No Time to Read? Read This!

In our busy, busy world, some people find it hard to find the time to read. While I can’t understand this personally, I can help them out! Recently, I took on a challenge to write 18 word stories. It was a challenge to get a story arc into just 18 words, but the experience was fun. Even though I didn’t win publication, I enjoyed the writing. I hope you enjoy these micro-micro-minis: something to read when there’s no time!

1. Warning Sign

The wheelbarrow tilted against the barn door told Norah the drought continued. Sven would be hungry again tonight.

2. Love on the Dice

The deliberate way he counted the Yahtzee dice showed Milo that James might yet make a good husband.

3. Velveteen’s Nephew

The polka-dotted bunny slipped his bonds and tumbled away from her homespun dress: looking for love, finding mud.

4. Inspiration

“Down the rabbit hole,” Lewis swore as he watched his prized marble disappear. Suddenly, he had an idea!

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Solitude/Companionship

I’m sitting on a bench on Central Park West, under a spreading tree whose green leaves are starting to yellow and fall. There are plenty still providing shade and shelter from their lofty boughs, but there is also a carpet of dry, brown leaves on the cobblestones below. The temperature feels like summer; the air smells like fall. It is as if the climate is currently of two minds and cannot decide which way to go. Only the waning afternoon sun gives the advantage to autumn.

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Similarly, I was thinking today of two competing attitudes that complement and contradict each other in our quest for creativity; solitude and companionship. Obviously there are times when we need solitude. We need to sit ourselves down at that desk or kitchen table or library cubicle and pound the words out, or at that easel or at that sewing machine, etc. etc. You get the picture. Creativity requires us to be by ourselves frequently to actually create, but conversely, you can’t do it alone. In the simplest of terms, once we share our work with the world, it and by extension we, are no longer alone, but more than that, our creative juices are stimulated by being with other people. The experiences we have in the world ignite a creative fire within us that we must fan until we can produce an explosion of writing, painting, sculpting, sewing,…

I think the toughest part is knowing when we need each of the two states: remembering to disconnect from the world from time to time to be with ourselves and our own creative fire and also pushing ourselves to get up and get out to mix with people and try new things to rebuild the fire within.

Autumn is a lovely time to build a fire. Don’t hibernate yet; get out there and collect that firewood.

The Past Comes to Life

I have to brag a little bit today. Four years ago, after my father-in-law passed, my husband and I inherited his parents’ dressers. As my in-laws had been married well over 50 years, these dressers, while quality made, had seen their years of use (and abuse through a couple of moves and five kids). So, we decided to refinish them. And pretty quickly, I got to work sanding them. The sides and top were easy. But then, the drawers! Ugh.  I ran into a couple of snags. First, we had had a minor disagreement with our garage mates because their contractors were using a wet saw inside the garage while all our cars were there. We thought they should set up in the courtyard instead because any debris thrown by the saw could mar the cars’ exteriors. Therefore, I didn’t think I should sand my dressers in the garage either. Second, I could not get the hardware off. They were screwed in tightly; plus, I didn’t have a large enough screwdriver. I was afraid of stripping the screws, and well, leaving myself screwed.

And so they sat. And sat. And sat. In the garage.

But this spring, we decided this is the time. A friend was moving from a furnished apartment to an unfurnished one, so I told her she could have our old dressers. This gave us the impetus to actually finish the dressers. We got the hardware off and finished the sanding and got ready for the next step.

The next step, eh? My husband and I watched quite a few YouTube videos and learned that the next step is not staining, as we had thought, but pre-stain conditioner. Since these dressers are probably close to 60 years old, we thought this was a good idea. Then the stain–three coats–followed by four coats of polyurethane for protection, with a light sanding in between coats. Some nights, my husband and I would come home from work and apply the stain, then sit with a glass of wine outside our garage door “watching paint dry.” Good times. Actually, they were.

