Time Out for This Bird

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Well, it’s been a busy, fruitful week, ending on a pleasant note though underlined by soggy skies and cooler temperatures. True, hyacinths, daffodils, magnolias and more are bountiful, happy dabs of color within our ever-green landscape. I do adore the Pacific Northwest. But I have a mind to head out on a warmer, even brighter mosey. High time to again flee comfortable territory and explore other captivating scenery and meet interesting folks, as well as take advantage of the opportunity to enjoy family I don’t get to see often.

It may be hard for me to write less…it’s a need I do heed wherever I am…but I will return to this blog on March 21st. I am hoping to share a refreshed perspective as I let loose new stories. It always helps me to take in different scenes and consider other ideas milling about out there. And, of course, there are photographs–I have a grand time recording experiences via camera, as well. Or a notebook or sketch pad. Or a lunch napkin, for that matter, if that’s handiest.

Thanks for so many positive, helpful responses to the latest nonfiction post on smoking and other unhealthy habits. I am also gratified that you’re enjoying other stories, fiction or otherwise. I feel truly blessed to be gaining a great readership as I bang away at my keyboard each week. My deepest creative joy, my privilege, is to write. Over eight thousand followers now; I cannot even imagine it. I just keep blogging away each week as well as otherwise writing something, anything, daily as though it is essential. But I genuinely look forward to other people’s intriguing offerings. Truth is, I’m thrilled to be part of the diverse thought-provoking, humorous and caring worldwide WordPress community.

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Catch you later–you have a safe, adventurous week out there, too, and practice kindness while you’re at it. We all need to give and receive more, just for the good of it, just for this sweet life.

Wrestling with Writing Business: Submitting Work

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Just a few of my writing books, not all read, by my computer desk. There are files–and piles–of manuscripts beneath this photo…

Uncharacteristically, I have felt less than motivated to write for the blog today. I have been engaged in the business of submission to lit journals, a couple of short stories. And I admit to being a little worn out.

Those formatting requirements take a lot of effort from me to complete without error. It may not be so for others who are speedy typists, who feel comfortable with all aspects of computer cues as well as various lit magazine idiosyncrasies. But for me, the requirements smack of applying for a passport. Such journals may not demand my birth certificate (I could hide behind a pen name and it matters little), but they want so much more than I expect or feel is truly reasonable when I am just a writer who wants to put my writing out there. But there is that pesky word count which changes as I see one more thing to excise or rearrange. There is certain spacing between title and first paragraph, there is a type of margin needed re: justification versus alignment. There is the font. Which of three is best?–and always use 12-point unless it states otherwise. I cannot seem to number pages beginning on the second; the first one always grabs number “1” even if I try and try and yell at it.

The cover letter if required, well. It’s like a grade making/breaking thesis assignment from the honors English teacher you couldn’t bear to listen to much less look at, she was so smartly arrogant–but who you knew you absolutely needed. And the paper was preparatory to something bigger and finer. Right? So the poetry or short story cover letter takes me days, possibly weeks. If it is a novel I am pitching to an agent, it takes months. May take years, in fact. I have gone to workshops for queries and cover letters and emerged refreshed with a dash of comfort while remaining puzzled. And afraid.

The road embarked upon each time I decide to submit a piece appears to have no tangible end. It is perforated with potholes. I cannot slip into autopilot. There is a proliferation of steps though one proceeds the others. It should be simple. My story started out fine but now it is being jostled and tugged and squashed as I follow directions of the online site. There are still paper routes to follow and those are even trickier. You have to sweat to propel a tale or two to their destinations where they may be deigned lovely and fit or ill-suited and irrelevant.

Because I also procrastinate this writer’s task, a deadline is noted in hours, then minutes and seconds, much like it was when taking exams as a student. I sigh, massage my forehead and get up and sit down. I eyeball each sentence to root out errant typos which proliferate like moss in the Northwest. I am the rock foolish enough to believe it won’t happen again on each crucial page if I am just watchful. And spell check is…let’s say it’s less than the finest proofreader but the best my money can buy for now.

I have a few bookshelves that hold in questionable order many volumes on writing. Do I read with earnestness those books that expound on how writing is an endeavor of mind, spirit and heart so I just need to be true to myself? Not so much; I know that already even if I need reminding at times. Like today, perhaps. But no, I read the manuscript formatting books, the writers’ handbooks that contain all the arcane info I need to succeed in clean, righteous submissions. For example, The Chicago Manual of Style, which intimidates me as much as my English teacher did. I mark pages in highlighter, circle most pertinent bits, draw arrows and stars, yes. The pages are soiled and wavy. They will save my story from the slush pile at first glance. Because I know any decent editor will not even read past the initial word of a manuscript that does not first follow the rules.

