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Monthly Archives: February 2008

Peacock Pick me Up

  “Obstacles cannot crush me. Every obstacle yields to stern
resolve. He who is fixed to a star does not change his mind.”
— Leonardo da Vinci

 When some girls feel blue and need a pick me up, they buy themselves a new pair of shoes.  Me?  I’m not the shoe type.
I did, however, find something to buy today to lift my spirits.

    Mark and I went to the flea market with Ronnie and Louise; a couple we’ve become good friends with, who also happen to be true flea market aficionados. Denver’s never been too see the massive flea market hidden some 1 ½ hour from where we live, so we dragged her out of bed at 7am to join us. Neva always tags along so she can do her monthly begging for a miniature goat (and yes, I’m weakening as the memory of our first goat and all the trouble he caused fades). Kent – well, Kent is sixteen, so he won’t get out of bed for anything on a Saturday, ESPECIALLY something as mundane as a flea market.
    It was overcast and cold, so there weren’t many vendors. Even the produce aisles seemed lacking. I didn’t find a single interesting bottle for the three new liquors I have ready to rack (cranberry, kiwi, and lemon – all in anticipation of having some light flavors to spike summer tea with in a few months). There were no interesting books to buy or huge boxes of produce to drag home for wine making, or odd little knick knacks that can be used to make something interesting. It was just one of those off days when you figure it was a wasted trip.

    But it wouldn’t be a day at the flea market without me checking out the livestock area. This, as you can imagine, is the great attraction for Neva and I, and today, perhaps because spring is around the corner, the market was loaded with fowl. There were cages and cages of chickens, fighting roosters (hate that), geese, ducks, and rabbits. All of these are usually bought for eating, I’ll have you know, so Neva and I shop in this area with the same intensity of a person visiting the pound determined to bring home a puppy to save him from death row.
    While I was admiring a bunch of huge, exotic turkeys, Denver nudged me and said, “Um… mom….. check out the bundle hanging on the truck.”

   At first I thought the seller was displaying just a bunch of feathers, but on second glance I realized it was a peacock. His body was trussed up and hanging by a cord, like a broken arm in a sling, except his tail was hanging free and unencumbered. They often transport peacocks this way because, when put a cage, the birds move around nervously,  and that will destroy their tail as it brushes against the bars of the confinement. Peafowl also happen to have huge talons that can hurt you if you try to handle them when they are feeling frantic. so keeping them immobile makes transportation easy. 

    I asked how much she wanted for the trussed up bird, then said, “I’ll take it.”
I told the woman about my misadventures with trying to raise peacocks.
She said, “It’s always hard to get them through the first year, but if you can make it ‘till they’re one, your good to go.”
I told her how heartbroken I was when my four month old peacock, hatched by hand in my incubator, passed on.
She listened politely, and then said, “I have something special in the back of my truck. I was saving them for a fellow who came by here a few hours ago, but he hasn’t come back yet. Now, I’m thinking you seem like the person meant to take home these special birds . . .  that is,  if you want to take a look.”

Well, no harm in looking.

   She showed me two more trussed up peacocks. They were both three years old, which meant they had just reached full maturity – peacocks don’t even start getting their tails until they are two years old and they don’t lay until they’re three. These two happened to be a mating pair, and man, were they beautiful.  The male had a full, iridescent tail filled with gold and the deepest cobalt blue head. The female’s neck feathers were lime – the rest of her, like all female peacocks, is pretty much gray. They were healthy, strikingly beautiful and she was selling them (to the right person) for half what an adult peafowl usually costs.

     I fell in love instantly and fumbled in my handbag for the “emergency cash” I have hidden deep in a secret compartment – you know that 100 dollar bill you tuck away for that day when your car breaks down in a bad section of town and your charge card is declined and it’s a dark and stormy night, but you will be prepared thanks to that bill you tucked away and forgot for just such a purpose.

I scraped together all the cash I had and it was just enough….

