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Monthly Archives: March 2007

Turning Off Center

Today, I am ruthlessly killing segments of my novel in this, the final revision of my thesis. Time is closing in on me, and I can no longer fudge around trying to save those precious intellectual lectures that I slipped into the story. They were didactic, preachy and dragged the story down. This does not mean I didn’t work like the devil to fit them in, like a square peg into a round hole. 

I wrote them first, you see, as a free writing exercise in a seminar. I was told the pieces were good, so I used one in the submission that led to acceptance into my master’s program. I included it in the material for my first term critique workshop and was encouraged by the professor and students to expand it into a bigger story. This seduced me into considering dance as the subject for my ongoing thesis project.  The actual story of my novel was invented like filler, an idea wrapping around the essays. This made the novel somewhat contrived, rather than being inspired by a plot which is how I usually write.   

At first, I tried to pass the essays off as mental meanderings – as if my frustrated character was thinking all this philosophical stuff about dance. That didn’t work.
Next, I turned the essays into diary entries – as if my main character was writing formal essays to get her thoughts about her former career off her chest. I even invented a therapist, Marilyn, for her to discuss the entries with, to provide a bigger forum for intellectual debate. That didn’t work either. Had to kill Marilyn after my second term.
My teachers said, “The essays are very well-written. Some are the best writing you’ve done. But nevertheless, No one writes that formally in a diary, and no one cares about dance in this way. Stick to the story. It’s more interesting. “
The problem was, I didn’t believe no one cared. I happened to care about dance in that way, and I found the discussions interesting. Obviously, I had things to say and I wanted to use this book to say them. And people said things like they were “compelling” or “opened my eyes” and this made me think that if I could find a way, I should keep them.

But what I eventually learned was, I should be writing a story about a person and her journey as a retired dancer, thus letting readers come to their own conclusions about dance, but I was writing a story about dance, hitting readers over the head with it’s many issues just in case they didn’t “get it” instead.  And a story about dance (philosophically) lacks the human interest pull that keeps a reader involved.

So, realizing this, I invented a pedicurist – a Vietnamese girl who listens to Dana (my leading character) vent as she fixes her sore feet (a metaphor for how painful dance had become for her), and I tried to change the essays and turn them into less formal conversations. This still didn’t work totally (although this new character, Tu, remained and added a great deal to the story.) Some glimmers of the formal essays made it in, but most had to go.

Each revision, the story got more defined and better. But still, it has a way to go.
So, this week, at long last, I’m killing the essays. It’s time.  Heck, It’s past time. As each one hits the dust, I cringe and mope.
Mark said, “Maybe you need to write another book – some kind of nonfiction social commentary on dance.”
I really have no interest in that. But thanks for giving my heated opinion validation by suggesting it.

One professor told me that my writing the essays was important even though they are not going to be a part of the book, because they solidify my character and help give her more depth. I think he is right. You can’t bemoan the work you do that doesn’t make it into the book, because it is a bit like those scenes that end on the cutting room floor when they edit a movie. What’s lost isn’t as important as what is gained by creating a story that is well paced and organized. You can spend hours on a passage but that doesn’t mean it has intrinsic value.

In the end, I’ve accepted that I wrote these dang things for me. After a lifetime of feeling passionate about the art, I had to give my feelings a voice. That voice doesn’t need to be heard (read) to have served a purpose.

Anyway, no more preaching essays about dance in my book (now entitled “Turning off Center”.)
And just to prove to you how wrong these essays were for a fictional novel (which believe it or not has a great deal of humor and fun in it too) I thought I would share one of the more pompous ones that just cropped up as I hit page 143 of my current revision. I killed the dang thing just now. This one is about how critical dancers are of each other, self righteous about their particular path rather than embracing the art in it’s many fascinating forms.

Here it goes.
Read it and weep. Or snore, as the case may be.  Ha. See how I contrive a way to get someone to read them in the end even when I profess that it isn’t important.

      Dance is more like a religion than a vocation or special interest to those of us involved. Its congregation is made up of devout followers unified by one core ideology. Having joined the order, dancers engage in daily rituals, warm-ups, classes, auditions, choreography, all part of an ongoing quest to manifest purpose and seek validation for our devotion to the craft. The studio is our church, the stage our pulpit.

     Like religion, the basic premise of our ideology is beautiful. Dance can fill your soul with joy. Art teaches us about life and love. It makes our world a better place. But, as with any religion, theory and practice are two different issues.

     Any gathering of like-minded souls feeding each other’s monstrous ideals can become a mob casting stones at everyone who doesn’t share similar artistic values. The average worshiper is a good-natured soul who attends a weekly service and has a healthy connection to their faith. But dancers are more like the religious zealot, obsessing about their art, dismissing all those who dare follow a separate path.

     As dancers, we begin with one core ideology. But swayed by personality, physical traits, upbringing, and the social environment, dancers divide into sects of Ballet, Modern, and contemporary dance styles,(jazz).  Once a dancer is fully embraced in one of these communities, the dancers who chose to walk alternate paths become “others”.  If there is one thing seemingly universal about religion,  it would be that in order for us to be “right”, “others” must be wrong.

    Ballet advocates approach dance with a purist mentality, putting stock in literal translations of what is and is not correct.   With ballet their doctrine, they’re not unlike born again Christians or Catholics, literal in their interpretation of “the word” as they interpret it. Proud of the stringent sacrifices they make to master their art, ballet dancers are righteous in their movement philosophy.  Their saints are Balanchine, Pavlova and Baryshnikov. They worship at the church of Vaganova, Checetti or Royal ballet. Steeped in history and the sacrifices of their past saints, they believe all those who have not chosen “ballet” as the path to heaven are lost souls.

     Meanwhile, modern dancers are a little like Hara Krishna’s or some other cult, a religion just outside of society’s norm. Dancers with bohemian and/or rebellious natures are attracted to this sect, forever striving to cut a new path into movement wilderness. Modern dancers defy the rules of physical grace associated with beauty. They embrace contorted, ugly, halting or awkward movement, claiming life is not always pretty. This, they believe, is moving with truth.

         These modern dancers divide into defined orders too, becoming disciples of the masters they admire, Graham, Limon, Cunningham, or Parsons. For them, contact improvisation is taking communion. For lent, they give up pointing their feet.  The modern dancer’s confessional is the stage, a place they display dances about the human condition. There’s nothing entertaining about grief, mental stress, or personal torment, yet they tackle these themes in performance vigorously, venting their truths with impassioned fire and brimstone sermons.

    Meanwhile the outside dance world looks on, amused, hiding expressions of chagrin over the modern dancer’s adolescent and agnst. Yet, at the same time, the, modern dancers cannot resist making fun of those involved in other disciplines. They insist ballerina’s are just stiff “bun heads” who continue to reinvent the wheel. Jazz dancers have sold out to commercial enterprise.

     At least ballet and modern dancers share a common intellectual understanding of movement and their training processes are similar enough that they offer each other a degree of respect. These classical dancers, on occasion, even cross over from one discipline to the other. The ballet dancer trains in modern to add depth to his or her movement. The modern dancer takes ballet class to find his or her center. Privately, they dish one another, but publicly, they behave with respect and professional curtsy for their sister art. They do have one thing in common. Neither holds much regard for the jazz or theater dance advocate.     

     Jazz dance is defined as “dance of the people, movement that changes and evolves in response to influences of our culture.” In other words, its “common”, and dance sophisticates have little patience for what they perceive as a simplistic parody of the art. Jazz dancers, intimidated by how the profession discredits their core knowledge, avoid delving into areas that make them feel inadequate. So they learn just enough classical technique to serve as a foundation for movement, dwelling in popular cultural styles and trendy movement instead.

     Jazz has subdivisions within its ranks too; hip-hop, lyrical, vintage jazz, and theater dance just to name a few. If Jazz was a faith, it would be a Unitarian parish, liberal by nature. Jazz dancers don’t feel as if they’re guilty sinners, because they don’t adapt the idea that severe sacrifice is required to get into dance heaven. Their faith is somewhat dependant upon instant gratification. Jazz is the dance religion of the masses, thanks to exposure on MTV, Broadway, movie musicals. There is strength (validation) in numbers.   

     With a fair claim on the majority of employed dancers in the world, jazz dancers can’t help but poke fun at the other, more stringent dance forms. For all the snobbery the classical dancers cling to, they receive a poor return for their training investment. Jazz dancers are streetwise, smug in their commercial success. . . and their higher paychecks.

     Thus fuels the ongoing dance religion wars. 

     What is my place in this trilogy of animosity?  I’ve spent time in each of the dance denominations. I’ve studied ballet, modern and theater dance, and worked a bit in each.  Perhaps I’m too much the idealist, for I never found satisfaction in any form alone. I never felt I belonged to one church of movement. In the end, I think I lost faith all together. 

     So now, I guess I’m a dance atheist.

    No, an agnostic.

     It’s not that I don’t believe in pure spirituality in dance. It’s just that I’m still looking for proof that it exists.

Now, you may ask, what did I write instead? Well, I invented a short scene, which I will share – even though out of context it may not have much impact. At this stage of the book, my heroine has taken a group of downs syndrome students to a dance competition and she has strong negative feelings about the event (although the students were treated well and won a nice trophy). A chapter describing the event and all that happens, showing dance in a different light, has just occured. This is the end (taking the place of the above essay.)  

Driving home, her mind circled the competition dance arena and how young people today were being taught to view her beloved art. It seemed nowadays, dance was all about immediate satisfaction and showing off for instant rewards. Perhaps she was just getting old, resistant to a new way of thinking, like those grumbling old men who claim they walked ten miles to school in the snow. Uphill both ways. But honestly, she still believed dancers worked harder, for less tangible rewards, in her day.
     She couldn’t stop thinking about Max and the influence he’d have on his gifted son. As far as she was concerned, the boy represented tomorrow’s dancers. The idea that such a nice kid was being brainwashed to approach the art with arrogant superiority and a forgone assumption about what forms of dance are good and what aren’t, caused her stomach to churn. How could something as simple as dance become such a complex war of emotional and egotistical importance? And why hadn’t she ever noticed this before? More importantly, why did she care, considering she was stepping out the back door, leaving the party for good?
         She looked in the rearview mirror at the cheep plastic trophy in the backseat. 1st place overall. What did  that monstrosity symbolize. 
     That she was joining the ranks of dancers today who embrace lower standards for the art?
     That those involved in dance are, deep down, good souls who care more about people than craft? 
    Or was this “win” proof that all the effort to pursue perfection is, in reality, fruitless, because what defines great dance has nothing to do with formal technique?
    Then again, maybe it just means a hundred bucks today can buy anybody, even blundering retarded kids, a trophy that says they can dance.

