Monday, May 9, 2011

Week 15 - Rewrite of Week 1 Nature Essay

Wind chases the snow in a provocative dance, sending it into an embrace with anything it touches. The soft glow of my reading lamp, the heavy blanket on my legs, add to the romance of a winter storm. I thrust thoughts of the cleanup from my mind as the snow buries my driveway and muffles all sound. The absolute quiet lulls me into ignoring my duties as the one left behind.

Alas, nature won’t let me admire its beauty without a price. When the storm ends, I trade in my blanket for heavy snow pants and the light of my reading lamp for snow’s reflection. Suiting up, I first shovel the deep snow away from my garage doors to leave maneuvering room for the conquering beast I must bend to my will.

The fight is balanced. The orange menace is heavier than I, but has no control. I direct its motion while it fights me. We don’t like each other but we work together because its master is not here. Eleven horsepower, two hundred ninety-three pounds; it would toss me aside if it could. I prime, choke and throttle it before pulling the rope that roars it to life. Rebellion isn’t an option for either of us. I have an obligation to those within to clear a path to the rest of the world and to make possible my husband’s reentry. The snowblower must obey me.

Not a single task in snowblowing is effortless; every lever requires strength. Holding down the handles that operate auger and engage transmission demand a firm grip. This is work of men. Mine travels; the job falls to his wife today. Wind, machine, and I each jostle for dominance and in the end we all win.

My face is wet and cold from blown snow. The orange menace has proven its power, sending white fluff soaring high to land far from the pavement. Because I persevered, my yard is clear; my family can reach beyond the boundaries of our land. Best of all, my husband can make his way back.

Stripping off wet outerwear doesn’t bring comfort. My face still stings from the mighty wind. My hands tingle, reminders that frostbite is always hungry, teeth bared. But I’m back in my domain. Hot tea works its magic as I burrow under my blanket once more. I can see both my clear driveway and the white-covered fields, covered as I am. We wait for the return of that which makes us thrive.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Week 14 - Research

Working from home

My husband works from home. Has for over nine years, ever since we moved from southeastern Connecticut. Robert’s the breadwinner, I’m the other stuff. I stayed home full time for ten years, until our second child, Renee, started kindergarten. I heard from a friend about a programming job, so I went to work part-time, against my five-year-old’s wishes. When we moved to Bangor two years later, I worked full time for almost a year before chucking the world of telecommunications websites and stayed home. I worked a couple of places after that, but the picture is clear. I worked when I felt the need to stretch my brain, otherwise I did the mom thing.

About five years ago, when Roxanne, our oldest, was a junior in high school, I started a long decline into disturbia when it hit me after sixteen years of motherhood that my children were, in fact, going to grow up and leave me. And in the not-to-distant future. I went into a tailspin of sadness because they would no longer need me, fear that they’d no longer want me in their lives. I took a good look at my future without them and found out I was nothing without my babies.

Well, it took some therapy, some soul searching, but I did finally get myself together and understand that whether I wallowed or not my children were still going to grow up and get on with their lives. I picked up a pen and started writing fiction. When I finished my first book, I went to a writers retreat and learned how much I didn’t know. Stubborn, I persevered, finishing five manuscripts. I got better each time, writing more for the story than for therapy each time. I knew if I kept going I would eventually get published and I’d have a new life of writing. I’d earn a living and feel free to buy a camp or pay for my kids’ college or whatever I wanted. I wrapped up the last book and really thought I had something. I sent it out to an editor friend for review. She got back to me with great comments. It needed work. The thought of revision overwhelmed me and I crashed again. The future looked like a black tunnel because I got so wrapped up in my writing that I let it define me. When it became obvious that the work wasn’t as good as I thought, I imploded instead of tackling the rewrite. Makes no sense to me know, but that’s what happened.

All these years Robert has worked at home. He sits in his office for ten or so hours every day with Friday’s off. He travels to Connecticut biweekly to check in and pick up more work. He’s supported our family financially -- and emotionally when I wasn’t up to it. I still write, but the thought of sending anything out for publication terrifies me. Fear of rejection feels like post-traumatic stress after the power I gave to my words. I go to school now as a way to release some of the fears and validate the space and resources I take up every day. I’ve been wondering if I should add part-time work to my schedule. I really hate that word.

