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Anticipation

Once we get into February, it’s always the same for me. Utter elation when the sun shines, pervasive gloom when it’s gray, and the urge to do something to hasten spring. Yesterday I had that urge. Of course there’s nothing you can really do to get the leave back on the trees and wake your garden up. But when the birds start singing mating tunes, it feels as though the time for sitting around is over.

So yesterday I got out of the house. I stocked up on birdseed to make sure all those lovely little birds would visit my yard. And, oh, they have. Cardinals and chickadees, downy woodpeckers and white-breasted nuthatches, juncos and house finches. Their energetic hopping and flitting about makes me ready to do the same.

I also stopped by a greenhouse in town and got some little succulents for my petite vintage windowsill planters. Why succulents? They’re easy, they’re cheap, and in the summertime I can re-pot them together in an arrangement and place them outside if I want to. Beyond that, I’m used to getting succulents from the days our cat ate everything else that was green.

Now when I look out my office window toward the bare backyard, I see a preview of green and a tiny world that is busily getting ready for warmer weather. Perhaps I should get busy on my own nest. Someone hand me a sander and a paintbrush…

A February First

I’m not sure when I’ve been quite this chipper on the first day of February — especially with no snow on the ground. I’m finally shaking a week long sickness, I’ve hit the ground running with a revision of a work-in-progress, and the birds have been singing their springtime songs. Yesterday afternoon (and into the evening) I cleaned out and cleared off my desk while bingeing on Design on a Dime. (Aside: Do you know that both bingeing and binging are acceptable, yet WordPress claims both are misspellings?)

Perhaps I’m feeling peppy because my own personal new year starts today. All of my overwhelming activities I stepped back from last year are truly done now and I have the delightful feeling of a carnival pony that’s been released from the wheel that kept me going around in circles and I can now follow where my fancy leads me. And this month it is leading me to get my next manuscript in shape, get the house in order, and check off a couple more items on my list of things to do before we possibly put the house on the market later this year.

The January thaw has us delirious with thoughts of spring even though we know better. Still, it was lovely yesterday to wear a light jacket to church and imagine the season to come. It should be in the low 40s the next few days, with wind and rain, but winter should return later this month. And that’s all for the good. I have firewood yet to burn…

A Whirlwind Weekend at WOTRC

Write on the Red Cedar 2016

During the past week of blog silence I have been preparing for, participating in, and recovering from Write on the Red Cedar. It was a great conference, starting Friday afternoon with a four-hour workshop led by Bob Mayer, a quick bite at the State Room bar, and a fun mixer that evening.

Much of my time Saturday was taken up with manuscript reviews. I had read portions of eight manuscripts during the past week and made revision suggestions, then met with each writer at the conference to discuss what I thought was working and what I would work on next to bring it to the next level. Those meetings seemed to go very well, and the hope the writers who took advantage of that conference extra found it worth their while.

I also gave a workshop talk on taking your writing to the next level as part of CCWA’s Finish the Damn Book track. The room was packed and I managed to get through a lot of material in an hour (though that particular talk should really be at least 90 minutes, I think).

At the end of the day I ran an author/agent panel, had an intimate little dinner at the State Room with other presenters and volunteers, and then a swanky VIP party with wine, fancy hors d’oeuvres, and a six-foot wide gas fireplace flickering. And all throughout I ran to and fro chatting with conference goers, ecstatically greeting those I had invited from far-flung Michigan cities that I hadn’t known were really coming until I’d stuffed conference folders Thursday night and saw their names, and trying  to be helpful in general.

All of the talking, shaking hands, rushing around, and very little sleep for two nights in a row meant that by Sunday morning I was definitely coming down with something. Sunday afternoon I napped on and off for a few hours in front of a roaring fire at home, had dinner, watched Downton Abbey, went to sleep promptly at 10:30, and didn’t get up until 9 AM this morning, feeling a bit better, but not 100% just yet.

And so now it’s another week. The last week of January. I have a few little things left to finish up in the renovation of the Heritage Room at church, an article to write for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and some editing to do. Come February 1, though, it should all be finished and that, my friends, will be my New Year’s Day.

When it feels like the end, that’s only the beginning

Counting down the days until Write on the Red Cedar 2016, which starts this Friday in East Lansing. This will be my third year attending (it’s only three years old) and second year presenting. Earlier this month I was on the WOTRC blog answering some questions about success, failure, the books I’ve read the most, and more. Click here to read it.

Beyond WOTRC, I have articles to work on for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association before the month is up, and I’m still finishing up the renovations in our chapel at church. Just have window treatments and a little touch-up painting to go. When I looked ahead to January back at the end of last year and saw the commitments I had already made, I decided that February 1st was going to be my new year, my fresh start. That’s the month I plan to bring back some good habits I’ve had in the past, namely getting up earlier and using the quiet morning time alone to read, write, pray, and journal.

On the bedtime story front, the boy and I are smack dab in the middle of Watership Down and things are looking bleak. Holly’s team has just come back from Efrafa with many injuries but no does, and Hazel’s been shot after the raid at Nuthanger Farm. As I closed the book Saturday night, Calvin’s voice wavered as he wondered what would happen now. “Don’t worry,” I said. “This is just the beginning of the most exciting part of the story.” It’s a cliché that things are always darkest before the dawn, but that is often how the story goes, isn’t it?

