Wednesday, November 16, 2022

The Year of Poetry?

 2022 was supposed to be The Year of Poetry.

My actual stated goal for the year - oh, how I love stating goals for each year! - was "Reconnect with and Recommit to Creative Joy." But the biggest part of this was going to be immersing myself in poetry, because what could be more creatively joyous than that? I would read poetry, write poetry, and (gasp!) start submitting my poems for publication. And I would open the year by taking myself to Paris, because what better place to write poetry than in Paris?

I did take myself to Paris in January, but I wrote more blog posts and journal entries than poems while I was there, and also worked on revisions of a middle-grade novel. In February, however, I luxuriated in the online Poem-a-Day group run by brilliant and beloved poet Molly Fisk, and I forced myself to submit just a few poems to just a few places. And two of them got accepted by the Sunlight Press - and they even agreed to pay me money for them. Actual money for being a poet!!! 

But then in March, I got . . . distracted. Instead of falling ever more deeply in love with poetry, I fell in love... with a man. Who fell in love with me. And then all I cared about for the rest of the year, pretty much, was making a new life with him - though I have to say that nobody on earth could be more supportive of me as a writer than he has been. 

I did keep on writing poetry - mainly love poems to him, of course. And I also (mostly) honored my life-long hour-a-day commitment to write (see the name of this blog!) and am close to finishing a full draft of another middle-grade novel which may be my magnus opus or may be an unpublishable dud. Who knows? Who cares? I wrote it with such joy that I can report that for the first time in my writing life I truly cared more about the process than the product. Being so deeply in love has proved transformative for me in many ways!

I did Molly's Poem-a-Day group again in June and also in October - what a remarkable community of poets she has created and nourished! I  also did a ZOOM each month with my friend Jacqueline Jules, a well-published poet whose poems I adore. In each session we critique three poems by each of us - what an insightful and encouraging critic she is!

What I did NOT do was continue to submit poems. It just seemed like so much trouble, so much bother. Wasn't writing them enough? Wasn't it enough just to put words on paper, share them with my new true love, and with Jackie, and with the Poem-a-Day folks? Well, yes. But to be a writer, for better or worse, is to want to connect with readers. And publication - I might as well admit it - is just so satisfying!

So I'm pleased to report that those two poems accepted by Sunlight Press back in the spring are now published - TODAY! Here's the link should you care to take a peek. Maybe 2023 will be the year when I get really serious about not only writing but publishing poetry - could there be a chapbook in my future? But today I'm just happy that both love AND poetry have been part of my life in 2022.

Saturday, October 1, 2022

Logging "Nice Things and Accomplishments"

Happy first day of October! For those of you who, like me, start a new life on the first day of every new month, happy new life!

In my trusty little notebook, I keep a log for each month of its "nice things and accomplishments," so I won't look back at the end of the month and wail, "In this whole entire month, I did NOTHING AT ALL!" I'm both reasonably lax and reasonably strict as to what counts as either a nice thing or an accomplishment. So nice as it is, I wouldn't include a pleasant lunch with a good friend whom I see on a regular basis, but I would include a glorious extended visit from a friend from out of town. In the category of accomplishments, I wouldn't include writing individual blog posts, but I did include the blog post series back in January from my trip to Paris. I have standards here, folks!

Usually I end up with 7 or 8 items. January (month of the trip to Paris and its aftermath), I had a whopping 14. For February, I had only 5. But last month I had the most paltry total EVER: a mere three things. 1) I wrote a long-overdue substantive book review for the Children's Literature Association Quarterly. 2) I made steady happy progress on my new middle-grade-novel-in-progress, with 100 pages done of the first draft. And 3) I had a perfectly beautiful first full month with my True Love at Rainbow's End where we deepened our already deep love and strengthened our already strong relationship - oh, and I started a practice of journaling about this every day - which I guess I could count as item number 4. 

