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Category Archives: the writing life

During the Between

During the Between

What did KatyDid?

After the before and before the after, there’s between. There’s during, too, but during doesn’t pinch the way between does. During is easy to miss, caught up in the doing of it all; between is easy to mess up and a place it’s all too possible to get stuck.

In a world of hurricane travesties, political miasma, raging wildfires, and terrible disease, whining about being wedged in the between isn’t an option. Nevertheless, like Anaïs Nin, I write to “taste life twice.” Even when the moments are bitter, it’s through the retrospective that I can begin to learn something that maybe just maybe makes the next between a little sweeter.

Mid-summer, my Craig’s List ad finally netted a customer for the gorgeous china cabinet in the dining room. I so liked the people who disassembled the whole thing carefully and, with great padding and not inconsiderate effort, loaded it into their truck and drove it away. In the wake of another large item’s exodus from our household, Fifteen opined that it was time to paint the dining room.

Painting the dining room was top of my list when we moved into the house a dozen years ago. The color palate throughout the house made me feel old, but the dining room was by far the worst, beige above the chair rail, mottled deep blue below. We are a family that sits together in the dining room to eat, that hosts small and large dinners, that pushes the table to the side of the room and invites people in for a buffet. Through every occasion, the colors I loathed remained.

Fifteen enjoys removing wallpaper, and that’s where we started, stripping the painted paper that was more plastic than paper from the thirty-inch span below the chair rail. To our dismay, removing the deep blue revealed a hideous bright blue paint that wasn’t fully applied, as though someone thought better of the color only after it was mostly slathered on the wall. To our further dismay, not one but two showing requests beeped onto my phone when we were in the midst of removing the paper, the torn curls all over the floor and sticking to our pants.

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Yikes … during we found blue. Starling (pictured) thought nothing of the open air-return duct. 

During the dining room renovation: Fifteen left for a week away at the National Scholars Institute; Eighteen went to and arrived home from work and took his first solo road trip; I left for a weekend of yoga teacher training; and groups viewing our house were greeted by a “Please pardon the mess” sign.

Our smallest cat, Katy, was fascinated by the air-return opening where I had removed the grill. I blocked it variously with a box, paper, the drop cloth. She pawed at these, determined to inspect the mysterious hole in the wall. A couple of times I scolded her away from it, in the same “angry mommacat tone” that detours her from going into my closet. Then I was painting. The cats paraded through—Leo playing slip-n-slide in the drop cloth plastic, Starling running her usual commentary about all of the unfamiliar activity, and Katy finding any kind of trouble she could, jumping onto the table, inspecting the open paint can, and tearing at the paper covering the air return. I scolded her, turned back to my paint, and wouldn’t have even heard her as she quietly slipped under the paper and into the dark beyond, but turned to look just in time to see her tail disappear.

Just like that, we arrived in the between.

Eighteen’s response, even as I was shining a flashlight into the hole, wondering how far it might go, was to race to the basement to figure out where we could take the ductwork apart. Then he brought a dangle toy, something we use to lure kitties out of the garage. Katy, looking miffed, haughty, and scared as only a not-quite seven-pound cat who thinks she’s in charge can look, reappeared briefly but slipped away when I reached for her. I discovered then the air-return duct dropped down more than a foot, and the pathway in and down was not as large as the opening suggested. As I sat quietly and watched, fishing with the toy and waiting to see if she would get herself out, it became clear to me that she both wanted back out, badly, and hadn’t yet figured out the maneuver that would allow her to escape. Occasionally coming close enough so she was illuminated by the light of the flashlight, she blinked up at me.

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That’s my arm disappearing down the hole to above the elbow.

This cat arrived in our lives a tiny kitten, one of a pair of litters of barn kitties of very young mothers. Early on one mother stopped nursing and the other was making a gallant attempt to feed both broods. We had picked Katy out just a couple of weeks before, but I wasn’t yet expecting the phone call to bring her home until she was eight weeks. “Come get her,” urged the landowner’s voice on the phone, “one died of starvation and an owl got another. I’m worried your kitten won’t survive.”

Armed with kitten formula and kitten litter, we brought her home with trepidation. We named her KatyDid, both because she was as tiny as a bug and because that way when she was naughty we could say, “Who did?” “KatyDid.” Over the years we’ve added the ungrammatical but fun to say, “What did KatyDid?”

And while she only grew up to be tiny in stature, she is large in personality and adventure. Thus it wasn’t a surprise to find myself looking at her delicate face peering up at me, the haughty turned all worry and struggle, especially when the air-conditioning cycled on.

