Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Preview and Interview

Robert Brewer, Poet Magnificent at Poetic Asides (Writer's Digest), interviews me and 24 other poets as we get closer to National Poetry Month. Will you accept the mission--to write a poem a day, every day, in the month of April?

Interview with Top 25 Poet Linda Simoni-Wastila

Peace...


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Where the ____ is Linda?

I realize I've not written in here in over a month. It seems I don't feel I have much urgent to say about writing, other than I am doing it. Daily.

Once my children hit their tweens and teens this past year, my time and head and heart have been preoccupied. I don't talk about them here--to do so would be a form of privacy invasion. But what I will say is this: over the past year and continuing forward, I believe both my children have begun to recognize the loss of childhood and the beginning of adulthood--and they do not like where they find themselves. For them both, their antics and angst are not symptoms of disease or deviance but of mourning.

And who can blame them?

Appearances must be maintained in school, at the mall, on facebook. There are pressures none of my generation ever faced. Sure, school is tedious, boring, "stupid", filled with few applications relevant to real life. As when I was younger, much younger, their classmates brag about getting high, having sex, stealing.

But daily, my kids tell stories of their peers taking joy in making fun of others who don't wear "Ever Crummy and Bitch" shirts or who can't spike the ball over the net during gym. Of celebrating a kid who "finally killed himself" because he had been cyber-harassed. Despite all the attention paid by principals and teachers to counter it, bullying has become the latest style. Bullying takes many, often subtle forms: calling someone a ghost because they have pale skin, grabbing another's binder and throwing it on the school roof, peeing in a cup and telling another to drink it. My children have been on the receiving end of these affronts, and more.

My son tells my daughter high school is little better than middle school. It does not giver her too much hope. I think about pulling my children from public schools and sending them to private ones, but I fear similar problems are found there, just involving other drugs, other brand names, other forms of violence. Besides, public school is a cross-section of the real world, and where better to prepare for the real world?

Because, by golly, I see the same issues in my daily life, the same basic lack of civility and compassion and kindness.

I didn't intend for this post to take this form. I thought I'd talk about the process of revising PURE, of the constant snow, of learning guitar. Of the books I've read. But this is where Linda is these days, mourning the end of my children's childhood and trying to understand how that must feel to them.

Peace...

Saturday, February 08, 2014

READING WORM

My daughter calls me a reading worm. It's a joke that harkens back to toddler-hood, when she confused bookworm with the act of reading. She's not so far off.

Anyway, as a writer one of my 'jobs' is to read. And that I do, a lot, often having several tomes going at once. One of the things I wanted to do this year is keep track of what I've read, and why not share it with you?

January was a prolific month. I started the New Year by finishing EMPIRE FALLS by Richard Russo. This is a gorgeously structured book, with multiple POVs and time periods weaving in and out until its grand conclusion. Russo is a master of creating essence of place, paying as much attention to the telling detail as the white space in between. This little town--and its history--come to life under his pen. I learned a lot reading this novel, lessons I intend to apply to THE MINISTER'S WIFE once it comes out of mothballs.

Santa gifted me WILD by Cheryl Strayed. I walked and brooded with her along the Pacific Crest Trail. At first, I was afraid this was another self-indulgent foray into memoir, another EAT-PRAY-LOVE, but with hiking boots and trail mix. But Strayed reeled me in, and the environs and the characters she meets on her journey came alive. I could not put this book down, and when I finished, I stood up and gave her a standing O.

I have a new writing group, and one of the members is Rebecca Coleman, who has several books to her credit. I read THE KINGDOM OF CHILDHOOD and INSIDE THESE WALLS, both superb reads. Rebecca has an uncanny knack for understanding--and exploiting--her characters' weaknesses, but in such a way I feel complicit in their secrets. Coleman tackles tough subjects--including child sexual abuse and prison--without flinching. The characters from THE KINGDOM OF CHILDHOOD haunted me for days after I finished.


Then, a very fast read through THE ISLE OF YOUTH by Laura van den Berg. I picked up her latest collections of shorts at ARTIFACT COFFEE, where she read (along with Katherine Noel, who read from HALFWAY HOUSE, one of my favorite novels). Not sure how Laura manages to so nail exotic locations--Patagonia, the Artic--but she does. I live/breathe/sense it all in her lush, unsettling stories.

