Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Lead Poisoning (In the Category of Want What You Have.) #52Weeks

I found myself Tweeting, “how can a 12 year old be THAT angry?” Tuesday morning — a reaction to the latest school shooting. They’ve become so commonplace we have lost our sense of outrage. Until politicians stop taking money from the NRA (who gets their money from gun manufacturers), we have no hope of enacting sensible gun control in America. (It has been decades since the NRA truly served gun owners, although genuine anarchist-type gun nuts still have a close friend and ally.) Many, many more will die. But I digress.

Never mind how the 12-year-old boy in Sparks, Nevada acquired the gun — it belonged to his parents. I am sure they obtained it legally. Like my home, the Commonwealth of Virginia, Nevada requires no permit to own a gun. In June, Nevada’s governor vetoed a bill that would have extended coverage of background checks, but maybe that wouldn’t have applied to the purchase of this gun anyway. Nevada has gun storage laws, and police are investigating the parents to determine if those laws were followed. The parents must already be devastated by what has happened — I doubt any court can punish them more severely than they are punishing themselves. Maybe they were friends with the teacher their boy murdered at point blank range before turning the gun on himself. Maybe not. Perhaps they play bridge with the parents of the children their son wounded. Who knows? Does it really matter? Lives have been destroyed.

The anger matters, the despair and the hopelessness that must fill anyone who picks up a weapon, loads it (or verifies that Dad already did), takes it to school, and turns it on their peers and teachers — that cannot be a happy place. How did a 12-year-old boy get that angry? How do any of them? We’ve failed them, haven’t we, the children? Our anger has become their anger. Our frustration has become their call to action. Many gun-toting parents teach their children how to “safely” handle firearms, but if we don’t also teach them how to appropriately channel rage and frustration, we’ve merely armed them against their sworn enemies.

Never mind why the 12-year-old boy was angry (sadly, bullying is emerging as the culprit again), the outcome is the same. We all want to understand what motivated this child to make murder-suicide his next project. We hold dear the delusion that if we understand why and how, we can prevent the tragedy from happening again. I shudder to think how many more school shootings the country will experience in the future, carried out with one motive or another. This will happen again, and again, and again.

Anger simmers in every corner of this country: anger at politician bullies who seem hell-bent on burning the government to the ground just to show everyone they can, anger at jobs that don’t pay a living wage, employers who cut hours to escape having to offer healthcare, layoff older workers to avoid the expense of a pension, and themselves earn millions while their employees languish in low-paying dead-end jobs. We’re angry about the exorbitant cost of higher education, angry at the lack of training and education our underfunded public schools provide, angry if our child has to pray in school, or angry if she isn’t allowed to pray. We’re angry about taxes, who should pay what, and how the money should be spent. Mostly, we are angry at the people who don’t look like us, love like us, think like us, shop like us, or vote like us, acting like they should be allowed to be treated just like us. The nerve of “the other” to believe they have any rights...

Our children witness our anger, how we express it and how we channel it. So how? How does a 12-year-old boy get that angry? So angry no one’s life matters, not even his own. So angry that bullets are his only means of communicating how he feels. Anger and hatred are bad for our health according to the Dalai Lama, and we all know he’s right. Anger doesn’t feel good, and it can lead to a whole host of physical ailments. It can also cause death by “lead poisoning,” and I’m not talking about eating paint chips here. What did this boy learn from his parents about controlling anger? Are mom and dad the “shoot ‘em all let God sort it out” type? (I doubt it.)  How about his friends? The school bullies? Did the boy learn to use violence to solve his problems from them, or a video game, a movie, a television show, THE LATEST FUCKING TV NEWS REPORT?

