Sunday, August 27, 2006

Writing Rituals

This has been a great week for me. One of my poems, Sex Ed, will be published in Jonathan K. Rice's Iodine Poetry Journal (Spring 2007 issue). I also found out I'm the local winner of the Raleigh Jaycees "Write Up" Contest. I wrote an essay of 500 words last month about writing and how my writing projects with the Jaycees has influenced participants. So I get to compete with the other finalists in Asheboro next Sat the 9th. I think it's a timed essay situation. Never been to Asheboro, so it should be something to blog about.

Also this week, my husband, Keith found this car keys that had been missing 7 days. Turns out our son scooped them off of the counter and hid them under the living room couch, where we never go. But, Daniel found the keys, so that was good.

Here are some rituals that may help you focus before you start writing:

Light a scented candle or incense
Listen to instrumental music
Wear a special outfit or hat
Brew up tea or coffee before you write
Read your favorite poems
Take a walk
Clear your desk of odds and ends
Take a few slow, deep breaths

In Light & Love,

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Body, Mind, Spirit Show

this is an audio post - click to play

This is a my little summary of the Body, Mind, Spirit Show Sat. Aug. 19th

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Tips for Writing Success

I'm hard at work on my thesis, detailing how first-year students can generate first drafts. I spent all of yesterday and the day before writing/revising my 8-pg syllabus.
Here's few tips for you writers out there that I'll share in my Prompt-writing workshop Wed. Sept. 27th at the Royal Bean Coffee Shop.

In a Writing Workshop, when your work is getting critiqued:

1) Listen to all comments -- take what you want from the group, but you're the final authority
2) Allow everyone to finish their comments, then feel free to respond
3) Take notes on your copy

When you Critique others:

1) Be respectful and courteous
2) Always begin with a positive
3) Flesh out your answers -- don't just say "I liked it" or "I didn't like the story" Explain what worked and what didn’t work for you

Revision is crucial
You can revise as you go or revise after you complete your draft
Revision helps you find the right word and "look again" at what you've written.

"The difference between the right word and the almost right word is like the difference between lightning and the lightning bug" — Mark Twain

Try to write in 15-minute increments. Have a piece of paper/pen handy in the car, bedroom, computer, kitchen, or bathroom so that when a great story idea hits, you'll be ready!

Start a notebook for freewriting and start a journal for your early drafts of your work

When you revise in fiction watch for:

Structure/flow: Don't take too long to get into the story. Need action early on.

Characterization: do we know the basics of the characters early on? Make the characters unpredictable.
Reveal your characters through their clothing, actions, dialogue, gestures, bodily reactions, values, and possessions (also valuable for creative nonfiction)

Characters must be credible and consistent (Sally Buckner)

Setting: readers need a sense of place to feel grounded

And also check to see if you have a(n):
Ending that resonates with the reader (not one that just stops!)
A plot twist that has some suspense

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Hikes

Day 5 -- July 20th
We had another solo breakfast (I loved the croissants) since we were the only guests staying at the Forest House Lodge, which was nice since the bathroom was not attached to the room (it said in the brochure private bath!)... this was a good thing since Keith could stand up and extend his arms to touch the walls. I exaggerate, but it was a tiny room with a double bed that wasn't the most comfortable, but still better than the Book & Blanket's bed.

The first hike: Snowy Mtn: 7.4 miles
We cruised down the road past Indian Lake and hiked up the muddy stream bed of Snowy Mountain. Very muddy and in one place, the foot bridge was 4 inches underwater. We only lost the trail once, but I found it again and then we made it up to the summit. This photo shows Keith overlooking Indian Lake and its little islands. There were lots of black flies and other flying pests, but my sunscreen/bug repellent helped (although it did make me break out in huge welts).

