Thursday, August 28, 2014

Back in the game

       

          From August 22 until September 21 I intend to hail all things Virgo:  organization, helpfulness, clarity, and kindness.  A love for bringing order out of chaos and a proclivity toward taking care of children and small animals.  Okay...there's also pickiness, perfection, and a tendency to over-analyze, but hey...what can I say?  No one complained about that when I was helping them with their coursework in college. 
          As summertime winds down, kids go back to school, vacation season ends, and we all get back in the game (whatever that means to you), I'm contemplating my new existence.  I realized this week that, for the first time since I was in kindergarten (and except for the year I lived in Big Sur), I won't work within the school calendar.  From the time I graduated from college I've spent time with kids in some capacity -- teaching fourth, sixth, or first grade.  Tutoring kids in reading or language.  Sharing my love of yoga with little ones of all ages.    Now that's come to an end...and I've got some time to fill.
          I'm not in a hurry to rush back into the manuscript I started last June.  The novels and resources the wonderful librarians at Sanger Branch have given me will keep me busy reading for next month or so.  I have the time to gently harvest my gardens and complete small home improvements.  Time to visit with friends.  Time to once again teach workshop topics that I absolutely love. 
          And ultimately I have the time to query new literary agents in the hopes of finally making a breakthrough in the publishing industry.

          I spent the first half of this year self-publishing all of my books and what an adventure that has been.  I never realized the emotional toll it took to edit and rewrite the memoir.  The intense and often frustrating process of formatting the novels for KINDLE or NOOK.  And while books sales have been slow, I couldn't be happier with the responses I consistently hear from readers who take the time to write and share their own experiences.  I'm overjoyed when I discover someone else's story that was sparked by something I had written...and know that's the heart of why I write.  How I love to share a good story -- mine or someone else's.
          But now I'm faced with the process of starting over again.  After working with an agent for three years, she was unable to find the best placement for my work, so instead of waiting for more of the same, I made the difficult decision to move on and begin anew.  It's daunting now as I find myself standing in the middle of two trains of thought:  one...the fact that I truly want to spend the rest of my life writing and editing; and two...the uneasy process of moving once more into the cut-throat and often confusing world of publishing.  And to be completely honest, I'm exhausted by the constant rejection...but doesn't every writer feel this way at one point or another?
          Still, I know that the risk to send out query letters is better than sitting here and wondering "what next?"   And I know what will happen if I choose to stay frozen in this challenging place of being.  Ultimately I'm making the choice to move forward and let things unfold as they will.
          However, unlike all the other times I've written to literary agents in the hopes that they'll be interested enough in my work to sign me, I now have six books online.  Over one hundred blogs I've written in the past year and a half.  Professional pages on several different websites.  Technology is a wonder and I wonder if I had to wait this long just to figure out that whole process. 
          And yet, timing might be a factor yet again.  It always is when it comes to changes I'm itching to create.  Virgos often love to have things neatly lined up (at least this Virgo does), but through gardening and teaching yoga, I've learned how to simply go with the process.  To let things get messy before they find their way into a structure that's uniquely their own.  To just do what I can and not get caught up in the details...for they'll surely take care of themselves over time.
          Who knows what the future will bring as I get back in the game...one more time?  




To celebrate all things Virgo, my books are on sale this month for $2.99 each!  See links below to shop at Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble.  No NOOK or KINDLE?  No worries...free apps are available on their websites.  Feel free to contact me for assistance if you need it!  
It's pretty simple once you get the hang of digital downloading.



          

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Hooked on my new NOOK

          This past weekend I was gifted with the most wonderful gadget.  Well, it's much more than that and I'm certain as I learn all the bells and whistles, I'll be that much more excited.  For the past few days I've been curled up with my new NOOK savoring books and browsing for new titles.  Much to my surprise, it's more than a new reading tool.  I can browse the internet, get email, download books from the library, and even listen to Pandora radio all over the house (and most importantly, in my backyard swing).
          It's an interesting experience to join the twenty-first century of communication and while I can certainly see how addicting my seven by five inch NOOK can be, I'm learning it's all about balance.  I have no intention of turning in my archaic flip phone for a Smart one.  If I need information while out and about, I'll make sure to pack my NOOK and off we go.  As long as there's WiFi access, we'll be up and running.  But as I had written in a blog last year, most of the time, the internet is turned off so I don't run down the battery too quickly.  And so I don't get interrupted every time someone emails or sends a message via my Facebook account. 
         
