A bit of urban joy (Delight day #3)

Crow Babe

Yesterday was a day without writing but I was gifted with a few lovely moments courtesy of a crow. I returned home from a workout and approached my back door only to see a young crow perched on the fence. Even a juvenile crow is a big bird, but this one lacked the long tail feathers of an adult. Its beak and feet were too big for its body adding to its charm. The crow didn’t seem upset by my presence and allowed me to photograph it with my phone, enter the house and take still more shots with my digital camera. At some point the parents, far overhead in a maple tree, got involved, cawing and flapping their wings but not approaching. I never saw the baby fly although I assume it could.
In a moment of slapstick humor and a little consternation, I watched the bird hop up the stairs to my back porch and look through the window. It then flutter-hopped to the stair rail and slid haplessly down to the rail’s end, falling off and to the ground.

Checking out My Porch
 
I never saw the crow return to its parents or the next but I believe it did for as I write this I can hear the alarm calls of the adult birds. My husband and I imagine they find parenting hard work with such a wayward offspring. As parents ourselves, we can relate.
Ross Gay in The Book of Delights also makes note of a crow which was bathing in a creek near him. There are no creeks in my neighborhood. I imagine they have all been paved over and Gay’s essay makes me miss the creeks of my childhood in Seattle. Those were a major delight.

Delight Day 2

Day 2 was so not delightful, that I wrote this post and then watched TV for a couple of hours before bedtime.  So here is my writing from June 11th .  June 12th’s is already written, but one day at a time as they say. Here are my thoughts:

I have struggled to access delight today.  The past 36 hours have been unkind despite winning a new suitcase in a drawing–and yes–that was an unexpected delight after I realized it was not a scam.  But then, a patient came to me clutching some papers that revealed a truly grim medical diagnosis she had just received from another physician.

This woman is one of my most treasured patients.  Someone who is grateful for my presence in her life and makes me feel my work is valued.  I told her once in Marie Kondo terms that seeing her name on my schedule “sparks joy.”  And now I learn she is gravely ill with a disease that she may also be passing on to her children whom I also know.  I hugged my patient and her husband and promised to help while they wait for a confirmation of the diagnosis and if she truly has the disease in question.  When my next patient came in I had to try hard not to let her see the tears in my eyes.

That night, I had an evening dinner meeting with my local professional organization.  I chatted with some good friends and colleagues and was feeling better.  On my way home, however, my car was sideswiped by a man who was undoubtedly drunk or high or both.  Although I was unhurt, my car wasn’t in great shape and a miserable evening ensued.

The back end of the car that hit me

The car that hit me fleeing the scene.

There was certainly no joy in waiting for the police to arrive (they never did) and yesterday I had to take an Uber to the police station to file my report.  Which they refused to do.  I had 5 separate phone conversations with the 911 dispatch and the police officer who called me about the incident at midnight when I finally was tucked in my bed reporting the hit and run and asking about procedure for filing a police report.  But at the police station a lazy officer or clerk told me there was nothing she could do and I Ubered back home.

So here I am, no police report, no car and a mountain of frustration. It is hard to feel Zen under the circumstance.  Even so, last night I dug deep and found a delight or two or perhaps a gratitude since I am still too pissed off for delight.

First, a kind tow truck driver who stayed by me as I waited for my husband to pick me up at 10:30 at night.  I am truly grateful and shared it with a good tip.  Second, dusk in my backyard with swifts twittering overhead and a half moon backed by blue sky.  A pile of weeds near me and dirt under my fingernails from productive weeding.  The gods of luck or happenstance may have been toying with me, but these will do.

I’m Back

My writing and reading process

I’m embarrassed by the ebb and flow of my blogging lately–it’s mostly ebb. I’ve been writing, but not so much on-line, taking classes, working on my novel and short pieces and even got an essay published–my first! Here is the link to “Unmanageable Care” in the new journal Please See Me.

I have been inspired anew by a book I’m reading: The Book of Delights: Essays by Ross Gay. It is one of those books that selects something to do every day and then shares the journey. I’ve read one about making friends and I am sure there are a few others I don’t recall. I don’t intend to write a book review of Delights here but merely explain how it started me on a journey of my own.

Ross Gay reading

I have the habit of looking up authors I enjoy on Twitter and yesterday I looked up Ross Gay. He’s not on Twitter (good for him!) but I found mention of the Printer’s Row Lit Fest and guess what? He was speaking in Chicago. I had meant to have a lazy, rain day at home but instead I packed up my book, camera and notebook and headed downtown. I had the pleasure or delight of hearing both Alex Kotlowitz and Ross Gay speak.

Alex Kotlowitz, Lisa Daniels and interviewer on stage

Kotlowitz was interviewed by a radio personality (whose name I did not catch) and the talk also featured two people who appeared in his recent book: An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago. I would highly recommend anything he has written. Gay read from his own work, both poems and short essays. He is an entertaining reader and made the audience laugh. Both talks made me glad I left the house on a rainy Sunday.

