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A Plague of Shadows is the latest fiction collection put out by The Written Remains Writers Guild, my hometown writing tribe, in cooperation with Smart Rhino Publications.  By design, all of the stories in PoS feature both haunted places and haunted people—basically ghost stories on steroids. My post-apocalyptic “To Heart’s Content” appears in this anthology, alongside local authors and well-known horror wordslingers in an eclectic joyride of subjects and styles.

PoS Editor and Written Remains matriarch J.M. Reinbold asked me to share a few words about the origins and inspiration of “To Heart’s Content”.

Although it appears as a stand-alone, “To Heart’s Content” is the continuation of a story called “Lost & Found”, which was first published in PerVisions (formerly Persistent Visions) in 2016 and reprinted in the Endless Apocalypse  anthology by Flame Tree Publishing in 2018. Both stories revolve around Danae, a young woman whose psychic connection to the landscape has helped her survive in a post-apocalyptic United States.

Illustration for “Lost and Found” (Persistent Visions, September 2016). Artwork by Kathryn M. Weaver
http://kathrynmweaver.com/

In “Lost & Found” we first meet Danae in the midst of a spiritual crisis: her powers have seemingly left her, and she is merely going through the motions with her survivalist lover, when she stumbles upon a clue to the whereabouts of an old flame.  The story ends with Danae knowingly leading her companions into danger in order to appease the longing of her own heart.

“Lost & Found” was a work that was a long time coming, inspired by my love of the post-apocalypse sub-genre as well as by my own recurrent dreams. I realized even as I was writing it that it was actually the beginning of a much larger story—one I plan to finish, one day, but not yet, as I’m far too busy with mundane life for the kind world-building a book like that would require.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I sat down years later to write a ghost story for A Plague of Shadows and found myself returning to those characters. The first thing to come to me was the love scene under the stained glass, and although much about the setting and even the faces were strange, I knew who they were. I recognized the way they feel about each other, and it all came rushing back. It was an absolute pleasure to write.

“To Heart’s Content” still leaves much of Danae’s story open, but I think it covers a lot of territory in a satisfying way. At least I hope so—I hope folks like it. If enough people bug me about it, maybe I’ll finally write the whole damn book. 🙂

Freshly signed and enspelled, copies of my new book will be flying out from the Newark post office forthwith.

If you too would like a signed copy (complete with personalized spell), you can purchase one here (use the Buy Now button).


Local folks can also pick up a copy from me in person at one of these upcoming events:

A Plague of Shadows Book Launch — Celebrate the publication of A Plague of Shadows with the Written Remains Writers Guild. Readings, Prizes (including a free copy of The Year of the Witch), Food and Drink, Music, Fun, and Dark Arts Gallery Exhibit! Newark Arts Alliance.
Saturday, October 6, 2018 ~ 6 – 9 PM

Spelling Our Voices: The Power of Writing Magic and Fiction Witches — A Written Remains Get Out and Write workshop featuring Shannon Connor Winward (me!) at Hockessin Public Library.
Saturday, October 27, 2018 ~ 1 – 3:30 PM

Hockessin Art & Book Fair —  A celebration of local indie authors and artists at the Hockessin Community Recreation Center.  Come visit “The Poets’ Corner” Shannon Connor Winward (also a featured reader), author of Undoing Winter (Finishing Line Press) and The Year of the Witch (Sycorax Press) and Lisa Lutwyche, author of A Difficult Animal (Saddle Road Press).
Saturday, November 10, 2018 ~ 11 AM – 3 PM

 

One year ago, my son started at his new school.  This marked a major turning-point in our lives—the end of an exhausting struggle with the local district and state that spanned years and, at times, pushed all of us to the brink of despair.  Prior to this, the Kinglet’s situation was so dire, his mental health so precarious, that we’d had him homebound with (largely ineffective) tutors and therapists for most of fifth grade and part of fourth.  Even after we successfully argued with the DOE for alternative schooling, it still took a quarter year to find a suitable placement—none of the special ed schools that we liked wanted to take a risk on a volatile (that is to say, “challenging”) child, and none of the ones that would take him inspired any confidence (most were just a step up from juvenile prison).

