Introvert or extrovert…we all start with vert

Because I’m caught between the Domestic Diva-ness of getting the cottage and apartment ready for the vaca guests tomorrow, and playing Florence Nightingale to my husband who just had surgery, I’m just now sitting…just to be sitting.

So, I’m “repurposing” a blog post that captures my angsty writing moments:

 

“Author John Green, who has penned a number of acclaimed Young Adult novels, puts it this way: “Writing is something you do alone. It’s a profession for introverts who want to tell you a story, but don’t want to make eye contact while doing it.” From the blog, A New Fiction Writers Forum, “Why Introverts Make Good Writers”

CGBlake, author of the blog, shares a sentiment widely expressed by others, which is most writers would call themselves introverts. For many of these writers, being asked to speak publicly is about as appealing as pole dancing on Bourbon Street.

I am not one of those writers (though pole dancing would be a totally humiliating experience for me mostly because with my lack of grace and athletic ability, I’d have a head injury in less than twenty seconds).

After spending 25 years teaching high school English, I’m not uncomfortable being in the public forum. The by-product of decades being the target of thirty or more sets of eyeballs. Over the years, I developed my teacher “with-it-ness” to recognize when their eyes looked like glazed donuts.

But teaching and sometimes (often?) entertaining teens is far less intimidating for me than presenting to my peers. It’s not so much the being “on stage” as it is attempting to be the “sage on stage” while I’m there. I’m eager to volunteer to give workshops or attend conferences for the opportunity to meet readers and/or other writers. Then, when I arrive and find myself in the company of well-respected agents/editors and writers whose books are NYT bestsellers, my inner child has a wee panic attack.

I wonder, even after having written six novels, what I could say that would be share-worthy because I don’t feel like I’m there yet. That there place where everyone else who’s found recognition must hang out and have lavish parties and chocolate-induced comas.

So, I remind myself that I’ll never be there unless I’m here first. Challenging myself to grow as a writer means being willing to fall off the pole and to trust that the people I meet will catch me.

 

The one impossible Mother’s Day gift

I’ve been procrastinating writing this post with some legitimacy. The husband had surgery on Friday, all went well thanks to the skilled hands of the physician and the grace of God. I stayed with him overnight, and we arrived home this afternoon. For the next two weeks, he is confined to the house…no riding in cars, no up and down the stairs, no nothing. I’m now praying to the HBO and SEC gods to provide entertainment for him; otherwise; I may have to find some pain pills of my own. But, that’s another post for another day.

So, why have I hesitated?

Because Sunday is Mother’s Day.

It’s a day of celebrating, honoring and thanking the women in our lives who, biologically or otherwise, nurtured, loved, mothered us.

(Disclaimer: if you’re one of those people who have lived a charmed life, raised by perfect parents and grown to be perfect yourselves, you’ll probably want to stop reading now.)

But it’s also a time I grieve the losses of my grandmothers, my mother who died when I was in my 30s when she was four years younger than I am now. I grieve for my daughter who lost her only child, my first grandchild, after a month in this world. And I grieve for the mother I could have been.

Between the ages of 24 and 32, I had five children. Five precious, beautiful, and delightfully messy kids…and I had no idea how to be a mother. To be a cupcake-baking, mud pie-making, and adventure-taking mother.

Here’s the gift I want for Mother’s Day. The gift my children, my husband, not even I will be able to give myself.

I want a mommy mulligan (not the stew…the golf mulligan, the extra you’re allowed after a poor shot that doesn’t count on your score card). I want a do-over and over and over again, but knowing what I know now.

I’ve missed so many things in my children’s lives. Some of that’s on me, some not. The reasons don’t matter. Not now. I can never recapture those times. And, for the record, this isn’t a one-woman pity party. It’s the painful reality of my life that I’ve had to own because if I didn’t, it would own me.

My children all live away from home now. One lives three hours away, the others six hours away. I miss them everyday.

I can’t ever fill the well of sadness and regret in my heart. But I’ve promised myself, and them, that I will spend the rest of my life doing what I can to fill the empty spaces in theirs.

 (The photo is of my grandmother holding my mother.)

Why reading to your children matters

“In the great green room

There was a telephone

And a red balloon

And a picture of—”

My youngest child just married a few months ago, but the lines from Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon are as familiar to me now as they were decades earlier.

They should be. I started reading the book to my oldest when he was four, then his sister born three years later, then his twin sisters another three years later, and two years later, to the last of my five children.

