Summertime

Summer is my favorite time of year. When I was a child, it was the freedom of course. School was out and I spent most of most summers at my grandparents’ house on the bayou. Summer is nostalgic. Dinner was served at lunch time, we ran wild and barefoot through the woods, built forts, picked blackberries, went sailing in the bay whenever we pleased, ate watermelon on the back porch. Fond memories.

SUMMERTIME GIRL

More than that, or because of that, I am a summertime girl. Sunshine and water, beaches and rivers, close friends, good company and time for reflection; summer is all of that and more.

Today, I spent the early morning working in the yard and weeding, careful not to disturb the earthworms or skinks too much. Lovely start to a lovely day.

I write this sitting on my porch, listening to the birds and watching hummingbirds as they flit among the red jasmine. I sip sweet tea with my dog is at my feet. The farmer has mowed his field so the hay lays drying in the sun. All is calm. I love this life. How could anyone not?

The place where I live is meant for summer. As my husband sometimes says, “we live in a destination.” No need to travel; we are already here. We are so fortunate.

TIME AND PACE

As a teacher and a school librarian I always enjoyed my time off during the summer, but it’s different now as a semi-retired person. I don’t feel the urgency to hurry up and take advantage of each summer day before the new school year begins. I am living at a different pace.

Don’t get me wrong, every single day feels so packed. I am always busy, and time passes quicker than ever. My time is filled with activities I love and care about; writing, reading, sitting at the river, my dogs, gardening. And the best things of all: more time with my husband, daily phone calls with my daughter and my mom, time with loved ones.

No matter the time of year, I have found balance.  And balance feels so good. Still, summer is the best!

“How near to good is what is WILD!”

After a night of thunder and lightning and heavy rain, I sit on my porch taking in the wildlife that closes in around me. I watch a red-bellied woodpecker couple, a doe with her fawn stroll through the high grass, soon to be cut and dried as hay. Water drips like a metronome from the roof. I watch. And I read Thoreau.

NOT BORING

I remember reading Henry David Thoreau in school and falling into a state of near comatose boredom. As I read him now, I have a completely different experience. Recently I came across an essay he published in 1862 after presenting it as a speech several times. I’m not going to lie; it’s long, he rambles, he covers a multitude of topics. Oh but it’s chock full of treasures! He covers everything from conservation to politics, to literature and sense of place.

TO HAVE BEEN THERE

I wonder what it must have been to be a member of the audience of that speech back in the nineteenth century. Where they bored and restless as they sat in hard chairs in their stiff attire? Did they fight a yawn? Force open their eyes? Or did they hang on his every word, mesmerized by his poetic descriptions and advanced vocabulary? Were they in awe at his predictions of future America? They should have been; he was spot on.

This essay, which I never before heard of, fell into my hands as I was doing a little research for a character in a short story I am currently writing. Indeed, it helps me to get to know the character better, but it’s providing me with so much more food for thought. It’s called Walking. Look it up if you are so inclined but be patient and allow it time.

CHARMED, I’M SURE

Like I said, he rambles. Also, he lived a charmed life, clearly. Anyone whose daily stroll lasts four hours pretty much has it made in my book. We can assume that most of the remainder of the day was spent writing and reading. So, yeah, charmed. Not everyone has such luxury. I am glad he had it though because he had some important things to say.

CONSERVATION

His discussion of conservation was far ahead of his time. He saw in the future, an America depleted of its forests and wild space. He saw, even then, how we as humans were destroying our very home. He stressed the importance of educating our youth about nature and conservation; about the need for individuals to spend time in nature (both to appreciate so we will care for it, but also for how it benefits the soul), and the dire need for public lands. “Wildness is the preservation of the world,” he says.

AMERICA

On the subject of America as a nation, as a culture, as a people, he sees us as being shaped by the nature around us, by the wildness and unique flora and fauna. He brings up the idea of an “American mythology” which is fascinating. With prescience he states, “Perchance, when in the course of ages, American liberty has become a fiction of the past—as it is to some extent a fiction of the present—the poets of the world will be inspired by American mythology.”

