Where in the World Have You Been?

Good question!

I definitely have been absent from my blog, but lots has been happening.

I survived the end of the school year, and drove off to Maine the following day for a writing retreat and workshop with dear friends. This gathering is an annual ritual that marks the transition from my day job to my heart job, writing! Each year our little band of writers invites a mentor to join us and guide us in seeing our manuscripts in new ways. We have worked with some fabulous folks over the years including Laura Ruby, Louise Hawes, Clare Vanderpool, and this year, Sarah Aronson. It is always such a treat to gather around the old farm table in the kitchen, or on the breezy porch by the bay, or to scoot the chairs and couches of the great room into a welcoming oval, and delve into the days’ manuscripts. We laugh, we cry, we inspire each other. We have built the kind of rapport and trust many writers only dream of in a critique group. I think each mentor who joins us soon feels like part of the tribe. We are blessed.

Sarah Aronson and Tessa Elwood talk writing Photo credit: Cathy Lentes

 

 

After a fabulous and inspiring week, I extended my stay just a bit, staying with a good friend from the group who lives nearby. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones who had trouble saying goodbye to Maine, as we caught up with a few of them in Bar Harbor where Michelle Houts, one of our crew, was signing books.

Michelle Houts, Ann Mack, Sally Stanton, and Cathy Lentes together again in Bar Harbor Photo credit: Maggie Houts

 

 

It’s pretty easy to feel supported and motivated when I have this great group of writers in my life, especially when we are all together, and the help I need, the listening ear, the new perspective may be as close as the chair, or room, next to me. But now I’m home, and I’m happy to be, but it will be harder to keep things moving forward. Today, for example, I spent the morning taking down my old mailbox, and trying to put up a new one. Just like with writing, there were setbacks (and a nasty blister. I’ll spare you the picture of that one!) and it would have been lovely to ask a friend for help with the task. Writing can be a lonely job (as can home repair), and I need to remember that I don’t have to do it all myself. Though my Mainely Writing friends are scattered across the country, they are only a text, or email, or Facebook post away when I need them for writing support.

The 2017 Mainely Writers Photo credit: Helpful waitress at Seng Thai Restaurant (Belfast, Maine)

 

 

Do you have a creative tribe you can call on when needed? If not, it’s time to start gathering. Find your people!

And let me know if you find someone who is good at installing mailboxes…

 

Us, Them, They, and Other when We are All an I

I wanted to write this post yesterday, but events and emotions kept me from the page. I woke to this image outside my bedroom window. Inspired and uplifted, I felt ready to write. 

But then the day happened. And as torrential storms threatened from the west, an internal storm overwhelmed from within. Part of it was that one of US was missing. And part of it was that one of THEM had done something that upset me very much.

There’s been a lot of that going around lately. Us, them, they, the other garnering blame for whatever happens to be going wrong. I guess it’s part of human nature as it seems to have gone on since the beginning of time based on what we know from anthropology, history, and sacred stories. It doesn’t make it right, though it may be easy.

I attended a conference recently full of inspired and inspiring writers from across the country and globe. There was much talk of politics, and diversity, and freedom of speech. All of the sessions except one left me full of hope. But one left me feeling a little sick because of what I heard two writers say.

“I don’t want THOSE people to read my books. I’m not writing for THEM.”

“White women abandoned us.”

Back home, at the grocery store, the lines were long and open registers few. I was disgruntled, but resigned to waiting. As I looked around, other women were standing with loaded carts, some trying to corral antsy children. If our eyes met, we exchanged brief, knowing smiles. WE did not fuss. But a man, a white man, in front of me, standing with his wife, began to throw a fit, increasingly loud and embarrassing. Of course, it did not open lines. It only made those of us standing in them feel uncomfortable.

My immediate reaction, other than feeling immensely sorry for his wife, was to think MEN! They have never had to wait for anything. Entitled. Complaining toddlers in long pants.

And then I remembered  what I had heard at the conference and how upsetting it had been.

THIS man had trouble waiting. Not all men. Not all white men. This man.

Just as not all white women abandoned women of color in the last election.

Just as the THEM included in the people who the author said she didn’t want to read her books most likely look very much like the people where I live.

If you happen to follow conversations in the world of Children’s Literature, you, no doubt, have heard the idea of books serving as mirrors and as windows. Mirrors to learn more about people like you, and windows through which to look out and learn about people who may seem quite different from you. The idea being that all readers need to learn more about their identity, but also to broaden perspectives by learning about those outside of personal experience. In our current political climate, this seems increasingly important.

