Tag Archives: life

1976, third grade, a sponge nose and golf

This is a Fourth of July story. Well, it happened a little before the Fourth of July, but it was 1976, the year America celebrated its bicentennial, 200 years as a nation. That theme permeated everything from the start of that year up until Independence Day. As a third grader, it just seemed like one big exciting party with everything colored red, white and blue.

In school, to highlight the history of our nation, my third grade teacher-I’ll call her Mrs. R-came up with the idea of having us do a play where all the kids played some key figure from American history, figures such as George Washington, Betsy Ross, Susan B. Anthony, Abraham Lincoln and more. There were more than 20 of us and there had to be enough parts for everyone. I, of course, wanted to be Betsy Ross. I dreamed of it, hoped and prayed and thought about it day and night until the parts were handed out.

The catch, and in my life there was always a catch: Mrs. R despised me and I despised her. I’m certain I was a constant source of frustration for her. I rarely completed my work. School was torture. I often disappeared into the worlds in my head as Mrs. R went on and on about the assignments I couldn’t keep up with or cared less about. I couldn’t keep track of what was left and right let alone figure out times tables and phonics. Mrs. R yelled at me frequently. It didn’t help. In fact, it more often than not made things worse. I was less apt to want to finish things. I was more apt to go deeper into the more pleasant imaginative world in my head. Eventually, she became so frustrated she began nitpicking at little things that really weren’t things that I necessarily did wrong. Once when I was in reading group reading aloud and using a bookmark and my index finger at the same time to keep my place as I went along she yelled at me to use only one, either the bookmark or the finger.

Still, I wanted to be Betsy Ross. I knew it was a long shot and it was indeed the last thing Mrs. R was going to do. In fact, nearly all the parts were doled out before I was given a choice. I was left with what everyone in my class saw as the bottom of the barrel. Everyone wanted those juicy historical characters we’d read about and drawn pictures of in class. Bob Hope wasn’t in the history books. He was a guy we saw on TV. Sure, he was funny, but he just wasn’t historical enough at the time to be cool for our class. Plus, I am a girl and I was as girly girl as they come. I wanted to wear period clothing and have a bunch of key lines.

It wasn’t meant to be, and when I went to tell my mom I was Bob Hope for my third grade class play about America’s bicentennial year, she must have sensed my disappointment. She always sensed when teachers weren’t working in the best interest of her kids. Of course that unnerved her to her core. She’s Sicilian and Sicilians are funny about their pride and their children. My mom didn’t fight her children’s battles by arguing or confronting those who wronged them. No, she saw it more fitting to one-up those who saw the worst in her children. My mom dove into making me the most convincing Bob Hope a third grade girl could be. She found some old golf get-up of my dad’s, tailored it to fit me, and carefully cut a likeness of Bob Hope’s distinctive nose from a sponge. The sponge nose was taped over my nose. My hair was pulled back, I was given one of my dad’s old golf clubs and viola! I was Bob Hope.

I did have a line. At some point in the play, maybe it was the end-I’d like to think I had the last word anyway-I said with as much enthusiasm as I could muster, “Golf, anyone? Anyone for golf?”

So, on this holiday, even though I don’t play golf, I say, Golf, anyone? Anyone for golf?

Football, fall and the wonderful women in my life

Jay's UM hat.

Jay’s UM hat.

It’s Sunday again and I am posting again. It’s a miracle. I know it’s not officially fall, but what marks the beginning of fall in our house more than the autumnal equinox is the first Saturday kick-off at the Big House (University of Michigan Stadium). While I could really care less about U of M football (and the fact that they killed my alma mater Central Michigan University yesterday), what I enjoy is that reason it gives for us to gather with our good friends. My husband, Jay, and his friends (nearly all of whom he’s known since high school or middle school) all attended U of M. They now all attend all of the U of M home games. The wives hang back at someone’s house nearby, have cocktails and chat while the kids run and play.

