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Monthly Archives: June 2006

Still powerless

Still no power for my laptop.  Sucks to be me.
What is worse about all this is that I have some insightful things to
share. And some funny things.  I guess you could say I’ve
rediscovered my sense of humor these past few months – something long
overdue.

I have been attending readings, seminars and workshops. I’ve learned
new things – about myself and my writing. But one thing I have come to
realize is that the most poignant things we discover are hidden in the
most subtle places. It is not what I’m told that makes huge
impressions, but what I am not told – what can not be put into words.
Silence says so much. Absense of commentary says so much. Quiet is an
answer.  Sometimes, when people are not speaking to me at all, it
feels as if they are screaming.
I guess what that boils down to is: Most of what I gather is through
desperate self reflection. Sometimes that is all you have to go on.

Anyway – I deeply regret that I have not had the chance to bring my
blog friends along on this journey. I’ve blogged in my head – at night
when I lay in bed recapping the day – in classes when there is a lull
and I fade into this world of words that is always capturing a moment
in voice – in the shower, when walking through the campus – all the
time.

I am at the library killing time while my roomate looks something up.  Ah – she is done.
I will fill her ear with all the juicy details you won’t be privvy to due to a technical error as we walk to our hotel. 
Such is circumstance. Take it as you may.
 

Powerless

Figures. I have a wealth of information to write about, and the plug on
the battery on my computer tore out of the socket leaving me without
power. (I’m on a library computer for a short moment.) It is
torture  living without means to write my thoughts down. I forgot
how to write longhand ages ago – readable handwriting went sometime
around the time my eyesight faded.

I will just assume God is doing me a favor to save me from embarrasing myself while here.

The point is, I am filled with inspiration, frustration, and reflective thought. Nothing new, I guess. 

I just didn’t want anyone to assume my not showing up meant something.
I will seek out a battery tomorrow . . for better or worse.

Good night.

In Boston again

I am in Boston for my third MFA residency. Strangely, I am not in the mood. I am feeling low – not in the mood to think or work or be participatory. That isn’t like me.


 


Tonight, we had a welcome event. There are 26 incoming freshmen. We heard Kudos of the staff and students, announcements, and everyone got reacquainted. It is lovely seeing the returning students – catching up. I spent some time with my mentor from last term, Laurie. I brought her a gift. I found a wall hanging in an art gallery that is quirky and different—I don’t know, it isn’t something I’d buy anyone else, but it suits her. It’s a shoe, all gaudily decorated with a cutout of Elvis – one of his movies the featured theme. Her last novel was titled “Before Elvis there was Nothing” so this art has meaning. (She can hang it on the wall of her house where before, there was nothing) I wrote her a nice thank-you note. Frankly, it is a conversation piece, sort of odd, but then, so is her surreal writing. I suppose she’ll understand the sentiment behind the offering. I am grateful for all the time and attention she devoted to me these past six months and I just wanted to express it.


 


I met with my new professor, AJ. She is a demanding, professional sort of teacher and I am very excited to work with her. A few of the students asked who I was working with and when they heard it was her, they lifted their eyebrows and said, “Eeek. She is so intimidating.” She is, and yet, I’m looking forward to the experience.


 


I hunted down my first mentor, Bill to say hello too. This was difficult due to past discomfort between us – which I attribute to my total insanity and a collection of circumstances that served to make me crazy last residency. I have great respect for this man, and if anything, I felt shame approaching him, because rather than honor and trust him, I questioned his commitment to working with me last term (due to outside influences, rumor, and my own frustration). Actually, I didn’t actually complain about him, but about a student in my group, but it came across as my being disappointed in his mentorship.  I don’t want to go into it.  I will be working with him this week in the large group workshops. My goal is to “fix” what I broke. It means the world to me that I do. I just don’t know how to go about it gracefully.    Perhaps that is why I’m feeling low. It eats me up to be out of sorts with people that are important to me.


 


I listened to two readings tonight, a fiction writer and a poet. I was unmoved. This in not to imply that the writers were not good – only an affirmation of my uninspired state.  Perhaps it’s because I got up a 5AM this morning to get to the airport and I’m tired. Or maybe it’s the glass of wine I had after the session to relax. I don’t know. Is there such a thing as a mid-way academic slump? I could be the poster child for that. My roommate gets here tomorrow. I am glad to be alone tonight – it helps me to diffuse and transition from home life to student.


 


I think I need to sleep. First, I’ll read. Then, with hope, I’ll dream. I’ll order up a nice, positive dream to jump start my engine. For someone who is usually on fire, I feel like my pilot light has gone out.


 


I think, the reason this residency is trying for me is because I have no one to share it with. Family members, friends, indulge my talking about writing, but only to be polite.  This has become a solitary endeavor. I feel on my own in my pursuits nowadays.