Outwardly I was saying soothing things, to Katy, to Eighteen. Inwardly I was calculating the options—which professional to call, whether to try taking things apart myself, how long she could stay there. I watched her attempt to climb out a couple of times and realized that she needed leverage. “Go to work,” I told Eighteen, who was still contemplating disassembling the ductwork, “I’ve got this.”

“Okay,” he said, his relief at not having to call-in for a feline emergency was palpable. “I was wondering how I was going to explain being late.”

In spite of intense minimalizing, I’ve held on to the children’s building blocks, a wonderful wooden set that gave rise to all manner of temples and sculptures when they were little. I went to the basement and selected enough to build a staircase, remembering that when we had the ductwork cleaned, it had been full of twenty-year-old chunks of wood and other construction debris. I worked each block through the narrow opening and set them up in what I hoped was a staircase for Katy. Soon, I saw her face at the return. And then she was higher, her back paws standing on the block stairs, her front paws clambering for a foothold. She got the paw nearest me up and over the ledge, back into the room. Her other front paw seemed stuck, and after several attempts to squeeze her shoulders through, pushing as if to jump with her back paws, she instead opted to roll her spine out of the opening toward me, freeing her front paw just in time to turn, gain purchase on the floor and struggle her hips and hind legs out of the opening. I reached for her and she ran, so I left her alone, cleared out the blocks and quickly screwed the air return grill back into place. I knew Katy would want to “talk” about her trauma, so I finished painting for the day and took my lunch up stairs. Katy, nearly always affectionate on her own terms, immediately curled up in my lap and stayed for nearly an hour.

The between was over but the during went on longer, through painting above the chair rail and then painting the chair rail itself. With the only very recent arrival of a new rug and a tablecloth, the dining room is finally in the after.

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Ta-dah! After!

The larger between—the one in which we are waiting for the right buyers to walk in and realize that their family’s stories can bloom in the space so that our stories may move elsewhere—carries on.

Living so very much in the large between has been a challenge in many ways, not the least of which is to writing regularly. This story has been waiting for a couple of months, but then again, maybe it was waiting until the rug and tablecloth arrived, just this past weekend. Thank you for connecting with me, with the corn moon that was full recently, and with your own betweens. My favorite part of posting to overneathitall is the way that it closes those gaps between us some. With much love, Rxo

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Walk On

How are you doing with your training?

When Seventeen was Five-and-a-Half, we moved kit-n-caboodle a thousand miles west, arriving at the front door to our new Iowa home on a below-zero December day, just shy of Christmas. Earlier that fall, I worked with a realtor to find our big box. She asked me for my “hot button” items. I answered, “Living space. I don’t care if we sleep in closets; we’re all home, all the time. It’s cold there. We need room to move around.”

Some thirty-eight houses later, she showed me the brick-front at the top of a short street with an enormous pantry, morning and afternoon sun, a sizeable yard, and oodles of living space. It was, among other things, a “circle house,” not merely situated atop a suburban circle, but inside you could walk around the main floor in a complete circle, a figure eight even, if you were feeling fancy.

One evening as we were still settling in, figuring out the light switches, and dreaming of living room furniture, I was making dinner too slowly for the children. I remembered that when I was little, my mother would send my brother and me outside to run around our house. That house was ringed in wooden decks, so we could go all the way around without touching the ground. But the ground outside our new house was snow and ice covered, so I reasoned little feet could pound around the inside circle of our house without causing too much disturbance. I tore around the first lap with them and then said, “Keep running. Go! Go!” Off went Five-and-a-Half with Two-and-a-Half pell-mell behind him.

“What are you doing?” Their father asked, arriving home.

“We’re running marathon!” They panted past.

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Running boy then …

The next day I got a tape measure and marked off their course. Then I converted 26.2 miles to feet, divided by the indoor track’s running distance, and wrote 1,946 at the top of a blank sheet of paper. “This,” I told Five-and-a-Half, “is how many times you need to run around the house to run a marathon.” For some time after, every night he would run a few laps and record his progress. When the weather got warm and they could run around outside before dinner, the big backyard became a secret land, a place to dig, a world of adventures. The marathon was perhaps half-completed when it was forgotten.

Today Seventeen’s long legs could stride that same circle in no time. Nonetheless, I like the way our house expands and contracts—I can fill it with people for a party or snuggle in with the peeps for family movie night. With Seventeen away at college, I’m very aware that for most days it’s much too big for his sister, Fourteen, his grandmother, Ninety-Two, and me, but as I commenced training to walk a half-marathon, my treadmill in the basement became too confining and I started to roam.

