I feel a change coming

In some ways I might be a little ADHD. When I was younger, stronger, and had a house with more possibilities for it, I used to rearrange my furniture on a more frequent basis than my husband, at least, was comfortable with. That’s putting it gently. He’d come home after a hard day at work and find the piano stuck in the foyer, or the bookcase halfway across the room. Can’t fault him, I guess, for being a little tiffy about it at times.

I’m too old for that hoopla anymore. I just have to live with the same ol’ same ol’ because I’m simply too old and have a few physical limitations that discourage me from being impulsive in that way.

I have to find a new route for my impulsivity. (I might have just made up a new word, or misspelled an old one.)

I feel a change coming.

For quite a while now I’m been looking at how I’m spending the hours in my days. The older I get, the more valuable those are to me.

I’m thinking about backing off of blogging to two or three times a week from the five posts I do now. I know some of you who are getting barraged with daily messages from me in your inboxes may be heaving a sigh of relief. The biggest concern I have is that I used my daily blogging commitment to get myself seated at my computer and put words on paper every single day—something all the pros say is a must. But what I’m doing with my blog isn’t what I would call quality writing, usually. Not that I mind that much. I took a series of photography courses in college, really enjoy doing it, and wish I had more time for it. But the blogs with many photos actually take much longer to do, as I’m sure other photography bloggers can verify, than simple writing does. For me, at least.

The long and short is, I want to try to translate some of this disciplined at-the-computer time into working on my writing.

One sticking point is that I’m trying to build content on my blog, so I don’t know if I will be able to resist blogging every day. That’s an odd twist. I may try making better use of my Facebook author page (Christine M Grote) and Twitter.

I’m not going to make any more predictions or promises about blog frequency. I’m not a big rule-follower, which has been to my detriment at times. But it comes to me naturally and what can we do about genetics?

It’s a beautiful, blue-sky day here this morning. The windows are open and I can hear the birds singing, and babies in the birdhouse out front chirping. A soft breeze ruffles the leaves on the very end of the arched limbs that hang withing view from my desk. A robbin is skipping around the landscaping looking for a worm, no doubt.

My garden waits.

Float Away — A ghazal in honor of National Poetry Month

While in college the second time, this time for an English degree, I took several creative writing courses from Jeffrey S. Hillard, a professor who was an excellent poet and writer, and also was well-loved by the students. After graduating, I worked with Jeff on web editing RED!webzine, a publication Jeff initially started to share stories of transformation in the lives of prisoners and individuals reentering society and of innovations making it happen.

Jeff is an excellent poet and recently won a poetry contest sponsored by the Cincinnati Public Library. I wrote the following poem in Jeff’s Poetry class at the College of Mount St. Joseph in 2004.

I post it here in honor of National Poetry Month.

03.25.04

Float Away

White airy puff balls leave flower stems to float away
over grass where I lie and watch how clouds do float away.

Squirrels and rabbits scramble for food, a spider clings to a twig.
Geese, like an arrow, in the sky slice through, float away.

Fresh sprouts shoot up, a delicate green mist covers the wood.
Fragrances of jonquils and hyacinths wrapped in blue float away.

A breeze of warm air carries whispered voices of
mothers, sisters, friends, lovers, who float away.

I plant a seed in the rich black soil of the earth and watch
as the children born from my womb float away.

A cricket chirps and so do the restless birds
who chatter of morning but soon float away.

For more about the ghazal poetic form see Poets.org.

Why do I do this?

This is one of those days where I wonder why I do this. Do you ever have a day like that? I start thinking about how much time all this blogging, commenting, writing, and promoting is taking, and it makes me wonder. Why?

Sometimes I think it’s the stats and the comparison to others that gets me down.

Then I think about how it might feel if I quit. I would have to face not only the opinions of people who might think I was a quitter, but also I would have to face the void of no writing. I don’t know how I would feel if I wasn’t writing, but I’m fairly certain I would regret giving up what I’ve started.

So I continue.

Do you ever have days like this?

Besides, I have promises to keep. When my dad asked me when I was going to write his story several years ago, I told him I would. With each passing day, that promise becomes more important to me, even if his story is only typed on a stack of hole-punched papers in a three-ring binder.

A group of women wanted to tell their stories about children they placed for adoption, or in the less politically correct terminology, gave up for adoption, because regardless of what you call it, these women were bereft of a child they bore and could no longer hold, or see, or even know if he or she was happy and healthy, choosing this path only out of shame and lack of support. They held on to a firm belief that their child would be better off without them, that someone else was in a better position to care for them, that, in some cases, they didn’t deserve to raise the child. I promised them I would help them  tell their story.

