Wednesday, June 1, 2022

New Month, New Life

For many years, I had the practice of starting a new life on the first day of each month. It's too daunting to start a whole entire new life on some random day partway through some random week; I needed to start a new life on a day of some significance, but not extraordinary significance, or I'd have to languish too long in the old life awaiting this rare fateful moment. So the first day of each month proved to be just right. 

A new life meant: eating better! exercising more! no Sudoku puzzles on the I-pad! And most of all: making good on my commitment to write for an hour each day. Alas, the new life invariably petered out partway through the month, but I truly believe I owe everything I've ever achieved to my willingness to start my life anew on a regular basis.

Lately, EVERYTHING else in my life has petered out ever since I met MY TRUE LOVE (see previous post!). He, too, has neglected many things in his own life as well, consumed as we both are with this miracle the universe has sent our way. We both agreed that this was all right. After all, how many times does anybody have a chance to luxuriate in the intoxication of a new romance? 

But now, two and a half months in, it does seem as if it we might consider giving some attention to those things that had once given our lives meaning and were now quietly whimpering from our neglect. For me, chief among these is writing.

So today I took my beloved hourglass to David's apartment and set it on a stool by his fireplace. (Among his many other gifts, he is a fabulous fire-builder, from heating a past home entirely by firewood). It was time to return to putting one word after another for  a full sixty minutes.

Oh, and among his many other gifts, he is a fabulous bread baker who just celebrated his fiftieth anniversary of baking all of his family's bread, so while I was writing, he was baking. Bliss!

I wrote a couple of pages on what is sort of a work-in-progress, or would be if I had been doing any work on it so that it could have any progress. But today I did. And I even sort of liked the pages. And the only way to produce pages I DO like is to slog through scribbling pages I DON'T like, so it's good either way. 
PLUS, today I signed up for the every-other-month Poem-a-Day online group hosted by brilliant and beloved poet Molly Fisk. I wrote a witty poem entitled "Mrs. Google Map Lady" for the June 1 prompt and posted it to the group, and so far five people have liked it and three people loved it and several wrote comments, too!

PLUS, I wrote this blog post!

And I still love David as much as ever, and he still loves me as much as ever!

So right now I'm loving this month's new life. 

Thursday, May 12, 2022

A Many-Splendored Thing

 "It's been over two months since she posted," they say. "Is she ever going to post again?" they wonder. "Has something HAPPENED to her?" they worry.  "Something BIG? Maybe even something . . . HUGE?"

Yes, dear ones. It HAS been over two months since I last posted. And now I AM posting again, and I plan to keep on posting. And, yes, something HAS happened to me. And yes, it's BIG, and yes, it's HUGE - and here's a clue - what happened to me is a MANY-SPLENDORED THING.

I have fallen in love.

I have fallen desperately, hopelessly, till-death-do-us-part in love, with a man who, miraculously, feels exactly the same way about me. 

Almost exactly two months ago, on a night when I was feeling sad and lonely, and depressed about various writing disappointments, and inspired by the recent merriment a friend was having in her foray into online dating, on a whim I signed up for

I met him in my first hour on that dating site. 

At first I just got a lame and annoying message of "Hi" from a man who lives in Phoenix (hundreds of miles away) and another of "How are you?" from a man who lives in Grand Junction (many hours' drive from here). But then I got a thoughtful, insightful message from a man who had read my (hastily assembled) profile with great care and identified points of potential commonality between us. And... this man lives right here in Boulder.

I wrote back, he wrote back, I wrote back, and then he suggested a phone call. In that first call, on Thursday, March 10, we talked for two hours. On the next day, we talked for five hours, in two chunks followed by a brief break in between. I was already smitten enough that I canceled without asking for a partial refund of the $277 I had paid for a year's membership. I had already gotten my money's worth. 

The following day my little granddaughters arrived for their week-long spring break visit, so I knew I'd be fully occupied with them, but all week long he and I had stolen chats and texts during the day and a two-hour  conversation each night after they went to bed.

Then came the fateful day where we would meet for the first time in person. We walked into each other's arms and have barely let go since. 

His name is David. He is a fellow academic/professor (in his case, of economics), one of our first points of commonality, and a brilliant teacher (and I, too, prioritized teaching throughout my academic career). But he was a tough, demanding grader and I was a softie. I'm delighted by all the ways we are alike AND by all the ways we are different. 

