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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Half Full

At the beginning of the year, I wrote about a neighbor’s yard, and how the balanced stone towers he fashioned from the granite gathered from his soil, highlight the simple treasure our New England earth offers.  

Sunday he called us with an invitation to see his newest project, so my husband and I pulled on our boots and tramped through the woods behind the house.  We met him at the stone gate marking the entry to his property.

After we visited with his chickens and removed a warm egg from a roost; we wandered to a flat, grassy area, where he’d assembled his most recent creation.  Over the course of three weeks, he dug in over 1,100 small rocks flush to the ground, shaping a large circular labyrinth designed for walking and contemplation.  “You are meant to walk it slowly” he said, “so you can acknowledge each of the rocks.”  

My husband and I spend a lot of time in our own yard, “acknowledging rocks.”  Any time we dig we find them, rubble deposited by ten-thousand year old glaciers.  Even in existing gardens where we’ve sifted the earth for almost 20 years, winter frosts heave stones up from deep below—shifting them to places only dark loam existed before.  We root around with spades and hoes until we unearth the offending obstructions. We’ve used them to line gardens, where they’ve slowly sunk back into the ground, and they help during summer barbeques to hold paper tablecloths in place. For the most part though, we toss them into the woods.  

In our neighbor’s yard though, the stones we throw away are collected like bounty and composed with patience and thoughtfulness, and an introspection that results in elemental and evocative art.  

Our Sunday walk provided a lesson in perspective.  A rock is a rock is a rock.  Except when it’s not.

 My memory card was full on Sunday so I couldn't get a picture of the labyrinth.  Here is a picture of "Serendipity," I took on New Year's Day instead.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Campaigner Challenge

For the first time, I'm officially taking part in Rach Writes' Campaigner Challenge.  This week's challenge is to write a short story/flash fiction story in 200 words or less, excluding the title. It can be in any format, including a poem. We are to begin the story with the words, “shadows crept across the wall." These five words will be included in the word count. 
As an additional (optional) challenge, we could do one or more of the following: (I did them all.)
  • end the story with the words: "everything faded." (also included in the word count)
  • include the word "orange" in the story
  • write in the same genre I normally write
  • make the story 200 words exactly!

Let me know what you think!

The Stroke of Heat 

Shadows crept across the wall.  Sunset exploded molten orange, then burned crimson.  Betta heard Papa’s voice, “Red sun at night, sailor’s delight.” Tomorrow would dawn fine and clear.  It’s funny how after a person died, they tried to convince you he still lived, though she supposed, in this way, Papa did.  His maxims had bobbed through her brain like a brook running downstream since the funeral.  Universal truths from the bible of Michael Foster. When she was little, she thought he’d painted the sun red, that he was in charge of the world.

Mama’s muttered chant, her perpetual rosary, tiptoed up from below.  “Never let the sun set on your anger,” Papa said, when she and Mama battled.  Betta gulped from the glass in her hand.  Whiskey heat pooled at her core, mingling with rage.  Mama, who hated the hold the vineyard had on her beloved husband, had given it all to the church—the fields, the grapevines, the house.  For the first time in 35 years, Bella disobeyed her father.  Tonight, fury survived the sunset. Purple strings of twilight layered the horizon. Swallowing her drink, she stared at the disappearing land she loved, until dusk deepened and everything faded.

To read more campaigner's entries, click here.  If you like this, I'd be grateful if you would go to the campaigner page and vote for me.  I'm number 112.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

In the Still of the Night

Like many folks, I keep a pencil and paper by the bedside so when story-provoking thoughts come to me at night, I can write cryptic notes.  This paper-by-the-bed habit began back in the days when I was a stressed Recruitment Manager.  A solution to a problem would occur to me when I was lying there, and I’d stay up for hours, afraid I’d forget the brilliant concept that slid in when my mind was less congested.  Once a reminder made it to paper, I could sleep again. 

It was easy to keep up the practice when I started writing regularly, so when a good idea formed like a cartoon bubble emanating from my mind at 1:30 or 3:00 or 4:00 a.m., I’d roll over, scratch it down and let it go until the morning.  

Lately though, after I write things down, I remain awake.  I know.  It’s an age thing.  But having come to anticipate the insomnia that snaps my turn-on switch when the rest of the world is quiet, rather than sighing in exasperation and yanking at the covers, I tune my thoughts to my current writing project.  Each night I probe places where a story line doesn’t flow, or where a character lacks depth.  Instead of plumping my pillow, I set myself to imagining layers or creating complexities to improve where important pieces are lacking. 

During these pre-dawn hours, it is as if the story recognizes my brain has time, and treats it as a landing pad for creative twists I may not have thought of during the day.  Delicious metaphors arrive as if snuck in by welcome burglars.  When I finally fall back asleep, it’s with a sense of a midnight triumph. 

