Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Should I or shouldn’t I…

As I continue my self-imposed social media review and purge, I considered not blogging this week since I haven’t reached any conclusions. Then I realized – I haven’t missed a week all year. (at least I don't think I have...) I can’t skip now!

Then I scrolled through my accumulated Google Reader stash and shuddered. I couldn’t contribute to the ‘where I’ve been in 2011’ or ‘where am I going in 2012’ parade. Which left me at a loss for a worthy topic to round out the year.

One blog I’ve begun following recently – which will most certainly make the cut as I decided which to keep and which to jettison – is Single Dad Laughing. If you’re not familiar with his work, check it out, parent or not. His year-end post is artfully titled “Don’t Should on Yourself,” something I’m very good at doing. I “should” eat better/write every day/walk more often/relax and let go/be kinder to my hubby-kids-parents-friends…all those things we pack into New Year’s resolutions that fall by the wayside when the holidays end and real life intrudes.

My “shoulds” robbed me of almost two days of my life this week, felling me with another migraine. I “should” relax and stop trying to do everything/please everyone/live up (down?) to society’s expectations for this time of year/avoid unresolveable debates with loved ones…but I do, even when I insist I won’t. And then the migraine hits, and I’m the one who suffers. Me and my poor hubby.

So – no more “shoulds.” Instead, I will eat better, write every day, walk more often, relax and let go, be kinder to everyone…And if I slip, I will start over again. And again.

Not because I “should,” but because I choose to.

Happy 2012! Let’s count down to the apocalypse together, writing all the way.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Year-end questioning

I’ll skip right over the holiday itself (bleh) since I’ve already ranted about that a bit and move straight on to New Year’s resolutions. I’ve decided to take the rest of the year off to reevaluate my online presence, specifically:
-Why do I blog?
-Who do I picture as my audience?
-If a blogger posts on the Internet and no one notices, is there a point to all that effort?
-On a related note, how many of the almost seventy blogs by fellow writers that I follow daily truly offer something worthwhile?
-Do I really need to be active on Facebook and Google+ and Twitter and Goodreads and LinkedIn and …? Why?
-What is the respective benefit (if any) of each social media platform?
-How much more time would I have available to actually write if I didn’t spend so much time trying to keep up with all those outlets?

The new year already promises exciting new opportunities. Beginning in January, I’ll be teaching my first college-level class. Yesterday I received an email from a writer friend offering to connect me to a scientist who needs an editor for his most recent book. I’ve been invited to work more closely with the Antioch Writers Workshop, expanding my workfellow duties as we look forward to another great session in July. My third (and most promising) novel is in full draft and ready for rewrites. Looks like I’ll be busy in 2012 as we wait for the Mayan calendar to wind down.

So much of social media comes off as the cliques I avoided (okay, they largely avoided me) in high school. Why do I put so much time and energy into them now? What, if anything, am I doing wrong?

Your thoughts/comments/experiences would be greatly appreciated while I reassess my ’net life. Meanwhile, Happy New Year! I’ll be back in some hopefully improved form in January.

And Happy Solstice – let the sun shine in!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Perchance to dream…

There’s a constant battle between the hemispheres of my brain, as if psychologist Julian Jaynes’ bicameralism has re-evolved. The hyper-logical left brain that craves order runs roughshod over the creative, emotional, more sensitive right brain, demanding explanations, searching for answers, discarding whimsy. It creates an often unbearable havoc, like Springsteen’s “freight train running through the middle of my head,” day and night.

A constant, conscious awareness of everything permeates even my dreams. I doubt I often reach the scientifically-designated restorative stage of delta sleep since I wake up regularly, in right about the ninety-minute cycle described as needed to reach REM. I remain too aware of my sleep, vigilantly observing my dreams. I know I’m asleep. My brain doesn’t disengage long enough to relax. I’ve read about lucid dreaming and while it’s an interesting concept, it doesn’t describe my mental turmoil. I’m exhausted.

I yearn for quiet, for internal peace, yet even concerted attempts at meditation aren’t able to break through the miasma that clouds my brain. Any snippet of a song, nothing more than a title or the fragment I quoted from Springsteen, lodges in my mind and runs in an endless loop for days on end, usually until it’s supplanted by the next earworm. I mentally rewrite scripts for the TV sit-com or movie we watched. The phrases coil themselves around news headlines, Facebook and Google+ posts, Tweets, and the latest ambiguous conversation with a friend or family member, twisting all the conflicting thoughts, words, and emotions into a tangled mass of confusion.

My only sure avenue for escape, fleeting as it may be, is my writing. When I manage to become engrossed in creating a new story, my tension eases. The rigid left brain seems content to impose its order on the words flowing to the page from the creativity of the right brain and for those few brief moments, the fractious hemispheres work in tandem. Time slips by unnoticed. I skip the hourly time checks which pepper my night and lose myself in a world where I have a semblance of control.

A semblance of peace.

Why do you write?

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

A blast from the past – refined…

Last week, in the midst of post-NaNo depression (need to keep writing momentum on track…can’t start another novel until completing one of the four in finish/rewrite/edit stage actually is done…writers group expects output, now what?) I took a trip in my personal Wayback Machine (and I don’t mean the Internet archive…Google it, youngsters) and revisited a short story I wrote in 1991.

Yikes. Please don’t do the calculations and tell me how long ago that was.

Let me preface this by noting that a few weeks ago at my writers group, I brought in the opening of my first novel, Ties that Bind, which I completed in rough form as my master’s thesis in early 2010 and sat untouched since. One of my fellow writers commented how much my work had improved (his words) when comparing Ties to my latest WIP. I was flattered, but not entirely convinced.

The 1991 story proved him right. I’ve been rather proud of this particular story in my personal oeuvre, submitted it a few times over the years to various journals without success, tweaked it a bit here and there. After the last rejection, which was longer ago than I can remember, I stuck it in my files and forgot about it until now.

Good grief was it rough. The main characters were compelling enough, decent setting, interesting story line with a nice twist at the end. But I was appalled at the language – stilted, wordy, redundant narrative, unnecessary side plots…this was my idea of good? Maybe I have learned something.

I knew if I wanted to read it to my group, it needed a serious overhaul, no more tweaking. I turned to a technique introduced by the delightful Crystal Wilkinson at the Antioch Writers Workshop in 2009, and reinforced later during my master’s program. I printed out a copy and started retyping, editing and revising as I went. Within just a few hours I’d rewritten vast swaths of the text while maintaining the kernel of the original, tightening and focusing the piece. Along the way, I trimmed over six hundred words from the total.

My writers group was encouraging in their responses and seemed suitably impressed with the result. But I know that, even after twenty years, the story still needs a bit of polish before I inflict it on yet another journal.

Guess I have learned something. Now where’s the rough draft of that early novel…

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Dec. 3rd book signing

If you’re looking for different sort of outing this Saturday, consider the Lebanon Horse Drawn Carriage Parade & Festival, where yours truly and fellow writer Tami Absi will be signing copies of the Reflections from Women anthology The Moment I Knew, which includes our essays. I’ll also have copies of my Historic Warren County: An Illustrated History on behalf of the Heritage Advisory Council, and Tami may bring her Cup of Comfort publications. Our host is Chapters Pre-Loved Books, and we’ll be in their booth at Mulberry & Broadway from 2-4:30 p.m. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, December 01, 2011

For the win...