See, look, now I am angry too. But here’s what I won’t do about it. I won’t load my handgun and open fire on anyone. (Yes, I have one for home protection.) It’s easier for me though. I’m not in the throes of adolescence, enduring the taunts of bullies and the uncertainty of not knowing who I am or what I want to become, plus all the hormone surges that come with it. Don’t get me wrong, I deal with hormone surges everyday, but I know who I one defines me. And I’ve finally learned self-control. I can get mad as hell, but I no longer need to break shit, hit people, or enact revenge in order to channel that anger. The average child has not yet lived long enough to gain the same level of self-control. God knows, it took me more than one decade to get there.

So what can I do? What can any of us do to prevent the next school shooting, and the next one? How can we address the anger these children are absorbing from us? I think prioritizing children in our legislation sounds like a good place to start. We pretend to be a country that treasures our children, but the policies and laws of our land don’t fully support that notion. I have a friend who works for an organization called Every Child Matters, a non-partisan group who is “working to make public investments in children, youth, and families a national political priority.” The organization does many things, including monitoring legislation and elections to keep candidates and lawmakers focused on policies that promote education, feed hungry children, provide affordable healthcare, prevent violence against children, and work with families to lift themselves out of poverty. In addition to the education and outreach my friend does for Every Child Matters, she has also attended a number of debates, town hall meetings, and appearances during this gubernatorial campaign season, questioning the candidates about their positions on the issues that affect children and families. It’s a good way to bring the topic up for conversation and get people thinking about it. Unlike the gun manufacturers, children don’t have a powerful lobby of their own.

What if we made top-notch public education our number one priority as a nation? Private schools would be unnecessary (and the public-education-fund-sucking vouchers that go with them). Kids from every socioeconomic group would come together, have access to the same high quality of education, schools so good that every parent wants their child to go there. And the children would have the chance to learn with and about kids from neighborhoods other than their own, a chance to find common ground early in life, before the prejudice sets in.

What if nutrition and healthcare for our children meant more to us than an oil pipeline or paying “please like me” money to countries that will always hate America? What if we made sure to feed their bodies with healthy foods that maximize their growth potential for their entire childhood, not just the first two years? What if they had access to medical care and mental health care? What if the whole community prioritized their safety, not just in schools and parks, but at home, where the potential to do the most harm still lurks?

What if we got rid of all the guns?


Friday, October 18, 2013

Anger at the Edge of the Grand Canyon (In the Category of Mean What You Say.) #52Weeks

On November 16, 1995 I sat in an airport waiting to catch a flight to Arizona for a vacation. I and the three friends with whom I traveled were eager to return to the state for a longer stay – we had visited Phoenix for a weekend together a year earlier and fell in love with the desert. With a lengthier trip planned, we looked forward to revisiting the Tonto National Forest to navigate the Apache Trail, which winds through the Superstition Mountains, this time in a four-wheel drive. (The Lincoln Continental we used on the first trip handled the dirt roads just fine, but we wanted to do some proper four-wheeling, so we rented something with more ground clearance for the second trip.) We also planned to visit a few National Parks while we were there: Montezuma’s Castle National Park and Grand Canyon National Park in particular. I had been to the Grand Canyon with my family as a child, but I looked forward to seeing it with the eyes of an adult.

The flight out itself was an adventure. The hop from Roanoke, Virginia to the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina went smoothly, but the 747 we boarded to fly to Arizona broke as we ascended after takeoff – disconcerting thumping from beneath the plane and the cabin’s inability to pressurize led the captain to turn us around and request an emergency landing back at the Charlotte airport. One of my companions was a seasoned business traveler, so rather than wait for further instructions from the flight’s crew, she beat feet to the ticket counter and was first in line by the time they cancelled our original flight. The airline rerouted us with the assurance that we would be in Phoenix at some point that day, but we had to fly to Los Angeles, California and then board a plane heading east in order to reach the Valley of the Sun.

