Collected Wisps of Thought

{January 19, 2008}   Writing Retreat

People often ask if I think writing conferences and retreats are worth the money. Do you really get enough out of them to warrant the expense? Well, I just came back from a writing retreat, so I thought I’d share some of my own experience in answer to this question.

First, a little background on the retreat. This one was small — sixteen published authors (all children’s book writers) gathering at an Inn in Pennsylvania to study poetry. None of us have published poetry and most of us probably never will. The point of the retreat was to study a different aspect of our craft with no pressures to perform for a crowd or to meet anyone’s definition of success other than our own. I’d attended this same retreat once before, three years ago.

The first noticeable result of saying “yes” to this gathering was that I needed to actually read some books of poetry in order to participate. Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve taken the time to read an entire book of poetry? A long time. And one of the books was an anthology where renowned poets selected their personal favorites from their collections and then wrote an essay at the end of their section discussing their writing. Do you know how long it’s been since I read an anthology? Even longer.

Of course I waited until the last minute to get started, so it ended up that I read very intensively for about four days prior to the retreat. I found myself so immersed in poetry that at times my thoughts would meander into poetic form. Soon, I noticed I was seeing the world differently — paying attention to those small details of every day life that infuse great poetry with meaning. I started wondering if I was doing enough in my fiction writing to make these small relatable details a part of each scene I create.

Then the retreat arrived, and instead of doing the same things in roughly the same order as I do all the time, I stepped out of my routine and landed some place new. Some place where my thoughts could not drift to undone chores and events written in blue ink on my calendar. Some place where there were sights and sounds and smells I was unfamiliar with. All of which will probably make it into my writing at some point or another. The clanging old fashioned radiators, the musty smell of white knotted bedspreads, the steam wafting off a too hot pool…

I knew some of the writers in attendance, but not all of them. I’d been hoping to make some new connections, and I wasn’t disappointed. I met an editor of Highlights magazine and discovered that they are based only about an hour from where I live — and here I thought there was nothing publishing related nearby! I met a woman who has published fifty-five children’s books. Fifty-five! There were several Newbery winners and it was a treat for me to listen to them and soak in their wisdom. And it was fun to listen to what my fellow writers came up with when it was time to read our poetry aloud. It was challenging for me, like a new kid trying to keep up with the older kids.

The instructor was amazing… Vivian Shipley. She was insightful and intense and taught us so generously throughout the four days. She offered to contact people in the field should we decide to submit our poetry, and to offer personal recommendations. As anyone trying to break into ANY field can tell you, these kinds of offers are golden. They come very few and far between.

On one of the nights we had a reading where each person had five minutes to share something they were working on, just for fun. I chose to read my new picture book, which is under contract but doesn’t yet have an illustrator. It’s only been seen by my family and my editor and agent. This was an opportunity to read it out loud to a crowd and see what kind of reception it got. That was fun!

And then it was time to go home, but the gifts did not end with my return to real life. I came back feeling excited about writing and immediately finished two picture books that I’d had lingering that needed revision. I’d been stuck on one of them in particular, not sure where to go with it. The other one had been lying fallow due to sheer neglect. Both have been given new life. It was easy to relate the picture book writing to poetry writing since both forms are very similar. You must choose the very best words to evoke certain images in your reader’s mind.

My other writing has also benefited from a breath of fresh air. It felt good to finish up two stagnant projects, so I’ve tried to keep that momentum rolling in other ways — writing blogs, posting on my forum, tackling the short story I’ve been trying to write, taking out the novel that’s been waiting for revision.

And soon I will get together with two of the other women from the retreat who live in the area and we will share some work, give each other feedback, do some more poetry prompts… As I drive these days I listen to audio books of poets reading their work.

So, are writing conferences and retreats worth the money? You tell me. What would YOU spend for the above results? 


{January 16, 2008}   Brookstone

Here is a ridiculous story for you, and a good reason not to shop at Brookstone for gifts…

My mother bought a light-up dog leash at Brookstone for my dad for Christmas. Unfortunately, shortly after she bought it, we found out their beloved dog had kidney failure and wouldn’t live very long. This was devastating news and obviously made the dog leash gift an inappropraite one.

