A Tale of Two Bombs

For my applications to MFA in Creative Writing Programs, I have to submit both a personal statement and a writing sample. I wanted to share with you the personal statement I wrote as to why I want to pursue the MFA.

One of the schools to which I am applying is Southern New Hampshire University (which is a 100% online program). They asked me to address the following: explain how someone else’s story – such as a novel, movie, or a personal account – has impacted your life and influenced your drive to become a writer.

Here’s what I had to say:

I was twenty-one years old in the spring of 1996. I had been working on campus in the Office of International Programs, a job I loved because it was all about studying abroad and travel. Tucked at the back of our department were two smaller offices that belonged to faculty in the English department. While I had never taken a class from Dr. T., she was someone who was gregarious and often engaged me in conversation because she knew I loved to read.

I graduated that May and as a gift, my parents allowed me to audit a two-week study abroad program to Italy. On my last day of work, Dr. T. pressed a mass-market paperback into my hands and told me it would rock my world.

I started reading it on the plane to Milan and was immediately engrossed. So much so that I stayed up as night bled quickly into the next morning to find out what happened next. I read it on trains, and at night in my hotel rooms in Florence, Rome, and Siena. Stunning art and architecture surrounded me by day and a great story, well-told, filled my nights.

Finally, in Venice, I finished it. I was sharing a room with two other women and they were both sound asleep. But I had been so completely electrified and inspired by that book that I wanted to jump from bed, fling open the shutters and shout into the darkness of the city: “You must stop what you are doing immediately and read this book!”

The title? A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving.

Dr. T. was right, my world had indeed been rocked to the foundations. I had always toyed with the idea of writing fiction seriously, but in the moment I finished that book something shifted. I was so astonished by the way Irving gathered together plot threads. Then he didn’t just neatly tie them together at the end, he wove them into a fuse that exploded a bomb in my mind.

If someone so unknown to me as John Irving could have that much impact upon me with a novel, I knew then and there that I wanted to do that. I wanted in.

By nature, life mostly does not go according to plan. I went on to get a second bachelor’s degree, but during my time at the University of Minnesota I took many literature and creative writing classes. I loved them as much as the classes in my major.

In 1999 I had two bachelor’s degrees (one in Anthropology and one in Art History). I knew plainly and painfully that I was neither truly motivated nor brilliant enough to pursue an advanced degree in either subject. While I loved both disciplines, it was the stories they told that held the most fascination for me. 

I did write, but not steadily. I knew I had the requisite talent to create stories and novels, and the muse occasionally got me by the throat and I would write furiously for a couple weeks. But I did not have the dedication nor the drive to create a portfolio in my early twenties.

Even so, I knew that books and literature were it for me. So, I did the only thing I could think of that would surround me with stories that paid well and had health insurance: I became a librarian. It was practical and it helped to lull me into a false sense of being part of the literary world.

It worked for a while, but I knew deep down it wasn’t enough. 

By my mid-thirties I desperately wanted to write something. I craved it. But I had no ideas. I started looking at mythology, thinking I could retell a story from the Greek pantheon. Then, on March 31, 2010, at approximately 4:45 pm, I was scrolling through a web page on the nine muses when I hit on the idea that would become my first novel. Like the explosion that had been detonated by A Prayer for Owen Meany, this too packed lots of gunpowder. I was a live wire, smoking and snapping with the charge I just received.

I was so excited that evening as I went for a walk with my husband. I gamboled around him like a baby goat, telling him about the story I was planning. Details and plot points flew at me in a rush. And with that second bomb, I started writing. Really writing.

I wrote the first draft of my first novel in twelve weeks. I have written three other novels since and have ideas for three more on the back burner. I have a steady, faithful writing habit I have sustained for ten years. Only once, after my mother died after a protracted illness, was I unable to write for grief. But I eased back in by writing flash fiction and working up to short stories. I even got some of them published.

My reasons to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing are twofold. The first is I want to be surrounded with writing in my day job–I want to teach at the college level. The MFA will get me there. The second, and most important, is I simply want the experience. I want to indulge and immerse myself in a program that will engage my critical thinking again and make me a better writer. It is as simple and as complicated as that.

I have come a long way since that night in Venice when John Irving blew my mind. I now possess the maturity and motivation to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing and a portfolio to show for it. I will never forget the gift Dr. T. gave me that day she presented me with that well-worn paperback. A Prayer for Owen Meany cracked me open to the endless possibilities of stories and the devastating effect of great writing.

