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Monthly Archives: March 2008

My first writing seminar where I was standing at the front of the room

Yesterday, I taught a seminar at the Blue Ridge Writer’s conference entitled The Pro’s and Con’s of Getting an MFA. This is a small local conference that attracts primarily hobbyist writers, yet still they put together a very lovely program featuring some diverse classes. The keynote speaker, Joshilyn Jackson, was upbeat and fun. She’s been on a book tour and she was a featured author at the Margret Michel house in Atlanta earlier this month. I was interested in going to listen to her talk, but then Sonia had her heart attack and all personal interests were put aside. Her new book The Girl who Stopped Swimming was featured in a small blurb in people magazine, and again, when I saw that I was very bummed to have missed her. It wasn’t until yesterday that I realized she was the speaker at this convention. I was delighted to finally pick up her book, get it signed, and hear her lecture.  

Joshilyn’s keynote lecture was about how writing is not the same as publishing. It’s a basic premise I’ve known forever, but her talk was humorous as she waded through all her past mistakes and shared her beginner anxiety on her journey to success. She wrote several books that never sold, but she explained they were learning endeavors and acts of love. She talked about letting go of a book you’ve poured your heart and soul into to turn your attentions to the next project. She made it clear there’s no easy road to writing well.

Her first class (which was in the morning so I was available to sit in) was Marketing yourself on the Web.  It turned out to be an hour long lecture to say everyone should be blogging – not about writing interests, but about everyday life stuff. Humm… got that one down pat. Considering the senior seminar I taught to fulfill graduatation requirements was about the pro’s and cons of blogging and an in-depth study of the impact of blogging on writers (which demanded months of study and my reading dozens of articles, books, testimonials, etc.. on the subject)  I know more about that subject than even the teacher, I’m guessing. Her next class was about how to get an agent to represent you, but it ended up a workshop sort of class where you evaluate the first line of your novel to see if it has a “hook”. This too was pretty elementary stuff, but very appropriate for the audience.

I sat there, enjoying the lectures, but knowing at the same time that I had far surpassed the need for the type of input gained from these kinds of writing seminars. I can’t see myself spending money or time on this sort of writing endeavor anymore, unless I was going to pitch to an agent. But considering I’m getting positive responses from agents by cold query letters alone, perhaps even that isn’t necessary. Nevertheless, I do recognize how important these learning endeavors were to me early in my writing journey and as such, I have great respect for their genuine value to people who love to write. I learned a great deal from these kinds of seminars early on, enough to convince me I needed a more in-depth learning experience. It’s all connected. And I enjoyed the camaraderie with other writers, the lunch conversation etc… I like people. I especially like interesting people, and those that write have a sensitivity regarding life that is interesting to me. In some ways, attending a conference does keep you on track and motivated and you can celebrate time spent with like minded people.  

My class (assigned to me) was a hit or miss subject for this sort of crowd.  Face it, getting an MFA is for people who want to take their writing to a higher level. The cost, expense, competitive nature of the academic writing world etc.. is not for hobbyists. I had four people signed up for my lecture. None of them showed up. One woman wandered in and in the end, I taught to her alone. She fit the profile of someone ready to step up their writing education. She was sincerely interested in an MFA, but she’d applied to one low-residency program and had been turned down, so she put the idea on a back burner. She’d attended all the same sorts of conferences and writing groups I’d toyed with early on. Talking to her, I realized that even if I had a room full of people with mild curiosity about what an MFA is all about, the person I’d really be teaching was her. I could make a difference for this one curious individual  – so I dived in with a commitment to do the job well.

I’d done a great deal of research on the subject of getting an MFA vs. an MA or PhD, and in fact, I’ve learned more about what an MFA is and does by preparing for this lecture, than I ever knew by attending a low-residency program for two years and actually earning an MFA. While compiling learning aids,  I kept stumbling over websites and books that put it all in perspective well, and thought, “Why the heck didn’t I do this kind of research before I applied to MFA programs.”  Might have had an easier time of it had I’d known what to expect. I certainly would have prepared a more appropriate writing sample, personal statement etc.. for my application packet. (I was the classic example of what NOT to do – beginning with the discombobulated writing sample I sent in and ending with getting recommendations from well established, published romance authors (they are looked on with distain rather than respect in the literary academic world) rather than from teachers. Even someone unpublished, who might work at a community college teaching English would have been a given a more valuable recommendation, because it’s assumed they understand what sort of student the MFA program is looking for). Ah well – all’s well that ends well.

