Monthly Archives: October 2016

Memoir Monday, October 31st, 2016

happy-halloween-post

             In honor of Halloween, I’ve been spending some time contemplating Americans’ love affair with horror.  Nowhere does that seem more evident to me than with this year’s presidential election.  And even though this is not a political blog, I’ve noticed there are some similarities between presidential election politics and living the writing life.

              Similarity #1: Both are scary!  With writing, you never know what is going to happen next, whether it is plotting a story, submitting to an agent, or seeking publication.  You must put yourself out and make yourself vulnerable.  Unfortunately, our presidential candidates seem to think that less is more and so every week it’s one more instance of never knowing what’s going to happen next.  That’s why we keep getting “leaked” information, whether it be videotapes, emails, or something else that makes us all go “Doh!” with a face palm. 

              Similarity #2: Both are fraught with risk!  My vote is going to Jill Stein and the Green Party.  I know this is risky because I vehemently oppose one candidate and I would not, under any circumstances, want this person as president.  So, I debated about voting for the other candidate just to ensure that the other one is not elected.  Does this strike anyone else as wrong? 

              I believe it is and so I am willing to risk my country, my freedom, and my Affordable Care Act health insurance, simply because I cannot be a party to a broken system any longer.  When I embraced the writing lifestyle, I knew there were inherent risks with it.  No longer would I have a steady paycheck, tenure, benefits, an employer-matched retirement program and so on.  But I was nevertheless willing to give it up all to live my dream.

              In doing so, I have found joy, fulfillment, and freedom.  I do not want to lose it, yet at the same time I need to remain true to myself.  Neither major party candidate has remained true to themselves, so they will not get my vote.

              Similarity #3 – Both involve making stuff up!  For writers, this is a wonderful perk of our profession.  We get to build new worlds, create characters, and live inside their heads.  Our stories allow us to experience different cultures, lifestyles, and relationships, and we can learn about ourselves while at the same time weaving universal themes and life lessons throughout our writing. 

              In politics, pretending to be something you’re not appears to be par for the course, but unlike writing I wouldn’t consider it a good thing.  We have websites devoted to “fact-checking” our candidates and sometimes they are branded as having “their pants on fire,” in terms of how different what they state is from reality. 

              Of course, people are entitled to change their minds and our presidential candidates are no exception.  Before I decided to give up consuming violence in media (which essentially meant not watching the presidential debates as verbal violence is violence nevertheless), I LOVED the television series 24.  Based on my experiences watching that show, I believed there were some instances were torture should be allowed, especially considering national security.

              It took one of my good friends in graduate school to sit me down and explain just why torture is a human rights violation for me to realize that torture is, well, torture, and although Hollywood may be good at sensationalizing it, there is always real and true human life being minimized. 

              But it unfortunately does not appear to be the case that our politicians are “changing their minds” and showing growth in morals, values, or any other important qualities I subscribe to in a president.  No, it appears that they are simply catering to their party simply for the sake of getting elected.  Over ONE BILLION DOLLARS will have been spent by the time this election is over.  People do crazy things for money and having your pants on fire appears to be just one of them. 

              Similarity #4 – Both are wrought with rejection! Barring any unusual circumstances, we will have one big winner and one big loser come the evening of November 8th.  Thankfully, I have never yet had to experience being rejected by millions upon millions of people.  So far, it’s only been publishers, agents, literary journals, and websites.  Oh, and I suppose friends, schools, employers, significant others, pets (I’m talking to you aloof cats who pretend they’re not interested), and bears (see previous posts).  So, really, now that I think about it my whole life has been about rejection.  But, again, it’s never been on the scale of millions and millions of people! 

              Maybe someday though.  Wouldn’t that be amazing to be such a successful writer that my work could be commented on, loved, hated, debated, and so on by millions?!  Or I suppose I could just run for president?  Millions then would also love, hate, and debate my choices.

              Of course, not being even remotely qualified for president, that would be a scary choice for the U.S. population. Thus, for my final thoughts I will leave you with an original Halloween poem that I think sums up this post succinctly:

Happy Halloween

With lots and lots of treats

But only a few tricks

‘Cuz we’re all scared enough

Thanks to U.S. politics!

Garden Victory Part 4

garden-victory-part-4

Arthur watched from the back of the church as the congregation processed up the aisle.  Some of the people went back to their pews, where they belong, thought Arthur, and some of them headed for the exit.  As they walked past him, Arthur grunted, disgusted by the lack of respect these individuals had for the Body of Christ.  Damn you, he thought.  You’ll burn in hell for your sins.  Even though a large part of Arthur took comfort in this judgment, a smaller part pitied the fools.  Such a stupid price to pay, eternity in hell, just to avoid traffic.

