Two Months

srha1987:

Please read this essay by my talented friend Karla, aka K. J. Klemme, author of Tourist Trapped.

Originally posted on View from my backyard:

cemetery2Two months ago friends and family gathered to say goodbye. Choking back tears, they expressed their sympathies, offered their support.

Two months ago.

Time passed and coworkers moved onto the next happiness and sadness. They stopped asking you how you are with expressions filled with sorrow. They forgot you lost the person who made you whole.

I didn’t.

I know your struggle, I know your pain, but you don’t realize I know.

You go home every night to your boys, fulfilling role of father and mother. Consoling and supporting, showing strength gained through years of surgeries, chemotherapy and prayer.

You survived the worst, the moment you dreaded for years. She’s gone, leaving nothing behind except pictures, her personal items, and the memory of the warmth of her skin against yours. Sometimes you can’t bear the pain, and other times you’re relieved you no longer carry the burden of a sick…

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Gatsby and Goosebumps

If you’re a regular visitor to my blog, you know I haven’t been keeping up with it lately. I’ve worked on my manuscript and also prepared for school. I was in rather a funk about losing my writing time and having to return to the classroom. When I started the new school year today, however, I was reminded many times why I love teaching. Early this morning I ran into one of my students who gently scolded me for not keeping up with my blog over summer. I was pleased she had read it, so partly because of Kaitlin’s prompting and partly because I can now breathe a bit easier since the school year is underway, I am writing again.

One of the things I love about teaching is that I learn something every day. Sometimes it is about myself, sometimes about my students, sometimes about the craft of teaching, sometimes about human nature, but I always learn. Today was no exception. Today I started a new class, an AP Language and Composition class. In the course of preparing for that class, I discovered an article by Mortimer Adler called “How to Mark a Book.” The lines from this article that struck me were these: “…marking up a book is not an act of mutilation but of love.”; “Full ownership comes only when you have made it [the book] a part of yourself…”; “…books, too, must be absorbed in your bloodstream to do you any good.”

In the coGatsby 1925urse of reading the article, I remembered the first book that entered my bloodstream and became a part of me. It was The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I’m not sure why Fitzgerald’s words more than any others resonated with me, but each time I read it I am in awe. In fact, when I was discussing the Adler article with Nickey, one of my colleagues, I  told her about reading Gatsby and how I felt about the book and my favorite passage. When I read my favorite part to her out loud, I got goosebumps on my neck! Thank goodness she indulged me because I couldn’t help myself. Some words just beg to be shared. Here is the passage from chapter six of Gatsby. Gatsby is about to kiss Daisy, the woman he has pursued his entire life, for whom he built the vast fortune he has acquired, all to win her one day. That one day has arrived, and Gatsby is about to realize his dream.

His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy’s white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning-fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. at his lips’ touch she blossomed like a flower and the incarnation was complete.”

Reading those words, I am overcome with wonder at Fitzgerald’s genius. He speaks to me each time I pick up this dog-eared, second-hand copy of The Great Gatsby I bought at the bookstore in college. Each time what he says and the way he says it takes my breath away and I learn over again why I love reading (and writing) so much. This is art. Fitzgerald speaks to me and to all others who appreciate his words. Mortimer Adler says, “And that is exactly what reading a book should be: a conversation between you and the author.”

I hope my students will understand that as readers we enter into a conversation with an author and learn to read not only the lines but also between the lines as Adler says. We can appreciate the artistry of the words but also come to understand what is left unsaid except in our imaginations, in the way we respond. By reading closely, we learn to read like writers. We learn how language works, how words evoke images and feelings, how they can leave us with goosebumps. That is magical.

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What Outlander Taught Me about Writing

Outlander!Three weeks ago I dove headlong into my newest book and read with abandon. I’ve done little else since then. I barely noticed what was going on around me because, once again, I was living in the 18th century with Jamie and Claire Fraser. I’m sure most of you have guessed that I’m reading Diana Gabaldon’s Written in My Own Heart’s Blood. Just as her other books, beginning with Outlander, captivated me, this one has plunged me happily into the past through the imaginary standing stones at Craigh na dun in Scotland and into the American Revolutionary War.