*    *    *
   “The man was a real snob. He had this attitude that ballet is the kind of dance that deserves respect, and jazz doesn’t count,” she said to Shelly on her cell phone while driving home. She’d promised to call her mother first to report the results, but for some reason, she wanted to talk to her best friend instead.
     “That’s no surprise. All dancers are grossly critical of others.”
    “I beg your pardon. Not me.”
    Shelly chuckled, but didn’t say anything more.
    “Oh God. Am I like that?”
    “Don’t be ridiculous. You’re far worse.”
    “But I know what I’m talking about when the subject is dance. I’m right.”
    “My guru says we all have our own version of truth. Nothing is true, and everything is true.”
     “That’s true,” Dana said.
     “I just didn’t know there was a right and wrong in art. I thought it was like beauty, in the eye of the beholder. Isn’t that what you mean when you profess that your downs syndrome kids are good dancers? If they were being judged only on skill, well, technically, they have some problems, right? I’m glad they won, but I bet there were some dancers in the room that thought their being recognized just because they were handicapped was, while lovely on one level, not exactly fair. The fact is, other dancers have worked for years on perfecting their skills and they came to that competition paying fees just to be recognized for it.”     
      Dana was quiet.  “No doubt.”
      “Point made.”
     “Point taken. Still, I think I’m right about dance. Not that guy.”
     “Of course you do.”

Happy Birthday, Jess

Happy Birthday, Jessica Smith!
I should have called you today, but Cory only told me tonight at 1 am. He was withholding information.
I thought of you today. I hung a picture in my workout room with you in it. Made me smile. Must have sensed it was your day.
A lot of good things came out of my years at FLEX, but my friendship with students like you – so much more meaningful as you all evolve into admirable adults, has to top the list. What a kick it is to see the directions you all take as you find your niches in the world.

Hope it was a great day and your fondest wishes came true. And I hope your gift came with a ribbon tied around him – oops, I mean it.

With Love,
Your pen pal forever.

Don’t Bee Procrasting when you have work to do.

Two bees ran into each other. One asked the other how things were going.
“Really bad,” said the second bee. “The weather has been really wet and damp. There aren’t any flowers or pollen, so I can’t make any honey.”
“No problem,” said the first bee. “Just fly down five blocks and turn left and keep going until you see all the cars. There’s a Bar Mitzvah going on. There are all kinds of fresh flowers and fresh fruit.”
“Thanks for the tip,” said the second bee and flew away.

A few hours later the two bees ran into each other again and the first bee asked, “How’d it go?”
“Fine,” said the second bee, “It was everything you said it would be.”
“Uh, what’s that thing on your head?” asked the first bee.
“That’s my yarmulke,” said the second bee. “I didn’t want them to think I was a wasp.”

That’s a beekeeper joke, don’t ya know.

Today, I spent the morning avoiding my homework by browsing the internet. I shouldn’t, but some days, I just need a warm-up before I can focus. I was thinking of my upcoming beekeeping class in May. Yesterday, I purchased a big jar of locally produced honey at the supermarket and had a nice conversation with the elderly checkout man about it. He said he’d been to the farm where this honey was made, and recommended I visit.  I told him I thought this would be the last jar of honey I’d be buying, because I was going to grow my own. I also shared that my family wasn’t too keen on the entire idea, but since I had 50 acres I thought I could stick my hives off somewhere where they wouldn’t be intrusive.

The fellow said, “You may want those hives close to the house. Around here, beehives get torn apart by bears. Happened to my neighbor just last year.”

Now, that isn’t something I considered. We did have a bear tear apart my rabbit cage last spring. However, that bear was captured and released in Tennessee, or so we believe. I guess the bear threat will be something I have to prepare for. Frankly, I like bears as much as I like bees (or more) and I would kinda find it cool to think one was pigging out on my honey. Of course, I might feel very differently after I invest in equipment and spend a few months nurturing a hive.

I got my confirmation for the class in the mail this week. They say that if you think you really will want to raise bees after the class, you should consider investing in a beginner hive so they can help you set it up. They sell for around 125.00, but of course when I went shopping on the internet, I found a more modern, high tech version that produces more eggs from the queen (and sustains the bees better through the winter) made of a new, duraplastic (less cumbersome yearly maintenance than wood) for 210.00. This doesn’t count the bees, of course. Wonder what your standard queen bee goes for nowadays?
Ee-gad, living simply is expensive (at least the set up).
So, here I go. I have to do the justification calculation.

Honey sells for about 7 bucks a jar, and we go through a jar every two months (put it in tea, don’t ya know, and I often cook with it too). On that principal, it would take 30 months to break even on my investment. Dang – that’s no good.
Too long. Let’s see – I go to the movies for entertainment and spend about 20 dollars a pop. Keeping Bees is entertainment in a way, so perhaps I can consider savings in that format. Then there is the wax and the fact that I can make candles and soap from it – which I think would be fun to try.  I will reap 100 pounds of honey a year. More than I will use for sure. So, I’ll give some away as gifts to teachers and such, and maybe sell some in my coffee shop when I get around to opening one someday. Yep – it’ a stretch, but I can contrive an explanation that will eek by as reason why beekeeping is a good financial investment for the family. Over ten years, we’ll have come out way ahead ….

I have a better idea.  I’ll just write an article or story about bees and sell it, and that will justify the entire investment in one fell swoop! Yep, you can’t put a price on life experience and all it can lead to. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Considering I have spent money on a spinning wheel, chickens, a donkey ,llama, fruit trees, and the garden we are putting in – not to mention that I am looking at wine making equipment now –   I may have to consider my set up hive as a Birthday present to myself. The rest of the year is filled with guilt when I dare ask for something no one else values. April is my one month for selfish indulgences. Thankfully, it falls just before the beekeeping month. Lucky timing.

I bought a lovely, classy shirt on the internet today to wear to my class. It says, “Beekeepers like to eat their honey.” Ha. People will know I’m enthusiastic. I also subscribed to Beekeeper magazine. There is no turning back now. Not like I can go around wearing that bee shirt and reading that bee magazine and NOT have a single bee to call my own. That would be false advertising.

The other day, we were talking about my keeping bees and Denver said, “I don’t know how you can stand the thought of working with bees.”

I said, “You might think this is odd, but I have this image of myself, standing naked, like Eve, in the middle of the bees, just stretching my arms out, throwing my head back, and allowing them to swarm all over me, like light or energy from heaven. I know it won’t happen, but that is the romanticized ideal for me. I’m not afraid of bees. I think of them as nature’s soldiers, and I feel connected to them. They are just another animal. Only smaller.”

She narrowed her eyes and said, “That isn’t normal, Mom. Bee’s swarming all over you?  Sometimes, you worry me.”

Mark said, “Don’t worry. The first time she gets stung, she’ll snap out of it. She’ll change her tune quick, and probably kick over the hive, cursing up a storm. Then, I wouldn’t put it past her to drown the varmints forevermore.”

Well, thanks for the vote of confidence and your belief that I am Mother Nature’s sidekick, Honey.

One day we saw a commercial for a TV show that featured beekeeping as a test of the businessperson’s mettle. (The Associate?)  It was portrayed as some scary, awful thing these poor, inexperienced people had to try if they wanted to stay in the game with Donald Trump. I blew a big raspberry at the clip.
Mark laughed and said, “THAT  is what beekeeping is really like. See their bee suits? You’ll have to wear one of those. Hard to look sexy in that.”

Humm…. just because you can resist my charms . . . .
Nevertheless, I still like to imagine myself walking up to the hive, sans the suit, bees swarming all about me, all of us together at peace. However, I’ll be buying one of those dumb masks and a pair of gloves because the material list calls for it, and I’m always practical in the end. Frankly, for all my bravado, honestly, I don’t want to be stung if I can help it. I know  that might interfere with my love affair with these new creatures. 
 I’ll be quite a fashion statement – me in my classy, “eat your honey” shirt, a mask and gloves … and a pretty clay necklace, of course.
OK warm-up over. I have to work on my thesis. Gotta buz.


Lookie what I found today!

Chosterole aside, you MUST admit, this is very, very cool.
Made ’em myself . . . well, with the help of a chicken, of course.
Worth all the work and study!

Admit it. You’re jealous!

The little garnishes that mean so much

The other day, I was standing in my closet naked, except I was wearing one of my handmade, clay and glass bead necklaces.
Mark walks by the door, pauses and says, “That’s a good look for you.”
Very funny.
I said, “This is where I start nowadays. I begin with the jewelry and pick clothes that match.”
He said, “You’re odd. But I’ll keep ya.”
Later, he made fun of me for this system of dressing. He said some people put their socks on one at a time, and others put both socks on before their shoes.  Most people put their pants on before their shirts. He doesn’t know many women who begin with jewelry and move on to the outfit as an afterthought.
What does he know? He’s a man.
(Perhaps I should mention here that you know you’ve been married a long time when your husband walks by you naked, in nothing more than a glistening necklace, and his reaction is to make fun of you. Sigh.)

The thing is, I have about forty, original handmade necklaces made with these fabulous intricate clay beads (example above) that we design as a family on “craft nights” for fun. You begin with lumps of solid colored clay, then layer rolls of it, cutting and relayering it to make the tiny designs in canes that you next cut and reessemble to make a more detailed design. Finally you shape different beads. Remarkably facinating how each design turns out. It’s something we can all do (even Neva) that keeps us away from the television, and the beads look dynamite on Mark’s baskets or in my jewelry, so it is practical too.  These beads involve a variety of contrasting colors, which I match with crystal or glass beads for varied texture, to make all kinds of different pieces. With this jewelry as inspiration, I can always pull shirts and pants or skirts together to make it look as if I have a perfectly coordinated, “artistic” outfit. It would be impossible to achieve this effect if you started with an outfit and tried to find jewelry with the exact colors. It also allows me to put together clothing in ways I might not otherwise choose. I find my wardrobe has infinite possibilities now. Dang frustrating that I never go anywhere now that I’m looking so smart. However, the donkey thinks I’m stylish as all get-out.

