Two for Two

Today I update my recent walking report with a riding one.

Do you remember the tree tale?

Oaks split by lightning — or old age — chopped then ground down to create something new. What, precisely is subject to a writer’s walking eyes.

Intrigued by my starfish observations, DH suggested a look‐see. Up close. From a wheeled perspective. I pulled up to the spot.

Where I’d spied sea creatures, my husband shouted a one‐word rebuttal: “Longhorn!”

I rebutted right back: “Bevo?”

My instinctive answer reflects a distant past at UT‐Austin. Four years of Saturdays at Longhorn football games ended with a national championship. An exercise in giddy jubilation. Even the big‐ass longhorn steer we called Bevo mooed for Earl Campbell and his big‐as‐log thighs as they hightailed into the touchdown zone.

Nowadays, you won’t ever see me at a football game. Multi‐level brain sensitivities—a blog post for another day?—preclude me from returning to that past. But ancient wiring lasts a lifetime, resurfacing at the oddest moments.

I digress. (This happens. Call it post‐menopausal privilege.)

Staring at the flattened remnants of the tree, my eyes studied the woody bits. No cow from this street view. I turned into the parking lot and there he rested, awaiting eyes that could see.

You win, DH. Although I will offer this in my defense: there’s a slight rise in the earth which hides Bevo’s devil horns. You know, like maybe it’s really an Aggie Bevo you’re seeing.

After our couple’s drama, I remained intrigued so drove to the other leveled trees. Could there be longhorns lurking there, too?

Here’s the tree mess I’ve yet to decipher. After working all afternoon to find a creative shape, I gave up on this old oak blob. So I invite your eyes to look.

What see you?

This simple couple‐experience taught me much.

To everything, there’s a learning. This one offered a quick class in New Ways of Seeing.

It’s worth looking again.

Inviting other looks.

Looking longer.

Capturing perceptions and sharing perspectives — both of eyes and I’s — enrich life and expand minds.

Isn’t this what life and the matrix — as illuminated two weeks ago — is all about?

Could this be the writer’s true mission?

Bean vs. Bullet

When I arrived at Houston’s answer to Chicago’s Bean, all I saw was a Bullet.

Houston’s Bean — or Bullet?

Ellen’s post and pictures last week lured me back to the road, this time to the Cullen Sculpture Garden.

Call it a silver siren song. Gleaming, mirrored surfaces screamed out. Release pent‐up creative energy. Retrieve roadtrip memories.

Three years ago, DH and I road‐tripped to Chicago. A swing by its Bean was vital. We were too old for Lollapalooza but never too cranky for playtime. 

Chicago’s Bean lures joy‐filled play.
Blondie holds up the Bean.

Remembering that long‐ago pose, Houston beckoned the same treatment. Same dress. Different hair.

Happy pose notwithstanding, I hated Houston’s Bullet. Immediately.

Can you see the rope‐like steel cable that wraps the granite base? It prevents human touch. Saving Windex money?

Look a little closer. See reflections of cracked eggshell below? Translation: metaphor for an ever‐expanding urban area with its multiple, diverse personalities. Truth?

In the shadows loom omnipresent building cranes. Prepping walls and floors of concrete. Another anniversary this month. Hurricane Harvey; Houston floods. We pour more concrete this storm season?

Step a pace or two to the left. Spy the first thing to love of this Bullet art. A concave side revealing…a ghost? A baby bear?

What do you see?

Lay down this baby and she’s a bed for cradling. Lush bedding mandatory. Not now, though. It’s August in Houston.

Can I sleep here in December? A Christmas present to myself? No. Guards say “no touch! Ever!”

Fine. Playtime calls.

First. Let’s play compare & contrast. Look at the pair of images below. Ask, as I did: when did local art go to the birds?

Sculpture “Bird” frames Bullet
Bean previews H‐town?

Ah, Monday philosophizing about art — be it beans, bullets, bears, or birds — beats writing on a novel.

To life! To distraction!

What’s Your Woman?

Medial Woman screamed “Me!” in the morning.

Afternoon, I yelled back, “Me, Amazon! Next, Mother!”

I saved my loudest roar for “Hetaira” – there’s something about a woman focusing her life on a man that simply does not ring my chimes. Dare I ‘fess up that I heard my dark side shouting?