I want that.

In Memoriam: Henry Ingwersen

For those of you who really know me, you know how over-educated I am. I have three degrees: a BA in Anthropology, a BA in Art History, and a Master of Library and Information Science. Lots of education, lots of student loans I’m still paying, but a head crammed full of stuff.

What you may not know is that I seriously considered getting an MFA in Creative Writing after I finished my BA in Art History. But at the time, in my early twenties, I did not have the requisite portfolio nor the maturity to complete such a program. Library school was a much more practical option, so that’s what I did.

But I never forgot about the MFA. It’s always been sitting in the back of my head, but I had too much student debt and no money to pay for more school. Until now, that is. Let me tell you a little story about how we now are solvent and have the money to pay for school.

My husband, Kosta, used to work at the library too. (I met him on my first day of work here in January of 2005, but that’s a story for another day.) He had been working for the library about a year when I came in. And in that year he had met a patron named Henry. Henry was a cranky old WWII vet that took a shine to Kosta because my husband knows his history and the classics (i.e. Greek history). He once invited him out to dinner and that became a weekly occurrence for the two bachelors.

They kept up their weekly dinners for ten years, even after I came into the picture. Except when we were on vacation, every Thursday night would find Henry and Kosta at Perkins, or the Olive Garden, or the Clock.

Henry had lots of fascinating stories. He was a pilot in WWII and flew P38’s over New Guinea. He was awarded a bronze star. He was a career army man who was stationed all over the world: Paris and Gibraltar and Reykjavik and Beirut. He even did a tour in Vietnam because he had been stationed in Duluth and wanted out. (Well, it does get a bit cold in the winters.)

Henry was married once, briefly in the 1950s but after his divorce was a confirmed bachelor. He loved Danish design and liked to draw and work with wood. He was highly intelligent.

But he was also a mean old cuss. I went to dinner with them a couple of times. He would curse at babies crying in restaurants, complain about everything from the food to the music, and would leave a $2 tip if he was feeling generous. Kosta always put down more cash when Henry was walking out.

But Kosta kept going out with the old man. Henry didn’t have many friends and was rather alone in the world. So when about 8 years into their friendship he asked my husband to be the executor to his will, Kosta agreed. Henry did have two living sisters, but they were far away and both nearly as old (Henry was about 89 at this point.)

When Kosta agreed, Henry said this next: “By the way, I’m giving you my condo.”

Kosta protested. Surely it should go to his family? Didn’t he have nieces or nephews who might want it? But Henry was adamant. He said, “No! I don’t like those sons of bitches.”) Alrighty, then.

So Kosta was written into the will.

Henry died of lung cancer that spread to his brain. It was swift and I don’t think he suffered monstrously. He had fallen at home and had been taken to the hospital and later rehab. He knew he was dying and didn’t want the treatment. But we saw him suffering in the nursing home and got him out of there–he could afford round-the-clock nursing care so we did that for him and he died peacefully in his own home.

Which now belongs to us.

We’ve been living there for a year and a half. You can’t believe what it means to not have a rent or mortgage payment. We paid down our credit cards. And now, when I’m thinking of a career change, suddenly, magically, I am able to work towards it.

As hard as Henry was to like, I will be forever grateful to him for this gift. The place might be a little rundown (the kitchen and bathrooms are still 1979 original) but by God, it is ours. And it doesn’t even freak me out that he died in the very same room where we now sleep. I think he went peacefully, knowing that he had been on the earth 91 years and it was his time to go.

Thanks, Hank, for the gift. It keeps on making our lives easier in new ways and I have a sense of relief that I will never be homeless. That’s no small thing during this pandemic when so many are out of work and unable to pay rent. I am damn grateful every day to you.

On Friendship

Recently, I’ve been mulling over the idea of friendship and what it means to me. We’ve all been on a roller coaster of emotions lately with the pandemic, social unrest, economic hardships. No one on earth is exempt from that, and we’re all under stress.

And I am grateful for each and every friend I have.  I am an introvert by nature and making true connections is hard for me. I can be sociable and have lots of friendly acquaintances, but my true friends are a small bunch.

I also know that our friendships are not fixed, but mutable. I like to think I’ve never stopped growing as a person. I’m always learning more about who I am, my talents, gifts, and flaws. There are so many flaws. I have made new friends, reconnected with old friends, and continued on with friendships I’ve had since my high school days and even before.

