The Novel is FINALLY Being Published!: Everyday Magic, Day 196

How many years have I been writing The Divorce Girl? On paper since Forest was a creeping critter (now he’s a giant), and in my head for about 37 years, give or take a few months. It’s the fictionalized version of the outrageous story I lived in my teens: a household divided in the middle of New Jersey, the 70s and an ethnic hodge-podge of eccentric characters. Basically, I took the outline of my own story, inserted all new characters, and saw what could happen.

How long have I been trying to publish it? I plead disappointment-induced amnesia on this front, but roughly for the last 5-10 years. There have been little mountains of hope and big crashes into the muddy or ice-covered earth repeatedly. I’ve worked with three agents along the way, all of whom loved the novel (at first, at least), asked me to revise some core element in it (all for the good!), and then eventually — because the crumbling publishing industry or simply losing interest — said, “No thanks.” I’ve mailed queries here and yonder. I’ve sat on bookstore floors, taking notes from various publishing guides to figure out what to do and then did it. And I did incantations, rituals, journal prayers and excessive deep wishing.

What kept me going is this: I knew it was a good story, and that it was written well (particularly after a decade of revisions). I also knew that beyond whatever little accolades there are to be had in getting it published, it is simply part of my life’s work to put this story out in the world. Not surprisingly, the novel mirrors my publishing journey: a girl has to find her place in the world against shifting odds and through the power of art and community.

So now I’m thrilled that the book and my main character — young Deborah (who is between 15-18, depending on what character you’re reading) — will be stepping out into the world in the summer of 2012, thanks to the superb publishing excellence and magic of Ice Cube Books. May Deborah and the other characters travel to wherever they can do some good and come back with new tales to tell.

Why the Arts Matter: Everyday Magic, Day 181

The arts matter because when I felt all out of sorts this morning, my itunes suddenly started playing a beautiful Swedish waltz that brought me home to myself, calmed my frenzied mind and opened my heart.

The arts matter because the paintings of Paul Hotvedt, photographs of Jerry Sipe, paintings of Joan Foth and so much other visual art showed me how to see the earth and sky.

The arts matter because a child in a fifth grade class who didn’t think she was good at anything discovered one day that she was good at writing poetry, making me remember how I discovered the same thing when I was in tenth grade.

The arts matter because my friend rose from her chair at the dance symposium and started dancing to illustrate how dance belongs to all of us, showing us what it means to live in, to be a body with its own grace and beauty despite age and change.

The arts matter because an elder woman with her walker managed to get down the long hall and sit at the round table where, writing about her first kiss 60 years earlier, she rose above the pain she had felt lately, and lifted us with her.

The arts matter because an old friend just sent me a poem she wrote, the first in years, to convey the depth of feeling she had about what stories of her life are held in a specific old house.

The arts matter because Eileen Stewart, a self-appointed angel in New York’s Greenwich Village, cared enough about theater that she started LaMaMa theater, and then made costumes, promoted shows and even swept the stairs to bring us the likes of Sam Shepherd, Harvey Fierstein and many other theater greats.

The arts matter because a woman living out her last months with lung cancer could dress herself in something bright and come to a writing workshop, where she was able to put into words her life’s most precious stories for her family.

The arts matter because tonight I heard a young man stand up and read something he wrote that helped us all understand what mourning as a community means.

The arts matter because when it comes to learning to speak civilly with each other, shorten distances between polarized communities, and find a common vision, there’s no stronger bridge when the one made of art: a song, a painting, a shared experience mediated through the lens of the arts, gives us new language, courage and understanding of how to listen to each other.

The arts matter because tonight we sang our prayers for Friday night services, knowing what the Talmud affirms: singing way doubles the power of prayer.

The arts matter because the world in day or night, summer heat or winter ice, is so expansively mysterious and powerful that we need all the help we can get to open up our wide vision and see — through music, writing, art, dance, theater, and other arts — what it means to be alive.

The Magic of Brave Voice: Everyday Magic, Day 172

On the first day of the year I brunched with the BVDs — the Brave Voice Divas & Daredevils,  people who attended past Brave Voices, the 6-day retreats Kelley Hunt & I have been offering in the Flint Hills of Kansas since 2006. A bunch of BVDs had come to our fair city to dance in the new year the night before when Kelley played Liberty Hall with her band. As way of catching up, of course we ate and visited, but mostly, we sat in a circle and sang, read, made up poetry, drummed and jammed together for several hours as is the way of the BVDs.