Arthur checked his watch.  Mass had gone over long.  It was now six o’clock and they still had fifteen minutes to go.  It was the windbag priest. “Anything extra goes back to St. Michael’s,” he repeated a dozen times discussing the bishop’s annual appeal.   Finally, the priest got to “The Mass has ended.  Go in peace,” and Arthur headed for the nearest exit.

On the way out the door, Arthur made sure not to make eye contact with the woman collecting change for the parish’s refugee resettlement program.  Stupid immigrants.  He hated that St. Michael’s contributed so much money to these foreigners.  Why should a complete stranger get his money?

The woman tapped him on the arm.   “We could really use your help,” she said.

He ignored her and started walking faster.  As he headed across the street to his car, Arthur prayed the woman would leave him the hell alone.  He looked up just in time to see the look of horror on the young girl’s face as she slammed on her brakes.

“Watch where you’re going!” Arthur yelled.

“I’m sorry!”  The girl looked shaken. “Are you okay?” she asked, getting out of the car.

“No thanks to you,” he huffed.

“I was just trying to help.” Arthur didn’t say anything and started towards his car again.  The girl seemed to dither on the spot, then reached into her car and pulled out four sunflowers.  They had long stems.  “Here, take these,” she said as she shoved them into Arthur’s hands.  “To make up for almost hitting you.”  The girl seemed to think she was doing Arthur a great favor what with how she smiled getting back into her car.

Arthur threw the flowers on his front seat.  What the hell am I going to do with these, he thought as he drove away.  He hadn’t driven too far, when he noticed a flyer on his windshield.  It was asking for donations for refugees.  At a stop sign, he grabbed one of the flowers and tried to use its stem to remove the flyer.  It didn’t work, so he tossed it out the window.  He chucked the other three out after it.  There, he thought.  Maybe a refugee will find them.  He drove away leaving the flowers behind.  Arthur chuckled to himself.  Now, that’s the kind of charity I can get behind.

Garden Victory Part 3

Kayla sat in the parking lot.  Twice she opened her car door, but each time slammed it shut.  She kept looking through the restaurant window, seeing the girls clustered around a table.  They laughed and smiled, scooping up ketchup with French fries and slurping on sodas.  It was no different than the cafeteria at school.  Not one of them seemed to have a care in the world.

Kayla sighed, looking at her body.  She never knew what to feel about it, what with half the posts on her Facebook feed celebrating a big and curvy female body and the other half telling her she could get rid of her muffin top in as little as 21 days.  But Kayla liked her muffin top.  It gave her something to hold on to when she was feeling shy – she could cross her arms and hold herself tight – and then maybe she could get through whatever it was she needed to.

For right now, though, Kayla felt sure that getting past the girls inside was not something she needed to get through.  So she stayed in her car, turning it back on.  As she headed to the drive through she put down her window.  Just then, two of the girls came out, drink cups held in their hands like trophies.  They snickered as Kayla drove by and stopped a few feet ahead of them, waiting for the cars in front of her.

Kayla pretended not to notice as the girls strode past.  But she couldn’t ignore their calls of greeting.  “Hey Kayla,” one said.  “Watcha gonna get?”

Kayla shrugged, but the girl didn’t give up.  She pulled a dollar out of her pocket.  “Here,” she said, throwing it through the window and laughing.  “Keep it to their dollar menu.  Maybe then you won’t get so fat.”

The girl didn’t wait for Kayla’s response, which was good because Kayla didn’t have one other than to turn bright red.  Once the girls had gotten into their own cars and driven away, Kayla pulled her car out of the line and drove off in the other direction.

After a few miles, Kayla realized that she was lost.  She hit the GPS button on her phone and waited for its instruction.  “Turn left onto Hummingbird Lane,” it commanded, so Kayla did.

A quarter of a mile down the road, Kayla stopped.  There in front of someone’s yard was a beautiful display of cut flowers.  They were all propped up in paint buckets with the words 25 cents each written in black marker.  The buckets spanned the entire length of two picnic benches.  At one end was a metal box with an opening. Honor System it said.

Kayla grabbed the dollar bill on her seat.  She picked four sunflowers in various shades of reds and yellows and gave the dollar in payment.  She smiled as she got into her car, thinking that flowers were better than French fries anyway.

Garden Victory Part 2

Margie dragged the last of the empty paint buckets to her garage.  She would take them out to the curb later.  Back inside, she flopped on her couch and stared up at the ceiling.  She nodded in satisfaction.  Painting all her ceilings had been the right choice.  It took three long weeks, but what else would she have done with that time?

