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
Have you ever found yourself moving right along at a gallop and then all of a sudden you look down and there's no horse beneath you and kerplunk--you land with a thud? Well, that is exactly what happened to me towards the end of October and the start of November. Life as (un)usual seems to have picked up.
Additionally, anybody who is a parent, grandparent or who helps care for kids may have experienced a bit of whiplash with the increase in social and extracurricular activities for youth that suddenly increased this fall, especially juxtaposed with last year's halt (or virtual equivalent) of nearly everything.
And, it wasn't just my kids who had more things on the calendar. Theatres opened up, concert venues welcomed musicians back, festivals were held, book clubs returned and the nonprofit that I direct came out of hibernation. The Room to Write participated in the Festival by the Lake--the first event for the nonprofit in over a year--at the beginning of October. It was great, but it sure was busy.
A cup that had been three-quarters full already had suddenly started running over. I was completely overwhelmed with so many different needs in so many completely different directions. My self-managed writing projects (manuscript content and revisions, blog entries, newsletters, poetry) went back on the shelf not long after I had hoped to make them a priority. Kids back in school seemed like a big window was opening, but it filled almost instantly with things I decided were more important. Sometimes they were. Sometimes they weren't.
The internet can be a wonderful thing and yet it is a procrastinator's dream. I love to garden and find myself looking up plants and information on gardening when I feel overwhelmed by too many needs pressing in around me. With an endless variety of plants, dreaming up gardens is an easy way to fall down the black hole of time.
Bringing kids here, there and everywhere--another frequent time warp tunnel for me. Answering emails, coordinating meetings or events, and "looking" at things for others who ask me to edit a document are other ways that time is quickly siphoned off of my days.
So, where do I go from here? I'm not sure. I need to make a schedule, but more importantly I need to try to follow a schedule. I've discovered I'm a terrible self-manager. If somebody asks me to do something, consider it done! But, without a deadline or someone on the other end waiting for my writing--it gets pushed aside. Once again, this highlights the importance of a critique group and reminds me why I am so thankful for mine. We meet monthly and I facilitate the meetings, so it forces me to make progress on my manuscript even if only in bite-sized portions. It helps that I coordinate and run the meetings because then I make them a priority. Others are counting on me.
Yesterday I met with two writers. What a boost! It felt so good to talk about writing and new ways to bring writing into the community, encourage others to tell stories, and to write them down. Tomorrow I meet with another writer I haven't connected with in over a year and I am really looking forward to it. I feel like there's an exchange of energy when I meet with other writers--it's a give and a take for both of us. It's something that I haven't found a consistent pace with, but would like to incorporate into my life more often. These meetings used to happen more regularly pre-pandemic when workshops, conferences and other events took place. But we are not quite beyond the pandemic and so we creatives need to coordinate our own one-off collaborations and meetups.
Hopefully I can find the balance that keeps my cup full but not running over.
What's your self-management secret? :)
I am all in on the cozy factor of fall. About a million years ago my grandmother taught me how to make a crochet chain and then in high school (or college) a friend showed me and a few other friends a crochet stitch that could be used to make an entire blanket.
That one stitch has served me well and I have made a blanket for each of my children and some other family members. Walking into a store last week I saw a gigantic ball of yarn and had to have it, partly because looking at it just made me smile--it was the biggest ball of yarn I've ever seen in some of my favorite shades of rose.
It's nice to have something simple to do on a chilly day, to pick up and put down and that will give the mind a rest and eventually be something--whole. So, I purchased "Cozy Rosy," as I now refer to her, and she is a good companion along with my family when we watch a little baseball or a show that I don't have to follow closely.
Cozy Rosy is also a good reminder that a novel starts with one word, one sentence, one page and one chapter. Slowly but surely--little bits of writing or small works of art can amount to something to spread out, look at and enjoy!
Hope you are cozy and rosy this fall.:)
Sometimes a cup of tea and some sound, unsolicited advice from the tea tag hits the spot!:)
I was reading my itty bitty Our Daily Bread book this morning and had to share this. Sometimes no matter what your faith is or what you believe, it's good to know you are on this Earth for a reason.
With the cooler weather starting to seep in, I can't help but think of one of my all-time fave holiday movies: It's a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart!
I got news of someone's passing today. She wasn't someone I knew well--in fact, I'd only met her once in my life, but she was a lovely, talented, generous lady and it made me think of how all of us have people in our lives or that perhaps were merely brief flashes of acquaintance who have been impacted in a good way by us.
None of us is ordinary!
Autumn--my favorite season for sure!
