Tractor pins, writing—and tears.

The final–and most beautiful tractor pin of all.

Do you know what this is? 

If you grew up on a farm, you do. For those of you who didn’t—it’s a tractor pin. You slip this pin down into a connecting hitch on a tractor so you can tow wagons, etc. behind you. My dad made dozens and dozens of these throughout the years he owned a welding/machine repair shop in the farming community where we lived, and this tractor pin served as the catharsis for a story about him that is now published. 

The Fourth edition in the Series of Stories About Growing Up in and Around Small Towns in the Midwest (Shapato Publishing), *Make Hay While the Sun Shines, came off the presses last week. 

Before dad’s business sold after his death, my brother collected several of these pins from the shop, and he had this one chrome-plated. He recently made a gift of it to me. (Thank you so much big brother!) 

Shapato editor Jean Tennant requests submissions for her popular Midwest Series be kept to around 1,500 words. 

When I started drafting I ran into things I hadn’t counted on. Deep, sad things, and by the time I finished drafting there were 15 pages strong. That’s just a tad over the 1,500 word mark, so I had major decisions to make, and big time cutting to do. 

At times the process brought tears. I hadn’t counted on that. I was just going to write a story about my dad the machine-shop owner and welder, right? 

I wrote about the hardships he and his twin sister knew as kids because of an abusive alcoholic father who quickly abandoned the family. I worked through their being separated from their mother who had to work at what jobs she could find in town, often leaving them alone on the farm together to care for each other, or with neighbors—who my dad didn’t feel comfortable around. (Was there more to this than anyone ever told me? I’m never going to know.) 

I walked back through the story about the time all they had to eat were rotten eggs—and yes, they did eat them. When you’re hungry—you eat what you have. 

I wrote about the day he died. The roads were treacherous and slow that February afternoon and it took the ambulance 5 hours to get out to where he’d died and collect his body. On top of a wretched sounding childhood, this seemed like the ultimate final insult that, for me, still stings.

I wrote about the dirt and dangers inside a welding shop with dangerous chemical fumes. I wrote about foul-smelling manure spreaders that he crawled under to repair, and I revisited the nasty conditions of working in a machine repair shop—with no air conditioning in the summer and those frigid winter mornings until his heater caught up. All this so I could have pretty dresses and shoes—and food and all that good stuff that hardworking parents provide for their offspring. 

And through all that writing I realized I never told him that I understood just how hard he had to work for his family — because I know I didn’t fully comprehend this until later in life. 

I know this is a common affliction for the young, selfish and stupid, but it was damn hard to work through in that draft. 

Of course, I did not put all of this in the story that appears in Shapato Publishing’s latest edition, but I used it all to help me find and shape the story that I submitted. 

Some days I had to set the piece aside. The deep stuff was too much. I’d shut the file down and leave it. I’d pick it up again several days later, and eventually I whittled it down as I figured out what I wanted to say. 

What I wanted to tell the world was about his creativity that balancedBetween Iron and Paint,” the title of the new story. I mucked through a lot of “stuff” to get there. 

If you think you can whip out a story quickly, maybe edit a few words here and there and call it done, you are doing yourself a great disservice. 

Your first draft—your second try–your third look—simply will not be enough to give you a finished piece. 

Sometimes there will be tears—or anger, as in my case this time around, but eventually you end up with something you are ready to put before the world. 

Neither of my parents lived long enough to see me publish, but I’m hoping they have some idea of it from wherever. They both inspired so much of it. 

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. – Robert Frost  

*The book is available at www.Amazon.com, www.Shapatopublishing.com – or you can buy a copy from me, if you prefer.

 
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We are never too old to do a report card

A writer's development path

 

Resume, or vitae–they both mean the same thing. A summary of one’s personal history and employment experience. 

Everyone trying for a job in today’s market needs one, and it is quite the task to put an effective one together. I tend to believe that everyone should try putting one together at least once in their lifetime if merely for the experience of the exercise itself. 

As I sorted through my bookshelves a few weeks ago I turned up a lot of folders, notebooks and tablets that I’ve accumulated from spirituality, creativity, women’s and writing conferences, training sessions, workshops, etc. I keep notes and resource materials religiously and I decided I wanted to see what my path looked like since I turned in the direction of an intuitive and creative writing lifestyle. The picture at the top of the blog post is what I produced from that process, and it was not only revealing, but empowering. I am extremely fond of that particular word. I believe it to be a word that will take us great distances when we become regular friends with it. 

Formal resumes must meet certain specifications to catch the eye of future employers today. You have to “spin” them to read properly for the job you are targeting, so you mustn’t necessarily put everything that helped shape and prepare you for the sought-after job on your formal resume. 

