Starting Over

A young foal standing next to her mom.
Just getting started.

My website LeafRiverWriter.com crashed a few weeks ago. With the help of BlueHost tech support, I was able to retrieve my blog entries, but the design elements and widgets are lost. I’ve decided to take my lemons and turning them into lemonade.

I’ll be redesigning my entire website, refocusing it on what I love to do and to write about: HORSES.

Don’t panic if you’re not a horse person. I’m hoping to find a community of people (or perhaps gather a new one) who just loves horses. You won’t need to know anything about horses to enjoy it  because it’s not about “how to…” although you may learn a few tidbits in that area.

In my future blogs, I’ll be talking about what it’s like to “live with horses” and why I do it.

Having a horse on our property, we’re responsible for everything from finding or raising hay (we do the later) to scheduling hoof trimming every six to eight weeks (longer gaps in the winter because their hooves grow slower in the cold), maintaining their environment (mending the barn and mowing the pasture), along with keeping their stalls mucked out takes more time, physical work and education then boarding a horse at someone else’s facility.

So why do I do all that if I don’t ride my horses anymore? I’ll be writing about that too.

Living with horses is a lifestyle that grows out of my spirituality, a connection to earth and all living things. An expression of that belief is my art.

A close up picture of a horse's left eye.
Maggie’s watching and waiting.

Horses are included in my quilts, photographs, watercolors and clay sculpture surrounded by archetypes from Women’s Spirituality and nature up close. That art will appear in my blogs as well as on my art website TrotTownStudios.com (a site which is also in the process of being redesigned.)

This new vision of my social media presence will take time as I accumulate new computer skills from Lynda.com, so I’m asking for your patience. More importantly, I’m saying stay tuned. Lots of good stuff is coming.

BEST LAID PLANS

Never enough time to write.
Never enough time to write.

Throughout this last winter and early spring, I was able to write everyday, not just for an hour or two, but four to six hours each and every day.  I’d hoped to maintain that pace throughout the summer. Sometimes, we can’t control how our time gets used.

Being a vegetarian, and living on twenty acres, it only makes sense that I keep a large garden. Last year we were able to freeze,  and dehydrate enough vegetable to get us through most of the winter. This year, I planned to keep the weeds better under control and rework the watering system so that it would work more effectively.  Last year was so dry, the tomatoes struggled and we weren’t able to harvest enough to put up salsa or spaghetti sauce.

The garden keeps me busy weeding, watering and harvesting.
The garden keeps me busy weeding, watering and harvesting.

This year, we had plenty of rain early on which made it harder to manage the weeds.  Twisting my rib out of place (probably from overdoing pulling and whacking the weeds) put me out of commission with pain spasms–three or four times a minute for days.

I found a chiropractor with magic hands to relieve my pain. However, the neck adjustments dislodged my ear crystals, causing my world to spin and making me nauseous. I’ve had this vertigo before and remembered some of the moves the audiologist used to relieve the symptoms.

Unfortunately, the cure also requires not bending over and sleeping in a sitting position for two or three weeks.

I don’t sleep well on my back–especially when sitting up. I’ve been unable to work at all for over a week now. Today is my first day back to the computer, making a little progress on my manuscript.

Doing nothing or resting or being at less than full-tilt activity feels unnatural to me. My life requires daily maintenance. A lot of it. I’ve been working hard to bring some much needed organization to my life, but with these disruptions, those projects have been left half-finished.  I tell myself, “There’s always tomorrow.” It helps keep me sane, but just barely.

Now, the heat and humidity ranging around 100 degrees is making any work outside impossible until it begins to cool off around 9:00 p.m.  I know 2/3 of the country are suffering, with many people suffering much worse than I.  At least we have air conditioning, which is better than last year when we were out of power during the heat streak.

 

Time to relax and enjoy the sun set
Time to relax and enjoy the sun set

I tell myself to “go with the flow.”

Worrying about what didn’t get done only drains the energy I need to heal, and to maybe get a little writing done.  Sometimes I can make it work–like today. A little progress on the manuscript and this blog. I need to celebrate the small successes.

How are you dealing with the heat?  Or anything else that is disrupting your Best Laid Plans.  I’d love to hear from you.

Horses and hay and a house of cards

Maggie beats Charlie to the barn
The house of cards on which I stand is wobbling.  Will I fall?  I am hiding here in this beautiful place, trying to write. Will I finish the edits to my two books before the life of my dreams falls apart?

The most recent card to fall was the rain last night. I allowed myself to be convinced it would only rain a little bit, not enough to hurt the hay if we cut it.  The best time to bale the hay had passed. Maybe the storms would completely skip over us, like they have before. Against my better judgement, I said yes– okay, cut it.

Charlie is heading for the barn before it rains.
Charlie is heading for the barn before it rains.

If you were in the Midwest last night, or are in the East today, or if you watched the news, you know what happened.  IT POURED!