A little voice told Margie exactly what she could have done with that time.  For a second Margie considered knocking on Stella’s door.  They had been neighbors on Hummingbird Lane for over 10 years and best friends ever since.  Well, except for the last month.

Margie still wasn’t sure what happened.  Half-hoping, half -joking she asked if Stella would consider chopping down her weeping willow tree.  Margie’s new pool turned out to be one big hassle, especially the daily cleaning of debris.  Most of it came from Stella’s weeping willow.

“How dare you,” Stella yelled.  “Matthew planted that tree 30 years ago when we moved in!”

“I’m sorry,” Margie told her.  “I didn’t think….”

“That’s right you didn’t.  Just like you didn’t think when you decided to get that piece of shit pool in the first place.”

Their fight escalated after that with a lot of sweeping generalizations, over-exaggerations, and dredging up of the past as is wont to happen when two people who have a long history and love each other get into a fight.  Margie and Stella had not spoken since then, so Margie had plenty of free time on her hands.  Enough, to paint her chipped and cracked ceilings which Stella had pointed out made her house look run down.  As Margie continued to stare at her ceiling, her phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Margie?  It’s Sophia.  Listen, I know you and my mom haven’t talked much lately, but could you check on her?”

“Is Stella okay?

“No.  It’s my dad – he was diagnosed with cancer a month ago.”

“Jesus,” Margie breathed.  “I had no idea.  I’ll call her.”

“Margie, it was fast spreading.  The doctors said there was nothing they could do.  Dad died this morning.”

In a split second it was as if their fight last month had never happened.  “I’m going over there now,” Margie said and she hung up.

Margie found Stella laying in her garden, only it wasn’t a garden anymore.  Every single plant was hacked to shreds with the colorful blooms scattered everywhere.  She saw the weeping willow high above Stella’s house swaying in the breeze.  Margie’s own tears now echoed its sadness.   

“Come on,” Margie said as she picked up Stella from the ground.  “Let’s get you inside.”  As they walked to the house, Margie lamented the flowers they trampled on.  Then she remembered the empty paint buckets in her garage.  They could hold dozens of flowers.  Perhaps their beauty wouldn’t have to be wasted after all.  Margie gave Stella’s shoulder a squeeze.  “And don’t you worry, I’ll take care of this mess.”

Garden Victory Part 1

Stella stood among the sunflowers, daisies, peonies, hydrangeas, and roses.  The tears that rolled down her face hit the ground.  She looked around to see if her sorrow had been absorbed into their roots.  But the flowers didn’t wither and die.  Instead, they stood tall and luscious; the sun showering them with vibrancy and life.

“Traitors,” Stella muttered. “It’s like you don’t even care that he’s gone.”  Stella reached down and pulled her gardening apron to her, wiping the remaining tears from her eyes.  As she did a pair of shears fell out of the pocket.  She knelt down to pick them up, but stayed on the ground paralyzed by the flowers towering over her.  Were they really as callous as they seemed?

Stella turned the shears over and over in her hands.  The ground felt hard underneath her, but somehow that did not encourage Stella to get up.  What would Matthew say about her sitting in the garden, she wondered.  Would he behave in typical Matthew fashion and call her silly, laughing as he pulled her up? Give her a hug and a kiss on her forehead?

Well I’ll never know, Stella thought.  Matthew is dead and I’ll never know what he would think about this.  I’ll never know what he would think about anything again. 

Stella continued turning the gardening shears in her hands.  As she did, the words, Matthew is dead, turned over in her mind.  The words and movement both seemed involuntary and she didn’t know how to stop either.  She started squeezing the shears together, just for something different to do.  Then, as another torrent of tears was unleashed, Stella began hacking the flowers closest to her.  Down came the roses.

“Bravo,” they seemed to shout, taunting her with every snip of her shears.  “Now you’re getting somewhere.”  So, she kept going.  Down came the hydrangeas, then the peonies, and the daisies.  Last, came the sunflowers.  She did not stop until every flower laid on the ground, their remaining foliage and stems at half-mast of where they had once been.

Stella looked at her work.  “There,” she cried, sobbing into her hands.  “Now you’re dead, too.”  Stella wasn’t sure if she meant the garden or herself.  She sank to her knees again, but this time the ground wasn’t so hard.  The flowers cushioned her like a bed, soft and welcoming.  Stella laid down.    Maybe if she lay there long enough, the summer sun would somehow bring her back to life.  So she closed her eyes and waited.

