A few weeks ago I was out raking. It was a beautiful, surprisingly mild, fall day and I was happy to have an excuse to get out into nature. Aside from raking leaves into a pile for kids to jump into, I take more of a "leave it alone" (pun intended?) fall clean-up stance. After all, letting leaves sit over the winter is vital to the life cycle of so many insects, a food source for birds, as well as a cheap and easy insulation for my plants. These compelling arguments for letting go of that rake conveniently appeal to my lazy side. I long to hibernate for the winter.
But, I put off hibernating for one more day to bask in the sun, rake in hand, clearing the sidewalk and driveway to ease pedestrian passage. Anybody who happened to see me in action that day surely wondered, "Why is that crazy lady raking leaves off of the sidewalk and into her yard?" Yes, no bagging or Dr. Seuss vacuum cleaner required, just into the garden they go. This menial task gave me a closer look at the trees and plants nearby. That's the magic of nature--it helps me focus and offers endless avenues for contemplation.
Being mid-November, the garden was almost completely under the sleeping spell of winter. I began to notice how so many of the "bad" things are illuminated when everything else starts to die away around them. Creeping Charlie was green and going strong and a person could lose a whole day pulling at its never ending stems that snake through the garden and pool around my plants. Whatever that other creeping vine was (Virginia Creeper?) had turned a brilliant red and looked magnificent . . . but it's a bully to all the plants it strangles out and tramples over during the growing season.
Then I saw my clematis vine looking all withered and worn out compared to something strong and green growing right up beside it--a weed easily hidden in the growing season. It was one of those tall weeds that are yellow with the fluffy seed heads that spread everywhere when you try to pull it out of the ground. It's like the awkward, lanky cousin of the dandelion called Sowthistle (a name I found thanks to a quick look-up on the 'puter). Add to that Common Burdock, one of my top arch nemeses of the garden. Dun, dun, dun-n-n-n-n--
That infuriating plant goes through various stages of big, wide, fuzzy leaves growing low to the ground--thick taproot like a giant parsnip that never comes out in one piece. A year or two later, that very same plant switches identities and grows into a high, sprawling beast culminating in a crescendo of horrible, sticky burrs that cling to anything passing by it--especially clothing. Ugh.
As a gardener, I am very well aware that weeds are in the eye of the beholder, though there are some plants that the vast majority can agree cause real harm when left unchecked. Wisteria--I'm talking to you!
It did strike me in that moment how the garden can be such a poetic meditation on life. That fall day in particular, when I went outside with the fallen leaves coating the ground and everything once-cheerful now void of life, I realized that all the things I worked so hard to keep out of my garden were the only things that were still alive.
Death remains the great illuminator.
I am finally getting to my September blog posting.
Yes, it's October:)
The same thing happens with apple picking. I know September is prime time, but the month of September consistently goes by in a blur and then October arrives and we finally pick apples.
It seems to be a resounding theme in my life lately. And--what exactly is lately? This week? This past month? Absolutely not. "Lately" is more like the last several years.
Even this year's month of August, which is usually a time when I try to relax fully and gather all my energy for the fall push, was interrupted by coughing. A cough from nowhere. Just a cough. Wet and productive. At least something has been productive--haha. It's amazing how a cough can be so disruptive, so sleep depriving, so socially unacceptable, and so mysterious. I still haven't discovered the exact cause or cure or for how much longer. For now, it's under control, but only because of a daily inhaler. Something I can't wait to be without.
I suppose we age and our health wanes whether we like it or not.
I don't like it!
So, what now?
Will I ever catch my stride.
How is anybody ever able to proceed at a pace that is enjoyable when life seems to blare at you and then go quiet, then honk, then hum, then crash, then cancel, then . . . then . . .
I am not an animal who can sit by the fire and fetch slippers every morning. I cannot recognize that I have wings and not try to use them.
Maybe I should? Chickens seem content with it.