A weekend drive to Houston’s Jung Center — past a 4‐car freeway pileup (a high five for what lay ahead?) — brought an in‐depth study of these four aspects of the feminine psyche.

Which Archetype(s) are you? (Image copyright Suzan Cotellesse).

The workshop promised this RoadBroad an opportunity to expand her knowledge of female archetypes. My novel demands character exploration. I never anticipated a bonus: riches of personal learning and expansion.

Indulge me as I take an esoteric dive.

Archetypes are, in brief, an imprint all humans carry. In psychological theory, they’re original forms, or models, of people or ideas that others recognize universally.

In “Four Aspects of Woman,” workshop leader Suzan Cotellesse synthesized the groundbreaking work of psychoanalyst Toni Wolff who posited that, across a woman’s life, she dances with four archetypes in both her personal (individual) and non‐personal (collective) relationships. (Authors Mary Dian Molton and Lucy Anne Sikes later expanded on Wolff’s work in their book, Four Eternal Women).

Those four natures include Mother, the nurturer; Hetaira, the relater; Amazon, the striver; and Medial Woman, the wise woman. Suzan’s clear and wise teaching explained each of the four functions in detail.

Which fits you now? (Image copyright Suzan Cotellesse).

Immediately, I slotted my novel’s six primary female characters.

Then. Off came the blinders.

My turn. Personal truth.

Easy at first: Medial Woman. Intuitive. Spirit Seeker. Mysterious. Crone (rising because, at age 61, she’s not very old. Cough. Cough.).

Amended at day’s end: I’m actually a growing Amazon followed by a creating Mother supported by evolving Medial Woman with full‐on‐resistance mode at mention of Hetaira. There’s something about this broad who self‐selects as a man‐slave. Over‐reaction, of course. I’ll explore. Later. 

At workshop’s end, we collaged our learnings. I used a single piece of paper, collaging its two sides.

Amazon roars; Medial Woman meditates (Collage images copyrighted by their respective magazines).

Here’s Afternoon Me. Young again, she strides into the world as an independent Amazonian woman. Her white and black attire symbolize the clarity of her life mission and purpose.

Interesting that Amazon’s stride comes atop Medial Woman’s natural wisdom. The latter’s represented by images of clear water and shining sun, the foundations for a strong feminine force re‐entering the world.

To her left—as a guiding mantra—balances the red and black passion of woman and man evenly weighted with each other, moving upward toward a better future. I hope.

On the reverse appeared the supporting forms, Archetypes #2 and #4, if you will:

Mother creates, Hetaira relates (Collage images copyrighted by their respective magazines).

Mother anchors this side with her Gaia representation, stand‐ins for the gestating/birthing role of the creative feminine. She stands on what she brings to her role: ‘The Woman who Knows what Women Want.” Apt for an author of women’s fiction?

To her right stands Hetaira, daring any challenge. On anything. Closed‐off arms offer aloof confidence. Attractive. Fearsome. Yes, work to do, both of us.

Splitting the page, the four faces of the female archetypes reveal different looks. Each glance, shaded by artfully applied make‐up, reveals as it also hides. Can you see why each face was placed as it was?

Two days after the workshop, I look at these pages and ask—my god, where does this stuff come from?

Medial Woman wants to know.

For Amazon Mother.

∞∞∞∞∞

Suzan will offer this informative class again this fall at Houston’s Spectrum Center (www.SpectrumCenter_Houston.com). You can explore Suzan’s other work and teachings at her website (www.suzancotellesse.com).

Calling Starfish Quinoa

Remember last week’s photo?

Here’s an update:

Welcome to life in the suburbs where a single damaged tree merits the grass treatment. As in mow it down. Its two pesky neighbors must go, too.

While you’re at it, get creative. You know, like a writer. Leave behind a mutant starfish in all three tree places.

Zoom in on the first picture above to see the name on the brick block in the back center of this frame. It reads MATRIX. This word nerd thought immediately of Keanu Reeves and his Neo film trilogy. Taking it a step further (because it’s one of those weird info‐junkie practices of mine), I researched the word on‐line. Dictionary.com cites “matrix” as a biology term: “ground substance.” Chill bumps broke out — the exact new form of this old tree. So ground into the earth, I thought of cooked red quinoa. Can you see it?