Schedule means I have to be someplace whether I want to or not. The concept angers me on a visceral level; I'm not sure why. How about working at home? I had my own web programming business, but I don’t want to do that again. The world of techno geeks changes constantly. I want something to do on my own time that doesn’t require constant training. I want to work for somebody else and not worry about drumming up new business. I want to do it for fifteen or twenty hours a week at most and do it whenever I feel like it. I don’t know where to start.

Monster.com has some at-home writing jobs but they’re looking for industry professionals to write about human resources, social work, and other things I know nothing about. That one’s listed about twenty-five times for cities all over the country. Political writing’s another one with a lot of listings. Sales, too. Not for me. I want to do...what? I’ll know it when it hits me. I’ll just keep browsing. Here’s one for an at-home travel agent but they want at least thirty hours per week including weekends. Nothing’s as easy as it seems, including finding online work.

In this age of information technology, one would expect to crack open the laptop and have ideal opportunities leap off the screen, and maybe they are. Maybe the real problem here isn’t the lack of opportunities. Maybe in the end it’s my lack of commitment. I don’t want to compete anymore. I’m fifty in two weeks, for heaven’s sake. I don’t want to fight for a job or scramble to be the best at that job so I can get raises and the occasional pats on the head from corporate types who care even less for me than I do for them. But the money would be great. The feeling of independence wouldn’t be horrible either. When I get right down to it, I don’t want to compromise one iota of my life in order to work. It’s not trading up, it’s giving up, either way I look at it - time or opportunity goes out the window depending on which way I go.

Well, what do you know. I found a job that just might suit me at a new site called examiner.com as writer. Owned by a media group out of Denver, it’s purpose is to provide local news by pro/am contributors. Visitors entering the site must choose their city and state. After that, they’re redirected to a home page for their area with articles by local writers. Hmm, I could be on to something, something I wouldn’t have investigated if not for this assignment. School works -- who knew?

Step one of the online application was picking a topic I think I’ll want to write several essays about. I chose marriage, figuring that nearly thirty years in, I might have something worthwhile to say about it. I had to give my creds, a list of topics I might write about within the marriage umbrella, and a writing sample. I’m supposed to hear within two weeks if I’m selected. Contributors don’t make much money if no one reads their work as their scale is around $0.006 per viewing. Still, it’s an opportunity to write for an audience on a regular basis. I tend not to write if I don’t have a purpose or deadline, so this is worth a try.

I accomplished a few things by applying for a position as ‘marriage examiner’ at this fairly obscure website. I plowed through my fear of rejection by submitting a sample of my work for examiner.com’s approval. I gave myself the opportunity to earn a little money by working from home. Most of all, I opened to the possibility of writing for readers that may or may not like what I have to say. Big step; huge.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Week 13 - Book Review

“My Booky Wook A Memoir of Sex, Drugs, and Stand-Up”
by Russell Brand


I’ve been around. I’ve seen outrageous celebrities dating back to Tiny Tim singing “Tiptoe through the Tulips” on Laugh-In in the sixties. Fifty years later, over the top becomes ho hum. And yet, I find Russell Brand endearing. It’s the wacky hair and the vulnerability I see in his eyes. I didn’t see his charm at first. When I watched “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” in which he plays a hedonistic rock star, I found his character’s lewd behavior embarrassing to watch, so it took a while for Brand to grow on me. A couple of years after, his same character was fleshed out as the anti-hero in “Get Him to the Greek,” and this time I saw lonely aging singer trying to survive a glamorous life through pills, heroin, and weed. Brand played the vulnerability of the character as though he lived the role himself. Later I learned about his battle with drugs and I felt drawn to him; I felt a little empathy. Not that I’ve been addicted to drugs myself. They’re too expensive and destructive, not to mention hard to explain. My vices remain solidly in food, sugar specifically, though anything will do in a crisis. So when I heard he’d written a third book, I was curious.

“My Booky Wook” starts off sassy with the dedication, “For my mum, the most important woman in my life, this book is dedicated to you. Now for God’s sake don’t read it.” If one of my daughters told me that, I’d be the first in line at the bookstore. He then launches into his entrance into a rehabilitation center for sex addicts, filled with pedophiles and him. We learn how difficult it was for him to abstain from any kind of sex, even “wanking off,” though he does learn from the experience. Backtracking to his early years and his gradual descent into the heroin-induce haze where he joins the ranks of the walking dead, I saw a lot of his desperate need to reach for a substance in his life that allowed him not to feel. He describes the wonderful calm he found in smack and made me think of my own chocolate euphoria.

