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March 31, 2007

Deepest, darkest

potgarlicsm2.jpgThere was a rumor in my family when we were growing up that the soil in the south was red. A couple of my siblings had traveled from our home on the coast of Massachusetts to Florida to visit our grandparents, and they insisted it was true. Of course, we didn’t use the word soil then. We called it dirt, and red dirt was about as inconceivable to me as some of the other rumors I was beginning to hear, like the one about women bleeding and one about where babies came from.

When I was twenty, I restored the family garden. It was my father’s garden, and I remember him forcing us kids to work in it. We loved the corn suppers but not the watering and weeding. The older we got, the less of a hold my father had on us and the more overgrown the garden got.

When I reclaimed the garden I was recovering from a major clinical depression. I wasn’t doing things that other twenty year olds did. The decision to garden was a turning point. I remember paying my little brother five cents for every clod of dirt he could shovel up. Once they were free, he shook the dirt out and then flung them, pretending they were bombs. I mostly dug with my hands. I remember the dark brown earth and the smell of the nearby ocean. I remember planting, but I don’t recall harvesting or eating anything I grew then.

I was thirty-five with two young sons when I arrived in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. It was the first time I saw mountains, other than the ones I had seen in my dreams. As a gardener, I was disappointed with the rocky red clay of Virginia. I had come to lead a country life, and so growing food would be important.

I figured there’s more than one way for people to be rich. We could have a lot of money or we could have few needs. We could get jobs that caused us to leave our home and families to make money to buy the things we need, or we could stay home and do our own work and provide the things we need directly.

No matter how much manure my husband and I shovel from the back of his pick-up onto our garden each spring, we can’t recreate the dark rich soil of the Massachusetts peninsula I grew up on. But we manage to grow a lot of food. Every time I dig up a potato I'm in awe. I remember the scene from “Gone with the Wind” where Scarlet O’Hara pulls a rotten potato from the earth, holds it up to the sky, and announces she will “never go hungry again.”

Scarlet O’Hara was of Irish descent, and so am I. Growing my own potatoes satisfies deeply rooted inherited feelings in me, those of lack and scarcity. A good crop of potatoes makes me feel more secure than having money does.

I have to dig deeper to harvest the roots of Echinacea and Valerian that grow in my garden. It’s a labor intensive task that makes my muscles ache. When the roots finally come loose, they’re caked with dirt. I spray them with the hose before I soak them in vodka to make medicinal tinctures. Echinacea strengthens my resistance. Valerian is a sedative, good for insomnia and anxiety.

Maybe it was a good thing that there were no anti-depressants when I was a young woman. From the ground up I’ve been healing myself. I’ve learned through growing food and by doing self-analysis therapy that treasure doesn’t tend to lie around for us to stumble over. We usually have to dig deep and trust the darkness to discover what enriches us.

Post note
: "Deepest, darkest" was this week's Sunday Scribblings writing prompt. More deep and dark scribblings can be found HERE.

March 30, 2007

The House that Josh Un-Built

1. This is the mailbox that used to belong to a man named Cleopis whose nickname was “Cope,” and it now belongs to my son, Josh Copus, whose nickname is also “Cope” (dog).
2. This is the old house that Josh un-built.
3. This is the crew that helped Josh un-build the old house.
4. This the part of the house un-building where my husband who was helping un-build the house said, “See, how easy it is to make a sunroom, Colleen.”
5. This is the intermission part of the house un-building where burgers were eaten and refreshments were enjoyed.
6. This is the end of the first day of the old house un-building where metal was sorted, plastic recycled, and 2x4s were saved. A follow-up de-nailing party is planned.

Post Notes: See the Before and After video clips HERE and HERE, taken at the start and end of "Day I" of salvaging the old house on Josh’s 2 acre creek front property in Madison County, North Carolina. The materials from the old house will eventually be transformed into a pottery studio, kiln, and a new house. In 2006 Josh won the Windgate Fellowship Award and received $15,000 to further his exploration into using local materials in ceramics and for the construction of a kiln. He recently had a story published about his Building Community project HERE. You can read about it HERE. Tearing Down the House Party! is HERE.

March 29, 2007

13 Thursday’s Notebook List

13pinkshoes.jpg1. My new pink sneakers were a compromise. I was going for ruby red slippers.

2. THIS is why I keep my hands in my pocket when I go to town.

3. I don’t like to use toxic pesticides. When the flies, hornets, and ladybugs crawling around my window panes get out of hand, I spray them with Windex. They drop dead pretty fast and then I clean the windows.

4. I was recently reading a blog (I forget where) and the author was complaining about how disturbed she was by the sound of her neighbors fighting. Out here in the country, I can’t even see my neighbor’s house, but the peepers and the hoot owls can get pretty loud, and the sound of foxes mating have been known to wake me in the middle of the night.

5. My husband Joe and I were trying to meditate last night, but my laptop was still turned on in the room above us. It took me awhile to figure out that the squealing I was hearing was the sound of seagulls on the lighthouse slideshow screen saver that he installed for me as a surprise. I was disturbed because it reminded me of the rats under the cupboard in the first farmhouse I rented in Floyd. Turned out they were squealing because they found and ate a bag of potatoes. I didn’t stay in that house for long.

6. “Tearing Down the House!” Update: Last weekend my son and his friends dismantled the old house on his newly purchased 2 acres of property near Asheville, which I wrote about HERE. My husband Joe made the trip to Asheville to join the house salvaging crew and to take videos of the event. HERE is a short before clip, taken at the start of that day, and HERE is an after clip of the end of day one. To be continued …

7. I once wore a crow feather in my hair for a whole summer. My kids and I once lived in a bus for a summer, but not the same summer that I wore the crow feather.

8. Last year at this time I was HERE.

9. I’ve always been interested in what celebrities real names were, like Marie Osmond’s real first name was Olive, John Wayne was Marion, and Bob Hope was Leslie. I find it odd that Dallas Burrows went to the trouble to change his name to Orson Bean and that Albert Brooks's parents would really name him Albert Einstein.

10. If my son Josh would have been a girl, I would have named him “Rosie Ellen.” I was sure Dylan was going to be a girl and if so, I was going to name him “Rosie Ellen.” Years after my sons were born my youngest brother Bobby named his daughter Rosie Ellen. He insists that he had never heard me mention the name before.

11. It’s warm enough for me to sunbathe on the porch now. Whenever I do, at the start of warm weather, I think of this poem: Pale as spring grass … beneath un-raked leaves … my skin under clothes … is wilted and withered … My shivering flesh … is the first flower exposed … at the first sign of thaw … when green rumors come true.

12. There’s a new anti-war group forming in Floyd (April 24, 7-8 at the library) and a peace vigil on Saturdays in front of the courthouse. I’m glad to see it happening, but I don’t have much heart for it right now. I resent feeling forced to take a stand on surging or withdrawing troops in Iraq (both choices will only result in more death) when I feel it’s criminal that the invasion ever happened in the first place.

13. Veterans against the Iraq war protested at the Pentagon on the 4th anniversary of the US invasion into Iraq. See a clip HERE.

Thursday headquarters is here. My other 13's are here. View more 13 Thursday’s here.

March 28, 2007

Bugged by Ladybugs

ldbug2.jpg There once was a ladybug … who lived in my shoe … She had so many children … She didn’t know what to do

It’s not science fiction or a nursery rhyme tale. Alfred Hitchcock couldn't have dreamt this up. Neither could Mother Goose. In a cartoon gone cruel scenario, we have been invaded by ladybugs. They swarmed by the thousands on a warm day in January, hibernated in February, and woke up in March to crawl on my sunny window panes like little spotted Volkswagen beetles in a bumper to bumper traffic jam.

