NaNoWriMo? Yes!

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Photo by Pixabay

I’m doing National Novel Writing Month this year. Participants are supposed to write every day for the purpose of producing a novel by November 30th. I wasn’t at all sure I could write every day for thirty days. I’ve written in more than one blog post about how I think I let things keep me from writing. And a few years ago, I wrote a post titled NaNoWriMo….Nope. In it I talked about some of the frustrations in writing my first novel. (I’m still in revisions on that work.) So I went into the challenge with apprehension. Surprisingly, there’s only one day left after today and I’m still at it! I’ve succeeded in writing every day this month which is huge for me. I’ve managed to write two other blog posts as well!

I’m working on what might or might not end up as a novel. The goal as set out on the NaNoWriMo website is 50k words by the end of the month. I’ll probably end with just over 35k. That doesn’t matter. For me, this challenge is an exercise in process not product.  Its’ been a deeper exploration of the issues I face as a writer that I discussed in the first blog post. So, here’s what I’ve learned since November 1st:

  • I’m a good writer. (That’s incredibly difficult for me to write. Lol.)
  • I use my family as an excuse for not writing.
  • Discipline takes practice. It isn’t an innate ability.
  • Practice makes me better at using adverbs, commas and quotation marks.
  • There are three themes that run through most of my fictional pieces. The roots of the themes stem from my unresolved difficulties . I heard screenwriter and actress Lena Waithe say the other day that she learned she has emotional wounds that haven’t healed but that she can fly anyway. This challenge has shown me that I feel the same.

I’m going to get back to writing my story now. It’s late in the day and I haven’t worked on it yet. I’ve proven to myself that I don’t have to worry. I’ll get it done. Here’s a little piece of the tale in case you’re curious:

Elaine and Darricka live within walking distance of Elsie, Danny and Margaret. It’s pretty safe for a twelve-year-old girl to walk the four blocks between the homes. The town is small. Elsie told Margaret that she and Elaine had picked the place because it is small, and it sits right between two larger towns that are much more crowded. The whole area is small relative to the city across the bay. Margaret wishes she could visit the city sometime. But she can’t think about that right now. She rounds the corner of Rose Hill Ave., her Auntie’s street. The house is on the actual hill. It’s a small one that Margaret treads up with little trouble. There’s a better view than from her house. She stops for a moment to look out over the trees and houses below. It’s pretty, she thinks. This town doesn’t feel like home though. Margaret can’t look out on this view and point to any connecting experiences she’s had with it. She can’t point out the hospital she was born in. That’s in a different state. She can’t look out and see the church she was christened in. That’s in a different town. The only family she has nearby are her auntie and cousin. There’re no graves of ancestors anywhere near here. Margaret has no idea where those graves are. She shrugs and turns into the walkway leading up to the only house that’s familiar to her in the town.

It’s October?

I haven’t posted since the end of May? What happened? Where did the time go? Every time I thought about blogging, something would distract me and turn my attention elsewhere. Sometimes it felt as though I was chasing myself…

Right after the last post my family gathered for a birthday celebration in Miami.

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It was wonderful but it was a lot; a lot of traveling, a lot of money and a lot of family. I’m always shell-shocked for a while after a lot of family.

Then it was back to Boston in June (with a stop in New York City for my birthday) for two weeks having fun keeping the middle little company again until camp started. I also got to meet the teeny little, the newest addition to my extended family. And I enjoyed can’t-beat-it New England seafood with old friends. Blessings all. Still, it was a lot.

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As soon as I returned home I had back to back houseguests visit, the last one for the the 4th of July. See, since I moved to the DMV I’ve had more company than I did in Boston. I get it, Washington DC is a great place to visit. My friends and family have been especially  excited to tour the three year old National Museum of  African American History and Culture. And who doesn’t want to be in the nation’s capital on the the 4th?

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I rounded out the summer with a mini vacay at beautiful Rehoboth Beach in Maryland with my daughter, biggest little and littlest little. Sun, sand, beach food, family and fun.

