Tag Archives: Writing

November 25 – Taking Back MY Life

by Letty Watt

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One day this fall, while sitting on the front porch somewhat dazed with the day’s events, tears streamed down my cheeks, my stomach rolled over in a knot, and then I cried from deep within my belly. Letting it go opened my eyes to my heart.

Angrily, I pounded my fist on the bench, and to no one I muttered, “This is not the life I planned.” With this recognition the tears stopped. I stormed into the house, grabbed paper and pencil, and began to write. Rather than writing in story format, I found myself making a list of obligations: grandma, family, husband, dog, friends, golf, football weekends, house, chores, and even more excuses or things to blame than I can recall.

The tears and frustrations wore me down, and I enjoyed a relaxing afternoon siesta. Upon awakening I realized that my list should have read: “Letty’s List of Excuses.” It felt like being in a comic strip. The next frame read: “What to do Next???” Third: “Make a Plan!?” Last: “But, it’s dinner time, and I have things to do!”–imagine the foot kicking the cabinets.

During the night I remembered seeing a young writer’s schedule and notebook. She colored coded a clock face with every activity she performed throughout the day. Smarter than that, she blacked out three hours daily to write. As she explained, “Three hours is the least I can do and expect to be a writer.” At breakfast I drew a clock, and made a list of categories. Handing it to my husband, I asked, “Could you please use your computer to make a series of six clocks on a page with a ‘legend’ on the margin? It would help me so much to know where my time is going. The excuses have me worn down, and it’s nobody’s fault but my own.” We reflected on a time in the early nineties when we each followed a Franklin Planner to keep our lives on track. By noon he handed me the clocks, and I produced the colored pencils. We played with our creation for an afternoon.

I’d like to say that in twenty-four hours I managed to take back my life. The truth is that it took another month of diligently color coding those clocks before I honestly understood how I had given away my life. The twelve-hour clocks were mostly colored in greens (family/social life) and yellows (chores/errands). What I wanted to see were more reds (writing/reading) and blues (exercise/golf/gardening). After a week my mind yelled, “Relax!” so I added a soft purple box and began making time to relax. I smiled with relief.

I still spend time with family and friends. I do it on my schedule, not at the whim or whine from a phone call. For the moment, I’ve reclaimed my life, or maybe just today.

It’s raining. It’s cold. I’m inside and writing. No phone calls. No meetings. I’m writing. After retirement and a move, I readily admit that I lost control of my life’s dreams, to finish a novel. The color coded clocks redirected and helped me find my path.

Letty Watt loves to share stories that people can relate to. She has been writing stories on her blog, Literally Letty, since 2010.

August 6 – Retreat

by Linda Hoye

Canning Soup

Once a year my husband goes on a salmon fishing trip with a few of his friends. It’s as much of a pleasure for me as it is for him. While he looks forward to fishing and fellowship, and anticipates the salmon, halibut, and crab he’ll bring home, I look forward to time at home replenishing my soul with silence, simplicity, and solitude.

In recent weeks I’ve been planning how I wanted to spend these precious days. I decided that this year I would have a writing retreat and get back to a piece of work I started on last year. I’ve been rereading my outline, making notes, thinking about the premise of the story, and planning where I wanted to take it. I felt inspired and eager to spend a few days with no commitment but to write.

I’m the type of person who likes to make a plan and follow through with it. No one could accuse me of being carefree and spontaneous on a regular basis. So, it was with mixed feelings when I decided to buy fifty pounds of tomatoes, twenty-five pounds of peaches, and twenty-five pounds of pickling cucumbers yesterday–the day before Gerry was leaving, the day before my personal writing retreat was scheduled to begin.

As Gerry hefted the large boxes of produce onto my kitchen counter so I could survey the bounty and snap a photograph I understood that I would spend the next few days, not working on my novel, but in the kitchen canning fruit and vegetables. I realized that I would fall into bed at the end of the days bone weary, with sore feet and a sore back, and that I would sleep well. I knew that I would spend my time creating canned goods instead of chapters.

