Tuesday, May 19, 2015

730 BELLS Ignorant of the Night.

I am ignorant of the night. In the city where I lived for twenty-three years, it dangerous to wander in the night. And when I visited the country, the Farm in the Methow Valley, it was too wild to wander at night all alone on a hundred acres. 

But Goldilocks found the middle chair that was “just right.” So here on our three acres on the Nisqually River, I’ve found a safe place to walk alone at night. And I’ve discovered so much. Nights are as different from each other as days—some serene, some brooding, some tumultuous. Best of all, nights here are quiet of human noise. Only wind in the trees, the humming river, the croaking frogs, the singing stars. Reflection and meditation come easily.

I used to go to bed thinking of everything I didn’t get done. My night walks have changed that, a pause button to the day's busyness. Now I have a sense of space, of waiting, even promise. Just as light has its negative qualities—drought, burning, blinding—so darkness has its positive qualities.

After one week of night walks, I dreamed I met a wild black horse in the night. I threw my arm around its neck and we strode away, side by side, into the night. 

Last night when I went to bed, I looked at the fabric serving as a temporary window curtain. A dear friend brought to to me from Japan some thirty years ago. A dark crane flies up, silhouetted against light coming from outside. A dark crane ascending into the night.

Where will they led me, the dark crane and the black horse?

For the first time, I am learning to hear bells in the night.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

7:30 BELLS Guest Post:: "Risk is When the Bells Chime Loudest" by author Margery Cuyler

Following is a wonderful post from author and legendary children's book editor Margery Cuyler.  I had the high honor of having worked with her on several of my  fantasy novels. 

I hear bells chiming when I experience what I like to refer to as a “mandorla” experience. Mandorla is the Italian word for “almond,” and the almond shape has been interpreted by Carl Jung, Robert Johnson, and other psychologists as a symbol for the overlap of two contrasting, opposing forces that occur simultaneously. When one finds oneself standing in the center of the overlap or mandorla, one feels extreme tension, but . . . that tension of the opposites can lead to transformation and renewal. One can sense that God is present in those moments of suffering, and if one is patient, if one prays and trusts, the solution will usually emerge. 

This mandorla experience has happened every time I’ve been at a crossroads in my life: to leave or not leave a loved one who provides a safety net, to go from being single to being married, to become a mother of three even while working full time, to change jobs when a new job opportunity challenges one’s comfort level, and so on. These mandorlas that punctuate life involve risk. But risk is when the bells chime the loudest! 

 And how about the mandorla experience in a writer’s life? For me, I decided recently to leave the safe haven of writing picture books, which have defined me as an author, to writing a YA (still in progress). As I wobble into the territory of character development, I am discovering that my characters have to experience the mandorla. What is at stake for them? How do they experience two different emotions at once? What causes them to change? The mandorla is a writer’s place. Don’t all writers try to make sense of the fragmented world in which we live? Don’t our characters long for a place where they can finally settle and experience unity? Can I, as a fiction writer, reach that place of synthesis by the end of a manuscript? 

Great writers have accomplished such leaps as they’ve united the beauty and the terror of existence. Their talent and psychological insight, their characters’ verisimilitude, can surprise and shock--can teach that the tension of opposites, the mandorla experience, is the stuff of good writing. I may never get there, but at least I’m exploring new literary territory, and that’s exciting!

Margery Cuyler has been part of the children’s book field for the past 45 years. Aside from holding executive positions at Holiday House, Golden Books Family Entertainment, Macmillan, Marshall Cavendish, and Amazon Children’s Publishing, she has written 49 children’s books and has a 50th book under contract with Random House. She retired from full-time publishing at the end of 2013 and is currently consulting, writing, and doing school visits. She and her husband, the parents of two grown sons, live in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Margery also has a stepdaughter who paints pets for a living. They are really cool. For more information about Margery, visit www.margerycuyler.com

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

7:30 BELLS: A Cup Overflowing With Trees

At my old house in Tacoma, I spent wonderful “creative drift” hours watching the cherry tree outside my bedroom window. Poems, ideas, and stories came to me there. So, now that I’m living on the Nisqually River, I wondered what kind of “creative drift” hours I’d have from my new bedroom window. The window frames Douglas fir trees. So far, with the exigencies of moving, there hasn’t been much time for creative anything.

But last night, I opened my eyes and saw my cup on the bedside table. The cup was black, silhouetted by the moonlight coming through the window. The fir trees were silhouetted too, a few branches swaying. This was the first full moon since we moved here.

As I watched, laying on my side, the trees seemed to be growing out of the cup. And I wondered. If I drank from my cup, would I drink in the trees? I’ve been so thirsty for trees, and now my cup, my life, overflows with them. What would happen if I drank trees?

And so I sat up. And so I drank.  Now let’s wait and see what happens. 

But already, I feel a little taller this morning.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesdays of every month. Join me on May 12 for a guest post with children's author and legendary children's book editor Margery Cuyler.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

730 BELLS: Immanent Fingers

Every day here on the Nisqually River is new, my eyes are fresh, looking at everything with wonder. Like this red maple along the Nisqually River. The new leaves have five fingers, like a human hand. The ruffled edges so exquisite, so elegant.

Then I notice the older leaves have seven fingers—two, small extra ones, like little wings, sprouting near the stem. I smile, thinking how my father always told us that one day wings would grow from our shoulder blades nubbins. 

I wonder about human potential. Wonder if our hands, too, can grow extra fingers, invisible fingers that sense and wing us into the immanent world around us in ways our visible fingers can’t. I wonder how to grow these extra fingers. 