So write I must.

There are promises to keep.

And books to write before I sleep.

I have garden photos I hope to post tomorrow, and a ghazal to squeeze in before poetry month comes to a close. And I still have to answer the question, “Where in the world is Dancing in Heaven?” I also want to show you photos from the Our Lady of Victory National Shrine and Basilica in Lackawanna, New York (just outside of Buffalo) from our trip there last weekend. And let’s not forget this year’s butterfly show. Which reminds me, below I copied a very short, 41 second, video of the wind chimes at Krohn Conservatory from CincinnatiParks.

I’ll end with a question I read on Touch2Touch, “Do you know what you are doing?” or “How good are you at knowing what you’re doing?” It’s a short post over there, I hope you’ll take a look. Would love to see your response.

“After the Flood” by Jeffrey S. Hillard wins Cincinnati Public Library Garden 2012 Poetry Contest

Congratulations to teacher, mentor, and friend Jeffrey S. Hillard of Cincinnati for writing a winning poem in the Cincinnati Public Library Garden 2012 Poetry Contest. The contest was held as part of the 2012 Poetry in the Garden series sponsored by the Friends of the Cincinnati Public Library.

A panel of published poets and literary professionals selected four winners from among the nearly 300 entries in this inaugural contest, co-sponsored by the Grailville Retreat & Program Center.

Jeffrey Hillard’s “After the Flood,” one of four winners In the Garden 2012 Poetry Contest, is a poem from Jeff’s unpublished manuscript called HAVANA RIFFS: Poems on Cuba, based on his three trips to the country in the 1990s.

The other winners included “Father’s Day” by Leslie Clark of Clifton, “Crowning” by Karen George of Florence, and “Paean” Mary-Jane Newborn of Winton Place. You can read the winning entries  online at http://www.cincinnatilibrary.org/news/2012/poetrycontestwinners.html.

The winning poets will read from their work on Tuesday, April 17 at 7:00 p.m. as part of the Main Library’s (800 Vine St., (513) 369-6900) 2012 Poetry in the Garden series which is being held on the Tuesday evenings in April at 7:00 p.m.

It’s a great way to celebrate National Poetry Month.

After the Flood by Jeffrey Hillard

at La Casa de las Americas, Havana, Cuba

In a painting the curator wipes dry,
the wet, bedraggled condor, now a dark blue,
lifts its wing into the shape of a mountain.
The wing’s shine, gone. On her knees, the curator
pins the painting to a blanket in the courtyard
outside, pats dry each delicate inch of painting
thick with floodwater stain. She dries rooms
of floating colors
and clips wet books dangling
like tents from wires strung across the courtyard,
her knees reddened raw, the sun continuing to cook
the ground, mud wrapping around her ankles.
After twenty straight hours
of no sleep, one recurring dream now balances
her on a bank as she plunges both feet
into a swift
river to plug its flow.
Up and down, on and off
her knees, with days yet to scrub and dry,
she once even dozed on a charcoal drawing.
When she woke, the river had ebbed
before she could drown.

Jeff is the publisher and editor of RED!Webzine.  He has also contributed numerous stories to the local Cincy Beat street newspaper. From 1989 to  2005, Jeff  published or served as editor for five books of poetry. More recently Jeff has self-published a youth book for readers 9 to 14 years old,  A Bunch in a Month – seeing Bible, imagining lives .  Available on Smashwords, A Bunch in a Month is a devotional created to be read and re-read over and over, with flash-fiction stories connected to a Bible verse that inspire the reader to reflect on the story – and his or her day.

For more information about the 2012 Poetry in the Garden series, visit www.CincinnatiLibrary.org.


While we are sleeping — or where memories meet

The human brain is an incredible organ. We notice how fantastic it is most easily when we witness it in dysfunction. So many things we take for granted like the ability to use our fingers to type letters onto a computer screen expressing our thoughts. I do it every day without thought. Or at least without conscious thought.

I hear noises behind me, or in another part of the house, and can often imagine what is going on there.

When the human brain is fully functional we can stand up, sit down, turn in a circle, chew and swallow our food . . .speak. All without apparent effort.

We take it for granted.

I’ve been working, slowly, on two new writing projects. They are both in the very early stages of interviews and research. One is about two or three women I know who gave up babies for adoption in the 70s. The other is about my dad.