Diana’s books defy description and genre. They are a mix of history, romance, and fantasy, categorized as time-travel romance according to some people. Reading this latest installment has been a wonderful way to spend the last bit of my summer before school starts once again, and I have to turn my attention to work rather than my own reading and writing. Sigh. Mind you, I haven’t neglected my writing while I’ve been reading. I’ve actually learned a lot from reading these books, particularly this one, mainly because I’ve been paying attention!

1. Use interesting vocabulary. Here are just a few memorable ones from this book of the Outlander series.

  • hoik–to pick up of heave something.
  • gobsmacked–astonished, astounded
  • mizzle–misty drizzle
  • buckram–stiff cotton fabric used in book bindings
  • erstwhile–former, previous

Using interesting vocabulary might seem obvious, but we tend to use the same words repeatedly. Paying attention to our choices is important.

2. Make sure readers learn something as they read.

Gabaldon is a research professor, and her vast research shows ! Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser is the main character of the series. She is a nurse and then later a doctor.  We learn through Claire about what amputations are like, how surgeries conducted without anesthesia feel, how to set broken bones, treatment of burns, gathering of medicinal herbs and too many other tasks to count. We also learn a great deal about herbs and plants and their medicinal uses through Claire’s medical practice also. One such example of an interesting tidbit occurs when Claire is shot in this latest book. When her friend has to retrieve the bullet, Claire is awake but under the influence of laudanum. When she discovers that a French general of the Continental Army has sent her some Roquefort cheese to tempt her in her recovery, she has the surgeon pack her wound with Roquefort cheese because the compound the cheese contains is the same one penicillin is made from!

3. Appeal to the senses. I can’t possibly cite the whole book here, but I could. Here is just a sample of marvelous imagery from Written in My Own Heart’s Blood. “We slept that night in the public room of an ordinary in Langhorne. Bodies were sprawled on tables and benches, curled under tables, and laid in haphazard arrangements on pallets, folded cloaks, and saddlebags, as far away from the hearth as they could get. The fire was banked, but it still radiated considerable heat. The room was filled with the bitter scents of burning wood and boiling bodies.”

4. Trouble on every page! To start with, the book begins with Claire married to Lord John (Jamie Fraser’s and Claire’s friend) because she thinks Jamie is dead, drowned on the voyage to America. Lord John is gay, however, and only marries her to keep her from being arrested. Jamie isn’t dead and turns up at Lord John’s house in Philadelphia. While Jamie is at Lord John’s talking to Claire, his bastard son, William, whom Lord John raised as his own son, returns home, sees Jamie Fraser–he is the spitting image of him–and concludes rightly that Jamie is his father. He thought Lord John was his father. William proceeds to punch walls, knock down chandeliers, and break the front door in his anger at having been lied to. Jamie kidnaps Lord John…. Get the idea? :)

5. Give your characters jobs. Diana Gabaldon shows us Claire’s character through her profession as a physician. She responds to situations as a physician, often putting herself in danger to save others. Jamie is a warrior and farmer. Those two professions define who he is and what happens to him. Brianna, Jamie and Claire’s daughter, is an artist and an engineer. Roger McKenzie, Brianna’s husband is a musician and singer, then becomes a pastor. Fergus, Jamie’s adopted son, is a printer. The “jobs” the characters have are much more than just their activities; their jobs affect what happens to them and also what their reactions to trouble are, and trouble abounds in these novels!

6. Give your characters quirks. Claire uses a peculiar turn of phrase. When she is upset or surprised or taken aback she says “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ.” Certainly not ordinary swearing. It’s memorable and endearing, not to mention odd. Jamie, on the other hand, has a couple of quirks. He rubs the bridge of his nose when he’s making a decision and he drums his fingers on the table or on his leg when he’s agitated. He also calls Claire Sassenach, the Gaelic word for an outlander or outsider.

These are only a few of the lessons I’ve learned from reading Diana’s books. There are many. If you’ve never heard of Diana Gabaldon, you should go right now to your local book shop or library and check out the first novel in the series, Outlander. These are hefty books. The one I’m currently reading contains 825 pages, so if you love a long book that transports you to a world with unforgettable characters, these books are for you! After reading, you should  watch the new series on TV! That’s right. The STARRZ network is producing Outlander, a show based on Diana’s books. I don’t get cable out here in the boonies where I live in Wisconsin, but I can get Netflix and will so I can watch this story come to life! Here is a trailer for you! Enjoy!

