Thursday, September 29, 2011

Poem to End the Month

On the walk home from this week's Public Speaking class, the words for this poem trickled even though the sky was a rare rainless clarity and the stars were bright, and the air--the air!--was unseasonably warm. So: a poem to end the month.

In Teaching

The way, after a good class,
That learning remains

Stays like rain
That drips after it falls

Wetting the ground beneath
Our feet, on which we stand

In all composure,

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Shirkshare Dales and the 426 Steps

Yesterday, the three of us were carried two hours north by a good friend to the magical land of the Yorkshire Dales. I woke with an allergy attack the likes of which I hadn't seen in a year--but which enjoyed making my nose blast as regularly and forcefully as Old Faithful. Tyler woke with a cough. Needless to say, Jennifer got us together, packed a picnic lunch fit for the Queen, and we made it into our friend's car and two hours later?


We stopped first at Gordale Scar, which is essentially a massive rock wall enclosure built by years of water wearing down stone. (Analogies ad infinitum ensue: the way persistence wears down resistance; the way faithful work as a writer wears down rejection; the way steady, loving parenting wears down temper tantrums; the way believing wears down doubt; the way humor wears down grumpiness; the way writing wears down not-writing; the way voices that continue to seek justice wear down nay-sayers...).

Tyler loved walking over the many rocks strewn about on the path to the rock enclosure, and at one point, he asked, "Where are we?"

Us: The Yorkshire Dales!

Tyler: The Shirkshare Dales! I like the Shirkshare Dales!

Us: We do too. We like them too!

After Tyler left a fairly substantial water supply by one of the rocks, we made our way back to the Park Headquarters for this area of the Dales, at Malham. We ate a picnic lunch as rain drizzled and three ducks and two roosters sauntered about, ever more boldly requesting various foods from us.

Next, we walked the one mile trek to the bottom of Malham Cove (where we were told, on good authority, that a section of one of the Harry Potter movies had been shot).  We learned that 426 steps led to the top of the Cove. The three parents (myself, Jen, and our friend) looked at each other and considered the facts:

Time: 3:30pm.

Who: Three adults and a two-year old, a four-year old

Status: Children becoming slightly delirious, throwing various items in nearby brook (all natural items, of course)

Decision: Go for it.

The five of us began the long trek up the top to Malham Cove. And here's the stunning thing--the really shocking thing: my legs complained more than Tyler's. He climbed those steps like it was part of any two year old's job description--eat ice cream, have the occasional tantrum, look super-cute and say the occasional highly charming thing, laugh like the rain, climb 426 steps to top of Malham Cove in the Yorkshire Dales.

At the top, the five of us sat, sharing three oranges, two granola bars, and a Cadbury milk chocolate dream. While the pieces of chocolate melted, carrying sweetness everywhere inside of us, the view that confronted us was like this: the way you feel when the mail arrives, and there's an unexpected letter from a fabulous source, and just looking at the outside of that envelope--stamps slightly covered in ink, your own name scrawled about the middle, the return address gorgeous ion its corner--gives you the indelible feeling that life is really something. Really beautiful.

And you feel gratitude for the letter that's been sent your way; excitement to open it and learn what's inside.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Prove What?

When I was in high school, the movie Rudy came out, and it instantly became one of my favorites. The fact that it was a true story. About a guy who had little natural ability, but who worked his butt off harder than anyone could have expected. That he made the Notre Dame football squad at five-foot nuthin;, a hundred and nuthin'...

And what I used to love about the movie, of course, was the final scene in which Rudy runs out onto the playing field for his glorious 27 seconds of actual Notre Dame football. The climax. The moment of victory.

Recently, I found a clip of the film that I love so much to use with my night Public Speaking course. The course explores growing confidence, belief in one's voice, and clarity. And I realized that I wanted the learners in that course to sense that it isn't the result--the official outcome--that matters most, but rather the way we carry ourselves--the way we speak, live, and believe that really matters.

And so I didn't show the final, climactic scene: the 27 seconds of glory.

Instead, I chose the clip where Rudy finally realizes (through the remarkable speech of a friend) that not quitting is the victory. Choosing to keep going is the victory. Realizing that he doesn't have to prove anything to anyone but himself is the victory.

Three minute speech. A lifetime of truth. Check it out.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What English Weather Teaches Me

In short: you never know. (And that's a good thing.)

Some mornings, I wake up here on Lesley Avenue and look outside to find a mass of dark rain clouds gathered like linebackers, having already eaten their Wheaties, ready to literally let it pour.

And one hour later, as Jen and Tyler and I busy ourselves in the kitchen pouring cereal, yogurt, buttering toast (perhaps, if it's a slow morning, frying some eggs and beans), I look outside to find this blue that makes my heart ache it's so beautiful.

So defiantly itself, saying to the rain and the heavy cloulds that only an hour ago owned the sky, your time is done. It's my time now. I may be a puny quarterback, but I'm calling the shots now.

And Blue does. Call the shots that is. She orchestrates a morning so divine that Jen and I hustle upstairs to grab our laundry basket--overflowing by now because of yesterday's rain--and then launch its entire contents into the washing machine. Smiling. Anticipating hanging up that oversized load of laundry amidst the glory--the sanctity--of Blue.

But by the time our 30-minute wash cycle ends, and the Laundry announces, Let's do this, homeslice! it is too late.

Blue has somehow lost her handle of the morning. Even though it seemed impossible, an interception from the other team just as Blue was throwing to the endzone has happened. Rain has arrived.

Jen and I look at one another. We've been here before. We've seen this kind of game-changing weather. And while, in our first few months in York, it caused indigestion in our hearts, it doesn't any longer.

We ask one another a simple, you hanging it today, or me?  And unfailingly, one of us will carry a full load of laundry out into our backyard. In the rain.