Odd metaphors of wood and grains. Actually, there’s nothing odd or weird about my writer eyes. I call them Imagination. In the matrix, who knows what we’re really looking at anyway?

On a lighter note, a photo from a RoadBroad weekend:


No imagination necessary — that truck was pointing at me, but under tow away from me. Odd sensation to drive behind this. And a first in 45 years on the road.

Why I Walk

Observation.

The word beckons, two months — nearly to the day — after a life‐changing encounter with Sherlock Holmes.

This time, nature delivers on my daily morning walk.

Whoa! How did this happen?

No storms last night.

Not even a teeny gust of wind.

Curiousity moved me forward. 

Inspection reveals this tree half‐died across a lengthy period of time. It consumed itself from the inside out, internal erosion concealed beneath solid exteriors.

Disease consumes perfection, beginning its continuing work on lower limbs.

Yet in this ultra close‐up, Life returns.

A ring of healthy bark embraces a circle of green. Star of hope amid a rotting halo. It’s a wink to onlookers who search for meaning in the world surrounding.

Truth hides what the outside never sees. Does that make a lie?

Parallels to the writing world—stories, projects, relationships, life itself—scream back at me. I smile.

Ah, today will be good.

When nature speaks, she roars.

What happens when we see, then listen.

Ellen offered a single word to these pictures: wabi‐sabi. It was a classic “aha!” moment. Wabi‐sabi centers on (quoting Wikipedia here) the Japanese aesthetic that art marries “asymmetry… austerity…and appreciation of …natural objects and processes.”

At her mention, I remember “duende.” It’s a Spanish term for a passionate experience relating to an experience of art or life.

I proclaim Tener Duende for wabi‐sabi! That’s my Tex‐Mex version of ‘to have duende’ for this entire discovery of one vital broken‐yet‐living tree.

Now I know why I walk. To see what to write.

It begins with Observation. Yes, with a capital “O.”

I end on this offering. Dear Deer marked my final photo from the day I observed the living/dying tree.

Can you spot the tribal trifecta?

Papa stands at first base with Mama guarding on second. Baby, new to the fam and our neighborhood since last winter, remains puzzled at third.

I stand at home plate, awed to silence.

Another Month, Another Repair

Thirty days ago, I left this blog to resume life off the road.

I’m back to announce we’re rebirthing RoadBroads in its new form. We’re on the lookout for guest bloggers. But first…

After last month’s 2700‐mile road trip, this morning brought my delayed post‐roadtrip car check. I mentioned an oil change as a good idea for starters. Oh, and don’t forget that gas problem in Boulder.

One receipt & two more to come…

From the sound of his voice (when you hear pregnant pauses from a man, you know he’s talking bad baby news), I sensed trouble. Either me or the bank account.

Oops! Brakes are wearing down.

Ditto those tire treads.

And if you need new tires, you need new struts and shocks.

Ditto that shock news.

Holy moly, RoadBroads! What’s a girl to do?

Yes, I’m considering a new car. This little Subaru is 7 years old with 63,000 miles. Not much as such autos go but we’re looking at $3613, max, in repairs (the mechanic swears). And this follows $1778 for a new air conditioning compressor before we left Houston for Colorado six weeks ago.

Yes, a plug for Consumer Reports. They’re a shopper’s best friend.

What RoadBroads don’t talk about with car trips is the vehicle itself. Silly little things like maintenance. Wear and tear. Cost. Ugh.

Now, DH and I are debating whether to replace my car. Much as I hate to saddle up with a monthly car payment. That’s another loud fat Ugh!

But it IS fun reading about these new cars. Can you believe some wheels run over $100,000? Who would pay that for something that depreciates rapidly during your very first ride?

I digress. Majorly.

It’s been a busy month in Lake Sugar Land with eye problems, honorable mentions, and the never‐ending litany of daily life distractions. The novel is now fully outlined, plus all 28 chapter openings and endings are written out. 50 pages, folks! Equivalent to a Novel PhD.

