Friday, September 13, 2013

Writing in the San Juans: A New Start






Here I am in Friday Harbor, with 5 of my favorite friends: Judy Bodmer,Nancy White Carlstrom, Katherine Grace Bond, Janet Lee Carey, and Dawn Knight. Together we are mighty: the Diviners Writing Group. Each week on Tuesdays, we meet for an afternoon of reading and critiquing each other's work. We laugh together, cry together, and turn out some pretty amazing stories and books. Just click on their websites, to see how true this is! And each year, sometime in September, we meet here in the San Juans for an intense 5 days of writing, walking, eating and sharing together. Each year we go home from this retreat with new stories and books begun, and stalled out books rejuvenated. Plus, we see whales, deer, amazing sunsets, and best of all--the goodness and creativity in each other. If I could give every writer a gift, it would be this blessing of the San Juans, and this amazing writing group.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Soaring with The Eagles

Wow! It's been a long time since I've posted a blog, though many of you have been following my adventures in Alaska via Facebook. I just arrived home from this amazing trip Thursday night, and my mind and heart are still filled with vast and startling images of Denali and Kenai Peninsula. My overall favorite memory is flying in a small four-passenger plane over the Harding Ice Field, 40 miles long. We got to fly up and over six of the 32 glaciers, great rivers of ice flowing out from the Ice Field. And the single image that will stay with me always, is flying up the Russian River to Russian Lake, where we looked down at grizzly bears, wading in the river to catch salmon. We were close enough to see a mama grizzly and her two cubs walking along the bank of the river. Then, as we watched, two bald eagles flew beneath our plane, wings outstretched, white tails fanned. And I thought, I have flown ABOVE eagles. This is what Alaska means to me--to fly above the eagles. I will not forget.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Opening the Gift


Today is the Fourth Day of Christmas, and I am reflecting on all the lovely celebrations our family has had this past week. We started with my daughter Deb's birthday on December 22cd, which we celebrated by attending the Nutcracker, the Pacific Northwest Ballet performance. This was a special gift since my 7-year-old grandson Weston was seeing it live (with full orchestra) for the first time, and was enthralled. His delight was a gift to all of us, as he watched the entire performance, eyes wide, barely moving in his seat.

The next day we had our family celebration at my daughter Laura's home, with lots of laughter and food, and of course, the opening of presents. Grandson Josh opened a huge container of Lincoln logs and from that point on, he and his Daddy, and several of the other cousins were totally absorbed as they built an entire village (or so it seemed as tracks and buildings spread across the living room.)

On the following morning (Christmas eve) 25 members of extended family met for breakfast at a local restaurant, and who should make his appearance but Santa Claus, astounding all of us (who really didn't expect him so early.) The gift of his appearance brought smiles to all of our faces.

Christmas eve night, we followed our family tradition of opening one gift each. Seven year-old Weston could not wait to have his Mommy open the gift he had made for her, a lovely India ink etching of a cornstalk.

An hour later, after hanging stockings, I was off to church, with the joy and privilege of singing in the choir for our Christmas eve Mass. Such gift, as we sang those familiar hymns, the church lit with candles, Christmas trees filling the nave with their spicy fir smell, glowing with hundreds of white lights. My heart was truly full, God's Gift of Love so present all around and in us.

And all of this, before Christmas morning,which was wonderful in itself.
There are Gifts of all kinds. This Christmas week, I am thankful for all of them, but most especially thankful for the Giver.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hang On To the Leash!

Last night I saw a dog walking himself.
Really.

I was strolling along in our local park just before sunset when a Golden Lab trotted by me, one end of his leash properly attached to his collar, the other end neatly folded between his teeth. There was no master-type person in sight.

I watched, transfixed, as the dog trotted purposefully along the park walk, but then as dogs will do, picked up an intriguing scent and veered off on the grass, heading over the nearest hill. At that point, a jogger in the distance, turned around, and, catching sight of the dog about to disappear over the hill, gave a holler. The dog, fortunately, did respond and galloped back, leash in mouth, to his owner.

I couldn’t help smiling, and thinking, as I’m apt to do, how this very situation reminds me of my story writing process. Too often, I forget that I am the author, the master of this story, and I let it go galloping off, far from where I was initially headed. “My character just took over,” I say sometimes. Or (worse) “I think this is just one of those plotless stories.”

