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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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Write to My Heart

Have you written about Zephyr yet?

Writing partners who know how to put their heads down and write, the tip-tap of the keyboard blending into the rush of cars, natural sounds and conversation snippets on the Starbucks patio, are treasures. I’m lucky to have several delightful companions; I got especially lucky this summer when my peeps and I spent time together every week, writing.

Earbuds in his ears, Fifteen writes with a focused intensity that belies any writer’s block or other stalling, although from conversation I know he has experienced great pauses in his production. Nevertheless, he started out in March writing a short story in honor of his sister’s spelling challenge victory. After six years of getting every word right in her elementary school’s spelling challenge, Twelve faced her final year with the hardest list available. Learning the list in just two weeks, she correctly spelled all fifty of her words and earned pledge dollars for her school. Her reward from her brother was the promise of a story, featuring all of the words she had to learn to spell.

What he didn’t count on is that the compelling characters he would invent to use such unrelated words as cordillera, multiculturalism, and pancreas would take off on an adventure that includes time travel across 200 years, a small town in Minnesota, and colonizing alien creatures. He also didn’t know that the story would grow and grow and grow until it morphed into a novella.

But morph it did and with it came a number of lessons about writing. The first is that writing quickly becomes something of an addiction. When it’s going well, it calls to you. Come. Sit down. Put words on the page. Ignore whatever requires doing because the next idea, the one that’s swirling just out of focus in your brain, will be the one. It’ll be the idea that moves the story, that cinches the plot, that lets you know your work is the most lively, engaging, creative piece ever.

He learned, too, that writing can offer intense challenges; he kept at it in spite of the frustrations. He learned that time spent in the chair is the best way to overcome the times when the plot doesn’t turn as the writer intended or, worse, something simply doesn’t work.

My son learned the value of working with an editor, even if she is his mother. With my support, he was able to navigate the distance from first draft through developmental editing through line editing, to see the importance of each of these stages, and to understand that a part of writing well is incorporating distance into the process. Each successive draft gained in authority, even as the cuts both benefitted the plot and made the author cringe.

Fifteen, the author, learned that he could invent a life for his fictitious characters in a real town, and with a fait accompli, visit the town himself and see that his imagination hadn’t been far off, and the town as it actually exists fits nicely with his imagined form. Our summer stop in Milaca, Minnesota, was an unexpected joy. The cover of Fifteen’s book is fashioned from a photo he took outside the town’s history museum.

Of course, he’s not the only one who learned things. I learned, from watching him, that I can be every bit as proud of something he writes as I can of things I write. I learned that it’s not hard to format a book for Smashwords and that I really ought to bite the bullet and put my book out in the eworld too. I learned that an afternoon spent together, side-by-side, formatting his book and proofreading the line-edits and finding the discrepancies (when is a truck a car? in this book, after editing, never), was one of my favorite days of the summer.

And so I learned something else: My peeps are easy to promote. They’re clever and academic, funny and attractive. They can move, dance, sing, laugh and hold forth a conversation; they are emotive and swiftly empathetic. We go through a lot together every day, and I have nothing but the best intentions and wishes for them. Their successes are theirs, while I have the privilege of watching them thrive. As their mother, I understand something about mothers, that unquestioning, unwavering support my mother always gave me, even if she didn’t always understand my choices. Props are something I can give my peeps easily and frequently and whole-heartedly. And I do. Just like this:

Twelve’s Garnet Granola, delicious homemade granola she sells at my yoga studio, will be featured (spoiler alert) at the third birthday brunch for the studio at the end of September. Most days you can stop by and purchase a bag, and I bet she would do a batch mail order if someone were interested. She also makes and occasionally caters delicious brownies and the family chocodot pumpkin cake recipe. I feel certain future forays into entrepreneurial adventures are in her future and thus, yours. Fifteen is available in our neighborhood for watering and pet sitting jobs. He’s responsible and reliable. And then there’s this: Today, I’m delighted to suggest that you purchase his book. Right now. Go to Smashwords and download Zephyr’s Crossing.

Purchase your very own copy of Zephyr's Crossing at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/468461

Purchase your very own copy of Zephyr’s Crossing at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/468461

If enough people do (like 100,000), he’ll be able to put himself through four years of college. But when even a few people do (at post time he had sold 16), I can see the light in his eyes and the wheels turning—how many more sales until he receives his first-ever royalty check? That’s up to you.