In reality my plans changed as soon as I saw the flyer showing the produce on sale at the green grocer.  Perhaps it was because the course change was my own doing; or maybe it was because I might be as passionate about canning as I am about writing; whatever the reason I was out of bed before dawn this morning bidding farewell to my husband and chopping tomatoes, eager for my counter-tops to begin filling up with jars full of canned soup. The change of plans didn’t bother me in the least.

As I write this I’m tired and my feet are sore. Maya, my Yorkie, looks at me from her bed across the room with a look that seems to ask why we didn’t get to spend much time outside today. Ah, but there are eighteen quarts and thirteen pints of tomato soup on my kitchen counter, I’m thinking ahead to tomorrow’s canning plans. And I am writing.

It seems I will be able to have both–a writing retreat and a canning retreat—after all. Bliss.

meLinda Hoye is a writer, editor, adoptee, and somewhat-fanatical grandma who recently retired from a twenty-five-year corporate career. She lives in British Columbia, Canada with her husband and their doted-upon Yorkshire Terrier and finds contentment in her kitchen, at her writing desk, behind her camera, and in her garden. She is the author of Two Hearts: An Adoptee’s Journey Through Grief to Gratitude and blogs at A Slice of Life.

March 31 – Settle In

by Nancy Davies

There is a fine mist hanging from the grey Oregon sky as I sit down to write this afternoon. It usually takes me awhile to settle into a focused frame of mind when I am writing during the middle of the day. My first reaction is that I am squandering my time, being frivolous with precious moments that I can’t get back. I feel this need to be doing something “constructive” during the daylight hours, and have something to show at the end of each day; a clean house, a weed-free yard, some money in the bank. When my husband comes home after another stress filled day at the office and asks me innocently, “What did you do today?” I want to be able to recite a litany of accomplishments that make him believe it is more important for me to be at home than grinding out another day in the work force. But in reality, I think it is me who I’m actually trying to reassure. After years of raising kids, working, volunteering and being generally insane, it’s difficult to get used to so much unscheduled time, and at the same time it’s so amazing!

I have taken this past year off and I am now looking back and viewing this as a year of learning. In a sense, I have become a student of all the things I previously never had time for. I have read books and watched videos of all kinds. I took a class on mindfulness and started a meditation practice. I have tried to make it a point to work on the internal makeup of my life much more than the external. And I’ve been writing, which helps me to straighten out my thoughts. My hope is that once these thoughts are on paper I can step back and see them from an outsider’s perspective. Perhaps try to look without judgment; even reflect back and see some sort of growth occurring. My intention is to open up with no expectations and see what comes out, not unlike walking through life with your arms wide open ready to catch whatever might drop down from the heavens.

What is emerging from all of this for me is the appreciation that life is not a to-do list. By pursuing activities that are meaningful to where I am right now, I’m convinced I will not look back with regret. At the end of the day, by enriching my own life I am, in turn, enriching everything around me.

Recently retired, Nancy has rediscovered long walks with her dog and the joy of a flourishing garden. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, Tom and dog, Ella.

March 7 – On Writing Memoir

by Lily Iona MacKenzie

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I opened the I Ching at random this morning and came up with #38, K’uei / Opposition.  The commentary says it is common for two opposites to exist together, needing to find relationship. I realize an opposition is being set up just in the act of writing Drop Out. My inner writer will be observing everything I do closely and recording what she finds valuable. I’m reminded of a review of Journey into the Dark: The Tunnel by William Gass that appeared in The New York Times Book Review:

Writers double themselves all the time in their fictions, of course. That’s one of the reasons for writing them: to clone yourself and set yourself out on a different path, or to reconfigure yourself as a marginal observer of your own childhood, as Lawrence does with Rupert Birkin in Women in Love, and as Woolf does with Lily Briscoe in To The Lighthouse; or to split yourself in two and reimagine one side of yourself through the eyes of the other, as Joyce does in Ulysses, and as Nabokov does in Pale Fire.