My research uncovered a great deal of anti-MFA material too, books, websites and critics who think an MFA is a waste of time. In all fairness, I presented the negative opinions too, admitting some of the flaws in the MFA format. I suppose some people get their MFA and have a chip on their shoulder because they spent 40 grand on an education that doesn’t promise you a job or success. But the truth is, I believe getting an MFA made a profound difference in me as a person and as a writer, and for all that it was difficult on my ego and heart, and for all that I wanted to quit the entire time, I’d do it again. You can not expose yourself to so much wonderful literature, serious contemplation, harsh honesty, caring criticism and personal challenges and not come out changed for the better. Evolved. And I’ve never been one who needs tangible evidence or measurable returns to justify money spent. You can’t put a price on life experience or personal growth, and if you demand measurable returns on every dollar spent, you’ll probably forgo the best investments of your life. You’ll end up poor in spirit – and in the end, you’ll simply spend the money on something else -something “practical” that will wear out or be used up in time and as such, doesn’t prove nearly as lasting.

As someone who did everything wrong, I feel I have pretty good insight about what NOT to do in regards to pursuing an MFA, which makes me a perfect candidate to teach the subject now. I began with the premise that if I can get into an MFA program, anyone can. That put my one student to ease and gave her hope. We had a wonderful hour together reviewing my notes, discussing my experience, and looking over my resource list. In the end, I packed up my books on MFA schools and gave them to her along with some literary magazines and the Writer’s Conical. I certainly don’t need them, such publications become obsolete in short order. I picked up these materials as visuals for the class and had thought all along I might distribute them to anyone with sincere interest. I was glad to see they’d be put to good use. My student felt she had won the MFA information lottery and I felt I had helped someone a lot like me several years back.
I used to think I’d have had a far better dance career, if only I’d had a teacher like me when I was a young passionate student. Sounds funny, but I knew I gave more to my students than any teacher ever gave to me, and I was always proud of that. I left my seminar thinking my student (Deborah) will have an easier time of it all should she decide to carry through. I certainly know I inspired her to reach higher rungs. It felt right and good.

I told the organization they didn’t have to pay me for lecturing, because honestly, I know it’s a small fledgling group that could use a break and they need the money more than I do (I’ve chaired enough arts seminars and struggled to make them break even so I understand how difficult it is), but they insisted on paying me something. I’d been handed my check at lunch. It made me smile. I’ve been teaching seminars (in dance) for 25 years, and my average check is 20-50 times this amount. But that check gave me a profound sense of joy and accomplishment.

I waved it in front of Mark when I got home and said, “See that! Now, all I need to do is earn $39,900 more from my writing and my MFA will have paid for itself!”
Mark looked at the check, grinned, and said, “You go, girl.” 

Teaching comes very naturally to me. I’ve been a public speaker for years and years. Being a master teacher in dance, organizing comprehensive teacher’s training seminars, writing syllabus’s, and working with literally thousands of students at every stage of the learning curve gives me a broad understanding of how to best organize material for better understanding. I have an innate sense of respect for what my audience needs at any particular stage of development, and I try to always leave the people on earlier stages of the journey with a deeper understanding of the big picture – rather than focus on a single subject mater and expect the poor student to figure out how and why it’s important on their own. It was nice to discover this isn’t a dance skill, but a life skill that transfers easily to other subjects.

“There are no bad students – only bad teachers. Stop blaming the students and making excuses for their inadaquacies. Take responsibility for what your students know and don’t know, dig in and do what it takes to make them better!”
I always said to my staff, to their total annoyance, I’m sure. I hated to see professionals tredding water, going through the motions of teaching without truly making an affect, just to get a check to support their dreams. 

Believing it’s the teacher who makes the profound difference in the development of an artist enhances the importance of my roll if I dare accept the responsibilities of instructor or mentor to someone else. How much I’m going to get paid, or how many people will benefit from my lecture, shouldn’t affect how much effort or energy I’m willing to invest in my seminar. Reaching one person has to be enough to make the time invested count. 

For me, it did.

Small joys

Yesterday, I found my first home grown peacock egg. I was delighted!

It was one of those days when you swear your entire existence is orchestrated to serve others. I’d spent the first half of the day tending to my mother-in-law and taking her to see the new assisted-living facility that will soon be her home. The afternoon was designated to parenting duties – school pick-up, soccer practice, grocery shopping, cooking dinner. And in between I had this little sliver of time where I had to squish in all my own personal chores. Of course, that meant feeding the animals, because they have needs which are up to me to fulfill too.

After feeding the horses, donkey and llamas, giving the rabbits water and feeding the new chicks holed up in my barn, I checked the nesting boxes for eggs. After a pack of wild dogs spent a week ravaged my flock and killing over a dozen chickens, I decided I had to leave them penned in over the winter to preserve the few fowl I had left. I now have an odd collection of six chickens and five guineas (and two peacocks, of course.) This makes egg collecting a fun game of connecting eggs to their founders. I get small brown, pointy eggs with sandpaper shells from the guineas, one big, fat white jumbo egg from my scrawny, never-miss-a-day leghorn (gee, I miss the others), an oblong white egg that I’m pretty sure comes from Curella, my mop-topped chicken who served as a buddy to the late Early (my first peacock), a big, dark brown egg from my Rhode Island Red, a large, light brown egg from my only surviving cochin and some lovely little brown eggs that have finally started coming from my ugly, obnoxious game chickens (don’t ask me why I bought them – an impulse purchase at the flea market one day. And don’t ya know the dogs can’t catch ’em – they only target the chickens I adore.)