We share fundamental values. But in temperament, he is the calmest person I have ever met and the most patient, while neither of those are my gifts. He also does everything slowly and precisely while I do everything quickly and sometimes carelessly. He's an introvert; I'm an extrovert. He is an extremely healthy eater and was appalled by my diet of jellybeans and Cadbury eggs; he is a master spreadsheet maker and was equally appalled by the botched job I do every morning of balancing my checkbook by hand. But we both hate April Fool's Day. And we are both as in love as two people could ever be. 

"What do the two of you do for fun?" a friend asked. Well, mainly we just hold each other and talk, and talk, and talk. After almost a month together, we finally went to a restaurant. After almost two months together, we finally watched a movie on TV. But nothing beats talking our hearts out and holding each other close.

At first, in the throes of this new love, I lost interest in everything else in my life. Why had I ever cared about writing anything but love poems? Why had I ever wanted to share anything I wrote with anybody but him? But it turns out that he is also a wonderful person to talk about writing with... and a wonderful person for brainstorming ideas... and a wonderful person for critiquing a draft... and a wonderful cheerleader for me as writer. So now I AM writing again - so joyously! - and will resume blogging again (promising NOT just to blog about how wonderful this new man is!). Everything is more joyous now because of him.

"I know I'm getting borderline obnoxious about how in love I am," I told another friend recently. Then I had to correct myself. "I guess... not BORDERLINE obnoxious, right?" But she didn't blame me. She knew how sad I've been for so long about so many things. She was willing to let me be obnoxiously happy now.

And I am!


Thursday, March 10, 2022

Passing the (Writing) Torch to a New Generation

A few weeks ago a small envelope arrived in the mail. The name on the return address was familiar, but I couldn't quite place it; the street was just a few blocks from my home. Hmmm.

I opened to find a card written in exquisitely tiny handwriting, from a girl (now a young woman) who had been my older son's classmate at Mesa Elementary School over two decades ago. She wrote that she still remembered how inspired she had been as a child from a talk I gave on writing to her class. She had recently rekindled her own interest in writing, begun reading my books for young readers, and had been following the Paris posts on my blog. She just wanted me to know that I was continuing to inspire her to follow her writing dreams.

Well! THAT certainly makes up for any number of recent career disappointments!

I wrote her back right away, with a handwritten note of my own, though lacking her meticulous, miniscule printing, and invited her to come for tea. Via email, she accepted the invitation, and last week presented herself at my door, with a shy smile and a Mason jar filled with flowers.

And then we talked, and talked, and talked. I wanted to hear all about her post-Mesa-Elementary life, and she was willing to share it. I poured out all I could think of to tell a young writer starting her journey to an author of children's books. Join SCBWI (the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators). Read editor Cheryl Klein's brilliant book The Magic Words. Make friends with the wonderful owners of our terrific local indie bookstores that support children's book events: Second Star to the Right, Wandering Jellyfish, and BookBar/Bookies. And much, much more.

By the end of our time together I had shared with her some of the challenges of my own work-in-progress, a creative historical-nonfiction picture book, and she (with her multiple degrees in history) ended up being the one to offer ME encouragement. We were peers and colleagues already.

The flowers are a teensy bit wilted now, but still make me happy every time I walk by them. 

I feel like a Wise Old Woman! Or actually, more like a Wise Middle-Aged Woman. Or maybe just a Person Who Has Been Writing Books for a Very Long Time and Has a Big Bunch Insights to Share. 

Of course, I've already had many opportunities to share my children's book wisdom, such as it is, with my students in the Graduate Programs in Children's Literature at Hollins University and with writing mentees through the Michelle Begley Mentor Program. Those have been wonderful experiences, too. But there was something especially poignant about this encounter with a childhood classmate of my son, maybe also because I'm increasingly wondering what the future holds for me as a professional author. This felt particularly like "passing the torch to a new generation."

Fortunately, the beauty of this kind of torch-passing is that you can light someone else's torch without extinguishing your own. It's not so much a passing of the torch but a sharing of the light, where two candles, or ten, or a thousand, or a million, just make the world that much brighter. 

