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Friday, May 28, 2010

Memorial Memories - Repeat

I wrote this after Memorial Day a year ago. Back then there were few readers, so it's only a partial cheat to repeat this post today. Our 2010 celebration will unfold in a similar manner to previous years. A flag flaps from a holder on our garage. Our daughter will play her flute in the parade on Monday and we'll celebrate family birthdays as we honor the lives of our soldiers.

Wishing you a Memorial Day weekend full of hot dogs, parades and salutes.

Memorial Memories

To me, Memorial Day is May 30th, not the last Monday of the month that we celebrate now, even though for the majority of my life the Monday holiday has been the norm.

According to my research, Memorial Day was officially proclaimed by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11, and was first observed on May 30, 1868. It was celebrated on that date until Congress passed the National Holiday Act of 1971, ensuring that all Federal Holidays had a three day weekend.

Not that I mind any three day weekend, it’s just that growing up in my house, May 30th had a special significance. In addition to a day to honor our war heroes, it was also my sister’s birthday and, with a timing that my father convinced us occurred in honor of that momentous occasion, the Memorial Day parade marched right by our house.

In case you picture our home placed strategically along a rock-wall-lined main road, think again. We lived in a suburban neighborhood created in the mid 1950’s, bulldozed out of woods far below a rise where the town cemetery is located. You couldn’t see the cemetery from our house, but way up over the hill that towered across the street and through the trees beyond, it was there; our road was a logical cut through for the marching bands on their way to a twenty-one gun salute.

As kids, we would jump off the front steps; practice our cartwheels and somersaults; and then run to the street when the pounding of drums announced the parade’s imminent arrival. It wasn’t much in the way of display, a band or two, the measured pace of flag holding veterans, baton twirlers and uniformed scout troops, with an inevitable group of bike riding kids and flowing streamers riding beside. However understated though, at age five or age ten, the event was as big as the world to us. That parade and its route by our house ceased somewhere around the time the Memorial Day date changed; the only thing left is a tale we tell as a part of family lore, of the birthday girl covered in poison ivy the day one of those parades marched by.

I thought of this all yesterday when my husband and I wandered downtown to cheer our daughter as she marched with the high school band during our town Memorial Day celebration. The common was decorated with families dressed in shorts and red and blue, luxuriating in one of the few warm days we’ve had this spring. Kids biked around the pond at the middle; over by the Unitarian Church, the Daughters of the American Revolution stood in the flowing dresses of their period garb. In front of the white painted colonial that houses the Senior Center, volunteers did a brisk business in hot dogs and popcorn, and every where it seemed, American flags rippled in the sea breeze. We found my husband’s sister and her two sons sitting under the umbrella of a shady maple. The boys, ages four and two munched on steamed hot dogs and reached hands deep into paper bags of popcorn. Jiggling in anticipation of the parade, they periodically jumped up to dash about the yard in giggling bursts of excess energy.

I waited in a different kind of anticipation--a blossom of gratitude expanding in my chest for those who serve, for the respect our town displays, and for my daughter who has played the flute since the fourth grade and would demonstrate her own patriotism this day. When the sound of music drifted to us, we ran to the street, the boys waving their tiny American flags. Aging veterans and civic leaders drove by in shiny convertibles, younger veterans marched behind. “The Rusty Skippers,” the town band consisting of local volunteers reprising their high school playing skills marched by; we whooped and hollered as our daughter and her classmates followed. As a contingent of retired marine musicians marched behind the predictable scout troops and bicycles, I looked at the boys, tired now, but holding their flags and still waving.

For just a moment I was once again their height, in awe of the bands, clapping at the soldiers, and regardless of the date, experiencing that first dawning loyalty to our country in a way that lives forever.

Yesterday went full circle though. In a delayed celebration of our niece-and-next-door-neighbor’s birthday from the day before, long after the parade but with a tip of the hat to my memories, we joined our extended family for birthday cake and ice cream.

For Tim, Sarah, Phil and Carly who all celebrate Memorial birthdays sometimes.

5/28/10. Happy b-day Tim. ILY

Thursday, May 27, 2010

On Thanking

The last time I read Stephen King, I was house-sitting an old Victorian with a friend the summer after my sophomore year in college. My roommate recommended Salem’s Lot, which I read less than halfway through before tossing the paperback across the room. The story scared me enough to know that finishing it would mean a sleepless night.

