Cock-A-Doodle-Doo! It’s here!

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I’ve been looking forward to this one! “Rooster Stories” is by Anna Mitchael, and the description on Kindle Singles says, “Part memoir, part screed, part whatchamacall it, Rooster Stories shows that sometimes the life that makes you happiest is the one you never, ever, not-in-a-million-years imagined you’d be living.”

Perfect. And a tad profane, but I don’t mind. In full disclosure, I edited an early draft of the book, but I still enjoyed reading the final version last night. It’s short, the equivalent of 40 pages.

Anna writes a monthly column for the WACOAN magazine called “Notes From a New Mother,” although she’s not so new at motherhood anymore or at country living. But she combines the two in ways I, as a city girl, would never think to.

My favorite part is near the end, when after returning from a sonogram appointment, she sits on the front porch “for five solid minutes,” and she has, shall we say, a moment with a chicken. Followed by an imaginary chewing-out from her rooster, (King) Kenny III.

My children are nearly grown—one in college, one a junior in high school. I have no advice for moms, new or otherwise. Some days I think I’m going crazy. “But crazy felt more honest than yet another apology.” Observations about the behavior of a succession of roosters named Kenny (after Rogers) and a duo of chickens nicknamed The Uglies in the context of early parenthood makes so much more sense to me than the latest mommy manual.

And when Anna said she had stopped flashing forward because “I discovered it was not in my nature to flash forward to times of sweeping happiness,” I nodded my head in understanding. Like her, I’ve found happiness in unexpected places, even in a fresh egg.

Talk with Ann & Charity, “On Being a Writer,” part 1

On January 16, I spoke with Ann and Charity separately on the phone. Some of the questions were the same, and some were different. I’ve combined them here and will post sections of the interviews for the rest of the month (actually, through Friday).

Today’s questions are about writing groups and how writing changes when your life changes.

Megan: In the Acknowledgements, you say, ‘Also, our heartfelt gratitude to the 12 participants who signed up for The Writing Life workshop and taught us so much about the role of friendship in the writing life.’ Can you elaborate?

Ann: The advantage of a workshop is you get input not just from Charity and me but the input and interaction from other people, all at different places in their writing life — an advanced novelist with a new poet. We tried to model an uplifting, encouraging kind of tone, but that was their natural mode. They were really investing in each other, week after week, day after day.

There was a blossoming of friendships that continued long after the workshop ended. It was seeing the power of friendship within the world of people’s writing life. It’s not just the tasks. It’s not just the projects. It’s not just the doing. It’s the interdependence that can take your writing life to a new level. We saw a synergy happen, where writing lives expanded because of the surge of support from multiple people: ‘I’m behind you!’ and, ‘You can do this!’ and, ‘Yes, you have the skill!’ and, ‘Look how good you are at this!’ It was all written, too, in that space. Things are being written down so you can go back and reread it.

We had very different types of writers — people who viewed themselves strictly as bloggers or strictly as poets, and they encouraged each other outside of their genre. We [tend to] kind of think we should have a poetry writing group, that would be great, but it was intriguing to me that we could get together people from a wide range of types of writing.

When I’m trying to arrange my writing life, it doesn’t matter whether I’m a blogger or a poet or a columnist at a magazine. It’s what does my schedule look like? What does my space look like?

Charity: Particularly in the workshop, we were able to see — first it was an observation — that the women who were there, some of them had been friends before, and some of them were new. And we saw that around this idea of writing, that the women were very open to inviting new people in. Writing became an inclusionary activity rather than something that excluded people. That was one thing.

Also the way they would encourage — that’s an overused word — the way they would support each other’s difficulties in the writing life. They’d offer suggestions, they’d share their own stories. And then they would, in turn, share resources, offer to help each other.

Friendships that form in the writing life are like friendships that form elsewhere, but to see that writing could draw people together. What happened is Ann and I didn’t remain workshop leaders, but the way we were able to interact with the women extended beyond the professional, mentoring relationship. We were able to speak into each other’s lives.