In lighting Sarah's candle, I relit mine, too. Thanks to my delightful time with this new friend, I sent off my nonfiction picture book manuscript to my agent this morning!

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Finding Out What DOESN'T Work Is Progress, Too, Right?

So February was a not-so-good month. 

On the plus side: 

I did write a poem every day from a photo-and-text prompt given by brilliant poet/teacher Molly Fisk in an online poetry group she facilitates every other month. I don't think any of my poems were very good, but, hey, I wrote them and forced myself to share them. I faithfully kept this commitment I made to myself.

I also forced myself to submit a batch of older poems somewhere each week. So far I haven't heard from one place, received rejections from two (though one where the editor did note which of the five poems submitted was strongest in his view), and got one acceptance. My poem "Earth and Moon" will be featured on Your Daily Poem for August 12. 

But my other two writing projects for the month led to nothing but failure. 

The first was groping toward writing some kind of thing (middle grade novel? young adult novel? adult memoir?) based on my own turbulent adolescent years during the equally turbulent years of the late 1960s. I have enormous amounts of (in my view) fabulous material that I wrote in junior high and high school, plus such vivid memories. Surely I could turn this into a book somehow?

The second was figuring out how to turn my decades- long fascination with the Lowell mill girls of the first half of the 19th century into the text for a nonfiction picture book. Right now creative nonfiction in picture book form is some of the most exciting work being published for young readers. Surely there was some story here that I could share for this audience?

Or... maybe not. 

Right now, after working steadily for a month on these, I'm worried that both would be chiefly of interest to . . . well . . .  to me. The 1960s project feels like an exercise in middle-aged white woman's nostalgia - not a booming area of children's book publishing at the current moment (and it's children's book publishing which is still dearest to me). The writing I've done on the Lowell mill girls material is so prosy and flat, filled with so much necessary but dense background material - hardly what would appeal to picture book readers.


And sigh.

Thomas Edison famously said, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,00 ways that won't work." 

I guess I can say that February was the month of finding two ways toward publication that aren't going to work for me. 

 I'm not sure, however, whether I've found two projects that aren't going to fly, or merely found two approaches to these projects that aren't quite right. For the 1960s project, maybe I just need to distance myself more from autobiography and work on finding a plot structure stronger than my own life story. For the Lowell mill girls project, maybe I need to find some angle toward the material that will allow for a text that is simpler, more lyrical, and more kid-friendly.

Edison also famously said, "The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time." But did he mean "try one more time to make this project work"? Or "try one more time to find another project that might work better"? 

I don't know. But right my plan for the month of March, which begins today, is going to be to try one more time on both these projects, as both have been dear to my heart for decades and I can't bear yet to let them go.

I will try, try again.

Friday, February 4, 2022

Should I "Do Something" with My Poetry?

One of my writing goals for this year is to take my lifelong love of poetry and to "get serious about it" and "do something with it." 

I loved writing poetry as a child. In my very first book, written at age six, I included an advertisement at the end for a future "big book" of "POWATREE." 

I wrote huge quantities of poetry throughout elementary school, junior high, and high school, many of them love poems to the poor persecuted boy with whom I fell in love on October 17, 1967, such as this one, dated October 3, 1968, the fall of my freshman year of high school:

The leaves are bruised with scarlet,

The sky is seared with blue;

The hills are wrung in purple,

The grass is weeping dew –

To leave with all that agony

They must have loved you, too.

But then, as an adult, I pretty much stopped writing poetry, until I began attending an annual poetry-writing retreat held each January, first in a country inn in the Poconos and then in a convent in New Jersey, where attendees greeted the new year by writing poetry for a glorious weekend under the direction of various guest teachers.

The poet teachers were all wonderful, but the one who influenced me most was Molly Fisk. Molly celebrated sheer creative generativity: making something, sharing something. She enforced a $5 fine if we apologized for our poems before sharing them. She prioritized appreciation over critique, generally receiving each poem read aloud simply with a quiet "Thank you." In the online poetry groups she facilitates, in which I've participated many times since then, she in fact bans critique, or even "helpful suggestions." This has proved an excellent environment for me to flourish as a poet.