Several years ago my dad asked me when I was going to write his story. I don’t know where he got the idea that I was going to, perhaps from the family genealogy books I had researched and written a while back. I don’t remember my response. Maybe I said, “Whenever you want me to,” or something equally ambiguous.

A little time passed. I graduated with a degree in English. Took a job as an assistant communications director. Quit the job as an assistant communications director. And began wondering how to fill my hours and days now that our children were grown and in college or beyond.

Dad asked me a second time when I was going to write his story.

I had started trying to make the hour-long trip to Dayton to see my parents at least once a week. They were in their 70s and still taking care of my disabled sister Annie at home. I thought I might be able to assist them in some way if I started visiting them once a week. I decided to bring a notebook and tape recorder when I went. Beginning in August of 2008, Dad and I spent hours at the kitchen table, or outside on his bench,  talking about his early childhood, teenage years, and into young adulthood. I recorded every word.

Then Annie got sick and the interviews stopped in June of 2009. I didn’t resume the interviews until almost eight months after Annie’s death in April of 2010. By then Dad’s memory was beginning to fail. Eventually he wasn’t able to make meaningful responses to my questions.

While I was sleeping this morning, or in the early minutes of waking, my brain figured out a solution to how I might tell Dad’s story: His story beginning when he was born and moving forward. My story beginning now and moving backwards. Our stories ending where memories meet.

The human brain is an incredible thing.

April 2010

Elizabeth Bookser Barkley’s Power of the Pen

I read her name before I spoke with her. I talked to her over the phone before I met her. When I finally did meet her, I had no idea that such a huge influence on my career as a writer would come from such a tiny, yet feisty, well-loved woman.

When I decided to go back to college for an English degree, I found Elizabeth Bookser Barkley’s name in the College of Mount St. Joseph promotional materials. I was tentative about going back to school. I had quit my career as a chemical engineer (1979 degree from the University of Dayton), after working for Procter and Gamble a mere 3-1/2 years, to become a full-time stay-at-home mom. I really didn’t know if I had it in me to tackle college work again with other students less than half my age.

Photo from Cincinnati.com story

I found the courage to call Elizabeth Bookser Barkley and she steered me to the right course with which to begin. She continued to subtly steer me, something she excels at, through the remaining years I spent at the Mount working on my degree. I took five courses with her as the professor; when a position opened as a Writing Center Consultant, she recommended me; when she needed an editor for the school’s newspaper that she monitored, she asked me to do it.

Both of my stories that were published in the national magazine, St. Anthony Messenger, (The Joys and Challenges of Life with Annie – October 2008, and Sister Mary Beth Peters: A Heart for the Poor – April 2008) came from one of her classes.

Elizabeth Bookser Barkley, known as Buffy by her students and colleagues, is a professor and chair of the Department of English and Modern Languages at the College of Mount St. Joseph, Cincinnati, Ohio. She is also a freelance writer who contributes to a variety of Catholic publications. You can do a simple google search of her name and find multiple articles and books written by Elizabeth Bookser Barkley.

The article I’d like to draw your attention to is one that was published yesterday (January 4, 2012) in the Cincinnati Enquirer and is now available online entitled, “The power of the pen.” I hope you take a minute to read it. I think it will make you smile.

The ones that get away

I woke up three times in the night trying to solidify a blog post idea for today that was flitting around my mind. But like the beautiful,  colorful, yet elusive butterflies that grace my gardens from the spring to the fall, the idea flitted away. I woke with nothing.

I have been carrying a small notebook in my purse for a while now to catch these elusive ideas, and sometimes I do. I bought a tape-recorder many years ago and kept it in my car for those times when my mind loves to play as I drive along a highway. I rarely used it. Instead, when a wayward, yet interesting thought pops into my head, I try my old memorization technique of repetition until I can get someplace where I can write it down. That usually works during the day. But at night, not so much.

Perhaps another little notebook on my bedside table?

My next task is to get myself organized and collect the snippets I do catch somewhere I can find them again. Maybe next year will be the year.

So here’s to the fascinating post that never made it out of my head and you and I will never read.

Do you ever lose great ideas? What do you do to catch and keep them?

From Butterflies of Brazil —2011 Butterfly Show at the Krohn Conservatory

Cynthia Robertson reviews Dancing in Heaven (with a giveaway)

Cynthia Robertson is a writer living in Arizona. She is the founder of the Arizona Novel Writers Workshop – dedicated to helping writers write and polish their novels for publication. Cynthia has written a monthly newspaper column, Lucid Moments, and has had her short story Peanut Butter Kisses published in a literary journal.  She has recently completed her novel Sword of Mordrey, an historical adventure set amid the sun-baked alleyways of ancient Jerusalem and the squalor and color of medieval London.

