Monday, April 21, 2014

Being Real

Daughter and hubby in the middle of Manhattan. 

I’ve spent a lot of time and energy creating layers and layers of fa├žade. I think most of us do. We start when we are very young finding out what is acceptable. We learn on the playground that sometimes saying what we really think might be scoffed at, so we learn to pretend to like something just because everyone else likes it. We learn to stuff our feelings at a very young age because we need to appear brave, strong, and intelligent, or for little girls we are taught that being pretty is above all most treasured. We learn to wait and see what others think. In Kindergarten, I sat on a rug with the teacher sitting in a chair. She taught us a little song with a whistle in the melody. I couldn’t whistle, still can’t, but I would pretend by posing my face and mouth the way the other kids did, hoping that no one would know. But a child near me announced, “Carole is not whistling.” So the teacher stopped the song and to my shame tried to teach me how to whistle, drawing attention to my inadequate pretense. I hoped everyday after that we would not sing the song. 

I remember Mr. Atkinson, my 5th grade teacher having us put our heads on our desks with our eyes closed when he would ask us to vote on options or opinions. He told us he wanted to see what we really thought instead of being swayed by the rest of the class. Sometimes he did it the other way so we could see what would happen. He would ask a question where the answer was up for debate and see how we would each look around and wait before raising our hands. Not wanting to be the only stupid one in the class, sometimes those with the right answer would end up changing their minds because the majority thought otherwise. 

Recently, I observed a six-year-old boy announce with glee that he just loved the color pink. I thought to myself that he would soon find out that he can’t love the color pink. The world will tell him that it’s wrong for boys to love pink soon enough, but I hope beyond hope that he can still love the color pink when the boys and girls at school tell him that only girls like pink. We are pegged, categorized and labeled early by gender, by race, by religion, by ethnic and regional values. I wanted desperately to chase lizards, throw snowballs, rocks and play baseball. My young heroes were both Huck Finn and Pollyanna. I knew somehow I was much more like Huck than Pollyanna and that it wasn’t acceptable. I wanted to be like my older brothers even though they rejected me.

Recently we visited our daughter in NYC and I noticed how real people can be. When you are surrounded by seas of people, why pretend to be something you are not? Live in the moment. Live in the now. You will never see the person next to you on the subway again. In a moment where my husband and I were confused by which way to go next to catch our train, a middle aged woman stopped and without us asking for directions politely offered them. She had no one to impress. Goodness for goodness sake. When an elderly woman with a walker got off a packed bus in Brooklyn, she announced as she hobbled out with help from the driver, “I hope none of you ever have to use a walker.” I watched through the window as she made her way down the sidewalk. She caught my gaze, smiled and waved. 

We spent a day with Sherry a feisty woman of 65 plus, an artist of sorts who has spent the vast majority of her life, living in the upper west side of Manhattan surrounded by unimaginable chaos of construction, incessant honking, sirens, and bustling crowds, and yet she manages a peaceful connection with a glimmer of sunlight that tunnels through the walls of cement and steel to her tangled growth of a postage stamp yard in a treasured piece of earth and sky. And in her ground floor apartment escapes to create works of art with colorful thread, beads, paper and paint. As we toured a vast factory building, turned into a modern art museum on the edge of the Hudson River, Sherry had more interest in the brick walls, the hinges, the windows, the doors, and the setting than she did in the actual works of “art.” In this museum it was impossible to tell the real art with the artist’s name by it, to the pile of construction materials in the rooms under renovation. The only clue came from the sign that told us, “this room under construction.”  

Sherry made no apologies for what she found unacceptable and not worthy of such a beautiful building. These weren’t students’ works, where one knows the discovery process was still underway, these were established artists, well-known in the art world, yet Sherry called it for what she saw. The rules of the museum were clear and there were only two. “No touching the artwork and No Photography.” Sherry continually broke these “silly rules.” She took photos of the doors, walls, and of the hinges. She took photos of one exceptional exhibit. She touched the art, blank white canvases, to see what the material was. She touched the plywood boxes. The security guards were on to her and would radio to the next security guard to watch out for “that one.” I found Sherry to be completely endearing and refreshing. I wondered how she cared so little about what people thought about her. She is who she is, no pretense, and no show. 