I’ve never coped well with fear. My first experience with horror, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, sent me diving under a yellow vinyl pillow in our family room when Tippi Hedren forced open the creaking attic door and discovered a body minus its eyes. In high school, after watching Rosemary’s Baby, I had to crawl into bed with my little sister.

Not long after, my Salem’s Lot friend, her boyfriend and I drove an hour see Jaws. Her chivalrous beau sat between us in the theatre, and it’s a good thing. That night, it failed to matter whose date he was. I dug my fingernails into his calloused palm as we all jumped out of our seats when the monster shark surfaced, and held on for the rest of the movie. Had he not been there, I’m sure I’d have become well acquainted with the strange man on my right.

After the movie, I slept on the floor of my friend’s room rather than my own comfortable bed down the hall at her parent’s inn. We were miles from the nearest the ocean, but as far as we were concerned, that shark was snoring in the next room, dripping with the blood of the hunter he’d just eviscerated. I held Peter Benchley responsible for my sore back the next morning, not Stephen King, but the occasion taught me it was safer for my over-eager imagination to avoid books and movies of a similar genre. As a result, Salem’s Lot ended up covered with a pile of clothes in a dusty bedroom corner.

Between that long-ago summer and now, I’ve taken a Stephen King book out from the library exactly once, and that was the day before yesterday when a copy of On Writing; A Memoir of the Craft that I had put on hold became available to me. Let’s just say that this book won't be tossed across the room in my lifetime. Instead, it is a struggle to put it down.

King exposes the fundamental tools required for the craft of writing in an everyday voice that delivers fluid reading and simple comprehension. He assures the reader that the path toward good writing is manageable, the skills, accessible; it’s less about rocket science and more about developing solid habits--a passion for reading, good grammar, patience in letting a story come to you and the dedication to uncover it. On top of that, the book dispenses optimism. I’m not even finished and King has me chanting “I can do that,” when lately the phrase that has come to mind most often is “How will I ever?”

On Writing is reminds me yet again, that as a whole, writers are kind. Every day I learn from writers—informal lessons from blog authors sharing what they’ve experienced, such as Author, Jody Hedlund, Helen at Straight from Hel, The Blood Red Pencil and Darnell at Dancing with the Gorilla. Then there are the books on writing, by writers: Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, Bird by Bird by Anne LaMotte, Pen on Fire by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett to mention my favorites. Now I have On Writing too.

Even before reaching the last page, I'm planning on ordering my own copy through Amazon, with gratitude that many years ago, another popular author made the effort to quantify how he achieves success as a writer--and that he did so in language that speaks out loud to me.

What books or blogs do you recommend that have helped to improve your writing skills?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Picture instead of Words

I'm struggling with today's post and have been for more time than I have allotted to the task. For now, I need to move on. Options? Publish a poor piece or a shot of what came to life on our front porch this spring.

The fledgling wrens win.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Slow Day

Due to a consistent patch of high temperatures predicted over the next few days; the weekend morphed into a marathon of planting--tomatoes, basil, parsley, oregano and thyme into planters and window boxes, impatience, snapdragons and cleome between the shaggy new growth spurting throughout rock gardens.

After seventeen years, our primary perennial bed explodes each spring, by late May it looks like a huge, curly head, bushy with cowlicks--in need of a thorough trim. I purchase half as many flowering annuals for between-bloom color than I used to, but dividing the sun drops, coreopsis and bell flowers that multiply exponentially in addition to repositioning furry Foxgloves that seed themselves everywhere, adds heft to the task. In truth, it would be easy work on a flat lot--if we had one.

The boulders that heave and wallow through our land give the property a character that I love. But a few times a year, intensive afternoons climbing from ledge to ledge, balancing on the rare flat stones and hoping my ankles don’t give way, ratchets up the stiffness quotient. Today the simple act of unscrewing a bottle top hurts my knuckles after the hours of weeding, yet it’s the kind of ache that reflects success.

