Friday, March 19, 2010

Spring Fervor

Spring begins at sea level and moves upward about eleven miles a day, according to scientists who have studied the phenomenon. It is a transition time when the natural life cycle begins again, when I watch a bee exploring the throat of a daffodil and catch my breath in astonishment at how and why this happens, and who makes it happen. Spring brings a sense of freedom, a feeling of newness, an urge to be creative.

One morning in the spring I was sixteen years old, I sat in my room watching the mild sweet Oregon rain fall on the riot of irises outside my window, explored the Roget’s Thesaurus my parents had given me for my birthday that winter, and decided that I would be a writer. That decision has spared me from the ordinary and made the unconventional common.

My odyssey began in high school. Theater has been in my blood since the spring of my senior year when I auditioned for a part in The Diary of Anne Frank. Although I didn’t get the part, I was assigned to the costume crew, which took me backstage where, for the first time, I inhaled the instantly addictive and nearly palpable scent of creative energy, and I knew this had to be a part of my life.

As a college student, my best learning moments, some even life changing, came when I was involved in plays. I’ll never forget the only applause I ever received as an actress – in my acting class, playing Amanda in a scene from The Glass Menagerie. My interests remained back stage, however, as part of the decision-making that went into the preparation, and I left the acting to people who could memorize lines and control their stage fright.

In the spring of 1967 another rich memory was born. I was the assistant to the faculty member directing a premiere production of a play written by the campus poet in resident, my creative writing teacher from the English department. The author would come to rehearsals to watch the progress of his “offspring,” and consult with the director on production details. It was instructional to listen to these two intensely creative men. I became a sponge. Sometimes when they disagreed about some detail they would turn to me and say, “What do you think?” At first it seemed ludicrous that my opinion should count for anything; I was just happy to be there, absorbing the creative energy and facilitating the activities of all those other creative people involved in the production. Sometimes I had an opinion, and I was grateful for the chance to offer it. Ultimately the collaboration was thrilling.

This spring I’m reminded of fourteen years ago when one of my creations, a play, was brought to life on stage by a group of talented people who gave me the priceless gift of their time to do for me what I couldn’t do for myself. A poet once described birth as “Trailing clouds of glory do we come, from God who is our home.” But as I watched and participated in the development of talent by gifted people around me, I concluded that the clouds of glory we trail after us must be the talents we bring, probably a spiritual inheritance from Heavenly Parents. Somehow when talents are used and shared respectfully, with deference to the Giver of the Gift, there’s inevitably a feeling of renewed life, the return of spring.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Can We Wish It Here Faster?

It's still a few days away officially, but here are some haiku poems...


I tripped and fell in
the pond last night because the
stars were beguiling.

Shall I wrap this warm
breeze, or would you prefer to
wear it home in style?

Shadows float as trees
yawn and nod with the wind. It’s
tired out tonight.

The sad newness of
spring brings wistful smiles of hope,
the soul’s camouflage.

This warm night and that
full moon remind me that spring
is for stargazing.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Dog Ate My Homework - Really

One of my most anticipated advantages of living in Utah Valley was being able to get my stories out there, and since I write about being LDS, I was most looking forward to participating in the LDStorymakers conference which is being held in Provo in April. It's a two-day conference at the Marriott where successful LDS writers will share their experience. The prospect of going to this conference added to the "died and gone to heaven" feeling I've had since we moved here.

Since there is a contest associated with the Storymakers conference, I decided to go for it and enter my trilogy in the "first chapter" contest. Almost giddy, I registered for the conference and sent the entries electronically, following the rules as I remembered them. Alas. I was wrong. When the contest chair got around to distributing the entries to her judges, she emailed me with the startling information that I had A) left my name on the entries, and B) the entries were too long, over the limit of ten pages.

Yikes, says I.

I will insert here a little backstory. On the last Tuesday of February, Roger and I were asked to speak in church that Sunday. It was short notice, but we are new in the ward and expected the invitation would be coming, since others new in the ward have been speaking recently. I wrote my talk on Wednesday, and then while Roger was gone Thursday night to do his tutoring, I sat down to check email before tackling a rewrite of the talk. Imagine my heart-stopping horror when suddenly the computer screen went black. I could still hear audio, and see a shadow, but it was too dark to see the cursor. Friday morning we went out and bought a new computer (part of a planned future purchase now accelerated by desperation), asking if they could please print out my talk, which they did, and have the data transferred from the old computer to the new one before Sunday, which they also did.