Nope. It really isn’t so. What’s usually happened is I am so busy being “creative” I’m not taking the time to plan out the story, or to periodically go into my editing mode to see if plot, character, setting and all those other writerly things are happening in my story.

I’m letting the story go off on its own, just like the dog last night. At first it may seem to work, the story may trot along on a nice story arc, but sooner or later, without a little tug on the leash from me, I guarantee that story will gallop off over the hill, and I probably never will find a decent end for it.

It’s a good thing to ponder at the end of my writing day.


Coming up soon: Part 2, Creative Detours,
Or: Is it ever better to just let the dog go over the hill?

Monday, September 05, 2011

Backyard Campfire







This week we had a fire in my rose garden. Really.

My grandkids (Josh, 4 and Amanda, 6) asked me, “Grandma can we make a fire in the backyard and roast marshmallows?” And I, good grandmother that I am, agreed.

First we had to find a safe place to build it. There was a nice bare spot in the rose garden. (I spend more time writing than gardening and my rosebushes periodically succumb to neglect.)

Josh and Amanda cleared the area of stray weeds and dug a small fire pit. Next they circled it with stones, and then together, we carefully arranged a pyramid of paper, small kindling, bigger kindling, and readied a log to put on top, should our fire stay lit long enough to do that.

We were (to my great surprise) successful! After a couple of false starts, our fire began to burn bright. As Josh and Amanda did a delighted fire dance, I began to think how this process of making a campfire is like the process of making a story.

First we have to clear a space, both in our lives for the time it takes to write, and in our hearts for the emotional work needed to create a story.

Next we need to circle up the stones—to put up some barriers around that space we’ve created. For me that means saying no to lots of lunches with friends, shopping, TV, and other such things.

Then we arrange the materials that will create the fire. It takes some time and thought to arrange those flimsy paper thoughts that will then light the kindling of a stronger story idea. This, if carefully fanned by the breeze of our spirit, then flames up with a real, true-to-my-deepest-heart plot that catches fire with a believable character and setting to finally ignite that mysterious and wonderful fire log we call STORY.

We did roast marshmallows that day, Josh and Amanda and I, a most satisfying end to our day. Just like a good story can be.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Family Reunion











We did it! 40 of us came together in my Kirkland, Washington home this summer for a long-awaited family reunion. Children and grandchildren, sisters and brothers, nieces and nephews came from New Mexico, Arizona, Florida, California, and even from Berlin, Germany to celebrate.

For me, a sun-lit moment occurred when my granddaughter, 2 year-old Anika reached out and took the hand of 3 year-old Ceci, her cousin from Berlin. “We are family,” she said.

And I admit it, I had to swallow down my tears, because in 3 words, my granddaughter Anika spoke the core truth of why we had come together.

We are Family.

We have different ideas about almost everything:

What to eat (vegetarian for some, barbecued steak for others)
When to get up (5:30 AM appears to be the time of choice for 1 year-old Louisa, but definitely not for the rest of us.)
And where to go (Seattle Center and the busy waterfront shops for some, a quiet forest hike for others.)

And yet we somehow managed to accommodate everyone, not all at once, and not without compromise. We laughed a lot, ate a lot, talked all hours of the day and night, and we cried together, especially when we had to part.

Through it all the blessed truth rang through, and left us all smiling to remember:

We are family.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Watching For Whales















I just got back from a wonderful writing retreat on San Juan Island,
For 6 blissful days, I, along with the other 5 members from our Diviners writing group, spent hours at a time writing. We stayed at a wonderful house that looks out over the waters of the San Juan Channel with Mt. Baker in the background, and tiny Turn Island almost within touch.

Yesterday we drove to Lime Kiln Point to look for whales, The resident orca pod had been spotted there just the night before. We didn’t spot any whales, but each of us has had the great joy of experiencing at least one good Whale of an idea in our time away here.

Much of writing, I find, involves watching for whales: first that whale of an idea that will captivate our energy and interest for the unexpected amount of time it will take to write the story or book. Then we watch diligently, searching for a whale of a good character who will carry our great plot idea forward.

And of course, there’s a whale of a lot of writing and rewriting involved in this whole process.

So it seems especially appropriate that we spent our writing retreat here on San Juan Island, where everyone agrees, Watching for Whales is a worthy way to spend your time.