Friday, October 21, 2011

The Night of the Frogs

I was lying on my cot in my hogan. The darkness of the northern Arizona desert lay around me. No light came through the smoke hole from the overcast sky. In the stillness I heard a strange, worrying sound. Aaa-haaa. Aaa-haaa. Aaa-haaa. Like heavy breathing. Like someone standing outside the door. Like the man who was said to wander home drunk every night, past my hogan. Definitely him. Standing outside my door, breathing heavily. Deciding whether or not to break down my door. I slowly turned to ice. I was frozen in fear. Helpless. No, not helpless, said a small voice. You can get up and see who’s standing at the door. Better to face the fear than die of fright. Really? Well, all right. I stood up. I opened the door. I heard the sound more clearly. Everywhere around me. Frogs. Thousands of frogs, mating in the puddles left by recent rains. And laughing at me, standing on my doorstep, feeling foolish. Aaa-haaa. Aaa-haaa. Aaa-haaa.

(This happened several years ago, when I was teaching on the Navajo reservation. It has always amused me and reminded me how our imaginations can play tricks on us.)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

On Power

As Irene swept by, this area experienced high winds that knocked out power for hours or days. My electricity was off for a day and a half. I always feel like a kid camping out when that happens--cooking and getting ready for bed by lantern light, no electronic entertainment--just silence and crickets. When the power came back on, I felt a stronger than usual pang of disappointment. I decided to pay attention to that. What did I miss, now that the power was back on? I wasn't really sorry to have the microwave and the washing machine back on line. What I missed most was the silence. I realized that I had fallen into the habit of switching on the radio for whatever I was doing--cooking, washing dishes, taking a bath, and so on. Why did I need constant chatter in the background? What was I avoiding? So I decided to leave the radio off. (I don't have TV.) What happened moved me so deeply I wanted to share it. In the peace of silence, I could listen to my own thoughts. I could notice things, draw connections, appreciate surprises. I could step outside of time and be in the now--instead of always having my attention drawn to whatever was happening on the radio. I rediscovered how much I enjoy my own company. I found new energy for writing and other projects. I'm not missing much by unplugging.  How much of what's on the nightly news do you REALLY need to hear?  It's funny that it took a hurricane to wake me up. Funny that a loss of power helped me rediscover my own power.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Marileta's Exciting Adventure in Her Shed

It was a windy day. I was outside raking up grass, spending half my time chasing the piles I had raked as the wind scattered them across the yard. Finally finished, I put the cart away in the shed. I decided to change the liner in the trash can while I was in there. Then I heard a "click." It took a few seconds for the implication of that sound to register: The shed door had blown closed. The click was the latch dropping into place. The door was locked, and I was inside. Oops. Oddly, I had just seen two movies involving people getting stuck in tight places: "Buried," and "127 Hours." Not encouraging. But not too scary, yet. Then I remembered that the temperature was supposed to drop to the 30s that night. (Yes, it was June. So?) Then I noticed a hornet's nest hanging over the door. So figuring out how to get out seemed important. Stick something through the opening in the door to trip the lock? Nope. Dig a hole under the door in the gravel floor with a little piece of metal I found? Possible, but it would take about 127 hours. Or I would make the hole too small and get stuck half-way out. Holler for help? This is the country--no neighbors within earshot. Use my rear end to slam open the door? That'll work. Thank goodness the screws weren't all that sturdy.
The reason I'm telling this story is not to advertise my tendency to get into silly predicaments. It's to warn you not to use this type of lock on an outbuilding if there's any danger that a small child or pet--or you--might wander in and get stuck.
The End

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Plug for Chautauqua

The Highlights Writers Workshop at Chautauqua doesn't really need a plug. It's on the wish list of many children's writers. It's as wonderful as you've heard. The setting is beautiful and conducive to creative growth; the faculty is excellent and mixes readily with the conferees, even at breakfast, lunch, and dinner; the workshops are meaty and inspiring, and the staff works tirelessly to make sure everyone's needs are met. It also costs more than many of us can easily afford. That's why it's good to know that scholarships are available. Now is the time to apply. The deadline for early applications is December 15. The final deadline is February 11. Click here to find out how to apply. It's not hard. Maybe this is the year you'll be able to invest in your dream.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Magical Languedoc

I had never traveled to the south of France, but when my friend Jennifer offered me the use of her tiny house in tiny St. Nazaire de Ladarez, I knew I had to go. My friend Yoshiko was available to come, too. Much of the trip was about miracles--me, who was nervous even about catching a cab in New York, would manage to drive a rental car from the Barcelona airport at rush hour (or maybe they're always rushing in Barcelona), handle a stick shift (which I hadn't done for decades except for a quick brush-up session in my friend Janet's car--I do have such brave friends), and find my way  to our destination--a four-hour drive. And what a beautiful drive--the snow-capped Pyrenees on one side and the Mediterranean on the other for much of the way. And there's nothing like getting lost for meeting lovely, helpful people. I met a lot of lovely, helpful people.

St. Nazaire (we're on a first-name basis now) is nestled up in the mountains ("at the end of the line," someone remarked). Here's a bird's-eye view.

It feels exactly as it should--as if you'd suddenly dropped into the 13th century. The stone houses cling to each other up and down the narrow, winding streets.

Maybe I lived in medieval times in a former life. I felt completely at home there.

Jennifer's friend Julie was staying in St. Nazaire and generously made us feel welcome and showed us around. She even took us to a jazz concert held in a neighboring village--real French jazz! Meeting her was another miracle.

With Julie's hand-drawn maps in hand, we visited several nearby villages, driving through beautiful autumn-colored vineyards on the way.

The best way to bond with place, we found, is to enjoy it while sipping a petite cafe at a table in the main square.

Of course, markets are another good way.

But my favorite part was always wandering the narrow streets. I told Yoshiko that I'd heard in the old times you had to be careful walking in the streets, because someone was likely to empty a pan of wash water (or worse) out of the window onto your head.

As I was locking our door on our last morning, I heard a splash and saw a torrent of soapy water come spilling down the street. Just a last little miracle.

If you'd like to see more pictures of our trip, click here.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Elusive Muse

I don't know where it comes from, and I don't know where it goes. I only know that when it's here, my life suddenly has balance, purpose, and joy. At the risk of jinxing myself, I'm happy to report that I've started work on a couple of new projects that have that all important element, flow. Who knows what got it started. Maybe it was some kind words from a couple of editors. Maybe it was the brainstorming I did to come up with ideas (which didn't seem to produce any usable ideas). Maybe it was the "homework" I did, analyzing  published novels for character and plot development. Maybe it was a book I picked up at random on creativity (Expect the Unexpected (Or You Won't Find It), by Roger VonOech). Maybe it was the moon. I think whatever we do to feed the muse helps. I hope she'll stay around for a while. I'll do my part by showing up.

Monday, July 12, 2010

In Memoriam

I lost a good friend today. Not a two-legged or even a four-legged friend. This friend, a tall, sturdy blue spruce, had lent its quiet, comforting presence for as long as I've lived here. It greeted me as I came up the drive, provided a shady oasis on hot days. When summer comes, I move into the guest room because it's cooler. The tree was the last thing I would see before I went to sleep, standing like the mast of a ship against the stars. In the morning, it became Central Park for the birds.

Today, it was cut down to allow access to my septic tank, which it grew on top of. Yes, life is full of irony. It's still a shock to see the landscape without it, to look out the bedroom window and not find it standing guard. Of course, it's that way whenever we lose a loved one. The landscape changes. There's a hole where the loved one should be. And eventually, the scar in the ground is healed. But there's always a place in the heart that holds the memory.