Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Inspiring Things

To counteract yesterday's melancholy post, I thought I'd share some things that have inspired me of late.

Some prescient posts on nurturing your own creative self:

Lisa Romeo on finding making time to write.

Project-Based Homeschooling for Grownups.

Books I'm reading for my project on mother-nature writers:

Kathleen Dean Moore, Riverwalking: Reflections on Moving Water and Holdfast: At Home in the Natural World

Lia Purpura, Increase

Pattiann Rogers, The Dream of the Marsh Wren: Writing as Reciprocal Creation

Louise Erdrich, The Blue Jay's Dance: A Birth Year

And, totally not related to my project or grad school in any way, Alison Bechdel's Are You My Mother?:A Comic Drama. I picked it up at the library yesterday on my way home from work and read half of it in the bathtub last night (my kids make fun of me for reading in the tub, but really I can't think of a more pleasant place to read, except maybe in a hammock on a warm, sunny, bug-free day). Complicated and fascinating (Virginia Woolf & Donald Winnicott). It makes me grateful I had a boring/normal childhood and also makes me wish I could draw. Read Fun Home first, if you haven't.

What inspires you these days?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


I try not to get sick of winter until April, or at least March at the earliest.

But this year, it's hard to hold my weariness at bay.

Maybe it's the weather––weeks of zero degrees punctuated by fifty-degree previews of mud season.

Maybe it's the muddy patches of melted snow, which make cross-country skiing or snow-shoeing redundant. 

Maybe it's the body aches from too much time spent indoors, sitting.

Whatever it is, my world is blanketed by a monochromatic quilt of monotony.

Same old kids bouncing off the same old walls.

Same old trail through the same old snow to the same old river.

Same old coyote tracks, melted into weird fingers.

Same old drive in the same cold car to the same old job.

Same old stories that don't show any inclination to write themselves.

I feel like every blog post I can make for the next three months, possibly the rest of my life, will read, "It was cold. We walked to the river. Then I spent the rest of the weekend wrangling recalcitrant words into imperfect sentences."

Which is pretty much how this weekend went. Saturday, we walked down to the river. The boys played hockey. I minced along on the ice, no longer afraid of falling through––last weekend's Arctic air ensured a solid footing, although there were still a few spots of open water and/or rotten ice––but instead falling and breaking my head (or, worse, my camera) on the ice laid bare by a week of wind. 

I tried writing in my nature journal, but my hand (and my butt––I was sitting in the snow) got too cold. Z built "Indian huts" in the tall grasses along the meander part of the river and he and I poked around in some dense firs where snowshoe hares must den, judging by the tracks and "rabbit drips." We looked down into water percolating beneath black frozen ripples flowing over a beaver dam.

Sunday, I threw the boys out but spent the day indoors myself, reading and writing and trying to make sense of a pile of critiques, all the while thinking I should get out, but not feeling really motivated to take on the cold and wind.

 For the next few weeks, or months, I expect more of the same.

How about you? How do you keep the winter blues at bay?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Next BIG Thing

My cyber-friend, the lovely Katherine Barret, Literary Mama editor and columnist and amazing international mama (Nova Scotia via South Africa), tagged me to write about my next BIG thing. I didn't pause at the New Year to take stock of the last year or set goals for the next, so I'm going to use this BIG thing meme to do just that, at least in the writing department.

First, I want to start with an "I did it" list, in the tradition Lisa Romeo. Working on my MFA for the last year has been a BIG thing for me: monthly reading and writing deadlines, workshops endured and presentations attended. Last year I wrote 331 pages (yes, I have a spreadsheet); 163 of those were new fiction (the rest being revisions, annotations and essays). I never would have believed myself capable of such productivity, so I just want to say "yea!" for that!

Now, this year's BIG things:

1) I've just started my third semester project, for which I'm writing a long craft/literary theory essay on fiction, poetry and nonfiction by women who write about the themes of motherhood and nature in the same work. I've been really excited about this project and have been amassing books for a while. I've torn through three of them already.

2) For my fourth, and last, semester, I'll be taking those 163 pages of fiction, picking out which merit further work, revising them and fitting them together into a cohesive unit for my thesis. I attended a presentation on linked short stories during residency and ever since I've been reveling in all the ways I could link my stories. I'm especially excited to get to work on the two pieces I workshopped this residency. I have so many ideas regarding setting, character and point-of-view after all of the discussions I can't wait to put them onto the page. 

After that, I've got ideas for an anthology and will get to work sending out the short stories in my thesis, but that's the next, next big thing. 