I love his take on American literature and its place in the world. Our American experience lends a special quality, unique and rich. It’s good to own that. His nineteenth century mind is hopeful for a prolific and rich literary collection inspired by the American experience. Indeed, I think we’ve got that!

NOT PERFECT JUST LIKE AMERICA HERSELF

There are some things he’s gotten wrong, or rather failed to consider. Most notably, the contributions and inclusion of Native Americans. Imagine if Natives could have influenced conservation efforts back then! When commenting on our proclivity to go west toward the new as opposed to traveling east, he tells of his witnessing “the Indians moving west across the stream (the Mississippi River),” as if they traveled willingly. But that’s a discussion for another day.

ONE LAST THOUGHT

As I said, he rambles and now I am too. It’s raining again here, and the world is green and lush. I will leave you with one last quotation from Walking just to prove how varied his subject matter is and because I just love books: “A truly good book is something as natural, and as unexpectedly and unaccountably fair and perfect, as a wildflower discovered in the prairies of the West or in the jungles of the East.”

Thoreau, Henry David. Walking. 1862. Republished by National Geographic. https://blog.nationalgeographic.org/2011/11/17/walking-by-henry-david-thoreau/

Refugees and Natives

How refreshing it is to experience American history outside the dry and bland story told to us in classrooms across the country and across time. Kathryn Haueisen brings the people who made history to life. She has made them real and believable, relatable. She puts them in context to the events of their times.

The Separatists are not the cookie cutter characters with crazy ideas, as I remember them portrayed in textbooks. Nor are the American natives a caricature of welcoming and naïve Indians standing on the beach. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the characters in this book and seeing the world through their eyes.

Tisquantum (we remember him as “Squanto”), upon his return to America, tries to explain the baffling life he experienced in London, the crowds and how people there acquire food by trading with small pieces of metal. He tries to understand the cruelty of public executions he witnessed while in England, as well as being captured, mistreated and sold as a slave.  Worse, he returns home to find that two thirds of his people are gone due to the “great dying,” as a plague wiped out villages. He is a person who experienced and witnessed incredible events far outside of his ability to imagine. We feel his pain and his bewilderment.

Likewise, the Pilgrims arrive to a new world that is equally outside their imaginings. Coming to America is not a lark but required years of planning. Like all immigrants, the decision was not made lightly. Leaving one’s home to make a new life in an unknown world only happens when there are no other choices. The struggle to be, if not accepted, at least tolerated by others, follows them, even aboard ship among the sailors. The heartbreak of leaving behind family and home, shows just how intent they were to live with religious freedom.

What is most striking about Mayflower Chronicles, to me, is how Haueisen places the story in the larger history of the world; she connects the dots. History is typically recounted in seclusion. We learn about the English Reformation, the influence of the printing press, executions. We learn about the Separatists and the settling of North America and the encounter with Native Americans. Rarely do we find them told together, in conjunction with one another. So much of history happens at the same time. The way history is traditionally taught makes it difficult to see how the pieces fit together. I appreciate that.

If American (and English, and World) history were taught as a whole, students would find it far more compelling, I think.

Haueisen portrays individuals, both English and Indigenous, experiencing a moment in time that is both unique and paradigm-shifting as they struggle to understand one another while maintaining their own identities. This kind of struggle among Americans of all backgrounds continues to this day; it defines us, even as we evolve.

  • Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures
  • By Kathryn Brewster Haueisen
  • Green Place Books
  • 2020

978-1-950584-59-8

Slaying the Dragon

“Slay the dragon once, and he will never have power over you again.” –Steven Pressfield

Writing is like slaying a dragon. Be brave. Do it. Don’t stop. Don’t beat yourself up because you didn’t write 500 billion words last week but know your limits and keep going. I skipped a week. Since I hopped back on the blog horse, I have not missed a week until now.

