August 11, 2016

"I Am Still Here" in Hippocampus Magazine

Taking a break from my plant-focused summer to point you all to a recent publication of mine in Hippocampus Magazine. It's a very short essay, called "I Am Still Here," which focuses on my immediate reaction twenty-some years ago to the abduction of a neighborhood boy. As one would assume, the events surrounding his kidnapping haunted me as a young girl, and still do. For me, writing is generally a matter of trying to figure something out. This boy's case has now gone unresolved for decades. I doubt I will ever stop writing into the center of that night, not at least until some closure is reached.

So: there's that. Not flowers or bouncing summer grasses. But one of my earliest memories of understanding the necessity of story, and how upturned and unstable things can feel without one.



Also, as a result of this essay, a young woman from a college in Massachusetts read it, and asked for a short interview for one of her classes about publishing. I'm including my responses here because I find these kinds of insights from other writers interesting, and because the happy truth is, friends, though I have not been here on LOCW much, I have been writing more consistently this last cycle of seasons than I have in years. And that means, yes, I can take questions like these and answer them and not feel like a fraud (at least most days).    :)

  1. How much of your time do you spend writing?  This would have been much more difficult to answer before I had a child. Now that I do, while teaching a full course load, I have to schedule in time to write. I give myself permission to write for three straight hours one morning every week (for which I wake up extra early). I tend to set these hours aside for new writing. I fit in revision in the creaks and cracks of my days. This set-up would have seemed paltry and pathetic at an earlier part of my life, but now it is the only way I get creative work done, and because of that, I cherish those hours, and I get right down to business. 
  2. When you were submitting to literary journals/magazines, did you have anyone edit your work before you submitted it? I've received feedback on early drafts from teachers and mentors, but I've never worked specifically with one editor before I've mailed work off. In the past year, though, a colleague and I have established a monthly swap where we each send each other new work and give the other one feedback. This has proved invaluable; she always has excellent recommendations of where I can strengthen and pare. 
  3. How do you deal with rejection? I try not to think about it too much. When a rejection comes in, I sigh and doubt, but I've learned there really is no better next move than pressing delete on the notice and diving back into something creative. I'm never going to entertain or intrigue or move everyone. The important thing is that I continue to enjoy the process of writing. If I'm doing that, my work will find an audience eventually.
  4. How do you measure success as a writer? To me, the fact that I'm still writing new work and publishing it while working full-time and parenting a small child is success. The sane thing would be to quit and take up cooking. But, no. Writing is an integral part of my identity. Those three hours a week refresh me, and keep my sights set on what is possible.

How about you, dear friends? What have you been working on this summer? When can I read about it?

July 20, 2016

June in July





  1. Bittersweet nightshade
  2. Eastern daisy fleabane (aster family)
  3. Some kind of lovely leaf -- who knows what this is???
  4. Daisy
  5. Creeping bellflower
  6. ?
  7. ?
  8. Some kind of grass ???
  9. Motherwort
  10. Clover
  11. ?
  12. Common mullein
  13. My boy, out in it all
Quite a few plants I couldn't identify this month, folks, so I need your help. What did I get right? What did I miss? Goodness, this world is a wild and beautiful place.

June 20, 2016

May in June











For those of you who have been here since the very beginning of Landing on Cloudy Water, you might remember my early attempts to learn and document the names of what I saw growing around me. First there was the snowdrop, then the Siberian squill, then the forsythia, then the tarda tulip, and finally the wild columbine. Well, a child came into my life a bit after all that, and naming him, I suppose, claimed my attention. I am happy to say, though, that he is now at the age where he wants to know what he's seeing, and that has given me new cause to do the same.

So, I bring you yet again, a series in wild identification: Plant Literate! (Although I seem to be always a month behind, and have no time for individual posts, so it will most likely happen in bursts. Ah, well. Better something than nothing, is my current motto.)

