Still Tapping Away. (with frustration.)

My goal is to learn to write. Not just postcards, journal entries, and “honey-do” lists for Jim. I want to write a book. Toward that end, I’ve been studying. Here’s what’s happening: I’m spending all my time studying and very little time writing.

I figured out why. I dunno’ what the heck to write. How does an author yank a work of fiction out of the ether? I seem only able to write about my personal experiences.

I’ve had oceans of experiences I’d relish sharing, but other participants in those adventures might end up suing me for libel. Anne Lamott of Bird by Bird tells me to turn the law-suit worthy stuff into fiction. She suggests changing enough details of the romps the actual players would be unlikely to recognize themselves. I suppose I could try that. However, those incidents are merely moments. I’d need to figure out what story strings those random snapshots together. That’s the hard part.

Stephen King’s On Writing suggests I play a “what if” game.

What if a short round middle-class housewife found herself in prison for a murder she didn’t commit? Or maybe she can’t remember committing.

What if a floorboard slid aside to reveal a never before seen staircase? Where does it lead and who follows it?

What if I fell asleep here, in the twenty-first century, but woke up three hundred years in the past. Or the future?

Stephen King also told me (yes, we are close) not to speak in a passive voice. And not to use adverbs. Those two things will reveal me as a beginner. They will also expose me as timid.

He suggests writing in a genre I enjoy reading. I like historical fiction and non-fiction. And pretty much everything else as long as the writing is good. I did not like Bridges of Madison County. Sappy. I steadfastly refuse to read Jacqueline Suzanne, or bodice ripping romance novels. I do confess I succumbed to reading the Fifty Shades of Gray series.  Embarrassing admission, but I wanted to know what the fuss was.

I’m obtuse when it comes to poetry. I think poetry is for people far smarter and deeper than I. Unless Dr. Seuss wrote the poem. I get him.
(FYI: At first I wrote, “Unless the poem was written by Dr. Seuss” then realized that’s passive. Fixed it. No rookie mistakes for this old girl.)

Yesterday I went to the library and picked up other books about learning to write. There is a shelf full of them. Dewey decimal system number 808. The librarian recommended a couple of DVDs along with the books. I brought those home too. The writer, Anne Perry, narrates them herself. She has a British accent. I’m deaf. Couldn’t understand a word she said. The DVDs go back to the library tomorrow. I’ll try to exercise self-discipline and not check out six more “how to write” books.

Natalie Goldberg says she often wool-gathers. She stares into the distance then goes for a snack. So far I’m best at following Natalie’s suggestions. I often I find myself staring into space or standing in front of the open refrigerator, unsure how I came to be there.

I just had a Natalie Goldberg moment. Wandered to the cabinet, pulled out our blue and white Graceland mug, sprayed it with Pam, beat an egg and microwaved it.
While eating, I read a bit more of Stephen King.

He told me to write what I see. Right now what I see is a sixty-five-year-old woman who is procrastinating. I’m supposed to write 1000 words a day, eventually working up to 2,000. Here I’m at maybe 600 words.

What else do I see? I see the egg crusted Graceland mug in the kitchen sink. To my left, I see an Oceania cruise brochure Jim says he will read, but I suspect not. The booklet has been gathering dust for a week. On top of the brochure is a scratch pad with a leopard print cardboard cover and on top of that is a solar-powered calculator.

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To my right is a black Pentel .07 Energel pen. I buy those from Amazon even though we have drawers full of ballpoint pens. Jim’s travel hobby is stealing pens wherever we go. However, they don’t write “fast.” Natalie Goldberg told me to use fast pens. Pentel .07 Energel’s are my favorite. They are speedy, yet here I sit tapping on the keyboard instead of scribbling with a Pentel in my composition book.

Behind me, sacked out on our area rug I see a drugged brown dog. Due to storms, I gave Bronson Xanax about an hour ago. Loud thunder turns him into drooling, trembling, tail tucked between his legs mess.

I see a big metal spoon and fork hanging to the left of the kitchen door. On another wall I see three mammoth cows, gazing at me, asking, “What are you wasting your time for?”

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On the floor below the cows, I see a green dog dish, a stainless steel water bowl, and one slightly deflated soccer ball.

Picking up dog toys is the story of my life. I gathered seven from the dining room this morning and dropped them into the sturdy brass bucket my parents got as a wedding gift in 1939. Since then Bronson has retrieved all seven as well as about four more and happily littered them around the house. That was before the Xanax. Now that he’s stoned it might be a good time to clean up again.

Okay, Stephen, I’m up to almost 1000 words, and I’m boring myself. Odds are my six regular readers nodded off 717 words ago.

So with that, I’ll sit my ample backside in my swivel chair, meditate and pray some brilliant book idea manifests itself into my weary gray matter.