Denver and Dianne keep making fun of me because I have made so many necklaces. It is some kind of sickness. I have necklace-itis or something. I make matching watchbands and earrings too, or course. I have a full wall of this pretty jewelry hanging on display in my closet. When I wear them (which is often), people always stop me to comment and ask where I get such remarkable pieces. Women find the jewelry different.
I always say, “I make them, it is sort of a fun project I do with my girls. Like playdough, only different.”
They say, “Professionally? Do you sell them?”
“You should. I’ll buy one.”
Well, then I wouldn’t be original now, would I.
However, I’ve agreed to make them as gifts for friends who really gush. For example, my hairdresser goes crazy every time she sees me in a new necklace, so I agreed to make her one. It will be my special tip next time I visit her. Others will ask her where she got it, and might want one too. This is how it begins…should you allow the ball to roll.
Denver insists that I will have to start selling my jewelry soon, because no one woman can wear this many necklaces. They would sell for 50 or so bucks at the craft fairs – maybe more with earrings.  But, I’m not inspired. Once I start making things to sell, creating jewelry will become a job. Yuck.
Dianne has been making earrings, which she sells at the flea market. She is always trying to find the right thing to sell at a booth she runs on weekends. (she is currently selling handbags). I kept telling her beaded earrings would be a hit, but she wasn’t convinced. Then, one day I showed her how to make simple earrings, and she made about a dozen pair with me in an hour. She sold half of them at 5-6 dollars a piece the next day at her booth. She was hooked. She doesn’t want to bother with the intricate designs of necklaces though, because it takes so much time. Personally, that is what I like, because each necklace is different and the uniqueness makes it more fun. And I know I wouldn’t have occasion to wear two thousand earrings, which is how many I would have if I only made them.

Anyway, Dianne finds the earrings with the original clay beads most popular, because they are artsy. So, last night we scheduled another family craft night to make beads so she could stock up. Mark is always the teacher, and he guides us through the layering and design process to make intricate canes, then he demonstrated how to get different shapes. He always gives me his beads after the evening, which is the best part, because his are so much better than mine are. I tend to like making necklaces out of his beads, or Neva’s or Kent’s, the best anyway – I guess it makes me feel as if the piece has meaning that is more personal.

For fun, I made a few simpler (and shorter) necklaces for a few of our former dance students this Christmas. I thought they would appreciate something to remember us by, so I specifically made the necklaces out of Mark’s beads with my design. That way they could wear a bit of us both. I don’t know if those necklaces are anything they will really want to wear (kids have style issues I could never presume to guess), but it was a token sent with love. I miss those kids. Worry about them. And I hate leaving and their not having something concrete to remind them we cared. I still plan to make a few more gifts for several other dancers. I just have to wait until I turn in my thesis, because time is heavily prioritized right now.  
Anyway, Denver has been making jewelry, has created her own logo, and is setting up a small business on the side. She is more into detailed bead weaving, which takes time and patience. She’s made some gorgeous stuff. She recently made a wristband that is the face of the Mona Lisa. I kid you not. It is in sepia tones – remarkable. She took it into a local jewelry store and said, “What could I sell this for?” She’d like to get 50 bucks because it took her a long time. The woman at the store said, “You should take this to an art gallery. They could sell it for 300 dollars! I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Denver was all jazzed about that, but she only has one piece, and this pattern is not original, (she got it out of a book) so she felt she needed more original pieces to make a name in the jewelry art biz. So she is making original patterns of famous paintings. She is working on “Starry night” now. I think it’s amazing, and I’m impressed. I keep trying to talk her into going to a craftsman school for jewelry design – they have these six-month schools that teach metal design, welding, stone setting etc. that would really suit her, I think. And I could help her turn her talent into a strong business. That is my specialty.  I don’t know why she is dragging her feet. She left school, and hasn’t picked a profession or direction for her life. At an impasse like this, when you are young and unencumbered by a spouse or mortgage or career, you should throw practical caution to the winds and follow your heart. Maybe she still will. Time will tell.

Anyway, with this entire jewelry making going on, we girls decided we would have to do a booth at one of the big craft festivals this fall. That is when the tourists are visiting the mountains and the festivals are booming. Denver and Dianne want (and need) to do this for income. I will participate to be sure they have a wealth of stuff on display and to participate in what will be a novel experience for me. At last, they have cornered me into selling some of my work. I’m thinking it will be fun to sit around in a booth behind our work and take turns selling or walking around the festival to scope out the other art. We can eat caramel apples and talk about people as they walk by. We will (good-naturedly) have a silent competition to see whose stuff sells best. Don’t need it to be mine.

One day, when talking to Denver about her Mona Lisa, I said, “I can’t imagine your being able to give up something so wonderful. How can you stand putting all that effort into creating something and then allow it to be worn by a stranger who simply writes a check.”

She said, “When I put so much time into something, I can’t justify keeping it for me. I have to sell it. My time is too valuable to waste on myself.” (She doesn’t have a single piece she has kept for herself).

I said, “When I put so much time into something, I can’t justify selling it. My time is worth more than what anyone would pay for jewelry. It has to be for me, or a gift.”

That is the difference in attitude when you are at different stages of life. When you are young and broke, you know you can always create more later for yourself, but what you need now is income. When you are old, you see the significance in original creation, the meaning behind it, and you know that real income is easier had from other sources. And you long to preserve what you love, which demands not putting a price tag on it.

But I hope she sells her original masterpiece art-bracelets for a fortune and has a ball making them. Mostly, I hope I get one eventually. For my birthday or Christmas. Heck, I offered to buy the Mona Lisa, but she wants to keep it as a sample for dealers. Bummer. I suppose if I made a play for it, she’d relent and give it to me for my birthday, but I don’t want to take her most remarkable piece (yet.) There will be time later for me to get one of these coveted bracelets so I can carry a piece of my daughter with me throughout the day.

So, the Hendry girls are going to begin a jewelry empire. Well, it will be more like a little hot dog stand than an empire. But we are going to have fun doing it. It’s gonna kill me to have to give up any of my fun pieces. I guess I’m selfish.

In the meantime, I will continue dressing from the necklace down, barely acknowledged by my husband when I am in my skivvies. Ah well, at least I am well coordinated and have a style all my own. That counts for something.
 We made these beads last night. I just threw them on a towel, so they don’t show so well. And my camera flash kills the vibrant colors and detail, but it gives you the general idea. You have to imagine them with accompaning earrings, and assorted bangles and extra’s to bring out the colors. But trust me, they look might good on a naked middle-aged gal, if I say so myself. Alas, I can’t show you proof in a picture because this is a PG rated blog. Pity.

A few simple necklace designs. I make some more intricate, but they get heavy and too much “stuff” takes away from the beads. I’ve discovered the more “wearable” jewlery is on the simple side. But occationaly, I overdo just because I like to mess with possibilty.


Found at Sea

I was raised in a boating family, taught to love the water at a young age.When I was small, our family had various small speedboats, the kind designed for young families and outdoor play. I remember well our metal canoe, painted a distressed white to look like Birchwood. My dad loved that thing. One summer, they sent me to a camp that featured archery, sailing, horseback riding and other outdoor adventures. I really took to the sailing.  I have memories of dozens of canoe trips with my dad, riding the rapids, being reprimanded for splashing when I got lazy with the paddle, learning about birds and fish as he pointed out the splendor around us. My dad loved playing tricks on us when we were out on the water, giving us a fright by pretending a log was an alligator, forcing our boat into a rocky area to see how we would handle the dilemma, tipping us over when we were smart alecky, or hanging a coke on an overhead branch because we were trailing ten minutes behind and he wanted to tease us about it.  


I’ve logged countless hours with a fishing pole. One of our best family trips was to a fishing camp in Canada. You could only get there by seaplane. It was freezing in the morning, but everyday we battled sunburn and chapped lips from the blazing northern sun after spending the entire day out on a boat with the Indian guides.  At night, we played cards, drank, gambled, and told fish stories (literally).    


When my father was older and more established, he bought big cruisers, 35-foot powerboats. By then, I had left home and was living in New York, but whenever I visited Sarasota, we took daylong trips out on the water. He would anchor in a bay to barbeque off the side with a nifty boat barbeque, while we swam in the saltwater. Afterwards, he always offered me a chance to drive, but I preferred sitting up front with the wind in my hair, watching him drive in his white captain’s hat, a beer in one hand and a cigar hanging out of his mouth. This was his typical “I’m relaxed and feeling fine” sportsman persona. I always marveled at the space on his bigger boats with their small cabins and stately captain’s chairs.  I liked how the gear tucked neatly into special compartments and the way each end of the boat offered a different motion experience. I was good at hoping onto docks to tie up lines, but lord, don’t ask me to steer an expensive vehicle like that. I was always intimidated – I couldn’t second-guess how the movement of the tide affected aim.  I’m the sort to feel most at home in the smaller, self-propelled (quiet) boats. Those I could maneuver with some semblance of skill. Perhaps if the boat was mine, I wouldn’t feel so nervous.


Like my dad, I love a simple float down a quiet river. In Florida, we occasionally rented canoes and I would join him in overnight journeys down the river, where crocodiles and herrings filed the landscape. We’d camp overnight and recount memories of being outdoors together in younger days. Each time, Mark would stay home. He had to. Someone needed to “hold down the FLEX fort” if one of us wanted to take a day.


When my Mom and Dad had property up here in Georgia, they bought a used pontoon, a perfect boat for a retired couple who likes to float when entertaining family and friends. We enjoyed that a few times when we were visiting too. Pontoons are like floating docks. Mellow.