Makes me low.

Hendry House




I think, today, I will talk a bit about our new house. I will post a few pictures, but they don’t do it justice. And it is a work in progress, so you have to use your imagination a bit.


It’s still in the throes of construction. It doesn’t look as if we’ll get in until September, but when something is special, it’s worth the wait, so I am not complaining.  This house will have taken us over a year to build. It has been stressful living in the cramped confinement of the cabin, and our lives have been in this transitional place longer than most people could stand. But we deal with it because we know, masterpieces take time. (The house, and our life, qualifies as a masterpiece, I believe.)


 


To say this is our “dream house” is not an understatement. It’s everything I’ve dared imagine – and if you know me, you know I have a vivid imagination without limits. Frankly, it’s out of my comfort zone as far as a humble abode could be. I never imagined I’d live in something so grand or so perfect for our personalities.


 


 I think that is the key. Not that a place must be extravagant, but it must fit the residents. This home is a work of art and a work of nature all rolled into one inspirational package. I’ve never considered myself a homebody, but I don’t doubt, once in, I’ll become one. Most importantly, this project has made Mark happy. He is going crazy with the work, but he is, at the same time, filled with satisfaction and joy. He has always wanted to design his own home – this particular rustic style of home. And while we don’t have unlimited resources, he has enough money to work with to make his vision a reality. Actually, our limits force him to be creative and resourceful, and he responds well to that kind of challenge. Most of the best things we’ve done in our lives have been in response to our wanting more than our resources provided. We are masters at finding ways to accomplish something without writing a big check (we never had the capability of dropping cash like that). It’s not a bad thing (character building) to have to think out of the box.  


 


For example, Mark wanted huge log pillars and detail in this home. But the size and quality of the logs he needed are bought by builders from out west and shipped in – which costs about $1000 a log (not to mention shipping and time factors etc). He wanted about 80 such logs in this house. So he learned to do them himself. He walked the property with the builder and together, they picked out trees that had the size, shape and wood they wanted. They chopped them down and carted them with the tractor to Mark’s workshop. He then debarked them with a chainsaw and began the laborious process of sanding them. Later, they were brought back to the house and since they weigh about 1000 pounds each, it took six men and prop devices to wedge them into place – in a few cases, they need a crane. But Mark got his logs. In fact, people who have worked on the house have said that they know builders working on multimillion dollar homes that would go crazy to buy some of Mark’s logs. Does he want to start producing them?  If we ever get cash strapped, he has this option, not that I’d let him do that for a living.


 


The first day that Mark began a log, he came home so broken and beat I thought the project would kill him. Really. Lifting that heavy chainsaw and carving up these huge logs takes muscle. He’s out of shape, has arthritis in his hips and he was so exhausted and spent, I was certain he’d taken on too much. But he slept it off and the next day returned to the task. He is determined that way. The man always gets what he wants simply because he will endure whatever it takes to get it. That is an admirable trait, except when you have visions of widowhood looming each time he steps out the door.  At times, he would prepare a log, and it would turn up a few feet short – all that work for nothing. Broke my heart. Slowly but surely, the logs took their place in the house. They are the pillars that hold up the huge back porch, and they create a majestic entrance in the front too. Inside, they hold up the staircase and run along the 25 foot peeked ceiling. Amazing.


 


When I walk through the construction site, inspecting progress, I always stop to caress a log with my fingers. I can’t describe how much I love these damn logs. My daughter chuckles when she is with me. The other day, she said, “You sure adore those logs –of course, you would. It’s so very you.” I said, “It isn’t very me. It is very dad.” And she smiled and said, “That’s what I mean. You love that your house is made of the essence of who and what you love.”


Ha. She is as romantic and corny as I am. But she is right. I do.


 


When we sold our home in Florida, I cried. I walked through the empty rooms and balled. Mark didn’t understand.


     He said, “It’s just a house, and I’m gonna build you a better one in the mountains, where you’ve always wanted to live. Your next house will have all the things you want, like a big closet and a good kitchen.”


     I tried to explain that it wasn’t the house I cared about, but what the house represented. Our kids were born there, and he had turned the house from a cracker box, average sort of home into a beautiful, stylish representation of us. And the garden! I looked at his pond, his 200 orchids hanging in the trees – all his gorgeous landscaping and I wept.  I said, “I don’t want to give up all this beauty. I love waking up and looking out the doors at this Garden of Eden, you’ve created.” 


     He shook his head and said, “You will have 50 acres of Eden. Trust me. You won’t miss this house.”  (I do miss the house – but not for reasons I can explain.)


