Tag Archives: writing

Six Years and Slowing

On the "skiddah"

On the “skiddah”

It is March once again, and the anniversary month of this blog which started out as Outside the Box and is now Localista.

I don’t look too fashionable there on the skidder, but let me tell you, I was THRILLED to have a chance to get into the driver’s seat, turn the ignition key, and roll slowly backward, oops! I was maybe in the thing for a minute and a half before I stalled it. Heavy equipment operator is not going to be my next career.

What I did learn from this experience was 1)guys who work in the woods are great storytellers and hard workers and all-around great people and 2)enough about operating a skidder to finish a writing project.

Harvesting in the Maine woods has long been an economic driver for our state, providing jobs and a marketable resource. It is a local sort of job, and even with improvements in equipment, still requires a human brain. Unlike other jobs which are being outsourced to…robots. Check out this article, “Your Job May Soon Be Obsolete Thanks To Robots,”  on AGBeat from the American Genius Network.

Yes, computers are now writing news articles. Egads! Soon they will be writing books, I suppose, cranking them out from synopses and outlines, or maybe just picking and choosing from scenarios, character lists, and possible turning points from specialized plot and narrative computer programs. I’m typing this and thinking, “It’s probably already been done, but I don’t want to go look. I’m scairt!”

So, I’m still doing the localism thing as much as possible, have incorporated it into my life with room left for improvement, as always. Those hiking boots in the photo up there? Got ’em at Reny’s, one of Maine’s independent stores. It was the only size of its kind on the shelves, the only pair of boots in my size, and they fit perfectly. In fact, they were so comfortable with a pair of wool hiking socks I also picked up, I didn’t unlace them all day. The support felt fantastic!

Today I’m wearing a combination outfit–a sweater from Goodwill, a scarf that was a gift, and a pair of pants I bought full-price at Chico’s at the mall. I ate breakfast at a local restaurant, but then I got a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee. It’s not about perfection. It’s about awareness and small changes and doing the best you can.

Six years later, I’m slowing down but trudging along, one step at a time.

Plain Jane to Pretty Parisienne

Notebook Facelift

Notebook Facelift

Dear Reader:

Since becoming a blogger, my journal-keeping (in an actual journal) activities have degenerated into difficult conceptions, failures to thrive, and sad rippings of pages from notebooks and crumplings of paper thrown into the waste-bin of my office.

Journaling was once a mainstay of my emotional life, an anchor, a place to throw difficulties from my mind onto paper and tuck them away where I never had to look at them again unless by choice. Mostly I want to vomit whenever I re-read my old journals. I recognize their former necessity, but I dislike the results. My journals are not pretty little recaps of my daily life. I call the writing in them emotional diarrhea. Not pretty. Sorry to offend.

I tried other kinds of journaling for different purposes. “I’m going to write for half and hour every day in a journal and use the notebooks for writing fodder,” I declared to myself ala Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. Yeah, not so much. Once I started blogging (web-based journal fit for public consumption) and began this thing called Localista (once called Outside the Box) I never looked back.

Until now.

Recent upheaval in my personal life has me hauling down my old journals and searching through them for clues to help make sense of present problems. While reading them, I realize their old familiar raison d’etre might serve me again. I want to keep a personal journal. I want to start today. And I want something pretty on the cover.

may 8 2013 021

I had nothing appropriate, just a stack of plain black and white composition books I picked up for cheap a few years ago at The Store Which Shall Not Be Named while school supply shopping for the Teen. Okay, 33 cents. I caved. This morning I looked at them and shuddered. Ick. Ugly black and white. How did I ever think that would inspire me? I remember having some vision of these notebooks lined up on my shelf, filled with raw material for “real” writing.

Ughh, I thought. I cannot start out with this today. I will go to the store and buy a journal with a pretty cover.
Which will take an hour. And I’m enjoying the peaceful sunny morning with Vivaldi playing on Pandora web radio. And I want to write now. And I’m really not in the mood for delayed gratification. What can I do?

