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Monday, August 31, 2009

Inhaling

As much as I like the blue skies and dry air that hold steady during the ninth month of the year, there have been few Septembers in my life that I actually looked forward to. They include the four--maybe three really as the first year loomed unknown--college Septembers, after boring summers posting life guard duty at a small lake in my hometown.

Like many kids I suppose, growing up I was not a fan of academia. Within the walls of the Hunnewell School, the Phillips School, and our Junior and Senior High, I suffered overwhelming shyness stemming from a tiny and reed-thin physique, poor posture and severe nearsightedness in a pre-contact lens world. All of this supplemented an innate lack of confidence that was the biggest thing about me. Each year I hated returning to school and spent the year longing for the end of June and the warmth that summer delivered in ways not only related to the weather. For me, the season offered the opportunity to shed the cloth of insecurity, to ride my bike to the beach where as an expert swimmer I floated suspended in green depths, treading water with more self-assurance than the brick and mortar confines of a school building ever offered.

When I went to college though, that all changed. After eighteen years in the same town, planting roots in fresh soil presented the luxury to grow myself beyond the image that others had constructed. Without pause I weeded out that soft-spoken, hunched shouldered girl, greeted my peers enthusiastically, developed friends, and never wanted to leave. The summers that I had previously adored became boxes on calendars to cross off, months that dragged their feet--endless hot-sun days away from friends and comfort.

As I look back through the tunnel of time, it was all such a short spell—the brief summers themselves, and those four short years. If I knew then what I know now I would have angled for graduate school, and then some. But after avoiding reality for a year after graduation by traveling overseas to visit my sister, it was time to knuckle down and get a job. I did the right thing, and until last February, other than a two month hiccup when my daughter was born, I’ve worked ever since. In later years, I celebrated day care lapses at the end of the summer for the two vacation weeks with my daughter they allowed me; once again dreading the arrival of September and the return to the work routine.

Today I face September, the month filled with weather I love, the month of our wedding anniversary, and my chest constricts like it did all those years ago, when back to school loomed like a forest fire ready to burn me. Except that this year, with no school or job on the immediate horizon, it's a new kind of angst that threatens.

Our daughter goes back to classes Wednesday and her junior year in high school. Her eagerness at being an upperclassman is written all over her beaming face. Next door, her cousin, two years older, packs for college; she’ll depart on Thursday. Having lived fifty yards away from this young woman for most of her eighteen years while watching my daughter trot merrily right behind, I know one thing. It’s time for a deep breath because as soon as I exhale, two years will have passed.

My daughter and I went shopping yesterday for a gift for the college cousin, some utilitarian piece that would help the freshman get settled and remind her that we care. As we wandered around the domestics store eyeballing pillows and hot pots, various clerks offered to help us. Once we selected the present, more than one looked at my daughter and asked, “Is this for your college dorm room?” The second time I answered more sharply than I intended "Not yet.”

After the purchase, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Week in Review

Things to note:

Even in the middle of the summer, a bowl of oatmeal offers sustenance and comfort.

Pending autumn points to a renewed commitment toward figuring out my future. Let’s see how that goes.

When you live in a custom ranch, you don’t worry when repairman scramble over your roof. When you watch the tower next door being re-shingled, it’s a whole different story.

Surprisingly, I’m disappointed that the rain is delaying a first official driving lesson.

A quote from my sister-in-law: No matter what you thought of his politics, Edward M. Kennedy was a great senator. RIP.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Calm

We are waiting for Tropical Storm Danny and some other low pressure trough from the Midwest to collide over our area this weekend. I wake up this morning and it is dark. The temperatures dropped yesterday, the windows are just cracked and I can’t hear the birds. The air has inhaled, swallowed the sound, the breeze--holds it in, waiting to release.

Burrowing under the blanket my nose pulses with the slight pressure that often arrives at the beginning of autumn. Something grows out there that I’m allergic to, but not badly enough to worry about. I ponder the wardrobe for a cloudy day. I’m nearsighted, extremely so. The view out the window is gray and black and blurred, backed by towering pine trees that without glasses come together in a furry wall. I stare at them thinking how cyclical life is--that even thought I can’t see clearly, the color of the light this morning speaks to summer giving way, letting go, drifting off.