Memoir Monday, October 24th, 2016

polar-bears

I didn’t plan to write about bears two weeks in a row, but then this past Saturday happened.  It was completely unexpected, but I had the most extraordinary encounter with two bears, Gus and Ida.  These aren’t just any bears, they happen to be polar bears which is my favorite animal of all time.  Gus and Ida also happen to be figments of Caron Levis’ and Charles Santoso’s imagination, but that does not make them any less real to me.

This past weekend I was home in Harrisburg for a day before I headed to Fall Philly, a Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators event sponsored by the Eastern PA chapter.  While there, I went to the East Shore Branch of the Dauphin County Public Library to check out some of the latest children’s picture books (FYI – if you want to be a better writer, read as much as you can in the genre you’re interested in) and there they were, displayed on a wall.

ida-always

Ida, Always, was the first book I came across that day and so naturally I immediately picked it up and started reading – how could I resist a picture book about polar bears?! At about the halfway point, my eyes started tearing up.  By the end of the book, tears flowed down my cheeks and I looked around to see if anyone had noticed my emotional unraveling at a simple children’s book about friendship, love, and loss.

As usual, no one was paying the slightest bit of attention to anyone other than themselves or their children,

so I wiped my eyes and tried to get my act together.

I can’t remember ever being so moved by a picture book.  When I was finished with it, all I wanted to do was call my husband and tell him I loved him.  Being still in the library, I didn’t think it an appropriate venue for an emotionally-charged phone call declaring gratitude and affection for our relationship, so I waited until I got home.  But even after I affirmed my love for him, I was still thinking about Ida, Always.

Reading this book was a gift; not only did it inspire me to connect with someone I love and feel appreciation for our life together, but it also inspired me as a writer.  These feelings are especially apt as I start pitching my own picture book stories to agents.

One of the things I struggle most with my own work is how to know when it’s my very best.  Last May I attended the SCBWI’s Wild, Wild, Midwest conference in Naperville, IL, where one of the recurring lessons presented throughout the conference was only submit your best writing.  Apparently, a lot of people don’t and it makes for very large slush piles and tired and frustrated agents and publishers.

At that conference, authors, agents, and publishers all made recommendations on how to revise your own work (which I do) and stressed the importance of critique groups (which I attend on a regular basis). 

But it’s hard to have an unbiased and blind eye towards your own writing in determining the quality of it.

That’s why I’m so excited and grateful for my most recent bear encounter.  I now have a new benchmark for my manuscripts.  In addition to following the typical rules of story arc, character development, and pacing, I will ask myself the following: what sort of emotional response does the story evoke?  If I cannot identify what I want my readers to feel because of my story and if I do not see evidence of that response in their feedback either through direct comments or personal observation, then I will know that my story still needs some more work.  I feel grateful to have this guidance and I am optimistic my writing will continue to improve.

In the meantime, I will continue to reflect upon Ida, Always, a story that is perfect in many ways.  Thank you for coming into my life.  If you end up being my only bear sighting for the time being, I’m okay with that.

Garden Victory Part 3

garden-victory-part-3

Kayla sat in the parking lot.  Twice she opened her car door, but each time slammed it shut.  She kept looking through the restaurant window, seeing the girls clustered around a table.  They laughed and smiled, scooping up ketchup with French fries and slurping on sodas.  It was no different than the cafeteria at school.  Not one of them seemed to have a care in the world.

Kayla sighed, looking at her body.  She never knew what to feel about it, what with half the posts on her Facebook feed celebrating a big and curvy female body and the other half telling her she could get rid of her muffin top in as little as 21 days.  But Kayla liked her muffin top.  It gave her something to hold on to when she was feeling shy – she could cross her arms and hold herself tight – and then maybe she could get through whatever it was she needed to.

For right now, though, Kayla felt sure that getting past the girls inside was not something she needed to get through.  So she stayed in her car, turning it back on.  As she headed to the drive through she put down her window.  Just then, two of the girls came out, drink cups held in their hands like trophies.  They snickered as Kayla drove by and stopped a few feet ahead of them, waiting for the cars in front of her.

Kalya pretended not to notice as the girls strode past.  But she couldn’t ignore their calls of greeting.  “Hey Kayla,” one said.  “Watcha gonna get?”

Kayla shrugged, but the girl didn’t give up.  She pulled a dollar out of her pocket.  “Here,” she said, throwing it through the window and laughing.  “Keep it to their dollar menu.  Maybe then you won’t get so fat.”

The girl didn’t wait for Kayla’s response, which was good because Kayla didn’t have one other than to turn bright red.  Once the girls had gotten into their own cars and driven away, Kayla pulled her car out of the line and drove off in the other direction.

