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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Stolen moments and November Haiku

It seems the more I write, the more I have to say and the more fears I have that there will never be enough hours in the day.  So many characters inhabit my mind and I am eager to meet them all and to find the words to tell their story. Sometimes I wonder if all writers feel this uncomfortable urgency or if it's simply my age... maybe too, it's the busyness of the season, the added demands of shopping and baking, cleaning and wrapping.  Whatever the cause,  my mind seems unusually cluttered and time exponentially tapered to a few stolen moments. Hence, this short blog entry ~ a determined nod to an earlier resolution to post at least a few words monthly. There is much to write about in November and I considered a number of topics: adoption, my father, blue-winged bullies back at the bird feeder (bullies in general) and a growing list of things for which I am thankful. In an effort to stretch my stolen moments, I offer instead this brief November Haiku:

Hungry birds return.
A cold, somber gray settles
on a broken world.

Though, that being too dismal, I steal a few more moments to offer another November Haiku:

In the gray stillness,
a vivid flutter of wings,
a shift into joy!

Whatever your mood ~ however cluttered your mind as we enter this busy holiday season, may you steal a few moments to shift into joy!

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Answer

A few days ago, my daughter asked how I could research and write about some of the saddest moments in history — war, earthquakes, slavery and with my present WIP,  a dreadful, not-so-natural disaster. Two days after my daughter posed the question, a student with whom I sometimes work, asked me the same thing.

I suppose it does seem strange that I should involve myself with the sadness and tragedies of the past when the present offers enough heartache of its own. But, although my research  often haunts me, my response to this question was easy, something I have thought about before, something I began to understand years ago when I was still in the classroom.

When I was an English teacher, some of the most meaningful assignments I gave my students were those in which I partnered with the Social Studies teacher. History came alive when students recognized that all those dusty figures with the ruffled shirts and outlandish hairstyles were once as alive as they were. Crawling inside characters from the past to create a play or story deepened their understanding of history and allowed me an opportunity to sneak in some lessons in grammar, spelling and the fundamentals of intelligible expression.

I was surprised to find another benefit to studying history — students who didn't like discussing difficult topics, were easily able to explore the same themes — war, racism, injustice— within the safety of distant and archived boundaries. Talked about in the present tense, discussions about fairness and equality sometimes lead to defensiveness and further divisiveness which historical perspectives may soften. When we study history, there is always the possibility that we will painlessly recognize in the mistakes of others, the unrecognizable flaws in ourselves.

There is another reason that stories of the past— even sad ones— captivate me— I'm a firm believer that every life is worth remembering and too many individuals have been forced to go gently into an early night.  Laptop open, pencils sharpened and notepad nearby, I listen and hope to give voice to those unnoticed or forgotten.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Messages from Cyberspace

Every so often (as it  did last week) Facebook reminds me that I haven't posted in awhile. Of course, she always couches her criticism in positive terms (your followers are eager to hear from you).  But I'm not fooled by her courtesy and I certainly don't need an algorithm  to remind me of my shortcomings!

Awhile ago my editor and I were discussing the merits and shortcomings of social media and whether I should jump into the virtual pool. Common wisdom suggests that an online presence requires attention. If I didn't like like frequent blogging or tweeting, it might be best to forego social media all together.

I opted for a website and once-a-month blog but decided tweeting would be too much. I will be honest —I love interacting with my readers— I love reading letters and emails from librarians or kids and their teachers. (My favorite letter was from a student who said that he and his classmates had been assigned to write to one of the two authors they had studied that year. Apparently all the other kids chose the other author but I chose you.) I decided to focus on that last line— I chose you. After all, writing is not a popularity contest, I told myself...if an author reaches the heart of one reader, she should be honored.  I was honored and wrote back to my solitary fan that very afternoon.

But back to Social Media.

Keeping up with FB is sometimes difficult because I'm reticent by nature, the classic introvert who recharges her batteries in the quiet of her own corner. Wandering (and often lost) in my own fictional constructs, I often forget to check-in on-line. I love people and care deeply about this world we all share, but I am more far more comfortable letting my characters do the talking than reaching out more directly.

Of course, communicating is the key to nurturing relationships and I am committed to making a better effort to stay in touch. This morning a little bird sat on my porch ledge.  For a moment I reconsidered opening a twitter account...then I realized that it was probably Facebook who sent her.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Poem for August, Eschatology


Already August. 

Already the trumpets
have abandoned 
the vines,
leaving behind 
a thicket of green—
the top beams 
of the pergola
heavy with growth—
deep tangled growth
that shelters us 
from the determined heat
of August.

