Thursday, September 30, 2010

Double, double, toil and trouble

A whole week of blogs have been spawned from my growing annoyance with being grilled by elderly men at work on what I’m going to do when I graduate. When I explain that I graduated from college more than three years ago (do I really still look 21?), they inevitably ask what I’m “planning to do.” This question baffles me as I am obviously at work when they pose the question. Still, they don’t seem to trust that I’m not going to starve this winter until I explain that I also write.

Let’s be honest: my annoyance at having to consistently defend myself by claiming to be “a writer” probably stems from the fact that I don’t fully believe myself.

Remember in Shakespeare in Love when the boatman realizes it’s Will Shakespeare in his boat and starts off on a marketing pitch: “Funny, I’m a bit of a writer me self.” Most of the time, I feel like the boatman, just a nobody clamoring for recognition. (Well, I certainly don’t feel like William Shakespeare . . . . )

My apprehension about placating people by telling them that I’m a writer is hinged on the fact that I often don’t feel like a writer. If we look back on this summer it becomes obvious that I’ve spent far more time coordinating volunteers than pounding great works on the laptop keyboard. The time in the early mornings and evenings when I should be working on writing projects has instead been spent watching Netflix, reading random Yahoo! articles, keeping up with other blogs, and knitting socks.

Sure the blog gets written on a semi-regular basis and deadlines keep the articles and commentaries coming. The radio documentary’s been a slow slog, but after devoting portions of both of my most recent days off, we’re nearly finished with the second episode. But as I told a fellow writer on Sunday, I’ve been doing the bare minimum and my writing goals have been headed down the slippery slope of “tomorrow, tomorrow, and tomorrow.”

The novel has been languishing all summer long. Last week I pulled out the novel printout, knowing that it’s getting to be time to start researching agents, writing synopses, and queries. But the preliminary cruise through agents’ websites led to a visit from the doubt demons. Is the novel really polished? Is there enough story? Is it overwritten and if so, will editing it to be more concise completely mess with my word count? And most importantly: am I brave enough for this probable path of rejection?

So lots of time I don’t feel like much of a writer. And telling you I’m a writer so I don’t have to explain why I’m not a nurse, rocket scientist, or lawyer isn’t going to make us understand each other any better. Because I am a writer. And that means I’m a work in progress. As Shakespeare reminds us in Hamlet: “We know what we are, but know not what we may be.”

That Shakespeare, he had a way with words, didn’t he . . .

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Beautiful Autumn

The world seems to be heaving one last happy sigh before the ever questionable October weather sets in.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Impossible Equation for Perfect Happiness

The more I work with the public, the more I am struck by the fact that people have very complicated algorithms for reaching perfect happiness. Oh, if I had a nickel for every time so well-meaning elderly visitor at work asked me: "But you're still in school . . .  right?!" . . . .  Lately the rumor that Andy and I are getting hitched soon as been circling amongst the peanut gallery.  Not only is this completely untrue, it reminds me that to many people, happiness just isn't happiness if it doesn't involve a marriage, 2.8 kids, and white picket fence.

I've never been much at math and as such, my equation for perfect happiness is a simple addition problem.

It goes a little bit like this:

One you . . .

Plus one childhood, world travel and an education . . .

Plus one degree . . . .

 one wonderful, loving boyfriend . . . .

some great friends . . . .
 
beautiful scenery . . .
a unique job . . .

And of course, plenty of cupcakes. 
Just like that: perfect happiness

See?! Simple! No need to quantify that by wedding rings or babies. No need to divide my career success by the number of degrees.

Just plain ol' first grade math. Just the way I like it.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Rockin' The Coups


Dane Cook: slightly obnoxious. But his whole skit about asking a girl out to Burger King (his workplace in the skit) -- “Wanna go to the BK Lounge? I’ve got coups. . . .” – still tickles my funny bone. And lately it’s been ringing just a little too true.

The other day, Andy and I were in the checkout line at Cub and the lady in front of us was buying cases of Spaghetti-Os and tomato soup. “School lunches,” she explained. “When they’re a good price, you’ve got to scoop them up.”  We were both horrified. Her poor children were going to be eating nothing but tomato soup for the next year and a half once that cartful made its way home.  And all because of their mother’s extreme budget consciousness. Then I realized I had two coupons which I’d printed from the Box Tops for Education website resting atop our pile of groceries. (Why am I clipping Box Tops for Education anyway? I have no children . . .. But that’s another blog for another day.) I should probably stop judging other people’s cheapness then, eh?

I don’t know what’s come over me. Maybe it’s the weather. Maybe it’s the summer season wrapping up and the impending cut in my paycheck that brings. Maybe it stems from reading just one too many mommy blogs.