Inspiration struck. I remembered seeing some redecorated composition notebooks at a farmer’s market table last summer. Rummaging through the family art supplies, I found just what I needed. Voila! Parisian-themed craft paper and glue sticks. I love pretty paper in the same way I love pretty fabric and pretty art. I just don’t usually have much actual use for them. This morning, however, I had both the need and the means to create something unique and beautiful. A little gluing, a little folding, a little cutting and here is a pretty and pink Parisienne of a journal, ready for my journaling pleasure.

Inside Cover

Inside Cover

And the craft project was fun, too, appealing visually and physically while the classical music flowed from the computer and the sun shone through the windows and a very large bluejay landed on the window feeder. Ahhh, bliss.

If I ever find a bunch of ugly comp notebooks at a local store like Mardens, I will pick up another bunch. Even for an non-craft person like me, this was fun and a great way to use those pretty papers I’ve had tucked away for years. I’m not sure how the journaling will go. I’m not expected much on the inside. Emotional dysentery and all that. But the cover will be pretty.

Do you keep a journal? What inspires you to write in it?

I Used To Love My Smith-Corona

I Used to Love My Smith-Corona

Dear Reader:

I was thinking about typewriters the other day. Looking through electronic file after electronic file for a certain Christmas story I wrote five, no, seven years ago, I thought, “It was better when we had typewriters; instead of copying from floppy disk to dvd to thumb drive to external hard drive, instead of moving from computer to the new computer to the next new computer, we had paper copies. In file folders. In a filing cabinet. Easy.”

Back in the olden days–pre-1992, let’s say–I wrote on an electric Smith-Corona typewriter my parents bought me for college. Actually, I wrote first drafts with pen and paper and only committed work to type when it was good enough for final draft. I still have these papers. They are hard copies. In files. In my filing cabinet. Not lost in a maelstrom of bits and bytes spiraling out of control on the hard drive of the elderly and ailing (slow) computer up in my office or here on the laptop or stuck on floppy disks in various hidey-holes in my desk…somewhere.

I’d argue without reservation that paper is a better system, except there was that time I let a friend read a story and she lost it until it reappeared five years later, stuck inside a July Vogue which she’d been reading out beside her pool that summer. I suppose the possibility of physical misplacement is as much a problem as losing those electronic files.

Plus, I can’t blame the computer for my disorganization. After all, I could print out a physical copy of everything for “just in case.”

But I miss the typewriter. I miss correction fluid. I miss lining up the paper and rolling it over the barrel. I do, in fact, have an old manual typewriter of my grandmother’s in my office, sitting atop a filing cabinet along with a copy of her self-published collection of local stories and recipes. It used to sit in the old “office” at my grandparents’ house, the room that used to be a front porch, the room where I used to plug in my Smith-Corona and type stories and papers for college classes. I can smell that room if I think about it long enough. Heavy smell. Like ink. Like some sort of oil. Like stacks of old papers.

I can’t type on this old machine. It needs repair, the keys are sticky, and who knows if you can still get ribbons for it, but I love that it is there, a talisman, a symbol of a different time. When things were not so easy. No auto-correct, for one thing. Editing marks, for another. A deliberateness born of necessity, fingers certainly not tapping out any old thought that crossed the mind. Not so easy to erase a word, a sentence, a paragraph, entire scenes.

Maybe someday, someone will invent a retro-looking computer, one that sounds like real typewriter keys when you hit the letters and dings! when the cursor jumps down to the beginning of the next line. If I get totally nostalgic (and find myself suddenly flush with cash) I could buy something like the beautiful old machine in the picture below.

It can be ordered at myTypewriter.com. In the meantime, I’ve learned my lesson: print out a hard copy and file it away “just in case.”

As for going local on this one, I’ve found office and school supplies to be a challenge. Discount/salvage stores like Marden’s and Reny’s sometimes carry notebooks, pens, rulers, cards, and craft items. However, this is pretty hit or miss. Locally-owned specialty and gift stores in larger towns and cities often have cute file folders, notebooks, pens, and stationery, but they are just-as-often often pricey.

