The "to do" list.
That list is absolutely necessary for me to function, to remember, to prioritize, to be productive. But--
It is in so many ways an enemy to my "artist" inside. Yes, I'm sure that is my fault. I should be making time for my art. I've read the books, heard the calls to artist arms, and agreed completely.
Here I am--with a blog explaining, complaining, --
I must break away from this barely started blog entry for a "case in point" moment. Not only does my "to do" list keep me from writing for pleasure because "more important 'dos' shove their way in front of others," but also the impromptu "to dos" pop up on a near-constant basis.
I typed the words above, "Here I am--with a blog explaining, complaining," when it hit me mid-sentence that I had just put an egg in the pot to soft boil--which is a five minute venture--sat down to write and completely forgot about the egg.
No sooner had I settled down to start my blog entry then I was up and out of my seat (one minute behind, but with yolk still pleasantly runny:). Well, it was breakfast now--not time to write after all. I don't always do breakfast, but today is a day when I was finally able to add "write" to my morning schedule and so breakfast seemed like a wonderful indulgence too.
But, that was not all.
I was just finishing my breakfast when a friend came by to drop off books that we had lent her kids.
My kids had been asking about them but, well--you see--the "short on time" situation has been a problem for me.
My friend is in the same, creaky, late boat as I am
But, she amazingly squeezed the errand in.
I grab the books, hand her something and she's off to work. Now I will write.
Not yet. Enter: The Cat!
I love the book Olivia by Ian Falconer. Not only is it adorable, but I always loved it when part of Olivia's day required that she "move the cat" a few times. It's true. Any cat owners or dog owners know that just when you are about to stop rushing around and put pen to paper, brush to canvas, or perhaps do something quiet and contemplative--the cat shows up and wants something from you, but it's not always clear what it is they want.
So you reason with them for a bit: go out? hungry? a quick pat or scratch behind the ear? What!!??
And so, here I am about to get back to the blog I promised I'd write only to be negotiating with a feline who clearly has all the time in the world . . .
Front door? Back? -- then she sits.
Waiting for a cat to determine my schedule. Finally, I take a few photos because all this truly is comedy gold in my head. Of course instead of writing, I am negotiating with a cat.
So far a delicious egg, a good friend doing me a favor and an indecisive cat have elbowed their way into my "to do" list and that's the way it goes. It's those unwritten "to dos" that really do me in.
So, what is a writer "to do"?
Write about it.
And take some photos.
I know that when I started I was going to launch into the "to do" list and all its merits and evils and now--who knows what I was going to say. As you can see there is often no planning even to my day and the course it takes, let alone my writing. I consider it a win if I am able to write anything.
Fortunately I have kept up with this blog at least on a monthly level, which is much more than I can say about my newsletters. Those fell tragically off a cliff somewhere in the twilight between winter and early spring.
But--in keeping with the saying "perfect is the enemy of the good" I will slap together a newsletter and hope to draw you to this blog where you will see what I have been up to or thinking about even when it wasn't delivered to your inbox.
Yes, in that photo above you see little seedlings.
That, truth be told, is the other love that keeps me away: Gardening!
It is my passion in the spring-time and so when I am able to steal an hour or so I have been transforming my garden out front (actually, more than transforming, I have created a brand new one which is a large undertaking). I will post about that in the coming weeks or months, but for now you can imagine those seedlings are just the tiny tip of an iceberg.
The world is opening up slowly but surely. Hopefully it follows spring's lead and petal by petal it stretches into a bloom so that we can enjoy life more fully. Imagine if flowers stayed buds forever?
What a tease.
The Massachusetts State Poetry Society had a meeting this past weekend. It was in-person at the Beverly Public Library, and it has been a while since I have attended any workshop or gathering in-person for the sake of being creative--even if only in bite-sized pieces. Poetry is sort of famous for being bite-sized, so this was a good start.
Poetry also has a habit of being famously impenetrable or snobbish. But, like so many things in life, if you can push past your own preconceived notions about poetry you'll see it's just words like everything else.
It's a magnifying glass for emotion and feeling.
It tries to get right to the point.
Its love for the heart of the matter can be seen as obstinate at times.
This is where this weekend's workshop on Acrostic Poetry comes in. Acrostic Poetry is quite possibly the perfect ambassador between people and poetry. It provides the suggestion of structure but does not slap you across the knuckles with its rules as some forms have a habit of doing. It simply provides a very entry-level chain link fence where you can see outside, but you are asked to play within its boundaries. What you play is up to you.
