Monday, February 26, 2007

more metaphor

One of my earliest memories of the creative process at work was watching my grandma sew on her Singer machine. She wasn't a seamstress, but she had two Singers and used them regularly. I don't recall anything she made - mostly I remember her figure, seated, working the treadle with her foot and holding pins in her mouth.

The little drawers in the machine's table were like treasure chests. One held scissors and measuring tape and various other little tools, the oil can and oil for the moving parts.

One held her buttons, the drop-down drawer held a rainbow of threads. Another held needles and the red tomato pincushion so full of pins it barely showed through.

Well before she died, she gave me the table-top and its ancient instruction manual. I actually figured out how to work it and made simple things like pillow covers and curtains.

Later, she gave me the Singer in its own cabinet, with all the drawers still stuffed with the things I remembered from childhood.

Sadly, when my own children came along, I was not vigilant enough and many of those little treasures were spirited away and used in various and elaborate play scenarios. But a few things remain.

I have the machine in my writing office here at home. I frequently think of weaving silver or magenta or iridescent threads through my novels, and something about the treadle and the beauty of the machine itself, and those treasure chest drawers across the room is inspiring.

It also reminds me of my grandma, who I stayed with quite a bit as a young girl. She was wonderfully inventive. There are no photos of her sewing but there are photos of her swimming and posing and standing on her head, and inside my head are many cherished images I wish I had on paper: her long and pale blond hair catching on fire one morning as she burned the trash - and promptly put the tall cylindrical trash can she'd just emptied on top of her head to put out the flames. Carefully plucking very large garden spiders from their webs in an effort to show me they were harmless. Sitting on the edge of the old porcelain bathtub in her house after my grandfather died, crying, while I patted her on the shoulder. Mixing Tang breakfast drink and spices and black tea and calling it "Russian Tea," which she served in fancy china cups on her red kitchen dinette table.

She wrote postcards and letters but to my knowledge she never wrote a story. And yet she didn't need to - she walked around with stories draped across her shoulders like scarves. A treasure trove I have not even begun to tap.

One thing I intend to do this week: go to a sewing shop and buy a new rainbow of threads to fill the drop-down drawer, and maybe some notions to fill the empty drawers.

lying fallow

I've had a spell, writing wise, of lying fallow, rare for me and very uncomfortable. I'm much happier when working wildly on a book, racing to get down all the paragraphs that seem to collect inside my head.

Trying to view this a necessary part of the process - allowing emptiness and space, specifically for the work in progress which for the first time, I have let sit for months in first draft.

I got back to it this week, readied for it, and finally last night leapt back into the pages. It's exciting to see the benefits of letting it be, and fascinating that in the midst of the empty space (weeks back) there was a revelation that in some ways solves many of the problems of the first draft. It answers a lot of questions posed by three writing group members who read a fair portion of the ms.

I didn't plan it this way, but it occurred to me this morning that when I looked out the window, the fields seem to be washed lightly in green. The bulbs are up, beginning to bud and blossom. Somehow my timing has gotten in sync with nature and the season, the full-tilt buzz of delight that begins underground and works its way outward.

This is by far my favorite part of the writing process - when it starts to hum and bursts out wild and untamed. The deep revision is a close second, and comes just in time to restore order to the wonderful chaos.

Sunday, February 25, 2007


And all the names of the tribes, the nomads of faith who walked in the monotone of the desert and saw brightness and faith and colour. The way a stone or found metal box or bone can become loved and turn eternal in a prayer. Such glory of this country she enters now and becomes part of. we die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves. I wish for all this to be marked on my body when I am dead. I believe in such cartography -- to be marked by nature, not just to label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books. We are not owned or monogamous in our taste or experience. All I desired was to walk upon such an earth as had no maps.

-from Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient

Even in old age, she recurs. I still dream about Claire at least twice a year. How amazing for a thing as vaporous as desire to survive against all the depredations of time, becoming, at its worst, a sad reminder that life mostly fails us. In some dreams she is just a fragrance. Sometimes lavender and sometimes clove and cinnamon, but also another scent dear to my heart. During those two summers, Claire had the habit of absentmindedly wiping her pen nib on her skirts, most of which were dark blue, so the only trace of her habit was the faint odor of ink around her.

-from Charles Frazier's Thirteen Moons

Later evening addendum: I just discovered that Michael Ondaatje has a new novel coming out in May: Divisadero.

And, Ian McEwan has one coming out as well: On Chesil Beach.

Things to look forward to, for sure.


It is gray today, muted and soft, though thankfully not cold. I forget until this kind of day how much brilliance of color the sun offers.

