Saturday, December 30, 2006

Holiday Letter

Dear Family and Friends,

We hope you all are well and thanks everyone who sent photos and Christmas letters.

It’s been another interesting year. Headlining our news: Larry’s chapbook Health Insurance and Other Matters of Death came out from Foothills Publishing in October. Book signings and readings keep him busy. Highlights include reading at the Riverside Art Museum in Southern California in July and as part of Montana Poet Laureate Sandra Alcosser’s poetry reading at the State Capitol rotunda on January 4. He continues his schedule of writing a poem a week and sometimes writes me love poems. (Swoon.) We went to his 20th high school reunion in Superior this summer.

Olivia picked up violin lessons and will play at a recital on January 21. We’re not sure violin holds her heart, but she enjoys the lessons. After the recital, we’ll see if her interest piques or flags. She takes dance lessons as well and performed in four shows this holiday season. Her reading is pretty good and her math skills are quite advanced for a kid her age. Our "little angel" shows great interest in and aptitude for the sciences.

Paul loves people, climbing and wrestling – not necessarily in that order – just like his dad. Being two-going-on-three, he will inflict injury one minute and then show real compassion for the injured the next. He enjoys anything having to do with locomotion, from his train set to riding his new trike. He speaks very well and has a great vocabulary. The picture is from the church Christmas pageant. (What is Paul? A shepherd. And yes, we darkened the doors of a religious institution. . . a good one.)

I graduated with an MFA from Vermont College this July. I’m so grateful for the experience, my instructors, the friends I made and everything I’ve learned. A very brief report on publications; I’ve had a story in edifice WRECKED and have another forthcoming in MO: Writings from the River. My novel Home Star is complete and looking for a home. I taught several writing classes again this year, wrote life story books for two wise and wonderful senior women, freelanced for the local paper, worked on a new novel Coyote Stories (an excerpt of which earned high praise from Wally Lamb at our one-on-one meeting at the VC Residency in July) and started a reading series to give local writers a welcoming audience for their work and strengthen our community.

Those are the highlights. The lowlights only serve as hooks for gratitude to grab onto the good. Thanks to everyone for all your love and support this year. We engage ourselves in the usual – pursuit of happiness, making enough to live on and be of service to others. There ain't no big deals going on and we like it that way.

Happy New Year

Olivia, Paul, Anne and Larry

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Visited by the God of Heck

The cartoon Dilbert sometimes has an unwelcome visitor, Phil, God of Heck. He doesn't cause enough crap to rise to the level of making life Hell, just Heck. That rat is spending a lot of time at our house lately. The weekend started off great. All the little kids had a blast at our Halloween party on Saturday. Larry did most of the work, bless him. I thought we should cancel, given that we are still half-way through the living room redecoration project and I had to be in bed for at least part of it. But no, he soldiered on and pulled off two solid hours of kid bliss.

Sunday night Olivia said, "my throat hurts." No big deal, I dosed her with supplements, put her to bed. Then tucking her in, she said "my neck hurts. Bad." It woke her up in the night and I knew were in trouble. Next day I took her to the naturopath hoping to avoid antibiotics, which I think is good practice whenever possible. Not this time. It was strep, as I suspected, so off we went got her a bottle of the sticky pink stuff. We spent the rest of the day at home and Paul was bouncing off the walls. That kid needs to run outside every day or he finds other ways to exercise. He decided to help clean and squirted liquid dish soap all. over. the. kitchen. floor. It was fun mopping without bending or straining. My reaction would not be found in the "appropriate" heading in any parenting manual. (note to self: forget college fund. Save for kids' therapy. Give as high school graduation gift.) The good news? O was only contagious until noon on Halloween day so she could participate in the sacred ritual of demanding candy from strangers.

Tuesday we took me to the doctor (no surgery! yay!). At my doctor's office, I noticed swollen red dots around her mouth. An hour later, she had tiny red dots all over her chest. I got her into her regular MD a half hour after that (thank you, Dr. Eodice.) Ms. O likely has a penicillin allergy. The rash might have been from the strep, BUT if she really is allergic, and she gets penicillin again, the next time could cause anaphylaxis. After filling her new script for Zithromax, I had less than an hour to get both kids costumed, fed, and over to a friend's house to meet to go trick-or-treating. When we got there, we found out in a strange and startling way that plans had changed.