Suddenly the spiked tops of that hazy wall flame yellow and I realize I have been fooled. It is early. The sun is rising later and has just reached over the trees across the street to illuminate the tops of ours. We may be hushed and quiet and waiting, but we’re going have a sunny start after all.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

On the Road

My daughter caught me staring at her as we sat in the crowded waiting room, listening to numbers tick off at the Registry of Motor Vehicles this afternoon. Back one night, oh, some sixteen years ago, I held her in my lap in the dim light of the family room after a midnight bottle, memorizing the shape of her full lips, the blossom of her cheeks, the pressure of her little hand wrapped around my finger. That night I repeated to myself, “I want to remember this moment forever.” I haven’t made it to forever yet, but the memory surfaces on occasions such as today, while we waited for her turn to apply for her learner’s permit. Apparently my gaze was a wee bit intense; she looked back at me asking, “Why are you staring at me?”

How do you explain that you are trying to recapture not only time, but the essence of that long ago moment? When you have an only child the world is filled with fleeting firsts you grab onto because they’ll never be repeated. That even as an exhausted new mother, the freshness, the victory, the absolute awe of being responsible for a child overwhelms with the warmth that it weaves into your life. That today, sitting on wooden benches waiting for her number to come up merely added to the clear pool of accomplishment that she owns--but that we as her parents sip from too. I couldn’t begin to describe how our pride in her continues to spread like the yellow sun drops in the garden, cheerful blooms that started from one small planting that have scattered seeds until petals raise their heads through all the flower beds. So while she looked back at me bemused, I kept my lips locked and shrugged my shoulders when she asked why I was staring. Giving voice to these memories would surely bring an “Oh Mom,” or even worse, “Moth-er!” response, and I was enjoying the moment just the way it was, thank you very much.

I sat quietly as the loudspeaker crackled, spitting out “Number C334 to window 15!” and, as she walked into the bright light of the testing office and signed onto the computer. I let her have her fun with me when she dragged herself back after she completed the test, pretending she had failed. Paying up, we grinned at each other as we left the office. Permit in hand, she asked if she could drive home, laughing when I eyeballed the congested road we'd exit to and shook my head, “Not yet.” Climbing into the car, I filed the picture of my dozing infant, instead imagining her long legs climbing into the driver's seat--recognizing how soon she’ll be in control.

Before putting the car in gear, I reached over to grab her grown up hand. For an instant that long ago memory flickered one more time when instead of taking my hand, as she has for many years now she offered me her index finger--and I gave it a little squeeze.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

All Around Me

The roofers without safety harnessess, scampering up and down the next door neighbor’s tower--and it is a tower--totally unnerved me, so I took off promising myself that I’d write for an hour at the beach.

 
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When I arrived I discovered that Hurricane Bill left a calling card from his trip up from the South last weekend. Though remaining far out to sea, his surge covered two thirds of the beach with deep piles of rotting seaweed. Where there is seaweed there are bugs and let's just say, a certain aroma. So back in the car, with the windows rolled down and the breeze flirting with my left ear, I listened to the waves, the seagulls, the chatter of the two toddler boys wandering through the piles of crackling sea grass. At home earlier in the day, before pounding hammers and my worry chased me out, I heard other things:

Sounds of Wednesday Morning

The hiss and hollow echo of the water from my daughter’s shower which backs up to the wall of the cubby where this computer sits.

Commuting cars whizzing and breezing as they journey down the rock lined street.

Pick-up trucks filled with equipment jostling and bouncing; always crashing as they hit the divot in the road just before our house.

The beep, beep, beep of a red cabbed tractor-trailer, backing up while delivering supplies next door.

Distant birds singing "cheero-cheero" and one closer in singing "squeet, squeet;" a blue jay’s harsh bleat that dominates them all.

Computer keys, tapping, pausing, tapping again, the higher pitch clink of the space bar.

Jets, whispering, muttering, crescendoing to a vibrating roar as they swing up the coast to Logan. Cicadas mimicking them as they begin their own high pitched buzzing, escalating to a long electric saw whine.

A crow cawing high in the pine trees, a hummingbird pulsing at the feeder down low.

The clank and slide of adjustable ladders and muttering conversations from the men on the roof next door as they peel green shingles from the vaulted tower that over looks our yard.

Every morning sounds of life as it is each day, starting softly, then growing, filling the yard, the house; my world with noise.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I Caved

It’s late August. The pay checks have stopped coming. The car overheated; it’s about the fourth time it’s been in the shop this year. The back roof isn’t looking too good. Our daughter wants to take a science trip to Costa Rica in February. She’s earning half the funds but it’s an expensive trip. Also coming up in February—her driver’s license, which means additional insurance and a decision still to be made if the existing car can undergo a thorough overhaul and become hers for local driving. A purchase of another car would follow. Medical insurance costs have sky rocked as result in the change in insurers since I used to carry the family benefits, not to mention there is significantly less being put aside now for the proverbial “rainy day.” Two years from now, our girl will go to college. My husband gets up every morning and with out a complaint drives sixty miles to work.