When my first grandchild was still no bigger than an aspirin, I bought a copy of Goodnight Moon, and anticipated that sweet moment when we’d snuggle and read it together.

I’d like to share that my reading to my children when they were young developed a hunger in them reach for books to feed themselves. But, they all came to the table late, as it were, only now as adults with tastes of their own.

My older son reads Chuck Palahniuk when he’s not reading to his daughters. His brother reads golf books along with an occasional Holes and The Hunger Games. My oldest daughter samples writers ranging from George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones to Emily Giffin. One of her sisters prefers nonfiction along with bites of women’s fiction. Her other sister, born with Down’s Syndrome, reads Nancy Drew, Disney books, and whatever she can find about her latest star crush.

I mention my daughter’s syndrome to make a point. Well, perhaps, several points. Doctors told me she may not ever be able to read or write (she does both), and her love for books is testimony to the power of stories to transcend and transform…even for those who some consider “disabled.”

This past Christmas, I found a graphic print with one my middle daughter’s  (her twin) favorite expressions when she tells me goodbye, “I love you to the moon and back.”

It’s so sweet to come full circle.

“Goodnight stars

Goodnight air

Goodnight noises everywhere.”

From Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When a book idea falls into my brain, and I’m not there to catch it

This post originally appeared on Girlfriends Book Club, a blog written by a gumbo of about twenty-seven-ish women, who share their agonies and ecstasies about writing, for authors and for readers. Funny, smart, talented women. And me.
     A few nights ago, I took my customary running leap into bed (we have one of those old, four-posters…and, yes, I know there are stools for beds, but they look too much like church kneelers, which I find disturbing next to my bed. But that’s another story). Just as my cheek met the cool pillow, an idea charged through my sleepy stupor into my brain.
     A brilliant idea. Brilliant, I tell you. Nothing less than brilliant. Enough to hip-shove The Hunger Games into Twilight. Enough to make Brad Pitt want my phone number to ask if he could play the male lead. Enough to tell Angelina she couldn’t bribe me for the female lead.
     I can’t tell you the idea.
     Why? Because I can’t remember it. Because I didn’t drag my brilliant butt out of bed to write it down. Because I didn’t lean over and risk a head injury to find the paper and pen I store in my nightstand to scribble the idea.
     I should know better. Well, I do know better. As soon as I hear my brain whisper, “Oh, this one is so A-MAZING, you won’t forget it,” I need to make one of those Bella Swan Cullen new-vampire dashes to write it.  Unfortunately, unlike Stephenie Meyer, I do not wake up from a dream with a four-book series in my head.
     So, where do my ideas originate?
     In the most boring of circumstances.  Like one day, after retrieving mail from my mailbox, I wondered, “What if a woman went out to get her mail and never returned? Or what if she walked out in one year, but when she walked back into her house, twenty years had passed?”  (BTW…if I want to watch my adult children practice synchronized eye rolling, all I have to do is mention this idea.)
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     Those two words, “what if?” can launch me into writer orbit. But I have to be willing to turn ideas inside out and upside down. I have to muzzle the editor in my brain who says, “Go you…you’ve just thought of the dumbest premise in the known universe.”
     Years and years ago, I attended a conference and delighted in listening to Georgia Heard talk about her recent book, For the Good of the Earth and Sun:Teaching Poetry. What I most remember is her talking about poetry constantly surrounding us, that it’s everywhere…from the worn steps outside your grandmother’s house to drinking coffee with a friend.
     And while those may not be ideas that carry a novel into hundreds of pages, they’re a beginning. Even poems marinate in my brain. When I read “Patterns” by Amy Lowell or “The Lanyard” by Billy Collins, I just know a story is there waiting to happen.
     If there is anything I’ve learned, it’s this: whatever the idea, however ridiculous and goofy it may seem at the time, I must write it down.
     It’s a gift. And it doesn’t always keep on giving.

Yoga Pants: Gateway to Lust or Leisure?

I’ve become one of those women. The kind I never imagined I would.

A year ago, if you’d asked me if I owned anything by Lululemon, I would have told you I’d sworn off sweets. Today, I’d just admit that I wait for my daughters’ hand-me-downs.

So, yes, I’m now sporting yoga pants at the grocery, some restaurants, mani/pedi appointments, putzing around my house and anywhere else I can. And occasionally at yoga classes, which I’ve missed for the past four months.