But whatever it is, there’s no denying, I’ve become a coupon clipper.

To think that just months ago my friend Sarah and I were having a giggle at a friend of hers who likes to keep her coupons organized in a mini accordion folder. Now? Well, it kind of sounds like a good idea . . .

I’ve taken to leafing through coupon booklets, scouring websites for deals, ripping off coupons of products I buy that I normally would have thrown away without a thought. Can’t make the online coupon printer to work? Have them mail it to me.

Really?!

Is this the life I chose? A life of saving 50 cents when I buy 2 of a product. Of smacking down a stack of coupons on the conveyer belt for the poor small town checkout lady to reckon with?  

My mother used to write her grocery lists on envelopes so she could slip her coupons inside to keep them safe and so she’d remember to use them at the checkout. She doesn’t do that anymore nor does she squat way down to the grocery store floor to read the label to determine which size of ketchup has the best price per ounce. Nope, she’s done with the grocery groveling behind her and has handed it down to me.  

I’m not a brand loyalist, I’m not a discount shopper, I generally buy things when I need them and to be honest we don’t eat a whole lot of the pre-packaged food which generate the majority of coupons.  Still when I see a coupon for $5 off cheese (and we eat a lot of cheese) I want in on that. I simply don’t want to spend money when it’s unnecessary.  And as someone not thrilled with the food industry, it only seems fair that the big corporations should give me a break every once in a while.

I can rationalize this until the cows come home, but I’m still worried about what all this coupon clipping really means. Conscientious consumer? Or just one step away from crazy lady? 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Settling In For the Winter

The old Yodel stove
Summer went out like a candle this year and the last three weeks have been drizzly and cold. Today marks the autumnal equinox, as if we need one more reminder that winter just isn't getting farther away. Lately, as we hurry to slop paint on the new shed before it gets too cold, we keep sneaking glances at the wood pile, wondering if it'll be enough to last through an "almost guaranteed to be" five month winter.

It's hard to tell what the winter will truly bring, although we certainly like to devote a fair amount of time speculating on what the winter months might bring. After all, last year's wimpy winter must mean "we're due."  And haven't the fuzzy caterpillars seemed especially fuzzy? As much as I try to avoid the Farmer's Almanac approach to weather predictions, I can't help but remember that the infamous 1991 Halloween Blizzard followed a summer so beastly and muggy that my brother and I spent most of it playing in the unfinished basement. That summer, the frosting on my brother's mid-July birthday cake slid down the sides as he blew out the candles. What does that meltingly awful summer weather sound like? Oh yeah, this summer . . .

But if the ol' north wind decides to dump two - four feet of snow on us this October 31st, we'll be ready. Well, kind of.  (Still haven't quite wrapped my mind around the fact that I'll be living 55 miles away from the nearest grocery store this winter.)  But we do have a brand spankin' new wood stove that will help us burn through that wood pile just a little slower and allows us to use a renewable, carbon neutral energy source for most of our heating this winter.




This is the new Lopi Endeavor stove we bought last 'weekend.' We can fit a ton more wood inside the burn box  and the stove allows us to burn each piece of wood much more efficiently instead of sending most of the firewood's energy up the chimney like that last stove did. Since I'll be working from home all winter, I'm rather fond of the idea of not having to spend most of day tending the fire. After all, there's a reason why Hestia (the Greek goddess of the hearth) always gets forgotten . . . .

Andy warms himself in front of the stove
Once we got the stove home, Andy spent most of the following two days not talking to me. So absorbed in the fitting of pipes and cutting of holes in ceilings and roofs was he that he hardly even remembered to eat until the first fire was crackling in the stove. Now he's taken to sitting on the floor by the stove and smiling at it. He's also taken to talking to me again, although a fair bit of the conversation still centers around the awesomeness of the stove.    

They say "home is where the heart is." But in northern Minnesota, it might be more apt to say "home is where the hearth is." Tonight the stove sends out a warm orb through the cabin, taking the chill off this fall night. Will it be enough to keep us cozy and warm this January? Only time will tell.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Fall Colors from Above

All of a sudden, the trees have turned to orange, yellow, and red. We've been wooing and ahhing at the colors from the ground from the past couple days. Tonight we were lucky enough to take a flight and see the colors from above. It was pretty spectacular.

View of Seagull Lake


Colors in the Mid-Trail area


Caribou Lake near Lutsen



Looking down the shore towards Duluth.