Digging holes and packing soil around seedlings, filling pots, planting herbs and vegetables--these are concrete actions--jobs with results that bloom recognizable and defined; the garden beds are clear, the plants relocated; annual seedlings emerge like coltish teenagers from the rich, moist earth. Now that the weekend is over though, I’m back to justifying my existence via less visible successes--words that germinate, but for the moment live underground.

Monday through Friday are my work days and in that regard, my worry days. Yes, I have a portfolio with new additions, but as when my garden was in its infancy, there is space for so much more. All those years ago, when we cleared the scrub from the earth and I began positioning perennials, the blooms were sparse, with wide gaps in between. Similar to my infant business that I fret over five days a week, the advances seemed intangible. Back then, we held our breath, hoping that the fertilizer would work, that the seeds would spread, just as now I cultivate my networking message through lengthening roots, crossing my fingers that an interested customer will pluck it from the soil.

When I started reinventing the back ledge, it was nothing but weeds and grass and thorny nettles. Patience and persistence brought it to the unruly but burgeoning place it is today--a location in which accomplishment exists someplace other than my imagination.

The back garden is testimony that once before I started with nothing, a reminder that these words I am tending could grow and reproduce like our rock-strewn land did, as long as I put in the effort.

This garden needs a hair cut.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Points of View

I left the camera home on purpose yesterday, because folks, in truth sometimes it’s too distracting. The sun was climbing over the trees, the forecast warm. Slamming the door on our chilly house, I left an hour early for a networking meeting, holding my blue notebook and charging myself to use words to record what I encountered while sitting in the car at the public beach one town over, a short distance from where the meeting was scheduled.

I had hardly registered the glitter of the sun on the water, the slow swoop of the windmill arms as they scooped and lifted on the hill across from the harbor, when four adult geese and seven puff-ball babies scampered across the lot in front of me. Automatically, I grabbed for the camera--and muttered a certain expletive.

The blonde chicks peeped and tumbled over themselves in a pulsating wedge of down as they skittered over the sand toward the water; behind them adult birds snaked thin necks and pecked razor beaks, beating their arched wings and screeching as they herded their brood to safety. Nature, I thought. Gorgeous. Remind me again why I left the camera tucked inside its nylon case?


I used to work in the same town in which yesterday's networking meeting was scheduled. On an occasional summer Friday I escaped the office at lunch to unroll a picnic blanket on a grassy stretch next to the same beach where I sat watching the geese. There I’d nibble at my brown-bag lunch, watching as ruffle-suited toddlers built sandcastles and white-nosed lifeguards lounged in the heat. But before all that, it was necessary to walk pigeon-toed and spread the blanket carefully to avoid goose droppings.

That memory came to me yesterday when I realized that the cause of the birds’ agitation trailed behind them in a tail-wagging frenzy. A black border collie and his owner, actually a neighbor of mine, had been contracted by the town to keep the geese out of the park. Yapping and panting, Zinger stood guard at the water’s edge across from where the honking geese paddled and milled a safe distance away. Then, as though resigned to his presence, the flock clumped together and, via some aviary sonar, turned as one and paddled toward the hump of a green island that rests in the middle of the harbor.

Watching the goose eliminator as he marched back and forth along the shore, then ran up to the lot in response to his owner’s sharp whistle, I forgot about the down feathers of the babies, the way their hindquarters wobbled back and forth in their race to the sea.

Instead I remembered the poop, on this park, on each soccer field on which our daughter ever played on, on the pathway to my old office, on just about any golf course or fresh-water beach or open space in our state, and I daresay, many others.

Oh. Right. Not so cute after all.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Turning the Page

When we moved to our house years ago, it took three floor-to-ceiling cupboards in the corner of our 1956 family room to hold our stereo components, a collection of old record albums and a toppling stack of VCR tapes. Now, tiny IPods contain all our music; slim DVDs include the few movies we’ve bothered to buy—cable, Pay-Per-View and video streaming provide most of what we watch. As a result, last year we transitioned the top cupboard to storage and the bottom two morphed into my desk. As it shrinks, technology grants us welcomed space. However, a future emptiness that hovers on the horizon like a lurking thundercloud, worries me.

On the other side of our room, two lower cabinets reside beneath a double set of bookshelves reaching to the ceiling. Bulging photo albums occupy the lower containers—pseudo antiques—as every picture we’ve taken in the last several years resides on a thumb-drive or disk. Above those cupboards however, six regularly-replenished double-rows of books line up. When it becomes necessary to stack paperbacks three-deep, we donate to the library, though without exception at purge time, I struggle. “Nope, I can’t get rid of that.”