I was always disappointed that Mark and I never spent time on the water in Florida (unless it was the rare occasion when we went out with my dad). My sister had a terrific 23-foot speedboat (a party boat) with a small cabin. She graciously extended a “use it any time you want” offer. Did we use it? Not once. We were simply too busy running the dance empire to ever take any time for leisure. Even our vacations were built around dance events.


I was forever trying to carve out a small niche in our life where we could fit non-dance related living in. I craved nature. Quiet.  I bought a used two man kayak, thinking it would be wonderful if some afternoon, Mark and I could sneak away to explore any of the huge bodies of water around our home. We had oceans, rivers and inland waterways in every direction, a mere fifteen minutes away. I imagined going kayaking with my teenage daughter or my sporty son, teaching them to love the outdoors the way my dad taught me. However, our family only took the kayak out once on a camping trip. Had a ball, but that didn’t inspire us to start using it. The fact is, when you work weekends, nights and a part of every holiday, and you find yourself packing costume-ordering catalogues in your suitcase when you go on a family trip, there simply isn’t room for boating pleasure in your life. When you do get a day for family, you find yourself working on the house or doing practical chores, or you plan something mundane like going to the movies because you are just too tired to play strenuously.  


I suppose we could have just thought “heck with FLEX” and gone kayaking on occasion, but we didn’t. That mindset was difficult to embrace, because we had such a strong commitment to building that business that once it was established keeping it fiscally stable (and appeasing the insatiable demands of dance parents) required endless attention. And money was always tight. Our school was successful, but we always channeled the profits back into the business. We never paid ourselves enough to maintain even a small boat – or to take a vacation for that matter. I don’t think we would have ever had anything in our life had we not sold the school. We’d die channeling everything we had back into better programs and bigger facilities. We had so many things we wanted for the dancers and the school that it was so easy to justify our family sacrifices for “the greater good”. We could never justify a boat just for us. We always had a someday we’ll have “time”, or “money”, or “privacy” attitude. “Someday” never came, and we eventually recognized that it never would . . . until we left that world to create a new one.


When we sold the school, one of my “demands” was that we use some of our money for family toys. I was insistent that our life not be revised to be all about working on our home and (God forbid) building a new business. These are admirable things and I certainly am willing to make sacrifices to live in a beautiful home, but I didn’t want that to be all we have to show for a lifetime of effort. Experiences are so much more valuable than things. At least that is how I feel at my current stage in life.


Which is why, long before we moved to the land or were ready, I went out and bought horses. I had this uncomfortable feeling that if I waited, all our disposable money would be channeled into the new house and we would be right back in the drudgery cycle of sustaining a lovely lifestyle (without “fun” as a priority) again. Like marrying a second abusive spouse after you finally get brave enough to escape the first one.  I pushed for the four wheelers for the same reason. We also looked at a pontoon boat last season and came close to purchasing it. But with our energies so wrapped up in building the house, and with funds reliant on things out of our control (Flex’s adjustment period was nerve-wracking on that level) we decided to wait. Instead, we rented kayaks last season and explored the Ocoee River a few times. And we spent a few afternoons doing the inner tube float trip thing. Fun.


Now, our house is finished. We are settling into routine at long last. It’s spring. I’ve begun thinking about how much I long for leisure to be a part of our world again. I am thinking of boats.


We live five minutes from the <ST1Ocoee River, where they had the whitewater Olympics a few years ago. We live ten minutes from <ST1Blue Ridge Lake, a huge sprawling lake that winds through the mountains and is the attraction for so much tourism in the area. There are dozens of other rivers a short drive in our state parks, and other lakes as well. We could spend years going out every weekend and hardly make a dent in exploring these areas.


We have the double kayak and I am cleaning it up, getting it ready. It is time we finally use this poor thing, dragged along for years like some kind of albatross symbol of the kind of living we didn’t have time for. The problem is, a single boat limits us, because we are a family of four. Five when you are counting Denver. Six when you count Dianne (and we usually do). So, for my upcoming birthday I made a request. While I would love a female llama. Or a pig. Or a trip somewhere (anywhere) I think what I really want this year is two single man, easily transportable kayaks, the light kind you see on the roof of cars all summer around here. I am always jealous when I see them speed by and I never fail to make a comment.   I figure with two singles and a double kayak, we have many options. Kent and a friend can take out the singles alone, or we can all go and Neva can sit in the middle of the double kayak, and we can take turns in the different boats. We can even pull one of our huge inner tubes along and take turns with who is paddling and who is floating. Or maybe if we actually use the damn things, we’ll later buy another canoe to go with it so everyone fits in one big expedition. With different size boats you have the mix and match option to fit all kinds of groups.


I’ve wanted these easy to manage kayaks for years, so I think Mark will comply.
I even said, “If we can’t afford them now, I’ll take an IOU. I just want to know we will get them eventually when we can swing it.”

He said, “We’ll see what we can do”.
Like I said yesterday, I don’t have to have everything I want. I just like knowing I can have it, without guilt, when and if circumstances make it feasible.


But it looks as if Kayaks are not going to be the highlight of our future boating journeys. Because I think we’ve just bought a big boat! My sister called to tell me she is selling her 23 foot party boat. Do I want it? She will find out what it is worth, and sell it to us for half. This way, the family can use it when they visit us up here. It is a few years old, but in perfect condition. She has no kids and only uses it occasionally for casual boating with Dad. She keeps it in a covered lift at the marina. She had the benches recovered last year. The motor is older but is working perfectly. This boat is perfect for cruising, skiing, fishing, and it will pull an inner tube at death-defying speeds. It would be just the thing for our family on the <ST1Blue Ridge Lake.


It didn’t take two seconds to consider the offer.

Yes, we want it, but can you wait for us to sell the cabin before we pay? Yes? Yipee!

Unfortunately, the dang thing has no trailer, so we will have to buy one. But in a few weeks, we will go to Florida to visit family, handle some business, and we will pick up the boat. I wish I could keep it in the water in the marina here, because that makes using it so easy. It is easy to make excuses not to spend your weekends boating if you see setting up and returning home as some huge chore. But they have a huge waiting list for slips here, so we will probably have to store it at home and put it in and out of the water ourselves. Nevertheless, we’ll do what we must, until a slip opens up. Or maybe we’ll discover we don’t really need that kind of luxery. Just having the boat represents something very special – it’s proof that life is no longer on hold – That it can be filled with rich, inspirational moments today.


Slowly but surely, I feel like we are living again. It’s a bit like when your foot falls asleep. You know that numb feeling? We had that all over – and leaving FLEX was like standing up. Sitting so long in one position, you don’t realize what’s happening. Only when you move do you notice you lost all sensation in your leg. At first, you almost fall over, because you can’t even support yourself with this numb limb where once you had a foot. Then, you experience pain, a tingling sensation that seems weird and unnatural. Scary. Just when you are wondering if you are paralyzed for life, slowly, the blood returns, and normalcy eases back, and you can walk. Then run. And the awkward, unnatural sensation of being numb all over fades away as you think, “Gee, I hope I don’t sit that way again so my foot falls asleep anytime soon. That sucked.”


It is good to be awake.

It will be even better to be awake and floating.

eggs and wine

I often serve eggs in the morning and when I do, someone inevitably asks, “This one of your eggs?”

You see, I’ve been getting a few random, small brown eggs from one very dear chicken. I usually cook them the day they are laid. They are organic, fresh, and cook up fluffy and perfect. I’ve been finding about three a week. With spring here, it looks as if more eggs will be coming (in a more steady way) soon. That and the fact that I am feeding my chickens special “crumble” that forces egg laying means it’s only a matter of time until no one will have to ask if they are eating one of “my” eggs. It will be a given.

Each time I find an egg in the nest, I squeal with delight and pick it up. Then I have to carefully carry it around with me for a half hour as I finish taking care of the animals. I show it off to anyone who comes by, as if I found a nugget of gold or something. No one ever reacts with the excitement or wonder that I expect. Obviously, people take small miracles for granted.


I have four almost-fully-grown Rhode Island Reds that will be laying soon. They are in a new pen Neva and I made this weekend out of a big iron frame that was protecting our monster chandelier when it came packaged a few months ago. When I saw that big, indestructible rectangle, I said to Mark, “Don’t you dare throw this away – I can use this.”

“He said, “What on earth do you want that rusty thing for?”

“A cage.”

“A cage for what?”

I didn’t know at the time, but I knew I would always need another cage, considering my animal husbandry explorations. When it was time to move my bigger chicks into a “holding area” near the pen, I knew the iron frame would be just the thing. Mark dragged it from the workshop to the chicken area and bought me some supplies. Neva and I wrapped chicken wire all about the thing and wired it together. No door – that would have been too complicated. We just tilt the contraption and shove the birds in.  Now I have a spiffy new chicken run.


 I’ve always admired people with the “use it up and wear it out” mentality. It takes innovation to use resources wisely, which is good for the planet, good for the mind, and involves creativity and skill. It may be easier to write a check for something you need. Nice new, sparkly things do look nice, new and sparkly. However, I am rather turned off by the glut of consumerism and waste in our world, so I associate good feelings to making a cage out of a packing crate. People who do not see the value (and accomplishment) in reusing resources are missing something wonderful. Anyway, more and more, I’m trying to be someone who lives in more environmentally responsible ways. Gotta do my part to save the world (global warming is real, friends). Saves money too, and there are things I want far more than shiny new (unnecessary) everyday stuff – like a trip to Egypt to see the sphinx.(But first, we are discussing going to hike Glacier Park, because in twelve years, all glaciers will be gone. You haven’t seen “An Inconvenient Truth” yet if you don’t understand that decision.)


Where was I? – Oh, I was bragging about my up and coming chickens. I also have five Americanas (blue eggs). These birds are young teenagers (4 weeks old) but they will be laying in three months. I have seven baby chicks of assorted breeds peeping in my basement too, which will start laying some time in June. I am totally egg-a-fide now. It is just a matter of time until the windfall begins.


