June 30, 2014

Last night we ate organic golden beets for the first time. They’ve rocketed to number one on the snack food list. Not to mention incredible nutrition values. Method: scrub, peel, cube, toss with a tablespoon of oil, spread on baking sheet, dust with salt and pepper, and roast at 400 degrees for 25 minutes. They’re beautiful, too.

A super 4th of July cookout menu would include beets, sliced red ripe tomatoes, and Portobello mushroom “burgers” with iceberg lettuce and other goodies. Yum.

**** yesterday afternoon.

Today we plan to take the truck to Sam’s for ac repair, and today or tomorrow the old “Squeaky” Lincoln for repairs, then wash and wax and back to Sam’s for Larry to sell for us on Craig’s List. I plan to mow grass today and hopefully pick up my old hard drive (plus portable drive) at Tech Advanced.

Sad that my “morning writing” has devolved into list making, but I believe in the process, and that the discipline of the process will get me back to a creative space. Sure hope so.

Respite

We sent a postcard to ourselves today, a reminder of secret afternoons spent in cool, dark caves. Curved into a comma, I lie on top of our blue Oxford pinstripe sheets, heart beating in rhythm to Buck’s beside me. The feather pillow dressed in softest butter yellow rises and falls over his chest, where he has enfolded it for warmth. One degree too cool and the air-conditioner is nothing if not efficient. I touch a freckle on Buck’s arm, and covet the thick fringe of dark eyelashes that tremble with each inhalation and exhalation. I watch his lean left cheek, the one I can see, as it blows out with each breath. Not a snore, but a musical rumble, a ripple of life.

Visitation

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BY EMILY DICKINSON

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

 

Source: The Poems of Emily Dickinson Edited by R. W. Franklin (Harvard University Press, 1999)

Writing in the Cloud

Three o’clock on a hot Wednesday afternoon, listening to classic Bob Dylan singing Absolutely Sweet Marie and a grand old gospel song sung by the late great Johnny Cash.

It’s nice and cool here in the cloud, the boudoir, with Buck by my side. I mowed the yard this morning. Man, it was hot. Now “Ace Up Your Pretty Sleeve” is playing, with Vince Gill’s sweet tenor country crooning.

For a couple years there, I thought I might have a real shot at a writing life. Now, these are nearly the first free-write words I’ve written in months. I don’t know where it went, exactly, but it sure as hell evaporated.

And now that our health crisis has knocked us upside the head, I seem to be able to think only in clichés.

For the first time in memory, I’m listening to an i-Tunes shuffle. It may after all be a way back to daily writing. I’m not so indispensable that I can’t get lost for a short while in music and writing.

A quick refresher with Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones” always helps.

Late afternoon thunder rumbles outside. Music in my ears now is Vamos a Bailar from the fabulous Gypsy Kings. My mind flies all around like dandelion seeds in a high wind.

Dinner thoughts intrude: whole wheat pasta with mushrooms, garlic, parsley and olive oil, with wok cooked yellow squash or zucchini, cucumbers.

Old Lyle Lovett’s scratchy voice singing “South Texas Girl” soothes my feathers.

Corpus Christi means body of Jesus.

Other option for supper is wok-cooked Italian-seasoned chicken thighs, onion and squash and mushrooms and brown rice.

Even now, in this storm, I feel like anything I would write would be a trite, shadow rendition of the sharp, rough reality.

I want to find a way back to my creative center — can’t see any other way to stay centered and strong.

Emmy Lou Harris sings “All That You Have Is Your Soul.”

 

 

June 16, 2014

It’s been ages since I’ve written more than a scribbled half-page. Once we had a call from Jim Homyak about someone interested in purchasing part or all of our land, I locked up Cubagirl A Live Journal and essentially threw away the key.

Now the potential buyers have evaporated and Buck has been diagnosed with indolent (so-called) Mantle Cell Lymphoma. He has been through lymph node, bone and bone marrow biopsies, PET/CAT scans, blood tests, installation of a chest port, and the first of four cycles of immuno/chemotherapy (Rituximab/bendamustine).

May 22, 2014

Tired and nervous as a cat, I am sitting in Room 138 of the Courtyard Marriott adjacent to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville. Buck is in the shower, preparing for a routine EKG at 11:50, then an appointment with Dr. John Casler at 1:15, then a 3 p.m. with a nurse practitioner to go over labs and clear him for general anesthesia tomorrow morning for Dr. Casler to remove the enlarged lymph nodes from the left side of Buck’s neck.

11:45 now, and we’re in the Davis Building. Buck has gone in for the EKG, which we are well-accustomed to,a s we both get one every year as part of our physicals.

It’s been so many months since I kept a regular journal that the very act of putting ink onto paper feels strange.

I’m so anxious about Buck’s health I can barely focus my eyes. He would say I am hollering before we’ve been hit and of course he is right about that. Nonetheless, I feel half-paralyzed, jerky, spastic. Much too distracted to read a book.

I see I am in no-way prepared for our “real” aging, possible illnesses and eventual death. Not his. Not my own.

Vines

We’re all beset by predacious vines sometime in our lives. Vines limit us, tie us down, and control us. They keep us from growing. They stop us. Sometimes a vine comes with a sweet voice and hides its hunger to use us up completely behind a mask it calls love. Other vines are destructive habits we drape around our own necks.