When Kelley and I started designing the Brave Voice writing and singing retreat about seven years ago, we envisioned a clearing, a place where people could gather and have enough solitude and community, enough spaciousness of being, enough inspiration, humor and tenderness so they could create what called to them freely. What happened surpassed our imaginations. As we head into our sixth Brave Voice retreat — May 8-13 in the Flint Hills of Kansas — we bring with us layers upon layers of witnessing magic.

Yes, there is the magic that can come when writing, singing and songwriting workshops are well-designed and facilitated, but there’s a magic that met us both at the site of the retreats and in the souls of those who come. We do the retreats at White Memorial Camp, which is located on an arrowhead-shaped peninsula in the middle of Council Grove lake, surrounded by rolling hills in all directions and held in very big sky. The location of the camp is also where tribes from throughout the plains would meet in council (thus the name “Council Groves) for hundreds, probably thousands of years.

The people who came are drawn to immerse themselves in Brave Voice from near and far. While we often have a contingent from Kansas and especially our hometown, Lawrence, we’ve had people come from British Columbia, Florida, California and Vermont too. BVDs are writers, singers, musicians, artists, yogis, ministers, community leaders, and people who’ve lived quietly while creating wildly in their lives through homemaking, parenting, contemplating and reading. I’m sure if you could look up the phrase, “the ones who show up are the ones who should be here,” you would see a picture of BVDs at the end of a retreat, falling into each other while laughing and hugging. The community that emerges each time is so rich and life-giving that it cannot help but to support everyone in taking creative leaps in their art, writing, music and lives….and it cannot help but continue over distances all year long.

So here’s to the magic that we create together when we open our voices. Thank you, Brave Voices!

Thanks to Julanne and Danny for the photos!

What I Learned In 2010: Everyday Magic, Day 168

2010 is toast. Here’s what it taught me in a nutshell:

  • With a cheap, plastic sewing machine under hand, I can still sew…..and to my surprise, I can sew wabi sabi quilts.
  • I love to play a video game (who knew?) — Typer Shark — although Ken says my typing all those sharks to death could have environmental repercussions.
  • It wasn’t devastating to have my daughter leave home. And between texting, facebook-messaging, phone-calling and skype, it’s kind of like she didn’t leave.
  • It’s very cool to have sons taller than me, and in the case of Forest, much taller than me.
  • I’m blown away by the compassion and community I saw gather around one friend who lost her son, another who lost her wife, and a group of us who lost mutual friends. Death is hard (understatement), but being here for each other is what makes the unbearable bearable.
  • I can sleep easily with a purring cat on my chest for hours.
  • If need be, I can lift our 80-pound lab-mation and get her into the car and onto the table at the vet’s.
  • True but a little sad: I am MUCH healthier without wheat, dairy or sugar in my diet.
  • True and delightful: I’m most in love with the world and alive — even when not feeling my best — when doing yoga everyday.
  • “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” is a great movie, and I’m glad to have seen it twice.
  • There only seems to be one television show at a time that I like/love, and this time, it’s “Bones.”
  • Sky Islands are singular mountains dotted throughout the Sonoran Desert (and beyond) where the altitude changes creates complete changes in climate.
  • All estimates for most climate changes I know of were vastly understated, and although my family rolls my eyes when I say this, I don’t think much of the coasts will survive beyond my lifetime (and maybe not more than a decade or two).
  • Bluebirds in winter, Indigo Bunting in summer, and all of life is good.
  • I actually like brussel sprouts when chopped finely into stir-fry.
  • I’m better than I thought at wasting time.
  • French farce in theater, when done well, is wickedly funny.
  • Mopping can be magical.
  • Warmed up enough, I can touch my toes without bending my knees, but I still can’t meditate worth a damn.
  • Whimsy rules.
  • Cats are the ones who taught humans all about lying (as in, “No one has fed me for days” ten minutes after they got fed).
  • Minneapolis and St. Paul blur so seamlessly into each other that it’s easy to lost in the Twin Cities vortex.
  • There’s nothing that can’t be made better by playing some Laura Nyro, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, Kelley Hunt, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Joni Mitchell, Greg Greenway or Louis Armstrong.
  • I seriously don’t want to know what or how much my kids drink at college or all manner of other things that happen late at night.
  • Without pressure, and with family I love, I actually kind of don’t always dislike Christmas so much.
  • Macaroons: the wonder food. All manner of squash too.
  • It’s always this question: “How to live?” and it’s always this answer, “With kindness.”

Best wishes to all for 2011!