Monday, July 27, 2009

A Message from the Birthday Queen

I know I'm getting older because time has become this quick, cruel trickster. Even though individual days or certain weeks can feel like lifetimes, the general passage of time seems to have sped up incredibly.

If I had to describe the last year in one word, I think I'd have to go with challenging. Sometimes, the challenges were of the good variety, like adopting Callie or starting a new job. Other times, they were decidedly unhappy, like losing Peter's mom and having serious problems at the old job. I'm still more inclined to "punch the puncher" than roll with the punches, but I'm proud that I got through this year mentally intact and no worse for wear.

This is the year that I learned how to enjoy the process, instead of fixating on the final product. Revising had always been my least favourite part of writing. I was impatient and stubborn. I wanted to get things right the first time.

Peter had been bugging me to market my first book, but I'd been resistant because I knew it had some problems. I finally buckled down and made the changes I thought were needed. He and his sister were awesome test readers. His sister went above and beyond when she did a bit of clever networking and got my book in the hands of a real-life publishing professional.

The result was a stellar rejection. Instead of the publishing world equivalent of “it's not you, it's me”, I received a gift of a rejection: a short note that laid out the problems with the work and offered suggestions on how to fix it.

I'm deep in the thick of that process right now and I can tell you, it's not easy. But in appreciating this opportunity, I am learning to enjoy the process.

When I sit down to Work on a Book or Begin a Project, I can often feel myself tensing up. I want to get it right. Or I worry because I don't have a full plot. These tendencies have made writing seem like a scary, nervewracking chore sometimes.

But then I discovered writing exercises, which have allowed me to relax and just enjoy trying to tell a story. I've always been good at stringing words together. Now I'm learning how to create scenes that tell a story. I'm learning which details add to a story and which detract. I'm learning that words are good, but they're not enough by themselves. In the last few months, I've written over 170,000 words and it's been pure joy.

My goal for next year is to work on following through. I've noticed an alarming pattern in my work. I get into the 100-120 page range, a bit past half-way, and I melt down. At this moment, I have four works-in-progress that I abandoned at that point. I don't know why that's become my wall, but I intend to either go around it or burst through it this year.

But first, I am going to enjoy the process of being the Birthday Queen. On tap for today is a run, a trail ride, a visit to a pet farm, lunch at the Lake Hotel in Killarney, some time with the doggetts and a movie.

Friday, May 15, 2009


Today's post is brought to you courtesy of Wake Up and Smell the Coffee, who was kind enough to tag me and give me an easy post. I remain somewhat incommunicative lately, even falling off the edge of Facebook, although that's mostly because all the changes they've made have made it ridiculously difficult to keep track of my friends.

1. What are your current obsessions?
I remain firmly obsessed with Friday Night Lights. I've also been spending a lot of time doing writing exercises. In fact, in the last three weeks, I've written 80,000 words, which is pretty much a short novel. Something about the lack of pressure just makes the words fly out of me.

2. Which item from your wardrobe do you wear most often?
A lime green t-shirt that says "I'll Mess with Texas." I got it years ago from a thrift store for $3.

3. Last dream you had?
When my alarm went off this morning, it was in the middle of a dream in which I was an FBI agent, investigating an IRA splinter group in Chicago. I was standing in our old apartment, interviewing a witness and cutting up photographs. Yeah, I have no idea either.

4. Last thing you bought?

5. What are you listening to?
The clock ticking and Callie snoring.

6. If you were a god/goddess who would you be?
On a bad day, Kali. On a good day, Aine.

7. Favourite holiday spots?
I was just bemoaning the other day how we don't reallly go on holiday - I go back to Cleveland to visit my family. Which I enjoy, but I'd really like to have another adventure, like the one Youngest Brother and I had in Venice and Slovenia.

8. Reading right now?
Re-reading The Great Gatsbyy, still my favorite book ever although One Hundred Years of Solitude is a close second.