Brand’s voice is easy to ear as you read about his addiction to sex and drugs, harder to pick up when he writes about his lonely childhood in industrial Essex. He speaks openly of his self-involvement and how he was able to turn that into a positive when he found the stage during a school production. Speaking of his first drama class, Brand says, “It’s just showing off...sanctioned showing off...Oh my God, I’ve found a loophole.” Sadly, even his ambition to remain in the bright lights isn’t enough to keep his addiction at bay. He rises and falls, plodding along only to derail himself over and over. When he finally takes stock, he finds himself in the hands of an agent whose tough love inevitably saves him.

Some of Brand’s sexploits and boozers were disturbing to read, though not surprising given Brand’s public persona of outrageous bad by. Mostly, though, this is a humorous and painful read about a man working his way toward fame through ambition, women, and chemicals. I enjoyed reading about a life so different from mine, an addiction so similar in its clawlike grasp of that life. Russell Brand, comedian, helped me see that a healthy life of abstinence is a lovely challenge to strive for one day at a time.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Week 12 - Book Review

Don’t think for one minute that I’m going to talk about literature. I hate it. Literary writing is all about flowery words used to describe the nothing that happens when you spend too much time on vocabulary and not enough on story. Instead I’m going to talk about Tammy Jo, a witch by birth who knows more about decorating cakes than zapping spells.

Kimberly Frost (www.frostfiction.com) is a long-time alumni of the same writing retreat I’ve participated in, Writers Retreat Workshop (www.writersretreatworkshop.com). She’s an ER doctor who has enough energy to replace nuclear power. She’s also written books since she was a kid. So, what does a highly educated woman living in the fast-paced world of emergency medicine write? Paranormal fiction, of course.

That’s right up my alley. I read to escape, to get lost in the imaginary world a writer creates for me. If you’re trying to teach me a lesson or expound on the tragedies of the world, you’re wasting your time. Give me witches, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, even. We meet a whole pile of each in Kimberly’s series, starting with Would Be Witch.

Kimberly’s Southern Witch Series star, Tammy Jo, is a Texas gal with plenty of spunk and no idea how to be a witch. She discovers her powers accidentally and gets into all kinds of trouble with the paranormals who can sense her power. Unfortunately for her, all this happens when her mother and aunt are out of town, so she has to figure things out for herself. And her family ghost and great-aunt, Evie, goes and gets herself kidnapped via the stolen locket she calls home, so she’s no help, either. Her ex and sometimes boyfriend, Zach, doesn’t take too kindly to her running off and getting into trouble that he doesn’t know how to get her out of. Then there’s the whole Lyons thing. She finds Bryn Lyons just about irresistible, magically and otherwise, but her family has a prophecy that makes every Lyons untouchable.

I’ll take paranormal over literary any day of the week, and every night that I can’t sleep, too. Let me curl up on the couch and escape into magicland and I’m a happy reader.

Week11 - Expertise

I don’t talk much about my belief in the metaphysical. For most people, my beliefs are way out there. I believe in everything - god, goddess, angels, demons, aliens, guides, even the great white brotherhood. I believe in karma and that Buddha and Jesus did exist, though not as miraculously as organized Christianity would wish. But since you’ve asked, I’ll tell you a few stories, and you decide if any of this fits into your view of the universe and our place in it.

Here’s one of the greats. It goes back to when I was pregnant with Renee eighteen years ago. After months of infertility testing that left me chronically depressed and doubled over as Clomid sent eggs shooting down my fallopian tubes machine-gun style, I gave in to fate. I stopped the drugs and accepted that we would remain a little family of three. I focused on dog classes with my first aussie, Ollie. My trainer and friend, Denise, turned me onto holistic medicine and crystal healing. I filled my house with rose quarts and amethyst. A month later I got pregnant and my dog went crazy.

Always high strung (because I was), Ollie’s behavior deteriorated to the point that he became untrustworthy around children. He made this noise, somewhere between a growl and a shout, that made me realize a bite was coming soon. Denise convinced me to consult an animal communicator, someone who speaks telepathically with animals. Desperate, I sent eighty bucks to California and made an appointment to call Susan something-or-other a few days later, after she got the check.

