The time has come the Walrus said . . . to speak of many things . . .

You're showing to the rest of the world, whether you know it or not.

You’re showing to the rest of the world, whether you know it or not.

Writing, I think, is not apart from living.

Writing is a kind of double living. 

The writer experiences everything twice.

Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind.    – Catherine Drinker Bowen

The 2014 Life Journaling Class I began in early January has concluded–and damn–it felt good to participate.

I achieved my goal: To return to that deep state of unrestrained, concentrated paper-talk that I’d been missing.

All of the different prompts that session leader Susannah Conway offered to us 5 days out of every 7 fascinated me, even though I did not do them all, nor did I do them in order. The choice was always ours, as it should be.

Many were incredibly imaginative, and some downright dangerous and way too exposing, but staying parked in the SAFE ZONE is no place for serious writing.

I must admit to this one here and now: as it’s been one of the coldest, snowiest and toughest winters we’ve had in Iowa in several years, I could not get enthused about trying the one exercise of laying buck naked, spread-eagled across my bed, contemplating the various parts of my body and then writing about said personal revelations. It’s hard to think straight when your nibs are freezing and begging for a blanket.

Please don’t be offended, Susannah. I did understand the purpose of that one, but dang, woman–it was simply too cold for compliance! (Maybe next summer when the cat is busy watching birds out the window and the hubby has gone out for a solo Harley ride or something . . . we’ll see–)

She offered us one final list of prompts to carry forward as we move away from the group, and there are both gut-wrenching, difficult suggestions as well as light-hearted, fun directions to go. I am grateful for such a list.

It contains 50 solid, honest questions and prompts, and they offer vast amounts of fodder not only for personal journaling work, but for creative essays and stories–fiction and non-fiction alike as far as I’m concerned.

As I read through them a lot of thoughts began coagulating for me:

Have a conversation with your 90-year old self.

Write a letter of appreciation to someone who annoys you. (Oh, hell no! . . . but a good writing exercise if ever there was one . . .)

What turns me on? (Is this something you want your kids to read after you’re co-habitating with the earthworms? I wonder how many people would have the guts to write this down in a notebook and not destroy it.)

The secret I could never tell anyone. 

Write a letter to your first love.

The things I’ll never do again are . . . (oy.)

If I dared to say what I really think . . .

I chose the following from her list to close this post out for today:

10 memories I’d like to revisit – 

  1. Sitting on that old wood bench in Montgomery, Iowa on a July night watching the free outdoor movie with my family. There were stars overhead, crickets chirping in the grass, my folks–lighthearted and relaxed. There, of course, is ice cream before we drive home.
  2. The night I was married. I believe I forgot to tell my folks thank you for my wedding. Damn. All family and friends that we cared about were present. That doesn’t happen very often.
  3. Shopping in Wright’s Five and Dime with my kid sister. I want to walk down each aisle and remember all those fun things we used to wish we could buy. And I want to stand over that penny candy counter one more time.
  4. I want to pause inside the big doorway to my dad’s welding shop and watch him repair those colorful farm implements again, and then I want to drive home to supper with him. Our family of 6 always sat at the table and ate meals together. I remember the pecking order; it wasn’t always peaceful, but so what.
  5. Saturday nights in July and going uptown to take in all the happenings, and eating cheeseburgers at the Sunnyside Café with Mom—and one of those thick REAL chocolate malts.
  6. Christmas Eve 1960. Christmas was always good for me.
  7. The winter of 1962. Snow days—lots of them that winter. My sister and I baking and sledding and feeling warm inside our house—and sleeping late in the mornings. “No school again today!” I can hear my dad saying it.
  8. The summer of 1969 at Pike’s Point. Warm breezes blowing across Lake Okoboji and going steady. The life of a pampered teenager and loving it all.
  9. Girls’ week in August at my mother’s house. The four of us. Fresh peaches and cream for breakfast. Shopping and ordering pizza and watching rented videos. Nothing but play time. A week’s worth of harmony.
  10. Drinking Constant Comment tea with Mom in her living room until the wee hours of the morning, and catching up on everything and anything, and laughing until we dang near wet ourselves sometimes!

