The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Monday, August 25, 2014

This Much I Know is True...

        If you're from out of town, and you wonder what Ferguson is really like, this much I know is true...*

  • It's a tiny town with parts that have a small-town flavor. Ferguson has a thriving farmers' market. There are some small, independently-owned businesses that have sprung up and are flourishing. There's a large, sprawling park with at least six ball fields and during some seasons and many days, each one is booked with baseball/softball/kickball leagues.

  • One of those independent businesses that just celebrated its first anniversary is Cathy's Kitchen (home of the best fish tacos in St. Louis, in my opinion). Cathy Jenkins had a vision, found a property, spent months and months renovating it (it has a Route 66 theme, with countless personal/family connections) and her landlord was so generous, he told her, "Don't start paying on it until you're up and running." They began with just lunch and dinner...and now they even offer breakfast. It's a place where a school superintendent can sit at one table with friends/colleagues and a parks employee--after just finished mowing the fields--sits at another. You scan the crowd and--every time--there is diversity and harmony.

  • It's a place of pride. Parts of Ferguson have large, century-old houses; most of the community is full of small, two-bedroom and three-bedroom homes, inhabited by families who love where they live. The yards are taken care of. The parents flock to school events and do everything they can to stay in their neighborhood school because they know the teachers care. The school that is closest to all the heartbreak has a community garden.  It has evening events for the families, including fun lock-ins for the students. The teachers have stood outside on street corners, jumping and dancing around, begging for cars to honk to show their Ferguson pride and begging them to stop by for free lunches ...since the start of the school year was delayed by seven school days.
      There are lots of things I don't know. But this much I know is true ...

* And if you have not read Wally Lamb's This Much I Know is True, you should. It's an incredible book.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

What Do You Count On?

       Writing is hard work. Being able to count on certain tools is critical.

     On a daily basis, we have to dip into our tool box as we craft our lines.

        One of the tools I occasionally use is a rhyming dictionary. (Mine has a boring cover, so I'm borrowing Bart Simpson's for a moment.)
        Rarely do I write poetry with a rhyme scheme. I mean, do you think I even want to dabble in the same arena as Fireblossom or Mama Zen? Fuhgeddabodit.
         However, sometimes I am forced drawn into writing a poem with a particular rhyme scheme. Sometimes I'm a scribe as my class writes a group poem. Very occasionally, I write a rap (and horrors! Yes, I even perform it. What's that you say? You haven't heard of Reddiculous Redd? You're missing out on something hilarious rich.)
        A rhyming dictionary is a tool that is always sitting on my shelf, waiting and ready...

 Here is a tool that ensures I don't sit too long. Radar. Whiner Extraordinaire. The Yipster. The Gnaw-er. We thought we were adopting a dog, but we were hoodwinked. Radar is a miniature pony. He's all legs right now, and weighs close to 40 pounds. And he's only five months old.

          Okay, admittedly, this is not a writing tool--at least not in the strictest sense. Aquarelle pencils are really tools of diversion. Using a brush and water (or a finger you slobber on), your drawings are transformed into looking like watercolor art. This year, I've vowed to filling my writing journal with doodling and ticket stubs and photos along with the writing. 
        However, as I'm sketching or zentangling (type "zentangle" into your search box, but beware: doodling with zentangle patterns is highly addictive and is a wonderful way to while away the hours during day-long meetings) I'm also thinking about what I'm writing.

         The delete key is another tool I rely on. Getting a story down often means there are pages/paragraphs/lines/words that need to be deleted as revision happens.
          'Cause if you're a writer, you know that writing is usually more deconstruction than construction.

       What writing tools (or tools of diversion) do you rely on?    

Monday, August 18, 2014

Stranger in a Strange Land

       (No, that is not me in the above photo, air-brushed within an inch of my life, resulting in this gorgeousness. It's Paige Adams Strickland...memoir-writer and a sister from another two mothers...)

      If you aren't an adoptee, you don't know what it's like to be a stranger in a strange land. I knew--from toddlerhood on--that I was adopted, and I was loved and doted on. But I also knew I shared nothing genetic with my family, and when I passed by people in the street, I'd wonder...

       Is that my birth mother?
       Is that woman a cousin of mine?
       Did that guy know my birth mother? 


       Reading Paige Adams Strickland's Akin to the Truth brought back (to me) the black hole full of the unknown.
        Strickland's journey is like a stream of consciousness. One memory bumps into another and into another. She bravely bares the dysfunction of her family, she shares her lovely grandmothers with the world, and admitted--through her actions--that she was always striving to make her parents proud.
        The tiny tidbits tossed to the reader, of life growing up in the 60's and 70's, will bring the reader back in time. The television shows. The songs. The clothes. The sayings. (My father said, "Hell's bells" as well, just like Paige's. And my dad has his "cocktail hour" every evening, too.)
              Like every good writer, Paige Adams Strickland makes us wait until her story is almost finished...before we find out what we are desperate to find out. Does she find her biological parents? Does she discontinue the search, because rooting around in the unknown sometimes gets messy? Does she get rejected by her birth mother or her birth father? 
          You'll have to read the book to find out...
          At the very end, in the last two paragraphs, Strickland gives us something extra-satisfying. In those final lines that flow like poetry, she's found her rhythm as a writer and as a daughter and a woman. 
          And at the very end, it's also apparent: Paige Adams Strickland has another story to tell...a story that picks up where she's left off in Akin to the Truth.