In the meantime, I had revised my talk and was ready to revise and print Saturday when I discovered the printer wasn't hearing what the computer was telling it to do. A sweet kind man from our ward came over and did his best, but after an hour we decided I could email the document to him and he'd print it out and bring it to me. Which he did. At 10:30. On Saturday night. I have always depended on the kindness of computer geeks, and I always will, but this fellow didn't have Mac experience and apologized all over the place for it. (On Monday I talked to a Mac techie half an hour on the phone and got nowhere, so I went online to the HP website, downloaded some new drivers, and voila - printed material. Happy ending there.)

Back to the contest entries. Maybe since I was new to the contest, the chairman allowed me to A) take my name off the entries, and B) shorten them before re-submitting. So I did. Four times. She kept emailing me back as if I were deliberately causing her great grief and frustration by ignoring her instructions. Which I wasn't. It was that darned new word processing program that I didn't know how to use, which came with the hard drive on the new computer. It repeatedly DID NOT save the changes I made, and the unchanged document was transmitted four times.

Add now the complication that Elin and Randy came to look for a house. They are moving from Illinois back to Utah this summer and stayed here while they conducted their search for a few days. I thought the contest entry problem was solved, but on Tuesday, I kept sending as requested the documents without my name on them. That evening about 9, after I got back to the computer, there was a stern email from the contest chair that said the entries still had my name on them, and if we didn't solve this problem by 6 p.m. my entries would be disqualified. I emailed them once more without my name on them, explaining that I hadn't been at my computer all day to get her deadline, and that I had really been sending them as she requested but my new program was apparently sabotaging me.

That was the last time I heard from the contest chair. I hope she finally found some white-out, or a marker with which to blot out my name. Maybe not. I'm probably disqualified. She warned me. If I'm going to get my trilogy published, it won't be because the first chapters made a big splash in the LDStorymakers contest as I had hoped and dreamed.

I bought a Microsoft Office program the next day and now everything is just fine fine fine with my word processing capability. Changes stay changed. I will now sign up for the three lessons I'm entitled to as a new iMac owner and learn how to use the other features built into this new contraption.

My one consolation about the contest is that I have paid for a consultation with the acquisitions editor at an LDS publishing company who will be at the conference in April. I have pitched books to editors before, and perhaps I can present myself and my work in our best light without having to plead for mercy because the dog ate my homework.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Coming and Going

At the funeral for Roger's Uncle Ross a few weeks ago someone sang the old funeral favorite "Goin' Home," and did a fine job of it, but it made be think about the difference between going home and coming home. It depends on the point of view I suppose. Going is a journey, but coming is the arrival.

When we started looking for a home in Utah Valley, our realtor said, "I'll show you the houses and the Lord will put you where he wants you to be." In that sense, we have just come home. Our new house and the neighborhood in Provo is a little ordinary in terms of similar dwellings and yards, but a lot extraordinary in terms of people. These are deep-down decent people with generous hearts who strive to do good and be good. That's what I want to be when I grow up, so I like being a part of them.

But we like our ordinary house, and lack of stairs is just one of its compelling attractions. It's small enough for two people to take care of, and big enough to accommodate visitors. It was practically the definition of "move-in ready." We had to buy furniture to replace the old stuff that had outlived its usefulness, and we had to replace some 12-year-old carpet and a toilet. We will also replace one window treatment. But we didn't have to paint one wall. We didn't have to buy new drapes. We won't have to landscape anything. All the tchotchkes fit, and I've even found some new ones to keep the old ones company. My tiny art collection is on the walls, like old friends bringing happy memories. One of our Richfield friends said, when she visited us in Provo, "This is YOUR house. This is where you belong."

With not a little guilt, I admit that I already love this house more than I loved the house where I lived for 33 years in Richfield, where I raised my children and wrote my plays and books and got my first gray hair, where I celebrate anniversaries with my husband and greeted a new century. I loved all the shade trees around it, but not the stairs inside it. The house hasn't sold yet, but it will, to some energetic family whose children will add life to the neighborhood, and I won't feel sad. Moving on is what life is all about because there is only one place where we should feel truly at home, and that is with our heavenly parents.

Going and coming are always accompanied with a sigh. Whether we're leaving one place to journey to another, or arriving at a long-anticipated destination, there are tender mercies from above that we must acknowledge, as if we've just been given a little gift of approval, like a pat on the shoulder or a wink or a smile, to let us know we're in the right place at the right time ready for another task that will help us grow and stretch to become what we were meant to be. Going and coming make life rich and teach us to depart from and arrive at the temporary destinations on this serendipitous journey.