This is a doubly-sweet endeavor because what I've been learning these past months has been focused on the growing and blooming things in our yard, the edge along our driveway, and the marsh behind our house. Already most of these wildflowers are long gone with the light-blocking leaves, so who is to say how much of anything I'll document this summer, but that's half the fun, too: we'll just have to wait and see.

Here is what I've identified so far, following the order of the photos above. Please feel free to correct me if I have something wrong. I'm learning.
1) Wild ferns
2) Halberd-leaved violets
3) Early meadow rue
4) Wild lupine (this one I'm not totally sure of, as it was quite a bit smaller than most lupine I've seen, but it's the closet I've been able to get)
5) Garlic mustard (which, I've been told, spreads like crazy)
6) Sand violet (I think?)
7) Wild geranium
8) False solomon's seal
9) Dame's rocket
10) Jack-in-the-pulpit
11) Wild Columbine

We also have true solomon's seal, bloodroot, cleavers, a patch of creeping charlie along the driveway that I naively believed was just a lovely flowering ground cover (good thing someone smart advised me not to transplant it to a border area along one of the gardens), and a host of fast growing bushes and vines that I haven't even started to try to identify. I suppose that alone could keep me busy for much of the summer.

As always with these kinds of posts, I place this information here for me, so that I might come back to it next year when all these names evade me, but I hope it's helpful or interesting to a few of you, too.

It's the longest day of the year today, friends--9:42 pm just now and still light seeping in through the windows--so, let us welcome whatever this summer will be. Cheers to you all on this solstice. Isn't it incredible how much of the world bends toward the sun?


June 7, 2016

What I've Been Into - Spring 2016

Friends,

Today is the last day of school for my students, and although I'll continue through the end of the week with my colleagues in workshops and other wrap-up activities, summer has arrived. It's been another wonderful year, but I can't think of one solitary person who doesn't love these two words put together: summer break. Summer break! Oh, for a few months in which to go where the wind blows me, do what the whims insist! Perhaps I'll show up here a bit more? Or perhaps I'll disappear still deeper into this marsh that is my back yard, what with its wildflowers and ferns and maples and oaks and ash and cottonwood and beech and tamarack stands. I am rippling with contentment. Can you tell? Like the leaves. Like the air, blue and redolent, and so very very close. 





Books: 

