A Lilac

I cannot see a lilac without catching out of the corner of my eye
the diaphanous flow of sheer sheeting of the same color.

The folds and waterfall of fabric enveloping my body like the ring of a bell,
smooth against the pop of buds bursting
into three-dimensional triads and quartets of color.

Green hearts gilded with the white patina of many moistured mornings,
a specimen grown gangly and sparse,
cut to the quick before flourishing in fullness once again.

Overtaking its age,
shooting up sprouts all around it,
expanding its perimeter.

It is the harbinger of spring,
of warmer days promised in the perfumed chill.

It is the talisman of youth,
of adventures in grandmother’s garden,
the boundary of Mr. Thompson’s yard,
the backdrop of moments frozen in time.

I cannot smell a lilac without being at once wistful and hopeful.

Lilac-575023

image from Getty

Shock and Awe

I’ve saved every blank book I ever filled – from the first hardbound, mottled watercolor cover to the psychedelic smiley faces.  All but the most recent sit high upon a shelf, my own little archive of embarrassing moments.

Every so often – when I have to move my collection from point a to point b, when I’m feeling nostalgic, or looking for a particular passage – I’ll skim the pages and revisit my words, my state of being at that point in time.  Sometimes the words are merely confessional, the quintessential catharsis for which we all count on ‘dear diary’.  Sometimes the paragraphs give way to great insight.  Sometimes, I read a passage that takes my breath away, that makes me flush with the way the words are crafted, the beauty and power of their make-up.  I crafted such quality?  My God, I really can write.  And then I find the author’s attribute, my little indent and dash noting the actual author’s name.  Drat.  Foiled again.

Though even in that moment just before I discover the author’s name, as I still unbelievingly read ‘my words’, it’s not a self-congratulatory moment.  There’s always a shock and awe involved.  A pinch-myself moment where I get a glimpse of the holy grail of writing.  Is it really possible?  For me?  By me?

But then, a few months ago, out of the blue, my aunt asked me what were some of the favorite things I’d written on this blog.  A few irreverent attempts at humor came to mind; the inaugural post explaining what all these potatoes are, of course.  When I actually dove into the blog to review, I realized just how much writing I’ve done on here.  Lots to sift through!  And lots to reorganize, I realized (so I – and hopefully you – can find it all).

A day or so later, I received an email from that same aunt with a link to a video.  A marketing and public relations professional by trade, she’d been working with a new platform and wanted to share it with me.  I clicked, eager to see what she’d created.  Striking images flowed across the screen, dovetailing each other seamlessly.  Sentences strung together over them told a story.

It wasn’t until nearly halfway through the video that I realized they were my words.

The same shock and awe that usually came over me as I read evocative passages in my journals occurred – only this time, it was I who had penned the words.  The shock and awe were accompanied by gratification.  And a little disbelief.  My journal dreams may yet come true.

 

The video that started it all . . .

 

Thanks to Janet Crook for helping me visualize in more ways than one.

2018, 500, 1

In years past, WordPress has provided a neat little summary of the past year’s writing accomplishments on my blog.  I didn’t receive one this year.  Whether that’s because it’s no longer their practice or because my level of writing activity dipped below their radar remains to be seen.  I did, however, receive this neat little notification the other day.

Screen Shot 2018-01-26 at 9.03.49 AM

500 posts.  That’s a lot of writing.  In my six years (wo)manning this blog, I have written many posts.  My aunt recently asked me which post or posts were my favorite(s).  A few came to mind instantaneously, of course, but once I started digging through, I realized just how many there are –

which helps provide balance to the writer’s remorse that I haven’t done more lately.

Once upon a time, Tuesday and Thursday were sacred posting days, with Fridays as an occasional musing on craft (my weekend write-off).  I’m still unpacking the irony that my writing on mental health paused or ceased when things got really crazy last spring and by the end of the summer/fall when I’d ceased my medication.  It didn’t help that I had another small human pulling at my pant leg.  I’ve also tried to reignite a dedicated writing regimen for my young adult fiction and personal memoir.  Something’s gotta give, I suppose, in my anxiety-ridden, mom-of-four, only-24-hours-in-a-day world.

Still, when I didn’t receive the adorable fireworks animation comparing my readership to the size of small countries, the writer’s remorse kicked in big time.  What were my dedicated readers doing whilst I whiled time away with laundry and survival?  How were my fellow bloggers doing since I’d checked in last?  While the schedule of blogging can be daunting, especially in the midst of daily overwhelm, the process of crafting and posting and interacting is therapeutic for my writing and mental muscles.  I miss the community – and the potential that the blog has.

