Nothing Ever Happens Around Here

When I first moved from an urban area to the wilds of Randolph County, what I believed was the middle of nowhere, I admit to being a little concerned. Would I make new friends? What about my favorite chain restaurants, not to mention the malls? What about the silence? The scenery? What if the all the green fields just blended together into monotony? And most importantly, what would I write about? What if nothing ever happens around here?

Six years later, I can truly say that none of my worst fears came to pass. I’ve made plenty of friends, many of whom are farmers, and I’ve learned just what these fields can do. One of my friends even raises donkeys, and recently I held my first 5-day old donkey jack! I also keep in touch with cherished friends from far away as New York City through Zoom and other platforms.

Meet Baby Copper–just 5 days old and 25 pounds!

It is not quiet in the country. Oh no. The birdsong here is deafening, from the wood thrush to the pileated woodpecker soaring overhead with his eerie primeval cry. We’re close to the local airport, so there’s always a new whir circling overhead. A special thanks to Mom, who introduced us to the terrific flightradar24 app, so now we know that the Boeing overhead came from Atlanta and is on its way to Liege, Belgium! So much for being in the middle of nowhere. My pilot grandfather would definitely approve.

Meet Max, my new work-out routine!

Boredom remains the least of my worries. In fact, I was more bored in the city! We’ve had at least one fugitive in the woods, two rattlesnakes (this year alone), a stranded racoon, and just recently, a stray Siberian Husky pup came our way.

I don’t miss the malls at all, which is a good thing since the pandemic seriously altered the world of shopping. And nobody here cares about fashion anyway — it’s more about comfort! As for the fancy restaurants, I’d rather live three miles from from my beloved niece, who sends me a text such as “Hey, can I come over and make pumpkin cheesecake cookies with you?”

Cooking is just one of the things I’ve found to write about, and there’s been so many more, from sewing and building to gardening and butterflies. In fact, if there were any more going on around here, I wouldn’t have time to sleep!

For the next few months, I’ll be concentrating on my memoir, a project that I hope will blend together many of my experiences through the years. So for this reason, I hope it slows down here just a little bit.

What is Success for a Writer?

Last night I watched a movie with Philip Seymour Hoffman, and I couldn’t help but mourn this incredible actor yet again. He had the uncanny ability to breathe life into the smallest of roles as if by magic. The reality, however, is that Hoffman worked very, very hard.

Because actors are artists, too, we writers can learn from our thespian friends. Even though Hoffman died so tragically and far too young, I am forever grateful for his shrewd words. “Success isn’t what makes you happy. It really isn’t. Success is doing what makes you happy and doing good work and hopefully having a fruitful life. If I’ve felt like I’ve done good work, that makes me happy.”

The beloved poet Maya Angelou had similar thoughts. “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

Let these wise words guide you in your work. While it’s wonderful to be published and even win a prize in a contest, these are ephemeral moments at best. A life devoted to words offers many smaller and more enduring rewards. Such as nudging an exciting new word into your writing vocabulary. Getting over that pesky little hump in your current project. Savoring the words of another writer, you know what I mean, the book waiting for you on your nightstand.

Yesterday a fellow writer, much more talented than me, followed me back on Twitter. Bliss indeed. That didn’t just make my day, it made my year. And 2022 is still young….

The list goes on and on. So let me ask you, writer friends. What made you happy today?

What makes a successful writer?

flowers.jpgIn this particular order….

1- Love of language

2 – Internal burning desire to write, write, write….no matter what’s going on in their lives

3 – Abiding curiosity (obsession!) for the human experience

4 – Significant body of work to draw from so there’s always something in circulation — plenty of pieces to submit and re-submit when the times are tough.

What do you think? Am I missing something? It’s entirely possible!

Poetry at Lake Junaluska and More!

This weekend I had the pleasure of traveling with my friend and fellow writer Mary Barnard (whom I met through the CCCC Creative Writing Program) to the second annual Your Daily Poem workshop at the tranquil setting of Lake Junaluska.

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The hand-carved grave of Squire Boone, next to his wife Sarah and Israel Boone, brother of Daniel.

Poets are known to take little detours so please pardon me for digressing but Mary and I took the scenic route and ended up in Mocksville, which we learned was a boyhood home of Daniel Boone and actually the site of his parents’ graves! (Where is Daniel? The remains of this famous frontiersman are actually in Frankfurt, KY.) One detour led to another and somehow we ended up eating lunch at Maria’s Salvadorean restaurant where we had our first pupusas and taste of horchata. Delicious!

Because the workshop didn’t start until 6 p.m., we decided to go to poet Carl Sandburg’s house in Flat Rock first. This poet, historian, musician, essayist, and novelist spent the last 22 years of his life here. Although I’ve visited numerous literary sites in my time, ironically, it was only now that I ventured to this fabled site in my own home state. And what a treat! Those who know me best know how much I love plundering through the personal possessions of writers!

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The interior of Sandburg’s beloved Connemara is currently undergoing renovations until 2018; however, there remained enough of a footprint to imagine the daily life of a man once described as the “voice of America.” Yet in spite of his Pulitzers, he rejoiced in the simple things, as evidenced in his poem Happiness. His simplicity is also illustrated by what is not on the property. There still exists a concrete-lined hole in the front yard because once he bought the estate, Carl had the fountain removed because he thought it was too pretentious!

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The desk of the poet and his cherished typewriter. His library also contains a table constructed from wood used at the White House during the age of Abraham Lincoln, the subject of his famous biography.

We ended our visit by strolling down to the goat dairy established by Sandberg’s wife Paula. She was a tour de force in her own right, and among other things, a linguist, literature teacher, activist and champion breeder of Nubian and Swiss goats. Bottlefed since birth, the friendly descendants of the Sandburg herd are quite unafraid of humans. And they still win awards for their milk production.

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Whoa Nellie, literally, as the goat Nellie charges young Cinnamon to take her place at the feeding trough.

We were a little late for dinner at our workshop, but we were heartily welcomed nonetheless by the poet Jayne Jaudon Ferrer, the creator of this wonderful online poetry community that now boasts  thousands of subscribers.

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Aren’t the best skies a bit moody? The fog in the morning followed us from Sandburg’s home, like you guessed it… little cat feet.

On our first evening, we were treated to the toe-tapping rhythms of Twin Courage, fronted by Rachael Gallman and Jayne’s son Jaron Ferrer. Their music is influenced by the writing of Ray Bradbury and their own affinity for the natural world (“Black Bear” was a favorite of mine!). The two-day workshop (even amidst unexpected Saturday rain) brought fellowship and instruction. The participants, poets across the nation, learned from celebrated writers Richard Allen Taylor, Dana Wildsmith, Phebe Davidson and Joe Mills. We tackled topics such as line length, images, metaphors, and poetic devices, all important tools in the poet’s backpack.

On Saturday night, we enjoyed hearing from our workshop leaders and each other, as we took turns reading from our own work. A highlight was Mary’s poem “Orange,” which magically wove together Halloween and the flight of monarch butterflies.

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Writers came from as far away as Texas, Georgia, South Carolina and even New Hampshire!

Alas, it seemed that Sunday came all too soon and we had to say goodbye to many new friends, but we eagerly traded hugs and email addresses so I hope we’ll stay in touch.

On the way home, we stopped by the mountaintop home of Mary’s friends Lynn and Ben, where we savored a last glimpse of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Here we were treated to Mexican Tabouli Salad, which I’m happy to say is my latest obsession!

Want more poetry? Don’t forget to join us for the October 23 Open Mic reading at CCCC! Here students and members of the public alike will have the opportunity to read from their work for up to 6 minutes.