Category Archives: Bittersweet Manor

Regeneration and Rejuvenation in Three Parts

PART I

Our lap pond no longer leaks. It hardly even evaporates. And I am determined to swim every day because this is not a four season pool and the season is fast coming to a close. The last two days, the water was 68 degrees and the air a bracing 47. Nippy. Almost too but still beareable. Delicious and there is a part of me that needs to be in that pool with the frogs and water bugs. When swimming between two mountains in that very cold water, I am filled with a sense of gratitude and convergence. As if all that has happened in my lifetime actually makes sense. That being here at Darwin’s View is exactly where I am meant to be. After these last seven years of bewilderment, that’s refreshing.

How get into the water? Once decided to do it (no, yes, no, yes, no, yes), I ask leave of the resident leopard frog. He dives off into the darkness, to safety. I step onto the first step to follow him, and the next, and the next. I can’t spend time considering the chill of the water. I know that if I hesitate for too long, my toes will be numb before I am fully submerged, and the swim will be a euphemism for a mere wetting. Splash! I’m in and fully awake, swimming from a pinked-by-the-sunrise Mount Monadnock toward Pac Monadnock. Clouds rest on its shoulder like a blanket of snow. As I come up for breath, I note the plants of the pool’s stone bed regeneration system. Below me, water bugs do the breast stroke. Snails on the side of the pool. A dragonfly birthed from its cocoon. Skin chilling, I feel the shape of my body, where it ends and the water begins. My awareness of my feet, legs, torso is vivid. The water livens me. It heals me. It is me. Being. I am in the moment, for once, because the moment, this one in the pool, is absolutely perfect.

Only three laps. Four. Five. I could swim forever, and want to, but the cold sinks into my blood. My toes cramp. Unlike the frogs, I am not cold-blooded. Yet, even as I step out of the pool, I regret that sensation of breathless cold against my skin. That feeling of aliveness. Of I exist. Of I am. And I know the unutterable importance of that beingness. Has anyone else felt it? It is without boundaries. It is the sensation of oneness. That we are all bound up in a whorl of energy that has no beginning or end.

PART II

An example of a lack of boundaries: Our free-range, a.k.a. feral, chickens. They have no discretion as proven by the peeps, who are now adolescents. They have taken over the handicapped-accessible walkway to the porch. It is dotted with their poo. Mo, in particular, likes to hang out there as the enclosure gives echo to his crow.

Yes, once again, we have hims. Mo and Muff. Mo is the top dude and chasing the older hens who are, needless to say, pissed that their peace and quiet is once again being broken by some upstart trying to mount them in adolescent fashion: no foreplay whatsoever. Mo is more concerned with his own needs than the hens’ which, if you are paying attention at all, you will note is pervasive in the world today. Too few are willing to take the time to consider the other side.

PART III

Balance. Life requires balance. In our demo-n-capitalist society, balance has been gerrymandered away. Energy, in the form of money, has been used to upend democracy, creating an unnatural chaos, a seemingly bottomless vortex of anger and hate that masks a deep and unexplored fear. Unbearable sadness. The pain of rejected love and lost connection. We will have to face that pain, if we are to heal it. It is very ugly. Evil. As terrifying as it is terrified. But here we are at a confluence of tides: hate meeting compassion. Words meet action. Words are so much easier. After all, here I am on my little hill taking a dip in my piece of heaven, a regenerative lap pond. Easy for me to say march in peace, be. I am white. I’ve never known poverty. My present moment isn’t dangerous.

Granted, one never knows. There is a gun club near us here. People practicing their aim on human forms.

Would Jesus do that?

Mohammed?

Buddha?

We know that Gandhi didn’t shoot guns, and I have wondered: in real life, as opposed to fiction, does good win over evil? Compassion and love over hate. There does seem to be a shift going on. We are in the midst of a nightmare but look how many people now are involved and active  against intolerance and hate who would not have been otherwise. The question being, will it be enough? Like so many totalitarian regimes, our current head of government doesn’t listen. Doesn’t care. He rolls forward unheeding, like an army tank over living beings. Individuals sacrifice for something bigger than any one person. Life snuffed. Is there still hope?

Rather like the eclipse. It was only a partial eclipse at Darwin’s View. Even so, it was unsettling to watch. Through the welder glasses that friends of ours brought, the sun was green. Had I been a youth, I would have announced, “It’s not the moon that is made of blue cheese but the sun!”

A bite in the sun, getting bigger and bigger, and mini eclipses scattered on the ground through the dappled light of trees.