The last of the summer super moons shines over this week. Enjoy the full moon energy. Enjoy Zephyr’s Crossing. Enjoy the spectacular young people in your world. As ever, you have my love & gratitude, Rxo

Pieces-Parts

Pieces-Parts

Which feeds you more, the writing or the yoga?

The year Fourteen turned Five, he announced he wanted to have a “going to the moon” birthday party. We invited his entire nursery school class, the Caterpillars, and all fourteen were planning to join us. Five is one of those governing points, the moment at which parents feel free to drop their children at a birthday party, arriving at the dot of two, escaping, and picking them up two hours later, just as the last fork-full of cake is being squished between eager lips. Most of the children in attendance celebrated their birthdays with friends at party places full of bounce houses or stables with ponies. Fourteen’s father and I were brave or foolhardy enough to host the moon party at home.

After the invitations were made and delivered, Turning-Five, his little sister not-yet-two, and I set about making a moon piñata. We bought an oversized red balloon, inflated it, and hung it from a stepladder over newspapers in the kitchen. I made flour and water paste and we tore strips of newspaper, slid them through the paste, and slapped them on the balloon. When the children found out we couldn’t paint the piñata until it was dry, Not-Yet-Two toddled away and Turning-Five got absorbed in a book. I sat on the floor pasting newspaper strips to the balloon, worried it wouldn’t be as resistant to battery as a store-bought piñata. But I had scoured the Internet for a moon-shaped piñata and been unsuccessful. I added more glue to more paper and applied more layers to the sphere.

It took a full week for the piñata to finally dry, and we painted it a happy yellow, the glowing full moon from the night sky. Then, I popped the balloon by cutting through the layers, made a large enough hole, and the children stuffed it full of candy, noise makers, and plastic animals. I used clear packing tape to patch the hole, and it was ready to hang on party day.

Other preparations included downloading a movie clip of the moon landing, edited together with a few launch scenes from the movie Apollo 13, covering star wands in glitter and hot-gluing trailing ribbons to the handles, baking a moon cake sixteen inches around, procuring snacks and drinks, and stringing twinkly stars from interior doorways. I wrote down the party plan: 2:00-2:15, guests arrive; 2:15, show video; 2:25, have everyone wave their star wands and arrive “at the moon.” 2:30-3:00 moon games in the backyard. 3:00-3:10, wash hands. 3:10-3:30 snacks and cake. 3:30-3:40, wash hands. 3:40-4:00, break piñata. If there was any part of the equation I wasn’t certain of, it was whether the piñata would hold for 15 minutes or so of bashing.

When the first guest arrived and the mother dropped her child in our care, Turning-Five’s father looked to me with raised eyebrows, “she’s not staying?” I shook my head. “Do we have enough for them to do?” I glanced at the piñata and waved my written-up plan at him. “We’ll be fine,” I said, mustering more confidence than I felt.

And so if I tell you that at 2:15 all of the guests were sitting in front of the TV, star wand party favors in their hands, glued to the moon landing and gasping as Neil Armstrong stepped out of Apollo 11, and at 3:55 they were bashing the piñata with all of their might, you would need to know that I was both pleased and breathing a huge sigh of relief. If anything went wrong at all, it was that the piñata was so strong the children couldn’t break it. In the moment before frustration turned to whiny mayhem, after each child had taken two full turns whacking at the moon, we got rid of the blindfold, handed the bat to the strongest kid, and let him beat on it without stopping until he finally created a crack. Turning-Five’s father shook the moon piñata then and ripped at the opening with his hands, scattering the contents across the early spring lawn. The children scrambled and their parents peeked over the fence, right on time to collect them.

I had filed away the moon-theme birthday party—now among the family party legends alongside the rainbow party, the get-messy party, the castle party, and the party for my mother at which the dining room chandelier dramatically caught on fire, exploded and dropped burning to the floor—until recently when I found myself planning a birthday party for a different two-year-old, my yoga studio. A more professional business owner might call it an anniversary, but last year when the studio was merely one, I looked up anniversary and birthday and couldn’t find a distinction. So I called one a birthday because birthdays are more cheerful than anniversaries.