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Hello Faith!

20140708_134313My muse just dropped in to say hello, and I mean that literally! I was sitting at my desk getting ready to write, but as sometimes happens (at least to me) I was dawdling on Pinterest, a favorite activity that sometimes yields productive ideas. Not today, however. Instead, I was lost on a board reading a recipe for double chocolate hazelnut cookies. Sigh…

It’s a windy day here, after summer storms last night, and the window next to my desk is open so I feel the breeze. Atmospheric since I am about to edit a scene which takes place aboard a ship. My muse, at least the representation of creative me, usually sits on the side of my computer, but since I rearranged my desk a few weeks ago, I moved her to the top shelf for a bit more room and organization. I found her at one of my favorite places, Junk Bonanza, but that’s another post entirely. :) One gust of wind later she fell from her perch and landed with a thump right in front of me. If she wanted my attention, she certainly got it!

As my heart rate returned to normal, I read the words printed on the canvas: imagine; a creative mind is rarely tidy; listen to your inner whispers; create; be open and alert. Immediately I opened my blog and started to write this post. Sometimes, I guess, it takes a lot more than self-discipline to get me going! It takes a nudge from the unknown.

Now I’m back editing my manuscript (Love that word!). I have a schedule to keep which includes sending queries to several agents before the end of July and also sending my edited manuscript to a friend’s book club for review. I have to thank my muse and her creator, Lauri Jeanne, in addition to the my own Creator for reminding me I should put my buttocks in the chair and write!

Since my “muse” literally fell in my lap to remind me what I should be doing with my time, I’ve decided to call her Faith, after the heroine of my first book and because every time I begin the creative process I begin with faith that the words will come, no matter how bad they are to begin with. Each word I write is better than the blank page, and each time I revise the story, I hone not only my skill as a writer but also the words on the page to more closely say what I mean. And that’s what I’m going to do right now.

See you when I’m finished for the day!

“This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.”
― Steven PressfieldThe War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles

 

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10 Reasons I Love Summer

In the summer months I revel in the weather, my writing, and the freedom of not answering to a schedule dictated by bells. I realize as I write this my family down in Georgia is sweltering with the heat index ranging between 105 -110, and I must say I don’t miss that at all. In fact, I complain a lot about Wisconsin winters and springs because–let’s face it–winter lasts too long and we have no spring. Well, sometimes we do, but not this year. We rolled directly from late winter into summer in a matter of about two weeks. But since I’ve moved to Wisconsin, summer has become my favorite season of the year.

Yesterday I was reflecting on what I love about summer, and I had no trouble coming up with a list.

1. Waking to the sound of birds singing rather than an alarm ringing. With a river behind us and a stream running through the backyard, our yard is a haven for birds. And they wake up at about 4:30-5:00 AM to sing their little hearts out. It’s lovely!

2. Falling asleep to the sound of peepers and frogs singing and croaking. That little stream in our backyard empties into a pond where said peepers and frogs like to hang out. They put on a nightly concert just for us. Once, one of the tree frogs got stuck in the window next to my youngest son’s room. He couldn’t figure out where the sound was coming from and struggled to fall asleep each night the singing was so loud!

3. Thunderstorms. Through some trick of nature or topography, my town doesn’t get a lot of severe weather. When we do, the storms are doozies, but usually we just have a gully-washer as my mama use to say.

Delphiniums by my soon-to-be complete vegetable garden.

4. Flowers–everywhere! I don’t know if all southerners are gardeners, but in my family we are or, at least, we profess to be. I love flowers, especially roses. What I’ve learned from gardening in the Midwest, however, is that my gardens don’t tolerate weakness of any kind (I think that may be a metaphor for living in the Midwest.) I don’t grow tea roses which were my daddy’s favorite, specifically Tropicana tea roses, but I do grow Knockout Roses. Ironically, they were developed by the brother of Tom Radler, the wonderful teacher I student taught with years ago.

