Cost of $70 includes workshop and lunch. Please respond by Sunday, March 12 to firstname.lastname@example.org. Cancellations appreciated by Monday, March 13.
Join me on Wednesday, March 15 from 10am-2:30 pm to write and explore the idea of Thresholds: Beginnings or Endings. From a variety of exercises, writers of all levels may explore form, style, share with others, and receive encouraging feedback. We’ll write until noon, have lunch, and then write again.
Cost of $70 includes workshop and lunch. Please respond by Sunday, March 12 to email@example.com. Cancellations appreciated by Monday, March 13.
This is a story of an ear.
This winter, my right ear, as in a slow-motion film, closed. I remember exactly when it happened. My ear canal, once an open, receptive place, folded upon itself. Sounds around me magnified, but my own voice stayed trapped in a tunnel.
All things I love about words and the human voice--conversations, singing, writing--closed for me too. My jaw felt frozen, locked. It was as if my ear didn’t want to hear what was happening around me, so it stopped hearing. Stopped being open and vulnerable. Words no longer accessible.
I was forced to be quiet. To be still.
W.A. Mathieu, composer and teacher, writes in The Listening Book Discovering Your Inner Music: "the ear is a haven...how delicate is the egg of an ear."
The ear is a little capsule to protect and cherish.
Aa a writer and as a human being, I know the importance of listening. In her memoir about writing, One Writer’s Beginnings, Eudora Welty’s first section is simply entitled: Listening. Welty writes of her “physical awareness of the word.” As a child being read to, she heard an inner voice, “the voice of the poem or story itself.” She writes, “The cadence, whatever it is that asks you to believe, the feeling that resides in the printed word, reaches me through the reader-voice…The sound of what falls on the page begins the process of testing it for truth.”
It is important to take care with words. To listen to of an inner voice.
I have a vision inside my head of my ear, the small hairs almost in a super electrical current, trembling, waiting.
How can a writer be open and closed at the same time? How can I let what may be useful, but hurtful, in or go out in the world? At a recent workshop in journal keeping, we discussed the delicate balance of having true writing, but protecting ourselves and others. It is a delicate balance. But I have choices. When I write, I may consciously make them. I can discriminate, act, pay attention. I can have tenderness for myself. Protect myself.
I can let my ear gradually open.
#3 Be a Literary Pilgrim
Shelves stretch to the ceiling. Books spill over onto the floor. And around every corner, pausing on stairs, lounging in puffy arm chairs, sitting at long wooden tables, curling up in a corner, even waiting in lines to the bathroom, people read. This is City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco. Here a book lover can get lost, but a good kind of lost. She can be a pilgrim, on a journey to a sacred place.
As a child growing up in rural Virginia, and long before knowing of City Lights, my mother took me often to Dick’s Barn, once full of dairy cows, but when I knew it, a magical storehouse, overflowing with antiques, knick-knacks and used books. There I spent many a Saturday, rummaging in old crates, cozied up with tales set far away from the Virginia mountains, imagining other lives than one of a country girl.
Dick’s became a holy place for me and my younger sister, both allowed to roam at will amongst the stacks which towered above us. The light fell from the roof slats in a kind of swirling pattern, pulling the dust from the pages skyward, as if in a golden cloud or a heavenly prism. I grew sleepy, entranced, as I pulled out one book after another for examination. Never minding the dust or clutter, we’d cull through the piles, find a beauty bound in green embossed leather, its pages brushed with gold leaf, or uncover another gem with watercolor illustrations done by some delicate hand. “Perhaps it’s valuable,” we’d whisper. Confused about the abandonment of such treasures, we made our selections, secretly pleased they fell to us. A handwritten inscription “To Edna With All My Love from Frank” sent us off to conjure real faces and possible scenarios of tragedy or love. Really, we wondered, how does a book, given with love, end up given away? There on the dusty barn’s floor, we vowed to never give away a book with a dedication or inscription.
At home, the books took places of honor with other treasures in a long built-in cabinet in our hallway decorated with brass sconces, red Chinese wallpaper, and a black and white diamond patterned floor. I spent many hours on the cool floor, pouring over fairy tales, poetry, art and history books, Shakespeare, and works by Russian or American writers. I can still see them, arranged alphabetically or in categories, spines facing out, little enchantresses.
Over the years, there were many trips to Dick’s Barn and many more beautiful books added to our collection. For the years of my own childhood and later for my children’s, these touchstones provided enrichment, solace, and inspiration. Just recently I came across my favorite copy of English Fairy Tales, illustrated by Arthur Rackham, its cover a rich heavy forest green. Inside the front cover bordered with green butterflies lies a child’s inscription, “Summer’s Book,” written in permanent red ink.
Pilgrimages to used bookstores or famous ones such as City Light’s in San Francisco or Politics and Prose in Washington D.C. are still part of what I love. I can still wander at will. In the pages of poetry or prose and from the imaginings of others, I find myself.