After nights like this, I wake up tired, but never grouchy.   Before day takes over I rip the notes from the pad and head to the computer, accountable to this job as facilitator to the forming story; my obligation to record the action before it drifts from my brain.

Monday, February 13, 2012

I Can Do This (Repeat)

This post is my entry into the Origins Blogfest, sponsored by Alex J. Cavanaugh,   DL Hammons at Cruising Altitude, and Katie Mills aka Creepy Query Girl and Matthew MacNish at The QQQE. 

The timing is perfect.  This month I celebrated my third anniversary as a blogger.  If you've been a Middle Passages reader from the beginning...you know the "inciting incident" that jolted my blog and the writing me, to life.  If you don't, then the post below, born from the shock stemming from events that occurred less than 24 hours earlier will explain.  The goal of the Origins blogfest  is to share where our writing dreams began. It could be anything from how we started making up stories as a child, or wrote for the school newspaper, or even what prompted us to start a blog. I'll say the following, which first ran February 5, 2009, fits the bill.

I Can Do This

Here it is-- my first morning as a member of the vast multitude of the unwashed and unemployed of 2009. OK, I exaggerate; I’m washed, but walking around in twice worn blue jeans. After 23 years with the same employer, close to half of my life, yesterday was the proverbial day of reckoning. No need to bore with the details. Suffice to say, this morning I find myself with a bit of time on my hands.

To no surprise, sleep didn’t come last night, but it wasn’t so much the shock of unemployment that had me tossing from side to side, pulling the blankets up and then kicking them off. The restlessness came from one merry-go-round question that circled endlessly through my brain. What will I do now?

As a Senior Recruitment Manager for a billion dollar retailer, there were parts of my job that I liked. Mentoring my staff, pulling at the hanging threads of complex problems and weaving together solutions, training people, interviewing eager candidates, the relationships developed over years of interaction. But to be honest the true value of my job over the last several years was that it enabled me to enjoy the rest of my life. The salary was necessary, and helpful. I worked six miles from home, could get to my now teenage daughter in less than 15 minutes and they let me. For the most part, other than the last six months or so, I left the work behind on nights and weekends. Deep inside, I knew that there was more in life I could do and there was more I could be, but the ease of the routine of my career enabled me to keep that thought on the back burner. Today though, the pot is slowly heating.

So with some sense of relief, here is where I start my reconstruction, and I have a niggling of a place to begin. For the last year, I have been an avid reader and commenter on a blog of a New York based writer with whom I am acquainted. We have known each other for several years and she has persuaded me in no small way to exploit the contents of that pan resting on the stove. As an English major with a wealth of journalism courses under my belt, I worked that interest into my job, writing memos, training documents, and advertising collateral for the field--but it wasn’t until my acquaintance with the NYC writer developed, and she pointed out that that my writing is a passion, that I began to pursue it more formally. My work friends humored my interest, passing memos by me and joking at my level of editorial detail. However, few of them know of the whopping two essays I’ve had published in the last few years, and none of them know about the black notebook on my bedroom floor filled with final drafts and copious rejection letters.

Truth be told, our family needs a lot more income than my erstwhile writing career will ever earn. So I will go to the outplacement meetings scheduled for me, I’ll rewrite my resume. I’ll do my best in this appalling economy to find a job that supplies an income that will help support a child going to college in two years. But while I am doing that, I will also do this. I’ll document my experiences as a middle aged and unexpectedly unemployed woman. Writing about my reinvention and job search will give purpose to my days, and perhaps direction in my career. Better yet, maybe I’ll be of some help to someone in similar circumstances. God knows I’m not alone, and among other things; this blog is a way to reach out to those who are in this pickle with me.

Last night, as I shifted from side to side under the down comforter, hugging the teddy bear my daughter had sympathetically placed beside me, while agonizing over insurance and 401K’s, I had a moment of peace. I pictured the blog that I read each day, and reflected on my joy in crafting my responses. When I recognized how absorbed I have become in analyzing each word, scrutinizing every sentence, pouring over key phrases to find just the right flow before clicking send, I realized, I can do this. I have something to say too.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Early Delivery II

When I scheduled an 8:00 a.m. eye doctor’s appointment in the city for this week, I forgot how early I’d have to get up to catch a train.  Now that we are “empty-nesters,” I sleep long past my husband, who is out of the house before sunup.  But between the late moon filtering its vintage light through our uncovered picture window, and dreams that pried me awake, I climbed out of bed at 5:30 that day. I strolled down the dark driveway to pick up the newspaper about 15 minutes later. 

Standing by the street, on a cold but bearable February morning, I remembered a day a year ago, when the weather was more seasonal than now.  That was probably the last time I took the same walk in the dark. Later I wrote about the quiet.