So now, 70% of my hay crop–what I use to feed my horses throughout the winter–is ruined.  It’s soaked, beige-gray in color. Useless.  And if the wet hay lying in the field doesn’t get baled soon, it will ruin any hopes for hay crops in the future.  The wet muck will smother the plants beneath if it doesn’t get removed–possibly kill them.

Today the sun is shining, but will the hay dry enough to be baled? On Saturday it’s supposed to rain again, maybe for another two days.  I believe the weatherman this time.  Granted, he’s been wrong 80% of the time in the past, no maybe 90%, when weather he claimed was a sure thing failed to materialize. So today is the only chance we have to get the hay up.

After eighteen years of growing our own hay, this is the worse outcome ever!  Horse hay is not supposed to get wet once it is cut.  Rain turns it into cow hay or, of even less value, compost.  I’m worried I won’t have anything to feed my horses through the winter.

Where is everybody?
Where is everybody?

Having no hay would be the first card falling for me–the house of cards on which I stand.  The bad economy has been devastating for us these last five years, like for so many others.  I’ve been barely holding on.

Now I feel like I’m slipping.  I’m even having dreams where I am so overwhelmed, I decide I actually want to move. But it was only a dream. Wasn’t it? Will one rain storm put my way of life in jeopardy? The first of many cards to fall?  I hope not.

If circumstances became so bad that I had to move, it would mean giving up on a life-long dream.  Living on this land has been a dream come true for me.  I’m not ready to let it go.

If I had to, it would mean moving all that I have accumulated in these past eighteen years of living in one place. The disruption would be so great, it would put the screeches on a promising writing career.  I’m editing two books, one of which has already won multiple awards at writers’ conferences.  I have feedback for a rewrite.  Now all I need is the time and focus to finish it.

I have a window of opportunity here–with editors and agents.  I don’t want to screw it up.  I fear that I might.  Okay, I said it. That is my biggest fear right now.  Not that I wouldn’t survive, but that I wouldn’t succeed.

So, I’ve lost one card of the foundation on which I stand. That’s it. I can’t take any more right now. No more problems. Please. I just need some time, some uninterrupted time, so that I can finish the editing process.

I’ll keep you posted to let you know if the Universe is listening.

Is anyone listening?
Is anyone listening?

Sometimes I wonder if anyone out there in the internet world is listening to me.  So, if you are there, please leave a comment. It would cheer me on greatly.  A Follow-me by E-mail would be nice, too.  Thanks for listening, whoever you are. When times are hard, it helps just to be heard.

Waiting in Stillness for the Storm

Stormy Sky One

I waited for the storm throughout last night, my sleep smothered by the humidity that had invaded the house.  Nothing came. Not the storm. Nor the sleep.

I  gave up trying for sleep at six this morning, dressed and went outside into the stillness.  No wind from any direction. It was like the storm was waiting, holding back or being held back. A leaf on the giant tree in our backyard moved from the flap of a birds wing.  Even their song was muted. Eerie. My skin crawled. On this day, my world is too still.  Too quiet. I hold my breath too.  The suspense builds. The tension straining.

Stormy Sky Two
The horses, Charlie, Sonia and Maggie are locked up in the barn, munching on one of the last bales of hay from last summer’s crop. Chewing helps keep them calm. They don’t like storms any more than me. I left the lights on in the barn to diminish the shock of lightning and thunder and wind if it comes. When it comes.

Weather radar puts us in a red zone. Severe thunderstorms, high winds, hail, maybe even tornados.  The hay in the field has been cut. It lays in flat rows to dry. Then it will be raked into a continuous braided row that spirals inward to the middle of the field. The rake lifts the hay off the ground and flips it to dry the underside, preparing it to be baled.

The baler picks up the hay, smashes it into flakes and ties it into square bales. If the wind blows hard, the braid will be broken, scattering the hay haphazardly in the field, making it difficult for the baler to scoop it up.

If it rains before the hay can be baled, the water will leach out the nutrients, turning the hay from luscious green to lifeless grey.  The heavier the rain, the more life is drained away.

We grow organic hay for our horses, a lovely mix of grass with a bit of alfalfa.  If the hay is not dried when it is baled, it will mold–creating a toxic feed for any horse. Only cows will be able to eat it without getting sick, but we don’t have any cows.

The words “Make hay while the sun shines” run through my brain.  This is the first cutting, always the biggest of any season. The drought-diminished harvest of last year is all but gone. We need this hay.

Stormy Sky ThreeBut will the rain come too soon and ruin the hay for my horses?  Will it rain heavy? Or will it just sprinkle and skip over us as it has so many times before when big storms have been predicted?

There’s no way of knowing.  There’s just the waiting.  And the praying.  A tension that makes my skin crawl and boggles my mind, making the time unusable for anything but worry.

And so I wait in the stillness for the storm.  And pray it doesn’t come.  Not today.  Not tomorrow.  Not until the hay is baled and put under cover and all the animals are safe inside. Then, let the rain come. But not today.