Most recently, I noticed a couple local crafters at the Newfield Farmer’s Market were selling homemade cards and fancied-up notebooks–good possibilities, but where did those underlying notebooks and paper come from? China via Walmart?

I’d really, REALLY like to find paper made here in Maine. Maine was once a booming paper-making state that employed many citizens with good-paying, good-retirement, good-benefit jobs until outsourcing pulled the pulpwood out from under the the workers. How about repurposing some old mills to make specialty papers and cardstock from recycled materials? How about hemp paper? Save our forests and boost our economy. While we’re on the subject of actually producing things again, how about revitalizing our textile manufacturing, too? Like paper, fabric can be made from recycled materials and hemp. And what about shoes…?

Before I get too far off-subject in a rant for local manufacturing, I will end this post. One thing at a time, right? Take a look around your neighborhood, village, or nearby cities; you may luck out and find a great local source for your writing/office supply needs. If you do, drop me a line and a link. Localistas, unite!

The Plot Thickens Venison Stew

Farm Kitchen

Dear Reader:

I’m writing a novella. At first it was going to be a short story about a young woman who takes a farm internship in order to escape the mess that is her work- and love-life. Now it is ostensibly a novella about a young woman who takes a farm internship to escape said mess. And she meets a hot farmboy and falls inconveniently in love, of course, because this is a romantic comedy.

The problem is this: instead of the plot thickening nicely, like a stew, it is thinning into broth because I lack that crucial ingredient: conflict.

Well, there is some conflict, I guess. That would be “the mess that is her work- and love-life.” But that seems like backstory to me. Plotting it out in a Hero’s Journey kind of way, the first chapter includes the “Call to Adventure.” Great. But is it compelling? What, exactly, is my heroine’s quest? She’s not looking for love, though she finds it. She’s looking to escape and to regroup her resources, inner and outer.

And this brings me to theme. What is the lesson here? You can’t solve your problems by running from them? Or the opposite: sometimes you have to give up everything and start over from scratch?

I suppose a really smart writer would figure this out before typing that first “once upon a time” sentence. So what? I didn’t. Now I have to put my story on a back burner to stay warm while I go looking for thickeners, and that’s okay. It’s good weather for stew.

Since it is deer hunting season, how about venison stew? Even if you don’t don blaze orange and head out into the woods with your trusty rifle, you can buy venison from a deer farmer like Applegate Deer Farm in Newfield, Maine. You can also substitute beef. Or make it vegetarian with nice, chunky, dark mushrooms instead of meat and vegetable bouillon instead of the beef cubes. Enjoy!

Homegrown Carrots and Peppers

Here is a recipe for The Plot Thickens Venison Stew

2 lbs venison cubes
1 tsp. butter or lard
1 quart hot water
2 cups diced potatoes
1 cup diced turnips
1 cup diced carrots
1/2 cup diced parsnips (or more…I like parsnips!)
1 cup diced celery
1 diced green pepper
1/2 cup diced onion
1 tbs. salt
dash pepper
2 beef bouillon cubes
bay leaf

Seasoned flour: 1 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 tsp paprika

Roll meat in seasoned flour. Brown in hot fat in large pot. Cover with hot water. Simmer 2 hours on stove. Add remaining ingredients. Cook until veggies are tender, about 30 minutes.

Thicken by whisking together in a bowl 4 tbs. flour and 2 cups hot liquid from stew until no lumps (caution, very hot liquid!). Add back to stew pot. Delicious, thick, hearty soup. That was easy. Now, about that novella…

Am I Rita Skeeter?

Dear Reader:

When I dressed up in a green and black feather boa and headpiece on Halloween night and headed out into the community to take pictures and jot notes for my newspaper column, a few people yelled, “I know who you are…Rita Skeeter!”