Basking on windows … With hornets and flies …. Waddling around … like amusement park rides …
People around here suck them up into vacuum cleaners. Others used poison to control them. These Disney-like characters that I once thought were cute are literally littering my house. In broad daylight and in droves they land on my computer screen, in my tea, and in my hair. I know they eat aphids, but they stink. Their blood stains yellow and they aren’t supposed to be here.

Fly away ladybug … Fly away soon … You should be in a garden … And not in a room! ~ Colleen

Post notes: The second photo is one of all the ladybugs (RIP) that have collected in the light fixture in my office. I wasn't kidding, was I? Learn more about the lady bug infestation HERE. THIS JUST IN. It's a video clip of the ladybugs swarming my house.

March 27, 2007

Blogs are for Storytellers

story.jpg Tell me a story of things that smell lovely … Jasmine … Patchouli … I love you truly … ~Colleen

As a blogger, I don’t need to know that Janet likes Johnny Depp, Naomi has a sweet tooth for chocolate, Rick grows hot peppers in his back yard, or that Terri drives around her island in a golf cart. I want to know because those are interesting details make for good reading.

In the same way that I get invested in a novel when the author knows how to make the characters come to life, blogs are interesting to me when their authors reveal an unforgettable personal quirk, a unique or surprising detail, or one that I can relate to and see myself in. The fact that bloggers are real people only makes their stories more compelling to me. Real stories appeal to my love of memoir, documentary, and biography. Because stories can go deep and leave a lasting impression, they have the ability to foster bonds and empathy for others.

Since blogs became popular, there’s been an ongoing public dialogue about their purpose. For the most part, I see them as a modern twist in the ancient art of storytelling. Once an entirely oral tradition, storytelling today is done in a variety of ways, but the reasons for telling stories remains the same. They’re told to preserve culture, to instill knowledge and values, to inform, entertain and socialize. Human beings are a story telling species. We are known by our stories and our stories are what remain once we are gone.

My readers don’t need to know that I have city driving anxiety, that I’m sometimes more comfortable wearing boy’s clothing, that my husband and I have the same IQ number but for different reasons, or that I’ll get up and dance no matter where I am if I hear Aretha Franklin sing “Respect.” I tell them those things because they’re part of the story I’m telling.

March 26, 2007

Just Another Day at the Office

dayataoffice.jpgI worked all weekend. For nine years I provided full-time foster care for an adult with physical and developmental disabilities. Now I do it occasionally to give other providers respite. On Sunday I put in a full day. We went to the Beaver Pond on the Blue Ridge Parkway with a packed picnic lunch. After lunch, we set our chairs up in the grass under a tree and waved to the motorcyclists as they went by. Sometimes they would beep, which provided an added thrill.

March 25, 2007

Tearing Down the House Party!!

houseparty.jpgThese are the stats: 96 beers, 12 pounds of hamburger, 8 meatless patties, 9 tomatoes, 2 blocks of cheese, 24 buns, 30 best friends, 1 videographer, 1 band, and 2 dance performances. The whole house is coming down in one day. Siding, roof, and floors. We’ll salvage what we can. The rest: We’re gonna burn it.

So goes the list I took down verbatim from a phone conversation I had with my Asheville potter son Josh this past Friday night. I was going to be working all weekend doing respite foster care, so would miss the “fun and a little bit of dirty work.” But my husband, Joe, who bought Josh a sledge hammer for Christmas, headed out for the three hour drive to Josh’s two acres to be a crew leader. The old house on the property wasn’t worth saving. A new house will eventually take its place. jshousewindow.jpg

Since his days as a little boy with his teddy bear ninja army, to his love for the Red Sox and the big clay dig in the fall of 2005, my son, Josh
Copus, aka Josh Circus, has been keeping stats. Since the “After Fool’s Day Parade Party” where Josh took to the street wearing a suit that made him look like the Riddler, to the Drury Fest, which involved him in a gorilla suit and 90 people tubing down a river, Josh has been producing events.

I sent two cameras with Joe. I hope he can capture a small part of this bigger than life occasion.

March 24, 2007

A Bright Idea

Daylight Savings
in the bank
is a glorious
free commodity
ready to spend
to dispel the dark
deficit of winter’s

~ Colleen

March 23, 2007

Say Green!

groupphoto.gif The following originally appeared in "The Floyd Press" newspaper on March 22nd.

"Say Green!" someone called out as Max Charnley snapped a photo of spoken word performers at the Café Del Sol this past Saturday night. Because the Open Mic, scheduled every third Saturday, was on St. Patrick's Day this month many in attendance were donned in green clothing.

"I want you all to know that I take reading poetry on St. Patrick's Day very serious," I announced to the audience as I began my 10 minute reading slot. I was wearing a sage green sweater that was purchased in Ireland and had the word "Blarney" sewed in the tag. "I don't know whether blarney refers to a bunch of baloney or the gift of eloquence. It's probably something in between," I joked.

Earlier that day I had been reading from Thomas Cahill's bestseller book, "How the Irish Saved Civilization." The title is a reference to the Irish monks who, at the fall of the Roman Empire when literature and artifacts were being burned by barbarians, hand copied the Greek, Roman, Judeo-Christian classics, which would have otherwise been lost to us.
Said to have invented rhyme, the Irish tradition was an oral one in which their history was preserved by way of spoken verse. Literacy came late to the out-of-way island, but once it did, the Irish made up for lost time. In one generation they learned Greek, Latin, and some Hebrew; they devised Irish grammars, and copied the whole of their native oral history. But they didn't just copy. The Irish are credited with inventing the codex, the first prototype of a book (before that scrolls were used), and they produced the most magically illustrated manuscripts the world has ever seen. The Book of Kells, which includes four gospels and the Bible in Latin, is one such example.

I read a few excerpts from Cahill's book about the Irish, their playful love of the alphabet, and their reverence for language. "The Irish enshrined literacy as their central religious act," Cahill wrote. Even at the earliest stage of their development, "the Irish were intoxicated by the power of words. Every noble Irish family maintained a family of ancestral poets," I shared with the café crowd.
I knew from other reading that in the old Irish tradition the only position more noble than a poet was a king. In the spirit of the Irish poets, I introduced myself. "I am Colleen, which means "girl" in Irish Gaelic. I'm the granddaughter of Ellen Bergin of Youghal, County Cork, great granddaughter of Mary Murray, Margaret Keating, and Theresa Dineen from Cork, Tipperary, and Offaly," I said before beginning my poem titled "My Grandmother's Brogue" (which I read, in part, with a brogue).

The Irish theme continued when Katherine Chantal read a poem that wove two trips to Ireland together. In the early 70's she traveled through the country with a backpack. Then, while on a more recent trip, she navigated the narrow country roads there while driving with her sister on the left side. ... When wind is ever present in a land ... How then to be still? ... Those emerald hills ... The constancy of the ocean's voice ... Presents its own quiet ... And projected us back to ... Our ancestors who once walked the same ... She read.
Four of the nine members of the Floyd Writer's Circle, including myself, were in attendance. Most of us were already warmed up from reading two nights earlier at the Jessie Peterman Library where Friends of the Library hosted us as part of their Floyd Naturally! program. Our writer's group is dedicated to promoting the spoken word in the community and has been co-hosting the Spoken Word Night with the café once a month since October 2005.

