Writing with Abandon

Is that crazy muse who lived in my childhood brain still available?

I have caught her trying to pop out and have her say now and again, but I have an ever-growing sledgehammer of a censor that keeps her in her place—hybernating in the depths of long ago.

She popped her head out and opened an eye this week, trying to read over my shoulder.  I didn’t reach for the sledgehammer.

I was too busy reading The Book Thief  by Markus Zusak. Okay, you and everybody else have probably already read it, but I just met it. I did view the film some time ago. I was duly and profoundly moved, but I never picked up the book until a few days ago.

So here is what I mean by “with Abandon.”

Don’t just sit down and write a story about a little girl caught in the mess Hitler was making of Germany and every other country he could get his hands on.

It gets harder and harder to get people’s attention these days, with all the digital distractions and so forth. Another horrible unthinkable tale from that era told in the the usual way might cause us to shake our heads, but ultimately put it aside. Yes, yes, I know—man’s inhumanity to man—it shouldn’t happen—it must not happen. 

But it did and it does and we all know it.

How to get our attention?

Let Death tell the story. Give him a sense of humor, of irony, of pity for the human race. Throw in up-to-the-minute bulletins of what lies ahead, but keep pulling the reader back into the story at hand. Commiserate with the readerwe all know what’s coming, but wait—let’s look at this first. Draw scratchy little illustrations. Keep forcing the reader back into the moments of each person’s existence. But don’t ever let him forget he is conversing with Death.

Full immersion.

This book gave my seventy-two-year-old bones a good shake. And it grabbed the interest of that little sleeping muse inside me. Maybe the two of us are eyeing each other cautiously, wondering what the shake-up is all about. Wondering if we have something in common—if we might find a way to work together.

Reading Mr. Zusak’s work reminded of how an open sense of play and anything-goes can  be a serious contributor toward getting the real bones of a story on paper.

I hope I have learned something from it.





















Dreaming in Color

I woke up ready to write this morning, and instead spent nearly a half-hour staring at my screen waiting for Norton to fix error 3039,1. At least I am seated facing my window that looks out into the backyard.

The sky behind the web of bare tree limbs and branches is a subtle variation of grays.

I particularly noticed the sky color when I opened the blinds because I had just awakened from a dream that included a perfectly clear turquoise sky. It wasn’t an entire sky so much as it was an open doorway in which my dad was standing. The sky included the doorway shape as well as the shape of a door opening out from it. When Dad finished talking, he turned and walked back through the portal and closed the door behind him.

The conversation between Dad and me was short and gave me some food for thought, but I will save that for my personal journal. What I want to talk about here is how some dreams seem to be a mishmash of recent impressions the mind is sorting out, while others are fraught with symbolism, or give us the gift of the palpable presence of someone we have lost, or signal something is happening to someone close to us.

I say “us”, but of course I am only sharing my own personal experience.

Maybe for me, color is something my mind knows will grab my attention. If there has been some outstanding splash of color surrounding a dream image, I wake up with it and it stays with me all day as I mull it over in my mind.

There have been two or three times when I have awakened realizing I have been dreaming in black and white, and the uniqueness of those events also remained with me during my waking hours.

Some people have told me that they never dream. I cannot begin to get my mind around that concept. To me, a vivid dream is an unexpected treat. Each one is a work of art created just for my viewing.

Last night I got to spend a little quality time with my dad, and got to view some things through his unique sense of humor. Whatever dreams are made of, they wind up stored in my memory along with “real” experiences.

I believe it has been determined that small children cannot distinguish between dreams and reality. Maybe there is more significance to this observation than its simply being a stage of development. Maybe Jung’s idea of collective consciousness has something to it. Maybe dreams are a link between the spiritual and physical.

Or, maybe not.

Even if they are only ever a construct of my own brain, I am always grateful for a colorful and memorable dream.

Rise and Shine

But look: the valleys shine with promises,

And every burning morning is a prophesy of


Coming to raise and vindicate

Even our sorry flesh.

—-Thomas Merton

I woke up at 7:30 feeling as if I had risen from the dead, and looked outside to find an astonishing golden morning out there.  I followed an impulse to pick up Thomas Merton, A Book of Hours to read the entry for Friday, Dawn. The above quotation was the opening verse.

So I stopped reading and jumped into the next room for my laptop. I had to plow through a clamoring mob of media images and headlines demanding my attention before I arrived at the blank page to start writing. I have to do something about the entryway to my writing space.