Excuse me folks, but damn! I hit all sorts of mileposts yesterday, that’s why this weekly post is late. Not only did I make it to the 50K National Novel Writing Month deadline I was convinced was unattainable, but I wrote a personal-best 9,800 words in one day and finished the first draft of my WIP. And it’s not rambling, fill-up-the-page lorem ipsum text either, it’s a story that works.


I started November and NaNo with high hopes of reaching this point. Life intervened, as usual. A late autumn head cold, a couple of disturbing family crisis, and while none of them required my physical presence, they certainly took me out of my writing zone for several days. And of course, Thanksgiving (see last week’s post to see what the holidays do to me). My personal Black Friday hit with the realization my NaNo count stood at a paltry 38,500. I needed to write over 4,000 words a day for the next five days to get the win. Not likely.

So I did what I usually do. I found a rational excuse. I gave up on NaNo with the justification that I’d never intended to make the 50K, it was just a jump-start exercise for the stalled WIP and look, hadn’t I added almost 40K to my work? It was fine that I didn’t finish NaNo, really.

Only it wasn’t. My capitulation nagged at me. I went into a two-day funk, wrote nothing Saturday and Sunday and started the week staring at my NaNo spreadsheet (yes, I have one) which told me I needed to produce 5,470 words a day on each of the last three days to hit the mark. My brain told me I couldn’t possibly do it, but now it bothered me. The earlier justification wasn’t enough to overcome my sense of failure.

Then my wonderful, amazing, incredible support crew kicked in (that’s all of you!). Hubby offered food and drink and lots of hugs. Daughter and son gave me long-distance pep-talks via text, chat, and Skype. My fantastic writers group, friends and strangers I’ve collected on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, all urged me to persevere. The NaNo forums introduced me to still more writer types and my circle grew exponentially. And the words started to flow. 3,742 on Monday. 2,885 on Tuesday. And the truly incredible 9,806 on Wednesday, reaching the magic 50K number at 9:46 p.m.

I proved myself wrong, and right. I did manage to complete the NaNo challenge, and while in reality it’s ephemeral, it’s also an internal boost, a kick in the pants. I proved to myself I can maintain a steady 2K word per day output of mostly decent stuff. But I also managed my original goal of jump-starting the WIP. I now have on my hard drive – and flash drive, and external storage drive, and email transfer – a 78,408 word completed first draft of Fatal Error: AYBABTU.

Because I pushed myself (with lots of help) to work through NaNo, my story evolved more consistently, new characters appeared and vanished, some died when I didn’t think they could, the bad guy who maybe wasn’t turned out to be even more so while the clueless puppet had me fooled, sub-plots I never considered before crept in, my MC learned lessons I didn’t know she needed. I’m a confirmed punster; how anyone writes a novel from an outline I’ll never understand.

See how well I justify? Thank you, everyone!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Skeletal expectations

If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance. ~ George Bernard Shaw

Warning: if you simply love holidays, don't read this. I don't want to ruin your joy with my pessimistic realism.

It’s that time of year again, the dreaded, ever-longer holiday season, when the media overflows with unrealistic images of always loving families happily sharing generations-old traditions, mounds of (largely unwanted and unnecessary) gifts, and food. Lots of food.

I know I risk being labeled a Scrooge when I say it’s been many years since I’ve approached the holidays with anything remotely resembling joyful anticipation. The reasons for that are myriad, and they are often exacerbated by the demand for meticulously choreographed visits to several far-flung locations for too many dinners, all on the same tenuously hallowed occasion.

This year I’m trying to focus more on the intangibles, to reclaim some level of contentment by concentrating on family. As long as that term involves Hubby and our two children with their respective partners, we’re fine. Add in those special friends who have been with us through good times and bad and our world is complete.

The problem is those celebrations of oft-disputed origin force me to realize my reality doesn’t begin to jive with societal hype. The definition of “nuclear family” doesn’t coincide with my world. When the holidays arrive, “family” takes on a wider meaning that goes largely unnoticed throughout the year, although that is not by our choice. We have parents in three different towns hundreds of miles apart, siblings clustered in three states, and cousins we haven’t seen since our shared grandparents’ funerals. Yet we’re expected to rejoice in cramming too many people into a perfectly adequate but modest home to hear about the latest nephew’s first tooth.

My sisters and I have never been close, as much due to the age difference (five and seven years) as to my role as in loco parentis in their lives from far too early. When I see friends making vacation plans with their sisters, looking to those siblings before friends and sometimes spouse, I wonder how it feels to have such a relationship. And my brothers, even the one I spent six years in the same household with, are little more than familiar strangers.

Hollywood and Hallmark aside, I’ve learned over the years family is not necessarily defined by blood. My stance earned me a scolding from a cousin when she felt the need to remind me blood is always there for you, no matter what. Maybe, maybe not. But I didn’t argue. She’s family.

And that’s part of the problem. I/we don’t argue, or when we do, it’s to score points and puff up our own self-importance rather than resolve problems or share thought-provoking ideas. Because “blood is always there,” some relatives disregard notions of respect and civility, saying and often doing things that would never pass muster in polite society. Political and religious jibes, no matter how outrageous or hurtful, are fair game. How unfair, and how sad.

Because on the flip side, the elephant in the living room which we all ignore are the real issues that divide us, misunderstandings large and small that prevent us from truly sharing those Norman Rockwell moments. If we keep sweeping things under the rug, maybe we can stomp them into the floorboards and not have to face them. However, experience shows those hidden bombs eventually explode, with emotional shrapnel taking its toll on everyone in the family.

When it comes down to it, I think that’s why I dread the holidays. The ticking bomb is much more likely to detonate during frenetic periods of forced togetherness which are possibly alcohol-fueled and certainly overloaded with stress. I’m constantly on edge, waiting for the next scornful glance or hurtful comment, always hurriedly dismissed as “Just kidding!” People who take no interest in my life from January through November no matter how much I try to maintain contact – and I have tried, on many levels, and been repeatedly rebuffed – are suddenly in my world, force-feeding me theirs. Because of the chasms between us, emotional as much if not more so than physical, we shouldn’t expect to connect in any meaningful way around an overloaded dinner table twice a year.

But we do expect it, at least some of us, and society reinforces such unrealistic expectations.

How do Hubby and I survive? Deep breaths, lots of shared laughter, and regular reminders that, for all the difficulties, family is always there, maybe not for us in ways we’d prefer, but they’re part of what makes us who we are.

And this year we can visit Norman Rockwell at the Dayton Art Institute when it’s all over.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

My first 'author' interview!

Thank you to the generous and talented Ed Davis for the lovely review of The Moment I Knew posted today on his blog. While you're there checking out an amazing and humbling interview with yours truly, check out some of his other wonderful posts!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

NaNoWriMo mental tricks

When I planned out my writing activities for the month of November, taking into account the demands of National Novel Writing Month (yes, I do those things), I made sure I had my weekly blogs ready to go for the first two Wednesdays before NaNo started. This week I scheduled a NaNo update; next week (the day before Thanksgiving) will be my annual holiday rant (feel free to skip that one if you’re one who actually likes those events), with the last post of the month as a celebration of my anticipated NaNo victory.

Eh, maybe not so much. But I’m trying.

NaNo has been a struggle this year, but for different reasons than in my past efforts (2005, 2006 – both of which I completed successfully, thank you very much). As new homeowners with tons of yard work demanding attention before the snow flies, I’ve managed to do absolutely no writing on the weekends, which means I’m way behind. At this point, I should be over 25K. At the close of business Tuesday the fifteenth (mid-point), I was at 22,332. Not bad, but not on track for the win.