So . . . for those of you who think you’re  too smart, too busy, too talented, too sophisticated to spend any time with yourself, a pen and a lined notebook, I dare you to give it a try.

I don’t believe any one person couldn’t find something of merit in a little time spent examining where they’re standing now, where they’ve been—or what they think might be waiting down the road for them.

No one is that well put together. No one.

Untangling the tangled.


    To the person who has never seen or made one of these before, this probably looks like the craft project of a three-year old preschooler. 

     This messy looking thing is called a bird nesting globe, and it was made by someone who hasn’t been three for a very long time: me. I’ve been attending various bird/nature classes at an ecospirituality center not far from where I live. It is an amazing place with 70 acres of trees, trails, small cottages to rent for a day or a week, and a staff that puts on many such classes and educational events throughout the year.  

     We filled the center of this ball with torn balls and shreds of cotton batting, short strands of yarns, twine, tiny fabric scraps or strips of denim and wove it in and around this varnished grapevine globe. I tied a long length of twine to the top of the globe and hung it high up in the white pine trees close to our bird feeders. Very soon the birds will come and pull these materials out through my well-intentioned aid and carry them off to build their nests for this season. It’s going to be a lot of fun watching for new nests around the yard to see if they contain any of the familiar materials gleaned from my tangled “mess.” 

     Several weeks back I asked a competent writing buddy if she would lend a sharp eye to two pieces I was getting ready to submit to a writing competition. I was fairly pleased with the first one, but the second story was proving a struggle for me. She agreed, and a few days later the two pieces came back with WORD Track Changes all over them. 

     I studied everything she’d indicated, and agreed with much of it—not all, but much, so I tore back into the tangled messes she’d returned to me. The one I thought was fairly well done, really wasn’t after I reviewed her marks. I went back to the drawing board with both of them and many, many hours and a couple of days later they both had grown up substantially, and I was satisfied to submit them for contest consideration. 

     Very soon lots of birds will hover around that newly hung nesting ball, venturing in closer so they can pull out what they think they can use for their nests. They’ll fly back to where it is under construction and they’ll peck, poke, prod, weave and arrange until they are satisfied that they have the result they want with which to start their new project: the next brood in their family lineage.

     We really do want our work to come back full of track changes, challenging questions as to why we did something—or didn’t—and conspicuous grammatical errors pointed out. It is the only way we improve. 

     If the wrens, finches and sparrows can confront a tangled mess of yarns, twines and fabric to produce an effective nest, we as writers can do the same from highly edited copy of our work. 

     It should never be about supporting the ego. It should always be about writing better.


A writer’s squirrel habits.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Squirrels aren’t the only ones who store nuts for future use. 

So do writers—and songwriters—and artists—and bloggers. I’m sure you get the point. 

Last summer I researched blogs–how to do them, why to do them. I read other peoples’ blogs and studied the web and blog sites of big name authors as I worked to design site and content for this blog. I made a pact with myself that I would finally sit down and read through the manual that came with my Canon PowerShot SD750 Digital camera. Early last spring I’d taken a Saturday morning intro course on general digital camera use. My little camera and I have become close friends in the past many months and it is always within reach, and often times sitting on the seat in the car with me when I head out for somewhere. I can’t take pictures or videos if the thing is sitting home on the desk, can I? 

So after watering the flowers one morning last August, and witnessing all those gorgeous butterflies enjoying the flowers that I deliberately planted for them, I knew I would want a video to enjoy come winter. We live in Iowa. Winter does come—and it can get real cold—and real long—if it so chooses. It has so chosen this year, and as I looked out over the 12-15 inches of snow parked around our house and yard this morning, it seemed only fitting that I share my August 15, 2010 summer garden video with you. I love the sounds of August in Iowa—the locusts are abundant, and noisy. I love them anyway. If you plant the right kinds of flowers the monarchs and swallowtails and cabbage whites will grace your property all season long.

The light breeze rattled through the mic of the Canon, and as I replayed it for myself this morning I was returned to that splendid August summer morning several months back when I could smell the tang of  the marigolds and feel the humid-damp grass beneath my feet all over again. The short reprieve was so welcome today. 