Some may see the fence and find it, well--offensive (pardon the wordplay:). It seems too elementary. In fact, you may remember writing an acrostic poem in elementary school. What an insult to your intelligence, because while you may not be up for the snobbery of a Shakespearean Sonnet, you will not be subjected to the ABCs of an Acrostic! Pfft!!
Well, I must admit to you, my attitude was quite the same. It had been years--decades--since I'd laid eyes, let alone my own pen, onto an acrostic poem. And yet, I played along.
I was brought over to the fenced in area.
The rules were simple and clear--refreshingly so.
So, I played.
And . . .
I absolutely loved it. Simple enough for my overwhelmed mind to participate and yet once I allowed myself to forget about the world beyond the fence, I felt safe and had some fun with words. I didn't drone on as I tend to do with prose. I picked and plucked and tried to put together a bouquet. Rearranging, crossing out, rewriting. It has been so long since I'd allowed myself to work at a poem that wasn't simply "freestyle." The "rules" offered just enough challenge without making the exercise daunting or frustrating.
So, I encourage you. I implore you: write an Acrostic Poem. Here's a link to get you started: Acrostic Poem
Many thanks to Jeanette Maes, President of the Massachusetts State Poetry Society, who facilitated the workshop this past weekend. The poem I wrote is titled "Gardening" and it could do with some reworking, but I'll include it as it stands currently.
It felt good to take a snapshot of thought and force it onto paper. There is a satisfaction in creating that we cannot, as humans, dismiss or constantly defer. I'm glad I shook myself from default to get my hot mess of a self into the car and to that meeting so I could start to remember why I love poetry and words as a medium, so very much.
At long last, two years after I was originally supposed to sit down with the wonderful Joy Nelkin Wieder, author of The Passover Mouse, we finally got to chat mask-free in the WCAT Studios this past Monday. I got to follow Joy on her journey from spark of an idea back in 2002 all the way to this moment twenty years later to celebrate her picture book just before Passover begins April 15th.
The Passover Mouse came out two years ago, just before the pandemic, and so Joy has had to endure a two-pronged form of perseverance with not only a long wait for her story to become a book and reach the eyes of children, but also to connect with those children once the book was out there. So much was cancelled and so two years later she looks forward to reading it to kids in the classroom, at libraries and bookstores to see their reactions to a story about a mischievous but adorable mouse.
Joy said it best during her interview when she said, "Don't give up!"
(Side note: If you're confused--c.t. kavanagh is my pen/maiden name. I always promised myself I would write under my maiden name and so that's what I am doing here. I use my legal name for my non-profit work, but I am indeed the same person.:)
Sometimes you just need to make a good old mind map to think about how a character fits into your story--only to discover that perhaps that character is the very axle (or axis?) around which the story twines and climbs and blooms. That's an exciting feeling for a writer, but that's just a feeling. Now, there needs to be the writing derived from the feeling. Like a surfer catching a wave--you must swim out into an unpredictable ocean with all your strength, look for it, wait for something worth following, then go for it. Get yourself up on that board and enjoy the ride. :)
It's been a while. Since, the writing--in here.
With a blog titled, "Dear Diary" I wanted to write, "Dear Diary, my mother passed away less than a month ago and I'm finding it hard to write. Why does grief take up so much room in my head? Why does it feel like such a relief to write what I'm thinking in my paper journal with my pen, but when it comes to typing in this Diary---I just don't want to?"
And that's a problem, for a writer. "Writer's block" seems to take on a whole new, debilitating strength after the loss of a loved one. It makes me think of the children's book I used to read to my children called, Sometimes I Like to Curl Up in a Ball by Vicki Churchill & Charles Fuge. For some reason, when I'm sad or overwhelmed, I want to get as small as I can. And, in an effort to get as small as I can I pull in my arms and legs and tuck my chin down.
It's hard to write when you're in a ball.
Writing is an extension of who I am and I suppose stretching myself out so publicly on a page is simply unappealing. It's the last thing I want to do because, well--when you lose someone you love you really don't want to do much at all. But I'm still a mother, wife, sister, friend, neighbor, volunteer, citizen and, still, I am a daughter--with all that continues to come with such a role even without the mother to show for anymore.
Loss happens and then--weeks, months, years later the essence of it still lingers. In sentimental human ways and in demandingly impersonal, bureaucratic ways. It suddenly shows up when you least expect it and seems to have abated only to soon make it clear it has not.