Also, with friendships, there is the great potential for competition and jealously and one-upsmanship, so I think we were aware of that, and we acknowledged that. It wasn’t so superficial that we didn’t acknowledge the full range of joys and difficulties that come with friendship. As part of the workshop, we brought it up. The writing life inherently possesses those elements of friendship, and maybe because we were so intentional, we fostered that [friendship].

Megan: Ann, at the November 15 workshop I attended in Round Rock, Texas, you talked about writing within the realities of life. That’s something we don’t talk about enough. What adjustments have you made recently? I know you have an aging parent.

Ann: When my kids were little, I knew a little more what to expect out of my days. It kept evolving, but I could modify my writing routine — it was pretty much squeeze it in. It was more or less predictable.

The curveball of my aging parent came from a sudden and acute event, so it suddenly threw us. It wasn’t this slow evolution. It was this sudden change that involved many, many different things, from paperwork to being on hand to interacting with medical staff to making long-range plans. So I had to very suddenly adapt my writing life while having teen kids at home and college kids to attend to.

The best solution I have is one I used extensively when my kids were younger — to create a portable office. I make sure I have what I need in my pink backpack. (I have a pink backpack. It happens to be pink. I just happened upon a pink backpack at a good price.) Into it goes the laptop and charger and phone and charger. The phone has a hotspot so I can get internet. [The backpack] has paper, pens, Sharpies, all kinds of typical office stuff, and that has allowed me to, if I get a sudden call to a hospital or need to quickly go to a doctor’s appointment, and I find myself with hours of sitting, it allows me to continue my work.

I did have to slow down on things like blogging. I have not actually re-upped that.

I also often, during early stages of [this] event, I had a lot of drive time. I would use my phone to record ideas, whether with a voice recorder or text with a voice transcription tool. I had some kind of note-taking system that was mobile. (I was driving down country roads without much traffic.)

Megan: Charity, how has your writing schedule changed since 1) getting married and suddenly becoming a stepmom, 2) freelancing full time?

Charity: Just marriage, I actually never worked full time while married. A week or two later [after we got married], I worked part time — 30-some hours — but those other hours were the hours I wrote. I haven’t figured out yet how I’d do something full time, have a family and write. I don’t know how I would do that. I don’t write when [my husband] and the boys are here, for the most part.

As a freelancer, I do all kinds of writing and editing, so most of my days are spent — 10 hours a day a lot of the time — is spent writing and editing or doing the work that supports writing and editing. It’s easy for me to spend lots and lots of time in the life of words.

However, I don’t just get to sit around and write whatever I want. I don’t know that I could do that 10 hours a day. That would be creatively exhausting. I do corporate writing. I edit books. I design and edit newsletters for clients. I do educational-type writing. I do some copyediting. Even though I’m doing it all day long, I have to fight for the time to do my own work.

The way I’ve had to adjust that is to get clear on what I want to accomplish in my personal writing, which sometimes mean saying no to work that would pay more. Thankfully, I have enough paid work that I don’t have to have full-time paid work to help our family. It’s more like 15-18 hours a week. I don’t know why I didn’t do this years ago. That’s the big surprise is even as a freelancer and full time, most of the time I don’t have to take on work that I hate.

I still have to fight my schedule to take on my own creative projects. I play around with it all the time. The things that compete against it aren’t really my clients; the things that compete against my writing time are promotion of other writing things and the admin stuff involved in being a freelancer — lots of emailing and invoicing and tax stuff and all that. On some level, I knew there would be paperwork involved, but it can be overwhelming sometimes. I’m really good at spreadsheets. I don’t know how people do it if you don’t have some level of proficiency with those skills.

Tomorrow, just Ann.

Thankful for Someone Else’s Words

I’ve been trying to think about what to write for Thanksgiving in this space. No words. I think I put them all in the December issue of the WACOAN.

I’m aware that all is not well everywhere, in every home, this Thanksgiving. So I’m turning to my friend Lisha Epperson, who says what needs to be said better than I could ever say it.

Take care, y’all.

http://seespeakhearmama.com/2014/11/25/a-drum-solo-and-dance-for-peace-releasing-my-christian-anger-for-mike-brown/

 

Gone Quiet

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There’s an old episode of the TV series The West Wing called “Gone Quiet” that I love. A submarine has gone missing in North Korean waters. Are they OK? Or have they just gone quiet?