I am going to buy myself three tiny turkey chicks next week. I’m shooting for a boy and two girls, although they are not pre-sexed so you have to guess. Linda (the feed storeowner) taught me how to best determine what these babies are by their behavior. I’m told turkeys get as big as Neva (bigger! 80 pounds), and that if you handle them a lot, they are terrific pets. They will run around with the chickens, gobble and add ambiance and flavor to my ever-growing poultry collection. I even have the names picked out for my turkeys, but I won’t share them. Certain people would be offended – though anyone who knows me well also knows my humor and understands how I like to amuse myself in stupid ways, so perhaps you can guess.


I also plan to buy some game hens later that I intend to let run wild in my chicken area. Why not? They lay eggs you can eat, and they make some funky raw sounds that are fun too.


When I bring new animals into our world, Mark just takes a nonchalant look and makes a few comments about whatever seems interesting to him about them. He never discourages me or seems put out. In fact, he is rather supportive of my interests. I guess he thinks it could be worse. Not like I’m interested in buying a racecar or having surgery done to change my body or anything else that might contradict our concept of the perfect life. His generous attitude is partially because it doesn’t really cost anything to add a few bird mouths to feed and it keeps me happy. Most importantly, I do all the drudgery pet care. He also finds the animals interesting, educational, good for a laugh, and he is very into eating organic. Nevertheless, he has put his foot down about a pig. You see, I want a mini pot bellied pig. I think they are too cute. He thinks pigs are dirty and nasty. He says I can only get a pig if I will eat it, and since I won’t, we are at a pig-stalemate. He is determined to be the only pig in my world. I’m not ready to give up my pig fantasy however. It is just a matter of finding the right negotiation tool. The question is, what’s the ticket to get a guy to give in to a girl’s pig desires? Hummm….. I’ll have to ponder that one.


I bought about six grape plants last week. Every time I see one I’m like “gotta have one of those.”  I have muscadine, concord, suffolk and lakemont varieties. As it turns out I won’t be using any of them for making wine. No-siree. I did my homework and learned I will need a vineyard with specific breeds of grape for that. So today, I’ll stick these grape plants along the fence somewhere and hope they will grow and bear fruit. These particular grapes will be for eating or making jelly.


I said, “Honey, will you let me have a vineyard, please?”

Mark sighs. “A whole vineyard? Can’t you just work with a nice arbor filled with grape vines? How much wine can one girl make and drink?”

(The man obviously underestimates my potential for wine consumption now that I don’t need to be a constant “good example” for dancing children).

“I need a vineyard. I read a book.”    

“A book. Of course. Aren’t you supposed to be so busy with your MFA that you have no time (thank god) to read books? Why do you need a vineyard to make wine? I doubt every person who makes wine has an entire vineyard.”

“According to my book, lots of people do. Tending to a vineyard gives you the whole experience.”

“You need the whole experience? You haven’t made a single bottle of wine yet. We can buy grapes, ya know. We don’t know if we even like homemade wine.”

“If I buy the grapes it won’t be the same.”

“How do you know?”

Since I had no answer for that, I told him all about the information I’m learning about making wine. Each plant yields 8-11 pounds of fruit. You need 10 pounds to make a gallon of wine, which is five bottles. Each vine must be 6 feet from another, staked with wire to make rows of fruit bearing vines. I want to make 40 gallons a year. That takes one tenth of an acre, hardly a drop in the bucket of our 50 acres . Grapes like acidic, sandy, rocky soil. We can add sand to our clay to get good results. Grapes like being near water, which is why commercial vineyards are on coastal areas, like California, Italy or the other end of our state. They don’t like being near forests, because they need to stay dry and you don’t want deer eating them – but I will work around that. My wine will be for home consumption (or gifts) so it is not like everything has to be perfect. Grapes grow best on hillsides. We have hillsides! I figure we can clear a section of our land and plant a vineyard (you till the soil in fall and leave it unbothered, don’t even walk on it, then in spring plant about 40 vines and tend to them for three years.) Voila, we have a vineyard. It’s that easy.


Mark sighs. He is thinking about the eight apple trees still in the back of the trailer that he has yet to plant. (He got too tired to finish all our planting after putting in our pear and peach trees this weekend). In three years I’ll have apples. Will I have time for grapes too? He is probably wondering if it would be easier to say “You want a vineyard? Sure. Whatever,” because it is possible I will give up the idea by fall. But then again, I’ll have taken my wine making course by then, and I might be hotter for a vineyard than ever, so he dare not make promises he may not want to be bother with later. He has his own passions you know. He has benches to make. Tables and turned bowls.


But then again, he is also probably thinking a vineyard would be kind of fun – another new experience that might lead us into new territory. He loves gardening. Loves eating healthy, natural, homegrown things. Loves my cooking. Loves giving me busy work that keeps me out of trouble. If a vineyard isn’t too much trouble, it might be cool . . . .

I tell him that people with vineyards also plant roses, as if this might influence him somehow.

He says that is because of the pollination issues. Roses attract bees, which will cross-pollinate, which results in more fruit. He points out that he has never really been into roses.

Bees? You need those? I’ll have bees by then. Plenty!
He groans. He still hasn’t warmed up to the bee issue.
“Moreover, even if you can live without them, I love roses. Gee wiz, I am so meant to have a vineyard.” 


He is smart. He says, “We’ll discuss it later, in the fall. Let’s see where we stand with work and money and our time then.”

That is fair. That isn’t a “no”. It isn’t a “yes”. It is one of those famous “we’ll see”‘s that kids hate so much. In the end, I figure having a thing isn’t always necessary anyway. The fact that you can have it if you want it badly enough is what counts, and he has given me that.

I’m appeased. I’ll keep reading about wine and vineyards and put the idea of my own vineyard on the backburner of my mind. If I don’t plant a vineyard of my own, I’ll write a book about a heroine who makes wine and has a backyard vineyard. Yea, there is no such thing as information that goes to waste.


In the meantime, I think I will drag Mark to the other coast next month for a weekend getaway. There is a Georgia vineyard route there with small commercial growers that welcome tourist. We can do the wine country drive, learn what varieties work in our region of the country. We can sip samples, buy some bottles for home – maybe even see how much work it all is and find out if they sell plants for when (if) the time comes.


Anyway, That is my farm report for today.  I’d love to write more, but I gotta go. I have homework. Bear with me. I may be MIA for a few weeks as I finish this MFA. I have to turn in my thesis April 9th and I’m ready to knock it out and put it to bed.  My best birthday present ever will be tying a bow around that puppy and not bothering with it for a while.


Sigh. To work.

Starting home fires

Kent and I burnt the forest down.

Just another day at the Hendrys.

Let me make it very clear here that it was all Kent’s fault.


Mark left town this week to attend a 6-day intensive fine furniture-building course. The school is only about a 1 hour and 45 minute drive, but he knew he would be tired and the traffic is bad in the Atlanta area, so he opted to stay in a hotel. I always miss him when he goes away. I am unsettled. I have this feeling that things just are not right; like when you are grocery shopping and suddenly you start thinking maybe you left the water running in the bathtub at home. You know you are worrying unnecessarily –why would you have done that? Nevertheless, you now have this unease, because it is also remotely possible you might be flooding your entire downstairs while you are going through the mundane drill of purchasing bread and milk.


At the same time, I rather relish my spouse’s absence too, because a partner eats up a certain amount of time and energy. I get a great deal accomplished when he is away, and (dare I admit it) I get to do those things that I wouldn’t necessarily attend to when he is here because they fall under his category of tasks – or they are things he would interfere with one way or another.


Anyway, Mark left, so I kicked into high gear and started attacking all those things that are a high priority to me, but not so important to him. You know, the things a guy pushes aside with an attitude that “he will do it later”. Later had come. First, I took down the Christmas boughing that was hanging on our porch. It is March, for God’s sake. It has been driving me crazy. (When he saw it down when he got home he said, “Aw, now I no longer qualify as an official redneck.).


Next, I cleaned his office. The floor of the room has been filled with boxes, bags, and stacks of whatever, since the day we moved in. I don’t know how he stands it. He is always saying, “I have to clean that office,” but every time he goes in there, he sits at the desk as does other work (which is also important – but I could never think in that kind of clutter.) I pushed the bookshelves that were in the center of the room to the side so I could begin unpacking books and supplies. I threw out bags and boxes filled with trash. (If he had the mind to fill them with trash, why leave them in the room? Why not carry them out to at least make a dent in the mess?)  I picked up dozens of rolls of building plans – from the house, the cabin, the FLEX building at Lakewood Ranch – all kinds of plans just scattered on the floor, and put rubber bands on them and stacked them in a box in storage. I swept, hauled, and organized. I did not, however, touch his messy desk. I will clean, but I don’t want to be intrusive or lose something important. There is a method to this man’s mess, and I wouldn’t want to debilitate him by shifting that mess around. But, boy oh boy, did I want to tackle that too.


I took it upon myself to hang the pictures in the workout room and get it officially set up. We have all these dance pictures and articles that have been leaning against the wall in there, so I slapped them up. I knew Mark would hate this, because he is very particular about all things visual. I’ve never hung a picture in our home, set out a pillow, or purchased a vase that he doesn’t move or get rid of it within the week. A month ago, I bought two pillows for the couch that I thought were perfect. They lasted three days before he bought pillows he liked and tossed the ones I had chosen. This kind of thing used to bother the crap out of me, but I’ve learned to live with my lack of input in our environment. It is not as if he doesn’t have lovely taste, so why make an issue of it? Anyway, I bought a clock for the workout room and a small table so we can get our stereo off the floor. I put together his barbell rack. The next day, my new treadmill was delivered (we had purchased it a week or so prior). I must say, I am doubly inspired to spend time in that room now. I have all these wonderful memories around me, and the room “feels right”. It feels like a dance studio- without the work associations. I can log on miles on my spiffy new treadmill (which is my way of beating the Georgia mountains and the three months of icky weather) surrounded by proof of the very fulfilling journey my dance life took. I run towards (but because it is a treadmill, I never reach) my New York teachers and experiences, our FLEX history, and articles written about the programs we designed etc. I have pictures in there of student’s I’ve loved, and chapters of my life I cherish. It is now a great room, representing chapters of life I am most proud of .