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Before I knew it it was Labor Day. The whole family gathered in Boston for my son and daughter-in-law’s first anniversary. We had a big barbecue. When I say the whole family, I mean the WHOLE family; offspring, their partners, grandkids, my siblings, nieces and nephews and their kids, their Uber drivers…It was a lot. It was a lot of summer.

Here’s the thing, while I was traveling all over, accommodating family and chasing myself I didn’t notice that I wasn’t balancing the whirlwind with self-care. I was enjoying the people and activities but I was neglecting the other things that feed my soul, like writing. I wasn’t working on the revisions to my novel and I wasn’t blogging. I wasn’t going on the nature walks that allow me to access my poetry muse. I know better. A long time ago I committed to taking responsibility for my procrastination and creative blocks. Yes, my family will always come first but I still have time and energy to devote to writing.  So, the question is why wasn’t I able to stop in the midst of all the hubbub and center myself so I could balance the two? I did it in Tulum. I guess just because I’ve learned some important life lessons over the years doesn’t necessarily mean I can consistently apply them. But I write because I must so here I go again. In the words of Rainer Maria Relki,

“a new beginning is always possible – who should refuse it?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

“One Of These Mornings You’re Gonna Rise Up Singing”*

I haven’t been writing much for the past two months for reasons I hope to blog about soon. Basically, life has gotten in the way. This is a post from a couple of years ago that still makes sense. I’m surprised by how consistent I am. I edited a little and the photos are new.

WE ARE RACING TOWARD SUMMER, AREN’T WE?

It’s feels to me, after such a long and difficult winter, that spring lasted no time at all. April seemed to go by in the blink of an eye and incredibly, we celebrated the unofficial start to summer last weekend with Memorial Day.

When I realized we were quickly coming to summer’s front door, I initially had an anxiety attack thinking of all the springtime activities and chores I haven’t yet gotten done. (As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a list maker.) But then I relaxed and allowed myself to think about the things I have enjoyed this spring, which is a much healthier exercise.

I was fortunate enough to watch the progression of buds to blooms to leaves on the trees and the pushing up of flowering plants from inside the ground to up  toward the sun.

I put the first of this year’s tomato plants and herbs into the garden. While planting the herbs, I held some aside to make some air fresheners, teas and lotions. I naturally have more energy come spring so I’ve been walking in the nature preserve to bird watch and I got to see goslings make their initial appearance at the pond’s edge.  Also, after talking about it ALL winter, I finally got to take the little people to the playground for a game of Hide ‘n Peek Seek. I engaged in each of those activities and enjoyed them completely in the moment as they happened. So if it seems that the springtime flew by, it is only in retrospect.

I hope you enjoyed your spring and that summer will be an equally wonderful set of precious moments for you. I hope you’ll find the recipes below useful. And lastly, I hope you had a great Memorial Day and thanks so much for reading.

*Lyric from “Summertime” by DuBose Heyward from Porgy and Bess

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Baking Soda Air Fresheners

Mason jars
Baking soda
Essential oils, I use lavender, rosemary or lemon
Dried herbs (optional)
Fill the jars to 3/4 with baking soda, leaving a little room on top. Add about 5 or more drops essential oils and stir. Sprinkle on top about a tablespoon of matching herbs to whichever oil you’ve used. (Some people punch holes in the jar lids and screw them on. I never bother, preferring to leave the jars topless.) Shake gently occasionally to reactivate the oils. The lingering aroma will be subtle but fabulously fragrant.

 

DIY Lotion

2 oz Shea Butter
2 oz Vitamin E oil
1 oz Jojoba oil
1 oz Lanolin
1/2 tsp essential oil
All of these measurements are approximate. I find its good to play with the proportions so you get just the right mixture for your skin type. Also, I cut the amount of Lanolin from the original recipe because I don’t care for the smell.

Traveling

So, I’ve been traveling this week. I’m in Boston right now where I lived for many years before moving to the DMV. I still have people here. This past week has been about celebrating birthdays, births and connecting with kin. Coming back to the place that was my home for so long but is no longer my home is challenging. There is a mixed bagful of memories here. Fortunately, after so many years, the memories evoked are more like my mind’s movies than pains in my heart. And I’ve gotta be real, the weather here is challenging too. It’s kinda cold. I’m not used to it anymore. It feels a little more like spring at home where there are buds on some trees. Not so much in Boston.