This is a day for pulling books off shelves, fingering the pages for beloved passages, listening to Loreena McKinnitt cd's, allowing the smell of maple sausages to waft through the air, better smelled than eaten, even.

A day for mucking stalls to NPR while keeping one eye skyward for rain and the other on degrees Fahrenheit so the horses don't get both wet and cold.

A day for writing novel, not query letters, and getting lost in words and phrases, pulling the power of a grisaille day into the pages.

Sometimes soft and muted has more power than brilliant sun.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

the circle, the heavy shadows, the great light

I choose to be a figure in that light,
half-blotted by darkness, something moving
across that space, the color of stone
greeting the moon, yet more than stone:
a woman. I choose to walk here. And to draw this circle.

-- Adrienne Rich, Twenty-One Love Poems, XXI, from The Dream of a Common Language

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

in search of spring

It seems to be arriving. Yesterday Keil Bay and I were both sweating after our lesson. It's been awhile since I had to sponge him after a ride!

Salina is getting a bit bossier the past few days. Monday she absolutely rebelled against the pony being in her stall while awaiting his massage therapy. Squealing and switching her tail and spinning with her ears pinned.

Cody tossing the feed bucket in the air.

Apache and Cody running and rearing like wild things in the field.

And then, this morning, look what I found:

The first daffodil! Spring is definitely here.

P/S: new sign just in - Keil Bay at the water trough using a hoof to thoroughly wet himself down before rolling! That would have been a fantastic photo but alas, I did not have the camera.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

and might I say ...

... I am officially back to the novel-in-progress while the query process for the first two rolls onward.

I am SO happy to be working on this book again.


Sometime yesterday afternoon the cold left and in its place came a taste of spring, and a sense of abundance. More than enough books to read, food to eat, horses to ride, cats and corgis to snuggle, pages to revise, family to enjoy, warm days to bask in the sun.

the beloved uncle

Last, but certainly not least, Apollo Moon, who showed up at our barn in early January and made it clear he had come to stay. We attempted to find his previous home - he is older and was very thin, but well-cared for and obviously an indoor cat. We were unsuccessful but in the meantime he settled himself into our big, chaotic family and is now quite a presence here.

Sunday, February 18, 2007



Circles. Turas. Journey, pilgrimage.

Jera. There is no way to push the river. You can't hasten the harvest.

Success is a journey not a destination -- half the fun is getting there.

-Gita Bellin

Saturday, February 17, 2007


Some hours before dawn Henry Perowne, a neurosurgeon, wakes to find himself already in motion, pushing back the covers from a sitting position, and then rising to his feet.

-from Ian McEwan's Saturday

Ian McEwan's Atonement is one of my favorite novels, so when Saturday made it to the top of my reading pile this week I was eager to dive in.

His writing is elegant and controlled, with beautiful, flowing language, and yet very clear and concise.

His novel Saturday takes place in one day, which means he digs deeply into each scene, allowing Henry Perowne to do a lot of thinking and pondering. I love this kind of intimate, internally-driven writing.

I sometimes wonder if the European "audience" - when it comes to novels - is more accepting of this style of writing, which is not plot but character-driven.

I had not realized until I noticed on the bookjacket that McEwan wrote The Comfort of Strangers, which was made into a movie back in the '90's. That title is now on my reading list.

Reading Saturday is also triggering memories of Saul Bellow's Herzog and Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, both novels I own but have not read in many years ... perhaps I will connect the dots and read off on a tangent!

Friday, February 16, 2007

blue sky pine

Out walking the back field this morning after feeding and throwing hay, I began to pace off the area where I'm planning to put a small barn with studio loft. This will involve taking down some trees, so I walked the fence line trying to decide where the best site is that would take down the least number. I don't like removing trees.

The place I'd originally visualized is not the best - if I shift it there's a larger, flatter, clearer space - but the loft windows would not open onto the view I wanted inside the field.

More pondering needed.

I also want a 3-bay shed with hay loft and found a plan for one last night that is exactly what I was thinking of. This morning I walked it off as well. I can visualize the lay-out but once again, it requires tree removal and careful spacing because of our need to allow for horse trailer turn-around as well as dump-truck access for delivery of shavings.

I love thinking through these things. We can't do them all right away, but imagining, in great detail, the possibilities, makes me happy.

the brother

Not to be forgotten, the handsome, the aristocratic, Dickens Edward Wickens.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

our own true song

Finding our own true song is about relinquishing the burden of ego and the false choruses that it sings.

...our own deep song is forever singing its beautiful melody beyond the reach of our ears. When we act sincerely, when we speak from the heart, when our passion is engaged, the true song is heard in all its glory.

