Archive for the ‘Meditations’ Category

Spring Revision

Thursday, April 20th, 2017

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There is something uplifting about the early spring: crisp air and hot sun or the neon green of new grass against the grey of cooler rainy days. When I was a kid, our neighbors forsythia would burst into canary yellow blooms and in it’s shade was a small patch of vinca, a spring flowering ground cover. I loved those little purple flowers so much. I would pick a few and put them in a glass of water, then present them to my father with a sandwich for his lunch.

I knew when we moved into this house that vinca grew all over our property because there was still a flower lingering here and there, but it’s another thing all together to see our home blanketed in it. It feels right and special. I miss the gardens we’d begun at our old home – lightly neglected herbs and perennial flowers that bloomed throughout the spring, summer, and fall. Some fragrant, some colorful. But the vinca and forsythia and azaleas are enough for now. I traipsed around the yard with my oldest child this weekend, searching out these early blooming flowers, discovering the plantings around our new home. We started up the grill and I even broke out my iced tea press so you know I’m committed to this fresh, fine weather.

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Spring should be the season to review feedback — see where the revisions you’ve made have born fruit, as it were — but here I am still revising: planting the bulbs late, moving things around, hoping nothing sprouts stunted. This winter/early spring has been mostly snow and sick days. I should just give in to the fact that nothing of significance ever gets written in February in my home. But the sunshine and above freezing temperatures, the pastels and yellows and greens of April are warming me up. So! Writerly updates!

  1. I wrote a short story! And I submitted it to an anthology! And it got rejected! But that’s okay! It was about a boy and first contact with an alien shaped like a tiny pink pony and it was really fun to write and totally one hundred percent different from my novel which was a much-needed change of pace.
    1. I thought writing short stories after writing a novel would be a piece of cake. I was wrong.
    2. I really want the next big project I work on to be funny.
  2. I taught another event building workshop in March. In fact, I’m making a bit of a side business of helping authors plan and market book events. Because apparently I need more to do.
    1. When I couldn’t think of how to fix my novel, I made a website for my event coaching business. I  am now taking select clients.
    2. I have another workshop scheduled in June. You should come!
  3. I’m now doing a monthly marketing blog post for the Writer’s Loft blog, Loftings.
  4. I’ve been plugging away at revisions but it’s slow. I hit a big snag with The Month of February and then working through a really thorny chapter that had me stumped. Plus planning for my workshop. But! It goes!
  5. I read some books in January and February (highlights included Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson and the first few Company books by Kage Baker) but nothing much since. I’m currently enjoying the compilation of letters between Julia Child and Avis DeVoto because I love J.C. and because I can read it in little pieces before bed.

I am almost through revising Part 2 of 3 so that is a good feeling. I need to go back and continue to comb through the rough, messy parts. I was so hoping this draft would be wrapped up in another month or so but it may need longer. And then reading. And probably one more draft (not sure how deep of one, hard to say).

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I have days when I swear I am not smart enough for this, that I have nothing original to say. I have days when things slot together like an elaborate line of tumblers, unlocking something deep inside the story so I can see a bit of light shining through from the end, from the place this story could be.

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Wild Summer Days

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

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My summer has been a wild one and I’ve been having trouble getting my feet under me. It has literally involved a birth, a death, visiting family, unpredictable illnesses, and the slow climb back to health. Despite how much I enjoy the summer months and hot weather, I’ve spent most of my time indoors. I haven’t done much writing this summer (I hadn’t planned to) with the exception of a poem for my sister. I’ve managed to read half a dozen books, including Max Gladstone’s Two Serpent’s Rise and Angélica Gorodischer’s Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire that Never Was (as translated by Ursula Le Guin). My garden is a wild place full of bolted lettuces, overgrown rhubarb, weeds, and herbs run rampant. My preschooler is the only one who’s been harvesting anything: handfuls of fresh mint and sage that she eats on the back steps. I have drunk gallons of iced tea and am not ashamed in the least.

I’m a new parent for the second time. There’s a fullness and an emptiness to the early days of parenting. The days are long and full of needs – hunger, discomfort, boredom, exhaustion – but it feels impossible to meet them all, for yourself or your child. There is so much to do coupled with vast swaths of time just… waiting: for the baby to wake up or fall asleep or finish eating. You need space and you need support. This time around I pressed down my misplaced pride and accepted as much help as possible with an open heart. I’m grateful for all the extra hands and frozen dinners and chances to nap. I’m grateful that the pieces of our life that have slowly been taken apart this summer are finally coming together again in a new shape.