Anyway, yesterday, I collected six mismatched eggs. Reaching into the last nesting box, I wrapped my hand around a fist-sized egg that had extra weight. I smiled, knowing immediately what it was. We are all the sum of our experiences, and while a year ago, I wouldn’t have had a clue of what this egg was (I might guess, but I’d still have doubts, because for the life of me, I have no clue of how that big bird fit into a tiny chicken sized nesting box) I now know without a doubt this is a peacock egg. Right size. Right color. Right weight. Right, right, right! Which goes to show that even when we fail at our goals, we gain something in the process, and someday, somehow, that collective knowledge will serve you. Thanks to my failed attempts to hatch peacock eggs (two batches, mind you), I’m very familiar with them now. I also know just how delicate the peafowl chicks are and how they can’t stand cold until they are over 6 months old and …. well, I’ve had many painful lessons on my way to becoming peacock proficient. But I feel rather peacock savvy now.

The egg is most likely fertilized because my male has his tail opened about 90 percent of the day showcasing his amorous nature, and he is on top of Palate (my girl) about once an hour. That is quite a sight, for your information. A peacock male “does it” with his tail still open. And when he is in the throws of ecstasy, he starts vibrating, and that tail makes this loud swishing sound as it shimmy and shakes. It’s as if an earthquake is beneath him (when really, it is just his smiling girlfriend). I know its impolite to watch a couple in their private moment, but I can’t help but gawk every time I see the two of them going at it without a care of who or what is watching. Their lack of inhibition is admirable and when Prism opens that huge tale, he is a glorious sight . I’m expecting my chickens to start throwing rocks at my rooster any day now.

I figure, since my home grown eggs don’t have to sit around waiting for an e-bay auction to conclude, then be packed up and shipped off, traveling hundreds of miles, braving the x-ray machines and all that jostling, nor are they laid in a pen full of peacock females that may or may not have been visited by the local male, they will have a far better chance at hatching. So I’m going to set up my incubator and put this puppy inside and do the “turn it four times a day” thing. Hopefully, I’ll find a few more peacock eggs this week to increase my chances of success and avoid lonely baby peacock syndrome if they do indeed hatch. If the eggs don’t hatch, nothing is lost and I don’t have to see that look my husband gives me when I throw out the eggs – it’s a look that screams “how much did you say you spent on e-bay for those dead eggs?”. If the hatch is successful, I can nurture another baby peacock or two and gloat about how practical I was by purchasing two peacocks instead of one that fateful day at the flea market. Considering I am forever trying to justify my interests and brainstorming ways to not use family resources to support my fun, this egg is significant.

I’m stuck in my sister-in-laws house for ten hours today, caring for my mother-in-law. I don’t mind being here – but I confess, all the things I’m not getting done are swirling in my head, making me antsy. But knowing I have a peacock egg at home, and perhaps another will be nestled in that hen house when I go feed my flock at dusk, offers a glimmer of the joy life can offer if you consider the tiny gifts hidden throughout even a tedious day. Happiness is often a matter of focus. Little things count. Celebrate them.