DISCIPLINE

For me, writing a weekly blog post is an exercise in discipline. It’s a deadline. It’s a way to think out loud; a little more than journaling, but much less involved than writing a short story or an article or novel work. Blogging is intended for weeks exactly like last week, when life gets so busy it’s hard to find head space for creativity. It forces me to sit at my desk and churn something out.

I WILL “KILL THE DRAGON”

Yes, I missed one week, but I am back at it now and stronger than ever. I didn’t “kill the dragon” last week, but I sharpened my sword. I read up on craft, took a few notes, was observant in a busy world and sought inspiration. Sometimes the knight needs to back off, exit the cave and regroup.

My word count wasn’t much to brag about, but I committed myself to some important deadlines and took time to set priorities. A writer must have a frame to work within.

PRIORITIES

Lately, I have had so many projects going at once, I finally had to decide where to focus my attention. I will focus on short stories and set my historical novel to the side for now. I am outlining what started as a memoir and is now a novel about abandonment, shame and redemption. This is very exciting as I seek to understand American individualism, family and love. I was given the advice of “choosing the one you can’t stop thinking about.” That is what I have done.

ACCOUNTABILITY

Setting priorities and deadlines now frees me up to outline and churn out words like a crazy person! I am ready for this! A blog post by each Friday. A book review by the end of each month. A short story ready for peer review by June 10. A completed outline for my work-in-progress by June 12. Hold me to it World. I have my sword and I will slay the dragon.

Wild Dreams

Amazing quote from my therapist today:

“This world is too big for somebody’s dream to be too wild.”

When I asked if that was something she said often to her patients, she said no, that it just came to her. I said she might just be the next Bren Brown. I asked if I could quote her, and she said, go ahead.

Also, she said that I should not have to compromise my dreams for other peoples’ expectations. Isn’t this the very kind of thing I have been trying to teach myself? Live your own best life. Others can do as they please with theirs.

UGLY VOICE

I have the talent. All I have to do is put in the hard work.

Yet and still, in the back of my head there is that little ugly voice asking, “but do you have the talent?”  To that voice, I say, “fuck you, there is only one way to find out.”

All my life, I have heard “you should” from the people around me, from my family, from the very people who should encourage me, accept me and love me unconditionally. “Hey Regina, you know what you should do? Let me tell you.”

I know what I should do; follow my own heart. Fulfill my own dreams. Be me. I don’t mind a bit if you be you, just let me be me.

BE YOUR OWN MAIN CHARACTER

It is astounding to consider how the role you play in family, in other people’s lives can stick with you. It’s so easy to forget that you are the main character in your own life, that other people don’t get to be the protagonist in your story. It’s astounding how that can last a lifetime—allowing yourself to be second to everyone else. And it’s extremely convenient for others when you acquiesce so easily.

SELF-KINDNESS

As for me, I have no more time to waste. Getting older forces you to finally set things straight with yourself. My therapist is right, this world is oh so big and there is plenty of room for the wildest of dreams. Don’t make yourself small for others. Don’t allow it. Look inside. Do the hard work. Make those dreams reality. Be kind to yourself. Believe in the possibilities of what you hold inside.

The Animals are Dying

“The animals are dying. Soon we will be alone here.”—the first sentence in the book.

Some books are hard to let go. They stick with you for a long time. Such is the case with Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy. On one hand, it is hard to put down; the reader follows the clues in search of why and how the protagonist came to be the person she is. On the other, the backdrop, the near (very near) future is so painstakingly sad that if you are a human being you will cry.

Life moves along much as it does right now. However, there are no wolves, no polar bears. There are very few fish in the sea and bird populations are swiftly dying off. I read this book weeks ago and I have not been able to shake it. Imagine; can you? No wolves left in the world. No polar bears. Is this the direction we are headed? For real?

