Corn stalks, pasta sauce and timidity.

Doing what it's supposed to be doing.

What could a maverick stalk of corn possibly offer to a blog post? 

  • Reinforcement for the inspirational nugget to bloom where you’re planted (or dropped)? 
  • Standing up straight and tall for what you are, and what you think you’re supposed to do? 
  • Reaching for the sky despite the usual and expected path, and thriving in spite of it? 

Feel free to take your pick. 

This corn stalk greeted me a few weeks ago while I was mowing. Leave it to the winds or birds to deliver the seeds of such surprises into our row of Austrian pines. I wasn’t so surprised by the fact that the stalk sprouted, but that it is actually producing an ear because corn cross pollinates, and there is only one other corn plant sprouting behind this one. All appearances indicate its intention to survive in spite of the fact it isn’t surrounded by a whole block of its kind. 

I write a bi-monthly column for the Cedar Rapids Gazette’s Money pages that features a wide variety of local businesses. I enjoy talking with all of these different business owners and entrepreneurs, and the two most obvious common threads that all of these people possess are patience and persistence. 

Yesterday’s interviewees opened their family business in 2009. That’s not that long ago, really, and they recently inked the deal that will put their product in 330 stores in an 8-state area. That’s pretty dang impressive. As much as I would love to mention their company name here, I cannot, as my agreement to write these stories prohibits such until after the story prints. 

Establishing their business required extensive calls into their state governing agencies to be sure they understood the requirements and laws for their industry. They made boatloads of these calls, too. Eventually things were lined up, they were compliant, and they launched their product line. One person inside one of these agencies told them they figured they would indeed get their new company launched–‘You just kept at it. I knew you would make it.’

This speaks well for those two p-words mentioned above, and even more for the lack of timidity when it comes to going after something you want. 

The pluck of this sole cornstalk growing out back of our property absolutely tickles me. Even if its ear of corn doesn’t fill out completely, I love that it went for it on its own, and I doubt timidity ever entered into it.

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Rubber survives expansion, and so can we.

Every January I choose a word that I’ll use as my working point of focus for the New Year.

This year my word is: expand. It’s a verb. Verbs mean action.

Webster’s II Dictionary explains it simply:

expand v.

1.   To make or become greater in size, scope, or range

2.   To open up or out: unfold.

3.   To speak or write at greater length: enlarge

My numerical response order looks like this:

1)   The novel manuscript has a few spots that need to be explained better—in a word, expanded. Three of my serious readers have told me this now. 

2)   My reading and study into spiritualism, other world religions and philosophy will continue this year. The more I read, the more I realize how undeveloped we human-bots really are. 

3)   It’s time to raise the bar and try writing a piece for a more dangerous market, defined here as one of those publications where it appears that only the big writing guns are allowed in. There are three basic possibilities for such effort:

  • they ignore me
  • they say ‘no’
  • they say ‘yes’

I still get to go on living, breathing and writing, regardless.

The famous words of one particularly remarkable man will help get me started:

      “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

                                     Dr. Martin Luther King

What word did you choose for 2011?

Contributing to the world–for real.

     Sooner or later, anyone who chooses to leave the “real” working world–herein defined as: “being out of their house at least 5 days a week, and in someone else’s office/building area either at a desk or in a cubicle that they don’t own, and receiving a guaranteed paycheck either weekly or bi-weekly— to work from home as a freelance writer IS going to pick up some direct, or not-so-direct, commentary on whether or not they are still “contributing” to the world. 

     Oh, yeah–it’s going to happen. And it will surprise you—especially when it comes out of the mouths of those who call themselves ‘friends’—or even family. 

     I’ve experienced it myself, but as you can probably tell from this blog’s site content—I didn’t let it stop me from continuing to work as a writer. 

     So you can imagine how big I smiled when I received the following hand-written thank you note in today’s mail from a local hospice organization I interviewed and wrote a story about several months back. I quote: 

Ms. Groff, 

Thank you so much for your kind gift of “A Cup of Comfort for the Grieving Heart.” Our social workers have been getting a lot of use out of it, and it has finally made its way back to our library! Your gift, as well as your writing, is much appreciated. 