Spring snow

    Everyday, I talk to my blueberry bush.
    I say, “Not just yet. Hold on.”
    So far, it’s been listening to me.
    The peach trees are not so easy to command. They’ve all started blooming. Their cheery, pink flowers color the landscape like a neon billboard announcing spring is here. The three peach trees in our yard are showing off a bit, even though they’re mere babes planted just last season. Down the street, the grand old trees with years of bountiful history are exploding with such pink glory it would make a truck-driver swoon. 
    Today, I’m dealing with peach-anxiety. I woke to a definite chill in the air. An hour later a bit of dandruff started falling from the sky. By lunch, the sky was filled with swirls of white so thick I couldn’t see my ducks on the pond below. It’s the day after Easter and we have snow. Yikes.
    I happen to like snow. It’s pretty and I associate many lovely things to it, such as my kids wide eyed and delighted (as only kids from Florida could be when nothing more than flurries are falling from the sky). Snow inspires me to make soup and cocoa. It makes me want to tuck my feet under a blanket on the couch with a good book. Snow is a perfect excuse to stay in, unless of course, you’re going out (to play) and it always puts my husband in a good mood.
    I even like the way snow collects on my donkey’s nose – he’s like a super snow magnet. I guess his body heat is buried so far beneath his wooly winter coat the snow sticks to him even when it doesn’t stick to the ground or anything else.  He looks like the abominable snow donkey. I dust him off and offer him an extra treat, poor dear, and together we watch the tree branches turning white while we discuss the state of the world.
     Luckily, snow is not the equivalent of a hard frost. It’s merely suggestive of freezing temperatures. Still, when you live in farm country and it snows in spring, it’s unnerving.
    Last year, a late frost killed all the peach, blueberry and apple trees in Georgia. One unexpected night of bitter cold during spring break left the freshly blooming branches loaded with curled up dead flower carcasses. The bees went hungry – nothing to pollinate. As result, all summer, no fruit.
    This week as we drove by the local orchard and saw the trees cresting with new blooms, we winced, thinking, “Certainly, it’s too soon. What if IT happens again?”
     The warmer weather has even the hidebound farmers embracing the concept of global warming. The problem is the fruit trees haven’t watched the movie An Inconvenient Truth, so they’re easily confused. The warmer earth is forcing early blooms, but the erratic pitch and sway of the atmosphere, manipulated by rising sea levels and what-have-you, can easily take all promise of normal yields away. After the killer season last year, I’m not convinced our local farmers can survive another devastating year. And I certainly don’t want to be disappointed again by facing another year without blueberry wine fermenting in a jug downstairs.
    When I went down to the barn today to feed the animals, I could swear my horses gave a collective sigh to let me know just how tired they are of waiting for spring. Me too.
     The daffodils that seemed so fresh and exciting yesterday look like little teacups filled with milk today. I witnessed a spider’s web that appeared as if it was made of yarn thanks to the thick layer of snow that somehow stuck to the feathery threads. Weird.
    My chickens are dining on squashed, hard boiled Easter eggs today, the bright colors of the shells attracting them in the way shinny lures call to fish in a pond. But my peacocks won’t step foot outside of the henhouse. I guess that would be like expecting royalty to brave the elements when theiy’re genetically groomed to sit inside on their thrown. They leave the commoner behavior of scratching the dirt while snow blankets their backs to the peasants.   (Not to be confused with pheasants.)
     My angora rabbits don’t mind the snow. It collects on their long coats until they look like hopping snow drifts. My two girls are pregnant, due in about two weeks. They’re starting to build nests, which makes me nervous because a late season frost is as much a threat to their impending litters as it is to baby peaches. Sigh.
       Soccer has been canceled due to inclement weather. I’ve spent the morning making muffins, cleaning my desk, catching up on work. I haven’t been home much lately due to the grandma ordeal, so I’m appreciative of a day at home and the opportunity to catch up on laundry.  I’m planning upcoming excursions– the Great Dessert Experience expo in Atlanta (important to the coffee shop endeavor), The Dogwood Festival to browse art vendors, an upcoming cooking class  at the Cooks Warehouse in Atlanta. I want to learn professional kitchen knife skills (next step will be learning to throw them.) And the famed Steeplechase in Atlanta, which happens to be on my birthday. (This is a huge lawn party with horse obstacle course races, pig races, a dog Frisbee championship, a ladies straw hat parade and more… Fun! I’ll pack us a glorious picnic, force everyone to wear a foolish hat to show spirit, and we can make a day of it.) I’m planning to attend another reading in Atlanta by a renowned author and I’m toying with the idea of devoting eight Mondays to a writing class at the Margret Mitchell Literary Center. The class sounds wonderful but the drive would be a killer. I keep checking the ever growing list of scheduled family endeavors on my bulletin board to consider conflicts. Do we really want to do so much? It seems we are all going in different directions, pursuing different interests and passions. Dance once held us together like bound prisoners. Now freedom to choose makes us like leaves blowing in the wind. At least I found something for everyone to do together on my birthday – the day when I have ultimate power to enforce an attendance policy. 
     I keep pausing from shuffling my to-do list around to look outside. I stare at my peach tree expecting it to start shivering right before my eyes. It’s hard to concentrate because of the snow. Spring is a nasty tease.  
        I will take a break in a bit to put in another load of laundry and have a cup of coffee.     I’m reading a book called Truck, a love story, by Michael Perry. He’s the author of another book I just finished called Population 485, a memoir. Wonderful writer. The man lives in a very remote, rural town, not unlike mine. He trained as a nurse and grew up a local country boy with few literary influences. He’s had no formal writing training, but was born with an ingrained love of reading and writing. His books have received critical acclaim and he’s had articles in prestigious magazines.  I’m impressed with his work, but even more in awe of the writer. I’m fascinated that someone with so little exposure to a sophisticated literary environment, raised in a culture that doesn’t hold much stock in highbrow read’ in and writ’ in, can still develop a strong voice and develope an appreciation for fine literature. Fascinates me. I’m also reading Three Cups of Tea,  another memoir. I’ve joined a local book club and this is the next assigned book.  I’m starved for literary conversation so I am thrilled to be reading something for eventual discussion. But I think I’ll stick with Truck today. I can’t see reading a book called Three cups of Tea while drinking coffee. Seems somehow like that
will put me out of sync with the universe.

I guess this isn’t a very interesting, entertaining or informative blog. Sorry. I just thought I should let people know I’m still here – just feeling quiet these days – and life has been taxing on both time and nerves.

