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Winter Writing

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I’ve just arrived at my beloved New Hampshire house, where ghosts and God abound. My writing muse is usually quite active here, and I’m hoping that’ll she’ll be romping around the place over the next two weeks. Lots to do to close up the house for winter, but I’m looking forward to quality writing time.

I usually bring a stack of books about writing, but I’ve limited myself to just one so that if I put pen to paper, I’m not just underlining someone else’s words about writing!

I’m excited about reading the copy of If You Want to Write that I recently found at a used bookstore in Vermont, because although the book is one of my faves, I have only listened to it on audio. Brenda Ueland first published this little treasure in 1938 and it was re-released by her estate in 1987. My favorite chapter is entitled, “Why Women Who Do Too Much Housework Should Neglect It for Their Writing.”

While you are awaiting my glorious prose, I will share one of my favorite poems from Joyce Rupp:

Winter’s Cloak

This year I do not want
the dark to leave me.
I need its wrap
of silent stillness,
its cloak
of long lasting embrace.
Too much light
has pulled me away
from the chamber
of gestation.

Let the dawns
come late,
let the sunsets
arrive early,
let the evenings
extend themselves
while I lean into
the abyss of my being.

Let me lie in the cave
of my soul,
for too much light
blinds me,
steals the source
of revelation.

Let me seek solace
in the empty places
of winter’s passage,
those vast dark nights
that never fail to shelter me.

Waiting For The Muse

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I was talking to a fellow blogger at a party the other night.

“I just don’t want to be one of those people who blogs about how they have nothing to blog about,” she said. We sipped our Merlot, then caught each other’s guilty glances over our wine glasses and dissolved into laughter because we had both recently done exactly that.

I blame winter. It was long and it was dreadful and it was cold and it was dark. How can one be expected to write under those circumstances? My creativity has been buried under two feet of snow, and the pipes to my well of inspiration froze solid months ago.

Sometimes when I feel at a loss, I pull out excerpts from my journal and — for reasons not clear to me — my readers seem to enjoy that. I may have to resort to journal snippets later this week, although my journal entries have mostly been complaints about the weather.

I’ve had a little fun with stream-of-consciousness word games, just rambling blogs about fun words like ignominious and ratiocination. I thought about doing one on the word perfidiousness, but decided that perfidiousness was too unpleasant to write about, and besides, someone could sue me for defamation of character if I got too specific about their “deceit, deliberate faithlessness, and treachery.”

The days are getting longer, and the robins are singing their spring songs. It was in the sixties yesterday. And — I know you’ve been waiting for an update  — I finally took down my Christmas tree last week. For Lent. So things are looking up, I think. I may actually produce something worth reading sometime soon. For now, I just wanted to say, “Hi, I’m still here; I still think about you guys.”

Welcome to my newest followers, and I’m sorry if this is the first post you’re receiving. I’m not usually like this. Usually.

Last week

Last week

 

 

 

This week!

This week!

 

 

 

 

The Books on my Doorstep

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Like many of you, I am a book addict, so although the arrival of two brown, rectangular packages on my front porch was far from unusual, it nevertheless occasioned a quick intake of breath and a widening of the eyes, if not an actual skip of my heartbeat.

The best part about such parcels is the element of surprise, in that I often don’t remember what I’ve ordered during my mad midnight searches for a satisfying read. The other best part, which is unique to this particular delivery, is that I have been stuck in William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1848 British satire “Vanity Fair” for nigh on four months, and I am a mere one hundred pages from the end of the eight-hundred-page tome. I can see the light of approaching freedom as sure as the days are (finally) getting longer!

William Makepeace Thackeray

William Makepeace Thackeray – Doesn’t he look like a jolly fellow?

I always read a long, dense novel during the winter, usually of the Russian variety but sometimes an Anthony Trollope, which are lighter but still qualify as dense by virtue of their length. But Thackeray — well, I don’t know if I’ll read another one. It’s not entirely the  book. This winter has been insufferably long and cold and dark and dreadful. It’s not Thackeray’s fault my brother died in December. Still, good riddance to both the book and the winter.

Presents to Myself

It was this anticipation of escape from England in the Napoleonic Age that imparted an extra dose of excitement as I tore into those rectangular packages yesterday. Here, because of your intense interest in my personal life and inner musings, is what I found:

  • Portofino by Frank Schaeffer: This is the first in a trilogy, recommended by one of my favorite friends who is also an author with a great nose for a great read. He used to be an English professor and he reads incessantly. If you don’t know Brian McLaren and his books, especially if you are spiritually inclined, you should visit his website. I was attracted to Portfino because it’s set in Italy, a country that won my heart in one two-week stay four years ago, and because the reviews call it “richly ironic and satirical . . . hilarious . . . laugh-out loud funny.” I need that. It pokes “gentle fun at the foibles of religious zealotry without disparaging the deep dedication behind it.” There’s apparently a character in it who always packs a ski sweater and a small Bible in case the Russians invade and send them to Siberia.
  • Elsewhere by Richard Russo: This is Russo’s recent memoir. I only just discovered him a few years ago, and I enjoy his novels for a light read. He’s amazing at creating characters and local color, and I figure those quirky folks and locales must come from his life experience; I want to meet them. Because I like writing memoir and would like to learn to write it in longer forms, I plan to read a lot of quality memoirs this summer. Do you have any suggestions for me? I’ve got quite a collection started, but am always open to recommendations.
  • Anna: A Daughter’s Life, by William Loizeaux: I am reading this out of a deep respect and fondness for the author, a writing professor I had at Johns Hopkins. This, too, is memoir, and no doubt memoir at its best. Bill taught memoir and personal essay, and this book is about the loss of his infant daughter. It is about grief, which will resonate with me, and it’s based on Bill’s journals, which also tracks with my journaling habit. “Stunning, clear-eyed, and lyrical . . . remarkable eloquence, passion, and honesty,” says the Washington Post (reviewed back when the Post had something useful to say). This sounds exactly like the Bill Loizeaux I know.
  • 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East by Naomi Shihab Nye: My appreciation for poetry is really quite new, so this is a big step for me. Nye’s is only the second book of poetry I’ve ever purchased. I once bought a book of Wendell Berry’s poems because it needed to be on my bookshelf – he’s an icon. I had read an excerpt from Nye’s poem “Different Ways to Pray” a year ago and found it very moving, so I put her book on my “to buy later when I like poetry better” list. The time was right.

photo (15)

Here is the opening of Naomi Nye’s poem “Different Ways to Pray”:

∠∠∠

“There was the method of kneeling,

a fine method, if you lived in a country

where stones were smooth.

Women dreamed wistfully of

hidden corners where knee fit rock.

Their prayers, weathered rib bones,

small calcium words uttered in sequence,

as if this shedding of syllables could

fuse them to the sky.

∠∠∠

There were men who had been shepherds so long

they walked like sheep.

Under the olive trees, they raised their arms –

Hear us! We have pain on earth!

We have so much pain there is no place to store it!

But the olives bobbed peacefully

in fragrant buckets of vinegar and thyme.

At night the men ate heartily, flat bread

and white cheese,

and were happy in spite of the pain,

because there was also happiness.”

 

Lovely as her poetry is, I will not allow myself to begin any of these new literary adventures until I make peace with Mr. Thackeray. The daffodils are blooming, and it’s time to leave my winter read behind. Way behind.

What are you reading that’s good? Don’t forget to recommend a memoir for me! Happy Spring.

 

Related Posts:

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/for-book-lovers-only/

Other bookish blogs I like:

http://emilyjanuary.wordpress.com/best-of-my-bookshelf/

http://teabooksthoughts.wordpress.com/

Although I’m not a huge beer-drinker, check out my friend Oliver’s blog Literature and Libation. He’s a talented writer.

A Fourteen-Sentence Glimpse into My Journal

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Why not? I’ll give you treasured readers a glimpse into my treasured pages – I’ve been keeping a journal since I was fifteen. A while. While much of it is drivel, if you make like a butterfly and just flit across the pages alighting here and there, you’ll find my life.

So here, in single sentences, is my recent two-week trip to my retreat in New Hampshire:

NH Nov2012 002b

Nov 7th: The visit started with a dent in my force shield, with the discovery that X had been here and stolen Bambi from the entryway.

Nov 8th: And it was evening and it was morning, a second day.

Nov 9th: Laugh for the morning: I’m reading about four qualities that often go with living with alcoholism — martyrdom, management, manipulation, and mothering, and I find myself thinking, “Oh my God, with this situation with X, my default has been to feel like a martyr, to try to figure out his motivations so I can manipulate him, and to manage his behavior – hmmmm, maybe I should try mothering him.”

Nov 10th: After four years of this, I’ve finally called a lawyer; so now there’s nothing else to be done except homicide, and that’s frowned upon.

Nov 11th: My tailbone is bruised from a twelve-hour-sit in a straight-backed wooden chair – I’ve got to get this thesis done!

Nov 12th: Just the sense of being thoroughly present at this kitchen table is pure joy, although out the window the field needs mowing badly – but there’s nothing I can do about that today.

Nov 13th: I dropped too much money at the Monadnock Co-op, but there’s no use crying over spilled walnuts, olives, and organic cheese curls.

Nov 14th: I’ll light a fire early today – haven’t had one in a few nights.

Nov 15th: I slept in this morning because I stayed up too late reading and drowsing by the fire; then woke to find the kitchen pipes froze last night – hope they’ll thaw without excitement!

Nov 16th: It gets dark so early now – the sun has gone behind the mountain at 4:30 and it’s cold and I’m sad.

Nov 17th: I sent my last essay to S and she says it’s FABULOUS and I’ve done great work – so there you have it, I HAVE FINISHED MY THESIS: This is happening, folks!

Nov 18th: Two days behind schedule, gotta put up the storm windows, clean out the fireplace, haul in the picnic table, vacuum, scrub mildew, visit T and ask him to shut off the water . . .

Nov 19th: No entry

Nov 20th: It’s very good to be home and done with travel for the year.

Nov 21st: Today is another day: I have tea, I have cats, life is good – my plan is to unpack, clean, and prep for the upcoming Advent spiritual retreat.

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