The contrast of the hustle and bustle in NYC with people on the constant go, where getting from here to there takes energy, strategy and even risk to coming home to my laid back world where on my daily walk I encounter only people I know by name and the occasional stranger who took a wrong turn is easy and comfortable. It’s sweat pants and sneakers compared to heels and tight skirts. But here, I struggle with expectations and image. Being real, being me, is still doable, but it takes effort, energy, and sometimes risk. There was a meme on facebook that said, “In a small town, if you don’t know what you are doing wrong, just ask someone.” It’s funny, but the truth of it is there. In our culture we judge each other. I’m sure they do other places too, but here everything is up for public discussion. 

Poet Mark Nepo said, “As the sun cannot withhold its light, we cannot withhold what feels real.” Learning to speak truth and be who we are takes practice, but doing the opposite, that is to continue to stuff who we are in deep layers of pretense eventually snuffs our light out all together. In the city or the tiny town, I’ll work to be me because as the saying goes, “everyone else is taken.” 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Why I Love Living in Small Town, USA

Today I went on a walk like I do nearly every day. My walk is along a country road. I usually travel the same path. One of the families along the way recently acquired a new dog. The new dog watches from her owners' house and gallops up the hill to join me on my walks. Sometimes, she doesn't return home and instead continues to follow me. She did this today. Last time, she followed me she seemed to have no sense about cars, trucks, or school buses. She trots right down the center line and doesn't move out of the way. Today, I was relieved when she ran up a hill when the school bus came. I did not want the bus to hit her. I didn't think either I or the children on the bus would want to see that happen.

But today, unlike other days, the school bus stopped. The bus driver then opened up the window of the bus and called the dog by name! (I'm not naming the dog to protect the innocent) Then the bus door opened and out popped one of the children who own the dog. The boy chased the dog up and down the street, but the dog kept dodging capture. I realized, he needed my help. I grabbed the dogs collar and turned her over to the boy. The boy tried to drag the dog. The dog refused to budge. Yes, the bus is still waiting! Finally I pushed from behind and we got the dog to walk begrudgingly to the bus. He balked at the door, but with the boy pushing and the driver coaxing the dog by name, she got on the bus. 

This reminded me of my own children's bus driver. He passed away a few years ago of a terrible degenerative disease called Lou Gehrig's. He used to wait for our kids when they were late catching it. They would run clear from the house to the end of the road, and he would wait. And once, my son forgot his musical instrument. My son called from the school with that desperate tone and pleaded for help. I didn't have a car. I took the instrument to the next bus that came about an hour later--the bus for the younger kids. I explained the situation. The bus driver took the instrument for my son and delivered it to him at the school. The school was a bit off his route. When I went to the viewing honoring his life and waited in the long, long line of people who might have had a similar experience, that's the image that kept coming to me--of him graciously offering to take the instrument. 

And back to today, after the dog got on the bus, I smiled all the way home. Then, as often happens in a small town, my neighbors stopped their car for a chat. If you are from a small town, you'll know that we talked right in the middle of the road. We caught up on all the latest news until the next car came up behind that one. But that one also was a neighbor who rolled down his window to say hello. In a few weeks I'll be heading to the other side of the country to visit my daughter in Brooklyn and I will love every minute of it, but I will be more than glad to get on that return flight for home.