We know the science of it, the physics, but what of its magic? The energy of so many people coming together to watch the power of Mother Nature. The moon calmly, steadily, inevitably covering the sun. Only for two hours. And then the sun came back . . . perhaps changed. I like to think so. I like to think that maybe the patriarchal norms that have ruled this society shifted, influenced by the moon’s energy and all the women who have been galvanized by the current situation. I like to think that maybe, just maybe, instead of destruction, we will begin to rebuild, using our humanity, not our greed and fear, as the foundation. I have to believe this because the alternative is as dark as if the sun had not come back.

Last week the eclipse.  Next week, a full moon. The tides rise. Especially in Texas.

Malls, Shopping and Saving the World

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_8604It’s a long story. Or not really. Maybe it is just a short one that’s been going on for months. But months ago, a friend asked if I’d like to join her at the ARIA Author Expo in December. In April, that sounded fun. And good for business. Then my friend got an offer not to be refused and told me she couldn’t do it. I had the option of opting out. I opted out but the guy running this ARIA event is convincing. So I stayed in.

IMG_2900Three or four other opportunities have come up in the past months for me to opt out. Each time, I have opted out, only to be convinced by friends or fellow writers that, really, I should do this. It’ll be great, right? Meeting people. In a mall. During holiday season. Maybe selling a book.

Being at a six foot long table, all by myself, while people wander past, smiling brightly, trying not to look self-conscious, resisting the attempt to run as far away as possible. But I can’t. Because I am to stay there until 5. It will be dark then. I have a one hour and forty minute drive back to Jaffrey. I don’t like to drive. Especially at night.

 

So this is going out to all my connections. If, by happenstance, you are out and about and near the Lincoln Mall in Rhode Island, please do stop by. I’d love to see you. But, if you are like me and don’t like malls. Or shopping. Or crowds. Please go to a small local, independent bookstore and buy a book to give someone for the holidays. Supporting local bookstores is cool. Books are cool. You will be really cool buying a book a an independent bookstore. And then drop me a line or a facebook message telling me you did that. Because then, as I sit at the mall, I can have something to do, like read my email. And the Scrooge in me will be happy to think that a small business, rather than a chain store, will have been supported. Because it’s not bigger is better but local and small that is the future. And that, my friends, is doable.

And so is getting myself to the mall Saturday morning. Right? I can do this! Wahoo!

 

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NaNoWriMo

Short post: In 4 days of National Novel Writing Month I’m at 10,541 words. I NEVER write like this. I mean this badly. Not letting myself care if I have the wrong word and certainly (too) much of it feels superficial. But I think in the long run this is going to be good. I mean the challenge of writing 50,000 words in a month. Because it will get me a draft of the book that’s been percolating for three years. It is giving me perspective on the other book I’ve been working on for four years. And it will teach me that, even on bad days, I can still put words on paper, if only I challenge myself to challenge myself. But for now, it’s bedtime.

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NANO & Big Red!

NANO & BIG RED

Steep slope of Mount Monadnock.
Steep slope of Mount Monadnock.

I have come up with an idea to combat my writer’s block: NaNoWriMo! November is National Novel Writing Month and I have taken the past three weeks off from my nonfiction book on . . . . well, I don’t know what it’s about. That’s what I’ve been seeking: the story. And, after three plus months of flailing about for said story without success, I thought I’d veer off back to fiction and work on the novel that has been percolating in the background for three years: Mother Daze. It is the story of Eloise Fletcher (what do you think of the name?) and her hopes to save the world and her sick mother (Victoria Forrester, widow of Graham Forrester. Why are surname different? Eloise married Arthur Fletcher. I know this because I wrote a story in my twenties called “Love Chapel”. Although her name was Cody in that story, it was/is Eloise’s story. At least it is today. Who knows what will happen in the next weeks. . . .)

All to say, I have spent my days outlining Mother Daze. What fun! To make things up. Trying to braid the different threads—all three, maybe four, of them — together and ever aware of how much I like to complicate things. The book takes place in 2012-2013. In Providence. I get to remember the blizzards called Juno and Nemo. That warm December 22nd in New York City when the temperature reached seventy degrees. All and none of which might be relevant but it’s fun to toss the information into the puzzle.

I only mention any of this because I need encouragement. To write 50,000 words in one month is a snap. To have them tell a story isn’t so easy. And to write that 50,000 word story in the month of November which, in case you have forgotten, includes the lift off of the holiday season?IMG_8604 It will be a challenge and one I do not take lightly. I am going to do this. Carl has been warned: I’m upping my hours in the office. I will rise at 6AM at the latest every morning. . . .