This time on that brief trip, once again the soft swish of distant cars on the state road supplied the only noise on a morning when sound arrived packaged in soft wool.  I stood in the windless dawn, listening to the absences; the lack of birds, the stillness in the trees, then turned to encounter a fat moon casting a phantom light from above the garage, where it hovered like a ghost to the sunrise that would appear in short minutes. 
Swinging the rolled newspaper as I took slow steps up to the house, I drank in slivers of sound, the silver of light, grateful to have stumbled upon this frozen moment—a reminder that sometimes the best there is, ends up being everything that is not.

Hey all, I've just joined the Rach Writes Platform Building Campaign.  Although I've never formally joined  before, I did participate in some of her prompts and found them fun and wonderful in regard to improving my writing.  If you'd like a challenge, check it out here.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Beware the "Quick Fix"

When we cut down a different street to avoid traffic, a short cut might be a good thing, but as it pertains to writing, we benefit from considering each move—which is something I failed to do last week.  
You see, after listening to good advice and allowing it to rest, I let myself print out the first draft of the novel in progress after ignoring it for over a month.  In this first “top down” review, I planned to make big-picture notes on flow and consistency.  I’d mark where things need to be expanded and where I need to cut, before getting into a chapter-by-chapter examination of the story.

One easy-to-solve flaw I detected, involved a character I first named Stanley, Stan for short.  He appears in one chapter, and is mentioned a few times later in the book.  Somewhere along the line, I decided I’d prefer to call him Sebastian, nick-named “Sebbie,” and I changed his name. 

During last week’s first-ever analysis; I realized I missed changing Stan to Sebbie in several places, so I called on the Microsoft Word Gods to conduct a “Word Find.”  When Microsoft informed me I’d missed “Stan” 65 times, I didn’t occur to me that, while an important character, Stan/Sebbie only appeared briefly--so the number Microsoft came up with should have triggered research.   

Instead I took a short cut and hit “Find/Replace All.” 

The next time I looked at the draft, I found:

Stand, Stands and Standing morphed to Sebbied, Stebbies, and Sebbieing
Understand and Understanding became UnderSebbied and UnderSebbieing
Distance turned into DisSebbiece, Circumstances to  CircumSebbieces and Mustang to MusSebbieng

As I turned pages, I discovered Resistant turned to ResiSebbient, Assistant and Assistance became AssisSebbiet and AssisSebbiece; Instance became InSebbiece and contestant became conteStebbiet.  Every time I think I've found them all, I find another word with "Sebbie" instead of "stan" in the middle.

Instead of fixing my mistake, I created a new language.


What shortcuts have backfired on you?

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Picture Unfolds, Part II

Perhaps last month, you read my post explaining how fellow online writing group member, talented artist and soon to be published novelist Bridget Chicoine asked if she could paint one of my pictures.  Bridget’s book, Uncharted: A Story for a Shipwright, which will be published by Rhemalda Publishing in October of 2012, takes place in coastal New England.  She was looking for something appropriate to the story to paint.  I offered her up some photos and Bridget chose to focus her piece on this dilapidated dinghy tied up in our harbor.  

Bridget has finished her painting.  If you’d like to see her wonderful interpretation of this simple New England scene, click here.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

February and the Insecure Writer

This is my entry into the monthly Insecure Writers' blog hop.  To read posts from other participants,  click here: Alex J. Cavanaugh, Insecure Writers Support Group.

Become a better writer by writing.  I’ve been practicing this for three years now.   I’m committed to improving.  That’s why you are getting this “brain dump” of a blog post.  I haven’t written anything of substance for a few weeks now, and someway, somehow, I’ve got to keep going, to keep chugging, to force myself to write even when no great inspiration percolates.  

Dry spells come to all.  I’ve had my share.  Enough to know the way to get the word-water running again is to turn on the faucet and keep it on until thoughts work through the clog the way the degreaser powers through a hairball in your drain.   

So I’m here, typing the keys, thinking about how the hot bean pad I have on my shoulder is burning my skin but not reducing the stiffness from sleeping wrong the night before last.  Thinking about the farm we passed on our way to the mall the other morning, and how the rusted shell of an old tractor parked in front of two grain silos would make a lovely black and white photo if I can get back there again soon.  

I’m pondering the “resting” WIP, and trying to figure out how so many writers write new works while editing others.  I worry I’ve got too much singular focus to manage that, but if I want to keep writing I need to figure out how…

I’m thinking about my most recent blog post pertaining to a breakfast/lunch joint for South Shore Living and what a blast it was to write.  On the other hand, last week's monthly contribution to the local newspaper on behalf of seniors didn’t flow—I’m not surprised because I wrote from an “assignment” frame of mind and not from a place of passion, as the subject matter didn’t touch me.

And lastly, I am thinking about The Artists Way and morning pages and how this spew of words on the page would be acceptable if they were in a notebook no one was going to read, but since they are here out in public, in hindsight, it's a strong possibility I'm going to wish I never clicked “publish.”