I have chopped lots of potatoes over the years.  I’m going to keep chopping.  Some days may produce uniform little cubes; others hackneyed hunks.  But it’s good to be back – even in a smashed capacity.

Dialogue 101

The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes by Anna McPartlin9781250093851

My most recent read, devoured well into the wee hours of the morning because I haven’t yet gotten off my holiday schedule and accepted the fact that I have to be up soon in the morning.  And because it was that compelling.

Rabbit.  Johnny.  Juliet.  There is so much that’s good about this heartbreaking and hilarious book, but it’s a particular scene of dialogue I want to shine the spotlight on today.

So tight, so fluid, so funny.  One of those scenes you read and instantly know it’s gold.  The kind of writing you strive to achieve.  The fact that it’s got some great Irish wit just endears it to me even more.

Grace walked through the front door with her suitcase.  Before she had her coat off, Lenny was halfway down the stairs.  When she saw his face, she covered her eyes with her hands.  ‘I’m so sorry,’ she said.  ‘I have no idea what happened.’

He held her close and kissed the top of her head.  ‘You lost it.’

‘I hurt you.’

‘It was an accident.’

‘I threw a mug at your face on purpose.’

‘I should have ducked quicker.’

‘If this conversation was the other way around, you apologizing for hurting me and me making excuses for you, people would call it domestic violence.’

He laughed.  ‘Oh, for fuck’s sake, Grace.  We’ve been together for twenty years and this is the first mug-in-the-face incident we’ve had.  I think I’m safe enough.’

‘I’m so, so, so sorry.’

They walked together into the kitchen.

‘I know,’ he said.  ‘Now can we forget it?’  He put on the kettle and she sat down on a stool facing him.  ‘Toast?’

‘Yes, please.  I’m starving.’

The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes, Anna McPartlin, 2014

Simply See

Home again, and Jane and I are going walkabout.  I have her rigged on my shoulders in the backpack.  Distributed throughout the aluminum frame and snugged straps, her weight dissipates to nothing.  After all, she weighs little more than a good-sized chicken.  As we step into the yard, I twist my neck to get a look at her face and find her looking out over the valley below.  Her eyes are wide and steady beneath the brim of her floppy cap.  How far out of infancy do we lose this gaze, with its utter absence of expectation or prejudice?  What is it like to simply see what is before you, without the skew of context?

from Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting by Michael Perry

Some Similar Sunday

Just when you think you’re trudging this road of life and parenting alone, you come across a gem like this.  I’m brought back to the Sunday evenings of my childhood, where we ate not popcorn, but scrambled eggs or a solitary bowl of cereal.  I’m mise-en-placed to any meal with my own children where we rush to throw a paper towel on the spilled pool of milk before it cascades down the cracks between the leaves of the table.  And I’m gleefully reminded how this all must be done with laughter.

It must have been a sight: eight to twelve of us packed around the dinner table, heads bowed over books splayed flat (somewhere a librarian cringes), the pages held open with one hand while the other dipped in and out of the corn, back and forth from bowl to mouth, the rhythm interrupted only when someone refilled a bowl or took a pull at their Kool-Aid.  When your eyes are fixed on text, you tend to fish around with your free hand, and nearly every week someone upended their Kool-Aid.  The minute the glass hit, Dad jumped up to make a dam with his hands in an attempt to keep the spill from leaking through the low spot in the table where the leaves met.  For her part, Mom grabbed a spoon and scraped madly at the spreading slick, ladling the juice back in the glass one flat teaspoon at a time so it could be drunk.  The same thing happened if someone spilled their milk.  Sometimes when I wonder how my parents managed financially, I think of Mom going after those spoonfuls of Kool-Aid like an environmentalist trailing the Exxon Valdez with a soup ladle, and there’s your answer.

from Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting by Michael Perry

This is Love

When the other Dr. Meescham was alive and I could not sleep, do you know what he would do for me?  This man would put on his slippers and he would go out into the kitchen and he would fix for me sardines on crackers.  You know sardines?”

Ulysses shook his head.

“Little fishes in a can.  He would put these little fishes onto crackers for me, and then I would hear him coming back down the hallway, carrying the sardines and humming, returning to me.”  Dr. Meescham sighed.  “Such tenderness.  To have someone get out of bed and bring you little fishes and sit with you as you eat them in the dark on night.  To hum to you.  This is love.”

– from The Illuminated Adventures of Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

Loss in Children’s Literature

The first book caught my eye from its display, the title singing to my soul, The Poet’s Dog, a novel by Patricia MacLachlan.  The second, I found flipping through the bins of picture books, its title, Until We Meet Again (Susan Jones), speaking to my family’s recent season of loss.  Little did I know how thematically intertwined they both were.

