Wednesday, August 25, 2010

New favorite author, cont'd

Guess what delivered today? Cynthia Kaplan book number 2!!! Can't wait to dig in.

Leave the Building Quickly: True Stories (P.S.)

I was sad to see that her website's "Breaking News" page hasn't been updated since March, but oh well. At least she's online. Maybe when I finish this book I'll write to her again and find out if she's visiting WA state anytime soon. Possibly teaching a writing workshop? Or needing a good coffee shop recommendation and a few hours to kill? I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

More 'Moir: Recent Discoveries in the Memoir Department

Why I'm Like This: True Stories (P.S.)This was a gift from a friend who obviously knows me very well. I LOVED this book and read it in one day. I devoured every chapter, not because it was light or frivolous writing, but because the author confided in me. It is a collection of autobiographical essays arranged chronologically, each focusing on a specific topic:

• Summer camp and the social scaffolding of adolescence
• Quirky relatives
• Waitressing
• Parents' hobbies
• Caring for a grandparent with Alzheimer's
• Pregnancy, childbirth and parenting

Reading each essay was like meeting a friend for the first time, finding out what you have common, and then being fascinated by every single thing you don't have in common.

As soon as I finished the book, I found the author's website and wrote her an email. I felt a little like an awkward, gushing celebrity-stalker, but after attending the writing conference last month, I know that authors are people too and thrive on appreciation just like anyone. So I told her how much I loved her writing and that I felt like more of myself having read her book.

I found this one at a local bookstore, read the first few chapters in the store, and then couldn't stop thinking about it until I bought a copy. This author is savvy and street-smart and we have little in common but I still loved visiting her world. It's an angsty, raw, coming-of-age story. In other words it's about sex, failed relationships, tabloids, starting over before you've really begun life as an adult, making huge decisions, deciding who you want to be, and then figuring out how to achieve that. This book fit into a subcategory I'll call Memoir-as-Gossip. It was less substantial as a meditative work of nonfiction, but I still couldn't put it down. It was like a popular girl striking up a conversation with me: I couldn't walk away, no matter how inappropriate the subject matter might be.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Uganda update

Several weeks ago, I received a newsletter from the African Children's Choir, who I worked with in 2004-2006. One of the children I toured with (as chaperone for a 24-member choir raising money for school at home in Uganda) was featured as an example of a new program at the primary school.

These are the bright and shining faces I met in April of 2004. Douglas is in the back row, on the far right.

Now look at him! I am so proud. I miss these kiddos so much it hurts.

From the newsletter:
P7 [seventh grade] student Douglas happily reported that he was able to use what he learned in his auto mechanics exploratory (after school club) while on his school holiday. Douglas' brother-in-law had a flat tire on his car and Douglas offered to change it. The man was hesitant, seeing that this was just a young boy, but Douglas insisted he could help. "My brother-in-law was so surprised because there are big people who can’t do that," said Douglas, "and it was a skill I learned in just two days.”
That would have been useful on tour, especially the day we parked our charter bus at a wilderness camp in Minnesota, and one of the back wheels broke through an old (empty) septic tank. THAT was an adventure.

Love you Dougi. Miss you, choir 25.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Haircut Part Deux

I saw Samantha again yesterday, and sat down in her barber's chair with a big smile on my face.

"I'm excited to show you all my hair!" I said with a big grin. I loved the look on her face as she ran her fingers through the new, thick curls up top.

"You can't even tell!" she said, looking for traces of the bald spots I had two months ago. "You are a totally different person!"

I beamed.

"Gimme some skin!" She shouted, and held up her palm for a high five. It was a gloriously cheesy moment.

"You got rid of that stress," she said, knowingly.

I didn't reiterate any of the causes for stress, but I did tell her about being purposeful in finding other outlets (writing, Zumba, etc). I told her I'm not taking it out on my hair anymore.

Then I said, "You know what made the biggest difference? Coming here. Talking to you. The stuff you said to me last time made a big difference."

Samantha appreciated that, and told me she was honored to hear me say it.

It's the truth. Having someone track with me and listen and invest, even for 45 minutes during a shampoo and a trim, was what I needed. A friend told me recently, "Well, sometimes you need a therapist, and sometimes you just need a good haircut!"

A good haircut from a good stylist has helped me, twice now, keep my anxiety in perspective. And Samantha has a plan for styling my hair as it grows, turning it in to a real hairdo (possibly the first in my whole least the first decade-appropriate hairdo). :)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Local Writers' Conference

Confession: I haven't written much since the writing conference I attended last weekend. I've been feeling very literary and read a LOT this week, and day dreamed about the essays and memoir I have in mind, but haven't sat myself down to write since then.

