realization I'm an old crow (more accurately, a crone). How do I know this? I couldn’t make up my mind on a sweater and it was 47 degrees. After futzing around, I finally put on some socks and jeans, a dark grey t-shirt and a two tone Vans sweater. I tend to dress this way all the time, too much grey and black. I have numerous combinations of cardigan sweaters and t-shirts. I think I started wearing them about five years ago. It reminds me of that article in the New Yorker by John Updike (god rest his soul) who said women of a certain age wore black, and red, or a combination thereof, all the time. So now that's me. Sheesh.
I don’t know what to make of my new life, seven whole days here*. It’s sunny, the windows are closed to keep in the cool and you can no longer hear the cars going down the Mohawk Trail. I got up at eight o’clock (late for me) and found mold in the coffeemaker from ten days of having left grounds in the filter. It’s so unlike me to not have taken the grounds out and rinsed the pot. I think I was just terrified I would somehow cock-up the chance to be at this (now recently passed) writing conference. I almost did. I almost drove to the wrong airport and had to pull over and go inside a coffee house in Shelburne Falls and try to calm myself down, recheck my emailed notes on travel. Sometimes coffee can do that, calm you down.
And then off I went in my rented car. If they’d given me an eye test they might not have been so happy to rent me the bright red hatchback I dumped at the end of my long drive to the Burlington International Airport. It was actually the hardest part of driving; entering the parking garage, a shift in light from bright to dark and following arrows up and up until I pulled into a spot that seemed like the right place; removing all my luggage; a heavy suitcase with wheels aggressively uncooperative, a large shopping bag with a straw hat and a bathrobe, a purse, a canvas bag with my laptop and what not, standing there for a minute before locating the bridge and elevator. It seems almost surrealistic looking back.
And now, home in my home of newness, a hardback chair pulled up, sitting at my desk, an old pillow used in packing, softening the seat. Lots of empty cartons, lots of opened and not very unpacked boxes, with the exception of my books (sadly a small percentage of what I used to have) and papers; things I had to unpack right away to feel like myself; my turquoise hippo, William (a replica from the Met) and my dad’s statues and a green bowl he used to have, things like that. I feel a little lost but mostly found. It’s like I’ve sketched in my life and haven’t done the inking. I think the conference made me feel steadier about the decision to go out on my own again after decades; always tied to men, to lives that depended on me and now, children grown, it’s just me, kind of like a water witch seeking my way.
There’s a river in my backyard and just knowing it’s there makes me happy. You can see the lawn sloping down in the backyard, although who would call it a backyard with its trees that look like they’ve been there forever, and then further, on the other side of the river, climbing up into a giant hill that I personally would call a small mountain. They call them hills. I guess I haven’t climbed many hills, not like those. The trees look impenetrable, like they’re on a bit of fabric and the darkness between the trees is just painted on. Could be my eyesight, of course.
Pretty soon I’ll have to walk down and get a battery from the little family store. So far, I know about the family store, the general store, the town hall, the post office and a pizza place that has calzone, but you have to wait forty-five minutes for it if you go on a Saturday. Everyone wants to go there because they have a covered deck and it’s on the river side so you can pretend you’re on a riverboat. It doesn’t move, but the river does. It's a nice place.
I don’t have any comfortable chairs yet. There’s a window ledge in the sunroom and I sit in the corner between windows and have coffee. It’s my new favorite thing to do. I’ll be damned if I will order a recliner. I hate recliners (they’re so ugly!) and they remind me of when my son was spinning on a particularly dreadful one and slipped and fell into something. Everything was sharp back then, including my father-in-law who as an ex-navy commander controlled even our thoughts. I’m glad he’s dead. Not because I hate him so much; hate having somehow mutated into just plain sorrow and pity; two perfectly good sons he ruined, and cut into and almost ruined, partly ruined, my son who perseveres. My daughter somehow was able to stand up to him as I was in the beginning.
My brother and his wife are a tonic to be near. The reclusive life I’ve set up for myself is punctuated by visits to their home up Legate Hill despite my fear of their giant pig who walks around the living room groaning when he’s not pooping in the shallow pan that is four times the size of a cat box, or shuffling his blanket around on the oversized doggie bed he clearly loves. He’ll come, my brother, and fetch me since I’ve dropped driving as an occupation and skill. I love driving and I’m a better driver than he is because I’m dispassionate. I let go of anger so quickly I barely feel it. I’ve had plenty of practice. It’s a kindness, the fetching. I haven’t figured out how to get around. There should be a weekend shuttle to Greenfield, I think.
But this is the country and everyone has cars. Surely there must be people like me whose eyesight is crappy. Is there a support group for people who are going to get new corneas from a dead person but haven’t gotten around to it yet? I pour that thought away like yesterday’s coffee; both in denial and procrastination. I happen to think those are good skills.