Vines use the life of another to support their own. Sometimes they’re lush, with beautiful fruit or flowers. But look close, and you will see they can only survive by strangling their host.

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Vines are stubborn. You can cut them down, tie them in knots, blast them with cold, or burn them in a fire. They will try and try again to strangle any life not their own.

2014 parasitic vine cut at ground and tied off

But spirit is strong, too. And freedom is a beautiful, soaring thing.

2014 March Rescuing the animated live oak

This huge live oak has been struggling with parasitic vines for many years. Buck and I took machetes and loppers to the vines, finally liberating its bent spine. You can see how it’s twisted as though blown about by the storms of life. Call it transference or whatever you wish, but I feel it breathe with relief every time I walk by it now that the accursed vines are temporarily at bay. Vigilance, baby, vigilance.

Early Spring – March 2014 in the Longleaf Woods Near Pensacola

The sharp-eyed bluebird watched in his lapis lazuli suit with its apricot vest from a fence post perch as more than thirty cardinals at the feeders played a manic game of leapfrog.

The steady rain didn’t slow them down at all. Hours later, the rain continues to fall straight down and steady into the warming ground and I know that within days I’ll be cranking up the old John Deere. Mowing season will have begun. But this afternoon the circles of light inside our dry abode are all the sanctuary a creature could dream for, and a nap beacons.

First, though, a March walk in the pine woods. If you’re still awake on this sleepy day, come along. Plenty of sweet, fresh air for everyone.

Woodland fashion show. We hear chartreuse is hot this year.
Woodland fashion show. We hear Chartreuse is hot this year.

2014 March Morning deer at #6
If you’re very quiet, and look close, you’ll see a couple of whitetail deer enjoying a breakfast salad.

Old garden bench Buck and I carried down to the spring. Perfect spot for morning coffee or lunch.
Old garden bench Buck and I carried down to the spring. Perfect spot for morning coffee or lunch.

2014 March Big sister baby brother pines
“You be as tall as me by next summer,” big sister to little brother.

2014 March Streambed 4
Natural all-weather, even-flow springs in northwest Florida are not very common.

2014 March Florida Anise tree in bloom overhanging stream
The native Florida Anise tree’s boughs hang over the stream, spicing the air with an aroma that evokes kumquats mixed with herbs.

2014 March When little Smilax grows up
Even a young smilax vine will trip you up and tear your skin. But when they grow up, . . . well, see for yourself.

2014 March Moss on rocks near stream
Luxuriant moss has returned to the woods, so green it seems to glow from some inner light.

2014 March Magnolia
I have come to love the dark, glossy magnolias and their stalwart presence throughout the woods.

Together we are stronger.
Together we are stronger.

In the clearing, a young oak dreams of what life will be like when she develops gravitas.
In the clearing, a young oak dreams of what life will be like when she develops gravitas.

Home.
Home.

Perfect site for a small, woodland cottage, midnights on a screened porch, storytelling and owls.
Perfect site for a small, woodland cottage, midnights on a screened porch, storytelling and owls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyediting a Novel Manuscript (notes from a field manual)

A better title for this post might be “Lessons in Humility.” I thought I was a fairly decent writer. I thought I had a rudimentary knowledge of sentence construction and grammar. I thought I at least knew how to spell and whether a word is a word.

That was when I still thought takeoff (as in that thing that happens when you’ve fastened your seatbelt) was two words. Same for armrest (one word, not two).

Buck’s a former journalist and has a thick skin when it comes to killing his darlings. Good thing, too, because I hated telling him that the scenes where his hero and heroine go shopping, eat ice cream, and wash dishes together were sweet, but more suited to Harlequin than a manly action thriller. Or that the five pages of what we came to refer to as “the begats,” where various loose ends of characters get neatly tied up stops the flow of the story like a hairy Scottish cow that won’t get out of the middle of the road, and had to go. He took it well, agreed, and assassinated more than 3,000 words. The resulting leaner script no long backs and fills: it sings.

We’ve been both bloodied and bandaged by the FIND function on Word. Two days ago, when we were “sure” the manuscript was now error free and darn near perfect, I said, “Oh, by the way, I forgot one last thing. We need to run our words and phrases list through FIND to see how often they show up. This was a list we scribbled on yellow sticky notes of various words and phrases that “struck our ear” as showing up perhaps a little too often. This project, which I thought might take ten or fifteen minutes, turned into a two-day marathon with exhausted runners.

We began with “grit” and “pluck.” They’re strong, but only showed up twice in 396 pages. Buck adores Kim’s (his female protagonist) “pouty” lips, but three mentions (two on one page) were overkill. FIND is awesome, because it not only tells you how many instances of a particular word or phrase are used, but presents them to you in a sidebar list so you can view each one on the page and decide whether to keep, change or get rid of it altogether.

We were cruising along on this process, feeling fine, until we got to “took a swallow” (22 instances), “nodded” (72), and “chuckled” (78). Buck saw the defeated look in my eye. “No time to weaken now,” he said, and we plunged into the fray and vanquished the buggers.

It’s easy to see why folks who write a book just give up. Completing the manuscript may feel like massive loss of blood, but the copyediting portion of the festivities is the true death of a thousand cuts.