Sunday, February 18, 2018

Defining home.

The concept of home has been on my mind a fair amount lately -- ever since I closed a chapter in my own life by selling my interest in the house in which I grew up. I tell the story in the memoir I'm working on, so you'll get to read it eventually. But now I find myself in an odd position: for the first time in my life, I have the opportunity to define my own home.

For many people, I think, this is a no-brainer. Home is where they grew up -- the place where their parents still live, maybe, and where they return for family holidays. The house I grew up in doesn't have that kind of resonance for me. I moved out nearly forty years ago; for the first twenty of those years, I worked in radio, and scheduling prevented me from forming the habit of returning home for the holidays. Then, too, my father has been dead for more than thirty years; my mother, for ten. If you define home as people more than place, my childhood home has been gone for many, many years.

By my age, a lot of people have bought a house (or two) and settled in for several decades -- and then that structure becomes home. But owing to those years I spent in radio, moving from city to city and from job to job, I was rarely able to settle in one place for long enough to make that kind of planning possible. So for the most part, I've parked my stuff in a succession of rental properties. And while they all met the need at the time, and while I called them home in a colloquial sense ("I got home at..." or "I'll be home tonight" or something like that), they were never places where I put down roots for very long.

Again, if home is people more than place, then of course I'm home when I'm with my daughters. But it's different now that they're adults. We all live in the same apartment for now, but they have their own interests and friends, their own way of doing things -- as they should. It's natural and normal and I'm not sad about it. But home feels different than it did when they were little.

And now that I'm getting close to retirement age, I have an opportunity to define a place that might very well be home for the rest of my life. I'm without touchstones for this task. There's no need to base my decision on the usual factors: proximity to the job or to good schools. I almost need to rewrite my list of must-have and would-be-nice features.

And I have the whole, wide world to choose from, in a way that's never been available to me before. Sure, many places are impractical or impossible for one reason or another -- too hot, too cold, too expensive -- but that still leaves a lot of options.

It's all a little daunting.

I told a friend not long ago that my decision will ultimately come down to way the place feels when I get out of the car and put my feet on the ground. When the earth there reaches up and grabs me and draws those roots out of my soul, that's when I'll know I've come home.

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These moments of homey blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

A taste of memoir.

I've been slaving away over a hot keyboard all day, finishing the cut-and-paste job on the memoir. It's going to be called Mom's House and it covers the period from January 1998, when my mother was hospitalized with colon cancer, until a couple of weeks ago, when the hassle over her estate and her house was finally resolved.

I mentioned last week that I've been writing this thing in bits and pieces as events unfolded. That's been very useful; as the details were fresh in my mind when I wrote everything down, I'm reasonably sure that my recollection of events is accurate. But I'd also included some stuff that, in retrospect, won't push the narrative along. So it hasn't been a straight cut-and-paste job -- I've had to edit as I go.

And then there were the little stories that I'd forgotten about until I ran across them in the journal entries. Here's one tidbit. It takes place during the summer of 1998, after my mother's second cancer surgery. I'd taken the summer off (thank you, Family and Medical Leave Act) to help her with her recovery and to drive her to radiation appointments. My daughters had spent the first month of the summer with their father, who was living with his new wife in Buffalo, NY.

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Aquilitan | CC0 | Pixabay

In the midst of the radiation treatments, I had to pick up the kids.  I drove from Michigan City to Buffalo in a single day, stopping in Cleveland for a couple of hours to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  I stayed overnight in Buffalo and planned to pick up the kids the next morning and drive back to Mom’s.  Somewhere along the way, I concocted a plan to make the trip fun for the girls: I decided we could go wading in each of the Great Lakes.

Bruce and his wife were civil to me; they were giving up on Bruce finding a job in Buffalo and were moving back to the D.C. area as soon as his previous employer hired him back. The girls said goodbye and piled in the car, and we were off.

We drove all over downtown Buffalo, looking for a spot to put our feet in Lake Erie (something I wouldn’t have tried a decade or so before, for fear that pollution would have left me with no feet). Finally, we found one. We got our feet wet and I took a picture. Then we drove to Niagara Falls and stopped for a look. The girls had visited the Canadian side earlier in the summer with their dad, his wife, and her kids; they described going up to the top of the CN Tower to see the view.