Ideally, we should gather other times. Sometimes we do. We are all good friends, however, most likely because football brought us together. I met all these women through my husband. I love my husband. It’s an extra bonus that all his friends’ significant others are such wonderful people. I’m blessed in that I’ve gotten to know them over the years and football season is really the impetus for that. In fact, at yesterday’s tailgate we were laughing about the first time I experienced a football Saturday with the gang. It was an away game, so everyone gathered at what was just Jay’s house at the time to watch the ever heated annual battle between University of Michigan and Ohio State. I hadn’t moved in yet. University of Michigan lost. The guys were none too happy and a television controller happened to slip out of my husband’s hand and crash against a wall. No worries. The television controller is the only football casualty I’ve witnessed to date. Well, a few UM baseball caps have been hurled violently to the ground, but nothing more. Still, the passion for their team is what brings us together. It was bringing the gang together long before I came into the picture, and it has continued to bring everyone together for the past nine years that I’ve been with my husband. I probably wouldn’t have gotten a chance to know these women the way I have if we hadn’t spent many long leisurely Saturday afternoons going to parks, shopping, playing badminton, among other things, while our male counterparts baked in the sun or sat in the rain or cold watching UM football.

My immediate family lives an ocean away or at the very least many states away. My friends from previous lives are scattered as well. These women are the family I have here. So, as much as I might grumble that the chaos of football season has begun. It can get chaotic when there are three home games in a row (eight home games total) and the events of those days take up the one down day left in the week. Still, I appreciate the lasting friendships that my husband has built with his friends, and I appreciate that consequently I have built lasting friendships as well. These are the women I am blessed to have in my life. These are the women that make me grateful that University of Michigan football really means the start of fall in our family. A friend of mine gave me a sign that I hang in the house in the fall. It reads “We interrupt this family for football.”

Yes, we do interrupt this family for football. I am so happy for the interruption. I’m so happy to have these lovely days to spend with the wonderful women in my life.

Revision is like a red tree with a few hammers thrown

I have written in the past about the little red-leafed Japanese maple that sits outside my writing corner window. The tree has been a constant inspiration with its deep merlot-colored leaves. Last year, the tree contracted a fungus and the leaves on much of it withered and died. Limbs became brittle. I sprayed some homemade


concoction on it, but I had to trim and one day I got our dull clippers out and began trimming. My neighbor saw me standing perplexed in front of the tree as I contemplated how to get the higher most affected limbs. Thankfully, he (the guy on the street with all the great lawn maintenance gadgets) had a clipper with an extended handle that he’d just found at a garage sale. We trimmed and trimmed and trimmed until the tree looked sad and bare, much like the little Charlie Brown Christmas tree we all know so well. I wondered if my beloved tree would ever be the tree it had been with its full canopy of vibrant colored leaves. This year, to my delight, the tree was once again filled with its beautiful leaves. It looks full and healthy, though I am keeping an eye on things to make sure the fungus truly is gone.

What does this little tree have to do with writing and revising? Since I’m in the throes of yet another revision on this beast of a novel that I started more than a decade ago, I see the tree as a metaphor for this process. The cutting and reshaping of the tree reminds me of the cutting and reshaping of this novel. It is agonizing at times. Like with the tree, I wonder if the cutting might actually ruin the novel
. I fear too much cutting would. As with trimming trees, in writing you have to find a balance between cutting away the stuff that is wild and no good and not cutting away the whole story altogether. That is where the hidden treasure is I presume. Sometimes, it takes a whole season to see the results of all the agonizing trimming, to see that the results are truly stunning. So, here I go. I trim and shape and hopefully by the end of summer I will have my novel shaped and ready to go. I’m sure it won’t be without heartache. I’ve been trying to get through the first two chapters over the past month, and there has been a lot of heartache. My husband likes to measure the frustration of projects in “hammers thrown,” not literal hammers thrown, but figurative hammers thrown. The more frustrating the project, the more figurative hammers thrown. With this revision, I would say there are already a good 50 hammers thrown. Ah, well it’s time to get back to trimming, shaping, and throwing a few more hammers.

I will be 45, not 29

From a walk in the woods the week before my 45th birthday.