The hardest part, I think, was the hardware. I started with Brasso and scrubbing down a piece. Close to 60 years of tarnish takes a long time to remove. It was too hard. I had to find another way. Back to Google. I found a site that told me to soak the brass in a 3-1 vinegar/water mixture for 1-3 hours. I went for 3. Amazing. That took off about 70% of the tarnish. Then the Brasso polishing went much more quickly. But those first couple of pieces I had done before the Google search were already tarnishing again. I couldn’t have that! All this work could not be undone so quickly. Back to Google again! Lacquer is the answer. So after I cleaned all the hardware, I used a spray lacquer to seal them–five coats just to be sure. They should stay bright and shiny for years to come.

Tonight we finally put the hardware back on the drawers and put the drawers back in the dresser frames. Beautiful. We are so lucky.

Sometimes we exert our creativity (and muscle) by refinishing an heirloom and bringing the past back to life in our lives.

Grading Papers on a Sunny Afternoon

Sunlight on the slick clean table

Melts the edges away

Encroaching on the work

In front of me, anchored only

By a red pen that has lost

The very thing that gives it power.

Soon, if daylight keeps encroaching,

The papers will slip into the molten sea

Of the dissolved table and the coffee

Will tumble into the liquified abyss

Pouring out its heart on the fluttering wings

Of student attempts at composition and

Analysis while the bloodless pen spins

Uselessly through the void–

Unless

The setting sun retracts rather than

Advances its rays on

The evanescing table, setting it back

On terra firma, restoring the student efforts

To their fate once I procure another pen–

Though which option offers deliverance,

For them and for me,

It is impossible to say.

ABOUT THE POEM:

Feeling particularly tired yesterday on my commute home, I knew that if I read as is my wont, I would fall fast asleep and end up at the end of the line. So instead I took out my phone and starting flipping through my photos for inspiration. I came across the one above which I took last week during a particularly trying grading session at a local cafe when my pen ran out of ink. This poem is the result of photography, memory, exhaustion, and imagination, and, once I got started, a thesaurus as I became invested in using various synonyms for “melted” and “essays.”

What Happened Here?

As I made my way through Penn Station tonight, I saw what is pictured below:

And I couldn’t help thinking, “What happened here?” There was no one sitting or laying nearby to whom these shoes could belong. And the one stray pastel sock adds another level to the mystery. Does the sock belong with the shoe? Or were there two separate foot wear incidents in such close proximity? Questions arise.

How does one leave one’s shoes behind? And in such an orderly pose? And one sock? With those colours, could that be a child’s sock? A man’s, a woman’s with a sense of whimsy? It poses a quandary.

Naturally, my writer’s brain was quickened by the unusual sight, so much so in fact that I passed the shoes, noted them, but even though I kept moving, they squirreled into my brain, so when I got a short distance away, I went back upstairs to photograph then. What is their story? Don’t you want to know?

But you do of course. It’s in your head, and mine, and hers, and his, and theirs. So here is today’s challenge, a quest perhaps: choose your genre and tell us what happened here.

Mega Shadow Day Creativity Challenge

This afternoon was “Mega Shadow Day” at my school. This is a rather ominous sounding name for a day intended to convince accepted 8th graders to come to the school next year. My principal refers to it as a busman’s holiday as the 8th graders leave their schools to come take classes at ours for the afternoon. But it must work. Year after year, there are 9th graders who tell me that they remember my activity from their Mega Shadow Day the year before.

I am an English teacher with all that that comprises: reading comp, grammar, writing, literary analysis, research methods, but for Mega Shadow Day, I put all that aside and run a little creative writing workshop. I give the girls lollipops, introduce myself, have them introduce themselves, and then provide them with a story starter, telling them that from one sentence, we can create vastly different stories. Then we write for ten minutes. Finally, we share what we’ve come up with so far. It passes the time and is fun, even if some of the girls are a little shy about reading their stories at first.

I ran two sessions today with different 8th graders each time, but the same 9th grade helpers, so I gave two different story starters. See what you can do with one or both of these. Where does it lead you? The only “rule” is that you must start your story with this sentence. Everything that follows is up to you.

  1. I knew I shouldn’t have taken that short cut through the cemetery.
  2. I can’t believe I let Lindsay talk me into taking this short cut.

