Source: Born Again at Lake Ontario
For the last few years, I’ve been slowly moving my writing from short-form personal essay to fiction. I’ve had a little success here and there, with short stories that show up in journals such as Apeiron Review, Saint Katherine Review and Ruminate Magazine, among others. It’s a great feeling to see a piece arrive in my mailbox.
It’s equally great to see it show up on my computer screen in online journals such as The Flash Fiction Press! They published one of my flash pieces last year, called “Dropping Tumblers” and I’m pleased to say I’ve got another one there now.
I’ve been playing around with “dialogue only” pieces the last couple of months and Pumpkin is one of these experimental flash stories. I hope you’ll take a look and let me know how you like it.
Keep in mind, I have a little yippy dog myself and I love him like the furry son he is, so, remember this piece is FICTION! 😉
I have a new piece up on ArtHouse America today and I’m pretty stoked about that. I hope you get a chance to check it out if you’re a Fixer Upper fan.
If you’re not a Fixer Upper fan then we gotta talk. How can I be friends with you if you’re not a Fixer Upper fan?? Come on, now.
Lookit, I’m even wearing one of my favorite tee shirts today to celebrate!
In other news, I ought to have some news on a release date for my latest book, Garden in the East soon and very soon…
My instincts told me to rescue my son when homework and bad grades threatened to sink him, but he was not afraid. He was not looking for my help. Here’s how he learned to keep his head above water, all on his own, and I learned to just float.
I set out today to write about New Year’s Day and the blank wall it seems to offer each year. I sat and stared at that blank wall, thinking, “Well, there’s that then. Time to get on with the big bright shiny blank new year.”
It’s not really blank, you know. There are variations in the paint, chips here and there, maybe a faded handprint, if I look real close. I might spend too much time looking at it real close, finding the variations, finding the handprint. I forget, in those times of looking close, that the wall isn’t the thing. I stare at that blank wall for a long time, thinking about how to fill it, thinking about what to hang, how to paint, putting in a window or a fireplace. How hard would it be? How expensive? How long will it take? How messy?
When I look into the start of the new year, sometimes it’s a blank wall I see. Other times it is a dark and deep hole in the ground. How deep is that? I wonder to myself. I drop some coins into it. I listen for the plink into water or thud into the dirt, at the bottom. It does not always come. I peer into the dark a long time, waiting for my eyes to adjust, making out anything possible, anything moving, anything bearing just a little light.
I woke up today cranky, and it was not because I stayed up too late, or at least, I do not think that’s the reason. I moved through my familiar shuffle to the coffee pot. I greeted the now fully-waked children, who were already deep into the new box of cereal. I poured out a little prayer as the coffee dripped into my cup. Morning always seems promising. The first coffee bolsters that promise. The “New Year” catches me in a current, and I am riding it– so far, so good. But it doesn’t last, and my cranky mood takes over. What is it? I think to myself.
I know what it is. I remember it now as I sit to examine the sharp tone of my reprimands, the exasperation when I see the stack of dishes in the sink already, the tightness in my chest when, despite my best intentions, I find myself comparing my “New Year’s Eve” to the pictures I see on the computer, my last year to everyone else’s last year. It’s a new year. Why am I still so far from the goal?
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
After the second cup of coffee, a closing of the social media windows and maybe one more round of “why” I make a slow descent into prayer. I don’t want to go. I’d rather stare at that blank wall. I’d rather stare into the deep well in the ground. It’s astounding how fruitful that promise of the blank wall or the deep dark hole in the ground seems and yet, we both know Henri Nouwen is right when he tells us about the descent into the heart through prayer, don’t we?
“To pray is to descend with the mind into the heart, and there to stand before the face of the Lord, ever-present, all-seing, within you.”
— Henri Nouwen The Way of the Heart
The start of the calendar New Year is a trap for me. It sets up a false expectation that change came in the night while the fireworks went off while the clock hands moved past midnight while my children slept soundly in their beds. Resolutions are made whether I meant to make them or not. Force of habit. Promises, not kept from last year, resurrect like zombies rising, arms outstretched and groaning. Remember me? They say, with voices that are eerily familiar from years of repetition. But it’s a trap. The idea that I woke to a blank wall or a deep well that formed while I slept and that the world somehow “reset” is flawed, at best. I just don’t buy it. I cannot buy it. It’s too expensive a cost because it is such a large purchase every year.