We landed in Phoenix in time to hear the local TV news announce that Congress had failed to reach an agreement, and the government was closed for business. Federal workers were furloughed, government agencies shut down, and most disturbing, they closed the National Parks, all of them, including Grand Canyon National Park. I was livid. How could they presume to close the Grand Canyon? The natural wonder, at its heart, is nothing more than a miles-long by mile-deep hole in the ground. It would take one hell of a tarp to cover that up.

Resolved to having fun in spite of Congress’s sabotage, we reworked our itinerary to visit state parks instead of national parks (Arizona is blessed with a number of them). The Apache Trail, also known as State Route 88, was still accessible, and loads more fun now that the option to go off road was open to us. We revisited the sleepy Best Western near Camp Verde and Montezuma’s Castle National park (which was closed) only to discover that it had become a noisy Native American run casino. I quickly fed twenty dollars into a voracious slot machine.
The Apache Trail snakes through the Superstition Mountains in Tonto National Forest, November 17, 1995.
We wound our way down (up?...around?)  the Yankee Doodle trail to Crown King and through the Prescott National Forest to the city of Prescott. From there, the drive to Sedona and on Schnebly Hill Road, which follows and the Mogollon (pronounced mon’-gee-yon) Rim was breathtaking – and with a four-wheel drive, no Pink Jeep Tour was needed to see the views. In Sedona, two nights before we were scheduled to fly home, we heard the news: the Grand Canyon would reopen the next day. The state of Arizona planned to foot the bill to avoid losing the millions of tourist dollars that the canyon brings in. We packed the Toyota 4Runner and immediately headed north to Flagstaff.

We were among the first cars to arrive at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon on the day it reopened, November 20, 1995. The worker at the entrance thanked us profusely for coming. His relief at being back on the job was palpable. We motored our way from one incredible vista to the next and stopped at every souvenir shop we encountered. In one shop, I struck up a conversation with the woman operating the cash register who appeared to be close to me in age. As she rang up the silver flake and turquoise jewelry I had selected she, like the man at the entrance, thanked me for being there.

“Thanks for re-opening,” I replied, and I explained I was from Virginia. “We were horrified when the park closed right after our arrival,” I told her.

“So were we,” she said in earnest. Then she told me her story as she wrapped my purchases. She was a single mother with three school-aged children. They lived on a reservation not far from the Grand Canyon, and her job at the souvenir shop in Grand Canyon Village (which I assume paid at or close to the minimum wage) was their sole means of income. They lived paycheck to paycheck, she had no savings, and the four days she had been off the job were already having an impact on her ability to pay upcoming bills. Unlike salaried federal workers, she would not be getting any “back pay.” For her, the hours lost were simply that – lost – money that she had not been allowed to earn while Congress chose the politics of obstruction over anything that resembled leadership.
The close of a beautiful day at Grand Canyon National Park Nov. 20, 1995
I was angry with my government on her behalf for the rest of the vacation. We finally made it to Montezuma’s Castle National Park, also newly reopened, first thing in the morning on our last day. (We had hours before we had to get to the airport to catch an evening flight home.) Everything about the ruins, Native American cliff dwellings, felt ancient. I easily imagined ghosts, long dead, whispering among the rocks, in the rustling leaves of sycamore trees, and the babbling flow of Beaver Creek. The ruins provided evidence of people who lived in North America hundreds of years before European settlers invaded and eventually imposed a form of government that, while admirable in its defined self-evident truths, did nothing to protect the native peoples then, and to this day, does nothing to protect any of its citizens from paying the price for its own self-created crises.
Beaver Creek carved the canyon that houses Montezuma's Castle, Camp Verde, AZ, Nov. 21, 1995
I penned the angry letter in my head as we flew east. I committed it to paper as soon as I got home, and I sent a copy to all of my elected officials: my congressman, both of my senators, and my president. I told them about the lady cashier, about the man at the entrance to the Grand Canyon, their visible relief at being allowed to return to jobs that probably barely sustained them financially. I berated my leaders for their stubbornness, their partisanship, and their myopic, self-interested vision where the only people that mattered were the ones in Washington D.C., people like themselves rather than the people that had hired them to lead. Because this was 1995, I addressed envelopes and licked stamps, dropped my letters in the mail, and waited. I heard back from everyone except my Congressman, but none of the platitude-filled letters mollified me.