North Shore Sunset

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

How To Get To Carnegie Hall




As a child, our house was a quiet nook of a place. All morning long, and into the afternoon, my brother and I worked on schoolwork while my mother took care of dinner preparations, housework, and other jobs. But at 3:30 every weekday afternoon, the house filled with the shuffle of bodies and the sounding of musical scales on the piano as the first of my mother’s afternoon piano students arrived.  

By the time I was in high school, I spent most of the time piano students were in the house cloistered upstairs in my bedroom. From my perch upstairs, I grew to know Clementi’s Sonatinas so well that I refused to learn them when I myself was taking lessons. And I learned other things about piano lessons, which have stuck with me far longer than the French I attempted to study while students banged away at their first piece of Bach below.

My mother preferred her students know how to read before they began lessons. And she was suspicious about the Suzuki method of teaching, which starts students out at a very young age and can lead to poor note reading skills and a somewhat mechanical approach to playing music. My mother believed that music was something more than playing the right notes in the right order. Heck, a trained monkey could do that. Music can’t be music until it’s the right notes in the right order played in manner that connects it to human emotion. In essence, music should be your heart speaking through your fingertips.  

I spoke with a retired music instructor this summer who’d used the Suzuki method during their teaching days. During the conversation I was struck by the amount of emotional distance between the two of us. The experience left me cold and it got me thinking that maybe the notion of listening to the music of the heart could apply to many facets of life: from how we communicate with others to our more solitary, creative pursuits . . . like writing.  

Writing and music, for the most part, are drastically different entities. Yet they come from the same place: some hidden spring within that we learn to tap and train, but never fully understand.

And if we’re going to get anywhere with our writing or music, we need some method to our madness so that what spews forth from the spring appears polished and accomplished. (Remember: “How to you get to Carnegie Hall?” Practice, practice, practice.)  On Sunday, I pulled out the three-ring binder which has been collecting dust on my shelf all summer. The binder contains a print out of the novel I revised last winter. It’s time to pull out my red pen to polish up the writing just a little more and to research agents, writing synopses, and try to get this little story out the door. If the novel’s going to get anywhere, I need to subscribe to set method of how to query, when to query, etc, just as I have to do when seeking out freelance writing possibilities.    

But we don’t want the method to turn into our life. We don’t want to transform the pursuit of goals into a mere checklist. Creative pursuits just aren’t meant to be robotic. While success does often breed business, we still want to write, or play music, or follow whatever creative lurks in our heart, for nothing more than the fact that something is itching to bubble out our fingertips.

We can live our lives by a method or we can choose to go deeper than that. And going deeper often makes us more vulnerable. But I’d rather my life had a soundtrack instead of just hitting all the right notes in the right order.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Washing Baggies

We don’t do dishes as often as I might like here at the cabin, but when we do, there always seems to be load of little plastic baggies, accumulated from both our packed lunches, waiting to be washed. On any given day, you can come through the cabin front door and be greeted by at least three plastic baggies in the drying rack, draped over spatulas, the dish detergent bottle, or any other clean, vertical object in the general vicinity of the sink.

In my way of thinking there’s no reason to go through a box of 30 sandwich sized baggies in a month when I can wash a single baggy for weeks on end and drastically extend the life of the aforementioned box of baggies. But I have friends who think otherwise, and to be honest, I sometimes wonder if it’s really worth it. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy scrubbing encrusted peanut butter out from the inside of a baggy?

To be honest, I don’t think any one’s a great fan of washing out plastic baggies. (Kind of like water bottles, which both Andy and I pretend not to see on the counter top when we do dishes.) There’s just something not very pleasant about it. While washing the baggies works fine most of the time, sometimes I do end up eat nectarines or what have you  which taste mildly of dish detergent out of a washed baggy.

I also wonder if all this washing is really good for us. By washing the baggies over and over again, who knows what nasty plastic chemicals are breaking down in the dish water each time I wash them. Maybe the best thing is to fore go plastic baggies completely? But oh, that’s inconvenient. . . .

Where do you come down on the whole washing baggies issue? Waste of time? Or a waste, not to?

Will this little world of ours be saved by teeny acts like washing out and reusing plastic baggies?  I like to think so, because I have so very little to offer the world when it comes to patching up our environment. Without a great scientific brain, the only way I can change the world is by how I live my life. But as you might expect, the best way to go about that life is always a bit confused.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Today's the Day: Ruffed Grouse Season Begins

There's a fire in the stove. 

The trees across the bay are starting to show the first glimmers of fall. 
And Andy got up early to take the back roads to work for the first day of grouse season. This radio commentary of mine about grouse season aired on WTIP this past Wednesday.