My response? “Um, I didn’t plan to be Rita Skeeter, but I guess I’m glad I’m somebody.” In truth, I picked up the costume pieces on a whim a couple months ago, and on a whim dressed up on Halloween before heading into town. I guess with the fluffy boa, my signature red lipstick, my glasses, and my notebook and pen, I did bear a slight resemblance to the Harry Potter newshound.

My new life as a journalist keeps me out and about in the community, talking to the people who run the town as well as the regular people who live and work here but keep out of the spotlight. I’ve been to selectmen meetings, covered events at the elementary school, interviewed community members for profile pieces, and even slurped down some green juice at a free showing of the film FAT, SICK AND NEARLY DEAD at the public library. I practically beg people to send me tidbits of news that I can expand into articles. I am in my element. I can be nosy but detached, involved but not imbedded. I stand outside it, observe, and report what I see and hear. It’s awesome!

I’m also humbled by the responsibility. Okay, so it isn’t the end of the world if I spell someone’s name wrong, but I do need to be cognizant that everything I chose to highlight and everything I chose to leave out creates meaning in the story. I can chose to underscore the positive or I can spotlight the conflicts and negativity. Is this choice to highlight the positive a kind of skewing of the truth? Is it an angle?

Of course it is.

I hope I’m NOT Rita Skeeter, the reporter in the Harry Potter series who slants everything toward the sensational and titillating. I hope I have more journalistic integrity than to take others’ innocent behavior and twist it into something scandalous, but I also hope to write the truth, to capture this place in all its weirdness and its normalcy, its high moments and its times of adversity, its people and its industry. In other words, I do have an agenda. My agenda is to strengthen the community by showing my fellow citizens who we are, what we do, how we do it here in our small, rural town.

Journaling on a Misty Morning

The Lake on a Misty Morning

Journal Entry July 30, 2012

I have dressed early–6 a.m., in sweatpants and hoodie–to stave off the morning chill. Yesterday was rainy, all day drizzle interspersed with sudden heavy downpours. When I wake this morning and see skies clearing, I know I have to get down to the lake to watch the white tendrils of mist rise from the glossy, rippled surface of the water. I bring a blue chair and a mug of coffee, a camera, and my journal.

The tiny community beach–one of over a dozen–is a short walk from my doorstep. For the first eight years we lived here, the beach was nothing more than a weedy opening in the scrub brush lining the lake. A pine needle- and leaf-covered path slopes down to the water’s edge from the gravel road.

We leave our canoe here, red and tipped upside down, most of the summer and fall. A neighbor borrows it, using his own paddles. He and his family–brothers? sisters? parents? There’s a whole tribe of them–moved into the house behind us two years ago, and they began to clear the opening on their own. Last summer, the community grounds-crew finished the job, cutting more brush, hauling in sand, positioning large boulders across the path to discourage illegal boat launches.

Cove


The water here is shallow, only just past my ankles many canoe-lengths out and suddenly deep toward the middle where the current runs. The lake was once a stream, dammed-up for electrical generation about a hundred years ago. It is all coves and curves and fingers reaching in to the land–swampy in places, steep sand cliffs in places. When cross-country skiing in the winter, you have to be careful for weak spotswhere the warm run-off thins the ice from below. I’ve seen guys on snowmobiles rev up and skim over circles of open water.

It is quiet on this Monday morning, the weekend whine of jet skis and power boats as distant as the line of Massachusetts plates heading south out of Kittery on I-95. As I trudge down the path, a heron splashes down, stands. I stop. We watch each other warily. I try not to breath, but he is distrustful and flaps away.

I take a few photographs of the pearlescent mist still hovering over the predawn lake. The water is all shadows here, lake rimmed with tall, close-set pines. Just now the sunlight slices a thin crescent along the eastern-facing shore.

These moments I feel fortunate to have found this place despite my misgivings about its viability in a low-carbon world.