I part with the books I’ve enjoyed with a yearning regret because letting them go seems less about releasing something that has entertained, and more like erasing history. This is a result of the fact that from the third shelf, I can pull out my yellowing copy of The Thornbirds and turn to page 34 where I first encountered the unique spelling of the name we chose for our daughter. The shelf below it holds The Moon is Always Female by Marge Piercy, in which I read (and re-read) a singular poem that triggered an initial comprehension of how words can conjure an image.

The eight books in the Anne of Green Gables series hold a place of honor, lumped between brass bookends we received as a wedding present—the books themselves a touching Christmas gift from my husband years ago. Those volumes transport me back to junior high school where they lifted me away when my only recourse was to grab a library pass to avoid an eighth-grade bully during study hall.

Leon Uris, Anita Shreve, James Carroll and John Irving live on those shelves too, along with my collection of hard-covers—My Friend Flicka, Robin Hood, Black Stallion, Heidi and Jayne Eyre, all liberated from my family library when my father moved into an assisted living center. Lined up beside a 1938 copy of Jubilee Trail by Gwen Bristow with my grandmother’s book-plate pasted on the inside cover, sits a 1935 edition of National Velvet, which I am always intrigued to see labeled with my grandfather’s name.

I have two books by Amy Wilensky, a writer who more than anyone in recent time encouraged me to practice this craft that brings me joy, side-by-side with more distant inspiration—a pink book of poems by Kathy Martin, a college friend and talented poet who passed away before our senior year. A gift from her parents, it waited on our chairs as we took our seats on graduation day.

All of these books and so many more, touch deep into my core and some day too soon, it will be impossible to add to this collection. For future generations the angst I feel now will be non-existent. The memories provoked by turning the pages of old books like those labeled in my grandparents' names, will drift away once E-Readers and E-books take over. In the meantime, when I read an honest-to-gosh, paper-and-cardboard edition of Home Safe, by Elizabeth Berg, an author that Carol, over at Carol’s Prints kindly recommended to me, I looked up at our bookshelves when I got to this:

“…She talked, too, about how books educate and inspire, and how they sooth souls—‘like comfort food without the calories,’ she said. She talked about the tactile joys of reading, the feel of a page beneath one’s fingers; the elegance of typeface on a page…Books aren’t loud enough; they’re not showy enough; they don’t move quickly enough; indeed they don’t move at all. The require stillness, reflection, imagination, and these things are out of step with the times.”

In my gut, I know that, like IPods and digital cameras, E-books will offer immediacy, ease of acquisition and their own welcome impact, minus a certain physical corner bending. Gazing at my overflowing bookshelves though, I imagine a yawning cavern of dusty shelf space—a place holder for the constant reminder of something we have lost.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Could This be Love?

Suzy Hayes over at Tales of Extraordinary Ordinariness held a one sentence blog fest last week. I wanted so much to think of something inspiring, like Sharon did here, but all I came up with was this refrain on Sunday morning:

“Thank God for the chef who invented Chocolate Soup.”

I’m not sure that was what Suzy had in mind.

My husband and I don’t get out much these days, so it is possible that our hand-holding walk through Boston Common to Beacon Hill, treading over brick sidewalks that literally heave with history, past vigilant townhouses whose granite steps host wrought-iron boot scrapers from the eighteenth century--may have set the tone. Sometimes when you step out of your routine, whatever you encounter is destined to seem good.

But this was more than that, I’m convinced. The dessert, served to us as we celebrated the graduation of my college roommate’s daughter here, arrived in the middle of a rectangular plate hosting a trio of chocolate sweets. In truth, the other two confections, a luscious chocolate bread pudding (heretofore my favorite dessert of all time, see this related post) and a chocolate crème brulee, which honestly made me shiver all by itself, might have been to-die-for on their own. But each was disadvantaged in that they flanked a white ceramic espresso cup filled with about four tablespoons of brown-velvet decadence, topped with a generous sprinkle of toasted almonds.

