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Monday, April 14, 2014

Inhale the...What?



Sometimes my daughter and I head out to one of our favorite sandwich spots one town over, where we’ll order something to split, have it wrapped to go, and take a ride to the sea.  We park, when we can score a space, in one of the four spots available by a cement wall overlooking the ocean.  There, the view rolls out over hunchback waves.  To the south, land curves like a ballet arm, to the north, massive rocks sprout from the sea.  Minot Light flashes 1-4-3 in the distance.


For years, a snippet of graffiti marked the wall in front of where we park, instructions, scrawled in black spray paint to “Inhale the imagery.”  Now, normally I'm not a fan of "street art."  But this was different, the words a reminder to look up, to look out, to make sure the expanse of sea and soul never becomes routine.  The phrase remained on the wall so long; it fused with local culture, fading from an obnoxious tag into a kind of home-grown philosophy.  Someone uses it as a Twitter handle.  It's the title to a local photographer's website.  Bottom line? People liked it.  



 
   
That said, the words became a piece of our family lore for another reason.  Many years ago, our learning-to-read daughter noticed the paint and read out loud, “Inhale the imaginary.”  For years, we giggled when we pulled up to the scene and remembered her slip, the story so much a part of our family DNA that when we arrived one day and discovered someone had washed over the phrase with paint, we turned to each other and cried, “Oh no.” 

We visit that place a lot, and somewhere along the line it occurred to me that while all those years ago, our daughter misread the line, as a would be fiction writer, the one she came up with was equally as important.  Not only do I need to open myself to the imagery, to what is beautiful in every day life, but to whimsy and fantasy, too--to inhale the imaginary. But I've come to realize it takes one to feed the other.  Paying attention to what's in front of me makes me cognizant of detail and nuance and helps to make the fiction more real.  

I laugh when I think that someone sporting a can of black spray paint could have had such a positive influence on me, but I'm not the only one. 

The next time we visited after the "paint-over" discovery, the words were back.  This time, spray painted white.

Go ahead.  Take a deep breath...




Monday, April 7, 2014

A Salad Poem



You dream the aroma
of a ripe tomato,
the twist and snap and green smell
of vine and sun-warmed hands.
It's all there in the seed,
or sapling bedded in loam.
You count forward-time,
hot days and long months,
until the plant hangs heavy,
a bowl returns full,
until you slice and salt
and pair
with half-moons of 
oozing cheese,
knee-buckling at
the sweet, hot swallow
of acid and saliva.
It’s all there,
as you tear open the package.
sprinkle the seeds.
Press them into egg carton cups.
A repository for summer,
an incubator of earth to mouth,
a sauce, a salsa, a sandwich.
You brush dirt over with your finger,
and feel the promise of wait.

What can I say?  It was a really long winter.  My feet are still cold.  In spite of the fact that my daughter has informed me she likes all my blog posts, except for the poems,well, a girl has to treat herself.  Daydreaming about a tomato brought me closer to a summer garden. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

IWSG April and Inspiration

This is my April contribution to Alex Cavanaugh's  Insecure Writers' Support Group.  To link to more posts about writers helping other writers, click here.



I feel like I’m the only person in the Blogosphere not incorporating this IWSG post with the letter B in the A-Z challenge.  Best wishes to all of you intrepid folks participating.  As for me, well,  I’m in a “resting stage” with my current project and conventional wisdom dictates I get busy with something new.  To date, I haven’t come up with anything noteworthy, but I know from experience, inspiration comes from weird places.

Take my, first ever, get to the end of a first draft and stop novel.  It started as a result of a “scene storming” exercise.  I wrote a few hundred words, and then just for giggles decided to see if I could keep going until I got to the end.  Turns out I could.  I just didn’t know how to fix the mess afterwards.  This is how that one started:


By the time the real estate broker’s car came to a full stop by the “For Sale” sign in front of 52 South Main Street, Shelby Richmond had mentally unpacked her boxes, made the beds and scrubbed the kitchen floor. 

