Tuesday, November 1, 2011


The Dread Blank Screen
NaNo starts today.

That's not Robin Williams doing sound effects, but the acronym for National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo.

To "win," you have to complete a 50,000 word novel by the end of November, which is something like 1679 words a day. The point, apparently, is to let yourself write as fast and as freely as you can, without stopping to re-draft, re-write, second-guess, shred, and all the other quagmires those of us on the compulsive side fall into which keep us on page 1 for way too long a time.

(Do you fall into a quagmire, or just get stuck in one?)

You aren't allowed to start writing a second early--there are minute-past-midnight 'write-in' parties for people who live in more populated areas--shades of the July Harry Potter book release midnight bashes, except at these write-ins you're not dressing up, schmoozing or drinking butter beer. You're writing. Which I guess is what I'll be doing a lot more of this coming month.

Which will be a challenge. Like most writers, I have always been doing something else while I'm working on a manuscript. Teaching ('real' school, homeschool, music); earning a living, as a janitor, house painter, Senate staffer, whatever; building our house (don't). At several points along the way, nursing a baby. (Awkward to do while writing, but possible.)

This month will be no different. I'm swamped with--oh, you don't want to hear the details; we're all swamped. (And please don't mention the coming "holidays.")

What will be different, what may be different, is my intention. I INTEND to finish, or at least to keep writing. I INTEND to ignore all those inner voices that hiss "Why are you doing this?" "Is anyone ever going to read this? want to?" "You can't possibly think you know what you're doing here." Etc.

This month, as a NaNo participant, I intend to believe that--well, just that. I intend to have faith that it matters that I'm writing. (See Blog # 1)

It helps that there is a NaNo website with virtual writing communities all over the world working through the same discipline. Living as away from everything as we do, I've never managed to belong to a writer's group; I'm looking forward to the possibility of companionship. Sitting down at a desk and facing a blank page is scary stuff.

It may also help that I've told you what I'm up to: now I can't back out!

Anyway, whatever your November holds, good luck with it. And wish me faith in mine.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Glancing Blow

More than a Glancing Blow: Hail that Bashed Dents in Spouse's Car two days ago
I've just hit the War part of War and Peace. The first war part, that is. (The parts I skipped the first time around. Though I hasten to add that the first time I read Moby Dick, I did read every word of the whale bits, those endless 'cetology' sections. Though only once and never again.)

I thought it would be an endurance contest, these hundred pages before the family dramas of the next peace part return. Surprise, surprise, to quote our Southern philosopher, Gomer Pyle: Tolstoy is as lavish with psychological insight in the war bits as he is in the rest of the novel.

You must know the feeling.  You're humming along with exuberance about something or other you've done or achieved or are planning to do when a stray look from a stranger, a casual comment from a friend, and whap! you realize what an idiot you were to think that x,y or z had any point at all. I hit this all the time. I suppose it's over-awareness of what other people are thinking--might be thinking--and therefore a character defect to overcome, but I'm not exactly sure how you do that. Put on another layer of skin? Not as easy, sigh, as slipping on a sweater or adding a few extra pounds of body insulation, aka fat. (Speaking of cetology.)

It doesn't even have to be a glance that sets this in motion. It can also be simple silence. Sad to admit that one is that aware of other people, perhaps, but there it is.

So what relief to find it in Tolstoy, too: Prince Andrei as courier is exultantly bearing news about a very minor Russian victory (more a survival than a victory.) In the moments it takes him to enter the office of the Minister of War he is reporting to and wait for the man to look up from the documents on his desk, Andrei's spirits falter, then sink altogether as he interprets the Minister's silence, initial expression, and, finally, few comments. His news, Prince Andrei realizes? or mindreads? is hardly of interest to the Minister; the victory must scarcely be worth being called a victory; the battle which had seemed of keenest excitement and importance was after all simply--one more in a long series of easily-forgotten skirmishes.

"When Prince Andrei left the palace, he felt that all the interest and happiness afforded him by the victory had now left him and been given over into the indifferent hands of the minister of war. . . . His whole way of thinking changed instantly. . . . "

In the space of a few moments, with little or nothing actually said by the other person.

Ah, yes.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Carry On!

What Was Supposed to be in the Spinner
(From our garden)
 This morning I found an empty salad spinner in the refrigerator.

Which certainly beats finding an empty pot of rice in there as I'm frantically pulling food out for a last-minute supper.

All part of having a number of family members with ADHD (the real, tested-diagnosed-mostly-treated kind, not that metaphoric "Oh, they're just so forgetful").

Along with cell phones in the washing machine, prescription glasses buried in the garden (or, this morning, discovered in the chicken house), library fines that approach the national debt (OK, OK, some of those are mine), and the omnipresent wail, "has anyone seen my keys/my phone/my glasses?" ("Did you try the chicken house?")