Time passed; the world continued to spin. The shutdown ended, and the country returned to its version of normal. Yet here I am, nearly eighteen years later, and the nice cashier has been on my mind since October 1, when Congress once again failed to lead and caused the Grand Canyon to “close.” I have counted the days for her and wondered how badly ten days without pay hurt? Is she even still a cashier at the Grand Canyon Village souvenir shop? Perhaps one or two of her children now work for the park. There’s not much else there, in the high desert near the Grand Canyon -- just a big hole in the ground that brings millions of people and millions of dollars to the state. While the jobs might pay minimum wage or a dollar or two more, they are, by and large, the only jobs around. Yet once again, our leadership put their own agenda ahead of America, shut down the government and shrugged at the notion that it could actually hurt this country.

I’m angrier this time than last, but I didn’t write any letters. (Or, maybe I daily Tweets to that idiot House Speaker, John Boehner, count?) My youthful exuberance has been replaced by cynicism, and I now know better than to believe anything would come of the effort. (Besides, who can afford the stamps these days?) I’ve heard more than one person say the shut down is no big deal, “they’ll get back pay,” but that isn’t true of everyone that the closure affected. In these ideological fights, it’s the poorest, the hardest working Americans that get shafted. Ted Cruz didn’t miss a nickel of his pay, so to him it means nothing – a political stunt; I am sure he enjoyed the attention. As far as he and his supporters are concerned, no one really got hurt. But I know better. I met them once, and the next generation works there now: the cashier at the souvenir shop and the man that takes the money at the gate to the really big hole in the ground. I know what it looks like, the relief in their eyes when they are finally allowed to return to work. There is no anger at the edge of the Grand Canyon, just gratitude that a way past the impasse has been found and the tourists have returned. Once again, earrings need to be rung up, wrapped, and bagged. The clock gets punched, wages are earned, and a single mother has money to feed her children.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Pumpkin Seeds (In the category of Want What You Have.) #52Weeks

Pumpkin everything! You know what I mean—October. If it isn’t pink for breast cancer awareness, it’s pumpkin spice something. The Pumpkin Growers Lobby did a bang up job this year. This season, the list of pumpkin flavored promotional foods dazzles: ubiquitous pumpkin spice latte, pumpkin cream cheese muffins, pumpkin bread, pumpkin scones, "Harvest Pumpkin Soup," pumpkin ice cream, for crying out loud.  Now I like pumpkin well enough – pumpkin pie is not my favorite, but it doesn’t suck.  (I like apple pie the best.) I bake pumpkin whoopee pies with cream cheese filling at Thanksgiving, served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. They are delicious.
This is one of the most creative and appropriate uses of pumpkin I have seen.
For many years, I saw pumpkins more as a toy than as food. I probably missed out on some delicious meals.  Blame the carving of Jack-o-Lanterns. It was, and remains, an annual tradition at my house. But somehow, after plunging my hands into the sticky, slimy muck, scraping the stringy sides clean with dirty fingernails, and heaving the goop into a bowl, I had no interest in eating the firm, sweetish smelling, tangerine colored flesh, and I guess neither did Mom as she never cooked it. Mom would toast the seeds, though. After the Jack-o-Lantern’s face had been penciled on the slick rind and painstakingly carved out with serrated knives, our attention would turn to the bowl of goop.

I actually liked this part best. During the carving phase, my older sister always got to wield the knife, supervised by Mom. I could only watch and suggest spots that needed to be trimmed to clear the eyes or make the mouth more jagged and leering. For the cleaning of the seeds, though, Sis and I were each given our own bowls of goop to work with. I believed I was faster at this, my fingers more nimble than hers, not having used the muscles needed to plunge a steak knife through inch-thick pumpkin rind.