I'm ignoring the season that follows and trying to savor this season before us with its colors and cooler temperatures. Don't get me wrong, I've learned to completely embrace my beach bum alter ego the last several summers, but then the humidity and the heat start to wear out their welcome and I long for a good excuse to stay indoors--to write, to read, to use the oven again, to use the fireplace and put slippers on. I like to get my cozy on.
Yet, everything has started up. Though we're allegedly "slowly" getting back to school and work and all those extra activities we somehow fit in before Covid came knocking at our door, nothing feels slow about it. We're knee-deep in October and I've already put lots of things on the calendar for November and even got someone inquiring about a date in December this morning. What!?
The weird thing is that I seem to get more done, focus better, feel better about my days when they are filled to the brim. When I look at a day and wonder how it will all happen, it usually does--one "to do" at a time. But, I long for quiet, calm moments where I can do nothing, read for pleasure or watch British Baking Show (it's back for another season--is it crazy that the news of it filled me with a sort of comforting joy?).
Yesterday I made it through the first full-pass revision of my entire Middle Grade novel, Eleanor with the Weeping Eye. I am so excited about this book! I'm eager to get it out there and hear a response from Beta Readers, the first will hopefully take a crack at it next week once I have made a few more adjustments to scenes, print it out, spiral bind it and send it off in the mail to her. Like every writer, I hope it's as good as it feels like it is when I read through it from beginning to end. On this last pass, I tweaked and fixed and totally reworked some chapters because tense and perspective got all mixed up in parts.
If you like Middle Grade and want to serve as a Beta Reader for my Eleanor book--send me an email. See the description here.
Have you ever given inanimate objects more credit for your future than they deserve?
I have. Earlier this month, I found myself getting to the end of my current writing journal. You may have seen the cover of it in a past blog or newsletter. It says "Organized Chaos" on the front. I have to admit it wasn't my first choice for cover designs, but like with clothes--often I go for comfort over style--the choices of journals with coptic binding were few and so I snatched it up. The important part is the inside (wow--what an unintentional, but heartwarming truth:) with its empty lined pages.
As Organized Chaos came to a close and school was starting, I pulled my next journal out from under a pile of clothes. (How I knew it was there, I have no idea. And why it had remained there--also, no idea.)
The next journal said, "Sunny Skies Ahead" on its cover. The colors were muted and everything looked calm about it. It was quite the follow-up to multi-colored, metallic organized chaos. That's when I started to believe, to genuinely hope, that the journal was making promises we all know it couldn't keep. Once I opened that blank journal I would be leaving chaos behind and sunny skies would open up and usher in the calm that everybody's been longing for after several years of not-quite-calm-at-all.
I suppose that's how desperate I am (we all are) as I grasp for a sign of hope somewhere--anywhere!
Being a New Englander I feel I have a leg up on unpredictability in life. I grew up used to wonky, random weather. It's cold, then hot, followed by a freak blizzard. Covid is the New England weather equivalent of viruses--only, instead of heading out to stock up on milk and bread and hunker down, toilet paper and tylenol top the list and that's only what you'll need if you're lucky.
Even if you don't catch Covid, a close contact or a near miss requiring a test or quarantine upends everything. Events, reunions, final exams, business trips, weddings and celebrations planned months before are suddenly not happening. Off the table completely. At least with weather there's the chance of bringing things indoors or holding it on a rain date. But, not with pesky, petulant, wild-card Covid.
It's pencils down.
Wait and see.
Wait some more.
Eventually cancel completely or postpone indefinitely.
But, back to my journal. This inanimate Nostradamus.
It is proclaiming that there are "Sunny Skies Ahead." That's a direct quote!
I know it's foolish, but I have to believe it. I'm hitching my wagon to it.
Sunny skies--here we come:)
This is the story of The Little Clematis that Could
A little over two years ago, we were preparing to move. We had outgrown our house and needed a bit more room, so like a crab we molted--shedding our old shell in favor of a new one. Being a gardener, I had so many plants in my garden that I wanted, but couldn't, take with me. One particularly striking plant was a Clematis vine with big, beautiful, purple/blue blooms that ushered in the spring brilliantly.
Knowing I couldn't uproot that large plant I noticed a "volunteer" down at the base, which was a small stem sticking up that had taken root and could be separated and taken with us. So, that's what I did--took it with us. In the crazy chaos of the move it got lost and quite frankly I forgot I had even taken it up as it was not the only plant I had taken a division of and moved around. That little plant found itself all alone and down the Cape, still in its second-hand pot, all winter long.
The next spring we went down to find a pot on the banister. It had to have been found by someone and placed there because it surely would have blown off onto the ground if it had been left there for months during the snowy, blowy winter. I almost didn't recognize it with no leaves and no label, just a desperate little stick of a stem with nothing to distinguish it from any other little stick of a stem just trying to survive a long, cold, lonely winter. But, alas--I had a suspicion it might be that Clematis.