It was in late April of 2017 that we found a match with a small Philadelphia private school that focuses on higher-functioning ASD kids.  The transition was not easy, but philosophical and pedagogical differences between this school and our home public school district were manifold.  Over the past year, the Kinglet has made remarkable progress, not just in catching up with the schooling that he missed being homebound, but also with the life skills he so desperately needed but wasn’t being taught. While we’re still not able to fully relax (will we ever?), we’ve never held our breath this long without a major setback, a devastating crisis.  Our latest IEP meeting was a (comparative) breeze—the changes are minimal, agreeable, reasonable.  In short, he’s doing really, really well.

MEANWHILE, our daughter started part-time preschool in the Fall—an integrated special ed preschool, actually, in

The writer from her sickbed, with guest.

the same district that wasn’t up to educating our son.  So that’s fun. Compared to the Kinglet, the Empress’ developmental delay (mostly in speech) is relatively mild.  In fact, it’s about as mild as it could get while still qualifying for spec ed intervention—although the nuances of “mild” and what that means in terms of services has already become a subject of debate between her parents and her team.  Silver lining, having been through all the fires with the Kinglet we’re neither ignorant of our options nor shy about using them, so the Empress has already had a top-notch third-party evaluation for speech & language, which we are about to bring to the IEP next month.  Otherwise, the Empress is blossoming into a hysterically funny and sassy little pixie who knows herself and misses nothing and lights up our world like the miracle she is.

As for me… having both kids relatively stable and out of the house at least *some* of the time is lovely, although it’s not as revolutionary to my life as I’d imagined it would be.  I had planned to use this time to work on a novel, and I tried, but by December of last year it became clear that I’m blocked.  I’ve been creative in other ways, most notably with my online lit journal, which is very satisfying, but producing work of my own has been incredibly challenging.  At times even composing an email was beyond me.  I’ve made progress—some blurbs, some poems.  But no fiction.  Given that the fellowship I won this year is for fiction, this is especially demoralizing.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about this block.  I spent all of 2018 thinking about it, actually, up until my health took a nosedive in late March/early April.  It was actually a relief to think about something else (how sick I was), except then I got so sick I could barely hold my head up, and that scared the shit out of me.  Not being able to work, like, at all, not just writing but all the daily things I HAVE to do, like care for my children…

Although my health issues are not resolved yet I am doing much better now.  I’ve had some time to catch up with the minutia, and even a few quiet days to consider where I am, and what’s next.  Which is what this post is really all about.

I think the long creative block was (is?) recovery time.  Enforced by who, I don’t know (and I’d like to have a word with someone about it, yes I would).  I didn’t *want* downtime, but the truth is I wasn’t well.  Things got better with the Kinglet over a very short amount of time, but the trauma that we—that I—went through before that was intense and extensive and, in all seriousness, could have killed me.  That isn’t something you just shrug off, apparently.  Why I couldn’t have worked through it with writing, IDK, but anyway.  That’s how it went down.

Now I think maybe the sickness was an extension of that.  If we’re going to look for existential reasons for things, maybe the creative downtime wasn’t enough—maybe thinking about it obsessively, even thinking about it in terms of self-care—just wore me down until my body couldn’t take it.

Or maybe it’s just a shitty fucking coincidence.  Or maybe I’m cursed.

Either way, IDK if I’m out of the woods NOW, creatively or physically.  I know I feel different, but I don’t know what that means.  I don’t know what to do next.  I don’t know my purpose, or how best to eke meaning out of whatever life I have left.  I don’t know why the clock always seems to read 11:11 when I look up. I’m trying to work all of that out.

I’m trying.  That’s pretty much it.

I’ve given up on NaNoWriMo, once again–although I cleared the metaphorical space to work on a novel this month, my muse has, as yet, declined the invitation to show up.  This is not unusual; my muse is not one to perform on demand.  He/she is fickle with his/her attentions and requires much romancing and pining from me to return to the writing table after an absence.

Because I am bereft for things to write about, I started carrying my journal in my car.  So far, the only in-transit idea that’s occurred to me is regarding the journal itself–so I guess I’ll write about that.

World, journal…journal, world.

I’ve been using this same journal for almost six years now. My writer ex-bestie gave me it to me, but that’s not why I keep it–girlie gave me a journal for pretty much every Xmas and birthday that we were friends (like, we’re writers, I get it. Clever.)  It’s that I’ve got a very mild OCD-ish need to finish things that I start, and this one still has empty pages.  Also it’s a Moleskin, and Moleskin makes damn good notebooks.