10 PM LIGHTNING STORM

www.LeafRiverWriter.com

My Big Brother Mike

Mike at work in his studio
Mike at work in his studio

I always knew my oldest brother Mike was an artist, but I never imagined him as a soldier. Going to war seemed to conflict with his gentle nature.

Growing up in Michigan near the lakes 1955
Growing up in Michigan near the lakes 1955

The three of us grew up living in lake towns outside of Detroit. Dad worked as an auto engineer. Any time my brothers and I weren’t in school, we’d be in or near the water, swimming out to the raft, boating to the best fishing spot, skating with friends in winter or crammed into a tiny shack with three lines dropped through a hole in the ice.

We all had a flair for the dramatic, with Mike leading the way. He raced cars, even built a three-window coup and a dune buggy out of parts that looked like junk.  He played the drums in a boy-band in 1960 with hair like Ricky Nelson wearing a tailored gray silk suit and a smile that could melt any girls heart.

 

Mike & Sherry at Lake Mead 1961
Mike & Sherry at Lake Mead 1961

When we lived in Kingman, Arizona Mike purchased his first car, a powder blue clunker with a white rag top. When summer came, he would sometimes take me and our brother Chuck to Lake Mead for a day in the sun. As soon as we arrived, he’d drop us at the beach and disappear into a surge of adoring teenage girls.  Mike was tall, 6’3″ with blue eyes as deep as the Pacific Ocean. That summer, he started collecting a series of girlfriends named Sherry, charming them by calling each his Sherry Baby, singing Frankie Valli’s song to them like they were the one and only love of his life.

Ready to race!
Ready to race!

We moved back to Michigan during Mike’s senior year of high school. On weekends and during the summers, Mike worked at the local Chevy plant where both our parents worked. His job allowed Mike to take out a loan for his first, brand new car, a metallic red Riviera. Mom’s white Riviera and the matching silver blue one Dad brought home as a company car made our driveway look like a patriotic commercial for Chevy.

Mike heading to Army Reserve Basic Training 1964
Mike heading to Army Reserve Basic Training 1964

Mike graduated from high school in 1964 in Flushing, Michigan. The draft was still active and the war was heating up. Unwilling to go to college to avoid being drafted, he joined the Army Reserves and headed to Ft. Hood. After he completed his basic training, he came home to study art, playing soldier on weekends. He spent a year in LA, then came to Peoria, Illinois in 1967 where Dad was working for Caterpillar and I was finishing high school. Ready to settle down, Mike married a girl he’d only known a month.

"My Flac vest and M-60 machine gun"
“My Flac vest and M-60 machine gun”

Soon he learned his wife was cheating on him. Unable to face it, he ran away, signing on with the regular Army, volunteering to fight in Vietnam.  It was the first of three tours he would choose when his life became unbearable.

Mike never talked much about his time overseas but I know he built a strong bond with his fellow soldiers while terrible things were happening all around them. I could see it in the photos he sent home. Despite the sniper fire and napalm being dropped from helicopters, the boys had time to dance to the Beach Boys and surf at the beach, packing into his short life the best and worst experiences a young man could never imagine.

Our parents getting divorced in 1968 angered Mike, sending him back to Vietnam because it shattered a core belief. He finished his second tour in Fort Hood in the Military Police.  Determined to stay out of Vietnam, he became a civilian cop in Austin, married again and had two kids, a son and a few years later, a daughter. We lost touch with each other as our lives pulled us in different directions. So I have no idea what happened to send him back to Vietnam in 1974, first in the Air Force. In 1975 he joined the Marines, where he spent his last two years in the service.

My big brother and I reconnected in 1980 when I returned to LA after my divorce. Mike had found the love of his life, marrying for the third and final time. After living in the Valley for almost a decade, he and Judy adopted two babies from Honduras and moved to Tehachapi, CA. Although he worked during the day as an engineer building bombs for the war, he pursued his art on weekends, building an art studio. He spent hours in that attic above the garage throwing paint onto large canvases in homage to Jackson Pollock, showing his work in local galleries and museums.

What he went through in Vietnam would haunt my brother for the rest of his life. He survived the battle with those demons through his love of art and his love for his wife and four children–until he died in 2001 from cancer due to Agent Orange exposure overseas.

From the day my big brother first taught me how to draw a face when I was twelve, I wanted to be an artist like him. I followed in his footsteps, taking up a paint brush and going to art school. Eventually I moved into sculpting clay and working with fabric and threads. I ended up with more art education than Mike ever thought about getting–all because I wanted to be as good as he was, so he would be proud of me. I think in the end, I accomplished that goal, though I have many more I have yet to achieve for myself.

Mike, Chuck and I in 1990
Mike, Chuck and I in 1990

Mike also shared with me his joy of being a parent. I never had children of my own. Just before he died, he gave me his two twelve-year-old children to finish raising. They’d lost their mom only eight months before. I became a first time mom at the age of 51. Mike died when he was 56.