Denver and I carried the birds to the car, making up probable excuses for why I had to purchase these peacocks. We figured it was likely Mark would kill me, but hey, some things are worth the risk.

    When we met up with Mark and Ronnie a few minutes later, Mark said, “I thought I’d find you at the livestock area. I was sure you’d be buying birds.”
    “I did,” I mumbled.
     “Uh Oh. What did you buy? Not those awful geese – I told you I hate geese. They’re mean.”
      “Now, would I buy birds knowing you don’t want them around our home?” I said, blinking innocently.
      “Crap, don’t tell me you bought one of those dumb turkeys.”
     “Of course not. I was fascinated by them, mind you, but I know you’d make me eat them eventually, so I just admired them from afar.”
     “Well, you have 60 baby chickens on order, so I know you aren’t purchasing chickens. What did you buy?”
      I confessed. Not like he wasn’t going to find out soon enough.
      Mark rolled his eyes, groaned and said, “This is the LAST TIME. If this doesn’t work, you have to give it up. Raising peacocks is just too expensive because they don’t make it.”
      I explained that because these peacocks are mature adults, they would be hearty and we could count on them surviving (other than if they get eaten by a bear or something). Furthermore, I got a great deal on them. But I promised that if they didn’t survive, I would forget the entire peacock ordeal. Heck, I don’t want to live with the guilt and disappointment of running a peacock graveyard.
     “As long as we’re agreed,” he said, mumbling about how he was going to buy himself a load of wood if we were just going to indulge ourselves without spousal permission nowadays.
   I guess it is only fair that if this peacock adventure doesn’t work, I give up on the idea of gracing my barnyard with delicate, exotic birds. But honestly, I can’t imagine my ever giving up now that I’ve got my mind set on peafowl, and I’m sure Mark is thinking the same thing. I happen to be someone who rarely throws in the towel. Each time you fail, you learn something from the experience, and that brings you closer to accomplishing your heart’s content. Makes quitting anything rather impossible, because in your heart and head you can’t help but think, “If I can just get one more chance, I’ll get it right.”
    We drove home with the peacocks sitting in Neva and Denver’s laps – it was a great ordeal to position them to keep the tail intact. Denver said, “Life is so interesting now. This is the closest I’ve ever been to a peacock. I mean, you see them at Bush Gardens and places like that, but how often do you have one sitting on your lap so you can stroke the feathers and look into their eyes. It’s weird, but cool.”
     I was delighted not only that my kids are exposed to novel experiences, but that they notice and appreciate the opportunities that come from trying new things.

     For those of you who don’t know… peacocks stink. I don’t mean they have that sour, odd smell of chickens cooped in a cage for a bit, or a litter box or something. I mean Peafowl smell so badly that when you’re in the car with them, everyone starts gagging and coughing and their eyes tear up. Obviously, the fact that they were confined inside tight packages with their waste for hours on end didn’t help. Of course, it didn’t bother me because I have no sense of smell. I just sat there smiling at the little fellows, marveling at their beauty and their gentle, graceful mannerisms and planning what I’ll do with the tail feathers as they shed.
    All the way home, I listened to the family members with working noses complaining about the hardships of peacock transport. Mark drove with a hat pulled over his brow and his shirt pulled up over his nose. All the windows had to remain open, despite the freezing cold. Nothing like a little dramatic interpretation to gain sympathy for all the hardships loved ones endure when humoring you.
    Meanwhile, we tossed names out for discussion, considering everything from the names of the characters in my books, to re-issuing past peacock names to honor those  that didn’t survive. We ended up giving these two original names. We are calling the male Prism, partially because of his colors, but also because it was the name of a dance Mark once choreographed that we have very fond memories of, and the female will be called Jewel. 

Can’t wait for my first peacock eggs. Shall I eat them, hatch them, or sell them on e-bay for some crazy schmuck like me who can’t resist a challenge? Heck, if this mating pair lays well, I can do all of the above.