*posted this after 20 days (vs. 7). Still feel the same.
I used to think home was some place I could create. Or recreate. The thing is, you don't actually create it, certainly not by yourself. I'd say that, for some folks, it simply exists. It hasn't changed since childhood. It's their parent's home or their grandparent's home. It's a home that goes back in time, that has history not only in years but in experience. Whether it is big or small, the good holidays were there, the momentous changes came there, all the sharing times, sometimes the jarring times. Truth is, I had something like that, I guess.
We used to visit my grandparents on Cape Cod. It was a cottage, but big enough for us to fit in. We visited it in the summers when anyone in New York would pay good money to live anywhere else. During the school year, I moved so many times as a kid that I don't have a home that sticks out as being "home." My attempts to build a home have fallen apart (divorce, etc.) and I've gotten used to being on my own. The summer home was not really home, though. My grandparents were the kind you visit. And my homes have changed and mutated over the years. My kids have moved. I've moved. So, where is home? Where is it? What does it mean? I have to ask myself that question as I have another move looming.
E. E. Cummings had it right when he said, "I carry your heart with me. I carry it in my heart." Now, as I set out on another voyage to home, moving to a different state and choosing to be 3,000 miles away from my (grown) kids, I need to remind them and myself that the heart can carry love. Miles don't matter. Sometimes you wind up where you need to be and sometimes you have to pull up stakes and go to where you need to be. That's just the way it is. My daughter might "lend me" her cat to keep me company. He's an eight year old orange tabby who gets crabby if he doesn't eat every two and a half hours, a lot like me, actually. But he won't arrive until after I've gotten there to set up the new home. Recreating home is something that excites me and terrifies me. It's exciting because I've scoped down so much that spreading out and having an art room will be glorious. It's terrifying because I guess I'm just getting more scared as I grow old. But I'm going to stick with excited. It's an adventure and one should not turn them down too often.
[this is the first of, what will likely be, a series of ruminations on home]
It is pretty weird that the only Ralphs I know are two diametrically opposed ones: Ralph Kramden from the Honeymooners and Ralph Waldo Emerson (birthday today) who entered Harvard at fourteen.
It just reminds me that life is happenstance for the most part. You can't choose your parents and you grow up weed-like in their garden as it were. You are exposed to things, you meet people and you experience things, each of us going in his/her direction based on influences. If you head off to college you'd expect your parents to support you during those foundational years, but often that is not the case except for wealthy families. Lots of folks (myself included) had to sweat and strain for an education and the way life is lived, including what we wind up loving and hating and admiring and letting go of - these are things that are not entirely within our own grasp, at least not initially.
And then there is lovely retrospection, an opportunity for learning anew and trying over and over again to get it right, to get a (new) perspective that is not a pigeonholed view of the world, that tries to get light in all the way around.
I'm lucky, or I consider myself lucky, that was exposed to music and art and a love of beauty at an early age and invited to read a diverse group of authors and exposed to the odd assortment of things that makes me the quirky person I am now. These fortunate events helped me re-spin who I was/am. Not to be a superficial better, but an actual better. If I were the same person I was as when I was 23, I'd be a big fat pain in the ass and I'm grateful I'm not that person. I hope I continue to evolve, even though my age seems to advance faster than my goals. But I'm thinking that the happenstance of life is quilt-like. I guess I feel tonight that fate must have a hand in it. Not sure what you think. I'm still thinking about it. Two Ralphs, sheesh. You'd think I'd know more than two.
I took a walk this morning and passed by some incredibly large poppies that looked like they were from Little Shop of Horrors. It reminded me of that delightfully quirky musical and how someone came up with the idea of it - sheer genius! I looked it up. Howard Ashman who is described in Wikipedia as lyricist, librettist, and musician; he wrote the screenplay. I consider myself fairly ignorant of all he's done. Despite leaving this earth at age 40, he won the Disney Legends award for "extraordinary and integral contribution" and joins the ranks of Milt Kahl (animation), Les Clark (animation), Norman Palmer (film), Julie Andrews (!) and lots more. Ashman won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Lyrics (I love the lyrics!). You won't know this if you're as ignorant as I am, but Howard Ashman, along with Alan Menken, wrote all of the songs for the film. When I think about it, I'm astounded. But wait Ashman pitched to Disney the idea of an animated musical adaptation of Aladdin and with Alan Menken (I am in awe of him too) wrote songs for Aladdin also. According to what I read on Wikipedia, during the early production of Aladdin, "Ashman and Menken were approached to help "reinvigorate and save" the production of Beauty and the Beast, which was apparently going nowhere as a non-musical. The film was released just a few months after his death and is dedicated to Ashman. Two Golden Globes, two Academy Awards, two Grammy awards, and here I am totally ignorant of this man. If I hadn't seen an extraordinary poppy this morning I wouldn't have looked up Little Shop of Horrors and discovered Howard Ashman (and Alan Menken). I regret that Howard lived so short a life and hope that others, even if they don't know him, find his work, his legacy. Note to self: Sure, you're no Howard Ashman, but take a moment to ruminate and be inspired. Howard and Alan didn't write to be famous. They simply loved the hybrid of story and song. And (in my tiny life) I don't write to be famous. I write because I love stories and language and characters and because I hope those stories will be read and to have an effect on people. So..I thank Howard Ashman and the poppy for reminding me of this.