Writer's Circle founding member Mara Robbins is a Hollins University student and a recent finalist in the undergraduate poetry competition at the 47th annual Lex Allen Literary Festival. She read several poems, one of which was about writing poetry forms, such as pantoums, haikus, sonnets, and villanelles. Jayn Avery, just back in town from selling her pottery on the Roanoke Market, read a hopeful poem about the coming of spring. Rosemary Wyman was inspired to write the poem she shared when she saw an acquaintance and his caregiver walking down the street.

Sally Walker, Café Del Sol owner and master ad libber, introduced readers and helped to make them comfortable by adjusting the mic when needed. There were two first timers. Young Mars read and essay about losing his beloved cat, and Martha Taylor shared the words of a poet she admired. Greg returned to the mic to read a poem that explained his recent haircut.
Poetry wasn't the only evening's offering of entertainment. Some in the crowd hummed along to a ballad that Chris Youngblood crooned a capella. Foot tapping and handclapping could be heard when Joe Klein belted out "The Star of County Down" (which I hummed then and continued to for the entire next day)

As Joe sang, I closed my eyes. Sitting on the café's comfy couch and sipping my cold amber brew, I imagined us all in an Irish pub. I couldn't think of a more appropriate and fulfilling way to spend a St. Patrick's Day evening.

Post Notes: THIS is a video of me reading "My Grandmother's Brogue." Photos: 1. From left to right backrow: Mars, Mary, Greg, Colleen, Jayn, Mara, Rosemary, Walter. Front row: Joe and Katherine. 2. Martha reads. 3. Jayn reads. 4. Mara on a chair. 5. Colleen and Joe on the comfy couch. Jeanie O'Neil's paintings are displayed in the background. Scroll down HERE to read more posts about Floyd's Spoken Word events.

March 22, 2007

13 Degrees of Spring Fever

13soccer.jpg 1. I have spring fever, literally. In the Chinese Medicine tradition it’s called a tidal fever and has something to do with a yin or yang deficiency. For me it’s related to Chronic Fatigue. Every year when the sap is rising, so does my temperature by a few degrees. More on that HERE.

2. I wonder if I’m normal. I have imaginary friends. Some have funny names like Tabor, Kenju, Mamahog and Weary Hag. I wonder if I’ll outgrow it.

3. “Gotta go,” I said to Mara over the phone. “The Stanley Steemer guys are coming over.” I cracked myself up saying that because I knew she wouldn’t expect it and because I can’t seem to say “Stanley Steemer” with a straight face. HERE is the rest of my adventure with the Stanley guys.

4. I write like I clean house, a little here, and little there. Some things get done, while others never do, but I make sure to do a little something each day.

5. The birds are back … checking out the real estate … a high-rise nest … on my porch rafter … A one room shelter … inaccessible to cats … with southern exposure … and a landing deck … The rest of this poem is HERE.

6. The crocuses are in full bloom now. They’re like the first ones on the dance floor in spring.

7. A friend and fellow Irish-American, Tom Ryan, recently emailed me a newsletter he authored, which was full of spoof and satire. Recognizing his talent as a humorist, I asked him to consider doing a bit at the spoken word night. He emailed me back to say “believe it or not I'm a little shy in front of an audience..... unless it’s in a court room.”

8. “You wouldn’t be Irish if you weren’t shy,” I emailed him back. When I told Joe about the exchange he said, “Yeah. That's why the Irish take a little drink. It gives them the nerve to get up on the stage and do what they were made to do.”
9. I’m back on the bench (or the bleaches) after being in retirement for about 7 years. I used to go to games to watch my sons play soccer. Now I’m back because my husband, Joe, is the Floyd high soccer coach.

10. Joe was instrumental in bringing soccer to Floyd. My oldest, Josh, got to play his senior year, was awarded MVP, and went on to play in college. My youngest, Dylan, was an excellent player as well, but his soccer career was cut short when he broke his leg in practice. (See the photo posted of my sons, taken in 1997, the one year they played on the same team.)

11. THIS is what I do for exercise.

12. According to Salon Magazine, Floyd is one of the Top Ten Southern cities in the country. The magazine cited Floyd Fest and the Crooked Road as part of the reason. I found this out via Fred at Fragments From Floyd, who has a photo included in the spread.

13. THIS! is my first uploaded video (Jaysus, Mary, and Joseph!). I’m reading a poem on St. Patrick’s Day at the Café Del Sol about my grandmother’s Irish brogue. (Posted with the help of Deana.)

Thursday headquarters is here. My other 13's are here. View more 13 Thursday’s here. #74

March 21, 2007

Full Steam Ahead

steemer.jpg The big event of the day yesterday was the Stanley Steemer guys coming over to steam clean my twenty-three year old burnt orange carpet. In the fifteen years we’ve lived in our cabin, I’ve washed the carpet once. After renting a steamer and doing the work myself, I decided I didn’t want to do it ever again.

“Are you an artist or an antique dealer?” the guy named John asked me as he scanned the contents of my living room.

“I’m … a writer,” I answered. I had just sold a first piece to a new venue, The News Messenger that morning (The post about my friend Alex’s poetry)… so I was feeling credible enough to answer that way.

Both guys looked at me as if they were checking to see if I had two heads. “That’s close enough,” John answered. A few minutes later he followed up with, “Do you have any books?”

“Actually, I do. It was locally published, and so I’m sure you’ve never heard of it. It’s called “The Jim and Dan Stories” and it’s about losing my two brothers, growing up in the 60s, and coping with grief in the first six months of the loss,” I said.

“They’re real stories?”
“Yes, and they’re not all sad. My family can be pretty funny,” I told John while the other guy, whose name I didn’t get, wielded the big steam cleaner, which began to cough up what I hoped was steam and not dirt.

It took less than a half an hour to clean my living room rug and the small hallway off the kitchen that leads to the bathroom and cost $75, less if you subtract the price of the book I sold to John.

Customers come in all shapes, from all backgrounds, and they can be found in the most unusual ways.

“Enjoy the book!” I yelled out and waved goodbye as they loaded up the truck.

March 20, 2007

I’m Just Saying

1. A Penny for your thoughts.
2. I can not tell a lie.
3. I want to be alone
3. Home is where you hang your hammer.
4. Oh, so that’s where I left the car door.

1. Found by my clothesline. 2. Seen while walking to the mailbox. It used to be my neighbor’s apple tree until the ice storm terminally damaged it and he cut it down. 3. Deck Chair at Annie’s Café in Cedar Key, Florida. 5. Spotted while in Cedar Key. 4. On a walk last week, Joe and I returned home via the back woods and saw this behind the shed. It actually went to the truck we gave Josh for Christmas. I wonder if he's missing it.

March 19, 2007

The Jury Is In

notebookpurplehat.jpg The following is Part II of “My Love/Hate Romance with Writing.” You can read Part I HERE.

On the very last day of the Roanoke Times columnist submission deadline, I sent in the requested three samples of writing. I was still ambivalent, but rather than not submit at all, I decided to lower expectations by sending one essay that I felt was my best work and two other average pieces. I thought if the paper liked my informal everyday voice the pressure on me would be lessened, but I also realized that applying half-heartedly smacked of self-sabotage.

It took me three weeks to decide to submit, and then three more before I heard back from the editor. During that time, I tried to sort out which part of my resistance was an upper-limits reaction and which part was realistic self-acceptance. After much pondering and counsel with friends, I concluded that it was a combination of both.

Although my husband and a few close friends knew that my comfort zone was being rattled, mostly I kept it to myself as I went about my normal business. During that time the only hint about what was going on that I let slip out on my blog was more of a self-affirmation than a weblog entry and went like this: It takes me twice as long to write for business than it does to write for fun, which is why I try to make fun my business and my business fun.