I’m trying very hard, as an individual, to catch myself when I automatically lump people into a category, because I don’t want others to put me in a particular basket just because of where I live, the color of my skin, or my beliefs. Each of us is an I. We may have things in common. We most certainly have differences. We each have preferred tribes. But judge me as an individual. I will do the same for you.

In her essay collection, Words Are My Matter, Ursula K. Le Guin says, ” No matter how humble the spirit it’s offered in, a sermon is an act of aggression.”

I’m increasingly tired of aggression. And I don’t mean to preach. But, we have to learn to listen to each other, to truly see each other, to follow the Golden Rule, and to live a religion of kindness. It’s not about THEM. It’s not about US.

Who do you see when you look in the mirror?

How clean are the windows though which you see the world?

It may just be that all of us could afford to scrub a little harder to make things shine.

 

 

 

Creating Intentions vs. Resolutions

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to accomplish in 2017. It’s probably something most of us have been doing, making those tricky resolutions, hoping against hope, that this will be the year we finally “get it together.” But if I’ve learned anything in my years on earth, it’s to know when it’s time to reflect, and when it’s time to jump in.

My little dog, Charlotte, is a good example of this strategy. She’s had a challenging life. I don’t know how old she is. I only know how many years it’s been since someone dropped her off at the bottom of my hill, scared, hungry, and most likely wondering where her puppies were as she appeared to have recently had a litter. She’s still timid, hates men in pick-up trucks, and approaches each offering with a look around to see what might be sneaking up behind her, but when she feels safe and happy, she runs! Great loops around the house, jumping over obstacles, a flash of furred joy.

I’ve had some troubling times too. We all have, but that shouldn’t shut us down. Pause, learn, be patient with yourself. As Mary Oliver says in her poem, Wild Geese,

“You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

I love words, and nature. I love being alone, and making connections. I love sharing what I find along the way, what I learn to be true. One thing I’ve learned is about the power of intentions as opposed to resolutions. When I hear the word resolved, my mind spins to the movie National Treasure and Nicholas Cage’s character, Ben Gates, making the leap from colonial clues found on a pipe stem in a frozen ship to a treasure map hidden on the back of the Declaration of Independence. “It was firm. It was adamant. It was resolved.”

My leaps of faith tend not to be quite that grand, or dangerous. Nor are my resolutions, my intentions, nation-building worthy, yet that doesn’t mean they don’t matter. To me, who I want to be, and what I want to achieve, means the world.

So for 2017, I set these intentions. Not resolutions. Intentions. Though I will put effort and time in to following through with these intentions, I am not adamant. I am not firm. My intentions may change as I change and grow this year. That’s okay. If I need to reflect, and set new intentions I will. But for now, these are my guide. I like the idea of a guide, much better than  boulders of resolution hanging over my head ready to fall with the next storm. And we all know there will be storms in 2017.

My intentions:

  • Write one poem per day or five per week
  • Write one blog post per month
  • Submit my work two times per month
  • Meditate five times a week
  • Exercise two times a week

What are your intentions for 2017?

A House of Makers and Readers

Today was my third amazing day, and final day, at the Mazza Museum Summer Conference for 2016. The conference continues through Friday, but my time there is done due to family commitments. As always, I leave buoyed by the spirit of the authors/illustrators, as well as the contagious enthusiasm of the librarians and teachers who attend, and the deep love and commitment of the Mazza staff and volunteers. As I said in an earlier post, this is the place to be if you love picture books.

Today, attendees heard from three keynote speakers–Steve Light, Lita Judge, and Elly MacKay. Only one had I met before. I was familiar with the work of two. All three made me feel so privileged to hear their personal stories and catch a glimpse of their creative processes. But the one thing that I took away from all of them was the knowledge that each of them were “overcomers.”

Two admitted to struggling with dyslexia. One was that odd ball kid who becomes the target of bullies.

But despite these challenges, none of the three gave up. All had people in their lives who believed in them and one even had the option to hide out in the library if the need arose. (Honestly, I still have days where I need to hide out among the stacks. How about you?)

They each spoke passionately about playing with words and their art materials, about trying new things, about keeping collections of what they love. Though their backgrounds were wildly different, each of them knew the value of time alone, time in nature, and of being close observers of their worlds.