At home, we released the new members of the Hendry flock into my big chicken run. They will have to stay confined for two months until they learn this is home, and then they will have the run of my barn and pastures. They seemed grateful to finally escape their straight jackets, and they just mosied around the perimitor of the run curious to figure out where they were. The chickens and guineas, while a bit leery, didn’t seem all that bothered to share their digs with two oversized birds.

Knowing peacocks like to perch high, I dragged some big, fallen tree limbs into the run and wired them to the posts in the ceiling. The peacocks ignored these new roosts, but my guineas were delighted. (Just two days ago, I spent an hour with leather cleaner working on the coat I wear around the barn. Don’t ya know, it is now covered with mud again. Why do I bother?) As the sun went down, I visited the barn to feed the horses and to check on my new birds. All the other fowl was tucked in bed in the chicken house. The peacocks were still roaming. I guess they won’t be visiting the chicken house for awhile even though they will fit thorugh the door. I’m sure curious about where they’ll sleep this first night. I’ll sneak out there at sunrise to spy.  
    The way I look at it, if at first you don’t succeed, approach your goals from a new angle. I tried hatching peacock eggs. Tried raising peacock babies. Now, I’ve been lucky enough to stumble upon the opportunity to bring home less fragile, mature birds. With all I’ve learned and all I’ve experienced, I think I’ve finally figured out how to have coveted peacock buddies to keep me company and to inspire reflection.      

    Wish me luck.   

Bits and pieces that make a girl feel low

       It’s been a low month for me. Something triggered the melancholy and the mood snowballed. Whatchagonnado?
     Making drastic changes in your life, shifting your focus, leaving your home, your friends, your career and everything familiar to create a new sort of existence, requires a leap of faith – not only faith in your own potential, but unyielding faith in your spouse and the world at large. You need to hold on to the belief that things will work out – economically, environmentally, and in all those life areas you have no control over. You have to trust your life partner can tap into a new career and/or life rhythm and be happy and productive and content because your happiness is always wrapped up in the happiness of those you live with. Considering the many factors that need to line up, a great deal can happen to squash your picture perfect vision for a new existence.
    At times there’s just so much distance between where you were and where you want to be that the journey seems insurmountable. You wonder if you’re delusional in your ambition to create a different sort of life –if it’s all a big pie in the sky dream. Perhaps you should stop all this foolishness and settle for something less far reaching.
     Frankly, change is hard. It’s hard on the ego. It strips all the comfort and ease from your life, replacing the familiar with insecurity and experimentation as you wrestle with your self definition and question your choices.  Change is an adventure, true. But as in any adventure, the early phases are exciting and fun, but the unknown (and risk) wears thin after a while. You begin to crave routine, security and a sense of self and place. You start seeing things through other people’s critical eyes, with all the censure, judgment and forecasting of trouble that comes from people who do not themselves push the envelope.  

      Luckily, when doubt oozes in, it doesn’t hit both members of the marriage at once (at least for us). God forbid, if it did, we’d hold hands and bail with the same spontaneity that helped us leap in the first place. But it just so happens that when one member of a strong team looses site of the master plan or has waning confidence, the other instinctually bucks them up with reminders of why the great leap occurred in the first place, reinforcing the future vision with as much positive fuel as can be mustered.  It’s time to catalogue everything accomplished so far, to proclaim your faith in you and your spouse’s potential and to pause to appreciate what’s good and right about the changes you’ve already made.

 Mark and I have both had our turns as the panic stricken naysayer and the overly optimistic cheerleader, but this month, its been Mark working to snap his other half (notice I didn’t say “better”) out of a season of despair. I’ve felt isolated, frustrated and nostalgic. I’m concerned that the new project we’re embarking on will lead us away from our core plan, to live a creative, unencumbered life filled with positive people and enriching experiences.  I am, at long last, writing as much and as well as I hoped I would when we retired from dance and I fear we’re going to open a new business and drown in responsibility again, having to put life, dreams, family, and travel on hold as before.  
     It would be easier for Mark to just slap me silly and accuse me of being self-indulgent in my misery, but as usual, he’s chosen reason and kindness as his weapon of choice to battle my demons. I’m happy to say,  I’m coming out of my funk. Faith is a fickle friend.

