Category: debts to the Universe

Such Happy News

Guys, listen.

Remember Bright Blue Miracle? And how I love that book? And how it was my first really, really published book? And how I love that book? And how it sold lots of copies, but not quite enough? And how, after a year, it became one of the Out of Print? And how I still love it inside my heart, even if it feels like the squinty-eyed, red-headed stepchild of the published-book world? Remember?

Well.

I got a letter (in the MAIL!) from the nice folks at Shadow Mountain publishers this weekend. They are very happy to tell me that BBM will be again commercially available to those of us who like books with pages (vs pixels — it’s been selling as an ebook all this time). ISN’T THAT HAPPY NEWS?

Well, I think it is. And if you’re interested, here is the link to a website where you can purchase one of your very own. Or, you know, two.

Is this all news to you? Are you unaware that BBM exists? Well, then. Here is a very short (off-the-cuff) blurb: Marriage changes everything. At least it does when Leigh’s mom marries Paul — and brings along his perfect daughter Betsy to misalign all that was finally right in Leigh’s life. Some laughs, some tears, some ice cream… and a love triangle. It’s all here. [1] (Contemporary YA. With squeaky-clean romance elements and at least one Really Great Kissing Scene.) (Also available from Amazon, with some great reviews, here.)

Is it any surprise to you that self-promo is not my greatest human strength? But guys, I do love this book. Really and truly and gladly. So I wanted you to share a second of my happy news.

Because, you know. I like you, too.

[1] I know. Just call me when you need a completely thoughtless write-up of a book you spent years writing. I can only do as much for you. 🙂

Women’s Pull

There is a lot to say about this Pioneer Trek we did last week [1]. Some of it is only to say to each other. But some of it I don’t want to forget, so I’m going to say it here.

Four days of camping in a dress.

Moving on.

There is this thing, apparently a tradition on these pioneer trek re-enactments, called the Women’s Pull. Here’s what I’d heard about it before I went (a whole lot of people do these re-enactment treks, and they lots of them talk about the Women’s Pull). Only the women are yanking these wooden handcarts up a long and treacherous hill. Men aren’t allowed to help. It’s hard. Okay, so that’s about the extent of what I’ve heard. Except this: It’s the most incredible part. Now, Incredible is an interesting word. It actually means “unbelievable” — right? So I wasn’t sure which part not to believe.

Here’s how it went down.

We’d pushed and pulled handcarts across a sandy, dusty track for several miles. Cows watched us. We saw a few snakes. No humans, though. About 10 people were attached to each handcart, (220 people total in our group) so 5 or 6 pushed and pulled, and the rest walked alongside or helped others. At one point, we were stopped, and the man in charge took all the males away. All of them. My 8-year-old, even. As the men walked away, up a long hill, we women and girls and babies and toddlers (the female ones) gathered, listened to a talk, and tried very hard to sing a song. The song was written by Emily Woodmansee, a member of the Willie handcart company. I was the music leader person, and I struggled to make words (much less tune) come out past the tears. That was a surprise — I’m not a huge crier, but I was very touched by the spirit of the occasion.

As sisters in Zion, we’ll all work together;
The blessings of God on our labors we’ll seek.
We’ll build up his kingdom with earnest endeavor;
We’ll comfort the weary and strengthen the weak.

The errand of angels is given to women;
And this is a gift that, as sisters, we claim:
To do whatsoever is gentle and human,
To cheer and to bless in humanity’s name.

How vast is our purpose, how broad is our mission,
If we but fulfill it in spirit and deed.
Oh, naught but the Spirit’s divinest tuition
Can give us the wisdom to truly succeed.

We lined up and started up the hill. My girls and I, with our friend Tina (who has 4 sons and a husband who disappeared up the hill) and our neighbor Kiersten (who’s mom and sisters were ahead of us in the lead cart) pushed the cart up the hill. I’m not going to exaggerate either way, here, because I’m trying to give a faithful representation of the facts: It was work, but not crazy hard. The group ahead of us had a woman in her sixties who is in less than prime shape, even for her age. She had to stop frequently. I’m talking about every couple of minutes. Something inside me felt a twinge of annoyance, but that did not last. I tried to think about the original pioneers, struggling with every kind of unmedicated illness and incapacity, and that helped. Also, we (of necessity, being behind them) had frequent stops, too.

Pushing a handcart (full of coolers holding lunch and water) up a hill is a new kind of work for me. But pushing it through soft, 3-inch-deep sand is an entirely different story. Grunting may have occurred, is what I’m saying. But listen to this: My two oldest girls (one of whom turned 17 on this trek), who are champions in many things, but not so much in outdoorsy, dress-wearing, cart-pushing, 91-degree sorts of things, did not utter a word of complaint. Instead they sang. Pioneer-era hymns. In harmony. All the way up the hill. More crying for me.