. . . The reason for this is that making copies of ourselves and setting them in motion in imaginary space is built in to the way minds work. We do it all the time–when we plan for a future event, when we relive the past, when we daydream. (July 13, 1995)

I like the idea that I’m daydreaming myself into existence, that day and night dreams, which can be in opposition, work together to make a creative entity. I’m actually making a fiction in my memoir, just as we all are fictions, walking around. I can’t possibly capture my whole life in these pages, so in making the choices I do and recording them, I’m altering my experience, describing a fictional “I” and transforming my life and my experiences. They are both mine and not mine.

In fact, the act of writing these things and reflecting back on them alters that period, transforms it, just as the moon’s reflection changes what it touches, causing us to see a landscape differently at night than in the day time under the sun’s glare. The moon softens surfaces, embraces them. The sun brings out an object’s hard edges and distances us from it. It makes an object seem farther away than the moon’s light does.

In a way, I’m creating a character named Lily, just as other writers recreate themselves when writing memoir. By organizing our pasts as we do, we eliminate a good deal, including only what fits the page limitation and what we’re willing to reveal. Of course, this is how we give shape to a self anyway, by uncovering/discovering it, bit by bit. All of our personality doesn’t show at any one time. Maybe over a long period, the different parts of ourselves will come forward and be exposed. But we are always selecting, choosing.

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Lily Iona MacKenzie sprouted on the Canadian prairies under cumulus clouds that bloomed everywhere in Alberta’s big sky. Her first creative writing instructors, they scudded across the heavenly blue, constantly changing shape–one minute an elephant, bruised and brooding, the next morphing into a rabbit or a castle. These billowing masses gave her a unique view of life.

August 20 – Summer Waning

by Morgan O’Donnell

Photo-Aug-09-8-01-30-PMSummer is waning. I know this because the soft glow that seeps through the blinds comes later each morning. I know this because each evening the rich shades of burnt sienna and crimson and twilight lavender color my living room wall earlier. Normally, the end of my summers are frantic, filled with hurried preparation for the fall semester, advising new graduate students who are worried about being back in class after many years, and calming faculty who are wrestling with ornery technology for their online classes. Usually, I am so busy that I barely register the change in light as autumn comes creeping in.

The summer is different. This summer, for the first time in well over a decade, I am not involved in the fall semester prep, filled with both excitement and stress. Instead, I have left my job in higher education to take a break and see what I can do with these words and ideas that have been tumbling around in my head for so long. Instead of putting them into emails that welcome and calm new students or memos that cajole and console weary faculty, or impromptu pep talks to coworkers, I want to see if I can wrangle these words and ideas into the shape of a book.

Each time I tell my story of how I ended up in the mountains of New Mexico watching summer wane, I realize there are many beginnings to it, not just one. The career mentoring sessions with my dean was one beginning. Listening to my boss tell stories of her close friend who had always talked of writing mysteries and then suffered from early onset Alzheimer’s before those ideas reached paper was another beginning. Yet a third beginning was seeing people smile or hearing them chuckle over some quip or crazy Tumblr post I created and realizing that just maybe I could add a little fun to someone’s life. Each time I tell the story I learn something new myself, some little nugget I hadn’t recognized before.

So this summer, for the first time in years, I am measuring my days by the waning light, the gentle chill of the pre-dawn darkness, and the feel of my pen as it glides over paper while I wait to discover where the story will take me.

 Morgan has done a little bit of everything from serving as a non-commissioned officer in the U.S. Army to public relations coordinator for a boys’ ranch to graduate advisor. She has spent the last 10 years guiding college students of all ages. You can follow Morgan’s adventures in the Land of Enchantment at www.morgankodonnell.com.

May 3 – Penteli Mountain

by Marilea Rabasa

My son and I loved to fly kites when he was growing up in Virginia. The right kind of wind could propel his paper bird high and far, with us right on its tail giving it enough slack to keep it soaring in the air currents.

He’s a grown man now, but I remember a day twenty-five years ago when we were living in Athens, Greece. We were driving home from his friend Chris’ house. Chris lived on Penteli Mountain, one of my favorite haunts outside of Athens. From the crest of this hill on a clear day in winter you could see the whole bowl of Athens, with the smog hovering overhead, and even beyond. This was where the Brits came to celebrate Boxer Day every December 26. They hiked up more for the whiskey than the view, but that’s another story.