After a few miles, Kayla realized that she was lost.  She hit the GPS button on her phone and waited for its instruction.  “Turn left onto Hummingbird Lane,” it commanded, so Kayla did.

A quarter of a mile down the road, Kayla stopped.  There in front of someone’s yard was a beautiful display of cut flowers.  They were all propped up in paint buckets with the words 25 cents each written in black marker.  The buckets spanned the entire length of two picnic benches.  At one end was a metal box with an opening. Honor System it said.

Kayla grabbed the dollar bill on her seat.  She picked four sunflowers in various shades of reds and yellows and gave the dollar in payment.  She smiled as she got into her car, thinking that flowers were better than French fries anyway.

Garden Victory Part 2

Margie dragged the last of the empty paint buckets to her garage.  She would take them out to the curb later.  Back inside, she flopped on her couch and stared up at the ceiling.  She nodded in satisfaction.  Painting all her ceilings had been the right choice.  It took three long weeks, but what else would she have done with that time?

A little voice told Margie exactly what she could have done with that time.  For a second Margie considered knocking on Stella’s door.  They had been neighbors on Hummingbird Lane for over 10 years and best friends ever since.  Well, except for the last month.

Margie still wasn’t sure what happened.  Half-hoping, half -joking she asked if Stella would consider chopping down her weeping willow tree.  Margie’s new pool turned out to be one big hassle, especially the daily cleaning of debris.  Most of it came from Stella’s weeping willow.

“How dare you,” Stella yelled.  “Matthew planted that tree 30 years ago when we moved in!”

“I’m sorry,” Margie told her.  “I didn’t think….”

“That’s right you didn’t.  Just like you didn’t think when you decided to get that piece of shit pool in the first place.”

Their fight escalated after that with a lot of sweeping generalizations, over-exaggerations, and dredging up of the past as is wont to happen when two people who have a long history and love each other get into a fight.  Margie and Stella had not spoken since then, so Margie had plenty of free time on her hands.  Enough, to paint her chipped and cracked ceilings which Stella had pointed out made her house look run down.  As Margie continued to stare at her ceiling, her phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Margie?  It’s Sophia.  Listen, I know you and my mom haven’t talked much lately, but could you check on her?”

“Is Stella okay?

“No.  It’s my dad – he was diagnosed with cancer a month ago.”

“Jesus,” Margie breathed.  “I had no idea.  I’ll call her.”

“Margie, it was fast spreading.  The doctors said there was nothing they could do.  Dad died this morning.”

In a split second it was as if their fight last month had never happened.  “I’m going over there now,” Margie said and she hung up.

Margie found Stella laying in her garden, only it wasn’t a garden anymore.  Every single plant was hacked to shreds with the colorful blooms scattered everywhere.  She saw the weeping willow high above Stella’s house swaying in the breeze.  Margie’s own tears now echoed its sadness.   

“Come on,” Margie said as she picked up Stella from the ground.  “Let’s get you inside.”  As they walked to the house, Margie lamented the flowers they trampled on.  Then she remembered the empty paint buckets in her garage.  They could hold dozens of flowers.  Perhaps their beauty wouldn’t have to be wasted after all.  Margie gave Stella’s shoulder a squeeze.  “And don’t you worry, I’ll take care of this mess.”

Garden Victory Part 1

Stella stood among the sunflowers, daisies, peonies, hydrangeas, and roses.  The tears that rolled down her face hit the ground.  She looked around to see if her sorrow had been absorbed into their roots.  But the flowers didn’t wither and die.  Instead, they stood tall and luscious; the sun showering them with vibrancy and life.

“Traitors,” Stella muttered. “It’s like you don’t even care that he’s gone.”  Stella reached down and pulled her gardening apron to her, wiping the remaining tears from her eyes.  As she did a pair of shears fell out of the pocket.  She knelt down to pick them up, but stayed on the ground paralyzed by the flowers towering over her.  Were they really as callous as they seemed?

Stella turned the shears over and over in her hands.  The ground felt hard underneath her, but somehow that did not encourage Stella to get up.  What would Matthew say about her sitting in the garden, she wondered.  Would he behave in typical Matthew fashion and call her silly, laughing as he pulled her up? Give her a hug and a kiss on her forehead?

Well I’ll never know, Stella thought.  Matthew is dead and I’ll never know what he would think about this.  I’ll never know what he would think about anything again. 