I need to work, to use my skills, to feel fulfilled in meaningful ways. But, I don't know that I have found a way to do that at a reasonable pace. I don't know how to get the ebb and flow to cooperate. It seems it's just flow, flow, flow.
I was recently talking to another writer who has a similar difficulty. The world tells us, "Say 'yes' to everything in order to advance in life." Ok. But, what happens when you've gotten so good at saying "yes," that you forget how to say "no?" I think I need a more fine-tuned instruction manual going forward.
For now, I guess I will feel behind on nearly everything. Winter will slowly approach, and my children won't have so many places they need to be. Hopefully they'll fall into a more comfortable schedule at school.
The buzz of September will start to sizzle and silence.
That pull to go out into the garden will shrivel up and surrender alongside my annuals.
We will all retract, climb into sweaters and get cozy and--please, Lord--slow down a little.
Maybe I'll get up-to-date with my "to do" list.
I might even publish October's blog in October!:)
Ahhh . . . summer. It's a season when we collectively agree (sort of:) to take a break from life as usual. We can blame it on our childhood where the promise of sun, splashing in water, and no school set the precedent we would find ourselves chasing for the rest of our lives during the hottest months of the year. Some don't like the idea of children or adults having a long period of idle time, but I have to say I believe it's a necessity--for all ages.
I have children and so I know that there is no truly "idle" time for me during summer, but I do enjoy the idea of blurred boundaries where shoes aren't always mandatory, bathing suits become acceptable attire, and meals are less formal--often eaten outdoors causing napkins to take flight, spills to become no big deal, and the ability to accommodate unexpected mouths at the table by simply throwing another something-or-other on the grill.
Coming from a gal who appreciates structure and thrives under the scenario of too much to do with too little time to get it done, I deeply appreciate down time. In fact, I think I desperately need it. My engines need time to cool off and I really do feel like I'm recovering from life in the summer months. When fall arrives it's off to the races--and I love that, too. I thrive on a packed schedule all the other months of the year.
So, with August now front and center I fully intend to press "post" on this blog entry and begin my recovery. This summer started off with a bit more adventure than usual as my whole family embarked on a three-week trip to England, Scotland & Ireland. We enjoyed afternoon tea, rode the London Eye with friends, walked by Big Ben as it rang out while we reconnected with a long lost cousin, hiked up the side of the mysterious rock formation of the Old Man of Storr in Scotland, walked by the Birnam Oak that Shakespeare passed, fed carrots to the Highland Coos, cheered on the County Clare Hurling team at a local pub, and surfed the waves off of the western shores of Ireland.
Just to mention a few things.
Now, I'm ready for the portion of the summer where I read for pleasure, sink my toes in the warm sand, eat fried seafood, and play cribbage.
We should never underestimate how important down time is in our lives.
Slowing down allows us to focus on family, friendships & our faith:)
One thing that can be a struggle for many of us--writers, artists or not--is making connections, building community and forcing ourselves to be social. Despite the unpredictable weather, Wakefield's Festival by the Lake on Saturday, June 10, 2023 provided a wonderfully casual way to do just that and connect the good old-fashioned way: face to face.
In my capacity as director of The Room to Write, I like to think of the festival as a big party that presents a wonderful opportunity to introduce our nonprofit to the public, answer questions, and a great way to find out what the community needs from our organization in terms of programming and support for writers of all ages and all levels.
This year we were fortunate to have four local authors as guests in our tent available to talk to, purchase books from and to have books signed. Each author sees book events as more than just an opportunity to sell books. It's a chance to be social, to connect with their audience and to meet author creative people looking for community.
Local author essayist and TRtW's Coordinator for Senior & Veterans Programming Linda Malcom joined us to start the day at 10am with her collection of essays, Cornfields to Codfish. To learn more about Linda and her book click here or watch her interview as part of our Journey of a Story series here.