As we turned the corner, we saw the tail of a kite peeking out from under a pile of rubbish. We knew it was a kite tail because it had flags zigzagging down the string. Also, everyone came to fly kites on Penteli Mountain in December when the weather changed. This kite had lost its wind and lay abandoned in the field, its owners having no more use for it.

And so, our curiosity taking over, we stopped the car, got out, and went to investigate. Right away our curiosity turned into compassion and we wanted to breathe new life into this broken and tattered old kite. I never thought that something inanimate could come to life. But at this time in my life there was a dying in me that I knew I had to defeat or it would defeat me. My son was part of this tragedy, and somehow we knew that the road to healing could start with repairing this kite and watching it fly again. A dust-covered old TV pinning it down to the ground was holding the kite hostage. Its colorful tail saved it from certain death.

So we took the kite home and repaired it with glue and tape. We waited for a good day with just enough wind to try and fly it. The day finally came, a clear sunny day with a nice breeze. Together we took the kite back to the mountain and flew it. We watched it continue to rise and float in the air until all the string was used up. We ran with it as it leaped in the wind. It was flying like it was brand new – a miracle!

We didn’t let that kite go. We brought it down and carefully put it in the car. We knew we would probably never fly it again, but we couldn’t let go of something that had taught us such an eloquent lesson: I was sure from that day on that there are second chances for those who have the heart to reach for them.

Marilea is a retired teacher. Toward the end of her career, she earned her Master of Arts in Teaching. “This was a critical step on my life journey because it concentrated on reflective practice. Now I have time to reflect back on my life and put my stories down on paper. I look forward to sharing them with you.”

November 22 – On Plato and Roasted Chicken

by Tina Bausinger

My son Nathan, who is 13, is momentarily experiencing bliss–all from a chicken.

“Mom…this is soooo good,” he says with his mouth full.

I giggle. It’s the week of Thanksgiving, and I’m home from class, so I thought I should cook something. It’s kind of my thing. So many times I am not here to do the “mom” things for him (I work 30 hours a week and am a graduate English student, a writing tutor and a writer) so when I’m able, I try to make something he likes.

I sometimes wish I had something else to share with this man-child who has grown six inches in as many months, but I tried playing “Call of Duty” and (it’s just sad) ended up blowing myself up. So, I go with my strengths: cooking. That’s how I get him to turn off the video games and chat with me for a while–or as long as the food lasts.

It sometimes bothers me that I have such a connection with cooking. It’s so cliché, right? I guess 50 years of feminist rhetoric have done little to change that part of me that equates feeding with love. Did the works of Gloria Anzaldúa and Julia Kristeva (whom I adore) fall on deaf ears?

When I read these women, I learn from them, but I find little of me, my soul, changes. They have done little to alter that part of me, inherited from my grandmother, that takes pride in creating something from nothing. It seems confusing, but it’s not. I am a liberated, educated, American woman who does not need to lean on archaic ideas of womanhood. Except, maybe it’s the misconception of those ideas that distracts us. Maybe the feminists of past and present wrote and spoke not to take away from my freedom to roast the perfect chicken, but rather to keep that freedom to do what keeps us happy.

And writing does make me happy–just like cooking. I don’t have to choose. Good writing is cooking, when you think about it. Taking letters, forming them into words, and stringing those words together in a meaningful way, it’s not for everyone.

Plato wrote, “[Rhetoric] seems to me then . . . to be a pursuit that is not a matter of art, but showing a shrewd, gallant spirit which has a natural bent for clever dealing with mankind, and I sum up its substance in the name flattery…Well now, you have heard what I state rhetoric to be–the counterpart of cookery in the soul, acting here as that does on the body.”

I guess I see the connection: To take an ugly chicken carcass and to baste it in olive oil and garlic and roast it to perfection (that makes my teenage son ecstatic) or writing a short blog, are not so different. Either way, it sure feels good to see my son, who I don’t always understand, get a second plate.

Tina is a wife, a mom of three, a student, a lover of words, and a writer. She also make a mean lasagna. She loves finding the perfect word and placing it in the literary puzzle of her life.