And the thing I guess I love about all of them is that they are still kids at heart and they carry the children they were within.

Here’s some of the wisdom nuggets they shared:

“I live in my sketchbook.”–Steve Light

“You need to be an observer to be an artist or a writer.”–Lita Judge

“If I show up for it, it will show up for me.”–Lita Judge

“There are advantages to living where no one else wants to live.”–Elly MacKay

“I grew up in a house of makers and readers.”–Elly MacKay        

Here’s to all the makers and readers, the painters and dreamers, the kids hiding sketch books and pencils in their baseball mitts, and those of us who know the safety and delicious solitude of rooms full of books.

And… here’s looking forward to the Mazza Fall Conference, November 2016!

Lessons from a Broken Toe

I didn’t make the connections at first. I just knew it hurt. A lot. As I sprawled in agony on my just-made bed, my first thought was, “How in the world am I going to get to work today?” My second thought was to curse the large box of books at the end of my bed. The one I had just crashed into barefoot. The one full of magnificent books I have been meaning to read for a long time but just haven’t gotten to because, you know, I have to go to work. And then the thought came, “I have to go to work today because I have that meeting at 10:00 to go over my contract.” The contract I intend to sign in order to work three more years. Three more years in which I probably won’t get to read those magnificent books. You see where this is going…

On most days, I enjoy my job. I like the dedicated educators I work with. I love the students I work with and enjoy the detective work I do trying to decipher their learning issues, figuring out ways their parents and teachers can help them succeed. I love my little office with its twinkle lights, beachy art, and electric kettle where I brew my morning tea. I especially love when children I’ve worked with over the years stop by to give me a hug or visit with me and my crazy-haired stuffed-toy penguin. But let’s face it, I spend most of my time writing reports full of numbers and attending meetings where I talk about numbers, and reading other people’s reports full of stiff language and more numbers. I try really hard to remember that though I have to include those numbers in my reports, my real job is to tell each child’s story. Who is this quirky kid? What do they love? If they could do anything in the world, what would it be? That’s the part that gets me up each morning. That’s the part that makes me consider signing a new three-year contract on the morning I’ve just destroyed my toe.

My mother was a teacher. My father was a teacher. For both of them, choices were limited right after WWII. At the little college where they attended and met, and thus allowed me to come into being, my dad says the choices for the boys were to be a preacher or a teacher. He had no desire to preach. If he couldn’t run away with the circus, he at least wanted to have a farm, but spots at the big school, Ohio State University, to study agriculture were allotted to returning vets, and though he and his friend offered to live in a chicken coop they had built in woodshop, they had to choose a different path. My mother had even fewer options. I went into education also at the urging of my father who was concerned about my future, but my heart has always belonged to stories, poems, the creative life. I think my mother’s did too.

Though I loved working with my students in the classroom, all my creative energies went there. When I had children of my own, that also required enormous amounts of creative energy. But though I love being a creative educator and creative mother, those roles have never been enough for me. I have to write. I have to photograph. I have to live in wonder.

In recent years, I’ve made conscious choices to follow my dreams. I’ve taken the leap into writing seriously and finding homes for my work. I’ve won awards. I’ve completed my MFA. I’ve set goals in motion with a five-year plan. So why did I quaver on that morning of the new contract? Why did my rushing around to get to work lead me painfully into a box of books I had not yet read? Why do I not feel the same joy at my computer at work that I feel when I sit down to start a new poem or picture book or novel? Why does sitting in yet another meeting not provide the same rush as reading my work  in front of an audience or leading a discussion about poetry and art in our everyday lives?

A few years ago, I read a book called Whistle While You WorkThe authors, Richard J. Leider and David A. Shapiro, included an activity in which you were to identify from a list :

  • Things that fit your gifts and talents
  • Things you are not sure if they apply
  • Things that don’t feel like you at all

Here’s my top five: writing things, exploring the way, shaping environments, seeing possibilities, adding humor

Here’s my bottom five: solving problems, analyzing info, doing the numbers, resolving disputes, fixing things

I think that morning my toe and that box of books had something important to say to me.

I’m walking more slowly now and looking carefully at what lies ahead. I signed the contract, but I’m also gazing forward to what comes next. And I intend to focus on getting more of list #1 in my life and much less of list #3. I have more options than my parents. My daughters will have more than me. But one of the best gifts I can give myself this Mother’s Day, and one I can give my daughters, as well, is to live an authentic life, to not always take the expected path, to not settle for what is, to live in wonder and gratitude, and to always be imagining the possibilities of  what can be. 