If you feel inspired, post your story in the comments below or give me a pingback if you post it on your own blog. Happy writing!

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Stolen Moments

In order to stick with my New Year’s resolution,  I’ve decided that I need to take advantage of stolen moments to jot a few words down here and there because the best laid plans to scurry out early from work and sit in a cafe to write usually go awry. So today I got to Penn Station just as the 5:56 was leaving; the next train is 6:14, but if I wait just 10 more minutes for the 6:24, I can take an express train, cutting my commute from 33 minutes to 25, thereby almost making up those 10 minutes. And while I’m waiting? I’m sitting at Starbucks tip-tapping away at this post. I don’t expect to finish it before I must pack up for the train, but it is begun. A beginning is a beginning! It’s a good thing.

Sure enough, it’s a few days later, and I’m still writing this post. Over the course of this week I’ve gleaned a few moments for writing while on the subway in the morning–let me tell you, writing poetry while standing on a moving subway is an adventure–or stolen a some time from my prep period to revise another one. Now it’s Thursday, and I’m once again waiting for the train, drinking a latte, and writing away. I started this post on Monday, I’ve written a little bit every day, and I’m thinking…it’s been a good week so far.

Many writers hope to write more–finish that novel, assemble that chapbook, write 300 words a day, write for x number of hours a day, write a new poem a day, a new poem a week, finish a chapter a (insert time frame here). And for those writers who are full time writers, these are admirable goals. But many of us have to hold down “day jobs” which both drain and inspire us. As an English teacher and a poet and writer, this is especially true for me. I am a better teacher because I am a writer and a better writer because I am a teacher, but, and this is a big but, teaching leaves little personal time between September and June. So, I steal what time I can and count that as a win. I hope to get a hour or so this weekend in a block to really work on some longer form material and/or to research markets and submit, but a day with any kind of writing is still a win for me. I always carry a notebook with me, a pretty red and white cloth covered one, and there’s always the WordPress or even Word app on the phone. There’s no excuse not to take advantage of every little bit of time….

And now I steal a little bit of time from my sleep to finish this post. Use every stolen moment you can to write, and when you can’t do that, don’t forget to read!

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New Year’s Resolutions 

Another year has come and gone.  2017, done.  2018 about to begin.  I could make the standard resolutions: work out more,  eat better,  get my papers graded in a more timely manner, etc. etc. But I won’t.  Not that those are not things worth doing; they are.  But in many ways,  they are destined to fail, especially if you’ve made those kind of resolutions before (as I have). No,  this year I will make only one resolution: write more.

Now I know.  That is an amorphous resolution.  What qualifies as “more”? Is this a resolution also destined to fail because of its very ambiguity.  But I don’t think so.  From an optimistic point of view, that vagueness can work in its favor. Anything can be more!

This year that’s coming to a close has had its ups and downs (as I guess all years do), but a definite up was my writing life. I did a better job of keeping at it, and as a result,  three poems were published somewhere other than this blog (or the Writer’s Digest Poem a Day blog in April). Yay! And there are quite a few pieces out for consideration.  Hopefully 2018 brings good news for those pieces.

So here’s to 2018, a year that once seemed so far away is about to begin.  May it find you healthy,  bring you peace, and inspire the writer within.  Cheers!

Grateful at the End of a Frustrating Day

The other morning Lionel tried to convince me to stay home. “Meow, meow,” he said “rrrmmeow.” I should have listened to him.

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Be warned: There is much grouchiness in this post.

The train was slow, so I missed my regular subway and took the next one. So far, not too bad–a couple of minutes behind schedule. But then, the third subway was crowded and late, and worst of all, I missed the announcement that it was going express. I ended up 11 blocks past my destination and had to walk back. So, instead of getting into work at 7:20, I arrived at 7:40–and I had a coverage first period. (For those of you not in the teaching profession, this means that I had to cover a class for a teacher absent today instead of having the prep period I expected.) No time for breakfast.