Stella continued turning the gardening shears in her hands.  As she did, the words, Matthew is dead, turned over in her mind.  The words and movement both seemed involuntary and she didn’t know how to stop either.  She started squeezing the shears together, just for something different to do.  Then, as another torrent of tears was unleashed, Stella began hacking the flowers closest to her.  Down came the roses.

“Bravo,” they seemed to shout, taunting her with every snip of her shears.  “Now you’re getting somewhere.”  So, she kept going.  Down came the hydrangeas, then the peonies, and the daisies.  Last, came the sunflowers.  She did not stop until every flower laid on the ground, their remaining foliage and stems at half-mast of where they had once been.

Stella looked at her work.  “There,” she cried, sobbing into her hands.  “Now you’re dead, too.”  Stella wasn’t sure if she meant the garden or herself.  She sank to her knees again, but this time the ground wasn’t so hard.  The flowers cushioned her like a bed, soft and welcoming.  Stella laid down.    Maybe if she lay there long enough, the summer sun would somehow bring her back to life.  So she closed her eyes and waited.

 

Memoir Monday, October 17th, 2016

bear

The other day I saw something move outside from the upstairs bedroom window.  I called to my husband, “It’s the bear!” and we scrambled to the window to get a better look, but then we didn’t see anything.  We headed downstairs and turned on the outside lights.  I put on my glasses because it was dusk and my vision isn’t too keen in the dark.  And there it was!  No, sadly for me, it was not the bear that’s been spotted around town, but a big, beautiful white-tailed deer.  Exciting to see in the front yard, yes, but not what I wanted.

Apparently black bears wander in and around the town of Norfolk, CT, on a regular basis, and everyone keeps seeing them except for me.  

I find this wholly unfair because I LOVE BEARS! 

When I was three-years old, I fell in love with the polar bear at the Philadelphia Zoo and I have never looked back.

When I started working for a research group back in the early 2000s, I was asked by one of my coworkers to name my favorite wild animal.  I said, “POLAR BEAR!” and then she asked me to explain why.  I told her it’s because they are white, adorable, fun, and they like to play in the snow. Turns out that was a “psychological personality test” and I just explained to everyone at work how others see me.

For reference, if you want to play this game at home, you can also ask, “What is your favorite domestic animal and why?”  That answer determines how you see yourself.   My answer to that question was dog, of course, and then I said it’s because dogs are loyal and always happy to see you.

But, I see plenty of dogs every day all day and while this is great fun for me and I would never want to not have a dog to play with, I long to see a bear ambling down the street.  One of my favorite children’s stories I’ve written thus far has to do with a bear breaking into to someone’s house to take a look around and unlike many of my children’s stories, this story was not inspired by observations from my daily life (oh, how I wish!), but it came solely from my love of bears.

It feels like every day someone comes into the café where I work and mentions a bear sighting.  Someone saw them on Route 44!  Another saw one on Maple Ave!  Not just one, but a mama and three babies! I know this is a lot of exclamation points, but I’m pretty sure a bear is my spirit animal and it doesn’t seem fair that everyone is seeing them except for me.

To add to my dismay, a regular came into the café just yesterday and complained that someone had let their dog poop in the middle of the walkway.  As a big believer in karma, I felt once I knew about such a crappy situation (HAHA, pun totally intended) it was my job to clean it up.  You can’t just leave a mess for someone else…only, I’m pretty sure it was bear poop once I got out there.  Universe, why must you torment me? 

My husband says I have to stop looking for one.  Only then, will it happen.  I suppose he does have a point, considering that’s kind of how we met.  It was early January and I was thinking about the imminent end of my job as an associate professor.  I had handed in my resignation October 1st, 2015, effective for May 31st, 2016, which may seem like a ridiculously long time but I wanted my university to have plenty of time to find a replacement for me and if you didn’t know, things move at a snail’s pace in academia.

I realized that given the life I was about to start (i.e., writing, wandering, dreaming), I didn’t want to find anyone who was settled with a house and lots of stuff as a potential mate.  I had just spent months getting rid of almost all of my belongings.  I remember thinking very clearly to myself, what I really want is someone who will travel around with me and go from one housesitting job to another, NOT a person with a house and job in IL.  So I immediately stopped looking because I was on my way out of there.

I kid you not, less than one week later I attended a writers group at a local college where the group always goes for a little socialization afterwards at an in-town restaurant.  I walked into the restaurant, sat down at the bar, and on my right-hand side sat my future husband.  He was in town for work and he had asked his colleagues for a recommendation about where to get some good old-fashioned Chicago Deep Dish pizza.

A few weeks later we eloped in Nashville.  So, I think it’s clear I need to do something similar with my bear quest.