What I should do is what Faulkner suggested: “*Murder your darlings.” But I won’t because with this very sentence I crossed the 1000 word finish line! Whoooo Hooooo.

* A Google search revealed Arthur Quiller-Couch was the first to use this phrase. 

Looking at​ the fabric of a lifetime. Coming up dry and perhaps with a lie.

Today I’m floundering.  Natalie Goldberg keeps urging me to do timed writings and just see what comes up.  But I still have all the slides and ancient slide viewer on our kitchen island.  They keep beckoning to me, trying to lure me away from spending twenty minutes tapping and thwacking these keys.

Plus I’m having a hard time dredging up anything to write about.

I have sixty-five years worth of experiences.  That adds up to 23,725 days. I don’t remember the first several years, so I’ll subtract three years, 1,095 days.  That leaves 22,630 days to write about.  I know the math is correct because I pounded it out with my hoof.  I should sift through memories of those days to find something that’ll grab my attention.  Otherwise, I’ll be tossing out the twenty-minute timer and digging through old family photos.

Here’s a thought, I’ll write about one of my earliest memories. I was about four when I got lost at the A & P grocery store.  Mother and I went there with Mrs. Hare in our big pale green four-door Buick.  I stood on the bench seat between Mom and Mrs. Hare, with my arms draped across the seatback.

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Before I head too far down this path I must tell you a perplexing truth about myself.  I’ve been known to usurp other people’s experiences, plant them in my gray matter, water them a bit and within a short period of time I really truly believe there are actually my own adventures.  This has happened on a number of occasions.

Case in point, neighbor Brookie once stood on our porch and showed us a pile of photos taken next to her canal on Anna Maria Island, Florida.  Manatees frequently swim along the waterways behind her house.  One day Brookie had a hose out, watering the begonias when an enormous sea-cow appeared at the edge of the canal.  She dragged the hose to the sea-wall and began pouring cool fresh water over the manatees motor boat scarred back.  That big cow turned and began to drink from the hose. Brookie said she drank for about half and hour.

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That’s Brookie in the middle and another marvelous friend Judy on the left.   Brookie is slightly wacky and frequently comes up with unusual things to do.  Like taking flying trapeze lessons at sixty.  Judy also has her unique brand of fun humor.  I like looney people.  If you are crazy in a safe, not psycho way, please contact me.  Let’s be friends.

Fast forward several months, we were having fish tacos at Wool Street restaurant with Brookie and her husband Earl.  I turned to Brookie and asked, “Do you remember the time we fed the manatee fresh hose water?  That was such a cool experience.”  Brookie looked at me with astonishment and stated, “Alice, you weren’t there.  I showed you photos. You weren’t with me.”  Wow.  I absorbed her reality and made it my own.

Another life experience I abducted was from my sister’s history.  Two years ago I committed to doing NaNoWriMo–National November Writer’s Month. Writers sign on write 50,000 words that month, completing an entire book by end of November. My plan was to write a memoir.  One story I drafted was about the time, at around age nine, I cut off my ponytail and tossed it behind the refrigerator.  I called Marilyn to confirm some of the details and she stated, “Alice, you didn’t do that.  It was me. I was with Barbie Herbert and we both cut our hair and threw it in back of the frig.”

So returning to my “lost at the A & P grocery store” story.  Maybe my sister got lost, or Lisa McClendon, or possibly I saw it on Make Room for Daddy.  Perhaps I dreamt it.  However, I’ve carried this “lost at the A & P grocery store with Mom and Mrs. Hare” tale around with me for sixty-one years.  Therefore, in the World According to Alice, it is indeed mine and mine alone.

I remember being in the store, following legs and a grocery cart.  After a while, I pulled on Mother’s skirt to get her attention.  Kids do that.  Or they poke you.  When I taught elementary school art the children were constantly poking at me, saying, “Hey Mrs. Tape blah blah blah.”  The pokes drove me nuts and my name was NOT Mrs. Tape.  Poke me again, kid, and it might get ugly.

Anyway, I yanked on Mom’s skirt, looked up to see if I had her attention but the face so far above me wasn’t my Mother’s face.  It wasn’t Mrs. Hare’s face.  It was a stranger. Back in the early fifties I don’t think anyone was talking about “stranger danger” therefore I wasn’t afraid of this Not-My-Mother person.  I just turned and walked away.

I don’t remember much that happened immediately after the yank.  What I do remember is being in the parking lot when Mom and Mrs. Hare came racing frantically out the A & P glass doors, screaming my name.  I recall Mother clutching me to her and telling me, “You must never do this again!  Never leave a store without me.”

Another early memory is sitting behind a large dark green chair in our living room. That memory ends right there. Staring at the back of the chair. No idea how old I was or why I went there.

I need more childhood memories to share.  I think I’ll cross the street ask neighbor Lynda about her youth.  Within a few months, I will have absorbed her experiences and made them my own.