Friends, I need to go quiet.

Not because I am in hostile waters. I have continued to write in this space through many a scary sea. I still make forays into an ocean of unknown, full of mysterious creatures like giant squid, but I no longer have to anchor there. I’ve finally come into port. It’s time to sit on the sand and drink something served with a little umbrella.

So, I’ll see you in October. I may even bring along Clover and Polo, who at the moment are both looking hopefully up at the pecan tree. There is a squirrel up there eating early nuts, littering on my lawn.

 

14 May 2014

Note to self: Hold Clover’s leash tightly. This morning, I didn’t do that.

When we passed an empty lot that leads to a field, a group of white-tailed deer ran past, and Clover took off after them. I watched her pink leash escape into the darkness.

Immediately, I squeezed Polo’s black leash, but she wasn’t as interested in the chase. She just wanted to look tough to a bunch of grass-eaters.

I stayed calm. I knew Clover couldn’t catch a deer. I knew she’d give up, which she did after a couple of minutes. She didn’t come straight to me but busied herself nearby with something dead in the middle of the road.

“Clover!” I called, and she walked over, allowing me to grab the leash again, which I held tightly the rest of the way home.

4 May 2014

At the end of last week, I was sick and ignored Clover and Polo for about 24 hours. The last thing I wanted when I had a stomach bug was for Clover to leap onto my bed and greet me with exceeding great joy.

When I finally opened my door on Friday afternoon, guess what Clover did? She leaped onto my bed and greeted me with exceeding great joy. Polo, not quite the jumper, did manage to jump up there, too, and compete for attention.

“Girls! Get down!” my sweet husband said.

And so they did, Clover leaping off the bed and Polo carefully scampering down to the floor.

That was Friday. Yesterday, I was able to walk them and again today. Things are getting back to normal. Polo is with my daughter, who is cleaning her room. Clover is by my feet. Oops, no she’s not—oh, look! She’s taken Polo’s favorite spot in the easy chair in my son’s room.

Today is indeed a special day.

Love Idol 7

This is the last post in my Lenten series about Jennifer Dukes Lee’s book “Love Idol,” which released on March 25, 2014. Have you read it yet? I’ve already given away my copy!

In Jennifer’s epilogue, she mentions running a 5k with her daughter, Lydia. I have run a 5k with my daughter, but I have never run with my son. Even when he was 6 years old, I didn’t stand a chance of keeping up with him when he’s pounding the pavement. He’s a cross-country dude.

Several years ago when we were at Antioch Community Church in Waco, they did this series called “Running Man,” starring a guy named Jason Florian. The sermon series, which was accompanied by short videos, showed poor Jason, a fellow determined to run the race set before him but who mostly failed. I still remember the one where he ran holding a bunch of suitcases to illustrate Hebrews 12:1.

But the best video was the last one. We see Jason wake up, and the “Chariots of Fire” music is playing, and he just starts running. And he’s looking great — confident, even. Slowly, we start to realize that we’re not watching a pre-taped video; it’s live. Jason is running past the pawn shop across the street from the church. And, oh, look! He’s in the parking lot! He’s opening the door! Oh my gosh, he’s at the back of the auditorium! He’s running down the aisle! And he steps it up and runs right straight into the arms of the pastor and practically knocks him down.

Was there even a sermon after that? Because I sure don’t remember one.

“And when that glorious finish line comes into view, we will run like mad, and the wind will whip through our hair, and we’ll forget how bad it hurt sometimes,” Jennifer wrote.

Some days, Jennifer, it it hurts so bad. The finish line has not yet come into view. And I’m not much of a runner—nothing like my son, who thinks a 9-mile jog around the city is a perfect way to spend a Sunday morning.

This Sunday is Easter. We’ll be at St. Mary’s on Saturday night for the Easter Vigil because a friend is coming into the church, just as I did two years ago. It’s a late night. The service doesn’t even start until 8:30 p.m., and it will go for almost three hours. There’s no way I’d be up for running 9 miles the next morning. Maybe a little 5k, if I’m not completely exhausted.