Friday, September 17, 2010

When Why Blog Goes Beyond Why Not


“Of Woods and Words” was a thought long before it was a reality. In the summer of 2009, I decided saying I wanted to be a freelance writer was kind like saying I wanted to take up skydiving. It was a perfectly fine idea, but until I started to prove myself, until I started jumping out of planes, whenever I mentioned that “I’d like to write,” everyone was going to give me a slightly pained look that can allude to only two things: suspicion or bad gas.   

I read everything I could about starting out as a freelance writer that summer and everything I read seemed to allude to something magical called “a platform.”  Without a platform, we freelance writers were apparently heading up a certain creek with no paddle to be found. Not only were we writers supposed to be filling up our portfolios with clippings, we were also supposed to enter into a nearly endless barrage of promotion via Facebook, Twitter and, of course, our personal blogs.   

I thought, “I’d better get on that train!” But it always seems like a poor idea to jump on a train before you now where it’s headed exactly . . . 

I moved into the Shack (a poorly insulated 12x20 building that was once the laundry house for a resort) with Andy last fall to spend the winter separated from the nearest grocery store by 25 miles of often icy highway, while waiting tables at a nearby roadhouse-style restaurant. This wasn’t how I’d imagined my post-college life working out at all and I knew I might need an outlet just slightly larger than my living space as I balanced the economics of life with my dreams. With that “Of Woods and Words” was born and through it, I started to capture the ramblings of this rural writer.

Today’s Back to Blogging challenge asks, “why do you blog?” I don’t know that I could have told you exactly what prompted me to type out that first post last October. I knew I needed a place to ponder the perplexities of making a living writing while maintaining a rural outlook on life. Over the course of this past year, I’ve work to build a concrete answer to the “why do you blog?” question.
  • I blog because if I didn’t, who knows when I’d actually get around to writing. I like to act all focused and with it, but in reality, I’m a big slug of a writer who has to deluded herself with real and often arbitrary deadlines to get anything on the page.
  • I blog to better understand what’s eating at me. I’ve journaled since my tween years, but during college I’d moved away from keeping a handwritten diary. I found I missed the process of writing a rant (like in “You Know I Don’t Speak Spanish”) to sort through a particular issue. The blog offers a slightly more focused forum for problem solving.
  • I blog to reason through my experiences as a person who writes, who tries to live locally, who lives in the woods.
  • More than anything, I blog to keep connected blogging connects me with a larger world around me. I learn much from the experience of being a member of the blogging world: about myself, others, and technology. 
Still not sure where the train's going. But I hope you'll stay with me to find out. 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Women Who Inspire


We writers are supposed to know a thing about inspiration. Yet when faced with today’s Back to Blogging challenge, “write about a women who inspires you” I came up a little befuddled. Let’s face it, writing prompts and I have never been great friends.

I thought about all the women who inspire me: my mom, grandmothers, co-workers, friends, even authors I’ve never met.  For a while I planned to center this post around writers Anne Lamott and Madeleine L’Engle who were both influential in prompting me to trust my pen and lead the life I do.

But a few things happened before I got around to writing that post. For one thing, I had a couple days off. The days off lead to a trip to Duluth, which lead to looking at woodstoves, which lead to a second trip to Duluth to purchase and transport a wood stove home. Before I knew it, it was time to go back to work and I had an article deadline staring me smack-dab in the face. And instead of writing this blog post in the morning like I’d planned, I worked on my deadline this morning and spent the whole day alternating between being mad at my deadline and being mad at myself for procrastinating.  Now I’m writing this post at 8:15 in the evening, after finishing up the drafts of my deadline stuff. Supper might be a good idea. . . .    

While I cursed my poor planning, railed against having to devote my evening to writing articles when I’d rather be doing so many other things, I took a minute to look at the article I was working on. The article profiles the work of our local domestic and sexual violence prevention center.

And I thought to myself, “Listen lady. Wake up and smell the roses. Stop looking for inspiration and open your eyes.”

So I blinked and looked back at my computer screen. In the article I was talking about
women who in the worst of conditions have the courage to tell their stories, to “change their stars.” And volunteers who devote their spare time to being trained and putting in on-call hours so they can help others overcome the affects of violence. These women are so much braver than I’ve ever been and most of the time we don’t even acknowledge that violence is a reality in every one of our communities.

If there isn’t inspiration in the stories of violence survivors, of people like S.A.R.K, of violence center volunteers, then I don’t know what inspiration is. They’re the people who actually wrestle again the hugeness of it all, who trust in change and healing even in the worst of situations. That’s something very few of us do.