Sincerely,

Julie Martin,

Hospice Librarian

     I had donated one of my copies of the Cup of Comfort book to this hospice library when I realized it would be a good fit for the genuine, selfless work those people do. There are 45 contributing writers in that particular edition, and I’m one of them. The honesty and hope offered in each sad, but encouraging story is more than amazing. 

     This past December I sold a non-fiction story to a magazine with a circulation of over 40,000. The story spoke to the universal hope for peace among the diversity of this world based on a childhood experience that translated into current day life. I have no idea if 40,000 pairs of eyes read the story, but I’m willing to bet a good number of strangers that I’ll never know did take in the thought-energy I put into that writing. It doesn’t matter whether or not I ever get to know. It just matters that I did it. 

     Through the years I’ve put my time in amongst the cubicles of others and earned a pension check that I’m not yet old enough to collect, and trust me when I say—I doubt I ever touched as many lives doing that as I have since “working from home.” 

     This thank you note today tells me just how right my decision to start contributing from home really was.

Weaving Through a December Tornado

Has your kitchen ever looked like this?

This was our kitchen two years ago. A blizzard was moving in with ice pelting the side of the house as I sprinted around that kitchen trying to finish off baking. I needed to get a Christmas box packed and delivered to the UPS terminal before the roads got any worse that day. Luckily, I made it without any mishaps on the road.

I’m back in the race again this month, only this year I added in several freelance assignments that have to be handed in by December 20th, travel to NW Iowa for a book signing on the 18th, moved up a writer’s group holiday gathering for the 11th, and volunteered to help with an additional holiday celebration on the 12th. I don’t have all of my shopping done yet either.

So last week while I was box diving, the name I have for the activity where I paw through rickety, bent-up boxes containing all sorts of saved shrapnel in the form of old letters, photograph albums, and corsage corpses, I turned up an envelope aged to the color of weak tea. Its postmark said: Lake Park, Iowa, November 17, 1976. It cost my mother thirteen cents to mail it.

Evidently I was dealing with headaches at the time. I don’t recall them but the opening paragraph in her letter reads like this:

      I think part of your headaches might be caused by frustration because you always have so much lined up for yourself to do and if it doesn’t get done, it bothers you. I wish that you would ease up on yourself. Take it from me–it just isn’t worth it in the long run. Just take care of your health and do what you can get done and forget about the rest. We are all going to leave this world with something left undone!

Reading that bit of advice from my mother smacks of synchronicity in light of the approaching hoard of activity. The trick is to weave. It helps to have a laptop sitting on the kitchen table. While I’m waiting for a pan of something to bake, I can be drafting from my materials spread around me. I think my mother would be proud to know I’ve learned to avoid that fretting part that probably gave me those headaches a long time ago, and just get on with the weaving part.

I didn’t turn down the writing jobs because I didn’t want to miss out on any opportunities or income.

I didn’t shy away from throwing a party last week because I treasure time with friends that I don’t see very often.

I hired someone else to dust and clean the house while I enjoyed working on the article assignments and baking delicious, fun things for my guests.

And there isn’t even a glimmer of a headache in sight. Weaving is a good thing.

A re-e-eally big pile of —!

Words. 

Lots and lots of words. 

50,160 of them to be exact. 

Last night I finished my novel writing month challenge for 2010. 

Residing on my hard drive now is: 

An insanely large amount of exposition. 

A couple of pretty good analogies that just came out of my mind and fingers—from—Divine Intervention, perhaps? 

Maybe twelve good sentences, if I’m really, really lucky . . . 

The hint of this becoming a mystery.

A sense of the deep sadness and fear that does reside in people from time to time, and last but not least,

a revealing, humorous rant with leading lady Margarite after she’d had way too much wine to drink and flew into a raging, profane tirade against life and anything else that got in her way one evening. (I had no idea she would talk like that.) She came up with a naughty acronym for the new school for young girls that she threatens to open . . . Ohhhhh, Margarite–tsk, tsk, tsk. 