“You can never outrun Jesus. And Jesus’ love will never, ever run out,” Jennifer writes.

That’s the promise of Easter Sunday, whether I run or whether I sleep in. I am loved. We all are.

 

13 April 2014

Clover has gotten very protective of me lately. She lies down nearby, head glued to the floor, ears perked. Sometimes she watches me, like right now. Her brown eyes are fixed.

What does she know that I don’t?

I’ve heard dogs can be trained to sense low-blood sugar in a diabetic. I’ve heard they can smell cancer. There must be some scented signal she’s responding to.

What do dogs remember?

Clover was my son’s dog. She became mine when he went away to school. She hasn’t seen him in a year. Would she recognize him if he walked in the front door? I’d hope so, but my in-laws came over yesterday and once again, Clover seemed to have forgotten who they were. And they come to our house about once a month.

What do dogs forget?

In August, my daughter will go off to school, and I feel sure that when she does, Polo will become my husband’s dog. He calls her “The Good Dog.” She’s quite uncuddly, except that she lets my husband rub her neck with his foot. She’ll stand on her hind legs and just rock up and down.

It appears that Clover’s fallen asleep on guard dog duty. She must have decided that I’m OK.

Love Idol 6

For the next few Wednesdays in Lent, I’ll be talking about Jennifer Dukes Lee’s book “Love Idol,” which released on March 25, 2014.

On Friday night, when it was just me and the puppies at home, I rented the documentary “20 Feet From Stardom.” It just won an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. It’s about backup singers. Tagline: “Millions know their voices, but no one knows their names.”

It’s heartbreaking.

Oh, it’s great — don’t get me wrong. Fabulous, fabulous music sung by women who … it’s unbelievable what they can do with their voices. The heartbreaking part is that very few people outside of industry insiders know their names. Many of them have tried to launch solo careers, and for whatever reason it didn’t work. A few theories are proposed, but each one falls flat next to these women’s voices.

You know who else was basically a backup singer? A fellow in the Bible I’d never heard of until I read Jennifer’s book “Love Idol.” Apelles.

“Greet Apelles, tested and approved in Christ,” (Romans 16:10).

“That’s all that Paul wrote about Apelles. Just one sentence, nothing else,” Jennifer writes. “No accolades or applause or records of great conquests.”

So, imagine Paul as the lead singer. He’s one of the guys featured in this film — Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger. And Apelles is the backup singer you’ve never heard of — Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Judith Hill, Claudia Lennear and Lisa Fischer.

“I felt like if I just gave my heart to what I was doing, I would automatically become a star,” said Merry Clayton (“Gimme Shelter,” The Rolling Stones).

Things got so bad for Darlene Love (“Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”) that she started cleaning houses.

I cried right there on my couch. I wanted to stand up and tell these women they are preapproved. That it doesn’t matter that so few people knew who they were. They’re amazing. They made the careers of these lead artists. And they have gotten to do what they love for a living — sing. They just sang 20 feet from stardom.

Most of us will be more like Apelles than Paul. We’ll never be the stars, the ones with the name recognition. We may be 50 feet, maybe even 1,000 feet from stardom. We can still bring all of our talent and passion to what we do. We are still preapproved, whether anyone knows it or not.

6 April 2014

It’s been too long since I’ve done a Polo and Clover update, but they’re good. At the moment they are annoyed that it is raining because it has kept them from getting a walk. What they don’t know is that before the smattering of rain we’ve received over the last three days, we were at 0.56 inches for the year. So, the dogs are thinking, “Mom hates us,” and the humans are thinking, “God must not hate us after all.”

John was gone one night last week for a conference, and Clover slept with me. She literally laid her head on my pillow and stretched out alongside my body. It was like sleeping next to a very furry person.

I haven’t been posting poems lately. I’m writing about poetry, which apparently renders me incapable of writing actual poetry. But I did read a great poem featuring dogs the other day, “Bereavement” by Kevin Young. Here’s one stanza:

I’ve begun to think of them

as my father’s other sons,

as kin. Brothers-in-paw.