Spring Cleaning

I haven’t been feeling very happy lately. Now, this could be due to any number of things: adjusting to a new job, not seeing my daughter as much because of that new job, cabin fever, PMS-related stuff I won’t even get into (you’re welcome), and a real disinterest in writing any kind of fiction.

I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a combination of all of these things, and that I need some serious self-care and a change of routine to fix it.

First of all, I need to drop a night of work from the week. It won’t affect our finances that much, but it will give me more Lilly-time and alleviate the guilt and stress of not being there.

Next, more long walks. It’s the only form of exercise I really get, and I miss it. This winter wasn’t as cold or icy as it’s been in prior years, but it’s been enough to keep me indoors more. I’m ready to crawl out of my skin. Spring is in the air, and that alone is enough to lift my spirits and get me outdoors more.

Crocus
Soon…

Okay, so maybe get a handle on my serious dark chocolate addiction. Eat more kale. Drink more green tea instead of coffee. Take more naps. Read more books and watch more movies, things that make me happy and that I haven’t done nearly enough of. Maybe de-clutter my  house, clean out the closets. A spring cleaning, of house, body and mind.

Now, the crux of it: I’m going to ease up on this blog a bit, and start a new venture. Fiction isn’t thrilling me, so I thought I’d finally listen to that little voice that’s been telling me to do a blog on Lilly and spina bifida. It’s an issue that so obviously impacts my life, but besides the Chicken Soup essay, I haven’t addressed it in my writing very much. I’ve written a few stories involving characters with SB, but I haven’t figured out how to do it without bogging it down in sentimentality. It’s hard to get that distance. But I don’t have to worry too much about that in a blog about my own daughter.

So that’s my latest project, my labor of love. I’m just starting to pull it together, and figuring out what I want it to be, its form and tone. I even asked Lilly’s permission.

“Do you mind if I write about you, Boo?” I asked her, as she came up to me while I poked around WordPress.

“Sure mom, you can write about me,” she said, and without another word went back to her art project.

All right, then. Project Rejuvenate begins!

The World Is Enough

morrison quote

I came across this quote last summer in an Oprah magazine while I waited for a mammagram (routine, no problems), and it struck me that in my desire to be a writer, I have this need to capture moments in time, whether it’s a beautiful sunset, a revealing conversation, a character’s quirks, the endurance of love. The beautiful (and sometimes ugly) details of this world. I want to capture it all, sort through it, make sense of it while I’m still alive.

It’s similar to some people’s need to photograph their children (or themselves) obsessively, to capture the fleeting moments of childhood before they’re grown and gone, to tie down a memory forever in digital format. We don’t want to forget, we don’t want to let go.

I think Natalie Goldberg said that writers live twice. Once in the living, and again when they write it all down. Sometimes I think I’ll never be able to get it all down, that I’ll never be able to encompass or understand it all. But then I remember this quote, and the panic subsides. The world, in itself, its enough. Goldberg is a practicing Zen Buddhist. As a writer, she understands the need to capture it all. But she also knows how to let it all go.

That doesn’t mean that I can sit here and stare out at the window at the lovely cloud formations all day. I can watch them for awhile, dream in them, write about them, if I want. But then let them go, and get to work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Story Recipes

So my daughter Lilly has been watching her cooking shows-Cake Wars, Kids Baking Championship, Chopped-and I’m reminded of how cooking and writing are related: both require a mixing of disparate ingredients to create something wondrous and new.

On Chopped, the competitors are given a list of three ingredients and a directive-“Create a delicious entree incorporating chili peppers, salmon, and okra. Go!”

soup ingredients

It reminds me of one of my favorite creative exercises-a random combination of objects and/or situations. For example, “Write a story combining twins, an oak tree, and raspberry soda. Go!”

In my quest to get my creative juices flowing again, I’ve been paging through my writing practice notebook and came to a section where I was doing a lot of these exercises. Not really finished stories, just ideas on how to connect the three objects into a viable story. Some seemed like they could work; others not so much. But it didn’t matter. It was just fun.

Sometimes I wrote about things I read in the newspaper that demanded a story, like the little blurb about the mother found swinging her dead child in a swing at a playground. There wasn’t much information, just a mother swinging her dead baby. What on earth was going on here? Fill in the blanks.