More slippery than the web of tendrils that suspended them in the cavernous interior of the pumpkin, the hard seeds detached with a satisfying plunk into a clean metal bowl. I liked to leave a little dab of pumpkin flesh on the seed hull, knowing it would crisp up and be a lovely salty sweet morsel later. When we had threshed enough seeds, Mom would combine our bowls, season the yield with salt and vegetable oil and spread the mixture on a cookie sheet.

Some minutes later, the warm kitchen filling with the scent of pumpkin, Mom would pull the toasted seeds out of the oven, steaming and golden. She divvied the seeds between four brown paper lunch bags, one for each of us, Sis, me, Mom, and Dad. She sprinkled a touch more salt in each bag, folded the tops, and shook the seeds to coat them evenly.

“They have to cool first,” she admonished as we grabbed for our bags. You’ll burn your mouths.”

After sunset, Mom would place the sculpted pumpkin next to the front door and put flame to the votive candle centered in the belly of the Jack-o-Lantern to check the quality of the carving. We munched toasted pumpkin seeds from our paper bags and admired the effects of flickering light and jagged outlines, confident that “Jack” (as he was always named) would scare away the demons for another year.

These days I light two Jack-o-Lanterns – I’ve taught my husband to carve them. They serve as a beacon to all trick-or-treaters: Free Candy Here. I live in a target-rich neighborhood, and I only give the good stuff: Kit Kats, Hershey’s miniatures, and my favorite, Smarties. I miss trick-or-treating, and not because of the candy. (Let’s face it, not everyone gives the good stuff.) I miss the whole Halloween Costume drama. First you have to decide who or what to be.  Then the process of acquiring the actual costume takes hold, and depending on how much time you gave yourself, this can be wildly frustrating or refreshingly spontaneous. Finally, the execution of the design and its success can make or break the evening.

I’ve won a costume contest or two. The “pair o’ dice” costume I made from two TV boxes (this is pre-flat screens, when TV boxes were still square), white contact paper, and black construction paper netted my new boyfriend and I a bottle of Rumple Minze schnapps. A few years later we won again: I was a bottle of red wine, and he went as a corkscrew. That was probably the height of my Halloween costume creativity. The cork hat I constructed weighed more than my neck could tolerate. (By contrast, the floor length, bottle green net skirt over a matching green sleeveless leotard, red tights, and red stilettos weighed nothing...if the weather had not been unseasonably warm that October, I would have been miserably rather than perfectly chilled.) We won tequila that year.

It’s been years since I entered a Halloween costume contest. I have a festive cardigan vest with satin witches hats, pumpkins, and ghosts that I don before distributing the average 5.9 pounds of candy that I dole out each year. Instead, I enjoy the creativity of the kids today. I count the number of zombies, vampires, Harry Potters, Hokie football players, fairy princesses, pirates, and animals. My husband and I hold a secret costume contest for each ring of the doorbell (they come in packs of three or four). We have a special look he and I exchange – mutual agreement – and the winning little beggar gets a double handful of candy in their sack.

I keep my fingernails much cleaner these days. Better, I have mastered the use of kitchen tools, which means I don’t actually need to involve my fingernails at all – a spoon suffices to scrape the inside of the pumpkin clean. My husband and I have different styles for scary Jack-o-Lantern faces – we place one pumpkin on each side of our front porch steps – a bit more light for the awkward fairy princesses with gowns longer than their stride.  But once gutted, scarred, and exposed to the chilly October night air, a pumpkin becomes inedible.

The seeds, though, slipped from their bonds, oiled, salted, and toasted low and slow…they are delicious. One can eat them in-husk, a chewy, fibrous experience that is still very palatable – and colon cleansing. Or, with strong fingernails, one can shell them, revealing delicate green endosperm and embryo, more slender than a sunflower, sweeter, and trickier to extract unbroken. They taste lovely on my Harvest Spinach Salad and in cookies. The time needed to shell even a ½ cup’s worth makes them a true food of love.