#2 Love Letter to mini
I went to France and fell in love. I wasn’t expecting to, but I must admit, when I slipped into your soft leather seats, donned a wine-colored Nike baseball cap, and took off, something happened. Was it the mesmerizing aroma of wild thyme mingled with hedge roses? Or was it the way you hugged the tight roads, purring beside plane trees and vineyards? After all, I was just visiting my sister, just planning on some jaunts on the back roads in her Mini. I had no idea what was to happen! But I fell and fell hard. Ooh, la la.
Mini, you captured my heart. Back to the States and Tahoe, Au Revoir!
I’d never been a car person, really – more of a horse lover, but there were some vehicles I held dear. My first car: a Vega, sturdy little thing, purchased for $300, drove me through “salad years”; a bright blue Dodge Colt, versatile and plucky, navigated us newlyweds over D.C. potholes and into tight parking spaces; my dark green Isuzu trooper, rugged and renegade, blazed country dirt roads, and from childhood, my father’s sleek Thunderbird, something to admire, not drive. But none compare to you, my darling, Mini. You are sleek and sophisticated, adventurous and spunky, romantic, yet practical. C'est manifique!
Indulge me, Mini... Why do I love thee, Mini? Let me count the ways.
1.You make it June even in November. With just one button, down goes your canvas top and windows, and Voila! It’s summertime! The world just seems greener with you in it, Mini.
2. You are super smart. Your curious little musical scale warns of a loose gas cap, keys left in the ignition, an insecure seatbelt, low tires, and a host of little things which could become big things. A perfect quality, Mini, for we find ourselves caught up in the moment in your presence.
3. You seek adventure. It’s almost as you can drive yourself, pointing your cute round hood in the direction of Potomac ferry rides, pilgrimages to local bakeries, vineyards or orchards, or to places South, your compartments stuffed with beach supplies, suitcases, and groceries. And then there are your quiet rides on soft clear nights under stars. (Sighing, yet?)
4. Children, dogs and older people love you, too. Do you remember the time we pulled over at a rest stop in Virginia and an entire school bus of teenage girls curled around you exclaiming, “How cute!”, “I love it!?" then clapping as we roared away?
Dogs are lovers of minis. Maybe because most dogs love the outdoors and car trips, and with you, they get a bonus. My dog friend, Penny, loved her ride in the country, wrapped cozily in a fleece blanket on my lap, her ears flapping. And Mini, I know I caught her smiling.
And what about my mother? (Remember... she owns a Tahoe.) You worked your magic, and Mama and her two miniature Chihuahuas felt right at home. I guess you are just their size and speed. “A little racecar,” Mama murmured.
5. Contrary to popular opinion, you can carry a great deal, especially with the top down. What I know possible: several large bags of mulch, various perennials, shrubs, bags of groceries, but probably much more. Once we fit 5 people, 2 in one seatbelt. (But sshhh. It’s our secret.)
6. Minis love to congregate. Venture into any parking garage or lot, you'll see several Minis hanging out. You are social creatures.
Other little known facts about you, Mini:
*Men in red sports cars like to race you. (They don’t know your power...)
* Speeding tickets may be hazards. (That’s why your speedometer reads slower than your actual speed.)
*Owners miss driving their Minis when away. (This is one of the few times other family members get to experience your fun- loving nature.)
*You speak the Queen’s English: “boot”, “bonnet”, “lay-by” (cheeky , you are.)
* Minis can fly if they want to. (Notice the wings ?)
Darling Mini, I just can’t say enough about you and our love affair. Thank you for all the joy you bring me. Je t’aime.
But loving soup also comes from remembering. When a child, the soup making rituals of my mother and grandmother spanned days. Inventive and frugal cooks, they used everything- whether fresh or left over. And I do mean everything. To these two, throwing away a turkey carcass was considered a sin. But let’s say the week’s selection is beef vegetable. First visit the market for the necessary soup fixins’. Purchase the perfect ratio of protein to fat - tender pink meat suspended off white curved bone wrapped in crisp, white butcher paper. Home to fill a large stock pot with water, just enough to cover the meat, sprinkle in salt and pepper, add parsley, a carrot or two, one onion, several celery stalks with leaves. Combine in a gentle rolling boil for hours. In the county or city, the promising steam filled up the kitchen spaces, escaping throughout the rooms. But it wasn’t soup yet, not until the meat “fell off the bone.” Then store the stock in the refrigerator overnight for the settling and next day fat removal. Expert carvers, Mama and Mimi, broke slick brittle slabs, thin and white, cold as ice slivers, and skimmed the top, leaving a rich base of flavorful broth and tender morsels of meat. Next the final stages: slice more carrots, onions, celery, sometimes parsnips or turnips, canned summer tomatoes, and simmer until just tender. Garnish with tiny peas popped in the end. How I loved this hearty soup, perfect for winter evenings, served in delicate bowls, partnered with thick slices of homemade bread, slabbed with yellow butter.