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Now I look down the long lane of the autumn months and the spice of anticipation is mixed with the dread of not knowing how to get back into the rhythm of the work. I’ll be meeting with my beta readers at the beginning of September to get feedback on The Ghost Story project and then will tackle Draft 3. I’ll be teaching a workshop on author events at the Writer’s Loft in October. I want to reconnect with the world of books and writers. I want to write book reviews and blog posts. But after a summer that has fluctuated so wildly between overwhelming and tedious and with an autumn where I’ve committed to caring for my newborn along side my third draft, I feel as if I’m starting from scratch. How can I ensure we’re all getting enough sleep and sunshine and creative time?

It comes down to re-aligning expectations. Taking care of a baby while trying to edit a novel is going to change the way I need to structure my days, both as a writer and a parent. I won’t have the luxury of dawdling on social media or watching TV during naps – I’ll need to be working. If I want to have this project polished enough to submit to agents by the end of the spring, I’ll need to find the time to write — and if I can’t find the time, I’ll need to make it. And I’ll also need to forgive myself over and over again for missteps as I rediscover balance.

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Mothering as Writer, Writing as Mom

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

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In an online mom’s group I belong to, a fellow mom posted this article by Kim Brooks about the intersection (or lack there of) between creative work and parenting. I’ve thought a lot about this particular topic because it was one of my biggest fears in becoming a parent: that I would be subsumed by motherhood and lose my creative identity. It is hard, especially in that first and second year of parenting, when there’s no sleep and no end in sight and your child needs everything from you to find the mental capacity to cultivate any kind of creative space that doesn’t involve playdough or fingerpaint or Duplo blocks.

Brooks doesn’t offer solutions in her article, so much as shifts in perspective. She talks about the “literature of domestic ambivalence,” books about (and likely by) women who struggle in the cracks between the desire to be an artist and the desire to be the perfect mother. I imagine it as a sort of blanket of creative ennui and I’ve been there. But that way also lies self-pity. How do we break out of the cycle of doubt that says if we can’t be superior in all things it isn’t worth trying? That art-making and mothering are mutually exclusive? (more…)

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Hello 30

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

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“What they don’t understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you’re eleven, you’re also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one.” —from “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros

I’ve just turned thirty and frankly, I’m ready. As long as I can remember, I’ve been content to be whatever age I am. Sometimes I long for certain attributes; the friendly innocence of being five or the desperate longing of being seventeen, but that’s all in hindsight. When I hit a year I think “Yes, it’s about time.” Birthdays also mean cake and new shiny cookbooks and bookstore-scented candles. So yes.

It’s also the Jewish New Year, which is always a time of introspection for me. On Rosh Hashana, which is considered the birthday of the world and the start of the religious new year, Jews begin what’s known as “the Days of Awe”, a period of reflection that begins with Rosh Hashana and ends with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It’s a time for taking stock, making amends, being grateful, and acknowledging faults. Birthdays of any sort are a good time for that I think.

This last year we have mostly been blessed with good health, thank goodness. My daughter is growing into a rambunctious, intelligent little person. I have transitioned into work that is exciting, bold, and part of the love and life plan of all those Allisons ages 30 and 29 and 28 all the way on down. I had periods of anxiety and severe unhappiness. I struggled to do my work at the bookstore despite the fact that the work I did no longer felt respected or meaningful and the hours took me away from my family and my writing. My Nana’s health has been declining. The world is edgy with disaster and it feels somehow nearer than ever – Ukraine, Syria, Israel, Liberia, places that are suffering halfway around the world pressed against our own problems and sufferings in the U.S. It all feels close and terrifying.

Words do that, bring you close to things that are far away in the physical world or in the metaphysical places we carve for ourselves, the spaces inside our heart or our faith. Words that are written or spoken or read. So my main reflection for the New Year, my 30th year, is this: I want to make sure my words are meaningful. Meaningful to me, as a form of self expression and education; to my family and friends as a way of being a clear communicator; and in my community where I can lend my voice to the chorus of voices seeking to share, educate, transform, and lead.