Back to the scheduling thing. Because I'm using NaNo to finish a WIP instead of the traditional new-book-in-a-month goal, I've found a different way to motivate myself. In addition to the daily NaNo word count, because I like round numbers (they’re comforting somehow), I can use the NaNo overall total as a marker. That also works for the grand total on the WIP. All told, I now have three different mileposts to shoot for; whichever one is closest to the magical zero-ending total is my carrot on a stick.

Yes, I'm a bit strange. You’ve just realized that? My son says I think too much, and he’s probably right.

Anyway, my mid-point NaNo effort stands at 22,332 words, with a grand total of 50,717 for the WIP.

I’ll call that a win. For now.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Moment I Knew

This is a modified replay of an earlier announcement of my most recent publication. The editor is sponsoring a blog roll during the month of November and I simply must participate as thanks for all her hard work putting this book together.

The Moment I Knew: Reflections from Women on Life’s Defining Moments, is the second anthology in Sugati Publications Reflection from Women series and I’m honored to have my essay “Powerful Eyes of Love” selected by Editor Terri Spahr Nelson.

This whole process has been an incredible learning experience, from the writing through publication. The essay started as a challenge exercise with fellow writer Tami Absi, whose work is also in the anthology, and I expected it would be light-hearted look at one of Hubby’s goofy hobbies (doing doughnuts in the mall parking lot after the first snow). Instead, as the words hit the page, they dredged up emotions I thought were long healed and morphed into a paean to his love and patience over the years as I’ve struggled to overcome what he calls my “ghosts.” Maybe I’ve not moved on as much as I thought, but the new awareness I gained from writing this essay is helping the process. The eighteen months since I wrote the piece have been a time of amazing growth, and I’m thankful to Terri for finding value in my words and choosing the essay for this collection.

During the months between acceptance and publication, I found myself fretting over the intensely personal nature of my essay. What was I thinking, sharing such a story? How would family react? Hubby read it before submission, of course; I never share details about him without his approval. Same with our son and daughter. But that still left parents and siblings, some of whom I was certain would be offended. Was it worth the risk? At one point, I nearly contacted Terri to withdraw my essay. Thankfully, I did not, and my anxiety thus far has been groundless.

However, that sense of vulnerability, of exposure, is a chance writers take when delving into personal issues. Even fiction can be fraught with peril, with readers parsing every sentence looking for clues to the author’s life and meaning that may not exist. But still we write, and if we are brave – or foolish – enough, share what we have written. I’m sure many of the women who opened their lives and their hearts in this intimate anthology suffered the same pangs. Yet as our stories reflect, we persevere, in life and in writing.

Terri asked that this blog roll offer a review of an essay from the collection, but I’m hard pressed to pick one. Tami Absi’s touching story of singing to her father in hospice? Mimi LaFrancis’ debut publication honoring her husband’s loving smile, so reminiscent of my own story, and yet so different? Or Lisa Clark’s reminder that the decisions we make to not act are as telling as the actions we do take, and can haunt us just as relentlessly.

Sugati Publications says, “There are some moments in our lives that are so significant they become etched in our memories and they leave behind indelible imprints. These moments often change us in ways we never expected. We asked women around the world: Tell us about the moment you knew. The top thirty most intriguing, captivating and touching responses are featured in this women’s anthology.” In my case, not only the writing of this piece but the sharing and publication of it have left imprints as well.

Copies of this unique collection of thirty essays and poems from women in six countries are available online at, at independent bookstores, and through A significant portion of the profits from the sale of this book are donated to three charities that assist women: Women's Microfinance Initiative, the Nurse-Family Partnership Program, and Women Writing for (a) Change. If you purchase a copy online from Sugati, a greater percentage goes to these worthy organizations.

Again, my thanks to Terri and to Sugati Publications for the opportunity to share my story with the world.

Sugati Publications blog roll extras for the month of November:

Girlfriends special: Save 25% -- buy two books for only $22.00 (one for yourself and one for a friend) available only at Sugati Publications

Free shipping: discount code BlogSpecial (to use at checkout)

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Multi-cross-genre literary creative non-fiction fiction

A new connection on Google-+ (speaking of which, is there a new term I’m missing? they’re not Facebook Friends or Twitter Tweeps…Plussers, maybe?) is in the habit of asking pointed, sometimes thought-provoking questions of her writers circle under the hashtag #writing_ques:

What do you prefer to write - articles, poetry,
screen plays, flash fiction, short stories or novels?

My response: Novels, short stories, essays, articles, the occasional flash...

What are you working on now?
My response: Shopping novel #1, editing novel #2, writing novel #3, plus weekly blog posts, essays, and the occasional short story...oh, and tech writing, if I can find a contract

What is your ultimate goal for your writing?
I’m still mulling a response for that one, but her questions have given me pause on more than one occasion. Usually when someone asks what I write, I say mysteries; both of my finished (!) novels are mystery stories, not quite cozies, but not hardcore thrillers, either. And they’re as much psychological studies and relationship journeys as anything; does that make them “women’s fiction”? If I take inventory of my (thankfully) growing list of publications, I find true “mysteries” are far down on the list.

The mystery novels have yet to attract an agent and self-publishing is not for me at this point, so they don’t count in the final tally – yet. Of my short story credits only one, “Happy Birthday to You,” (I know, lame title – it was an early effort) is a mystery. Oddly enough, it served as the basis for novel #2 (and gained a new title in the process). The remaining five short stories fall somewhere between women’s fiction and literary (a whole other debate), although the latest, published in a terrific online journal, is just creepy enough for the Halloween season. But it’s not really a mystery, either – maybe psychological thriller?

Genre is so ambiguous and hard to pin down. I’ve seen a map that breaks out forty-two different possibilities, and I’m sure it continues to expand. In determining genre, writers are told to imagine where their work would fit on the shelf at the local bookstore. A talented author from my writers group takes that suggestion to heart. Every week before leaving our local Barnes & Noble after our meeting, he finds the place where his book would fit and makes a spot on the shelf for it. I should follow his lead on that practice, and several others as I can easily see him as the first of our group to publish a full volume.

It’s disturbing thought, this review of my oeuvre. My dream has always been to be a fiction writer, yet I’ve had far greater success in non-fiction, from Historic Warren County: An Illustrated History, through newspapers articles and book reviews, to a recent anthologized personal essay. Fascinating, really, how dreams and reality diverge.

Is this dichotomy normal? Maybe I’ll ask my new Google+ #writing_ques connection/friend/buddy to add that question to her list.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The eternal question

Blame it on the moon, on the waning days of autumn, on some mystical alignment of the planets, but the past several weeks have been a wasteland for me when it comes to writing. Even a pair of reasonable successes were overshadowed by a handful of rejections (aren’t they all?). The mental saboteurs came out in force, reminding me of the miniscule chances of ever publishing a novel via traditional means, of the ever-growing slush pile that is self-published ebooks, of the lack of measurable income on the horizon for any but the most gifted and fortunate author in the sea of writers I follow on the ’net.

Why bother? echoes daily. My words fall into a black hole on the ether, or simply fill up my hard drive. My WIP languished, unable to hold my attention long enough to add to its meager word count. I searched my files for the why-I-write essays stored there, my own and others. I stumbled across a recent blog by Jonathan Allen, Shaggin’ the Muse, addressing that universal question when a quote from author Clive Barker resonated:

“I don’t find myself terribly interesting and that’s one of the reasons why I write in the mode of trying to escape from the coral that is me. The removal of the limitation that is the self into the place that is the image are things that are boundless, this is the mystical heartbeat of what I do. It’s always been that…I write out of anxiety and obsession, I write out of hope and passion. I don’t write out of stale marketing ideas because someone paid me a million bucks.”