The kids interrupted my career in art, but changed me in ways I can’t yet measure, moving me into a life of writing, working to fulfill my need to get it down and figure it out. Now, with the kids off making their own lives, I work to merge my art, my horses and my writing. Some days I feel like I’m twenty-something, still trying to figure my life out.

Of the three things that most shaped my life, two came to me from my big brother Mike–art and kids. My love of horses is the one I claim as my own.

Mike’s been gone almost twelve years, but whenever I pick up a brush or see a painting, I feel his presence. I miss his jokes, his teasing and his laughter, and give thanks for all that my artist/soldier brother gave me.

Remembering my glamorous Mom on Mother’s Day

I wanted to be beautiful like Mom
I wanted to be beautiful like Mom. Even in a kiddie pool, she was glamourous.

In response to Maria Shriver’s question, “What gift did your mom give you?” I must answer, INTUITION and EMPATHY.

I lost my mom six years ago, but since I’ve been working on my memoir over the last four years, we’ve had daily conversations with her (no, I’m not crazy. I talk with the mom who lives in my head, along with all my other characters, real or imagined).

In my everyday life, I find myself saying words in ways she had said them, her voice coming from my lips.  She’s an integral part of my life, existing in my head and my heart, as well as in all the things around me that once belonged to her. I especially feel her radiance when I do things that would have made her proud, like becoming a writer in order to share my family’s adventures.

In addition to empathy, she taught me grace under fire and a confidence to respond to change and tragedy.  We had plenty of both, first with moving, (20 times that I remember by the time I graduated from high school) and then when we lost both my brothers (at ages 49 and 56).  Mom was the last to leave this world, lingering for years after a massive bleeding brain hemorrhage.  Even in her disabled state, with difficulty walking and talking, she made sure the kitchen was clean and the laundry was done.  She was a perfectionist when it came to having a beautiful home and stayed in her home until her last breath.

Mom and I looked more like sisters when I was 18.  This was taken on the day I graduated from Richwoods High School in Peoria, IL.
Mom and I looked more like sisters when I was 18. This was taken on the day I graduated from Richwoods High School in Peoria, IL.


My mom exuded beauty. She was often asked to walk the runway for charity fashion events.  Heads would turn in any room she entered, not only from her looks, but from her zest for life, an enthusiasm that she radiated.

Mom loved people. She loved to hear their stories.  Strangers would reveal their deepest secrets and be healed by her empathy and compassion.  She never judged nor said an ill word about anyone in all of her days.

Mom knew how to laugh and when she laughed, we all laughed with her.  She’d be goofy, not worrying about how she appeared as long as it made people happy.  I learned late in life that she was smarter than she let on. She once explained that it helped the men in her life feel important. She never needed to compete, always turning any spotlight on her toward their talents and ideas.

“I don’t have to express my opinion,” she would say. “I know what I believe and that’s all I need.  I don’t need anyone to agree with me.  They can have their opinion and I have mine.”

Scan 12
Mom didn’t age. She just grew more vibrant. We were mistaken for sisters even after she turned fifty.

Her courage surprised me. Mom was in her late fifties when she managed a large apartment complex in LA. At the request of  the police, she helped capture drug dealers, nonchalantly handing over packages that had arrived in the mail and landed on her desk with detectives waiting in the next room to make the arrest. Mom was thrilled to help put away anyone who might involve her college-student residents in their illicit drug business.  She was telling me the story of her latest caper while the two of us were having dinner out one night. Afterward, she and I were walking from my car toward the elevator in the secure garage under her apartment building when she saw a shadow of a man lurking in the back.  Without a thought for her own safety, she pushed me behind her and charged forward, yelling, “You’d better get out of here before I call the police.  This is MY PLACE and I won’t let you harm anyone.” My mouth dropped open as I saw the figure disappear out a back exit. I’d never seen my mother so fierce.  She became a mother bear protecting her cub.

She was the ultimate mother, willing to help any needy person she came across. But she always put her children first, especially her only daughter–me.  I was her pride and joy, she would say. I was glad she was able to attend both my college graduations, first in Fort Wayne, Indiana when I received my BA when I was thirty-seven, then again at UCLA for my MFA three years later.  A college education was something she was never given the opportunity to earn, working from the day she graduated high school.

She’d wanted to be an actress, but having children kept her from having the chance to appear on Broadway.  She did garnish a leading role in several amateur productions, but for me, Mom was aways playing the role of a lifetime. Life was her stage, and she was always at her best, dressed to the nines, perfect hair and makeup, full of humor and wisdom.

I feel her with me everyday, especially when I toss back my head in laughter, like she used to do. When I’m unsure of where life might be leading me, I trust in myself and in all the wisdom she bestowed on me, confident that everything will work out somehow, just like she always said it would.

 

Attending Writers’ Conferences

The ultimate metamorphosis
The ultimate metamorphosis

Attending a Writers’ Conference is fun, educational, and overwhelming. Writing is difficult enough, managing characters, places, descriptions and dialogue, words and ideas all onto pages, then editing, editing editing.  If you’re still in the first draft process, editing or ready for an agent, a conference can help.