5. The river and water in general. I grew up on Lake Sinclair in Georgia. We had a lake house (read trailer with an attached screened porch) where we spent nearly every weekend and a lot of weekdays for years. Once we even witnessed a tornado from inside–I know. It’s a miracle I’m still here after surviving a tornado in a trailer! We also spent a lot of time at Jekyll Island on the beach with two other families. Those are great memories, but I’m making new ones on this river behind my house. Once Bruce and I got caught in a thunderstorm while we were floating down the river! Scary but exhilarating!

6. Running and walking with my Stella. During the school year I don’t get nearly enough exercise. I usually put on about ten pounds. All summer I work to take that ten pounds back off! Luckily I enjoy the heat and humidity and also working up a good sweat. As I’ve grown older, it has taken longer to get back into shape, but I keep at it. Not only does Stella like to go with me, but she also gets to swim in the river to cool off. sometimes I wish I could join her!

7. Farmer’s Markets! I will feature my favorite one on my blog soon and show you all the beautiful flowers and vegetables we have available.

My favorite wine and my favorite husband!

8. Relaxing with my hubby on the back porch. We both love to garden, and when we finish, we often relax on the back porch after a dip in the river to cool off. One of my favorite things is spending time with my husband, and summer means I can devote quality time to him without being distracted  by grading papers in the evening.

9. Long days–really long! The sun rises here at about 5:00 and doesn’t set until nearly 10:00 at night. If my Norwegian relatives are reading this, they are probably laughing right now! When we went to Norway last summer, the sun never set because we were above the Arctic Circle. I went outside at our cousins’ house at about 3:00 AM, and it was light out! That was a little weird, but we adjusted. I love how long it stays light in summer here because in winter it’s often dark by four in the afternoon, and I thrive on sunlight.

10. Writing–for as long as I want every day! I saved the best for last. I am so excited about the work I did today. (I love calling writing my work!) On Twitter I found two new agents to query for my completed novel, did research for the one I’m planning at the moment, received a book I had requested for research, wrote one blog post and started another one!

Summer is definitely my favorite season here in the Midwest. I’m free to pursue my passion and enjoy the beauty all around me!

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A Sign of the Times

Yesterday I ran some errands downtown. In Waupaca, a town of just over 5,000 people,  we are very lucky to have a thriving Main Street with almost everything we need offered by local merchants here and in the surrounding area, no Walmart or other large big box retailers to speak of. We even support three bookstores! I know! It’s unheard of! Unfortunately, in another couple of weeks, that number will shrink to two.

Book World in Waupaca

One place I stopped was Book World to buy a copy of a book I’ve been waiting forever for, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon, (yes, hardcover, and I paid full price and am so excited to read it!). I did get a 20% discount, however. When I asked my friend Maria, the manager, about it, she told me they were offering a discount because Book World will be closing several of its stores. Waupaca’s store is one of them.

I didn’t ask about profits or traffic or the recession or anything like that. I’ve read enough about what is happening in the publishing world and the economy to know how difficult it is to sell books these days, especially with the competition of Amazon and Barnes and Noble to deal with. As a result, small, independent booksellers are a disappearing breed, even small chains like Book World. Although Dragonwings Bookstore is still hanging on ( thank goodness!) as is The Book Cellar, I am saddened to think that a community like Waupaca will have one fewer choice at which to browse the shelves for books and magazines, calendars and bookmarks. We will have to look elsewhere to find the perfect book for a gift or experience the thrill of purchasing the latest book in a series that has taken years to read, as I just did.

If your community still has a book store, I beg you to support your local independent bookseller, even if it costs a few dollars more to buy from them. The experience of browsing the shelves in peace and quiet as you sample the worlds within the newly inked pages, of smelling the perfume of new paper, glue, and ink  which is unique to books, and of looking for a title and finding several you weren’t looking for but which you, ultimately, can’t live without is priceless. I don’t know anyone who would find going to the Amazon warehouse and browsing the shelves  comparable to being greeted by name and having books recommended by a friend.

 

“I have gone to [this bookshop] for years, always finding the one book I wanted – and then three more I hadn’t known I wanted.”
― Mary Ann ShafferThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

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Pantster or Plotter? Maybe Both

How I feel when inspiration strikes!

I’ve started a new writing project! It has been a long time since I thought I had a viable idea, but now I think I do. At least I hope so. I’ve spent the morning researching my idea and can’t find anything that remotely addresses my topic!