I did some other house puttering (while also taking care of the family, of course – just because Mark was gone didn’t mean I wouldn’t invite his mother over for dinner, or workout with his sister, or take on his shifts of driving the kids to school. I also had Neva’s spring soccer practices, Kent’s band festival, Kathy’s lessons, Homework, etc. to schedule into my days. It was a busy week.)


I dared buy some plants and I put them into the ground myself. (OK, I know this is no big deal to other people, but this was a big act of independence for me.) Neva and I planted four good-sized raspberry bushes and some tiny blueberry plants Kent had given me for Valentines Day. I even bought four boxes of strawberries and six grape plants, but they are still waiting for Mark because we need to till the areas they will land. It was fun digging in the dirt with Neva, learning as I go. She was so funny, instructing me about putting plant food into the hole before we dropped the plant into it. She has more gardening experience than I, you see, and she knows it and likes to show off.


I cleaned out the hot tub and filled it. We have had it over a year, but never cranked it up. Finally the electrician came to hook it up.  I’m looking forward to using it at long last.


But the big thing I did in Mark’s absence was clean the garage. When we moved here, we just told the moving men to stack boxes and stuff in the garage, knowing we would get to it later. But there was no order to the madness, so each time we went rummaging around to look for something we needed to unpack, things got steadily messier. In the meantime, every time Mark brought packages from Home depot, they tended to land, unopened, somewhere near the door. We also had about twenty pairs of muddy shoes out there, and wayward tools and buckets of paint buried under boxes of trash, luggage and camping stuff that just didn’t make it up to the attic. There were laundry baskets filled with electrical supplies and light bulbs and whatnot. A big piece of plywood that the workers left right in the path to the door was an ominous obstacle we kept tripping over, and yards of torn paper the builders laid to protect the floor when they were finishing up inside which made it impossible to sweep (and thus dirt was forever being tracked inside).


Every time I stumbled through the mess with groceries, or couldn’t open the outside refrigerator door because of clutter, I wanted to scream. So, I determined now was the time to do something about it. I know Mark would get to cleaning the garage eventually, but that might be months from now. And if there is one thing I believe, it is easier (and wiser) to just do something about what you don’t like rather than bitch and expect someone else to attend to your priorities.


I enlisted Kent’s help. He is an amazing worker and thanks to his good humor, a joy to spend the day with, so his participation made the project fun. He must have lifted 80 boxes and carried them to the attic or the craft room or loaded them into the truck to take to the workshop. We lugged and sorted and groaned and made jokes about at the madness of the mess and made speeches about how much this particular thing or that had been annoying us for months, until we had finally made a dent in the clutter. And this inspired us to keep at it, even though by then we were so exhausted we could barely see straight. We had carted stuff into the driveway into categorized stacks, and Kent had filled the truck with trash for the burn pit. We decided to take it down to make room for more stuff in the truck.


We drove down to the pit in the field across from the house and unloaded the wood and a few bags of burnable trash. Kent pulls out a lighter. I tell him not to light the fire because Dad is not here and it’s a windy day.


He says, “Don’t be such a woos, Mom, I do this with Dad all the time.”  

I say, “I know, but Dad isn’t here, and I really don’t want to be burning without him.” Meanwhile, my kid lights the fire anyway, making jokes about what a nerdly stiff I am. The fire roars up five feet. Kent blinks and says, “Woops. I’ll stay and watch it.” (Meanwhile, he is stamping out the trash that is flying out and landing on the grass because, as I said, it was a windy day.) I grumble about how dumb boys are about loving fire  (it’s a caveman thing) and I return to the garage to reload the car with stuff for the workshop. About fifteen minutes later, Kent returns and tells me the fire has gone down. Not to worry. We load the truck again and decide to drive to the workshop to unload. As I drive down the driveway, I look over and say, “Wow, it almost looks as if the forest is on fire.” I do a double take, then yell, “Kent! The forest is on fire!”


“Oh my God!” he yells, jumping out of the car and running to the fire. I guess he thinks he will stamp it out. But when he gets there he stands there with his hands on his head and says, “Mom! Help. I don’t know what to do! The forest is on fire. Really!”


I assess the situation. Yep. The forest is on fire. Trees are going up in flames and every time a wind comes along another foot of underbrush ignites. I run to the house and call 911. Then I return to the fire, cursing the fact that we don’t have a fire extinguisher and our hose would never reach this far. Meanwhile, Neva is freaking out. She runs to the house to get her blankies (I don’t know if this was because she needed immediate comfort or if in the back of her mind she thought she should rescue the thing she most values from the house just in case the fire makes it that far . . . )


Kent is saying “I’m so sorry. I had no idea. What should I do?”


Now, this was a perfect “I told you so – why don’t you ever listen to me,” moment. But as a parent, my strongest inclination when there is trouble is to put my children’s fears to rest and to protect their sense of security. So I assured him things would be fine and that the fire department was coming, so not to sweat it. Meanwhile, the wind is blowing and every few minutes another tree goes up. Ee-gad. Kent keeps saying, “Dad is going to freak. We burnt the forest down.”

I gently correct Kent. “You burnt the forest down. I told you to wait. But it will all be over soon. These things happen. . . when you don’t listen to your mother.” (OK, so I couldn’t resist the “I told you so moment” for very long.)


Neva is sobbing, asking if we are going to die. Um… no dear. The fire is over there and we are over here. Her eyes open wide and she says, “What if the fire department can’t find our house?”

That might very well be a problem, considering we are a new house – off the map. I tell her that perhaps she should stand at the street corner and point, so she runs off to do just that, clutching her blankets with desperation. I feel better giving her this busy work and removing her from the scene of the fire.


Finally, a truck pulls up and out comes a single guy in camouflage pants with a shovel. Kent says, “God, I think that is our fire department. We are so screwed.”


This strikes me as funny. We do live in a small rural community, and we are forever making jokes about it. It appears my 911 call has resulted in this scruffy fellow’s visit.

I say, “I’m sure he is just here to check it out and he will report in.” But I’m not really so sure. And the idea of a single man showing up with flames beginning to engulf our forest started me laughing. I know I should have been more worried – I mean fire is a serious thing. And Neva is a wreck because she has heard such horror tales in school about fire. But the donkey is watching from the field as if this is the most interesting thing going on in his day and I keep thinking about our good intentions and how hard we worked to make things nice for Mark, but it will all be turned around because he is going to have a cow if we burn a part of his 50 acres down. And I can’t help but see the entire thing as humorous – like my life is a sitcom – the Lucy show – and this is a typical episode. I think about how I will be able to razz Kent about this for the rest of his life, how one day we will laugh about the day we cleaned the garage and burned the forest down. And I just can’t get worried or upset. I keep making jokes (inappropriately).


The fellow walks up, spits some tobacco, and tells me the fire truck is coming. He then walks over and throws a shovel full of dirt onto the roaring flames. Now, Kent and I both start making subtle jokes. We couldn’t help it. I guess the fact that someone with authority was there to handle things alleviated our concerns deep down. And it really was sort of funny, in a “three stooges clean the garage” sort of way.


In a short time, the truck comes. It is a standard red fire truck, but the fellows driving it are in jeans and t-shirts and cowboy hats or baseball caps. They are all carrying shovels. This is our fire department. Apparently, these men don’t stick around the station because fires are rare here. They stay at home and when they get a call, they drive to the station and then the truck rolls out. Under those circumstances, they were mighty expedient, in my opinion.


As they hosed down the forest, a few of the fellows sauntered over and talked to me about our land. They told me they played here when they were kids, before it was at all developed. They said they liked what we were doing, had a nice house, and they thought the horses looked mighty fine. Where did I get the llama? Do I like my donkey?  They talked about what a nice guy Jimmy Owen is (the fellow taking out our pine trees at the entrance to the land) and mentioned we were standing in a good place for a garden and since it is spring, I should consider putting one in. (I told them we were.) They heard a rooster and said, “Chickens too? Good for you.”

They told me about their homesteads nearby, and asked how I liked their fair city. They didn’t seem to think the fire was that big a deal, but they did mention that our fire pit was too close to the forest (gee, ya think?) We had a lovely conversation, just like we’d met at a church social.        


I asked a few questions about fire and how it spreads and what they do when it gets out of hand. I asked if they liked working for the fire department and what else they did on the side. I always like to learn about people. Meanwhile, I am watching the big circle of black ash that is now in the heart of our forest where moments before, flames ere flickering. I’m thinking it isn’t so bad really. Kind of like a big shadow in the trees.


I apologize for making them come out. They said, “Aw, that’s fine. We like running the truck once in a while, and it gives us a chance to see what ya’ll are up to out here. Looks good.”  


They were very, very nice, and in an hour the episode was over. . I’m grateful Kent and I only left for 5 minutes to fill a truck so this fire thing was an “accident” rather than a “catastrophe.” Lord, what if we had gone out to lunch or something? As it was, I met some nice people from our community. The entire 50 acres didn’t burn down. We discovered we can count on our local fire department. I figure Kent learned a valuable lesson. (Mother is always right.) Neva will need months of blanket therapy, but other than that all is well.


Six hours later, Mark comes home. It is dark. I am glad he is home. Sort of.


Proudly, we show off our clean garage. (Meanwhile, Kent is smiling at his dad, but casting a “are we going to pull this off” look at me every time Mark looks away, which makes me snicker. Mark reacts exactly as I expected. He has to act happy that we worked so hard on the garage, but he feels funny about it too, as if our cleaning it was a way of saying “you are a big fat slacker, so we decided to do the work despite you.” Which isn’t the case, but that is the hidden message when you do a task someone else has said they will do over and over again.


He says, “Gee, it looks great.” But then he says, “Where are my drill bits?”

I say, “They were buried under junk . . . “

“On the ottoman. I KNOW. I know where every thing was in this garage, ya know.”

OK, so you knew your way around this shit. They why didn’t you put things where they belonged? Are you implying that I should have left the garage in an upheaval forever, cause I couldn’t’ stand it anymore.  I didn’t say this, of course, but I am thinking it – You see, I am getting defensive now too.


He says, “And where are the bulbs I was going to plant?”

“Outside on the porch.”