I sat on the sofa at night with the TV going in the background and typed. The laptop was up and running on our kitchen table during the days, and in between other tasks like lining up article interviews, baking for upcoming parties, paying bills, etc. I’d sit down and tap in the words or sentences that sprung up. Some nights I didn’t allow myself to go to bed until I had met my quota of words for the day. 

That’s how the big things get done. And now it’s time to haul out Christmas decorations and make some more phone calls. 🙂

Novel Reality.

My own caption for the writer sitting in this cartoon would have been:

“Is that window behind you open?”

I love cartoonist Dave Coverly’s Speed Bump comic strip.

When I saw this one in PARADE Magazine some time back I practically tripped over the cat trying to get to my scissors so I could cut it out and hang it on our refrigerator.

I’m always looking for cartoons or bits and pieces of writer-themed humor to hang on our fridge. They help me maintain my sense of humor as I continue to venture further into the Publishing Zoo. They also keep me realistic. You need both of those assets if you want to write for the public eye, but I can’t stress the humor one strongly enough to you because:

You will revise your manuscripts many times.

They will be rejected.

They will be called something they are not.

You will consider taking the whole stack of pages out to the burn pile at some point, but you won’t; because you know they don’t make a tranquilizer pill big enough to help you afterwards.

And you’ll promise yourself you’ll just keep at it.

             Author Note: Special word of thanks to Mr. Coverly for granting me permission to use his work on my blog site, and thanks also for his astute and talented insight that make the rest of us laugh–or think.

True Grit

 

I came downstairs one morning this past summer to discover this spider web in progress across our patio doors. I watched that little spider work methodically to spread the web over the expanses from one side across to the other. Spider had to spin some far-reaching strands to secure the thing and it seemed such a monumental task, and I wondered why the little critter didn’t pick a smaller, more convenient area for its necessary creation. It struck me as a fitting metaphor for trying to finish a novel and find a market for it.

Two years ago today my writing friend Linda died from cervical cancer. She and I used to meet once a week for what we called writer’s luncheon. We’d discuss (and whine) about our novels, revisions in progress and all that jazz that goes with writing for publication/sale. We’d also exchange calls for submissions and other publishing/marketing stuff. These weekly luncheons were tremendously helpful for keeping the writing energy bolstered.

Every January we chose a word to keep us writing-goal-focused. The last year of her life she’d chosen “persevere” and I’d chosen “believe.”

Linda mailed my birthday gift to me early that year. It was a Christmas table runner with a large picture of St. Nicholas in the center with the word “Believe” bordering the four sides. She died two weeks later.

When a person works from home as a freelance writer, novelist, poet, whatever—it’s hard at times to keep hunkered down into the work. You wonder if anyone is reading what you’ve published—or if what you do with your life matters. Deep down you know it matters to you, but once in a while you need some outside validation—just because you’re as pathetically human as the next guy.

Linda had finished a couple of children’s picture books, one YA novel and one adult fiction novel, but she never found a literary agent who was willing to take her on. It wasn’t for lack of trying either.

Trust me when I say that Lin’s and my writing friendship was pretty candid at times, and it was she who got in my face several years back challenging me to “stop taking on more church committee work, planning more redecorating projects and house parties just so you don’t have to finish your book.” (She told me later she thought I might hit her.) I bought her a dozen roses the following week because she’d nailed it on the head. That’s what real friends do.

I told her I thought she held back too much in her fiction writing; that she needed to inject more of herself into it to make it more tangible. She agreed with me, but she wouldn’t go there. Said she couldn’t. We had to leave it at that.

The “Believe” gel gems that you see in the picture went up in December 2007, the last time Lin visited in my home. They’ve been up ever since.

In memory of Linda Lee Hanson (November 5, 1953 – October 9, 2008)