From my front door I can walk a five-mile loop that touches four towns. I can take the bike path east to do errands like dropping the water bill at City Hall or making a deposit at the bank or west to my friend’s house a whole county over. I can loop a variety of little lakes that front the expansive corporate buildings for the countless banks and insurance companies that make their headquarters here. To mix things up I have added destinations like Trader Joe’s, four miles from home, and endless loops around larger lakes to which I have to drive. No matter where or how far I go, I start and end every walk sitting on second stair lacing or unlacing my shoes. Second stair was another feature of that first house I lived in, the place I would be asked to go and sit when I was naughty. Now it’s a seat of nostalgia and a convenient perch near the door.

Three weeks ago I completed my last long training walk, just shy of a half-marathon at 12.5 miles. Since, I’ve been walking a few days a week, between four and seven miles each time. I feel ready for the challenge even as I have started to feel that Sunday’s event is no longer the point. It’s the training, the feeling strong, the finding out what my body can do, and the connection to the world outside my house that feel like they matter. It’s the stick-to-it-iveness that inspires me, dovetailing nicely with stringing together word after word toward my second novel, learning the art of continuous narrative. It’s not the destination but the journey, as clichéd as this trope may be, that has become the point.

Nonetheless Seventeen, who will be home from college, will join me at the starting line on Sunday. He will finally complete the marathon he started when he was a tiny boy. And I will discover just how much I can accomplish when I set my mind to it.

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…and now.

The moon is full on 10.15, and it’s a full moon by which to leave behind anything that no longer serves you. Happy Full Moon—I promise a post-half update early next week. Thanks for cheering us on, Rxo

#RadiantOmYoga

#RadiantOmYoga

How do you know when it’s the end?

Kurt Vonnegut opined in his play Happy Birthday Wanda June that heaven is a giant shuffleboard game. I think of my father sending a disc gliding down the court and then leaning on his cue, sipping a heavenly cocktail, and gazing down at us periodically. He would be especially proud of his grandchildren, two Harvard men (my nephews), Fourteen, a budding novelist, and Seventeen, who shows every indication of moving toward finance but who has been writing front-page articles for his school newspaper since the first week of school (Grinnell’s newspaper is The Scarlet and Black).

Seventeen’s grandfather found his early writing roots in journalism. His father, Seventeen’s great grandfather, was a newspaperman. My brother is an editor for Field and Stream. My grandmother wrote children’s stories and women’s fiction before there was chicklit. Writing is in our blood. From his early journalism exposure, my father never finished a manuscript without centering at least one # at the end. I can still see his desk, which is now mine, covered with piles of thin bond, Xs crossing out the mistakes, his unmistakable handwriting annotating his drafts. Somehow, my father always knew when he was at the end. It must have been such a victory to type those pound/number/hashtag signs at the bottom of the page.

I mean to ask Seventeen if he submits his electronic stories replete with ### at the end or if there is a new convention now that submissions present in digital form. It was less conventional for my father to end his novels that way, but he never typed “the end.” For years I copied him, until one of my college professors circled the ### on the last page of my paper and swirled them away as unnecessary with a delete symbol. Curious, I do a little searching. According to the Internet, it was all the way back in 2007 when the # got repurposed by the tech world. It wasn’t on my radar in its hashtag capacity until much more recently, and while I’ve been known to “hashtag” a phrase or two, I’m enough of a traditionalist that I still think of it as the number or pound sign first.

“Punctuation,” I tell my writing mentee, “makes meaning.” I am incredibly fond of punctuation for this reason. Beyond knowing when and how to employ the squiggles and dots that pepper the keyboard, I marvel how in each unique application punctuation eases the workload for words, adding just the right finish to a polished sentence.

Period. The end. But how do you know?

To finish something, we have to anticipate the end. Early this year I met with my accountant: “I don’t think I’m going to renew the studio lease,” I told her. “After five years, this is going to be it.” And after five years of cheering me on, meeting with me at every turn, soothing and comforting me when obstacles threatened to derail my progress, my accountant simply agreed, “It’s time.”

Full of the promise of possibilities, eager to show my children that their mother could create something amazing, ready to give up the life of a road yogi teaching at as many as seven different places in a given week, it was six years ago when I started writing the chapter that would become Radiant Om Yoga. There were lots of firsts on the journey—from legal explorations like becoming the proud owner of an LLC and a trademark to learning QuickBooks and small-business banking to getting the key to my first leased commercial space. What I didn’t know when I started about running a business, in spite of being self-employed for much of my adult life, I learned to the best of my abilities, marveling at just how different each day could be.