“How about that box of house stuff. I was going to put that away. I had a place for everything in that box.”

I’m thinking, then you should have brought it in and put it away. What are you waiting for? Lot of good it is to know it is in a box.

Instead, I patiently tell him it is in the attic with another ten boxes of home decor that was left opened, but not unpacked. He need only take a few steps to get whatever he wants.

Then, he starts focusing on the fact that he has this fire wood holder that he had taken out of the original box, and the parts are leaning up in a corner unassembled. He wants to know where the screws are and the cover. I find the screws for him, but I fear I might have thrown out the cover. He gets really annoyed and starts talking about how he has to throw out the entire thing, (and they don’t make them anymore, of course-it can never be replaced) because without the cover it is worthless.

I tell him to put a damn tarp over the wood and make do. Life will not end because he doesn’t have a cover.

He gets argumentative and again says he knew where everything was in the garage before we cleaned it.    

I stare him down and say, “Tough. That is the cost of getting the garage clean. You’ve lost a cover. Deal with it. I can’t believe you are going to stand here seeing what is over 8 hours of back breaking work that your family did to save you the trouble, and all you can do is focus on the negative and try to find things to complain about. Can you take a minute to appreciate is done rather than what isn’t?”


He says he does appreciate the work, but . . . where is everything?”

“WHERE IT BELONGS.” I say. Tools are in the workshop. Camping stuff and packed household is in the attic, craft stuff is in the craft room. Jesus, you can just walk up the stairs and get anything from the attic you want. It is only about ten extra steps, but in the meantime we can function. Functioning is good.”

“But, now I have to find it all,” he points out. “And I lost my cover. And you put my ladder outside but it will get rained on. “

I’m getting ready to take that ladder and hit him over the head with it. “So, go bring the fucking ladder in and put it where you want. We’ve done our share of lifting, now you can do some,” I say.


Then, I find his damn cover. This, apparently, was all it took to turn the situation around. It was symbolic cover or something. He suddenly relaxed, and seemed genuinely appreciative of the clean garage. He did a little subtle oohing and ahhing. Nothing major, mind you, but enough to quell our frustration about his lack of enthusiasm for our work.


Nevertheless, Kent and I determined not to tell him we burnt the forest down just yet.

We went inside. He saw his office and said, “That is better.”

Better? Ya think. You have a floor. Who knew?

He saw the workout room and said, “You put up the pictures. . .” His tone made it clear he didn’t think much of their positioning.

I said, “You can change them when you get around to it. I just wanted them off the floor.” Now, you see, I am making excuses and practically apologizing for having done this work. I hated the words as they come out of my mouth, yet I couldn’t stop making excuses.


We go to bed. No discussion about the fire. Mark snores, which ruins my night’s sleep, but I like it. Good proof he is home.


The next day, at breakfast, Mark says (I kid you not), “At least you all didn’t burn the house down.”


I have to tell him about the fire then. He stares at me deadpan as I recount the story. Then he says, “I’m not surprised. I thought you might burn the house down or something.”


This really sets me off.  I’m like, “Why would you say that? Are you implying I’m incompetent? That I can’t function without you? For God’s sake, we are living in a house we built from proceeds of a business I founded and helped run for years. I’m NOT some bimbo that can’t accomplish any thing without a man.”


He says, “I didn’t’ say that. It is just that you are sometimes oblivious.”


“Oblivious?!? What the hell are you saying? I don’t screw things up. Hell, I don’t touch things if I don’t know what I’m doing. I planted a few raspberry bushes, but I went on line first and learned about how and where to do it correctly. I cleaned the hot tub and filled it, but because I didn’t know about chemicals I left finishing up to you. I don’t go around messing with anything I don’t understand and I don’t go around wrecking your precious things.” I am furious that he dares suggest I’m incompetent.


He says, “I only mean you choose to be oblivious about certain things. You live in your world of chickens and horses and cooking, but you don’t bother to learn how to set the coo coo clock, or set the house alarm, or test the water in the hot tub. Those are my jobs, and you leave it that way. So when I’m gone, I imagine the clock will stop and stuff. “


“But I CAN do those things if I need to. I just don’t choose to learn about them because I know you will do them. I resent your implication that I am some bubblehead.”


“I didn’t say that. But . . . well . . . you did burn the forest down.”

“No. KENT burned the forest down.”

“But you see, you don’t control the kids like I do. When you are gone, I run a tight ship. So, in a way, this means you burnt the forest down.”

I pointed out that I accomplished a month’s work in the week he was gone. And the kids got attention too, because I was there for their soccer and band. I made family dinners, even though it was just the three of us. And I entertained his mother and sister. I remind him I could have just laid around eating bon bons or doing my homework or blogging, but instead I worked on projects for him. But you can be sure I won’t do that next time he leaves.


He says he appreciated it all. Really. Now, why don’t we go on down and look at the fire site.


“Yea, OK,” I grumble.

So we went down so he could inspect the big circle of ash. He sort of blinked and said. “That must have been a real fire.”


Time to change the subject. I walked him over to see where I planted the raspberry bushes. He gently pointed out that the blueberry bushes will get squished if I don’t stake them so people know where they are. That is fair.

We talked about where to plant the apple trees, our project for this weekend. He told me about his trip and all he learned about furniture building and tools and what he wants for his workshop when we can afford it. He told me about the dinner he had with a friend who happens to be the artist who draws spider man for Marvel comics. (Very cool guy). He’s also is an amazing pool player and he taught Mark some skills. When we get around to buying a pool table, I’m in trouble, because my husband keeps practicing on the sly.


I guess you can say, life slowly returned to its general pace.

I’ve thought about this, about those uncomfortable hours when he first got home. How I knew they were coming. I have a theory.


There is an adjustment period that occurs after a couple is apart. You both have to deal with the reality that your spouse’s life goes on in your absence. You are uncomfortably aware that the other person could actually live without you – or not. And you feel as if you’ve been cheated out of a short segment of life because things are not as you left them. Even if it is something good, like a clean garage, you can’t help but feel as if someone flipped a few pages of your life novel forward. The story goes on uninterrupted, but you will never know the fine details that occurred on those missed pages – the moments missed.   I know. I feel this way each time I return from Boston. Married, you are living a life run by what is actually a combined mind and combined efforts. When you wander different directions, even temporarily, with each other’s blessings and full understanding, you are reminded that you are actually separate beings, Perhaps this challenges our secure sense of partnership, or makes us doubt our influence on our other half to do, think, feel and act just as we anticipate they will. 


Thankfully, this is just discomfort – nothing that leaves any long-term impact.  Before you know it, you are back in your familiar life story again, swept up in the action – more interested in what’s to come than what happened previously.


Anyway, my husband is leaving again next week, going to Florida to do our taxes with our accountant and to take care of some business. I have decided I won’t do anything next time he is away except bury myself in my thesis. It is due in four weeks and needs the attention badly. And I think I’ve made enough single, executive decision, impact around here for a while. It is nice to shake things up once in a while, but it is more comfortable letting the sediment of living settle at the bottom of the jar. Why stir up muck if you don’t need to?  


Today, we will plant apple trees. Together. We will discuss where they will go, and after deciding mutually, we will dig the earth as a team, and scatter moss over the plantings before we water them. Later we will complain to each other about our planting aches and pains over a glass of wine at dinner, and we will talk about what is next on our family to-do list. Work like this is not much different than cleaning a garage. Just another day at the Hendry’s. But thanks to the fact that today involves the participation of all family members, you can be sure the potential fires will be kept at bay.




Friday, I had what you would call a “fortitude meltdown.” This kind of thing doesn’t happen often with me. I tend to store inner resources so I can muster up the energy to face a bad day when I need to. But I just couldn’t face Friday.


I was registered to attend the AWP conference in Atlanta, a huge conference for writers and writing program directors and administrators – a very academic literary event. Frankly, I wasn’t in the mood to go. But because I paid for it, and because they featured a few classes that would provide beneficial research for my senior seminar this June (a graduation requirement) and because I always plug away and face whatever is uncomfortable when I know something is good for me (particularly in regards to accomplishing grand dreams), I dragged myself out of bed at 5AM to go.


It was raining. Hard. And the forecast was rain for the entire day. This put me in a funk. Then, there was the fact that the night before, one of my chickens had been murdered – ruthlessly, by my beloved Joe. You see, I had decided to introduce my smelly teenage chickens to the coop so I would no longer have to clean up after them in our basement. They are getting big, almost the size of drumstick (they will eventually be real big egg layers), so I thought they must be ready for their true habitat. I put them into the pen and watched all the birds interact for a while, until I determined everyone was getting along. Joe was slightly aggressive, but chickens always scrabble a bit when the dynamics of the flock change (pecking order, ya know) and I could see the spry young ones running away when he approached them, so I figured they would all adjust and get along fine. An hour later, I returned to check on them and one of my Lucys had been killed. The other four were cowering in a corner, frantic with fear.  I felt horrible. Responsible. I’m still not talking to bully Joe.


On top of this, the night before, Mark mentioned that we needed to talk about an important business issue. Feeling so blue about my chicken, I asked if we could hold off until the morning. He said sure. I thought he might wait until I got home, but he surprised me and got up at 6am to attend to our short official meeting. We just had a few decisions to make that really didn’t require much discussion, but we always make decisions together in respect to our family business. (Can’t blame anyone when things go poorly that way, I guess) This particular issue depressed me, and trust me, I don’t throw that word around easily, I tend to describe my down feelings as “sad” because “depressed” is serious stuff, and people tag themselves with that as flippantly as they use the word “love” (which I am also very selective in using). Anyway, I can honestly say, in this instance, I was depressed.  I knew the whole business ordeal was inevitable, so there is no logical reason I should react so strongly, but for some reason, I just wanted to crawl into bed and cry.


But, I didn’t. I got in my car and drove through the torrential rain to my conference.


The problem was, I simply didn’t want to go. I felt so low. I actually turned the car around four times, planning to drive home, but each time, I talked myself out of it and turned back towards Atlanta. Finally, one hour and fifteen minutes from home, I turned around, this time with true resolve. I was going to bail on my day. I even called Mark to announce I was coming home, thinking that if he were expecting me, it would surely stop me from going in circles like a ping-pong ball that keeps flipping back and forth.