And so this blog post is me putting the key in the ignition, turning with a sigh and knowing I need to turn the engine over every now and then to be sure the car will run in the future even if my heart just isn't in it today. But it will be. I have to believe that.
I need to try to not look too long into the void or it will swallow me. We humans have a habit of steering into what we're staring into. That's dangerous. So, I need to know the void is there in order not to fall into it and then avert my eyes, focus on the living, put one foot in front of the other and walk towards the light no matter how far off it appears at this moment.
Easier said than done. I know.
But, it's a start:)
As many of you know, the other hat I wear is Founder and Director of The Room to Write, which is a nonprofit that supports writers of all ages, abilities and means. So, it makes sense to share things that I think will benefit other writers and readers on my author site as well. This event definitely falls into that category. Here are the details:
TRtW thought it would be fun to coordinate a Writers and Illustrators Meet & Greets--with a twist.
In addition to the actual meeting "event" with writers and illustrators of all genres and levels, The Room to Write wants to do a little extra to celebrate the books created and published by local authors and illustrators during two very challenging years as well as those being released in the year ahead. (2020, 2021, & 2022)
BEFORE: Wed, January 26th: Receive the meeting link by emailing: email@example.com Published authors and illustrators can send a video where they show us and tell us about their book. Sending the video ahead is our preference so we can show them during the event. Please send your 30-60 second Video through We Transfer to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Video Instructions: LIGHTS: Be sure lighting is taken into consideration. You don't want to be sitting in the dark with big shadows. CAMERA: For those recording on a cell phone, please be sure the camera is held horizontally. (Hamburger no Hotdog) This will give the audience the best view of each author. ACTION: Please be sure to record in a spot that has minimal sound. Speak slowly and clearly.
Ideas: Hold the book up, show your smile (or scowl:) and be sure to tell us your name, the book title, where you live (town/city is fun, but county, region or state will do). Tell us about your book. It's great practice to see what you can fit into 60 seconds or less. The genre? Age of intended audience? Is it a debut novel or your fifth? Date of publication?
ON: Wed, January 26th at 7:00pm: Join us for a virtual Meet & Greet where we will highlight recently published books by local authors and illustrators and enjoy creative community.
Didn’t publish, but would like to learn about recently released books by fellow artists or gather some motivation to continue with or finish your current work in progress? Gathering among other creative minds helps-- even if you're shy and just want to listen and absorb some positive energy.
Published? Published authors can show up and share a book during the meeting. Sharing will be limited to 60 seconds maximum whether live or pre-recorded. You'll have more time to share and answer questions during the Meet & Greet. We will add any additional Show & Tell spots to the existing video to be shared after the event.
AFTER: Wed, January 26th: If you don't get your video to us prior to the meeting and are not able to join the event, please follow the instructions above to be added afterwards. This video will be a helpful resource that can be added to for up to two weeks after the meeting, so by Wed, February 9th. We'll send out an updated version on Valentine's Day with all the local authors we love and support!
A little over two months ago I set out to create a blanket--for myself. I haven't done that since the '90s!
Post-2000, my blankets have usually been for new or approaching babies. I made one for a cousin's birthday.
A few starts remain undone for one reason or another--like abandoned manuscripts tossed into a drawer.
Shortly before the new year arrived, I tied the last knot in the blanket I started in October. It's warm. It's cheery. And, it's the perfect size for sitting on the couch, kicking up my feet and fully covering me from pointed toe to tucked chin.
It's bitterly cold today. My thermometer reads 5 degrees.
Hats, gloves, coats: ON.
Heat: UP. A constant purr in the background.
I hope you have something cozy to snuggle with today.
One stitch at a time may seem slow, but Cozy Rosy is proof that--
even the long, cold days
eventually come to an end.
One stitch at a time.
One day at a time.
One -- soon equals five, then ten.
You'll have something to spread out and
be grateful for when it's just you,
your creation, and
old man Winter.
Truly, there is something about having a room of one's own.
Not in the same sense that my daughter wants a room of her own.
She does have her own corner in a room she shares.
And really, that is all I'm talking about here:
This room is not mine, though it feels like it is right now. It is a shared room where my aunt visiting from Mississippi was able to sleep this past summer, a family friend who plows in the winter can lay his head, and where my husband has worked daily since he was sent home from his office space back in March 2020. The cat often stretches out in here, too.
