Monthly Archives: December 2011

List of My Best New Things from 2011, and a Look Ahead to 2012

All in all, 2011 was an amazing year. I have here a short (by no means complete) list of things that made this year special to me.

Honda CR-V: Yes, I still love my car and am SO happy I am no longer driving the truck. However, I think the better gas mileage I get is being offset by the fact that I no longer try to avoid driving, which is not very environmentally conscious of me. In 2012, I will try to respect my environment by riding my bike more for quick little trips. I will shoot for at least one trip by bike per week,  beginning when the temps hit 55+ degrees again.

Manuscript Submission: As my dad was overly fond of saying about anything unpleasant (hard work, unimaginable filth to be waded through, mind-numbing tedium,) “It’s good for you! It builds character!” Submitting manuscripts has been really good for me. It turns out that rejection didn’t destroy me after all. Finding agents to submit to, and sending queries out was so stressful I literally shook. All the craziest voices in my head rose in a chorus to tell me what a disaster the whole enterprise would turn out to be. I was on the verge of a collapse, and then, guess what? I got some form letters that said “not for us” and it was no big deal. I propose that in 2012, I will shoot for three times as many rejections for Hollywood University, and maybe a bunch for Sleepers as well.

Novel Revision: Speaking of Sleepers, I am really happy that I still want to work on that manuscript. I didn’t do a lot with it in 2011, but I know now that it is standing the test of time, at least with me. I am in LOVE with most of what I do, when I am doing it, but after I’ve worked on a small piece even 12 hours of  downtime between the writing and the re-reading is illuminating. Once the heat and energy dies down, I find a lot of what I’ve written to be boring and/or embarrassing. Some of it is salvageable, some is not. I still love Sleepers, although there are some kinks to work out and 2012 is the year, baby!

She Said Writer’s Retreats: So much fun! Friendship and photography and technology and old haunts and haunted houses and therapeutic conversation and giggles and shopping. And wine and food. Oh, and writing–I said that, right? More in 2012, please!

Coffee: It isn’t like I had never had coffee before, but my interest in it certainly grew this year. In 2011, coffee was demonstrated to diminish the occurrence of depression in women and prostate cancer in men. I also got a good coffeemaker. Coffee makes me feel smart and lively (and do stupid things faster with more energy!)  I still love tea and will continue to drink that occasionally, but I think 2012 will see me embracing the bean buzz with both arms.

Blogging:  Wordtabulous has been a superfun adventure. I’ve met people, shared some info, registered some opinions, figured out some things, had some meltdowns, and hopefully given cause for a chuckle or a “Yeah, sister!” once in awhile. I have also had a riot finding and following other blogs which have expanded my world quite a bit. Thank you wordpress, and bloggers and followers (and especially you commenters and “likers”–there is a special place in my heart for you!) I hope 2012 sees continued blogging, perhaps with more focus and punch (or not, as the shotgun approach seems to be my natural inclination.) I hope to see more of you, dear reader! Thanks for dropping in, and all the best to you and yours in the New Year!

 

Taking The Pulpit

When I was in my teens, a minor revolution occurred in our small town when our Methodist Church got a female minister. Her name was Judy, and she was the first minister I would know by her first name, separate from the words Reverend and a last name. I, being an angry feminist from my earliest years, was enthusiastic about the change. It was about time a woman came in and showed everyone that we were just as capable getting this job done as the men. Judy surprised me by being earthy and well, a little weird. She laughed a lot and comported herself  differently than the ministers I’d been used to, who had always seemed to be kind of big on the issue of dignity. She also had some kind of unique ideas about worship and God. If I found Judy to be a little unconventional, I can’t even imagine the uproar she caused among the adult congregation, although I did hear a few conversations between my parents on the subject. I don’t remember what they said, just that I was surprised that “the preacher” was a topic. Like most Methodist pastors of that time and place, Judy was with our church for a few years, then transferred elsewhere. Change is hard on a congregation, and maybe the frequent changes of leadership is part of what makes them hold so tightly to a certain way of doing things as a way to cement identity.

Through Goodreads, I became interested in a book entitled Sea Level, by Nancy Kilgore. Kilgore writes of a woman, Brigid, taking the pulpit of a Methodist church in a small Virginia coastal community. It is her first appointment as a pastor and their first experience with a woman in the role. What ensues is the good, the bad and the ugly on every level imaginable. Kilgore explores the sometimes hair-raising politics and cultural attitudes from the perspectives of various members of the congregation and the minister and her family. There is also a plotline involving  Mary, an artist more attuned to ideas of the Goddess, born and raised in the community but long ago fled to New York City, who returns to connect with her roots and to try to integrate them with her free-thinking and independent way of life. Mary and Brigid become friends and allies in a place where many demand both of them sit down and shut up. There are some differences, but I strongly suspect that Judy would have recognized Sea Level as a variation of her story of church leadership, ostracism, changing times and hopefully, support in my hometown. One of the biggest lessons I take from Sea Level is that being right and feeling certain don’t always come as a package.  In the book, as in life, there are no tidy endings, but there is a sense of assurance that persistence pays off, that living right and trying hard will, most of the time, see you through.