Friday, February 21, 2014

An Inspiration Dies

I have to admit that I know very little about renowned artist, Nancy Holt who recently passed away. The obituary tells me that she was 75 and died of leukemia. I used her remote land art Sun Tunnels as inspiration for my book Sun Tunnels and Secrets. My husband Mick and I had tried to find the Sun Tunnels a couple of times and when we finally did, it was between novels. My first book, A Question of Trust was out, my second was on its way, and I was hoping to keep writing about the west desert area of Grouse Creek, Utah. When we saw the land art, my husband suggested that Sam, a character in both books find a body at the unique and desolate sculptures. I liked the idea and had been toying around with that idea when my good friend Diane called and told me a story about some friends of ours, older women, at least older than us, who had ventured out from Grouse Creek to the Sun Tunnels and had come across a man who had been abandoned in the desert by "his friends." Wow, the story was full of interesting tidbits and even though a serious situation, was kind of comical. My mind leapt at the idea of not Sam finding a body in the desert, but older women. That was the beginning of my novel when three sisters in their late 70's to early 80's find a naked man who by all appearances is dead.

I've written two books since that one, but for some of my readers it's their favorite. While researching the book, I found out a little more about Nancy Holt. I was so fascinated by her, and feel so badly now that I missed my one chance to meet her. She came out to speak about her projects a couple of years ago. My family and I drove clear out to the Sun Tunnels, about 150 miles, to see her at her beloved sculptures and I didn't dare introduce myself. Still I could tell by her delightful smile and by her work that she is someone I would have loved to meet. It's sad that her husband, also a land artist Robert Smithson, responsible for the Spiral Jetty, was killed in a plane crash decades ago. The obituary said she had no survivors which leads me to believe she never married. I romanticized this in my book and imagined that the Sun Tunnels had been a tribute to her late husband. But this is something I don't know--her inspiration for creating the sculptures, but I do know that they are an inspiration for me, not just for my novel, but for the feeling that you get from the dramatic view of the sun setting encircled in the dark frame. Next time I go out there, I'll feel gratitude for the life of Nancy Holt and her vision.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Authors, Books, and More--Oh MY!

Somehow I've let a lot of time pass without updating this blog. Whenever people ask me to list my favorite books, I always start with "To Kill a Mockingbird," because that book had such a powerful impact on me, but there are definitely others too. For me it's easier to list my favorite authors. I love anything written by Barbara Kingsolver and Anne Tyler. Just for fun I enjoy books by Tony Hillerman, but I wish he were still alive. I did get to hear him speak once at USU and wish I'd been braver to go up and meet him. I've always been very chicken about meeting people. Even people who aren't famous, I have a very hard time introducing myself to. I've always been envious of outgoing friends.

For instance, last year the artist Nancy Holt, came out to the Sun Tunnels. I drove clear out to see her, and even though I wrote a novel called Sun Tunnels and Secrets, featuring her artwork, I didn't dare introduce myself. I regret that. I almost got to meet Ray Bradbury. I waited in line for over a half-hour, but they finally decided that he didn't have time to sign our books. The same thing happened with Madeline L' Engle when I went to hear her speak and yet she couldn't sign books either. They even had us put our addresses on a list and she was going to send us her name on a bookplate, but that didn't happen.

Since then, I can only hope some of my local author friends become famous, a few already are. Robison Wells has had a lot of success and so has Jeffery Savage. Someday perhaps I can put a sign in our downstairs bedroom, that says Jeffery Savage slept here. On Thursday, I will go down to Salt Lake to a good friend's book launch--Marion Jensen's, Almost Super. It's bound to be very super. Another friend, that I kept forgetting to take my books to sign when I would see him, is James Dashner, whose book The Maze Runner is being made into a movie.

Whether famous or not, I'm blessed by my friendship with books, and my friendship with authors and aspiring authors. I get to each lunch quite often with Josi Kilpack (she has about a dozen books published). One thing I've discovered is that writers, famous or not, are just like anyone else. They may, even be pretty insecure like me.