Smoke Alarm Epiphanies and Other Lessons from Mazza

Day One at the Mazza Museum Summer Conference was a grand success. Each year those Mazza magicians create a masterpiece on a corner of the stage featuring books and gizmos meant to introduce the authors and illustrators who will present. I think this year’s display is one of my favorites.

 

 

 

 

Chris Barton charmed the crowd with pictures and stories from his childhood, as well as reminding everyone that inspiration is everywhere…including the story of How Daddy Installed the Smoke Alarm…a simple story from real life that Chris’s toddler begged him to tell over and over and over. This inspired him to begin writing stories down for all children, and adults, to enjoy. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rosemary Wells told us true. Practice, she insisted is the key for writers and illustrators and anyone who wants to be good at what they do. Just as a pianist runs scales every morning, the writer must warm up with words, the artist must paint or draw or cut. Always be curious and learning. Write for your reader. Draw for your reader. Copy shamelessly! That’s how you learn. Work without ego entirely. She exhibited this trait brilliantly by taking time to talk to each person. Lucky me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barney Saltzberg helped us laugh and sing and remember that even an Oops can be Beautiful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hint of the Day: The artist is only the scribe, the vehicle. It comes from somewhere else.–Rosemary Wells

You never know what will start with only one–Chris Barton

There are no mistakes–Barney Saltzberg

On the Road to Mazza Museum

Wow! What a busy summer.

So far a wonderful writing retreat in Maine with good friends, a visit to Candlewick Press

with fab friend and author, Michelle Houts, and now I’m on my way to the Mazza Museum in Findlay, Ohio for the Mazza Summer Conference. If you love children’s picture books this is the place to be. Stay tuned for updates from the field.

Hint of the Day: Though your writing desk may get lonely, you don’t have to. Take advantage of the many conferences and book festivals available. Find your people!  (Especially if they make you laugh…)

 

Writing Outside (Your Comfort Zone)

So I love to write outside. IMG_0969It’s one of my favorite things to do. IMG_1093

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But outside my comfort zone? Not so much.

However, in the last year or two, I’ve been having stories come to me that don’t fit into a poem or picture book.

They insist on being (gasp) novels. Now, I love novels, but I have never believed I was equipped to write one.

I mean, I’m a short form gal. Yet those stories keep showing up at my doorstep, and I don’t have the heart to turn them away. IMG_3509

So, for now, I’m going to the Little Red Writing Desk, and putting what I know into a notebook. Actually two notebooks. Because the ideas are growing. Somehow, it seems safer to scribble in a notebook than to sit down at the computer and type CHAPTER ONE.  Now that’s terrifying for us short form folks. But messing about in a notebook…it’s as easy as journaling. No expectations at all at this stage except to get the ideas down and see what happens.

Maybe you have an idea outside your comfort zone too. Feel free to share! Remember we’re in this together.IMG_3508

 

 

 

 

 

HINT OF THE DAYIf you have a project that takes you outside of your comfort zone, approach it in a different way than you normally would. If you usually write at a computer, try a notebook.

If you most often write on lined paper, try the wide open blank page. If you never draw what you are thinking, sketch out your rough ideas this time.

Equinox Blues

After days of sun and seventy degrees and the first blossoms of spring pushing up through muddy ground, this day is cold and gloomy with a mix of snow/sleet/rain, just when the seasons are supposed to shift for good. This cloud-heavy, wet morning matches my mood. I’ve been sick and the effects linger, but it’s more than that. Today the past is also in the room, the house is filled with memories and the weight of years. For some time, I’ve felt the need for change–of location, of focus, of light. I’m not getting any younger and I’m tired of patching things together, constantly stitching old cloth. 

Last weekend, I spent some time with three dear writer friends in a cabin surrounded by woods. It was wet then too, but warmer, and we were cheered by each other’s company and excited by the words we shared. Too soon it was time to go our separate ways. We stay in touch by email and on social media, but it’s not the same as gathering on the porch, in front of the fireplace, or sharing homemade chicken tortilla soup at the kitchen table.