Before the out-of-state developers and the homeowner’s association and the lots plotted on a grid of winding roads ending in numerous culs-de-sac; before the griping and bickering between towns and association; before the housing boom in the 1990’s and milfoil and aging water pipes and the eventual housing bust in the 2000’s, there were only a few scattered camps along this lake. Before those, there were farmhouses and hay fields and pasture for dairy cattle–fieldstone walls running through pine forest a testament to the area’s agricultural past.

Blue Boat

In the early 1970’s, in spite of controversy in the two towns out of which our community was carved, the developers developed. The out of state weekenders came first to the lakefront lots. They built summer camps and weekend homes. Later, in the 90’s when real estate prices soared, building contractors scooped up lots of lots. They built and sold spec houses for cheap to the young, middle-class families priced out of the Portland suburbs.

The towns gaped as the school population bloomed. Education costs skyrocketed. This wasn’t the “taxes without the costs” deal they’d been promised. Weekenders’ kids get educated out of state, but these new families bought “off-lake” and stayed year-round and their children entered kindergarten right along with the kids in the villages.

“It was supposed to be a gated community,” one angry school-teacher said to me six or seven years ago. “And there’s never once been a gate!”

Wince. One has to wonder if they wanted the gate to keep us “in” rather than to keep themselves “out.”

So here we are, living in the exurbs, an hour and many gas-powered miles from the jobs in Portland and Biddeford and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Association rules drafted in the 1970’s prevent many of us from cutting trees to create garden space, prevent us from raising a few chickens for fresh eggs. Mortgage defaults are up. Some roofs of abandoned homes have already caved in. There are no corners stores in our not-zoned-for-business community. We drive to get anywhere (or sometimes we bike, hard.)

This is not sustainable. It will not work in a low-carbon world where energy costs suck up ever-larger percentages of our disposable income. Am I crazy to worry?

There are mornings like this one when I walk, coffee in hand, down a pine-needle path to spend an hour or two writing beside the lake, and I think maybe I am worrying about nothing. Maybe I should simply I enjoy the scenery, the mist, the heron and let the future take care of itself.

Trees/Mist

And, if the world moves on, perhaps we can change fast enough to keep pace. Trees can be cut, livestock can be brought in, and we can muddle through, creating a kind of exurban agricultural village on our acre and half-acre lots.

Or else, like that heron, we’ll stop a moment, assess the danger, and flap away, leaving the lake as it was before…quiet, serene, barely inhabited but for those scattered camps, and the only thing that will remain of us will be the caved-in husks of our spec houses mouldering beneath these towering pines.

Beware the Iris!

Grape Kool-Aid Iris (at least that’s what I call it!)

I love the way these irises smell…just like their color. Grape Kool-Aid.

Their blooms blossom and fade quickly, two or three to a stem, but oh the heavenly scent while they are open and beckoning to the fat bumble bees that crawl into and out of them spreading pollen from plant to plant in that glorious symbiosis of nature. Sometimes the bee’s buzzing grows alarmed, higher-pitched, as she struggles to escape the perfumed interior of the flower.

Today, I crawled out of a similar enticing trap, and I’m hopeful I will make a clean getaway. A year or so ago, in order to enter a contest, I wrote a short-short story and published it on an e-publisher. What I didn’t consider at the time was that the story was “out there” forever. Published but not doing anything. Just sitting there. I couldn’t revise it and submit it anywhere, and the thing was, I wanted to revise it. I’d grown attached to the storyline and the character. It could have been so much more!

So, today I canceled my account with the e-publisher and tried to “retire” the story. It is still coming up when I type the title and my name into a search engine…the image for it anyway. The content is unavailable.

Now the question is…am I free to revise and resubmit? I don’t know. I think I will revise it for my own pleasure, and if it is worthy, I will send it out with full disclosure of its checkered, e-pubbed past.

Lesson? Be careful when you enter contests. Sometimes a contest isn’t a contest. Sometimes it is a marketing tool to lure potential “clients” close–like the sweet smell of the iris, luring bees into her velvety, purple petals for her own purposes.