I'm curious about what books others have loved. Some of the books I loved as a young child were: Harriet the Spy, all the Oz books, some of Jules Verne's, The Twenty-one Balloons, The Secret Garden, other Frances Hodgson Burnett books, and of course Nancy Drew. I know there were a lot more. I read almost constantly when I was young, and not nearly as much in my adulthood.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Keeping the Wheels of Creativity Greased

I'm between major writing projects. My last book was published in March of 2013, Poaching Daisies. It was such a fun book to write and to research, but I don't have anything new started, at least not a novel. I've launched a new blog to increase understanding about the LGBT community, especially among the Mormons, the religion I was born into. I haven't given up on writing a novel, I've just been immersed in this for a while. Creating my pottery keeps those creative juices flowing too.

Meanwhile here's a review about Poaching Daisies that's pretty fun: By 
Jennifer Moore (Kaysville, Utah United States) - See all my reviews
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Poaching Daisies (Kindle Edition)
In the small town of Cooke, environmentalists live alongside hunters, and everybody endures tourists. When Penny, a Yellowstone Park ranger finds a bear that's been lured and shot, in the park, someone tries to kill her. But the park service doesn't believe her. She and her aunt, Iris, a crusader against invasive plants have nowhere to turn but to Russ, a professional hunter. But things get tricky when the guy Penny is dating is a suspect in the bear poaching, and Russ isn't who he seems. Everyone is a suspect, and the action and tension built to an exciting end.
I found myself torn between racing through the book, trying to figure out who to trust, and not wanting it to end because I loved the characters so much. The banter between Iris and Russ was so funny that there were times I laughed out loud.
A fun, exciting and satisfying read. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Feeling Grateful for Grouse Creek

It's been kind of fun reading other people's gratitude posts on facebook everyday this month. I've enjoyed coming up with my own too. The great thing about gratitude is that the more you count your blessings, "and name them one by one," the more you seem to have. It has been so easy to think of something to post. I've thought back to my childhood friends, wanting to name them one by one, then on to college, and my early married life, then on to Grouse Creek where I started to really find myself. Then on to Paradise where our children really grew up, had fantastic friends, teachers, and neighbors. Now, here we are in Avon where we look out and see the beauties of the earth and feel the bounties of the earth. 

I am grateful for my years in Grouse Creek. Here's a few of the reasons why. Not everyone can live seventy miles from a town with a grocery store and most of that over dirt roads. We only had one station on the television and that one was fuzzy. My husband and I taught school together, twenty-four kids total from ages 5 to 16. We could throw a frisbee from out porch and it could hit the back of the school--that's how close we were to work. Our children played outside a lot. They read books, hiked, rode bikes, played in the gullies and hills, and did a lot with us--their parents. Kids in Grouse Creek learn how to communicate with adults because there were almost as many adults in the school as students. Instead of playing a ball game in the gym with only fifth graders, they learned to play with first graders too. Cooperation was the norm, not the exception. At the church, just a little further from the school, everyone who showed up had a job to do. It didn't matter if they were very active, it took everyone in town to run the ward. Life was simple. And it was good. It was in Grouse Creek that I really began writing stories.  A few were published. Once we moved into "town," it would take years before I would start writing again. I wish every kid could have a Grouse Creek experience. I wish every family could have a Grouse Creek experience. For me, it made such a huge difference in my life.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

If I'm Somebody, it's Because of Somebody

Once a month my family gets together for potluck Sunday dinner at Mom’s. We’ve been doing this for over a year now. The first Sunday in October toward the end of our afternoon,  Mom whipped this poem out of her pocket and said she’d written it the other night.

I used to be somebody
With lots of get up and go
But that get up and go
Already got up and went
Now I’m a nobody with years near spent,
So I go to Curves three times a week.
So that when the time comes—
(And the Lord’s so inclined)
At least I’ll go with my behind refined.

The ditty is funny and yet says a lot. It must be hard to see the years pass, the memory fade, the energy gone, and begin to feel as if at anytime the lights will go out. It must be hard to feel like the somebody you once were is gone.

