I call him Jim, because he reminds me of a guy I knew who could be found each and every morning standing at the local Dunkin’ Donuts, jump-starting his day with high test coffee. (I almost changed my mind and renamed him “Mike,” after the gangly Olympic wunderkind with whom he has so much in common—especially an affinity for anything water. But, well, named is named.)
Each and every morning, I see Jim standing in the middle of Lower Bear Lake or in the reedy fringe, his body perched high on stork-like legs. I like his summery suit of pale blue and white, almost like a seersucker. Ready for the office. Thin neck crooked, he peers into the depths as if contemplating the day’s assortment of pastries. Let’s see. Sunny? Bass? Hmm. Maybe too much of a tangle with that one. Then, suddenly the neck uncrooks and a sharp beak stabs the surface of the water, returning seconds later with a flapping piece of breakfast. A few quick gulps and he’s back to his musing. If I get too close, he flaps his huge wings and skims off to a more remote spot.
The past month or so has been excellent for early walks, before the day heats up and I find more excuses than I need not to get out and stretch the muscles. I, like Jim, need a jolt to get my day going. And it’s good to be out among the rest of the world, whether it’s Jim or the man who moseys along with his two elderly dogs or runners and cyclers or the little clutch of ducklings who seem a bit small for this time of year. The other day, I thought I saw a kingfisher, and a couple of deer paused on the path that leads to the house. We all paused, politely waiting for the other to pass, but I won that round and they eventually wandered off. Then, there are the smaller wonders—gossamer spider webs or a leaf that has already turned bright red or slanting rays of sunlight piercing the trees like golden fingers. I have to remember to bring my camera. Once in a while I have captured a special image to upload onto my jigsaw puzzle web site. It’s fun to put them together, recreating the moment piece by piece.
A few times this week, we’ve taken the longer bridle path through the woods. There are more ups and downs than on the lake trail and my muscles eventually feel the strain. I take comfort in the thought that I’m doing them some good. I’ve taken the time to stretch before my walks lately, which seems to make a difference. Sometimes I make a game of it, standing Jim-like on one leg to see if I can balance, but keeping close to something solid in case I topple.
It’s been a gorgeous summer for being outdoors. I’ve visited quite a few places, some purporting to be paradise, but nothing can compare to a splendid day in Northeast Ohio. I think if we could ask Jim, he’d agree.
“See? This is why I don’t want to get old.”
It was July 4, 2008, and my son and I were standing on the aft deck of a boat that was cruising along the Kona Coast of Hawaii’s Big Island. Up top, a couple of surfer dude-looking guys were scanning the ocean for a pod of spinner dolphins that had been lazily digesting their nocturnal meal of squid as they swam. The intent was to position the boat ahead of where the dolphins were moving so that we could all jump off.
On the boat were perhaps fifteen or twenty people, ranging in age from about ten to—well, me. We were all excited to see these gentle beasts of the sea up close and personal. I was especially happy to be doing it with kids and grandkids. It would certainly be an adventure to share.
A stir in the water to the left signaled that we had found the pod. Several dolphins had surfaced, some skimming the water in the traditional arc, others leaping into the air with the twisting motion that gave this particular species its name. Fascinated, we watched for a while, then the boat put on a bust of speed to get in front of them. The engine came to a halt and the signal was given to enter the water. We had been told to just lay flat on our stomachs and use our flippers. Flailing hands might scare the dolphins.
I’d like to say I gracefully eased into the water, but from a foot or so above the water, a splash is inevitable. I managed to get my mask and snorkel in place and took off after those already moving away. Head down, hands at my sides, I paddled along, my eyes shifting from side to side. Then I remembered that the surfer dudes had said to look down.
Suddenly, there they were, several feet below me, moving along like huge silver bullets. I didn’t even think to be afraid. They looked so peaceful and for sure, they weren’t interested in the rather odd shaped pink fish up above. Movement to the side of me. A trio of dolphins swam by about a yard away. I almost could have reached out and touched them. One had a neat, circular bite mark near its tail, the result, we discovered later, of an encounter with what’s called a “cookie cutter” shark. As they passed, one playfully nudged another with his nose and they all disappeared into the murky distance. Moments later, more dolphins appeared. I tried to swim after them, but of course it proved futile. My muscles are no match for theirs.Back on board, the excited chatter began. “Did you see…?” “Did you hear them talking?” Everyone had a story.
Five separate times, we were privileged to enter the dolphins’ world. I didn’t want the day to end. Which what had prompted my comment to my son.