I had wanted (please note past perfect) to go to the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) May conference (since I have 3 children's book projects underway; one nonfiction) and I haven't gone to many of the local meet-ups. Back in January, I said to myself, I'll be ready (to meet an agent) by spring. I saw the email about the conference and then I let a couple of weeks slip by. Big mistake! It's obviously like signing up for classes in college. You have to jump on it right away or you'll be stuck with the phrenology of warts or something. By the time I finally clicked over to look at registration, every single opportunity to make a pitch, meet an agent and have someone review your first 20 pages was gone. Sigh. Double sigh. On the up side, however, I did learn my lesson. I did sign up for Willamette Writers Conference coming this August. The registration opened today at 8:00am and there I was at 8:17am looking through all the choices and getting registration done. Unlike my love life, where I make the same mistakes over and over again, my #writinglife has a better learning curve. But now the panic sets in with a vengeance!
I realize I have about a month and a half to get my writing finished, polished and ready for scrutiny (you have to send it in about a month ahead of the conference). And, while I write every day, I go through spurts of organization, calendaring, other misc. admin tasks and finding submission "homes" (for short stories and poetry) maybe once a month. God bless submittable. Now, I feel a hand on my back pushing me to get it together. It's kind of like cleaning when you know company is coming. It gives you motivation.
There's a woman I met at the #OoliganPress #w2p2018 workshop at #PSU who I need to thank for restoring my faith in publishing and publishers. It's Kathlene Postma. Her poetry, fiction and visual art has appeared in Hawaii Review, willow Springs, Zyzzyva, Los Angeles Review and more. What's delightful is that she's such a wonderfully down-to-earth person and has such a diverse creative background. As professor of creative writing at Pacific University, she shared that her students had influenced her with their entrepreneurial spirit, which in turn inspired her to delve into adult fairy tales. She spoke about how her art (doing art) had invited her to find "a childlike intuitive space."
The conversations centered for the most part on publishing. Kathlene spoke of the "nugget of the story" and how stories can be told in many ways nowadays, and in many forms, including lots of media that wasn't around before. The panel that Ms. Postma was on (with Finn J.D. John, and Matthew Simek with moderator Taylor Thompson - also valuable contributors) was called: "Under One Banner: Writing Mediums and Submitting to Literary Journals." There was a lively discussion on the best way to know where to submit something (actually, that's my personal nemesis) and some strategies were discussed that deserve mention. Besides reading the journal you are planning on submitting to (to see if your work is a good fit) Kathlene suggests looking at some of the small presses. "See what their focus is," she advises. Poetry and Fiction are tough markets now, "..there's tons of poetry," she notes. She advises writers to "..write what you care about." [always good advice] She also suggests looking into creative nonfiction as an option.
The panel was asked, "What do you wish you would have known starting out?" Kathlene advises writers to "Be yourself. Don't worry, you'll find your tribe." [I love that] and to "write for yourself," [always good advice]. She adds, "Maybe go rogue.." meaning you have other options than traditional publishing - maybe consider self-publishing. It was partly due to her remarks that I come to be in the position of re-launching myself into myself, that is to say a more leaned in "out there" version of myself. So thank you, Kathlene. Much obliged! Oh, and there is a wonderful page on the SilkRoad website with interviews with people like Dorianne Laux and Robert Boswell. Good reading!
There are many things I know how to do well. I can take a good photo. I can take good care of my granddaughter. I can do reasonable portraits and funny little doodles.I can write stories (I didn't say publish). I can build a website - stuff like that. But it's hard for me to be in community. I stink at it. Really, I do. Even after all these years I still struggle with it. I have learned, however, that it is something I need, something everyone needs. We are humans, after all, and humans are social. Even I am social despite my best efforts to live under a rock. The thing is I've learned that even if it (my effort at community) doesn't look terribly successful that I still need to go slogging up the hill (what feels like slogging sometimes). For one thing, I have no perspective. People could think of me of quirkily charming when I think of myself as a pretty much a misfit. Perhaps (here's the most important part) it actually does me some good, a very delayed realization. It changes something in me, something that affects my ability to get out there and do it again, something that helps me take other risks and something that leans in and affects my writing. Like all writers I notice things and I finally noticed this.
C. D. Finley
Opinionated, wry, sometimes corny, observational humor mostly about writing, but you never know.