We crossed into Canada and headed for our next target, Lake Ontario. This one was easy – we drove right past a little neighborhood beach and parked long enough to stick our feet in and get a picture.

Driving across Ontario, the girls fell asleep. I hit a blinding rainstorm and a road construction detour at almost exactly the same time; I spent a nerve-wracking hour or so following the tail lights of an eighteen-wheeler and hoping he wasn’t leading me off the road.

Eventually, the sky cleared and I could relax. We made it to Sarnia and Lake Huron at dinnertime. The beach was closed because the storm had created an undertow, but the lifeguards let us put our feet in and get our picture. We stopped for dinner at McDonald’s, marveling at the Happy Meal bags in two languages. Then we got back in the car and kept driving, getting back to Mom’s safely, if late.

Nailing Lake Michigan was no problem. We walked down to the beach and got that picture sometime before the end of the summer.

Unfortunately, I had never put film in the camera. So the pictures of our wet feet live only in our memories.

***

It's going to be a while before the book comes out. It's still in pretty rough shape, and I'm not talking just about story continuity. I didn't know as much about formatting then as I do now. The early entries have a ton of tab stops and extra spaces after periods, and they are all going to have to come out. But at least the heavy lifting is done. Now, maybe, I can relax.

Relax? Oh haha. I kill myself sometimes.


Sunday, February 4, 2018

Hey, it's a knitting post.

I know y'all are all about the big sportsball match this evening, so here's a post that has nothing at all to do with it.

It looks like the last time I did a knitting post was in September. I've been busy since then with several projects -- including the Main Street shawl, which was partly done then. Here's what it looks like, all finished.


I moved on then to the Architexture shawl. This pattern caught my eye months ago, but I'd put off knitting it until I found the right yarn. Then it occurred to me that I'd picked up a suitable yarn at Maryland Sheep and Wool last spring and hadn't even realized it would work for this pattern. Here's a shot of the finished project.



Please excuse my sour expression. I really do like the way the shawl turned out. I was concentrating on a new photography technique -- grabbing a frame from a video to use as a still photo -- and forgot to smile.

The Architexture worked up pretty fast, but I had to put it on hiatus for a few weeks in December to work on another project -- that Craftvent Calendar shawl I mentioned here at the end of November.

The back story for the Craftvent shawl is this: My daughter Amy found the product online and decided to buy one for herself. It didn't take much urging for me to get one, too. She ordered the "jewel tone" colorway and I got the "wintergreen" one.

Mine turned out fine. I liked most of the colors but -- as usual -- I ran out of yarn in the first lace section. I finally figured out that I'm too generous with yarn when I do a yarnover; once I tamed my tendency to make those extra stitches REALLY BIG, I did okay. Amy, however, disliked her colors -- she was expecting a range of saturated colors and, well, did not get them. Plus she ran out of yarn, too. In fact, a lot of people ran out of yarn. The place we ordered the kits from had to ship packets of extra yarn to a lot of folks.

When I got to my last ball of yarn, it turned out to be the precise shade of neon green that I actively avoid. So Amy, bless her heart, went spelunking in her stash and found a bright blue-green that worked just fine. Here's mine. If Amy ever finishes hers, I'll post a photo of it, too.


To be honest, I'm impressed that I got so many projects done, considering I spent a huge chunk of the fall working on a shawl called the Find Your Fade. I'd picked up the kit at Maryland Sheep and Wool in the spring, and did not fully understand how big a shawl 1,500 yards of fingering weight yarn would make. To give you an idea of how massive this thing is, the piece of furniture with the drawers in the photo below is 44 inches wide.


It's wonderful to wrap up in, but it's impractical to wear to work. I've been leaving it next to my desk at home to wear while I write.

