Thursday, June 22, 2017

Is it the goal or the game?

Cabin mates Angela, Shirley and Wendy.
              I was really looking forward to spending my annual week at the Peninsula Writer's Retreat at Glen Lake. Back in 2010 I polished my first novel "Great News Town" here. In subsequent years I wrote several chapters of each of the next two: "One Shoe Off" and "Full Moon Friday." I really needed a week to concentrate on writing my current historical novel, "Crown of Gold."
             I arrived with a goal to write the next three chapters. Instead I rewrote the first chapter three times.
           And climbed to the top of Alligator Hill to look out over North Manitou and South Manitou islands in the early morning fog.
            And watched a sunset that made the hill look like it was a forest fire.
            And listened as a rumbling team of earth movers gobbled up the old log cabins next door and replaced them with carefully layered gravel and sand and topsoil.
             I reconnected with writer friends I hadn't talked with in years and met new ones whose enthusiasm and creative ideas warmed my soul.
             But no, I didn't reach my original goal.
            "My business training tells me to set goals," said cabin mate Wendy Schweifler. "But if I go off kayaking or enjoying a good meal it's important too. It's part of the process."
             "I spent a whole day trying to create a better narrative arc," reported cabin mate Angela Sweet-Christian. "The next morning I decided it was too forced and went back to the original. I thought I had wasted a day, but I didn't because that work was valuable too."     
              "I've been slacking on my writing for too long," said our third cabin-mate Shirley Jones."My goal was to become re-impassioned about a book I've been working on.  And, wow, the muse was with me!"
               Our speaker Mary Ann Samyn told us writing is about revealing the truth in ourselves. That is the ultimate goal, not a certain number of pages or words or chapters.
                Hmmm... sounds like confession.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Executive order from the past

"Order #11" sounds like something from the recent  parade of presidential pronouncements. Was that the Muslim Ban? Or the one about dumping coal waste into streams?
          Actually it's the name of a 150-year-old painting by George Caleb Bingham. It depicts an 1863 order by Union General Thomas Ewing that evacuated four counties in Missouri, confiscating all property of the residents and burning all the farms.  The order was in response to a raid by Quantrill's raiders on Lawrence, Kansas. Guess you would call Quantrill's Raiders the terrorists of the 1860s.
        And like most knee jerk reactions to terrorism, the order went too far, punishing people who had nothing to do with the crime. Some of my son's ancestors, the Mockbee family,  were among those run out of their home and forced to flee halfway across the state. The Mockbees weren't slaveholders. They weren't even Southern sympathizers. They just had the bad luck to settle in Missouri where the disagreement between Missouri and Kansas was the hottest.
          Those four counties became a barren, burned-out graveyard dotted with crumbling chimneys where farm houses used to be. They remained deserted until well after the end of the war two years later. Bingham was a Union supporter but he painted this work to show the world that the Union had gone too far in Missouri.
          I was back in my home state recently to do some genealogical research in the State Historical Society and was pleased to discover this painting on display there. It really brought to life a little bit of family history.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Triple XXX rated week

Della, Carol and Sue at Christopher Wren Church at Westminster College
I didn't grow up with sisters, but adulthood brought me a bevy of sisters-in-law. In addition to the wives of my three brothers I also found myself related to my husband's sister, Carol, and Della, the wife of my husband's brother.
            For a dozen years we shared babies and Christmases and reunion dinners. We decorated family graves together on "Remembrance Day." We helped out when our husbands put in a "new bath" in the family farm house. We exchanged cards and presents and telephone calls.
           But our marriages didn't last as long as we'd vowed. Della and I became part of the divorce statistics. Carol eventually was widowed.
           This week the three of us were sisters again. We gathered in Missouri at Carol's house which hasn't changed all that much in the thirty-some years since the divorces. It still echos with the memory of the booming voice of Carol's late husband, Newt. And I can almost smell the shiny red cinnamon apples Aunt Opal always made for family dinners. Now the energetic little boy running around in superhero undies is the grandson of Carol's middle child, Susan. So I bounce little Gabriel on my knee just the way I used to bounce Susan.
            Carol, Della and I  spent a day visiting graveyards. There are a few newer graves now and many of the old remembered names. We visited the Churchill Museum at Westminster College where the British prime minister gave his famous Iron Curtain speech. And we ate tables full of food, much of it prepared by Carol's daughters and granddaughters.
            We laughed and talked and recalled all those babies and Christmases and dirty dishes to wash.  We may be exes, but we're still sisters.