My trouble is that when I get an idea that I really like, I tend to start writing before I really know where I’m going. That isn’t bad in and of itself, but I could save myself a lot of backtracking and changing if I planned just a bit, which is what I am trying to do this time–at least to begin. :)

My Plan:

1. Research my topic (which I’ve started already) and the related titles. This is not something I did before I started writing my first book, The Scent of Jessamine. I would have saved myself some time, but I also would have had a better idea who was writing books similar to mine.

2. Do a preliminary Hero’s Journey to flesh out the idea. Christine DeSmet introduced me to Christopher Vogler’s book The Writer’s Journey five years ago. Here’s a link for The Writer’s Journey that gives explanations and examples to follow. I used Vogler’s template for my last book (changed my life!) but not until I had written about 60-70 pages. The previous book contains perhaps 100 words from my original pages, but that may be a stretch.

3. Create a character sketch for each of the characters. This is not something I did when I wrote my first book. Since then I realize how important knowing my characters is, their motivations and quirks, what they think is important. The trouble is that bits and pieces come to me. That’s how my muse works. All I know is the name of my main character so far! I am of two minds on character sketches too. I love the act of discovery, of seeing what my characters will do when they are under pressure, but perhaps that happens anyway?

4. Decide where to set the novel. For this book I’m really not sure. Jessamine was so oriented toward setting that all I had to do was inhabit that place in the book. This time I think the setting will be in the South somewhere, but I think the subject matter may determine setting and character to a certain extent. I have learned a lot about setting and how important it is from workshops I’ve attended such as Weekend with Your Novel and Writer’s Institute, both in Madison Wisconsin. So I know I will spend a lot of time on setting and may have to go there to get a good idea what the place feels like as I did with Jessamine. Field trips are a perk I like!

5. Write when inspiration strikes as I proceed. I still plan to do this. I can’t contain myself when inspiration strikes me. I have to to record that initial “lightning strike before it’s gone. It seldom reappears if I let it slip away.

6. Create an outline of scenes. Doing this will be new for me. My writer friend, Geri Gibbons, put together a beautiful outline of a book she is working on. I remember seeing it at a class I took with her and was impressed with how much detail was depicted. I envied her knowing exactly what she would write about. I’m going to try this (she says doubtfully). I’ll see how far I get. I’m notoriously poor at planning.

7. Put my butt in my chair and write! Treat writing like my job, which it is in the summer and, one day, may be year-round!

When I started The Scent of Jessamine, I had no plan to speak of. I knew where I wanted to end up, but no idea how to get there. However, I don’t want to spend another five years on this book, so I am planning before I write. I will not be a complete pantster this time! When I started Jessamine, I had no idea what I was doing! Although I don’t profess to know what I’m doing now, I do have a better idea now, thanks to the tutelage of Christine DeSmet, Kristin Oakley, Laurie Scheer and many others who’ve taught me so much about writing and the business of writing.

I’m not giving up on The Scent of Jessamine. I still believe in Faith and Josiah and their story. I will still try to find a home for them with an agent and a publisher, but I miss the creative process.

Revising is an entirely different beast from writing; a whole other part of the brain is required, and it doesn’t leave me fulfilled afterwards the way that the act of creating does. I need to connect with my creative side, and I’ve missed that lately. I won’t give up my pantster ways entirely, but plotting will make my life easier so I can spend more time writing and less time revising! Is there anything you think I should add to my list? I’m so excited about this new project!

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The Book Blogger Test

A Familiar Books Quotes

I follow a blog by Jodie Llewellyn. She is a wonderful writer and blogger. If you don’t know about her blog, you should check it out. For a post the other day she answered the questions to the book blogger test from a blog she follows called Brin’s Book Blog. She liked the questions, and so do I. Even though I am not nearly an expert on books or blogging about them, I decided to answer the test questions for my post. I love answering those quizzes on Facebook that tell you what song was written just for you or what you’d be in the wild west, so I’m approaching these in much the same way! I’d love to hear your responses to some of these questions, especially books you’d recommend!

What are your top three book pet hates?

1. I know books about vampires were really popular, but I hate the whole vampire thing. If I never read anything with vampires, it will be too soon.