Anxiety and obsession pretty much describes my life. But so does hope and passion. I need to focus on the latter. As the tabbed post on this blog notes, I write because I must. That is enough.

Last week, I returned to a previous novel that needs “just one more” good rewrite only to decide the potential I thought it held has faded with the summer sun. My writing group doesn’t agree, bless their ink-stained souls, and they urge me to shoulder on. That’s what we do for each other, besides pointing out overused adverbs and missing commas. We encourage and cajole and push and hector. Our weekly sessions offer not only accountability, but emotional support; for all of that, I am more than grateful.

Today I managed 750 words on the stalled WIP, including a new side story and a meshing of previously unrelated scenes.

Tomorrow, I’ll write more. And the day after that. And the day after that. Whether anyone other than my faithful writers group (and my supportive hubby) reads my words, I’ll write more.

That’s what I do. I’m a writer.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A legacy worth cherishing

With the recent death of Steve Jobs, much has been written about his legacy. What will he be remembered for? Not having drunk the Apple Kool-aid, I’m not terribly concerned about where the company is headed without him. He was certainly an innovator, but there are others, possibly in large part thanks to his creations. That should be sufficient legacy for anyone, I would think.

The question did start an interesting discussion with Hubby. Do we have a legacy? Do I? What do I want to be remembered for? Is being remembered by future generations truly a driving force for some people? I’ve never understood the desire to see monuments and buildings carrying the family name. It’s not something I need or want.

Certainly as a writer, I hope my work (if I ever manage to publish something substantial) will be remembered. But me personally? Not so much. I’ve never had enough of a concept of self-worth to consider such an eventuality, and I don’t see that as something that will change in my next fifty years.

However, a gentle prod from the universe reminded me of the legacy I’ve already helped produce – our children. One is easy-going, letting life happen and pretty much riding the wave and living for today (like Hubby). The other is much more focused, task-driven, with at least one eye on the future, determined to finish something of note (like me, only more so). Fortunately Hubby and I have moved from our extremes to a more compatible center and don’t drive each other too crazy; not sure the kids will ever meet in the middle, but they’ve outgrown the teenage antagonism.

Now they’re of an age where life decisions are more profound. I’m pleased they still come to us for advice, and actually seem to listen to what we have to say. This week when my mom-gene kicked in to worry over what-ifs of the directions they seem to be heading, I had not one pleasant surprise, but two.

Somehow, in the chaos of our life, we managed to raise a couple of pretty smart kids, wise beyond what I expected to hear when I expressed my fears. To the laid-back child, I reiterated our “use your head” mantra from their childhood, all while hoping heart would not be silenced. To the Type-A child, I urged listening to the heart while keeping the head in counselor mode. It was only after I offered these words that I realized how they reflected the lessons of our marriage onto our next generation – balance.

I was humbled when both children responded with thoughtful, reasoned positions on the decisions they face, and an awareness of the future potential of their actions for not only themselves, but for the greater community. We must have done something right, and I am awed by the living outcomes.

I could ask for no greater legacy.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pay it Forward Blogfest

I’ve been slowly culling my unmanageable Google Reader list, working to keep only those blogs which are truly useful or entertaining, and making some progress. Then one of my regulars, Elle Strauss, posted a note about the Pay It Forward Blogfest organized by Matthew MacNish and Alex Cavanaugh:

“The idea is to introduce everyone to everyone else. We want this to be an easy post that allows you to meet and follow as many other bloggers as you can. In your post, we would like you to please list, describe, and link to three blogs that you enjoy reading, but that you suspect may fly under the radar of a lot of other bloggers. Or they can be famous blogs, as long as they're awesome.”

Usually I avoid these things, blog rolls and you-list-me-I’ll-list-you, but for some reason, the tone of Matt and Alex’s posts caught my attention. Now I have nearly two hundred new blogs to consider – yikes!

Picking three of my favorites (besides the wonders of Elle, noted above, which is already on the list) was not easy, but here they are:
• Natalie Whipple’s Between Fact and Fiction – humor, insight, and a real-life perspective on lots of issues I share
• Justine’s Tribal Writer – anyone who speaks to the “Badass Creative Woman” is worth a second look, and a third
The Bookshelf Muse by Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman offers a fascinating series of tips on incorporating sensory description in writing through a series of thesaurus (thesari?) covering weather, emotion, character traits…priceless!

These last two definitely don’t fly “under the radar,” as suggested, but they’re definitely awesome and worth reading for lots of good reasons:
TerribleMinds by Chuck Wendig – usually vulgar, often laugh-out-loud hilarious, always insightful
The Vandal by Derek Haines – an ex-pat Aussie living in Switzerland. Need I say more?

I wouldn’t dare go back to my weekly writers group if I didn’t include the following efforts, all with their own unique quirks:
• Tami Absi - FrankenPig
• Lori Lopez - Lost in the Writing
• James Reynolds - WriterJames

Now to work my way through the Pay It Forward list and discover new gems! Hope you’ll join me -

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Breaking up is never easy…

Facebook, I’m breaking up with you. I’m not dumping you entirely; we can still be friends, and we share too many mutual acquaintances who are important in my life to ever sever the ties completely. But you’ve become too possessive, too nosy. Your insecurity is showing. You demand to know everything about me, where I visit, what I read, who I like and don’t like. Then you don’t have the common courtesy to keep that information to yourself, seamlessly sharing it with people I’ve never heard of. I’ve tried to stop you. I’ve applied all the available filters and privacy settings, avoided the ubiquitous games and apps, but it’s no use. And while I don’t like to be superficial, you’ve let yourself go, become cluttered and unwieldy and downright unattractive. Oh, I know, you’re trying new things, flashy news tickers (annoying!) and profile timelines (creepy, at best). Enough is enough. We’re through. I’ve found someone else.

Google+ is seductively clean and elegant. My professional friends don’t have to hear about the family reunion, and Aunt Jan isn’t inundated with writing advice and rants. I know FB tried to make that possible, but it was too little, too late. Many of the hard lessons I learned there can be implemented much more easily on G+, and I don’t have to try to undo the mistakes of the past, whether they were mine or the platforms. I’m starting over, wiser and more focused, aware of my social networking needs, my likes and dislikes. I’m more cautious who I allow into my circles, screening new followers and keeping overlap to a minimum.

I’ve also learned the hard way (thank you, FB) that it’s best, for me at least, to severely curtail the negativity. Political rhetoric, especially as the never-ending campaign cycle kicks into high gear, is no longer welcome. I’ll stick with pleasant family connections, humorous friendly chats, and informative writing notes and commentary. Social networking at its best, I hope.

FB won’t disappear from my life completely. I’m too paranoid by the publishing industry’s insistence on its vital importance in building a writer’s platform, although I’m not entirely convinced they’re right. I’ll still drop in (probably far too often, knowing me) to see what my friends are up to, add the occasional witty bòn mót to the discussion, keep up with the events listings for my writers group. But if you’re looking for me to chat online, you’ll find me on G+ or Windows Live Messenger. Drop me an email, send me a text. Always glad to connect.

As for Twitter, eh…seems more like a noisy teenager clamoring for attention than a useful tool. I’m there, but not enamored. But G+? I’ve found a new online home – hope you’ll stop by!