Tonight I thought, maybe inspiration isn’t something about realization. It isn’t something that strikes from the heavens. Instead, it’s a re-remembering of something you always knew.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Back to Blogging: Title Repost

Midway through the Back to Blogging challenge. Day Three?  To repost a blog post with a title you especially liked. Searching through the archives, I found a lot of uninspired blog post titles. But I did find one I thought was clever, so below you'll find the post from July 8, 2010: 

Money Can't By You . . .  Health Care
Yesterday, my first errand set me behind schedule. I spent the rest of the day running late until finally after supper, Andy proposed we go lake trout fishing. As I sat in the bobbing boat, it felt like the first time I’d sat still all day.

I had a moment as I was driving home last night. I was halfway home and still had one last errand to run. This after a day of laundry, grocery shopping, recording a commentary, finishing up a documentary, and making two batches of blueberry jam among other sundry errands. And it was my day off.

“Why am I doing this?” I thought to myself. Don’t get me wrong, I really like what I do and it’s my resistance to let go of any of my tasks that leads to my days off wearing me out more than my work days. As of late, I also get compensated fairly well for my efforts and after a pretty pauper-ish winter, that feels pretty good. But is it worth it? At the end of the day do the numbers in my online bank statement justify the bags beneath my eyes?

Conventional wisdom is that if you work your butt off when you’re younger so that you can reap the benefits in your old age. But since retirement seems to be going the way of the American Dream, one has to wonder: what if it’s always like this?

When I was researching an end of life article a few months back, I spoke with a health care provider who said, “You can do whatever you want at the end of your life, as long as you can pay for it.” Okay, I’m picking up what you’re putting down, but really are our lives spelled out in such crude monetary terms?

I’ve yet to reconcile myself with the fact that my gross annual income plunks me right in the midst of the middle class and prevents me from getting any possible break on my health insurance. What? I’m not still just a poor college student? It’s just no fun watching big bits of your paycheck whoosh away towards a health care plan you can’t really afford to use. No fun, but a cultural sucker punch I’m willing to deal with because I’m not willing to have a medical emergency bankrupt me.

I kept driving and kept thinking and I realized the running around happens for a few reasons. First of all, there are bills to pay. Of course, if I made a little less money, it seems I’d have access to better health care options. But that’s just not worth it, not when comes the biggie: many, many, many years from now, I don’t want to die in some miserable, icky nursing home because it was all I could afford. Oh I know, things change, fiscal security comes and goes, but when I deeply wonder what the heck I’m doing this all for, all I have to do is imagine some really awful nursing home. There will come a day when the running around ceases and when that day comes, I want to be darn sure that I get to spend it in a place with a nice garden.

So I run around. Partly because of the imaginary icky nursing home. But mostly, because I wouldn’t want to not do anything of the things I’m doing this summer.

I like this blog title because it merges something familiar with what I hoped was something thought provoking. Of course the post just went on to be a rant about how hard it is to be a twenty-something dealing with the American Dream, but really ,what did you expect? ;) 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Back to Blogging: Post Revist

Today's blogging challenge is to revisit an important blog spot you wished had been paid more attention. I searched through the archives and stumbled upon this one. Why was it important? Well, it summed up pretty much all the neuroses which fuel this twenty-something's blog. This was posted on January 5, 2010: 

Where is the Romance? 
A few years ago, the Black-Eyed Peas asked: “Where’s the love?” Today I ask, “Where’s the romance?”

It is a fact universally accepted by man that the older you get, the more the rosy tint on your glasses fades. We start out as English majors with minors in theatre and French and end up double majors in English and Communication for practicality sakes. The American Dream becomes an accepted bit of mythology. And there are always more dirty dishes.

Things are pretty darn good with Andy and I. The Shack is a cozy happy place. We share the grocery bill and we’re both thinking in “long haul” terms. So when I was at home yesterday, I asked my family what the point was of getting married. “Well,” said my father, “you get a tax break.”

Yesterday as I drove to town on a grocery run, I listened to MPR’s Kerry Miller speaking with a financial expert. As they discussed the merits of homeownership and the various savings options for retirement, my head started to swim. I may be only 24 (going on 25), but if I plan to follow through with this whole self-employment that means all those yucky decisions about health care and retirement come straight down to . . . me.

I live in the woods living a life that the majority of the Twin Cities metropolis population seems to think they would very much like to lead. The issue is that when many people used to the city life come up here to live out the dream, they often find themselves uncomfortably removed from convenience and quality culture offerings like theatre and ethnic food. Newcomers can be quick to point out the shortcomings in the way the area’s run. Sure it’s dumb to only have one day a year when you can dispose of your electronics and yeah, the county roads probably could use a tad more salt in the winter. That doesn’t mean that the locals won’t resent the suggestion and be loath to change. After all, if we change, who’s to say that we won’t lose what makes us unique? What if the unromantic reality is actually the key to the region’s romance?