But I’m here to speak about feeling inspired by Gay to write a “delight” essay of my own. Of course, it’s derivative but it is also delightful, a way to add enjoyment to a day, to be mindful of the small things that make life better. It feels like something I need, unlikely though it is that I will persevere for a year.

Since I’ve exceeded my self imposed posting length, I will post my first “delight” tomorrow. Actually, I think this serves as a first delight post. So there.

 

Home away from Home

A quiet life in Lisbon

I don’t know anyone who has applied for or attended a writer’s retreat–the kind where a writer or artist lives in a tiny cabin in the woods and shares meals with like individuals. They sound fascinating, perhaps a bit primitive, but who would have me, a relatively unpublished writer with no MFA? Maybe that is for another day when I have credentials or maybe not. So I made my own, this year in Lisbon.
I know I’m lucky. My husband is supportive of my adventures and I can swing a month long escape both financially and professionally without too much damage. I also have the necessary spirit of adventure, willingness to go outside of my safety zone.
This year I booked an AirBNB in Lisbon. I had a lovely apartment in a central location with a usable but not amazing desk to write on and excellent internet service. This matters because in Bari during a previous escape, my laptop crashed and I blew through all my internet data reinstalling Windows and other software. This caused a little consternation for my host but we figured it out. Fortunately, my Portuguese internet was stable and speedy.

Number 28 Trolley

The first week in Portugal was shared with my dearest friends who joined me from Chicago. We crammed in as many of the tourist highlights of Lisbon as can be accomplished in 6 days. We went to the Tile Museum (Museo Nacional do Azulejo), the castle, rode the tram, sampled the cuisine and walked until our joints hurt.
When they left, I hunkered down and started writing. Of course, nearly every day I was seduced by another ramble in the sunshine or an hour journaling at my favorite outdoor cafe or a trip to an amazing bakery for a treat.
In the next month of blogging, I hope to share some of the details. Enjoy.

Stairs and cross

A February Sabbatical

Two years ago, I started what I hope will be an ongoing adventure, I took an informal “sabbatical” from work.  First of all an explanation and a dictionary definition of sabbatical:  “a period of paid leave granted to a university teacher or other worker for study or travel, traditionally one year for every seven years worked,” (link here).  At one point in my life, I might have aspired to a paid leave.  I am the daughter of a university professor and the wife of one, but I left academia early in my career, which is a story for another day.  Now I am self-employed so my sabbatical is unpaid and short but hard-won.

Bari Harbor
Two years ago I spent a month in Bari, Italy, which I blogged about some time ago.  The reason:  to escape Chicago winter which wears me down a little more every year and to work on editing my book and preparing it for querying.  The break was a success.  Walking on the boardwalk, touring the city and nearby small towns while spending weekdays editing and submitting made for an amazing February.  I’ll call it my “rest and revise” trip.  At the end I decided my novel was not quite ready for publication but learned from my mistakes and went back, not to the beginning, but to a new round of revising.

Last year, I was dealing with some health issues and did not manage another getaway, but lucky me, I am now largely recovered, and I just finished a month in Lisbon, again focused on revising, writing, touring and sunshine, not necessarily in that order.  I wanted to have my next round of revisions finished but didn’t meet that goal.  Even so, I believe my book is much better for the time and attention and I am sharing new pages with my writing group.

I don’t like my blog posts to get overlong.  I tend not to read long posts and doubt others do either.  Here are images of why I ran and what I found.

 

 After the "Polar Vortex"

Fern

More will follow in future posts. Thanks for reading.

A Little Light Reading

January is just flying by.  Here we are at the 18th.  In two more weeks, the month will be over, I will have a nice list of StoryStorm-generated ideas and will be taking them with me to Lisbon.

In the meantime, I can ponder the last two story prompts.  Two days ago we were steered to use puns liberally.  Today’s post is actually more a series of suggestions.  The first is to observe the ordinary, research it, and write it all down.  The second is to keep one’s mind open and non-judgmental about the ideas and interests that feed one’s writing.  The third is to look around, closely, for “one amazing thing.”  And of course, write that down too.

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Fried chicken candy anyone?

There are parallels I see to my photography, maybe not so much the puns, but the research, generation of new ideas and looking for the amazing in the mundane.  I recently took a photo of a broken hubcap on the road.  I just liked the geometry.

20180518_133636

I’ve read three books since my trip to the library last week.  I hope to review them on my Goodreads site and maybe here as well but that will have to wait until tomorrow.  Enjoy your weekend endeavors whatever they may be!

Slow day, snow day

Little Church in Porto
This photo is from a day well spent in Porto, Portugal back in 2010

I haven’t written anything yet today and time is passing so I probably won’t except for this post.  I start work late on Wednesdays but that doesn’t mean I get anything useful done at home.  This morning I bought some shoes on line and reserved some books at my local public library.  Both trivial actions relate to preparing for my upcoming trip to Lisbon (February 1).  Now that I think of it both relate to portability–good, light shoes that are easy to pack and likely to fare well on hills and e-books for the journey.