At least I think it’s a Moleskin: the cover page with the logo and “return to” inscription has gone missing.   Also the inside spine is broken.  The thing is showing its age.  Still, it’s holding together pretty well (Moleskin!)–unlike that friendship.

The computer is king these days, but journals are good for scribbling ideas at traffic lights, taking cartoon-littered notes at workshops, jotting down titles to read, etc.  This journal comes with me to most critique group sessions and to the occasional coffee shop getaway.  Once I left it at the dive bar where they hold one of northern Delaware’s only open mics.  One of the other attendees picked it up and held onto it for me (the “return to” page was still intact then).  That’s how I got to meet former Delaware poet laureate E. Jean Lanyon (we hung out in her kitchen!).

The earliest entry in this journal is me rambling about not knowing what to write (seems familiar).  After that is a scene from a story that’s gone on to be published twice *and* produced by a notable SF podcast, so I guess I should take heart from that.  These dry periods don’t last.  My muse always comes around.

But in the meantime… since I still haven’t thought of anything to write about (where are you muse, you finicky bitch), I took an inventory–not of what’s written in my journal, but what else is stored in there.  To wit:

  • two Traditional Medicinal Tea box inserts featuring quotes: one by Rita Mae Brown and one by Roald Dahl
  • an article on former Delaware poet laureate JoAnn Baligit with an unfinished crossword puzzle on the back
  • a 2013 Holiday letter from E. Jean Lanyon
  • a micro chapbook by Singapore poet Christina Sng
  • business cards for Delaware writing tribe members including: Maria Massington (writer/performer/Event officiant), Ramona DeFelice Long (writer/editor), Patrick Derrickson (SF writer), Terry Griffin (Delaware Literary Events coordinator), Justynn Tyme (Creative Director, All-Out Monster Revolt), Maria Keane (writer/artist) and E. Jean Lanyon (plus one for the Delaware PKD Foundation Coordinator Carol Soha)
  • a post-it note with the Kinglet’s DPBH case manager’s info
  • a promo card for Undoing Winter
  • a raffle ticket stub (?)
  • a promo card/ bookmark for last year’s Hockessin indie Art & Book Fair
  • a loose leaf paper with the  email address of the guy who recruited me to play Anna Akhmatova at a poetry/performance event (the evening my daughter was conceived)

Nothing earth-shattering here, no pearls of wisdom (I’m in the midst of a creative dry spell after all).  I just find it interesting how a journal can be not just a thing to write in but an actual creative space, as personal as the person who writes in it.  Because a journal stays with me so long, it becomes more than just a notebook–it’s also an archive, a scrapbook… a time capsule.  Flipping through it, one could probably learn a lot about me by what I have pressed between the scribbled pages–or at least, one could learn about the writing world I move through.

What does your journal say about you?

Writers and Poets Workshop Day

Saturday, April 1st
1PM – 4PM


Are you a poet, a writer or would like to be one? Successful authors and poets share their experiences through stories, techniques and tips for crafting, marketing and problem solving along our creative paths.

Featuring

William L Hahn

Chronicler of Epic Fantasy
Reading It: That OTHER Thing You Can Do with a Book

 

 

Shannon Connor Winward

Award-Winning Poet , Editor of Devilfish Review &
Riddled with Arrows Literary Journal
Poetry Hacks: Simple Ways to Boost Your Poetic Prowess

 


  Liz DeJesus

Author of The First Frost Series, Morgan, Girl, The Jackets and Zombie Ever After
Social Media and Technology for Writers

                     

Registration is FREE! To register call
302-838-3300

Bear Library – 101 Governors Plaza – Bear, Delaware 19701

Scott Whitaker Reviews
Shannon Connor Winward’s
Undoing Winter

(From VOLUME 9, ISSUE 6 // THE BROADKILL REVIEW – November 2015)

COVER FROM WEBSITE

Shannon Connor Winward’s Undoing Winter, from Finishing Line Press, explores the relationship between self, myth and history. And for Winward, the past and the self are the wet earth, and the dead. Winward identifies the chthonic impulses that pull on our psyche. Family, the unexpected pain of loving children, these are but some of the themes lying in the winter setting of Winward’s chapbook. And it’s frightening. Thrilling, even.