Whether you have questions about the process or the business, if you need some enthusiasm to push you to the next level or you’re  in need of  some fellow writers, people who understand the challenges, refusals and rewards of writing to hang out with, then it’s time for you to attend a Writers’ Conference.

They seem to be in every city these days, put on by Writing Programs  associated with Universities (UW Madison, Wisconsin or Ball State in Muncie, Indiana), Literary Magazines (The Sun Magazine) or by enthusiastic members of local writing groups who are just crazy enough to take on such a difficult project and are successful despite the many challenges (Evanston Writer’s Workshop near Chicago).

Conferences offer opportunities to learn from people who have accomplished what we hope to one day.  When I’m at a conference it seems I can never get enough.  Sometimes all the walking and stairs can be too much for my aging muscles. All the new information and faces can be enough to collapse my brain synapses.  Still, I do three conferences a year and would love to do more.

The presentations at the Writers’ Institute (April 11-14, 2013) in Madison were so wonderful, I often wanted to be in two places at once for most of the three days.  How do you choose between Taking Your Writing to the Next Level and Writing for YA?  I ran around like a crazy person, squeezing in as much as I could into every minute, refusing to take a break for fear that I would miss some essential key to unlocking my publishing dream, drinking coffee and snacking on sugary pastries that were free and easily accessible (sweets I usually avoid), taking notes and asking questions, then running down the hall to the next group session or agent presentation, sneaking out (they all expect this) to make one of my six-minute pitch sessions to an agent or an editor.

After three days at the conference, I came home and collapsed for at least that long while all the input simmered, settled and gelled into a form I could put into action. At that point, my work is only beginning. I have promises of pages to fulfill, books to read, edits to make, and blogs to create.

I’ll never forget Judith Engracia saying on the first day of the Writers’ Institute in Madison that she had NO Pet Peeves.  I saw a doubter’s eyebrow crunch on the faces of  the other agents on the panel and heard a muffled gasp from the writers in the room, followed by a silent “Wheee” and a “Yahoo!”  I know, I know. Give her time.  But maybe she is one of those extraordinary individuals who can forgive us our human and writerly foibles. From the six minutes I had with her, I thought she was FABULOUS!

Then, there was Julie Matysik, the amazing editor from Skyhorse Publishing, who talked about all the challenges of working with a first time author.  Tanya Chernov shared amazing details of her journey to write a memoir about her dying father. Her Agent, Gordon Warnock talked about how he first found Tanya, and after 150 queries to publishers, found Julie Matysik and put the two of them together (that detail even surprised Julie!).  After talking about an arduous editing process and problems with a retailer refusing to accept the cover art they’d worked so hard to perfect, Julie Matysik declared in no uncertain terms, that she still loves memoir and is looking forward to finding the next manuscript that moves her to tears like Tanya’s did (that’s not a quote, but the gist of her enthusiastic response).

Right there and then, I crossed my fingers and toes, kissed my four-leaf clover, and made a wish on a falling star that I would be her next project.  From my lips to…you know what I’m saying.  (Sorry for using so many cliches.)

I don’t want to forget to mention the wonderful presentations by agents.  It began with an intense Agents Panel where sometimes they agreed and sometimes they totally disagreed (but always with a pleasant tone).

I was lucky to get into a session (most were packed, with even standing room filled up) by Bree OgdenResearching and Querying Agents.  Bree said it was okay for writers to stalk agents in order to find the right one (agency website, agent’s blog and twitter) and to have the ammunition to convince them we’re the author they’ve been looking for.  But don’t do anything ugly or scary, she cautioned.

For me that means every time I want to query, I need to read blogs, follow on twitter, check out all the helpful how-to articles on the Agency’s website, and read a book or two that Agent has represented or stated it’s what she’s looking for right now.  (Overwhelmed yet?  You ain’t a kidding! But that’s the Biz. Do you still want to be published? Sure you do!)

Also, a note to agents and writers alike. You know how no one wants attachments anymore.  “Put the first twenty pages after the one page query in the body of the email–and be sure it’s double-spaced, to make it easy on our eyes.  We get hundreds a day and we will read the ones that are easier to read and formatted as we have laid out on our website.” (Again, not a direct quote.)

Well, if you own a Mac Computer, you probably know that MAIL application won’t let you double-space, unless you go into the document and do a double return after each line.  If you cut and past a double-spaced document into MAIL, it will reduce it to single-spaced.  I’ve talked to several of the Apple Programmers and they didn’t even notice it.  I’ve requested that they fix it, but who knows how long that will take.  I’m just sayin’, all you agents out there, please take note.  We’re not doing it because we’re lazy or want to make you mad. It’s just that it’s near impossible to accomplish.