On the fifth anniversary of the very first class I ever taught at Radiant Om Yoga, with the help of three women I am lucky to count as friends and supporters of my yoga journey, we picked up the floor, the last big task to closing the space. That night, Wednesday, I taught my first class in a new space, a yoga cooperative where my community kindly followed me, and the yoga that night reminded us that the practice allows us to adapt.

Thursday it took two car trips to load the tiles into my garage. I made a pile so high that, as Fourteen said, “The floor reaches the ceiling.” The rest of my garage looks very much like a jumble sale; somehow the contents of the studio will find new purpose in my house or move on to new homes.

With nothing left but the garbage cans and a couple of resin chairs I was leaving behind (they were there when I got there), the studio felt like a shell. For five years I was the self-appointed steward of the space. Sitting on the floor one last time, I could see vast improvement to the interior of the building in spite of how hard as it often was: how many times did I curse my leasing company (indeed, at one point when they were fully in breach of contract I was one chess move away from rolling up my mat and taking them to court); how often did I arrive to find leakage from the roof, pest infestations, freezing temps because the furnace was out, snow under the door, broken plumbing, or humidity buckling my flooring; how frequently did my heart sink because just as I struggled to keep the place afloat another yoga studio would announce their grand opening in town? But then again, how many times did I teach in that sanctuary and find ease and joy in my whole being?

Sitting on the cruddy subfloor, I lit the candle and some sage and thanked the building, out loud, for the many, many gifts. Beyond everything I learned about business, beyond all of the yoga delights and revelations, beyond all of the healing, beyond the professional approbations and the personal friendships, the space was my sanctuary too, my healing place as I made the transition out of married life, as I forged ahead into and then out of an intense romance, as friendships deepened and I became ever clearer about who I am and what’s important to me. To mark the end, I rang the tingsha, three times, blew out the candle and knew … it was time to go. For the last time ever, I locked the door, patted the building, and got into my car. So much of the good continues with me, but the chapter, the chapter is truly and really over.img_7361

 

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With a new moon, new beginnings. Looking forward to writing the next chapter, xoR

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The keeper of the keys no more … later today I’ll drop this pile at the leasing office. 

Ad-Venture Capital

Where are you going this time?

Long before there were Minimalists (visit them here) who traveled the world with fifty-one things and before Marie Kondo (http://tidyingup.com) sparked joy with her life-changing magic of tidying up, George Carlin (enjoy the video) famously pinged our devotion to stuff. In his routine he mentions needing a place to store such important items as our “fourth-grade math papers.” I’m guilty of moving school papers of mine that date back to third grade more than 2300 miles over 42 years and through six houses (not to mention storing those same pages with my mother for eons). I’m equally guilty of rarely looking at those papers, although when teaching the boy until recently known as Sixteen, now Seventeen, about taking notes for class a couple of years ago, I reached into my box and found a perfect example of what I was talking about in my philosophy notebook from college.

That specific collection of school papers is corralled into one storage bin. Not so well filed are papers from Seventeen and Thirteen’s school experiences along with files of my first full-time job search, pages of creative writing from before there were computers, and financial records, some dating back thirty years. In the unfortunately accommodating storage area of my basement, it’s all too easy to stack in bins and crates what my mother years ago named “scream boxes”—those collections of things or papers that tumble together into a tangle to be sorted some other time.

Looking through the basement in preparation for this year’s garage sale, I found I’ve got a mix of scream boxes and organized packets. Ignoring these, it felt really good to skim out items from the basement we aren’t using, and set them, along with things from every room in the house, out in the garage at the beginning of May. Strangers came to look over our things and few left without purchasing something. You have really nice stuff, one person told me. “Now, you have really nice stuff,” I smiled back, handing her change and a bag holding her treasures.

The garage sale was the most lucrative I’ve ever had, but of course it’s the human interactions that I remember the most. There was the lady who has recently become a mutual funds investor who started talking to Seventeen, giving him advice about life. In short order they were exchanging email addresses, because investing is something he loves to talk about and he has acquired a surprising wealth of knowledge already, even if he’s still working on accumulating actual wealth. There was Larry who readily dispensed his version of life advice to my son: “Work with this,” he said, pointing to his head, “not with these,” and here he wiggled his fingers.

More than one person asked Seventeen about his accent. Born in Maryland and an Iowan since five and a half, his intonation is sometimes a little surprising, but he doesn’t have an accent. It isn’t the first time, he told me; he’s been asked about it at school.