--from Caitlin Matthews' The Celtic Spirit

the sisters

Keats and Osage, embodying mystery, magic, and independence.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

what came next

I could ramble on about this part but the kernel of it is this: I dedicated a regular time and place for writing the book.

The first draft of the first novel was written over the course of a year, every Thursday night from 6-9:30 or so, at a little table in a coffee house. At that point in time, I couldn't write at home and I couldn't write in my office. The child energy was too strong at home and the client energy too strong in my office.

This worked very well for that year, when I was writing first draft. When it came time to revise, the noise of the coffee house became too distracting, and I decided to push myself to try out my nice quiet office for the revision work.

When several Thursday afternoon clients finished up therapy processes, instead of putting new clients in I added THAT time to my writing time. Which then meant I had from 1 p.m. until 9:30 or so on Thursdays! It was a full writing "day."

I signed up for a 6-week critique group with Peggy Payne and from there formed my own group of writers who wanted to meet weekly to seriously critique our books and make them better.

I went to a writers' conference and got jazzed about the idea of querying agents.

Etc. Etc. One step at a time, but the essential thing was devoting time to the book - not trying to squeeze it in whenever I could, but making room for it and prioritizing it highly enough that it had a prominent place in my life.

One note: I seemed to have stored up a ton of material during the years I didn't write, so that when I finally started it was like a geyser. It hasn't yet stopped. I have three complete mss now and several more outlined, waiting in the wings for me to get to them. While many writers struggle with writers' block, I seem to struggle with "can't stop." (which is its own problem, especially when one needs to set the ms aside to get some distance and refuel) Point being: we all have our little issues that interfere. It's just a matter of learning what they are and figuring out how to work through them!

Ask away if I have left something out or triggered questions.

Monday, February 12, 2007

how it all started

these quotes from Naipaul's The Enigma of Arrival:

The book of the summer was given back to me in the winter. Without the book and the daily act of creation I do not know how I would have gone through that difficult time. With me, everything started from writing. Writing had brought me to England, had sent me away from England; had given me a vision of romance; had nearly broken me with disappointment. Now it was writing, the book, that gave savor, possibility, to each day, and took me on night after night.

I knew the walk by heart, like a piece of music.

Land is not land alone, something that simply is itself. Land partakes of what we breathe into it, is touched by our moods and memories.


I had typed these in earlier today and after Shara commented on a previous post, I realized what the quotes were in reference to.

All of them do explain, in one way or another, how I came to focus in and start writing seriously.

I had been writing since I was very young - even before I knew how to form letters. I would scribble "pretend" writing, pages of it, with what became later my writing tools of choice - a good blue ballpoint pen and a yellow legal pad.

For many many years I wrote stories and vignettes. I called them The Fragments. Everyone who read them said they were pieces of a novel, which I had no ability to even consider at that point in time.

In my late twenties I developed a very vague idea that when I eventually got married and pregnant, I would not only give birth to a child, but to a book. It did not turn out that way -- I had no idea how difficult pregnancy would be for me, and that the last thing I would be able to do was focus on a novel!

Once my son was born, I didn't even think of writing. It wasn't until my second-born, my daughter, was nearing two that something began to shift. I started reading incessantly again, began to attend author readings, and set up a desk and computer. I had an old box with hundreds of pages of notes and writings inside, and I got it out of storage and put it in the same room with the desk and the computer, but high up on a shelf. I wasn't yet ready to open it.

I consider my work in the sand - sandplay therapy with a wonderful man who flew in from California once a month - to be the key that opened the door to writing seriously. It was mid-way the therapy process, which lasted for nearly two years, that I began to make room in my life for the book.

Those Naipaul quotes say it very well.

But there came a time, for me, when not writing simply didn't work anymore. It was a physical sensation, totally visceral and real, that felt like a tremendous pressure inside my head, as though it might blow right off, up through the roof of the house and into the sky.

That's how it started. More later on where it went next.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

the view from Friday

In the sky, one of many:

In the barn, Dickens (E. Wickens) peaks out from behind Keats (aka Weats-Anne, aka Wee)

Jungian aside:

The photo I had saved for today would not open. It was titled "The Shadows of Things" and the computer informed me the file was probably corrupt. Maybe time to move on to the Real Thing, versus Shadows. :)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

the week got away from me

After leisurely Wednesday passed, the week took off running. Thursdays I see clients and Friday was absorbed with pony club clinic prep. Today we got up at 6 a.m. and I spent the day with my daughter and her pony, watching dressage in one arena and jumping in the other, and helping her some when it was her times to ride.