I’ll own that my recent weight loss, thanks to my son’s recent wedding to the precious Amanda, (nothing like knowing people will be viewing your butt for the length of a church aisle to motivate you), made this wardrobe change much more comfortable.

IMG_0065It’s fortunate for me that we don’t live in Montana where a wingnut GOP lawmaker wants to arrest and jail women for wearing yoga pants. This bill by State Rep. David Moore, according to the article by Travis Gettys, would “outlaw any nipple exposure by men or women, along with any clothing that “gives the appearance or simulates” the buttocks, genitals, pelvic area, or female nipple.”

Kim Kardashian West, Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj and  JLo–to name just a few–need to be damn careful crossing the state line into Montana.

I’m not sure why the male nipple isn’t included in his definition of indecent exposure. That alone seems to reek of discrimination. And I have to wonder if perhaps there’s something Freudian about his use of the word “simulate,” which is just a keystroke away from “stimulate.”

Clearly, this man needs to be duct-taped into a chair while someone blasts Meghan Trainor’s “All About that Bass” for a few hours.

So, I suppose he thinks one should change into yoga pants at the studio so as not to be seen in public? Is there not enough going on in Montana that a lawmaker has time to think of this crap? This in the state where just last year, a prosecutor allegedly told the mother of a five-year-old girl sexually assaulted by a teenager that “boys will be boys.”

Then again, last year Veronica Partridge wrote a blog post about why she chose to not wear yoga pants in public (because they cause men to look at women wearing them in a way they should only be looking at their wives). I assume then, her husband, if he takes yoga, is in a males-only class; otherwise, he’d have to stay in a downward dog pose the entire time. I’m not sure if this family has their own private pool because swimming at a public beach must be taboo. Because it seems our responsibility as women is to protect men from their brains.

One (satiric) response to that post was written by someone named L.P. who begged her brothers in Christ to stop wearing suits because they were becoming a stumbling block for her.

If you truly cared about my desire to live holy, you would take into consideration how your clothing (and how sexy you look in it) may be a potential stumbling block for me. Have you considered maybe wearing a suit that is too large for you? Perhaps that hideous tie in your (or your dad’s) closet from the 70s? Do you have any plaid? – See more at: http://thesaltcollective.org/modesty-whensuitsbecomestumblingblock/#sthash.gXk1Pc1M.dpuf

Here’s my disclaimer: If you see me schlepping around in my yoga pants, please know that I’m not trying to seduce your husband. And if he’s looking at me in the way he should be looking at you, then you need to punch him in his brain, which is located behind the zipper of his pants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing is as right as rain

It’s just damn ugly outside right now. Proof:

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This reminds me that one of the rites of passage into living on your own in New Orleans is having your own hurricane tracking map. That season hasn’t started yet; it’s June 1-November 30. Today’s just one of those pre-cursor events. Mother Nature’s way of reminding us that we’re not the boss of her.

The lights are flashing, the outside shutters are slamming against my windows, and Herman is curled into a canine fetal position in his dog bed.

Today is one of my scheduled writing days. Writing by candlelight, especially in this humidity, is not at all romantic or productive. The paper ripples with the dampness, and the candle singes any wayward pieces of my hair if I’m not careful. So, when I experience one of these days, my admiration soars for those writers who used quill pens dipped in ink, wrote without benefit of electricity, even those who pounded out stories on manual typewriters. For those of you too young to even recall an electric typewriter, here’s a visual of each:

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Oh, the days of erasable bond and correctable typewriter ribbons…(pause for angry crack of thunder).

All this to say…I have a laptop, an iPad, a Livescribe…all the tools necessary to make the actual act of writing easy, of making letters, word and sentences appear as if by magic. Even research is just a Google or a Bing away.

But the art of writing, well…it’s like this storm. It’s at times unpredictable, messy, angry, and gut-churning. But this storm will pass, and the grass will seem greener, the sun will nudge its way out from  behind the waning grayness, the birds will find their way back into the trees, and the thirsty ground may need some time to swallow all the water that’s been dumped on it, but it’s grateful for the excess nonetheless.

So, I’m off to make some messy art while I can because I know it’s going to lead to somewhere better.

 

Starbucks, Snails, and Sororities

I didn’t forget that today is Friday, and I said I’d live to blog again. Working in CST, I still have a four-hour window open.