Perhaps it’s the October chill in the air, and the pull of my imagination towards dark places, but Undoing Winter begins wielding dense and eloquent Dionysian tropes, the kind of musical mythic notes one hears in Plath, Sexton, and Bishop–on occasion, and in more contemporary artists such as Sharon Olds, Jean Feraca, and Beth Bachman. The iconic image of wet rich earth, so tied up with death and sex, is a primal murmur through Winter. And Winward becomes the throat for oracle, wearing a mask, and invoking poetic theatre.

The title poem “Undoing Winter” opens “I went into ground for you. I faced the guardians/of the gates of hell./I gave away my jeweled bracelets/ and marched naked to the cat-calls of the dead/ all to rescue your sorry ass/ and here you are,/ huddled on your mildewed throne/ speechless as a shrug.” The high and low registers of her voice contrast, a kind of static. The music of the “huddled…” and “speechless…” characterize the musical cadence of the poem.

Sonically, most of the chapbook echoes the title poem, they are poems of incantation, for lack of a better word. A catharsis, yes, but also transformative. The latter more important than the former. There is love and solace in her work, and levity, but for the most part Winter is an incantation, a purring engine of anger, desire, and loss.

“I Visit Your Heart” a speculative gem, hums with the kind of glamor a beautiful predator purrs from a long graceful throat. “Your heart on ice is useless to you,/ so while you were sleeping/I had them cut it out, encase it in plastic/ and set it on a platform/ with a plaque that reads: choices.” The heart later becomes a “trophy valentine”, the physical remains of what had been a relationship, a “paperweight.”

What makes Undoing Winter dazzle is the sensuousness of its language. Poetry is, on some level, supposed to be sexy, dark, and dangerous. There are few character hooks in the book, and Winward plays her cards close to her chest, so we don’t have any idea if she is writing about real or imagined events or people. The emotional landscapes of the poems could as easily be from memory or from imagination. Winward does a poet’s’ job and makes the unpoetic dangers of life poetic and mystic, joining in the broad and great opus that is American letters.

Last year (according to Goodreads) I read a whopping THREE books of fiction.

There was a time (in another life, in a galaxy far, far away) when I never went anywhere without a novel at hand. I’d pull that baby out at stoplights, read over meals, in the bathroom, standing over the printer at work—you know how it is.

Their absence now is an icky symptom of an over-extended life; what time I have for reading—in between parenting, writing, and other madness—is pretty minimal. I DO read for pleasure, but it’s mostly of the online, ephemeral variety, lately. A poem here. A story there. Nothing I can write home to Goodreads about.

While I’m telling you this partly because I have a free writing day for once so OF COURSE I want to spend it lamenting about my lack of time, I also want to make the following point:

My Dear, Darling Authors: when I go to my stack of TO READS and, out all the books I could possibly pick, I choose YOURS to bring with me to a four-hour-long appointment at the salon, it is a complement. Nay, it’s an HONOR. (Diana Gabaldon, YOU’RE WELCOME.)

I feel compelled to make this point because (1) it’s been an embarrassingly long time since I wrote a blog post, and though I have good excuses as to why, I still feel pretty lousy about it, so deflecting the issue by shedding light on the responsibility that authors have to their readers (i.e. me) to NOT SUCK seemed like a good strategy… but MORE IMPORTANTLY (b) I did actually, recently, so honor an author (no, not DG, she’s amazing) who so thoroughly DID SUCK that I feel personally insulted.

Prenovljeni_frizerski_salon_v_Gosposki_ulici_v_Mariboru_1960

Now I have nothing to do but sit here, grumbling, getting high on hair dye fumes. THANKS A LOT, Mr. Terrible Authorpants.

I mean, really. I invested time in this book (not much, it was really bad, so bad that after a dozen pages I almost threw it across the salon. But I didn’t bring another book to read instead, so there’s four hours I COULD have spent reading someone else.) Also, I invested money. Or, rather, my in-laws did—the book was an Xmas present off my Amazon wishlist)—which is kind of even worse.

Anyway. I will not tell you which book sucked so very much. I will not gift this “author” with any attention, even bad attention. But let me tell you this:

There is a reason independent authors and publishers get a bad rap. Yes, yes, yes, there are excellent self-published and small press books out there (I’ve been in some of the latter, and I’m about to wax poetic about the former, so please bear with me). BUT, so very many of them are badly edited, self-indulgent space wasters. There’s no accountability. There’s no gate-keeping editorial staff, no publishing house with an established reputation and at least some marketing dollars and savvy to back an indie author up. Some self-published and garage-published books at least have the decency of using fifth-graders as cover artists to clue you in to how much they suck, but often there’s no way for a potential reader to know if the random indie book they’re about to pay money for/invest time in (or select above all others to lug to their hair appointment) is going to be worth it.