I ran across Cynthia’s blog fairly early in my (somewhat brief) blogging career. I remember reading a post where she talked about a stack of books she had to read and review.  I’ll let her tell you the rest.

Dancing in Heaven

Book Review and Giveaway

When I was quite young I remember wishing, or maybe even praying, that I could share my life with my sister Annie. In the innocence of my child’s worldview, I suggested to God that perhaps I could take Annie’s place every other week. We could trade places and then she could have the chance to ride a bike, roller skate down the sidewalk, climb trees, have friends, go to parties and do all the things I loved to do. (Quote from Dancing in Heaven)

When Christine Grote asked if I would read and review her memoir, Dancing in Heaven, I was hesitant. I don’t read memoirs typically…and the focus of this one was a younger sister who spent her entire life brain damaged and paralyzed. Would the book be depressing? Would it be maudlin? I knew Christine was self publishing…would the writing be horrendous? Would the layout be a nightmare of typos and random odd formatting? I recall that I wrote Christine back and asked her how many pages the memoir was—figuring if it was short, I could get through it, no matter what. She graciously wrote back that it wasn’t long, 179 pages, and lots of photos, so it could be read in an afternoon or two. “Okay,” I said, “I’ll do it.”

I’m so glad I did.

Read more.

I really hope you will click the link (leave a comment on Cynthia’s blog for a chance to win a copy of Dancing in Heaven) and take a moment to finish reading Cynthia’s review. It moved me to tears. She nailed me with the opening quote she selected. She really “got” it and was in turn able to communicate it beautifully. I want to publicly thank Cynthia for her great sensitivity and insight.

Initially I was hesitant to ask Cynthia for a review. But after having gotten to know her a little better through blogging comments and a few tweets here and there, I decided I would.

I’m so glad I did.

Self-Publishing Update—The Proof Copy has Arrived

So many of you have supported me through this journey of writing and then self-publishing my memoir, Dancing in Heaven. I wanted to share this special moment with you. The video is about six and a half minutes long and includes short clips about my writing process.

Admittedly, my cinematography skills need a little improvement.

But I hope you enjoy the moment with me.

I did cry.

To make YouTube videos load faster, pause the video to allow it to completely load before playing, fast forward the video to a certain point, or download the video from YouTube to a computer.” Watch video by Gabriel Bahiru.

Self Publishing Update — The book cover is almost finished

Dancing in Heaven—a sister’s memoir is the story of the death and life of my disabled sister Annie. I tell it in a modified collage style. Several years ago when I was taking a fiction writing class we read a short story written as a collage and I fell in the love with the style. Nothing is chronological, but vignettes gradually add up to tell the whole story.

This is the way our brains work, I think. We don’t think chronologically. We think by association. We see something, hear something, smell something and our brain pushes forward an association.

Dancing in Heaven is a modified version of collage. I wrote each chapter (except the first and last two) with two parts. The first part tells the story of Annie’s death in a chronological fashion, almost like a journal. The second part of each chapter flips to a vignette, or essay that explains something about Annie’s life.

When I first started thinking about a cover design, I wanted the image of an empty wheelchair on the front because Annie, like many other disabled people, was almost synonymous with her wheelchair. She was never seen out of her bed without it. I mention an empty wheelchair twice in Dancing in Heaven. The first time is an image in my mind when I begin to fear the seriousness of her illness, the second time is the actual object in the house. I felt the empty wheelchair was a powerful communicative image.

When my son Matthew drew an empty wheelchair for my daughter Anna to use on the cover, I thought it looked too empty. So I asked him to add a little stuffed animal.

Anna had the idea she had seen online to create a textured background for the cover by layering photographs. She had seen it done with hundreds of butterfly images that just turned into a beautiful abstract texture.

Something amazing happened when she tried this with a few family photos. A photo of Annie as an infant jumps out, and then if you look closer, you can see me as a child standing on the right side and my mother leaning over to feed Annie in the upper left corner. It causes the viewer to look closer and look into the many layers. Annie’s story has a lot of layers. I loved it.

Anna has been struggling to “color” the wheelchair image to make it fit in with her design. I suggested we simply drop it. I’m showing you both designs today: the unfinished one with the wheelchair image and the one without.

I hope you’ll let me know what you think.