Item #2 could have been broken down into giving myself credit for each individual chapter I wrote, but the chapters are short and still feel so tentative and provisional, as if any one of them might be tossed out completely - nay, as if the whole project might be tossed out completely, And, as I just noted, #3 could count as two things - the beautiful happy month AND the faithful journaling about it. that I think of it, is having a beautiful happy month itself a THING? Is it thing-like enough to BE a THING? Or is it just how my life is now? And I hope, how my life will be forever? Or at least for a good long while?

I have to confess that in the grip of this new love, I'm losing my mania for cataloging things. I even - gasp! - took off my Fitbit, for good, two days ago. Once I returned from the morning walk with David and Gaia-the-dog, I realized I had left it in the charger overnight and was getting credit for NONE of those steps, which at first threw me into the usual despair, for isn't any walk pointless if the steps aren't duly calculated? And then I realized.. um... no... because... there was the beauty of the misty morning on Valley Lane... and his hand in mine.

So, while I still think a monthly log of nice things and accomplishments has much to recommend it, as a hedge against underestimating our own productivity, I'm coming around to the view that if I can write on each month's list 1) FATHOMS DEEP IN LOVE and 2) OVERCOME WITH HAPPINESS, that might be enough (though I hasten to add that I did already log for October receipt of book royalties that were larger than I expected and a well-received talk via ZOOM for a literary organization). 

But these days "being" satisfies me (almost?) as much as "doing" - even if I'm glad I wrote this blog post now and can cross it off my to-do list for October!

Friday, September 9, 2022

Helpful Hint for Writers from Sir Isaac Newton; or The Magic of Momentum

As I was working fitfully on my current middle-grade-novel-in-progress during the first part of the summer, I experienced a curious lack of energy, even though I was excited by the idea in theory. But in practice, I just couldn't get into that blissful state of flow where one word follows another onto the page, and one page follows another into a growing stack of chapters. 

Why was this?

Was it because the idea in fact did NOT excite me that much? Was this a signal to me from the Muses to search for another idea that might prove more compelling?

Or was it because I was in fact only sitting down to work on the book for an hour or two every week or two?

I decided to try out the theory that the answer was: the latter. I vowed to MAKE myself sit down to my clipboard, pad, and pen for an hour every single day, and guess what happened when I did?

Yes, I fell in love with the book, and I now have 13 chapters done, and I look forward every day to another hour of being in the company of these characters and watching their story unfold. It turns out that writing really does go better when you actually do it! Who knew??!

Well, Sir Isaac Newton knew. 

Newton's very first law of motion is the law of inertia, that an object at rest tends to remain at rest and an object in motion tends to remain in motion, unless some external force acts upon them. I had been an object at rest. Of course, I tended to remain at rest! I might have remained at rest for the rest of my life and never written anything ever again. But once I decided to make my new resolution serve as the external force to act upon myself - glory be! - I became an object in motion and I've been in motion ever since.

Take today, for example. Our recent heat wave has broken, and it's downright chilly here at Rainbow's End, with a high in the mid-50s and gray misty skies: perfect writing weather. So I got cozy in the sunroom on this day without sun, with Gaia-the-dog standing guard to make sure I didn't waver in my resolve, and I prepared to write.

I had been balking on Chapter 14 because I had no idea what should happen in it  - a good reason to balk! Plus, I had the uncomfortable sense that the pacing of the book was beginning to lag, flag, and drag, not to mention sag. There is a reason why "the sagging middle" is a thing that all writers dread. But, as they say, "the only way out is through." The only way to figure out what needed to happen next was to sit there, pen in hand, and scribble little notes to myself. What ELSE could be going on in my character Zeke's life that might come into play at this point? I brainstormed. I got discouraged. I brainstormed some more. I was still stuck.

Then I realized that what I needed to do was make a calendar for the book of all that had happened so far. To do this is, of course, to realize that one has created weeks with six or seven school days in a row, and a story that begins in mid-February but really needs to begin in late March, etc. etc. That in itself was a highly valuable way to spend a writing hour, as timeline problems are a beast to fix later on. Best, in the course of making the calendar and looking closely at everything that had already occurred, I achieved new clarity on what should happen next. I now have a plan!