Mom took the leash, still wrapped in the Brookstone gift wrap to the nearest store. When she bought the leash she had no reason to think she’d have to return it since she didn’t know their dog was dying, so she didn’t keep the receipt. She explained the situation to the manager of the store and showed him the package, still gift wrapped (so obviously she couldn’t have nabbed it from the store and taken it up to the register). The leash, once unwrapped was still sealed and the package has Brookstone stamped all over it, as all their products do, so there was no question it was their product.

They refused to let her return it.

Mom went home and dug through her credit card statements and found the one with the Brookstone charge on it for the exact amount of the dog leash. She took the leash in to the store, again explained the situation, yet they still refused to take it back even with her credit card bill in hand.

They gave her a 1-800 number which she called from home. It took a half hour on the phone, but finally the customer service people went into their files, found the record of her purchase and wrote up a form which they faxed to her so she could take it back to the store.

She did so. The store manager refused to take the return because it wasn’t an “original” form.

At this point, my mom was furious and so she refused to leave, and made them go in the office and call customer service back themselves. The manager kept her waiting at the counter for over half an hour. Then he came out and said they’d give her half the cost of the leash. Mom said that was not acceptable and made them go back in and call again. (Go mom!) This time they kept her waiting nearly forty-five minutes. 

The end result was that they finally took the return, but they definitely lost several customers in the process. This is an example of a small thing that could have been handled with compassion and efficiency (ie: good customer service) but instead was handled with an eye for the bottom line: money.

But you know what? Even if my mother had walked away and they’d made their $40 on refusing her return, they still would be losing out in the long run since we will not shop there again, and will warn everyone we know that if you’re buying gifts you want people to be able to return should they not like them, then Brookstone is not the place you want to shop.

It’s sad when rules and greed come before compassion and care.

***** Originally posted January 5, 2008 on MySpace ******* 

Yesterday my husband got hit by a bus.

Yes, it’s true, but don’t worry, he’s fine. He was on his way to work and the bus didn’t even see him. It plowed right into his car as he was stopped at a stop sign and took a huge chunk out of the left front of the vehicle. Bus was not scratched. Our car, totaled.

Now, there are several little lecturey things I have to say about this. The first is that my husband, like my father, has a horrible habit of putting his seat belt on while driving. His philosophy is that, a) he forgets, and b) he doesn’t think he’ll get in an accident during the first three minutes or so of driving. But this accident happened within sight of our house on roads that 98% of the time are completely and utterly empty. It was a clear, non-snowy day and if he had been asked the odds of his getting in an accident upon leaving the house I’m sure he would have said ZERO percent.

The second thing I have to say about this is that sometimes it’s really hard being an optimist. Not only was his car totaled, but when we went out to start my car so I could drive him to work, it didn’t start. My car chose THAT moment for the battery to die. What are the chances? I am trying to tell myself this is not an ominous start to 2008 but there’s this little part of my brain that wants to run away in panic. The optimist part says, “count your blessings, the bus didn’t plow into the driver’s side door instead of the front of the vehicle”, the pessimist part says, “true, but don’t walk under any anvils”.


So there it is, 2008 is underway.

{January 16, 2008}   quick follow up thought

****** Originally posted January 3, 2008 on MySpace ****** 

Today a friend sent me an e-card with pictures of Ireland in the background. Now, I have to say I am not usually an e-card type of person… I don’t often send chain letters or open stuff that’s been forwarded and half the time when people send me e-cards I appreciate the thought a whole lot more than the card itself. But this one was different. The photographs were gorgeous, like a little mini-vacation in the middle of my day and the text was an Irish blessing that I would SO love to be able to reproduce for you here, but alas, after multiple viewings of the card I couldn’t possibly write fast enough to get more than snippets on paper, but the gist of the blessing was that it didn’t wish you a life without trouble but rather the fortitude and love of good friends to see you through. This is a wonderful sentiment to follow up my previous blog about handling hurtful circumstances, so I thought I’d include it.

{January 16, 2008}   Two Blogs in One Day

***** Again, this blog was originally posted on January 2, 2008 on MySpace ****** 

Two blogs in one day! I know… 2008 really is going to be an awesome year. Its magic is working already.

My last blog was a more negative subject, so this one is going to be all positives. I have always loved New Years because it is a blank slate. It’s a chance to dream big about how you want to live your life and all the things you want to accomplish in the coming year. Every year I am unabashedly optimistic that I will keep all my resolutions, and you know what? Sometimes I do. So here’s a new set for this new year.