Local writer Lisa Varchol Perron stopped by next at 11am with her nonfiction picture book, Patterns Everywhere, and her very sweet board book about unconditional and enduring nature of a mother's love, My Love for You. To learn more about Lisa and her books click here or watch her interview as part of a collaborative project with WCAT Studios here.
Next up, the wonderful Monica Acker came by with her picture book Brave Like Mom. She received a visit from a family who appreciated the beautiful message in her book. If you would like to learn more about Monica and her book, click here or watch her interview where she talks about the inspiration for her book as well as the process of bringing it to publication.
At 1pm Christine Ricci-McNamee was happy to talk about her children's picture books, Logan and the Lost Luggage and Louella and the Librarian. If you would like to follow Christine on Instagram click here or learn more about her writing journey by watching her interview here.
Last, but certainly not least, David Watts Jr joined us as representative of Boston Pen People. He was under our tent when the rain started to pour and the thunder roared and yet people still found their way to our table to talk to him about all things pens--fountain, dip and otherwise.
Big shout out to Tom Furrier at Cambridge Typewriter who made sure our typewriters were up to snuff and had all the ink they needed to be sure the steady stream of kids who stopped by would leave with their words printed onto their paper of choice. It's always so much fun to see how much fun writing can be for the youngest among us.
The Room to Write will be on hiatus for the summer months, except for our Writers and Illustrators Meet & Greet in July, but we look forward to seeing you on a more consistent basis in the fall.
Like so many of us, I wear several hats. One of the hats I wear is Founder and Director of the non-profit: The Room to Write. In that capacity, I write blog entries for The Room to Write's website blog. Sometimes my two hats: non-profit director and creative writer, have commonalities. This is one of those instances where a blog post I wrote for TRtW also works really well as an author blog post. So, here is my posting in its entirety:
There's something about spring and, in particular, the month of May that makes everybody buzz about seeking new ways to grow, not only in the garden but in their spiritual life, family life, professional life, and--hopefully--their creative life.
Sometimes our creative lives take a back seat to all the other lives we maintain.
If you're hoping to grow in your creative life, a wonderful and free resource is available to you thanks to a collaboration and sponsorship from Wakefield Community Access Television (WCAT) studios titled The Journey of a Story interview series.
No matter what genre you write in and regardless of the age your target audience is, some things remain constant in writing, and we have uncovered some really helpful insights that can save you a lot of time and frustration when it comes to the publication process.
In The Room to Write's interview series, The Journey of a Story, we focus on the writing and publication process rather than the content of each book. We're not at all interested in an author's pedigree, but we are very curious about the obstacles in each author's journey that they had to overcome in order to persevere all the way to publication. We love to learn about time-and-sanity-saving hacks!
We're not so much interested in plot twists as we are curious how a writer battled writer's block, formatted a query letter, found an agent, and the nitty gritty details of the revision process. The Journey of a Story series is a high-quality series on a low budget because--let's face it--most writers are not making a living from their creative writing projects and publications. By day they are teachers, doctors, financial advisors, therapists, and successful entrepreneurs. Other writers have only found the time to write after they retired from their full-time jobs.
So, tune into 30 (currently) different interviews of authors who write everything from adult romance to children's picture books, poems to plays, kids non-fiction to adult essays. It's quite an eclectic group and they share generously from their experiences. The one commonality? They are all from New England, with the vast majority reside in Massachusetts.
So sit back, tuck it, top off and learn how real writers write and how they eventually publish!
Although we should instinctively know that when we build anything there will be work involved, we still sometimes expect (hope?) that the work won't be hard or even that we won't know that we're working at all.