Right now I'm working on some little stuff. I used up some of the leftover yarn from the Architexture and Main Street shawls by making a pair of fingerless gloves. I also knitted myself a new hat and am working on a gaiter-style cowl to go with it. The pattern has a bunch of yarnovers in it. We'll see if I have enough yarn to finish the cowl. Fingers crossed...

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I'm also working on a memoir. I can't remember whether I've mentioned this project before, but it's something I've been working on for probably 15 years, off and on, as the story unfolded. Events have recently reached a denouement, so I feel like it's time to wrap up the book. This weekend, I started the process of cutting, pasting, and rewriting the original material. It's gonna be a ton of work, but it will be rewarding in the end -- to me, anyway.

Have a great week, everyone, and may the best sportsball team win.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Indie author since 1965.

Before Seized... before SwanSong... even before The Maidens' War... there was Susie and the Talking Doll.

I included the story of this little book in my author bio on Amazon, but I've never shared it here on the blog. Earlier today, someone in a Facebook authors' group shared a photo of the first book he ever wrote as a kid, and it reminded me of my own first book. What's more, I knew exactly where it was. Or rather, I thought I knew; it turned out to be in a box on the bottom of a stack of boxes in the farthest recesses of my most inaccessible closet. It's no longer in pristine condition -- the bottom part of the cover has been lost over the years -- but I think it looks pretty good for having been written on a cheap, unlined tablet of paper more than 50 years ago.


I got the idea from Kenneth Barnes, who sat in front of me in second grade. One day he brought in a book he'd written. I have no idea what it was about -- robots or something, I suppose. But I remember looking at his book and thinking, "I could do that." So I did.

If I were to write a blurb for Susie and the Talking Doll, it would go something like this: "Six-year-old Susie tells everyone she is going to get a talking doll for Christmas -- and she does! Patty has a ponytail and a dress just like Susie's, and not only does this doll talk, she has a mind of her own. Together, Susie and Patty go on amazing adventures, many of which involve doing the jerk to Beatles records."

I'm not kidding about them doing the jerk -- the '60s version, obviously, not the hip-hop one. If you're unfamiliar with the dance, here's a video from "American Bandstand" that shows how it's done. (I found a video on YouTube from just a couple of years ago in which some guy tried to teach it, but he misses the point. It's not just about waving your arms up and down. If you do it right, your back gets a little hitch in it on the downswing.)

Anyway, what's interesting to me now about this book is how well I did with the mechanics of it. I used quotation marks and other punctuation correctly, and nearly all the words are spelled right. We hadn't learned about paragraphs yet, however, so each chapter is one long paragraph.

I'm fascinated by my prescience about certain things. I put the table of contents in the back of the book. That's something indie authors sometimes do these days so that the downloadable sample isn't taken up by front matter, although the reason I did it here is because I forgot to leave a blank page for it between the cover and the first page of the story. Also, as you can see in the photo, I priced this book at $1.00 -- just a penny more than several of my, uh, newer titles.

I will not be republishing Susie and the Talking Doll. The story needs heavy editing -- for one thing, there's not much of a plot -- and I'd have to find an illustrator, as the original pictures just aren't up to professional standards. (Interestingly, my drawing style hasn't improved much over the intervening decades.)

But there you go -- my very first foray into publishing. It's almost like I was meant to be an indie author from the start. Thanks, Ken Barnes, wherever you are.

***

On a sad note: For the past several years, I've been involved with an anthology group under the auspices of Five59 Publishing and its founder, Alan Seeger. I'm sorry to report that Alan died last week at the age of 58.

Alan had significant health challenges -- he was a paraplegic due to an auto accident -- but he was always upbeat whenever I talked with him online. He was tireless in encouraging new writers, and our anthologies were the better for it.

The last book Alan published before his death was the paperback version of 13 Bites Vol. V. He also wrote a sci-fi trilogy, the first book of which is called Pinball and which I enjoyed quite a bit. In addition, he co-authored several other novels and published a collection of essays. You can find all his books, as well as the Five59 anthologies, on his Amazon author page.

With Alan's death, indie publishing has lost a loyal and eminently capable friend. R.I.P., Alan. We'll miss you.

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These moments of bloggy reflection have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.