Oh, I owe you blog post guidelines. We’ll keep it simple. We’re looking for weekly guest posts from women RoadBroads. We require:

  1. 300–600 word posts on a road trip you’ve taken, planning to take, or want to take. The unique is most encouraged!
  2. Brief bio of yourself (2–3 sentences).
  3. Headshot (full color preferred).
  4. Pictures to accompany your blog post (pictures you’ve taken or photos with copyright approvals).
  5. Posts will be edited to maintain RoadBroad blog criteria.

Ellen and I will co‐review guest blog submissions for possible posting.

Also, we each will resume our own posts with a Slow Blog approach. For me, that’s once a week.

I have a novel to finish. December 16 is my deadline to complete the full first draft. Please hold me to that.

It’s good to be back.

Fighting Altitude with Attitude

The Rev. Pat Clark

NOTE: Today’s guest blog post comes from fellow writer, The Rev. Pat Clark. She’s had 10 days to review her 10‐day writing retreat in Boulder. 

A Presbyterian minister and spiritual director, Rev. Clark is currently writing a book about surviving stage 4 cancer through faith and kindergarten art.

We’re particularly grateful for Pat. Every week, she graciously hosts the Wednesday Writers in her home. Her brave struggle with cancer and her creative determination to fight back with art and words inspires us all. Thank you, dear friend! — Melanie & Ellen


Fighting Altitude with Attitude

It was no easy task to get to Boulder for Max’s writing retreat. First off there was a luggage factor – CPAP machine, computer, printer, art supplies, journals, a notebook with source material and another that had been green‐lined. That means decorated with a LOT of things I had to change for the next step in getting it published. Add to that clothes and toiletries. I felt triumphant that I made it on the airplane in one big bag with a backpack.

We were all excited to meet one another at the Dunshanbe Teahouse on opening night. We tried exotic foods, sat outside beside a rushing river and smelled the fragrance of a million roses that lined the path to the entrance. Oh, the anticipation of writing!

The climate was a wonderful gift for the seven of us from Texas, or so I thought. The problem came when I tried to walk very far. In only a few minutes I was huffing and puffing and having to stop on nearby benches sprinkled all over town.

Things worsened when I tried to sleep. I didn’t get much. Altitude! Those beautiful mountains have a downside. Finally I tried a tincture of CBD that helped me relax but not sleep. The retreat became a test of endurance more than a retreat. I can do this! became my mantra.

Ready for another small group session at the Boulder Bookstore.

Nonetheless I finished editing my book, wrote the final chapter, and launched a new endeavor to write about travel. There were amazing moments – insights during a Max Regan lecture, the beauty of peony bushes, the funkiness of Pearl Street with its flame throwers and musicians, the Hotel Boulderado, meals with other writers, solid help with my work, and the amazing writing that was shared in our salons every other night. I loved it!

I decided after the first day or two that I could lie around and whine about my sleep issues, or I could just do what I came to do–learn, write and have a good time. That is exactly what I did!

Things are rarely perfect in life, but I do have a choice in how to respond to them. Now that I am safely home in Houston, I am profoundly grateful for the writers’ retreat and everything I learned and experienced in Boulder.

I am also grateful for a good night’s sleep in my own bed.

A Journey Ends…

…as a new one begins.

Details on all that later. For tonight — after 21 hours of driving across three states in two days — I’m home, ready to sleep in my own bed after 17 days and 2703 miles.

A lot of numbers to absorb, eh?

Maybe that’s why I’m e‐x‐h‐a‐u‐s‐t‐e‐d. But, overall, it’s good tired.

Rummaging through Larry McMurtry’s bookstore in Archer City may be key.

To the right here is one corner of one room of one of his treasure‐packed stores. All are used books and/or literary classics and collectibles. Imagine looking at row after row of 14‐foot high bookcases; pile after pile of reading treasures. Overwhelm rises in your bones. The smell of old books wafts up to your nose and you remember when you first discovered the joy of the written, printed word. Intensity grows, the feelings of overwhelm magnified by more books than you’ve ever seen in one place. Magnify the overwhelm by a factor of ten.

I’m proud of myself — I left Larry’s place with only four books.

That’s because this was my fourth bookstore in four days. My car already has two bulging sacks of books awaiting my reading delight. Such joy, however, can only be indulged after unpacking, laundry, groceries, errands, phone calls and everything else I walked away from last month.

Why does May seem like two years ago now? Why does my recently‐finished writing retreat feel like an alternate universe?