For the previous two days, my classroom had been boiling; the head had been pumping full force, so I dressed a little lighter: cotton top with 3/4 sleeves, long skirt, no tights. Naturally with Murphy’s law in full force, after first period there was an announcement: “There is no heat today. Students may wear non-uniform hoodies and jackets.” Great. Just Great. It was cold in there!

Luckily, though, it was a half a day with no faculty meeting following, and I had plans to meet a friend to see Da Vinci’s Salvatore Mundi at Christie’s. Yes, Leonardo Da Vinci. This painting had been in private and royal collections for the past two hundred years. It was being sold that night and will probably not be seen again for another two hundred years. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity. And, I missed it. When we got to the auction house at 1:30, they informed us that the viewing ended at noon. So much for my attempt at buoying my creativity with a 500 year old masterpiece.

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Nevertheless, I still tried to muster some creativity. I went to a public atrium to write, but alas, there were no seats left. I trudged over to Barnes and Noble only to discover, after buying a tea that I really didn’t need but bought because I wanted to settle in at their cafe, that their wi-fi was not really working. I wanted to edit something on my Chromebook, so I needed the wi-fi to access it. UGH! I began to feel like I was wasting the day. It’s not often that I have an afternoon with neither classes, meetings, nor make-up tests and the like. And here I was traipsing from place to place, carrying a laptop, but getting nothing done.

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Annoyed and a bit aimless, I went back to the public atrium and, lo and behold, found a spot! PHEW! I popped open the Chromebook and started writing. FINALLY! And like that–WOOSH–the day was saved. So in this week of Thanksgiving, I want to publicly express my gratefulness for words-words on the screen, words on the page, words typed by my hands, words inked by my pen, words shared by others, words by the greats, and words by the small.  Let me remember to let writing, and reading, take me away from the grouchiness of the world when the best laid plans lead me to one obstacle and then another. Let me read my way to another reality, and write my way out of a funk. Thank you. Word.

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Crochet Coziness

Lately I’ve done a bit of writing about writing, but I have still been crocheting! I unwind in the evenings by winding up pieces of yarn. This summer, I was particularly busy as many people I know had babies and grandbabies. Since May, I have crocheted five baby blankets; some are full on baby blankets, and a couple are stroller blankets. And as of today, all have been gifted. The latest is a stroller blanket for a colleague’s granddaughter. I am particularly proud of this one as I made up the pattern myself–or as the case is with most home-created patterns, I put together pieces of other patterns to create a new one. In addition, I made it entirely from my stash! This, as any experienced crafter knows, is quite a feat!

I started with a chain in a solid dusty rose–I can’t remember now how many, but it was divisible by 6 plus 1. Then I did several rows of half double crochet. You can tell by now that I am not a pattern maker, can’t you? I didn’t write down what I did while I did it. I should have. Let’s say 7 rows. It really doesn’t matter. Make the band as wide or as narrow as you would like. Then, I switched to a variegated yarn in purples, pinks, yellows, and white. With this, I stitched a shell pattern along the lines of Bev’s Preemie Coverlet . When I finished the stash of the variegated yarn, I switched back to the dusty rose and the half double crochet. Since I couldn’t remember how many rows I had done to begin with, I used the old, trusty “fold the blanket in half and compare the bands on either end” method. It works. Finally, I switched to a purple for a scalloped edge all the way around. Then all that was needed was the AlyCatCreations tag, and voila! a sweet stroller blanket.

Here is another I made this summer with the same center but different ends and edging, for another friend’s granddaughter. This one has the bands all around, not just on the short ends. These bands are made of alternating double and single crochet. The final ending is a simple single crochet. This one came almost all from my stash! The sea foam green edging came from a friend’s stash.

It was quite fun and freeing not being too tied to a pattern, but I think I’ll have to return to patterns for the Christmas gifts I wish to make next. For at least one, though, I should be able to hit the stash again! Fingers crossed! Remember, Christmas is right around the corner; if you want to give homemade gifts, you’d better get started, but if you don’t feel like doing it yourself, you can always check out AlyCatCreations1 on Etsy. We take special orders. Happy stitching!