At some point, we both agreed, everything will come to an end. The trick is to stretch it out as far as you can. So far, I’ve been blessed with the healthy genes that seem to run in my family, although I’m beginning to understand what my mother meant when she often said, “If they only knew how much effort it takes to look this good!”
Old is what you make of it. Live it to the max. Do some kind of work. Play. Laugh. Learn something new every day. Eat right. Make your body move as much as possible, even when it hurts. Read. Help somebody else. Have friends. Have faith. And hope. And love. There’s no better way.
This is my first attempt at doing my own illustrations, but I think kids will enjoy them.
I just returned from a five week trip--my longest ever. The first few nights home I found myself waking up wondering where I was and in what direction the bathroom might be, just in case I had to make fast tracks. I think I'm over that and the jet lag and it actually feels like I have a whole new wardrobe! Try wearing the same things over and over for 35 days! (In case you're wondering, yes, I did toss them in somebody's washing machine every so often.)
Anyway, where I was, mostly, was Washington State. For three weeks I stayed with our youngest son and his family in the Tri-Cities area on the eastern (and dry) side of the mountains and had a great time crawling around the floor playing trains with PJ, who is three. I'm obviously not three. My muscles told me that every time I tried to get up. I finally convinced PJ that I had "old bones" and couldn't follow him indefinitely. We came to an acceptable compromise where I could sit on the front steps sometimes.
After that, Pat and I drove through the Snoqualmie Pass to the western or wet side, although it was actually kind of nice there for a change. We regrouped our suitcases and then headed for Hawaii for a week. My first time ever. Beautiful. Stunning sunsets, tiki torches, lush vegetation, and mai tais. Hawaii, if you've never been there, seems almost like a foreign country. Although once you master "aloha" and "mahalo," you're pretty much home-free in the language department, there is a decidedly different look to street and town names. It's like the founding fathers got feeling giddy and just started throwing vowels and accent marks into perfectly good words. Kilauea, Honolulu, Hawai'i, a'ama--and those were the easy ones. They actually had three kings named Kamehameha. In all honesty, one you mastered some of them, they were kind of fun to say. I'm still trying to figure out the Hawai'an name for Place of Refuge, which is a sanctuary and historical site. Don't try it when you've had a few mai tais: Pu'uhonua o Honaunau. Also, almost everyone tells you, steer clear of poi, which is a purplish paste that is the staple food of the Hawai'ians. My kindergarten paste tasted better.
On the Fourth of July, we boarded a boat and went out in search of dolphins. And that's another story for when I get my pictures. Until then, aloha!
My first thought was that it was a parking ticket, so you can imagine my relief. But then what was it doing under my wiper blade? I flipped it over and found--
Another puzzle for me to solve. But it didn't take me long to figure out that this was a rather civil form of road rage. Obviously, I hadn't parked my car cleanly within the space marked. I tried to think, but couldn't even remember exactly where I'd been in the past few days. Just about every parking lot I go to has room for about a gazillion cars. The other thing was that if there's anybody who's a "between the lines" person, it's me. I took great pride (still do) in neatly coloring in my coloring books. This person must have been seriouisly ticked off to grab whatever was handy--some box--rip off part of it and furiously scribble "Yellow lines!" I'm assuming it was a male. I hope he didn't fire his secretary or something when he got to work. Sheesh. Get a life.
And by the way, if there are any of you still onfused by "entropy plaza," here's a picture of it. Notice the "order into chaos?"
I was going on an errand one day a while ago and had come to an intersection onto the main highway. Lying in the street was a white sneaker. A fairly new one, and small, perhaps a child about six or eight. I chuckled as I thought of the kid who liked to go barefoot nonchalantly tossing the sneaker out the car window as the car rolled to a stop and how the mom would probably tear up her house looking for it later that day or the next. Of course, if it had been my kid, it wouldn't have been so funny. Socks not returning from the washing machine were bad enough.
On my way home from my errand, coming to the intersection again from a completely different direction and on a different side road about a half mile south of the other side road, I saw another sneaker. White. Small. New. Now my writer's mind kicked into high gear. Possible scenarios: Mom put both sneakers on the roof of the car as she was hustling everybody off to soccer practice. Then forgot about them. Sneakers eventually fell off. Except--how did the second sneaker survive the turn? Or did the kid dangle the second sneaker by the shoelace for a while before letting go? Was this an abduction and someone was trying to leave a trail? Better than breadcrumbs, certainly. Weird.
Of such everyday events are stories made. Perhaps the errant sneakers will eventually find their way into a book or story. One never knows.
The worms are officially dead. Well, actually, a couple survived, but they went into the compost heap to see if they'd fare better with even more neglect.