But, recently this space became "available" three days a week. The only thing missing? A desk--or a table to write on. Yesterday I pulled a TV table up to a chair, but I needed something a bit more permanent and less chaotic.
Something shoved into the corner would be out of the way and much more functional.
Not enough is said about the beauty of corners.
Able to corral thoughts and papers together.
For fifty-eight dollars and tax, I found an adorable, functional desk that fit into the 36-ish inches of space I had available to work with. I didn't know most desks were 40+ inches, so there were not many options.
But, I love the one I snagged.
So now: a small space:
an in-house efficiency
in which to work,
to contemplate and
Might help make all the difference.
We shall see.
You guessed it.
A deadline is a writer's best friend.
Writers need deadlines, even self-imposed ones. If you're like me and you still manage to slip by the guards, you may need to toss in a dash of public accountability. This is where my critique group has been key to progress. I write the words down, but I seriously doubt I'd have brought two novels into the world with one in the oven if the deadline of a monthly critique group didn't force me to write.
But, for a slacker and master procrastinator like me--it's still not enough. I don't want to painfully squeeze out a chapter here and a blog entry there under duress, the sharp curve of a swinging pendulum slowly descending upon me.
After all--I like writing.
I love it. It's the very air that I breathe.
So, why do I avoid it like a teenage crush: hiding behind my locker door, slipping into class and slumping in my seat, pretending to read to avoid unintentional eye contact?
I think I'm afraid.
There, I've said it. Perhaps this is the imposter syndrome I've heard about.
Whatever I've written up until the next moment I write that is at all entertaining, enjoyable or that somehow seems to be making sense as a cohesive story is clearly a fluke.
My streak is sure to run out and I fear that the next time I sit down to write I just won't do the rest of the piece justice. Perhaps that's why revision can sometimes seem more attractive as a task because I've already figured out the full story, the characters and most details. I simply need to polish them up, perhaps shift them around--or maybe rewrite whole passages entirely.
But, this ends now. (I hope:)
With the new year standing right outside my door, I am going to rely on a writer's second best friend: a closed door to a quiet space. Eureka! Only days ago (two to be exact:) did I discover that my husband, who had been occupying the "office" space in our house for the better part of the last two years--while I took up residence in the equivalent of a busy hotel lobby in our living room--is now in the "real" office three days a week. The room that had been "his" can be adopted and adapted as "ours." What a discovery.
It only took me two full months to realize it.
So, I go into the new year with new hope that I can ignore my fears, pay more attention to deadlines and more consciously enter a room where writing happens--not laundry or phone calls or dishes or a cat being adorable.
Here's to finding some space for passion in the new year.
I gave myself twenty minutes to write this:)
It may not be perfect, but it's done.
You've heard me mention tea before. I drink it. And sometimes--the teabag tag has a bit of wisdom inscribed on the back. Recently I was sipping a cup of Echinacea tea with honey and felt like the universe was speaking to me through a tea tag.
The tag read, "Are not flowers the stars of the earth? - Clara Lucas Balfour" Yes!! I love flowers and earth--and stars, but what really struck me about this particular quote was how relevant it was to the current middle grade manuscript I am working on. So relevant, really, that I immediately pictured this quote situated, as you see so often, at the beginning of a book--after the dedication, but before the very first chapter--setting the tone and atmosphere through which the author wants you to walk on your way to reading the very first words of the story in your hands.
I feel that quote is the effervescence (had to look that word up:) I want spritzed all around the reader a split second before they begin digesting the very first words of my novel: Secret Lives of Leaves.
What is Secret Lives of Leaves about, you ask? Well, it's my answer to the Secret Garden, which I felt was too much about the secret and not enough about the garden. My Work-In-Progress starts out with a boy who is obsessed with outer space (planets, stars, rocket ships--the whole nine!) and there is a progression toward realizing that Earth (that planet we all live on) can be equally fascinating and ripe for discovery. A classic "don't know what you have 'til it's gone" type mentality or "it was with you all the time" or "should have looked in your own back yard"--that sort of thing.
Indeed, "Are not flowers the stars of the earth?" hits all the right notes of my middle grade novel and might even serve as a pitch except for the copyright conflict. Not knowing a lot about the author, Clara Lucas Balfour, I looked her up and found the extended version of the quote--which would never have fit on my tea bag tag--but I will end with it here:
“What a desolate place would be a world without a flower! It would be a face without a smile, a feast without a welcome. Are not flowers the stars of the earth, and are not our stars the flowers of the heaven.” – Clara Lucas Balfour