From a walk in the woods the week before my 45th birthday.

In two days, I will be 45. I am not 29. I was 29 once. I don’t want to keep being 29. I’m 45, or almost 45. I have creases at the corners of my eyes. There are lumps and bumps and sagging places on my body. All of that is because I have lived nearly 45 years. I have lived, sometimes not the way I thought I would, sometimes exactly as I had always pictured it. It all has gone as it has gone. I don’t want to keep being 29. I want to be 45. I want to be 46. I want to be 47 and so on and so on, as long as I can. For now, I’m almost 45 and it’s all been beautiful to this point.

I think of my favorite line from Doctor Who. My kids will laugh at this. I’m an obsessed Doctor Who fan, or Whovian is a fan term I’ve run across, for no other reason than for the imaginative story telling…and the characters…and the monsters…well, you get the idea. In essence, I most appreciate the writers. In this case, for this quote from the episode “Vincent and the Doctor“, the nod goes to Richard Curtis. Anyway, when Amy Pond laments the fact that she and the Doctor couldn’t change the course of Vincent Van Gogh’s life, even after carting him to the future in the TARDIS to see how important he became, the Doctor tells her, “The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice-versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things and make them unimportant.” As the daughter of a painter and the granddaughter of an artisan shoemaker, I loved the “Vincent and the Doctor” episode most. I loved the idea, even in pretend, that Vincent could get a chance to see what he gave the world.

But, this post isn’t about Doctor Who. This post is about life and birthdays and about how that line from Doctor Who resonates so deeply in my life. It’s about how life, my life, is all one big messy ball with frayed strands of disheveled threads hanging everywhere, but it’s a beautiful ball nonetheless. I can’t help it. I can’t make excuses. I can only say that’s the way it is and I would gladly have more. Even on the worst of the worst days, I would gladly have more. Perhaps we won’t make as profound an impact as Vincent. Perhaps we will. The point is we can’t know. We can’t go and see. Somewhere, though, for someone, we still exist. We still make an impact, but we do it for celebrating what is now. We do it by celebrating this wild and crazy beautiful life with all these disheveled diversions. As much as I might whine about them, I love them. I would not change them. I wouldn’t even ask the Doctor to change them.

So on Saturday, toast 45 with me, toast your own age, toast the lines and the sags and the bad and, most of all, the good. It’s what we have. It’s what we’ve earned. It’s all very, very important. Someone might even say it’s the most important thing in the whole universe.

Process, writing groups and reviving this blog

Ice on my morning walk. I feel like I can see the universe in it.

Ice on my morning walk. I feel like I can see the universe in it.

I have been inconsistent with this poor blog. Chalk it up to an overload of classes (the never ending plight of an adjunct instructor) and the constant running that comes with having teenagers. Oh, there is also my guilty pleasure–a little Doctor Who. I am going to try to be more consistent, though.

As a fledgling writer I am trying hard to encapsulate an hour here and an hour there for some novel and short story revision. It’s at a point where I have some sparks of ideas, but I can’t really give them a lot of attention until the other projects are cleared away. That would be part of my own process. It has taken me this long to figure out that I have to work out my own process. These books that tout certain processes of writing as “the optimal” processes are lying. There is no one process fits all. Each writer has his or her own approach. Those approaches are as vast as the universe.

My process is scattered. Some days the best work I do is while sitting on my couch in my writing room. Some days I do my best work at a cafe. The most important thing is to be reading and writing at least a little bit most days. I write this to tell myself that as much as anything. So, to revive this blog I’ll share my trials and tribulations of living the writing life, as I have been doing all along, and I’ll bring in a bit of discussion on what I have been reading. In addition, I’ll share the images I get on my contemplative walks, another key part to my writing process.

My latest trial and tribulation of the writing life has been trying to find a writing group that I feel comfortable with. I had a perfect group, the Sistah Scribes, a while back. I loved the Sistahs. I grew with the Sistahs, but a we all scattered to different regions about the time I started grad school and couldn’t really commit to the time. After grad school, I wanted to find another group. I wanted to continue the momentum of growth that grad school gave me. Finding the right writing group is not easy. I was misled with how easily the Sistahs formed and gelled so well.