See Goodreads for my full review of Sea Level. Sea Level is available from Amazon.com or from your local bookstore (may need to order it,) and was nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

You Decide

Check out this thing that Kelly (Hot off the Wire) gave me for Christmas. I thought it was just a funny little block of wood with words on it, but it is magical. Look.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Regardless of which end I elect to turn topside, I have to consider my state of mind, and choose. Because it is a CHOICE. And I forget that all the time. Sometimes it is what it is, and sometimes it is what I CHOOSE it to be. In this case I am referring to my perspective. Even if I choose, “not so much,” the fact that it is my choice to take that attitude makes me feel so much more powerful than I felt when the choice was buried under the to-do list, the horrible story I read in the news, the bittersweet pang I feel watching my boys trudge down to the bus stop, and the rejection letters. So this little block of wood magically wakes up my brain and says, (like Kelly would,) Hey, make up your mind already!

Why Christmas?

O, Blessed Day of Restoration! Otherwise known as “getting back to normal.” Regardless of your theological perspective on Christmas, or lack thereof, for many of us Christmas is a time of shaking up business as usual and refocusing on both higher and lower things. Our regular schedule gave way for shopping, wrapping, decorating, creating, worshipping and giving, but most of the regular stuff still needed to get done. People who got time off from work can be forgiven for feeling robbed of the rest and relaxation they associate with vacation time, and those “at-home” folks (who either never get a day off, or for whom every day is a vacation day, depending on whom you ask,) just added the extra tasks on top. The music, the secrets, the spirit and the fun memories heightened the excitement and kept it fun, while the culture of fabulosity pressured us to add sizzle and stretch to perfection. Christmas is often like a vacation: expensive, time and labor intensive, delightful, satisfying and anti-climactic all at the same time.

That is, assuming your Christmas didn’t include a metaphorical hurricane. So many did. Some of us are still processing a holiday season viewed through the lens of grief: a lost home, job or loved one, some with absence so fresh we can still taste the tears. Others of us are struggling to get a handle on problems: mental or physical health issues for ourselves or ones that we love, or economic storms still looming off shore, or other disappointments in life that reframe our sense of who we are and what we can expect in life. These events do not recognize a liturgical or cultural calendar. Christmas can be a source of solace and/or bitterness in these times.

And then it’s over. Sure, it is time to write thank-you notes and clean up the mess. Eventually it will be time to put away the decorations. But business as usual resurfaces at the top of the to-do list and the hum-drum activities that may ordinarily chafe slip back on like well-worn work-casual shoes. More function, less glitter. I try to nurture the spirit of Love, Peace, Hope, Joy and Giving that is Christmas to me all year around. Weathering both daily squalls and storms of a lifetime would be unimaginably harder without my faith that God is with me and will see me through all things; and loving others as Jesus taught can get lost in the day-to-day without practice and a supportive community. I can maintain faith and love without observing Christmas, and I know that the trappings sometimes get in the way. I understand why some would do away with it altogether. But for me the celebration of the season reinvigorates my mindfulness of how I practice what I believe, now and in the seasons to come. The tree gets put away but the spark remains.

Reading

One of my favorite things about raising kids was getting to read to them, even when we were reading the same book over and over again. When boy number one was only a couple of years old, he would come to me with his current favorite story, for example the Little Golden Book, My First Counting Book and when I finished, he would take it from me, climb down from the chair and go over to his dad on the couch to have it read again. Then, back to me  and so on. Other huge favorites included The Big Red Barn, and The Large and Growly Bear. Kid number two loved dinosaurs and animals beyond all reason and so the two of us hit the nonfiction hard for years. I do GREAT Sesame Street voices–I rocked both The Monster At the End of this Book as Grover, and Cookie Monster’s Book of Shapes as the title character. Reading separately at bedtime was a ritual the boys and I enjoyed until we started finding books they both liked and reading those together. “Mom, can you come up for stories?” was a plaintive call I heard nightly after all the teeth were brushed. Some nights I almost couldn’t bear it, I was so wiped out, but I never regretted dragging my butt upstairs. Remembering their bright little faces as we climbed onto my bed to read Lloyd Alexander books, or Varjak Paw, or King Arthur legends twangs my crusty old ‘Parent of Teen Boys’ heartstrings like you wouldn’t believe. One day, when my mother-in-law happened to be visiting, she heard me read a couple of chapters of Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis to them . When the reading was done, she looked at me with surprise and said, “You did that really well!” She was not a woman given to compliments, so it was kind of a huge moment.