When we reached nearly the top of the uppermost hill, we saw this: A beautiful woman (the only one to go ahead, quickly, up the hill) playing her violin (“Come, Come, Ye Saints”) to encourage us along. And this: Three or four men wearing white shirts and khaki pants, holding their hats over their hearts, silently watching us push up the hill. As we crested in, we saw that the entire path was lined with men and boys, hats over their hearts, silently nodding us on, into our goal. The silence. The peace. The combination of honor and desperation on their faces. It was a precious gift.

And here’s what we didn’t know at the time. Manolo, one of our neighbors, got to the top of the hill with all the men and then said, in his improving but still broken English, “I go back now and help my family.” No, he was told. You stay here. “And do what?” he wanted to know. Stay here and pray for them.

When I heard that instruction, the meaning of the Women’s Pull became clear to me. This was not about showing up the men and letting them see what we strong women could do. This was not about giving them guilt so they’d take better care of us. This was not even really about honoring the physical sacrifice of the pioneers. This was a great, giant metaphor for salvation.

We don’t carry or push each other to heaven. We step out of the way and let God bring us home. We ask for His help along the way. We do things that are hard (but not impossible), and we claim the blessings that He has waiting for us.

Blessings.

 

[1] Why did we do this? It’s a Mormon thing, mostly. We went where the Martin and Willie pioneer handcart companies became stranded and then rescued (not quite Donner Party, but close), and there is a great and noble history of service, sacrifice and spiritual/physical rescue. It’s an exercise in remembering and honoring the past, a chance to feel just how “good we’ve got it” and a terrific opportunity to learn together.

New York Today

So I’m standing on the East Balcony in Grand Central Station. Why, you ask? Because I am a Tourist. Also I love pretty buildings, and I like to go inside them. Also? The Apple Store does free wifi, unlike my otherwise totally charming upper easy side hotel.

Shall I give you a taste? Italian food. French food. Deli food. Pizza by the slice. Gelato. Bread. Favcy-pants omelets. And I’ve stopped eating now and then for other nice things. The met. Lunch with a friend who lives and works here. Spiderman the musical. Walking through Central Park in the rain. Owning the subway transfers. Meeting the lovely Agent Meredith. Times Square. Union Square. The Jewish museum. Meeting another friend (who just happened to be here) for lunch. Seeing “Once.” going to church in Manhattan. FAO Schwartz. A rat in the subway. Or several. Seeing “Newsies,” and being part of the most adoring crowd.

Want details? Come back in a couple of days. I’ll expound. You’ll be enlightened. We will all be glad.

Bring it, Monday.

Here we go. Fun, full, busy weekend is over. Nunsense is over (mostly — you never know when a function is going to require some faux-nuns as entertainment). The cold/laryngitis is nearly over, leaving me with a more sultry than squeaky sound. Yay for more sultry, right? Turned down sub work for today, because, you know, someone ought to go to the bank and the grocery store and possibly vacuum the floors and FOR SURE mop the kitchen. Also I really, really should go out to lunch with my friend C today. Because it’s been way, way too long since I saw her, or did anything like going out to lunch anywhere cooler than the high school teachers’ lounge.

Here’s what we learned lately: Hope, the thing with Feathers, comes. It does. And when it does, weeks and months and years, years, YEARS of concern and worry and anxiety get feathered into the background.

Also: The fish (Minion) can handle Life on the Outside (the counter) for as long as it takes me to discover that he flipped out of the measuring cup while I was scrubbing his bowl, plus the several long seconds it took me to decide it was worth the effort of cupping BOTH MY HANDS around him to transfer him back to water. He’s happier than ever, back in his (clean) bowl. Really, happier than ever. I think he has done more laps in the past 20 hours than I’ve seen in months. Since Sushi died, I bet. And here’s the lesson: Sometimes we need to spend some outside our element in order to rediscover life’s passion. Or something like that.

Also: God is merciful. He gives us more chances than we would ever give each other. For which I am grateful.

And this: Did I tell you I stole Ann Cannon’s great idea and gave up Fear for Lent? Well, I did. And it has been the most freeing, lovely few weeks. When I send away the fear, there is so much room for joy and cheerfulness and celebration. And trust. And forgiveness. And noticing things. And I hope I can keep this going for forever. Because Fear? I can live without you.

One more thing: At fifteen pounds down, the pants don’t fit anymore. So I need to go shopping for smaller sizes. Shall we just say that again? SMALLER SIZES. (oh, yeah)

(Thanks, Google, for all the images. And, y’all, maybe don’t get used to images. It’s just that today is special.)

Good morning. Ten things:

… And it’s a balmy Seven Degrees here in the Frozen Mountaintops. Frozen nose and fingers. From taking the garbage to the curb. It’s not that far away.

… Started reading the first Stephen King book (fiction, that is – I read ON WRITING and was thrilled) in more than twenty years this weekend. It’s creepy, I tell you what. (It’s the 11/22/63 one about the Kennedy assassination. And I’m scared. The man can tell a story.)