Crap, crap and more crap.

When crap falls, it does so in heaps. That about sums up this month for the Hendrys.

 A few weeks ago, Mark’s mother fell while climbing into bed. Though a family member visits her everyday, Diane had just left, so no one discovered her until 22 hours later. She had bruises and rug burns all over her legs from trying to drag herself to a phone. She was dehydrated and confused.

We took her to a hospital and learned she’d had a heart attack and in fact, had experienced several over the course of the previous week. Her systems were shutting down and there was fluid in her lungs. We were told she would probably be gone within a few days, so we put a halt on life so the kids could spend time with her. We rallied together to share our last moments while we all wrestled with the painful inevitable. We were losing Mom. Crap.

Then, she started to complain and get a bit belligerent, and while this sounds horrible, we thought, Humm…… (Annoying was “normal”) She started getting demanding and whinny, and we couldn’t help but think, hey, this is more like the mother we know. Surprising the medical personal and everyone else, she made a miraculous recovery the next day.

 This is a very good thing, but it also presents a whole new set of problems because she can no longer live alone. So we have to figure out what to do with her now. Our home is not conducive to an elderly guest because of the huge log stairs, the rough gravel roads etc… Dianne’s home is very small, and she just had her parents living there while their father had cancer. Cohabitation did not prove successful in regards to family harmony. We can build an addition to Dianne’s home, or build a mother-in-law suite onto the new home we are going to build for ourselves – but those solutions take time…. What do we do in the meantime?  It’s simply a big mid life mess – the kind people our age deal with all the time, but that doesn’t make it any less stressful. Crap.

 Meanwhile, we had to zip down to Florida to do our yearly accounting – we canceled the appointment when Mark’s mother took ill, but we had to go before too much time passed. It’d be harder to go with her out of the hospital and we can’t proceed with our new business without finding out where we stand after wrapping up the past so we just packed up and drove down. We felt rather guilty and frustrated leaving, but the business of life does march onward. The fiscal news we received after that meeting was horrible on top of all else. Whatyagonnado? Crap.

 Meanwhile, Dianne’s beloved dashound got sick and became paralyzed from the waist down from, of all things, gorging on a box of chocolates. After many consultations with vets, visits to an animal acupuncturist and attempts at other remedies, she has no course but to accept this dog will never be regular again. So, she’s decided to put him down. He is a cheerful, funny fellow still dragging himself around energetically, but with zero control his bladder, you can imagine what a problem this has become. Still, he seems like the same fun loving dog that Dianne has loved relentlessly for years, so the decision is heart wrenching.

I offered to take him to the vet for the procedure because I know how difficult it will be for her. It won’t be fun, let me tell you. So, in an hour, I’ll pick up Buddy and stroke his little head as he goes to sleep for all time. It will be sad, but he deserves a familiar face with him and I love animals (and Dianne) enough to endure the emotional discomfort to help make this bad situation a little easier on everyone involved. Still, it’s more crap.

 Denver generously offered to feed my animals while we took our three day stint to Florida (Two driving days, one day to do business). Don’t ya know she sprained her ankle the moment we were pulling away, so she has had to hobble around on crutches to care for my creatures. I felt badly about that – yet grateful. And she has a new job which is now threatened and this is a detriment to her life plans. I have to see what I can do for her now too. Crap.

 Meanwhile, an associate from Singapore has been writing me to pick my brain about setting up a children’s dance program in Asia. We are advising him, which demands some  careful consideration because of cultural differences and the uniquely Asian competitive environment. We will probably be flying out there this summer to help train his staff and help set up his new business – Kiddance in Asia. We just have to find a time we will be free to come, and that is hard when you are opening a new business yourself.

I’ve been rooting through boxes and boxes of Kiddance material to gather a few things for him. I’m actually surprised as I see just how much work and research was involved with designing this program. With distance now, I see now how obsessive I was about putting together a kick butt children’s youth dance program. I have over eight boxes of syllabuses and children dance education books and the instructional material from several franchises (Gymboree, Kindermusik, etc…) all of which I studied in my commitment to design a powerful program. Mark and I ran FLEX together and built Kiddance as a team, but I was the one who was obsessive over the children’s dance division. All this material is packed in boxes in my attic like some shrine to dance. And I have boxes and boxes of papers representing classes I planned, and worksheets I designed, and ideas I tried but didn’t follow through with due to one discouraging element or another. It is amazing. I certainly took this element of FLEX seriously. I even have boxes and boxes of tangible teaching materials I somehow couldn’t bare to let go when we sold the school – like rubber skeletons used to teach kids anatomy – I never even unpacked these materials and introduced them to the teachers because the business sold so fast. I wasn’t planning to let go so soon. I don’t know why I kept it all – just that it was so hard to come by expensive materials in those years when we struggled and had so little resources to work with, and so much of this stuff was coveted by me in my frenzy to add more and better things to the program, that it all seems ultimately valuable even now. I never got around to adding this stuff to the syllabus, so the materials were of no use to the new owners – but they are certainly of no use here they are in my attic. A shame.