By the time I messed around for 30 minutes trying to figure out why I couldn’t get the quotation to single space (without success), my outlook and mood changed somewhat.

It is already after 9:00.

I seem to be hyper-aware of time passing.  The main theme of my writings, back when I was anticipating my approaching retirement, was that I would have my own time. What I have come to learn is that I am just as much, if not more, of a demanding task-master than any previous boss.

The ways in which I have allowed my time to be usurped and frittered over the past seven years are legion, and there is no point in dwelling on the past. This is a new morning.

As was yesterday morning.

In my defense, I had not slept well the night before. I was still awake past 3:30 when I finally got up and had a cup of blueberry tea, but was up at 7:00 anyway. I had told myself I could take a nap later, but I didn’t do it.

I made myself a typically over-loaded to-do list, only wasted about 30 minutes on the Lumosity games, and headed into my day.

The things on my list I did accomplish: Go to library to print submissions for critique group; grocery store; update checkbook & pay bill; work on review; work on critiques; yoga session (gave out after one pose).

Things not accomplished: Blogging; work on story; crochet project; download and start reading book for VP group; publisher search; nap.

I burned out and wanted to go to bed by 5:30, which was too late for a nap and too early for bedtime. So I watched about half the PBS News Hour while I ate dinner, then killed time trying to concentrate on various distractions until the more suitable time of 8:00 arrived and I fell into bed.

But look: the valleys shine with promise.

No long lists this morning. Another cup of coffee, get dressed, and go take a walk.












Let the Retirement Project Begin (albeit seven years late)

It does seem auspicious that today turns out to be the exact anniversary of my first attempt at starting this blog. Originally, I needed to blow off steam after a series of life changes. I have returned to this medium to give myself a palpable touchstone. I am no longer blowing off steam, but since I quit my so-called retirement job at Goodwill about a month ago, I have been challenged to get myself on the track with my real goals.


That was this morning, and now it is coming up to eight in the evening, so now it is time for me to reckon with what I have actually accomplished today.

In keeping with my need to stay on track, I spent some of my morning playing Lumosity brain games. One I am particularly obsessed with is called Train of Thought. Engines chug down a maze of tracks, and the object is to get  each colored engine into its matching station. It is necessary to switch the direction of the tracks to direct the engines as they keep coming. Not a lot different from Lucy and Ethel running the conveyor belt at the chocolate factory.

As long as I stopped after one set of games and only a few re-plays of the train game, I get to count this as doing something constructive as opposed to wasting my precious time.

I spent most of the day reading and finished the book I am to review. I can’t share anything about the book here. I intend to submit the review tomorrow. The object is to get established enough to get paid for my efforts. I already submitted one review. They said they liked it, but I didn’t have enough posts on their site to qualify to get paid yet. So I accepted one more non-paying review. I believe I have enough points now.

I just thought I would try out the on-line book review gig to see if a person can actually get paid as they claim. An experiment. I also need some computer time just to get better at navigating the technology.

The world of blogs, Submittable, on-line journals and mags, etc., is staggering to my less-than-supple mind. I need to at least make an effort with the technology.

My other efforts at functioning today included baking some chêbê (a gluten-free Brazilian bread made with tapioca flour and cheese). That was such a treat, I had to stop my typing and warm a slice and eat it right now.

Also did a little housework and attended to some random paperwork in my “Attention” folder.

I didn’t actually get to working on the short story my group critiqued last Saturday. I am fortunately not lined up to submit this week. This particular piece was really more of an idea that I had not fully formed yet. If I didn’t realize that, my truly honest and exacting writer friends certainly did.

I did give some thought to that would-be story today. I think I want to try creating it as a flash fiction piece. I put in some time researching the craft of flash fiction today. I want to see if I am up to the challenge.

So, let’s see where this goes this time.

Trust in the Lord!















The Hopeful Season of Lent

Ash Wednesday found me at an evening service to receive Communion and ashes on my forehead.  Our service was bilingual, the priests and lectors alternating readings in English and Spanish.  Some people find this distracting, but to me it feels like opening a window and letting in the reality of my neighbors.  We had the words in both languages printed out to follow along.  I don’t know enough Spanish to claim that I speak it, but seeing the words on paper helps.

This was especially true for me last night, because my ears are giving me more problems than usual this week, and even with my pocketalker I was having a difficult time discerning words in English or Spanish.  This was especially true during the sermons, one in Spanish and one in English, because there was of course nothing to read along.  I  could hear  their voices speaking, but in both cases  my ears refused to deliver discernible words.