Now, however, I'm wondering if I want to try to publish some of my poems... share them not just with a small circle of fellow poets or friends, but with the wider world. But will this spoil the joy I've had in writing poetry just for the sake of writing it? Will this put me back into the trap I recently escaped of breaking my heart over letting myself care too much for writing's external rewards?

The rewards of publishing my poems, were they to come, would be small in any case. The places that would accept my work are almost guaranteed to be publications that pay only in copies (if "copies" there are - most are now online only) and attract a readership that may be only in the single digits. A well-published friend, who has published her own poems in over a hundred different venues, told me to expect, at best, a rejection to acceptance ratio of 15:1. If I should dream of publishing a book of my poems, even the extremely modest dream of selling a hundred copies may be doomed to disappointment.

So: why do this? 

Well, the very smallness of the payoff in terms of fame and fortune would bring some security from being carried away by crass ambition. Though even in Molly's online group, I find myself coveting not only "like" emoticons on what I share, but heart-shaped ones... or even - gasp - a morsel of praise from the lips of Molly herself. I can't seem to get past caring whether somebody else on this earth gives a warm welcome - or an ESPECIALLY warm welcome - to my little poem children. 

In any case, for better or worse, I've decided to do it. I submitted a first batch of poems this past week, and I plan to submit one batch a week for the rest of the year (where these can include poems recycled from previous rejections). And maybe one of these days, I will be a PUBLISHED POET, and that will be a fact I can cherish for the rest of my days. I'll be able to share my PUBLISHE POEM on Facebook! And then fifty of my friends will like it, and some will love it, and maybe some will even choose to share it with others. 

I think I owe this effort toward publication to the POWATREE-dreaming child I was. 

In a month daffodils will start to bloom.... and maybe some of my poems will bloom with them.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Home from Paris: Now What?

I've been home from Paris for a week now, after my pilgrimage there to rekindle creative joy in my writing. First, of course, I had to deal with all that is involved with reentry into one's life after a long time away: recovering from jet lag, facing accumulated LTs (Loathsome Tasks), and giving attention to the dog who had pined for me so mightily during my absence. 

But now it's time to prove myself worthy of Paris by fulfilling the promises I made to myself there.

I don't have any current works-in-progress, so this is going to be the year of creative reinvention. My goal as of this moment is to head in two different directions.

First, I want to get serious about growing as a poet and trying to "do something" with the poems I've been writing for the past decade - and for my whole life really. With this goal in view, I've dragged out craft books I've purchased over the years: The Sounds of Poetry by Robert Pinsky, Structure and Surprise: Engaging Poetic Turns, edited by Michael Theune, Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within by Kim Addonizio, and The Poetry Home Repair Manual by Ted Kooser. I've made a stack of  slim books of poetry published by friends and other poets I admire.

I plan to sign up for the Poem-a-Day group that poet Molly Fisk hosts online every month, and to attend an online poetry seminar, and to do a monthly ZOOM with a poet friend to share our work. I will immerse myself in poetry!

My other creative pull is toward immersing myself in the past: to grope toward an autobiographical novel based on my own turbulent adolescence in the turbulent late 1960s - for middle-grade readers? for young-adult readers? for adults? Who knows? I've unearthed the two 100-plus page books I wrote (and typed on an old-fashioned typewriter) while I was in eighth grade. T is for Tarzan is a collection of humorous episodes about various hijinks; Maybe in Heaven is a chronological account of my doomed love for a boy I called Apollo (the Sun God), who (very wisely!) didn't love me back. The title expresses the hope that he might love me back someday... in heaven. 

And, oh, the poems! Shoeboxes full! Many of them love poems to this same greatly persecuted boy.

I have journals, too, filled with so much pain that I have to take a break after reading every few dozen pages, and the start of an autobiographical novel about all of this that I was working on during winter break from my freshman year in college.

The girl I was in those years was so intensely passionate and troubled; she loved so much, and so loudly; she felt so deeply, and shared it so fully. (She cheerfully allowed these ridiculously personal and embarrassing books to be circulated among the entire student body). It's as if she didn't have any skin, but was rubbed raw from how hard - but also how glorious - it was to be alive. So I may try to tell her stories now, enriched by all I've learned about writing and about life in the past half century. 

My younger son's girlfriend sent me a special candle for Christmas, intended for those homesick for France. The label describes its fragrance in this way: 

I'm burning it now.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

My Last Day in Paris (for now!)