The most hair-raising and smile-inducing visitor to our garage arrived in a shiny silver Jaguar that likely cost more than will Seventeen’s first year of college. Seventeen and I were leaning out of the garage to gawk at the car as he walked up the drive, “Did I park funny?”

“No,” I told him. “We were just admiring your car.”

Seventeen said something affirmative and enthusiastic in response to which the stranger looked straight at him. “Do you have a driver’s license?”

“Yes.”

“Take it for a spin,” he tossed the keys to Seventeen and added, as an afterthought, “Is that okay Mom?”

Off they went down the driveway together where the Jag’s owner showed Seventeen how to adjust the mirrors. I caught my breath as the big car purred away, my son at the wheel.

“Awww, Mom,” the car’s owner walked back up my drive, “don’t worry. I have plenty of insurance. Every boy should have an opportunity to drive a car like that.”

As his story unfolded, it turned out the owner of the Jag had grown up on a car lot, driving all kinds of luxury vehicles. He had, he said, been driving Jaguars for thirty years.

What seemed like an eternity but likely only a quarter of an hour later, Seventeen brought the car back, grinning from ear-to-ear. The owner, too, looked pleased, having given the kind of gift that stories are made of. He strolled off to climb back into his machine, one of our few customers who left without making any purchases.

For two and a half days our belongings left in the arms of strangers. Reactions around the house were varied—watching from the window Ninety-One said she felt a little like she was being robbed. But when she made her way out into the garage, she found the items there had lost their emotional energy and she was glad to see them go. Seventeen is practical—anything he doesn’t want to take to college should be turned to cash. Thirteen spent a happy hour spreading the contents of scream boxes excised from her room a few years back around the basement, discovered a packet of glitter, and proceeded to sparkle her hair, clothes, and the basement floor. Her contributions to the sale itself were few.

In three days we easily divested ourselves of any number of things we no longer use, with a healthy balance going to charity and resale shops over the next two weeks. The experience offered so many gifts: the house feels lighter, brighter, and more welcoming, easier to navigate and to consider what’s still here; I spent a weekend in my garage with Seventeen, enjoying his company at the beginning of what is his last summer at home before he leaves for college; and we put into the bank a tidy sum toward our summer family adventure, the memories from which are sure to be much more precious and important than any knickknack or unused bowl.

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The delight of a list on which everything is crossed off! This one represents hundreds of items donated, retired, or recycled … and my exploration of the plural of trellis shortly after I worked the broken pieces of ours off the house and down to the curb.

May is a month like December, a whirl of activities, concerts, recitals, and endings. There’s a big commencement in our world—Seventeen’s graduation from high school this weekend. So while May took me away from writing as much as I’d like to, it is presenting me with plenty to write about. Look for the inevitable post about my graduate soon and thank you, as ever, for sharing the journey with me, Rxo

My Ten Cents

My Ten Cents

Why is it a lucky dime?

Palindrome week, Tuesday (51215).

I’m sitting in Starbucks—not my usual Starbucks, but one three minutes farther away from Twelve’s dance studio that stays open later—trying to settle in after a day of making arrangements. Twelve hours earlier my surgeon confirmed my worst suspicions: the only way my frozen knuckle was going to get better was surgery. I’ve spent the day making lists, shooting out email messages, lining up teachers to sub my classes, taking a hiatus from my corporate gig … I’m having trouble settling in partly because I feel the tick-tock pressure cooker of more to do than I can in the five days before surgery and partly because I never saw any surgery as part of my personal story. Yet here I am, prepping for surgery number two.

I’ve left my phone in the car and that doesn’t seem like a good idea as it’s been op center all day, so I hustle out to my car, find it under the pile of mail I dumped on it earlier, and hustle back. I check Facebook and email again because, well, who doesn’t. They’re lovely distractions. Then I stare out the window, trying to riddle through a pivotal plot point in my revisionist fairy tale, as yet untitled.

It’s not twilight, but the sun is low enough in the sky to evidence the coming night. I see a shiny object on the patio. I decide it’s a penny and I should leave it alone. I look away. I look at my screen. I stare across the café at the shuffling baristas. I look back out the window. Penny. Shiny.

An hour ago I might have contemplated sitting outside, but it’s not quite warm enough now, so even though the music is a little louder than I’d like and I’m sitting with my back to the door, something I never prefer, I’ve settled in and I’m not going to move. I tell myself: It’s time to write. I see the penny again. Aww, crap. I’ve always taught my children not to disregard small change. It adds up. I unfold from my chair and go outside, leaving my table, computer, wallet for the second time, to pick up the penny. When I get there, I’m rewarded—it’s a 2015 dime. Back inside I place it next to me on my table and write steadily for an hour. On my drive to collect Twelve, the dime goes in the center console of my car—a talisman for the week.