Up Snowy's Fire Tower
Fire towers exist to monitor forest fires and we'd never seen one before, much less climbed one in all of our hiking travels. Snowy's was bolted down into the granite, so it wouldn't topple in a strong breeze. The tower had stairs that were broken up into multiple landings, so the climb wasn't a big deal. We had lunch inside the tower, which was bug-free and when I sat down, I only saw clouds. Quite the peaceful setting. Keith found out he had cell phone reception! (we couldn't use our phones to call home while in Blue Mountain). He called in at the office and talked to one woman, but then he lost his signal. Lots of messages were scrawled into the steel like, "Seth Merklinger is a fag" and other people indicating their existence. While Keith was talking, I was pondering how to go about structuring my thesis curriculum, and in fact had thought about it all the way up the hike. I now had a plan! I just have to write it (my problem this week).

We descended and cooled off at the Blue Mountain Lake beach. The water was so clear and cold when you first jump in. There was a diving platform and swimming lanes -- we vowed to come back after the Blue Mountain hike, so we could scrub the dirt off before we drove south to East Greenbush near Albany.

Day 6 Blue Mountain Hike -- 4 miles
I thought this hike would be a snap becaue of its length, but it kicked my butt. First of all, my boots kept slipping on the sheer rocks of the stream bed, and second of all, the rocks were all pointy. Going up wasn't a problem, but I wasn't looking forward to the descent. My legs were sore from Snowy and I proceeded to get more sore as we climbed higher. Nothing to see but forest, forest and rock, rock. After a sweaty climb, we made it up to the Blue Mountain Fire Tower, but this one was closed and we couldn't see the views because of the fog. Darn!

I changed out of my T-shirt and took a few deep breaths, preparing for the down-climb. As predicted, I slipped and prevented about 105 disasters, while Keith wondered what was taking me so long. The rock did win, when we were almost at the end. I cut up the heel of my left hand (I still have a mark a month later) and used an old napkin in my shorts pocket to staunch up the blood. The lake swim made up for this hateful hike, and then we were on the road again.

We found East Greenbush pretty easily after a two-hour ride and I noticed how stairs were a problem for me, both up and down. We swam again in the hotel's pool and my wedding band slipped off, but I recovered it without a problem. We had to rack up our swimming time because at home we don't belong to a pool and our friends have stopped inviting us to theirs (why is this?) After pool time, we delayed our Cracker Barrel dinner to watch "Death on Everest," all about the fateful May 6th, 1996 climb that Krakauer made into his book. It was fascinating stuff and I wish I had time to read "Into Thin Air" -- Please comment if you've read it.

We drove back to Long Island the next day and we were shocked by gas prices -- in CT, the prices were $3.40! After not finding any gas in the Bronx, we finally found a place 1 mile from JFK, but then adjacent to Hertz there was a gas station with reasonable prices.

What I learned on this year's trip
  • My body is not used to fruit
  • My hiking boots don't do downhills
  • I don't do well in busy New York traffic while Keith's driving
  • Sunscreen/bug lotion combos make huge pimples on my chest, neck and back
  • Pedestrians don't have the right of way in Saratoga Springs
  • Many Adirondack trails are in danger of being permanently damaged because of overuse. I wonder way NY hasn't implemented a permit system, because one's sorely needed to limit trail wear and tear!
  • We sleep better in a queen-sized bed
  • If your Advantix camera conks out on you, yet still advances, it's already dead (Yes, I wasted a whole role of film thinking my camera was still working and it wasn't)

Well, this concludes my Adirondack travel blogs -- hope you had fun reading about our trip.

Till next time!