I am glad I attended, even though I am sorry to have missed the thoughts shared by our two exceptional priests during their sermons.

I finished off the evening by backing into the car of one of my friends in the parking lot. How embarrassing!  Fortunately, I don’t think I dented her bumper, just scrapteed the paint. The parking lot was dark and my night vision is terrible, but this is the first time I have hit someone’s car.  I actually had a note on my car a few weeks ago that someone had backed into mine.   Anyway, something of a humbling experience.  When I am finished writing here, I need to try to find Jackie’s phone number or email as I forgot to give her my driver’s license number with my other information, and I forgot to get any of hers so I can report properly to my insurance.

Well, that’s a tangent, but here I am in my life, and things tend to happen that way.

To give myself a sense of the season, I have decided to re-read Landscapes of the Soul (a spirituality of place)
by Robert M. Hamma.

I expect a completely fresh reading as I feel like a different person than the one who last picked up this book.  I intend to share my journey through the reading here.  Maybe for Lent, I can stick to my intention,

This morning I just read the short Introduction, and the words that speak to me this morning:  “There is a hiddenness [sic] of God  in the common place that does not easily yield itself to us.”

I find myself at this point in time very much trying to discern the presence of God.  I have an ever-growing sense of life as I know it winding down.  I want to understand in my heart what this means, and what I might do with it going forward.





Party Like It’s 1957

The New Year 1957 was the first year I took note of what seemed to be an impossibly futuristic age.  Maybe it was  seeing those space-age looking fins that the latest automobile models were sprouting above their taillights.  Maybe it was my coming to the realization, at the wise age of nine, that the life I had known in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, up until a few months previous, was a thing of the past.

I was not only having my first taste of California in our new ranch style home in Woodland Hills, but was also attending public school for the first time.  I was experiencing my first holiday season away from the extended family I had grown up with.  Whatever 1957 was to be, it definitely was not going to look like the past.

Sixty years later, the New Year 2017 greets me with the same pause in the face of the future.  By now I have certainly figured out that nothing ever stays the same, but this year is different.  The shift in direction is palpable.

The political world has exploded, and my own little corner of the world has radically changed as well.  My personal choice to move forward and free myself of some unhealthy dynamics  within my family has placed me in an island of exile while it sorts itself out.  I was outside the local branch of the family circle for this entire  holiday season.   It is heartbreaking to wrench yourself away from harmful patterns with those you love; but sad as it is, I am growing to enjoy my freedom to grow.

Back in 1957 we had just finished another national election, and the “I like Ike” crowd had prevailed.  As kids, we did not know much about what all of that political hoopla meant, but we did catch on to the idea of campaigning.

I don’t remember whose idea it was, but my ten-year-old brother and I organized a parade with our two little sisters.  While our parents drank their after-dinner tea at the dining room table,  we marched in with signs, balloons,  clicking sticks and beating tamborines.  We circled the table chanting “We want a dog! We want a dog!” as Dad and Mom looked on in astonishment.

It turns out, our effort worked.  Mom had been adamantly against getting a dog, but she came around and one day shortly after our campaign, Dad came home with a little fox terrier we named Duchess..

I learned something about the power of making an effort for change that year. Maybe the lesson was altered by the fact that we ultimately had to give the dog away because Mom really could not tolerate her. This tells me that just because you achieve a moment’s success does not mean you are done fighting.

I have applied that lesson  in fits and starts up until now.  There has been an enormous amount of falling down and getting back up coloring my life; but right now I am on a “getting back up” swing, and it feels different. This New Year’s morning 2017  I remembered 1957 and saw something I important about the power of small but concentrated effort.  I can hardly wait to see how I play out this coming year!

It’s about time

Apparently being inside the belly of a whale includes a certain amount of paralysis, at least that is my excuse for having gone so long without writing.

I am finishing off my lunch of split pea soup with croutons, peaches, and milk.  The home made croutons make this meal special.  If you have a can of soup and are lucky enough to also have a slice a bread, a little oil, and some kind of seasoning, you have the makings of a delicious comfort food.  It takes less than 5 minutes to dice up the bread, heat the oil and seasoning in a pan,  and toss the bread cubes around in the oil until they are nicely toasted.   I like to add them to my soup little by little as  I progress through the meal.

As I was preparing my lunch, I was thinking what a true feast this would be for  many many hungry people.  I can remember times when it would have brought tears of gratitude to my own eyes back in those times when I could not seem to keep myself on safe secure ground.  The truth of the matter is that it does not take much to slip into those marginal ditches.