… Kids 3 (10.5) and 4 (very nearly eight) played Catchphrase yesterday afternoon while I was making Lemon Pound Cake. They were so funny. I wish you could have been a fly on the wall, because not much of it translates to blog. They speak their own language, frequently referencing platypus love, obscure MONK tv episodes, and pineapple. They’re cute. You can trust me on that.

… Amazon, get ready. I’m coming back today, armed with a credit card.

… Shopping is almost done. See above.

… Got the lights and decorations on the tree, and candles in the windows. I should take a picture. It looks precious. And I mean that with all the sincerity I can possibly muster. Truly.

… I love the little kids I work with at church. All 80 of them. They are adorable and hilarious.

… Scotch Tape, where have you gone? I mean it. Where are you?

… We sang Christmas songs in church yesterday, and it flipped a switch in me. Suddenly and without warning, I committed to singing in the Messiah Sing-In choir next weekend. The rehearsal last night brought some “who-do-you-think-you-are” eyebrows at our late join-up, but the music makes me crazy happy. To be alive. To worship Jesus. To sing alto. To repeat “we like sheep” until I have to actually put my hand over my mouth to suppress the “baaaaaa” noise. To want to dig deep into Isaiah and understand the Mysteries. Happy, happy.

… Hope is a thing with feathers, Emily Dickinson said. I love to see some feathers fluttering around here.

Those Days

You know those days where you feel like a change really needs to happen,
and so you wait for it to happen,
and you think that if you just wait it out, the change will come?

And then you get cranky because you’re really not that good at waiting,
and so you start talking about the change,
because you think that if you talk it out, the change will come?

And then you think about the change some more, and you see what a great change it would be,
and you ponder the change,
because Sending Out the Positive Thoughts is all the rage, and surely the change will come?

And then you think that someone really ought to get on this thing, making this change,
So you whine about it for a while,
because then everyone will get the hint and make it easy for the change to come?

And then you eat something?

And then you take a nap?

And then, you know that moment when the realization hits
that it’s nobody’s change but yours,
and that if you really want the change, well then, for the love, it’s time for you to make it come?

I know those days, too.

IOU to the Universe

When you go to writer’s conferences, there is a great deal of excitement and anxiety. And here’s why: Every person attending the conference thinks*, “This is it. This is my break. I’m going to meet the agent and both editors in attendance, and they are all going to fall at the feet of my manuscript. There will be tears and begging and promises of Best Friendship Forever. We may near the word “auction” thrown around. I am here at this conference, and I Have Arrived.”

Sound familiar?
Except, really? Not.
There’s some research somewhere that would tell you the percentage of conference attendees who win a contract on the manuscript they bring to the conference, but honestly, we all know I’m too lazy to do that research. So I’ll just tell you this: It’s not a very big number.
Here’s why.
A ton of the attendees at any given conference are bringing a first draft. Do I really need to say more about that?
Of the ones carrying a polished manuscript, many, many of them are first manuscripts. As in, this is my first novel.
WARNING: Here’s where this hypothetical-ish blog post turns into a hypocritical blog post.
People don’t usually get first manuscripts published. (Just stay with me, please.) Since with the act of writing, we become better writers everyday, it naturally follows that a third novel will be greater than a first, and the fifth will be vastly more wonderful. Paraphrasing several authors’ takes on this, a writer needs to write four unpublishable novels before he’s ready to have that golden #5 purchased.
At this point, you may be thinking that I got very lucky.
You would be correct.
I wrote a first book that was submitted, agent-free, to a publisher, chosen out of the slush pile, shined up, given a fabulous cover, and published. Then I wrote a second one that was also published (and will be in stores, like, any minute). So, if we’re doing the math correctly, here’s the thing. I owe the universe something like eight unpublishable manuscripts.
And I’d like you to know that I’m hard at work filling that IOU.
The things I’m writing at right now are bland. Un-spark-ish. Contrived. And it’s seriously discouraging. BUT. I know that the exercise is good for me. I’m flexing the writing muscle, even if it goes nowhere. Someday I’ll regain my cleverness. I’m certain. And the only way to do that is to keep working on it. Keep flexing that muscle. Keep the words coming, and not worry too much that they’re boring or stupid or heartless.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because I know, I KNOW that I am not the only one discouraged by the spewing of un-brilliant words. We can’t all be on our game all the time. And I want you all to get it — it’s not ON all the time, and that’s so totally okay.
Just keep writing. Just keep writing. Scratching. Scribbling. Plotting, dialoging, twisting, charactering. Writing, writing, writing.
The Universe will thank you.

*We really do think it, even if only in a tiny portion of our subconscious. Why? Because we’ve loved and nurtured and sweat over and lost sleep about this manuscript. It’s precious. Like a favorite child. Not that we’d ever have a favorite child. Natch.