  1. The Progress of Love by Alice Munro -- The entire collection is wonderful, but "Miles City, Montana" struck at my heart with a force.
  2. The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch -- I took a class with Yuknavitch in April, and although this book jumped around a bit too much for me, I do appreciate the way that--as she explained in class--the body is given a point of view. I am interested in reading her much acclaimed memoir The Chronology of Water.  Here's her TED Talk.
  3. The Liar's Club by Mary Karr -- Started, but did not finish. A bit too similar in feel to The Glass Castle (although I know The Liar's Club came first...).
  4. The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie -- I've only been hearing about this book for a decade. I'm so glad I finally made a point of reading it, because it's very clear why this is required reading for a lot of middle schoolers.
  5. Knockout by John Jodzio -- There is never a dull moment in Jodzio's fiction. His sardonic style and subject matter is generally not what I gravitate to, but he's a Minnesota writer who I've worked with in various capacities, and I have to champion his work. As I read through these stories--"Great Alcoholic-Owned Bed and Breakfasts of the Eastern Seaboard" being one of my favorites--I kept thinking, "John, how do you come up with this stuff?" Here's a cool interview he did with MPR.
  6. May Day by Gretchen Marquette -- A lovely collection of poems that center on loss: of a lover, a brother, a place. Marquette is another Minnesota writer who I have recently connected with, and it's been great bringing some of her work into my Minnesota Writers May Program class, especially  "Colossus" and "Ode to a Man in Dress Clothes." Here's another MPR story featuring her book.
  7. The Wilding by Benjamin Percy -- This was the most "male" book I've read in a long time (father, son, grandfather, hunting, war, machinery, bears), but a lot of it connects to the natural world in a way I respect and enjoy. And Percy lives in Minnesota now, and I've been meaning to read something by him for a while, so I'm glad I finally did.
  8. Of Mice and Men, The Things They Carried, Merchant of Venice, and lots of short stories and essays ("The Woman Warrior," "Memory and Imagination," "Boarding School in Switzerland," "A Clean Well-Lighted Place," "Barn Burning" "Superman and Me" (...should I go on?) -- all curriculum rereads.
TV & Movies:
  1. Nurse Jackie, Seasons 1-4 -- Addiction is real, people. This show pulled us in because of that fact. (And Zoey! Love her character.)
  2.  Interstellar -- We watched this in two chunks (parents of a young child, hello!), so maybe that was why it didn't amaze me? Decent story. Eh.
  3. Gravity -- Non-stop thrill ride, for sure. Some amazing special effects. It's interesting to me, though, that the scene that stays with me the most is when the protagonist finally makes it into a spaceship--safety--and all her racing and movement stops and she just...floats.
  4. Mile, Mile and a Half -- A documentary about a group of friends who set out to hike the John Muir Trail, and document the entire thing with film, photography, music, words. The cinematography alone was enough to keep me watching this one.
  5. Into the Wild -- I never view movies with my semester classes, but this May Program I'm taught a course called These Wild World, which focuses on nature writing, and this film was perfect for that group in so many ways. Gah. Alex Supertramp is a complex character--easy to love and hate--and that's one of the reason why his story is such a great watch.
  6. House of Cards, Season 4 -- The earlier seasons were better, but I am just waiting for all that nastiness in the first seasons to come back and bite the Underwoods in the butt.
  7. Game of Thrones, Season 6 --  Because we can't not watch.
 Finds & Arrow Signs:
  1. "How it Slips Away" -- An essay of mine up at Two Hawks Quarterly. It's kind of a sad one -- dreams deferred, I suppose -- but it was fun to write. Check it out, if you want!
  2. "Song of Myself" by Walt Whiman -- I always forget how much I love this looooooooong poem until I reread it (well, at least parts of it) in spring.
  3. "The Old Naturalist" -- A local blog run by an educator that helped me identify a few bird calls. 
  4. This article about final gifts to students (Thanks, Pat!)
  5. They Could Live With Themselves by Jodi Paloni -- I haven't read this one yet, but Jodi is another VCFA alum who is making waves in the literary world, and I am really looking forward to reading this collection of stories this summer. 
  6. This licorice + sea salt chocolate from the Icelandic brand Omnom might be the best chocolate I've ever had in my life. No joke.
  7. The beach in March -- Because: 90' and no humidity is good for the soul (in doses).
How about you? What will you be doing this summer?

May 20, 2016

Welcome

Yesterday, on our drive home, my son asked to stop at the local elementary school playground. It was a beautiful afternoon, and I was antsy from grading final essays inside all day, so I willingly brought us there. For the first few minutes, I followed him protectively as he circled through slides and ladders and bridges, dodging the older and sharper movements of the kids also there playing as a part of the after-school program. Eventually, though, I told Elliot I was going to rest on a bench nearby, and not thirty seconds later, I observed him introducing himself to an older boy sitting in the shade underneath the slide, playing with an assortment of small objects.

"Hi," I heard my son say. "Can I play with you?"


I couldn't overhear how the other one replied, and because of the age difference--I would learn later he was in second grade, easily four or five years older than my son--I felt myself again on guard, wondering if El would be able to read a social cue signaling "leave me alone," not wanting to have to intervene, but ready to.


Instead, the two of them sat across from each other pleasantly, companionably even, and I realized quickly that I wasn't needed at all.


I watched the other boy ask Elliot's name, ask him if he was in pre-school. I heard Elliot immediately return the question: Tyler.


"I'm making a motorcycle with these wood pieces," Tyler said, and El leaned in, interested.