Luckily, I was well-trained to do that very thing. In my family home and in school knowing the rules and following them is what we were instructed to do. Must do. In point of fact, civilization was likely built upon several basic rules and they were meant to help us out, we were oft reminded. If I heard from my parents that I was “not acting civilized”, I knew what that meant immediately and self-corrected. But that didn’t mean, of course, I always liked or even followed them entirely. I just wanted to stick my foot outside the line of kids and shake it about.

However, I’ve tried to do as directed when it comes to submission protocols. I respect the command. I want to do right.

Online submissions are, happily, somewhat easier than the days when everything had to be typed and mailed. I appreciated the heft and clickety-clack of typewriters but hated that mistakes couldn’t be easily removed. I enjoy the tactile experience of paper, that feel and shape of a manuscript in my hand but disliked the postage it cost and length of time it took to get it there. And to hear back. Although it was thrilling to find a letter in the mail saying “yes, we love it.” Also disheartening to see the SASE envelope I had included in the first mailing that now enclosed my work, sure sign of no acceptance. There might be editorial comments, a bonus, a hope that I could try again. I recall one poetry magazine editor that initiated a correspondence about my poem which continued for a few months. She did not, in the end, accept it because I was not rewriting it any further. Maybe I’ll look it over and resubmit now that it has rested for thirty-odd years. Or maybe it wasn’t so good; hard to know until resurrected, then sent out again.

So it is still taking me time to master the business part of writing even though I am older than I imagined I’d be and here I am, still at it. I can sit at the computer working on a project for hours while the sun goes down and I don’t even think to turn on the lights. Until my husband speaks too loudly in my ear that dinner is ready now and it will get cold but it’s up to me. I rather sail away for long periods until it is either too hard to sit longer or I am finally as done as I can be–for the time being. It’s heaven, really.

But submitting the story I worked on all those moments–that is a hard thing to do. I’m not even noting the emotional part of it–because, really, it is not that devastating to be sent a rejection. It means work on it more or try another one. In the publishing world, stories and such are commodities. I don’t first write for an agent or editor. It’s not that I don’t know ethical, kind people who are both (and some are also writers, thank goodness). They are just not the ones I am writing for or with, most of the time. No one honestly understands the ways of a writer’s life other than those who do it day in, day out–or whenever they make time to do it. Family and friends–well-meaning, well-read and good folks– keep waiting for me to publish more, to become an author who might even sell. If only they knew about the submission process and how it can test one’s patience. And how it eats up my time. It’s perhaps not my main priority yet. Not holding my breath, either.

I write out of joy. A desire to let words gather surprises, to reap benefits for me–and I hope for you. I care for writing so much that it cannot use up or contain my love. There is always more to be discovered, to learn from, and to be shared. And the submissions happen in between the beautiful grind of it, my devotion to creation and craft.

I sent it off, that short story. This time it was one posted on this very blog, Tales for Life. You enjoyed it. Maybe others will, too. If not, I won’t be fussing over it. I’ll be working on a few longer stories teasing my mind. And another something will be sent out when the time (when there is some left over) feels right.

 

Making My Way Upstream

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I am no domestic goddess. I was all but shooed away from the kitchen as a child and youth as my mother reminded me that I needed to study or practice my cello or voice lessons, work on figures for ice skating, or whatever else was crucial to learn and do that moment. My parents were forward-looking people in a time when most were solidifying traditional roles. They wanted all their children to have their minds broadened, seek excellent educations. Mave a few good waves intellectually or creatively. I didn’t complain. On the contrary, I felt sprung from the brig.

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the inviting ambience of kitchens. Few things were as reassuring as watching my mother create a fresh apple pie. I didn’t mind helping a little–I could swiftly peel apples and potatoes, occasionally in one long peel, thanks to her tutoring. But other than making salads, toast and poached eggs (the egg poacher promised me easy success), chocolate cookies and grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup, thanks to Campbell’s–well, my repertoire was severely limited but it didn’t impact me. (That was later, after marriage to a man whose mother ran her own catering business.) The best I could do some days was open a jar of home canned pears or peaches and sprinkle cinnamon with a dash of wheat germ on top for garnish. This was my response to being asked to make a fruit dish. Voila–nutritious sweetness, about the extent of my culinary aspirations.

I was good at being a hostess, however. I could refill glasses and coffee cups with elan. I could offer silverplated or cut glass bowls full of nuts and mints, platters of shining strawberries or lace-delicate cookies; I could sneak away an emptied dish and replace it with something new. I had no idea this was what waitresses did for money. It was just what children did when told. I was trained in niceties as well as the art of interested, fairly intelligent conversation. I didn’t have any argument with this. I liked to listen to and examine our guests. They often were musicians with fascinating tidbits to share. And a palpable tranquility is evoked when one behaves in a civilized way. Manners are still valuable to me, seemingly verging on extinction if many street and sidewalk behaviors are any indication. They may seem superficial to some, but if you practice long enough you will daily begin to feel more benevolent toward the general populace. And much more patient with those you’d prefer to ignore.