(I will mention that this entry was inspired by KC who took the time to come up with a wonderful well thought out set of seven, so I am going to do the same, giving credit where credit is due.)

1. I’m going to start journaling again. I used to journal all the time and I love looking back at those old entries, remembering things I’d forgotten long ago. I like taking the time to sort out my thoughts and put them on paper, by hand, in a beautiful leather bound book. I need to remember that I can write without editing. Who cares if it might be embarrasing later on? Or if the prose isn’t perfect. Journaling is about life and life can be messy.

2. I want to compliment my husband at least once every day. He makes me feel so loved and I want him to know all the things I appreciate about him, from the way he cleans the snow off my car so I won’t have to do it, to the way he introduces me to fun stuff I wouldn’t have found on my own, to the way he always reaches out to hug me, no matter what else I’m doing.

3. I want to be diligent about setting a time for spirituality and honoring it, whether that comes in the form of visiting a local church or the Buddhist temple around the corner, or sitting and meditating. Too often this part of my life gets pushed aside by other parts that are more demanding — more vocal and pushy — but spirituality is quiet and can easily be ignored. I’m not going to let myself ignore it.

4. I will start getting up earlier. Even though it feels like it will kill me, I will do it.

5. Yes, it’s true, we all have to put exercise on our list. I want to be diligent about this and I’m starting today right after I write this blog. (Honest, I really am!)..

6. I will go on a fun non-family oriented vacation. Family can be wonderful but in this day and age, they’re everywhere! I have family in Maine, Florida, North Carolina, Utah, California, Texas… My husband gets twelve vacation days a year. I couldn’t visit them all if I tried. Every year it’s too easy to let family come first to the point where my husband and I don’t go anywhere new to see the world and relax together. This is definitely a priority this year. And no, book related conferences don’t count as vacation!

7. Hmm… lucky number seven. To tell you the truth, these were all of the ones I had in mind thus far, so now I need to add one more. I want to be a blessing to my friends, even those who are far away and/or have young kids now, which can make it harder to keep in touch. But I am so appreciative of them. The older I get, the more I realize that your friends are often the people who love you even more than your family. To have friends you can count on to care about you and celebrate with you and commiserate with you is such a huge gift, and I want to be more purposeful about telling them I care. Cards, surprise packages, phone calls when its possible, visits when we can… I will try to be creative in the ways I say thanks for all that they give me.

Happy 2008 everyone!

{January 16, 2008}   Seeking Your Wisdon

***** This blog was actually posted to my MySpace blog on January 2, but I forgot to move it over until now!

It has been a LONG time since I’ve posted a blog. I’ve admitted on previous occasions I’m a sporadic blogger at best. But here it is, a new year, and I decided it was time to write a new one.

I’m seeking advice from anyone willing to give it.

Here’s my question:

What’s the best way to get over the fact that someone has hurt you?

The situation is thus: said person has offered a lame, obligatory, half hearted apology in the past — the kind that allows them to say they have apologized but you and they both know that the apology did not come from the heart. It was a chess move that allowed them to claim superiority. We all know the kind… they’ve apologized, so what’s your problem?

The person does not show any signs of caring that they’ve hurt you, nor have they changed their behavior in any way. This is not the first time they’ve hurt you — not by a long shot — and most of the time they’ve been gloriously oblivious, happy in their own little world. In fact, you’ve been told in exact words that this is what matters: their happiness. When you have tried to talk to them about the situation they explode and are unwilling to listen, but they will continue to pretend that things are fine if you let them and are willing to play along.

So tell me, what do you do?

In the past I would probably have written a letter. It’s the one way I can say what I need to say and feel like I might actually get a chance to have that person’s attention for any length of time. But honestly, at this point I feel like that would be useless. Sometimes people care so little about anything outside their own world that I don’t think anything else can get in. This is what my experience has shown me is true with this person. When she is happy the planets orbit her.

So that leaves me with one option as I see it, which is to get over this hurt on my own. Which brings me back to my original question… readers, share with me if you will, your vast experience. What’s the best way to get over the fact that someone you once felt close to has hurt you?

I look forward to your collective wisdom.

et cetera