 

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Bare as they are, I still love “the triplets”.
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That’s snow. What?!

I’m grateful that I’ve been able to make a little space for writing and reading while still tending to the needs of my family. I can’t work on poetry submissions while I’m away but I can continue working on my new short story, “Perennially”. And I’ve been putting together my next blog post about some changes that come with the second half of life. Hopefully, that will come next week when I’m back home. At night when there are too many of us to all use the wifi, I practice reading as a writer which is wonderful. I borrowed Dr Apelles by David Treuer from the library before I left. It’s an engrossing work that covers territory I know little about which makes it even more interesting. As always, I’m reading my favorite WordPress bloggers.

I’m heading for home soon.  Until I get back, I’ll leave you with a few more photos from Boston.

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There is beauty.
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Had to have the New England clam “chowda”.
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Celebrating her made the trip!

Thanks for joining me on my journey.

This Is What There Is For February

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Once again, it’s the end of the month and I don’t have a thing written for this blog. I have no ideas that I want to share right now or that I haven’t shared already. (It must be a consequence of blogging for eight years.) It’s not that I haven’t been writing. I write almost everyday thanks to the writers Meetup group I started with a friend in November. The members are incredibly smart, talented women. They motivate me to be a better writer and I’m grateful. We read, critique or write together every Saturday morning and then I go home and write. (That is unless life gets in the way.) I’ve finished putting together a collection of poems, a few of which I’ve posted to this blog, I started a new short story and of course I’m still revising that damn novel.

Speaking of novels, I’ve also been reading. I read Small Country, an excellent first novel by Gael Faye, I read Becoming by Michelle Obama and Yeshiva Girl, another great first novel by blogger Rachel Mankowitz. And I’ve been reading some posts written by other wonderful WordPress bloggers. Thanks again Boomie Bol!

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So, because my mind is otherwise occupied at the moment, I’m going to share a piece I wrote a while ago. It’s part of a larger work I posted a poem from a few months ago titled The Only Things Certain. The poem begins the work and this bit ends it. Enjoy and thanks for reading!

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“Whatcha doin’ Mom?”

“Oh hey, son. I didn’t know you were here. I’m trying to finish grading these beds. Aren’t they going to look nice? Just the way I always imagined. Come on down and help me with some muscle work, please.”

“Ok, but you know this is a total waste of time, right? It’s not even your garden anymore, technically.”

“I know baby, but I invested so much of myself in these beds and they’re so close to being terraced just right. The new owners will probably love the way they step down from the fence into the yard. Bring that big bag of soil from up there with you.”

“Or they might tear them out or just let them weed over. Here, let me move the rocks. Did you have to get the most gi-normous ones you could find? These are really heavy and it’s kinda hot our here.”

“I got them over at Hamilton Park. They’re the last picks of my rock relocation program. Ha-ha.”

“You know Mom, a little of that goes a long way. You’ve been making that same joke for years.”

“I know, son. Your father used to think it was funny every time.”

“I’m glad you brought him up. It’s not just the garden. I think you’re having a hard time with all of this. He’s gone but we’ve got the memories. This is just a house.”

“It’s not that hot out. It won’t get really hot for another month, just about the time the hostas pop. I hope they like hostas. There are so many of them in this yard. But the daisies I planted between them died…Oh, and the day lilies! I forgot! I need to thin those before I go. They’ll take over before the new people know it if I don’t. Go get my long handle weeding hoe out of the garage, will you?”

“Mom.”

“Let me do this in peace, ok? Yeah, I’m having a hard time, so kill me. Now go get the hoe. I’ll finish off the rocks.”

“Here’s the hoe. Oh my god. Mom, you’re planting herbs? For real? Are you gonna leave anything for the buyers to do? Where were you hiding those, in the basement?”

“I just want to give them ideas for the beds until the perennials come in. There’s all kinds of good stuff in the lower beds; my irises, Astilbe and Delphiniums, then later, my coneflowers, bee balm and black-eyed susans…”

“Whatever. What’s the saw for?”