We moved into our new home and I found what I thought was just the right spot for that little transplant. When I pointed it out to my mother she said, "Oh no, that won't grow. Clematis don't like to be transplanted." Hurrumph. Well, it was in the ground and I was going to water it and see what happened. And guess what?
It grew. It started growing and I went out and bought a pretty metal trellis for it to climb and I anticipated how beautiful it would be, but--a groundhog came along one day and ate everything in that garden right down to the ground including the Clematis. All I could think about was how much that little plant had survived and yet, just as it started to thrive it was cut short. So short--surely it was a goner.
With expectations very low I gathered a few tree branches and lay them over the spot where the stem still appeared in its heavily munched state. I figured perhaps the branches with their twigs sticking out all around would deter any hungry animal the next spring. I waited and waited and then--
Signs of life. The vine started to stretch and green up. The sticks I had covered it with were not a problem as the vine wound around, through and up. It grabbed hold of the metal trellis I had supplied it with the year before and it kept climbing up and up and up. There were lots of leaves now and it was spreading out in all directions.
Watering it one day I noticed a big hole behind it--clear of the sticks that had been placed in front of the trellis--between the trellis and the house which was about four inches. Bunnies! A bunny had decided to dig a nest for her babies back there behind my Clematis vine. How? Why? I don't know. Perhaps it seemed like a safe place for my Clematis and for some baby bunnies. Somehow the digging didn't bother the roots of the vine enough to kill it. The bunnies stayed, until they left.
Before too long the vine was green and healthy and continuing to climb so I cut away the branches I had put in front of it to protect it and was able to fully admire it. But then. Those bunnies. They were hungry and began to chew on all sorts of things in my garden despite the plentiful clover: my Amelanchier tree, a swamp Azalea I had planted only weeks before and yes . . . that Clematis vine.
The infuriating thing about it was that those bunnies didn't even eat the whole thing. This time they just took a nibble low on the vine so as to cut the power to the rest of the plant that had so miraculously climbed that trellis. Snapped it in half and walked away so that slowly the leaves of the top of that vine started to brown around the edges and curl inward toward itself. Feeling defeated and somehow emboldened I pulled away the dying part to toss into the compost bin and made a trip to the store where I bought chicken wire.
With little chicken wire experience I cut through it, shaped it, cut my hands up plenty, got about twenty mosquito bites as I worked, but was determined to surround the base of the Amelanchier, the Azalea and that Clematis with something strong and unpleasant. Life went on.
The summer was hot and rainy. With so many things growing I didn't notice the Clematis as much. Perhaps I didn't want to. It had been such a roller coaster seeing it grow and then be cut down, then grow and then severed once again seemingly beyond my control. But, there appeared to be hope. Somehow it grew and climbed once again and there was even what appeared to be a bud. Well, that could not be because this vine only ever bloomed in the spring. And this particular plant only ever grew to be eaten by animals soon after.
Yesterday was a beautiful day. Labor Day. A holiday and the last gasp of summer. We sat out in the backyard to enjoy the sun and the air. I had sat down with my garden book to try to look up the name of a flower I had forgotten the name of. That's when my daughter pointed and yelled, "Mom!"
She was pointing to a big, beautiful bloom on my Clematis vine. It was September 6th. That little plant had seemed to live and die and live and die over and over and somehow, against all odds, it was blooming its heart out. It was a sign of hope. A sign that things don't always work out the first time, or the second--but at some point there will be a bloom of color and joy to savor and appreciate.
The big, violet bloom was also a message. It was telling me not to give up--ever. That little plant was surviving against all odds and there it was blooming for all to see.
So, I'm passing this message along to you because it's not a message to keep to myself.
It is a message meant to be shared.
Don't give up
This past year has taken a lot from so many. Most of the loss has been obvious--tragic, tangible. Other losses have been more like the heat out of a drafty window--largely unnoticed until one is alone in a room and the chill is highlighted by the absence of distraction. In some of the quiet calm of this summer's vacation days I felt myself feeling the loss of a year and a half of childhood for every child in the world--and more personally my own. No matter how fortunate, innocence was lost this past year along with the care-free nature that is the hallmark of youth. It is as if my vision was so blurred by all that has transpired, I now look up to discover I missed some of the tailwinds of childhood as they swept by. My children continued to grow though time seemed to stand still for so many of us. They have grown in so many ways! This poem helped funnel those feelings through and out. There is so much we have not yet processed and that only quiet, contemplative time can yield. There is much to lament and it is important that we all allow ourselves the time and space to do so. It's a healthy, albeit unpleasant and often awkward, part of the natural grieving process.