Not only are the fish disappearing, but a way of life is going with it. Fishermen hang on to all they know with every fiber of their being. They don’t want another kind of job. They want to go to sea. They want to fish. To this they have devoted their lives and their livelihood and even sacrificed time with their families.

Just today, I read a news article stating that Whole Foods will stop selling salmon. The salmon they are getting are not large enough to sell. The salmon themselves are smaller, but the schools of salmon are also shrinking. At our house, we eat a lot of salmon. Fiction and reality often collide. I am afraid (terribly afraid) because I know that this fiction is based on fact.

Franny Stone is a lost soul with a complicated past. The book follows her as she follows the last migration of Artic Terns that travel from Greenland to Antarctica every year.  She hitches a ride on a fishing vessel, convincing the captain that if he will take her on and follow the birds, the birds will lead him to fish. They make an odd pair to be sure. The one fighting to preserve his vocation, the other as an environmentalist despising what he does, they find common ground in the personal.

As she travels, Franny misses her husband. She carries a deep hurt and guilt that is only revealed at the end of the book. The story flows back and forth through time, slowly revealing Franny’s past. Really, she is just one among an entire planet of people struggling to survive at the end of the world. In Migrations, what happens to the environment has a very real and very personal impact on everyone.

  • Migrations
  • By Charlotte McConaghy
  • Flatiron Books
  • 978-1-250-2040-28
  • 2020

Time and the Writer

Don’t allow for disruptions, that’s one thing. Give yourself grace too. I tell myself these things and yet still, when I allow distractions to interrupt my train of thought, my time to write, when I allow the everyday existence to interfere, I am not happy with myself. In The War of Art, Steve Pressfield tells us that, “the amateur takes it so seriously, it paralyzes him.” Don’t be an amateur.

HEAD SPACE

To be an artist of any kind, you have got to do the work. To do the work, yes, you have to put the time in, you have to practice, you have to think about it even when you are not “doing the work.” When you put the time in, you absolutely must have the head space for it. There lies the problem for most of us. Head space.

When you are thinking about your “day job,” when you are thinking about your car needing an oil change, your family’s needs, when you are thinking about how long it’s been since you cleaned the toilet—all of that takes up head space. And head space is a pie. All of those things matter, they really do. Your family has to be cared for. By you. The car, you are dependent on it, you’ve got to take care of it too. The toilet might become disgusting, but more importantly, it will become unsanitary, unhygienic. You’ve got to clean the toilet. So, stop thinking about it and do it. If you just do it when it needs to be done, it won’t take up that head space. Get it?

PROCRASTINATION

Easier said than done, I know. No one wants to clean the toilet, so we procrastinate. Hey, procrastination takes up head space. Procrastination is a luxury most of us cannot afford. Procrastination is an excuse and it’s lazy. I get to say that because I just happen to be the queen of it. Time passes so quickly when you have so much to do; try not to become overwhelmed by it or procrastination will be your death. The death of your work, your art, your writing.

BALANCE

I keep coming up with new ways to balance my life—writing, family, home, work, daily maintenance. Yes, I have a planner. And, yes, I use it. I block off time to write, but I don’t always follow through. Stuff comes up. I set the timer. I try to feel in control. Sometimes it works. Lately, not so much. When I get off track, I tweak the plan. (Also, I hate that word, tweak.) I have notebooks and folders, both real and on my computer. My ideas for projects are so well organized that I sometimes lose them or forget them, stored so nicely in their proper place.

TIME

The thing is I want to complete all of my projects at once. Einstein said, “the only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” But I feel an urgency for the world to see what is in my head. It’s amazing and beautiful and honest and raw. I think you’ll appreciate it, if I do say so myself. The only way I can get the time to get all these ideas out, is if I slow down and take one step at a time, allow for the head space no matter what and stop procrastinating.

ALL OUR PARTS

I am talking to myself I know. I also know that all writers struggle with this.  The thing is, we cannot wallow in it. We must overcome it while also giving ourselves some grace. After all, we are all more than writers; we are so much more. It takes all our parts, not just our writer part to tell a story, to do it well. We live and interact in the world and that is what makes us good at telling our stories.

