Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Elm Trees

When I was a child, the first tree I really knew was an elm in the backyard. There were two more in the front, but the one in back hanging over the sandbox was my favorite. Its trunk was coarse and the bark as irregular as  lines on a road map. I was forbidden from every climbing it! But when I was old enough to reach the leaves, I picked them.

The leaves were studied because of their straight “roads” that traveled upward. Maybe it was here that I got the mistaken idea that if you took the right road in life, things went straight and orderly and perfect to the end! If you turned the leaf over, the outer side had the tiniest bit of roughness, like fine grade sandpaper that nudged your face or prickled on your arm. It was green velvet with a kick.

The leaves became money, play dollars in our “store”.  They were lettuce or meat slices on our plates inside the little house that where we played dolls. The green slabs lined our ponds in the sandbox where one summer I tried digging to China. I never made it; was I using the wrong spoon?

Then Dutch Elm disease hit. It took almost all the elm trees in town which were numerous because elms were popular in Kansas. It was sad to see our elms go, one by one.

Two years ago when our maple had to be taken out of this backyard, a nice man with a nursery suggested a disease resistant elm. He drove us around and showed us where they were growing nicely in Joplin. I fell in love with the Princeton Elm! We brought one home and have nursed it along ever since. This summer it has grown a great deal….now even offering the wheelbarrow a wee bit of shade on these unmercifully hot July afternoons.

This morning I picked a leaf…smelled it….felt it…loved it. I was transported back to my first elm where I learned about texture, about color, about trees, and yes, about death too. I think I might have been “backwards dreaming”, a new term I learned this week.

How about you…any backwards dreaming going on at your house?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Tea Cup Tuesday, New Blue Willow

It has been a long while since I participated in Tea Cup Tuesday because I have had nothing new to share. I have restrained myself from even entering flea markets and estate sales. Life has been so busy with more demanding causes and issues.

But while in the Black Hills, we visited the small town of Belle Fourche where there were a few little shops. The town was inviting and we stopped and browsed. DH found a Blue Willow teapot right away. I tried not to look! I did not need any teapot…I did not need any Blue Willow teapot….but I bought yet another teapot!

I have three Blue Willow pots, but none exactly like this one. It was rather dirty and uncared for, but it cleaned up well.  I envisioned the pot on a ranch wife’s table, pouring cups of tea to cowboys or maybe wives of other ranchers. Maybe she just made tea for herself at dawn while drovers rounded up cattle or sheep to head towards the railcars that would take them to eastern markets.

I can’t find any information about the pot or the mark. Can any readers help me out by recognizing the mark or design?

I have used the pot a couple of times already. I love holding and pouring from such a beautiful piece once loved by another woman somewhere. I wish she and I could share a cup of tea together in present time. Since we can’t, I will love her Blue Willow pot for her! 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Mere Ramblings

“I think if you are a writer you’re always writing. But the important thing is to sit at your desk and hold on to it….”   Mary Gordon

Author Mary Gordon said this in an interview in the September issue of The Writer. She had been walking her dog in New York City and saw light coming through the clouds. She captured the scene, her feelings, in her book The Liar’s Wife. So writers do write in their head no matter where or what they are doing.

Her observation rang true to me as I often write my stories in my head. I see scenes; I hear voices; I picture clothing and smell food. My trouble for the last few months is not getting to be at my desk to apprehend the vaporous lines to paper! It is so frustrating to risk losing a great line or a perfect word. Sticky notes help but this desk now looks like a sticky note pad exploded in the room! Maybe soon I can empty my head onto paper—oh, and you thought I was empty-headed all along!

I am not a neatnik. Right now the Founding Fathers could write the Bill of Rights on my coffee tables as the dust is so thick. My secret is if no one moves a single trinket, then no one knows how deep the dull “shine” is! But I can’t ignore laundry, groceries, dishes, or rotting vegetables. Those things drive me nuts. (Yes, and I know the drive is not a long one!) By the time I meet other demands and keep the household running somewhat, the day is done and another day gone without writing. Always I say tomorrow.