I had an early morning of it today and got up before six to get to work on the writing. I have got to get through chapter twelve before it kills me. I’ve figured out what needs to happen in the next chapter to keep up the tension and interest during the currently muddling middle, but I’m struggling to get too terribly excited about the necessary framework of chapter twelve. No more excuses. It has to get done before work today.

The birds are flocking at the feeders today: goldfinches, redpolls, pine grosbeaks, chickadees and the lone hairy woodpecker.

I’m in the midst of baking a big batch of bread. I’m attempting to get all aspects of my schedule under my control and I’m hoping that they’ll be enough bread that I won’t have to do this again for a while.  

Monday, September 13, 2010

Back to Blogging: The First Post

 This week I'm participating in the SITS Back to Blogging Challenge, a week-long challenge meant to help bloggers assess and refocus their blogs. Today's assignment is to revisit the first post ever posted in this blog.  This blog's inaugural post, What Happened to Thoreau, is pasted below. The blog was originally  posted on October 6, 2009:


What Happened to Thoreau 
 
“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

In the years leading up to my college graduation, I took to reading writer self-help books. Besides the dictionary and Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, books like I’m an English Major – Now What? and The Well-Fed Writer began to appear on my shelves. With a bachelor’s degree in both English and Communication, I’d been dreaming of making a life for myself with a pen and love of literature since my early teens. But like any English major, by the time I graduated, I’d heard enough unsolicited advice to fully acknowledge the multiple (mostly economic) hurdles of an artistic life. I figured I could use any help I could get, self-help books included.

And as I read the various “how-to” books, I was struck by another perceived aspect of the writing life. It seemed Thoreau remained an anomaly. Anymore, the woods had been forgotten, while starving writers congregated in the metro area’s damp apartments, eating ramon noodles and wrestling with their less than lucrative muse.

While I never got too excited about Thoreau’s Walden, I do live in the woods of northeastern Minnesota in 12 x 20 shack with a “manfriend." Though our Shack is at least two-thirds again as big as Thoreau’s one-man cabin, there are plenty of parallels. We live a quiet life reflecting on observations and interests, removed to a certain degree (but far from completely) from the hustle of modernity.

Where there are people, there are opportunities; I understand why the city claims so many. Employment’s not easy in a rural area – especially one focused on the seasonal tourist industry – and a career that dovetails with your education is more often than not out of the question. So, in a precarious balance of finances and dreams, I work a seasonal job in the summer, currently waitress, and always spend my free time writing. The writing self-help books, with their advice on how to hawk your writing skills to your locally-based corporation, aren’t much help to me. I have a novel in its first edit and plenty of fictional works in progress. I also work on freelance articles, usually for the regional market.

I’m far from the only rural writer. For centuries, writers retreated to the peace and productivity of a country cottage. Thoreau, Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson were all rural writers. In recent years, Annie Proulx has achieved enormous success and Michael Perry’s writing of rural Wisconsin has been well accepted.

These writers have left huge footsteps to follow in and I can’t pretend I’ll be encroaching on their shadows any time soon. But they prove the best career advice for writers may in actuality stem from the American Transcendentalists Thoreau hobnobbed around with: to find what is inside by going outside and immersing ourselves in the beautiful. This blog serves as my personal study of writing and the rural life in a world run by metropolis. I don’t expect to find romance or glamour. In truth, I don’t know what I’ll find, so I’ll keep to this record of my experiences, a memoir of sorts, of woods and words.

 And today, still here, still wrangling the words in the woods. But something have changed. Writing success has grown over the last year and I've been glad to take you all along via the blog. The Shack is a thing of the past, now the manfriend and I share a cozy little cabin and if I like, when I'm writing I can actually shut the door and just have it be me and my laptop. The blog lead to my radio commentary, also named Of Woods and Words,  with the local radio station. The blog's been an excellent excuse to keep writing this past year and over time it's grown from a rambling rural writer memoir to a slightly more focused writer's blog. Neither the woods or words are going anywhere.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Take A Taste

The rain came this week and with it went most motivation around the cabin. When you wake up at six in the morning to the creak of the wood stove door opening, the crackle of kindling being split in half, and the thunk of birch wood inside the stove, it’s pretty easy to snuggle a little deeper under the comforter to catch just a couple more minutes of sleep. So much for those fall goals, eh?