Which is why I don’t buy a lot of indie books. (Could ya tell?) When I do buy one (or download one, let’s be honest, Indies give their books away in promotions all the time) it’s because I know the author, or else the book comes with the recommendation of someone whose judgment I trust.

THIS book, though. What upsets me most about how much THIS BOOK sucked was that it tricked me. I didn’t know it was indie-published. I came across it by expressing interest in similar books on Amazon or Goodreads or some such. It looked good. It sounded good. It was published by a “Society” that sounded Literary and Important and Knowledgeable In Such Things, and had garnered good reviews with words like Intelligent and Challenging and that referenced other Authors I Like.

But, no, this book was overwritten, self-indulgent, purple prosy, dense, badly edited crap which, upon closer inspection, was published by a “Society” of which the author is the “President” and which exists to bring literature to the masses by, like, hosting open mics at a venue the author owns. And stuff.

Oh, and those reviews? The author personally responds to each and every one. Especially the bad ones. At length. (I really wish I’d noticed that before I clicked “Want to Read.”)

So let that be a lesson to you, Good Readers. Or let it be a lesson to me, I guess. Someone should learn something from this experience.

But although I am still feeling ill from the bad taste this BOOK I SHALL NOT DIGNIFY BY IDENTIFYING left in my reading mouth (yes, that’s a thing), I’d like to use the remainder of this space to raise a metaphorical toast to a book far more worthy of your attention.

love in the time
For our recent family weekend camping excursion, I selected the next book in my READ ME queue: LOVE IN THE TIME OF UNRAVELLING, by Franetta McMillian, a Delaware author and acquaintances whose work I discovered at a local literary venue. Ms. McMillian has a captivating voice and a quietly stunning performance presence. As many open mic enthusiasts can tell you, lots of people can read fiction to a room full of people, but very few can tell a story. Not to mention, the story she read—THE FALL OF ROME (Gargoyle Magazine, Fall 2014)—was freakin’ awesome. So guess what? I bought her book… and then kept it in my SOME DAY pile for a year and a half before finally breaking the seal and exploring those words. And after my recent experience, I admit, I was wary.

Let me assure, you. Franetta’s got this.

LOVE IN THE TIME OF UNRAVELLING (2013), represents everything good that an independent book can be. Set in the “shattered States” of the mid-to-late twenty-first century, this collection of interwoven stories explores the tenacity of love, spirit and human goodness within one of the ugliest possible imagined futures. Mired in catastrophic global pollution and entrenched economic corruption, McMillian’s eclectic cast of survivors, visionaries, and misfits are surprising and compelling. Her writing is clear, evocative, and—lo! —clearly well-edited. Her storytelling is creatively non-linear, transporting the reader across time and geography in what seems at first a random set of “Quantum Leaps” but eventually reveals itself to be a clever pattern within the novel’s haunting and beautiful mosaic.

My only (only!) issue with LOVE was a bit of chronological confusion which may or may not be iron-out-able but, in the end, doesn’t really matter. (And I can’t remember the last time a book made me go back, take notes, and do the math, so there’s that.) With elements of science fiction, fantasy, and slipstream, McMillian’s stories hold appeal for lovers of genre fiction, yet they also maintain a consistent, resonating literary tenor that, in my opinion, has the strength to cross boundaries and affect a much larger audience. I can see her work fitting in the highest tier magazines or, with luck, backed by Big Name Brick and Mortar Inc. Yet Ms. McMillian embraced the Independent Publishing model, and more power to her. You can see her creative vision in every aspect of the book, from the cover art (her own) to the composition and scope (there’s a sequel, she informs me, so watch for that!) Which, I suspect, was entirely her point.

While I abhor a badly executed self-published book (particularly one masquerading as something else), I acknowledge that there is, absolutely, well-written, entertaining, and important works out there to be discovered. I bemoan the lack of filtering in the modern book market that subjects sensitive souls like me to total, time-wasting dren, but let it be said that there ARE ways to sniff out the good stuff beyond just random point and click. Getting to know the local talent is a big one (and supporting your local artists can’t hurt). Also important? Recommendations by people you love and trust—like, say, me!
So trust me on this one. LOVE is worth it.