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Different paths up the same mountain

I’m amazed at the vitriol a Google+ query has provoked over the harmless, well-intentioned writing exercise called National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, or just NaNo). One commenter went so far as to label NaNoWriMo participants – of which I am one – “morons and the ignorant,” “fools,” and “an embarrassment to writers,” possessed of “delusions,” with an extra stab at those who write romance novels (I do not), and then claim his comments were not hateful. I can’t imagine what he hoped to accomplish, or to gain, with such animosity, but I referred the thread to Nathan Bransford’s post Don’t Be A Jerk.

The commenter felts his remarks were “misconstrued and responded to based on those misconceptions,” and ended his several statements by wishing NaNo participants well. To be fair, he was not alone in his negativity. Others took NaNo to task for its supposed “tourist” aspect of writing by daring to allow hobbyists to call themselves writers for a month. There were thoughtful comments as well about the necessary work which comes after NaNo, work which founder Chris Baty stresses in his companion book, but my issue is with those who chose to tag NaNo itself with derision because it doesn’t take writing “seriously.” That aspect is up to each individual writer and shouldn’t be blamed on a light-hearted vehicle to help get folks writing. There are many paths up the mountain, and not all who embark on the journey are through-hikers. Barely twenty percent of those who begin NaNo cross the fifty-thousand word goalpost; those who do are entitled to a bit of celebration before they begin the trek of edits and rewrites, if that is their chosen path.

A more reasoned approach comes from Chuck Wendig’s always entertaining blog where he provides his customary list of advice for would-be NaNo participants, at least one of which the aforementioned abusive commenter would do well to heed: “We’re not all robots who follow the same pre-described program.” Lighten up, do what you to do in order to get the words down on the page. It’s not easy; NaNo is not easy – but it’s a trial run of what to expect in the writing life, and for many, the only time they will allow themselves to write. What their lives and egos do with the output after the game ends is their call. I hope they move on from what Wendig calls a “zero draft” produced in that thirty-day sprint, but the marathon of a dedicated writer’s life is not for everyone.

My 2005 NaNo effort became the basis for my creative writing thesis; my 2006 draft, after many rewrites, edits and revisions is with an agent for consideration. In the meantime, I’ve published several short stories, an anthologized personal essay, and a non-fiction history book. NaNo was not the end for me, only the beginning. It gave me the confidence to push forward with my writing, knowing I really could finish a novel-length manuscript. To deride such an accomplishment by anyone who makes the effort is cruel and unnecessary, whether they take the remaining difficult steps to publication or not.

A recent post by Jami Gold offered related advice to those who are bombarded with conflicting “expert” opinion on the publishing end of writing, wisely reminding would-be writers, “Every one of us has a different path to success because we each have our own definition of success…” If the path of NaNoWriMo works for you as it did for me, take it.

We’ll meet up again on the other side and celebrate our respective journeys.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Book review updates

Since I’m in Toledo this week sitting hospital vigil for my mother’s hip replacement surgery, I’m not up to a regular, thoughtful blog post. Spending all my energy on being the good daughter!

So to give you something to read since you were kind enough to stop by, here are the latest book reviews I’ve written for MetaPsychology, a great review site. Very different topics, but both highly recommended:

The Psychology of Spirituality: An Introduction. Larry Culliford. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London. 2011.

The Quarter-Acre Farm: How I Kept the Patio, Lost the Lawn, and Fed My Family for a Year. Spring Warren. Seal Press/Perseus Books Group, Berkley, CA. 2011.

Let me know if you enjoy them as much as I did!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Banned Books Week

In honor of this year's Banned Books Week, a replay of my post from last year:

Will things ever change?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Celebrating success

I have a new publication! My essay “Powerful Eyes of Love” is in the second Reflection from Women series anthology titled The Moment I Knew: Reflections from Women on Life’s Defining Moments. Editor Terri Spahr Nelson selected thirty essays and poems from women in six countries for this amazing collection. Copies will be available at in a few weeks, at independent bookstores (not sure where – ask your local bookseller) or online at 

This whole process has been an incredible learning experience, from the writing through publication. The essay started as a challenge exercise with fellow writer Tami Absi, whose work is also in the anthology, and I thought it would be light-hearted look at one of hubby’s goofy hobbies (doing doughnuts in the mall parking lot after the first snow). Instead, as the words hit the page, they dredged up emotions I thought were long healed and morphed into a paean to his love and patience over the years as I’ve struggled to overcome what he calls my “ghosts.” Maybe I’ve not moved on as much as I thought, but the new awareness I gained from writing this essay is helping the process. The eighteen months since I wrote the piece have been a time of amazing growth, and I’m thankful to Terri for finding value in my words and choosing the essay for this collection. 

Sugati Publications says, “There are some moments in our lives that are so significant they become etched in our memories and they leave behind indelible imprints. These moments often change us in ways we never expected. We asked women around the world: Tell us about the moment you knew. The top thirty most intriguing, captivating and touching responses are featured in this women’s anthology.” They are donating a significant portion of the profits from the sale of this book to three charities that assist women: Women's Microfinance Initiative, the Nurse-Family Partnership Program, and Women Writing for (a) Change. If you purchase a copy online from Sugati, a greater percentage goes to these worthy organizations. 

And if you join the Reflections from Women group on Facebook during the month of September, you earn a chance to win a free gift book signed by the editor. Drop me an email and I’ll send you a signed bookplate, if you’re into that sort of thing. 

Thank you for celebrating this success with me.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

It's a small world, but I wouldn't want to have to paint it. ~ Steven Wright

Kevin Bacon’s six degrees of separation is a misnomer; after these past few weeks, I’m down to maybe three. Widely divergent parts of my life are colliding in the oddest ways:

Our daughter is dating a young man who once was engaged to the daughter of a woman I went to high school with, and with whom I’ve recently reconnected because of our thirty-fifth (!) reunion that woman’s older sister went to school with my mother.

That young man’s mother is friends with another friend of mine, a woman I worked with back in Toledo for six years whom I haven’t seen for almost that long.

At a Labor Day open house in the Dayton area, we met a barbershop quartet (we travel in the most fascinating circles!) who knows the choir director from the high school our children attended in a suburb of Toledo because he also sings barbershop.

One member of the quartet is dating the ex of a lawyer I worked with while at federal court (again in Toledo…hmmm) over fifteen years ago.

Another reconnect from high school recently “friended” a man on Facebook (related somehow to a teacher our children had in school) who shares a mutual friendship with yet another man I worked with for several years, none of whom are in the same field.

I’ll stop before it gets any more convoluted, and without even mentioning other bizarre connections that appear on Facebook and Twitter on a regular basis.

Is it really a small world, or has social networking simply drawn our circles closer and made us more aware of tenuous connections? Employers and professors, colleagues and family, writers and friends – it’s more and more difficult to remember who fits where, and shares what pieces of my life. Anyone who thinks they can operate in complete anonymity if they have any sort of online presence is sadly mistaken. At another recent gathering (I’m really not a social butterfly, but it events happens), the host was nonplussed when several guests mentioned using Google to find her street address. We all connect in the ether but often have trouble locating each other in real life, and she didn’t think about providing that information with the emailed invitation. It can be disconcerting to realize just how much data about us is available with only the most cursory Internet search.

But that’s life in the technology world, small or not.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Extra post this week, with my entry in Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge. Revenge is the topic. How’d I do?

Sure I tapped the boss’s account; I’m a hacker. This time it was at Sylvia’s request. Above board, she said. Vital to the company, she said. Right before she fired me for violating security protocols I helped write.

But Sylvia’s an IT illiterate, got her job because of looks. She’ll pop the flash drive I gave her into her laptop to retrieve the incriminating lovesick emails she sent him. She’s never heard of thumb sucking. By tonight, the business data will be wiped, and I’ll hold all the cards. And the bank accounts. Not that anyone will ever know.