Still, we’re slowly hecking towards progress around here, despite an increased inclination to curl up at night with a good book or a bit of knitting and Ken Burns’s National Parks documentary. Last night Andy stayed out until well after dark, shingling the shed. On Wednesday, I went through all my bins of “stuff” stored at my parents, sorting out what I actually want to keep and what’s ready to find a new home. I ended up keeping 5 bins while 5 more bins are ready to go. Hello garage sale . . . . Tuesday was a decent writing day, although the week as a whole could have been much, much better. There’s been no easing into fall 2010, it just came in a rush through the door and I think we’re all still a little flabbergasted that summer is O-V-E-R.

One sure sign of fall here on the Gunflint Trail is the Taste of the Gunflint Trail event. Last year, I spent the days leading up to “Taste” baking a dozen loaves of “bubble” bread for Andy’s work place. Last night I came home and baked two blueberry pies to take to the pie and ice cream social hosted at my work place this year.

Taste of the Gunflint Trail is a cookbook that relates the history of all businesses, both past and present, that have existed along the Trail. Every fall, several businesses along the Trail cook up a recipe or two from the cookbook. Today we had over 200 people in the museum to see the exhibits and get a piece of pie. A success to say the least.

It seems the cooler weather makes us all increasingly domestic. Andy keeps going on about wood stoves, I found my mother in the midst of making applesauce when I stopped by on Wednesday, and I’ve found incredible enjoyment in rolling out pie crusts and updating my Ravelry account. Nothing wrong with any of that, but every once in a while I have to remind myself that homey projects are meant to be an addition to my life, not a distraction from work at hand.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Morning Moments

It’s no secret that I’m no morning person. Yet despite my natural night owl inclinations, I’ve been spent a good portion of the last decade trying to train myself into being an early bird.

Back in high school I forewent the luxury of being homeschooled by doing my best to conform my schedule to that of public school kids: it was the only way I seemed to manage half-way productive school days. In college I forced myself up every school day morning when it was still dark to trundle myself down to the gym on campus. Today, I stumble out of the bedroom just as Andy’s about to head to work each morning. They say the writing life is all about stealing moments to write and often the hour or so I spend in the morning updating my blog or hammering a couple hundred words on whatever project I’m currently working on is the only writing I’ve gotten many days this summer.

I like to think I’ve been fairly successful with my early bird ambitions, although I suppose my success is open to interpretation. I’m no Pollyanna during my first couple hours of consciousness by any stretch of the imagination. I may be awake, but that doesn’t mean I’m great company.

Oscar Wilde famously quipped in his play An Ideal Husband: “Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast.” I’ve long evoked that phrase in my defense, although I think Oscar’s insight extends far beyond me. My earliest memory of early mornings are quiet times spend pouring over the morning paper while spoon clink against cereal bowls, or in the case of my maternal grandparents, playing three games of Yahtzee while the coffee brewed. Morning is the time when we all have to come to terms with the world and we all do that in a different, albeit, rarely exciting, way.

Morning’s such a time of quiet ritual. Whether visiting grandparents as a child or even when staying with friends today, morning is when you let those around you do their own thing. It’s a time of unspoken routine, something that we do our best not to intrude upon.

Overtime, my mornings have become a time for exercises, breakfast, coffee, blogging, writing, and knitting a couple rows on my current project. Monumental things aren’t accomplished in the morning. But little tasks, completed with diligence can set the tune for the whole day. I’ve grown to cherish my quiet morning moments and the fleeting introspection they bring.

This morning I woke up to the sound of rain hitting the roof and Andy get ready for work. I’d planned for a lazy morning; after all, it’s the first opportunity I’ve had to sleep in for several weeks. Yet I found myself prompted to push aside the blankets and get up to face the rainy day.

Why do we get up early even when we know we can delay the stumbling towards consciousness a few more hours? Maybe it’s like jogging: the process of doing the waking up is always a struggle, but it sure feels good when it’s over with.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Planting


In America, we’re trained to dream big. Arthritic Olympians can look forward to time on the motivational speaking circuit once their athletic prowess begins to wane. They spoon feed us the same lines we’ve heard since elementary school: work hard, dream big and you might be surprised by what you accomplish.

But when the national unemployment remains rooted at 9% and every news report about the economy seems like a tug-of-war between what we want to hear (“it’s improving slowly”) and how it really is (“but no one’s hiring”) sometimes it seems wiser to dream just a little smaller. After all, if we’re learning to “live in the moment” shouldn’t we be learning to be happy with what we have? If we have health and employment, it can appear frivolous to wish for anything more.