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the US. Race relations have taken a serious hit in the past five years. Or perhaps the wider culture is just now noticing how bad things still are despite the work of Dr. King and countless other people who devoted their lives to seeking justice and equality in this country. The national mood must seem a lot like it did fifty or sixty years ago. Indeed, things look strikingly similar. Racial unrest, a long military conflict overseas from which we cannot seem to extricate ourselves, prominent political figures calling for the profiling and restriction of those with differing beliefs. I find it difficult to be optimistic.

Yet, what can make us rise to the occasion like opposition?

The rabbits of Watership Down will have to use all of their courage and cunning to save their warren. They cannot give way to fear, or they’re through. There’s only one way forward, and it’s down the most treacherous road. There are no guarantees of success. But to not go down the road at all means certain failure.

Don’t those make the best stories? When there is no choice but to walk through the fire?

There is nothing like a hard winter to make the spring all the more glorious.

There’s alone…and there’s alone.

I’m alone a lot. This is not a problem for me. Usually. I like being alone to work. I must have some measure of alone time to read and write. But there is such a thing as too much alone.

When I was a child I planned to live alone when I grew up. Well, not alone exactly. I would live with animals—a horse or two, dogs of many breeds (all of which I had already named), perhaps a mountain lion . . .

I’d live in Montana where I would enjoy a vast view of mountains and forests and fields stretching off in every direction, a wisp of chimney smoke on a dim, far hillside the only indication of habitation in sight. I would heat my small cabin with a woodstove and read by candlelight.

No humans ever factored into my plans, not even my own family, not even as visitors. No means of supporting myself did either. Though I knew with certainty that I’d be running what would amount to a modest animal sanctuary, I never considered that I might need to buy dog food or pay a veterinarian or use a phone or flush a toilet.

One of the special qualities of childhood—one that I miss—is the unabashed embrace of total impracticality. No need to bother oneself about such petty concerns as money when there was fun to be had outdoors.

Another childhood tendency I miss is utter ignorance of the law of non-contradiction. At the same time I envisioned a solitary life of riding across foothills with an eclectic pack of happy dogs at my steed’s heels, I imagined I would be also be a noted explorer and photographer for National Geographic, a bestselling author, a chart-topping singer, and once, after watching Elvis Stojko doing backflips and landing quadruple toe loops (often while wearing tight leather pants), an Olympic gold medal figure skater, despite the fact I’d never ice skated in my life.

Whatever I did, I was confident of enjoying simultaneous worldwide fame and complete anonymity and solitude. Perhaps I thought my many admirers would write me letters that I would pick up once a month at a distant post office in a town with one blinking red traffic light.

I don’t think I have to tell you that none of this came to be. I have never owned a horse or a mountain lion. I have had one dog of mixed breed that already had a name. My small back yard looks into the back windows of a TV news station on a corner serenaded by the constant din of traffic on the four lane highway to the north and the expressway to the east.

I’ve never even visited Montana.

Except for the couple months leading up to my wedding, I’ve never lived alone.

Not long after Elvis Stojko captured the silver medal in Lillehammer (damn you, Alexei Urmanov), I met a funny, self-assured, dark-eyed young man during the auditions for Arsenic and Old Lace at my high school and thoughts of living alone vaporized. Five years later we were married, he was in seminary, and I was finishing a delightfully impractical undergraduate degree in English. Soon after that, we started having mice as pets. Eight years later, he was a pastor, I was working from my home office, and we had a baby, a cat, and a dog.

Our cat had to move due to our son’s allergies. Our dog died last month. Our son is in school.

And during the day, I am alone. Alone in a way I had not imagined as a child. Because in those childhood plans, there were always animals present.

I recall now why I wanted to get a dog in the first place. When we moved in 2005, I began working from home. Alone. Yes, I had the cat, but cats aren’t dogs. They don’t smile at you. They don’t initiate interaction until it’s really inconvenient for you (somehow they know). If I talked to our cat and got any sort of look in response it certainly wasn’t one that invited further discussion. Yes, she was amusing at times, in the same way an out-of-control friend might be—she made you laugh now and then, but mostly you were just waiting for her to destroy something dear to you.

I’m not sure about our son, because he doesn’t talk about it much, but I know my husband and I are feeling the loss of our old dog more than we expected we would. When I come home from my weekly visit to the office, I expect someone there to be happy to see me. But no one is. When I come downstairs in the morning I still expect there will be someone down there waiting for me, someone to say good morning to. But there isn’t. When something falls on the floor at the dinner table, we have to stop ourselves from calling out Sasha’s name so she can earn her keep. There’s no one to lick melted ice cream out of our bowls or syrup from a breakfast plate.

As I work in my home office my normal rhythm of breaks to let the dog out and in has been broken. I find myself standing up and walking into the dining room where our dog spent so much of her time in the past couple years and then kind of wandering around a moment. Why did I get up again?

I was going to run my own private animal sanctuary. Now the only life in this house during the day other than me is a rosemary plant I’m trying to overwinter inside and three freshwater puffer fish up in my son’s aquarium. But they aren’t much for conversation.

We’re still giving it time before we make any decisions…but our hearts seem to be inclining toward a new pet. Maybe sooner rather than later.