But the descent into the heart– not a deep staring into the dark once a year, but a daily, “new every morning” kind of looking, that’s an investment worth making, no matter what day of the year it is. The blank wall will be there, but great is His faithfulness. The deep dark holes in the floor will open up, but great is His faithfulness. The turning of time on the calendar will continue, along with the many and varied ways I can showcase my failings, but great is His faithfulness. Great is His faithfulness.
“I think I’m dying,” I said, and I coughed weakly. My children gathered around me, stroking my head and handing me small squares of toilet paper instead of Kleenex. My oldest got me a glass of water as I propped myself on some pillows. I tried to watch another season of Hell’s Kitchen but it made me hungry and being hungry made me feel nauseated. This sickness is not consumption, though that would be a far more literary way to write about my sick bed. This sickness is just a nasty head cold, a head cold I developed because my children are in grade school, and I just cannot help but hug and kiss them even when they are sick, which is always, because they are in grade school.
All that day I camped out in bed, and I read the stack of magazines I keep on my nightstand. I collect literary journals like some kids collect bottle caps. I line them up on the shelf under my nightstand. I stack them under the bed. I pile them on the coffee table. When the magazines arrive I read them while sitting on the couch, feet up, absent to everything else. On this day, I am reading Ruminate Magazine, one of my favorite journals. It is one of my favorites because of the beautiful work inside, the feel of the thick paper between my fingers, the splash of color of the artwork every few pages.
I might never have subscribed to Ruminate had I not met the editor, Brianna Vandyke at a writer’s conference in Michigan many years ago. I met her while walking through the “vendor” room. She was positioned behind the Ruminate table, smiling. I browsed the sample magazines on the table. They were a young outfit back then, just getting started. I had heard of them through a few other writers, and I had submitted to one of their writing contests. When Brianna saw my nametag, she said, “I know your name! I’ve been wanting to meet you!” and then she came out from behind the table and hugged me. At that point in my writing career, no one knew my name. I had no publishing credits to speak of and in fact, I was still unsure of whether I could truly say out loud that I was a writer.
I subscribed that day. And it was in that generous greeting, that moment of recognition and that small, well-loved journal that I began to form some solid understanding of what it means to create something beautiful. It’s something I still value to this day. Truly, I’m grateful for the work of Ruminate.
Because you might never have come across Ruminate before this post, I’d like to tell you that you also might never realize that they are in a funding crisis. Years of working on this magazine for no monetary compensation have taken its toll on the creators, and they are faced with closing their doors. This post is just to say that it will most likely not cut into your Hell’s Kitchen viewing. It will not keep you from your important engagements. If you have not heard about the magazine, the closing of Ruminate will not affect your daily living so far as you know.
What you don’t know is that the effect of this magazine on creative and talented folks is immense. Letting this magazine fall into the waters and not surface again is a loss that is felt at the deepest levels by people who read and imbibe the words there like vitamins, like minerals, like meat. These words sustain us, they bolster us, they fuel us well and whether you realize it or not, the loss makes us all weaker. The loss of good creative work, deep and beautiful work, wears on our communal immune system. We need Ruminate Magazine because we’re weary and worn down and words matter, art matters.
Will you help? You have a couple of days yet to lend a hand to help pull this powerful force from the water. Subscribe today, give a subscription or just toss some coin in this direction instead of a couple of pumpkin spice lattes from Starbucks. Be a part of something foundational and good where art is concerned. Your small contribution makes a difference, I promise.
And listen, if you’ve never subscribed to a literary journal before, consider this your opportunity. Even Gordon Ramsey would agree that work like this needs your support.
I’ve got a new piece up on ArtHouse America this week. This is a version of a bit of the new book, “Garden in the East” so if you’re a fan of literature and you’re a fan of positive body image work, this is for you!
Be sure to check it out and if you dig it, leave me a comment over there. Would love to hear your thoughts!
The typical thing would be to say, “I’m not looking for a debate” when posting about a touchy subject. The reason we’d state that is because we just want to speak our minds without being challenged. We want to believe what we already believe and nothing more, nothing less. It’s our right, I suppose, to our opinion where things like this are concerned.