— we could encourage more young people to express themselves in the arts.

My mother and father were, unquestionably, a positive influence on my writing.  My teachers, too — were it not for their mentoring, cheer-leading, and instigation, I might not be who I am today.  But perhaps equally important to my development as a writer was the opportunity to showcase and compete.

I had my first poems published when I was ten: one in Creative Kids (which, whoah, is still around?!?) and another in Piano, two magazines with content by and for children.

I won my first writing award in middle school: honorable mention in a student essay contest sponsored by the Postal Service, for which I earned a shiny stamped certificate signed by Some Important Government Official (fun bit of trivia, I missed the award ceremony because the invitation arrived in the mail a week late.  Hahaha – no, really.)

And, no, I didn’t always win, and, no, I didn’t necessarily take losing gracefully.  But the opportunity to compete was just as valuable.  It felt good when teachers encouraged me to try; the fact that they believed I could win helped me believe it. The feedback I received was usually very rewarding – I remember to this day when one of my classmates told me that her mother, who was a judge for a local competition, thought my story was the most imaginative of the batch.  And even if/when I didn’t win, competitions and journals and creative arts programs showed me that writing was something that mattered outside of the classroom.  That my words could go places I’d never imagined.  So even if/when I didn’t win, I kept writing.

A budding young author circa 1993 – haha, look at me pretending to be straight-laced.

It was a community that valued the arts that fostered the artist in me.

So when I heard that the Delaware PTA needed writing judges for the 2015 PTA Reflections contest, I jumped at the chance to pay it forward.

In my kitchen right now there are 69 essays, poems, and short stories by Delaware student writers, grades K-12, along with a table for scoring and a short blurb to guide me in my judging.  Having poured my heart into this responsibility, I’ve found it fabulous, fascinating, and, frankly, overwhelming – in the best possible way.

Over the last few days, I’ve decided that being a teacher must be REALLY HARD.  Imagine putting a grade on some budding author’s precious work of art. How do you carefully and thoughtfully soak in someone’s heartfelt written work and then squeeze it into some arbitrary shape by which it can be compared to a ream of other uniquely conceived masterpieces? Oy.  I honestly don’t know how people do this without breaking off little pieces of their hearts every day.

I have new appreciation, also, for the editors and judges who handle slush piles on a regular basis.  Even piles of the most stellar submissions start to swim before your eyes after just a few hours.

I learned that entering national writing contests is not a top priority for high school students — I handled a total of FOUR high school entries, compared to dozens from middle-schoolers and younger grades.  Hey, kids — What’s with that? Why U No Compete? Something to look at more closely, methinks.

I also enjoyed a glimpse into how young people are thinking these days.  This year’s theme, “THE WORLD WOULD BE A BETTER PLACE IF…” opened up a wide range of ideas, from personal wish-fulfillment to frustration with society to highly sophisticated analysis and solutions for global problems.  I took special joy in the poems and stories, of course (including a lot of science fiction, of all things), but the essays and narratives were also surprisingly creative.

In short, I believe kudos are in order — for the students, obviously, but also for the village of families, teachers, and arts enthusiasts who have encouraged these kids to put a pencil in their hands, their ideas on paper, and their writing out in the world.

I read each entry several times over, in between Babycakes care and laundry and what passes as my own”writing work” these days (which is to say, some lazy shifting of words around my keyboard like cold peas on a dinner plate).  A small sacrifice of time and brain power, but to me, totally worth it.  Contributing to this process for the sake of young Delaware writers has been truly an honor.

I almost didn’t make it. The GodKing hurt his back last week, the Kinglet is having a rough month at school, and, at four months, I’m still nursing my baby girl. To ditch them all for a sequestered, catered four-day weekend felt terribly self-indulgent. So when a transportation issue came up and I couldn’t find a ride down, I was like, well, I guess I just won’t go.

besides, how could I leave THIS?

besides, how could I leave THIS?

But my husband was having none of it. He was preparing to take off from work and drive me to Lewes himself when, thankfully, my poet friend Phillip Bannowsky welcomed me to ride with him.