There are many advantages to having ADHD around. Creativity, for example: innovative ideas seem to pour out like November rain.
It's the routine maintenance part that's so hard for an ADHDer. Those last boring details: take the Ipod out of the pocket before it hits the washer, put the finished library book in the car, the empty rice pot in the sink. ADHDers excell at coming up with projects, and if there is the exciting crisis of a looming deadline, can be pretty good about ending them.

It's the middle part, the slogging-through part, the soggy-middle-of-the-sandwich bit where they run into problems. And often give up.
But then I get bogged down in the middle, too.

This year, my winter reading is War and Peace.  There is a magic about opening a new book or starting a new course. Do you know it? Some hangover from our earliest school days, when the pencils are sharp, notebook paper crisp, and even the smells from the cafeteria seem mysterious and promising, not the boiled-cabbage and disinfectant, closed-in smells of the coming winter days.

Then you hit the second week. The middle pages.

Last year, I read--yes, and finished--Augustine's Confessions. I was so excited when I started it, and as I approached the end, so motivated to get to that last page. It was in the middle where I'd look at Confessions, look at the new mystery sitting on my bedside shelf, and--choose the mystery.

Right now, I've hit page 105 of Tolstoy. Only about 999 to go, more or less. (Quite a bit more, actually). So the initial excitement has worn off a bit.

Ditto with Biology: I am working through a college level Biology text and CD-rom AP course along with my tenth grade homeschooler. She's on week five; I'm still trying to finish the reading from week three. (Please don't tell her that.) Granted, there's a lot of it, 4 or 5 very dense chapters some weeks. Granted, I read fiction, not science. I'm not used to having to stop every sentence, every half sentence, to puzzle over the words to figure out what they mean.  Especially sentences like this one: "For atoms with valence electrons in both s and p orbitals the single s and three p orbitals hybridize to form four new hybrid orbitals. . . . "

Say what?

I'm in the slogging-through part.

So what keeps me going? I was thinking about this after talking briefly to my college son who is a bit bogged down with his senior thesis. He's in the slog part. And it's dreary. Hard. Lonely. That's when, with my senior thesis, I developed the lifelong bad habit of "stuck? a little bored? Go make some more coffee!"

What helps more than caffeine is something that's much harder to find around here than my coffee pot.


I'm reading War and Peace along with one friend in North Carolina and another in California. They don't know each other, but the three of us make up a no-pressure, long-distance "reading group." So that when I open up this very-heavy book every morning to read my few pages, I feel their presence. Not in a "you better read this or else" way, but in a "someone is sharing this, someone is doing this with me" way.

With Biology, I have my daughter to commiserate with. To encourage, and to be encouraged on by.

Just as with blogging, I have you, my readers, my fellow bloggers. To be cheered on by, to cheer on. To say, and to hear, in the words of one friend, "Carry on!"

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Why "Where?"

Where I'm Supposed to Be.

What kind of a name is that for a blog? Why didn't I just get right to the point with Will Blog for Chocolate? Or Still Standing After All These Years? (Hey, I kind of like that.)

But  Where- -? Why?
(Where I Was)
Because. It's been the question of my life.

Ocasionally "Where?" as in why on earth am I back in Tennessee when I fell in love with New England the 7 years I spent in school there--with North Carolina, where I'd begun to develop a writing community before we left there 22 years ago. 

But mostly, I'm not talking geography. Though I've certainly played the "geographic cure" game in my time: "Oh, everything will be better when we move to Chapel Hill/Western Carolina/into town/out of town/an actual apartment/a house/a house with a real floor."

What I'm really talking about is "Where" as in "what am I doing?" "What am I supposed to be doing?" "What do you want me to do?" All questions I've asked over the years while pacing up and down our very long and wooded, more-trail-than-gravel driveway. Occasionally out loud, in hopes that some God somewhere will favor me with an answer or even a moment of clear thought. More often round and round and round inside my own brain, which by now must have grooves worn in it like the ruts in the carpet under our kitchen chairs in our old trailer.
The Long and Winding Drive

Questions that became more frantic those times a teenage homeschooler had drained me of every ounce of patience and I still had to walk back inside and calmly explain how to put together an essay. Or when more music students were on my waiting list then I could possibly teach without giving up everything else and I couldn't figure out if I was primarily Suzuki or homeschool teacher, writer or mom. Or what.

Or, as now, when the whole prospect of "OK, so I've finished another manuscript and this time I've got to figure out how to find an agent" seems too overwhelming. (. . .  ."On second thought, maybe this manuscript isn't actually finished, anyway; really, I should I tweak this, tweak that.  Or just scrap it altogether: whoever needs yet another fiction submission, anyway?". . . .)

If God, someone, anyone, in those times (these times) had sat me down and said, "This is what you're supposed to be doing. Just this. Not all that. Just--this," how much easier/more confident/happier? the years might have been.


