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Monday, March 30, 2015

Here's Hoping

March is almost over but rather than looking for snow drops and crocuses in the garden, we’re still looking at snow. There’s still no good walking around our town, so Sunday, we headed south, to the ocean and open land with no trees. There we saw further evidence of Mother Nature's violence this winter. A wood bench, at least twenty feet above the beach had been flattened by the sea so instead of having a back, it looked like a double thickness of seat. Two granite memorial benches had been knocked off their footings and relocated to the middle of the walkway atop the sea wall, just down from a huge boulder, also deposited during one of the many storm surges. Still the day was sunny and the ocean churned and mixed with patches of green and blue.  Our eyes still watered and our noses sniffled, when we turned our backs to the sun, it felt warm. 

 This is our back yard through the window.  These guys are hungry...I chased them away from my Rhodies by banging pan lids. Sorry about the TV reflection. 
Our daughter usually startles these guys when she returns home from school late at night.  But on this day, they weren't waiting for her.
On Sunday, the pond behind the beach was mirror still.

But the ocean was boisterous and angry, with this rip tide forming.

Did you say Spring?  This is my back yard on March 29. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Doing my Homework

While I can’t recall the title, I remember the first book I took out of the library.  It had a green cover and it was about a girl called Kiki.  I was allowed to take it home while waiting for my new library card to arrive in the mail.  I also remember a second grade library period in which I was so engrossed in reading a book; my class took off without me.  For years, I read as a passenger in the car, in the tub, before classes, in line, at the breakfast table, sometimes even arriving early for appointments so I could read while I waited.

There’s not always enough time for reading these days, but this weekend I plowed through One True Thing by Anna Quindlen.  Books suck me away from the here-and-now world of laundry, dinner and dishes, so there was a glass-half-full reason to be glad spring chores have been delayed by the hard pack of snow still smothering our yard. Suffering only a modicum of guilt, I camped on the couch in front of the fire, taking a break for grocery shopping and other necessary things, but otherwise, reading.  All you writers out there know that in order to write, you need to read, and yes, I do find myself reading now with a writer’s eye, but that doesn’t stop me from loving it.  In Quinlin’s novel, the story of a woman accused in the mercy killing of her mother, the writing is so dead-on evocative that a couple of times I stopped reading, just to say in my head, “Exactly.”  

Listen to this:

But I could see her, standing at the place at the bottom of the hill where there was a dip and then a bump, yelling up at us, a cap pulled down over all but the smallest divot of eyes and nose and mouth, “Not so fast. Not so fast. Slow down. Oh, my lord, Jeffrey, you’ll give me a heart attack.”  All of life like a series of tableaux, and in the living we missed so much, hid so much, left so much undone and unsaid.  Jeff had broken his arm once on that hill, and she had taken her tempera paints and painted a toy soldier up the entire length of his cast.  He had been mortified.  One True Thing  by Anna Quindlen

Good-golly-gosh what I wouldn’t give to write like that. If to read well is to write well, then I’ll take that kind of homework assignment any time. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

An Oldie

This is an edited rerun from 2009.  As I perused old blog posts to generate ideas for this week, I found this unseen piece.  Not only is Central Cemetery still one of my favorite places to walk, but a fictional version of the St. John plays an important role in the novel I am currently querying.  The pictures are a more recent addition.

Dead Calm

Today I toured the cemetery. Before you grimace and assume I attended a funeral or was in the throws of a depression, let me explain that the place is situated near the library where I park the car to take my daily constitutional.  It has the added advantage of sitting on a promontory overlooking Little Harbor, and its "residents" hold one of the most expansive views in town.  While lacing up my sneakers, I decided today’s walk should include a detour there.

The area I explored is one of our community's oldest resting places. Weathered slate markers dating as far back as the 1700’s lean high above the granite ledges that seem to grow and shrink in the tidal flats pooling below. Central Cemetery is carved out of grass tiers that step up from each other.  A stone Celtic cross towers at the top, erected in memory of immigrants from the Irish brig St. John that foundered on ledge while carrying these pilgrims to a better life. Far below the cross, flattened marsh hay etches the shoreline along with greening buds and tangled strands of sea heather. The sun heated the small gravestones edging the beach this morning.  Purple crocuses bloomed in bunches below veterans flags that lifted up on a hanging breeze. Today, the sea beyond the harbor slept steel flat and cold and gusts blew damp, but a whisper of spring erased the sting. Pebbles from the stone walk crunched as I wandered toward the road. On my way back to the library I swung my arms and eyeballed the forsythia preparing to burst in front of an antique cape along the way.