Not long later, two other boys Tyler's size began a game of hide-and-seek, or hide-and-boo, or spy--some kind of game that instantly makes sense to school aged kids, which, I realized--amazed--included my son.


"Do like this," Tyler instructed, lining up his body behind a pole, and Elliot complied. In fact, he more than complied. He invented. He protected. Tyler was already the boy on his team.


Each time his face shifted my direction, I looked for signs of distress--those boys were bigger, maybe he was feeling intimidated or overwhelmed or--I didn't know. He was the child that just this last Christmas at a holiday concert cried half way through because the singing had become too loud for him. He was the infant who didn't smile at strangers, went serious the moment he entered a new situation, the one everybody called "observant," which I always took to mean sensitive, a likely introvert.


I expected, I suppose, among the new boys and the new games, to hear him call for his mama. 


But I understood with growing clarity that he was closer now to that pack of boys than he was to the baby who had once filled my arms. 


And he was smiling. The easy, amused smile of a boy already aware of the wonder of the next moment.


Eventually, Tyler's mom arrived, calling him to the car. Before he left, he found a multi-colored piece of paper from his backpack that he had folded into a fan.


"Here, Elliot," he said, holding it out with one hand, and then with the other, gently patting El's arm. "It was fun playing with you."


As he walked away, El called, "Where are you going?"


"Home," he said, "but I'll be back tomorrow!"


I watched Elliot watch him go, already the friendship something to be lost.


Lucky for him, the two other hide-and-seek boys were waiting--"I'm Kai and this is Finn"--and soon they were off exploring a big branch that had fallen and talking about quicksand. Later, after I'd joined them, I timed all three as they ran loosely around the school's track, Elliot's laughter ringing out over the field as he moved farther and father away.


I kept on thinking about my earlier precaution, how grateful I was to discover the kindness of second grade boys, how innocent and sweet they were: one's long hair hanging in his eyes, the other's rosy cheeks, the other's light hand on my son's wrist. How they welcomed my boy into their world.


But I realized again, of course, that Elliot had been a part of this world for a while.


That the one who needed to be welcomed was me.




May 9, 2016

April in May








I meant to get these photos up two weeks ago, but I suppose I was too busy admiring everything popping up all over our Minnesota yard. We've lived in our new house for just over a year now, and it amazes me how much I don't remember seeing last spring, but also how much more familiar everything feels. It has been an exhausting year in many ways, but my dear my dear my goodness oh my, does all this green and new and colorful make my entire being come alive.

Photo notes (more for me than anyone; I really am learning!): 
-- Blue-purple flowers: Siberian squill (early to mid April)
-- White flowers: Bloodroot (early to mid April)
-- Purple flower: Periwinkle/Vinca Minor groundcover (late April)
-- Leaves on the trees: (April, April, April, Hallelujah)

And happy belated Mother's Day!

April 21, 2016

God's World





O WORLD, I cannot hold thee close enough!
      Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!
      Thy mists that roll and rise!
Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag
And all but cry with colour! That gaunt crag       5
To crush! To lift the lean of that black bluff!
World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!
  
Long have I known a glory in it all,
      But never knew I this;
      Here such a passion is  10
As stretcheth me apart. Lord, I do fear
Thou'st made the world too beautiful this year.
My soul is all but out of me,—let fall
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.

-- Edna St. Vincent Millay

April 14, 2016

Chapala, Mexico: In Photos



Lake Chapala and its surrounding towns are truly beautiful. I'll likely write an essay about them at some point. For now, I hope you've enjoyed these glimpses into some lesser-known regions of Mexico. We'll be back!

April 10, 2016

Melaque, Mexico: In Photos




There is nothing quite like lazy days on a beach. To spend every hour of light outside--to be able to pay attention to how that light changes the color of things, and to feel it change even the color of your skin--is why people who live in the north go south for holiday. Thank you, Melaque, for your sand, your big and small waves, your mangos-on-sticks, the way everyone was looking up.