Archive for the ‘transitions’ Category

Censored mailTruth is, if someone had asked me that last day in Nebraska what my takeaway from the retreat was, there was one thing clear.

I feel free to stop writing for publication.” Sounds strange, I know. Most people come away from a writer’s retreat inspired about a new project or renewed in their commitment to an ongoing one.

But a stop sign is also direction.

Nobody asked and I was glad. I wasn’t ready to say it aloud. Once I returned home, once I unpacked and settled, once I processed and considered, surely I’d go the other way with it.

I swear, I must have been absent from school the day they covered gut feelings and how to go with them.

* * *

Tammy writes about “Living the Small Creases of Your Life.”

There are times you live in the hidden nooks-n-crannies of your life, as if it were a shrinking back. But that’s not entirely true. It’s really a folding into your life. One that’s necessary and truer.

There it is again. Permission. What seems like shrinking back is really a folding in.

Ideas pop, and against the too-long-blank canvas of my mind, they splash like fireworks. An old voice pitches to me. Write an article. Write a series. Query today. They will love it!

But I have this other investment I’m making, see? My peak creative time is spoken for.

* * *

NEXT MORNING again, before sunrise, I start a letter.

When the sun comes over the roof of the house across the street, I pull the curtain a bit, to keep the blinding ray at bay. Just 5 more minutes. That’s all I need and I’ll be done. Always the same, every day.  Just 5 more minutes, please.

The dog lies tucked in beside me in the upholstered chair, tight. I sometimes imagine he is sending me sentences, but pay no mind to that. It’s the least of my insanities, but I have changed chairs since rescuing him, so he has a place.

He’ll not stir until the printer prints. I get up for coffee or a sweater and he doesn’t lift an eyelid. But he knows when he hears that printer, his breakfast is not far off.

I pick up a pen,
I sign,
I fold the paper into thirds. These are the small creases into which I am tucking my everyday life, a mixed bag of a ramble, all so much nothing that turns out to be something to someone else.

* * *

SHE’S GONE DOWNTOWN and surrendered herself. Five days after I’m back from JT, she goes – just as instructed, just as she needed to do, just as arranged for in her plea agreement. We won’t be meeting at Panera again, not for a very long time.

Today I got a response from her, stamped on the back that it had been seen by the censors first. My postman’s gotten used to this, the regular influx of screened mail.

It’s arrival means my first letter got there okay! I’m happy for that.

“You never told me that story!” she writes. “I’ve read it three times so far.”

It’s crazy math, I know, but one letter read 3 times means more to me than one article seen by thousands.


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somewhere over Des Moines

ON the trip home from Nebraska,
the same storms that force a rerouting
also yield views I wouldn’t have wanted to miss.

That’s how it is with reroutings.

* * *

SUNDAY I was late coming home.
Monday first thing workmen came
to tear out the old screen room
and make way for something new.

No time to process
a notepad full of jottings,
a head full of stories.

There are people in and out.
There’s sawing and hammering.
The dog keeps an eye on everything,
apprising me of all arrivals at high pitch.

But today a carpenter
told about buying his first car,
how it was the ’70s and he had long hair
and the salesman didn’t think he could afford it.
He went to the bank and withdrew the full amount from his savings,
asking for it in pennies.
The bank couldn’t oblige,
so he settled for taking it all in $1 bills.
which he took back to the dealer –
not in neat packets,
but loose in a brown paper grocery bag –
and dumped on the salesperson’s desk.

I love a good story better than just about anything
and am glad for the all the sawdust and hammering
and trucks in and out the driveway
that have brought me one.

* * *

THIS is the prayer that came to me at retreat’s end,
that I would see clearly the rerouting,
that I would step in that direction,
that I’d follow through on it, all the way,
not take a stab then leave it half-done.
* * *

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pencils at the ready

been thinking it a while –
but is it one more step away from writing?
Or toward it?

I admitted to these very thoughts
while riding to church a few weeks ago
and wouldn’t you know it?
The morning’s passage included
immediately they left their nets.”
I like that.
(Long before Nike’s “just do it”
were the first disciples.
They were more cutting-edge than me.)

So what’s the hold-up?

I will miss the friends I’ve met in cyberspace,
not that I won’t be in cyberspace,
but I think I’ll feel only half-in.
Now that I see that in print,
I realize my thinking on that is wrong.
This hadn’t struck me before.
(This is one reason writers write, says Joan Didion,
to find out what they are thinking.)

I’ve been blogging over a decade, so it’s a hard break,
like parting with a old sweater,
too tattery to be seen in
but there are so many memories attached.
Okay, my blog isn’t that tattered.
Still, sentimentality is often the obstacle to the uncluttered life, is it not?

But mostly the hold-up
is the cry of the platform-builders,
“You must blog.”
Must I?
Did anyone actually say that
or is that how it got twisted in my mind?

I wish to say something fabulously acceptable,
such as,
I’m working on my doctorate
or going to do third-world orphanage work
or donating all my writing parts to a needy person
and so – apologies, apologies – I no longer can blog.

But I don’t have a noble cause to give as excuse.
And my faithful readers do not require it of me.

It is enough to say
I have nothing to say,
that what I have to say,
the topic closest to me right now,
the one I dedicate my peak writing time to,
which is as it should be,
doesn’t belong here,
and I belong where it is.

You are nodding. I know it.

A few times in my life I wondered how to explain to a friend a decision I made, only to discover no explanation was necessary.