About Dogs

Dogs have made me a better person.

COCO

I first learned about the gifts and needs of dogs because of my silly chocolate cocker spaniel, Coco. He was such a mess! Born in a puppy mill, sold in a pet shop, as inbred as the Prince of Wales. He was a well-meaning thing, but he loved to run off every chance he got.

He was with me through a bad (duh, aren’t they all?) divorce. Then, when my life fell apart, I had to give him up. Oh, the guilt. At the time, I could barely take care of myself. He was a gift. In more ways than one. He was a gift who taught me things I needed to know. Coco was a runner. Every chance he got he would bolt out the door. But then, I was a runner too.

Coco was living proof that a dog should never be presented as a gift, especially if it’s a surprise. The day he was brought home to me, Coco ran, jumped into my arms and proceeded to give me puppy kisses all over my face. Irresistible. He was a city dog living in the country with his thick curls all stuck with sticker-burrs and mud. He needed grooming constantly. He was all energy and not the smartest kid on the block by any stretch. Chasing balls, he would slide into walls. He chased cows and cars. On a leash, he was a kite in a hurricane. Coco was cute and he made me laugh, but I was not good for him. When I gave him up to go to a better home, I was wracked with guilt and just so sad to see him go. It was the right thing to do. Coco taught me that I love dogs.

BONNIE

Later, Bonnie came into my life. The best dog ever! How I love my Bonnie Lass. She is smart and loyal and protective. She is so devoted to us, and we to her. Bonnie was the first born of a litter of 12 females. Her mother is a yellow lab trained hunting dog. Her father was the golden retriever down the street. Bonnie is beautiful, inside and out.

Bonnie’s passion is chasing tennis balls; she lives for it, but she will only play if there are two balls. One is not enough and two is all that will fit in her mouth! Second to ball-chasing, she loves to swim. Combine the two, and she is in heaven.

Every day at 4:00 sharp, she nudges me, puts her paw in my lap and demands attention—it is ball time. She knows words; she knows “ball” (of course), “river,” “toy,” and I swear, she understands everything we say. She knows when we are happy and when we are down. She is there for us. We do our best to reciprocate her love. It’s hard to love as good as a dog. A dog’s love knows no bounds. It is unconditional and perfect.

MIA

Mia is special. She is some sort of cow dog mix. My daughter rescued her (or the other way around, I think). Mia is not a city dog, so she came to live with us. Here, she prances about off leash and smiles a lot. She chases squirrels.  She’s a finicky old woman and can be passive-aggressive like a cat. I love Mia because she took such good care of my daughter. Also, because she is herself and a sweetie pie. She is our winky dog because she has one eye, and she is old, requiring much care.

LOVE

The dogs in our family mean so much to us. They teach us love every single day and remind us what is important. There was a time when I did not consider myself to be a “dog person,” now I cannot imagine life without them. Our lives are richer, simpler, and so much better because of the dogs we know.

Balance: This is for Tara (conversation through blog)

When I put too much on my plate, I become anxious and insecure. The worry of it all overwhelms. I worry that I won’t have enough time to do justice to each task. I worry that something important will be left undone; it’s all important. This is when inertia begins to set in. Deer in the headlights. Panic. Breathe.

LISTS

I try to control it. I am a big list maker. Lists for everything. There is nothing more satisfying than crossing something off a list. Nothing more disappointing than scratching something off a list because you know it just won’t happen. If it will not get accomplished, it doesn’t get to be listed.

CALENDARS

Calendars are the same as lists. And I don’t use the calendar on my phone or my computer. I need, really need, the act of writing it all down. That’s a brain thing. Also, I actually enjoy filling in the spaces. Calendars steady me, allow me to see ahead just a little bit, but not too much.