In early February I received a congratulatory note saying that I had made it through the first round of the selection process. I was flattered, but my hands began to shake. My worst fear was that I might be asked to do a column and would find that I had nothing to say. So, in the next couple of weeks I began drafting what I jokingly called my “acceptance speech.”

Most days, I felt sure that I didn’t want the position. I complained to my husband that the stress it would create would “ruin my life.” Even so, I strived to be comfortable with the idea of rising to the occasion if I was picked. I knew I was capable of doing such a column if I could just adjust my thinking about it. I wondered about the modest pay it promised, referred to by the editor as “diddley.” If it was more substantial, would I be more motivated? But money was not the issue. I was doing part-time respite care for the agency I used to work full time for, and selling freelanced writing here and there. Knowing that my writer’s muse was as fickle as a cat already well fed was my biggest concern. To be paid any amount of money for something I hadn’t yet written made me want to bite my fingernails.

After a total of two months of my “she loves me, she loves me not” flirtation with the Roanoke Times, it came to an end when I faint-heartedly scanned my email for the editor’s name and found this from him: “I would like to thank you for your submission and your interest. Unfortunately, you did not make the final cut.”

I called my close friend and fellow writer, Alwyn, because she was the one who asked each time we spoke, “Have you heard yet?”

“But you really did know what you wanted,” she said when I told her. “The next time a similar opportunity presents itself, you’ll be more ready because of this,” she went on to wisely suggest.

Ironically, as a blogger, I was already writing and posting column-sized entries several times a week. Being one who hates to waste the fruits of my own labor, several days after learning that I was not one of the new Roanoke Times columnists, I posted a version of the above mentioned “acceptance speech” on my blog. It was an essay about a belated New Year’s Resolution, an overview of my recent writer’s lifestyle, meant to be a possible column introduction. At least four of my regular readers commented that while reading it they worried that I was announcing my retirement from blogging. The opposite was true. If I had gotten the columnist position, my blogging time would have been severely cut back.

After reading the emailed rejection slip from the editor, I did feel some disappointment, but mostly I felt like I had received a “get out of school early” card. Although the paradoxical theme in my life of wanting to be heard and left alone at the same time would not be resolved anytime soon, I breathed easier knowing that nothing new or difficult would be asked of me. I wanted to retreat to my bedroom with a cup of tea and a People magazine to either withdraw or celebrate. I imagined that some of the shyest actors nominated for Academy Awards might be relieved not to win and not have to face the podium where they would be expected to deliver a witty speech as millions looked on.

The good news in all of this was that I made it as far as I did, and ultimately, I didn’t get a flat out rejection from the paper. Like all the first round finalists (45 people out of 145 who submitted) I was told to keep my eyes posted for future emails because I might be called on to contribute something at a later date.

I did head for the bedroom, but not with a People magazine. I went with my notebook to write. I knew from experience that when the ups and downs of my life settle back into place there’s usually a good story left to tell, something the writer in me has never been able to resist.

Post note: More on this subject HERE.

March 17, 2007

The Poetry Hotline

marareadinginrain.jpgMara called. I picked up the phone because my answering machine was full from the sonnets she had left on it the day before. I encourage those who call me up to speak in rhyme if they’re so inclined, and Mara is a particularly prolific poet.

When she asked me how I was doing, my answer was “frustrated.”

“I’ve spent the last two days looking for three things I’ve lost. I lost my cookie tin full of seeds for the garden, I lost my USB flash drive, and I lost….. Uh … Now I’ve lost the memory of the third thing I lost,” I complained.

“I have a tonic for that,” she said and proceeded to recite me a poem.

“Oh, I like it. Can you call back and leave it on my machine. Give me a few minutes to delete some old messages to make room,” I said.

Here’s an excerpt of that poem as transcribed from my answering machine: For Sale … A marvelous tonic for loss … 2 cents … Blended of fresh risen, birch sap, bee pollen … ballast to keep you afloat … and seawater … shoveled with sandbags along every small crack where the leaks press against your break … It will ease the ache ... take two cups daily … brewed with every terrible thing you’ve thought … Did you think at all that this could be bought?

After listening a few times, I remembered the third thing I lost. It was a New River Current newspaper story about the building of the Hotel Floyd, clipped for a story I might want to write. Later in the day I found my USB flash drive, but I had to order a supply of new seeds.

Post notes: The photo is of Mara reading some new poems in the rain to a group of us in the library parking lot after the “Floyd Naturally” readings Thursday night, where our Writer’s Circle was hosted.

Tonight is the St. Patrick’s Day Spoken Word Open Mic at the Cafe Del Sol. We expect the bards, troubadours, and poets who come out to be in rare form.

March 16, 2007

The Overnight Sensation

The boasting crocus
woke us for spring
The dandelions are next
ready for roaring!

Post note: I'm still working on the conclusion to Wednesday's entry, "My Love/Hate Relationship with Writing," which I thought would be ready today. My new plan is to post it for Sunday/Monday.

March 15, 2007

13 O’Thursday

st_paddys_day-1.jpg 1. Between early Day Light Savings and just the thought of St. Patrick’s day, I have to say, I’ve been feeling a little hung over.

2. My blog is wearing green because I’m Irish.

3. This blog was born on St. Patrick’s Day. See HERE.

4. I can’t decide if blarney is a bunch of baloney or the gift of eloquence. While in County Cork ten years ago, I decided not to make the trip to kiss the famous Blarney Stone, which is said to bestow all who kiss it with the gift of blarney. Besides the fact that I wasn’t sure whether blarney was something I wanted or not, I didn’t like the idea that you had to hang upside down while someone holds onto your legs to reach it. See HERE.

5. Ireland is a green kite … let go by the fairies … Landed in the ocean … and anchored by rock … is part of a poem I wrote while in Glendalough, Ireland, on the very day my blog photo (to the right was taken). The rest of the poem is HERE.

6. Writing is like making yogurt. I can work at home for several days in row, but then eventually the words won’t gel and I have to go out and find some live culture to stir into the mix.

7. Olive Riley (a good old Irish name) is writing her life story. She’s 107 and has a blog called The Life of Riley, which begins like this: The story so far. Olive Riley, half way through her 107th year, started her blog, or blob as she calls it, in late Feb. 2007 with help from Mike. Olive does not see well and so Mike records her stories and types them out. Go say Hello HERE.

8. At what point in life do we start telling more stories than we spend living the new ones?

9. Does “The Luck of the Irish” cancel out “Murphy’s Law (if something can go wrong it will?), or is it the other way around?

10. I try to look for the opportunity in life's adversity. If I can't, I figure the consolation is that at least it will make a good story.

11. My husband, Joe, came home from his martial arts class this past Saturday carrying a bag full of farm eggs that he picked up from our local supplier, the Gralla-Shwartz family. “Oh, you brought home the bacon! And to me bacon is eggs!” I said.

12. Ireland is a small country. My husband comes from a long line of Mooney’s, a family name that originated in Offaly County. My grandfather’s mother’s surname was Dineen. The Dineen’s were also originally from Offaly, which means that at one time his and my ancestors most likely knew each other.

13. THIS is our favorite Irish singer. The song he sings so well tells a chilling Irish tale and can bring me to tears in a soulful way. I love it!

Thursday headquarters is here. My other 13's are here. View more 13 Thursday’s here.