Doesn’t it figure that when you’re feeling low, life tortures you with little annoyances?
I washed my phone. Not like I was making dirty phone calls to merit a sound cleansing. I had gone to an appointment and was dressed in a rather sporting outfit, complete with a matching plaid raincoat. As I pulled into the driveway, I thought I’d just pop by the barn and check on the animals. While I was there, I decided to feed the horses. Then, I figured they could use some hay. Might as well shovel some dung (in my heels) since I’m here and spread some new pine shavings. By the time I got to the house I looked like I’d lived through an episode of Survivor. So I walked into the house, stopped by the mud room, stripped down and tossed everything I had on into the washer. At the last minute I decided to pop my raincoat into the load too. About an hour later it occurred to me my phone was in the pocket. Dang.

I stepped out to my car and heard a hissing sound. Did I run over a snake? No, it was a nail. My tire was flat within 90 seconds. Double dang. I figured I better call Kathy to cancel our reading appointment and call AAA. But Kathy’s number was in my soggy phone, now sitting on the washer with a sudsy fog clouding the window. Great.  

I was planning to cancel our appointment anyway because both my kids had the flu. Kent’s version included projectile vomiting – never in a bowl, just on his bedding, the rug, the dog . . . . Neva’s strain came with a raging fever that peaked on her birthday. Talk about pitiful. She woke up with big, sorrowful eyes and announced, “This is the worst birthday I’ve ever had”. Granted, she’s only eleven, but still . . . .

I purchased a big bunch of baby chicks on-line and got a call from the post office that they’d arrived. AAA had changed my tire, so I zipped down at 7:30am to pick them up. I thought a boxful of sweet chicks might cheer up Neva. But why were they here on a  Tuesday? Monday was a holiday and the Post office isn’t open on Sunday. Day old chicks should only be in route for one day. They need food, water and most importantly, heat. Sure enough, when I opened the box, 22 stiff baby chicks were piled in a heap. Over the course of the next hour, due to too much heat from the new infrared light I set up and their stressed journey, another 16 were goners. I ended up with 3 healthy chicks out of 39.
      The company said they’d send me a replacement order. “These things happen,” they announced.   That may be true, but that doesn’t absolve my trauma. Seeing all those little dead chicks piled in a box disturbed me to the core. Silly, but I guess the fact that I was feeling low made me ill prepared to welcome 36 little feathered ghosts into my head.

    We sold our second dance studio building at long last. (It closed today.) This albatross remained empty almost 9 months – stressing out our finances and dwindling our hopes for a fiscally comfortable future. This is the third time we’ve sold this building – the other two sales fell through at the very last minute keeping the property off the market and the bills arriving in our mailbox for far too long. This time, we took considerably less than our previous contract because alleviating the stress and finally closing the door on the entire heart wrenching episode of watching FLEX die seemed worth it. But it stung.

Anyway – today the last piece of the FLEX puzzle has finally been put to rest. Talk about pulling the band-aid off slow!

Moving on:
On a positive note: I’ve spent the last two months working diligently, eight hours a day, rewriting my book. Changed the name (again). I haven’t been blogging because I’m logging a great many hours on actual productive writing projects. I’ve cut 100 pages, tightened the prose and turned what was a hunk of garbage into what I believe is a very lovely, ready to be published, book. I’ve queried 30 or so agents and begun the laborious process of sending the book out.  I have a really positive feeling about my writing now. It’s been a long haul, but I’ve grown so much.  I’ve always known there were writers with greater natural talent than I, but I knew I’d do more with it than them. Because I believe the people who last are those who love the process and enjoy the challenges. I’m a rather tenatious person.