The river is flooding the town here.
I look at this flooding, around the issue of mass shootings, gun violence in general and the specter of “gun control” in this country and I think, This is the river and the river is flooding the town.
We are drowning, one by one. The fields are marshy. The cars cannot move. The water has risen to the point where we forget where it ends and where we begin. The water is cold, but we’ve been in it so long that we have forgotten the cold. It’s tempting, perhaps, to speculate that it is the water that’s warmed to our skin, rather than to recognize the truth of it. We’re losing touch. Our skin is numb. We cannot feel our feet or hands. Extremities have no more information to give us.
We cannot leave it all to the civil engineers. This is our town, after all. It’s important for us to keep moving, to support the work of the people who are meant to help us understand what’s happening. When they look at the river, we want to know that they see the river bed, the water, the boundaries, the tributaries, the ocean that feeds it. We want to be sure they see the weather patterns, the global implications, the wheat fields and strip mining. We want to support the clean-up efforts, the burial rites, the grief process, the replanting along the riverbank.
We are drowning here.
Come up to the high ground. It’s a sacrifice to leave the trenches dug out to protect long-held beliefs, property, fears that have been inlaid since we were young, injured, fortified. It’s not enough to dig the trenches. The water is too much. The river is too swollen. The factors are too many and too powerful.
And we are drowning here.
It’s time to come up to high ground. We all want to live.
I’ve been working on the new book this past few months. It’s going well. I think that’s what I’m supposed to say, by default, whenever someone asks, and so that is what I say. If they press further, I might mention the potholes, the detours or the time wasted at the truck stops because the road to finishing this book has been, at times, no damn fun. Writing books is not always fun.
Even so, I’m almost there. Garden in the East– The Spiritual Life of the Body is on its way, soon, to my editor and will present itself in full form in the middle of next year. It’s exciting to see the image of this new thing emerge from the block of marble that is the blank page. I hope it is beautiful. I hope it is good.
In any case, I was re-reading a chapter today, fine tuning, shaking it out a little and I came across this excerpt that describes the first time I threw my back out. The chapter is foundational to this book about how we view and care for the body– physically, emotionally and spiritually. I thought I’d go ahead and give a sampling of what’s coming out of this here marble slab these days, in case you’re into that sort of thing.
Once while vacuuming I threw my back out. Something twinged and then a shooting pain ran down either side of my lower spine deep into my hips. I could not move. I had four small children. It was the middle of the day. I made my way to the floor, instructed my daughter to turn off the vacuum cleaner and then give me the phone. When I told my husband that I needed him to leave his meeting and come home, right now, he was confused. I’d never had a complaint about my back in my life. I was still awfully young for “back trouble” and there was no immediate cause apart from vacuuming. When he came home and saw me weeping on the family room carpet he remembered his back issues and the pain that comes with them and set to work to get the kids in line and me to the doctor.
There was no “reason” for my back to go out, no injury, no inherent trouble with the spine or congenital defect as there is in my husband’s case of spondylolisthesis, which is a slipping of the vertebrae. I was home full time then, working out as often as I could, but not eating or sleeping as well as I ought to have been. Even so, I was in relatively decent shape for my tender mid to late thirties. The best my doctor could offer is that in addition to carrying children around or bending over picking things up off the ground all day, I was stressed out and that most likely I carried my stress in my lower back. I was parenting and vacuuming and worried and one thing led to another until the twinge and pain came along. After a massage, a lot of Advil and some rest, my back pain subsided and I made a silent pact to pay better attention to my stress.
Pain is a signal. My body was telling me something. Slow down. Pay attention. Breathe. Overly tight muscles cannot do what they’re made to do. I’d felt those twinges, tiny, shoots of pain here and there. I’d ignored it and kept going until at last the muscles shut it down to reboot.
All things work together for the good. When one part of the body is suffering other areas will rally to help support that part. Weak core muscles will gain some support from the lower back. They kick in to keep us upright even in the light of that core weakness. Over time those muscles, doing their job and that of the core will begin to grow over worked and then before you know it you’re laying on the shag carpet, weeping in pain while your six month old son throws plastic blocks at your head from his bouncy chair.