 


    Anyway, our new home is remarkable, because it’s original and born of my husband’s vision. Mark spent months pouring through log home magazines to determine what he wanted. He cut out pictures and talked to builders about what was possible with our budget. Then, when he couldn’t afford something, he shopped and made compromises until he could get something as close to perfection as possible. For example, we needed a front door. Mark wanted something stately, so he looked everywhere. Night after night, he did research, comparing prices. Eventually, he found an amazing door that he could get shipped from Bali. It was only two grand with a thousand dollars for shipping. Two months later, the door arrives. It’s massive, made of this gorgeous African hardwood. It has a curved shape (It looks like a door from a Hobbit house in the movie The Lord of the Rings). Windows frame the perimeter, covered with iron detail. It’s rustic, but stately – (this home isn’t a cabin, it is just a rustic style home so it combines rustic detail with more classic design.) The company delivering the door wouldn’t drive in the gravel road to take it to the house, because it’s simply too big and heavy, and they didn’t want to be responsible for what happened. So Mark, the builder and 3 laborers lifted it into a truck and drove two miles an hour, screaming and panicking all the way, to bring it to the house. It took five guys to set it into place.   But, let me tell you, we have a terrific door to show for the trouble.


    When the electrician came to the house, he said, “Man, how much money do these people have? That door must have cost 15 grand!”


      The builder grinned and said, “I think it was only 8 grand. This guy knows how to find bargains.”


      Mark smiled but kept the real price to himself.  Not many people would go to all that trouble over a door. For Mark, “trouble” is simply the price of satisfaction.   


      He has done the same kind of thing when it comes to light fixtures, fireplaces, cabinets, etc… He works magic, finding amazing bargains, and he rolling up his sleeves to dig in to do work himself when he must. He is doing half the contracting, the logs, some of the stonework, landscaping, and lots and lots of creative planning.


     


    I guess it would help if I described the basic house plan. We’re building a 5000 square foot home (Our last home in Florida was only 1700 Sq feet, so you can imagine how excited I am with the space). It has four bedrooms, a grand (living) room, a kitchen connected to a breakfast nook, a family room downstairs, a big private writing office for me, a loft office for Mark attached to a craft room for his junk, a laundry room, dining room, a room for a pool table (grin), a huge workout room (yippee) and four bathrooms. We have a big (clean) garage and steps going upstairs to a large storage attic. We have lots of holiday decorations, camping equipment, etc, so this is a particular luxury. This home has a huge screened in deck, bigger and more lovely than the one we created in Florida, with a large stone outdoor fireplace and 25 foot cathedral ceiling with recessed lighting and fans. The mantel is a huge half cedar log that Mark sanded. He carved around the knots and burls to add detail, and the piece is filled with wormholes and spaulted designs in the wood. Beautiful. We also have two sets of French doors from the master bedroom that leads out onto another private deck (held up by Mark’s logs). Mark also has a large private deck off of his loft office. I think he imagines he’s going to be like the king lording it over the peasants in that big space in the sky over us all. That works for me – but if it is HIS space and we can’t go up there as he claims, he can clean it. Ha. Bet he invites me in before the first week is out.


 


We have four fireplaces in the house, a huge traditional one in the great room that is stoned 25 feet to the ceiling. We have collected geodes and unique stones to embed in the stonework to make it a conversation piece.  Lights have been positioned to showcase this focal point. In this room hangs a 5-foot wide massive iron chandelier. We also have a fireplace in the downstairs family room. This is where we will have a big TV and a bar and what have you for casual living. (We always keep the primary room sans TV, so it is used for adult pursuits or the family when they are up for reading, talking or anything other than the boob tube. We are not big TV watchers in this family.)  We also have a lovely iron stove fireplace in the master bedroom. It has a design in the structure so that when it is lit, it casts a subtle leaf pattern on the walls. This one has a remote control so we can switch it off when we go to sleep. We are lazy, I guess.


 


Like any log cabin, the inside of the outer walls are log. But we have some drywall inside too so the home isn’t pure cabin. It will be our home for many years, and we didn’t want it to be too hard-core cabin-ish, which would prohibit decor change or evolution.


 


We got rid of most of our furniture from Florida, other than a leather couch. So this house has no furniture. We are not planning to buy much. Mark plans to build it all. He is taking a rustic furniture making class in August and I suppose after that, the sky is the limit. We have picked out some pretty amazing pieces that he intends to reproduce. We will hustle to get this done, partly because we have to live in it and need furniture, but also because our builder thinks we are candidates for a log home magazine spread (He’s done several before with homes like this that stand out), and that would be a fun way to show off Mark’s final project. Nice to have for prosperity.


