Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Investing In Your Writing

iStock_000072638051_SmallA frequent myth shared among writers is that being a writer doesn’t cost anything. You can write for free. This is only true if you are writing just for yourself. The minute you start writing for readers, writing becomes like every other art form. It comes at a cost. It becomes an investment. Whether you are a dancer paying for ballet shoes and weekly classes or you are a musician buying strings for your guitar and learning to read music . . . OR if you are a writer desiring to know and understand craft, there is an investment.

By the time you are working in the long-form format of the novel or the memoir, craft becomes the big thing. Story. Craft is what makes cream rise to the top. It’s probably a safe bet to say that if you’re reading this, you are already a good writer. But good writing is only the prerequisite. At the end of the day, what we all really want is a good story. Story connects us. It mirrors the state of the human condition in prose. It touches our hearts, curls our toes and opens our mind to possibility. Story makes us human.

Imagine this: you make an investment in yourself as a writer. You attend what amounts to a mini-MFA. You immerse yourself in the study of story for four and a half days while the rest of the world falls away. That’s what I am doing with Jennifer Blanchard Williams and Larry Brooks this April in Portland. Will you join us?

Your Story on Steroids: A 4-Day Novel Development Intensive is a challenging, unprecedented workshop all about the craft of writing your story. Regardless of your level of experience, this workshop will push you toward being a better storyteller, a better novelist, and a better memoirist. And yes, it is an investment. And it’s too good of an investment not to share it with my blogging friends.

Here are the details:

April 3-7, 2016 at The Benson Hotel in Portland Oregon. Visit our web site listed below and if you have questions, there is a phone number for you to dial or you can send an email to me through the site. Suppose that a four-day  deep dive in to the multi-layered, heavily nuanced form of novel construction up levels your craft from this point forward?  If you only do one writing workshop this year, make it this one. Go ahead. Invest in yourself. Your writing is worth it and so are you.

www.novelintensives.com

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Settling In

20140613_073608_resizedI suppose that I thought of retirement in the traditional sense in the way that I always thought of the word, meaning that you stopped. Maybe that is true for golfers. They stop working and then play golf until they die. I don’t play golf. Thus far my retirement has been anything but a stopping or a golfing. It’s been more like a wild wind that whips and swirls and when it finally dies down, everything in its path has been forever changed.

The odyssey of sorting, purging and packing started in September when my husband “retired” from clinical practice. That resulted in an encore career in which he consults. Consult is a word that covers a myriad of sins…technical writing to product development. He is definitely not retired in the classical sense. He is working from home. Working from home is a lot less stressful than maintaining an office and it suits him.  I’ve been doing some part-time work too, but mostly it feels as though I have been moving for a year.

To enumerate the components of this big life change is too much. It’s like forcing one of your friends to listen to your itinerary when you are over committed. So let me just say this. All this retirement business has landed us in the great northwest, where hubby, dog and I have managed to unpack ourselves into a new life that day by day settles in.

I woke up this morning to a light rain and squirrels dancing on the deck. There is a writing desk in the corner of the living room that was placed thusly for daily writing practice, and as the moving boxes dwindle, it is accessible and beckoning. Nonetheless, I sit in bed with a cup of hot tea and my laptop, a favorite place to order the chaos in my brain.

Hubby is already upstairs in his office doing non-retirement things. I am now in a position to resume the writing practice left fallow during the past nine months of packing up offices and houses and unpacking and now finally the great promise of settling in. My head is swirling with thoughts of what I want to write about and I am already thinking ahead to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November. Until then, however, I am committed to getting into the daily habit of writing down my stories.

Blogging has been a great way to get me writing, because as soon as I hit the “publish” button I have put myself out there for better or for worse. It doesn’t matter if the stuff is good or if it’s crap, the important thing is I have committed words to the page, put forth ideas, thoughts and feelings and now it’s out there. I don’t “publish” everything I write on my blog, but the blog is certainly a catalyst for continued effort.

Meanwhile, back to the dancing squirrels. The squirrels in Colorado were brown. Here they are grey, either way; Jeter has only fierce growls and barks for the furry little creatures. I can rest assured that thanks to my dog, we will all remain safe from squirrels and I can engage in daily writing practice without fear of being bombarded by acorns.

 

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Garden Tools and Summer Dreams

20140608_071803_resizedI watched from the kitchen window as he dug in the rich, dark soil and carefully placed the tomato plants and yellow squash. It was a voyeuristic moment, a glimpse into his peace. My husband works in his head…data and information, technical writing for both lay people and doctors. And here he was in a totally different scenario on this beautiful edge of summer, digging with his trowel and his hands, bent over plants, anticipating their fruits. He was quiet. I stood for a long time at the window and just watched, happy.

As the experience of intense driving and motel rooms between Colorado and here recede into memory, I find that we are relaxing a more and more each day. The stress of getting here with full trunks and a Labrador Retriever has given way to sitting on the deck of our new home in the morning and watching the cedar trees dance in the breeze. There are some birds that live near by that sound like cats. When I first heard one, I thought a cat was trapped somewhere. It took awhile to realize that it is a bird making the distressed sound of a loud meow. I have no idea what kind of bird it is, but it makes me laugh. I imagine the cats aren’t that thrilled being mocked.