Gathering with others who share our passions can be a lifeline, especially for writers, who by necessity spend a great deal of time alone. But we also have to learn how to care for ourselves and to craft our lives as we craft our stories, poems, and memoirs by cutting what doesn’t work, streamlining what does, and making it the best it can possibly be. I think I’ve gotten pretty good at doing that on the page, but I need to do better in my daily life.

I live in an old house on an old farm which I love and hate in equal measure. I have had some of the absolute best times of my life here, and some of the worst. But as the only one still living here, my rooms and thoughts are burdened by other’s leftovers and too much stuff I no longer want to care for. Today, as I said, those memories, those years, those belongings, without benefit of sunshine and cheer, fill the corners of each room, the outbuildings, the bookshelves, slink out from under the couch and bed, hover in shadow just out of sight behind me like a felt ghost or menacing intruder. 

And I think, just as in my writing, I may be ready for some edits, possibly a fresh page.

My mother was a quilter, a saver, a never-throw-anything-away-er, having grown up during the Depression. But I’m living through a Depression of my own right now and I want a clean slate. I want to focus my time and energy on my passions, on the people who raise me up instead of those who bring me down, and I want a new view, preferably of water, one where I can make new memories. I want that kitchen table where my beloved friends and family can share a meal, laughter, and good conversation. I need that porch with just enough room for four or five writers to spread out and scribble away at their new stories, comforted by each other’s presence, but with enough space to dream big. And I desire that stone fireplace with the warm cheer of dancing flames. I’m in search of a new source of light, of warmth, of possibility. 

Maybe, just maybe, you feel this way too.

I don’t have answers today. Just lots of questions and what ifs. But just as I would when beginning a new writing project, I’m starting a file, grabbing  a fresh notebook, clipping and bookmarking items of inspiration. And perhaps, most importantly, I’m opening myself up to what comes next. Universe? Are you listening?

 

Snow Day Picture-Booking

IMG_3322 Because it is doing this today, school is closed, and I am busy at the Little Red Writing Desk. IMG_3320

 

I’m dressed for adventure in my Agent Carter t-shirt, IMG_3318IMG_3319                                                                                 and patched from an earlier mishap in a Scooby Doo bandage. (Why I still have Scooby Doo bandages in the house, is a mystery…)

I’m picture-booking, studying Last Stop on Market Street, written by Matt De La Pena and illustrated by Christian Robinson. It just won the Newbery (yes, a picture book!) and a boatload of other awards, so it might be worth my time to figure out why it is so special. And it is. Then, with any luck and a lot of hard work, I can apply what I learn to my own projects.

Hint of the day: Use an old desk calendar page to see a whole picture book at once. Fold the page until you have 32 boxes in which to write the text and mark where illustrations go. IMG_3321

What are you working on today?

Hello, hello…Goodbye

IMG_3316 Saturday, I said goodbye to a cherished writing mentor, Julia Marie “Judy” Klare, age 93. Though to be honest, those of us who counted on her poetic brilliance, her ability to define a line, her complete dismissal of ellipses, lost her several years ago as the mind we revered gradually spun in ever dwindling circles. Yesterday’s celebration of her life was full of poetry, that found in verses of the Bible, songs sung, and moments of her own poetic observations of the world read in others’ voices.

I first met Judy by name only in the list of winners and honorable mentions of a Writer’s Digest yearly poetry competition. We were both in welcome positions closer to 1 than 100. New to southeast Ohio, and the mother of three young children, I was in desperate need of a writing group to sustain my practice and stretch me in new directions, and quite honestly, starved for deep, grownup conversations. In a moment of bravery, I wrote to the judge of the contest who I knew taught at a nearby university, and asked if he could connect me with any local writers. Graciously, he responded, putting me in touch with Judy who also miraculously lived in the same university town. (Read more…)

Self-editing or Editing the Self?

I just returned from a trip out east visiting old friends and mentors at my MFA program. I also toured the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut. I’ve struggled this summer with my writing, or rather, my inability to sit at the desk and make anything worthwhile happen. After near misses and big rejections, though there have been some acceptances and publications too, I’ve lost confidence and am having trouble finding that spark to light the way forward.

(Read more…)

Sometimes Spirit Glows

Sea Glass PanelsIt was the end of a long day of speakers at the Mazza Museum. All spectacular in their own way. Everyone was tired, but happy to end the day with one last voice, an elderly man in his 90’s, an illustrator, artist, legend: Ashley Bryan. He took the stage slowly, then smiled, raised his arms, and the magic began.

