Sunday, March 27, 2011

Honing Hurts!

In my opening post for this blog, I said I wanted to hone my writing skills. That sounds like a worthy goal, one that should bring some satisfaction at the very least. So far, however, my efforts have brought quite a bit of discomfort.

It's not very often that the mood to write strikes me. As I said, I think a lot, and I usually envision my thoughts as well-received pieces of writing. However, it is rare that I actually get something written down, and I'm finding that doing so is akin to work. It takes effort, discipline, and perseverance. And lots of re-writing until the words are just right. And when I've finally finished a piece that I am happy with, it is a good feeling. There's part of me on the page, right there for the reader to discover and, hopefully, like.

Recently, I wrote a short essay about my bird watching hobby. I really liked it; I thought it expressed the pleasure birds bring me in a comfortable tone that readers would identify with. I got brave and submitted it, along with some of my bird photos, to a regional magazine. I got a quick response from the editor, which is great! Even better, he is interested, but with a "slight re-casting" to take what I wrote from "just-me-with-curiosity-and-camera" to "anyone-can-do-it," all in about 300 words. (My original was almost 600 words.) Now, one would think that would not be too hard to do: just pare it down a little and include a sentence or two about how the average Joe can take good bird photos. Well, let's just say I've been at it for over a week now.

I quickly found that paring it down was hard: there wasn't anything I felt could easily go. And when I did cut out phrases or sentences, it hurt! I'd put those words there for a reason, and without them, the whole tone of the essay changed. What I discovered is that I don't really want to change what I wrote. I like it the way it is. But the truth of the publishing world is that rarely do submissions get published without some revising and editing. And if I want to see my writing in this magazine, I'll have to be willing to change it. Therein lies the discomfort: letting go of what I thought was already good, and working to make it better, or at least better-suited to the editor's purpose. All this leads to a larger question: who do I really want to write for? If I want to write for an audience then I'll have to be willing to be edited. If I want to write just for me, well, that's what journals (and blogs) are for.

I hope this whole process is making me a better writer. At this point, I'm squirming a bit, reluctant to change what I think is good. But I've done it. I've re-written my essay, and it's shorter and quite different from the original. We'll see what the editor thinks.
Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Thursday, March 17, 2011


It's St. Patrick's Day, the day on which everyone can claim to be Irish. I, like millions of other Americans, do have some Irish blood in my veins, watered down a bit, I'm sure. My maternal grandmother was an Eskew, which was Askew only a generation before her. This family came from Ireland in the 1740s, I think. I have the straight razor that came over on the boat with that first Askew long ago. I also have some Scottish blood, along with who knows what else. Sometime between the arrival of my ancestors in the New World and my childhood, interest in our family's heritage went dormant. When I was a teenager that interest was awakened by a 4-H agent who treasured her own heritage and that of the mountain people of Appalachia.

Jane T. George and her husband, Frank, came to Monroe County some 35 years ago and stirred up the sleeping Celtic gene in a lot of us kids. It started with a folk dance team that progressed from simple square dances to English Contra, Scottish Country, and Irish set dances. There were also individual Scottish and Irish dances, along with traditional clogging, that built self-confidence along with pride in our heritage. Some of us went on to develop musical abilities by learning to play and sing Celtic music, even making recordings that were mildly popular among other Celtic enthusiasts.  Into our 50s now, some of us "kids" are still reveling in the many layers of fun, beauty, and mystery that make up the world of Celtic music and dance.

Why, do you suppose, in the mid-1970s did a bunch of typical teenagers in a small West Virginia community become hooked on something our friends considered old-fashioned and definitely uncool? Why did that first immersion into the Celtic world end up lasting into middle age and probably beyond? How has it survived in our busy lives, among jobs, families, and all those other adult responsibilites? Perhaps the answer lies in a quatrain written by former West Virginia poet laureate Louise McNeill in her book Gauley Mountain: A History in Verse.

                  I call no muse, for the sandaled foot
                  Should never tread where the brogan lumbers.
                  I have gulled the pith from a sumac limb
                  To play a tune that my blood remembers.

A tune that my blood remembers. Perhaps that explains why, after generations of family who paid little, if any, attention to their heritage, the wail of Highland bagpipes can bring tears to my eyes. Or why the driving beat of an Irish reel can make me giddy with joy, and my feet can't keep still. Or why the haunting melodies of Uillean pipes (think Titanic movie) make me long so deeply for something that I can never put my finger on.  And it probably explains why, among all the genres of wonderful music so easily available today, I still choose to spend my money and time on Celtic music. A tune that my blood remembers. What generations of ancestors have long forgotten, my blood remembers. And I'm so glad it does!

Oh, and a Happy St. Paddy's day to you, too!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Furnaces, Frustration, & Finding Blessings first challenge in blogging is, well, blogging! That is, actually sitting down at the computer and writing. It's been a week since my first entry. I've thought about writing several times since, but never when I could get to it. And when I could have done it, other tasks consumed my time. But I'm here now, so I will blog.

Events of the past two weeks have caused me to count some basic blessings. Last October we got a new (and expensive) outdoor wood furnace, which we have been having problems with. These problems result in heat, but not very warm heat (I do not like to be cold in my own house), hot water that is not hot, but barely luke warm (I love a hot bath every night, as hot as I can stand it), and high water use to fill the "bladder" of the furnace every day, when it should need filling only occasionally (which taxes our well and our water treatment system). Now where we live, March is a long way from warm weather. We're looking at about three more months of needing to heat the house. Thus, problems with our heating system call for immediate attention. So far, the distributor that installed our furnace has not been very prompt in coming to check it out and fix it; in fact no one has come, even after two weeks of phone calls.

So what blessings does this major inconvenience cause me to count? Hot running water on demand, for one. There are millions of people the world over who can't imagine having that. Another blessing is consistent, dependable heat that I don't have to fuss with. Many folks don't have that. Less obvious blessings are the financial wherewithal to purchase such a system, my husband's health that enables him to cut wood and fire the furnace, and the practice I'm getting at controlling my temper and being a polite customer when I speak with the distributor. And then there's the challenge of not allowing all this to steal my peace and ruin my day. It's hard to "look on the bright side" of a situation like this; the truth is it makes me quite angry. But buried among all the inconvenience and frustration are some drops of the sweet life. It's up to me to find them.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Sweet Life Redefined

I'm new at this; blogging, that is. I think a lot, but seldom get my thoughts down in written form. This blog is an attempt to do just that. Whether or not anyone wants to join me remains to be seen. Also still to be seen is whether or not I can keep this up on a regular basis. Time will tell!

I titled this blog "The Sweet Life" for two reasons. First off, our little "farm" is named Sweet Run because we live on Davis Run, and because we make maple syrup, and because life in our little corner of the planet is indeed sweet. However, I do need to remind myself of my many blessings, since I tend to let day-to-day irritations cloud my view. And so, perhaps this blog will help me pay more attention to the ordinary wonders all around me. Perhaps it will help me focus on all the positives in my life. Perhaps it will even help me get better at turning negatives into positives. So here goes!

Maple syrup season is winding down. It's a lot of work, with some good fun thrown in, but it only lasts a few weeks and is therefore pretty intense. Sometimes I get weary. But there's a lesson in syrup. Since it takes about 40 gallons of sugar water to make one gallon of syrup, all the extra water has to be boiled away. That takes time and effort, but once it's done, sweet syrup remains. Life also takes time and effort, but when we sort through all the extra stuff, the sweet life remains.