However, I have to say, watching these girls (and one boy) work so hard on their riding skills while obviously adoring their mounts of various colors, shapes and sizes is a really nice way to spend a day.

Tomorrow it is back to business as usual.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

measure of the day

Wednesday is, for now, a day marked with only one scheduled evening event, and waking up to an entire day of blank slate feels lovely. Soft and lacy and out of focus, like this:

Osage, also known as Muffine Eloise, Puffiane, and other assorted transmutations of these names, is the softest of the kit-meows, as my daughter refers to them. The tree outside is like a premonition of the day to come. There are a number of rune patterns in the branches.

Outside, it is blissfully warm (well, relatively speaking, but far above the 11 degrees of yesterday morning) and the birds are singing. Keil Bay nickers softly for his breakfast, and Salina pauses in her eating to gaze at me for a few moments, appreciative and content. Apache rolls in the thin layer of hay left in Cody's paddock when I remove his blanket. Cody takes his time getting back to the field, checking out each stall for dropped niblets of feed.

I hadn't noticed consciously until this morning, but right there on the barn doors are big runic X's - Gebo - partnership and fulfillment. Which is absolutely how it feels in our barn. Gebo, traced over with the shadows of trees, light and shadow and possibility.

Monday, February 05, 2007

cormac mccarthy and revelations and rambling

His book The Road is in my pile waiting to be read, and I think it might be next up after Naipaul. I was thinking about McCarthy's earlier novel Blood Meridian last night and searched out a quote that I wrote down in one of my black moleskines from a couple of years ago:

The judge smiled.
Books lie, he said.
God don't lie.
No, said the judge. He does not. And these are his words.
He held up a chunk of rock.
He speaks in stones and trees, the bones of things.

I totally admire his brevity, the spareness of words, the stark images.

Looking for this particular quote, I ended up re-reading numerous passages and thinking of west Texas, where the landscape is bleak and desolate.

I got into my bath last night with images from McCarthy swirling with images from my own travel in Texas while I lived there for graduate school.

This led to thoughts of the road trip that ensues in my second novel. And suddenly I had a revelation about a character and a missing but pivotal piece of action.

Sometimes my bathtub revelations get lost in the jet streams, so I filed this one boldly in my mind.

The instant I let it go I had another one about the third novel - a rather huge one - having to do with replacing a major character with a character from an old short story - which would make this entire piece of the novel come to life. And in the process, solve several problems having to do with the motives of the main character.

Sometimes my bathtub revelations are pretty far out - and while this one is, it survived scrutiny after the fact and I plan to implement it as soon as I get back to that book.

Both revelations have been neatly written into the current moleskine.

(I used to keep the moleskines devoted to one book in progress - but at some point that became too complicated - now I just write everything down in the current one, and label the top of the page with the name of the novel it belongs to!)

And, finally, I have stirred from first novel rewrite query torpor and have begun to send them out in earnest. I shot out some email queries Friday and got one pretty quick no thank you - good to get that little milestone over and done with. May the requests for partials and fulls begin. :)

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Corgi Sleeps In

With four horses, four cats, and two dogs, there is no end to sheer animal magnetism around here.

But this was too cute to pass by.

Patience ...

... is a hard discipline. It is not just waiting until something happens over which we have no control: the arrival of the bus, the end of the rain, the return of a friend, the resolution of a conflict.

Patience is not waiting passively until someone else does something. Patience asks us to live the moment to the fullest, to be completely present to the moment, to taste the here and now, to be where we are.

When we are impatient, we try to get away from where we are. We behave as if the real thing will happen tomorrow, later, and somewhere else.

Let's be patient and trust that the treasure we look for is hidden in the ground on which we stand.

-Henri J. M. Nouwen

Thursday, February 01, 2007

the enigma of arrival

And then I discovered that to be a writer was not (as I had imagined) a state -- of competence, or achievement, or fame, or content -- at which one arrived and where one stayed. There was a special anguish attached to the career: whatever the labor of any piece of writing, whatever its creative challenges and satisfactions, time had always taken me away from it. And, with time passing, I felt mocked by what I had already done; it seemed to belong to a time of vigor, now past for good. Emptiness, restlessness built up again; and it was necessary once more, out of my internal resources alone, to start on another book, to commit myself to that consuming process again.


Thanks to Peggy Payne for recommending this wonderful book.

cathedral (was thursday's snow)

This photo was taken yesterday afternoon, but by this morning the sunshine was replaced by white skies and snow. I had a series of lovely snow photos all set to go but messed up and deleted them from both camera and laptop.

So I'm back to the cathedral, assuming that somehow it's the right thing to focus on today.

The lovely snow has shifted to icy rain, and is getting mushy.