Yay for being an object in motion! Yay for the magic of momentum!

P.S. As I downloaded a Sir Isaac Newton stock photo to use in this post, I saw that I already had one saved on my computer. Hmm. I must have blogged about Newton's first law of motion at some time in the past. I Googled myself, and sure enough, I had, back in 2018! But this current post reflects on inertia from a different angle, so I'm glad I wrote that old one and was quite interested to read it as I had forgotten it even existed; now my present and future self can benefit from the wisdom of my past self. And I'm glad I wrote this one, too, for future me to read. And maybe for some of you! 

Thursday, September 1, 2022

The Newest New Life Ever

It's the first day of the new month, so the day I start (as I always do on the first of every month) a WHOLE ENTIRE NEW LIFE. But this one feels like the newest new life EVER.

In March I fell in love - desperately, hopelessly, till-death-do-us-part in love. By May he and I were fathoms deep in this, going happily back and forth between my home in South Boulder and his gorgeous apartment on West Pearl Street in Boulder, nestled at the foot of the mountains but in easy walking distance from the coffee shops and bookstores of our famed car-free downtown shopping area. The drive from one to the other was a mere 12 minutes. It was all absolutely perfect for new love to take root and grow toward the sun.

But in May he found out his lease wasn't being renewed... and he had to move... and we had to throw ourselves into house-hunting in a tight and tense real estate market... and ponder what our future together would look like now. He made a list of what he was searching for in a rental and came up with these criteria: not more than 20 minutes away from Claudia's house, fenced yard for his beloved German shepherd, and no stairs as a wise choice for the two of us as we age. 

Instead we both fell in love with a place with NONE of these features: far enough away from my house that the drive back and forth would be much less convenient, no yard at all, and stairs, stairs, and STAIRS!

He moved in at the start of August to this house in the near mountains, and now I'm pretty much here all the time, because it is SOOOO beautiful! It is the perfect place to be in love! AND the perfect place to write! And just.... perfect. The owner even gave it the name of Rainbow's End. What could be more perfect that that?

So here I am, trying to figure out how to be BOTH a woman who loves this man AND a woman who loves to write. My old routines are no longer working, so I'm groping toward new ones.

Old routine for the last few years:

Wake up at 3:30 a.m., decide that getting up at that hour is much too ridiculous, so stay in bed till 3:45 (which after all is the same as quarter to 4, a perfectly respectable time to get up), write for a blissful hour, piddle on my phone with Wordle and Duolingo for a while, leave at 5:50 to meet a friend for a walk by the lake, home by 7:30, with so much already accomplished that I am downright giddy with smugness and pity for others' slothfulness. 

Recent routine as a new lovebird:

Wake up at 5:30, cuddle in bed with my beloved till 6:30 or 7, sharing and analyzing our dreams and marveling that we could love anybody as much as we love each other, then long walk on a deserted lane tucked into a Ponderosa pine forest with Gaia-the-dog, back home by 8 or so, sit for an hour on the deck with coffee for him and hot chocolate for me, then stretching for him while I dally on my phone with games and our oatmeal slowly cooks, eat the oatmeal in a long leisurely breakfast on the other deck that ends at 11:00 - and OMG, the whole morning is gone and I have accomplished nothing!!! Nothing at all!!!

New routine for the new life:

Same as the lovebird routine, BUT with a dedicated hour-a-day of writing (timed with my hourglass) during part of the coffee-on-the-deck time and all the rest of the pre-breakfast time, with no time-wasting indulgences on my phone until after this is done, and then sweet reunion over the now well-earned oatmeal. I started this new regimen three days ago, on this past Monday; it's Thursday now, and I can report that I'm so much happier (despite having been extravagantly happy before). I'm a quarter or third of the way into a new middle-grade novel in progress that I adore - more on this to come. I finally have the momentum that comes from faithful, sustained commitment to a project.

Can I have love AND writing, too? On this first day of my newest new life ever, my answer is ... I think so?

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!