And the mice are gone. All four of them. We caught three of them--one still alive, but doomed to spend the rest of his days hopping around with a tiny crutch, like Tiny Tim Cratchitt. The last mouse had spent the last four years attached to my computer. When it didn't move anymore, I suspected foul play, especially when I took it to the computer store and it worked fine there. The tech, however, suggested I might want to get a backup, just in case. Smart man. Back home, the mouse still wouldn't work, but the new one did. I'm glad I got it, too, because I just purchased a new laptop and will need one there.
Hope you're enjoying the trans-seasonal weather wherever you are!
I also should note here that I think I killed my worms.
Outside, meanwhile, the heavens had opened and rained down--well, rain. But the temperature was hovering around 32 degrees, so when I went out, I found my car looking like something by Swarovski. Fortunately, I had brought a thermos of hot water for tea during the day and had some left, so that went on the windshield and I was able to make it the short mile home.
Where I found the house lit by candles. No power. Shoot! That meant no American Idol--and no supper, either. (My husband had offered to cook something, but since the microwave was unavailable, the offer was off the table--literally.) For a couple of hours, we huddled around the fireplace, dreading the moment when we'd have to crawl into an ice cold bed. No electric blanket. No hot water, either. We're on a well and when the well pump doesn't work, the water doesn't flow. Like Sidney Carton, Pat decided that it was a "far, far better thing" to get in first. Smart man.
We struggled through the next day, or rather, I did. He went to work. I sat in front of the fireplace and knitted and read and listened to my MP3 and stoked the fire. I had a school presentation later that night a short distance away. Luckily, they had power. It was just hard getting dressed. It's truly amazing how cold everything gets--clothes, utensils, toilet seats--ugh! After the presentation, we hit a neighborhood restaurant and lingered over our dinner, enjoying the warmth. By the time we got home, the power had been restored--not soon enough for American Idol, though. The furnace was sounding a little grumbly, but it had been doing that for several days and we'd already gotten a couple of quotes for a new furace, maybe in the summer.
Forget summer. The next morning, the furnace was dead. Dead, dead, dead. And it was cold. Cold, cold, cold. Except for a small electric heater, which we set up in the office. The guy who was coming out with our quote was in the right place at the right time. He could do the job the next day, so it was his.
I'm still barricaded in the office while the snow (another blizzard thing expected) piles up outside. March has definitely come in like a lion. I've been going over manuscripts and checking out blogs and doing online jigsaw puzzles. Everytime I leave to get something in the kitchen, I'm reminded of how frigid it is out there. The furnace guys promised us heat by tonight. Winter. You gotta love it.
It's good to be published by a traditional house. They pay you money and produce (mostly) a product to be proud of. If they don't do a lot to promote it, well, that's business these days. It's even become common for the author to be required to come up with a marketing plan for his/her book. So, if you've decided to commune with the self-publishing muse, you might also look up SCORE, an organization that helps small businesses get noticed.
When I first had the idea for The Secret in The West Woods, I sensed right away that it would just be an exercise in futility for me to peddle it to the big houses. It was regional, and I hadn't even had much luck with things that were more general. But because I love books that are set in areas I know (Les Roberts' mysteries set in Cleveland, for some) and because The West Woods park was just beginning to be developed, I felt there would be a match. Turned out I was right. The Park District is one of my staunchest supporters and carries the book in their nature center.
Wanting to keep the price competitive, I elected to publish the book myself, rather than going with a print-on-demand house. My science fiction novel, Me Two, republished by iUniverse, costs $14.95--a little steep, I thought, for a paperback. So, with a little nest egg I'd inherited from my mother, I jumped. Not completely knowing what I was doing, I might add.
But I learned. I learned about ISBNs and bar codes and paper and type face and typesetting and bindings and finding an illustrator (a very hard and expensive lesson). I found a class of fourth graders and had them read the manuscript. Their teacher was extremely helpful. While the class read the book and made their own notes, she made notes on their reactions. As a result, I lopped off about ten pages of the first forty. The kids' letters made my day. They were overall positive (one said he liked it better than Harry Potter!), but they also didn't mince words if they didn't understand something or thought a passage dragged. I owe them a large Thank You!
So, the book finally arrived--forty-some cartons of it, which we moved (where else?) to the basement. Over the years, I've managed to break even and then some. Through school visits and sales, I saved up enough to print a second book, The Christmas Dragon. I did a much, much better job finding an illustrator, but of course, you always fall down in some other area. No harm done. Well, some, but I'll know better next time.