          Since I brought my NOOK home, I've been thinking about my friend, Felicia, a lot.  She used to teach a cell phone etiquette class at a local high school and really impressed me with the reality that we all choose how much we let technology control us.  I don't always answer the phone if I'm working (unless I'm expecting an important call), and often turn it off if I'm in the middle of a project that needs my conscious attention.  When working with a desktop computer, I often go outside to sit on the front porch and focus on something beyond the two and half feet distance between me and the screen.  I throw in a load of laundry.  Do the dishes.  Weed the garden.
          But with a NOOK, I have to be more vigilant.  It's simple to carry it from room to room to room, and I often get carried away by the ease in which I can switch gears from email to the weather site to a host of other distractions.  It's so lightweight, I can read for hours and my hands don't get tired.  In fact, I often prop it on a pillow and, except for swiping to turn the page, I don't touch it at all.  I'm learning to limit myself and my NOOK time, although like any new toy, it's a fascination and a fun way to fill my hours that used to be spent knitting.  I imagine I'll have my entire booklist read by the end of October -- and then will add a host of new titles that I can access with ease.
          
         Who'd have thought I'd embrace it so easily...this gal who at one time years ago balked at getting online...who didn't want email or a cell phone?  By experience I can see why technology can be an incredible time saver (no more card catalog EVER) and often a time waster (thank goodness I never had Facebook while in college).   But, like everything else, I'm figuring out how to use my NOOK as a tool, as an extension of my love of reading.  As a way to learn more in less time, while still appreciating the time it often takes to sink into a good story.
          And that never changes...at least not for me.
          So...send your recommendations for good books my way.  As summer slowly turns into fall and gardening season winds down, I'll be left with a lot more time and motivation to read...curled up on the sofa with a mug of hot cocoa and my NOOK...reading my way into a book-lover's paradise.
         
Now this is really my kind of nook!  

         

           

Friday, August 15, 2014

Why I quit knitting (for now)

          When I was a teenager my family took a trip to Cedar Point where one of the most memorable moments for me wasn't the Demon Drop or the Gemini roller coaster.  We were exiting the train when we happened by a man standing near a booth that read something to the effect of:  Guess Your Age.  I was sixteen at the time, but looked much older (or so everyone told me), so I thought I'd give it a try.  Now I don't remember if the man guessed my age correctly or not, but I do recall that he let me in on his trade secret:  look at the person's hands...they always tell the tale.
          I've never forgotten that, even though I didn't always take good care of my mitts.  There's a chapter in my memoir entitled "My Mother's Hands" in which I write about my first small step into self-care when I was a first grade teacher.  My hands were perpetually cracked, the skin splitting from using chalk.  From washing my hands constantly.  From not paying any attention to the way my chapped hands persistently ached.   The simple act of using emollient hand cream allowed me to pay more attention to the tools I used for everything from grading papers to peeling carrots.  From driving my car to turning a page in a book.
          Our hands are miracles of nature.  They are our greatest healing tool.  They can convey emotion and mirror our language.  They can symbolically contain that which we want to control and that which we need to release.  And ever since I left the classroom in 1999, they've been knitting at least an hour a day...every day for nearly fifteen years.
          I realize now it's time to stop...at least for a while.

          Since summer started I've lost interest in a craft that has been a source of comfort and healing for me and a source of joy for the many people whom I've gifted with a pair of socks or handwarmers or a toy or two.  It didn't happen overnight.   Looking back, I realize it took me a lot longer than usual to complete a sweater for my little pal Satish's older sister, Leena.  I found that I put my needles down after only ten minutes (or less).  And now I'm working on a sweater for a friend's child and it's getting harder and harder to muster up the energy to finish it.  I only have one sleeve to go and I'm pacing myself, but still...my hands are certainly telling a tale. 
          Loudly.
          Yesterday I finished up my Rolfing three-series and I admitted to Tony, "You told me years ago I'd have to give up knitting eventually.  I think you're right...at least for now."  My hands have been perpetually numb.  My right arm was out of alignment and revealed how I'm still struggling against an incipient scoliosis that rears its head whenever I make life transitions...or when my life abruptly changes without my say so and I have to just roll with it.
          Tony nodded, then explained that the repetitive action of knitting helped me deal with anxiety and now I probably need to find another outlet.  "I get on my Harley and blow off all the crap from my work.  There's nothing like it in the world.  You should buy a motorcycle."
          I shook my head and told him that didn't resonate with me, but hiking and biking and gardening were ways in which I've been managing the ever-changing energy of life that swirls around me.  I'm not really a social creature; I prefer the quiet harbor of my home and have had friends stop by frequently in the past few months.  When I do venture out, I avoid noise and crowds.  They're just too exhausting for this introvert who is happily at home with a good book or a meaningful conversation.  Still, oddly enough, more and more I find myself sans knitting projects when for more than a decade it was my pabulum of choice.  My peaceful pacifier that helped me pass the time (and create a whole lot of loot to boot).  Now I don't need it anymore.