But I have also learned that sometimes we grow apart. That as we and others evolve as humans, we move in different directions. Things change and I realize  we don’t have the same ideals, the same passions, the same beliefs that drew us together in the first place. It’s sad, to let go of a friendship you’ve put a lot of effort into, but there is also a peace in releasing that which no longer serves you, or makes you happy. My husband speaks the truth when he says, “People will move in and out of your life, and that’s okay.”

That said, I would never willingly throw away a friendship I thought was salvageable. I know friendships take work and sacrifice. But if I feel the scale is out of balance, if I am the only one making an effort, then maybe it’s time to reconsider what is real. I will not tolerate contempt, or abuse, or indifference. That has no place in my world.

It does make me sad when a friendship ends. Whether it’s abrupt or I had seen it coming for some time,  it doesn’t matter: there is a presence of grief. But there are memories too, memories of good times spent laughing and enjoying each other’s company. I can carry those with me even if the person is no longer in my life.

I do know that there are still many new people I have to meet, there are many days of laughter and making new memories ahead of me. And it has happened in the past that friends I thought I had lost forever have come back, and we’re all the stronger for it. (I’m looking at you, Paula and Jodi.) Trust can be rebuilt if both parties are willing to let go of the hurtful deeds and words from the past. Sometimes time does heal wounds.

Friendship is what you put into it. Both sides need to give in order for it to work. Otherwise it’s just you alone out there, giving away kindness into the void. And kindness, while infinite, should be spent on people who want to be part of your life.

May His Memory Be Eternal

It’s a lovely sentiment to say when someone dies: May his/her/their memory be eternal. I first learned this when I married a Greek, as this is their blessing instead of saying, “my sympathies,” or “my prayers are with you and your family,” or, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

It gives a beautiful message that the deceased will continue to live on in the memories of others, passed down through generations of family, or networks of friends. Even though it is a Greek saying, and they are mostly Eastern Orthodox, there is no religious connotation to the phrase, making it applicable to all.

But sometimes memories aren’t eternal. Sometimes there are lives forgotten.

Working at a public library for fifteen years you get to know a lot of people who are alone. And I mean alone–sometimes they have family far away, but a lot of the time I am the only person they talk to in their day, maybe their week.

Dennis Albright was one of these people who spent most of their time alone. He loved Sci Fi  and old horror movies, his favorite movie of all time was Dr. Strangelove.  Mr. Albright always had blood spots on his face from where he nicked himself shaving. He spoke rapidly, almost frenetically, like he had so much information to share he had to do it quickly before his one conversation of the week dried up.

He was a more than a little odd. Another patron told me he used to be a brilliant physics professor but kind of lost his mind when his mother died. He was a writer too, he had his book self-published on Amazon called “Wiener Dogs at War.” I’m not sure it sold very many copies, but it made him happy. Ecstatic.

When we moved last year I was surprised to see him in our parking lot one day. He lived on the second floor of our building, it seemed. He would walk around and around the parking lot for exercise in his highwater pants, white socks and black loafers.  Every time he saw my husband (whom he dealt with most at the library) he would always stop him with the words, “Let me ask you something,” and then launch into a diatribe about pensions, or his writing, or some other subject. Kosta often had a hard time extricating himself.

But last December it all changed. One morning on my way out to the car I saw two police cars sitting in the emergency drive of our building. There was a woman on the second floor walkway on the phone. I heard her say as I got into my car, “You wouldn’t want to be up here today.” I was mildly curious, but didn’t want to pry as it was none of my business.

It wasn’t until a few weeks later that we found out that Mr. Albright had died. And not just died, but lay dead in his apartment for two weeks before the smell began to drift into the hallway. We heard from another couple in our building he had died in the bathroom and the police had a hard time getting to him because he had collapsed against the door.

We were shocked and saddened that he was so alone that the lack of his presence went unmissed for two weeks. What a sad ending to what must have been a very lonely existence.

In January a huge dumpster appeared in our parking lot. And within two days the entire contents of his apartment were emptied into it, filling it to the top. We had heard he had no family save for an estranged sister who apparently wanted nothing to do with him. So into the dumpster it all went, an entire life: furniture and cookware, and papers, and probably lots of copies of his book. In another few days it was taken away and that was the end of Mr. Albright.