I loved the conference. I felt like a kid sitting at the grown ups' table. There were 25 participants, all writing enthusiasts, some published authors, some with proposals and query letters at the ready, eager to be pointed in the right directions. Others were like me, needing some inspiration and validation that the process is worthwhile, whether publishing is in our near future or not.

The most rewarding part of the weekend for me was the women I met. Wow. I've never felt so much story telling potential in one room, and I found myself looking at each woman (and one man) wondering what ideas and experiences were lingering just below the surface, waiting to be put to paper. It was invigorating just to be in the same room.

We took turns sharing what holds us back from writing. Lots of camaraderie there. No matter what stage we were at, we could all commiserate with anxiety or lethargy or anticipation. The presenter (a senior editor at a small publishing house in Berkeley, CA) talked about the importance of writing practice, a regular exercise to develop writing as a discipline. She encouraged us to ask ourselves, "Do I have a practice?" "Is my practice holding me back?" "Is my practice based in superstition?" (i.e. I can't write until the house is clean, I can only write in coffee shops, etc.).

She asked us to write for a few minutes about our own writing practice.

What is my practice?
  • Friday morning at the coffee shop, before work.
  • Journaling a few mornings a week, in my notebook or laptop. It's very sporadic.
  • My "practice" is emotionally driven (I only write from an excess of anger, pain, sadness; rarely joy).
  • Blogging is squeezed into break time at work, usually 2 or 3 15 minute chunks throughout the day.
  • Notes to friends and self (I've written whatever is on my mind in a greeting card a few times, and mailed it to myself. It's a mini journal-time-capsule).
  • My feelings about writing practice is that anything forced is unauthentic. However, inspiration strikes at inconvenient times, usually at work, following a large intake of caffeine or reading a funny email or finding a new blog and having a sudden writing-crush on the author.
  • My writing is often bi-polar: either manic or depressive.
We created mantras for ourselves. We were paired up and instructed to discuss what would motivate or define us using the following format: I am the (noun) that (verb) __________________ .

Some examples from my classmates:
I am the breeze that lifts the veil of memory.
I am the clock that can't be turned back.
I explained to my mantra partner that the writing project I have in mind is to tell my Mom's story and to write about the impact Alzheimer's has had on my family. It felt odd to be candid about a topic that is so personal and buried below a lot of emotional layers. I got choked up, but managed to explain that I want to write about my memories of her before Alzheimer's (as the first born, I feel a special responsibility to paint her in the most positive light for my siblings, who don't have as many memories of her in her glory days as wife, mother, teacher extraordinaire). I also want to describe the progression of the disease in our specific case. I have little interest in reading a lot of reference material about the disease, but rather take on one day at a time and carefully observe and record what it's like.

OK, I didn't really articulate all that, but I think my classmate got the gist of it. My mantra's first draft was something like "I am the daughter that remembers the good." But I wanted it to be more visual than that, so I kept tinkering with it.

We did a collage project later that afternoon, and while others illustrated ideas for a book cover, I decided to put my mantra into graphic form. I really like the finished product.

I have a lot to think about, following the conference. The information I gathered (handouts, notes, resources) were all super valuable. The people I met inspired me. Most importantly, the ember of desire to write was re-kindled. Let's see where it takes me.

Favorite summer evenings

Welcome to my Garden - Spring 2010 Edition

These two little strips of earth outside our front door have been so invigorating. I was a tiny bit disappointed when we bought this place last November, not to have any yard in front or back, but this little outdoor space has been just enough for me. A lot of perennials were already planted, so it was fun to be surprised by what bloomed this spring. Two varieties of lilacs were new to me (no longer in bloom) and the vine climbing up the pillar is jasmine, also a first for me.

The bright pink roses (Jackson and Perkins' "Electric Blanket") were already established, and man have they been blooming like crazy.  

In the fall, I pruned the heck out of them, but it paid off. I've given away lots of bouquets, literal handfuls of bright pink blooms. That's my favorite thing about gardens: growing flowers to cut and bring inside or give away. Mom did that when her gardens were in their prime. I loved helping her gather dahlias and zinnias and roses and daisies...the list goes on.

There's something very therapeutic about caring for a little sprout of a plant, too. I bought peonies (those glossy leaves below, closest to the edge) and blue lobelia (in the middle of the photo) at the sale section of our local nursery. Finding root-bound or thirsty plants off the scratch and dent shelves feels like an even better find, because the need to nurture kicks up to high gear.

Also, it's so cheery to step out my front door and see color and growth, and smell the jasmine and thyme and rosemary as I head to work.


Sometimes I say, "Goodbye little garden! Keep growing today!" as we pull out of the driveway. Pretty sure my husband thinks I'm crazy.

Book bag and water bottle at the ready

Oh, and in case anyone is curious, the lavender is recovering nicely. There it is in the center, down below. I trimmed the dried bits and propped it up with more soil and have given it lots of extra water.