          Last night I had an experience which taught me that, while I may choose to knit again in the future, it's not the best decision for me in the present.  My little cat, Aditi, had a severe allergic reaction to some shots and I took her to the emergency vet around the corner.  She had spiked a temperature of 104; was agitated and uncomfortable.  After assessment, the vet gave me some options, one of which was to treat her, then watch for a couple of hours and I could take her home if she improved. 
          "I live two minutes from here," I said.  "So why don't you give her some fluids and the steroid and we'll see what happens.  I'd like to have her home with me if I can."
          The vet agreed that would be the least invasive choice, so while they gave her a little piggyback of saline and a couple of shots, I headed home to take out my contacts and change into some warmer clothes.  Who'd have thought I'd pull a pair of woolen socks I'd knitted on a flight to New York in 2003 (yes...I remember when I made every single pair) in the middle of August?  Still, as I walked through the house, checking on my other cats, I saw my bag of knitting on the floor next to the couch.  I didn't think twice and kept on walking, picking up a couple of New Yorkers and a novel I've been reading instead.  I knew that knitting would make me more anxious.  Would stimulate that part of me that needs a pacifier and the constant rhythm of movement to soothe my fears.
          I knew I needed to just sit with Aditi.  
          Sit with my discomfort of her feeling so awful.  
          Sit with my fear of "where's the money going to come from to pay for this?"  
          Just sit with it all as it happened.
          And as it happened, all was well in the end.
          By eleven o'clock, Aditi was calm and drowsy.  She was released from the hospital and we made it home five minutes later.  After a light snack and a long drink of water, she soon fell asleep, curled up next to me and stayed there all night long.  This morning I woke to find her snuggled in next to her brother, Forest, and although she's still lethargic, if she hears something going on outside an open window, she'll make her way there to investigate.  I'm certain that in a few day's time, she'll be back to her sprightly, naughty, lovely little self.
          
         As for me...well, in a week or so I'll have finished the sweater for my friend's child and will put away my yarn and needles -- for now and perhaps for a long time.  Once my hands heal and the work initiated on the Rolfing table integrates that much more, I may venture into a project or two, but only because I want to create something new.  Not because I want to placate my pain or grief or sadness or anxiety.   It certainly wasn't a bad thing knitting helped soothe me when I most needed it.  No one would walk around with a gaping wound without a Band-Aid.  Knitting was a most wonderful way to weave together a new place of being while helping me deal with life as it was all those years ago.  I'm thankful for what it was back then and even more so for what it might be in the future.
          So now, you'll find me hiking at Wildwood or biking on the UT park trail.  Reading a good book in my backyard or maybe even (gasp!) trying out a new recipe in the kitchen.  I'm finding ways to weave in a new story of hope and grace and peace.  Activities which allow me to get out of my knitting chair and move into the world in ways that resonate with both my introvert and my free spirit.
         Oddly enough, my hands never hurt when I'm writing or practicing yoga.  In fact they feel much better after afterward.  That's the surprise and the gift...to know that the tale my hands are telling now will allow me to continue to do that which I enjoy and resonate with the most.  

This photograph of my hands was taken by Lisa Logan.
You can find more of her incredible work at www.generationsphotos.net

         
         


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

On the ball

          As I write this the whirl and buzz of chainsaws are vibrating through my office window.  Hurray!  After fifteen years of waiting and wondering when the enormous weed trees that have been slowly choking the life out of my lovely cherry blossom have officially come to an end.   The new neighbors who live behind me have hired a pair of fellas to do the job and I couldn't be happier. 
          I tried to do it myself fifteen years ago, hauling a shovel and hand saw over there and asking the little old lady who lived there at the time if I could remove them.  Alas...I wasn't strong enough to do more than chop off a foot or two.  Lacking power tools and the means to hire out the job, I just let it go.  And of course, over the years, they grew willy-nilly and wild. 
          But in less than twenty-four hours, they will be no more.
          Last week-end I was trimming the cherry blossom and sent a silent request to the universe, "Please...please...can you have those old weed trees removed by the end of October at the latest?  I don't want my tree to last another season of slow rot and decay."  Now here I am listening to the most wonderful sound this gardener can hear.  
          It only took three days for this miracle to manifest.  
          Oddly enough, I hold my new office chair responsible. 