I said, “I’m not up for this writing thing today. I’m coming home.”

He said, “Are you sure? That is not like you.”

“I’m just not in the mood.”

“It might make you feel better. It will get your mind off the business issue. “

“Not possible. Besides which, it isn’t that. It is something else.”


“I don’t know. I just feel low.”

“Then come home. But let’s meet in town for coffee first.”

(I guess this is like a inviting someone into a holding space for potential quarantine. He didn’t want me back home until he had a chance to give me a checkup.)

So we met up at the coffee shop. Mark said, “You OK?”

“I just feel bad.”

“Sick bad?”

“No. Bad bad.”

“What about?”

“Everything. Business. My writing. My chicken. The weather. You didn’t kiss me this morning. Everything.”

He gave me a little pep talk (and a little peck on the cheek ), then proceeded to remind me of everything good in our life, telling me that we still had the power to make different choices if life wasn’t making us happy.

I told him I was happy. I just wanted to take a nap.

“Then, go home and do that,” he said.

So I did.


I went home, put on my pajamas, and crawled back into bed. A few hours later, Mark comes home and sees me in bed.

He laughs. “It’s that bad, is it?”

“I’m not getting up. Ever.”

“OK. I’ll pick up the kids from school.”

And God bless him, he did. Life went on without me.


I stayed in that bed, eating a gross amount of crap (yes, I felt bad about that too), listening to the rain and trying to imagine what nuggets of wisdom I was missing by not going to the conference (which is only held in Atlanta every ten years. My bad.) I didn’t get up. I didn’t want to cook dinner, or check my e-mail, or write a blog, or care for my animals or be a good parent, or read anything, or . . . well, you get it. I didn’t want to do anything. I think I mustered up enough energy to take a bath and read People magazine. That exhausted me, so I went go back to bed.


I wouldn’t say I was feeling sorry for myself, because I am logical enough to remember that my life is charmed and I have all the ingredients for happiness. I also know that we live the life of our own design, and for everything lost something is gained. I must take responsibility for whatever negative things are in my world. Like my dead chicken, or the fact that I rush around in the morning and forget to pause to kiss my husband to start the day right, or that I don’t work to be more detached regarding business, or the fact that I will now have to do more research later on for my senior seminar because I didn’t take advantage of this cushy opportunity to get some info now. The fact is, I may have missed something great at that conference, but I also know I should respect my inner voice and accept that if a meltdown is eminent, it has a purpose. Therefore, I chose to embrace my inner slug. Perhaps my batteries needed a re-boot. I just needed to shut down.


Anyway, I watched about seven movies that day. Ate 7984 calories. A few hours later, Mark joined me. Now, there were two of us imitating slugs. At least I wasn’t lonely. We ordered pizza. The kids were happy running amuck without guidance. Life did not collapse. No one died. I did not fail out of college. None of my problems were solved, but then, none got any worse for lack of attention either. It was just a mislaid day. A rainy, lazy, depressed mislaid day.


And honestly, I don’t regret it. I have to tell you, on a rainy, gray day when your heart hurts, the covers of your warm bed feel mighty good. And the most mundane movies somehow qualify as splendid entertainment. And even cold pizza tastes gourmet good.


Mark did ask me if anything was wrong, or if there was anything he could do for me, or if I wanted to talk, about a dozen times. I guess when a girl doesn’t have a fortitude meltdown very often, it is alarming to witness. I assured him I was fine.


And obviously, I was. The next morning, I got up at 6am and drove to Atlanta to attend the conference – confirming that I really didn’t miss anything all that important. I listened to a few lectures, sessions about writing endings and how to portray mid-life characters with realism, and I heard a few readings. I walked around the bookfair with over a hundred small press publishers and literary magazines represented, and picked up free issues of literary magazines and little chocolates used to solicit potential supporters for their nonprofit presses. All I could think was, “Who reads this stuff except the people writing or teaching it?” The literary world is really just another special interest subculture that perpetuates itself by its own membership. It seemed like a lot of indulgent hubabaloo to try to impress one’s intellectual peers. I guess it makes great contributions to the world, but it seems only the literary folks notice or care.


I got this really strong gut feeling that I was not supposed to be there. I suddenly knew that even though my degree prepares me for it, I don’t want a career in academia. Who wants to deal with all the university politics? And I don’t crave validation by being published in a small literary magazine that only other writing students hoping to get published might read. I looked into the faces of the thousands of writers there, amazed that so many people write – thinking they all looked stereotypically literary minded. They all looked intellectual. Broke. More cerebral than physical. They were people who portray life on paper so poignantly, yet most of them do not have the wherewithal or personality to live a life of their own with gusto. They will work for years at perfecting their ability to construct a sentence and fine tune research just so they can portray the thoughts of a mountain climber with dramatic authenticity – and yet, I much prefer to read a story written by a mountain climber who tells his real story, sans the literary genius. The literary writers take themselves awfully seriously, and I simply can’t do that with my personal view of the world. What can I say? I guess I’m silly.


Looking at the titles of the publications was like staring into the notes of a therapy avalanche. There was very little there I would look forward to reading. Where is the humor that lurks in every aspect of life? The celebration of living?  Who determined that good writing couldn’t be based on uplifting subject mater? I know, I know, life is tragic, but it can be a hoot to with the right attitude. I suddenly felt as if the literary world was a dark place, and I just wanted to step back into the light.


Who knows. Maybe I was still in my former day funk and this cast a shadow on my impressions. Probably. I just didn’t feel like belong in this literary world. I am at a point in life where I crave laughter, adventure, and romance. These elements are sadly missing here.


I called Mark and said, “I’m coming home.”

“It’s only 1 o’clock. (The seminar went until 8 that night) Stay. Enjoy yourself.”

“There is nothing to enjoy. I’ve seen what I needed to see and now, I am ready to come home.”

He was silent a minute. “O.K.”


Later, I told him how I felt at that seminar. I explained that for all I now understand and appreciate fine literature, I don’t want to make a career of it. I don’t want to have to work to build a reputation, or “play the game” to fit into this world so I can be dubbed “the real thing”. I did all that with dance. I did the conventions, the teaching, and the career building. I made a name- even made a humble fortune while I wasn’t noticing. And now, I am tired. And I sense that I might kill what I love about writing if I force myself to treat it like a business. The truth is, you can destroy what you love when you make it your livelihood. I know. When art becomes a job it strips the magic away. You start making compromises to “produce” generically so everyone will like the work. You make choices for security rather than following your artistic instincts for growth.  I don’t want my writing to be railroaded into what it “should be” or “what will sell” or “what proves I’m good.”


I don’t know how many real heartfelt passions I have left in me at my age, and I surely don’t want to squander those that burn hot. I love to write. I love to compose books and blogs and clarify my thinking with an essay now and again. I want to preserve that core premise. I have to preserve it. My writing must be for me. I do want to publish, and maybe teach and share the joy with others – I’d love to work with senior citizens to help them leave memoirs for their families or something like that. But I want to be an active writer without feeling pressured to achieve. I don’t like the idea of being a professional writer nearly as much as I liked being the owner of a dance empire who wrote books on the side. That was more remarkable by far.


I asked Mark if he thought this was a copout, that perhaps I’ve lost my edge, was burned out or had self-defeating issues or something. Fear of success? Was this a reaction to my feeling inadequate in this arena?

He chuckled and said, “You? Hardly.” Then he said, “It is like the song, there is a season, Turn, Turn, Turn. A season to work, a season to play, and a season to do nothing. I think you have spent years working and driving yourself to accomplish big things and now, you need to just stop. Not do anything. Don’t feel bad about it. You’ve just never experienced a time of non-doing, so it makes you uncomfortable. But it isn’t forever. Trust me, you are still you. One day, you will wake up and be fully fueled with an idea and nothing will stop you from making it happen. It will be writing a book, or publishing a new magazine, or opening a coffee shop or something else. And your time for rest will be over. Then, watch out world. For now, just embrace your nothingness. It’s OK. You’ve earned it.”

“But it feels wrong. Out of character.”

“How would you know? You’ve never experienced this particular stage of life before. It might be the exact right reaction at the exact right time which will lead you to do exactly what will make you happiest.”

“What about you?” (Actually, Mark has been rather a slug too. It is not like us, and I wonder what it means. Is this a sign that we have lost something important, the very thing that made us tick .  . . and tick so well?  )

He said, “You know the general store they are remodeling?”(This happens to be a building near us in the middle of nowhere. It’s been for sale for ages. We often mention how much we like it – how it would have made a great dance school, but it was too secluded to be good for much else. But years ago in Sarasota, we would have gone crazy for a building like that. We don’t think it’s good for any of our potential purposes now, but we still find the building fascinating. Anyway, someone bought it and they are remodeling it into a small convenience store with a coffee shop now. We watch with curiosity and a touch of envy. But we still think location will be a problem for them.)


Mark said, “I drive by and watch the progress and I am jealous. I wish I had a project like that going on in my life. I’ve been thinking how much I miss having a business, and how much we learned in the years we ran one successfully – how I want to put it all to the test again. I want to dive in and face the challenges without all the business history serving as bad baggage. I’ve been thinking a lot about an art gallery, with or without a coffee or wine shop. Maybe not now, but soon. I feel like I am getting ready. Not yet. Someday. For now, we will rest. And wait for when the time is right to swing the bat yet again.”


I think he is wise, and he has admirable faith in the both of us. I’m grateful. His confidence alleviates my concerns a bit. So, I’m waiting – not in bed like the big meltdown slug I became the other day, but not what anyone would call a real life action figure either.


In the meantime, I am following my instincts, and they tell me to preserve what I love about writing. I will fight the pull of ego and remember that no person’s opinion or public acknowledgement truthfully validates one’s efforts. I believe success is knowing what you need and where you belong. What is important is loving your life; however you might feel compelled to nudge it to unfold a certain way.


Most importantly, you can, and should, wait for a lot of things, but you should never wait for happiness. Take responsibility for that, above all else.