Alas, tough questions and mixed‐up senses for a late night. Meanwhile, my bed beckons. I anticipate a wonderful night of sleep on the one mattress that knows all my body’s nooks and crannies.

Tomorrow, one last look at my recent past with a preview of my blogging future.

Tonight marks my shortest RoadBroad post. You understand why?

Adieu, Boulder

Tomorrow, Ellen and I awake before sunrise and say “adieu” to Boulder, exchanging our temporary abode for Home.

Despite two enchanting weeks here, I miss the comfort, familiarity, and routines of my Sugar Land home. Most especially life with my kind and generous DH! Still, there’s a magic that only Boulder can generate. That’s a major admission for this Taos passion‐ista.

That heart‐thumping magic manifested itself again today, this time in hyper‐productive form. Ellen and I wrote like storytelling fiends all day. I took a short break to lunch with special family members from Ft. Collins (shout‐out to ML, D & E) and returned to complete significant progress on my WIP (‘work in progress’).

Surrendering to the Boulder siren call of words, words, words…

Perhaps we’re both desperate for a few more hours of clear, clean storytelling. Remnants of a tropical wave await our Sunday return to Houston. But first, any worries surrounding rainfall yet to arrive comes after what lies immediately ahead: 20 hours of weekend driving across three states. How do you hold onto the magic of a writing retreat amid the potential train of contained chaos coming toward us?

It begins with remembering. And here are mine — to remember tonight, across the next two days, and onto the life yet to come — the most powerful learnings of a ten‐day writing retreat. 

  1. While it’s trite, it’s that because it’s true: persistence pays off. Evidence: seven years of periodic work on a single essay yields finalist status. This pumps the ego to keep working hard on this novel that’s talked to me for 11 long, busy years.
  2. The craft of writing requires a lifetime of learning and devotion, a commitment I renewed in these Colorado mountains. Those who claim mastery follows 10,000 hours of practice are naive. If you’re good at storytelling, mastery never comes because you refuse to stop learning.
  3. Community enriches a writer’s life and all her projects. To wit:
Houston’s Wednesday Writers reunited again!

Members of the Wednesday Houston group celebrate crafting stories together since January, 2017. The Boulder retreat marked the first time we five have bonded in such an extended, intensive writing experience. Our writing Wednesdays will never be the same!

It’s one thing to have a writing community in the town where you live. I’m beyond blessed to be involved with three such special groups.

The Boulder Fiction writing group enjoys corner porch dining at Chatauqua DIning Hall. How did all my tribes land here for such a special dinner?

To come to a writing retreat in another state and discover six storytelling soulmates is beyond a blessing. It’s grace in action, a concept our beloved Max Regan talks about. It’s a grace that comes not because you seek it. Instead, this kind of special grace finds you and touches you gently — and silently — on your shoulder when you’re not looking. Sweet.

4. Living a life as a full‐time writer is worth the energy it demands. I return to Houston changed and committed. There’s a project awaiting my completion with an audience awaiting my story and a supportive crowd cheering every mile marker I pass. In eleven years of working on my debut novel, I’ve never felt so energized. It’s that Boulder air.

For the light‐hearted learnings, it’s:

  1. Friends can remain friends even after sharing house for ten days.
  2. Colorado trees and my nose are not friends. Not going to happen. Ever.
  3. Never buy unbranded gasoline. Unless you want a coach rescue.
  4. Whatever you do, don’t kill the dog. Oops, that’s a big sorrysorry to my ex.

One of these blog posts, I’ll figure out how to do bulleted numbers that look right on your screen. That’s a big sorrysorry to you, dear reader.

For now, it’s dinnertime followed by packing all those things I had to haul to the mountains. All those vitals I never touched.

Bedtime will be late tonight, like another evening two weeks ago. Alas, I never learn. When sleep comes, it will no doubt offer another “journey proud” evening. Allie smiles from her perch.

Two days of driving is enough to put anyone on edge a little, eh? Begging forgiveness in advance from Ellen, fellow RoadBroad and car mate. Next I suggest: let’s go home, renewed.

Our stories await.