(Read more…)

Who I am

Athens Library Author Fair

Athens Library Author Fair

As part of The Lamplighter 2015 Artist Writer Mashup, I have been asked to answer a few questions about myself:
Who are you?
What experience do you have writing?
How did you find Lamplighter?
What do you expect to accomplish while participating in the project?

 

 
(Read more…)

Why I Am Not an Artist (What?!?)

I’ve been missing from this site all winter. I did so well last year, posting once a month, but the cold, dreary months did me in. I spent much of January, February, and March huddled under blankets on the couch, upstairs in my bed, or at my desk working on poetry projects (with gloves). But the birds are singing spring and those poetry projects are out in the world trying to find a larger audience, and April is the time each year when I begin new things, when the creative juices for new projects begin to flow.

(Read more…)

Red Gloves

Not long ago on a cold night in Columbus, Ohio, I left Max and Erma’s after an enjoyable dinner with two co-workers, stepping carefully down icy steps to the sidewalk that would lead us back to our convention hotel. Without much thought, other than that my hands were cold, I pulled my favorite red gloves out of my coat pocket and slipped them on.

“Red gloves!” One co-worker chortled. “What are you, twelve years old?”

I was too surprised, and cold, to be hurt or angry, but the comment lingered in my mind. (Read more…)

Thankful

Yesterday, I took part in the Author & Illustrator Fair at the Athens, Ohio Public Library.

Athens Library Author Fair

Athens Library Author Fair


Great Fun, and a wonderful opportunity to see and hear local talent.

Retreat writing spot

Retreat writing spot

The weekend before, I traveled to Hindman Settlement School to write and retreat with another fun group of folks, writers from various parts of Appalachia.

In between the bookend weekends, I finished my first collection of poems, Dreams of the Animal Mothers, and sent the manuscript off to my post-grad mentor. There’s always more to do, but I’m happy with how far I have come this year. December will mainly be about family and friends (and a few tweaks and edits), and an opportunity to look back with gratitude, and forward with excitement. Bridge over Troublesome Creek

What are you grateful for now?
What will you open your heart to in 2015?

What Haunts

IMG_0358
Since childhood I have found old cemeteries strangely fascinating. The weatherworn stones that lean at odd angles. The lost names and stories of long gone faces. But I have never been afraid, only curious. These people had lives and dreams just like you, just like me. Did they have regrets? Did they live aware of the beauty of the world, or focus only on the hardships and disappointments? What haunted them as they approached their last moments?
IMG_0353

What haunts you? What do you still want to accomplish? What stories do you have to give the world?

What I Always Do

I had never been to New York City until I went to visit my daughter, Morgan, when she was working as an intern at the Today Show in 2012. My visit there was just before Halloween and just before Hurricane Sandy hit. We must have walked miles that long weekend in October. My feet have yet to recover. But every step was worth it. New York City is amazing, overwhelming, a dream place you have seen on TV, in movies, and have read about in books. There are so many people and famous places that it feels surreal.

One afternoon and evening while we were there when the skies were already beginning to darken as the hurricane grew near, we took the subway to view the Statue of Liberty from a park along the water. (Read more…)

What I Call Myself

IMG_0249 Well, I’ve done it again. Waited until the very last day of the month to post here, but it’s not because I haven’t had anything to say. I’ve just been saying it other places. (Read more…)

Serendipity, Fate, and Guardian Angels

Photo credit: Morgan Lentes

Photo credit: Morgan Lentes

This summer has been a blur of activity: visits with my Dad, mountain adventures with my daughter in Kentucky, writing trips to Maine and the Mazza Museum Summer Conference, even surgery and recuperation. Soon I will be heading back to my full-time job in the local school system, which I love, but a big part of me will miss the flexible schedule of summer, the opportunities to spend unstructured time with people I love, doing things that feed my soul in a way writing reports and sitting through meetings will never match.IMG_0225

Good things have happened in my life in 2014, especially as a writer. Things I have worked hard to make happen. But there seems something else afoot too. (Read more…)

Time Away From Time

Morning Tea For a week-and-a-half this June, I focused on writing, nature, good friends, and time away from the everyday. I slept well, woke up happy and excited to discuss books and art and work in progress. I walked, took photographs, laughed, ate good food, drank some wine, and stayed up way past my usual bedtime. But perhaps my favorite times were those quiet early morning hours spent sipping tea, looking out to the sunlit waters of Penobscot Bay, notebook in hand, or sitting on my friend’s mountainside deck watching eagles circle overhead or listening to moose bellow in the woods. (Read more…)