Yoga Mind, Yoda Body

In August, Jenny and I always go to The Mind, Body, Spirit Expo at the NC State Fairgrounds in the Kerr Scott Building. Jenny is a Republican who believes in Reiki. I am a Democrat who believes in hedging my bets. I am as spiritual as the next person. Oh, okay. As superstitious as the next person. But I have a baseline skepticism I find it difficult to move past. My mind is open, but not enough to let the cat out.
Since I returned from England not quite a month ago, I have been more or less on vacation until classes resume at State on August 23rd. I’ve been using this time to read books I won’t be tested on, watch escapist videos, have coffee with friends, work in the yard and purge my bedroom and desk area of junk. My friend Mickey and I agreed to be fitness partners and get into shape by walking three miles, three times a week at Carmichael Gym. He is gorgeous, but wants to lose some weight and I want to lose some weight, gain some energy and pretend walking will make me gorgeous. He is my very good friend so he pretends with me. Or did until, one week into our program he reached down to pick up a piece of paper and threw his back out. He drives three miles to see the chiropractor three times a week. I told him that when his back is better, yoga or tai chi will be integrated into our weekly routine so that he doesn’t keep jamming himself up. In anticipation of his healing, I have returned to taking yoga classes at the YMCA after a lapse of 2 years. I can appreciate the flexibility and relaxation that yoga provides. I invited my daughter, Phoebe to come with me.
“You could reach Nirvana,” I told her. “You could find Enlightenment.”
“I could be on the couch with a bag of chips,” she said.
My friend Lucy and her son Ethan came with me.
“Think about why you are here today,” Graham, the yoga instructor advised, as he sat on his mat folding his fair-trade fabric legs into what I think was Lotus. I folded myself into Wilted Camellia.
“My goal,” I said, “is first to do no harm.” Meaning I didn’t want to hurt myself trying to achieve Horse Swimming Through Swift River pose.
Graham smiled his yogic Mona Lisa smile. “Ahimsa,” he informed me. “Very good.”
In the darkened room with flutes warbling and chimes tinkling on the CD player, Graham led 20 of us through a variety of balance, strengthening, opening, and flexibility poses. Each pose seemed to be punctuated by Down Dog. Down Dog is to yoga what pasta is to Italian food. Vanessa, to my left was a 20 year old AKC registered Down Dog with the symbol for Om tattooed on her right shoulder blade. She probably has a microchip in her neck so she can be returned to the ashram if she gets lost. She grimaced in very Western contempt when I couldn’t do Crow Eating an Insect. She probably thought I was leaking polluted chi and it might get on her hand silk-screened mat. I hated her. When Graham told us to visualize inhaling light through our left nostrils and exhaling any tensions or emotional sludge out through our right nostrils, I built a dam around my aura so Vanessa would be caught barefoot in my root chakra sewage. Finally, we did the pose where you lie on your back, pull your knees to your chest, grab your ankles and rock around your sacrum. I don’t remember the name for it---Sandinista? I always think of it as June Bug on its Back. I love June Bug on its Back. From the bug Graham directed us to settle into Corpse Pose. I did this much better than Vanessa because I am over twice her age and came in the room at least half way there. Graham tiptoed on little cat feet between the mats and dabbed our temples with sage oil and ylang-ylang or something. All the while he was crooning about world peace and inner peace and channeling energy yada, yada, yada. An earnest young man in his early thirties who has a political science degree from Duke.
Ethan and I gently held hands across the 3 inches of indoor/outdoor carpet that separated our mats. I felt contentment settle on my abdomen like my pet guinea pig Buster. I shine at Corpse Pose. Gradually, Graham had us roll on to our right sides and push ourselves up slowly with our left palms to a sitting position. Just as the nurses at Rex Hospital had me do after Dr. Manley removed my gallbladder. The gallbladder resides somewhere in the vicinity of the Manipura or “jewel city” chakra. It is the seat of willpower, which would explain why, since I had my gallbladder removed I cannot stop eating and need to go walking with Mickey.
When we sat facing him, Graham pressed his palms over his heart, thanked us for our attendance and mindfulness. He wished us a peaceful week and bowed, saying, “Namaste.”
“I like how I feel after yoga,” I confessed to Lucy and Ethan as we drove home from the Y. “But while I’m doing it I am bored out of my mind.”
Ethan popped a gum bubble. “That’s the point, isn’t it?”
“Being bored?”
“No,” Lucy said. “To stop multitasking. To monotask. Just do yoga.”
“Was I multitasking in yoga?” I asked her.
Having just heightened my intuition, I could sense her rolling her eyes even though she was driving and I was in the back seat viewing only her short salt and pepper hair.
“Duh. You brought a pocket notebook and a pen.”
I assumed the defensive pose of the Killer Bee. “Hey! I put them in my shoe with my socks.”
“Yes,” she said slowly. “But you brought them with you to the yoga room.”
“Oh,” I said.
I did feel taller after our session with Graham. Flexibility and Enlightenment might take a little longer. My date to go to the Body, Mind, Spirit Expo next weekend with Jenny will give me a head start before Mickey comes back.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