9. Four words to describe yourself.
Stubborn, loyal, practical, introverted

10. Guilty pleasure?
Pick Me Up magazine

11. Who or what makes you laugh until you’re weak?
My brothers - put the two of them together and anything could happen.

12. Favourite spring thing to do?
Walk in the rain when it's warm.

13. Planning to travel to next?
See item 7. (At Christmas, probably)

14. Best thing you ate or drank lately?
Oatmeal butterscotch bars that I made last weekend.

15. When did you last get tipsy?
Cannot even remember. Probably the wedding I went to last July.

16. Favourite ever film?
Broadcast News

17. Care to share some wisdom?
Go have an adventure. That's always the answer.

18. Song you can't get out of your head?
Lately, it's been Amy MacDonald. Mostly "This is the Life" and "Poison Prince".

19. Thing you are looking forward to?
Have some friends visiting at the end of the month.

20 If money were no object, where would you choose to live?
I don't know. Probably somewhere on the coast of West Cork, with an apartment in Berlin and a cabin in the northern woods of Finland.

Friday, May 01, 2009

A Poem of My Own

Hope you enjoyed Poetry Month. I have to confess that it was nice to know my blog had a post every day, with minimal effort from me. It was sort of like having a self-cleaning house or a self-driving car or something. (I'm telling you, they ever make a robot who can drive a car so the passenger can laze around with a laptop, reading blogs and such, I will so be there.)

But now it's back to reality. I think I might be coming out of hibernation, but the new job means a total daily commute of 80 miles/2+ hours, so I doubt my posting will be anywhere near daily.

The time in the car is interesting. I'm trying to look at it as an asset - a time to think or sing along with my IPod or just appreciate the truly beautiful place where I am lucky enough to live. I like the thinking time and find it helpful for my writing (although it means I have to remember the words that are trying to jump out of my brain when I hit a good thought).

This week, the time helped me write a poem. Shocking, I know. In fact, I considered declaring May to be Bad Poetry Month and I'd write one every day. But really, I'm not any kind of a poet. (I'm not a dancer either.) Enough waffling. Here is my poem.

The Blank Page

Gatsby believed in the green light
A future that recedes into the past
A current forever pulling us backwards
A life of unfulfilled wistfulness

Not me.

I believe in the blank page
A future that stretches to the horizon
A line that marches us forward
A life of limitless possibilities

Above all, I believe this:

Respect the blank page
Do not fill it with history
Or burden it with hesitancy
Or tie it down with conditions

Write boldly, quickly,
With a sense of purpose
Don't think
Just open your eyes and dream


Thursday, April 30, 2009

so you want to be a writer?

By Charles Bukowski

if it doesn't come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don't do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don't do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don't do it.
if you're doing it for money or
don't do it.
if you're doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don't do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don't do it.
if it's hard work just thinking about doing it,
don't do it.
if you're trying to write like somebody
forget about it.

if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you're not ready.

don't be like so many writers,
don't be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don't be dull and boring and
pretentious, don't be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don't add to that.
don't do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don't do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don't do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Country

By Billy Collins

I wondered about you
when you told me never to leave
a box of wooden, strike-anywhere matches
lying around the house because the mice

might get into them and start a fire.
But your face was absolutely straight
when you twisted the lid down on the round tin
where the matches, you said, are always stowed.

Who could sleep that night?
Who could whisk away the thought
of the one unlikely mouse
padding along a cold water pipe

behind the floral wallpaper
gripping a single wooden match
between the needles of his teeth?
Who could not see him rounding a corner,

the blue tip scratching against a rough-hewn beam,
the sudden flare, and the creature
for one bright, shining moment
suddenly thrust ahead of his time -

now a fire-starter, now a torchbearer
in a forgotten ritual, little brown druid
illuminating some ancient night.
Who could fail to notice,

lit up in the blazing insulation,
the tiny looks of wonderment on the faces
of his fellow mice, onetime inhabitants
of what once was your house in the country?

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Homage To My Hips

By Lucille Clifton

these hips are big hips.
they need space to
move around in.
they don't fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don't like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top

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Monday, April 27, 2009

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why (Sonnet XLIII)

By Edna St. Vincent Millay

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

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