One thing I am clear on. (Finally, something!) God is not a fairy godmother. He/she/it doesn't wave a wand and make problems go away.  Or confusion.
So after all these years of living in a state of continual doubt, self-doubt, questioning, whatever you want to call it--(waffling! obsessing!) I have to wonder. Maybe that IS where I'm supposed to be. After all. Asking the questions, not necessarily getting answers.

And going ahead, anyway--whether it's figuring out an AP Lit curriculum or starting another novel before the last one is truly launched.
Pushing on, even if, maybe especially if, living with the questions makes me feel like I'm driving with the parking brake on. So to speak.

I think I kind of finally get that this is what faith is. Going ahead anyway. Despite not knowing. Or ever knowing. Whether with homeschooling, writing, or even just living.

You think?

Where I'm supposed to be.

I don't seem to talk to many people who wonder about this. Do you? Even if only in those moments when you've run so headlong into so many brick walls that your bones are still reverberating from the collision?

Do you second-guess yourself--"Should I maybe have veered a little to the left back there? Or maybe avoided this altogether?"

I'm not just being nosey. I'd  really like to know.

Or maybe it's just me.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Confessions of a Fruit-fly Killer

Do you remember the Brave Little Tailor who killed seven flies with one blow and went on to inherit a princess and a kingdom?

I need him now. For the last 6 weeks, we have had fruit flies invading us in waves as one generation dies out and another is born or hatches or appears from nowhere which is sure what it seems like. (Where do they come from? Maybe don't answer that.)

It's something to do with the flood of tomatoes we had in August, I'm sure, and my slowness in getting them processed into sauce and canned. And possibly my continued watermelon addiction and the fact that in summer, the compost bucket under the sink does tend to fill up. (Did you know you can find watermelon all the way through October if you look hard enough? So that one marvelous juicy way to start the morning lasts all the way up to the beginning of the next, i.e. fresh orange season?)

Now I keep a clean house. (Some people say a little too clean.) Habit of twenty years of living with a child who is allergic to everything he breathes or touches, and my own inability to tolerate anything that smells. And I have a sensitive nose: when I walk the cove  in late summer, there is a peculiar, particular sweetish odor that field corn gives off when it is ready to harvest. Which no one else but me seems to notice. In the five months times three (pregnancies) when I threw up around the clock at the whiff of a tea kettle boiling water, that corn smell really bothered me. Now it just reminds of old times. . . .

Soybeans, actually
 I do appreciate nature. I'd better, with 63 acres of it outside my very door, not counting whatever our farmer neighbors own.

I just don't like it invading my space. MY space. And I have to admit that I also like my nature tidied and trimmed and mowed and confined, and you may dispute this, but I'm sure that in the Garden of Eden lurked a full-time gardener, deadheading, weedeating, pruning, planning, and otherwise laboring so that Adam could wander around looking for Eve. I mean, servants don't generally get mentioned in a lot of literature, and the presence of a gardener goes a long way to explaining the sudden appearance of a wife for Cain.

Not to mention why the garden was called paradise.

Here, our outside is a bit, well, shaggy.

But back to fruit flies. All those passing descriptions in old novels to 'flypaper' and 'turning the plates upside down to keep off the flies'--these are active strategies in my kitchen. I've even got flypaper hanging from my bedroom door, to Charlotte's dismay: before she learned to duck, she, or rather her hair, got thoroughly stuck. And let me tell you, once stuck, you stay stuck.  Not hot water nor soap nor rubbing alcohol nor plastic dish scrubbies will remove it from your skin. So you go around with other objects--scraps of paper, coffee mugs--attaching themselves to your fingers, like the pencil in that old denture commercial.  

Flypaper works wonderfully. But it's hard to put everywhere. So at the risk of estranging at least three readers I who will close this blog immediately and possibly our friendship, I have to confess that I did spray. Once. Ineffective; headache-producing; and, yes, toxic.

Oh, I love seeing those little brown dots adorning the flypaper. Though more satisfying is to whap the little buggers yourself. Except it becomes something of an obsession. You're always on the lookout, your eyes continually darting from side to side like one of the manic narrator in an Edgar Allen Poe story ("True! Nervous-- very, very nervous I had been and am. But why will you say that I am mad?" ) On alert for that one miniscule floating object, just there, right there, slowly, carefully-- whap! It's very distracting.

Which is why I need the Brave Little Tailor.

I can't promise him a princess or a kingdom, but if he could end this current invasion, I would share my last slices of summer-fall watermelon, the handful of Starbucks decaf beans I'm hording, and up to one-half of my collection of Beany Malone books.

But  please, may he appear soon.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Last Homeschooler

The  last homeschooler: Two down, one to go. Twenty-five years!

Though it's the first homeschooler I'm thinking of today. Happy Birthday, Marshall!