“Oh, some of the lilac branches are growing into Doug and Tasha’s yard. See there? I told them I’d cut it back before I go.”

“I’ll do it. Take my shirt. I don’t care what you say, it’s hot out here. I’m not used to the heat anymore.”

“You’ve only been gone for nine months. You kids sure do shake off the past fast. I was saying that to your sister last night. She called in between her scene changes.”

“I don’t know why Doug and Tasha care since they’re moving soon too. Just these two branches, right?”

“What? Who said they’re moving? Where’d you hear that? Help me up.”

“From Doug. I saw him in the driveway before I came back here. He said they’re moving to Houston to be near her family because of the new baby. I guess they didn’t tell you.”

“Nope, I had no idea they were planning to leave. That makes me sad.”

“Why? You won’t even be here!”

“Because baby, the neighborhood that I know, where I brought you all up, isn’t going to be the same. It’s a nice neighborhood with nice families. We were here a long time. I just think it’s so sad.”

“Mom, babies get born so parents move, flowers fade and new flowers replace them. And Mom, loved ones pass away. Things change. C’mon, I’ll grab the soil and let’s get this finished.”

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The Only Things Certain ©2015 Kat Tennermann

Another Change

Well, it happened. For the first time since  re-launching this blog, I missed a post. I had committed to posting at least once a month but I missed October. It’s not for the lack of trying. I wrote two pieces but hated one and didn’t finish the other. I sat up Halloween night hiding from the trick-or-treaters while trying to come up with something. Nothing. I closed my laptop and turned on the TV.

I have this problem more autumns than I want to admit. I seem to follow a pattern. The leaves change color and start to fall and I get depressed. Then the temperatures dip and I begin to eat for comfort (and store fat for the winter, I guess). I have trouble writing, which I hate because writing is my real comfort. I swore I was going to resist the pattern this year. I thought I’d stored enough warm sunshine in Tulum in September to see me through. But the empty takeout containers in my recycling bin and the lack of an October post seems to mean it wasn’t enough.

It’ll be ok, I’ll make it through. At this point in my life I’ve learned it’s not either this or that, warmth or cold, light or dark, it’s both. There is beauty in the warm sea tides and the fallen leaves. So, I’ll share with you poems about both. The first is one I wrote which is actually part of a larger work by the same name.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The Only Things Certain

Dying
green
cascading brown
down

to stream water
wearing still rock.

Degrading
green
turning red
up

reaching, beseeching
to moving sky.

Trees, stream, sky.

Passing out of,
seen
and unseen
beauty

in change
and death.

(©Kat Tennermann2018)

 

And then there’s this one from the beach in Tulum. It’s a Navajo poem courtesy of Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation. I read this out loud every morning.

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Photo by Nextvoyage on Pexels.com

Walk in Beauty

In beauty I walk
With beauty before me I walk
With beauty behind me I walk
With beauty above me I walk
With beauty around me I walk
It has become beauty again
It has become beauty again
It has become beauty again
It has become beauty again.

 

 

1968

So here I am on the last day of April trying to stick to my commitment to post at least once a month to this blog. It’s been a challenge to do it since the re-launch. I used to have so much to say and now apparently, I don’t.

Anyway, I’ve been watching some retrospectives on TV commemorating the fifty-year anniversary of the significant events of 1968. The year factors largely in a novel I wrote during my hiatus from blogging. (It’s unpublished which is why I haven’t mentioned it before now but it is copywritten.) In one chapter the main characters talk about how they felt as children witnessing some of what was going on in 1968. I was a child then too and the TV programs reminded me of how I channeled my feelings into those of my characters. It was an impactful time, even for children. Since I can’t think of anything else to write about, I decided  I’d share a little of the chapter with you. If you like it, maybe I’ll post more from the novel later.