The phone call was like heroin to a junky. I latched onto everything she had to say. After we talked for a while, Ollie admitted to her that my pregnancy got his knickers in a major twist because I was so erratic. I was desperate to have a stress-free house, never knowing it was my fault. I was thrilled to be pregnant but terrified I’d have twins. We only had two sets in our family, but my mother was one, so I felt justified in my neurosis. I asked Susan if she could tell if I carried one or two babies. I wanted another girl, too. Could she manage that?

Susan said that I was indeed having a girl, but that it was undetermined at that point whether I’d have twins. She said the universe was letting me decide and to spend the night praying. Oh, boy, did I. I begged and pleaded all night long to have just one baby. I felt sure I’d never be able to care for my almost-four-year-old and two newborns. My sonogram the following week showed Renee alone, a condition that persists.

I guess I was ripe for metaphysical experiences when I was pregnant with Renee. I took Reiki One in my first trimester. At twelve weeks along, I felt her flutter every time I was Reikied during the class. Any doctor will tell you that feeling your baby move that early in a pregnancy is impossible, but I did. Renee loved Reiki. Years later, I performed Reiki on a neighbor and felt a hot spot on her breast. She had no previous problems so we didn’t dwell on it. A year after that, she found a lump and had it successfully removed. It was in the exact spot I’d felt heat.

Twice I’ve looked up to see a person in my house who wasn’t actually there. I’ve heard people call my name when I was alone. I used to get pictures of a wet dish cloth from Ollie every time Roxanne used to play in his water dish. He hated that. I’ve felt the presence of deceased family members after they passed. And, yes, my animals still talk to me on occasion. I’m sure there is more to life than what we can see. Too many things have happened to me or those around me for me to doubt it, though I have no proof. It doesn’t matter to me. I know what I know.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Week 10 - Opinion

I know stuff. I have a point of view about almost everything, but no answers. Here’s my list, in paragraph form because I don’t like lists.

Organized religion is a lovely, sanctimonious gift from the devil or pompous old medieval men. On the other hand, some people see it as their ticket to the big afterlife show in the sky. Others say their Hail Marys and Bless Me Fathers because after their dirt nap they want eternal rest. I don’t buy any of that. I say the only way to connect with whatever is past the pale is to look deep inside yourself. Should organized religion be outlawed? It is for my kids, but other people swear by it. It’s like marijuana, I guess. It should be legal but not required.

Mothers should stay home with their children. Yeah, yeah, women deserve to do whatever they want. It’s true, we do. We can have it all just like the men, right? Yes, we can. What do the kids get? They get two tired parents at the end of the day. They get daycare workers who don’t love them or see them as special or take delight in the magical little people that they are. They get to come home to an empty house instead of a mom who wants to know how their day was, who they played with, if the math test was hard, who brought the coolest lunch. They get constant noise and stimulation instead of some quiet time to relax and let those whimsical imaginations roam. What about the mothers who hate staying home with their kids? I don’t know. Kids aren’t like dogs. They don’t sleep fifty percent of the time. If people don’t want to spend time with children, why have them? Which brings me to my next point.

Nobody should live their life through their egos. Whoa, that means me as well. I shouldn’t rant and rave about how everybody should do things my way. People live their lives and learn as they go. It’s all part of the journey. Blah, blah, blah. I know better than you. Do it my way.

And stop bickering about politics. Either get in there and get your hands dirty making changes or shut the fuck up. I read personal rants all the time online. Click like if you want LePage removed from office, stop governors from denying public unions, get out of Iraq, don’t let illegal immigrants in, government officials are assholes. All that does is agitate and maybe that’s the purpose of all those couch complainers. Rant and rave and get all full of righteous anger, shoving individual opinions down everybody’s throat. I’m glad I’m not like that.

For Christ’s sake, stop texting while I’m talking to you. I haven’t seen you in forever and I’m trying to have a conversation here. How can you get invested in what I’m saying if you’re typing madly on your phone to fifteen other people at the same time? I only interrupt a conversation for my kids. Sometimes if I’m firming up plans with a friend. Or if somebody’s having a really bad day and needs a texted hug or a <3. That’s different.