Or the the blurb about the body missing from a coffin at a funeral. I thought I’d combine this with a strange happening from my own life, like the time Lilly and I were walking down the street and a bird fell dead at our feet, straight out of the sky:

Something strange was going on in Twin Falls. It all started the day the woodpecker fell dead at our feet with a tragic peep. When Uncle Randolph’s body wasn’t in his coffin at the funeral, I knew the two events had to be connected.

woodpeckercoffin

 

Silly? Maybe. But who knows what kind of story might have come out of it had I kept on writing. And that’s the point: keep on writing, keep on playing. I’ll lick this block yet.

 

The Revenant

Revenant

I finally had an open Sunday afternoon this past week, so my husband and I made it to the theater to watch The Revenant.

What an incredible movie experience!

Leonardo DiCaprio is Hugh Glass, a frontiersman in 1823, trying to make a living trapping and selling animal furs. He and his Pawnee son are guides for a group of soldiers when their camp is attacked by Indians. They escape down the river in their boat, but soon abandon it to hide the pelts and get back to their fort on foot.

On their journey, Glass is attacked by a mother Grizzly bear and is nearly mauled to death. It’s the most harrowing and horrifying movie scene I’ve ever witnessed, I think; the viewer cannot look away for at least five straight minutes while this (computer-generated?) behemoth tears chunks out of Glass’s flesh. It almost strains credulity that a human being could survive such injuries.

Yet he does, and his companions sew him up as best they can and try to haul him across the unforgiving wilderness. His son, Hawk, whispers his love and encouragement into his ear, much as the father did with the son years ago when the family was attacked by soldiers. The boy’s beloved mother was killed and the boy was injured, leading to their nomadic life and their fierce devotion to one another.

It’s soon clear that carrying Glass through the wild, snowy mountains is impossible; assuming Glass is near death, the group’s commander, Captain Henry (Domhnall Gleason), decides to leave him behind with Hawk and two other soldiers, to bury him properly when the time comes.

The problem is, Glass isn’t dying fast enough for John Fitzgerald (the ridiculously talented Tom Hardy). This man has proven himself a greedy, self-centered pain in the ass along the entire journey, and it’s no surprise he tries to speed things along here, stuffing Glass’s mouth with a kerchief. Hawk intervenes, however, and Fitzgerald kills Glass’s son right before his horrified eyes. The murderous soldier hides the body and convinces his companion, Bridger (Will Poulter) to abandon Glass.

Hardy Revenant
Tom Hardy as Fitzgerald.

So begins the incredible journey of survival and revenge for the rest of the film, a film that takes its time in the telling, with beautiful cinematography and a spare, haunting score.

Glass must survive his injuries, the elements, and roving bands of Indians and Frenchmen along the way. He finds a kindred spirit in a Sioux man heading south after his own family has been slaughtered; he allows Glass to travel with him and builds a healing hut for him when his wounds threaten to kill him. A scene of the two of them resting on their journey and catching snowflakes on their tongues helps to restore a little faith in humanity; amid such violence and hopelessness, they can still find small joys.

If I had any complaint, it would be that the film could have been tightened up a bit, but it’s hardly a complaint. Scenes like the snowflake scene, dream sequences, and long, quiet takes of the landscape lend the movie its beauty and poignancy.

Impressive on every level, The Revenant deserves the nomination for Best Picture.

revenant quote

 

 

 

Writer Spotlight: Alice Hoffman

hoffman 2

I discovered Alice Hoffman in 1995 with Practical Magic, and I’ve been a fan ever since. She’s an author who injects a little bit of magic into the everyday lives of engaging characters, who often live in small New England towns with quirky histories, customs, or legends. Her tales often read like modern-day fairy tales, and Hoffman admits she’s heavily influenced by them.

Most of her career has been flavored by a New England regionalism, but in her last few books she’s branched out into historical fiction, tinged by her own brand of magical realism, including The Dovekeepers and The Marriage of Opposites.

Hoffman was born in New York City in 1952, and grew up on Long Island. She attended Adelphi University in 1969, and received a Mirrellees Fellowship to the Stanford University Creative Writing Center in 1973-1974. She currently lives in Boston.