In the pouring rain.

And we;ll hang each pair of underwear, each towel, each black or blue shirt, wondering--considering--that maybe it'll clear. Just maybe.

And if Blue should find herself with the ball again, ready to make another game-changing throw, well, our laundry will be ready to soak up the shining that Blue's team holds forth.

And so will we.

Because, hey, you never know. You really, really never know.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

One Minute Longer

As writers, we sometimes fall prey to that most venemous of frogs (or dragons): it ain't gonna happen. The doubt. The nagging, incessant doubt that tries to slowly convince us of its truth.

When I was a high school senior, many (many!) years ago, I recall that our Superintendent of Schools in Windsor, CT was being "asked to resign."  I don't remember much about why, but there was loads of controversy, and when he gave his last speech to us seniors as we prepared for graduation, I remember a single line of his: the person who accomplishes what they set out to do is often the one who can hold on for one minute longer."

One minute longer.

When it comes to writing and publishing, 'one minute longer' might more accurately be translated, 'one month longer,' or 'one year longer,' or even (yes, even) 'one decade longer.'

When we first open our notebooks with a smile on our faces, saying to our husbands or wives, "I've got this cool idea for a book," the journey we begin is nothing like a walk to the park. Or a walk to the center of town to make a stop at the local library.

It's more like the Appalachian Trail or a jaunt up Mount Everest.

To see our scrawled bubbles go from notebook pages to hardbound or paperback books is nothing short of a miracle--a miracle which sometimes seems and feels as though it will never happen.

Last night, our son Tyler took an unusual nap around one in the afternoon. He slept for an hour as Jennifer and I walked into the city center of York. We felt the inner angst as we confided in one another, Yup, tonight may be a tough night to get the T-Man to sleep. Very tough. May give new meaning to the word 'tough.' Step aside, Stallone. We're gonna have one heck of a ride trying to get our guy to fall asleep. But we'll stick together. It will happen.

So we enjoyed the hour of magnificent conversation--sharing dreams, discussing our latest story ideas and ups and downs, and considering the journey we're on.

Tyler woke happy. His words were literally bubbles that floating out of his mouth into an open sky all day. We saw some famous people get married at York Minster. (Well, we didn't actually see them get married; we watched them exit the church along with the rest of the large crowd. We don't know who they are. or how they;re famous. But the mob seemed to think so.)

When seven o' clock came, and bedtime along with it, Tyler jumped into his Bob the Builder themed bed, and the saga began.

Story time--which usually consists of a five minute story told by me about crane trucks, ice cream, lollipops, and various friends of Tyler's--stretched itself into about twenty minutes.

Song time--which usually consists of a five minute litany of ice cream, lollipop, crane truck, and Christian songs sung by Jennifer--stretched itself into twenty minutes.

Ten more minutes of lollipop stories by me.

Ten more minutes of lollipop songs by Jennifer.

It seemed that sleep would never come. But then another thought dawned on me. Tyler is tired. He needs sleep. He will sleep. Sometime.

And then I remembered: one minute longer.

It's usually just when we're about to give up that things break loose. Really give up, I mean. When our hearts tell us, Nothing, man. I got nothing. And our souls say, Dude, I'm spent. And our bodies and brains echo the refrains--then it's right at that moment that stuff happens.

And in life, stuff always happens when we wait long enough, focus our hearts on what matters rather than what we think matters, and when we keep the faith.

In writing and in publishing, it may seem like it might never happen. But it will. With enough heart, love, authentic passion, and diligence, it will.

Last night, Tyler finally fell asleep amidst a thousand songs of all his favorite things. And maybe, just maybe, that's what it's all about: learning to tell stories and sing songs--holding the faith amidst the wait. No matter how long it takes.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


First article publication.

First day at a new job.

First time watching son using the potty (assisted).

First time watching son using the potty (unassisted).

First time trying fish (for whatever reason, with eyeballs intact).

First time getting dizzy after trying fish (eater's eyeballs not so intact).

First time weeping.

First time laughing so hard milk comes out of your nose (even though it's been awhile since you've had milk).

First book publication.

First child.

First sleepness nights without choosing to have a sleepness night to prepare for an exam which you should have studied for throughout the term rather than on the last (sleepness) night.

First letter from a reader.

First kiss.

First kiss representing a lifetime of further kisses from that one, first forever love.

First time becoming clueless about everything you thought you knew but now know that you really (really!) do not.

First time weathering a severe storm and realizing, hey, it's gonna be okay.

First time realizing, No, it's NOT gonna be okay; I was wrong!

First time getting past both previous firsts to a more substantial first that lasts: yes, it is. But it takes time.

First rejection of a book which reveals that the editor thought it was really, really awful.

First rejection of a book which reveals that the editor thought it was really, really strong. (But still didn't buy it.)

First request to see the book again with revisions.

First rejection of re-considered book with revisions.

First time being without our son at two in the afternoon, as he attends his first afternoon session of pre-school in York, England, with five teachers who seem as wise as Yoda and as kind as Mother Teresa, yet still feeling vaguely filled with terror, worry, fear, anxiety that something will happen, and what if something happens and WE'RE NOT THERE TO HELP and what if he cries and cries because he doesn't realize that pre-school is a good thing, where he can shed his overbearing father for a bit and play with other kids on his own, even though he doesn't know that this is a good thing yet but will soon, but maybe not until AFTER many rounds of afternoon pre-school have already passed and what am I supposed to do about that in the meantime?

First time writing a hard-to-follow, nervously crafted, fingernail-biting blog while our son is at pre-school.

[Breathing. Breathing. Breathing.]

First time realizing, it will be okay. Son will be okay. Letting go a little is okay. Life is okay.