The second book I wrote…this one gets full credit because I revised it seventeen times, wrote a synopsis, a query letter and submitted it to agents, started with a sentence that rolled through my mind one night, during that fog point between awake and asleep.  I forced myself to get up and write it on a scrap of paper—which I stuck by my computer, until the story it related to took shape in my brain months later.  That one started like this:

The queen of the 1974 Tarrant County Honeydew Festival abdicated the throne forty-eight hours after her coronation. 

The third project—the one I’m currently resting, was triggered by an illustration accompanying an essay in Yankee Magazine about a damaged apple tree.  

Marnie St. Marie knew she hadn’t taken a drink for three weeks, but when she saw the boy in her ailing apple tree, she wondered.
So today, I sit, sniffing out inspiration like a dog.  Where will it come from?  A story on the news? Action I see on the street?  A picture? A tweet?  I don’t know.  But I woke up this morning with this blurb rolling around in my head.
By the time Winnie Parker reached the derelict Walker estate, the rock she’d been kicking the whole way felt like an old friend.  Which is why, when it took an odd bounce and scuttled under the wrought-iron gate, she had to reach in to retrieve it.
Hmm.  I think I’ll chew on that for a while.  

Where does your inspiration come from?


Monday, March 31, 2014

Another Amazing Read



It took years for me to finally read my first Dennis Lehane novel a few weeks back.  Last week, I followed up with  The Given Day, Lehan’s widely acclaimed historical novel, a break from the mystery/detective stories he’d written before.  At over seven hundred pages, it’s a time investment— one I’m glad I made.  

The story focuses on the events leading up to the Boston Police Strike of 1919.  Lehane weaves the topics of race, anarchy, graft and paranoia that was Boston in the early twentieth century, with chapters featuring Babe Ruth, the biggest thing in baseball at the time, before he was traded from The Red Sox to the Yankees.  It’s a gritty novel and pulls you into the streets of the city, the rough tenements of the North End, sweeping bay views of South Boston, the Brahmin enclaves of Beacon Hill, the jagged environs of Scollay Square.  Most of all, it sucks the reader into the consummate pride, and the desperate unfairness with which the patrolmen were treated.  These men made less money than dockworkers and janitors as they put their lives on the line —working something like twenty days on with one day off, for under minimum wage, with no overtime, in station houses filled with rats and vermin.  Oh yeah.  And if they ripped their uniform in the line of duty, whatever.  They paid for their uniforms themselves. 

No spoiler here.  You’ll have to read the novel or your history books to find out what happens. But perhaps this story resonated with me all the more because as it happened, two firefighters lost their lives in Boston while I was reading it, reminding me that dedicated public servants put their lives on the line for us every day.  In my mind, there could never be enough pay for the risks they take.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Crossing the Line





A few of you may know that for thirty-two hours a week, I work at our town’s senior center.  My employment continues to school me in the kind of wisdom gained via experience.  In this regard, Friday I had a conversation with one of our van drivers, a man in his early seventies.  I whined, I suppose, about the storm that’s predicted to sweep up the east coast in the next few days and pummel us with late-season snow. 
  
“You may not know this,” he said.  “But the old timers, the old-salt Yankees who predicted the weather by the almanac, or the feeling in their bones, had a name for the kind of storm that comes up the coast this time of year.  It’s called a line storm.”
   
 “Really?  I never heard that term before.”

 “It’s one of those storms that will melt in about three days.  They say you have to have one before the seasons can change.”   

The idea resonated with me.  I had this picture of a grey-bearded farmer watching the horizon, knowing, sans the Internet, or a weather report, or the newspaper, or anything other than having lived a lifetime in which such storms occurred, that they herald the real end of winter.

As for me, well, I Googled.  According to Merriam Webster, a line storm is an “equinoctial storm,” and a long time ago, back when folks still predicted weather by the shape of the clouds and the ache in their knees, Robert Frost wrote a love poem called A Line-storm Song.  If you are so inclined, you can that find here.  

Let's hope this new found knowledge keeps me warm on Wednesday, when I’m shoveling it.