I practiced today. 4:10AM and I was up and at ’em. Streeeeeeetching. Petting Nick while he enjoyed his early morning nip of butter. I enjoyed my morning cafe latte . . . and a sweet treat called a Dirt Bomb, what I have always known as Frenchies, which are mini-muffins drenched in butter and rolled in sugar; truth be told, mine are better than the ones I bought yesterday but who has time to make Frenchies when she has a novel to prepare?

Up at 6AM. I will not answer the phone. Unless it looks important. The cats will be banned from my office. Unless they meow too persistently. I will be focussed. Heartless with my time as I attempt to write my heartbreak.

Ironic, isn’t it? Both my books hold the same theme: to save the world from its budding hell of mass species extinctions, arctic cold in all the wrong places, deathly heat and no rain, and pending winter winds that will likely give both our roos frostbite.

IMG_4040YES! We have two cocks here at Darwin’s View: Big Red yet lives and Little Big Man is strutting about, if with a piece of hay caught unceremoniously in his throat. I actually had a moment with him last night. He looked so ridiculous, shaking his head in an attempt to get the dratted eight-inch piece of hay to come out of his mouth. It was dusk. For his entire two months of life here, I have respected his boundaries and not tried to catch him. Last night, I made an exception, with the result being he raced out of the coop, crowing unmentionable insults at me. With all the compassion I could muster for the little guy, I followed him in a loop around the chicken area and back into the coop where I eventually caught him. The hay remained. I pulled. It lengthened, then caught. Past memories: if a thread is stuck in a cat’s mouth and has trouble being pulled out, do not pull! It will rip out the intestines.

Unhappy thought. I got a pair of scissors out and clipped.  Hopefully, he will manage to digest the rest today.

But I digress. “Big Red yet lives,” I said. What!? you might ask. Was he in danger?

A long and weary story but yes. He is not the Big Red of yore. A skinny runt of a roo he is these days. He crows two or three times in the morning and is done for the day, leaving the yeoman’s task of threats to the wind and rain to the pathetic, cartoon character crow of Little Big Man. Big Red, meantime, lies in the coop. Occasionally, he gets up to limp his way to the door and look out over his hens who maybe aren’t his hens anymore. They keep him company. There is always at least one hen hanging out with him. Bu,t though I have seen the hens practically beg for him to jump aboard, squatting down in front of him, he sighs and looks away. Faces the wall. Squats, too.

Impossible thought, isn’t it? The tough, randy roo begging off his duties. How could it be true?

Worms. After a trip to the vet, and two weeks of Vitamin Drench, I finally got a sample —trust me, egg collection is far more enjoyable than matters fecal—to the vet who found worm eggs. And this morning, Carl found some really skinny worms on the poop board. Two conclusions: one, Big Red has gape worm, thus he has been opening his mouth and bending back his head, trying to swallow past those nasty bastards in his throat. And two, all of the hens need to be treated.

Natural treatments? Cayenne pepper has been suggested. Chickens don’t mind it and the worms go out the back way. The vet sounded dubious. Use the real stuff. Go for the gusto. Wazine.

The problem being, google says Wazine doesn’t kill gape worm–assuming I have prognosticated him correctly. In any case, de-worming is a priority here at Darwin’s View if Big Red is going to make it through the winter; he needs to gain some weight.

Some might suggest this would be an auspicious outcome, given I have spent the last almost three years whining about how it is Big Red’s fault that we are up here at Darwin’s View, he being banned from Providence. But in the past month, as he has become an old man limping across the driveway, getting thinner and more gaunt, unable to crow, I realize what a wonderful rooster he has been. A boisterous crow. And he is, relatively, a very nice rooster. If he has chased you, it’s only because he had a job to do—and who knows what kind of roo Little Big Man is going to become. A beauty, yes but will he be nice?

For the record, the above is 1,168 words. That is six hundred words short of what I have to write every day of November to reach the 50,000 word goal. It is doable but I wonder: I will be posting on facebook and here on my blog my daily word count. Because at some level, it is about accountability and knowing that others are out there, rooting me on. Will you? I hope so. Because both Eloise and I have a great task ahead of us this next month: to save the world, her mother . . . and, in the end, herself; and to write a great story.

Meantime, come to a reading of the “Varied Paths to Publication: Women of a Certain Age and Attitude Book Tour”! We are at The Toadstool Bookshop this Saturday, October 31—Halloween!—at 2PM. And at Books on the Square in Providence November 7th at 4PM.

Toot!  Toot!

 

The Varied Paths to Publication Book Tour & Its Consequences!

IMG_3943Jaffrey to Hartford to Jaffrey to Providence to Stonington—twice—to New York City to Providence to Jaffrey to Saratoga Springs to Jaffrey (and up Mount Monadnock to celebrate our 25th Anniversary!) to Burlington, VT to Randolph, VT to South Burlington, VT. to Jaffrey to Providence to New York to Providence (Happy Birthday to me!) to Boston to Providence where I type now. In one month and one week. 2214 miles. 41 hours and five minutes of  movement over the course of 36 days. Which equals 61.5 miles a day at 54 miles per hour. Thank goodness for calculators and thank goodness it’s over. We had a great time but my soul is huffing to catch up. Even Carl got a bit confused when we were leaving Boston the other night post a Boston Community Capital celebration: as we approached the entry to Route 93, he had a moment: where were we going? North or South?

Between family commitments and The Varied Paths to Publication Book Tour, our carbon footprint has been shocking this month. Too, I raised the heat in our Endless Pool in Providence from 50 to 86 so that I can use said pool, thereby exposing the fact that I am my own worst enemy in my war against climate change. Granted, the trips to New York were made by train, and once we got to a city, we stuck to walking but my feints at change have been as vexatious and quixotic as a regular American’s hope to find a drop of democracy in the tea party’s vitriol, or a vertebra of backbone in too many Democrats. But before I go too far down the Road of Rant, let’s return to the over two thousand miles Carl chauffeured me through in the past two weeks.

Varied Paths Tour

SaratogaSprings flyer 8.8.15 final JPEGIn Saratoga Springs, the Northshire Bookstore hosted Nina Gaby, Tammy Flanders Hetrick and Celine Keating and me. We had a great discussion with a small but interested audience. Yes! We had an audience though we knew only our spouses. It was, indeed, an auspicious beginning and fun way to get to know these three authors. I had read their books (Dumped: Stories of Women Unfriending Women; Stella Rose and Play for Me, respectively) and it was quite wonderful to hear them read their books, and talk about writing, publishing and being women of a certain age and attitude. Which is the sub theme of the tour. I found it incredible and slightly intimidating to be with such energetic, cool women.

IMG_3789Back in Jaffrey, Carl and I did some amazing foraging and then climbed Mount Monadnock to celebrate our 25th if-you-can-believe-it anniversary. It was the first time Carl had climbed the White Dot and I saw him bristle when he had to pay to climb his mountain. But the five dollars goes to support the maintenance and oversight of the mountain and so, with that justification, we proceeded on a perilous, vertiginous climb.

IMG_3813May I just say, we aren’t as young as we used to be but we still know how to climb mountains: with each other to help!

 

IMG_3820 As we cheerfully commented after making it to the top: It’s all down hill from here! Via the White Cross trail, which was touted as less steep yet was more slippery and painful to the knees . . . but going down hill always is, isn’t it? Half way down, as I slipped on another slick rock, I had to wonder: why cross?

That weekend, we drove to Burlington for the Burlington Book Festival, and two Book Tour events, one in Randolph and one in South Burlington.

IMG_3884At the book fest, we had the pleasure of hearing David Macaulay, Paul Muldoon and Abigail Thomas speak. And of being interviewed by Lesley Nase for her radio show Books, Yarns and Tales.

IMG_3889 And onward to Randolph, where we ate fantastic cronuts (who needs NYC!) and drank decent espresso—who’d’a thunk!—at the Three Bean Cafe—and enjoyed a great gathering at the Art of Vermont Gallery. There we dug a bit deeper into our personal stories and I had the pleasure of meeting Alexis Paige, one of the contributors to Nina’s book and our special guest that day. And then we headed back up to South Burlington’s Barnes and Noble.

IMG_0984Ironies abound, don’t they? Years ago, I wrote a short story called “Chain Material” about a dastardly chain bookstore that, like an octopus had spread its tentacles. A chain rather like Barnes and Noble—which today is almost a local bookstore. Certainly this one supports authors and building community.

We drove home to the light of the moon which later that night eclipsed. We made it about a third of the way through before passing out.