Even still, it was touch-and-go that whole first morning. At breakfast I got an email from the Kinglet’s teachers explaining how he was getting kicked out of enrichment class rather than implementing his IEP; in full-on Mother Dragon mode, I’d responded with one of my signature Strongly Worded Letters while simultaneously cramming a bagel into my face-hole. Then I thought I’d lost my purse – spent an hour or so driving around looking for it when I’d meant to be packing and getting ready. (Never did get around to shaving my legs). Found the purse and managed to stuff my stuff into my bags and lug them to the porch by 11, still basically hyperventilating and wondering if I’d be able to relax at all.

I can’t say that I ever truly did – the combination of mommy hormones, social anxiety and over- caffeination had me feeling rather bipolar that entire weekend – but that wasn’t really a bad thing. I experienced some crystal highs on this retreat: getting to know colleagues a little better, starting new friendships, sharing in society with other poets and writers – “the tribe”, as JoAnn called it. People who speak my language, who love words and wordcraft. People who get it.

And I wrote. Not prolifically, but some, which is more than I’ve done in longer than I can say. Though I’ve been very productive in the last year with getting things published, I’ve produced very little new work, for one reason or another. The one thing I’d hoped to accomplish on this retreat, above all else, was to start the momentum again – and that, so far at least, I definitely have done.

Some thoughts and tidbits:

– During introductions on the first night, I mentioned that I’d just had a baby and that I was away from her for the first time. Thus I became known as the one with the baby for the remainder of the weekend. People kept coming up and asking, “So how you doing? Holding up okay? Sleep okay? Did you call home yet? How’s the little one?”

I laugh, but I really did appreciate it. It helped break the ice with people I didn’t know, and kept me “checked in” with those I do, who knew what a Big Deal it was for me to be there, away from my kids.

To answer the questions: I held up okay. It wasn’t as hard as I feared it would be, but it was definitely surreal. I kept thinking, Isn’t there someone I’m supposed to be taking care of? And for the first time in years and years and years, the answer was NO. I was responsible only for ME, having thoughts that were 100% my own. I felt younger, if that makes sense. Like twenty-something me was waking up from a very long sleep – which might also explain the bipolar feeling. But that’s okay! Crazy makes for better poetry.

– TheVirden Center isn’t the Ritz, but it’s perfectly sufficient to a writer’s needs. The personal screened porches were great (mine came with a pet preying mantis, for that extra little poetic symbolism), small but cozy, and Godz, if we didn’t have great weather for it.  Sunny, breezy, cool at times but not cold, and blue skies!

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Works for me!

My only beef about the accommodations were that 1) the nightstand was across the room from the bed rather than next to it, so I had to keep my night stuff (eyeglasses, saline, cup of water) perched precariously on a desk chair, and 2) the handle to my toilet stuck. You had to jimmy it or else it would keep running, which I kept forgetting, so I’d be staring into space trying to write a poem and then realize I was still hearing that damn toilet’s heavy, watery exhaling (inhaling? hmm.)

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shall i compare thee to a toilet’s whooooooooosh…

 

Oh and, 2b) I finally got in the habit of jiggling the handle by the last day, but now I’m trained to it, so every time I flush at home and hear the tank filling up I have the urge to go back and fondle the toilet. Thanks, Virden Center.

– The thing that most surprised me about the retreat is how little time I actually had to write. Part of that was unique to me – I spent an average of two hours a day pumping and storing breast milk, and, really, everything I did had to be scheduled around how long I’d have until I had to quick back to my room to pump again (oh, and did I mention, I got a nasty carpal tunnel flareup from what I thought at first was due to scribbling poems longhand (for want of a printer) but realized later, face-palm, was due to two hours a day minimum of squeezing a breast pump… TMI?) – but between that and workshops and needing to be in the dining room for meals at a specific time, I felt like writing was something that happened in the margins. You pretty much had to skip meals, sleep, or socializing to get any real work done. Being a nursing mom and always always hungry and always always tired, I went with option three, eschewing company except during meals and group.

– Not that anyone was knocking down my door; I felt a little lost at times.

– BUT ON THE OTHER HAND. I relished how open and friendly everyone was. Whenever I stepped into the dining room, there was a moment of “hmmm” – that flashback to grade school or camp or whatever, when all the cool kids bunch together and you wonder if and where there will be a space for you. I can’t be the only one who went through that. – But it wasn’t like that. By any stretch of the imagination.