2. Reading a book that doesn’t live up to its hype. It’s why I haven’t read The Fault in Our Stars, the Harry Potter series, etc. I know I’m missing out, or so many people have told me, but I haven’t been disappointed either! :)

3. I hate when my favorite books are turned into movies and the characters look NOTHING like I imagined them, or they add a scene, or totally change the ending. Things like that lead me to wonder if the people who made the movie even read the same book I did. Case in point–has anyone seen The Great Gatsby?

Describe your perfect reading spot.

My perfect reading spot is on my couch in my living room with a cup of Lady Grey or Paris vanilla tea. I snuggle into a beautiful cream colored throw my friend Kay crocheted, and if it is cold here in Wisconsin and the fire is burning brightly, there is nowhere I would rather be! I could stay for hours happily killing time.

Tell us three book confessions.

1. When I was growing up, I didn’t like to read. I know that sounds crazy for an aspiring author and an English teacher, but I would rather have played basketball or have ridden my bike or my unicycle, anything but be cooped up indoors!

2. I have never read Gone With the Wind. I think I just heard a collective gasp from some of my friends down in Georgia. I know! But I just never was all that interested.

3. I have never read anything by Jane Austen. Okay, I just heard it again. This time I think it was from my English teacher colleagues. One day I will try one of her novels, probably the Mr. Darcy one, but there are just so many books to read and so little time!

When was the last time you cried during a book?

I don’t usually cry when I read books. I cry when I see movies, but I think the last time I cried during a book, I cried because I was laughing so hard when I read The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson. I dare you to read that book and not laugh till you cry!

How many books are on your bedside table?

Currently, only one because my husband’s relatives just came for a visit from Norway, and I didn’t want them to see what a book slob I am. Ordinarily I have a whole pile, sometimes an entire basket full! When the hubby is away for business, they even creep over onto the bed with me!

What is your favorite snack to eat while you’re reading?

I don’t like to eat when I read, but I love to have a hot drink, preferably black tea with honey and milk.

Name three books you would recommend to everyone.

Only three? This is the hardest question of the whole list, I think, so I chose the ones I have reread over and over again because of the magic of being transported through time and place.

The Alchemist by Paulo Cuelho

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

 Show us a picture of your favorite bookshelf on your bookcase.

This is my favorite shelf because it is the one with books by southern writers or about the South. I just reorganized my bookshelves!

 Write how much books mean to you in just three words.

Inspiration. Entertainment. Companions.

What is your biggest reading secret?

When I try to read “classics,” most of the time I don’t finish them. I think I feel obligated to at least try to read what others throughout history have found worthwhile, but sometimes the classics are…boring. I know I am setting a bad example for my students; nevertheless, it’s true. Sometimes I  appreciate classic novels; other times I don’t. Usually when I do, I have read something by an author which captured my fancy and then set off to find other books by the same author. That’s what happened when I read Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I fell in love with Thomas Hardy’s writing and have read every novel he ever wrote. Sometimes that happens for me, and I’m so glad when it does.

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One Day

Southerners have an identity. They are the land they grew up on. Heat and gnats and flowers and rain live in them. Place defines them. It is as much a part of them as their DNA. They are connected to the land like Scarlet O’Hara was. My own family is the same. We have called the same area of Georgia home since the 1700’s, but we are scattered now. No longer do people remain, as their grandparents did before them, in the places where they are raised, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

When I went home in March, I knew I knew the Sandersville of my memory was different than the Sandersville I would encounter, but what I hadn’t counted on was feeling like the Prodigal son, someone who had squandered the fortune I had inherited, in this case my heritage. I was an outsider after a five year absence. Of course, I’ve been gone longer than that, but for five years I had not been home even for a visit. The recession and unemployment hit my immediate family pretty hard. I wanted to return, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t justify spending the money when I was just homesick.

People from the South are born there, live their lives there, and raise families there. Rarely does anyone decide to move away and make their home elsewhere, but I did. When I went back to my hometown, I knew both people and places had changed. What I hadn’t counted on though was how much I have changed. I’m proud of having left and made something of myself in a place where no one knew me, but I miss my people, my family and relatives and my friends and their families.