It’s late August. Vacations will be over, back to school arrives next week; the summer is done, people begin working again in earnest; typically jobs open up.

Sigh. A friend emailed a Boston job opportunity to me. It fits the exact specifications of my former career, for a smaller, more entrepreneurial company. I hear the voice of my outplacement counselor: “What’s the harm in applying? You can always say no.” I rationalize that the hour-plus on public transportation followed by a one mile walk each way would provide time and fodder for writing.

I suppose.

God help me. I attached my on-line resume and applied.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Food Families

Sarah’s visit this week made me resurrect and edit this piece I wrote several years ago. It felt just as good to eat oatmeal with her this time as when we discovered the coincidence about five years ago. As I edit this post, she’s on her way back to NY to catch a plane home. I better go buy some Fritos.

FOOD FAMILIES

Twelve thousand miles away my sister eats old-fashioned oatmeal with sugar and raisins for breakfast. Here, in the country in which we were born and raised, I do too. After so many years apart, I was surprised to discover when she visited recently that we both habitually enjoy warm “porridge” as she is prone to calling it now.

I was seventeen when Sarah, five years my senior, moved to Australia. A new college graduate seeking adventure, she landed a teaching job in a rural town northwest of Melbourne, where all those years ago, lack of central heating required that she learn how to chop wood for her fire and outdoor lavatories meant visits to the “dunny.” Eventually, she married an Australian and ended up staying for good. She has resided there now longer then she lived in the U.S.

Long before the invention of the personal computer, when the idea of email was science fiction to most of us, we wrote letters on tissue thin paper, inserting them into envelopes marked “Air Mail” as to avoid a six-week journey by boat. Phone calls scheduled around fourteen-hour time differences echoed and crackled with static; the delay so long that we tripped over each other’s sentences. As a result of this difficulty in communicating, many of the formative things that we experienced in our separate lives remained unsaid during those first several years apart.

But the universal language in which our family conversed whenever she returned home began over a bag of Fritos Corn Chips. Growing up, it was her favorite junk food, and at that time, on the other side of the world, there was nothing similar available. Desperate to please our expatriate sister, we had an over sized bag waiting each time she returned. Although ostensibly for her, we all burrowed into the chips, comforted by the salty crispness evocative of the flavor of our shared youth.

Then there were the brownies. As a teen, she had baked late night batches and it seemed the simple sweet was one she should have been able to recreate easily in her new country. But the baking chocolate sold in Australia had different qualities, she couldn't find plain cocoa and ready-made mixes were unheard of. Even worse, early on she befriended another U.S. citizen who successfully concocted a brownie recipe that she refused to share when ever she served them to Sarah. Outraged, we bombarded her with this taste of her past each time she returned home.

Upon my graduation from college I worked to earn money for my own adventure, a four-month visit to my sister and her husband. Once there I was exposed to food I had never heard of; salad rolls--sandwiches dressed with coleslaw and pickled beets; kiwi and passion fruits, Pavlova--a luscious confection made with meringue and whipped cream, meat pies and pasties, and a shandy; bitter beer cut with lemon soda.

I grew to love these new foods, but then I returned home.  Back then the miles away from my sister seemed to stretch forever. To help myself feel closer, I made things that reminded me of her--hot tea from leaves steeped in a pot instead of bags, iced chocolate--thick chocolate milk poured over ice, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a dollop of whipped. I baked scones, and looked forward to family holidays when I could make a fruit covered Pavlova in a beautiful presentation that always reminded us of Sarah.

While I absorbed these pecialties into my repertoire, the long fingers of American commerce began to touch Australia. During a visit, Sarah returned home to the Fritos we had waiting and remarked “I can get these now” and my siblings and I felt cheated, as if someone had presented her with a gift that was only ours to give. Yet not long after, I discovered a kiwifruit in my own market for the first time since my trip “down under” and on tasting the tiny melon felt the miles to Australia melt away, gaining an infinitesimal understanding of what those corn chips meant to her. She smuggled brownie mixes in her luggage for many years until a recipe printed in the Melbourne Age offered instructions on how to make them using local ingredients. We still present these foods to her upon her return, but as the world contines to shrink, it is a symbolic gesture.