Keep Looking Forward

I spent the weekend visiting my dad. He’s 86 and finding new ways to move forward each day after losing my mom, his wife, after 60+ years together. He loves circuses and woodworking and figuring things out. Each time I visit him or talk to him on the phone, he gives me the rundown of his day–tomato plants planted, bushes trimmed, mulch unloaded from the car, groceries purchased, a visit to the dentist, time spent talking to the neighbor’s dog. (Read more…)

Cruel and Beautiful


April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life…

–from The Waste Land
T.S. Eliot

I never believed April was cruel. I have always loved the month hovering between winter and spring. The trees mostly still winter bare, yet the grass growing, turning unimaginably green, and flowers of all colors rising out of the ground, small bursts of surprise, delighting both eye and nose. (Read more…)

Buying Avocados

Dark_avocados_fruit In yesterday’s mail, I received a check from a magazine for a poem of mine they had published. Something all writers hope for. Something all writers are grateful for because it is a form of validation. Someone, somewhere liked something I wrote, decided others would like it too, and respected me enough as a writer to pay me as a professional. I can’t complain, right? (Read more…)

The Long Road

The Long Road
It’s snowing again in southeast Ohio. The snow is beautiful, and I love to look at it, but I am tired of the hassles it brings. I live in the country along a gravel road and up a gravel drive. The road and drive are nearly impossible to navigate in this weather so that means parking at the bottom of the driveway or over by the mailbox and trudging up and down, up and down, with groceries, briefcase and computer, dog food and bird seed.It is a good workout, but not one I look forward to. (Read more…)

Reasons Why

“Through it all, I write. Writing keeps me sane, gives me a way to get it out, get it down. And this place where I live, these hills, those damn horses, the children–my own and my young students–have molded me as a writer, given me a voice. I know without a doubt that had we stayed in Cleveland, I would be on a very different path. I belong to the trees, the river, these sometimes smothering hills, as I have never belonged to anything else.”

Feeders in the snow

The quote above comes from my essay, Five Doors, Three Windows: Writing Against the Odds, an essay written at a very different time in my life. Those of you who know me well, know that many, many things have changed since the essay was written and published in 2002. But the thing that has stayed the same is my need to write, and the connection I feel to the place in which I write. My office, for now, is still that old sitting room with the impossible five doors, and three windows looking out on my 59.6 acres of Appalachian Ohio.

When I thought about names for my site and blog, I returned to the title of that old essay because I think it says a lot about my growth and determination as a writer. I really don’t know any writers who have a completely easy go of it. We are all scrambling to carve out a place for our craft, a quiet time to collect our thoughts, a brave space in our hearts in which we believe we have something unique to say to the world. It would be easier to knit scarves or bake fragrant loaves of whole wheat bread. Most people would recognize those gifts. But writers long to play with words, get giddy about office supplies, and often prefer to spend hours and hours with imaginary friends. Though we may be excellent knitters and bakers too.

In this blog, I want to explore what it takes to be a writer, not just for myself, but for others on this journey as well. I recently corresponded with a writer considering pursuing her MFA and her questions to me were not just about the program itself, but about structuring a life that can include raising a family, a full-time job, creative and critical writing, extensive reading, and all the other demands on her time. In short, I told her it is always a work in progress. There will always be parts of our lives calling out for attention, demanding first dibs. But if writing is more than a fling, if writing is something you cannot not do, then you are going to be continually finding your way to the desk, to the page, writing against the odds.

All good things,

Cathy

A Beginning

I’ve been thinking about writing a blog, or starting a webpage, for some time, but the fear of trying something new online stopped me. As my daughters would be happy to tell you, I am not completely comfortable in the computer age. It wasn’t that long ago that I was asking for help remembering how to cut and paste. I know. How basic can you get? But trust me, I’ve come a long way. Well, at least, from where I started.

So today, I took the leap. I have no idea if I can fly, but then I’ve done plenty of other things in my life I never thought I could do, so perhaps I can. Maybe there is something you have always wanted to do also, and my leap of faith can inspire you to leap too. But let’s be gentle with ourselves as we begin. There is so much to learn and more to come.

Here we go…