Like a little person, a toddling studio with more-or-less adult guests still requires games, amusements, party favors, snacks, beverages, and cakescake (well, two cakes in this case). Planning was fun: door prizes, a guest book, and a guess-the-number game; Yoga Twister, for which I made up the rules and created a huge taped game board on the studio floor; a hooping demonstration by the studio’s talented and lithe hooping instructor; Kirtan, chanting and singing with our devoted Bhakti band; free classes on the day before and day of the party; and snacks and cakes, which I shopped for and made.

And just like any other birthday party, the deep cleaning, shopping, baking, taping, and making absorbed more of my time than studio work usually does, and I was pulled away from some of the other things I normally do. Like writing. My blog was neglected and I missed a variety of days in celebration of which I would have liked to add a post—the full moon in September, the first day of fall, National Punctuation Day, and the studio’s birthday itself. It wasn’t even just that I didn’t have time to write, in the little time I set aside to do so, I found I couldn’t put together a sentence that suited me.

The party was a delight, went off without a hitch, and I believe that both the studio and the people who enjoy their practices there were celebrated. Two in business years feels very similar to two in people years, but I tell myself that the studio is older, more mature, and may start taking on a little more of its own care. I tell myself this because I don’t like that recognizing its birthday took me away from one of my other, most important pursuits. “Which feeds you more,” Frank the talented Rolfer asked me during treatment, “the writing or the yoga?” “Honestly, I wouldn’t want one without the other,” I told him.

And this I know to be true. Practicing yoga, teaching yoga, owning a yoga studio: these have all given me insights into the world, space to grow and learn, physical awareness and stability, and a deeper connection to breath and thought. But writing gives me something else—writing is the place where I can pause and restore, bring memories like Fourteen’s fifth birthday party to mind, and share anew in their energy and meaning. With yoga practice I can notice the world around me, fall in love with a rainbow, glory in the full moon, turn within or move into the universe arms stretched wide. Without writing about my experiences, such moments slip away into a day crowded with moving pieces. Whether in a list, a blog post, or a work of fiction, if I examine what and how I live with words, I feel better, stronger, more complete, more alive.

The new moon dawned Thursday–the Hunter’s Moon–may this new month bring you a smooth transition of seasons, a lovely, languid fall with lots of pretty colors, and at least one delicious piece of cake. Thanks for sharing my journey, Namaste & love, Rxotwister cobra

Flower Power

What’s in the water?

When I was a little girl, my father told me the best bedtime stories. He would line up my stuffed animals and they would play parts. The stories varied each time he told them, but there were oft-repeated storylines—some he had been telling to children for years. My favorite involved a pearl necklace that disappeared from the neck of a patron in a restaurant when the lights went out. The patron was always played by a green hippo purchased from Harrods; the detective on the scene was Rabbitunya, played by a white silky bipedal bunny named Pretty Rabbit.

Rabbitunya is the star of her own story, a story that even in his ninetieth decade my father was still telling. Whenever he told a story, his crystal blue eyes sparkled and flashed. He connected with his listeners who would always be rapt. The last time I heard him tell Rabbitunya, my children his transfixed audience, I scribbled furiously on a legal pad, capturing the text.

Rabbitunya

© by Vance Bourjaily

            One day down by the horse barn, three kittens were playing in the dust. They were Little White, Little Black, and Little Grey. And they said, “Let’s play kitty fighting.” So they all played bite and scratch and kick and roll-in-de-dust.

            Little White said, “I’m tired.”

            Little Black said, “I’m tired.”

            Little Grey said, “I’m tired.”

            And so they rolled in the dust and went to sleep.

            Poor little kitties—there they were sleeping, exhausted, and along came Tail Thief. And Tail Thief said: “Oh ho—There are the kittens, and I will get their tails!”

            So he crept up to them one by one and unscrewed their tails.

            He took Little White’s tail and Little Black’s tail and Little Grey’s tail and he put them in his tail bag. And off he went to the market.

            And the kittens woke up. Little White said, “My tail’s gone.”

            And Little Black said, “Hey, my tail’s gone.”

            And Little Grey said, “My tail’s gone too.”

            “What are we going to do?” And they begin to cry.

            Just then, along came Junky Monkey, “What are you crying about?”

            “Our tails are gone! Our tails are gone!” Cried the kittens. “Our tails are gone and we don’t know what to do.”

           “All we can do,” said Junky Monkey, “is call Rabbitunya. She will help you get your tails back.”