April Eberhardt’s presentation with self-pub author, Mary Driver-Thiel regarding her self-published novel THE WORLD UNDONE was packed full of details regarding the new trend in self-publishing by authors.  They talked about HOW TO DO IT RIGHT.  Talk about overwhelm!  It’s hard enough completing a full-length manuscript and then editing it numerous times to have it ready to send out.  Authors need to keep up with all the changes in the industry, research agents, editors (Big Six vs. Midsize vs. Small Publishers) and then weight it against the pros and cons of Self-Publishing.  You’ve got to be kidding me.

Once home, I  needed to make essential changes to my YA manuscript before sending it off, based on what I learned about my story from hearing others talk about theirs.  What to do.  What not to do.  This year, it was adding a pearl I’d forgotten and showing a diamond a bit more often so it can shine throughout, weaving a thread to tie it all together.

Next, I needed to check all the agents’ and editors’ websites to make sure the query and pages I was sending them was formatted correctly. I proofread the query four times to be sure I hadn’t misspelled their name or committed some other grieves “pet peeve.”

The biggest thing that I learned at the Madison Conference (Learned again, I should say, but on a whole new level) is that this is a difficult business.  It takes tons of work, years of time, with no guarantee you’ll ever get published and if you do, there’s no guarantee you’ll ever make a dime.  No matter which way you chose to publish, you’ll still have to do most of your own promotion and maybe even hire a publicist. That could mean big bucks. If you self-pub, you need to pay for editing, line editing, cover art, interior layout, and maybe some help getting it all formatted for the various E-pub distributors as well as the printer.

To be a published author today, you’ve got to love it!  The writing, the community, the business, the marketing, the readers.  And I do.  All of it.  Really.  Even after all that.  I think I love it even more.

So thanks Laurie Scheer for a great conference.  I’m looking forward to next year’s.

imageThe first edition of the Midwest Prairie Review published by UW Madison Continuing Studies Writing Department is gorgeous!  And I’m not just saying that because three of my photographs were selected to be published within its pages.  I’m hoping next year to have an essay or short story included.  Fingers crossed.

Becca, Kathleen and Mary celebrating at the Writers' Institute with me behind the camera.
Becca, Kathleen and Mary celebrating at the Institute with me behind the camera.

Did I mention? The conference Judges gave me a FIRST PAGE Award.  First Prize for Non-Fiction for my memoir DANCE WHILE THE FIRE BURNS.

It’s the best feeling, short of getting an agent, an editor, and launch day, that is.  Stay posted.  Maybe I’ll get there yet.

Catherine and friends swapping stories at the Writers' Institute.
Catherine and friends swapping stories at the Writers’ Institute.

About the overwhelm, what I do to manage it is: I do one thing at a time.  I focus until it’s done and then I figure out what’s next.  One baby step at a time.  It’s a journey.

image

MOM AND ME

My mom is riding the bus into Detroit for her first job selling ladies shoes in a department store
My mom is riding the bus into Detroit for her first job selling ladies shoes in a department store

My mom has been on my mind a lot lately.  I lost her in 2007 from a stroke.  She worked most of her life, and loved working despite the struggle of raising three kids at the same time. She kept house and cooked after coming home from work, often finishing the dishes after all of us had gone to bed.  I’m ashamed to admit it, but I didn’t help her very much.  I gave up offering because she said it was easier for her to do it herself.  I think, now, as I reflect back, that she was trying to make my life easier than she had growing up.

In my memoir, DANCE WHILE THE FIRE BURNS, I tell about when Mom reveals to me that she learned to drive when she was pregnant with me.  She managed with my two brothers, then four and five, without a car. Back in those days, she often rode the bus like in the picture above.  She was eighteen and on her way to her first job in downtown Detroit to sell ladies shoes in a department store, a job she was proud to have because of the independence it gave her.  I learned another secret about my birth that day, but I’ll let you read that in the book when it’s released. (No date yet.)

There is still much I  don’t know about my mom. She was good at keeping secrets.  I plan on pumping every last memory from my Aunt Dee as soon as we can get together.  I do know that Mom was a strong woman, from a line of strong women, and that I continue in the spirit of that lineage.  At the same time, she was fragile–a fact she worked hard to disguise.

Perhaps Mom was vulnerable to any criticism because she never knew her biological father. She was born from love, but out of wedlock in the Milwaukee Home for Unwed Mothers, a place that I think was connected to the Salvation Army.  I didn’t learn that piece of family history until I was twenty-four when a drunk driver hit the car Mom was driving head-on, hospitalizing her and killing her mother. Even after I learned the truth, she wouldn’t talk about her her origins unless I greased the wheels of her memory with a few glasses of wine.

In addition to her unresolved youth, Mom married two complex men–first my father for twenty-four years and then another brilliant but troubled German for thirty-seven years. Both men drank what they called socially, but was much more than would now be acceptable.  Despite the difficulties it brought her, she resigned herself to her life because she felt it was something over which she had no control.