These days, Skype allows for face-to-face conversations and the photos and emails we send back and forth arrive instantaneously. Many of the foods from both countries are available in each of our respective hemispheres, all of which reduce the expanse of ocean between us. But the day that we ate “porridge” together recently, it struck me that blood and heredity have conspired to bring us as close as if we lived next door. Like the Fritos, oatmeal escorts us back to the table with our four other siblings--shivering on the wooden benches lining the maple drop-leaf of our childhood kitchen, waiting while our yawning mother scooped steaming spoonfuls into chipped stoneware bowls. All this time later I thought I was the only one still making it.  Then my Aussie sister announced that she does too.

Sharing this breakfast with Sarah is a reminder that the right meal can be as warm and nurturing as a family, the things that we love to eat as soothing as a sister. Lately, I dish up dinner each evening reassured to know that around the time we clear the table, my sister is boiling water in her electric kettle for her breakfast of porridge, and sometime many hours later, I’ll microwave my own.

It took a bowl of oatmeal and over thirty years for me to figure it out, but just maybe Australia isn’t so far away after all.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Week in Review

A departure from the norm:

Hey all! I'm excited to announce that today I am a guest blogger at http://giveagirlapen.com/.

This is a terrific website offering a bucketful of information for writers. Give it a read and let me know what you think!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The View from Afar

After almost thirty years of working full-time, the world looks different on a week day. At eleven, the sun shines on colors that seemed magnified across unfettered openness. Not used to being home before sunset, I’ve been looking at the world around me with new eyes. At 2:00 p.m. it takes on a depth and tangible quality, light you can almost touch--so different from the ultra-violet illumination and shadows of an interior office—or exiting to a parking lot when the sun is dipping below the trees. The newness has remained with me over the last several months, and on my many walks exploring the area while discovering places I have never been, I longed for an audience with which to share the beauty.

This week I have received my wish as I tour-guided Australian visitors—my sister Sarah, who has lived northwest of Melbourne for over thirty years, her twenty-four year old daughter who was raised there, and two of my sister’s neighbors, who traveled with them “on holiday.” My new eyes served me well as we plotted a map to show them the local sights—having learned recently that around here, you can’t go wrong. Every street, every vista, the shores, the beaches, country lanes, lighthouses, are all colored with that seaside brightness--open air, washed blue sky, expansive horizons and soft breezes. When I played tour guide for guests earlier this summer the rain almost defeated us. This week is making up for it and I have had the luxury of introducing the radiance of our area under a steaming sun and salted sea breezes.

My sister’s two friends both brought journals in which they are diligently writing each night, commenting on the day’s expedition, including tidbits they have cut and pasted from local tourist media. One friend asked for a synopsis of the locations we visited yesterday—the rock farm beaches of Minot, antique Cohasset Common, our own Sandy Beach, ironically displaying a multitude of rocks, the low tide expanse of Nantasket Beach, the view of two lighthouses from Telegraph Hill at Fort Revere; the fishermen casting their lines at Hull Gut. After recording the details, Sarah’s friend Glenda wrote in her journal something like, “The beauty of the area is incomparable. They are so lucky to live here.”

What a blessing it is to share this South Shore where I've lived for twenty-five years through the clear vision and pristine lenses of these newly minted eyes. I echo her statement. I’m lucky to live here.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Sigh

Sometimes, at the end of the sail that takes you way out beyond the lighthouse, the bell, almost to the whistle buoy out near the shipping channels, when the wind blows steady and right for everyone--with enough speed for the captain and agreeable balance for the drowsy crew--you see Boston, a rippling hot haze blur in the distance, and black cormorants hanging out wings to dry on a low-tide rock up close.

Sometimes, you watch a tall sail melt into the horizon then come about to squint into a glittering path of sun on black water—and enter the harbor still under sail like a whisper. Once in a while, as you wind your way through bobbing Bristols and Cape Dories and Hinkleys to approach the mooring, to lean down to grab the marker and tie up, you turn to survey the brightly painted lobster boats swinging slowly in the harbor and raise your eyes to see something like this.



Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Week in Review

Things to note:

Take time to research, research, and research. When you are done, proofread.

Toward the end of the summer, if you leave home before sunup forgoing the relentless tomato watch for a day, rest assured that the cherries will finally begin to turn red while you are gone. The heirlooms however will become so heavy the pots tip over.

It's a given that you will reach the bottom of the flour AND the sugar, when you are pressed for time in preparing for a family birthday bash.

For anyone who cares, apparently 1 3/4 cup confectioner's sugar equals one cup of granulated sugar.

Oatmeal for breakfast is difficult to swallow when a chocolate birthday cake sits cooling on the counter.