This summer, Andy and I tested out our green thumbs. It turns out that we each have pale green thumbs. Some of the plants – tomatoes, peppers, beans – flourished. Others – squash, cabbage, kohlrabi – struggled. We may not have the most bountiful harvest, but over the course of the summer, we’ve enjoyed eating our own lettuce, making stir-fry with our green beans, and experimenting with salsa recipes.

More than anything, this summer served as a tutorial to gardening at the cabin. We learned that next year we need to account for wind, shade, and soil quality when we plot out the garden. But perhaps the most important thing I learned was just how big plants grow during a summer season.

As I watched tomato and pepper plants grow directly proportional to the pots they’d been planted, I realized we’d drastically underestimated how much space our plants needed. When you’ve watch a plant start out as a seed sunk into a shallow dish of soil, it can be hard to believe that this fragile seedling will ever grow into a large, fruiting planting. But over time they will and do.

So is it logical to dream big in a world that offers so many set backs? Maybe it’s not terribly practical, but I do know one thing: you can only grow as big as the pot you’ve planted yourself in.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Fall Resolve

Forget New Year’s Resolutions. It’s when the weather takes a chilly turn towards fall that I feel the real motivation to make vows of improved performance and more thoughtful living.

In January, it’s the middle of winter. Other than the passing of the holiday season, the world’s lacking any natural change when January 1st rolls around. But autumn? That’s when we batten down the hatches and prepare for the winter season to come.

The last few days have blown in windy and drizzly. Suddenly the mornings seem so much darker. It’s so easy to talk to yourself into early bedtimes and it so very hard to drag yourself out of bed in the morning. In short, it’s been hot cocoa and good book weather.

But as much as the weather prompts a reemergence of wool socks and down vests, I’ve always found the arrival of a nip in the air synonymous with a kick in the butt. Fall has always symbolizes a change for me: either a return to school or a change in jobs. When autumn rolls around, I always find myself with some reason, either internal or external, to really knuckle down, to grab one more cup of hot coffee and really mull over my editorial to figure out how to make this little thing called potential work for me.

The 2010 writing goals I drew up in January are starting to fade from where they sit by the window on my desk. Maybe the goals were a little optimistic. Maybe I didn’t try hard enough. Maybe I could predict what this year would end up bringing me. Regardless of what happened, the goals which were meant to be a push have ended up as a fail although I’m hasty to point out that in spite of the lack of check marks on my writing goal lists, things have still gone inexplicably well in life and writing this year. Plenty of time remains in 2010 to complete several of the lingering goals. Still the whole sending out a query every week goal? Not happening . . .

It’s easy to fall into a bit of stupor when fall rolls in, bring in a lull after a busy summer season. But I’m pulling out the Post-its and my day planner, scrawling out goals and deadlines, using this quiet, cool season to prepare for the long winter ahead.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Goodbye Shack


We moved out of the Shack months ago, but yesterday we headed down to the Mid-Trail area to pay one last visit to the Shack. Although we’d moved the most pertinent things out in May when we left, little bits of Ada and Andy still lingered in the Shack: old printers, tennis rackets, and guitars. So yesterday we packed, stacked and shoved all those not so little bits into the back of Andy’s truck. As we drove back to the cabin, I started to wonder just how we managed to get so much shi-stuff into a 12x20 building.

Luckily, the new shed has reached a point in its construction that we could move a bit of the truck’s contents directly into that space. Still the vast majority of bins and bags needed to brought inside and dealt with. For a couple hours yesterday we made a stab at going through the boxes, sorting it into toss piles and thrift piles, condensing bins. But it gets old so quickly, doesn’t it and there is so very much of it. To think, in my parents’ garage, there are still containers filled with stuff I haven’t looked at since college.

How do two people, each a mere 25 years in age end up with so much stuff? I just don’t get it.

But somehow, stuff piles up. Homes come and go. When you take a moment to think about it, it can be pretty amazing to think of all you’ve seen, all you’ve received, all you’ve done and learned. Shutting the door to the Shack yesterday afternoon, it was hard to believe we’d spent so much time in the cramped little, poorly insulated space.

But the Shack was truly a happy, humble home for us. The kind of place where you didn’t have to feel guilty that all your worldly belongings were still shoved into plastic containers. Where you didn’t worry about housekeeping because even in the best of circumstances the Shack doesn’t look too hot. A place to be until everything sorted itself out.

Goodbye Shack. May you make a cozy home for someone else very soon.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: it's a bird, it's a plane . . .

It's been a week of unusual activity in the skies. With a teeny fire smoldering nearby, there have been plenty of planes and helicopters flying about.
Next to the flower pots, a white-lined sphinx moth has been hovering too.

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