A conference is one of those events that presents itself as something fun and simple, but that actually can be quite exhausting because usually a conference is part of an attempt on our part to build something: knowledge, a supportive network, a bridge to a place where we'd like to live or at least visit more often. Here I am at the NESCBWI Spring Conference and I have to say I'm pretty tired, but not so tired that I'm not sitting here and writing this. That's a win! I'm writing--something, anything: this:)
The tricky thing about things like conferences is that I need to remember they are like Thanksgiving: there is a lot of great stuff, you're going to see lots of people, you're going to eat lots of food (not all healthy), and you might need a nap at odd intervals. The smart people take naps. I am not a smart conference attendee. I did not nap. There's just too much going on and there are just too many amazing and creative people all in one spot to take a break from.
Which brings me to what I have found to be one of the most important, but often the most challenging, aspects of a conference: meeting new people and reconnecting with people I haven't seen in a long time--especially since this is the first in-person conference since before the pandemic. Building creative community is probably one of the things I enjoy most. I love learning about others and then finding a way to connect them with someone else. Rinse and repeat. It takes effort and sometimes my brain cells and memory don't cooperate, but that's what laughter is for. Laughter is the Modge Podge I brush generously over the top of everything to smooth things out. Or make things worse, but usually better . . . I think:)
So, get out there. Sign up. Pack your bag. Put that name tag on and shove yourself into awkward situations and then, when it gets really awkward, get over it and move on and laugh a little along the way.
Eventually you'll start to build a community and find yourself beyond your expiration date writing a semi-incoherent and possibly rambling blog entry on a random bench in a hotel hallway.
This morning I walked the lake as I've been doing consistently two days a week since the new year. I suppose that is my resolution. I'm not sure if I knew it was at the time, but apparently that's how resolutions are made and kept at my age: make it small, tangible and achievable.
Today the fog seemed to tell me something similar.
Usually while walking the lake, I have a clear view of the opposite shoreline. It's only about 3 miles around, so it's not difficult to see the whole thing at a glance, but not today.
This morning the fog was so thick--like pea soup, as they say--I couldn't see the water, let alone the other side. It was very striking, beautiful, unusual--other worldly. At certain points it seemed as if I was staring off into the ends of the Earth.
As I walked I wondered what the lesson was because it felt like the fog was telling me something. The Universe was whispering in my ear and it struck me: focus. Focus on what is right in front of you and don't think or worry about the other stuff in the background. Fog forces this to happen.
On a clear day the branch of a tree can be so easily lost among the colors of the water, the distant trees, the bird flying by at that moment, etc, etc. Fog erases all of that from your vision and the branch that never caught your eye before, stands boldly against the backdrop of the muffled grey mist. An ordinary blade of grass pops. The empty boat has never looked so desperately alone.
The Universe pleads, "Slow down. Focus on what is right in front of you."
Don't waste time thinking of the stuff off in the distance. There may come a time when you are there, but currently you are here. Forget "over there" for now.
Appreciate, worry about, tend to, take pleasure in, suffer through, deal with, savor--what is right here right now.
Let everything else fade off behind the fog.
As part of The Room to Write's Senior and Veterans programming, we have writing days that are more casual and unstructured. We call those writing days: Gather & Write. It's a way to make time for writing during the week that is less structured. An instructor shows up and offers a writing prompt or two, or whatever, to the group--something to get the wheels turning and the pen writing.
Being the only "poet" in the group has propelled me to utilize the time I am at the writing prompt helm to offer up something poetic. Not everybody in the group that gathers is necessarily interested in writing poetry--per se--but, really, poems are simply words that sometimes appear in a flowing sundress, sometimes in a polo shirt, and other times squeezed into a tuxedo and bowtie.
For Valentine's Day, I decided to give the group a glimpse of a well-dressed poem. What form stood out to me as appropriate for the special day? The Sonnet, of course. When you think Sonnet, you often think Shakespeare. That might make you nervous, but it shouldn't. Shakespeare was in love with words. That's it. Sometimes passion can cause a person to get carried away, and so that is all that was--a man who got carried away with words. He was truly in love with words and so am I.
Now, do I sit at home crafting sonnets all day or even once a week?