Today was better, I was able to get some work done (amongst all this "stuff" I got a last-minute, impending deadline work project) and the PT says I have more strength in my foot and ankle. Not only am I not getting worse, I'm getting better. And I got 1776 words done on the first day of Nanowrimo. (I'm working on the sequel to Homestar. So far, Michael and Jentry are on the cusp of graduating college and launching into the adult world. They've got plenty of trouble ahead of them . . .) I may not dribble another word out this month - anything can happen and it often does. But at least I have that small beginning. Also in the good news department, I met my deadlines and Paul didn't catch strep which has to qualify as a miracle.

As I finish this post I see there's a lot to be grateful for. It seems the negative stuff I pay so much attention to helps me appreciate the many blessings. The day is balanced by the night and both are necessary. Life is just life. And really, I've got it good. So come on in, Phil. But if you're going to stay a while, grab a mop and help me get this floor cleaned up.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Juked

Check out Selling It to Mrs. Foster by the talented Theresa Boyar in
J U K E D. This is one which will stay with you.

Lemming time. I'm going to do NaNoWriMo. Why not? I'm lying around most of the time for the next several weeks no matter which way I go, so why not make the best of it? Surely I can dribble 50K worth of drivel in a month. It's time to write the sequel to Homestar anyway. (I'm stuck on Coyote Stories - it's 122 pages and I have no idea what happens next.)

And finally, our second "Emerging Writers" poetry and fiction reading happens this Saturday at the library. It starts at 3 pm with five accomplished poets and writers reading their work, followed by an hour or so of hanging out and exchanging ideas, book recommendations, etc..

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Yuck

Looks like I really blew it. The disc material has extruded down and that's what causing the numbness and weakness. Good news, I can stand long enough to have class on Sunday and get some household chores done. Bad news, I'll be having surgery in Great Falls next week.

Had a cortisone shot in the back yesterday, a strange experience. My doctor invited a local chiropractor to observe so she could increase her knowledge base. It hurt and I hollered some (but I only cussed once). After I got my pants back on, I asked the chiro if she learned anything. "Oh, I could watch this all day," she chirped.

I wished I'd said "Next time, let's trade places."

Friday, October 20, 2006

Health Insurance and Other Matters of Death

Larry's chapbook Health Insurance and Other Matters of Death is coming out from Foothills Publishing in a couple of weeks! We are so excited. These poems sound a darker knell than his usual love poems to me and our kids, but are some of my favorites -- especially "Kelsie." (If you're considering hooking up with a poet, I highly recommend it. Of course, on the flip side, there's Jean Stafford's experience with Robert Lowell to balance out my recommendation.) Here's what Literary Mama's Rachel Iverson had to say about Larry's book. More later . . .

Callous-backed

I'm a callous-backed woman - for all the wrong reasons. Somehow I seem to have herniated a disc in my lower back so I'm flat on it. You'd think I'd sieze the opportunity to write. No, I'm perfecting my sudoku technique. I have every expectation I will completely recover from this. The doctor gave me a TENS unit (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) which helps with the pain, I got acupuncture and am continuing physical therapy. It seems this is quite common among people of a certain age -- the PT says it's a lifetime of bad postural habits catching up to me. Already I'm seeing some progress. In the meantime, my husband is racking up points for Heaven. He's taking care of the kids, cleaning the house, working . . . he's really showing up in a kind and loving way.

The worst news is all this downtime, not being able to run around with the kids, plus I have to cancel my class on Sunday because I can't sit at all and can't stand for more than a few minutes at a time.

Monday, September 25, 2006

A Sign

Oh, the hope. Some days I think Pandora should have been speared. Others, I'm grateful for the faintest of reasons to hope.

Last night, visiting my in-laws, I wake in the middle of the night, again, wondering why I torture myself trying to write and what's going to become of me and why did I give up my good job and these years of my life and all my money and . . . other expressions of angst reserved for the privileged with who have access to health care, nutritious foods, safe communities, etc.