That’s why I like this new document format that I dubbed the “personal development plan” so much. It is a form of report card for your eyes only, and you can lay out a document that will allow you to analyze quite personally what you have—or have not—done that has shaped the zone you occupy currently. 

It allows you take stock of all the effort you’ve made since commencing the current career path you are on . . . or the one you hope to be on after you complete the “must earn pension check first thing”—or the “I don’t want to wait until it’s too late thing . . .” You get the idea I’m sure.  

I like it done in chronological order by month and year, with the earliest thing you can remember—first. Once you have it all together, sit back and study it with honest eyes. Really look at the dates and their spread. 

  • What years did you show great progress? 
  • What years did you not take any forward-moving steps at all? 
  • Why? 
  • What was going on that kept you from doing so? 
  • Will you allow that to happen again? 
  • How do you feel now that you look back on it? 
  • Are you smarter? (If you answer yes!–great. If you answer with anything else, explore that maybe?) 
  • What do you think needs to happen next?
  • Who might you call in to assist you?

This isn’t just for a writer. It can be for anything you want to grow or change. 

It can also be the pat on the back you might need. Perhaps you feel like you’ve been spinning your wheels and not making any headway? A document like this might be just the thing you need that allows you a little personal brag time as you plot your next step. 

How about trying your own report card?

 

What of you remains?

I had an interesting conversation with a doctor the other day.

He’d recently undergone a temporary health-limiting episode that forced him out of the daily rat race, cocooning him at home with time, space and quiet in which to examine a few things. 

He said he found himself wondering if he were to die tomorrow, would he be able to look back on the way his life played out and be satisfied. This is nothing new, of course. This has been going on since people learned how to record their thoughts on walls—or paper. 

He realized he’s been doing good things. Things like running his practice, keeping his bills paid, attending to the health and welfare of his family and patients. But however good that all was — is — he realized he wasn’t so sure it was going to be enough by the time his ticket gets punched for the last time. 

That constant yearning–There HAS to be more–isn’t there?–is never far away, and medical conditions make the best impetus for forcing people into that perspective-observation mode.

Of course I am going to pose the question to you. 

How satisfied are you with what you’ve done to date? 

There’s been a new melody dogging you in your mind lately. Have you captured it yet–on paper or in your recording software program? 

Have you finished those poetry lines that came sneaking around the corner as you listened to the news? You know the ones that wouldn’t let you drift off to sleep with ease that night? 

How about that story of when you were 12 years old that your daughter asked you to write down over two years ago? And you said you would. 

And all of those novel notes you’ve been collecting. Are you just collecting them for the hell of it or are you going to take off and play at the keyboard and see what’s there?

Have you given that dialogue that came floating in through the kitchen window the other day an owner yet? You knew you liked the voice as soon as it appeared. 

Do you really think that unfinished quilt waiting on the top shelf in your bedroom is going to finish itself? You’d specifically asked your mother to stitch her initials and the date in the corner.

And working with the paints makes you nervous you say? So what. That picture you showed me last week has something in it. Screw the nerves. Get back at it.

Always wanted to try fusing glass? Or work with clay? Or take voice lessons? Or see if Baked Alaska is really simple to make?  

My brother, the only one I have out of the two I started with, starts chemotherapy in a couple weeks. He has been recording guitar arrangements on some computer software gizmo that he likes to play around with for several years now. A long time ago he earned spending money in college playing for a rock ‘n roll band. That band will be inducted into the South Dakota Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this coming weekend. He’s been faithful about sharing his new musical renditions with many of us on CD’s that he runs off from his “home recording sessions” in his den. We like getting them, and we expect to receive many more. 

What will you leave behind for someone else? 

What’s really stopping you?

My youngest daughter made the above plaque for me after she listened to me share some recent book world publishing statistics. She must have seen my resolve sag, thus this sweet little reminder. 

In a brief nutshell there are some book sites that estimate there are 1,500 new books published every day. One agent blog that I read recently stated that they read 10,000 novel query letters in 2010 from wanna-be’s—and didn’t take on one single manuscript from that pile. But enough of this— 

The above two words belong to you as much as they do me. 

Whatever it is you have to, want to, need to do—own these two words. 

If you’re working on a novel, know that all you have to do is work on it today—or tonight. But you can work on it. 

Maybe you want to see if you can get through this day without that drink, or that cigarette, or whatever your trapping devil is. You can work on that today. 

The need for sugar and sweets is strong during this cold winter, but you can try for this one day without an overload of it. 

You can get on your treadmill or exercise bike today. 

You can apologize for shooting your mouth off to your spouse or office mates. 

You can set food out for some stray cats. Hells bells, feed the deer, too! 

You can donate some food to the local food bank. 

You can save that $20.00 bill instead of buying another batch of lottery tickets. 

You can plan your garden already. 