It’s possible to remember being sixteen. What is impossible is convincing the newly minted sixteen-year-old of that.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Last Day of Fifteen...



We took a family excursion in honor of tomorrow's sixteenth birthday girl, so for this post, you get one of the fun sights we saw along the way. No, she passed on para-sailing; this was a more daring soul, but breakfast at the Black Dog, and Mad Martha's ice cream, albeit a bit more conventional, turned out to be about as much fun. Twenty-nine years ago, when I worked on Martha's Vineyard for the summer, we treated "day trippers" with scorn. Today it was a joy to be one.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Traveling Back

In honor of our daughter’s pending sixteenth birthday—big swallow here—I dug through the pile of wrinkled dry-cleaning stuffed on the shelf in my closet, behind plastic bags and Goodwill donations to the back wall, where feeling my way around multiple volumes, I removed the yellowing steno pad that served as a diary the summer I turned the age that our girl is now. I hoped it might offer me updated insight into our maturing teen.

That summer, I lived away from home, waiting tables at a friend’s father’s two-hundred-year-old inn, and unexpectedly blown about by the oscillating fan of first love—documented the impact when its first electric hum shivered up my arms. In July I lost my grandfather too and the notebook catalogs the last time I kissed him as he sat shrinking from cancer in the vinyl chair in our upper den, dried toothpaste embedded in the corners of his mouth. At age sixteen, love and grief fertilized with dramatic exclamation points declared themselves throughout that book—infant seeds that would ultimately blossom into who I am today.

Picturing my daughter, I hopped on the wobbling and unbalanced bike I rode no-handed back then, opening my middle-aged doors to memory and empathy and timeless lessons recorded by sixteen-year-old me. Manic happiness exploded like fireworks followed by sorrows that wormed their way to my core. Turning the pages meant peeling back the soft snakes of childhood skin—remembering each scrape to that vulnerable layer produced hot tears, gasping but finite, cleansing, forgettable, a means to carry on to the next liquid event. I read stream of conscious words, from the brain, through the fingers—passionate, confident statements that testified to my fanatical belief in their importance and accuracy; dynamics that I can see currently emerging in my daughter.

And then there was this. Glancing down to the blue ball-point looping scrawl dated September 24, 1974, I read:

“Maybe I should be a writer.”

Geesh. It only took me about thirty-five years to listen to myself.

If there is one prayer I can offer prior to this birthday, this is it: Please don’t let it take Megs that long.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Overwhelmed

Gigantic pines surround my yard and the mushrooming cap of a pruned oak opens a parasol over the house. With all this shade, I’ve never attempted a vegetable garden. Herbs, yes--parsley, basil and cilantro in window boxes attached to the green wrought-iron rails that surround our deep cellar-hole--they produce as long as the summer is not too damp. A rectangular stone planter filled with thyme, oregano and rosemary hunkers on a raised cement step--a remnant from a doorway eliminated in a long ago renovation--sage and chives emerge in the square patch of garden at its side. But while I envision myself as weeding and fertilizing a vegetable bed, between the granite ledges that surge from our New England landscape and the trees that block the sun, there’s no place to grow veggies.

For the most part, I’ve written it off, except for tomatoes. Most springs I lug faux ceramic pots from the shed, weigh them down with rocks, fill them with a dampened mix of loam and potting soil and plant cherry tomatoes; this year I added Rutgers Heirlooms just for fun. Dragging the pots to our sunniest spot at the corner of the cement paved patio where we eek out a dubious six hours per day, I cross my fingers and hope the season will be dry enough for this luxury. I dream of late August and eating warm fruit off the vine. This year I salivate in anticipation of a new recipe for pasta with tomatoes that calls for slow roasting a pan of fresh picked fruit until the flesh wrinkles and caramelizes sweetly. I imagine panzanella; hunks of dripping tomatoes with red onions, Kalamata olives, basil and day old ciabatta bread, tossed with garlic, red wine vinegar and olive oil, resting on the counter until the flavors meld.

Today, in spite of the rainiest June on record, followed by a marginally improved July; my plants hang with green fruit. The six pots stand together, each bush held up by five-foot stakes. Seedlings that began the season upright are now full of leggy vines that grab for each other like teenage lovers. They become more familiar in the rain; groping, so that like a nun at a Catholic dance, I separate them, tying them at different angles before they become too close.

Yesterday, as I looked out the sliding door to this network of hope and potential marked in heavy fruit and yellow flowers, a fat bee bumped and blundered against a paper-dry blossom, knocking it onto a lifting breeze where for long seconds it traced the air with swirls and eddies until coming to rest on the moss covered patio below.