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“I’ll tell you, it was some year, sixty-eight. Crazy. John dying in his crib like that.  Mom and Dad both wildin’ out and on top of all of it, half of Baltimore burning up in the Holy War Uprising. Yeah, it was crazy.” As Thomas gestured with his drink in his hand, his eyes filled with long past images. He, Junior and Judi thought back to the Baltimore riots of 1968 and their collective memory was one of fire. Memories of the glow of the TV screen in the living room of the homestead as David Sr. and Ella sat on the sofa, watching the pictures of everything burning. They remembered the way Ella, her pregnant belly touching the cushions, squeezed David’s hand and whispered, “Damn, that’s right where your cousin lives.” The kids had turned and looked at Ella wide-eyed because cussing was their father’s forte, something in which their mother rarely engaged. But it frightened them the most when David said, “It looks like hell.”  After a solemn dinner that night, the three siblings had huddled together in the playroom wondering which sins had caused the troubles and whether the hell fires would get them too.  The memory faded and the spell was broken by David Jr’s deep voice.

“Ain’t that much different around here now Tom, and um, you’d know if you didn’t live in a gated community.” Thomas was ready for his big brother’s taunts.  To him David Jr. was like Baltimore City, still vital but a little rough around the edges. The oldest sibling wasn’t the big, bad brother he’d been when they were younger. He hadn’t been since Thomas entered the meat and potatoes of his adulthood, the years that had brought the reality of negotiating a good career, marriage and parenthood as a middle-class black man. Thomas set down his glass and scratched the hair on his chest through his starched blue business shirt and undershirt.  

     “Ok, that’s true Dave but back then black folks weren’t just rioting because they were mad like they do now.  Everybody in this neighborhood and for that fact in black neighborhoods around the country were talking about Black Power. And it was all over the news so we saw all those pictures of raised fists on the TV when Mom was trying to herd us up to bed after dinner, remember? Matt, we know you and Ruth were too little to remember but I’m telling you it felt like something real would jump off at any minute.  Even at five I knew something big was going on.  It scared me, it really did,” Thomas said.

©Kat Tennermann, 2016

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(Photo by Ivan Cujic from Pexels)

 

Things Have Changed

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I kept wondering why I was having such a hard time re-launching this blog. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve posted.  I’ve taken breaks once or twice before and restarted without trouble. This time however, I must have written four re-launch posts but wasn’t happy with any of them. None of them felt authentic; true or sincere. Then it occurred to me, things have changed. The circumstances and nature of my journey have fundamentally changed.

Soon after I started this blog I revised my life. Since my husband had passed away two years before, I moved to a different state (fewer memories to make me sad) nearer to a new grandchild (new memories to make me happy). I joined social groups and dedicated myself to the real writing career I had neglected to establish when I began a wife and mother.

It was all working and things were going well until about two years ago. Then changes, important changes, happened that weren’t part of my decision-making process. I wasn’t the main agent of the things that were affecting me. I felt as if, instead of walking my path, I was being kicked down the road like a random can. My family changed. I didn’t want one of my family members to divorce but it affected me on more than one level. I didn’t want another member to decide to view my longstanding foibles differently but it affected our relationship. My body changed. I didn’t decide to develop lines in my face or a knee that goes in and out like a tide. I didn’t decide to change my metabolism to where I can gain 10 pounds in a month but can only lose two no matter how much I diet and exercise. And those physical changes changed my relationships with men. The country changed. I was a poll worker in November  2016 and still didn’t see the handwriting on the wall, or in this case, the ballots. The day after that election my outlook changed about people, race in the U.S. and the value of compassion. I continue to grapple with what it all means. (Is it a harbinger of a dark future or the wide swing of a constant pendulum?)

It’s only natural that if I’m going to continue writing this blog, it too must change. Seven years is a long time. I’m positioned differently these days, much more an attendant than the guide. So, Stop Along the Way’s tagline is now Looking Forward… From Back Here instead of Take What You Want, Leave the Rest. Back in 2010 my intention was to lay out what I’d discovered and learned from my experiences and that some of it might be somehow helpful to others. But things have changed. I’ll post now about what I see ahead from this new vantage point and ask you, the readers, for your take on my perspective. My life has new landscapes for me to travel and I need help figuring out the new territory. It’s much easier practicing compassion (the supposed cornerstone of my spiritual practice) when I feel equal to instead of greater than. Lol, that is a reference to the very first 2010 post. My starting point is always the same. I’m thinking of changing the blog name to “The Road” but I’ll wait a bit on that. Do you think I should change it? Maybe I should see if I continue to feel as though I’m being kicked along or if at some point I willingly go along and enjoy the view. Maybe the biggest change is that instead of walking this road, I’m at the point where I’d rather ride the rest of the way, in the back seat where I can observe more and judge less. I hope you come along with me.