I am making a point of reading MG books at present.  In December I binged on essay collections.  I have been writing and submitting an essay or two to literary journals but am now trying to focus back on my MG novel-in-process.  So I am concentrating on craft.

Lisbon is not just a holiday for me, although it will be that.  It is also a writing retreat.  If I stayed here at home to write, I would have to face the weather that leaves me down and demoralized.  I also would procrastinate and the guilt would send me back to the office.  So why not rent a small apartment and hole up somewhere?  And if I’m going to do that, why not somewhere warmer and far more exciting than my home turf?  Hence, Portugal.

Two years ago, I did a similar retreat to Bari, Italy.  It worked very well!  I edited, proofed and submitted my novel to agents.  I participated in a Twitter competition.  I learned about pitches and synopses.  Not all happened in that order necessarily.  I didn’t get any bites and have since started a deep revision which brings me up to the present.

I have a critique group.  What I need is space and time to work.  So there I go in a few short weeks.  With my new shoes and e-books.

I missed blogging about StoryStorm for a couple of days.  The prompts are about telling a difficult story (the example given is a Holocaust story) and about starting a story in the journalistic sense with Who, What, When, Where, Why and How.  Not that all of those are necessary at once, but it makes for a great framework for considering beginnings.  The question words remind me to get back to studying Portuguese.  I can now say, “I drink milk” but haven’t gotten to “Where’s the bathroom?”  Very useful words, those.

May all your journeys, literal or figurative, writing or otherwise be bright.

The three sights

At the beach

The StoryStorm prompt for today is to use three “sights,” namely eyesight, insight and hindsight. I read this as: 1) What do I see? 2) What do I learn from this? 3) How does this relate to my past?

I am just now looking through my window. I see snow and sunshine. The sky is blue, everything is reflective, sparkling and clean. What do I learn? To take joy in the moment. Chicago in winter may be cold and inhospitable but there are moments of striking beauty. The hindsight? Snow days of my childhood. Trips to Mt. Rainier with our sleds–it was lovely to be able to visit winter but not stay. Getting snowed in at school and eating hot dogs waiting for the buses to arrive. My first winter in Chicago–26 below zero that year. Being literally blown off my feet.

I’m not turning all this into a picture book because I have other projects on tap but I am grateful for the prompt and it will give me something to return to someday.

Contemporary Reading

backyard bunny

I just chose this title to reflect on the previous blog post.  A comment from a reader this week inspired me to, finally, go to the library and clear up some old fines and get my library account usable again.  Now I can check out or download as many books as I want.  This solves my bind of not wanting to buy large numbers of hardback books to keep myself up-to-date with children’s literature.

I arrived home with around 6 middle grade novels and a graphic novel.  All are due on February 1 which coincidentally is when I will be leaving for 5 weeks in Portugal.  I call it my self-made writing retreat and hope to sightsee, write and edit my book, and escape from cold Chicago.  I am cramming a bit of Portuguese before I go and trying to catch up on all the necessary chores before I leave.  The new library card was motivated in part by wanting to download books onto my Kindle instead of carrying them with me.

Toys in the Snow

I missed two days’ of prompts for StoryStorm.  My short form of those two days and today amounts to this:  1)  Stop, look and listen (be mindful of the world around you) and recombine prompt words in novel groupings.  2) Keep a journal of interesting words and phrases.  3) Make a pillow fort and connect with your childlike self.  I need to get my idea book and work on these tonight.

Writing Historically

picture books

The latest writing prompt from StoryStorm day 9 is about historical events and anniversaries. The notion is to look up a certain date, say, 50 or 100 years ago plus or minus a year or two and write about something from that date.  An example was given of the toaster which was invented in 1926.  This brought to mind a story already written of “The Brave Little Toaster” which was turned into a film my kids and I watched many times.

Besides toasters, this prompt got me thinking about my anniversaries and about my reading history.  The process of writing a middle grade novel gets me revisiting beloved stories of my childhood and of my kids’ youth.  They are 21 and 26 now so I haven’t been reading to them much lately although just this week my older son had a novel he liked shipped to our local bookstore for me to read.  That was a delightful surprise.

Unfortunately, I find it hard to keep up with modern MG novels which is a professional necessity.  I think I need to renew my library card and get over to the library more.  I have a bad habit of accumulating fines!

bookshelf

The images above show some books from my recent and more remote past.  Most of the children’s books were boxed up and I am already missing them.  The books are an odd mix.  Some I bought or were gifts reflecting adult favorites, for sentimental value–books that the kids never read.  Nancy Drew is one of those.  Some of the most worn picture books were read countless times. I miss reading to the kids and hope that reading will be something I can share with grandchildren some day.

Happy reading or writing to all.