Keep looking. Keep ringing.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesdays of every month. Join me on May 12 for a guest post with children's author and legendary children's book editor Margery Cuyler.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

730 BELLS: Embracing the Rogues in Our Lives

On my last morning in the house I’d lived in for twenty-three years, I opened my eyes to the rogue cherry tree fat with blossoms outside my bedroom window. That tree grows in the neighbor’s yard. I resented it when it first popped up, in spite of a paucity of trees in our urban neighborhood, because it blocked the wee bit of sun in our light-starved yard.

Over the years, the tree grew to the second story, where it hid the ugly power lines outside my bedroom window. The Rogue Cherry became a friend I celebrated from blossom to leaf-fall to tree-bone time. Some of my best creative ideas came from the day dream consciousness induced by its swaying. Who would have guessed?

How I will miss seeing that tree every morning. It was a bell in my life. Transitions, even good ones, are hard.

But here on my first morning writing at my new house on three acres in the Nisqually Valley, I sit outside under another cherry tree fat with blossoms. My world is now filled with trees—Douglas Firs, maples, cottonwoods, magnolias, and more. Filled with birds. Filled with the roar of the Nisqually River in my backyard. All of them are bells for a light-starved heart. 

Making friends with a place requires time and attention, as it does with a person. But this cherry tree I already love, for it will forever remind me of the Rogue Cherry that once comforted a heart aching for the light and the green. 

If there are rogues in your life, maybe it’s time to embrace them.

If there are rogues in your life,
embrace them, and see what happens.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesdays of every month. Join me on May 12 for a guest post with children's author and legendary children's book editor Margery Cuyler.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

7:30 BELLS Guest Post: Climbing Mountains, Writing Novels--by author David Patneaude

I'm so pleased to share this month's guest post by David Patneaude, amazing and prolific author for kids and young adults, whom I've had the good fortune to know for years.

In 2010 a couple of my brothers and I made the trek to Mt. Rainier’s Camp Muir. When I eventually gazed around from the observation point at everything, even other peaks, spread out below us in a wild, seemingly untouched landscape, I felt the standing-on-top-of-the-world sensation lifting me even higher. I also felt the altitude—10,400 feet—and the temperature change—seventy-something at Paradise Lodge when we’d left, thirty-something when we arrived at Muir.

Except for the hum and whistle of wind, a blanket of silence lay everywhere.

For much of the steady climb, fatigue had dogged me. The last half of the trek was in calf-deep snow. So it was put your head down, don’t look up, keep slogging, don’t think about the constant backsliding, don’t sit down because you might not want to get up. And the other voice: there’s a beer with your name on it waiting down at the lodge, masochist! Smarten up! Turn around!

But the beer could wait. I’d done difficult things—boot camp, the Navy, crappy jobs, a soured marriage, marathons, shorter races at faster speeds, the Columbia Tower climb, a triathlon, dark days and death (other people’s, not mine). I could do this. And once I got to the end of our grind and had a real chance to take in my surroundings, I thought about inspiration. Then imagination. Then story.

Writing. And the parallels between what I’d just experienced and was experiencing and the art or craft or carnival show or whatever you think of when you consider the process of getting words down on paper or into the memory of a computer and not stopping until you’ve reached your destination.

Something inspires you to write a story and you imagine a scene or fuzzy overview or maybe you’ve got an actual outline and you start off with a ton of enthusiasm but then you get bogged down because that stuff in your head doesn’t flow onto the paper like you thought it would. The ideas dry up, the right words don’t come, the characters stay flat and uninteresting. But you look around and realize what it was that got you going. You remember the times you’ve done this before. You see the millions of books out there and realize how many other people have done it. You recall how you prepared. Instead of a sweaty hour on the Stairmaster or six rainy miles on the trail or a mile of steep uphill along the pipeline, you’ve read thousands of books and written hundreds of thousands of words and even when you weren’t actually writing you kept your writing brain in gear, looking for inspiration and using your imagination and generating and revising ideas.

So trudging up the side of a mountain is a metaphor for writing something substantial. And vice versa. And if I want to go deeper, I’d say that both are metaphors for life. But I’ll leave the details of that comparison to your imagination.

From his home in Woodinville, Washington, or anywhere else he happens to be, David Patneaude writes middle grade and young adult novels and stories. His books have appeared on many state young readers lists, won awards, been translated into other languages, recorded for listening, and produced as a movie. When he’s not writing he enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, exploring the outdoors, running, and of course, reading.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesdays of every month. Join me on May 12 for a guest post with children's author and legendary children's book editor Margery Cuyler.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

7:30 BELLS: Best of the Bells--Carillon of Revelation

Occasionally I feature the most popular past 7:30 BELLS posts. This one is from November of 2013 when I discovered poet Mary Oliver.

The bells rang rang this week when I discovered the poet Mary Oliver. Stunned and filled and fed, I sat reading her New and Selected Poems, the collection that won the National Book Award. I’ve been thinking for some time of writing poetry more seriously, but my poems seemed too simple and narrative, not complex or abstract enough. Reading Mary Oliver was not only a revelation, but permission to be the poet I want to be.

This 7:30 BELLS series came from my solo trip to Italy in the late spring of 2012, where I was on fire to the bone and dashed out poem after poem. (more on that here). I came home determined to Vivere e Scrivere—to live and to write. When I read Oliver’s poem  SOMETIMES (in the collection RED BIRD), she stated that so beautifully and succinctly.

     “Instructions for living a life:
            Pay attention.
            Be astonished.
            Tell about it.”

That's  exactly how I want to live. You’ll notice Oliver does not add, “Have a multitude of readers, ” after "Tell about it."

So I will be writing more poems, telling about what astonishes me. Whether anyone ever reads them has nothing to do with living.


Vivere e Scrivere

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesdays of every month. Join me on April 14 for a guest post with the wonderful children's author Dave Patneaude.