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morning tracks in snow

across fresh snow
on the back porch
beg to be captured,
I don’t know why,
the same way
I don’t know why
I had to write down
all that happened,
just so it’s there
the view from my window.

But they’ve caught my attention,
made me wonder.

Have the tracks I was leaving
been erased by what’s happened?
The answer, I think,
lies in my response,
the steps still to come.
It’s all one long story,
the story of a life.

I think I’ll get dressed and go to church and see my people,
the people with the long view.

How It Starts

How It Starts

Real Reason Most Journals are Abandoned

Real Reason Most Journals are Abandoned

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the files

The greater story is unfolding before their eyes….and they are clinging to their smaller stories.” – Tina Howard

THE FILE CABINET I want is not in stock. It’s not available online either. But I’ve already given away my old one and the files from it lie everywhere.

I glance at the line-up on the bench, the many linear inches, and see that huge chunks are unfinished manuscripts and bits and pieces of once-important ideas I never started on, clippings that once struck me, the “someday I’ll write about” things.

Are they important to me now? Do I even know what’s there?

* * *

AN ARCHAEOLOGY intern, digging through these remains, might venture guesses about me and what presses in now. They’d get it wrong. No hint exists. Not here. There’s no room for now here.

Maybe a new file cabinet isn’t the answer.

I can’t write the stuff I once did and I need to let it go,” I say and it seems like such an epiphany. But didn’t I say the exact same words to a friend in Texas last September?

She heard me. I was the one not listening.

* * *

EPIPHANIES happen in an instant, but the follow-through can be long in coming.

“The greater story is unfolding before their eyes….and they are clinging to their smaller stories.” I read. Yes indeed. My feet are all tangled up in the old stuff and I have no room for what’s before me now.

Scratch file cabinet from the list. Add shredder.
Time to make room for now.

* * *

See all the Letting Go posts here.

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old radio

Singers and writers have a lot in common, needing to sing in the voice they’ve been given……the song that’s at hand.

“I MADE PEACE WITH MY VOICE 10 years ago,”
he says,
and I turn up the volume
so I can hear the interview
over the water running in the bathroom sink,

everything going down the drain so fast.
A metaphor for how I feel.

I can’t write the stuff
I once did
and need to let it go

Emmylou says
“I’ve really shaken hands with where my voice is now.
It’s got some more grooves in it.”

And maybe that’s where I need to go,
to the hand shake,
not stand at a distance,
sizing it up,
trying to decide.

Cross the room, shake the hand.

“With me it was never about my voice
as much as how can I tell the story of this song.
And if I really love a song, nothing is gonna get in my way…”

I give up too easily.

“… and if I can’t go as high as I would like
then I’m just gonna stay low.”

And didn’t I just love that?

* * *

*Catch the interview: “Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell: Staying Low

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A good mother-in-law is worth holding onto, but you can only hold on for so long.

AFTER I HEAR the news
that she is failing –
vital signs all higher or lower
than what they ought to be

I finish the dishes,
get out a skein of yarn,
my size 8 knitting needles
and instructions for an ear warmer
I’ve been wanting to make,

and begin a trip down memory lane
that extends back 40 years,
back to when we first met,
back before I had children,
back before I was married or even engaged,
back to when my hair was auburn.

I go back
to the times
we sat together
and talked over knitting needles –
her fingers flying, always working on something interesting,
and me, slow as molasses and left-handed to boot,
trying to figure things out.
Cable stitches, for example.

I learned the basics of knitting in the Brownies,
but she is the first person I know
who makes useful things,
which is what I want to be in the world.

* * *

I WISH I’D TAKEN a PICTURE of her Thanksgiving weekend,
how she looked,
just back from the hairdresser’s,
wearing a shirt so crisp
it looked fresh out of the package.

“Just some old thing I’ve had for years,” she said.

I need to stop thinking
how I didn’t get that shot when I had the chance,
not wanting to take her picture too much,
like I was always expecting it to be the last.

* * *

IN the SPRING of ’74
I walk into her screenroom
and find her taking down
her Christmas tree
turned Valentine’s tree
turned St. Patrick’s Day tree
turned Easter tree.
The tree has been up for 4 months.
I don’t know anyone who’s done this before,
but I think it’s so cool.

“Sal?” I say….because we didn’t yet call her Gram.

And when I don’t answer right away,
she looks up at me.

I’m . . . going to have a baby!” I say,
and she throws her arms around me.

* * *

WE LEFT HOME at 5 this morning
and arrived at her house at noon.

She puts me to shame,
her house completely decked out
for Christmas
and mine,
well….I haven’t quite gotten around to it.

I admire her collection,
a life’s worth,
and take a picture of the musical angel
she says Wally gave her
when he was 8 years old.
Still plays!

blue angel

* * *

and the visiting nurse,

after we chat a good while
and eat the early supper
brought in a cooler from Ohio and reheated,

after she has her meds
and the men get busy
working on something in another part of the house,

we sit together in the living room –
her, working a word search puzzle,
me, working on the ear warmer I’ve started.

The rhythmic hum
of the oxygen machine,
like a metronome,
sets a beat
my knitting needles can’t keep up with,
but there’s no hurry.
Time has been suspended.

All the shared years
are somehow present at once in the room.

She dozes off,
I slip a stitch,
purl to the end,
begin the next row,
and it all seems right and peaceful,
going home.

pumpkin yarn

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