            Well, Rabbitunya was out playing golf with a couple of doctors. Her beeper beeped. Each of the doctors thought it was his, but Rabbitunya said, “No, it’s mine.” She called Junky Monkey, “What’s the matter?”

            And Junky Monkey said, “Tail Thief had stolen all of the kitties’ tails.”

            Rabbitunya said, “Where did Tail Thief take the tails?”

            And Junky Monkey said, “He has taken them to the market to sell.”

            Rabbitunya said, “We’d better get over there—Meet me at the market!”

            So Junky Monkey went to the market and Rabbitunya went to the market and when they got there Rabbitunya said, “Where is Tail Thief?”

            Then they heard his voice, “Tails for sale! I got white. I got black. I got grey. Kitten tails! You put them in the pot and make tail soup.”

            People were crowding around.

            Junky Monkey cried, “No, don’t sell their tails.”

            Tail Thief said, “Get out of here, scat.”

            Rabbitunya said, “No, Tail Thief, you may not sell those tails.”

            Tail Thief said, “Rabbitunya, what are you doing here?”

            Rabbitunya said, “Tail Thief, you must not sell those tails.”

Tail Thief said, “Rabbitunya, go away.”

            Rabbitunya said, “Tail Thief, give the kittens back their tails.”

            Tail Thief said, “No, Never!”

            Rabbitunya said, “If you do not give those tails back right now, I will turn on my flower power.”

            Tail Thief said, “No, no, no, don’t turn on your flower power.”

            Rabbitunya said, “You’re going to give back the tails?”

            Tail Thief said, “No, no! People will buy the tails and make tail soup.”

            Rabbitunya said, “I’m turning on my flower power.”

            Tail Thief cried, “No, no!”

            “Yes, yes!”

            “No, no!”

            “Yes, yes!”

           So she turned on her flower power and it wafted up into Tail Thief’s nose. “No, no …” said Tail Thief, then, “Oh, I feel so nice … Rabbitunya, you’re so beautiful … What can I do to help somebody?”

            “Give back the tails you stole from the kitties.”

           And so Tail Thief said he would, right away. And he went back to the horse barn where the kitties had been playing kitty fighting and were once again asleep. And one by one he screwed the kittens’ tails back on. But it was getting kind of dark, so he screwed Little White’s tail onto Little Black and Little Black’s tail onto Little Grey and Little Grey’s tail onto Little White.

            Then Tail Thief said, “Okay kitties, you got your tails back. Good Night.” And the kittens purred and rolled over in their sleep.

           So … When you go down to the horse barn tomorrow and see a Little White kitten with a little grey tail and a Little Black kitten with a little white tail and a Little Grey kitten with a little black tail, you’ll know how it happened.

I wish that I could adequately portray in white space the way my father wound up his stories. When he got to the “So,” there was a significant pause and those blue eyes would connect with the intent eyes of his listeners, including me in my forties, pen poised over the legal pad, anticipating the big finish even though I’d been hearing the story my whole life. When I was growing up the finish held even more possibility because we lived on a farm and had a horse barn and barn cats. I might have been able to spot that kitten with the wrong colored tail if I got to the barn early enough in the morning (in follow-up stories, Rabbitunya often saved the day by returning the correct tails to their rightful owners, after which more madcap antics would ensue).

Flower PowerThe Bohemian blend of Rabbitunya’s beeper, golf game and flower power has been rattling around in my brain of late. Not only do we currently have a Little White kitten with a very grey tail, but her anxiety in settling in to a multi-cat household lately caused me, on the veterinarian’s recommendation, to begin lacing the cat water with Rescue Remedy, a homeopathic blend of essential flower oils. The change in the behavior of all of our cats has been delightful—there is a softness to their edges, a calm even when they’re playing kitty fighting. And Starling’s objectionable behaviors have stopped.

In my blended world, where I practice eastern yoga and live in a western world, witnessing the miracles of modern ingenuity on a daily basis, many in my own family, Rabbitunya seems to me today like an apt role model. As I have done so many times since he died two and a half years ago, I want to turn to my father and tell him how prescient he was, how much he gave me. And then I smile and feel a twinkle in my own blue eyes, certain he already knows.

We’re enjoying a snow day here, a few days after the luminescent January full moon. Computer blues kept me from posting on time, but these, too, are easing. Thank you for reading. love, Rxo

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