 

 

 

Why You Won’t Be Seeing Us Real Soon

 It’s been a little while since I posted.  I have a few pieces in the pipeline so I  hope to post more during the summer. But there’s been a lot going on around here, the best of which was finishing the first draft of my first novella, “Ties That Bind”. I ‘ll talk about that experience on my other blog,  BusyWritingLife.

The other stuff is mainly around family, some good, some bad which are the subjects I’ll be sharing this summer. And speaking of which;

 

Yeah, Disney, about that…..

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We’ve been thinking about doing a family vacation this summer. There are young’ens in our clan so, naturally, when I threw out the vacation idea, Disneyland was mentioned by their parents as a possibility. I grew up in the counter-culture days and tend to think of myself as a social reform type so at the Disney suggestion the only response that came to my mind was, as one of the other family members says, “hashtag, I can’t”. But I was pointedly reminded by one daughter that as I was bringing her up, I pushed Disney like a Oxycontin dealer.

I admit it’s true. I enjoyed a lot of Disney movies, both as a child and as an adult. When I became a mother, the memories of feelings I had as a child for Snow White and Cinderella overcame my supposed highly developed social sense. My emotional need was to share those memories with my kids. I wanted them to give them what I thought I’d gotten out of the films. It was a knee-jerk response to parenthood. And, truth be told, I continued to get with the Disney program. As a matter of fact, The Little Mermaid was a special bonding experience for me and that same daughter. Her favorite song was Part of That World and mine was Under the Sea. Some things never change…

…And some things do. So, I changed my mind. Sue me. (Oh that’s right, daughter can because she’s an attorney now. Take that Arial!)  It was right around the Aladdin years that I noticed a change in my attitude toward Disney films. I was starting to become bothered by the things like historical contexts and language. Why is a princess using an expression like, “at your service?” And why a princess? Why always a princess?! By the time Pocahontas was released I was suspicious of all the basic Disney themes. (Actually during one point in that movie, in a theater, my sister and I both stood and shouted, ‘Oh c’mon!”)  I started questioning what it was I actually did get from those old “classics” in terms of gender roles, class distinctions and cultural perspective. I realized that as an evolved, modern, African-American woman, I needed a new cartoon vision that matched my mood. (Haha.) That’s when I started boring my kids with “responsible” TV shows like Captain Planet. We stopped going to Disney movies and instead I brought home videos like Ferngully, The Last Rainforest”. The only Disney distributed movie I let into the house was The Brave Little Toaster. It scared the shit out of them and began the “reading era” of their childhood. As a result, when they criticize me about that time, as they still do, it’s in very literate terms.

Did I do the right thing by casting a jaundice eye on Disney and sharing my misgivings with my kids or was I the throw back hippie hypocrite they feel I was? I’m not sure but I’m still going to take a pass on dunking the grandkids in the Disney kool-aid as our summertime fun. Maybe I’ll suggest a hiking trip in the mountains instead. Now, please excuse me. We have a birthday party this afternoon and I have to go wrap an Elsa’s Frozen Palace play set.

And Now There Are Two

SO… with the help of the 3 people who weighed (two via personal emails) on the questions I asked in my last post, I’ve figured out what I want to do, blogging wise. I want to reflect on spiritual and social questions and I want to tell stories. As the result of my conclusion, “Stop Along the Way” will continue as the place for my reflections, considerations and meditations. In addition, I’ve started a new blog, the name of which was inspired by my last post here. My second blog is called Busy. Writing. Life and it’s where I’ll tell my stories in the form of humor, fiction and poetry. I posted my first piece today. In honor of Halloween it’s a scary story called Mouth Brought Me Here. I hope you’ll click over and check it out.