March 14, 2007

My Love/Hate Relationship with Writing

notebookcol.jpg AKA: She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not

As soon as I hit the SEND button, emailing my letter of application for a possible Roanoke Times columnist position, I started to come up with excuses for why I couldn’t do it if I was chosen. In early January 2007, when the “Call for Columnists” was announced in the paper, several friends called to make sure I saw it and to encourage me to apply. I was hesitant from the beginning. I figured if I applied I might have a 50/50 chance of getting the job, or maybe a little less since the editor made it clear that he was particularly interested in conservative voices (of which I am not) to balance the paper’s editorial positions. But did I even want to try?

I consider myself to be a productive writer. The narrative stories I’ve written for our local paper (The Floyd Press) and the radio essays I’ve read on WVTF these past couple of years have given me a boost of new confidence. Even so, I have an underlying tendency to believe that my writing is a fluke, that each piece I write could be my last, that I’ll never be able to repeat a success, or muster the muse again. It’s as if the writer part of me is my alter-ego and the other part, which is running the rest of my life, doesn’t have a clue that I write. When people approach me and comment on something I've written, I’m usually surprised. Although I greatly appreciate hearing feedback, I have a tendency to feel awkward about it, as though it isn’t my writing they’re talking about.

I don’t do well under the pressure of deadlines, writing on cue, or being a company employee. A favorite quote that describes my resistance to such things was made by an Irish pool player named Danny McGoorty. He said, “I have never liked working. To me a job is an invasion of privacy.”

I’ve learned to protect my own privacy because, as my friend Doug recently said when asked how he was doing while recovering from pneumonia, “I’m good for a half a day.” As one who has managed Chronic Fatigue for the past 30 years, I have learned to prioritize and not waste time on things I wasn’t meant to be doing (and I’m so good at it that if you see during my better half of day, you’d never guess my struggle).
The columnist position would hardly be a 9-5 job. According to the editor, the paper wanted several writers to provide a column a couple of times a month. A twice a month deadline seemed doable enough, but after retiring from full-time foster care in May of 2005 to devote myself to writing, I’ve been on the computer more than anyone I know. For me, writing generally starts first thing in the morning and continues on and off throughout the day. It usually doesn’t end until I tiptoe up the stairs to my office for some tweaking and editing after my husband has fallen asleep.

“You already miss me,” I said to him. “Could you handle me being at the computer even more than I already am?” He, a counselor, viewed my question as a defense mechanism designed to deflect my own sense of insecurity.

I enjoy freelancing stories to the Floyd Press (the key word is “freelance”), and those hometown stories are ones I would write whether or not they appeared in the Press. Writing for the Floyd Press, posting entries to my blog every day, putting together the Museletter (a community newsletter) every month, writing poetry, and creating press for the Spoken Word Night that my writer’s circle helps sponsor are all activities natural to me that fit into my small town life. And yet, I have to trick myself into doing some of those. I don’t like to admit, even to myself, that I’m working on a particular story or blog entry until a fully fleshed out first draft is in my hand as proof. When a subject interests me, I take appropriate photos and make mental notes, and then I wait to see if the writing begins itself. If I make a linear decision to write about something, I’m prone to take myself too seriously. When that happens a formality is likely to interfere with my everyday voice, causing the flow of my words to become disjointed and stifled.

The Roanoke Times is not a small town paper. As the editor calling for columnists pointed out, it “comes with an audience that makes those of any but the biggest national blogs pale in comparison.” That’s around a quarter of a million readers. The thought of writing a column for an audience that size makes me nervous on the scale of being asked to read poetry at the Academy Awards, as opposed to reading at the Café Del Sol in Floyd, which I have already proven I can do.

On the other hand, being a columnist was something I thought I always wanted. I couldn’t see myself NOT submitting.

Post Note: To be continued … Find out how this story ends. (I'll probably post the rest sometime in the next few days).

March 13, 2007

We Dabble in Scrabble

lunchscrabblecdsx.jpgThere’s no rest for the wallflower Scrabble players at the Café Del Sol during lunchtime. Kathleen and I set up the board at a kitty-cornered table tucked behind a large fir plant. We hadn’t even picked our seven letters or found out who would go first when visitors began to come over to greet us; Dance Free Brit, guitar playing Bernie, a wave across the café to Ellen, Hello to Steve.

The crowd was a colorful one and the line at the counter kept getting bigger. Gretchen looked pretty in pink. David snapped a photo of me with his phone just as I was placing my tiles on a triple word score for my high score of the game. The din mixed with chatter, the music piped in, something in the kitchen fell and broke. cds2xx.jpg

Kathleen’s soup got cold as she shuffled her letters. Her eyes darted back and forth from her rack to the board and back again. It was worth the trouble when she found a place to spell QUINCE. At one point I got up to roam around; to look at a picture of Stephanie’s little boy from the batch of photos she was downloading on her laptop, to find out how Talisin’s scrap booking class was going, to ask Jamie if he would teach me how to make posters as nice as the ones he makes for Winter Sun events.

JOIST, SALOON, WHARF, RILLET, and DRUID: Some interesting words, and some big scorers, but no bingos were played. The sun streamed in and the letters radiated out from the center, covering all four corners of the board.

Post Note: Scroll down HERE for more Scrabbling adventures.

March 12, 2007

The Full Monty Porch Vacation

marporchcrop.jpg Sunday’s extended porch vacation included two meals, a break for raking leaves and clipping rose bushes, some reading and paperwork to catch up on, a flood of sun, a red-breasted woodpecker at the bird feeder, and some lively conversation.

In Other News: Library Friends to host Floyd Writer’s Circle Members (The following is re-printed from the Floyd Press.)

On any given Writer’s Circle night, we might be found working on an article, a press release, a poem, or a book chapter. ~ excerpted from the Floyd Writer’s Circle Statement

Friends of the Library are pleased to present the Writer’s Circle of Floyd in a special event highlighting the writing of several prominent members. The event is the next in the “Floyd Naturally” Series and will be held March 15 at the 7:30 in the Community Room of the Jessie Peterman Library.

The Writer’s Circle was formed in 2002 and was designed to offer feedback, support, and critiques, as well as fellowship, to the members of the group. The group is small but diverse, containing radio essayists, bloggers, a storyteller, a photojournalist, two political commentators, and several poets and memoirists. The members of the Floyd Writer’s Circle are Jayn Avery, Katherine Chantal, McCabe Coolidge, Kathleen Ingoldsby, Colleen Redman, Mara Robbins, Rima Sultzen, Doug Thompson, and Rosemary Wyman. The Writer’s Group also sponsors “spoken word evenings” at the Café de Sol on every third Saturday. Here you might hear readings from members, or anyone else who wishes to contribute.

On Thursday evening, March 15, you will hear readers from Writer’s Circle members, Mara Robbins, Katherine Chantal, Jayn Avery, Colleen Redman, McCabe Coolidge, Kathleen Ingoldsby, and perhaps others. Writing is an art that enriches the lives of all who listen to the reading with open minds and hearts. Come to the library for this special free event and be one of those fortunate individuals.

March 11, 2007

Can We Wait for History to Judge the Bush Presidency?

The following was first published at Just Response and also can be found in the March/April issue of The New River Free Press.

We teach our children not to resort to violence as a way to solve problems, and yet our country models it to the deadliest degree every day in Iraq. Even though violence can only provide temporary fixes because it doesn’t address root causes, we continue to accept war as a fact of life. While it could be argued that it is never the right response to conflict, some wars are easier to explain to children and to ourselves than others. For instance, not many protested U.S. military action in Afghanistan after 9/11, where those believed to be responsible for the attacks were said to be based.