Now, to tell you about their next BIG things, I'm tagging:

Mariah at Lone Star Ma

Kristen at Motherese

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Getting My Bearings

I finished up residency last week, hitting the ground running, diving straight back into work and trying to figure out what's for dinner. I had an amazing time and the boys survived just fine without me, but it's a little jarring going from a steady diet of intellectual stimulation, creative inspiration and intelligent conversation to a house where the new hobby is indoor jump-roping and the main topic of discussion is flatulence. (I recommend to any creative person to find a way to get a week or ten days completely freed of both regular work and domestic concerns like cooking and cleaning, grocery shopping and lunch-making, driving and daycare).

I remember, back sometime in November––or maybe even October––looking forward to this pastweekend, it being the only one free of obligations and events in sight. I tried to keep it that way, only leaving home to shuffle M from one friend's house to another's and a trip to borrow my friend Edna's washing machine (more on that below). I spent much of the weekend on the sofa, with this as my view––the clean, blissfully Christmas-free living room:


I was joined much of the time by Z, who was laid low by one of those mysterious fevers he gets about once every year and E, who spent hours reading Calvin and Hobbes, despite the many big, hard words and my own dubiousness about his ability to understand the comics.

I feel like I've passed some sort of milestone in my ability to work amid the chaos of house and home. I remember typing with one hand with either baby E or Z in the other arm and M standing next to me saying, "Can I type? When can I type?" But I lost that ability to concentrate with their distractions somewhere along the way (probably when E and Z where in the destructive toddler years) and have only recently made a concerted effort to work in their midst on a regular basis. I'm not sure I could crank out fiction under such circumstances, but my current project is of a different nature and, for now, it's working and I'm thrilled.

I did, however, throw everyone outside at least once a day, and even got out there myself a couple of times. We walked down the river, to the place where it's wide and winding, with grassy hummocks and big old willow trees and fir trees shaped like Colorado blue spruce. I find it terrifying to walk on the river the first time each winter, but C went ahead with a big stick, testing the ice, and we didn't go through.

We followed these tracks for a long way, wondering if perhaps a lone coyote followed our same path, in reverse.

I took a break from both words and wilds and finished piecing the squares for M's quilt (that I started two years ago). After many months of not-very-visible progress and many more of nothing at all, it's nice to reach a milestone and see that it's going to be something. I have many more steps to go, including making three more squares, because I planned wrong, and putting little stars over all the corners where the squares meet. Then I need to decide if I'll piece borders of just give up and use plain fabric so that it's done before M goes off to college.

And, I finished up the mittens I had started for my (ex-step-)mother-in-law for Christmas, just in time for a lunch date tomorrow. They took longer than necessary because I kept knitting the left mitten as a right mitten, and had to rip it out three times. I still don't think I got the thumbs right, but they'll have to do. I had to take them to my friend Edna's house for felting, because we have a front-loading washer, and Edna has a top-loader plus an unlimited supply of extremely hot wood-heated water to boot.

Like all weekends, especially three-day ones, it felt just too short. When I got to the end, I couldn't help thinking of all the things I should have done with the kids––play games, do art projects, acknowledge Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the inauguration in some way. I guess that'll have to go on next weekend's list...

What have you been up to?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

My Rock

I received many lovely Christmas gifts from my husband, including the necklace I asked for and three (count them) gift certificates for a massage, yet I do believe my favorite gift of all was a big rock.

Last winter, after I finished part 1 of my Living Room Overhaul, I listed the things I want to complete this room, and a shelf for the mantel was hight on that list. I had planned to go out and find one as soon as the snow melted and landscaping season began, but I did not finally get around to it until November, when, thanks to the late arrival of snow this year, I was able to go to a landscaping supply company and poke around among their rocks until I found this hunk of Norumbega sandstone, locally grown in Downeast Maine.

My goal was to have it installed by Christmas, but I was beginning to lose hope until C and his friend the stonemason were finally able to coordinate their schedules and set the stone on the 23rd, two days before Christmas.

It's a little wider at the chimney side and has a slightly raw edge, to make it look natural. The prettiest part is the quartz inclusion that threads through the deep gray of the sandstone. My little elves and deer were so happy to frolic there (rather than on raw bricks) this holiday season.

(I leave tomorrow for my grad school residency; I'll be back in this space, hopefully refreshed and full of lots of ideas after the 14th. See you then!).

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Handmade Holiday: Received

They say it's better to give than to receive, but I think it's pretty darn nice to get something made with love by the hands of someone else. We got a few things along those lines this year.

The boys, below, in their Grammie Jammies, a version of which my mom has sent every Christmas since they were small enough to fit into (and tolerate) drawstring nightgowns:

My feet,

and C's, in new slippers knitted by my mom.

And a new ornament,

and some cars, 

all made by my dad.

It's fun having crafty people in the family.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year, Friends

May 2013 be filled with good health, happiness, prosperity and contentment.
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