But kids grow up. They broke it to me gently: “It’s okay if we don’t read tonight, Mom,” and “We’re kind of done with that.” It took a long time to find another outlet. I had often thought it would be awesome to do voiceover work with the ultimate ambition of recording audiobooks, so I made a demo tape last summer and sent it to some talent agencies, who either didn’t get back to me or were so flush with talent they were uninterested. Dead end. After listening to me bemoan that state of affairs, my friend Kelly, writer and radio personality extraordinaire (see her at Hot off the Wire and So Then SHE Said,) suggested I check out State Services for the Blind [SSB]. I did. They train volunteers to record leisure and text books for people with print disabilities, including vision impairment, learning disabilities and a horrifying thing I’d never heard of: paper allergies. It was the start of a new kind of reading for a new audience. I had to audition, and then I had to be trained and let me tell you, these SSB people are TOUGH. Now I dedicate 3-4 hours once a week (plus commute) to try to bring the written word alive for people who cannot just flip open a book and dive right into education or escape. I don’t always love what I am assigned; I don’t get to pick my own material, but I know that someone out there requested each book specifically and so I always do my best. It is both a noble calling and a way for me to do something I enjoy. It might be something you enjoy as well. If you think it might be, I encourage you to look into your options, perhaps through your local library.

CHECK THE CRAWL SPACE

Tap, tap, tap, tap. Tap-tap, pause, shuffle, tap, tap. What the hell was making that sound above the bathroom ceiling? Way bigger than a mouse. Mutant raccoon? How would something that sounded that big get UP there? I stared at the ceiling, as though I would suddenly develop x-ray vision. Why would a varmint be tapping? What if it wasn’t a varmint? What if it was Tooms, from the X-files? That episode, while not the first one I saw, was definitely the one that sold me on the series. And now, thanks to my stupid vivid memory and imagination, I was afraid I was going to be his next victim. Except I wasn’t–of course not, FICTION, woman, you know the difference. Ha-ha. Right. Well, I couldn’t drive to St. Paul in my bathrobe. I was going to have to get dressed and ready for the day. Which was difficult while keeping my eyes glued to the ceiling exhaust fan. If I had seen a pair of eyes peek out at me, or a mutant paw reach through the grate, whatever it was wasn’t going to get a chance to kill me. I’d drop dead from terror first.

This wasn’t the first time fear has kicked me across the “over-reacting” threshold. The first time, decades ago, I was standing by the door in a preschool room I was working in and a little vole scampered across the floor by my feet, looking for a way out. The next thing we all knew, I was across the room, standing on a Little Tykes slide. None of us, the other teachers, the kids, even I, knew how I’d gotten there so fast. Either I was a blur, or I somehow opened a little wormhole in time/space. Neat trick, if I could figure out how to do it on purpose, but I was a little surprised that I had had such an extreme reaction. I used to work with mice and rats in a laboratory, and they weren’t my faves but I hadn’t been frightened of them. Of course, they hadn’t been zipping around by the cuff of my pant leg, either. The next episode from my diary of terror, I was in the basement and I heard very clearly the floor above me creak from the weight of footsteps. I froze, and the footsteps stopped. Husband and kids being at work and school, I had been alone in the house, I’d thought. After holding my breath and listening for a few minutes, hearing nothing more, I couldn’t bring myself to go up the steps. I dashed out the back and went to my friend’s house down the street. She was sitting with two of our neighbors and another woman I knew a little. After I tried to laugh off my situation, they all insisted on coming and searching my house to make sure no one was there. At that point I remembered the state of my house, and tried to stop them, figuring death by stranger would be preferable to them seeing the shocking mess in every dang room, but they would have none of it. Mortifying. I can’t even put words to it.  The most recent episode before today was another wormhole incident, when Mr. W and I were having a conversation in his workshop. The walls down there were unfinished, just plastic sheeting stretched over fiberglass insulation and studs. To my horror, I saw the plastic over the patio door BULGE out as a fist-sized black something scurried along the top of the door. Mr. W was all, “Hey, look at tha…” but I was twenty feet away, covering my mouth so the scream couldn’t get out of it and jumping up and down.

I don’t know when I got all squirrelly, but it is undeniable. I am a lunatic. But I had things to do. I couldn’t just sit around and wait for whatever was living in the crawl space to finish me off, so I rapped on the ceiling with one of the kid’s broken air soft rifles and the tapping subsided with only the hint of a shuffle. Then I rinsed the bedhead out of my hair as fast as I could, dressed and got the hell out of there. I notified my tweeps, and am telling you now, that if our bodies are found with our livers removed or with oddly large rodent toothmarks on our tibias, CHECK THE CRAWL SPACE. Well, not you personally, I love you and wouldn’t want anything to gnaw your head off, but get a professional. I wonder if Mulder and Scully still make house calls?

Still

I don’t believe God lives in the clouds. I have, however, come to think that there is a hatch in my soul that is shut most of the time and the key to cracking it open is the sky. Strata of color at dawn, clouds ablaze with the light of a descending sun, sister moon rising majestically, fat rainclouds bumping shoulders and gaping just enough for glimpses of the richness and bright up above, falling stars and the bottomless black night with remote suns and galaxies and neighbor planets blazing: all of it can stop me dead in my tracks. When I am captured by the sky, I stop and see. I don’t just look, I see. For a pause, I am in the moment, and in that moment I meet God. In that moment, I am sane and all the screwed up ideas and guilt and pressure roosting in my brain fall away and there we are, God and I, admiring the sky and being.

Be Still and Know That I Am.