But that isn’t good enough for me. He may have been annoying, he may have been alone, but no one deserves to end their life that way. So I’m posting this as a memory of him. I hope wherever he is he has lots of friendly companions and lots of wiener dogs to play with.

I’m sorry, Mr. Albright, that I wasn’t a better friend to you. May your memory be eternal.

The 28 Year Wait

Last New Year’s Eve my husband and I were at a party at our friends’ house and Fabiana announced at the dinner table that this year for her birthday she was going to get a tattoo. And I immediately piped up with, “Can I come with you?”

I already have a tattoo. I got it in late 1992 when I was 18 years old. I got it on my rib cage just below my left breast. It is your typical cliche: a heart and dagger with a cross behind it. I picked the design out of a book and a woman with long red hair and tattoos of snakes twining down her arms inked it for me. She scared the hell out of me but was very kind and gentle. She even offered a teddy bear for me to cling to if I wanted.

I still like my tattoo and never once regretted getting it. Of course, almost no one ever saw it, me not being the bikini-wearing type of person. It was my own little secret that only a few were privy to.

I went on a study abroad tour when I was 20. We studied for five weeks in Oxford then had a three-week tour of Western Europe by bus. That’s when I first noticed the fleur de lis. A stylized picture of a lily, it was everywhere: all over the churches in France, on the city crest of Florence, everywhere. I liked it. To me it spoke of the history and art and travel that I so desperately loved.

I went back to Italy in 1996, a year later, and was once again suffused with the history and art and love of travel. The fleur de lis was everywhere, constantly reminding me of the things I loved. It was that summer in Florence that I adopted the fleur de lis as my own personal symbol.

I have many representations of the fleur de lis. Earrings, a necklace, a brooch I used to wear on my good winter coat back when I needed one. I had it on glassware, I made a mosaic of one:

It has been a constant in my life. And over the years it has only strengthened. Now, I have even impressed more meaning into this symbol. 

There are three petals. Each petal signifies one of the following: art, history, and travel. And the thing that binds them altogether? Writing. It could not be a more perfect representation of me. I am the fleur de lis and the fleur de lis is me. 

Not that I’m going to start asking people to call me that. Or go by a symbol instead of a name like Prince did for years. It is my totem.

Back to New Year’s Eve. I had not known when Fabiana announced she wanted to get a tattoo for her birthday that she had been announcing this for years and always fell short of going through with it. (She hates needles and pain.) But when I jumped in and offered to go with her she was sort of stuck. Now someone else wanted to share her experience and I guess she didn’t want to disappoint me?

Her birthday is in March and so we made appointments with a really great tattoo artist in Tampa named Adam Dunning with Visionary Tattoo in Tampa. We chose him because Fabiana’s daughter, who has a lot of tattoos really likes him because he’s a fabulous artist and a really nice guy.  

But then COVID-19 hit and everything went to hell.  We had to cancel our appointments because of the stay at home order. But we waited and they opened back up at the beginning of June. Our new appointments were made and they happened last Saturday, June 13th.

Fabiana had to go first or she might not go at all, and I wanted her to do this because she’d been wanting this for a very long time. She was a trooper. She got the clam shell symbol of the pilgrims that walk the road to Santiago de Compostela, because she did just that. She walked however many hundred miles all by herself. It is a reminder to her that she can do anything. Even get a tattoo. She lay on the cot, didn’t move her arm a muscle and did not cry.

My turn next. After Adam had fastidiously cleaned everything he put the stencil on my wrist, I lay down on the cot, and he got started. It stung, but it didn’t really hurt too much. Apparently I have a high tolerance for pain because I didn’t flinch once. I just lay there with my eyes closed and breathed. 

And then it was done. 

I absolutely love it. It means so much to me that I can look down whenever I want and remind myself what matters most in my life. (Besides my husband and my Dad who top the list, of course.)

I chose the inside of my right wrist because I wanted to be able to see it whenever I wanted. I also want the world to see it, and let those interested ask me about it so I can tell them a little bit about who I am. Because in the 28 years between tattoos I no longer feel the need to keep my story a secret. The world can share it with me and I’m fine with that.

I don’t think I’ll get another one. I can’t think of a more perfect representation of who I am. Of course, as we grow and evolve, things do change. I hope to never stop growing, so maybe there will be another symbol in the future that means more to me than this one. But it has stood by me for twenty-four years, so I’m pretty sure it’s okay to set this one in the flesh.