We plan to hit the pumpkin patch next weekend. I think I will look for a smallish one to cook with, or, perhaps juice. In addition, my husband and I will each decide on our own perfect size and shape to sculpt this year’s Jack-o-Lanterns. We get fewer trick-or-treaters these days…the neighbor children are growing up, but we still need to scare away the demons for another year. And I need toasted pumpkin seeds.

Last year's Jack-o-Lanterns


Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
For each cup of fresh raw unrinsed pumpkin seeds add:
1 tablespoon canola, vegetable or corn oil.
1 teaspoon butter, melted
2 teaspoons kosher salt

Heat an oven to 250º F. Toss the seeds, oil, butter, and salt in a bowl until the seeds are coated. Spread the mixture evenly on a baking sheet and bake for 20-30 minutes, stirring every 5-7 minutes to brown evenly.  Seeds should be golden brown and crispy when done. Toss with additional salt to taste. Cool and serve in shell or hulled. Brown paper lunch bags make an excellent serving vessel, but a paper towel lined bowl works well also. 

Harvest Spinach Salad
For each serving (amount to preference), put in a salad bowl the following:
1/3 to ½ C. Fresh baby spinach leaves, washed and patted dry
2-3 Tablespoons cubed roasted butternut squash (warm or chilled)
1-2 Tablespoons dried cranberries
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh apple that has been lightly coated in lemon juice to prevent oxidation
2 Tablespoons crumbled bleu cheese
2 Teaspoons shelled toasted pumpkin seeds
Toss with 1/8-1/4 C. Raspberry Balsamic vinaigrette*.

*I cheat here and combine 1 C. of Newman’s Own Light Raspberry Vinaigrette with a tablespoon or two (to taste) of balsamic vinegar…it’s really good.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Art, Envy, and Focus (In the category of Mean What You Say.) #52Weeks

Andrea Badgley’s regular hashtag #morningpages usually hits my Twitter feed around the time I am shutting the tablet and readying to prepare a face to face the day. I admit I feel a twinge of envy whenever I see it. I imagine she’s finally bustled the spouse and offspring to their daytime commitments, the breakfast cereal bowls have been washed, dried, and returned to their proper place. The house is still fragrant from the last cup of coffee in the pot and the whiff of toast, or toaster strudel. I don’t really know what she serves her family for breakfast.

She’s sitting at a computer, or so I assume. She’s Tweeting, so she’s probably put down the pad and pencil for a more modern implement. (I like that she still uses a pad and pencil from time to time – or pen? I do too. I feel it’s important to keep sharp the skill of penmanship. Plus, sometimes the words just flow better in long-hand.) And she’s writing, which is the admitted source of my envy. Here I am, preparing to take a shower, contemplating the wisdom (or folly) of ironing clothes that will wrinkle the moment I sit, mentally running through the day’s to-do list both at work and at home, and she’s writing her #morningpages. She could write all day if she chose to, or at least until the family returns home and distracts her with the happenings of their day.

Andrea, no doubt, identifies herself in many ways: woman, wife, mother, daughter, but to me she is, first and foremost, a writer. She has disciplined herself to find the time for #morningpages and the continuing study of her craft. I’m jealous sometimes. I admit it. Not in a hateful way, though. I enjoy reading Andrea’s accounts of the writer’s workshops she finds the time to attend and of the many books that she budgets into her allotted 1,440 minutes per day (the amount of time we are all given diurnally) to read. I love that she takes an “art day” once a week to explore a new, artistic place, person, or object and use it to inspire the creative muse. If I could find the time to play hooky, I’d want to tag along with her one day.