Palindrome week, Thursday (51415).

Wednesday was a busy teaching day, as Wednesdays always are, and already this morning I started with a meeting, subbed two classes, and taught a private at my studio, but a few other things have moved around and my lists are keeping me organized. I’m inside Home Depot to purchase light bulbs when I get the phone call every parent dreads: This is the nurse at the junior high school … I have Twelve here. She fell in PE and she has a pretty good goose egg on her head. I’m reluctant to put her on the bus.

“I’m close. I’ll be right there.”

I walk into the nurse’s office, and there is my daughter holding an ice pack to her forehead. The goose egg on her head is enormous, such that I catch my breath. She’s also got two skinned knees, a fat lip, and pain in her right elbow and wrist. She’s been crying.

“I think we’re going to the emergency room.”

“Really?” Twelve eyes fill up, “but I have dress rehearsal this afternoon.”

“Oh Sweetie. We have to get you checked out first. We’ll worry about dress rehearsal in a little while.” The nurse looks relieved.

It was more than a spill, as she will explain first to me and then to each of the medical people we see. The game was sharks and minnows, a variation of tag in which the sharks tag the minnows and they become seaweed, sitting on the floor. Running and swerving to avoid both a shark and seaweed, she tripped on a seated student and crashed right into the wall. We leave the ER two hours later with the diagnosed broken elbow in a sling, the hematoma still under ice, and a referral to an orthopedist. The tears have dried now; she’s hungry and quite stoic, talking about attending school the next day and how she might support her dance friends when they take the stage without her on Sunday. Plus, she’s oddly jazzed about breaking a bone, another first for either of my children. My mind is trying to add this to the story of the week. And I’m wondering how do I go forward with my surgery while taking care of my injured child?

Palindrome week, Friday (51515).

On the drive to school, it’s foggy. I love fog, always have. Twelve agrees that it’s magical, and we marvel that up ahead we see the edge of the fog, but when we arrive at that place, it’s clear. The fog moves with us. Twelve decides it’s like we’re driving in a bubble.

After I leave Twelve to school, walking her in and making certain that she’ll have a study hall instead of PE, I get it. Her school is her world and they take care of one another there. The counselor and the nurse made much of her when we arrived, the principal stopped to offer kind words, students rallied around and asked her what happened. The counselor arranged for a student to be her book buddy, leaving class a few minutes early and helping Twelve from one classroom to another. It’ll be healing for her to be at school. Saturday can be a day on the sofa.

When you're close enough to the target, whatever it is, it'll be clear.

When you’re close enough to the target, whatever it is, it’ll be clear.

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Twelve and her sling stopping by pre-recital to deliver her famous brownies and best wishes to her ballerina friends.

On the way home I continue to enjoy the fog. Fog always makes me feel like it’s okay to focus in close. I watch the Target sign emerge out of the fog and smile at the symbolism as I drive past. Like a palindrome, in the fog it’s hard to tell whether you’re coming or going. But, this, too, all of it, shall pass. It’s going to be a bumpy few weeks, but no more impossible than anything else. The fog gives me permission to keep my focus on the close-in targets, the things I can see, and to do just what needs to be done to facilitate my healing and Twelve’s. The larger picture that I’m forever questioning but rarely feel like I can see—it will become clear soon enough. We can only ever really know the parts of our personal stories that have played out. And when we know them clearly, we will all have, in fact, moved forward.

Palindrome week, Monday (51815). It’s a new moon and I’m ready to get my hand repaired. I don’t know how soon I’ll be typing steadily again so the next overneathitall might be a while … still, the lessons in this one precious life keep arriving and I feel richer for them, and for the dime I paused to pick up, and for the dear ones who make the fabric of this world more opulent. Thank you for taking this journey with me, love, Rxo

Digital Immortality

Is this what fifty looks like?

April 28, the day before Fifteen changes his name to Sixteen, four of my father’s books, out of print for many years, will become available in electronic editions. The books, The End of My Life, his first novel published in 1947, The Violated (1958), Confessions of a Spent Youth (1960), and Brill Among the Ruins (1970), are a part of my father’s backlist, a literary bequest of ten novels and three works of nonfiction, one coauthored with my brother. They were written without exception by his two index fingers on a series of typewriters large and small. He would eventually adapt from the hard press of a manual to a more responsive electric typewriter; he never comfortably touched a computer.

