English and Chemistry

Hopewell High School, 1972.  Freshman English class.  “That was my first year of teaching,” Brenda Pleasant said.

I don’t remember that.  I do remember a not-so-easy A, and a worse-than-that conduct grade after I accepted Greg Davis’ dare to perform a cartwheel down the aisle during a test.  And I recall something else.

There’s a knock on the classroom door and a lanky, long-haired guy in a jean jacket saunters in, motorcycle helmet hanging casually from one hand.  Gangly 14-year olds gawk as Ms. Pleasant excuses herself and steps into the hallway.  She floats back in on a cloud of giddy and it dawns on us that just maybe this bubbly teacher has more going on than parts of speech, sentence structure and critical analyses.  This might be English class, but right now it’s all about chemistry.

One of the great pleasures of growing up in a small town is returning over the years to meet teachers as adults, to watch each other’s families grow, and catch up on life’s achievements and challenges, if not always in person, then on Facebook.

When I took up creative nonfiction in my 50’s, it was no surprise that Brenda became a reader of my work, providing encouragement that kept me writing even as the rejections came fast and furious.

I watched from afar as she supported her husband through his illness, teaching me once again, this time lessons in fidelity to a person, a place and a way of life.  Her last years without him were difficult, but she carried on as mother, daughter, sister, friend.

She left the world without warning. When I think of last Tuesday, I imagine her climbing into bed and pulling up the covers.  As she drifts off to sleep, she finds herself in front of her English class, the lesson interrupted by a knock at the door.  The kids look up as a lanky young man in a jean jacket saunters in carrying not one, but two helmets.  With a wink and one last look over her shoulder, they walk hand in hand out the door into the light and she rides off with the man of her dreams.

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Quick Update

 

 

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Hi Friends and Family!

The birds are singing, the days are getting longer and I come with great news on the writing front!  I was recently published in Minerva Rising’s Issue 12, “Fathers”.   I’m such a Daddy’s girl, but you all knew that by now.

I’d love for you to read what I’ve written and support this independent literary press.

Minerva Rising’s motto is “Celebrating the creativity and wisdom in every woman.” Help me celebrate my publication. Click on this link to purchase a subscription or buy the latest Issue 12 containing my piece. Your patronage means a lot; your friendship is priceless!

Thank you for reading!

Linda

 

Swimming with the Sharks

Greetings people.  I know it’s been a while. And I’m not exactly blogging at the moment.  I’m referring you to an essay of mine that was published today in Full Grown People.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Swimming with the Sharks

Stay safe out there!!

Hugs, Linda

On Rejection

Rejection letter1I am a failure when my goal is to get published. When I revise my goal to gathering as many rejections as I can, I become an overnight success.

I consider revising my goal to obtain not just a form rejection, but a personal rejection. Maybe even one day some advice or an edit, but I’m not quite ready to become a failure again. Just keep the bar low, I tell myself. Seek only rejection. Unqualified rejection.

I’m waiting on a couple of rejection letters, I tell my husband. Where from this time, he asks, and I tell him. Sure enough, they trickle in, sometimes in the mailbox, sometimes via email.

In the mailbox, there’s little question. When you’re staring at an envelope addressed to yourself in your own handwriting, you just kind of know what it is. I open it and pull out the standard rejection: Your piece is not right for our publication.

Bullshit, I think. Or sometimes, you’ll rue the day. But mostly I know my writing just isn’t good enough yet, and that rejection—and the writing itself—is part of the process that will change that. Someday. Someday soon, I hope.

In my email, I’ll see the name of the publication in the “from” column, and the name of my piece in the “subject” column. And there is some question. Because this is not a self-addressed, self-stamped envelope. I get many, many, many, many rejections (that why I’m such a success, remember?) and this one is probably no different, but maybe, just maybe. After all, it’s very late in the process for this publication. And I read somewhere that the later the response, the better the chance that the editors are actually considering your piece.   So there is hope.

So I don’t open it right away. I go about my typical email routine, deleting the obvious marketing ones, reading the anecdotes from my sister, the missives from my boss.