That’s not to say I haven’t gotten anything from the groups I have visited. I have. I’ve met some great people. There are ultimately either scheduling conflicts or the group is too big or it’s online or…or….or. Well, I’m giving it another shot. This time, though. We are forming organically as off-shoots of other groups, a little like the Sistahs did, so it looks promising. It’s a small group, another good thing. I can tell it is going to be focused and hopefully consistent. Mostly, it will be more at my pace. Weekly, is too often for me. I need time to write. So, we’ll see how it goes. I have a good feeling about it. Now, it’s off to get some work done. Must turn some stories that have been rejected around and send them out today. Happy writing. Today’s image is of ice. I know we want spring to stay, but there were some wonderful patterns in the ice during my walks these past couple of months. Enjoy.

Perspective: Why “to MFA or not MFA?” is the dumbest question I have ever heard

If I was given a nickel every time I mentioned I had an MFA in writing and someone told me in not so many words that it was not worth money, I would have paid my student loans off years ago.

First, I would never consider telling someone their dreams were worthless. Second, the debate is so tiresome. I understand people don’t want to “waste time” or “waste money” or “make a major wrong life step.” Still, to think that hard about it means those people who say mean-spirited stuff like “it’s not worth it”  have missed the point altogether.

We hear the sentiment “If you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life” all the time, but when someone actually adheres to that as a life mission statement, we tell them it’s a mistake. It’s not worth it. Perhaps those who say that need to look within themselves a little deeper.

I didn’t make the decision to get an MFA lightly. I wanted a new direction, an authentic direction, not a direction someone else felt was good for me. I wanted to do something that moved me. I had dreamed of focusing on my writing in that way for a long time, but had been afraid for one reason or another. One day, I heard one of those Story Corps interviews on NPR. In this particular interaction, a husband was interviewing his wife. She had stage IV cancer of some type. I don’t remember now what type. He talked of her strength and how she had not let her cancer stop her from following her life dream of getting a Master of Fine Arts degree in visual arts. That story stuck with me. After hearing that story, I wondered why I was waiting any longer to follow my heart and do what I wanted. I dreamed of teaching and writing and being home more for my children. I dreamed of being in a wonderful community of writers and making lasting friendships. Mostly, I dreamed of doing something I was so passionate about that I would literally tell people who thought I was crazy to bag it.

Some did think I was crazy, but I had had a lifetime of being sane, of being the good girl and doing what good girls do. Good girls are practical. Good girls do what they are told. Good girls do something like major in something that everyone around them thinks will be good for them, even if everyone around them has no idea who that good girl really is. So, I embraced crazy. I embraced the idea that I’d read in Anne Lamott‘s book Traveling Mercies that you have to leap and the net will find you.

I lept. I went for it. I didn’t think about the stupid debate. I just knew that I would make the darned thing work for me because I wanted to do it. I learned that rather than fear that the net won’t be there, know that the net is always really there. I wanted to dive into the study of something I loved. I was tested in many ways. My first attempt at getting into schools failed, but I tried again and got accepted to  two schools. That, of course, was not the most difficult test. Ironically, I was diagnosed with cancer in the midst of grad school. In the midst of working full-time, raising two children, and attending grad school, to be exact. I didn’t let it stop me. I finished. I did it. I wouldn’t change it or say it wasn’t worth it. I am doing what I love. I am writing. I am teaching. Do I still have loans? Yes. I’d have them if I did something others thought would be more “worth it.”

I posted a status on my Facebook page that says how I feel about this topic best. I posted it because I heard, yet again, someone who does not have an MFA tell me how worthless or useless it is to get one. I am proud of my MFA. I worked hard for it. I knew going into it that it was not the end all, be all to my writing career, but there is no end all, be all. There are only choices we make in the moment that help us see that this moment is all we have. We have to keep writing. We have to keep taking the path we know deep within is right for us.