Hubby and I shared this dessert, and I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that once we each had a taste of the soup, a bit of spoon dueling ensued. I have spent the last 36 hours trying to erase this confection from my mind, but it keeps coming back, taunting me with the memory of its thick, molten texture, the swirl-in-your mouth explosion of liquid chocolate, followed by a crusty crunch of almonds.

So, today, as I sat at the computer pondering a meaningful sentence for Suzy or a blog post to start off the week, I found myself Googling "Chocolate Soup" instead. Where have I been? Recipes are not hard to find. This dessert unto itself serves as an unadulterated inducement to get out of the house more often. What else have I been missing?

The wallet however, will not support this type of dinner extravagance regularly, so I'm pleased that I found this as-yet-untried-by-me recipe which gets high marks from reviewers. It’s different from the version we fought over, but it’s chocolate, it’s soup, and it gets four stars. The next time we have company; it will be on the menu for sure.

Did you want to come over to my house for supper tonight?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

And Then What?

… Claire parked at the back of the bakery a little after 8:00 on a moonless September night and realized that the pot-holed parking area was darker then normal. The yellow light over the door that usually illuminated the littered space around it was out. Yanking her glove compartment open, she reached for the silver flashlight stored there, flicked the switch, then slapped it against her palm when nothing happened.

"Terrific,” she sighed. “Now what?” She toyed with the idea of leaving her headlights on while entering the building, but discarded it. The bakery door was on a spring and closed automatically. She would have to return in the dark to turn the car lights off.

Shutting off the engine, she grabbed the keys and slid from the car, closing the door and blinking in the resulting blackness, then turning in the direction of the building she could no longer see. With her hands out in front Claire inched forward, waiting for her eyes to acclimate the dark. How far was it to the door anyway? Thirteen steps? Twenty? Twenty-five? Before long, the car behind her was swallowed by night.

Shuffling her feet, she cursed herself for not driving around the building and entering by the front door. Her foot struck something with a loud clank, and her heart began to pound. “Stop it, Claire” she muttered. “It’s a can. You must be close to the building now.”

Almost immediately, her outstretched fingers scraped rough brick. “There. Now all I have to do is find the door.” Sliding her hands to the left in the direction she thought the door should be, she heard a scraping sound in the rutted lot behind her and froze. What was that? Claire paused, swallowed hard, then shook herself and groped for the metal door once again. “Oh God, where is it?” She whispered to herself. She'd heard that raccoons, stray cats and even rats made their way from the empty field behind the parking lot to help themselves to the pickings from the bakery dumpster. She had no interest in encountering any of them first-hand.

Feeling along the wall, she continued edging to the left as she sought the entrance to the shop. A blade of panic stabbed as she heard more shuffling sounds behind her. Where was the door? Had she over-shot it? Was it on her right after all? Should she change directions?

As the rustling grew closer, Claire began making sweeping motions with her hands, panting “Come on. Come on.” Just as she thought she might have to gather herself and run out of the alley, her hands encountered the handle of the industrial door. Grabbing it, she held on with her left, using it as a target so she could guide the key in her right hand toward the lock.

Heaving the heavy door open, she switched on the inside light and turned to look over her shoulder before slamming the door shut on what she expected to be the green eyes of a fat racoon reflecting up at her. The glow from the kitchen spilled out to the parking lot and as the door swung closed, she gasped as the flickering shadow of a tall figure disappearing around the corner of the bakery.

Any and all contructive criticism will be appreciated.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Thanks and More than You Need to Know

Note: If you are subject to spells of boredom-induced vertigo, fatigue, twitching, hair pulling, nausea, or other related ills, consult your doctor before reading this post...

In finding the balance between work-writing (when I have it, which, thank God, I did over the last two weeks), creative writing, blog writing, blog reading and the rest of life, I am late, late, late in expressing my gratitude for awards that have been bestowed on Middle Passages recently. So, let’s get to it, shall we?

Thank you to Zoe at No Letters on My Keyboard. Zoe gave me the Prolific Blogger Award quite a while back, and since I’m less prolific then I used to be, I’m all the more appreciative. The rules state that I need to bestow this award onto seven other bloggers. Instead, I’m going to give you a link to one blog that I recently discovered via The Blood Red Pencil.