In fact, my father’s fantasy writing device was a wall-sized keyboard that he could set to take a full-body punch or a light tap, depending on his mood. The room, as he imagined it to me, would contain a collection of costumes, so that he could dress as a ballet dancer one day, twirling from key to key, a boxer the next, punching the keys hard to get them to imprint letters on the page.

In today’s digitalized world, such a typing room is technologically possible. Perhaps one even already exists. It’s ironic that my father, who loved, read, wrote, and lined our houses with books, now has a chance at being discovered by a whole new readership devoted to their e-readers. I don’t know what he might have made of these re-releases, but since I do remember that he liked to stay abreast of changing times, so long as he himself didn’t have to manage the technology, I suspect he would have been pleased.

I know that I am. Working with the professionals at Open Road Media has been a pleasure. On spring break in New York with Twelve, I took her with me to meet with the editor and media relations team at the publishing company. It was a legacy trip, the kind of trip I went on with my father at about her same age. We took the meeting, enjoyed a tour, and left with new impressions of the publishing world. They asked for a suitable photo of my father for marketing purposes; I promised I would see what I could find.

In my all-time favorite picture of my father, his face is close up and his head is ringed by a laurel wreath. The photo, taken at his fiftieth birthday party by Iowa Writing Workshop director Jack Leggett’s wife Lee, shows my father the way I remember him best, eyes twinkling, fascinated by whatever conversation he is enjoying at the moment. I don’t need a color photo to remember how blue those eyes were.

Vance Bourjaily, 9.17.1972

Vance Bourjaily, 9.17.1972

For the occasion of his fiftieth birthday, in 1972 when I was newly seven, he took out an advertisement in the Iowa City Press Citizen and invited everyone reading the ad to come to our farm for the day, bring picnics and celebrate. My parents’ parties and events were legendary and frequent, but I like to think that the fiftieth is one I remember distinctly. The pasture was dotted with picnickers, the pond full of happy splashing people.

When Twelve and I are back from New York, I find the photo and am relieved to discover it isn’t professionally fixed in its frame. I take it in for scanning, another digitalization of my father. It is only when I’m fitting it safely back into its frame that I realize and remark to my mother:

“Dad was fifty in this picture. My age … or at least the age I’m about to be.”

I’m turning fifty in four months. Unlike forty, I find I’m not the least bit concerned by this milestone birthday. I am intent on celebrating it, although perhaps not with a newspaper ad invitation. But gazing at Dad’s image at fifty gives me pause. Do I look as old at fifty as he always seemed to me? Have I accomplished as much as he had by fifty? How much are we alike, and how much do I live my life on my own terms? What are the important lessons of being my father’s daughter?

My father never got his fancy wall-sized keyboard on which he could pound or prance, but in his most productive writing years, he protected his writing time. We all did. Dad had a room of his own where he could and did write nearly every morning. His afternoons were reserved for his students at the university, tennis, farm projects, and the huge garden he planted every summer. Evenings after dinner he would sit, absent-mindedly chewing on this thumb, reading. My father was a writer his whole life. And I never hesitated, when I was growing up, to say if someone asked what my father did: My father was a writer.

I do hesitate when people ask me what I do. It’s complicated, I tell them, or, I own a yoga studio, but I don’t elaborate. It’ll be some time into the conversation, after I’ve also copped to being an editor and a mother, when being a writer might come up. But I stepped into the digital literary world ahead of my father, launching this blog in 2011, engaging in social media, and publishing my own novel, Throwing Like a Girl (available through Smashwords), earlier this year. I think, perhaps for my fiftieth birthday, it would be a gift to both of us to learn to say upfront: I’m a writer, just like my Dad.

Happy new moon on Saturday—wishing you glorious blooms and soft spring evenings. Thanks for walking along on my journey with me, Rxo

Gatekeepers

Gatekeepers

Have you ever thought about self-publishing?

On Redbird Farm I learned early: If the gate is closed when you go through it, leave it closed. If the gate is open when you go through it, leave it open. That was the first rule. The second was equally important: Family members open and close gates.

This makes infinite sense when the farm manager, in our case my mother, has made decisions about where the livestock may and may not be. A gate left open allows animals to pass from the lower pasture into the upper pasture, but if the farrier is coming to snip and shape the horses’ hooves, then they are likely already rounded up and kept in the bull pen directly behind the barn in preparation for his visit. Family members know the combinations for the locks and can be held responsible in the event that a closed gate blows open and the livestock get out. Guests should never be put into this position.