First career

Did we know, all those years ago, that we'd still be homeschooling all these years later?

Are you kidding?

Do newlyweds ever for a single second stop unwrapping gifts long enough to contemplate that marriage lasts (hopefully) long after the scrapbooked invitation has turned that faded-newspaper yellow? When I was Marshall's age and admiring our fresh fluffy wedding shower towels in their oh-so-carefully-chosen coordinating shades of rose and periwinkle blue, it never dawned on me they'd wear into rags I'd use to wash the car and mop up after children with stomach viruses. That there would be years I'd be delighted to find a clean towel, let alone a pretty one.

Let's face it: most new parents don't think past the moment when the baby finally - - finally! - - makes his appearance.

So, no. Homeschooling was never "a plan." It just kind of happened, evolving from our very-young-and-idealistic determination that we would raise our children ourselves rather than farm them out to absorb other people's (other kids'!) habits. Starting with our stubborn refusal to take advantage of 'day care,' then morphing into "oh, I guess we're going to keep them at home for pre-school, too." Then kindergarten and etc and etc, and suddenly, there I was designing a college prep curriculum for my high schooler and hurriedly learning how to be a guidance counsellor and apply to colleges.

Until recently, I never believed we really knew what we were doing, and every year, for every child, went through the "should we really keep doing this?" worry. As we tried, every year, to figure out--again!--what would be best for each child.

Most of this was done in isolation--very few other homeschoolers near our mountain cove. Very few people, for that matter, though we do see a lot of cows, trees, deer and chickens. And much of it before most people had heard of homeschooling. Our boys got a lot of "oh, is there a school holiday today?" when we went to Kroger. Certainly before the richness of today's internet resources. Or the internet itself, for that matter. All of it managing (yes, you can!) on one income, and at times, not even that.

What I would have given during those years to have been able to talk to other mothers who were homeschooling. Who were homeschooling the way we were- - not to "protect" ourchildren from the infection of evil ideas, but to infuse them, hopefully, with fresh air and music and books and a work ethic that had them doing daily chores from the moment their little feet were stable on the ground.
Cleaning up

I take that back: none of my children ever had little feet.

 What I would have given to talk to other mothers about figuring out what to teach and when, about working through learning disabilities, about burnout and frustration and frequent (OK, I'm lying: constant) bouts of self-doubt, self-questioning, self-recrimination.
It's been a long haul. And now my youngest is almost 16, and I can see the endpoint of my teaching career, and that has made me at once more determined to finish off strongly, and more casual ("it's worked! it's working! you can stop worrying now!")

(I won't.)

But. The last homeschooler. Two more years--or not, depending on what we decide next fall. . . .

And the first: An honors graduate, who put himself through school and still maintaned his grades and a very active social life; the only person I've heard of who has had multiple job offers despite graduating into this depressed economy; definitely the only person I've ever heard of whose parents received a letter from a former boss thanking them for producing such a superb young man.

Multi-tasking already
Would I do these last 25 years again? There's a loaded question.

Knowing what you know now, would you?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Presumption, Charles Dickens, and Fumbling Towards Faith

Morning in the Cove

 It struck me yesterday while swimming my laps that behind every blog is the belief that there will be readers.  Or at least one! Which pre-supposes that the world is a (mostly) friendly and welcoming place.

Which is also called trust. 

So, what do you know, creating a blog turns out to be yet another excellent exercise in the development of faith. Which can be a bit of a struggle for those of us with less-than-trustworthy backgrounds.

This may explain why so many blogs are so upbeat! Because in order to create one, to put yourself out there, it helps enormously to have the kind of innate optimism that with every breath declares, "It's good that I'm here! I'm glad that I'm here! Others are glad that I'm here!" 

It can't be by accident that humans are born as infants, innocent of what their world may hold for them, unaware of the possibility that the very arms they are born into may not offer the welcoming embrace they need. Otherwise, given a choice, some might well kick up a ruckus-- "I'm not so sure I want to be out there. . . . "

Could this be in part why Charles Dickens titles Chapter One of David Copperfield, "I Am Born?" 
I am born.
With a pause before the opening paragraph, a breath, while we take in the enormity of those words. I am born.  Only then do we get the first sentence: "Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show."

It doesn't take pages. We already know. "I am born." That by itself is an act of enormous courage.  Proof enough for me already, David C, that you are indeed the hero of your own life.  

So, here, now, my act of courage for today. (More likely, for the week.) The birth of a blog, the birth of a blog that I hope will honestly chart thoughts on life, writing, reading, homeschooling, homesteading--and under it all, like the invisible power of the tide beneath the waves tumbling around all those tiny shells and and grains of sand , their constant motion proof it's there at all- - under it all, the ongoing fumble towards faith in life, in  people, in God, in - - something.

Maybe you'll share some of your fumblings, too.