Today I worked hard in the house and even DH pitched in. He washed the front porch, front windows, blew freshly cut grass of the drive. I fetched a few groceries, mopped the utility, washed the dog’s bedding, watered the withering flowers, paid the bills, made a lunch, have scalloped potatoes cooking for supper, and weeded old mail. You know, tomorrow MIGHT be mine!

The heat is horrid although we haven’t even broken 100 yet this summer. It is the humidity. It sits on your chest like a fat clawing tom cat. Even at 7 in the morning the air is too warm, too close. This morning Biscuit sat through the first cup of tea but wanted in for the second. I made her come back out just so we had a wee bit more time with fresh though sultry air. Then it was inside to work.

I hate to whine about the heat because I hate to see any summer pass. Each day is a gift and I want to relish it. I really must plan to just get up even earlier to steal some time with a might cooler air and before the sweltering sun drives me in to face dust and duty!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Summer Days and Time with Harper Lee

It is nearly bedtime. The dog has given up for the day; DH is listening to music because he is bored. I told him every piece of furniture in this house could use a dust rag, a load of his jeans are in the dryer, and the bathtub has a ring. He failed to get the point.

It has been over two weeks since I posted a thought, memory, or feeling on my blog. If I don’t do something tonight, I fear I might never return. My blog is feeling like a shoreline seen from an unmoored and free floating boat, the land is dimmer and soon will be out of sight. This has been one taxing and crazy summer. Rain, rain, rain…then high heat moving in making the humidity feel like the air is choking us. Even the dog would not go out…she hid out in the bathroom to avoid the sunny windows and sliding doors. Now this week the rain has returned, alternating a few hours each day of rain with a few hours of sun to be repeated the next day.

Add the weather to family needs and issues, most worrisome, and the national news which is demoralizing and depressing and it is hard to have much enthusiasm for these summer days. I refuse to record our problems here because they can’t hold a candle to those of others. I’m still looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, just have lost sight of the rainbow lately! I think if I could get some good sleep I could re-center myself once more.

Even my reading has been sparse. But this week I did get my copy of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. There is a lot of negative publicity about the book that I refuse to read. Overall I liked the book, although it isn’t what I call a light reading. I will share the spare review I wrote for Goodreads below, and then I will call it a night. As our dear Scarlett said, tomorrow is another day!

The book has some paragraphs that are vague or confusing; it has some pages that sound preachy. Still, the book with its imperfections is a greater read than many I have picked up for reading! Having read To Kill a Mockingbird was a great backstory for this book and helps this book read stronger I think, even though this story was written first. A great editor, numerous revisions, and a lot of work tightened TKAM up, and the same effort would have worked on this story.

The reader needs to remember not only the time of the book's setting, but also the time in which it was written. Many attitudes in the book are still floating around today and could use more examination decades later. The book is about bigotry and racism and narrow-mindedness, but it is also about growth, tolerance, and giving people room to make mistakes of all kinds. Scout is no longer a cute little kid; now she is young adult, stretching and reaching...and yes, a little overbearing at times.

I think the book is a great companion piece to the original...and I still like Atticus Finch--a lot!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Jacquelyn Ann

                                                             Jackie's Flowers

My flower garden of life is filled with people who bloom in different shades and hues. Each blossom means something to me, even those that sometimes look like weeds to others! Jacquelyn Ann was a wild flower, tall and reaching, flexible in the breeze. She was vibrant and fragrant among my flowers…none were like her. She will be missed.

We met 33 years ago when both were fairly new to this rather closed, small town with a Southern bent and built by miners’ money. Both of us were “book people” and frequented the local Carnegie Library built at the turn of the 20th century. We wanted the place to grow and continue to be a force in town so we went to work forming Friends of Library. In the process we became friends of each other.