With my first project wrapped up, I decided to turn my attentions to rewriting my second book, so I opened the file for the first time in two years and was aghast to see how amateurish and poorly written this manuscript is too. Like the first book, I love the story and I feel it’s worth preserving. Honestly, I ADORE the plot and characters of that second book.  I even sent the opening in as my writing sample to get into my MFA (can’t believe I made it in now that I see the work through new eyes. How embarrassing!) I sat there reading with a mixture of chagrin and excitement because I recognized the good and the bad in the writing. I can do so much better now. My clarity is tangible evidence of all I’ve learned and how I’ve grown. Very encouraging. And if this one doesn’t sell – hell, I’ll write another one. Each one is always better, which is very promising too.

I had to laugh though. I told my family, “You know how those crazy people on American Idol who think they are great singers? You watch them warbling away, thinking they are the cat’s pajamas, but everyone watching considers them totally delusional. You want to laugh, but you’re mortified by their cluelessness at the same time.
    Well, I’m one of those people, only instead of singing, my blind spot is writing. I thought I had talent back when I wrote that book, but I sucked the big one.”

Everyone insisted I’ve always been a great storyteller. Mark says it’s like dance. Not all students are great dancers from the start, but you can always tell those with an undercurrent of passion and style. If they keep training and diligently practicing, it’s only a matter of time until they blossom. These are the artists who often end up far better than the ones who peeked early.
  “That’s the kind of writer you’ll be. You’ve worked hard, despite frustration along the way. You’ve buckled down to get a good education, despite how hard that was on your ego, and you don’t give up. Now you’re ready to blossom. You’ve earned it. Your ability to write is based on a real understanding of the craft because you didn’t look for shortcuts. Your first books may not have been masterpieces but that doesn’t mean you are anything at all like the American Idol crazies.”

      That’s nice. But I still feel like one of those poor saps- only I’ve been holding a pen rather than a musical score.

     I spent only about an hour on the opening of book two, then closed the file. I went on Amazon and bought some research books to inspire ideas regarding the Underground Railroad (key subject matter to the plot), then decided I might want to work on a few shorter pieces before beginning this second massive rewrite. I might even work a bit on the dance book that was my thesis, torturous as it is to write. It’s the book of my heart.

The point is, I’m feeling very positive about my writing for the first time in ages, looking forward to digging in again to see what I’m capable of.

The other day, Mark and I took a day off and went to Atlanta to visit coffee shops and art galleries as our Valentine ’s Day date. We are still in research mode, letting our ideas fester and take shape. While we were there, I suggested we go to the Margret Mitchell house, a small museum I’m been wanting to see for some time. It’s really just a preserved Victorian house where the author lived (in a small apartment she called the dump) while writing Gone with the Wind. It’s now a literary center featuring readings with great authors and lectures and classes for adults (which I also want to attend). They have a second building filled with author’s correspondence and movie paraphernalia.
     Anyway, I didn’t realize Gone with the Wind won a Pulitzer Prize, nor did I know much about the author. (She got hit by a car a few years later, thus this was her one and only masterpiece.)  I never read the book, because like many people, I was spoiled by the movie. I figured I didn’t have to read the story because I already knew it. But I’m reading it now. And I’m remarkably impressed with the characterization and the history and the artful way the author handled the unfolding.
      Gone with the Wind is really just a romance, not far removed from genre writing today. When it was released, it  was subject to more hype than any story ever told. It was a commercial hit, and yet it had such quality it was applauded by the literary world too. I find it inspirational to see a commercial endeavor done with such artistic class. I want to write that way – but boy oh boy, does it take time, energy, effort and patience to develop the craft. There are no short cuts when you want to do something well. Gone with the Wind would never get published today. It’s too long and rambling for the attention span of readers today. But it’s a great example of mastery of the craft and a joy to read..

I’m so happy to have discovered it.  

And on that note – I should return to work.

Life goes on . . .