The funny thing is, I suddenly have shelves of books on coffee and the history of tea. I’ve been doing reasearch on high teas and tea ettiquette etc.. as I plan events and ideas to make the coffee shop so much more than a coffee shop, and I can see I am transfering my obsession to expand the envelope to the new business. Shoot me now, please. Mark certainly wants to.

 Anyway, I will be proud to see all our former work be put to good use somewhere – even if it is half a world away. The teacher (a man with a wealth of experience in professional dance and a great business mind)  keeps wanting to talk about financial matters, wanting to know how we can work out compensation for Mark and I for passing on our work and expertise. Frankly, we want to just hand him the ball and let him run with it. We don’t want anything but to know someone cares about the work, will follow our advice without a snide attitude or being angry that we won’t give more that we are comfortable giving, and we want someone to be appreciative and respectful of our help. The truth is, we have retired from dance and we don’t want to get involved again. I don’t want to reopen those boxes and start doing research and dwelling on creative dance exercises while I go about my days. I want to sleep at night and not be thinking about dance (I want to think about coffee and writing and other things). I am ready to pass that mantle on to someone else. But I sure will be proud to help out and share what we learned along the way, because in the end, I do love dance and kids and the people who commit their life to those two things. And if KIDDANCE is successful in Asia, that is a way of validating our former life’s work. That alone is a reward. We got the model down pat for a strong dance program that can make enough money to make the ongoing work and sacrifice worthwhile.That is rare in the dance biz.

So, setting up KIDDANCE in Singapore is our pet project now. For the love of it, not for compensation or because we want to build another dance empire. Mark is willing to help, but he has reservations because he has turned his sights to our new life already, and he is not one to look back. I obviously can’t resist keeping one toe in the water of dance.

 But the idea of visiting Singapore and considering the challenges of dance in a different enviornment does keep life interesting.I do love a challenge.

So I guess all of life is not filled with crap.
They are putting in a pump so I’ll have water at the barn this week. Yeah.
I have my class planned to teach at the Blue Ridge Writers Conference at the end of this month and it looks good. Yeah.
Two fine agents have my book sitting on their desk right now, so they’re the ones ignoring it instead of me. Yeah.
The daffodils are blooming in Georgia. Yeah.
My two female angora bunnies are both pregnant and building a nest. In three weeks I’ll be the proud owner of many more bunnies than I have time to groom. Yeah… kindof. And my llama is getting fat too.  Babies abound.
In Florda I realized how much I miss running, I’m starting a fitness plan today, determined to get back on track and out on the road.  Past due.
I have a cellar full of so much homemade wine that if crap continues to heap around my feet I can at least be assured a cup of relief at the end of the day. Yeah.

Now, I am off to handle the dog. You can bet I have a bottle of wine chill’in for this one…… Sigh.

Reading, Writing, and feeling on track

The other day, Mark had plans to go into Atlanta to take a woodworking class. It so happened that there was a featured author reading at the Margret Mitchell Literary Center whom I was very interested in as well, so we decided to make a day of it and go in together. We spent the afternoon visiting a small coffee roasting company and visiting one of their three shops, checking out antique stores and finally ending at Akeia where I purchased every sort of coffee and tea making device imaginable – for experimentation you see. I brought home a French press, a nifty glass teapot that has a built in infuser and a few steel German coffee and/or espresso pots – all for people who might want to order a personal pot of coffee to nurse while hanging around the fireplace.

The problem with this full day plan was that my reading was from 7 – 8, but Mark’s class was from 5 – 10pm clear across town. While he is familiar with Atlanta, I was bound to get lost.  It began as an overcast, mid-temperature day but by afternoon, it was freezing and windy, and of course, I was dressed in just a thin raincoat.  Ah well. I had Mark drop me off at 4:30 and I nestled into a booth at a coffee shop near the literary center (after inspecting their bakery case and menu and doing a bit of sleuthing, of course). I am reading a book about screenwriting now. I’ve very interested in learning more about that genre, so the time went quickly enough.

At 6:00, I scurried over to the Literary Center, the blasting wind almost carrying me past the front door. Burrrr….The moment I stepped inside I knew it was worth baring the cold, the wait, and the unknown. The cozy museum had been transformed. They set up a small stage and seating for a hundred or so literary enthusiasts and the room was awash with mood lighting, a bar serving wine (bingo) and a room filled with intelligent and enthusiastic readers. I felt instantly at home. Best of all was the music playing – wonderful blues filtered from speakers overhead. Now, if this wasn’t an event designed for me (mental, audio, visual, and orally pleasing) I don’t know what is. 

I bought a glass of wine, purchased the author’s book (I had already ordered it from Amazon, but it hadn’t arrived yet and I wasn’t planning to come and not have a book for reference or to have sighed, so I took out my crowbar and bought the dang thing again) and took a place front and center of the seating area. And I started reading.