She was a beautiful, red-haired woman who worked hard every day of her life and was at her best in her role as caretaker, balancing everyone’s needs. She sometimes struggled with too many balls in the air in her attempt to please everyone, but she managed to charm and smile her way through the troubled times.  When asked how she coped, she would say, “It doesn’t help anyone if I just mope around.  So I make lemonade out of lemons. That’s just life.”

In her later years, she could say almost anything and make me laugh.  Always kind and compassionate, she took the time to listen to any troubled soul that passed through her life, lending encouragement and words of wisdom. I still hear her voice whispered out of the ether, guiding me everyday, about all things big and small. I honor all the gifts she gave me, but mostly the way she raised me to be fiercely independent.

Many times, we’d be visiting my grandparents for a holiday or summer visit and I would hear Grandma question Mom’s leniency with me.  Mom would say, “I’m giving her her head,” as if I was a horse that was allowed to run free. As a latchkey kid, I did roam free, often coming home at night only to eat and sleep, preparing to take off for a new adventure the following day.  No wonder I’ve loved being with horses all my life.  Their spirit matches my own.

When Mom was busy working or entertaining with Dad, I spent my time with my imaginary horses. They kept me company, running with me in open fields and along edges of Michigan lakes or in the Arizona desert.

My horses are not imaginary any more.  Although I’ve lost all of my family, I have my three four-legged beauties that live in the field just beyond my front porch.  Just looking out at them brings me joy like my mother did when she smiled and laughed.  It is the small things in life that make it truly rich.

What brings you joy on an ordinary day?

Do you have a love of horses? Or a childhood memory triggered by a picture?

Please leave a comment and I will answer.  I love a good conversation. I learned that from my mother, too.

 

My sweet Anglo-Arab gelding, born the year we lived in Salt Lake City, named after my brother, my dad and my grandfather.
My sweet Anglo-Arab gelding, born the year we lived in Salt Lake City, named after my brother, my dad and my grandfather.

Women in the Second Half of Life

Girls Running With Horses: a watercolor from my Ft. Wayne, Indiana art school days.

Today, I’m finally taking a break from my writing, poking my head above ground to see what’s been happening while I’ve been hiding on the farm working.  I’ve missed bopping into town to visit my friends (which I will do tonight at the Spring Artscene in Rockford Illinois to see the opening of Roni Golan at the gallery at Emmanuel), surfing Facebook, the Twitter-sphere, and of course my favorite blogs.  This morning, Lynne Spreen at her Any Shiny Thing blog triggered a slew of conflicting thoughts. It was about women in the second half of life, staying on the hamster track (turning wheel) or taking it easy.

Am I retired? I guess you could say that, although I don’t think of myself that way. Yes, I’m collecting Social Security, to help pay the bills until I can sell my first book.  Travel, yes. Putz in my garden, yes. Read for days on end, yes. Kick up my feet in a silent house and just muse about anything and everything, yes.  But retired? Never.  At 63, I’m just getting started.

Maybe, you’ll say, I’m a late bloomer.  Actually, I do most things backward.  The only kids I raised were two twelve-year-olds starting about ten years after I went through menopause.  I didn’t settle down until I was 45.  Not by choice, but by circumstance.  I moved 50 times before that, but not since.  I still hope I never have to move again.

I am a proud, card-carrying feminist.  I believe in girl power–have since I was ten when I protected all the other girls on the playground from the taunts and harassments of the boys by kicking the offenders in the ankle with my pointy flats.  I was the tallest in the class and they were terrified of me.  I still sometimes terrify some men–thank god not my husband–but those who fear powerful women.

Now, a bit about women and power.  Yes it’s nice to have corporate power, though I never had that.  I ran a not-for-profit and several of my own one-person-dog-and-pony-show businesses.  But I was never in charge of a lot of people. Well, except when I just took charge, which I have a tendency to do, because I’m a visionary and an organizer and well, I guess I just think I know what to do when everyone else seems to be hesitating.

I’m not usually quite this upfront with my pushiness, but hey, I’m leaning in.  Anyway, at 63, I guess I care less about how many people like me.  Don’t get me wrong.  I still care.  I just care a bit less.

Financial power is the piece I’m still hoping to achieve.  The power to do what I want, when I want, help who I want, travel where I want.  That sort of thing.  That’s the power I can get down with.  Freedom from at least that worry–for at least a while.  I’ve learned nothing lasts forever, and sometimes not for very long.  So I enjoy it while I can.

About other women and retirement, I have two things to say.  First, do what feels right for you.  Everyone is different.  Sure we have commonalities.  And it’s fun to discuss all the pros and cons.  But in the end, its our decision, our choice.  Follow your gut and don’t be so damn hard on yourself! (I’m talking to me as much as anyone else.  That inner critic is the toughest voice to silence.) Secondly, if you only help one person with what you’re doing in the second half of life, you’ve made a difference, and probably in a way that no one else on earth could have done.  So Ladies, do what feels good.  Rest, play, work.  If it’s the right kind of work, if feels like play anyway.  Just be sure to get eight hours sleep every night (or at least most nights) and eat an apple a day.  That way you’ll have lots of years to change your mind and continue the debate and squeeze it all in.