 

 

 

 

Getting Shit Done

And so I have. I know we still have Covid-19 but it feels like it is has been pushed away somehow. So no more plague diaries. Time to talk about what I’ve been doing. And that’s getting shit done.

bookcaseFirstly, my bookcase. It took a six hour trip to Miami (most of it was waiting for the email to come to tell me my order was ready at IKEA) and then a quick assembly. (I’ve put this particular bookcase together four times now.) I should get some sort of medal, I believe. I’m fast. And then I had the pleasure of putting out all my books and stuff and things.

 

It’s a little crowded, and please don’t look at the ratty old carpet. But my stuff is right at my bedside where I can see it every day now.

Between that and the mosaic studio (which I’m going to get to in a minute) I reorganized my closet. I got new shoe racks, new shelf dividers, and everything is so damn neat and tidy I get a zing of pleasure just opening the doors.

But the mosaic studio. I set it up last weekend. It took about a minute and a half:

mosaic studio

See? It isn’t much, but it is a place for me to work with glass and not get shards all over our floor. I’ve got that project you see there, plus two new ones I am working on. I sit and listen to podcasts while I work. My favorite right now is the Moth Radio Hour. I could listen to people tell stories all day.

So now I have a new outlet for creativity and get to reacquaint myself with some old skills.

I’ve bought some new glass and have a few new ideas in mind. I’d love to do a really big project someday. My ex-sister-in-law mosaicked a toilet. It was pretty charming. She put plants in the bowl, but the neighborhood association was less thrilled with her artistic endeavors and made her move it to her back yard.

dolphin socksWhen I was cleaning out my closet I found a canvas bag that had knitting in it. Inside was an almost completed pair of socks for my husband. It took me two hours to finish them. We call them his Miami Dolphin socks. Again, please ignore the ratty carpeting. We’ll be remodeling within a year or so and getting laminate floors. Please.

That pattern on those socks is the bomb, though, don’t you think?

And finally, the BIG NEWS. I am getting ready to query a novel. I have been waiting for one agent to get back to me for over six months and I’m done with the agonizing. I am sending it out TONIGHT! I’m going to be 46 in August. It’s time my writing career as a published novelist was started.

That’s right. I’m getting shit done. And it feels damn good.

Plague Diaries #12

It isn’t really a tale of the plague, this entry. This story goes back much farther than that. A year, in fact.

In March of 2019 we moved from a 1400 square foot duplex into a 900 square foot condo. We did A LOT of downsizing. We had to practically get all new furniture. I spent weeks assembling flat pack tables, dressers, night stands and bookcases. (A weird side note: I adore assembling furniture. It’s like a really neat puzzle that you put together and then you end up with something useful. My husband thinks I’m bonkers.)

Before we moved I had a lot of space of my own. I had my own office with all my own books in my own cases and odds and ends littered about. In the garage I had my mosaic studio where I would spend Saturdays piecing together glass treasures. I had candles, and pictures, and figurines, lots and lots of rocks (been collecting them since I was a kid) and for over a  year now, they have sat packed away in boxes. Because there was no place to put them out. My mosaic tools are trapped in our outdoor storage space. My knitting supplies are crammed in under-bed boxes.

We have two bedrooms in our tiny new place. One of them is obviously the bedroom. The other is the library where most of my husband’s books and things are. (Greek helmets, a bust of Brahms and one of Homer, Greek vases and all of his fountain pens.) He has his computer on the desk in there, and the blue recliner where he reads and does crossword puzzles.

Since he’s retired and I have the car all day it seems only fitting that he should have the space as his own. He spends more time in the condo than anyone else. Over the past year, when I’ve wanted to relax, I’ve mostly spent the time in bed watching stuff on my iPad or reading.

These past two weeks off have been a breakthrough. One of the things I did as a therapeutic act for myself was dig out my knitting. I hadn’t really done any knitting since my Mom died, since that was ALL I did in the hospital. I got rid of a lot of my yarn stash when I moved, but still have all my grandmother’s knitting needles and quite a bit of yarn. I told my dear friend who is treating me with acupuncture that I would knit her a pair of socks and she was delighted. And then I came up with a brilliant idea: Frankensocks.