The invasion of Iraq has been more difficult to justify and was questioned from the start by many Americans and much of the world. It was not fought in self-defense; Iraq posed no immediate threat to us. There was no active genocide to stop. The rally cry to liberate Iraqis from Saddam’s brutal rule was as empty as the one for disarming him of the WMDs that he didn’t have, considering that most of his worst offenses happened years before while the U.S. was supporting and helping to arm him.

If the Bush administration would have stated the unspoken reason that many suspect for the invasion – geopolitical advantage in an oil rich Middle East country – would the American people have stood for it? The insurgency that took hold in Iraq, fueled largely as a reaction to occupation, interrupted U.S. plans that were already set in place to privatize the country. The privatization of Iraq would have provided long term U.S. control there and a windfall for U.S. businesses. In my mind, privatization is nothing more than a modern term for colonization.

Zbigniew Brzenzinski, national Security Advisor under President Carter, said on a recent PBS News Hour segment, “The American effort in Iraq is essentially a colonial effort. We're waging a colonial war. We live in the post-colonial era. This war cannot be won because it is simply out of sync with historical times.” Colonialism almost always results in long standing bloody violence. Those who resist the occupation of their country and use unconventional weapons because they do not have armies are considered terrorists across the board.

Now that the war is so unpopular, people are looking for who they can blame for it. Even Democrats, the majority of which voted against the 2003 Iraq war resolution, are being lambasted for not coming up with solutions, as if it’s their responsibility to fix Bush’s failed policy. Democrats who voted to give Bush a blank check in Iraq should be criticized for being so late in complaining, but I don’t think a Democrat, or most Republicans for that matter, would have chosen to invade Iraq. Everything that is happening in Iraq was predictable and was predicted. Even Republicans in Bush’s father’s administration were concerned about the ramifications of getting rid of Saddam and creating a vacuum of power in which longstanding warring fractions would emerge. The Bush Administration chose to ignore warnings and intelligence that didn’t fit their plans. Their justification for invading Iraq was built on rhetoric and a house of cards, and so it was bound to fall.

I feel the heartbreaking horror of 9/11 being rubbed in everyday when I see the faces of U.S. soldiers memorialized on news shows. Three thousand American deaths on 9/11, three thousand more since then with no end in sight makes me wonder if the 9/11 terrorists have already won. Even worse and less publicized are the numbers of innocent Iraq civilians killed as a result of the invasion – more than when Saddam was in power. How do we justify “collateral damage?” Is it any more preferable than terrorists killing civilians?

I’ve lived through presidencies that I was unhappy with before. I don’t expect to always have someone I voted for in the White House. But the very least I expect as an American is that my leaders won’t perpetrate wars. The world is paying a high price for George Bush’s learning curve in foreign affairs, for his reckless disregard of international law and order, and for his administration’s negligent lack of post war planning.

Debates about what to do in Iraq will no doubt continue, but sending more troops or not is not the most fundamental question. The problem is the war itself. If we couldn’t prevail in Iraq when the insurgency was young and Iraq seemed there for the taking, what makes anyone think we can win now that it’s strong and a civil war is taking place on top of it? So doubtful that an escalation of troops will help the situation in Iraq at this point, retired General Anthony Zinni recently said, “the debate is wrong. I think Congress is debating the arrangement of deck chairs on the Titanic.”

How will history judge Bush’s presidency? I don’t want to wait that long. If Bush was the CEO of a big company he would have been fired or prosecuted by now. A vote of no confidence, Impeachment, and Congressional investigations are in order. President Bush is ultimately the one responsible for the nightmare taking place in Iraq, and he should be held accountable for it. ~ Colleen Redman

March 10, 2007

Robert Kennedy Jr. was in Town

greenpond2.jpg The thing I’m most disappointed about lately is that I didn’t hear Robert Kennedy Jr. when he recently spoke at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Being only 45 minutes away from the Tech campus, I’ve been able to hear some distinguished authors and inspiring activists over the years, such as Kurt Vonnegut, Toni Morrison, Helen Caldicott, Kathy Kelly, and William Sloane Coffin. I’ve also missed other keynote speakers, like Ralph Nadar, Dennis Kucinich, and Jessie Jackson.

I didn’t even know that Robert Kennedy, son of the assassinated Democratic icon, was planning to be in the area. I had to settle for hearing about it after the fact from my friend Alwyn over lunch last week, and from the Roanoke Times article by Greg Esposito that she had clipped for me.

Kennedy, an environmental activist, talked to the crowd of nearly 3,000 about the subject of his most recent book, “Crimes against Nature: How George W. Bush and his Corporate Pals Are Plundering the Country and Hijacking Our Democracy.” According to Esposito, before Kennedy blasted the Bush administration for having the worst environmental record in history, he made sure to let them know that he wasn’t being critical for partisan reasons, pointing out positive progress made in the past under both Republican and Democratic leadership.

I know the Bush administration has set back progress on environmental protections, but being reminded so clearly was distressing, especially in light of recent scientific consensus on the reality of global warming and the destruction likely to ensue. Some of the offenses noted by Kennedy under the Bush administration included: rolling back environmental regulations, dropping lawsuits meant to protect the environment, and naming lobbyists for oil, timber and utility companies to head federal organizations designed to curb environmental abuse.

He was especially hard on the scientists, which he refered to as "biostitutes," who were paid by big oil and coal companies to produce reports questioning the reality of how human activity contributes to global warming, which wasted precious time that could have been spent coming up with solutions to reverse those trends.

But the talk wasn’t all doom and gloom, according to Esposito. Kennedy made some comedic points too. Referring to a study done by the University of Maryland which showed how misinformation affected how people voted in the 2004 presidential election, Kennedy joked, “Eighty percent of Republicans are just Democrats who don’t know what’s going on.”

So when is Al Gore coming to Tech? Or did I miss that too.

Photo: A pond full of algae with a clear opening in the center at Manatee State Park, Florida.

March 9, 2007

Recently Scene

1. Three wishes
2. Stepping Out
3. Cook out
4. Fun House

Post note: All the above photos were taken while on our recent vacation in Cedar Key and Amelia Island, Florida. More vacation photos HERE HERE and HERE.

March 7, 2007

Hello 13 Thursday

13onhand2jpg.jpg1. Lately I’ve been calling my blog my writer’s Petrie dish.

2. Some people are getting serious about leaving poems on my answering machine, especially my friend Mara. In answer to my instructions that say “Speak in rhyme if you’re so inclined,” she’s been leaving me long sonnets.

3. Her latest message, “Sonnet for the Lunar Eclipse,” goes: A brilliant fruit gulped in the mouth of sky … my shadow can see clearly all the light placed suddenly between the moon and I … Stars pulled out of the pockets of night … The moon will rise at six and we will try to grasp the shade as it returns to light … and more.

4. A Floyd Museletter subscriber (the monthly newsletter I co-edit) just submitted a sonnet for next month’s issue titled: An Old-fashioned Sonnet On the Event of Stubbing My Toe on a Concrete Block upon which Was Displayed an Inscribed Date.”

5. Mara began her last message like this: This poem is for Colleen … who over the weekend could be seen … standing on a chair … over there at the Café Del Sol. SEE for yourself.

6. Research has shown that women are more communicative than men. Maybe that explains why the majority of commenters on my blog are women.

7. But men may be friendlier. In Floyd, it’s customary to wave when you pass another car while driving, even if you don’t know who the driver is and especially while driving on back roads. I’ve noticed that men wave more often than women.