And then I can’t stand it anymore. My finger hovers over the touch pad for a second more, and then I tap it to open the message. And it’s . . .

. . . a knife to the heart.

In the form of a personal rejection of the nicest sort, with a tone of kindness I never dreamed possible in an email. My piece was among those in the final group considered for publication. But.   And they hope to see more of my writing in the future.

I see now that the personal rejection is much more of a bummer than your form rejection. The form rejection is a short harsh buzzer, like in a TV game show when the contestant guesses wrong. BRRNT! Over. Done. On to the next thing.

The personal rejection lets you know that you just… didn’t… quite… get there. Others were just… that… much… better.

Which drives me back to my submission and I go over it again with an even finer toothed comb than before and then torment myself. If I’d switched those two words around. If I hadn’t used quotation marks there. If I’d wanted it more. If I hadn’t slugged that kid in kindergarten. If I were a better person.

 If I were a better writer. The thing is filled with flaws. Tension and emotion, yes. But little flaws too. So while I imagine this editor making a case for my piece, I picture all the other editors around the table fighting for their writers, also. Writers whose essays wouldn’t need quite as much work.

So it’s back to the writing desk. Writing and rewriting. Visioning and re-visioning. Submitting.

I’m waiting on a few new rejections, I tell my husband. Where from, he asks, and I tell him.

The Last Firing

CIMG6829 - Version 2

It’s only when Kevin muds up the door of the anagama that I get teary-eyed. For all that has passed in front of this stoke hole. For all that we’ve been given. For everything and everyone that has wandered in and out of our lives.

For all the prayers that have been stoked along with the wood. For the hopes, the disappointments, the heartbreaks, the unions, the births, the funerals. The moving-ons, the staying-puts. The hellos and good-byes. The escapes. The rescues. The tears, the hurt, the gratitude, the healing.

All against the soundtrack of birdsong at dawn, music jams at night, raucous bursts of laughter, low hum of conversation. The crackling of the fire, the roar and whisper of the draft.

The first firing of this kiln took place scant hours after planes sent towers crashing to the ground—potters on our first crew had watched a column of smoke rise from the Pentagon. Here in the woods amidst songs of the whippoorwill and the wood thrush, we mourned and healed in turns as we sent smoke of another kind skyward with our prayers.

We emerged from that firing a family where four days earlier we had been only acquaintances. I wanted to hold them here as one by one they headed back into a world that for all we knew might still be under attack. As I think back on all this, Mary Oliver’s words speak to me most clearly:

There is only one question: how to love this world.

Fourteen years later, the make-up of the kiln crew has changed. Some moved, some simply moved on, always new potters ready to step up to the stoke hole and keep the fire burning. I no longer fear what comes next. It’s just so hard to let them go.

Now Kevin seals up this anagama for the last time. By this time next year, a new kiln will take its place. Though smudged with soot and smoke, I can still make out Jane Hirshfield’s words stenciled around the arch:

Everything’s connected. Everything changes. Pay attention.

Old kiln, thank you. New kiln, here we come. Eyes wide open.

How About Nothing?

State Seal 2As Virginia’s General Assembly considers its policy for regulating gifts to delegates, I have a suggestion. No gifts.

No gifts from Dominion, Star Scientific, chemical companies, railroads, airlines, real estate developers, road contractors. No gifts. None.

But what about meals, the delegates ask. We have to eat, don’t we? Buy your own meals. You’re perfectly capable of feeding yourselves.

But what about access? Let the corporate lobbyists do what the rest of us have to do. Write letters, send emails, make phone calls, schedule appointments to visit you and your staff in your Richmond office, or when you’re back in your district.

No gifts. It’s simple. And think of the money the companies will save on pens, mugs, water bottles, Rolex watches, green fees, big city shopping trips, wedding receptions, vehicle leases, chartered jets, exotic vacations—money that quite possibly can be returned to you as dividends in the stock that you own. You may get a little personal benefit out of some public integrity yet.

Think how good it will feel when you’ve tackled once and for all how much and what kind of gifts you may receive as a side benefit of your good paying, part-time job as public servant.

Along the spectrum of all or nothing—how about nothing?