I am now putting this out there to all the bears: 

Bears, I love you!  I long to see you from a distance while you romp and play in the wild.  If you could be doing funny antics, that would be awesome, too, and if you give me enough time to get out my phone to take a picture so I can post it in my blog and on social media, I would be ever grateful.  Thanks!  Love, Kelly

Garden Victory Part 2

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Margie dragged the last of the empty paint buckets to her garage.  She would take them out to the curb later.  Back inside, she flopped on her couch and stared up at the ceiling.  She nodded in satisfaction.  Painting all her ceilings had been the right choice.  It took three long weeks, but what else would she have done with that time?

A little voice told Margie exactly what she could have done with that time.  For a second Margie considered knocking on Stella’s door.  They had been neighbors on Hummingbird Lane for over 10 years and best friends ever since.  Well, except for the last month.

Margie still wasn’t sure what happened.  Half-hoping, half -joking she asked if Stella would consider chopping down her weeping willow tree.  Margie’s new pool turned out to be one big hassle, especially the daily cleaning of debris.  Most of it came from Stella’s weeping willow.

“How dare you,” Stella yelled.  “Matthew planted that tree 30 years ago when we moved in!”

“I’m sorry,” Margie told her.  “I didn’t think….”

“That’s right you didn’t.  Just like you didn’t think when you decided to get that piece of shit pool in the first place.”

Their fight escalated after that with a lot of sweeping generalizations, over-exaggerations, and dredging up of the past as is wont to happen when two people who have a long history and love each other get into a fight.  Margie and Stella had not spoken since then, so Margie had plenty of free time on her hands.  Enough, to paint her chipped and cracked ceilings which Stella had pointed out made her house look run down.  As Margie continued to stare at her ceiling, her phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Margie?  It’s Sophia.  Listen, I know you and my mom haven’t talked much lately, but could you check on her?”

“Is Stella okay?

“No.  It’s my dad – he was diagnosed with cancer a month ago.”

“Jesus,” Margie breathed.  “I had no idea.  I’ll call her.”

“Margie, it was fast spreading.  The doctors said there was nothing they could do.  Dad died this morning.”

In a split second it was as if their fight last month had never happened.  “I’m going over there now,” Margie said and she hung up.

Margie found Stella laying in her garden, only it wasn’t a garden anymore.  Every single plant was hacked to shreds with the colorful blooms scattered everywhere.  She saw the weeping willow high above Stella’s house swaying in the breeze.  Margie’s own tears now echoed its sadness.   

“Come on,” Margie said as she picked up Stella from the ground.  “Let’s get you inside.”  As they walked to the house, Margie lamented the flowers they trampled on.  Then she remembered the empty paint buckets in her garage.  They could hold dozens of flowers.  Perhaps their beauty wouldn’t have to be wasted after all.  Margie gave Stella’s shoulder a squeeze.  “And don’t you worry, I’ll take care of this mess.”

Garden Victory Part 1

Stella stood among the sunflowers, daisies, peonies, hydrangeas, and roses.  The tears that rolled down her face hit the ground.  She looked around to see if her sorrow had been absorbed into their roots.  But the flowers didn’t wither and die.  Instead, they stood tall and luscious; the sun showering them with vibrancy and life.

“Traitors,” Stella muttered. “It’s like you don’t even care that he’s gone.”  Stella reached down and pulled her gardening apron to her, wiping the remaining tears from her eyes.  As she did a pair of shears fell out of the pocket.  She knelt down to pick them up, but stayed on the ground paralyzed by the flowers towering over her.  Were they really as callous as they seemed?

Stella turned the shears over and over in her hands.  The ground felt hard underneath her, but somehow that did not encourage Stella to get up.  What would Matthew say about her sitting in the garden, she wondered.  Would he behave in typical Matthew fashion and call her silly, laughing as he pulled her up? Give her a hug and a kiss on her forehead?

Well I’ll never know, Stella thought.  Matthew is dead and I’ll never know what he would think about this.  I’ll never know what he would think about anything again. 

Stella continued turning the gardening shears in her hands.  As she did, the words, Matthew is dead, turned over in her mind.  The words and movement both seemed involuntary and she didn’t know how to stop either.  She started squeezing the shears together, just for something different to do.  Then, as another torrent of tears was unleashed, Stella began hacking the flowers closest to her.  Down came the roses.

“Bravo,” they seemed to shout, taunting her with every snip of her shears.  “Now you’re getting somewhere.”  So, she kept going.  Down came the hydrangeas, then the peonies, and the daisies.  Last, came the sunflowers.  She did not stop until every flower laid on the ground, their remaining foliage and stems at half-mast of where they had once been.