At that moment, those inbred plants reminded me of my status as a novice writer—that the challenge to improve is like growing tomatoes in the shade. With the plants I have to pinch off aphids, watch for leaf minors, root rot, leaf spot and blight, the same way I have to farm the limitless aspects of an art—by reading interwoven books and articles and blogs on writing, by coaxing query letters out of my brain, by pruning yellow leaves from my drafts and adjusting the stakes after wilting rejection—all required cultivation for a maturing fruit that I’m aching to taste.

Yet, in the end it all comes down to the continuous tilling for the right words--like the bee, circling the stamen, the finite detail, the drilling down, to the nectar, the essence, in order to savor and propagate the image of one wrinkled blossom as it drifts silently down.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Not Cast in Stone

An editor arrived Saturday evening in the form of nautical charts my husband withdrew from the cockpit of his sailboat and unrolled in order to educate me on the names of the rocks outside of our harbor. As I ran my finger across the tiny inked circles representing the grinding molars and bicuspids that make up the ledges off the coast, I realized in Friday’s blog I identified the shelf the kayakers paddled past as East Shag Rock when indeed it is West Shag Rock. I stand corrected--a little lesson for me to engage in a bit of research before I assume I know the facts, which I admit, is a pretty sizable failing of mine.

Memories are strange critters in the way that they cloud and fog and drift around like ghosts, then reconstruct themselves into a shape far from the original. I tend to be insistent on my version of events, over the top in my sureness, only to be forced to back down when my error is proven. Not that anyone was challenging me on the rock names, it just happened that my husband and I were discussing hazards off our shore and he wanted to map them out for me. We leaned together as we poured over blue, green and brown topographical guideline, fingering “The Shags,” (wherein I discovered my error) and the “East” and “West Willies,” and Hogshead Rock--which, the last time we sailed as a family, our daughter pointed out looks more like a frog’s head, but once again, I digress. We peered over the page and identified Sutton Rock, Black Rock and Gun Rock, wondering if they were named for the first ships’ captains who had the unfortunate experience of foundering off of them. Hmmm, Captain Hogshead?

One of the most dangerous of the ledges around us is marked by our granite lighthouse, which I’ve mentioned before is called Minot’s Light . Surrounded by a frothing ocean, this warning beacon climbs from the sea—solitary, embedded on the dangerous ridge about a mile from shore, constructed in interlocking granite blocks that wedge tighter each time a wave crashes against it. According The Quincy Patriot Ledger, our local newspaper, this landmark is up for grabs, having been deemed excess by the Coast Guard, another casualty of our current economic times. The Coast Guard will continue to maintain the prism and the fog horn, but if not acquired by a non-profit, you too can bid on an austere stone monolith that points from the middle of the ocean like a finger up to the sky. I guess it goes to show that I’m in good company as it pertains to budget cuts. A 149 year-old lighthouse and my 23 year-old job, both victims of financial shortfalls--two certainties in life that I used to consider cast in stone, that clearly weren't—a fact that doesn’t require much research at all.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Week in Review

Things to note:

Writers are so generous with their time and comments and offer such inspiration. Thank you to those who decided to “Follow” me this week. I have soaked up something from each of you over the last few days: Ginger Michelle, Sarah, Mary, Elana...also Terresa, who found me and “Novice Writer Anonymous” who I found and who wrote a terrific post about banishing my inner critic, reinforcing what Natalie Goldberg told me about the same thing. I have so much to learn not the least of which is that writing cannot always be a solitary craft.

And, here’s hoping a supportive sister-in-law never underestimates the value of her emails. (Yes, T.S., this means you.)

When you hear this sound at 2:00 a.m., say thanks for Youtube and the ability to educate yourself that it was the call of the skinny fox that’s been loping back and forth across the yard this summer. Oh, and if you ask me, it’s quite acceptable if upon first hearing it about four feet away from your open window, you froze for a moment, then locked your hands and prayed that your house would suddenly grow a second floor.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Just Because

There is something to be said for living in a town where you can drive by a common centered by a white steepled church surrounded by antique homes and turn down a country lane bordered in granite stone walls to encounter two towheaded boys and one equally blond girl shouting “Lemonade for sale!” This, after the night before, when you attended a weekly farmer’s market selling fresh corn, green beans, tomatoes and zucchini on the aforementioned common--then wandered down to a “Village Stroll” where local merchants kept their doors open, leaving racks of goods unattended and served popcorn, cupcakes, cheese, and wine to their customers.