It gets grim at 3 am.

I slide out of bed, careful not to wake my son who co-sleeps with me on overnight visits, put on my glasses. I trek to the bathroom and back, focused on my internal sturm und drung, but for some reason, there was a split-second break in the head chatter and I looked up at the stars casting steel light on the dining table through the half-circle window. Perfectly framed in the window is the Big Dipper. Right above the Big Dipper is Polaris. The Home Star. If you follow the Home Star, you can navigate your way anywhere.

Michael, in my novel Homestar, uses this knowledge to build hope first for him mother, that she will find her way home, and then for himself, that he will find his "true north."

I'm taking it as a sign. I feel somewhat embarassed, a superstitious oaf. But it happened, and being a writer, I'll take any kind of bone the universe throws me.

Homestar is being looked at right now. Wish me luck. Or wish upon a star.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Fragments

My Son

grabs a forked stick
holds it high overhead
charges
like a geomancer
or a knight.

sitting spider with me
on a rope swing
dangling from a high pine
whispers
"The wind says shhhhhh, Mommy."

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Blockin' Up The Scenery/Breakin' My Mind


The Fair was a blast. Plenty to do. And plenty to look at. Being in an unfamiliar environment forces me to look around and see things I ordinarily wouldn't. So I had some fun in Great Falls reading signs. These three represent the range of opinions and activities available at the Fair -- from goofy to spooky.

Two I didn't get pictures of because we passed them too quickly:

Picture this in your mind. A squat cinderblock building with a gorgeous maroon awning. Two large storefront type windows flanking the front entrance in the middle of the building. Left window says in gold writing reminiscent of filigree: Piazza del Torgilia (I think I'm mangling the spelling of the last name, but you get the idea.) Right window says in a blocky sans serif, stressed font: Incontinent Supply's. Forgetting the mangled spelling and use of the possessive, consider the irony of the juxtaposition of the elevated place name and the resignation implied by the manner in which the actual use of the place is announced. Then, I have to love Incontinent Supplies. Will they soil your other supplies if allowed to mingle? Do they need training? Do they literally supply incontinents, like an escort service, only with incontinents. But I can't imagine there's much call for this service, unless there's a movement among incontinents to embrace rather than fight the problem -- and seek out others for self-acceptance and companionship. (I don't mean to make light of incontinence. It can be a degrading condition and I empathize with those who suffer from it. I'm just making fun of the sign.)

Another I didn't get a picture of: Universal Semen Sales. Now, this makes sense. It's in Great Falls, the tip of Montana's Golden Triangle which produces grain and beef. But what really brings on the questions in my mind is the vat immediately adjacent to the back door of the place, with a spigot at the bottom. Do they sell it by the quart?

Yes, I've been called a binge thinker. Recently.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Countdown to Montana State Fair Time

My grandfather the rancher watched Hee-Haw every Sunday. Remember that show? Plumb full o' rednecks a' pickin' and a' grinnin' and the corn flowed freely. Hee-Haw provided infinite material to lampoon, but I secretly loved it. Those people were having fun. They laughed at themselves and I laughed with them.

The Montana State Fair reminds me of my grandfather, of the simpler time in which he built his ranch, of the gentle, corny humor of that generation of people. Established 75 years ago by people like my grandparents to provide a break from the crushing tedium of ranch and farm work, it's still a place people come to cut loose, eat too much, hook up, and/or showcase one's skills all in one place. Larry works the fair every year, and he joins us when he can. The kids and I go all over the grounds and we love everything about it.

We spend three days going through the thing, starting with 4-H barns and exhibits. Kids from little tiny towns across the Hi-line and north-central Montana compete other kids from similarly tiny places like Geraldine, Kremlin and Box Elder, for prizes. Best cow, Best pig, Best pie. Ranches show livestock, too -- not just the kids. Next are the myriad other exhibits, such as the winners of the Lego Club's competition; the Wool-Grower's spinning and craft exhibit; the Vegetable Races. (Olivia and Paul both won a race last year. Psst: Pick the rutabaga.)