 


I have a huge closet – the size of my daughters former bedroom – all my own. This is such a kick. I will actually be able to see my clothes. I have a disgustingly massive wardrobe, and if I can see everything, I tend to be a creative dresser that puts things together in fun, new ways. I will be the best-dressed gal in the sticks, let me tell ya. Mark has his own big closet that he can keep as messy as he wants without hearing me whine.     


Our master bathroom features a huge tub with hot tub jets. Mark will actually fit into it (and he could even invite friends if he wishes, it is so big.) I had to lay down in it before I would give it a seal of approval, because I like to read in the tub, and I require a comfortable backrest sort of design. I think nothing of laying in a tub in a store. I’m grossly inappropriate that way.


 


This house is really Mark’s project entirely. He had done an amazing job. The things I wanted for this house, I made clear. I wanted lights. Lots and lots of lights. We have canned lights everywhere. The electrician said, “No one needs this much light.” But Mark said, “It is all my wife asked for. She’s gonna get it.” I have tons of light in the kitchen and there are recessed lights everywhere. What can I say? I don’t see as well as I did when I was younger, and I read everywhere – in bed, the bath, on the porch, in every room, you name it. I also like mood lighting. It is important to have illuminating options depending on your mood (wink).


 


I also wanted lots of counter space in the kitchen. Got it. I have a spiffy new stove with five burners and two ovens – but it isn’t as large as I wanted. In the end, we had to make compromises, and while I would have loved to spend a fortune on my kitchen, I can do fine with anything. I tried to be reasonable in this regard – but I did press for a good cooking set-up. Only fair considering the time I spend in there.


 


Downstairs, the famiy room open onto a large stone patio where we have the hot tub and plan to string some hammocks on the support logs. My kids each have a big bedroom. Kent has a drum room built into his with a loft over it to dull sound (grin). We have huge windows everywhere, which look out onto the most beautiful wilderness you can imagine. The best part of this house is the setting. When you are on the porch, all you hear is wind in the trees and birds. It is remote, like heaven. 50 feet from our porches is a gurgling creek. We plan to clean out all the underbrush after the house is complete so you can see it better, but this must wait until all inspections are complete. Can’t mess with Mother Nature without permission.  We also have two springheads just beyond the house, and Mark plans to dig a big pond there, with an island for my future ducks to nest on. (We will have creek front property and a pond stocked with ducks and fish. And I want a SWAN. Yippee.) All around the house is forest, and if you walk down the drive, you come to the field where the horses graze. We plan to build walking trails with benches and such, so walking the property is a easy and soulful. Mark will also put stairs to, and places to sit, by the creek.  In the long term, we have some exciting possibilities, which include a gazebo by the creek, a tree house attached to our home by a bridge from the deck, and maybe a guesthouse nestled in the woods nearby for friends. Of course, it all depends on money and where life takes us. The best thing is, 50 acres allows you 50 thousand possibilities. It is fun to plan, even if some of our ideas are far-fetched.


 


I am pleased with the house, but I must confess, it isn’t what I wanted when we moved here. We had agreed to live simply and to allocate our resources to things other than an extravagant home. Previously, it seemed our life was just an endless struggle for “stuff” and to create a beautiful home – but we were so busy working we never enjoyed any of it.  I wanted different things this time – to travel the world, have experiences rather than things, buy toys to play with. I imagined us living a more conservative lifestyle so we had money to spend in other ways.  I especially wanted a boat – we even looked at them last summer – but now that will have to wait. I got the horses, so it isn’t as if I didn’t get something to play with. 


 


The house we planned to build originally was half the cost of this one. When Mark is on a creative roll, nothing stops him, and things escalated. I saw it happening, but I kept quiet. I figure we will still live simply (now we will have to) but in total elegance. If I want to travel and have a boat, I’ll just have to sell a book and generate income for those additional things. Or open a business (now you know why my mind shifts to those possibilities. It is to keep up with my man’s lifestyle tastes).


 


What is most important is not where you live or what you have, but the happiness factor for those involved. I am happy anywhere and with anything. But this house is what Mark needed to feel satisfied. And I get the benefit too. So I am thrilled with it. And frankly, it is a fantastic investment too. Our land’s value has already increased a great deal. Someday, when we decide to bravely shift into a new chapter of living, we will sell this and I’LL TAKE A TWO-YEAR TOUR AROUND THE WORLD, no compromises. I won’t have kids then, so it could happen.


 


In the meantime, I can live with staying home – since I can’t afford to go anywhere –after all, the home is a luxurious work of art. (Ha – do I sound spoiled or what?)