Privilege Writing for Ten Days

NOTE: This is the second in a series of guest blog posts. Today’s guest blogger is Diana Galindo, who we lovingly dubbed our newest RoadBroad. She shared our Boulder house after riding with us from Denver. Together, we three journeyed all over Boulder, traveling by car, bus, or foot depending on the road crisis du jour (and yes, there were several). 

RoadBroads @ Ozo’s: (from left to right) Melanie Ormand, Ellen Seaton, and Diana Galindo.

Diana Galindo was born in Cochabamba, Bolivia. She divides her time between her beloved Cochabamba and the home she shares in Houston with her daughter and husband. Diana is writing a historical fiction novel inspired by her Bolivian family. She also blogs about food and health, sharing recipes and menus as a path to wellness at www.colormyfood.com. 

Thank you, Diana, for joining our RoadBroads blog today!

- Melanie and Ellen


Privilege Writing for Ten Days

Effusive red, pink, yellow and white roses led up to the Dushanbe Teahouse. The beautiful ceramic tile exterior and hand‐carved columns, the workmanship of more than 40 Tajik artists, make it a perfect setting for creative energy. Presented to Boulder’s by its sister city Dushanbe (capital of Tajikistan), it upholds the ancient tradition of Central Asian teahouses as gathering places. Just as travelers of the Silk Road met in teahouses across Tajikistan, to our table this summer evening arrived travelers from the east and west coasts, from Texas and Colorado. The exotic cuisine with flavorprints from around the globe was a sensory feast and invited our imagination. The stage was set. For the next ten days this Writer’s Retreat put our identity as writers in the center of our lives.

2nd floor area of the Boulder Bookstore

The next morning I arrived at the Boulder Bookstore. Where Dushanbe Teahouse had delighted my senses and teased my imagination, the Boulder Bookstore gave me a sense of homecoming. My soul stirred as I entered the old building lined with bookshelves, Books beckoned; I couldn’t resist stepping closer to the shelves and noticed that dozens of books had “Staff Recommends” notes. Fascinated I quickly skimmed a few, but conscious that the first writing session was beginning, I headed upstairs scanning bookshelves that surrounded me every step of the way to the far end of the second floor. In an enclave to the right was a long table. Max Regan, our writing coach, greeted each of us with his characteristic enthusiasm.

Max invited us to practice active deep listening, to put presence before productivity, to consider mastery as a curved line of constant pursuit and continuation as accomplishment. He had us list things we’ve accomplished as writers thus fueling the positive from the onset.

Capturing writing wisdom from the one‐and‐only Max Regan.

Oh the joy and gratitude for the next 10 days! We explored cartography, mapping out our writing projects, from utopian maps where “here be dragons”, to navigational maps with intentional waypoints for a readers’ journey. “Sometimes we need to explore vast territories before we can draw our map. The exploration is what changes us as writers. The journey is what changes the reader,“ said Max.

Our days had a rhythm – Small Group sessions, extensive chunks of personal writing time, one‐on‐one coaching with Max.

In Small Group we worked on dialogue, character and setting.

What is the moment that matters in each chapter?

What experience do we want our reader to have?

How do we use dialogue in this scene?

How is the protagonist transformed?

We practiced experiential techniques and tapped into the braintrust of the group to strengthen a story, solve a problem, flush out a character.

Evenings we shared dinner and participated in a time‐honored salon. Beginning in the Enlightenment, salons were artistic and intellectual gatherings. The sense of community and trust made our current salons a highlight of the retreat. Writers would read from their text, ask an author question and receive feedback to help shape and strengthen their work.

As our Writer’s Retreat came to an end, Max asked us to reflect on how we spent the week. “ What did you learn about yourself as a writer? What works? What doesn’t?”

He invited us to integrate the next steps of our project with a calendar and reminds us, “Breathe into the idea that not everything is a book.” In closing, Max said, “Do not lose what you found here in Boulder. If you lose it, it’s a choice,” then left us with a quote from Mark Nepo: Effort only readies us for grace as grace can never be planned or willed only entered.

I entered grace these past ten days and I stay focused on continuation as accomplishment, profoundly grateful for the benefit of Max’s teaching.

If this amazing opportunity sounds tempting, registration for the 2019 Boulder Writer’s Retreat opens July 1st. Please find details here:

http://www.hollowdeckpress.com/writing-classes/writing-retreats/