Then the acts always thrill the kids. Besides the reptile zoo and the many musical acts, we've seen motorcycle riders defy death, a woman twirl 20-some hula hoops at one time, and jugglers. It never fails that some guy juggles fire, which really blows Olivia's hair back. To cool off, repair to the air-conditioned Mobile Library and read a book or come to the KBLL Radio RV, say Hi to Larry and Cory (and maybe us). Oh, and get yer free stuff -- water bottles for sure, but they have some restaurant and concert ticket giveaways, too.
On the last day, we buy the daytime wristband and ride the rides. All. Day. Long.

It's a little bit Hee-Haw, a shout from the past, a place where I can be a kid again and have a run-'til-ya-drop good time. Not only that, but my kids are learning where food really comes from and who's responsible. The weather's a little too hot for it to be perfect, but I'll take it.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Pam Houston in the Flathead!

Writers of the Flathead's annual conference is coming up October 13-15 in Whitefish, MT -- and Pam Houston is going to be there!!! Here's the low-down. Pam will teach a memoir workshop before the conference. (Disclaimer: I'm not a member of Writers of the Flathead because it's up the road a ways. Also, I don't know Pam personally. I just think she's really, really cool and I would love to meet her.) More about Pam here.

Hand, Foot and Mouth

Early Saturday morning, right after we got home from VT, Paul woke up with a painful rash on his feet. I thought he'd walked through some burdock without his shoes or something, put calamine on it and went back to bed. By mid-afternoon, the sores had blistered up, so we took him to Urgent Care. Diagnosis? Hand, foot, and mouth disease. All it takes is one little kid climbing on the slide with his socks off at the McCorporate Food Playland to pass it on. Poor little guy has almost no sores on his hands or in his mouth, but enough that he only wants to eat bananas and drink soy milk all day long. Worse, he can't play with other kids until Saturday. So we're taking long walks around the neighborhood (walking doesn't seem to bother him) and picking raspberries from the neighbor's bushes (with permission). Larry made birdhouses with the kids while I worked yesterday so that was pretty cool, too. Paul loves power tools. He calls them "hammers".

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Vermont Update

Unbelievably, I stand on the cusp of graduation from Vermont College's MFA in Writing program. Two more days, then I'm kicked out of the nest, shooting down the tube, pick your metaphor, out of here. Let me put in a plug for VC here. I've not had a workshop here, not once, where I didn't learn something. Neither was I kicked in the head here, as I have heard over and over from so many wounded MFAs in other programs. The faculty here stand out for their commitment to their students and for their personal achievements. That's the commercial, on to the substance.

Best things about this residency:

1. The twin themes of persistence and compassion. (There isn't an official theme. Those are the two things I heard over and over this residency that resonated with me.) Our advisors, the faculty, are very much committed to making sure we have a nurturing experience that prepares us to go out and thrive as writers and be a part of our own communities.

2. Wally Lamb. His latest project is Couldn't Keep It To Ourselves, an anthology of stories written by women incarcerated in Conneticut, under his tutelage. One of the contributors won a PEN award. Wally spent five days here visiting with the students, meeting one on one on a first-come, first-served basis with a few of us, and I was one of those, having been in the right place at the right time. Wally had plenty of practical advice and experience to share on the subject of bringing creative writing into institutions. He spent a good amount of time talking with me about archetypes, persistence, and my current novel as well. His other books are She's Come Undone and I Know This Much is True. Here's what I loved most about him; talking informally to a group about how the prison project was almost dashed and how the women were frightened and demoralized by prison officials and the Conneticut Attorney General, he cried. It was his wedding anniversary the night he read, and he thanked his wife, Chris Lamb, and he cried. When reading a moving piece from his novel-in-progress, he cried. (I felt much better about having blubbered when telling him the end of my first novel, Home Star. It gets me every time.)

Here's some notes from the informal talk he gave: "Write stories for yourself and then let the audience who needs you, find you." "Teaching informs writing and writing informs teaching. Do them together." He said teaching put him on the receiving end of new voices. He said the question 'if God is merciful, why is there suffering?' is "a question I've been trying to work out since age 15. I try to work it out in my novels."