ADHD

Much of this has to do with being ADHD, I think; not that I have ever been diagnosed. That wasn’t a thing back in the day. ADHD usually conjures up the idea of little boys who can’t sit still. Now we know that ADHD manifests differently in girls: incessant talking, daydreaming, easily distracted, short attention spans (unless it’s something that impassions her). Hello! The ditzy little girl I just described? That would be me! And you know what? She was a pretty smart little cookie once you got past societal expectations and the dreaminess. Recently, much has been written about girls/women and ADHD; it’s high time. I could cite many sources here, but that would send me down a whole “nother” path so that this post would never get finished.

DEADLINES

Which leads me to this: I made a promise to myself that I would post on my blog site weekly. I gave myself Friday as my deadline. This is the first week that I have been late. I have two excuses (my husband says that I am the queen of excuses, but they aren’t excuses, but reasons). My first excuse/reason is that I spent a day resting with mild side effects from my second COVID shot. Fair.

My second excuse is more complicated. I began the week writing what was to be this week’s post about all the dead stuff in our yard that the winter storm caused. However, as I wrote, I began to think about bigger issues. I went from our frozen plants to the depletion of lightening bugs and monarch butterflies and climate change and drought. It was not a post, but four or five posts. I became overwhelmed and put it aside.

BE KIND TO YOURSELF

Please understand, I have lots of pots on my proverbial writing stove. I am excited about them. I want to do them all. Now. And I want to do them well. Blogging, for me, is an exercise in discipline. It helps me focus (believe it or not). I guess that makes a third excuse.

We must pace ourselves. Make those lists. Fill in the calendar. Roll up our sleeves and make these dreams real. Learn to balance those dreams with the hard work that it takes to make them real. That is what we do. Most importantly: be kind to ourselves. Give ourselves a break and enjoy the experience of just being.

I give myself permission to be a day late with this post in the name of learning balance. My hope is that the upcoming week will find me just a little more grounded so that I can fly! There is too much to do to stand still.

Watching Baby Ducks Last Summer

The Sun’s warmth does not touch the water at the bottom of the lake, keeping it cold like ice as it passes through the dam and enters our river. That is why our part of the river, a mere two miles or so from the dam, remains cold even on the hottest summer days. That is why we love our river and we are drawn to it when the Texas air hits triple digits. We are water people, summer people. We have a good life and we appreciate it.

The river where we are starts wide and deep, usually slow-moving until it reaches our little wall where rapids form and “toobers” squeal as they float by. We sit on our island, usually beer in hand, and watch. Today, though, we watch the best kind of river life, not people.

Sitting on the wall is a mama duck and her six babies. She teaches them how to hop off the wall, maybe a five-foot drop, and let the river move them to the rocks below. The ducklings are not eager for this adventure, they do not want to learn this lesson. The ducklings prefer the comfort of the nearness of mama duck. Mama duck is patient. They swim above the wall, always returning quickly to mama. One perches on her back. She manages to keep an eye on all her babies even as busy as they are. In duck language, she encourages them. She knows how important this is, she knows they must learn the ways of their small world. Finally, the bravest peaks over the wall, takes one last look at mama, turns and leaps. Brave duckling bobbles on the tiny waves and makes her way to the rocks. Soon a second joins her. Proudly, they both look up at mama. “We did it!”

We watch this tiny drama, cheering for the ducks, wanting to help them but knowing this is a ritual and it must happen in the duck way, without human interference. We hold our breath as each duckling makes their scary leap.

Finally, only one duckling remains on the wall with mama duck. Mama keeps a keen eye on her babies down below while still encouraging the one.  The babies below on the rocks skitter about, one falling from a rock and quickly swimming back, then another.  After a while, Mama duck jumps from the wall herself, leaving her last baby behind.

Again, we worry, we want so badly to help. Finally, the remaining baby hops down to mama. They are all reunited. Mama duck gathers her six ducklings and they follow her down the river. We sigh with relief and cheer.