          It's not really a chair...thanks to one of my yoga students who suggested I try an exercise ball instead of investing in a new office high back.  My old one had seen better days and I've been contemplating what to do as I can spend up to eight hours a day sitting here and writing.  Lately I've found myself leaning right...leaning left, or curled up in the center, or sitting on one leg while the other foot is on tip-toe.  Terrible for my posture.  Torture for my yoga practice.
          That's when Becky stepped in and suggested a trip to Target.  I found a seventy-five inch exercise ball, blew it up and have been in writer's nirvana ever since.  Well, that might be a bit over the top, but I'm over the moon by the fact that my feet stay firmly planted on the ground while my back is supported, no matter how long I sit here.  (Plus, it's like working on an adult Hippity-Hop and that's always fun!)
          Getting my feet on the ground while being on the ball has improved a lot in the last two weeks.  I'm stronger in balancing poses.  My feet feel better.  I don't have neck or shoulder pain after writing for long stretches of time.  And when I head upstairs to the yoga studio, I'm more than ready to stretch more deeply into my hips, legs, and lower back.
          It's been the best $17.00 I've spent in a long, long time...and with benefits not advertised on the box.

          Years ago I was in a workshop in which the leader asked us to sit on the floor with our feet firmly planted on the ground.  We were going to do a grounding exercise and I struggled mightily with her request.
          "Can I sit cross-legged?" I asked.
          She shrugged.  "That's the problem with you yoga people.  You always want to sit like that.  But you don't walk through the world on your butt.  If you want to manifest anything, Katie, you need to learn to put your feet on the ground."
          My feet never flew out from beneath me so quickly. 
          Since then I've been keenly aware of my innate proclivity to pull my feet off of the ground.  To sit cross-legged or cross my legs.  To be on my tip-toes or pull a leg up to my chest while sitting on the couch.  And for the past year or so, I've been doing the same thing while writing and editing -- nearly every single day.
          The good news is that every single day since getting on the ball, my feet are more grounded and so am I.  This translates in to being more present, more aware and more able to create that which I most desire.  Think of it this way:  a plant can't grow without its roots.  Cut them off and you cut off the life force energy.  Nothing can bloom without the support and stability of that which is beneath it.  And that includes me, too.
          I've also learned that being grounded brings quiet, yet powerful unexpected blessings.

          In 2012, after receiving a handful of rejection letters from publishers, I got in my car and drove around town.  Needing to escape the office and clear my head, I headed toward Target, silently questioning why I had been given the desire to write if nothing was every going to move my work into the world.  I had already produced a plethora of books.  Had spent over a decade trying to find an agent.  Why oh why was I subjected to years of rejection?
          "Am I ever going to be published?" I asked the universe.
          Just then a red truck zoomed past, but was stopped at the next light, directly ahead of me.  It's license plate read, "NOT YET."
          "Well, at least it doesn't say, NO!" I smiled through my tears.
          But that's not the end of the story.
          A day after I purchased the exercise ball, I was driving to the grocery while listening to a piece of music which reminded me that it's okay to ask for momentum, for obstacles to be removed from my life so I can move forward and manifest that which I most want to create.
          "Okay...I'm ready now," I said to the universe.  "I've done the work.  I've gotten out of the way.  You can bring me a publishing house whenever You want."
          Wouldn't you know it...at that very moment a van drove toward me in the opposite lane.  It's license plate brightly beamed, "ANY DAY."

          Hurray!  The fifteen years of waiting and wondering when my work will finally be in print are coming to an end!  Stay tuned...I'm sure more magic is already on the way.


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Mea culpa

One single act, once single action
can cause ripples that are felt on the other side of the world.

Forest Whitaker


          Years ago when I was a classroom teacher I once found a small, white envelope in my mailbox.  Addressed to "Miss Ingersoll" in a preteen's handwriting, I assumed it was from one of my former first graders who wanted to keep in touch.  I was wrong.  It was an apology letter one of my colleagues had her son write to me and every other teacher who was affected by her absence the week before when she had to leave school early to pick him up at his junior high. 
          "Sam" had made a negative choice that landed him in the principal's office...the consequence of which was his early dismissal.  And the consequence of that meant that two other teachers and I were going to have to cover the hour when our students were to be in my colleague's special class.  Of course, this meant that I lost my highly coveted Friday afternoon planning period and had to think quickly on my feet to keep my kids busy with a project or two until it was time to go home.  At the time it was no big deal.  But I had to stay late that night and take work home over the weekend to compensate for my lost time. 
          Kudos to my colleague for explaining to her son that his actions had a ripple effect...and involved circumstances he couldn't have begun to imagine.  In having him write very sincere apology letters to the teachers who were directly affected gave him the opportunity to not only be accountable for his own behavior, but also to acknowledge that his choice resulted in an outcome that impacted more than fifty people.