3. Nancy Lagomarsino. She wrote a non-fiction account of her father's passing from Alzheimer's Light From An Eclipse. She said "suffering must be present if we would enjoy the landscape." She talked at length with a group of us about her decision about what to include and not include in the memoir, and how she came to give her mother the decision about whether the book would be published or not. I thought that was amazingly generous and a refreshing change from the stance I hear so often from memoirists that 'it's my truth, so I get to say what I want, regardless.' I appreciated her comments about balancing narrative, action and reflection, as well.

4. Andre Dubus III. He wrote House of Sand and Fog and The Blueseman. Andre is a larger-than-life, high-energy kind of guy who was genuinely interested in us, where we came from and what we were working on. His main message was "Go deeper" meaning not only to inform the fiction and make it readable and believable, but to search for truth. He shared how he keeps a file for ideas and how the plot of House came to be plucked from the headlines, as it were. He read from an essay he wrote based on interviewing a young Iraq war veteran and the damage she's sustained.

On a personal note, I missed my kids terribly last night at the fireworks. (New England towns stagger their fireworks, so Montpelier had theirs last night.) Sweet Pea and Big Boy would have loved it. Instead, I had the company of other women writers and we talked about teaching, outreach to people who don't ordinarily have access to writing programs, and of course, our children. I am so fortunate. There are so many voices out there who don't have the freedom to write, who we need to hear. As we celebrate Independence, let's work to bring it to everyone -- and I'm not just talking about the political prisoners in far-off countries. I'm talking also about the women who labor dawn to dusk to keep their kids heads above water, who have important stories but for whom writing is just another pretty fantasy.

Tonight I go pick up Larry. The kids are home with Gramma Jeannie, Bless her. We had a trial run in April when Larry and I went to Billings for our first overnight alone in six years. That went beautifully. This is four days. I hope the kids behave and I hope they make it through okay, emotionally. We won't know, will we, until they're 21 years old on the therapist's couch clutching a teddy bear, re-enacting the conversations with me on the phone "Mommy come home airplane right now."

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A good Catholic girl gone 34% bad

Your Deadly Sins
Greed: 60%
Pride: 60%
Gluttony: 40%
Wrath: 40%
Lust: 20%
Sloth: 20%
Envy: 0%
Chance You'll Go to Hell: 34%
You'll die in a castle, surrounded by servants.
How Sinful Are You?

Monday, April 10, 2006

Travel Log -- Spring Babies


Last week we began with a trip to see baby chicks and bunnies at the local ranch supply store.


While I signed my fingers to the bone at the SEE conference this weekend, Larry and the kids played. First, they went to the Museum of the Rockies, home of the world's largest Tyrannosaurus Rex skull. MOR offers a planetarium with amazing movies, and hands-on exhibits for kids of all ages. They also have a pretty good Lewis and Clark outdoor exhibit, but L & C make me yawn. They are over-exposed. Anyway.

The next day, Larry and the kids went hiking with our dear friend Sharon, found a duck pond, picked me up and we all went out to Michael and Glenna Wood's horse farm. They raise quarterhorses and paints. Here's Olivia with Glenna and a three-day-old foal. Paul was napping and missed the whole thing, poor guy.

Today it was baby lambs at a sheep ranch 25 miles north of here.

Uh-huh. Today I'm feeling a little grateful to raise kids in this neck of the woods. Of course, it's spring. That helps. My memory of the harsh winter fades with the coming of spring. I forget those days of your nose freezing shut if you snuffle too hard, and hands chapping constantly, and having to plug in the car.

PS the pallor on Olivia's face is the remains of having her face painted like a dalmation at our spring party yesterday.

Novel Update

It's been reviewed, edited, re-reviewed. I've drafted a query letter, obsessed over the name and hyperventilated over the probability of colossal failure. So next week, likely, I will jump. My plan is to send queries out first to agents, then small and mid-size publishers, then vanity presses, and when they reject me, I'll self-publish. (Jokes.)

But seriously, it's a short coming out/coming of age novel about a boy whose life is seriously complicated by his alcoholic mother, and how he breaks out of all that. I'm not thinking that's a mainstream kind of a thing. The more conservative members of my extended family will shun me for even suggesting there a gay person might deserve peace and happiness. My mother will not approve, but she will still talk to me. Then comes the next hurdle: There's sex in it. Two paragraphs. Maybe I could put instructions in it: "Dear Mom, don't read page seven."