Both titles speak to children bearing and moving through the loss of a loved one.imgres

The Poet’s Dog is more novella than novel and told in sparse prose.  But it is told from the point of view of Teddy, the poet Sylvan’s dog.  And Teddy, while wise and loquacious for a dog, is dealing with the stark life left him by Sylvan’s death.  There is a beauty and simplicity to the unfolding of this tale and the healing that takes place.  Teddy, in saving two siblings from a raging storm, is himself saved by their companionship.  The siblings, Nickel and Flora, and readers don’t find out what exactly happened to Sylvan until halfway through the book, which is really quite wonderful in terms of grief.  Teddy, like so many experiencing loss, comes to a slow realization of the gravity of the absence of his loved one; even slower, comes the ability to share the painful parts of that loss.  He opens up as he comes to terms with it – and it is through the gentle love and presence of the now dear young friends.

untilwemeet-448x600Until We Meet Again, a picture book by Susan Jones, illustrated by Shirley Antak, is told from the perspective of an adorable little boy, made so both by Antak’s rendering and the amazing way he transcends death’s grip on his beloved grandfather.  The opening sequence shows the deep bond and ritual of this grandfather/grandson relationship.  The boy obviously adores the strong influence of his grandfather.  When he first gets news of his grandfather’s eventual demise, he is unsettled, of course, but this midsection of the book sets the stage for the last, when the boy becomes the strong influence.  He initiates and continues all of their special traditions, validating his grandfather, cementing their unending bond, and gathering his own strength for life without him.

Both these titles tackle a topic that is usually met with the awkward shrug of a smile, the stammering silence of not knowing what to say.  The subject matter is the stuff we try to shield our kids from, not books we willingly hand them.  But as with any tough topic, the children dealing with death need them right now.

Ironically, I chose not to share them with my children right now.  Perhaps I am being naive in thinking I can protect them from the direct blow of death for just a bit longer, but they’ve yet to be at a funeral.  They blessedly haven’t felt the stinging sorrow of a daily hole in their lives.  The deaths dealt to our family recently have been on their periphery.  But to know I have such gentle and poignant resources in literature should I need them – I’m glad the literary universe conspired to bring them both to me in the same lending cycle.

 

Three’s Company

How does one bounce back?

A perfectionist prolongs her reentry, waiting for the perfect post, story, sentiment; making her grand reentry so untenably grand, it may never happen.  Or be such a tremendous let-down, it truly disappoints.

A dweller in the present seizes the few minutes’ pocket of silence to write like her life depends upon it; easing back into life with the monotony of a moment, a microcosm of her world, the gentle ebb and flow of everyday.

If the procrastinator gets a hold of either of these two, nothing will ever be written again.  Too many of the dweller’s moments will pass, needing explanation, analysis.  Explanation and analysis swoop in upon the perfectionist like the ugly albatross.

As the sun warms my legs and slowly melts the snow outside, I sit at the center of a circle drawn by these three.

Everlasting

Natalie Babbitt is one of my favorites.

Sure, she’s written some great books, classics even.  But I didn’t read Tuck Everlasting as a kid; not until I was an undergrad, maybe even a teacher.  I do remember the ethereal glow surrounding the cinematic fountain of youth.  There was, continues to be, a magic connected to her stories.

But Natalie Babbitt was most magical to me when I heard her speak.

She was part of a panel on the craft of writing for young people at Rhode Island College, one of four published female authors in the field. She was the eldest, the most distinguished in terms of titles and staying power.  She was also the most emphatic, matter of fact, and unapologetic.

The question was posed to the panel: what is your writing routine?

Each in turn, the first three authors stated that one must write everyday; the secret to their success is continuity, establishing a routine; treating that time at their desks as a job.

Babbitt then stated, she was a mother.  Writing everyday wasn’t always possible.  Kids got measles.

She wasn’t trying to refute what the other authors had already said, just stated it straight out.  The way life was.  The reality of her writing life – or lack thereof.

In the midst of the chaos of three small children at the time, I instantly fell in love with Babbitt.  She’d never hold my hand and tell me it was okay to skip writing time, but she understood the realities of life with children, of real life, of days when life got in the way.

Countless times, when mothering saps my focus or free time, I see Ms. Babbitt, sitting in her spot at the long rectangular table at the head of the room, unapologetically sharing her secret to successful writing.  I suppose, it’s that there is no secret.  There is no perfect time – but there are also no excuses.

Natalie Babbitt got it done and masterfully so.  There is hope for me yet.

babbitt

In memoriam: Natalie Babbitt July 28, 1932 – October 31, 2016

%d bloggers like this: