Friday, September 27, 2013

Of Music and Poetry and "Searchin' in the sun for another overload ..."

Usually, I don't care much for lyrics to a lot of songs I like.  I listen to the overall effect, and if the lyrics aren't too offensive, maudlin or repetitious, and I like the actual music, then I'll probably like the song itself.

The lyrics to this song also happen to be a beautiful poem about love and separation and day-to-day work: Jimmy Webb's Wichita Lineman. Instead of typing them out, I have a treat for you today.  This 2008 recording is one of my all-time favorite music videos: Glen Campbell performing it with The Stone Temple Pilots. Even though I loved Wichita Lineman back in the late '60s (I was thirteen when it came out,) the somewhat overproduced commercial version of it cannot compare to this one. This was recorded less than three years before Campbell revealed that he has Alzheimer's:

 Thank you, Holly Turkington, for hippin' me to this video last year!

Small, homely things—the most prosaic of jobs or circumstances, the most ordinary people, and the most mundane desires (a small vacation, in the case of the Wichita Lineman ...) are a thin veneer for what we all really want—to love and to be loved—for all time.

What are your favorite song lyrics?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Working In a Coffee Shop

Yesterday I critiqued a bunch of stuff in a coffee shop.  I drove to the local Starbucks, purchased my usual overpriced but delicious and addictive Chai Tea Latte, walked over to the brand new "long table," asked the kid sitting at one end doing her homework if she would mind if I sat at the other end (she said, "No, I don't mind,") plopped myself down in a chair, got out my clipboard, my pen and a piece of cardboard for underlining things, and got to work.

I loved it.

I go to Starbucks all the time, but I never sit there unless I'm meeting a friend.  I always see folks working in there, but it never occurred to me to that I could sit there and work.  Pretty funny, considering the banner I sport on this blog.

Over the course of the two-and-a-half hours I spent at "The Buckie" (as my friend Catherine likes to call it ... she refers to Dunkin' Donuts as "The Dunkie,") they played Blues, some New-Age-y mood stuff, and some pop over the sound system at just the right decibel level.

The customers played around the edge of my attention, too.  Bikers with a band came in for a Bikers With a Band meeting. (One of the bikers had a wicked southern accent ... he actually said "ghee-tar." And by "bikers," I mean the Harley-Davidson kind.)  Then a bunch of moms whose kids all go to the same dance studio came in; they were chatting about conventions and competitions and fundraisers.  Some more high school kids commandeered a table and chatted, texted and guffawed. Lots of people came in to order drinks.  It was like listening to a hybrid language invented solely for the purpose of providing a vocabulary for us entitled swillers of fancy hot beverages: "I'll have a triple, venti, half sweet, non-fat, Caramel Macchiato" or "Gimme a non-fat, extra hot, extra water Chai Tea Latte" (that one is me, only I never have to order it at my Starbucks.  The delightful staff always says, "Are you having your Chai?" and all I have to do is smile and nod ...) or "Hmm, how about a decaf Soy Latte with an extra shot and cream?"

The sun shifted.  It's late September here in New England and if you go somewhere at 3:30 p.m. and it gets around to being 6:00 p.m., the quality of the light will most definitely change as the sun starts to hang low in the sky.

One of the employees started sweeping.  I moved for him and he was so grateful.  Then he started mopping and I moved again. "Thank you so much.  That's so thoughtful!" he said.

I finished the last bit of critiquing for my every-other-Monday Writer's Workshop and gathered up my things.

There was something luxurious about leaving Starbucks and going directly to the workshop with my work done and enough time to get there easily.  No last minute "put-the-wash-in-the-dryer", "chop-veggies-for-family-stirfry", "answer-phone-as-I-dash-out-the-door-because-it-might-be-my-husband" or the dreaded "neighbor's-dog's-in-the-paddock-chasing-the-horses-around-oh-no-they're-gonna-kick-him-in-the-head." Nope. Just a cheery wave to the baristas as I shouldered my trendy messenger bag and, keys in hand, headed out to the car.

Tomorrow, I'm taking the plunge.  I'm gonna work on my WIP there.

I'm bringing the laptop.

Yup.  Make it a Venti. (Buckiespeak for BIG GULP.)

Thursday, September 19, 2013


(We had to do an exercise for the Granby Library Thursday Morning Writer's Group on music, and the one I wrote brought back such a powerful memory, I decided to post it.)

I disliked my third grade teacher, Mrs. Wolfe.  She didn’t like me, either.  I spent a good deal of time shut in the cloakroom or with my head on my desk during recess or held after school, all of which were standard punishments for an unruly eight-year-old in the school year of 1963-64.

But it wasn’t all bad.

We had Music every day. Mrs. Wolfe had a series of 45’s, each with samples of well-known themes from some important work of classical music.  Every week we heard five selections, and on Friday, there would be a quiz.  The quiz was simple; she played that week’s music selections and we would write down the name of the piece and its composer.  By age eight, I could spell “Mussorgsky” and “Tchaikovsky.”

I loved Music. I loved it even more than Reading, Writing, Vocabulary and Penmanship, which, until third grade, had been my favorite subjects. Mrs. Wolfe would close her eyes when the first notes of a sonata or an aria or a movement from a symphony would lift up to the high ceiling and swirl around against the walls and windows to finally swoop and skim along the boards of the old wood floor. When the listening part was over, she’d have us write out the name of the piece and the composer.  We did this every day.

Tuesday through Thursday, she would carefully raise and lower the needle on the record player, thereby changing the order of the music.  In this manner, we learned themes from the work of Bizet, Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven, Liszt, Bach, Haydn, Verdi, Copeland … and so many more.