When homemade wasn’t available, there was the Campbell’s variety, the bright red and white labels assurances of good things to come: alphabet soup, my early favorite, its tiny symmetrical squares of vegetables a marvel, perfect for the lunchbox thermos, comforting chicken noodle housed in a big steamy mug, or tomato - a ruddy orange wonder cupped in a low bowl, a grilled pimento cheese sandwich alongside, to this day, my youngest daughter’s comfort food. Even my gourmet mother-in-law succumbed to tomato, teaching me to blend water with milk for a softer more mellow tomato version. To this day, my military career uncle faithfully observes his lunching routine of a can of Campbell’s and a sandwich. Soup just satisfies.
When my girls were little, we experimented with soups: tortellini in broth with sausage, crisp cream of celery, or an old-fashioned Brunswick stew. As they’ve grown and become cooks themselves, our tastes lean more to a spicy black bean version topped with avocado, a chunky minestrone, or a tangy Mediterranean fish stew. But whatever the occasion, pleasure and comfort may be found in “Soup’s on” and a bowl of goodness.
And in case you’re wondering, tonight’s menu: potato leek.
We all have places we return to gather ourselves, find solace, and garner strength. Lately with the confused world about me, I spend hours on my screen porch reading, planning, writing and spending time with my family. Sometimes I'm just still and quiet. Because of the special nature of this place, I'm offering it to others on August 13, 10 am-4 pm who want to write with others and tap into the joy that writing can bring, especially in an outdoors setting. If you're interested, see my workshop, Poetry and Prose on the Porch for details and registration.
Here's a piece I wrote about my porch and the memories and inspiration it offers me.
A Room that Tells a Story
As a child, I spent many hours on the long, cool screened in porch built by my daddy. The room ran the back of the house and faced the low bushy woods of pine trees and brambles framed by the soft mountains beyond. If I squinted, I could on the days before the pines grew so tall, just make out the Peaks of Otter. The expanse of the screens, from floor to ceiling, exposed the landscape and the sky. A wide sweet black cherry tree graced one corner and provided climbing and shade all summer long. The floors, laid by my daddy, were always cool, even in the hottest of days. A perfect place for bare feet or hot faces to rest.
In that room, my sister and I bathed doll babies, played dress up, trained puppies, chatted with birds, wild and tame, sipped lemonade from real lemons, ate rich berry cobblers and home-made peach ice cream, told stories and sang songs, rode wild ponies and listened to bees in the abelias. In the hottest of nights, the porch transformed to become our bedroom, open to the cooler night air, crickets and animal sounds. I still remember how the old swing felt as it cradled me at one end and my sister at the other, feet facing each other.
It was in the spirit of that room that I dreamed of a similar porch, open and earthy and fresh to raise my girls and romance with my husband and childhood memories. And so it is like that, a long graceful room with high ceiling and fans and a view from long, wide screens out to the yard. The wide wicker sofa, so soft and covered with friendly wide yellow stripes provides a perfect view of the room, the old handmade table made by Grand Daddy Jo, the rustic hand painted side board, the rough gray wooden barn door from an abandoned neighborhood farm, the art collected and handmade, and other garden trinkets and books. The screens open to a low swing and large oak, a rock spring bed with a garden, the woods and stream beyond. Here, too, my girls imagined and fashioned lives, managed miniature farms, make believed and real. We painted pictures here too, staged plays and puppet shows, made huge messes, devoured juicy cobblers and slept under the stars. Even in snow, the drifts piling high upon the screens became a haven for the girls out of the winter wind, tired –out from long trudges up –hill with sleds. They jumped and slid in the drifts, sculpted snow pictures and buried the dog in white powder.
From the porch, I remember the sounds and feel of childhood, distant barn sounds and night calls, fresh grass, pines, and wind. Even now, when I lie on the sofa and look to the west sky, I still know them. This place evokes my childhood dream days and now allows me the freedom to dream and to write. It’s a sacred space.
I'm honored this week to be featured in Lisa Colburn's blog from her website marketstreetwriters.com. Lisa and I share a love of writing and of AWA. My piece,"Fittings", was inspired by music composed and performed by her friend, Roger Tomhave, entitled, "Homemade and Handed Down." This is the kind of writing that can happen in an AWA workshop- writing that comes from the heart. My childhood memories of a big family in the country, trying to make ends meet, with imaginative and loving surroundings inspired my writing about a moment in a sunny room with my mother as I "fit " to this kind of life where things had to be remade and redone and could still be a person of my own making.
January brought snow. The Blue Ridge lies snow covered and the fields glisten like glass. The vineyards of barren posts stand as crosses on a battlefield, soldiers in columns bracing against the bitter wind, lining up in columns to the distant hills. It's quiet and still.
For a writer, winter brings quiet spaces, stretches of time for contemplation, of scratchings, and beginnings of stories or poems. Barren times, missteps and failures can mark the winter writing season, too.
We have to be willing to be brave, to risk ourselves as we explore our memories and imaginations. As writers, we can look back and start afresh. We grasp opportunities to redo, reinvent, and thrive in any season.
In the vineyard, the distant colored sky offers promise.
Personal writings, original photographs, and reflections.