Train your damn dog. And while you’re at it, put him on a leash when you go to Bangor Woods so I don’t have to worry about him eating my two perfect pooches. I take mine to puppy school for at least six weeks, sometimes more. I don’t practice every day with them, though. It’s kind of a hassle with two. But at least I train them. And even if they maul visitors for pats and jump up a little, they’re really adorable dogs.

Rereading what I just jotted down, I realize I do have the answers. The world would be a much better place if people would just do things my way.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Week 9 - Speculation

It’s my job to scoop the dog yard. I mind it least of anyone in the house, though my diligence wanes as summer moves into fall. But in the spring, I’m all about getting rid of a winter’s worth of crap. I have a method. I follow the line of melting snow and as soon as the poop is lowered onto gravel, it’s mine. I get a little scrupulous about scooping, though.

I try to get only canine excrement, not one pea stone or (gasp) a bit of snow, and here’s why. I have a problem with landfills. Everything that goes into a trash bag and lands over in Hermon or wherever our trash goes these days is still going to be there when the earth finally gets sick of us and implodes, my dog’s crap included. I use doubled Hannaford bags when I scoop. When full, the handles get tied in knots and the bags sit on my cobblestone patio out front until trash day. Next they sit at the end of the driveway waiting for the trash man, who eventually dumps them in a landfill where they sit for all eternity. The hell of it is that everything that lands in my Hannaford bags is biodegradable.

Left out long enough, the poop would decompose and become one with the dog yard. If I could stand the smell and the dogs had a bigger area to run around in, I might let that happen. Since their area is only sixty by twenty-five feet, that’s not an option. They’d be living in shit, running through it, and bringing it into the house on their paws and imbedded in their nails. Gross. So off to the landfill it goes.

I feel guilty enough about the poop, but what about the pea stones? Everything is alive, the moving molecules prove this to be true. Maybe they’re even sentient, just not in a way we can identify. Do the pea stones resent me for sealing them in plastic when they belong to Mother Earth? Is she mad at me? And what about the snow? It melts back to water, trapped in plastic when all the while our limited supply gets more polluted every day. Think of all he dehydrated children in Africa.

I confess I’m in a quandary. Our patch of land is pretty much spoken for. Over the years I’ve landscaped about a third of the front yard and Robert’s lawn makes up the rest. The back yard is all lawn, complete with True Green chemicals because that’s how Rob likes it. Looking out at the rolling green tumbling toward the Kenduskeag Stream behind us soothes him. Who am I to say we need a pile of decaying dog shit back there? I think the best solution is to move, but he’s content.

If I had only my own desires and musings to consider, I’d sell this acre and a quarter and move deep in to the country. I’d buy at least ten acres, thirty would be better, and plant a tiny little house in the middle of it. The lot would be wooded. Of course. I’d have a driveway with two or three curves so the house couldn’t be seen from the road. I’m not sure I’d have any lawn at all, though I’d put in a few small perennial flower beds. Some vinca, maybe. I’d leave most of the land to nature. There’d be lots of trees and some boulders partially exposed. The land could be hilly with even some barren spots because of the underlying granite. Maybe I’d rescue some goats and learn how to take care of them. Probably not.

My house would be the one I’ve been planning for several years. Tiny, like I said, about eight hundred square feet. No upstairs. I hate vacuuming stairs. And no sheetrock. The walls would be natural wood, so would the ceilings. I think an open floor plan would be best. I don’t want it broken up into tiny rooms. I would keep the furniture to a minimum. I’m tired of the crowding that happens over time, another good reason to move. You realize how much you don’t need when you have to pack it. I’d ditch the bedroom set. I hated it the first time Robert showed it to me. Selfish as he was then, he bought it anyway, knowing he was going to propose to me. I’d have a murphy bed and built in drawers. My dining set would go, too, not that it’s fancy or anything. It’s just a farm table from LLBean, but even that would be too big in my tiny house. I’d get a table for two, square with rounded edges. Maybe wood, but maybe one of those chrome sets from the fifties. That would be cool. I think one wall would be all windows and the front door in the middle. The back door would be exactly opposite and open onto a cement deck.

The dogs would have at least an acre of fenced yard to play in. It would start as a thin trail that went off to the side of the property so I could have a view, maybe. Or maybe not, I haven’t figured that part out yet. I think an acre would be fun for the dogs. I wouldn’t make a rectangular yard for them. There would be paths and trails for them to run in before opening into a wider area for serious racing. And I’d never scoop the poop.