To the Heart of the Adirondacks

Day 4 -- Central Adirondacks
Wed. July 19th
We did not have a great night at the Book & Blanket due to the fan's poor air circulation, but at least the temperature did cool down a little at night. Breakfast was quite sumptuous with blueberry pancakes/crepes and fruit salad. We ate alone since Kathy and Fred prepare breakfast when their guests want it; not the other way around. Then we were off to the Ausable Chasm ("Casm" you don't pronounce the "H" -- maybe everyone knows that except me).

In the Chasm
We opted to go on the river "white water" tour, knowing full well that the white water would be like pond water. It was but that's OK. Dylan paddled us down the river and we helped him navigate the 2 seconds of "rapids". The website offers tubing for the adventurous visitor -- I mean, how slow can a tube go down this river? We saw one woman tubing and thought she should have brought a paddle. I think the scariest parts were climbing down the metal steps to get into the Gorge and how bad my Birkinstocks smelled after the boat ride.

The Chasm was founded 400 years ago by Samuel de Champlain and the gorge was formed 500 million years ago. The best part of the Chasm is going down to the Gorge via steps and walking along the river to see the old rock formations.

We bought Daniel a black bear (later christened Yogi) at the gift shop and headed south to Blue Mountain Lake.

Blue Mountain

The road to Blue Mountain was wavy and almost made me sick the way Keith drove -- so I reluctantly put away my book. We had sandwiches at the Long Lake Diner after passing nothing on the way there -- just woods, a little gas place and a bar/convenience store combo with motorcycles out front.

Then we stopped at the Adirondack Museum, which is actually 10 museums in one and a must-see for anyone who visits the Adirondacks.

  • The Canoe Museum -- We first stopped at the canoe museum and chatted with a volunteer interpreter who explained that a hand-built canoe takes 9 months; a baby! We also saw canoes with sails.
  • The Rustic Privy -- a couple of kids, 10 and 12, didn't know what it was! And the outhouse was a double-seater. Now how would this work?!
  • The restored rooms. Some were rustic and some were very ornate with fine woodworking and glasswork. Lots of chamberpots next to the beds and I was relieved to find out they came with lids (I always wondered how they kept the room from stinking)
  • The One-room schoolhouse --Built in 1907, our volunteer interpreter lamented the fact that parents aren't taking kids to museums anymore and when this happens, kids don't know any history (and they don't find out what outhouses look like). The school room chalk board had 'riting and 'rithmatic on it in traditional cursive and on the desks were the leather-bound McGuffy Readers. A riff: My grandpa gave me a set when I was about 9 and they were the worst; all full of moral and Christian imagery. I remember looking at the drawings and that was about it. They were very dry and made kids out to be bad and how kids needed proper schooling and discipline in order to find the "right path". Ugh. I remember this one story where a girl has a fight with her sick mother and the girl goes away angry from the house. When she gets back, the mother has died. What a horrible story! I guess it's supposed to teach kids not to argue with their sick parents because, who knows, they could die! End of riff. And the volunteer was doing a lot of side-research to find out more about how the children and teachers went about their daily business and she's trying to locate alumni who were children in the 30s and 40s to come speak at the 100-year anniversary.