In all my years knitting (and it’s been over fifteen) I’ve knitted dozens of pairs of socks. It is a truth universally known that Floridians don’t need scarves, hats or mittens, but there are a few months out of the year when a pair of hand-knit socks are a most supreme pleasure. With every pair I’ve knit I’ve had leftover yarn which I have put in its own separate Ziplock (to keep them from mating like Christmas lights) and shoved in a canvas bag that I keep in my closet.

As I was considering what color socks to knit my friend, I came across that canvas bag of remnants and the idea hit me: what if I knit ALL THE COLORS? What if I knit an inch or two off each little ball I had remaining, switching them up and sort of patch them together? And the Frankensocks were born.

Frankensocks

I had real joy in knitting them. Each stripe represents a pair previously made socks and I remember each pair and who they were for. You might think that a little bonkers but knitting a pair of socks is an investment of time and they don’t just fall off the needles in a couple of hours. You get intimate with the yarn and think a lot about the person you are knitting them for as you are creating them.

As I was knitting these socks I was also looking around our apartment. The walls are still bare because we haven’t hung any pictures. Most of them are sitting in the bathtub in the second bathroom. And I decided that it was damn time we did something about it. So we hung pictures, we hung a clock, we hung mosaics I had made. We’re not done yet, but every day we do something more around here that makes the condo seem more like home.

As these two things sort of came together I started to realize something. All of my things (my candles and pictures and figurines and rocks) were still packed away in boxes and I was staggered all at once with how much I missed them. A wise friend said that when you are home and don’t see yourself reflected in it, it isn’t really home. There are things my husband and I have together, but my things, MY THINGS, were missing.

So I made a plan. We have an empty corner of our bedroom and I am getting (Lord, help me) one more IKEA bookcase (which will make seven). It will house the books I use for writing and research, and it will hold my bowl of rocks, my statue of Kuan Yin, picture frames and candles. It will be my space reflected back at me. I will truly be home.

And I wonder if this whole meltdown I had didn’t have something to do with these things. I am sure they were a part of it.  Yes, the pandemic has scared the bejesus out of me, but I have to go one with life. I will take all the precautions I can and let it be. But I will no longer be a stranger in my own house. I am going to set up my mosaic station on our lanai. I am going to arrange my precious items and see them when I walk in the room.

Maybe, as I begin to carve out the creative life I used to have (piecing glass together in mosaics and knitting and journalling), things will shift back to where they used to be. I’m already on the way.

This wasn’t something I did in a punitive manner. I did not go about to make myself miserable by packing away my life and leaving it in a closet. But getting it back is like getting out of jail. The air is a little sweeter, the sun a little brighter.

And as I move forward I know that writing mojo is going to return. I just have to find a new space to do that. Before, I was going to a coffee shop in the evenings and writing. But now, maybe now with my stuff back out I will feel more comfortable writing at home.

It’s taken a year, and it shouldn’t have. But what are we as human beings if not constantly learning lessons?

Excuse me, I have to go knit something.

Plague Diaries #11

It’s no secret that I’ve been dealing with major anxiety, so bad that for a while there it was all I could do to force myself out of bed in the morning, bed being the safest place on earth.

It’s also no secret that I took some medical leave from work to deal with getting my head back on straight. I am trying everyday to meditate, walk, knit, listen to podcasts, read, and do other kind things for myself so that I can relax enough to get my breathing back to a non-panicked state.  It’s been slow, but my mood is lifting and I am getting better.

The one sticking point is writing. Some asshole will probably point out that I’m writing this, but that’s not the same thing at all. Here is just a journal of thoughts, feelings and events. It isn’t creative, although some other asshole might argue that too.

But this is where things brighten. I have a friend who teaches at our local university, let’s call her LC. I’ve known LC for almost as long as I’ve been living in Florida which means we’ve been friends for over fifteen years. She’s always been a shining light in my life, even though I don’t get to see her often. But we have been talking a lot on the phone lately and she has been prodding me to get back to creativity.

We recently read together an essay, deconstructed it, and then each wrote our own homage to the formula and the brilliant writer. I like the first draft of my essay about goats (Greek goats, specifically), even though I was wheezing through the entire process of getting words down on the computer screen. I tweaked it a bit the next day and became more pleased with it, even though it isn’t nearly as poignant and heartbreaking  as the original. But it was good to be writing something again.