You can call your mother just to check on her. 

This is just today. 

You can.

Traditions pave the way.

Never far away

She was our third kid for the sixteen years we had her, and she will have a spot somewhere on our Christmas trees for as long as I’m the one doing the decorating. We used to have a red braided rug just like the one this lab is sleeping on. Our yellow lab Ginger logged in a lot of nap hours on said rug, so the first Christmas without her I bought this ornament and clipped it to the tree. That’s been the practice for the past six years. It’s become a tradition. My take on traditions is that they are like friends we invite back for a short visit every year. Our daughters, as well as friends who visit, look for ‘Ginger’ on the tree when they come for the holidays.

That same Christmas our youngest daughter Jennifer started another tradition for our family. She created the Christmas Wish box you see in the photo below.

That Christmas evening before we all said our good-byes she handed us small slips of paper and instructed us to write our wish for the approaching New Year. We all complied, placed them inside the box, and she took it back home with her for safekeeping until the next Christmas. There’s one major rule: No one is allowed to say their wish out loud.

She’ll be bringing that box home in another week, and at the end of Christmas night we’ll open it up, read our own wish for 2010—share it only if we want to–and then we’ll write down a new wish for 2011.

I honestly can’t remember the exact wish that I wrote 12 months ago, but as a writer looking to expand her horizons I have a faint idea,  and I am looking forward to rereading it.

A writer friend of mine shared the following quote with me that she remembered from some local radio program: Traditions are fine as long as they are tempered by the progress today brings.

In my case—writing down my wish helps me lay a mental plan for moving ahead—as a writer.

If you were asked to commit to a wish for 2011—do you know what it would be?

"Wishes Enclosed"

The Sticky Things Worth Keeping

He’s cute, don’t you think? He belongs to my sister. Our mother gave him to her a long time ago, when my niece was small. A few years ago my sister ventured into home-brewed sucker making to create a little fun for her grandkids. She said she probably won’t make a habit of sucker production, but they had the fun of doing it together and creating a memory. I bet her grandkids–and her daughter–will remember it though.

There is a fine opportunity coming up where families will have their feet underneath a dining table all at the same time to partake of the whole turkey meal thing making memories–without even realizing that they are. From my way of thinking, this sounds like the perfect opportunity for family to spill the beans on family stories, tales—or explanations.

“Let me tell you why I won’t go near a can of Spam . . .”

“Is it true, Grandma, that all you had to eat during WWII was mutton?”

“How come you only raise pink roses?”

“We named you after your great-great grandfather because . . .”

You get my drift?

If we don’t take the opportunity to pass some of these little stories and tales along during the infrequent times we come together as family, how will they ever be made known?

Maybe you don’t think it’s such a big deal, but just wait until some random family question comes to mind one day and you know exactly who would be able to supply the answer–only they’re long gone from this earthly presence. It can be quite a reality check.

The writing and note taking doesn’t have to be award-winning stuff. Just write it however it comes to you. Use a tape recorder or video camera if you don’t want to have to write.

Family history can’t become history, unless it gets shared with someone, or recorded somewhere.

Create a little fun and keepsake for someone else down the line. Your stories do not belong only to you.

Acquired Grace

       I found the following poster at a gift shop in Chatham, Massachusetts several years ago. Liked it so much I had it framed and now it hangs among the other artwork and intuitive writings on the walls of my office.

 

The Older I Get

The more I notice outrageous beauty

Of stars and moon against the sky…

The softer a baby’s skin feels…

The less panicky I am during sleepless nights…

The less easy answers I have…

The hungrier I am for connectedness…

The less I know, the more I wonder…

The longer I linger in snowfalls…

The kinder I am with weakness…

The more honest I am with myself…

The more I understand children’s logic…

The less rigid I am…

                                      The mightier the ocean seems each time I visit…

                   The less I wonder how old I’ll be someday…

The more hugs I give…

The gentler I am with myself…

The less I think of what I think…

The faster I clean my house…

The wiser I long to be…

The more I realize how impatient I’ve always been with life…

The more opportunities I see in each day…

The more I think about the miraculous gift Beethoven gave to the world…

The more I play

The less I think of what others think…

The closer I feel to old, old friends…

The more natural prayer seems…

The more I enjoy a simple cup of tea…

The hotter I draw my bath water and the longer I lie in it…

The longer I listen…

The wider berth I give to sorrow in the grand scheme of things…

The younger in spirit I feel…

The quieter my inner self becomes…

The greater my appreciation of harmony…

The more time I spend looking at stained glass windows…

The more comfortable I am with solitude…

The more I see good coming out of difficulties…

The more grateful I am to be alive

The more beautiful I am becoming.

    (Gail Kittleson/Holly Monroe ©1998 Abby Press)