Stella looked at her work.  “There,” she cried, sobbing into her hands.  “Now you’re dead, too.”  Stella wasn’t sure if she meant the garden or herself.  She sank to her knees again, but this time the ground wasn’t so hard.  The flowers cushioned her like a bed, soft and welcoming.  Stella laid down.    Maybe if she lay there long enough, the summer sun would somehow bring her back to life.  So she closed her eyes and waited.

Memoir Monday, October 10th 2016

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Anyone who knows me, knows that I love all things Harry Potter.  One of my favorite quotes from the book series comes from The Chamber of Secrets when Albus Dumbledore tells Harry, “…help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.”  I love the idea that all you have to do is ask and you shall receive.  Simple, right?  And certainly not restricted to just Hogwarts (e.g., Matthew 7:7 — Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you)

Where I struggle is knowing when to ask for help.

For many years I felt asking for help indicated weakness, that I was not strong enough or smart enough or confident enough or whatever enough to do the task at hand.

I remember one time sitting in my office at my former university struggling with calculating an analysis of variance hypothesis test by hand in preparation for class.  I just could not understand where I was making my mistake and as a professor, I thought it utterly absurd that I couldn’t figure it out.  I probably wasted a good hour and when I finally did ask a colleague to look at the numbers it turned out the formula in the book had a typo and it was missing a summation sign.  Duh.

Such a simple solution, you’d think I would have learned something valuable from that incident.  On the spectrum of enlightenment, I was still pretty dim at the point so no, I really didn’t.

I shouldn’t be surprised, then, that I have had this problem recur in my life. 

Most recently this happened last Friday when my husband and I decided to hike Haystack Mountain.  Everyone in town has recommended this hike and with beautiful fall foliage and glorious sunshine we drove up the mountain to the trail and began our ascent.  It wasn’t too taxing, though there was one steep section.

At the top a stone observation tower treated us to panorama views of the quaint New England town we’ve been living in for almost 6 weeks.  After getting our fill of the view, we started the hike down the mountain.

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We reached a point where we could turn left or right.  We opted to go right.  We kept going and came out at a road we were unfamiliar with and we couldn’t even GPS our location because my phone has been broken for the last four weeks and my husband’s was charging in the car.

My husband suggested we go left, so we did.  Then we took another left and ended up on a street named Roughland Road (oh, the irony!).

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At this point we had been hiking well over an hour since our descent and sometime later we ended up on a road which took us to the main road going into town.

We knew this location because it’s where the vet’s office is for the dogs we are taking care of in town.  My husband did graciously offer for me to stay behind there while he finished the walk, but to paraphrase Kate Winslet’s character from Titanic, I told him, “You walk, I walk.”   Except we weren’t very close to the mountain – about two miles away and then we would have to climb back up the mountain to where we parked the car.

So we continued on, and every empty bottle we encountered on the side of the road seemed to taunt me (that’s right, we didn’t have water either).  After 10 minutes or so I would take off my sweater because I would get too hot then a few minutes later I would have to put it back on because I got too cold.

Obviously, in the grand scheme of things, our circumstances were not dire.  But I was tired, having worked at the café that day, and I had been utterly unprepared for such a walk.  For some reason, though, I just couldn’t bring myself to ask for help.  I didn’t ask my husband, I didn’t ask God, I didn’t try to wave down anyone in their car.  I just kept going.

Then all of a sudden, a minivan veered off the side of the ride and headed right towards us.  I thought we were going to get hit, but it went around us and out jumped a young man.  The minivan was a taxi.  Oh my gosh, we’re saved!  I thought.  And then the taxi pulled away as my husband and I tried to chase him down to give us a ride.  But he kept on going and the young man explained he was a medical taxi and could only be paid through insurance.

Disappointing, yes, but it was just what I needed to let me know that I did, in fact, want help.  I didn’t know who could save us or how, but I wanted help.  I kept hoping someone we knew would drive by and sure enough less than five minutes later a regular from the café saw us on the side of the road and pulled over.  I had never been so happy to get in a car.

Our rescuer drove us to our car and as we made our way there, my husband and I realized we would have been walking for another two to two-and-a-half hours if we had not gotten a ride.  So thank you, Jon, for your awesome timing and kindness.

My only regret about the situation (other than fantasizing about pushing my husband out into the road as we were walking, which I later apologized for thinking about), was waiting for so long to ask for help. 

Hopefully, I have finally learned my lesson. 

Because honestly, if something is advised by Jesus and Albus Dumbledore, then shouldn’t that be good enough for me?