Thursday, March 23, 2006

Early Morning Musings

It is an early morning writing session for me today. I woke up at 5:45 a.m. and decided not to try to go back to sleep because I had to get Victoria up at 6 a.m. Maybe I will catch a few more winks after she gets on the school bus at 6:45 a.m., we will see. I have a lot to do today.

Tomorrow morning, my writers’ group is meeting at my house. Tomorrow night, my family is going to see a performance of Riverdance at the Wortham Center in Houston. Very exciting. And Saturday morning Tori and I are going to Girl Scout camp for a weekend campout. I have to buy groceries for our troop. So I have quite a lot to do to get ready for these exciting events.

It is different from the Studio Center now that I am back home, that is for sure. I find myself waiting a little too long to get started on things because I have forgotten how much time everything takes. Or I have forgotten I have to do something to make certain, for example, that there is food in the house to cook. How easy and wonderful it was to have all those items taken care of, even if I did not get to pick the menus!

My office/studio is functioning quite well. My friend, Karen Smith, suggested that I have some ritual that would signal my “arrival” at work. A good idea. At Christmas, my writing colleague Zoe Nonemaker knit everyone in the Friday Morning Writers’ Group a scarf with beaded ends. It has become my writing scarf – I wore it everyday in Vermont while working on the book. So I have decided that when I put the scarf on, I am at work and no longer responsible for household tasks. It is very liberating.

Michael and I recently heard from an old friend, Dale Swoboda. Dale stood up for Michael at our wedding and we lost touch about 25 years ago. It was a surprise and a treat to hear from him. He found us on the internet – of course – and I suppose I could find most anyone from my past there if I tried hard enough. And if the person had an internet footprint, like a blog or website. Women friends are harder because they often change their names.

I dislike that, yet I did the same thing in my second marriage (to Michael). It was a pragmatic decision and I do not regret it. Devereux is a very classy name, even if just a peasant Irish one, and easier on the tongue than Gustafson, which is my maiden name (and peasant Swedish).

This is a rambling post today. Perhaps because it is 6:21 a.m. and my focus is not red-hot. I would like to get back to posting more regularly, so I may have to work on developing some cause to energize my messages. I do not see myself as a pundit, so do not expect anything political. All I could produce in that area would be rants against the Republican establishment. I feel like I am back in 1968, which is the year I went to college. Antiestablishmentarianism. That is a word that we used to make jokes about spelling when I was a kid. Did not really know what it meant then, although I do now. I had not thought of it for years.

The other day, NPR’s All Things Considered did a piece on constructed words. For a lark, they asked the audience to make up a word to describe the condition when you are about to sneeze but you do not. I thought of a great word, but I never got around to sending it in. So I am going to share it here. My word is SNIZZLE (a sneeze that fizzles). Makes me smile every time I say it.

If you do prayers, say one for my best friend Ann. She lives in Minneapolis, in case you do directional prayer work. Ann is having a very hard time with serious family issues and with finances. She has maintained a very positive attitude – better than I could have done – and is working very hard to handle the problems, but she needs more than she can provide for herself right now. So say a prayer for her. Or two or three. Thank you.

Now I will go. It’s 6:30 a.m. and Tori is prowling around, bugging me a little because she’s ready for school but it’s too early to leave and she wants company. I had better go be a mom.


Monday, March 13, 2006

Home Again

Home Again

It has been hard to write my coming home post. Not because I am sad to be home, but because I needed time to process the changes in my environment and life.

Texas is beautiful. It is spring here in a way that it won’t be in Vermont for two more months. The air is warm and moist, enough so that we turned the air conditioning on last night. That probably seems excessive to those of you who live up North, but trust me, we weren’t being wusses! Of course, since we turned it on the weather has cool down. I actually put on a sweatshirt jacket this evening.

The deciduous trees have begun to green up ever so slightly. They have a haze of yellow green around them like an aura. If you get up close, you can see the tiny leaves beginning to bud out. The pine trees are dropping pollen. Our cars, which we park near a great big pine tree in our front yard, have a golden sheen. Thankfully, no one at our house has pine allergies; people who do are all miserable right now.

The very best tree in Houston in the spring is the Mountain Laurel. Vivid purple flowers cover them, tiny blossoms that smell like heaven. I haven’t gotten close enough to one yet this year to inhale its perfume, but I plan to. Along with the sweet smell, Mountain Laurels also offer a distinctive sound – the buzz-buzz-buzzing of bees in the flowers.

One of my neighbors has a big Mountain Laurel in their backyard that I see from my kitchen window. The Mountain Laurel is my favorite tree. My favorite bush is the forsythia. It has gorgeous yellow flowers. What can I say? I am a sucker for flowering trees and shrubs.