And then, there will the people going, Anne Bauer? Who the hell is Anne Bauer? She's not gay, so how could she possibly tell the story right?

All I can answer is this: I've loved men. I've felt a good deal of my life like an outsider passing for normal, afraid of being found out and exposed. I've researched and checked my work with people who do know. (Two of my gay friends said, "OMG, I'm surprised, but you got it right.")

I wrote it as it was given to me and I was as surprised as could be when Micheal turned out to be gay. When I tried to write stuff that didn't belong, I couldn't make it work. So, for better or worse, this is the story given to me at this time; this is what I will go forward with. If it's supposed to be helpful to somebody, it will find a home.

SEE v. ASL

Who knew there were several sign languages? Jennifer's going deaf -- right now, 80% hearing in one, and 12% hearing in the other, and all indicators point south. Bilateral acoustic neuromas will do that.

So, we go to learn sign language, a challenge enough in itself for me, with my poor fine motor skills. But it's just not that simple. There are several sign languages, but the two main camps are: American Sign Language, the lingua franca of the deaf community, the cornerstone of deaf culture; and Signing Exact English (II), a language created to help deaf children better learn the written English language. (I'm sure I'm not explaining that right, but please feel free to help me out -- I'm new to the controversy.)

Seventy-five percent of the signs are the same. SEE uses affixes (prefixes and suffixes), articles, and conjunctions which ASL largely does not use, but depends on gestures and facial expressions accompanying the sign to achieve shades of meaning.

This weekend, Jennifer, Michelle (her mother), our mother, and I attended the SEE conference. I've never been to a better, more thought-out, professionally presented conference, btw. My brain spun, but I thought, "hey, I learned well over a hundred signs, I'm doing much better."

Then I went to Sign Club tonight, where we do ASL, and it turns out, most of what I learned this weekend didn't translate for the particular lessons we are supposed to learn this week and next. I hit that 25%.

I'll learn something or other. It took me a couple of years to learn to type, and two formal classes, but I did eventually learn. I'll learn this, too -- hopefully well enough to communicate with Jennifer by the time she needs me to. She got hearing aids today, and those may help.

Jennifer was sick this weekend, and still went to the conference. Saturday, I found her throwing up in the bathroom. She didn't ask for help. None of the women in the bathroom with her even knew she was yakking. I got her some water, class started back up, and we didn't hear a word about discomfort from her. She never complains. I love her, I admire her, and I hope sometime soon she lets loose and screams and bitches and rants.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Two Year Old Fun




So yesterday, I made what Edward P. Jones' character Cassandra called "a death mistake." I wandered off and left Paul alone in the kitchen.

Result:

Red quinoa, oats, turmeric, chili, lemon curry, and salt all over. It's that brown and white stuff you see all over the cookbooks and counters behind him. He was awfully pleased with his culinary masterpiece. To complete the meal, he whipped up an omelette on the floor while my back was turned cleaning up the entree. (What was I thinking, turning my back on him AGAIN?) While I cleaned that up, he climbed the desk in the kitchen. Thwarted too many times in too short a time span, he screamed his little head off and then passed out for an early nap. Exhausting work, that.

Quinoa is a tiny grain. I'll be finding it 'til kingdom come. But isn't he something? What a handsome little devil, and how satisfied he is to have accomplished that task!

Monday, February 27, 2006

The Town Formerly Known As Brigadoon

Olivia and I joined some friends for a mother-daughter getaway to this hotel in a tiny town. You have to drive a ways through a canyon, and then several miles more to get to it, so it feels more remote, removed from the hustle and bustle, than it otherwise might. The landlines are faint and staticy even over the hill to where I live -- 75 miles away. Forget cell service. White Sulphur has a 2:1 ratio of bars to churches, and all the restaurants serve the same food; steak/ham/bacon and eggs with toast, hashbrowns and coffee for breakfast; hamburgers or french dip for lunch, steak, salad, and potatoes for dinner.