I made a point of sitting at a different table every time, with different folk, trying to get to know new people, seeing the place from new angles – and for the most part it seemed like everyone else was doing the same. I thought a lot about how small the Delaware writing community is – even people I didn’t know, coming down, I realized I have seen before, or am only removed from by one or two Kevin Bacons. I like that kind of intimacy. It feels good to be a part of it.

– About food: I heard some mumbles about the buffet. This being my first retreat, I have no basis for comparison, but I was impressed with the grub. It was diverse, always something new, with options for veggies and carnivores alike. I thought it was pretty stellar, actually – but, then again, all of my food was cooked for me personally due to my dietary restrictions. Maybe I got extra special treatment, in which case, lalala for me! I loved having grownup food (artichoke hearts! sundried tomatoes) that met my needs that I didn’t have to cook myself. I was bowled over by how accommodating the chef and the staff were – the servers even knew to bring me the honey bear for my coffee by the second night (which I use because I can’t have cream). I felt truly pampered, and I wish I could bring them all back with me to My Real Life.

– Ah, pie in the sky dream.

So those are my impressions. It was an expensive trip, in more than just the cost of registering, but totally, I think, worth it. Coming back to reality this week, I felt refreshed and rejuvenated in a non-cliché way, a way that goes beyond “post-vacation bliss”. I feel as if I finally got a handle on where I am in my craft, in my career. I produced some work that I am proud of – more importantly, I am sharp with intention, the impetus to create more. Plus, I met a host of great people, colleagues, and gained a broader sense of community.

Oh, and gratitude. Thank you, Universe, and you, Delaware Division of the Arts, for sponsoring and, you, Oh Unknown and Unbiased judges, for selecting me as a participant. I am so honored and glad to have been counted among so many hugely talented writers.

It was, in short, really swell.

 

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In which the poet is accomplishing muchly.

This is my favorite picture from the Someone Wicked Publication Celebration at Newark Arts Alliance on Saturday, where eight of my fellow authors and I performed excerpts of twenty stories from the spectacular Someone Wicked Written Remains anthology.

 

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photo by Justynn Tyme

I had a blast at the event – loved talking with friends and fans, loved listening to the stories,  and loved performing.  I even slipped into a southern drawl during my performance of Chantal Noordeloos’ “Mirror Mirror” – something I hadn’t planned to do, but the dialog seemed to invite it, so I rolled with it.

Unfortunately, though, this is going to be one of those memories I avoid revisiting in pictures because of how I look.  I’ve lost half of my pregnancy weight in just 10 weeks, but for me, as with many women, it’s hard to look at HOW we look with anything but a glass-half-empty mentality.

Weight has always been the Achilles’ Heel to my ego.  I was fat as a kid, and tormented for it, and turned into an anorexic teenager to make up for it.  Even after I found my ideal weight, my height has always made me feel like a giant compared to other women.  It’s been a lifelong challenge to embrace my body type, to love who I am inside AND out.  Add *cough*-ty pounds of baby weight, I end up feeling like a holiday float.

So when I look at the pictures from my reading, I don’t see a lady who is already halfway back to her pre-pregnancy figure.  I see a holiday float in front of a microphone.

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photo by Robert Lutz

But that’s ok.  Looking back through my old journals, I reminded myself that it took eight months to lose the weight from my first child (which is fair, I think, since it took ten months to put it on!) Thanks to nursing and a whole foods diet, I also lost *cough*-ty extra pounds, so that by the time my son had his first birthday I was sleek and happy in my size 10 jeans – just right for my type.

I’m hoping to do the same thing this time around.  I’m eating healthy whole foods again,  aspiring to exercise (heh), and watching the weight come down in a natural way (read: slow).  In the meantime, I’m trying to be kind to myself.  I’m enjoying my baby girl.  I’m embracing the things that I love, like writing.  Like performing.  I may never be able to gaze at those pictures of me at the mic with a warm fuzzy feeling, even when (and if) I lose the weight… but at least I’ll have the memories.  Float or no float, I did go to that party, I did get up to that mic, and I did do my thing.  And it was awesome.

I think that’s key to a full life: you don’t HAVE to love every inch of yourself, but you do need to be kind to you, and love you as a whole.  You need your whole self to show up, after all.  If you’re half-glassing it, you’re only half living.

I do need to get a babysitter, though, so I can get myself to that salon.    Note to self.  A nice cut and color can do wonders for self-love.