She had moved to the far edge of town, near a creek with forested banks. She and her husband bought a real Ozark property with a four room rock house with dirt floors that had been home to a couple who reared a passel of kids there. They set to work building a stone fireplace, setting hardwood floors, and making walls of glass so they could breakfast among the birds. Then she began turning an old chicken coop into a building for her painting and prayer time. She named it the Sunbeam House, and it was, like Jacquelyn Ann herself, filled with light and love.

I was a mother with small children while she was finishing rearing her third and last teenager. She was hunting a new place for herself in the world and became an ordained minister. She made numerous paintings of angels. She counseled people, leading them to find peaceful lives. We stayed in touch. Eventually our husbands worked on a friendship too.

A few days ago, my friend died in her sleep. Shock. Loss. Pain, but only for a while because I knew she died as she had lived with happiness, contentment, and a faith-filled life. It was the death she always wanted…to go to sleep and move on to another place when the time was right. It had been a lovely day her son told me. She had admired her beloved flower gardens and fed the hundred hummingbirds that live nearby. Another book, she had one more chapter to finish before bed. Her children listed in her obit that she was pleased to be finishing The California and Oregon Trail, Sketches of Prairie and Rocky Mountain Life by Francis Parkman Jr. With the book finished, she went to bed, to sleep, and to God.

A matter of hours later, her son took a picture of the Sunbeam House. He caught rays of morning sunlight beaming down on Jacquelyn Ann’s yard and wrapping around her Sunbeam House. Clearly my friend was passing on a blessing, a comfort to us all that all was well.

While we will miss her, while we adjust to a hole in our lives, we will remember well the light she lived in, the light she shared with all she met, and light she gifted so many of us with. And in this moment of what seems like darkness to those left behind, it will be our job to become the moons to her sun, reflecting all she taught us about Light.   

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Reading and Writing and Living

Our Souls at Night is Kent Haruf’s last novel, as he died last fall. I’d read two of his novels years ago and enjoyed them. His work is always set on the plains of the Midwest or at the foothills of Colorado. His style is spare and tight, the reading easy. His new novel is a short work about two 70 year old neighbors who have each lost their spouses and are lonely. They begin to sleep together not for passionate sex but for the comfort of companionship. It is a beautiful story…until her son intervenes and does what people do. His own moral code and selfish righteousness upset the satisfying peace of these two lovely people.

When I finished the book, I was not ready to say goodbye to this author so I ordered two older books of his. Haruf wrote in an unusual way physically. He put a cap over his eyes and was “blinded” to the real world as he typed what he saw, saving corrections for second drafts. I wonder if I could/should do this? The world definitely intrudes on my writing. I think as writers we do whatever we have to do execute our stories.

As I was finishing the last pages of this book, I got a long email from an editor, a rejection of course. But he was so kind and it was not a form letter. He told me he read my work several times and liked it, but in the end, he just didn’t “love it”.   He encouraged me to submit more work. So again it is “close but no cigar”…or always a bridesmaid, never a bride”. How can we as writers know what exactly it is that editors are looking for? How can we toss in that line or detail that makes them love the work?

I search a lot of markets and many try to give enticing prompts describing what they want. Most I do not find helpful when they say things like “send us your best work” (do they think we writers choose our second best to circulate?), “send us innovative and cutting edge submissions” (ah, how do writers know what editors think is innovative rather than risky and peculiar works?), or “submit compelling stories (whose compelling?) with characters we can respond to”.  These guidelines are so vague for writers to truly know what is expected.

How about some guidelines for editors? How about some standard they stick with to help writers know just what they are looking for? I would like to see an editor be very specific in the call outs. Say “don’t send me any stories with horses or firemen”, “I am looking only for characters with red hair and fiery temperaments that learn hard lessons”, or “please submit stories with plenty of metaphors and long sentences”. I just think trying to hit the mark with editors can be like hitting the archery bullseye while facing backwards and using a bent arrow!

Of course, talent and basic rules are a must for a writer, but in the end, I think writers just have to write to please themselves, hoping they can find a reader who “sees” the story they are trying to tell.