          As you all know by now, last weekend Toledo had a very serious water crisis.  I woke on Saturday morning to phone messages telling me, "Don't drink the water."  "Don't boil it!"  "Don't give it to your pets."  "Don't even TOUCH it!"  My friends know I don't watch TV and wanted to make sure I was informed ASAP. 
          Too bad that by the time I turned on my phone I had already brushed my teeth and fed the cats their breakfast.  AND the night before (when the toxins were just as high), I had cleaned out my Brita pitcher and installed a brand new filter.  After dumping it (and a huge container of lavender lemonade I had also made with boiling water) I went out in search of enough bottles of water to keep me afloat for a few days.
          By that time every place had sold out and I headed home only to remember my neighbor was out of town and left a mini fridge full of bottled water.  I called to ask if I could borrow a few and Rick laughed, "I just emailed you and said go get some!"  Moments later a yoga student showed up with over six gallons from her home in Oregon, Ohio where the water was safe to drink.  A neighbor I didn't recognize stopped me on the sidewalk to ask if I had enough water...that she was going out to get some.  I was surrounded by the kindness of others...and in turn got in touch with people who might need water to tide them over.  No one panicked...at least not where I live...and we all survived the weekend with more awareness and appreciation for the stuff that we often take for granted.

          As a gardener, I'm also an avid environmentalist.  Every year I make one simple change that I aim to maintain throughout the entire season.  A few years ago I started planting much of my annuals from seed.  The next year I expanded my herb garden.  Then I cut back on watering the lawn during a particularly hot and dry summer.  This year I decided to mulch the grass instead of bagging it.  I'm hoping that this time next year I'll have a compost bin behind the garage and a few raised beds filled to the brim with kale, lettuce, and the like.
          While I'm all about loving and respecting planet earth, solving the issues our city is facing goes beyond tree hugging.  Mother Nature is talking back and she's not a happy camper.  The water crisis was not an overnight event.  For more than a decade, runoff from farm fertilizers, sewage, and a host of other toxins has drifted into our water supply and stagnated there.  And during this sunny, dry month, the algae had a field day and wrecked havoc on our much-in-need-of improvement water treatment plant. 
          Politicians have voted down the necessary upgrades.  Citizens don't want their taxes raised to keep our little Frog Town (aptly named as Toledo was built on a swamp) high and dry and sustained with potable water.  And so here we stand...suffering the consequences of a host of choices that we've all made.  Big or small, each choice has the power to help solve the problem or be a part of its incessant intensification. 
          As for me, I'm careful with how I spend my grocery money.  I make choices to buy more locally (and organically, even if it costs a bit more).  I support local businesses as much as I can.  I ride my bike or walk to the library or to the park.  And I've been recycling for years.  Now, with the new awareness I've gained this week, I will no longer put any type of chemical fertilizer on my lawn.  If I have to pull out dandelions one by one, then so be it.  I won't contribute to the poisoning of our groundwater anymore.
         I once had an itchy conversation with a relative who used to recycle, but made the decision to stop because it was "too much trouble." 
          "Imagine if everyone said that," I replied.  "Do you know how much your small efforts make to help the environment?"
          She brushed me off.  "Oh, I don't believe in global warming...it's just a ploy to get us to worry about nothing."
          My eyebrow shot up.  "How can you say that after seeing all the scientific evidence?"
          She shrugged.  "Well, even if it is true, I'll be long gone by the time that happens."
          "So it's okay if your grandchildren and their children suffer because you couldn't be bothered to make small changes?"  Then I dug my heels in.  "You better hope that reincarnation isn't a reality, because...let me tell you...you'll be in for it."

          We all leave a legacy behind, whether we have children or not.  How we choose to live our lives leaves a footprint and a blueprint for who we were as individuals and who we were as part of the human condition.   My hometown's been in the news a lot this year...first because we had the worst winter in the USA and now because we're living through an experience that unites us in the most basic of ways.  It makes me wonder what our community's legacy will be as we move forward.
          As we are in life, we are everywhere.  During this past crisis, there are those who were doom and gloomers.  Those who responded with kindness.  Those who hoarded water.  Those who freely shared it.  Those who brushed it off and those who used the water crisis as an excuse to complain about politicians or the media. 
          But in the end, it's the choices we all make now that will create tomorrow and the next day and the next.  Isn't it time we all wake up and recognize the fact that the sum of our choices creates our reality?  So in the midst of my personal mea culpa, I invite you to gently ask yourself, "What small choice can I make to create positive change?"
          Just one choice honestly made and followed through with integrity can change the world, even if it's only your little corner of it. 
          The ripple effect will take care of the rest.