 


Now, I just marvel at watching this incredible project take shape. I’ve lost my husband to the search for perfect tile and stone, fixtures and trims, and that is lonely. I thought, this, our first year without FLEX would be a wild celebration of leisure and rekindling our relationship. We needed time to heal the last few years of turmoil and stress that our business created. Instead, it has been a ton of work. I don’t see Mark much. My laundry is filled with sawdust, and proof of his exhaustion is evident in his heavy snoring at night.


 


I guess certain sayings prove true.


Anything worth having is worth working for.


Because I know this, life is good.


Patience is a virtue.


That is the one I must remember.


 


 


        


 


 


 


 


 


 

Charging up for the MFA residency

Friday, I will be returning to Boston for my third MFA residency. I will be rooming with my friend, Sue, again and I look forward to hanging out with another fond friend, Alice. We’ve become comrades in writing arms. I enjoy catching up on their progress (and their lives). We share a similar sense of humor and all three of us are quite down to earth when it comes to processing the educational experience. Makes for some fun conversation at mealtimes.


 


Last time, I wrote freely about all I was feeling and experiencing. Later, I found my posts were passed on to some of the teachers I’d been discussing, which made for some discomfort on my part. Not that I’ve expressed anything but respect for the instructors in the program – but still, it’s easier being an “invisible” student in the crowd then the annoying (if not mildly amusing) student analyzing and cataloging the professor’s motivations, style and personalities. Considering this, I’ve wondered if I should blog about the experience this time. Perhaps it’s a bad idea to be open and honest about your perceptions on life when you can’t control the audience or their reaction to it. But then again, perhaps the only thing wrong with doing so is that we are trained by social constraints to be “polite” and address life on a surface level. What is wrong with honesty, anyway, if it is wrapped up in good intentions?


 


Then again, what is the point of writing about writing? Who cares about one “beginner” writer’s view of the MFA experience?


 


The thing is, I believe someone might. I have a friend or two who aspire to write – friends who are sincerely interested in my journey into this new territory. They may even decide to follow suit and try this MFA thing someday if it turns out to be a significant element in my development.  Frankly, even my dance buddies find my plunge into the cold sea of a new career (or hobby or whatever you want to call it) interesting. I think the parallels between dance and writing are striking. In some ways, when I talk about my struggles to write, I am preaching to my former dance students, showing them by example how to make a commitment to their art. Learning to master a skill is difficult – on the ego, the heart, the mind. Perhaps my willingness to put myself on the line will inspire others to tackle a dream from the bottom up – to do whatever it takes to build a foundation for their aspirations. I’ve always tried to teach my students to address their weaknesses rather than hide behind what they naturally do well. Lay down your ego and conceit and dig in to broaden you gift! Learn what you don’t know, like it or not, cause, while it is disheartening at times, you’ll be stronger for it in the end! Whether or not this lesson will ever sink into their thick little heads is another matter altogether, but it’s my nature to harp on what I believe.


 


As such, I will be writing about my MFA residency again, assuming the spirit moves me to do so. My writing friends will then be able to picture what such a journey is all about. Perhaps they will learn along with me, so they won’t have to go through the grueling process themselves. If nothing else, they will have a picture of me sitting in those lectures trying to grasp that elusive thing that separates good writing from bad. The idea of me scratching my head with a furrowed brow will make them smile.


 


I received my Faculty Mentor evaluation this week. It was very positive. Lovely. I was called “a most eager and dedicated student” . . . and, “a most prolific writer” as well. I write “clear, incisive and insightful annotations with great skill and forthrightness.” (Stand back so I can take a bow). But I also couldn’t help but chuckle at one line. “As such, Ginny is both challenging and a pleasure to work with, and she has made great strides in the novel this semester.”


 


Hummm. I am “challenging” to work with? These MFA teachers are such wonderful writers, they are very like word masters. They can say what they want in perfectly accurate, subtle ways. So, the way I see it, this innocent line really means I’m a big, fat pain. I guess you can say, I keep them on their toes – but since they are not dancers, being on their toes is uncomfortable, if not annoying. I am a “challenging” student. Shit. Don’t get me wrong, to be challenging is not a bad thing. But it can exhaust a teacher who isn’t in the mood – sometimes going through the motions of teaching is all you have the time or interest for. It would be nice if I were a student they enjoyed working with, rather than a test of their teaching efficiency.


 


Well, if I could be someone else rather than who I am, I’d try it. I get pretty tired of myself. Unfortunately, I don’t blend in as well as I should in certain elements. But for the record, my intentions this term are to listen quietly, ask only necessary questions, and to avoid coming across as “challenging”. Yep, I wanna be one of those invisible students who are more brain than mouth, just attendees that smile and do as they are told, then go home and write something decent as proof that they were listening.  


 


Can this be accomplished? My husband sincerely doubts it. He laughs at me when I insist I won’t be noticed this term. “That’ll be the day,” he says.