Our stuff arrives from Colorado tomorrow. We have been sleeping in our new home on a sofa bed that we purchased. Here is the truth about sofa beds:  they are built for your eight year-old cousin, whose back is young. Sleeping in a sofa bed for adults is akin to lounging in an airline seat. I am so excited about sleeping in my bed on Monday night!

Yesterday we explored the local farmer’s market and came home with a bag of fresh greens and snap peas. We had also got raspberries, but they did not even make it to the car. It was fun walking around our new town and taking in the sites. Friendliness permeates this place, and while I know that there can be assholes everywhere, they seem to be in shorter supply here. There is something to be said for a small population. I think we humans were meant for tribes and communities and not for condensed, crowded spaces…at least I know that I am wired that way.

I am going to go water the garden now and say a little prayer over my husband’s tomatoes. Thank you comes easily to my heart this day.

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

The Characters at the Co-Op

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I’ve been eating a lot of my meals at the food co-op. Fresh green drinks and kim-che, the kind of stuff that makes some of my friends think that I am slightly bat-shit crazy and the kind of stuff that I love. Coming of age in the late 1960’s, I learned to cook from an Adel Davis book and held Jethro Kloss to be my bible for healthy living. I still eat basically the same way and now there is a whole new generation of health-food foodies that do the same, and I see them come and go at the food co-op.

Some of the folks at the food co-op, especially the younger ones, like to dress up. It makes me smile, because I used to “dress up” too. There was nothing like being 19 years old and struttin’ your self in fringed leather boots and a beaded headband, arms covered in silver bangles and a chunk of turquoise hanging from your neck. Now I look like any other middle-aged woman in shorts and running shoes, sipping green drink, but I have great appreciation for the costumes that make a statement of creative identities, parading in front of me, checking out today’s tofu casserole in the hot section of the co-op deli.

Yesterday my husband and I met a young man, who wasn’t in costume, who drove a car plastered with anti-GMO slogans and adorned with a large, misshapen fish on it’s roof. He called it a “sugar beet fish.” He is an activist collecting signatures to keep GMO foods out of our valley. It’s a big issue right now and I am not sure if small voters like me who cannot afford to buy their congressperson will really make a difference in stopping the evil of Monsanto. Monsanto Corporation is apparently by definition a person, who has more than enough money to purchase our leaders so that they can continue with their experiment of genetically messing with our food, and of course, that includes my green drink.

I have a lot of respect for anyone who takes up a cause and tries to facilitate change. We talked to him for a while and signed his petition, which will put a non-GMO initiative on the ballot this fall.

In addition to the hot deli, the thing I like best about the food co-op is it represents this little slice of the idealistic life. It’s a part of myself that I don’t want to lose. I’ve been blessed to have my own businesses over the years. I get paid well these days for consulting work and up until my recent move, I had a closet full of power suits. I like that world, but the world of the co-op, where people want to dress in feathers and beads to separate themselves from the masses; where young activists believe that they can and will make a difference; where the woman behind that counter that takes my order for green drink never looks at me like some of my friends do when I ask for more cucumber instead of apple; this slice of life is dear to my heart. Health food, personal creativity, social justice and acceptance–these are things that I have valued since my youth and continue to be a part of my moral fiber. Plus, I really like the woman who wears the rainbow pants, ears and a pony tail–no literally a pony’s tale, like hanging from her yaya pony place.

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Meet the Neighbors

We are meeting our new neighbors. We share a driveway with a young couple that have small children. I like having kids next door. They are loud and chaotic and their laughter can be infectious. I like to hear their conversations, which at times seem a lot more real than adult conversations I hear.  Kids will tell you what they think!  The couple welcomed my husband and I and suggested a bar-b-que later in the summer.

IMG_20140602_105030_resizedJust up the road on the corner is an old cemetery from the 1800’s. It was the first cemetery in Ashland. I have a fondness for cemeteries, especially older ones that tell the history of its place in names and dates etched into stone. This one has a bench toward the back of the property where one can sit and contemplate the ephemerality of life. We are here and gone in the blink of an eye and there is both fear and perfection in that. Sometimes I like to walk the rows of graves and plots and read the names, saying them aloud in a kind of honoring of those who have passed. The winds slowly erode the older stones and the names begin to fade…another reminder of how we receded from life until even our name has been taken by the wind. The cemetery is the perfect neighbor; quiet and peaceful and welcoming to times of sitting quietly meditating upon the circle of life.

Then there is Sandra. She and her husband Richard live across from me. I met her yesterday morning. She was standing in the middle of the most amazing garden I have ever seen. Her body is lean and tan from the labor that it takes to keep this parcel of land thriving in blossoms. I like her hardiness and her obvious dedication. She feels like someone I would like to get to know…and maybe she will share some gardening wisdom with me.IMG_20140602_105147_resized

I haven’t met the neighbor on the other side of me yet. I saw that he was doing Tai Chi in his yard yesterday morning and I watched from a respectful distance, appreciating how graceful he looked. He plays the saxophone. My husband and I heard him practicing. Fortunately, he is not new to the instrument!