I am halfway through an incredible little book, invaluable for anyone who considers themselves a writer. SEVERAL SHORT SENTENCES ABOUT WRITING is the best book I've read on the craft of writing since Lamott's BIRD BY BIRD. Klinkenborg deconstructs the written word to the molecular level, focusing on each word and its placement among other words. He does not focus on the meaning of sentences, but what they are saying. Every sentence in this unusual book is a gem--and after reading it, I hope every sentence of mine becomes one.

Just a sampling of what I've read the past month--what about you? Peace...




Tuesday, January 14, 2014

They Say It's Your Birthday

Dear Mom,

Happy Birthday! If I was with you now, I'd make some raspberry-chocolate thing for dessert, maybe a gooey, flour-less cake, or maybe we'd put candles in a box of truffles. Though it would have to be a big box to accommodate all those candles!

We'd have a lazy day, maybe work on a puzzle or go for a drive. Definitely play a hand or two of cribbage. Watch the birds at your feeders. Later in the afternoon, after our rest, we could drive to Starbucks for a Mocha pick-me-up to get us through whatever movie we decided to watch that night.

Dinner would be whatever you wanted: popcorn: Chinese take-out, Alfredo or pesto pasta, lobster.

Before we went to bed, at some point during the day, I'd tell you how much I love you. How happy I am that you are my mother. How sorry I am for any times I have hurt you or disappointed you, and that I never do mean to hurt or disappoint you. I would remind you how strong you are, and how strong you always have been. And how wise.

I would tell you how glad I am that you were born, how proud I am to call you Mom, to call you friend.

Love,

Always,

Your Number 1



Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Same Old, Same Old: Or, the Juggling Recommences

My sabbatical officially ended January 2, and yesterday marked my first day back on the job. I did find my way back to the office. It was good to see colleagues and, most of all, my students, but most of the day found me behind closed doors working hard on a final report due to a sponsor. My mind felt sluggish, despite the double espresso, and despite my resolution to keep to healthy work habits, I found myself eating lunch at 2:45.

But the report got drafted.

That said, I am grateful for my sabbatical. And grateful for my job.

The six-month 'leave' provided me a proper focus for my life. It reminded me what was important, and how to prioritize these things. It requires a delicate balancing of competing interests--work, family, health, self--and, within each of these items, another rebalancing.

For example, my work priorities are my students and trainees, and my research. Luckily, those are intertwined. For family, it is about providing love and structure, about being available. For health, it is yoga and being mindful, and for self, it is (and likely always will be) writing and all that writing entails: reading, noticing, listening, engaging.

The nice thing about sabbatical is it lessened the number of balls in the air. I think, though, I am refreshed enough to add the work ball back more fully to my act, remembering my priorities: students and research. To keep those balls aloft will require concentration, mindfulness of my chosen priorities, and the courage to say NO when requests and temptation do not align.

School is two-hours delayed this morning due to frigid temperatures. It is time to rouse the chickies, throw another ball in the air. Peace...






Wednesday, January 01, 2014

How to Live in 2014

This morning, the first morning of a new year, comes as a relief. I am glad to see 2013 pass--it was one tough year. My mother told me her sister dreaded the odd-numbered years--they seemed to be wrought with pain and overall badness. So my greatest hope for 2014 is that is surpasses 2013 in providing some peace, some joy, and even some boredom. 

I am not a big fan of resolutions—they are so often easily broken. But I would like to start thinking of rules to live by. Though rules may be a bit strong—perhaps principles to live by. So here are seven principles I will try to abide to as this year unfurls, bringing its myriad challenges and opportunities and surprises.

1. Remember to breathe before acting or reacting.

2. My words are powerful—use them wisely.

3. Most thoughts are not true, and therefore can be discarded.

4. Every second is sacred—be grateful for each one.

5. I cannot control people or situations, only my reaction to them.

6. Fear is the absence of love.

7. The most important moment is the present one—the last moment cannot be gotten back, and the next one has not yet happened.

Yes, these principles sound very mindful, but mindfulness has gotten me over all the nasty humps and bumps of the past year relatively intact. It's a practice that takes perseverance and patience, and while I have always persistent as a mosquito on blood, I cannot claim patience as one of my virtues. So I will practice and practice and practice, and keep you posted on my progress.

How will you live this year?

Peace...