And thanks, Lynn for giving me the idea to vent on one of my favorite topics–women.

If you have a different viewpoint, or just more of the same, I’d love to hear it.  Leave a comment and I’ll respond as quick as I can.  I still have a few pages to finish on my YA.

THE EYES HAVE IT

 

 

No more glasses?

Over the holidays, as I prepared for the first of two cataract surgeries, eye drops, dark glasses, a ride to the surgery center and subsequent appointments, I missed the part about the reading restriction: only ten minutes an hour for three weeks following surgery.  No email, no facebook, no twitter (restricted because I get sucked in and go over the time limit).  No books.  No blogging.  No reading menus at restaurants, not even the big ones behind the counter.  I couldn’t even pick up a magazine when I was waiting for my appointment with the eye doctor.  Carrying my iPad was unnecessary, actually a dangerous temptation.  Until I developed cataracts (fast growing starting in the center, not from edges like most people) and needed eye surgery, I never quite realized how much I read.  I never thought about it.  Not until I couldn’t read.  It almost drove me crazy.

It’s been four weeks.  I’ve had the second eye surgery.  The first special lens the surgeon implanted is supposed to give me good mid-range to long distance vision.  It’s not very clear yet, I’m told it’s because my eye is too dry and still dilated.  Be patient, they say.  It’ll get better.  The second implant is supposed to give me good vision from mid-range to up-close reading, that is as long as the light is bright.  Don’t use the reading glasses, they say.  Make the eye work, so it can learn to see.  Be patient, they say.  It’ll get better.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know I’m a writer and an artist.  My eyes are everything to me.  It’s hard to be patient when I have two books to complete, one in it’s umpteenth edit, the other written during Na No Wri Mo last November.  To make things worse, I’m a slow reader.  Always have been.  Something to do with how the muscles in my eyes focus on the page.

Before the surgeries, everyone I talked to, and I mean EVERYONE, said cataract surgery is a snap.  Almost no discomfort the first day they said, and by the second, I’ll be seeing like never before.  I’ll love it, they said.  As usual, I’m the exception.  The first eye, my right, felt like I had glass in it for the first day and leveled off to the “uncomfortable” stage the day after surgery.  The second eye felt like shards of glass were sticking in my eye the first day, and reduced to gravel (maybe sandpaper) by the second day.

When I called at 8:00 p.m. the day of surgery because I couldn’t stand the pain any more, the nurses at the surgical facility were great.  They were very sympathetic, but informed me that pain medication taken orally wouldn’t help (I’d already found that out, because I had some leftovers from my knee surgery) and numbing eye drops would be toxic to the lens.  I didn’t want that, right?  The only choice to mitigate the pain was to keep my eyes closed as much as possible and use eye drops to moisten my eyes.  I had to keep both eyes closed, they explained, because if you have one covered and use the other for watching television, they will track together and irritate the closed eye.  So no television to distract me from the fact that I couldn’t read, for almost a month. I mean really read, like for three hours at a time, like what I did before surgery,   Have you ever tried to eat a salad with your eyes closed?  It doesn’t work very well.

I don’t mean to be going on about this.  I don’t like to complain.  It’s just that it would have helped if even one person would have told me that there could be problems with my eyes after cataract surgery, I would have been a bit prepared.  I’m sure you’re thinking (at least I am) that I’ve been struggling for only a few weeks, and I really have no right to complain, not with all those soldiers on the news coming home with head trauma and blown off limbs, not with all the gun shot victims from movie theaters and schools.

So why am I blogging about my eyes?  Well, the reason is because the experience taught me something.  Something I think is valuable.

When I had my knee replacement surgery three years ago, the healing process gave me compassion for people who must use walkers and wheelchairs to get around.  Now, after having surgeries on my eyes, I’ve been given a glimpse into the world of the blind and vision impaired.  I don’t know how they manage.  Really, I don’t.  I’ve only had to cope for a few weeks.  And, it’s been a real challenge.  Why?  Because when I feel out of control, I get grouchy, very grouchy.  I’m not good at asking for help.  I’m independent and a perfectionist, both good qualities for being a writer and an artist.  Not so good for getting older.

I just had another birthday, my 63rd.  I’m proud that I am active and vibrant at that age, though my damaged knees from years of abuse have slowed me down a bit.  But now, this eye thing has given me pause.  I’ve known for some time that there are adjustments I must make as I age.  Mind you, I intend to be active well into my late nineties.  Over the last couple of years,  I’ve been learning to be careful (with riding horses and climbing ladders to do house renovations, I never really was before), to move with intention, to use my time wisely, and to kick my feet up a little more just to relax.  I know my eyes will get better.  And if they aren’t just perfect, I will adjust.  That is the wisdom that age brings.  The knowledge that I will get through it, because I have so many times before.