Well, just you wait and see, bud. I can be a face in the crowd too.


 


But for all I plan to be subtle at the residency, for my friends I feel compelled to blog the highlights about the educational experience. Some things are important to share, and events that create personal growth and change qualify.  Education – a heightened understanding – changes a person in subtle ways.


 


Now, I have homework to do to prepare for my jaunt into MFA obscurity. My next mentor is a bull, already pawing the earth and preparing to charge. She is on a “recognizing the elements that make strong scene” kick this term and I think our manuscripts are red capes flashing in the arena. She has her horns dipped, ready to charge. I need to be prepared for the dance I’ll be doing when she comes at me.


 


Do I need to tell you how much I look forward to it?  

P.S. For those of you who love to read, get the short story “We Didn’t” by Stuart Dybek. It is one of the pieces I had to read for this residency and I thought it was exquisite. Really. Loved it. Man-o-man, I wish I could write like that! Maybe I was drawn in because this one is a very sexy story – but its poignant too.  Everyone who loves literature should read it.
And if you enjoy short stories, The Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike is a fantastic read. I was assigned one story in this thick book, but found myself reading quite a few, compelled to read “just one more” even though I had tons of other required reading to do. The book is a compilation of some of the best stories ever written. Exposure to this kind of literature isn’t just entertaining. It makes you think and feel. Get a used copy at Amazon. Read it in spurts when you don’t want the commitement of an entire novel, but you want to feel touched by a tale. I will read the entire thing in time- a story always at my fingertips when I want to be moved. Only wish I had time to wade through it now. Unfortunately, this one goes on my pile of “Books I’m determined to read when school is over” stack. It’s one daunting (but much honored) tower, let me tell you.
Must get some work done. Bye.       

A cup of pleasure

Who’d a thunk it? I’m a bad coffee shop customer. Me. The gal that doesn’t go a full day without a visit to the local java store! I’ve always considered myself a poster child candidate for most the devoted coffee patron poster. But, as it turns out, I don’t quality.


 


I’ve been scouting around researching the biz, and apparently, a successful coffee shop sells 74% espresso drinks and 26% plain cups of coffee. The normal coffee is offered just to assure the store is a full-service coffee stop. Most all of the coveted profit comes from those frappes, lattes, steamed and iced drinks. The people ordering them babies are the golden customers. I’m just taking up space.


 


Because, you see, I’m one of those people who always orders plain coffee. That happens to be what I like. I don’t even try the other offerings, because (God forbid) what if I like them? They are loaded with calories I don’t need, and they cost more than I want to invest for a casual snack umpteen times a week. Coffee, with a touch of cream to make it the color of my hair, topped off with an equal, does me fine. It’s not really the drink I’m going for anyway. It’s the concept of stopping motion for a brief moment in the day – to relax and breathe. In Florida, I’d drive through the local Starbucks for a quick coffee fix (and a little flirting with the coffee boys at the drive through) because just holding that steaming cup made me feel as if I was taking time for me. Here, I actually get out of my car and go into a place called LL Beanery and sit by the fireplace on a huge leather couch. I sip slowly, marveling at this gift I’ve stumbled upon, to live in the moment and appreciate the beauty of living true to oneself, for the first time in years. It’s not the taste of coffee that makes a cup of that mud so attractive. It is what is associated to it. Leisure, solitude, warmth, a mental vacation.


 


That is off the point. I’m supposed to be talking about the coffee biz.


Unsuccessful java stores are filled with customers like me. People who dare to order coffee at the coffee shop. The goal is to turn people like me into customers who order the hard stuff…. those coffee servers are nothing but bean pushers, trying to make us Frappichino addicts. Well, good luck with that, King Starbucks. I’m no java pushover, you know. 


 


Lately, I’ve been going into coffee shops to sit, sipping my plain coffee, and I’ve begun counting customers and eyeing what they order. I’m this shadow, studying the characteristics of the coffee buying public and the houses that cater to them. It is fascinating.  I also study the layout and merchandise offered at these coffeehouse/knick knack stores. Interesting. I’m doing all this math, mental acrobatics to break down the business – taking into consideration the space each division of the business consumes, cost of sales and investment required. And then I consider the opportunity costs – all the other things you could do with the same resources if you applied them to something other than a coffee shop/art gallery. Goodness, I think I actually learned something when I went to college. Who knew?