Right now we drive up and down the hill between hotel and house, watching the final touches being put on our new abode. Jeter, ever-faithful Lab, has christened the yard and claimed it as his. Dean and I assembled some patio chairs from the Home Depot yesterday. We were grateful for the place to sit that they provided in the afternoon as we waited for the phone guy to finish his job.  Waiting on phones is like waiting for Godot. The two-hour block of time we were told to allot, turned into seven.  Oh well, I had a place to sit.

I love the moisture in the morning air here and the green that surrounds us. I like our neighbors.  I am eager for our stuff to get here from Colorado so that we can move in and settle. In the meantime, I am enjoying the anticipation and the endless conversations with Dean about where to place furniture and whether to plant lilacs. Life seems friendly.

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Sort of, Almost, Not Quite Landing in Ashland, Oregon Chronicles

Silver Falls State Park

Day three of the drive from Colorado to Oregon got prettier with each passing mile. The high Nevada desert gave way to California cotton woods growing along the farmer’s ditches, and pastures stretching their long, green fingers out into the land. Blue skies and bright sun followed us through California and up to the Oregon border.

In the movies the young couple might have started this day with tender anticipation. But two slightly crisp around the edges, curmudgeonly 60-year-old bed fellows began instead with “why the f*&K can’t I get onto our website? Do you know what is going on with these morons?” A morning walk and caffeine helped us load up the cars and put it in perspective. We will never know the “morons” behind the scenes of the internet company upon which we have built our website, and even in the most exciting of times and adventures, I expect that they will continue to annoy, albeit anonymously, from time to time…a conspiracy just waiting to happen one fine spring day.

I must admit that pretty landscape makes for a less stressful drive. My foot felt a little less heavy on the pedal today inasmuch as I was drinking in the images the lead to the portal marked “new adventure.” We came upon towns with quaint main streets: Susanville is a little California town that I imagine was named after a beloved mother or daughter. Weed on the other hand was either named after the television show, the crop grown there, or maybe someone really just thought the place was a bunch of weeds and thus named it so. I like my version better, however.

We rolled into Ashland around 1:30 in the afternoon, sweaty and excited. Chicken wings and Caesar salad from the Ashland Food Co-op was lunch. If not for the beauty of this little town, I would move here just for the chicken wings at the food co-op.

We decided to see how our house looked before we checked into the hotel and it did not disappoint. Doing a remodel long distance doesn’t allow you to participate in the day-to-day nuance of the process, so we have had to trust and it looks as though our trust was well placed. We wandered around checking out all the work that has been done these past few months and talking about where to place furniture.

Our stuff won’t get here until later in the month. In the meantime, we will visit the house everyday while the finishing touches are put in place. Tomorrow we are hoping to sleep in and then make a trip to the nursery for some tomato plants and for flowers to put by the front door. In another week or so we will have the fun of getting moved in. I hope we don’t start the day out with the conspiratorial Internet company. But if we do, I will try to remind myself that the texture of life is created by moments rude and sublime, frustrating and celebratory. No one ever believes the sappy characters in the movies anyway, do they? Those characters never drove for three days and slept in hotel rooms with a Labrador retriever who barked at the slightest noise and kept waking them us–thus the crispy around the edges–did they? Life happens amid our plans, and isn’t it grand. Welcome to Ashland.

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

More From The Oregon or Bust Chronicles

Car and luggage

Some drives are just not all that thought-provoking.  This was one such day where I swam in the useless and the mundane to occupy my time for 8 hours. Whereas Denver to Salt Lake was filled with memory and fondness, even some beautiful scenery– today’s drive from Salt Lake to Reno was fraught with things like:  did I really just see a sign that said “Beverly Hills, ½ mile?” How many kinds of burritos are there in the world? Does Nevada have anything in it besides desert and scrub? (Apologies to anyone from Nevada reading this). In short, today’s drive seemed longer and less kind than yesterdays.

I tried putting on the radio for a while, something I rarely do in my car. I found NPR. Honestly, NPR has never been the same for me since I saw Alex Baldwin on Saturday Night Live, playing “Peter Schwetty” in a spoof of an NPR Christmas show in which he shares about his special baked goods that he calls “schwetty balls.” And the jokes about little sacks of nuts and schwetty balls pretty much goes into gut splitting laughter from there–that is if you have a sophomoric sense of humor, which I do, and fortunately for me my husband does also.

So today’s NPR kept bringing back images of schwetty balls and even though the real NPR was interviewing a musician from Iceland, it was hard for me not to hear the SNL sketch in my head. That took up at least 10 minutes.

Eight hours of desert and truck stops between Salt Lake and Reno did little to inspire. Highlight: the town just across the Nevada border on Interstate 80 had a gorgeous baseball field upon which we had a little lunch and threw a tennis ball for the dog. Low light: everything else until Reno.

It was good to get into Reno, which felt like a little slice of civilization after 8 hours of desert. A salad and a hot bath soothes the weary traveler’s soul and I am looking forward to getting on the road again tomorrow for half the amount of time and rolling into Oregon, our final destination and new home.