A zoo's worth of enormous dead animal heads watch you eat your meal at Dori's restaurant. Some of them won prizes. I asked Olivia how fast she thought they were going when they hit the wall, and she rolled her eyes at me. "Oh, Mom."

There's not a lot of opportunity to unobtrusively people-watch, because outside of the Spa, people watch you. Some people don't even bother to try and hide it and stare flat out. Who can blame them? It's winter and there's not much to break up the monotony of seeing one another day in and day out. This time of year, options are limited to skiing, snowmobiling, or soaking in the Spa. Many people stay warm and just get drunk in the bar, but with 8 bars and the same people cycling through them, I bet that gets old, too.

Someone once argued that "A stranger comes to town" is the essence of every novel's plot, so why not watch the strangers, absorb every detail -- the accent, the clothing, the brayed opinions across the noise of the diner -- in case it becomes important later? ("I knew she was trouble, Fanny, by the way she threw her hands around like an I-talian.")

The canyon is unfortunately overpopulated with deer, and I hit one on the way down. The light was good, the road was relatively straight at that point. One second clear road, next second, two deer bounded down the hill onto the road. I braked and turned the wheel -- I learned long ago (thank you, MC) how not to over-react when confronted with wild life. I pulled to the right, so at least I could avoid one, and ended up just clipping that poor doe in the left haunch.

The doe sprang off and didn't leave a trail of blood. (The Highway Patrol went back to check on her later, but I didn't hear what happened. We drove back by the scene on the way home and saw nothing but two sets of deer prints in the snow). The accident dented my hood and took out my left headlight, but Olivia and I were both fine. The airbag didn't even deploy. Olivia was concerned for the deer, but happy we didn't see any blood. She said "If it was a baby, we'd have to take it home and take care of it until it grew up and make sure Daisy didn't nip it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

What I did today

Some women writers and I have been in a discussion lately about how we take care of the needs of other people above our own, and how it seems like everything comes before our writing. Though I for one profess to be passionate about it, it seems like I have to connive, cajole and manipulate myself to get going, even when the heavens open up and there's no-one clamoring at my breast or knee or on the telephone. Like today. Here are my accomplishments during my supposed "writing time." I:

Increased my FreeCell score.

Wrote 1,000 words alternating between dribbling a few purple words on the page and Solitaire.

Checked email. 26 times.

Checked Zoetrope.

Rewrote an article for the local paper.

Made some phone calls.

If I could stay focused, what could I do?

Monday, February 06, 2006

More Ramblings

My wonderful and talented advisor, Ellen Lesser, agreed to read my whole novel. (I'm not just kissing up -- Ellen really puts her heart and soul into teaching -- plus she agreed to read the whole darn thing before I even posted this.)

One step closer to the finish line. Six years ago I wasn't capable to finishing a short story. I give thanks.

Olivia will be homeschooled for the remainder of the school year. Am I crazy, with being sandwiched between my mother's needs and my those of my children to take this on? But there seems to be no choice, and it's interesting to me that I feel some exhilaration, a shot of adrenaline maybe, and an inner sense that things are going to be okay that I didn't have before I withdrew her this morning. I feel like I'm on the other side of the fear.

We've pulled together some amazing resources, and *if* it works according to plan, my daughter will be much better off.

Speaking of education, I started teaching two more short classes. The first one is on memoir, and I have 14 students. The second one is on flash fiction, and I have five. All women. Started last night. Superbowl Sunday. Who knew it was the Superbowl?

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Prom Night



My friend commemorated a milestone birthday with a prom -- here's Olivia and me. You can't see my po-white-trash tat in the photo, but everyone else did. (Didn't think to buy a shawl to cover it up.)

From Zero to Sixty -- thank you, Abby Frucht

Abby suggested the radical move of whacking out the middle of my novel, because it was taking all kinds of energy away from the rest, it wasn't working. My novel felt like a fallen souffle -- the beginning and ending worked, but the middle sagged.

So carefully saving a copy of the old, I hacked out, excised, whatever you want to call it. And lo, I had something I kind of liked. The color returned to my characters' cheeks. I changed a detail here and there, oriented it in space and time, and the patient sat up and took nourishment.