IMG_3845The next morning, during a lull in our active driving schedule, I briefly faced the dilemma of our dapper Little Big Man. There is no mistaking his rooster-ish ways anymore and I keep thinking how this should not have happened. He was supposed to be a she. But I could say the same about Big Red, previously Rhoda Red, who is now three. It does make me a bit sick. Last year was so easy! We adopted the sex-link girls Brownie, Clownie and Downie. Yes, Opie, too. Who for all I know was a boy and was kind enough to die so I wouldn’t have to deal with another Roo. Just as did Little Big Man, Surprise and Exclamation’s brother who died four days after his arrival. Thoughtful boy. But really? I ordered auto sexed chicks. A no brainer. No mistakes possible! And still we received two boys. I appear to be irresponsible but really, I think these things through. Maybe stopping short of thinking it through to all possible consequences. But we now have two cocks and Big Red is being strangely obsequious. IMG_3869He’s sleeping on the coop floor. Leaving Little Big Man to get an ego.

All to say, we aren’t there. We are here. Again. Heading there shortly. And I have signed up at NaNo to write a novel next month. Even as I struggle to find a story for my soon to be trashed book that was supposed to save the world and now?

Writer’s block sucks.

IMG_3898Which leads me to suspect that all the movement might be having consequences I hadn’t anticipated. Or maybe, unconsciously, I did. Maybe I don’t want to find the story? Or write one? Maybe I’m supposed to be paying more attention to other things. Like my cats.

Final note: a new person that I met on the road wrote on his facebook page that he “was going to write like a motherfucker” last weekend. Excellent goal except. . . . has anyone read the definition of motherfucker recently?

So instead of wanting to write like a motherfucker—I know, it’s just a saying but my grandmother berated me once for using such language in my writing. There are better and more interesting phrases—next time I sit down to write I will hope to write like someone who has something true to say, and —most important—that I figure out a way to say it.

Daytime Television Damnation

IMG_0234Far be it from me to judge anyone who decides to dress up like a chicken and go on national television, there to jump up and down and scream along with an entire audience of other people doing the same. I’m a chicken lover. I should be thrilled by this expression of chicken worship. But I suspect these folks also eat chicken wings during sports events and thereby support the torture of chickens in factory farms; and believe that choosing door number one, two or three is more important than voting. Thus, I judge, and avoid daytime television.

But this past week, Continue reading Daytime Television Damnation

76 Trombones is all very well but . . ..

Time and again, I try to drag this blog away from the chickens. I even went so far as to rename it the Stone Age Redux Blog to no effect. (Carl has just pointed out that chickens, would, in fact, go under the Stone Age Redux title, given they are dinosaurs. Excellent point.)

IMG_0418Every week or five, the chickens edge their way into the writing process and here we are again. Be it a Broody hen’s guile, or her chicks transmogrification from pullets to cockerels, or the flock’s morning serenade that I now call Chicken Lamaze, the chickens dominate. And now again. I thought, two days ago, that I would write about the Goshawk and the Kestrel that were flying above us, circling and being amazing. And how, not two minutes later, we looked over to the coop (of course, the coop) to see one of our resident porcupines hanging out at the entrance, with a very quiet Big Red and the hens eyeing him from a distance.  But no. Now it’s time to fly our dirty laundry. Continue reading 76 Trombones is all very well but . . ..

Publishing and Mother Hens

It’s humbling. I have to admit it. That I allowed myself to put a hen’s natural determination to be a mother over my own ethical concerns and moral waffling. Of course, I made feeble attempts to break her. I took away the eggs on which she sat. I opened the door so that the breeze might cool her ardor. But I didn’t have it in me to put her in a cage in the car and drive about on bumpy roads, nor to balance said cage on sawhorses so she would have nowhere to rest comfortably. Nor to stick her into a bucket of cold water. All those means to an end seemed brutish and traumatizing . . . to me if not the hen. Instead, I ordered four auto-sexed chicks and shoved a few wooden eggs under her, who looked startled, then nestled down more fulsomely to her duties. And I? I went to New York City to attend the IPPY Awards Ceremony.

IMG_2905I am an IPPY winner! I have silver seals! (Stickers, not marine animals.) And Bittersweet Manor looks quite spiffy with its new accoutrement.IMG_2900

While in the Big City, I also attended BEA (Book Expo America). Continue reading Publishing and Mother Hens

Bittersweet Manor’s First Anniversary and an Award!

ImageJust back from the happy, morning task of cleaning the chickens’ poop deck, I am here to announce that Bittersweet Manor is one year old! In celebration, and most conveniently, on May 27th, my novel will be awarded a Silver medal, an IPPY Award for Contemporary Fiction, from Independent Book Publishers. I ask: What could be a better birthday present?

Now, a few people have commented, “too bad you Continue reading Bittersweet Manor’s First Anniversary and an Award!