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

What Christmas Means

Christmas morning dawns. Here, in North Carolina, I am the first one up, so I drink my coffee and watch the wrens and nuthatches attack the suet hanging outside on the deck. For me, one Christmas happened last night, when most that is left of my biological family gathered at my mother's house. Christmas Eve is hectic, and involves last-minute wrapping and cooking and other details. The children--teenagers now--gather upstairs to talk while scanning their Instagrams and emails; the adults sit at the kitchen table, drinking wine while the glazed ham finishes baking.

Later, we unwrap presents, one at a time. This is the moment the kids define as Christmas--the receiving of gifts. The surprise of finding out what is in the box, in the bag, in the card. As the presents are unwrapped, I wonder most about how they came to be, what sparked the thought to purchase or make a particular item for a particular person. The process behind the present.

I had many Christmases this year. The one last night, of course, and the one at my own home several days ago before we journeyed to my mother's home. I had Christmas at Thanksgiving with my husband's family, with his sister and mother. I experienced Thanksgiving in Newport with my friend Colleen. Christmas came to another friend's small cottage on Hardy Pond, and in Leicester, my Aunt and I celebrated with yoga and rice pudding. 

Christmas came in Hershey Park, and in Homewood before writing class, and in my hammock while the swallows swooped through the air for bugs. It came during early morning walks with my husband waiting for our daughter's bus. Christmas arrived in a CSA bag filled with kale and Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes. Christmas came during meditation and over meals made with tomatoes and asparagus from the garden. Christmas comes every morning the ones I love wake healthy, happy, hopeful.

May you have a joyous Christmas, whatever it means to you, and when. 

Peace...

Sunday, December 15, 2013

CRAVINGS

This time of year, between the gatherings of Thanksgiving and Christmas, the glitz of New Year's, I find myself craving many things. Cookies, for one. I do love homemade cookies, and Christmas is the time to dress up cookies in their finest. I make an apricot-pistachio biscotti dipped in white chocolate which could be my ticket out of my day job.

I also crave smell. The resiny scent of pine, of exotic cinnamon and cardamon, the clean scent of snow.

I crave music. If you listen, winter is full of sound--howling wind, the tinkle of snow flakes, the groaning of tree limbs under their weight of white. My children perform in their winter concerts, and their music sates me.

I crave light. The days are so short, and so dark. Snow, at least, reflects the little light there is and gives even the grayest day some hope. We've had snow on the ground for a week now, a rarity in this part of the world. At BJs, I bought a Happy Light, and I sit in front of it and bathe in the replicated sunlight every day.

Even as I crave sound, I crave its absence. Silence, the space between everything else, is as great a gift as noise. Now, as I write this, the house is silent, everyone still tucked in their beds. They will rise, and the day will become full of busy-ness. This afternoon, I will find silence in myself when I go to yoga nidra. May that silence carry me through the upcoming week.

What do you crave in this dark time of the year? What is it you want most?

Peace...




Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Leftovers

The Tuesday after Thanksgiving feels much like the last shreds of turkey still on the carcass, the bowl scrapped clean of cranberry sauce, the last slice of apple pie.

A bit tired.

But tired in a good way. Many people travel to family and friends over Thanksgiving--we certainly did--and being with those you love, these familiar people, has a way of centering me, of preparing me for the onslaught of winter.

This week and the next few are the lull between the next days of activity--Christmas and New Year's. I love thinking about gifts to give and make, shopping for the best deals, preparing my annual jams and cookies. I love traveling south to visit my mother and sister and nieces, enjoying their company and the rituals of the season.

There is comfort in their familiarity, in the routines, and this comfort is necessary to get us through the dark months of January and February (the longest month, truly) when we draw inward. The memories of these visits will give me sustenance, for these are the months I write, really write, for what else is there to do (other than read)?

This time of year, I realize how lucky I am to be surrounded by generous people--my families, my friends, both old and new, both virtual and cyber. I am thankful for my health, and the health of my husband and children. I remain thankful for the ability and freedom to express myself.

I will spend the next few weeks finding ways to express my gratitude. This is the joy, for me at least, of the holiday season.

And to start off my shopping, a trip to THE MILLIONS, where I hope to find a gift or two for my writing friends (I especially like #17, a subscription to a literary journal of the month--fantabulous idea).

Happy days of gratitude, and peace...





Tuesday, November 12, 2013

WHERE I AM and WHERE I'VE BEEN

I'm on sabbatical, which means my daily day is not my usual daily day. Sure, I go to my actual office every 2-3 weeks, mostly to meet with my graduate students and post-docs, and to review research projects. Because none of those go away on sabbatical. But the rest of the stuff--the committee meetings, the lectures, the administrative duties--have (mostly) disappeared.