I am more of a free-verse poet, but I do enjoy a challenge every now and then. Think of a sonnet as a word puzzle. Puzzles aren't always meant to be easy. They are meant to get your mind churning and working until: voila! You have solved it--or you come close to solving it. There is a satisfaction in that. Sonnets can be wonderful exercise for our brains!
I printed out some background, information and examples of the sonnet using a very helpful website, which you can access at: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/learn/glossary-terms/sonnet
Keeping with the clothing theme, I told participants to think of a sonnet as a Corsette. Sonnets are a very tight poetic format. There are rules--strict ones. The sonnet forces you in place. It can be painful, but we persevered.
You know what? Some participants actually enjoyed it. Others scoffed and at least one or two outright refused to conform to the format, which is perfectly fine. Still many surprised themselves with what they produced.
I was one of them. Having been the person to force this poetic form upon the group, I was stumped when it came to sitting and writing until I simply decided to write about having to write a sonnet itself and the difficulty it posed for me.
Give it a try! Who knows--you may just find yourself despising it and then enjoying it:)
Here is the sonnet I produced that day using the ABABCDCDEFEFGG rhyme scheme:
The Sonnet Structure
Thinking outside the box can be so hard
especially when the box is not square
but instead a stretching, boundless vast yard
where we normally wander anywhere.
And so, I sit and struggle with this form
a torment brought upon by my own hand.
My mind is like a literary storm.
My thoughts forced into sonnet cannot stand.
Sonnet poetry, why do you exist,
forcing me to count like a little kid?
Out from under your thumb I turn and twist.
I didn't think I'd like this, but--I did.
A glutton for puzzles and punishment,
for literary suffering--I'm meant!
Like many others this past week--a pipe in our basement gave way to an imitation of the great Niagra Falls. Being a light sleeper came in handy this time around when I heard water at 3:30am, but I assumed it was coming from the nearby bathroom. Perhaps one of the kids was up getting a drink or washing their hands. But, then--the water kept flowing. What were they doing in there?
I got up. Nobody was in the bathroom. Nobody else was even awake. Just me. Maybe it was coming from my dish washer. I went downstairs. Nope. Kitchen was dry, but the sound of water was getting louder and I spun around, flicked on the basement lights and opened the door: Water! Cascading over the light at the bottom of the stairs which was now hanging out of the ceiling that had dissolved. Screams to my husband to turn off the main . . .
Everybody was up. My youngest was as frightened as if we were in a sinking ship that was taking on water. My oldest? Being a teenager who values every minute of sleep left her only annoyed by abruptly being woken in the middle of the night. She went back to sleep. The other two took it all in with reactions floating somewhere in the middle of the youngest and the oldest.
I usually work in our basement, so last week was a week filled with working on borrowed time as well as borrowed laptops. While my laptop came out of the ordeal dry, the power chord was immersed in water. So, when the battery ran out, then I lost access to my laptop until a replacement chord could be delivered.
As I attempted to balance the virtual world with the real one, I felt displaced and unproductive trying to figure out new laptops and the parental controls that would kick me off the internet suddenly. A remote meeting I facilitate took extra time and two different borrowed laptops to get up and running.
Papers that hadn't been soaked were shoved away in the rush to clear the basement. I still don't know where everything is as I sit at our dining room table with my own laptop fully powered up again and attempt to catch up on a week's worth of discombobulation. I continue to fall into the "it could be worse" or the "you're lucky" category, but I'd prefer to just fall into the category of "nothing happened" or "none the wiser." But, thinking of how much worse it could have been makes me feel such empathy for those who experience any sort of flood, fire, weather-related or not, event that leaves your things and your thoughts scattered. In this age of online, a seemingly simple power chord was a real problem when it came to getting work done, communicating with others, etc.
So, hopefully you weren't as "lucky" as we were when the latest, "hasn't happened in 150 years" weather event presented itself. But, if you were the recipient of more water than you would have liked last week--hopefully this week is a drier, calmer, better week:)