          Via a drawing, an electronic version of Akin to the Truth will be given away on August 28. Leave a comment...and keep your fingers crossed. 

A description of the book:  In 1961, adoption was still one of those private and taboo topics. Not much identifying information was provided for adoptive families or for birth parents by the agencies. In Ohio, records were sealed forever. Adoptees and birth mothers were supposed to be thankful for the adoptive family and never look back. Adoptive parents thought their deal was signed and sealed.

As a child and teenager, growing up adopted was like a Scarlet Letter "A" if anyone ever found out the truth. At least, that's the way author, Paige Strickland felt as she muddled through social situations and other interpersonal relations. She always loved her adoptive family, but realized she wanted not just more, but what other "regular born" people had: real roots, accurate health history and authentic family lore. She wanted freedom from shame, more dignity, authenticity and a full identity.

Then, through random chance, a local TV talk show in 1987 revealed that certain records were open if you were born before 1964 in the state of Ohio, and the author's life would never be the same after that program.

During her quest, (pre computer), for her identity, her adoptive father struggled with his own self image and sense of belonging, so both father and daughter embarked on separate and unique parallel missions to find what was missing in their lives.

This is the story of how being adopted affected Paige growing up in the 1960s, 70s and early 80s. It shows how one adoptee has embraced and learned to view family more globally. She tells the saga of a loving but dysfunctional family of both blood and choice, trying to cope with typical and not so typical life alterations during the decades of social revolution and free love. She learns that the most fascinating family stories are discovered by those passionate enough to question and search.

Paige Adams Strickland is a teacher and writer from Cincinnati, Ohio. She is married with two daughters. 

About the Author: Paige Adams Strickland, a teacher and writer from Cincinnati, Ohio, is married with two daughters. Her first book, Akin to the Truth: A Memoir of Adoption and Identity, is about growing up in the 1960s-80s (Baby-Scoop Era) and searching for her first identity. It is also the story of her adoptive family and in particular her father’s struggles to figure out his place in the world while Paige strives to find hers. After hours she enjoys family and friends, pets, reading, Zumba ™ Fitness, gardening and baseball.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Intertwining Reality With Fiction

       Today I'm going to weave a little fact with a bit of fiction. Hopefully, the intertwining will be a tad entertaining...

       School is about to begin in my school district. My school is two blocks from the looting that was going on in Ferguson, and less than 1/4 mile from where a young man lost his life.
       As the investigation continues, some of the residents have taken to the streets to clean up and show the pride they still have in their neighborhood. And it is a wonderful neighborhood.
       The road to healing and repairing frayed connections is a long one...

        My current WIP is slowly growing. Around six months ago, it was "finished" in my mind--at 84,000 words--but of course it was only an incredibly rough draft that had to be chucked. Now, the conflict is a stronger thread (at least I hope it is). Conflict in a novel is a good thing, a necessary thing. Conflict with real people and real bullets...not good at all.

        This year (lucky, lucky me) I am teaching only writing (and just a little social studies). I am thrilled beyond belief. Three sections of writing every day. (I keep pinching myself, to ascertain if it's a dream or reality, so my cellulite's getting some extra attention.) This is a totally new groove for me to get into.

            As far as my WIP, I'm working on fictionalizing reality. Making it funnier. Making it more cohesive. Making it--yikes!--first person. It's sending me in new directions, and my friends have morphed into different people. It's slow slogging. But, it's evolving into (IhopeIhopeIhope) a more satisfying story.

          In my classroom, I'm stepping more and more out of my box this school year. I bought a hardhat and decoupaged it all up (with writing phrases) and will wear it often during the school year as we construct and deconstruct our writing pieces. I purchased a tool belt (that thing will really accentuate my poochy belly) and we will be adding tools to our tool belt as we grow as writers. Hopefully, the kids will get a kick out of it.

         I've grown as a writer in the last two years I've been a WWWP. There are times (not all the time) that I put myself into the shoes of my critique group members and cut out the unneeded words/parts instinctively. Sometimes enough of the persistence that flows through the other women rubs off on me. Sometimes I'm even able to come up with a decent title. (Usually, I have not a single idea when it comes to titles.)

               How about you? What fiction or nonfiction are you reading right now? What kind of fiction are you weaving into your everyday reality? Do you think a hardhat will adequately cover the horror that is my hair on bad hair days every day?

       I wonder... 



