If you plant it, it will grow…

I had an adventure yesterday. While driving home from Chehalis, in my mom’s boat of a car, a Crown Victoria, I had a flat tire. A very nice man tried to wave me over, but — as I was also extremely sleepy and had weaved a little (I know, I know) — I didn’t realize he was indicating my tire. I stopped at a rest area, walked around, freshened up, and got back on the road. About 5 minutes later the tire shredded.

To my credit, the Triple-A man (a really nice man named Dennis) said, “These cars are like land-yachts. It’s really hard to notice when something is wrong.” He put the spare on for me, told me to go to Les Schwab (he said that’s where the tire was from and maybe it was under warranty), and waved me off.

imagesSo I called my husband, who tried to talk me into driving home (I told him the Triple-A man said not to), and he told me that I must under no circumstances let a tire salesman talk me into buying four new tires. I drove around Federal Way for about 20 minutes, and found two other tire stores, was very close to giving up (after all, would the tire really be under warranty? could I be that lucky? my husband said for-sure-not), but decided to try one more time. I found it. The tire turned out to have been fairly new and it was under warranty. The man at the counter did not try to sell me anything.

I spent about an hour and a half sitting on the side of the freeway, then about two and a half hours at Les Schwab. I had my textbook for my college composition class with me and I got it out and read the first unit’s reading assignments (this was a revelation). After considerable time had passed, I discovered the popcorn machine, and I moved to the reception area, where sunlight was streaming through the windows, and I sat down and reopened my book.

One other customer was sitting there. He was a big man about my age, and he wore a white tee-shirt and had a gold hoop earring. He was African American, but he reminded me of Mr. Clean from those old Proctor & Gamble commercials. “What happened to you?” he asked. I told him, briefly (I really wanted to get back to my book) and he said, “Well, praise God. Weren’t you lucky!” 220px-Mr._Clean_logo

Lucky I didn’t have an accident. Lucky I was driving the car and not my 80-year old mother. Lucky I had Triple-A. Lucky that the tire was under warranty. Lucky I was obedient (he actually used that word!) to the advice I’d been given. Lucky that it was such a bright, pretty day to wait in.

I was initially leery, but he won me over with his infectious enthusiasm. I am still not sure if he was trying to convert me to his church, but he talked a lot about the Bible (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth), or “the good book,” and how “it’s all in there!” We talked about my daughters. We talked about how if you want to grow something, you have to plant it first. “It might not grow. Maybe the soil’s no good. Maybe it won’t ever rain. But if you don’t plant it, it surely will not grow!”

His name was Len, and although (being at heart a reclusive hermit type who would always rather read a book) I almost got up and moved away when he began talking to me, he ended up making  my day. Added bonus: he gave me a story to tell.

“What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”



Yesterday afternoon I drove to Snoqualmie Pass to ski with my daughters and their friend Shana, only to discover that Summit had closed at 4:00. Unbelievable! It was a perfect afternoon. No precipitation, lots of snow on the ground. Not sunny, but bright. A spring day.

The girls — I hate to call them “girls,” they’re 19, but they’re my girls — broke open our dinner and chowed down. They listened to Lady Gaga and James Taylor. Then they put on their ski bibs and parkas and built a snow-woman. They climbed up a hill and slid down (several times). They took pictures. I was happily reading away in the car, but they made me get out and help with the pictures.

We drove home around 8:00, under a big, gorgeous moon. We talked about life and some of their goals. I thought of my students, and of a conversation I’ve had with several people lately, that desire to be a writer, and that defeating response, “I don’t have the time,” which I hear so often. When we got home, they made me go to the Y with them (“You were looking forward to getting some exercise, you said so!”) and we worked out.

You have the same amount of time as everyone else, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. No one gets more than that. If you have a dream to write — or paint, or run, or play in the snow — what will you do TODAY to make that happen? When you encounter obstacles, how will you choose to deal with those obstacles? If you really, truly want to write and can’t retire tomorrow, or take next quarter off, or go to a weekend retreat, could you just set the timer on your phone, dig out a pen, open a notebook, and write for 15 minutes? Come on. I’ll write with you!

The Summer Day

           Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean–
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Ah, Spring

Spring, and spring break. I just submitted my grades for winter quarter and in a few minutes I will stand up from my desk and walk out of this office. I have to come back tomorrow and Wednesday to get my spring quarter classes ready (why did I choose new books — again?), but tonight my husband is taking me out to dinner. And I’m in a mood to celebrate. bruceAfter a conversation at my fabulous book party on Saturday (thank you, Carolynne) I’ve been thinking about how being a writer is not unlike being married. You can’t say “Oh, I want to be a writer,” and get there by not writing, any more than you can say, “I’d love to have a good marriage,” but then never invest any time or energy into the project. Do I always feel like writing — I mean my “real,” important, goal-oriented writing? No. (Scribbling, always. It’s strange.) Do I always feel like being married? No. But I would in fact like to have a good marriage. Don’t imagine that I’m advocating sticking around for abuse. Okay, I’m not going any deeper into this well. Dinner calls.

One of my creative writing students used this quote from Bob Marley in his Big, True Story: “If she’s amazing, she won’t be easy. If she’s easy, she won’t be amazing. If she’s worth it, you won’t give up. If you give up, you’re not worthy…Truth is, everybody is going to hurt you; you just gotta find the ones worth suffering for.”

This strikes me as both woefully cynical, and weirdly true. So, happy spring. Even if it looks a little weedy right now, what you nurture will grow.

 I hope you got the grade you worked for. Imagine a winky face here. buttercups

Change which Life?

me at twoA friend let me know that my line in the last post, “I want to change my life” didn’t hit exactly the right note. I am getting up every morning, after all, and writing! To be more precise, the video about Oliver Jeffers made me want to stick a chalkboard up in my potting shed, a place to scrawl ideas.

It’s fair to say, that I already have my version of a chalkboard. Into my journal every morning I scrawl an action plan. A few items from today: meeting at Carolynne’s — 9:30; email Polly B. about a possible class visit; email Cara about future readings; call Mom’s doctor. Oh, and write 15 minutes on the manuscript (yes, I did earn my gold star today).

Things like Clean fish tank and Water plants find their way onto that list in my journal, too.

I could do a better job of doing it like Oliver Jeffers does it if I wrote a list of CREATIVE stuff I want to accomplish each day. Write one new character sketch. Read 10 pages out loud.

There are a lot of really great things going on in my life right now. That part, I wouldn’t change. Be thankful.

How to Avoid the Passive Voice

I found this on the Aerogramme Studio site. To test a sentence to see whether or not it is cast in passive voice, try adding “by zombies.” If it can be added, then you know it’s passive.

The sentence was written on the whiteboard … by zombies.

The post was added that evening … by zombies.

Not that some passive constructions aren’t okay, but still–  

…to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men … by zombies …

You get the idea. ZombiePic25


Great First Lines

Last night while being a supportive mom, hanging out at Barnes & Noble with one of my daughters while she did math (I was no actual help, mind you), I decided to read first paragraphs of several novels. This was my favorite:

“To take an interest in the affairs of others is entirely natural; so natural, in fact, that even a cat, lying cat-napping on top of a wall, will watch with half an eye the people walking by below. But between such curiosity, which is permissable, and nosiness, which is not, there lies a dividing line that is painted red and marked by the very clearest of warning signs.” –Alexander McCall Smith, The Right Attitude to Rainrain smith