I knew last summer that such a video would come in handy. I have photo files loaded with shots of things for future use. I have a long list of possible blog topics that come to me after conversations with people, or from articles that I read in the newspapers, online, in magazines. I’m always watching and listening for material. I dig in old boxes of photos and memorabilia, and ask questions of family members and friends, and I take notes—lots and lots of notes–and thoughts. 

Someone once commented to me that it must be hard to have my mind always working. My response: “Where would I get stuff to write about if it wasn’t?” 

Welcome to the life of a writer. I wouldn’t want it any other way. 

I hope this brief video from last summer brings a bit of respite to you today, too.



The Mighty Therapist called ‘the pen’

     I belong to that antiquated group who still reads a physical copy of the printed newspaper, and the other day I came across an article that gave me so much hope, I knew I would blog about it. The study discussed in the article was written up by two researchers from The University of Chicago.

     The title of the article? “Writing task helps reduce test anxiety.” My initial reaction was: “Well, duh!” That is so rude, but blogs are supposed to be honest, or what’s the point. 

     The study concluded that students who were given a simple writing exercise for 10 minutes before they took a test, reduced their anxiety about taking the test giving them a chance to perform better and possibly earn a higher score. The writing allowed the students to write about their feelings and thoughts before the test thus freeing their brainpower to be better used when it was time to focus on the test itself. 

     The article pointed out that “test anxiety is fairly common in classrooms, especially in the United States because of its increasingly test-obsessed culture . . .” thus creating the chain of anxiety that causes poorer grades and lower scores on standardized tests and college entrance exams, that then could condemn talented students to inferior colleges . . . yadda yadda yadda . . . 

     This idea about taking time to empty your brain on paper before taking on a task is not a new concept, but I admit I am grateful that the journal called Science was willing to share forth the findings of these researchers. 

     Julia Cameron’s exceptional book, The Artist’s Way, is but one of a ton of great resources that espouses the value of clearing the gray cells in our head of excess clutter so that we make a cleaner path for focusing on writing, painting, or leading some major corporation into more fruitful ways of making money. It doesn’t matter which poison you choose, writing can be a helpful tool toward a higher quality of life, achievement and results, and I love the fact that someone out there is trying to help young people see and recognize it sooner.

     I’ve written myself through the loss of family and friends and pets. I’ve penned a resolution for myself out of a dead-end employment situation. I draft to myself frequently to get around this nutso world we live in, much preferring the use of words and the writing process itself as compared to the bullets that far too many nut jobs resort to. 

     Writing has been helping me clear the brain path for a long time, and I was positively ecstatic to read an actual printed article that offered the idea to more of the world.

     Isn’t your improved welfare worth maybe 15 minutes of pen-time now and then?

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?


     In amongst the Christmas gift orders I’ve placed with Amazon and other online sites these past few weeks, I also purchased three new CD’s for our collection. 

     I have music going in the house, or at my desk, much of the time while I’m working, and it comes either from an XM radio source or our CD collection. This ensures having the kind of music that I want to match whatever writing mode, mood or energy level that I require in a given moment. 

     My husband and I are rock and roll ‘crazy,’ but I cannot write against it, so that gets reserved for encouraging one through heavy-duty housework chores, treadmill workouts, or just groovin’ veggin’ time. 

     Contemporary piano, acoustical guitar, New Age or Celtic music playing in the background elicits deep mental vibrations for me so I use it often when writing. I’ve discovered that Gregorian chants can get me through the most stressful of writing challenges or deadlines. 

     The title track from one of our new CDs, Bill Douglas’  Deep Peace,  is befitting for this week leading to Christmas. The Ars Nova Singers perform the choral pieces. Having sung in the past with a large chorale myself, I am a sucker for powerful choral work. 

     The lyrics are from a Gaelic blessing, and I offer them from our household to yours this Christmas week, and in the New Year to come. 

Deep Peace

Of the running wave to you 

Deep Peace

Of the flowing air to you 

Deep Peace

Of the quiet earth to you 

Deep Peace

Of the shining stars to you 

Deep Peace

Of the gentle night to you 

Moon and stars

Pour their healing light on you 

Deep Peace to you