From what I can figure, this writer’s life could not be more different then mine, yet he sucks me in with humor, a dose of reality, and a humbling reminder that the world offers a lot more variety then that which I encounter in the little patch I inhabit. If you want a chuckle and an honest viewpoint, read Tracy Far.

Next, Robin at Your Daily Dose awarded me twice! Thank you Robin!


For the Versatile Blogger, the rules are as follows:

1. Thank the person who gave you this award.
2. Share seven things about yourself.
3. Pass the award along to 15 bloggers you have recently discovered and who you think are fantastic!
4. Contact the bloggers you've picked and let them know about the award.

See the first paragraph above. I don’t have fifteen new bloggers to tag. So you are getting a few of my favorites: Tricia at Tailspinning, Yvonne at The Organic Writer and Tab at Through My Eyes.

Hmm, seven things about myself? Well, in case you were losing sleep at night in your quest to comprehend the multi-dimensional facets of moi…Oh, sorry. Not awake at night? Well, if at any time in the future you, say, have too much caffeine and need a snooze inducement, here’s a previous award post involving truths and lies that may convince your eyes to flutter gently into the quiet night.

Next, Robin bestowed the “Incredibly Prestigious Oh My Blog” Award upon me. Yikes! Take a look at the rules here:

1) Choose ONE of the following options:

(a) Get drunk and blog for 15 minutes straight, or for as long as you can focus.
(b) Write about your most embarrassing moment.
(c) Write a “Soundtrack of your childhood” post.
(d) Make your next blog a ‘vlog’/video blog.
(e) Take a picture of yourself first thing in the morning, and post it.

2) Pass the award on to at least three, but preferably more, awesome bloggers as yourself.

So, here’s the deal.

a) I like my wine on occasion (as in, red, every Saturday night), and I like my writing all the time…but the two together? I’m a lousy typist as it is, and, I live on the verge of maudlin every day. Alcohol and Middle Passages combined would convince my precious readers to make haste to delete my-more-than-here-to-for soap opera from their blog rolls. I’ll abstain, thanks.

c) Sound track? From my youth? Did I use the word maudlin above? Oh darn. OK then, the thesaurus offers “mawkish,” “sappy,” “slushy,” and “weepy” as alternatives.

Guess we’ll pass on my teenage music preferences too.

d) Vlog? Sorry. Not technologically proficient enough. Besides, you’d hear my squeaky voice and discover I sound like a ten-year-old. Telephone solicitors ask to speak to my mother. 'Nuff said.

e) Post a picture of me first thing in the morning? Oh, right. If I could, I’d hide from my husband first thing in the morning, and he, bless him, made certain promises to love me regardless of the fact that on a good day, I resemble Pee Wee Herman. On a bad day, one side of my hair is plastered to my head, and the other looks like it stumbled into lightening. Nope. No one sees me until after a shower, or if it’s a lazy day, after a head dunk in the sink. Bozo the clown has nothing on me first thing in the morning and his hair was orange.

So, that leaves, dum dee dee dum: b) My embarrassing moment.

This illustrious incident included:

A naïve, eighteen-year-old-college-freshman doing business as over-the-top-sensitive me

A stomach-lurching, hand-quivering, bordering-on-stalker-ish infatuation with a certain male upper-classman

A crowded campus cafeteria

A tray full of food

A puddle on the floor

My feet-skidding, arm-flailing, tray-up-ending splat at the foot of said upper-classman’s lunch table--

And applause.

If you would like to claim this award for yourself or others, be my guest. I’m not giving it anyone else though, because somewhere, deep down, an appalled eighteen-year-old-girl still resides…she spent an hour wailing in her room that day. Later she stalked to the river where she muttered curse words while throwing rocks at at the current before deciding that since the worst possible thing that could ever occur just had, she might as well get on with life.

Giving all due respect to teenage drama, if she learned that a disaster of such magnitude occurred to anyone else, she’d hand over a huge dose of empathy, and feel compelled to run back to the river on their behalf.

Thanks for the awards, Robin and Zoe.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Little at a Time

My father used to tease me about the way I could make an ice cream cone last forever. He was right. On those lucky days that treats were on the agenda, I’d sit on the maroon bench-seat of our white Oldsmobile station wagon and nibble at my sugar cone long after the hands of the five siblings flanking me held nothing but sticky residues.