Yesterday was my last full day in Paris before flying home this afternoon. So of course it had to begin as all last days of international travel must do at this moment: with a COVID test taken any time on the calendar day preceding the day of departure.

Fortunately this was very easy to accomplish here. The pharmacy that is just a block from my hotel sets up a little tent every day for walk-in tests with immediate results.

I was there right when the pharmacy opened at 9, but a short line was already forming. I submitted my identification, paid my 29 euros, had the swab up the nose, and came back in twenty minutes for my results. The document was entirely in French, but the only two things I needed to be able to read on it were my name and the crucial word "NEGATIF"!!! So hooray for that. 

The weather was cold, gray, and gloomy. "But you always say you like this kind of weather best," I reminded myself. Still, I planned an outing full of sparkle as compensation. I have walked everywhere on this trip, partly to avoid the (excellent) Paris Metro system for fear of crowds and also because my favorite part of a trip like this just is the walking. So I set off on an hour-long walk to a museum I had never visited before, the Jacquemart-Andre Museum, which, in the words of the ever-reliable Rick Steves guidebook, "showcases the lavish home of a wealthy art-loving Parisian couple" and their collection of European masters.

I crossed the Seine on the ornate, ostentatious Pont Alexandre III:

When I reached the museum, it was as lovely as I had been told it was. 

There was a Botticelli exhibit upstairs so I sighed in the presence of his beautiful Madonnas. But then I settled myself to write while sitting on the most appealing bench I'd found in any museum so far:

I would like to say that I wrote a poem worthy of the red velvet cushions, or found an idea for the book that will be my career-culminating masterpiece. But I felt a bit shy with its splendor and just wrote in my journal.

The museum's cafe is equally splendid, and I treated myself to lunch there, including selecting a delectable pastry from the dessert case. Most of the other patrons seemed to be French ladies having lunch with other French ladies; I was the only person without a companion, but I was happy to be an American lady having lunch with her journal.

My next stop was less satisfying. Boulevard Hausmann, where the museum is situated, is also the site of Paris's two grand department stores: Galeries Lafayette and Printemps. I had bought a brightly colored tropical plush toy bird there on a trip to Paris back when I was in my 20s, which I then had to lug in a shopping bag on the rest of the European tour. But this time I just found both stores overwhelming. They have now sprawled into adjacent buildings as well, and as I entered I saw so many signs for Prada, Gucci, and Chanel that I knew this was not the place for frumpy, dumpy, dowdy me. Here is the famous rotunda of Galeries Lafayette: 

I will confess that I had visions, when I planned this trip, of returning from Paris completely transformed. Maybe I would change my hair style from the same way I have worn my hair since high school! Maybe I would return chic and stylish, as Audrey Hepburn does in Sabrina. Before her trip to Paris, she is merely the chauffeur's daughter with a hopeless crush on the son of the manor. But upon her return, she is such a stunner that now he is the one smitten. When her father worries that she is still "reaching for the moon," she is able to tell him, "No, Papa. Now the moon is reaching for me."

Well, I slunk away from the Galeries Lafayette sadly sure that the moon will NOT be reaching for me. The only way this transformation could happen would be that I would have to want it much more than I do, spend much more money that I am willing to spend, and most important, have a stylish friend with infinite patience to take me on as a project. 

Oh, well. My true goal had been, not to transform my wardrobe, but to transform my writing. So on this last day of the trip it was time to ask myself: had I achieved that goal? I have to answer: not really. I wrote less than I had planned and mainly focused on children's book projects - what I've always written - instead of something daringly new-for-me. 

But the real goal of the trip hadn't been so much to change who I am as a writer but to recover who I have always been - someone who finds deep joy in the act of writing itself and in being part of a supportive community of other creators. 

And that I did, both as I sat writing in the Louvre, the Musee d'Orsay, the Centre Pompidou, and on a velvet bench in the Jacquemart-Andre, and as I spent three wonderful days with Catherine Stock in Rignac. 

I hereby declare this trip a SUCCESS! Now I just need to get home today despite various logistical challenges that are too boring to talk about. And really, there is no scenario I can imagine on which I don't get back home sooner or later.. and with renewed joy in my heart. 

Au revoir, Paris!