After getting the downstairs apartment ready for a group coming in for Jazz Fest, I schlepped to Starbucks to write for a few hours before working at the clinic. A snail outran their internet speed today, which meant no blogging for me. Instead, I focused my attention on the new novel idea that’s still in gestation. I’ve learned conception isn’t so difficult in novel-land. Though there have definitely been long stretches of time when my brain puts itself on abstinence. It’s birthing the damn idea that can be the labor from hell.

Without revealing too much, I can say that I’m relying heavily on the expertise of one of my daughters. The novel involves a college sorority. Guess what I know about college sororities? That they all use the Greek alphabet.

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Anything else I might know is only information I think I know because I have absolutely no personal experience never having been in a sorority in college. So she’s teaching me a new vocabulary: bid, rush, dirty rush, legacy, PNM, preference, big, little. . .And I have to tell you that after I became aware of the entire process from beginning to end (end being you’re in), I developed a new respect for her. She faced, what I now realize, was an emotionally grueling week, and she survived. I’m proud of her. Not just because she joined a sorority, but because she set a goal, did the hard work, made herself vulnerable, and achieved what she set out to do.

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It’s humbling when your children become the teachers.

Had that experience lately?

 

 

The Lazarus Blog Post

For some reason, the posts I’ve composed in my head for the past four months or so have not materialized on my blog. Or anywhere, for that matter…

I’m sure there are at least five or six of you who’ve been wondering where the hell I’ve been.

Well…

  • My oldest and youngest, both sons, gifted me with two beautiful daughters-in law. Our family has now expanded to ten adults (including Ken and me) and six dogs. Pictures will be coming!
  • I’m not working quite as often as I used to at the veterinary clinic, but I still tag along with Ken on emergency calls and on those occasional days when the staff is desperate.
  • We now have two vacation rentals. One is the cottage on our property that, after three years of renovation and haggling with the Historical/Hysterical Commission, is finally finished.

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The other property is the apartment in the rear of our home where my brother and his partner lived. They bought their own home and, though I’m happy for them, I do miss their company, cooking and decorating skills!

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So, now I’m truly a Domestic Diva…you know when you get excited about discovering the Mopnado (and, I’m not kidding, it’s AWESOME) and your BFF is the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, you’ve reached a new stage in your life.

Oh, and I’m writing…yes, that author/writer thing I do…I’m working on the second book in the Magnolia Hills Garden Club series, tentatively titled Digging Up Dirt. My delightful designer, Melissa of Monark Design Services, and I are still tossing around ideas for the cover. This one is from LamarAnn’s point of view. And if you don’t know who she is, you can meet her in the first novella, All They Want for Christmas. If you have any cover ideas, pass them on!

I have other books brewing, one in particular that I’m wiggly excited about, but haven’t yet  pulled it together enough yak about it…As soon as I can, I’ll spill.

  • I’m having fun on Instagram (I’m there as cballan) with my daily View from the Balcony.(#viewfromthebywaterbalcony or #viewfromthebalcony). I re-started the photos after people shared that they missed them. Great to know that the dog and I weren’t the only ones seeing them!

I promise every photo is shot from the actual balcony of my house, and I’m surprising myself that I’ve not run out of pictures to take.

Here’s one from a few days ago. This was the first time two pigeons have ever landed on our railing when we were sitting outside. They spend almost all of their time flying into the upstairs of the house across the street through a broken window.

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And, the dog…here’s a photo of Herman. Ken rescued him(my husband is the Schindler of the animal shelter), and now he’s rescuing us.Herman takes me for walks more times of the day than I want to count, sniffs  7,592 blades of grass before he pees for 3.1 seconds, and loves to sit on the balcony in the rocker and watch the world go by. And bark every time it does.

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Last night I left my office to refresh my coffee, and when I returned, couldn’t find the scone from Good Eggs I’d just warmed. I was sure I’d left it on my desk. (Food, I’m sure about. The two pairs of glasses I still can’t find, not so much.). Herman looked a bit too hunkered down in his bed… because he had the entire scone in his mouth. Another lesson learned: my desk is no longer a safe spot for tempting food.

So…what’s up with you?

Until Friday (Of this month and this year)…

 

 

 

It’s a Christmas miracle!

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AVAILABLE NOW at Amazon and as fast as my little elf fingers can type, I’ll upload it to other platforms! Will also be available as a paperback.  It’s my first book in The Magnolia Hills Garden Club series. Book 2 will be ready early 2015.