My mother is somebody. One of my first memories is sitting on my mom’s lap at church. She would puff out her cheeks and I would pop them with my little hands.  I’m the end of the line—the last of five and the only girl. Mom said the whole neighborhood rejoiced with her when I was born.

My mother is somebody. She sewed my clothes, Halloween costumes, dolls, and more. My brothers always said I was spoiled, and if I was, I think it was because my mother knew it was hard for me--the only girl. My brothers weren’t always nice, in fact, were hardly ever nice to their little sister, so Mom made up for it.

My mother is somebody. She never told me to stop being afraid when the monsters under the bed sent me scrambling out of bed and into my mom and dad’s bed in the next room. Out of all the moms in the neighborhood, our house was the place to be. We could play loudly. We could make messes as long as we cleaned up. We could sleep outside in the summers or make tents out of tables and chairs. We could toss all the cushions on the floor and play the ground is poison. We could climb trees and jump on the beds. We were allowed to be children and not grow up too fast. 

My mother is somebody. Neighbors came and cast their votes in the patriotic striped booths set up temporarily in our living room. At other times that same room would have a quilt stretched the length and width of it while women gathered around, stitched and talked while I played beneath. Those quilts were made for newlyweds in the ward. At harvest time, the sticky syrupy smell of grape jelly and canned peaches filled the kitchen. Numerous cakes, breads, and whole meals were prepared in for new mothers in our church community and for the sick, or sad.

My mother is somebody. Once she visited an immigrant family and found them in bed in the middle of a cold winter day to keep warm because their heat had been shut off. It didn’t take long for her to fix that situation. My mother is somebody because she and our father managed to raise five children and give each of a sense of worth, values, and work ethic. But somehow Mom did it with ultimate patience and without ever (at least me) spanking. I was never grounded either, and didn’t even know what that was until some of my playmates got grounded. I never felt judged or berated or criticized.

My mother is somebody. She worked for years at the Orem Geneva Times. She wrote nearly every article they had in the days when everything had to be typed on a typewriter and then handset in the printing press. Sometimes when I was in the fifth grade and attending Spencer Elementary, I could walk home from school and see her behind the desk. She let me search through the coins in her desk drawer to add coins to my coin collection, replacing the coins with money from her purse. She served on boards, PTA, and councils, and in numerous callings in church, reliable to the core. 

My mother is somebody. She quit the job she loved when Dad was diagnosed with cancer. And on the bad days when that cancer ravaged dad’s body, she took care of him. And on his good days, months and years, she was his best and closest companion. And in the end she took care of him until his eyes shut and never opened again. She was only fifty.

My mother is somebody. She left behind her grown children and first grandchildren to serve a mission for the Lord. She gained her own strength and learned that she too could learn and understand, and boldly teach the gospel she loved.
Mom right after her mission. We met her in California where she met her grandson Trevor. 

My mother is somebody. After her mission, and on her own, she moved to a new home. Her door has always been a revolving one. One by one, she let those who needed a place to land, for however long, land with her. Her own aging mother spent a decade and again Mom took care of someone--this time her mother, who lived a long a lovely life and died in my mother's home at age 96. Mom's own grown children because of divorce or hardship sometimes needed a place too, and their children. Then those grandkids grew, and when life got hard or when grandkids were headed for school, or between jobs or dreams—again Mom’s and now Grandma’s place is the place to be.
Grandma--Mom's mom (Somebody too)

My mother is somebody. With so many somebodys she's helped along the way. I could go on and on about all she is. In October, I watched my two-year-old grandson cuddle next to his great-grandmother while she read him a story. To that little one, she is still somebody and always will be. If you are a somebody, or were a somebody, you can’t be a nobody, because no one ever is.  I’m definitely a somebody because of my mother who is also a somebody and her mother was a somebody, too. 

Mom holding the son of her grandson (our son). 

And here she is with all five of us. 

Thanks Mom!