BTW – Chuck’s blog is well worth following, as long as you’re not opposed to great information surrounded by crass, vulgar humor and obscenities. He’s a hoot!

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

My mood has been thrown completely off-kilter by the abrupt change from 90+ and sunny on Saturday to 65 and breezy on Monday followed by two days of chilly rain (with more forecast for the rest of the week). I can’t seem to force my way through the gloom. It’s turning the white page before me to gray, making it harder than usual to fill the blankness with words…the letters melt into the shadows. It’s much too early in the year for SAD (seasonal affective disorder).

I’ve read several pieces recently scoffing at writer’s block, espousing butt-in-chair discipline along with helpful tips on breaking through, even urging writer’s to produce from a sense of desperation at the possibility of starving. I wish I could say they were inspirational; instead, while showing me I’m not alone in my struggles, they’ve reinforced my despair. I’ve heard it all before, even shared some of it with fellow writers when they floundered. Now those words come back to haunt me with their ineffectiveness when a shroud blankets my mental functions. It’s similar to telling someone who is depressed to cheer up (been there, too). Yeah, right. If it were that easy, there wouldn’t be a problem, now would there?

I found a haiku I wrote several years ago that helps put things in perspective:

Light dispels shadows
Offering freshness and hope
In a dark, dark world

 Light – that’s it. Preferably sunlight, but even a lightening of mood by focusing on the positive, reinforcing those neural pathways instead of strengthening the negative ones. Dig out a warm sweater, bake the bread I proofed yesterday, make a pot of comfort-food soup. And as a good friend just reminded me, persist! The words will come. These did.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I wrote recently about all the emotional turmoil life was sending my way – or rather, that I was snatching out of the universal ebb and flow and clinging to unnecessarily. At the end of those musings, I even thought I had a handle on things, that I’d mentally resolved all the painful issues I tried to help friends deal with, being patient with my own feelings along the way, and was ready to move on mindfully.


My body rebelled against my unwise attachment to the status quo by felling me with a multi-day migraine; equanimity promptly went south…and left me gasping, literally, in the dark of early morning when night terrors wrenched me from a restless not-quite-sleep shot through with lingering but unrecallable dreams.

As is so often the case, writing came to my rescue. A 900+ word meandering sob-on-screen poured out during a weekly morning session with a fellow writer will likely never see the light of day (or a pair of eyes other than my own), but it helped clarify my thoughts – even the ones I didn’t know I had – by doing as French writer Maurice Blanchot says: “There can be this point, at least, to writing: to wear out errors.” I certainly wore myself out physically, mentally, and emotionally.

When Hubby came home from work and looked into my eyes, he knew, as he always does. He held me and comforted me, but he also gave me the emotional space I needed to work through the turmoil I couldn’t begin to explain. After a few quiet hours home alone together puttering around the yard, it hit me: the logical, analytical side of my brain was battling to make sense of feelings it had no business trying to explain. Pain just is; it’s a part of life, like eating and breathing. Beating myself up because I can’t find answers to questions I don’t need to be asking is an exercise in futility that only creates more pain. It’s a vicious cycle, one the Buddha tells us to avoid by letting go and simply living in the moment, accepting and experiencing every moment on its own terms before releasing it and moving on to the next.

In a book I reviewed recently called The Psychology of Spirituality,  author Larry Culliford says, “When a loss is fully accepted, and only then, something is completed and the process can move on…painful emotions do not disappear but are transformed by the ‘catharsis,’ the release of energy, into their pain-free counterparts (anger/acceptance, shame/worth, etc.).” That day, from the nightmares, to the writing purge, to the Aha! moment in the garden, was my catharsis. I released the negative energy I’d been clinging to, all the pain my friends and I were experiencing, and flowed into acceptance.

I won’t be quite so cavalier this time and claim to have conquered the emotions, but I have learned a valuable lesson. It’s good to stop thinking occasionally, because while the unexamined life is not worth living, too much examination can make that same life unlivable.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Thank you Fire Dog Lake for hosting an online chat interview with Terri Spahr Nelson, editor of the Reflections from Women anthology series, and contributors to the soon-to-be-released second volume, The Moment I Knew: Reflections from Women on Life’s Defining Moments – including me! My essay “Powerful Eyes of Love” joins personal stories and poems collected from thirty women in six countries in what is sure to be an inspirational collection with practical and far-reaching benefits. The publisher’s website notes, “In the spirit of empowering and supporting women, a portion of all of our profits go to agencies providing assistance to women and girls.”

The Moment I Knew will be off the presses any day now; advance copies can be ordered through the Sugati Press website.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…


From the moment we awake each day, we’re faced with countless choices. Red blouse or black shirt? Hair up or down? Green tea or café mocha? Most we make unconsciously, out of habit more than decisiveness, which is probably a good thing or we could find ourselves constantly facing what science now calls decision paralysis. When faced with too many choices (do we really need fourteen varieties of peanut butter on the grocery shelf?), it becomes easier to simply not choose – which, of course, in itself is a choice.

And then there are the big choices, with larger consequences. What to study in school; when and if to marry, and whom; where to live. Enlist in the military, buy that new car, accept that job offer. If and when we become parents (another choice!), it’s our job to teach our children to make wise decisions. Tough to do if we’re still in the process of learning that difficult lesson ourselves, and painful when we watch them follow our trial-and-error path. But if we’re lucky, we learn together and maybe they won’t make quite as many mistakes as we did along the way.

Society relishes watching people stumble over bad choices, whether it be celebrities – she married the guy how many hours after they met? – or politicians – he sent what kind of message from his congressional phone? – or the hapless people who display themselves on America’s Funniest Videoswhat did that goof expect to have happen when he rode his bike off the roof of the garden shed?

And it’s far too easy to Monday-morning-quarterback the decisions of others, to make that determination of wisdom, or lack thereof, from a distance and after the fact when things fall apart. Too often we forget that even the most carefully thought out plan of action can lead to unexpected results. And while “it was meant to be” might salve the wounds for some, it shouldn’t be allowed to relieve us of responsibility for the choices we make.

It’s harder when the ones facing the painful consequences of poor decisions are loved ones. Then we have more choices of our own: when to (gently) point out logical expectations in the hopes of preventing another disaster; when to help bail them out of the often devastating results without enabling further thoughtless choices; when to simply be there to pick up the pieces and hold them when they cry.

I think this is a large part of why I enjoy writing fiction. Mostly, I hate making decisions in real life. You don’t want to dine with me at a new restaurant with a multiple-page menu; we could be there for hours while I decide. But when I write, I have something life rarely offers: control of the outcome. Decision paralysis isn’t a problem when I know where my characters’ choices will lead. Entering that dimly lit room alone with only a fireplace poker to investigate strange noises at midnight makes perfect sense to an author. I know who the bad guy is (okay, unless the characters get particularly obstinate and take matters into their own hands…fellow writers, you understand!).

Sometimes it’s good to take the road less traveled by; it does make all the difference. But do it with eyes wide open, not blindly or thoughtlessly, damn the torpedoes full speed ahead. Identify potential consequences and be prepared to face them with equanimity. It’s a lesson I’ve learned the hard way, and continue to learn every day.