8. Yesterday, while driving home from grocery shopping in town, I passed our mailman and waved to him. As I waved, I was thinking that the bulk of his job this week is probably delivering cards to the families of the little three year old boy who captured the hearts of Floydians and beyond and who sadly passed away from complications of a brain tumor last week.

9. Don’t let THIS happen to you.

10. I asked my husband what “base jumping” was. I thought he answered: “Jumping off a mountain with a pair of shoes.” We were watching the movie “The Last Holiday” and the characters were getting ready to base jump. As the scene unfolded, I became irritable because I couldn’t see how they were going to do it. “I don’t understand. I’ve never heard of this! How are their shoes going to help them get down there?” I complained. Then they jumped and a parachute opened and I realized that Joe had said, “jumping off a mountain with a “parachute” and not with a “pair of shoes.”

11. I got an email from a blogger at “Mind on Fire” letting me know that he had posted (bottom of the page) a poem I wrote about meditation, which originally appeared in the We’moon date book this year. The blog is a refreshing discovery, self-described as “a religion rehab clinic, a frontier land where critical believers can explore doubt and compassionate atheists can experiment with spirituality.”

12. I, on the other hand, do care how Anna Nicole (and her son) died. I just don’t care to see the hotel room it happened in, and I don’t want to hear about what designer clothes she was wearing when she was buried.

13. It’s 3 days till Daylight Saving time. Do you know where your extra hour is (going)?

Thursday headquarters is here. My other 13's are here. View more 13 Thursday’s here. This is TT #72.

March 6, 2007

When My Flip Flops

colleenschoolpicture2.pngAKA: How do you spell relief?

My fourth grade elementary school picture would have been my favorite if it wasn’t for one thing. Even though I dutifully slept in curlers the night before, the damp weather at the school bus-stop in the morning caused my flip to flop. I didn’t realize how bad it was until the photo had already been taken and was delivered wrapped in plastic weeks later. I secretly tried to color in my flopped flip with a pencil, but it never looked right.

My bad hair day in the fourth grade reminds me of something more recent: a particularly glaring typo in “Muses Like Moonlight,” my first poetry collection. One of the poems in the book that was supposed to be titled “An Autobiographical Dig” (which appeared in We’moon as “Irrigation”) somehow got published as “A Autobiographical Dig.” I have a perfectly good explanation (and an alibi. It wasn’t my fault.) for how it happened, but that doesn’t change the result. When I see it I always have an urge to add an N to the A with a pen, the way some kids back in school were rumored to have changed an F to a B on their report cards.

Every writer knows how many versions it takes to complete one written piece and how easy it is for some of us to get confused by the collection of our various drafts. Sometimes after I’ve already emailed a story submission to an editor, I see a typo (or two). Sending in the corrections with the words “Final Draft” in the subject line is no guarantee that the corrected submission will be the one that gets published.

I was in denial about what kind of speller I was until the computer Spell Check came along and proved me to be less than average at it. Even more of a surprise was that when I looked at the corrected spelling of a word alongside my version of it, I sometimes couldn’t see any difference.

My dad was an even worse speller. Whenever one of us kids would ask him how to spell something his answer was always the same and would go like this: “Daddy, how do you spell decision?” “It begins with a D,” he would announce.

The various forms of dyslexia that run in my family and cause me to consistently misspell words like decision, exercise, or restaurant also causes me to cut other people grammatical slack. When someone sends me an email or a blog comment with a grammatical error or word misspelled, I don’t get out my red pen. Sometimes I find it endearing.

But the A that should be AN in “A Autobiographical Dig” is another story entirely, one that I have less patience for.

Post note: You can read more on this topic HERE.

March 5, 2007

Morning Walks

porchshadow2.jpgIn early January I bragged on my blog that I didn’t have a New Year’s Resolution. After completing a year following my passion – retiring from full-time foster care so that I could write as much as I wanted to – what would I possibly want to change? I recall talking about how the two most important events of 2006 actually happened to my sons, when each of them at ages 24 and 26 purchased their first homes.

“So many of my personal goals have been met. I’m just happy now to watch Josh and Dylan manifest theirs,” I said to my husband, Joe, over a New Year’s morning breakfast of soft-boiled eggs, bagels, and Earl Grey tea.

But I did have a New Year’s resolution, one that would soon be staring me in the face, or in the lower back, in my case. A week into the New Year, while down in our cellar putting away Christmas ornaments, I dropped to the ground in pain from a lower back spasm. Like the fist of a bully grabs a collar and twists, I was yanked from behind and forced to admit that I had been sitting at my computer too long, for most of 2006. The clincher (pun intended here) was a political commentary I just finished writing on Saddam’s hanging. It was a dark subject that I struggled with, one that involved too many gruesome details, fact checking, and nit picking.

I started my blog in 2005 to get a break from writing political commentaries, which I began writing when my friend Alwyn and I started a monthly publication during the first Gulf War called “The Bell: A Call to Peace.” Over the years my commentaries, which have been published online and in the Roanoke Times, provided a good outlet for the activist in me. More recently, writing them has felt like my way of yelling at the TV.

I wanted more humor. I wanted to let my writer’s hair down and let the Irish storyteller in me out. So, I posted a photo of me in the Wicklow Mountains of Ireland with a shamrock pinned to my sweater, next to an enticing quote by Michel de Montaigne, Things I would not tell anyone, I tell the public, and I called it Loose Leaf Notes, this blog.

Blogging for this past year and a half has given me a forum and the incentive to write regularly. It’s provided me with a self-made writer’s training ground. “Some people go back to school, but my blog is my crash course in creative writing,” I told Joe. I like that with blog writing, I get to mix it up. A week’s worth of entries might include creative prose, poetry, politics, photos, and even an occasional game, known in the blogsphere as a meme. And I’m not just talking to my TV. I wasn’t long into blogging when a readership began to develop, people who gave feedback, left interesting comments, and invited me to join in on conversations taking place on their blogs.

But there is a downside to blogging, as my recent fall made clear. Like other computer uses, blogging is a sedentary activity that can lead to carpal tunnel, tendonitis, and other repetitive stress injuries when overdone. How strange it is that less than ten years ago, I hadn’t touched a computer and didn’t want to, and now I was spending more time on one than anything else. In the past, I wrote with a pen on paper while rocking in an easy chair in the hub of my living room where life’s distractions called me to take frequent breaks.

The pain in my back turned out to be only the first in a series of signs that all was not right with me. Much of January and February was spent getting my health back on track. I visited with Katherine, the Harvest Moon herbalist, who stocked me up with supplements; scheduled a session with Shirley Ann, a local rolfer; made some diet changes; and had some blood tests done to rule out the worst possibilities out.

This morning, I walked to the mailbox, testing the strength of my back and reviewing the changes of the past couple of months. Our dog Jasmine trotted happily ahead of me, stopping every few seconds to look back, or to wait for me to catch up. Walking felt good, so much so that when I arrived at the mailboxes along the dirt road that parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway, I kept going. The bounce in Jasmine’s step picked-up. She was overdue for a long walk too. By the time I passed the hedgerow of rhododendrons that lead to the old-time neighborhood church on Morning Dew, my arms were swinging and I was enthusiastically vowing to make walking a part of my everyday.

So there you have it. The 2007 New Year’s Resolution I didn’t think I had. My back feels better already. So does my dog.