My technique with ice cream hasn’t changed, in fact on summer days when high temperatures rev-up the speed at which ice cream morphs to liquid, I find myself annoyed by the rush. I want to draw out the event, to measure the frosty chill as it envelops my tongue, to prolong the velvet sweetness and ponder the echo of taste it deposits at the base of my appreciative throat.

Most times, I’ll stare at a board listing a vast choice of flavors, and mull my options before forgoing Moose Tracks, or Banana Crème Brulee or Mulberry Glace for my old favorite, Chocolate Chip. After handing over payment, I stretch over the counter to receive the confection and turn the cone around in my hand, looking for the perfect spot to start--perhaps the place where an uneven chunk threatens to fall. When I find it, I stick my tongue in, giving a little lick, and twist the cone counter-clockwise one infinitesimal nibble at a time. If I encounter a chip, I run it along the roof of my mouth with my tongue, closing my eyes at the extra burst of flavor, the dark, gritty chocolate-ness of it, before returning to the vanilla cream.

For some reason, this method of consuming ice cream came to mind as I contemplated Middle Passages this weekend.

I’ve plugged away at this blog for well over a year now. It has played a critical part in helping me define who I want to become as a writer, though as with my ice cream, I’m slow to get to the end--a proverbial late bloomer, so to speak. Lately, I’ve been feeling that in the same way I’m the last one to finish my summer treats, I’ll find myself as a writer long after my peers have taken out the Wet-Wipes and cleaned their hands.

Writing is not a race, I know. But as I taste and nibble the flavor of Middle Passages, I recognize that so many writers I read, who started blogging long after me, seem so much well, further along. Here I am, plodding away, still taking those tiny bites.

By far Middle Passages isn’t all I write, but it’s the only place I get feedback, and, sad to say, the notes in my comment section increase at the same glacial rate that my ice cream disappears, which is to say, ever so slowly. A follower jumps on here and there, while bloggers with less time invested and fewer posts written celebrate 100, 200, 300 followers or more. Contests commemorating these multiplying numbers abound in the blogosphere and in truth, sometimes I feel left behind. Like many writers I suppose, I struggle to assess my worth and contemplate whether this, um…sluggish reader pace, is reflective of my skill.

This weekend though, I decided that from now on, when these thoughts plague me, I’m going to shake my head and remind myself of what, in spite of a limited readership, I do have--words that whirl and smooth and drip from me.

Just like with my ice cream, I do the things I like slowly, taking time to contemplate the effects--to value the experience. I let the joy of it move in, assess the space and rearrange the furniture before it blossoms in me.

Sure, I could swallow the cone whole, if you will, by friending a million people on Facebook to give my writing more visibility, by opening a Twitter account and tweeting every time that I post. My fear though, is that this would end up in one giant brain freeze. All the commenting and re-tweeting it would engender would distract me from the real value—the practice of concentrating on what tastes good. Paying attention to what feels right.

And savoring all the chocolate chips I encounter along the way.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Review, of Sorts

Dear Author of The-Book-I-Will-Not-Name,

Here is what works: the synopsis. When I cracked the cover to read about a 33-year-old man, estranged from his family for years, who returns home to find his parents dead, his sisters unaware of his existence and a gravestone with his name on it, I was hooked.

Here’s what does not work: Everything else.

A main character had an affair resulting in pregnancy, I get that. Three years later her husband is, uh, well let us say, miffed, to discover that the son he thought was his, is not. I get that too. But, Author, it’s unrealistic to believe that he secretly kidnaps said son, puts him up for adoption on the other side of the country, and most of all, that the adoption is finalized in days.

In case you don't know, and you obviously don't, Author dear, real adoptions take investigation, home studies, witnessed releases from birth parents, waiting periods, approval from social workers and state agencies. Even private adoptions require specific legal documents. I happen to know something about this, and to be blunt Dear Author, This. Just. Does. Not. Fly.

Here are the other things that didn’t work for me:

• What mother would let her three-year-old child “go camping” into the remote desert where her husband claimed to be taking him (in order to fake the child’s death via a snake bite)? I’m a mom. I don’t care if you are my husband. If you told me you were taking my kid out there, the answer would be no way, no how, because, bloody right, there are snakes out there. And lizards. And stinging ants. And a lack of water. Are you kidding me? Author, I suggest you find another premise.