There is something to be said for a free visit (donation only) to a local museum in the middle of town, and touring a slanted four-room house that used to sleep eleven, peering out the original wavy glass windows at the laughing crowd below, and at 5’3” feeling like an awkward giant when required to duck as you traipse carefully down a creaking narrow stairway so you don’t hit your head.

There is something to be said for living in a town where 10-year-olds throw their life jackets on over their bathing suits, yank on their bike helmets and peddle furiously up hills and down rutted streets to the still harbor for an early morning sailing lesson. And for taking a steno pad to the beach and writing about the eight white sails leaning on the horizon off toward Boston, of the kayakers paddling past East Shag Rock and the lobster boat bobbing among a small tornado of sea gulls that dive as the captain pulls up his traps hand-over-hand. And, for the brown haired toddler in her pink skirted suit who runs fearlessly over sharp stones to the water, red plastic buckets in each hand--who fills them and then stands at the edge flapping her arms because they are too heavy to carry--then hugs her dad's knees when he wobbles over the rocks to help her out.

There’s something that should be said about all of this, just because you can.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Up Hill all the Way

It’s been while since I picked up Writing Down the Bones, and today, I pulled it out of my black cloth bag where it’s been slumped on the desk for the last several days and brought it with me to the coffee shop, prior to my Thursday trip to the library. There, amidst the aroma of chocolate ganache and almond croissants, raisin and honey twists and shiny raspberry frambois, I slurped steaming bold coffee and got myself back on track. Well, maybe it was the author, Natalie Goldberg who accomplished that—though I’m not one hundred percent sure--

I’m guessing it’s pretty clear that I have been struggling this week. In contemplating the “why” of that I’ve determined that it’s likely stemming from an issue of security--or my perceived pending lack thereof. The severance ends in two weeks, and while we’ve acted as if I was not being paid for the last six months, deep in my mind I knew that I was. Too soon, when the checks stop appearing in the mailbox, reality is going to sting like a winter ice ball smack in the eye. Aw, who wants to talk about money especially in this public a forum? Not me, that’s for sure. It’s just that I am so used to contributing my share financially and darn it, now I’m not. My sense of being a partner pertaining to minor issues like paying the mortgage and insurance and the oil bill, and putting food on the table is diminishing, and with nothing particularly successful lately on the more creative side to balance things off, I’m not convinced I’m holding up my end.

I swear though, just about every time I begin to grind my teeth and chew myself up with regard to this writing quest, there’s a muse, or fairy or an angel or some kind of psychic being flittering out there who swoops in on ethereal wings to give me a pinch. Today it happened again.

There I was sitting at a marble topped table, sipping coffee and reading a chapter called “Every Monday,” which talks about when the author sat with a writer friend in a coffee shop in Minnesota one day a week. They wrote for hours, and read each other’s work. At the time, Natalie was unemployed, her friend was writing on a grant. As I glumly turned the pages, having left home after applying for a part-time grant-writing job at a local hospital (for which I have already sent a resume and received no response—it is still open though so what the heck), I read this:
“I tell you this because it is important...Remember this. Remember Kate and me on Mondays when nothing in your life seems worthwhile but earning a living and you find yourself worried about it…There are many realities. We should remember this when we get too caught in being concerned about the way the rest of the world lives or how we think they live. There is just our lives and how we want to write and how we want to touch the rain, the table, the music, paper cups and pine trees.”

With that, among the cinnamon sugar and the petite fours of the French cafĂ©, and James Taylor crooning in the background, that invisible little muse stepped out of Natalie’s book, stood up behind me and massaged its soft thumbs into my tense shoulder muscles —then it whispered in my ear to get my bottom out of the chair and to the library for some dedicated writing time, before flittering off.

And it worked.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Little Harbor Scene: Take 52.

I started working on today’s post at 8:00 this morning, really I did. But then it blossomed into something that needs fleshing out and a lot more writing and who am I to deny a piece its full potential? So that’s what I worked on today. I hope you will accept the below substitution. Yes, I’m aware that I wimped out with a picture yesterday, but maybe today’s offering will provide evidence of my ongoing persistence this summer--that or my consistently poor timing. Hmm.

Oh well, the photo below is the right image, taken with the wrong camera--still not exactly what I hope for, but I’m honing in.



There's a photo essay in this, I think...