Sandersville has changed, but that’s no surprise. What I’m most concerned about is that at some point my “home,” the place where I grew up, the place that molded me into who I am today will no longer be home. What if I stay away so long that my friends don’t recognize me, that I’ll be an outlander, an alien in a familiar place?

I have vowed to return home one day, but one day seems farther away than ever before. One day I will walk again in the footsteps of my ancestors, drink in the soft air of a southern spring, feel the thunder rumble beneath my feet as a summer thunderstorm brings sweet relief from the heat of the day, and feel the mists of winter rise over the hay fields at the end of the day. One day.

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An Ugly four Letter Word: “Busy”

 

Lately I’ve been trying to squeeze social media time in between all the other things that press me throughout the day. Connecting in the early morning before work keeps my screen time to a minimum as long as I don’t get lost somewhere reading articles on Twitter or down the rabbit hole of Pinterest.

I’m always delighted to see when someone pins something I found yummy or helpful or asks to be my friend on Facebook or finds me on Twitter, so this morning I was thrilled to find I had several new Twitter followers. One of them was Bryan Hutchinson, the founder of the blog Positive Writer. Tons of writerly advice from the trenches here!

Many of you may already know Bryan, but if you don’t, you should.When I clicked on his blog yesterday, the post I landed on was written by a guest blogger named Claire De Boer. She writes at The Gift of Writing, but her post at Positive Writer resonated with me, especially at this time of year. School ends in one month, and I have a satchel full of papers that I must finish correcting, but I was so struck by her words and my situation that I had to write. Right then in the midst of my “busyness.”

I’ve been trying to figure out how to write while I teach high school English full-time. One of my colleagues, Jill Sisson Quinn, also a writer, doesn’t think it’s possible to do both. Perhaps she’s right, but I remain ever an optimist even while the fatigue and misanthropy I feel at this time of year threatens to overwhelm me. Often at the end of the day, there is not a glass of wine big enough or a bed cozy enough to accommodate me in the throes of the end of the year rush. Therefore, I often don’t “feel”  like writing.

Often I have small chunks of time to write, but I don’t take the time. Then I justify procrastination because I won’t have time to really dive into my book or concentrate on a blog post or  finish what I start, so what’s the use? I’ve been beating myself up about it lately, too. That’s why what I read today struck me as it did.

I finally think I know why I can’t “just write.” As Claire De Boer puts it, I am disconnected from the source. She says, “When we are overly busy we run on autopilot, not fully present in our emotions or in the moment. And in that lack of presence it becomes almost impossible for our creative side to be seen or heard. As writers busyness is stifling to our craft. It disconnects us from the source of our words – that well deep inside of us that feeds our conscious minds with words.” Well, that makes perfect sense!

Two opposing forces control my life: teaching and writing. Teaching because I chose it as my profession and writing because it fills my well and connects me to my creativity. Lately the well has been empty, and once empty it is hard to find the source for refilling the well.  To be a good teacher, I have to find the time to fill the well. For me, that is writing. To paraphrase Claire’s words, unless my busy life is filled with my passions and space for my creativity and emotions to breathe, I am not serving myself or anybody else in a positive way. Her post helped me see beyond busy and connect my passion with my profession. I won’t be a good teacher if I’m devoid of the passion for language and the written word that drew me to teaching in the first place. That , after all, is what I’m trying to instill in students.

The truth is I have allowed one aspect of my life to completely control the other. I have allowed “busy” to take over my life, and, as a result, I lacked any motivation to write, even when I had a few spare moments. I still have a satchel of papers to correct. More will come in tomorrow. Am I stressed about getting everything finished in time? You bet. Am I glad I took the time to compose this post and share this insight with you? Absolutely! Will I take the time later tomorrow to work on my novel and on my new writing project? Yes. Even in snippets of time and not big stretches.

My well is full. At least, it is filling again. Maybe we all need to be reminded that writing is important, especially when we are “busy.” Writing or practicing any other art form can be a lonely and often solitary pursuit. Sharing insight like Claire did or sharing struggles the way I have done here brings us together as a community. That’s what I love about writers. Sometimes we need to share each other’s words just to know we aren’t alone, to fill the well. The more we spill, the more words will fill the void. Thanks, Claire and Bryan.

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