• I'm skeptical that a man could march into a funeral parlor lacking a body, or ashes, or paperwork and buy an urn. I’m sure any funeral director worth his salt would raise his eyebrows at the tale of a box from a previous funeral parlor that wasn’t “good enough” in which to carry a child’s supposed remains home to a grieving wife.

I’m just sayin’...

• It's preeety tough to chew the idea of a wife (after confessing that her boy was a result of an affair) accepting her husband cremated her child's body before returning home. I hate to tell you, but if I were that mom, I’d be over-the-top-overwrought. Even if I trusted the husband, which apparently this fool woman did, I’d demand evidence of my child’s passing. How about the death certificate? Newspaper articles? Medical records? Wouldn't there be police reports involving the accidental death? Loopholes Author. Lots of them. Get on this, would you?

• If a husband returns home with an urn full of ashes, I can't believe that a wife, even if she didn’t suspect a thing, wouldn’t look in at the remains of her beloved child. Once she did, I’m pretty sure that she could tell the difference between burned pieces of wood and tiny shards of bone.

• Yup, Author, that lady did her man wrong. But when her husband confesses his crime to her, you are asking me to believe that she could simply accept that her son has been swallowed into a black hole, and, go on living with the lying, scumbag SOB responsible for that for the rest of her miserable life? Dammit Lady. Call the cops.

So Author dearest, since I checked this book out of the library, other then the time I wasted reading it, your lack of homework didn’t cost me a cent. However, in my quest to represent those-who-may-be-sorry before they fork over actual hardbacks (or perhaps, increase their sign-on-the-dotted-line-debt) to purchase this tale, I’m packing up my loaner copy and sending it back to you. To heck with the late fees. Please ask your publisher to halt further distribution until you complete your research, and then do me a favor and revise, revise, revise.


Disgruntled Reader

PS. Please note that I received no remuneration for writing this letter.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

View from Above

I'm struggling with a post today and need to step away, so you get this photo instead. Enjoy. (I do. Especially with a cup of hot coffee on an early Saturday morning.)

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Monday, May 3, 2010

"Perfect Day"

As a three-year-old, our daughter watched the same Peter Rabbit videos every weekend when she was home from day care, before her nap, while resting on a sheepskin rug my sister sent years ago from Australia. The stories were as naive as they have always been, a silly goose who trusts a fox to watch her eggs, a disobedient rabbit who escapes from a farmer’s garden.

The graphics were simple, yet unlike many of the videos and books that our girl demanded to “Do again! Do again!” these videos never bored me. Rather than gnashing my teeth after the thousandth viewing, I sat mesmerized, addicted to the haunting, ethereal introductory music which stroked like light fingers on cool skin. Each time we watched one, I waited impatiently for the closing credits, which included the same song. No one was allowed to speak while it was playing.

Like all things toddler, we grew out of this video habit. We put the tapes aside and forgot about them until last fall when I was cleaning out cupboards and discovered one tucked in back. Waving it above my head, I literally jumped up and down before turning to face my wide-eyed husband. “Remember how much I loved the song from this? Thank goodness we still have a VCR. I can hear it one more time.” Popping it in, the music began and I froze, head cocked, inhaling the sound of the piano, the flute, the crystal-voiced performer. Sitting as still as I could, I let the music bleed through me. When it was done, I moaned to my husband. “I hate to get rid of this. This song is one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard.”

The good news is that one person in our house had his brain turned on that day. “Find the name of the artist in the credits and see if you can download the song from ITunes,” my husband suggested.

Oh how I love that man.

The artist is Miriam Stockley, the Song is “Perfect Day” and when it came on my play list as we ate dinner Saturday night, I paused, as I always do, while the lyrics and voice seeped like a slow brook way down to my center, to puddle at the heart of all I love, at the core of my softening soul.

Words and music and art--sometimes they tickle like a hot breath at the back of your neck or cause you to shiver like a kiss on the ear.

But we are luckiest when they are arranged in an ultimate combination, the one that seems to speak to us alone, the one that stops us cold.

Do you have a song, a poem, a picture that touches you this way? If so, care to share?