I have a novel. A genuine, honest to God, first effing draft of a novel. Yawp! I'm going around like Dr. Frankenstein -- "It's alive!"

The protag, a young boy, turned out to be gay so I asked a kid, head of the local college's GSA, to check it out for me. He's excited, un-naturally so in my opinion. Why would he be excited about reading shit written by some middle-aged, mini van driver he doesn't even know? But he is. I tried to fall all over myself thanking him for reading it, but he wouldn't let me. No time. He grabbed the manuscript and headed off to class. He's going to pass it around to his friends!

It felt a little like a drug deal -- "Yeah, yeah, just give me the manuscript, man."

I love this kid. I'm old enough to be his mother, and he's so cute I wanted to pick him up and pinch his cheeks and feed him wholesome food. I might feel that way about anyone who was enthusiastic about reading my novel, but I felt an immediate liking to this kid even before he agreed to read it. I can't wait to see what he and his friends think.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Irony

Olivia's in Daisy Girl Scouts. Monday the leaders were discussing the worldwide sistership of Girl Scouts, and showed them pictures of Scouts from around the world. They put the pictures on a large world map -- Madagascar, England, Australia -- and when they got to Costa Rica -- one little Daisy shouted out "My dress was made in Costa Rica."

Possibly by a girl not much older than she is, I thought but did not say.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

More from Vermont

Larry and the kids went cross-country skiing on Stemple Pass this weekend. The pictures are great. Thank you, honey!

It's cold this morning --- not quite falling to the level of "freezing-ass cold," unless you are from southern climes like some here. Cold enough that frost covers the trees and shrubs. I like the effect, the spare, white twigs reaching to the weak sun.

Ellen Lesser will be my advisor again this semester, and I could not ask for a better teacher. Not only a good writer, she believes teaching is part of her life’s purpose and has genuine passion about helping others.

Am adding to my reading list. New discovery: Edward P. Jones short stories.

Have enjoyed many, many readings and lectures which I will not recap with one exception.

From the informal talk the poet Major Jackson gave on poetry and writing in general:

On maintaining community: “Community pushes us forward and keeps us keeping on.” Jackson's suggestions on keeping one’s love of the art of poetry alive:

Read widely outside the genre, read widely, read systematically
Create an environment for reading – be organized about it in terms of time and space (I got the sense in here, I could be really far off base, that he had been reading everywhere, including at home, all the time and his family got a little tired of it. So that may have provided some impetus for his decision to dedicate specific times and places for reading. In any case, I'm always interested in hearing how other people keep their domestic tranquility index high and still write.)

Draw a line between the work being read and the larger tradition

Learn how to ease into a work – each poem has its own time signature, etc.

Share your discoveries via inventive means; for instance, he recommends memorizing a poem and reciting it over a friend’s voice mail.

He says poems are either windows or mirrors; mirrors reflect back to the writer. Something about writing invites meditation. One should go inward and make connections beyond the obvious, and avoid clich├ęd thinking. Find the courage to be true to one’s own experience and vision, to say what needs to be said, and that’s where voice comes from.

It’s interesting to people-watch at this residency. We’re all writers, here, right? So we are all introspective people who spend varying amounts of time alone, talking to imaginary people and writing down what they tell us. We throw in together for ten days, eating together, living in close quarters, out of our elements. To add to the fun, there’s so much going on, it’s hard to sleep. Some people don’t seem to sleep at all, and instead spend much of the night drinking and much of the morning padding around on tiptoe to avoid jarring their hangover awake to roar and claw at their heads again. There’s a bit of drama about the workshops, when a person doesn’t get what s/he hoped out of the workshop, but that seems to be rare. We seem to be doing really well for such a sensitive, introverted group.

Some people cluster in protective packs, making sure each member of the group has the opportunity to decide on and participate in the group’s activities. Others go from group to group (that’s me) and still others hang off like wolves, eying the pack. People are, to a person, smart, serious and well-read. Most of us are flaming liberals. The conservatives among us are quiet.

We eat at the New England Culinary Institute cafeteria. Lots of apprentice chefs, decked out in pouffy hats and white chef suits practice cooking and serving food. Some of them need more practice, but overall they really care about what they are doing. The salad bar is great.