And that’s not a choice I take lightly.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Change is inevitable, except from vending machines. ~ Robert Gallagher

Why is it the universe seems determined to keep me off-balance? As soon as I’ve accepted that I’ll never find a ‘real’ job in the current economy and finally settled into a reasonably productive writing routine, a contract job appeared which required regular hours and real clothes every day. After a week or so I adjusted, found where writing best fit around the newly imposed schedule, and even acclimated the dogs to surviving without me for most of the day. Then for no particular reason, the contract was yanked out from under me with less than four hours notice and I was floundering again.

But I moved on, back to the discarded writing routine, with a few modifications learned during the contract (write first thing in the morning, after tea and toast but before email and Facebook), focused on new words early in the day when my mind is fresh, and saved research and the business end of things for later in the day when I shift from the desk to something other than housework or the possibility of a nap.

Then Hubby left town for a week on business and life is upside-down again. I thought I’d get even more writing done while he was gone; instead, I spent the week preparing for houseguests, obsessing over grubby floor tile and dingy carpets. He came home, the guests came and went, and another week of writing time was lost.

Once more I tried for the butt-in-chair regular writing time. I managed for a few days, only to be distracted by life again. A close friend needed my support when he lost a family member; another friend, not as close but much too young, died tragically. Five deaths in our extended circle in less than six weeks – and I expect to be able to concentrate?

I realized this morning during a rather frustrating attempt at restorative meditation that while I’ve been counseling those closest to me to be patient with their grief, I, too, need time to grieve. Maybe my sense of loss isn’t the same as they’re experiencing; maybe I’m simply being too empathic and absorbing their pain because I want them to feel better, but my emotions are real, too. I need to accept them, work through them in my own time, and then move on. No rush. No ‘shoulds’ about what I feel or when. But no denial, either.

Ego. Self. Attachment. All lessons I’ve been faced with again during these experiences. My ego took a beating when the contract was pulled; my irrational, approval-seeking self was on display for our guests, who really didn’t notice or care if the windows were streaked; my attachment to those I care about, and those who have died, has been shown for the ephemeral thing it is. The feelings are all real, but they are also to be faced, and accepted, and moved beyond.

I guess the universe is in synch better than I realized. Now to ease back into that flow myself, instead of fighting it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

O! for a muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention. ~ William Shakespeare
What is it about fire? Humanity as a whole marks the beginning of civilization with the harnessing of fire. It warms us, cooks our food, and in its wild, flaming state – preferably contained in a campfire ring – entrances us for hours.

But it also terrifies us. Uncontained, fire is a horrifying menace. Wildfires in the forests of California and the plains of Arizona and New Mexico have devastated countless lives this season, scorching untold acres of land. We load our homes and businesses with smoke detectors to enable us to escape its fury. Furniture and clothing are often drenched with fire-retardant solutions of questionable safety that we’re willing to overlook if they save us from the blaze.

Yet even as it burns through our communities, we are attracted to its flames, mesmerized by the flicker and gleam of indescribable colors. We have a condition named for the more extreme fascination: pyromania – fire madness.

Shakespeare had it right, as he so often did, when he yearned for a muse of fire. As writers, we need that spark of creativity, a gleam of horrifying reality, almost uncontrollable, whenever we embarked on a new project. It gives us impetus to do battle with our self-doubts; enchants us with possibility while terrifying us with fear of failure; and draws us into the deepest recesses of ourselves from which the best writing springs.

I generally prefer my muse to be a bit calmer, easier to control, but as a fellow writer noted in last night’s critique group, maybe we need to write in the throes of fiery emotion more often. That’s when bold, gripping, and powerful words explode onto the page.

And with the right kind of fire, we can also make s’mores.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

"It is the other who exposes me to unity.”*

Because Hubby’s grandfather emigrated from Schuivers Kapelle, Belgium, in 1920, our family has always had an affinity for things Belgian, even while not quite understanding what that meant. All I’d ever learned about the country over the years was the capital (Brussels), the two-language split (French and a form of Dutch called Flemish), and that they were really good at making beer and chocolate. This weekend, we were fortunate to learn more.

Through the auspices of the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in Twin Lake, Michigan, and the local organizing efforts of the hard-working Brent and Rachel, we hosted a pair of musicians associated with Concert Band Maasmechelen from Maasmechelen, Belgium. For three days, we were privileged to immerse ourselves in their culture while sharing ours with receptive participants. The United Nations should be so successful.
Our guests Bart and Marijke (it took me a day-and-a-half to pronounce her name correctly) were delightful. From our first meeting in the parking lot of Wright State University’s Center for Creative Arts at two-thirty Friday morning (the group had transportation problems out of Chicago), we continually found common ground from our love of nature and hiking to a shared sense of  being overwhelmed by too many choices in restaurants, supermarkets and bookstores. The four of us talked for hours about daily life, education, food, family gatherings and of course, music. Bart plays euphonium (baritone, for most of us Westerners, although there are subtle differences) and trombone; Marijke plays violin, viola, and cello, although not on this tour. For the U.S. trip, she is part of the organizing staff. We chuckled together over her task of asking each member, “Do you have your papers?” before boarding the bus to head north to the second of four concert stops.

We knew immediately upon our arrival home in the wee hours of Friday morning that things would go well because our dogs loved them, and they loved the dogs. We spent the day (after sleeping off their jet lag) strolling through downtown Yellow Springs and lunching on the patio at Peach’s Grill. American meal portion sizes stunned them; Marijke took lots of pictures of food and beverages, along with the scenery. We learned quickly to counsel them on when to share an entrée to avoid difficulties. The practice of taking leftovers home in a doggie bag amazed them, as did the standard glass of water served gratis at each meal.

Following Friday’s rehearsal at Wright State, we went to Abuelo’s for dinner (Mexican food is so American, isn’t it?). Saturday included a trip to the Yellow Springs farmers’ market and a visit to the Glen Helen Raptor Center. In the afternoon, we attended an informal wedding reception for friends in Waynesville where Bart and Marijke became the main attraction, graciously answering the same questions over and over as they were introduced to each new arrival.

Concert Band Maasmechelen’s performance Saturday evening at Young’s Jersey Dairy was woefully under-attended, but the musicians played like they were at Carnegie Hall. Enthusiasm, passion, and talent were evident in every piece from Bert Appermont’s “Saga Candida” to “Soul Bossa Nova” by Quincy Jones. In a nod to their American hosts, the band ended with a spectacular “Stars and Stripes Forever,” complete with a talented piccolo solo. And naturally Young’s provided the visitors with ice cream after the show.

In keeping with the international flavor of the visit, on Sunday the four of us attended the Celtic Festival at RiverScape Metropark. After enjoying a typically rousing concert, our Belgians went home with a CD of Dayton’s own Dulahan.

All fifty-eight members of the tour and their host families gathered at John Bryan State Park for a potluck picnic Sunday afternoon. Organizers managed to crowd nearly everyone onto the bridge over the Little Miami River for a group photo before we scattered for one last evening at home. We ended our visit with a campfire in the backyard where Bart and Marijke experienced their first taste of s’mores. Nothing like Belgian chocolate, of course (their parting gift to us – yum!), but memorable just the same.

Monday morning brought a sad parting, back in the Wright State parking lot where our adventure began. The group moved on to Frankfort, Michigan; Strongsville, Ohio; and Dowagiac, Michigan, before returning home August 10th. Follow their journey at their tour blog – you’ll need Google Translate (it’s in Dutch), and technology provides an interesting perspective with unintentionally humorous results.