Mountain Laurel Aside: I tried to grow a Mountain Laurel, but failed. They require special soil amendments. I can’t remember at the moment if it’s alkali or acid, but it is the same as azaleas. I did amend the soil for the little tree I planted. That didn’t seem to do the trick. Although the neighbor boys playing soccer and running over it probably didn’t help. Even when I put a fence around the tree, it just didn’t thrive. I got one season’s worth of seedpods before the tree died, which I harvested. I’ve been thinking about trying to grow one from seed. We’ll see.

Now, back to Vermont. My month at the Vermont Studio Center changed me as a writer by giving me the opportunity to focus on and refine my studio practice. This is such an important concept, yet something I never consciously thought about or ever discussed with anyone. Many artists at the Studio Center talked about their studio practice. We had one talk – by Brenda Hillman – about how her spiritual practice and studio practice intersect. The topic fascinated me. I had already concluded before I went to VSC that I needed a private space for my work. Now I understand why.

A place to create and time to create. Have your tools ready to go so that when you sit down, the work can flow out of you. That’s how I wrote over 40,000 words during my four weeks at VSC. I just kept sitting down to work at a desk that had all my tools ready to go. Is it that simple? I’m going to find out, aren’t I?

There is more to say about VSC and about being home. I will try to get it all said, although not tonight. I decided that my first week back would be transitional and that I would get back to my writing practice the second week. Today is the first day of the second week and I showed up at my new studio space ready to work. I am proud of myself for that. A small victory.

I also promised myself that I would get to bed at a reasonable time at night so that I could get up in the mornings and get to work, so now I will bid you adieu.


Thursday, March 02, 2006

Anti-Climax at VSC

Today is anticlimactic. Everything is boxed up and ready to go except for last minute toiletries and pjs. UPS has probably picked up my box by now - I had to have it ready to go by 12:30 p.m. After lunch, I helped Rebecca in the Development Office, reviewing one last time the package for the NEA Grant that I wrote during my work exchange. Then I printed out my manuscript. Most of it. I had a few little glitches, but I would say I have 90% of the document ready to read on the plane tomorrow.

Many people have already left, everyone else is getting ready to go. It is a lot of work for the artists, more so than the writers. Tonight we may go to Morrisville to see The Pink Panther. A nice transition to reality and an antidote to boredom.

Boredom is an unexpected experience at VSC. I have been so focused and busy with my writing, plus the various evening activities around the Studio Center, that I never had time for ennui. But I don't want to work on the manuscript until I get home again and most of my toys are packed up and shipped off. So, it is the movies for me!

Last night we had Open Studio again. It delighted me to see what wonderful creations the artists made during their time here. So much diversity of form and expression. It inspires me!

There are no profound thoughts or great ideas from me today, just thankfulness that I experienced this month at VSC and hopefulness that it will happen again someday.


Vermont Studio Center Day 24

Vermont Studio Center
Day 24

Today is Wednesday, March 1, 2006. I have two more nights to spend at the Studio Center. My weeks here have been prolific and rewarding. The artists and writers who gathered here are thoughtful and talented people whose conversation I have enjoyed and whose work I have admired.

My writing progressed dramatically during my stay. I came with 4,100 coherent words and m leaving with over 45,000. The incoherent words shall remain uncounted! The encouragement I received from people who heard me read has been heartwarming and I feel more like a writer than ever in my life.

The concept of studio practice is probably the most important thing I gained while at VSC. The idea that one needs – no, deserves – a place to do one’s creative work and a routine for doing it everyday has been drummed into me by the success of having it and doing it. The artists speak quite a bit about studio practice. It is not something I have heard from writers in my acquaintance. Maybe I have just missed it. Maybe it is a fresh idea for us. Regardless, applying the studio practice concept has done wonders for my writing.

It is likely I will not post again from Vermont for a long while. Perhaps I will be here again, though. I hope to finish the writing and move on to the revisions in few months. I believe I will need another residency to complete my final draft before submitting the book for publication.

Wish me well. The working title of my book is The Requirements of Love. I am also considering The Measure of Last Resort. Perhaps it will be something altogether different. However, it will be a book – you just watch for it and buy one when it comes out!

Ciao from maple syrup country.

PS Montreal – I went to Montreal, Quebec on Saturday, February 25 with friends Barbara Israel ad Susanne Nestory. They are both wonderful painters. Barbara paints realistic scenes with great beauty and insight; Susanne paints abstracts that are marvelous studies in color and contour. I recommend the work of both artists. I will try to find web sites to refer you to for each of them. While in Montreal, we saw the Musee des Beaux Arts – such a beautiful museum! We also ate dinner at the Winston Churchill Pub. We enjoyed a splendid day and evening.