One winter Monday, Mrs. Wolfe put the needle on the 45.  It crackled for a few seconds and then reality, as I knew it, was suspended; time and chalk dust and Presidents Washington and Lincoln and the Palmer handwriting strip and the blackboard and the American flag and the other children and Mrs. Wolfe … all of it folded in upon itself and in my line of sight the bare trees and the house-crowded horizon beyond the chain link fence beckoned— “Come away … this is not your true home ...” and my heart tightened with yearning and an unearthly feeling of loneliness.

But it was the beauty, the unutterable beauty, of Antonin Dvorak’s Largo from Symphony No. 9 that made me cry.

And when the last strains of the three minute sample faded and the feel of the tears on my cheek and the salt in the corner of my mouth brought me backembarrassed, Mrs. Wolfe was just opening her eyes.

Eyes that were filled with tears.

Monday, September 9, 2013


'Twas a dark and stormy night (for real)
And the wind was blowin' a gale (honest!)
And the Captain said to the First Mate (that's me ...)
Wife, are ye spinnin' a tale?
And this is the tale she told ... (to be continued on publication of first novel.)

So, I was actually working on my WIP (Lena Ladimer Chronicles: Bury the Dead) as the gale kicked up.  One minute, it's merely windy and the next- WOMPH!  The winds threw sheets of rain at the poor little cottage, and the ancient wooden structure creaked and moaned in protest. It was incomprehensible to me that electric service prevailed under the circumstances, but the lights merely flickered every now and then and I worked for quite a while. It turned out that this was a small gale with prevailing winds at 60 kilometers an hour.  A lot for our teeny cottage, though.

After a while, I began to feel small and exposed, sitting at my table in front of double windows with nature snarling and smacking to get in, armed with buckets of rain and sea.  Also, I was stuck. And fatigued.

It was a good time to go curl up in a blanket in a pool of light in the back corner of the cottage with Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel.  The protagonist, whose point of view is the lens through which the story is told, is Thomas Cromwell, and he is rendered a sympathetic but complicated character. In the last book, Wolf Hall, St. Thomas More (one of my favorite saints) comes across as a religious prig who likes to torture heretics, but the writing is transportive.  The writing is so good, in fact, that truth leaks out all over the place and Cromwell finds himself perpetually haunted by More, though this is not the premise of the book.  Ms. Mantel has done what most writers of historical fiction have failed to do; she has mustered the universality of human nature and the particulars of that period of history to give life and breath to her characters. Her fiction is far from dry and lacks none of the grittiness that comes across as anachronism and ideological cant (think Ken Follett, Phillipa Gregory, or the writers of HBO's The Tudors) that is the currency of some best-selling authors of the genre.

Alrighty, then.  Off to the Souris Visitor Centre to post this blog entry.  The quicker we get there, the quicker we get back for a blustery walk along the cape in bright sunshine.
Gale coming in (and we thought it was clearing!)

The morning after, seas are still pretty high.

At least the beach furniture was not taken by Davy Jones.  We are going to have to dig it out, though!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Lost in the WIP

For the first time in my writing life, I've been able to get lost in my work in progress. It drives home the fact that time is a gift, a gift that is finite and easily squandered. I know this is an enduring topic for me, but it's something I struggle with as I enter this new phase of my life.  Kids are grown and health of mind and body is a day-by-day proposition, a thing to be grateful for. I walked through the pioneer cemetery at St. Margarets a couple of days ago, and the average age of death back in the 1870's was late forties.  Ten years younger than I am now.

So how did I make the transition from my usual anxieties to getting lost in my work? How did this finally happen for me?

Well, I'm on Prince Edward Island and it's Semptember.  It's really quiet.  I'm at the cottage with my husband and he has his golf clubs and for rainy days, a volume of Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch mysteries. If he were a large cat, he'd be purring with contentment.  I'm only cooking for two, and I'm only doing half the cooking, at that.

In addition:
No internet.
If I want internet, I have to drive eleven miles and park myself in the Souris PEI Visitor's Centre.  When I'm there, I do "internetty" stuff (like posting this blog post which I composed in Notepad back at the cottage.)  I check my Facebook account (yes, I know ... after all my whining about Facebook, I reopened my account. More on that in a later post.) And I google stuff that happened to come up in the course of working on my WIP.

No NetFlix.
This is self-explanatory.

Incredible views from every window.
You'd think this would be distracting, but it's like balm to the mind and soul.  Tortured syntax unravels, clunky phrasing smooths itself out, writer's block tumbles like a house of cards.  God's handiwork is such an incredible and powerful example of cohesiveness, unity and meaning.  Oh, and did I mention beauty? Creation is God's utterance.  His only begotten Son is Word; it hit me like a ton of bricks that writing is the act by which we take dictation, pulling all manner of logos from that which surrounds us, creating stories from the rush and tumble of words.  God utters.  We write.
The Writing Corner
Long walks.
As the adage goes, "move a muscle, change a thought." When the phlegm of inactivity begins to settle, this writer often finds it in her brain.  There is nothing in this world to soothe the lymphatic system, the circulatory system and the central nervous system like a good tramp along the beach or up and down the dirt roads and grass paths that are such a part of this shoreline.
Bob Freeman, golfer and reader of mysteries and historical fiction and walking companion..
View from Route 16

Left off of Route 16 down to the cottage.

And finally, the WIP becomes the focus AND the distraction.
I don't think I've ever been in a position to be distracted by my own work when I can actually drop everything to do something about it. So much of my life is about returning phone calls, meeting obligations, trying to solve problems that require things I do not have, like money or a plane ticket.  When I say "drop everything" here, I'm talking about putting down a dish in mid-rinse or abandoning a pillow in mid-plump.

I may not be able to bring the ocean and the lovely isolation home with me, but I am getting as much done as I can, hoping that with every keystroke, I am internalizing the memory, the feeling of getting lost in the WIP.