The author, James McBride, would soon be discussing his novel, Song Yet Sung. It’s a novel dealing with the issues of Slaves and the Underground Railroad in 1850 (happens to be the subject and background of the book I am now working on, so of particular interest to me). I read the first three chapters while nursing my wine, thrilled because the book has the beautiful flow of a literary novel while also a wonderful plot. Something actually happens in this story and each page compels you to read on– which if you read many literary novels, is rather rare. (Sad, but true.)

At seven James McBride took the stage. He was a wonderfully unassuming man. As a young man, he went to Oberland for a degree in music and it just so happened we were listening to his CD on the speakers. (He made arrangements to give one to everyone in attendance as thanks for them baring the horrible wind to come to a reading. Yippee!)  He later got his Masters in journalism at Columbia and wrote for many prestigious journals and newspapers. Then, he wrote a memoir about being raised in a bi-racial family called The Color of Water, and this book received critical acclaim and was a best seller. His second book was about war and it didn’t sell so well, but they are making a movie of it and he just finished the script for Spike Lee. 

He said, “If I’d known so many people were going to read my first book, I would have written it better . . .”
Ha. He claimed he has grown into a much better writer now. I believe that. We all do as time marches on and experience pushes us forward.

His lecture was filled with easygoing jokes and down to earth honesty. He only spent about 10 minutes actually reading from the book (which was nice and brief, but I do love hearing an author’s work in his own voice) and then took questions.

Most people asked about his writing process or about how he gathered historical information to write such an authentic book. Most were fascinated with the subject of the book. I listened, enjoying his answers, but then had a question of my own.

“Why no quotation marks?” I asked. “Is it a style thing, or an allergy, or what?”
You see, he only uses a dash to denote a conversation. There are no quotation marks in the manuscript, and I found it peculiar.

He explained it was just an experiment – he felt dropping the quotation marks gave immediacy to the dialogue. I asked if he had to fight with his editor to keep his choice, but he said the first book was so successful they pretty much let him do what he wanted. He doubted he’d write a book without quotation marks again.

I always have mixed feelings about this kind of thing. To me it is sort of affected, as if someone is trying too hard to make an artistic statement and can’t come up with another way to accomplish uniqueness. I feel great writing doesn’t need to break rules, because it only makes it harder for the reader to follow. Communication is key, and to mess with uniform language always means giving up control of how the work is interpreted to some extent. But I also recognize that art has no rules, so I try not to pass judgment. Still, these kinds of experiments always seem self-indulgent to me.  But I must admit it didn’t take away from the book, because it took two chapters for me to even notice. But then, I couldn’t help but notice and notice and notice and notice…..

McBride was inspirational, informative, and fun to listen too. He made more than a few derogatory remarks about Margret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, because of her stereotypical portrayal of slaves. But it was done with good humor and respect too, and it was obvious he recognized that she was a product of her times.

A woman leaned over to me and whispered, “Do you think he is offended to have to read here?”
I said I very much doubted it. He could always refuse a gig if it truly went against his moral code. I think he just spoke of that book in a comparison of his own as a way of social commentary. It brought forth a true example of the great diversity of how people view slavery and how today, he can write such a more authentic book.

He is remarkably talented. Remarkably likeable, and I enjoyed every moment of the lecture.

Since I had hours to kill after the reading, I hung back at the end of the line to get the author’s John Hancock. This gave me time to enjoy some vibrant conversation with some of Atlanta’s elite. The people standing with me just bought a penthouse in a high rise next door (they came just to see what goes on in their neighborhood) and they talked about their personal jet…..
I was like, yea, that’s nice. I don’t have a jet, but I do have a donkey…. Believe it or not, they found that fascinating, and we ended up talking about why a person who loves literature can adore mud too,  and we talked peacocks and mountains, and books and what is good and bad about living in a big city (I’ve done that too)  ….. Well, it was a diverse conversation. Needless to say, it was fun.

When the line cleared and I got to meet with James McBride, I said, “I want to be the only person on earth who has quotation marks in her book, so can you put your name in quotes?”
He laughed and said “sure”.
He wrote, “To Ginny, Peace, love and truth . . . the only quote here in this book is “for you”.” And followed it with some scribble that I suppose is his name. Why is it men can’t write legibly?

It was a wonderful night. I came home and read the entire dang book the next day. It was moving beyond description. Anyone who loves good literature would appreciate it. Song Yet Sung. Buy it.

After the reading, I braced myself for the biting wind and walked a few blocks to a raunchy bar to hold up till Mark was free to pick me up. Funny, but I felt just as at home there in a smoky bar as at the refined reading. I was a bartender when I was young and living in New York, so I’m only too comfortable sliding into a worn wooden seat at a bar and having someone slide a glass of wine over the brass rail my direction. This bar was filled with pin-up posters of girls from the 1940’s. Inspirational! I was just sort of sorry Mark wasn’t there with me to discuss the reading and enjoy a drink. Always makes these things more poignant when you share them with another interested party.