I’m still processing much of what I learned during our cultural exchange, about Belgium and about us, having been given the opportunity to see our world through another’s eyes. It’s not always a comfortable vision. Bart and Marijke take for granted many things we as a country are just recognizing as important: government supported recycling and composting programs, quality affordable medical care, alternative energies – their solar programs have been so successful, government subsidies are being phased out. In contrast, we take for granted our over-consuming, commercially-focused lifestyle. They were astounded at the wastefulness we surround ourselves with every day, from excess packaging to enormous food serving sizes where much of what is served goes into the trash. “Everything here is so big,” Marijke noted more than once.

But more important was how much we have in common with Bart and Marijke. From our love of animals, to family traditions, to Star Trek and the Franco-Belgian comics of Asterix et Obelix, our cultural differences faded away into camaraderie. We shared jokes and laughter, quiet times and intense conversation. And I’ll never look at a truck labeled “Penske” (Dutch = “little belly”) in the same way again!

It was an experience we will long remember, even as the lessons learned may not be realized for some time. I hope the exchange was mutually beneficial, and I’m reasonably certain they weren’t bored with our quiet lifestyle and not just being polite when we didn’t visit the Air Force Museum, the malls or a zoo. We parted with sharing email addresses and promises to meet again. They’ve invited us to Belgium for a Scottish games festival in September, and we want them to come back to Yellow Springs. I want to cook for them. I want to take them to the theatre and introduce them to our adult children. I want our friendship to grow.

Our Belgian family has two new members, and we couldn’t be more delighted.

*Maurice Blanchot in The Writing of the Disaster

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

“Follow wherever your writing energy leads you.”*

Writing energy is in short supply for me these days, at least for any extended period. After the wonderfully overwhelming week at Antioch Writers Workshop, I came home eager to write, but thoroughly exhausted and lacking in any kind of energy. It took a few days’ recovery, and time spent absorbing the lessons learned from the morning sessions, before I could write anything.

And lo and behold, I turned to non-fiction.

For months, I’ve been working on an essay reflecting on my undergraduate studies in the World Classics curriculum at Antioch McGregor (now Antioch Midwest). Unfortunately, the program made such an impact on my life that the essay grew to nearly 9,000 words, far too long for nearly any publication I could hope to have accept it. It was also disjointed, unwieldy, and in serious need of editing. I just couldn’t make it happen.

After AWW, and some wise words from fellow writer and blogger Lisa Kilian, I finally did what I’d been resisting – I tore the damn thing apart, all but started over (still couldn’t bring myself to toss quite all of it), and ended up with just over 2,500 words of a much better essay. It needs a bit more fine-tuning, and my beta-reader for this project, while agreeing I needed to put back the personal commentary I cut out during my slash-and-burn session, asked two very pointed questions: who is my audience? What one specific point do I want to convey? With his encouragement, and push in the right direction, I’m more optimistic about actually finishing this piece than I have been since I started.

So where does that leave my fiction? I’m heartened by the fact that writers such as Orwell, Hemingway, and many others also wrote essays (not that I’m putting myself in their class by any means), but there are only so many hours in the day, and I have only so much writing energy.

Besides the essay, I have a novel in progress, one I’m shopping, one that needs heavy rewrites and two fragments, plus I have a book review due in a week. I have short stories out on submission, and a few that need edits before I can send them out as well. But I also have an insistent idea for a non-fiction book that I’d love to continue researching.

And like it or not, life, and family, require time and energy. I realize now, every day, why my writing languished while we were raising children. I simply can’t do it all.

Fellow writers, especially those with small children, how do you manage to keep your writing energy replenished, and directed to the proper outlet?

I keep picturing juggling torches or spinning plates…

*Matthew Goodman, author of The Sun and the Moon: The Remarkable True Account of Hoaxers, Showmen, Dueling Journalists, and Lunar Man-Bats in Nineteenth-Century New York, etc.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

My first guest post is up at Lost in the Writing, a blog by fellow writer Lori Lopez. Stop by to read about my experience filming a video lesson for high school students and stay to check out Lori's work. Good stuff!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Seems to be quite a few dog stories in the blogosphere this week…we have so much to learn from our canine companions!

Even though we’ve shared our home with several dogs at various times over the years, we’ve only recently taken up dog training. For most of our canine companions, once they were housebroken and learned the trash can was not a buffet, we pretty much lived together in genial chaos. But two weeks ago, with the addition of dog number three, our son’s five-year-old beagle Indiana on long-term foster care, we realized we had to get serious or go insane.

Barkley, our five-year-old English Springer, has begun acting out since Indy arrived, responding more aggressively to unexpected guests and perceived threats. (my apologies again to the kind gentleman who interrupted his evening walk to tell us about car lights left on!) I can only assume he’s trying to establish dominance over the newcomer. Either that, or standing guard so no more dogs invade his domain – look what happened last time he let down his guard! We’re holding regular practice sessions, knocking loudly on the front door at unexpected times and teaching them the proper way to respond. It’s a slow process, but it seems to be sinking in. Us, 1; dogs, 0.

The kitchen trash is another thing entirely. Barkley has taken a cue from Indy and now they share the fun of tipping the can and strewing its contents while we’re gone. I’m pretty sure eight-year-old Chi watches from across the room, unwilling to face the Wrath of Mom. We try bribing them with Kong balls and treats to keep them occupied when we leave, but so far the only solution seems to be removing the temptation entirely. Us, 1; dogs, 1.

Meals were a bit of a challenge. Chi and Barkley were content to watch while I filled dishes and carried them to their dining spot near the water bowl. Indy, not so much. It took some convincing to teach him patience, but I believe he’s following their lead on this one. No fighting over each other’s bowl, and no more attempts by Indy to claim Chi’s dish by marking it in the usual male-dog manner. At least he’s enough of a gentleman to wait until she’s finished eating to hike a leg in her direction. Us, 2; dogs, 1.

Bedtime is a round of musical chairs. Chi starts on the loveseat at the foot of our bed, then moves to the floor next to my side. Barkley starts on our bed until Hubby dislodges him (no puppies in our nighttime slumbers!), then takes either the loveseat or the actual doggie bed on the floor near my desk. Indy came with a bed our son insists he loved more than anything, only to find he’s completely uninterested in sleeping there. He moves from our bed, to the back cushion of the loveseat, and more often than not ends up in Hubby’s desk chair, where he’s elevated enough to keep watch on all of us. We’ll give that one to the mutts, although the bed remains ours. Us, 2; dogs, 2.

For the past year, our wide fenced yard has been sufficient to contain Barkley and Chi. Not for Indy. Since his arrival, on more occasions than I can count, he’s found openings just large enough for him to wriggle through and head out to explore the neighborhood. We fix and patch and replace fencing, but he’s very resourceful. Then Hubby had a brilliant idea: attach Indy to a long lead that allows him to reach the fence, maybe even get through, but not go any further. That way, as he finds an escape route, we can block it without chasing him up the block first. One by one, as he locates the gaps, we’re right behind him closing them up. Until we’re confident enough to let Indy run free in the backyard without running away, I’m calling this one a draw.

Stepping back, however, to look at the big picture, I’m not sure who is training whom. We’re engaged in a not-so-delicate pas de deux; they learn the behaviors we expect, we learn patience when we’re disappointed. They figure out what they can get away with, we decide how much we’re willing to tolerate, and bribe. We’re coming to understand most of their actions are simply what dogs do, whether it be chewing or barking or loudly wrestling with each other when we’re trying to work. Like when we were raising our children, we need to curb our expectations with reality, setting reasonable limits, and working to make those limits understood, all while taking into account individual personalities, theirs and ours.

Dog training. People training. It’s a toss-up, but as long as we don’t insist on a zero-sum game, we all win.