I mostly make goals that are lovely and large and terribly vague. But I think being conscious of meaning and meaningfulness will help me to set realistic, concrete, attainable goals as I go along. Whatever they turn out to be.

This past week or so I’ve been quiet here, but plugging away at the writing. I went to an author event that I’ll be writing about soon and spoke on a panel. Finding that if I give myself the time, I can really engage very deeply with my stories which is exciting. Had a superb-feeling writing session on The Ghost Story project yesterday. Also am rearranging our “library” to convert it into an office pour moi. Photos to come! Oh and people have been very nice and generous about the birthday thing.

So in conclusion: Hi Thirty, it’s me, Allison. I’m so very glad to meet you.

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A Meditation: Gardens

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

Most mornings, after I drag my lazy butt out of bed, I open the backdoor and go outside to check on the garden. Each year we’ve lived in this house (almost three!) we’ve expanded our growing space. This year, in addition to our two raised beds, we added a small terraced herb garden to repurpose the small but drastic slope of the lawn down the driveway and reclaimed the space under our Norway Maple which had refused to grow, well, anything but a Norway Maple. Mostly we’re growing vegetables and herbs; lettuce, garlic, peas, strawberries (most of which were eaten by a wily chipmunk), peppers, basil, lavender, lemon balm, broccoli, tarragon, oregano, thyme, garlic chives, scallions, rosemary, sorrel, spinach. It’s an extensive list for a fairly compact space. My sister has been a huge help, letting us know what it makes sense to grow and what we should skip, why something might be succeeding while something else is failing, or when to harvest. So every morning I take my bowl of yogurt and fruit, tip toe through the dew-laden grass, and check on what’s blooming this morning. The weather, so far, as been pretty conducive. It’s been a bit rainy the past few days, and cloudy, but today the sun is out and the sky is a pale blue with a veil of cloud. I hope it stays this way all day.

I never thought I would be good at gardening… I still don’t. I read up on the plants, I plant the seeds or seedlings, I generally make sure they get watered, and then I wait and watch. It’s still so miraculous to me, watching these things grow. I’m currently growing some mixed varieties of basil in little pots inside until they are hardy enough to move outdoors. Watching the first little leaves make away for the first truly “basil-like” leaves is really cool – it’s like it sends out the first leaves to work as solar panels to get enough energy to start being, truly, “basil.” I love herbs because I love the potential of them – the way they smell, the way they spread out and take over, the idea that I could jut go out an clip a bit and add it to dinner. The fact that I don’t harvest nearly as much or as often as I could (or should?) doesn’t matter to me… it’s just such a cool and beautiful thing. I know, I know, I can dry it/freeze it/pack it in oil or vinegar. But what I love is the aliveness of it, the green, thriving, sun-seekingness of the plants that you just don’t get once they’re dried in a jar.

I’m on my back porch now staring down that goshdarn chipmunk that ate nearly all of our strawberries this year. Finally we had more than just a handful and the pesky critter decides it’ll be the perfect breakfast. I suppose I can’t be too upset. Greg’s philosophy is this: let the whole bed fill with strawberries… then there will be enough for all of us. I like that.

Gardens tend to be meditative spaces. The sound of birds, the colors, the seasons, the smell of earth and water and raw leaf, there’s a lot to get meditative about. I can see why so much poetry comes, as it were, from the earth. And sky. And weather and wind. Mother Nature presents us with perfect images: the darts of sparrows taking flight, the sandy whisper of wind through lush leaves, the way treeshadows move sharply against a house, or softly across grass. Even that wily chipmunk sinking it’s little teeth into a fresh strawberry before wiggling out through the netting. I’ve grown up in suburbia and still live in a suburb and I’ve learned I have to take and love my nature where I can. So though I’m sure my suburban streets covered in a canopy of maple leaves, the smell of freshly cut grass, and the sunsets over the neighboring house can’t compare to nature in the country or on the shore or (as I know from personal experience) up in Maine or in the Southwest or any number of places, I don’t mind. I don’t try to compare it. I simply enjoy it for what it is… my little patch of earth in the middle of town, bird calls mingling with train whistles and traffic. But still: the hush of wind, the bitter smell of tomato leaves, the prickling crumble of dry earth.

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