But now I’ve done my timed writing and I get to dig through slides!  Yay me!

Meditation on my Horse

 

In March I began to meditate regularly.  I sit in one of two places.  The big red chair on the patio, or the tan swivel chair in the family room.  I glance at the clock before taking a long deep breath and closing my eyes. There are no hard and fast rules how long I will stay put.  But it’s interesting to note that as months have passed I’m able to empty my mind far more easily and remain sitting breathing for greater periods of time.

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Natalie Goldberg in her terrific book Writing Down the Bones refers to the crazy that wants to usurp serenity as “monkey mind.”  Mine is “small-brown-hamster-on-the-wheel” mind.  When I first began the practice of mediation that rodent on the wheel inside my skull stubbornly refused to stop running.  Now she is readily lulled to sleep as I gently inhale and exhale.

My breathing gives way to talking to God.  I have had different versions of God in my mind.  In March I described God as a “benevolent force.”  Now my God is a horse.  A tall shiny chestnut with a white star between her eyes.  I ride in an easy chair saddle with wide armrests and a soft back.  The fabric feels like velveteen.  Very sensual my saddle.  Sometimes there is a sunshade attached to the chair.

Occasionally God Horse pauses to graze or drink from streams.  That’s when I reach into the magic side saddle that comes up with daily cream cheese sandwiches on gluten free bread.  Plus single serving size bottles of Pinot Noir.  God Horse and I happily relax and fuel ourselves.

God Horse has no bridle or reins.  She rambles at will.  When she stops, looks over her shoulder and nickers a bit, I know I’m supposed to dismount.  There is something here God Horse intends me to do.

Curiously my easy chair saddle disappears when I get down.  Dismounts are done from a bareback God Horse.  I slide down her wide flanks, land lightly, lean into her neck and smell her fine horsey scent.  What I do in each place varies.  I do what she intends until she signals it’s time to move on.  She paws the ground with her right hoof and gives a little whinny.  Our work here is done, she’s telling me.  I mount again, my chair is back.  Off we go.  Today she wandered through a small clear mountain stream.

Once we ended up in a rushing river.  I had to hold tightly to her mane and trust she would get us both safely to dry land.  I talk to her.  She never speaks back, she simply keeps wandering.  It feels random to me.  I suspect she knows exactly where she is headed. I love giving the power over to God Horse.  It frees me up to look around, take in the details.  I notice squirrels bustling in oak trees, sun reflecting off rippling water, the scent of distant rain.

When at last I bend over and wrap my arms around her neck, I know it’s time to leave her, stop my meditation, open my eyes and start my day.  All this happens without ever leaving my red or tan chairs. Once I open my eyes it takes a moment for me to orient myself.  My limbs are heavy, my mind at peace.

Oddly enough, even after the meditation ends, God Horse seems present for the rest of the day.  Since beginning the wonderful meditation journey my former habit of worrying has ceased to exist.  I have absolute faith all will go as it is intended to go.  Lovely to drop the reins, ride along and enjoy the abundance that is my life.

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Passion for Words

My positive thinking reading reveals that what we are most passionate about, is our true purpose.  When we are truly absorbed, unable to “put-it-down”, we are experiencing the life our higher power intended.

I’ve been absorbed by writing since childhood.  However, I wavered and therefore became an artist.  The reason I abandoned my dream can be found on this former blog post At sixty-five I’ve embraced the power of positive thinking.

Instead of writing, I created two-dimensional art.  I peddled my art for money.

My first art-for-money-peddling experience was when my son Matt was an infant.  I wished to buy my then husband a gift.  I wanted that gift not to be bought with “his” money.  My goal was to earn enough, on my own, to purchase something he might relish.

I drew black and white pencil and ink sketches of wildlife.  With my baby on my back, I headed out to hawk my drawings.  I found several places willing to buy my work.  Then I found one gallery owner willing to barter. I traded several drawings for a large print of two duck decoys.  My then husband loved duck paintings.

Later I was able to gift him a set of golf clubs by bartering with a Wilson representative. I traded a large watercolor painting of Lafayette’s Headquarters in Chadds Ford Pennsylvania for those irons, wedges, and woods.

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I painted on pretty much every possible surface simply to make money. I painted on glassware for my store Whimsical Rose.  I painted on walls, I painted a portrait (Ed O’Bradovich, Dan Hampton and a roll of Duct Tape).  But painting was never my passion.  Painting never sucked me in, inducing me to lose whole days enthralled by brushing color on canvas.

Long ago God lit a fire under me to write.  I’m unsure exactly what he wants me to say.  But I’ll just keep writing.  Posting my posts.  Dreaming my dreams and manifesting a life as a writer.

I just ordered Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones.  I read it years ago.  It was extremely inspiring.  Back then, however, I was a painter.  Not now.  Now I’m a writer.  And this writer intends to reread and be inspired once again.