Her bibliography is extensive, but a few of my favorites are The Ice QueenThe Story Sisters, and The Dovekeepers

Hoffman writes for teens, as well, and has a non-fiction book called Survival Lessons, written in the aftermath of her struggle with cancer several years ago.

I’ve read many of her books, and every time I do, I’m dropped into a world that is comfortingly familiar, yet layered with a subtle enchantment that enthralls. There are several of her books that I haven’t gotten to yet, but that’s okay: while I’m waiting for her next new book to come out, I can always dip back into her worlds with the ones I haven’t read yet for a “Hoffman fix”.

hoffman quote

Links:

Official website: www.alicehoffman.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/AliceHoffman/Author

Twitter: @alicehoffmanwriter

 

Fairy Garden Magic

fairy garden

Children can teach us a lot about the creative process. I’ve been in a bit of a fiction funk lately; I freeze up even thinking about it, whether it’s coming up with my own idea or responding to a prompt.

So I decided to just step back a bit and relax. My daughter Lilly has been on vacation this past week, and I’ve been trying to keep her busy with all the kits and art projects she got for her birthday a few weeks ago.

Yesterday morning we worked on her Fairy Garden project. Before you spread the special dirt into the bowl and plant the seeds, you can paint the few ceramic toadstools and the fairy house to put inside it. Along with the paint was a small tube of glitter. I set her up at the kitchen table and promised to join her after I did up a few dishes.

When I returned a few minutes later, I saw that she had poured almost all the glitter into some of the paint pots, making a lumpy paste.

I almost said, “That’s not how you do it, Boo (her nickname),” but stopped before the words came out. Why shouldn’t she put the glitter into the paint? Who said you have to paint inside the lines? Why can’t the fairy house be five different colors?

There are no rules when it comes to creativity, and children know this intuitively. I also know this, but I forget now and then when I get too caught up in “making it better.” I forget that “making it better” comes later, after the initial first draft. My perfectionism kicks in before I even get a word down, and it paralyzes me.

I don’t know how many times I’ve encouraged Lilly to just do her best and have fun-her painting or craft doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s peculiar how we try to carefully nurture our children’s creativity, but then completely ignore our own creative inner child. We demand that child to grow up and be perfect, every time. It’s no wonder I’m blocked.

So I grabbed a paintbrush and sat down with Lilly to play, dipping my brush into the glitter goop. Our fairy garden won’t look like the perfect one on the box, but it will still be beautiful. It will be ours.

(Whether or not the seeds sprout and grow is another matter-plants die under my care. Another skill to nurture!)

Happy playing.

So Many Books…

My “To Be Read” list is inevitably long, with books that have come out over the past several years, as well as books that have been around for decades. But there are a few recent publications that have caught my eye, and I thought I’d share them here.

  • Circling the Sun, by Paula McLain. A novel about Beryl Markham, the first woman to fly nonstop from Europe to North America. Her other claim to fame was her romantic involvement with Karen Blixen and Denys Finch Hatton (immortalized in Blixen’s memoir Out of Africa). I’ve never read Markham’s memoir, West with the Night; maybe I can make up for it with this novel.
  • Circling the sun
  • The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro. The author of The Remains of the Day sets this novel in post-Roman Britain. An elderly couple set out from their village to find their long-lost son, and along the way encounter other travelers who become their companions-a Saxon warrior, his orphan charge, and a knight-as well as hazards both mundane and otherworldly. Sounds like a grown-up fairy tale, right up my alley.
  • buried giant
  • The Forgetting Time, by Sharon Guskin. A single mother enlists the help of a rogue psychologist to help her young son, who may be suffering from memories of a past life. I’m not sure what I think or believe about reincarnation, but the subject fascinates me.
  • forgetting time
  • Black Rabbit Hall, by Eve Chase. An old estate in Cornwall is the scene of family secrets and tragedy affecting the four Acton children. Decades later, its ripples affect Lorna, a young woman who discovers the estate while looking for a wedding reception hall. This book has echoes of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and appeals to the gothic mystery fan in me.
  • black rabbit hall

 

Have you read any of these books? What do you recommend? Leave a comment, and we’ll talk about it!