Monday, August 11, 2014

Know Yourself

      It's crucial to know know what works for stay true to yourself.
      In the spirit of self-awareness, I thought I'd share a few tidbits of self-discovery I've unearthed.

  •        It's important to know what kind of workplace you require. Recently, I've been reading about how sitting for too long is bad for you. But if you write, not writing long enough is bad for you. So, what's a writer to do?
       Take a look at my new desk. It allows me to stand up and write.

This was a birthday present this summer. It was a little under $5000 but is soooo cool and soooo worth it. *

  •         It's vital to know what you can and cannot do. Know your limitations and don't angst over them. Cathy C. Hall has her prankster sidekick, Cathy-on-a-Stick, and this mischievous imp is beautiful. Her hair is artfully styled. She has a lovely expression on her face. (It makes me want to stick a screwdriver into one of her tires. Cathy, what kind of car do you drive?)
                       I can't do that (the looking pretty on a photograph part--the screwdriver part? Easy). So, I had to figure out what I could do.

This debut of Sioux-on-a-Stick occurred in Val the Victorian Land.
           I can do crazy. I can do whackadoo. I can do self-deprecating. However, I need a new name for my alter-ego. Cathy-on-a-Stick had me served with a subpoena a few days ago. It seems she has her name copyrighted, and doesn't appreciate having her turf tromped on. I must cease and desist. Immediately. (Who knew a tiny woman stuck on a piece of wood could have such a sophisticated vocabulary?)

          So, if you have a great suggestion for my stand-in, please send them over.

  •    It's critical to know what will energize you or what will get you out of your funk. Right now, when Paramore's "Still Into You" comes on, I'm bopping along--I can't help myself. Just about anything by One Republic does it for me as well. Sometimes snuggling with my puppy (when I'm not writing ads to give him away ;) will do the trick. For others, it might be cooking up a storm, or running/exercising. And apparently for this baby, Katy Perry has the key to happiness...

          So, don't forget alternative suggestions for my picture-on-a-stick. (Are you happy now, Cathy-on-a-Stick? I didn't even get close to infringing on your rights that time.) And if you're so inclined, you can share what things you have found out about yourself that have brought you more peace...

        And as a slight digression, assume good intentions. When someone--a colleague, a friend, a family member--says something that offends you, assume they meant well ...and have a dialogue about it. An angry monologue shot towards someone does no good. You never know. The offender might have a completely different background, and are speaking out of ignorance. They might have been gently joking (and humor is sometimes difficult to convey on paper). They might have simply worded things in an awkward way and didn't mean to hurt anyone. Assume. Assume and then ask ... 

* Of course this is not my desk. I have seen one like it, and they are cool, but what a preposterous price. My "stand at" desk (I think) is going to be an old sewing cabinet, with a turntable case on top of it. I think I've measured correctly, and with my laptop on top of it, it's the perfect height. And it's free.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Lessons From WritingLand

         I have been struggling lately with balancing things. Blogging vs. not blogging regularly. Working on shorter pieces vs. working on a longer project (which is on the side of the road right now...I've got the flashers on, and the sign posted in my back window that says, "Send help" but no help has arrived yet). Being open and free-flowing vs. stifling myself (like Edith Bunker).

       While I'm going back and forth on those seesaws, I will say I've learned a few things in the two weeks or so. Here are some of the things that smacked me upside my head:

      * Regularity is a good thing. If we're constipated when it comes to our creativity and our work ethic, we suffer. After reading Lisa Ricard Claro's post about what we should strive for in our writing and our blogs, I realized I had been very inconsistent when it comes to posting. So, I'm going to be posting on Mondays and least until I get into another rut. (If you go to Lisa's website, not only will you get loads of information, you might also get to take a gander at a hunky hunk--you can get your fill of Philip.)

     * Writing is healing. I've been trying--for the last year--to get a particular story published. It's a story about a friend who is healing after tragedy hit her family. It's a story of strength and forgiveness and unimaginable sorrow.

     I've written the story several different ways, from several different slants, to no avail. This week--finally--I got word that someone might be interested in publishing it in an anthology. Two days ago I read the story aloud to my friend, to make sure there was nothing in there she didn't want laid bare. (Reading things herself hurts her head due to a traumatic brain injury.) By the end, I was crying, as was she.

    And if you want to read one of the most exquisite lines about healing and pain, go to this article on Jean Ellen Whatley.  (A "security box" might pop up, but just cancel and you'll land on the article.)

*  And I know that three is a magical number when it comes to writing...but I only got two things rattling around in my brain today. (And since technically two means I can claim I'm talkin' 'bout plural lessons, I can avoid being corrected.)

    Have a great rest of the week, and place your bets on how long I can last posting twice a week--on a regular schedule. And if you want to comment on the importance of regularity (but don't get too brown about it) or about Lisa Ricard Claro's brilliance or the poignancy of Jean Ellen Whatley's words--I'd love to hear from you.