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Reset

 
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If you feel the sudden need to throw an on line hissy-fit, which I apparently did yesterday, here’s how you get over it. Wake up the next morning and before the sun gets too hot go for a long walk via a new route. When you are done take a picture. Then drive home, turn on the fan and chop up enough fruit for ten people to be delivered to a homeless shelter for supper and remember how lucky you are. After that, it’s a good idea to sit down at the computer and hammer out a bang-up query letter while savoring the positive nature of forward momentum.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Taking it to where I'm not Sure I can go

Prior to six months ago, when the topic arose I used to say: “I like to write”--looking down when I said it, afraid that if I looked up condescension would reflect back at me. "Sure, humor the little woman, why don't we?" The truth is though, in my former recruitment, non-writing job, I could lose myself in the simple task of crafting an email, a short memo or a letter—anything that required words and a clear message. I read each piece out loud to myself, or to who ever sat across from me, editing, changing, massaging--improving. Sure, there were other responsibilities in my position that I enjoyed, but it was the same with the “in the background” mouse of me, the one who secretly scribbled in her spare time, nothing but the action of writing and re-writing, could open its yawning mouth, take a huge gulp and swallow me whole.

Then, recent history occurred, and I found myself visiting an outplacement counselor each week. You may remember that this spring, at his prodding my goal was to develop a personal marketing statement. Exactly who am I, and how do I want people to think of me? I muddled around with that for a few weeks, “I’m a business professional with strengths in communication and writing…” hedging my bets, purposefully unclear.

Always, always, my shortcoming has been an ingrained lack of confidence, so inside I called myself an “erstwhile” writer, or an “aspiring” writer until finally, exasperated, I forced myself to edit my statement to say, “I’m a writer and business professional…” Putting that in print was a Neil Armstrong “man on the moon” step for me, and yet as always, the print portion was the easy part.

A few weeks ago I met a former executive from the old company (who left voluntarily years ago) downtown during a walk. Her five-year-old twins are about to start Kindergarten; she’s arrived at a point in her life when she needs something new and here I was, in full blown redefinition mode--so we discussed our prospects. She asked the inevitable question: “What do you want to do?”

Just for the record, and I’m emphatic here, I hate, hate, hate answering that.

I took a deep breath. I looked at her directly in the eye and with a stammer replied: “Well actually, ummm, ahhh, well, I’m a writer.” Weak, weak, piss poor, rotten. I actually stumbled over the words. I got on with it though, “I’ve had a few things published and whatever I end up doing next, the major component has to be writing. I will always pursue the creative aspects of writing, but I’m identifying ways to use words that bring in an income too.”

I struggle with this. On the inside now, I AM A WRITER who would love to toss the “business professional” out into the rain. On the outside though, I waffle and fluctuate, lacking focus and direction, and drive to another state where someone may train me to write grants because at least I’ll be using words. I make statements (in writing) about becoming a freelance writer, and then do nothing about getting business cards, opening up a bank account, or moving forward because here is the real deal.

We are talking a perfect world here. I haven’t the courage to say it out loud and honestly, I don’t know if I can get myself where I need to go, but I want to write. I want credentials. I want credibility. I want to believe in myself. I want, no, I need to take writing courses. I love this blog; it rewards me, makes me feel clever, and offers me a goal. But to improve, I have to learn to delve deeper, scrape down to the pure essence of me, to bubble it up and skin it and lay it out there in the sun where it can stink and smell and harden and crack under professional criticism. I can’t continue to rely on the flaking surface cells that fluff off of me that you read each day. I have to challenge myself, to sweat, to grind, to cry over it and get down to the untapped blood vessels and bones and sinew and bile and undigested contents of me.

I know this. And yet, for the moment, I’m frozen--rock solid stuck and scared. How do I balance this desire, with my obligation to my family, my daughter’s pending college tuition, the economy that is pinching and picking at us, and with fairness to my husband, who is so everlastingly and blessedly patient with me as he gets up and goes to work day after day?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Week in Review (26)

Things to note:

It’s difficult to improve upon corn chowder. Well, unless you are my sister and throw in some lobster.

A long walk with a college roommate keeps you grounded and sure.

Trust yourself. Nothing works unless you do.

If you choose to get up on a Saturday at 5:50 to take a picture that’s dependant upon the water, it would behoove you to look at a tide chart.

When you fail to follow that suggestion so instead go for a shot of an orange sun mirrored on the ocean behind the lighthouse a mile out, it would have been beneficial to have checked the camera battery first.

You can redeem yourself from the above mess by driving past the open bagel shop rather than stopping, and baking lemon blueberry scones in your kitchen instead.

Even if they come out kind of flat.