Here is my Facebook status posted 3/2/13:

I got a Master of Fine Arts degree in writing because I followed my heart. I listened to the creative Crissy within. I got a bachelor of science degree in sports medicine because I was too young and naive to think for myself. In essence, I did what everyone thought I “should” do. I love words. I love inspiring others to discover they might love words as well. Nothing makes my life resonate more than spending a day working through even a single line of my novel. I have not taped an ankle in more than 20 years and I don’t miss it. I was never able to get a halfway decent job until I started writing. It baffles me how often I hear people tell me in not so many words how my writing degree is some how worthless. Not one person ever told me going into sports medicine wouldn’t be worth it. Perspective:/

One foot, two foot

A long time ago, after many failed attempts at trying to make my family sportingly proud, I took to the only sport that didn’t require me to dribble, kick, or throw a ball. I took to long distance running. I won’t say I was great, but I was good and distance running came surprisingly easy to me, the one kid who always finished last in sprints, in pretty much anything that one would file under the title “sport.” It wasn’t that I had to be sporty. My family accepted me just fine. Still, my sibs were way more sporty than me. My brother played hockey and baseball and did just fine. My sister, well she probably got the most sporty genes of all of us and the looks and the smarty genes, but that’s a whole other blog.

The first time I took to the roads, though, I felt something liberating. I ran two miles. I was surprised how good I felt. The next day I ran four. I was training for my first road race, the Dixboro Fun Run, held in the small hamlet of Dixboro. My dad signed me and my sporty brother, who was running for wrestling training, up for the race. I think I trained for about a week. I ran the two-mile and surprised myself by finishing first in my age-group and second overall female. I got hardware. At that point, I hadn’t really ever won anything sporty in my life. Well,  I think there was a softball championship in there, but I never felt I contributed that much to the team. Softball was torture.

After that race, I craved road racing. I ran all the time. My neighbors came to know me as the girl who was always running. One of the older boys who used to hang out in the neighborhood used to call me Champ. He said I was going to be a champion one day. I never knew his name. He will never know how good that made feel, some strange boy urging me on. Parents in the neighborhood urged me on, too. Someone would inevitably catch me coming into our tiny subdivision at the end of the run and ask how far I’d gone that day. Some would laugh and tell my parents they saw me in the next town 10 miles away. You could say I became a little obsessed. I loved running. I ran track and cross country. Ultimately, though, my favorite were the road races I ran. I loved the community that surrounds road racing. Everyone was so encouraging, especially to women runners who really were just making inroads into the sport. I was always pacing with some group of guys because the women were spread so far apart and they were all welcoming.

I ran a little in college, but by that point I wasn’t good enough for college running. I ran two marathons and came close to qualifying for the Boston Marathon, my dream at the time. At some point, life got in the way. Kids came. I had other things I needed to do. With kids came a few stubborn pounds.  I never got back to running like I used to.

More than five years ago came the devastating news that I had cancer. My treatment regime was long and hard on my body. It took a long time to recover. I still am not sure I have fully recovered. This summer, however, I wanted to get back in shape, if nothing. Every time I say I am going to start walking, I end up running. I also needed to help Maynard the Wonder Dog lose a few pounds. He came to us on a diet. He is now my jogging partner. I started in the spring. It has been a struggle. I’m slow, much slower than I used to be. It’s much harder than it used to be. I think I have been running two miles since spring and it has felt hard and tiring since spring. Today, though, I felt the shift. The one that I used to feel after only a week or two, the shift that helped me see I was really back, that running was what I was supposed to be doing. Yes, I felt it. My feet didn’t shuffle as much. I kicked my heels a little more. I kept a pace, still not fast, but faster, more importantly more comfortable than running has felt in eons. I had gotten to a point where I thought I’d never feel that.

For me, there is a strong connection between the endurance and persistence of hitting the pavement or trails and the endurance and persistence needed to come to the page regularly and work through rejection and work through drafts. I love that they remind me of each other. I love that doing both makes me feel so good. Carry on. Endure. Persist. One foot. Two foot.