 


Remember, man cannot live on coffee sales alone (unless you are Starbucks man.) so I am researching art galleries too. Today, I went into a favored glass art gallery in town, which happens to be expanding to add other mediums. I asked the owner about his background. I have a way of starting conversations with people that opens them up. I found out lots of good stuff. This fellow was an art history major in college 30 years ago. Later, he worked doing window displays for a department store and he arranged house wares for best showcasing. When he retired from that, he went back to school and, for fun, took a gallery management class at a college in Atlanta (not far from here – hummmm). All told, these endeavors obviously combine to make him a perfect candidate for owning and operating an art gallery. I was envious of his experience – but mostly, I respect the path he’s taken to get where he is. I’m smart enough to know that success in any business demands an in-depth understanding of the business. Obviously, for all that I worship and adore art, I will need to learn a great deal more about the “business of art” before I am in charge of the kind of decisions art gallery management will produce. This does not mean I’m giving up – only buckling down.


 


I’ve talked at length with an owner of a <ST1Wood Art Gallery too. She is a snob, but a lovely snob. Art people are about the only people more uppity than dance people. Ha – not like anyone in art can intimidate me after all these years. She got into this business because her husband is a wood turner. I can give her a run for her money in that category. Anyway, I keep browsing Appalachian art exhibits and nature craft shows. All kinds of leads swirl around me, like the tentacles of a huge monster I want to tame.


 


The point is (and really, there is no point to this blog except that I’m really lonely today so I felt like writing something – its my manner of keeping company with invisible friends) I’m having fun speculating on a future business that is as far removed from my experience and knowledge as could be. I could hang up a shingle and just learn as I go, but I’m too wise to waste time and money like that at my ripe old age. An ounce of preparation can save a pound of headaches. Or is that pounding headaches…  I’ve had a business before. I know.


 


Perhaps my research is going to begin and end as just that. Research without action following. I may learn enough to turn away from the entire idea. Or I will gain confidence and enthusiasm as I recognize the true potential of the project. Time will tell. I will follow instinct and my heart. It never steers me wrong. For all I know, fate is pushing me in this direction simply to distract me from dance. It kills me not to open a dance school here. Not that I want one, but this area NEEDS one. And I don’t need to do any research to get that. Shoot me.


 


In the meantime, my daily cups of coffee have taken on new meaning. Just goes to show, even stopping for a cup of coffee can be an inspirational event if you find a way to make it so.

Good, Clean Fun with Real Friends

Yesterday, I finally rallied my kids together to help me with a project I’ve wanted to accomplish for some time now.


 


We washed the horses!


 


This is actually a mundane, normal thing to do when you own horses. Like dogs, they get muddy or stinky on occasion, so you need to give them a bath.  However, we’ve avoided it – not because of a lack of interest or horse rearing knowledge. It was a lack of water.


 


We still don’t have a well drilled on our land, pumps rigged to the creek, or what have you, to make it feasible to hook up a hose. Normally, people with horses (plural) set up a “wash station” – a concrete area with a hose nearby that you use to wash the livestock. With this, you simply tie the animal up and go at them with horse shampoo, a big sponge and a touch of muscle. It’s like washing a car, only the car can step on you if you don’t watch what you are doing.


 


 Not having a place to wash the horses has created a dilemma, especially because of Peppy, a white horse that loves to roll in the reddest mud he can find. He is actually a sort of pink color now, thanks to his pigpen habits. He is so stained I’m thinking he needs Horse Clorox rather than “Main and Tale” shampoo. His love for mud, combined with sweat stains and dust, has left us looking like livestock slackers – it’s made me increasingly uncomfortable.  We do groom the horses, of course, and that removes a great deal of the grime, but still, they are overdue for a good washing. I don’t want people thinking I ignore the needs of my pets, nor do I want my pets feeling itchy or gross.


 


In the winter, I didn’t mind their being dirty. They grew thick outdoor coats and it was too cold to wash them anyway. However, every since the weather turned warm, I’ve been trying to convince someone to help me tackle their dusty hides.  Can’t do it alone because of the mechanics of the chore. Can’t be down in the creek and up on the dock washing the horses at the same time when you are alone, no mater how committed you are to the task.


 


Therefore, catching the kids in a good mood, I convinced them to help me. We dressed in grubby clothes and headed for the land. We decided to wash the animals on the wooden bridge that covers the creek. Kent and Neva stood in the creek filling buckets. Denver and I washed the horses, the runoff water (and non-toxic soap) spilling through the slats and being carried away with the creek tide. Kent and Neva ended up soaked, playing in the water with more energy than they used filling buckets. Denver and I were slapping soap everywhere, squealing when the horses shook and soapsuds when flying. We dumped bucket after bucket of fresh creek water over them to wet them down and later, to rinse them. Washing them this way was harder than using a hose, or course, but still effective. In fact, I was somewhat sorry we waited so long to do this once we got involved, because even though lifting those buckets was a pain, the project was also fun.