Mark left his class early to pick me up – I told him it wasn’t necessary, but he didn’t like the idea of me traipsing around alone in Atlanta at night. Really, I was feeling fine and didn’t feel the least bit abandoned, but it was sweet he was concerned. He picked me up and we went back to his woodworking class. I read a bit in the car, then we had a hamburger and a glass of wine at a little Atlanta dive on that side of town, and drove the 1 ½ hour home –with plenty of conversation to share about what we experienced this night. That is one of the joys of going different directions when you’ve been married a long time. Makes for inspired conversation when you touch base.

Anyway, the reading inspired my own writing, which is important.
Speaking of which . . .
This week I started getting responses to my agent query letters. The first few were rejections. I figured as much, considering they were boomerang responses. Sigh.

But the third response was from a very prestigious agent and she made a request for the full manuscript with exclusive rights. I was delighted and yet, I felt I should wait the weekend and think about it. Don’t know why.

And the next day, I received another request for the full manuscript – from the agent of my dreams….. She happens to be the woman who discovered and represented Rosemary Rodgers (author of Sweet Savage Love, my favorite historical romance of all time) and several other very renowned and beloved historical romance writers. If you know my writing history and what motivated me to begin writing historicals– you would know just how significant this agency’s history was to me…. I sent the manuscript off within the hour. It doesn’t hurt that the agency is called Coffey (pronounced coffee). Ha. It has to be a sign, don’t you agree?

That night, I got another full manuscript request from another very prestigious firm. They said, “Your proposal sounds very intriguing and your writing sample is promising. Please send us more so we can consider representation…..”

Someone else might want me? I’ve been doing the happy dance ever since.

Mark started seeing these positive responses (four years ago my queries for the same book resulted in not a single offer – which goes to show I’ve improved either in the writing, the idea or the way I present it… perhaps the MFA opens doors because it is a statement of my commitement to writing). And he said, “Wow. You’re going to really sell this book. You’re going to do just what you set out to do…” ‘
Then he grinned and added, “Not that anyone ever doubted you would…”

That’s my guy.

I reminded him that getting an agent to read your work is a big step, but it is a long way from being represented and/or selling a book. I don’t want to get my hopes up….. I might still have lots of work ahead… and disappointment and …. Well, this is only a promising start.

But I know he is right. Because these agents will either represent me (required to get in the door of a publishing house now a days), or say no and with their rejection, they’ll probably make an explanation of why not. And that will give me direction so I can go back to the drawing board and make changes which will enhance my work. Every “no” is one more dart getting closer to the “yes” bulls eye, ya see.

As I printed my book to send out, I kept pulling out pages and reading. Often I thought, “Not bad . . not bad at all…” Then I thought, “I can do better….”
This is funny, because a teacher I had at Lesley often wrote  “You can do better” in the margins of my submitted work and it drove me crazy. Because I felt I was trying hard, and I wasn’t sure I could do better….. but of course, I’ve learned I can. And now, that is the overriding theme regarding how I feel about everything I write.
I can do better.
And I will.

I know that there is only so much fixing I can do on a book I wrote 4 years ago. My next book will be better – because I’m a far better writer now. And the book after that will be even better. I’m actually looking forward to starting something from scratch soon, knowing my newer material will be so much stronger than the old.

So it doesn’t matter if this book sells. Of course, I hope it will because I happen to adore the characters and the story and it represents time and energy and hope. But if it doesn’t, the next one will. Or the next.
The point is, I have put ego aside, I am open to learning and I understand growth takes time. And frankly, I’m not in a hurry or inclined to get frustrated because writing is hard and breaking into publishing harder. Growing and learning is a joy in itself, so all the effort is valuable. Publication is sort of secondary…

At least, that is how I feel today.

Anyway – my book is now in circulation. And if agent one says, ‘Not my thing” perhaps the next agent will adore it, or agent three, or one of the others I have yet to receive a response from but might show an interest…. The point is, I’ve dipped my toes in the water of publishing at long last. Feels refreshing and I seriously can’t wait to plunge in head first. Hope I don’t drown.

When I took my manuscript to the little country post office, I told my friend working there that after all those dozen of packages I picked up during my MFA, I was finally sending one out – I told her to send it with care and good vibes. It was my book finally leaving home.

She said, “About time”.
I agree.

P.S. Every morning, Prism walks out to the sunshine and opens his tail in a huge fan of irredessent color and circles. My girl peacock dances through the feathers, adoring him. I can’t believe something so beautiful is right in my back yard. And I’m guessing I’ll be discovering fertilized eggs pretty soon. Yippee.
I’ll take a picture when I can find my dang camera….. A peacock showing off is impressive and inspirational and a marvel of nature! Like all th emost splendid things in life – it was worth the frustration, the mistakes, the wait, and the painful learning curve….