We found our B&B: The Forest House Lodge and met our hostess, Ann La Forest who showed us where the public swimming areas were and where our hiking trails started. We picked up our sandwich-making material at the Indian Lake Grocery Store and had dinner at this Mexican place which was quite good. I felt ready for our Snowy Mountain hike tomorrow -- it was a mere 7.4 miles!

Next time: Up Snowy and Blue Mountain (the conclusion of my trip postings)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Northern Adirondacks

Day Three July 19th

Next on the itinerary was Jay, NY and possibly Lake Placid. We cruised down I-87 and found the humble hamlet of Jay rather quickly. There was nothing there, except a post office and a crafts store and the town just before it , Ausable Forks, at least had one or two restaurants. What made Ausable Forks special was that the Ausable River flowed off to the left side of the road and it looked larger than a tubing river, but a little too calm for white-water. It made you look and want to take pictures.
At the Jay B&B -- the Book and Blanket -- we met our host, Fred, who is a freelance medical writer. He told us that Leonard Bernstein's brother had stayed there while he was doing research on James Thurber, who had lived in the town (a nook in the dining room is named after Thurber).

The Jay Book & Blanket
Our room was the Jack London room and it didn't have A/C -- just a tall floor fan. But, it did have a big bathroom where I could lay out all of my stuff (that's important). I've read a few of London stories in middle school, but once I learned he was a racist (he reported on Jack Johnson during Johnson's prime) -- I was done with him. He died very young due to kidney failure after years of punishing his body and he left his 2 daughters and his wife for a slightly older woman who became his life partner and they did travel and writing together (well, he wasn't all that bed). The room, of course, had about 20 books on London, along with a snow shoes and other rustic Adirondack "stuff". But no A/C -- whoops, did I already say that?

John Brown's Farm
We left Fred for Lake Placid -- the site of 2 Olympics 1932 and 1980. Near Lake Placid is the John Brown farm, which Brown purchased and tried to have free blacks run, but the farm and the project were both failures. His wife and kids (the ones who weren't in his famous raid) ran everything, but the soil was poor and the farm was soon abandoned. Keith took some nice shots of the farmhouse. Near the farmhouse is the grave that Brown shares with most of the 21 Harper's Ferry arsensal raiders. Sheridan Leary is one of them. Leary was Langston Hughes's maternal grandmother's first husband and he was 24. The former Mrs. Leary would place her dead husband's shawl over young Langston every night before he went to sleep -- talk about having to fulfill a legacy! But Hughes did through his remarkable poetry. We didn't visit the museum in the farmhouse because it was closed that day, so we shooed the obnoxious black flies away and drove off to see Lake Placid.

Lake Placid
This famous Olympic town has a very cozy main street which juts up against Mirror Lake (we didn't have a chance to see the real Lake Placid). The Olympic Stadium has a lot of flags out front and even has real snow by the main flagpole. Keith thought it was too touristy, but I thought everyone was tasteful -- reminded me a bit of Sedona -- lots of visitors, but the visitors are cool and the townspeople are welcoming. Lots of bars, shops, bookstores, and coffee shops. In one of the bookstores, we learned about the "Lady in the Lake". This woman was found in 1982 perfectly preserved at the bottom of Lake Placid, but she had died 30 years before. I guess that lake is pretty cold.

And there's even a multiplex on Main Street. After dinner at the Adirondack Brewing Co (we qualified for the Early Bird Special at 5:29 pm), we saw "An Inconvenient Truth". Our first movie together since March. Every year on our vacation, we hope to catch a movie and this year was a good one. Al Gore got personal and we found out that his older sister died of lung cancer (the Gores ran a tobacco farm in TN). Everyone should see this movie -- Comment and tell me if you've seen it~ It was so persuasive. Made me shut down my computer at night.