Her blog, Butterfly Mind, is one of my favorites. The blog’s name could imply unfocused transience – posts that flit disconnectedly from one topic to another, but in fact, the opposite is true. Andrea has found focus for her writing, as sharp and pinpointed as a spotlight. She writes about her life as she sees it through her unique filter. The ease with which the reader can follow her posts belies the difficulty I know she endures to craft each well-written sentence – a strict adherence to voice and tone, pace and structure. Andrea grounds her imagery in the five senses – I can smell the coffee shop, I can feel the worn smoothness of the rolling pins.

I can’t wait to read what she has to say on the topic of pie. Will my mouth water? Will my stomach rumble hungrily? Will I be struck by the fit to bake a pie of my own? Regardless, I know the post will be focused, artistic, tightly crafted, and I wish that I could say the same for my own posts.

Thirty-two weeks ago I took on the #52Weeks challenge to bully myself back into a writing habit. The self-imposed hebdomadal deadline provided an excuse to carve some time out of my day’s allotted 1,440 minutes to write. It’s what writer’s do, right? We sit down to a blank screen or notepad, summon the muse by whatever means necessary, and create spaces, populate them, circumscribe them to rules of law and nature that exist solely within the writer’s imagination. It’s good fun. Really.

So each week, I write – not necessarily every day (I’m working on that). Each week, I post – #52Weeks. Weekly, at the instant that I hit “publish,” the familiar insecurities revisit. Did I miss a typo? Does the piece have substance? Did I just waste everybody’s time? Does anyone even read it?

The genre of my posts varies by my mood and availability of topic. I have published biographical memoir-style remembrances, creative non-fiction, opinions both political and trite, poems, and short stories. My father’s obituary was all I could manage to write during that horrible week in March. I made it count. #52Weeks. But as a collection, the posts lack focus. The blog suffers from an identity crisis – it doesn’t know what it wants to be, primarily because I don’t know either.

On the one hand, I’m meeting my goal; the writer’s habit is forming. The time it takes away from other areas in my life has begun to generate conflict, but I’ll manage that somehow, sleep a bit less, turn away from the television a bit more. On the other hand penning just anything for the sake of a deadline doesn’t provide the focus I need to take my writing to the next level, and as I type the phrase, I confess, I have no idea what that means. I only know that at the end of #52Weeks, I need to have a plan for the next writing project(s).

This blog space needs to have a focus, a raison d’être. And I need goals – concrete, deadline-oriented milestones for my writing. If I am determined to allocate precious minutes to this supremely selfish act, I want to spend the time well, with focus and purpose, even if that purpose is simply to tell an amusing tale or spin webs of imagery – pluck the perfect word from the lexicon and arrange it bouquet-like on the page with other, equally ideal locutions – a garden of verses, though no longer a child’s.

I have a few ideas of where to go from here as a writer. The idea of #12Contests popped into my head not long ago, and that feels like a suitable goal for the upcoming year. I’ll post the pieces that don’t win and link to the ones that do. (Did you see what I did there? The power of positive thinking....) A one month cycle to produce well-written, thoroughly proofed, and studiously edited poetry, fiction, or vignettes seems doable – if I have learned nothing this past 32 weeks, I have at least learned that seven days is nowhere near enough time to write a tight short story.

As a blogger, my goals are not as clearly defined. I don’t want to lose my weekly habit, but by the end of the next 20 weeks, I am certain I will have tired of pushing myself simply to meet an arbitrary deadline. I’ve got to cogitate on next steps, search for clarity, and make some decisions about why I started writing this blog in the first place and why it matters to me to keep at it. It’s time to quiet the cacophony of different genres, settle on a voice (okay, maybe two) for the space and focus, focus, focus.

But in the meantime...


[Two notes: First, a big thank you to Andrea for that gem of a tweet yesterday. You didn’t know I was writing this or where it was going, but you threw me the hook anyway. Second, here’s what Andrea had to say about pie. And now I want a slice – cherry – with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.]