LC is great at giving feedback. Always starting with the positive and then moving gently to where things could be improved. She’s a brilliant writer herself and I can’t wait to read her version of the essay. (It’s her wedding anniversary today, so I’ll cut her some slack.) But the feeling of putting words together and making some interesting connections fired something in me that had been doused by a bucket of mood disorder.

Things will always happen that will try to keep my from writing. The death of my mother stoppered things for a good year. This pandemic has strafed me as well. And next year it will be something else. Maybe the murder hornets will set up shop in the gardenia bushes out my back door. I don’t know.

But no matter how much water is thrown on the fire, I’ll keep going. Nathan Hill, the amazing author of The Nix, and a local, wrote this essay recently that said much more succinctly than what I’m trying to do here. Read it here:  Postcard From the Pandemic: A Solid Little Feeling

I will get back to writing. After my mother died and nearly a year had gone by I started with smaller pieces, flash fiction and some essays. Some got published in online and literary reviews. Maybe if my goat essay gets polished enough I’ll try sending that out too.

Writing is the fire in my blood. I might slow down, I might stop altogether from time to time,  but it always comes back, no matter what catastrophe I face. And if I just tempted fate with that statement, so be it. Bring on the murder hornets.

 

Plague Diaries #10

How long has this been going on? Six weeks or so? It seems so long ago and yet like it was just yesterday that my job shut its doors to the public.

You know I’ve been dealing with anxiety. But I’ve been taking steps to take care of myself. Herbal tea instead of coffee, guided meditation at least once a day, I stopped looking at the numbers and most of the news. And above all, I’ve been receiving the acupuncture treatments. I don’t feel great, like my old self, but I do feel a marked improvement. I have more concentration at work, and I ordered some yarn to start knitting again.

The one thing I wish I could get my head space wrapped around was writing. I stopped my novel (which I am 90% finished with the first draft) on March 8. And I’m just too wound up, too unsure of myself to get back into it again. I can feel my breathing ratcheting into the bad place even as I write about it now. It scares me for some reason.

But we have to remember that this self-quarantine is not “time we have been given” to do something great. A horrible thing is happening to our world and we can’t be expected to just shrug it off and write the Great American Novel. There’s a legend that Shakespeare wrote King Lear while he was locked up during a plague quarantine. It may or may not be true, but if it is, his name was Willpower, not William Shakespeare.

I want to finish with a quote from one of my favorite guys. Most people know (I hope?) that Calvin Coolidge was President of the United States from 1923-1929. He was taciturn, maybe a little grumpy, but had some interesting things to say. He was rational, he spoke carefully, he took the measure of things before jumping into the fray.

He had this to say about persistence:

Calvin-Coolidge-1920“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “Press On” has solved and will always solve the problems of the human race.”

Right on.

 

He also said, “Four-fifths of all of our troubles would disappear, if we would only sit down and keep still.”

Perhaps our current president could take some advice there.

Plague Diaries #9

I have a very dear friend who is one of those people who is without guile or pretense. She is a genuine, authentic soul who says what she means, is kind to the core, and doesn’t take shit from anyone. She is a beautiful soul.

I’ve been keeping in contact with her through email lately and have mentioned my problems with anxiety. And she offered to give me acupuncture treatments. She is a retired nurse who also studied eastern medicine for three years and is a licensed acupuncture practitioner. Yesterday afternoon was my first session.

I lay on cushions on the floor on my back. She took my pulse three places in my right wrist and three places in my left wrist, and also in my neck. She inserted two needles in each wrist, two in each foot, one in the top of my head and five in my left ear. And I lay there for a while.

It wasn’t unpleasant, in fact, other than being pricked with needles, it was actually nice to just lay there and not be expected to do anything. We talked a little, she told me about her journey through learning eastern medicine and even how she went to China to study acupuncture there for two months. On top of being a kind person, she also has the soul of a wanderer–she’s been so many places in the world and I love to hear her stories of travel.

After she took the needles out we sat and talked a little while and then I went home. I can’t say I felt a huge difference right away, but this morning I did notice an easing in my breathing. I plan to go back some night after work this week to do it again.

I can’t tell you how much her friendship means to me. She’s someone who understands anxiety and depression, having battled them herself. In a world where so many people are selfish and rude, finding a truly kind person is a rarity. To have such a person in one’s life is a gift and I will never take her for granted, even if she never gave me acupuncture. Just spending time with her and talking lifts my spirit and brings me joy.

Thank you, my dear, for your love and friendship and needles.