But while engaging in conversation or completing my small kitchen task, I was longing to climb our sheltering maple, get comfy in a crook of the tree and write another play for neighborhood kids. Yours truly snagging the starring role, of course. I wanted to sing the song wending its way through my brain or finish a poem I had begun the previous evening. And there was that montage I had begun with cut out pictures of a South American jungle, and a paddlewheel boat gliding down the Mississippi, plus that chic woman–Jean Shrimpton, a famous model, or was it Verushka, my favorite?–dashing across the street in London, a Pucci scarf dangling from her fingers. The scattered words I spelled out in different types: DO WHATEVER COMES TO YOU NOW. Or some such thing that found its way into my pile of clippings and I found clever or ironic.

As a child and youth I gave over to dreaming regularly. And today, as ever, when that creative impulse comes over me I’ve often felt as if in a trance. I just need to let things happen, be available to follow the muse. Right then. To do otherwise can feel as if I am a creature out of its natural habitat, an awkward, flopping fish trying to find its way upstream when what it wants to do is leap the tantalizing bank and fly. Or play a rousing Irish jig at a corner cafe before some sharp, hat-wearing guy and a gum-snapping brunette come in and grab said fish to fry up for a meal. Oh, gosh…apologies, I got caught up in the fish flying scene and my proclivities. What rescue does the next paragraph have to offer?

Well, back to the post at hand. The fish can carry on alone a bit.

There is always, in this adult life, work and obligations, and with those may also come the privilege to attend to creative work. To play but play whole heartedly. Thoroughness was the way. I understood that early on. It takes discipline to complete anything and to do it well, more of the same. It needs to be being done in a timely manner, too. “Every thing has its season”, I read and heard.

So that is what I have told myself as I have wrapped up the wedding plans. There has been so much to plan, re-check, alter, research, find a Plan B (or C) in the event Plan A falls flat. To complete the whole, the small details must be aligned and made to fit. The goal is a good wedding. Not an expert one, not one that the society pages review, thank goodness. But a wedding that will bring together families and friends and leave indelible contentment and laughter in the hearts of my daughter and her fiance.

Okay, but when do I get to write?

Every word that has gone into these posts the last five or six weeks has come at the cost of something else. Right now I should be cleaning the bedrooms. Or perhaps storing some of those mountains of books that are lined up against the electric heat board (in case it has to be turned on, or they get in the way of someone’s feet). I have more laundry to do. (Don’t we all?)

But I want to write. I long to write. Always.

It’s not that I have life-altering insights that others haven’t already noted a few times over. The feel and shape and sound of words entice me, bedazzle me, hold me up and free me. They are a currency I use to garner beauty and wonderment. They are what keep me afloat when everything has sprung a leak. Words can be the most attentive companions when other ones have somehow disappeared. They are the live wires that transfer–sometimes seem to translate–mythic ideas or fresh poetry, prayers I am given or tall tales from other realms to me, a writer. As an avid dictionary reader, I can say I have never met a word I have not fallen for, even when it turns out to be the wrong one.

So I am giving myself a few moments today. I know after tonight this place will be resounding not with words placed upon a page but those with life that is pulsing, soothing, words fully inflected issuing from the unique voices of my family members. Oh, it will be a cacaphonious symphony of sound and meaning. May we all enjoy such times.

Yes, I am about to put on my “hostess apron” and answer the doorbell many times. Greet adult kids at airports. Put out coffee and tea, scones or a pot of stew, all the necessary accoutrements. I am set to direct the logistics like a traffic conductor, whistle in hand. And I even bought a new teatowel and kitchen rug. I checked to make sure the best tablecloths are stain-free. I am hoping my husband will still be willing to cook most everything. I am truly not talented at this  but “act as if” because I like gatherings. But I can and will wrap my arms around each person. I can welcome them, smell autumn on their shoulders, or saltiness of tears (that wedding…), arcane and memorable scents of all as they sidle up and say something funny or good in my ear. I will be intensely present because I care to be here, and don’t want to miss one minute. Even if there are mishaps or difficult moments. It is the multi-texture of life, what is in between, under and over each weave that I seek to know and file away. It’s love.

The family members and friends all intrigue and inspire me. They are funny, daring, bright, full of foibles that can drive us all crazy, with hearts that beat in strong, diverse ways. I am going to dive in and write of them and the events. Infant poems are just there on the edge of thinking and dreaming, whispering secrets, unfurling colors, shapes, feelings. A story alights briefly, then floats, wings hovering, its energies infusing me with ideas. I will not forget; I will keep it all in the waiting place inside and finish my present work. I tend to believe the story itslef knows I will put down the tea kettle and pick up the pen again.

 

(Note: Due to the impending nuptials of aforementioned cherished daughter, I will not be posting again until later next week.)