Resting there, 
it is easy to forget.

Elsewhere in the yard,
in delicate pink
and lilac voices,
the Rose of Sharon
still proclaims
sweet, sweet  
On the back porch
thyme and basil, 
parsley and rosemary
still gambol 
in lush finery,
happily unaware 
that one by one,
the flowers 
are departing.

Already, it is August.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Be at Peace

     For more than twenty years, my extended family and I  have been toasting la familia in the same beach house on LBI. In the early years we could stand on the balcony calling out to family members on the sand below, need anything? Often, a foil wrapped sandwich or snack-sized bag of corn chips would be tossed to the waving arms below. 
     Some years ago, the beach was broadened. After Sandy, the dunes were further built up and fortified, and our hand-waving, voice to cupped-ear mode of communication was permanently cut off. ( iPhones have proven to be a considerably less desirable mode of dispatch when lolling in the sand.)
     We sometimes miss the early days of the toss and catch, of the easy bring down my glasses, or we forgot the beach bags shout, but the dune grasses weave a beautiful silver lining on their sandy thrones. Sitting on our beachfront balcony, sun worshippers and families on the other side of the dunes remain unseen and unobtrusive. One can easily imagine oneself the only soul at the shore.
     Early mornings when I sit with my coffee, books and writing necessities, the tumult of the world recedes and it is easy to find peace. The constant lapping of the waves reminds me to let go, to feel the presence of something deep and eternal, something more abiding than the tumult of our singular lives. It is true that the ocean sometimes rages. Waves thrash and beat the shore with a fierce and threatening anger. But unlike many humans, the ocean always returns with her soothing, steady, chant of peace.
     A few mornings ago, my grandson and I  walked to the beach early in the morning. Except for a few fishermen, we seemed to be the only ones awake. We raced, buried our feet, made shell-shaped sand cakes with seaweed icing and collected sun-bleached treasures. Finally, our hunger got the best of us. Go home? my grandson said and it amazed me that the house we had barely unpacked was already home.
     At two years old, my grandson already understands that home is where we feel safe, where we are surrounded by love beyond measure.
     Much has changed since we first starting coming to the house at LBI. But still and always, the sea remains constant. It's good to have you home, she loudly proclaims or softly whispers. Be at peace. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

My Sheltering Patch of Pink

     After my very busy May, June has been a month of catch-up — a manuscript to polish, winter clothes to be put away, a summer garden to plant... Though my favorite season has always been fall, this go-round, I am looking forward to the long, fruitful days of July and August. Thanks to the previous owners of our home, staggered perennials welcome each morning with something new and colorful to celebrate. 
     More than a century ago, the poet William Wordsworth complained the world is too much with us. Once again it feels as if the troubles of the world have the potential to overwhelm us. How lucky I am for this joy-filled patch of land, this lush, comforting place to call home, this place where I may turn off the disheartening news of the day and contemplate the beauty of nature. My wish is that everyone had such a patch of comfort in their lives.
     As I write this, a chipmunk scurries beneath a delicate globe of pink blossoms. It's good to remember that there are yet places where hatred and hostility do not intrude. It's good to have a place where hope blooms undisturbed.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Drawer Pulls, Heel Wheels and a Most Marvelous May!!!

     Wow! May has been a busy, whirlwind month. College graduations (congrats to Cee Cee and Daniel), visits with some remarkable students, two unexpected but thrilling awards for UNBOUND (each bringing with them exciting adventures in  NYC) and amidst all the celebrating, helping to pack up the New Jersey home of my youth, the home my parents lived in for more than 40 years.

     My sister texted that the priest speaking at the Loyola graduation was talking about not holding onto things— this—  I texted back— as I am quite literally removing the hardware from mom's dresser, a dresser too cumbersome for either of my siblings to take into their homes. What makes us hold onto such things, I wondered. In UNBOUND, Grace buries a small button. Anyone ever finds this/will know we existed, she says, and perhaps that's the reason for my pilfered furniture pulls. 

   Whether its a book, a photo, or a piece of unburnished brass, the things we hold onto remind us of the things we hold dearest. 

     This past weekend, Sam, a fifth grader with wheels on his heels asked me why I write so much history stuff. I gave Sam a very writerly, grown-up answer about the importance of history and remembering the individuals who came before us. 

But on the train ride home, I thought about the wheels on Sam's heels and how strange my answer may have seemed. At 11 years old, Sam zips through life (and museums if he can get away with it). It may well be that a sense of history won't be meaningful to him until he seems to stand still while the years zip by.  

Right now, that's too much for me to think about. There's too much for me to do — I might even need a pair of my own heel-wheels!