 


Since this was our first horse bath experience, we didn’t know what to expect. We assumed Mark’s horse, Goliath, would be the most difficult, because he’s a big, bossy lug. But in reality, it was Dixie, our mare, which acted most distressed. I suspect, knowing the down home, practical working farm where we bought her for what it is, this horse has never had a bath before. She was gentle, as always, but stomped a bit and whinnied when we dumped water over her neck, proving she was nervous. April stood nearby, as if watching her mother go through this process was both fascinating and confusing. I turned to her and said, “When you’re older, you’ll be doing this too, so pay attention.”


 


Dahlia Llama lay in the grass, his head as erect as a king, watching from about 20 feet away. I suspect he enjoyed the entertainment, though he was acting sort of snotty and arrogant as if he was above it all – (you see, llamas don’t need baths). But he’ll be taken down a peg when we sheer him later this month! No messy animals will bare the Hendry name no mater what breed! 


 


Goliath was not trouble as we guessed. In fact, he seemed to love being washed. He kept trying to drink the buckets of water when we held them up to dunk him. He is such a hog – wanting to consume anything and everything. He shook lots and his sheer size and strength make it feel like we were working in a thunderstorm (with suds.) The only problem was pigpen Peppy. We marveled as he turned from dirt pink to white again, and all his light grey freckles reappeared. He is the most personal of our horses, (and the smartest). He can open gates with his mouth, and will push you with his nose for attention. I adore this horse. He has a devilish personality. But despite a good effort, we didn’t get all the stain out of his mane or tail. I will have to buy a stain-remover for him, I guess. Not like he isn’t going to roll an hour after we are gone anyway. That mischievous gelding won’t stay clean for any length of time and to hope for anything different would be madness.


 


As we were finishing washing the last horse, Mark drove up with a truckload of fresh hay and said, “So, are you going to wash the donkey too?”


Our donkey is like a rug that hasn’t been vacuumed in 40 years. When you pat him, puffs of dust rise into the air. His hair is thick and course (he hasn’t shed his winter coat yet like the others). I was concerned that he would act up – kick or something – because he hasn’t ever had a bath. In fact, I don’t think people around here bother to wash their donkeys. They’re not sleek livestock that get that kind of attention. Blackjack is a gentle and adorable donkey, but he is a donkey after all, and he can be stubborn and willful. The kids seemed to think washing him was a good idea him, so I went along with the plan, although with no small reservations. The last thing I wanted was to ruin our nice day with a problem that would make the concept of washing the horses something to distain in the future. 


 


We tied the donkey to the post and wet him down. He looked like a drowned rat, all pitiful, but he didn’t shake or pull away or do anything but act sad. Then, we went at him with a curry comb and gallons of soap, brushing handfuls of winter fur off him and removing what must be pounds of dirt. Mark took over my role vigorously, as if his making the donkey clean would prove his worth as a country man of talent. Blackjack was so cute, allowing us to work over him as long as we did. Took a half hour to rinse him – but in the end we had one fine looking, soaked ass to show for our efforts. (And five other, exhausted, soaked asses – all who felt, if nothing else, a sense of accomplishment.)


 


Since the animals were clean, I could spray them down good with fly repellent, something that had to feel good for them, for they’ve been tormented with flies this last two weeks now that summer is here despite our fly control efforts.


 


Finally, released from our enthusiastic scrubbing, the horses and donkey went to the fresh mound of hay and ate leisurely. You could tell they were feeling great. They were smiling (or so it seemed to me) and they didn’t fight over the freshly cut grass or nudge each other for the best standing room positions.


 


All felt right with the Hendry animal world – at least for that moment. I’m sure, today, when we go to feed them, I’ll encounter dusty, dingy horses that rolled in manure and dirt because they were feeling so good. (It’s how they celebrate joy, apparently.)


 


Owning horses is work. But somehow, it never feels like work to me. I like being outside, and being physical. I like the way they look in my eyes with trust (and anticipation for a snack) when I approach. I love their size and power, especially considering they still behaving with respect for their owners. I love it all – the feeding, washing, even shoveling shit…. all of it.


 


Sometimes it feels like I’ve been shoveling shit all my life, doing this dance to please others. But when I am out there with the horses, the only person I’m working to please is me. I don’t mind hard work when the results are something pure and earnest. These horses seem to acknowledge my efforts as an act of caring, and comforted by this understanding, we’ve built a bond of friendship and trust as result. (Would that it was only so easy with people) The horses listen to my secrets, whispered inner quiet thoughts I don’t usually share aloud but somehow feel compelled to discuss on a quiet ride or sunset feeding. They blink lazily and nod, never passing judgment or disapproving. Why would they? They are my comrades in nature’s arms and they understand me – accept me – for what and who I am.


 


We all need (and deserve) friends like that.  


Find them where you will.