March 4, 2007

March Porch Vacation

pinkfeet.jpgThe wind is like a bold sprawling signature signing its name across the cloudless sky. It rustles and scatters the curled-up brown oak leaves in my yard and makes the chimes on my porch loudly sing. There’s an engine running in my neighbor’s garage, making me the feel restless, as though I should be in my kitchen cleaning. Every now and then a bird chirps loudly, complaining about the empty feeders, I suppose. Our dog Jasmine is stretched out next to me, lazily sunning herself. She, afraid of gunshot and thunder, is oblivious to the wind whipping past our cozy porch scene, even as the sound of its unleashed force causes me to shrink.

The engine has stopped, but now I hear raking. I resist the urge to flee the porch for a more concrete activity. Closing my eyes, I imagine the wind is the Atlantic Ocean and that I’m sitting on the shore of the Massachusetts peninsula I grew up on. Back then, I didn’t worry about the future. I didn’t have to schedule time to relax. Pulling off my periwinkle sweatshirt to expose more of my skin to the sun, I follow Jasmine’s lead and let my posture go. With a deep breath in and a long one out, it feels good to stretch out my legs, to be determined to stay put and soak up the gift of the day. ~ 3/3/07

March 3, 2007

Dance Free in Floyd

dancefreedjx.jpg ~ The following originally appeared in the Floyd Press on February 22nd.

I don’t play a musical instrument or a sport, but I dance. The small Massachusetts beach town I grew up in was home to The Surf Ballroom, a club with a big dance floor that hosted musical acts, some as well known as Sonny and Cher. Since I was a Surf-going teenager, dance has been an important part of my life, which is why I was thrilled when I learned in 2004 that Dance Free was coming to Floyd.

Local artist, dancer, and founder of Floyd’s Dance Free, Lora Giessler tells me that Dance Free was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in the late 60’s. Its purpose of providing a safe, smoke and alcohol free atmosphere for self expression through free style dance remains the same today.

“About 9 years ago, Olivia, a beautiful dancer and teacher from Paris and Boston did a spontaneous workshop with a group of us in Floyd that had been in a creative improv class together,” Lora told me. "He spoke of Dance Free New England. I was so inspired by this form of Dance and by him that I traveled to Boston to find out what it was all about,” she continued.

I was familiar with Dance Free from the book “Tuesdays with Morrie,” written by Mitch Albom, the bestselling author who also wrote “The Five People You Meet in Heaven.” Morrie Shwartz, the man behind the book’s title, had been Albom’s college professor and was a Dance Free regular in the early days of its existence. Ironically and sadly, Morrie contracted Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), a fatal neurological disease that destroys muscle, and had to give up dancing.

In his book, Albom writes of Morrie’s winning spirit and how it shone throughout his decline into ALS. About Morrie’s involvement with Dance Free, Albom says: “They had flashing lights and booming speakers and Morrie would wander in among the mostly student crowd, wearing a white T-shirt and black sweatpants and a towel around his neck, and whatever music was playing, that's the music to which he danced. He'd do the lindy to Jimi Hendrix … Once, he brought a tango tape and got them to play it over the speakers. Then he commandeered the floor, shooting back and forth like some hot Latin lover. When he finished, everyone applauded.”

The original Dance Free, which actually took place in Cambridge, a subway stop away from downtown Boston, was only 24 miles from my hometown and yet, I never went. By the time I read “Tuesday’s with Morrie,” I lived in Virginia and was two decades too late to see Morrie dance.
I remember how excited Lora was when she got back from her trip to Boston, where she experienced Dance Free first hand. I thought of the scene from Albom’s book as we mused together about how much fun it would be to have a Dance Free in Floyd. But it didn’t happen then.

Several years after Lora’s trip, Floyd resident Maria Becke approached Lora and expressed her interest in helping to bring Dance Free to Floyd. Maria, a certified DansKinetics instructor with disc jockeying experience, offered to DJ the dances. Arrangements were made to host it once a month at the Winter Sun Music Hall, where the spacious hardwood floor has just the right slip and slide for a dancer’s feet.

Since the winter of 2004 on the fourth Friday of each month dancers twirl, whirl, shake, rattle and roll – sometimes with a partner but mostly alone – to the wide variety of music that Maria plays. Maria’s selections are representative of many kinds of music with influences from all corners of the world. She knows I love it when she throws an old Motown standard into the mix, a reggae favorite, or an occasional disco hit. Sometimes she can’t help herself and hops down from the stage where she serves up the mix and dances with us.

I’m grateful to have such an outlet for creative movement right here in Floyd. I love to dance the way my husband loves to play soccer, and when Dance Free night rolls around, I treat it like a favorite sport and as if I was preparing for a marathon. I rest during the day and when the time comes to go, I fill up a jug of water and fix myself a high protein snack. I want to make sure I can keep up my energy level because I know once the Dance Free music starts I won’t sit down until it stops.

Last year I wrote about Dance Free here at Loose Leaf: “With my eyes closed and slightly dizzy from spinning, I could have been back at The Surf, dancing in 1969,” I wrote.

Post Notes: Photos - 1. Maria, Dance Free DJ, adjusts the sound. 2. Lora doing improv while other dancers dance in the background. You can read more about Dance Free on the Winter Sun website HERE. The next one is scheduled for March 23rd. Dance Free, the poem, is HERE.

March 2, 2007

Full Moon Insomnia

The moon is like a jewel
under my pillow
Like the princess
and the pea
I can’t sleep

I’m trying to sleep
but the moon has other plans

I follow its bouncing ball orbit
like reading subtitles in a foreign film

It says: Wake up and write this all down
before you lose such good reception

I’m a nighshift stenographer hired by the muse
to take down the moon’s business

Post note: The above poem was originally published in We'Moon sometime in the 90's.

March 1, 2007

13 Mud Moon

13mud2.jpg 1. Sometimes the waxing moon looks like a high heeled glass slipper with a missing heel, as it did this past weekend when I peered out of my window at midnight and wondered if Cinderella made it home in time.

2. Jayn and I named the moon for this month’s Museletter “Lucky Moon,” but we might just as well have called it Mud Moon.

3. My friend Miriam thinks I should send my recent Floyd Press story about Floyd’s Dance Free, in which her girlfriend Maria is pictured as the DJ, to the Ellen Show and suggest that Maria be a guest DJ. (The story will be posted this weekend).

4. My husband always thinks things are going to be easier than they actually are and I always think things are going to be harder.

5. I think my youngest son takes after me. When he was only about 8 years old he said this about himself and his brother: “Mom, Josh only hears what he wants to hear. I always hear what I don’t want to hear.”

6. When I’m searching to find the right blog to post and I’m feeling uninspired, I feel like a doctor with a hammer trying to get a reflex. When I finally get a kick I know I got one.

7. My husband came home from work yesterday and said, “I saw your 13.” “No,” I answered, “I didn’t post 13 today; that’s tomorrow.” “I meant that I saw the 13 you carved in the mud on the driveway,” he said.

8. He: It was much warmer today. Did you get any porch time? She: Yes, but it wasn’t warm enough to get undressed. I only get undressed for the very best days and the very best men (wink wink).

9. It’s not the groundhog who clues me in as to whether winter is staying or going. It’s the birds. Today I heard them sing.

10. How is it that when you say bad things about someone we call called slinging mud, but when you want to make a congratulatory toast to them you say, “Here’s mud in your eye?”

11. Here’s some more language funny business someone sent me in an email: Let's face it - English is a strange language. There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren't invented in England or French fries in France, and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig. How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which, an alarm goes off by going on.

12. HERE’S what I really like to do with mud.

13. I’d rather be a mud soaked Woodstock hippie any day than be HERE.

Thursday headquarters is here.My other 13's are here. View more 13 Thursday’s here. This is my 71st TT.