Most folks on sabbatical go exotic places--Thailand, Italy, India--or work at another institution. My life with kids precluded extended travel, but I have been on a few short trips:

1. BOSTON! Well, Cambridge. And beyond. My favorite place in the world. My graduate student and I went to attend a totally unique conference--geospatial analysis approaches to health problems. A fancy phrase for mapping. Very cool to look at the association of risk and protective factors in 3-D. And did I mention my brilliant student won the Conference's Communication award for her poster on national treatment admissions for prescription opioid abuse? We ate lobster fra diavalo in the North End to celebrate. I spent the rest of the week catching up with colleagues and dear friends and my wonderful Aunt, visits that took me to Waltham, North Reading, Leicester, and Newport.

2. JOHNS HOPKINS! My office away from work. I have a class on the Homewood Campus on Tuesdays, and it is bucolic in the afternoon. I grab a caramel latte and sit on a bench and write and think and wish I was a college student again. 

3. NEW YORK CITY! I'm here NOW. Kind of. I'm taking a non-fiction book proposal course with GOTHAM. Tell me, would you pick this up if you saw it in Barnes and Noble: Un-Balanced: The Epidemic of Prescription Drug Abuse and the Programs and Policies that Got Us There?

4. TAOS, NEW MEXICO! A gorgeous place, with snow-capped mountains and arid desert. I'm digging clay from the earth--here, it sparkles with mica--to make pots the way the Taos Pueblo Indians do. Rather, my character Sheila is in Taos, but through her I get to live vicariously.

5. REISTERSTOWN, MARYLAND! Home sweet home. I spend most of my day at my desk, working on manuscripts and research proposals and gearing up for a new NIH-funded grant on COPD and Depression in Older Adults. I read a lot, including David Sheff's new book CLEAN, which deals with the piss-poor way our society deals with addiction. Timely and important stuff. I see my kids get on and off the bus, and get to make smoothies for them, and help with homework, and eat lunch with my husband.

Nothing fancy, but the rest has done me good. I am bursting with ideas, and that's what a sabbatical is supposed to be all about. Peace...


Friday, November 01, 2013

Witching Hours

It's 6:30 in the morning, and black as pitch. The wind moans through the trees, rattles the siding. The flaming maple will be bare of leaves when day beaks. As usual, I am up before everyone else. It is a rare morning when I sleep past six.

Last night, our street was empty of trick-or-treaters. Only Henry and Will and I knocked on doors, gathered our goodies. For the past eight years, our neighborhood gathered at one end of the street to trick or treat together. The men attached hay-carts to mowers, the babies and toddlers pulled behind in wagons. After, we'd gather for pizza and drinks, and catch up until next year.

But now, the kids are older. They have other friends, other places to go. On our short street, the children in five families go to five different schools. Sometimes, it feels lonely...

Tomorrow we move the clocks back an hour. The morning will brighten, good news for the kids waiting for school buses. Bad news for after school and after work, when dark will descend with a vengeance.

Winter comes. And yes, if this post sounds melancholy, it is. Just a tad. Time to hibernate, time to turn inward. Peace...

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Ten Great Things

1. The weather: Indian Summer that goes on and on. Perfect days for reading, writing, thinking, drowsing in the hammock.

2. The corn: The lack of rain has made this summer veggie oh so sweet. Made up some corn and crab chowder, and my son proclaimed he wanted to learn how to cook.

3. My kids: Doing well in school, adjusting to the next step of 'adulthood'. But do we ever grow up? I hope not...

4. The latest issue of JMWW: Jam-packed with delectable fiction and poetry and book reviews and more, more, more. Read it NOW.

5. Tim O'Brien's IN THE LAKE OF THE WOODS: What a fabulous novel. O'Brien's writing is out-of-the-box and out-of-this-world. Want shivers? Read it.

6. Best bit of writing advice: "In dialogue tags, place the name of the speaker before the verb," Ellie said. "It gives the narrative forward momentum.

7. Best bit of information on how to read a short story: The climax usually comes at the end, ideally the penultimate sentence (Eudora Welty is genius at this).

8. The U S of A: Despite our warts and differences and diversity, still the best place to live.

9. The garden: And my husband for tending it.

10. My friends: You know who you are, cyber and real. With you, I dine and w(h)ine, work and play, write and read, experience and dream.

What's on your gratitude list? Peace...