You may take issue with me strolling among the peaceful dead but to tell the truth, I began my walk low key in mood. The hike among them though--well, more than anything, it brought me back to life.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Poem for Susan

We speak the language of stone.
Quartzite, granite, pumice, slate,
the eternal rake
of tide
and sea.
While we walk,
you point your cane,
bottle caps, wires,
the rusted intestines
of lobster traps,
I fetch them,
ridding the beach of
unwanted accessories.

At home, you pile stones
in plastic containers,
by the sink,
on the hutch,
in a box stored
deep in the basement.
Now, you solicit requests,
and though
I remain voiceless,
you know.
“Get the black stone,” you say.
We bring samples to your bedside,
malachite, jasper,
and a composite,
disparate forms,
fused together.
Just as I realize
these stones 
and love,
will last forever,
again you point.
This time, grey,
etched with striations.
A heart rock, folded into itself,
with a hollow
just the right shape
to rub at with my thumb.  

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Keeping the Faith IWSG - March 2015

 This is my March contribution to Alex Cavanaugh's IWSG.  To read more posts click here:

Joyce Carol Oates wrote a book called Faith of a Writer.  I’ll be honest. The book itself didn’t resonate with me, but the title still does.  Especially now.

At the end of 2014, I found myself in a writing slump.  I’d started querying Under the Apple Tree in December, and about that time I had this, Oh-God-that-took-two-years-of-my-writing-life-and-what-if-there-is-no-interest-feeling that dragged me way down.  Intellectually, I knew I needed to get cracking on something else, but the thought of putting more years writing a story that might go nowhere overwhelmed me.  I had fleeting, frightening thoughts.  What if I can’t do it again?

Here's where faith stepped up to the plate. As lousy as I felt, I made myself sit down at the computer five days a week and write . . . something, anything, a brief blog post, a letter to myself, a freelance article, a poem, with the idea that if I kept at it I'd break out of my funk. Anything to climb my way to writing Nirvana again. And as I pushed and prodded myself, a germ of an idea based on a writing prompt I’d had fun with a few years ago niggled its way up. 

But still, getting the words out felt like trying to make cold honey pour. I spent hours in the library writing character worksheets in order to find a way to move forward, which ended up taking me backward when I realized the pull-your-teeth writing I had done was a  false-start.  All that time spent developing one character, only to discover a big part of this new story belonged to another. That meant cut, cut, cutting, and starting again, which hurt, but still meant progress.  And  then, as things finally began falling in place I had another hiccup. This time, a legal assumption I made in regard to the plot. Upon investigation, it isn't credible.  

But now, I know the fix, which of course means more cutting, and I know this.  It was faith that got me this far. Faith in myself.  Faith in my writing. The belief that if I just keep going, I'll find the joy again.

I'm pretty sure I'm almost there.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Ad Infinitum

I told myself I wouldn't write about snow this time, that I was done with it.  But when I sat down to work on a blog post, this is what came out.  When I was in fifth grade, we had so much snow we were out of school for most of February. I remember that, the same way fifty years from now today's kids will remember this defining year.  And so it goes . . .

In Twenty-fifteen

We lived at sea level
and yet,
hills that began
calendar-page white,
climbed the skies around us
at first untouched,
but for the scampering,
a rabbit maybe, a squirrel,
and clearly a deer
sloughing a path,
its row of stutter steps
forging a diagonal,
waist-deep behind the shed.
Once the wind died,
we sucked in our breath and shoveled,
not bothered by the hoar frost
paining our lungs,
that again
and again,
the skies would howl
with blow and tear,
that our frozen roof
would pop,
gunshot sounds
leaving us awake and trapped,
amid our worst imaginings.
That later,
mounds would tower
at the end of the driveway,
line the half-wide streets,
or that bobcats and backhoes
would lift snow
into deep-welled trucks,
shape mountains
on the beach lot,
in front of a slurry sea.
In Switzerland they have the Alps,
Matterhorn, Monte Rosa and Dom,
and if we stood around
the curve in the road
and held our hands like picture frames,
we could pretend for a moment
we'd traveled there,
escaped this harsh season,
when what God really wanted,  
was to hold us frozen, inside.