While my mother was running the farm, my father—a well-published author—was teaching in the creative writing program at the University of Iowa. Every few years there would be a flurry of communications with people in New York in advance of a new book being published. Dad had an agent who found publishers for his manuscripts, placed excerpts in journals and magazines, and oversaw the transition from loose-leaf typed pages to galleys to proofs. Each version of the book would arrive for my father’s approval, and eventually he would fly off to New York for a publication party. A reading in one of the UI’s auditoriums from the new book would generally follow, with another party, and there might be visiting author gigs or signings at local bookstores.

Once I remember going the Manhattan with my father to see a publisher. To my delight, they heaped free books upon me, brand new children’s chapter books I had never seen before. We were taken out to eat as well, and that meal may have been when I first tasted lobster. The publishing world of New York seemed very glamorous and miles and miles from the farm in Iowa where a poorly secured gate nearly always meant a wild chase for animals in search of greener pastures.

I would follow my father’s footsteps into the academy, where “publish or perish” dominated the promotional status of my graduate studies professors. I have been told that the arrival of computers meant a proliferation both in the number of journals available and in the length of the articles academics were submitting. Some were slower to adopt: “Word processors are like a movie of words,” scoffed one of my professors, a poet. As an academic myself, I was happy to spend the majority of my career at an institution that valued teaching first, committee work/community service to the college second, and publishing third. Nonetheless, when I landed my first essay, a piece of my master’s thesis entitled “Rusty Water, Icy Hills,” in a now-defunct journal called Iowa Woman, the thrill made me feel like I could fly. Holding the acceptance letter in both hands, I rejoiced, “I’m going to be published,” hopping what felt like a foot off the ground and hovering there, the hang-time of a published author.

I’ve had pieces accepted since and the thrill has never gone away. I’ve also been, for the last sixteen years, a part of the editorial process. Although computers have greatly automated publication (my father’s first books would have been typed in triplicate by a typing pool, the copies comparison-read against his original, the type eventually painstakingly set by a typesetter, reviewed and re-reviewed by editors, and eventually pasted up, printed and bound), there are still a number of eyes that pass over writing on its way to the press. Or at least there often are and often the writing is better, cleaner, neater for it. Plus, there’s the very real approbation that if an agent represents you, a publisher signs your work, and a team of people mobilize to publish, package, print and market your book, you’ve aced a number of tests, passing through the gates of all of those keepers to acceptance. You’re a real writer.

In the era during which I grew up, self-publishing options were dismissed as “vanity presses.” Any self-respecting writer got rejections from established publications and venerable publishing houses until that day, that miraculous day, when someone said, “yes.” The gatekeepers, the publishing overlords, opened the gate and the author strolled, stormed, or snuck through to the greener pasture beyond.

So when I first finished Throwing Like a Girl, I posted to this blog the one-page summary <https://overneathitall.com/2011/04/23/writing-like-a-girl/> I dutifully wrote, meaning to begin querying agents and small publishers, hoping someone would open the gate. That was about five months before I opened my own yoga studio, an ambitious space in an unlikely shopping plaza.

Nobody told me I could or should open a yoga studio. I saved money, worked with a realtor, a lawyer and an accountant, wrote a business plan, leased a space, oversaw the build-out, engaged instructors, promoted the opening, and threw open the doors. There was more to it, of course, but the point is from start to finish while there were plenty of hurdles, I was my own gatekeeper.

So while I dismissed the idea of self-publishing for many years, one day it dawned on me. I opened the gate to Radiant Om Yoga. I did not do it, however, without the belief that people would come. The beautiful yoginis and yogis and dancers who come to practice supported me and are the reason the studio thrives. But someone had to open the gate, and that someone was me.

And so it is that when my son wrote a novella, Zephyr’s Crossing, I was happy to help him publish because I was proud of his efforts and because I wanted to learn the mechanism for self-publishing. I had come to understand—why not self-publish? Why not put my work out into the world myself? What have I got to lose?

The answer: absolutely nothing. Opening the gate to Throwing Like a Girl is actually an opportunity to go through the gate myself, to put the book out into the reading pasture and to release myself to work on the next project—there are three calling to me. And so, with much editing and the kind reading by many of my dearest friends, I am pleased to announce the world premiere of my first novel, Throwing Like a Girl. If you’re so inclined, you may find it on here on Smashwords.throwing efile

This February full moon, a trusted friend tells me, is about getting clear with what you want, what you really, really want. A big part of what I want, I am. I am a writer and here, world, is my book. Thank you for being a part of and encouraging my journey, xoR

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