Is my writing the stuff of legends? Of course not. But I like to think they're reasonably good stories that kids will like. I've gotten lots of nice feedback on both books. (Not that I'm likely to hear the other side, given that it's tough for the self-published to get reviewed.) And I'm probably going to do it again this year.
In that type of gentle voice usually reserved for talking someone off the ledge of an open window on the 28th floor of a skyscraper, Pat said, "Mary, it's an imaginary person."
"Tell him that!" I retorted.
It's fairly easy for anyone to understand what a person does who's a nurse, a custodian, a doctor, a taxi driver, a politician--well, maybe not that last one. Understanding writers takes a little more doing. It's hard to figure out what's going on with people who can stare at a blank computer screen for hours at a time and claim they're working. Or when you're having a great conversation with some guy (male or female--I think it's been degenderized by restaurant servers) and suddenly he/she appears to have gone off into space somewhere. One of Andrew Lloyd Webber's wives told how this would happen to the famous composer at a dinner party. No offense, but the guy probably just had a marvelous idea for the next Phantom of the Opera and everything else paled by comparison. I know. It happens to me, too, except I don't make so much money from mine.
When writers begin talking about recalcitrant characters, it's just part of the process. You care about them, so your readers will, as well. And it's also part of the process that sometimes you're so successful at this that characters develop their own voices, their own way of behaving (or not), their own way of solving their problems. How real is Winnie-the-Pooh? Scarlett O'Hara? Charlotte, the spider? Anne of Green Gables? This is the magic of writing and writers this happens to will know that they been gifted and feel appropriately thankful.
The problem is, we do it to ourselves. For someone who professes a love of writing, I can find more excuses than Carter's has liver pills, if they still do. (It's too early in the morning to think. Sometimes cliches do come in handy.) Anyway, when it's time to write, it also appears to be time to:
walk the dog (even though I don't have one, I figure I can make one up. I'm a writer, right?)
take a walk myself (and convince myself that my mind will be fresher when I come back)
do the dishes (which I normally feel is the sole job of whatever gadget GE has placed in my house)
play the guitar (once I dig it out from under the bed and dust it off)
run a load of wash
shred old tax receipts
call somebody on the phone (even if it's to hear my bank balance on the automated teller)
and this latest,
check my worms.
I'm afraid you read that correctly. Worms.
Let me explain. For Christmas this year, I got a worm farming kit, complete with a thousand little wigglers. I won't go into all the rather gross details, but it's something I've been encouraged to try by several gardeners who claim my garden will be an earthly delight if I use castings from the worms. (I'm not sure yet what castings are. They could be worm poop or dead worms. Either way, they sound awful.) These gardeners also claim that worms are easy to take care of. Dump them into a bin with a bunch of wet, shredded newspaper and a bunch of garbage. (Oh, yeah? Then, why do people feel the need to write books about worm farming, huh? If it was that easy, wouldn't a pamphlet do?) Well, I shredded and dumped and have been down in the basement a few times to see what's happening. As far as I can see, nothing. The worms don't seem to be trying to crawl out, which is good--very good. They might be dead already, although I doubt that. I have to assume they're munching away, happy as clams, making good dirt. (Yes, even for cliches that's poor, but I said it's early.)
Now, my gardens have always been an experiment in experiments. My general approach has been to toss seeds in the direction of the ground and wait until something comes up. I also use compost and often get interesting products from last year's rinds, skins, and cores. Tomatoes are the ones that most often show up, although I've also had cantaloupes, pumpkins, and decorative gourds. So, I have to ask myself whether the worms are really going to make a big impact, or whether they're better used as an excuse for not writing.
I'll keep you posted. Right now, though, this blog seems to be fulfilling the need just as well as the worms.
So, now I'm knee deep in papers and records, trying to figure out what's mine and what's theirs.
Despite that, I have a few projects in mind for 2008--one involving a mouse and some cookies. Another Christmas tale. The Christmas Dragon was well received, even though we only had four weeks to get it out there. I think it looks great and many people have told me how much their kids/grandkids, nieces, nephews, etc. enjoyed reading it. That always makes an author's day. Susan Collett (the illustrator) and I are getting together soon to talk about new marketing strategies.
On the normal side of life, I'm trying to organize Christmas stuff, clean up the basement, get back to work, and promising this week to get back to exercising!
So, how does this have any bearing on the stone plaza? Well, he started off placing the stones very neatly. Eventually, he realized everything wasn't going to fit perfectly in the space he had defined, so he finished the job a bit haphazardly, with stones going off in all directions. He dusted off his hands and declared it to be Entropy Plaza--from order into chaos.
And that kind of sums up the way I function.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to visit New Mexico and Arizona. I felt as if I was finally home.