Good News, Good Friends, Good Food

Late yesterday, I learned an essay I wrote is a finalist in a national Creative NonFiction Essay contest. From more than 200 submissions, 37 entries were chosen finalists. Oh yeah, friend, it’s major buzz time.

Finalist notification letter about Boulder‐based essay

It gets better. Call it the woo‐woo factor.

The essay in question involves an incident that occurred in Boulder, at a Max Regan writing retreat, seven years ago this week.

Add that I learned the news while in Boulder, at a Max Regan writing retreat, only one day after visiting the location where the essay unfolded. I shiver.

Imagine a traumatized golden retriever in this picture.

Do you remember the blog mention two days ago of my search at the Trident Cafe? My search centered around an abused dog, an old lady, and a coward.

Seven years ago, cobalt blue draped everything in an eerie blanket of communal color: bands, straps, leashes, and booties engulfing Dylan the golden retriever. 

Only two days ago did I notice the cobalt blue of the awning, the Trident logo, and, in a softer blue — always, the sky. 

Besides weird timing, I’ve relearned several other things about the writing life in the past 24 hours.

One is, foremost, persistence.

I’ve worked on this essay for seven long years. It’s been through more drafts and readings than I will admit publicly. It’s been rejected by magazines (both on‐ and off‐line) multiple times.

But I kept polishing this essay because it felt important, universal. Such bigness demands a big audience, I believed. What writers’ essays demand, I learned, is persistent effort. And patience.

Secondly, I’ve learned that what I experienced in my broadcast news days also applies to the writing life. You’ve got to start small, gain your chops, and work your way up the publishing ladder. That’s rarely the truth any writer — young, old, or in‐between — wants to hear, especially in our get‐it‐now‐or‐get‐lost culture. Slow down, writers, and learn your craft. And, always — be easy on yourself. Max preaches the same. Now, I’m listening. In a new way.

If nothing more develops of this particular essay — as in I end up #37 on the finalist list for this contest — I carry away the call for continued persistence and slow‐small‐steady progress. The simplicity of the message is sweet. And easy to pursue.

I celebrated today’s news with a dear friend, a tasty lunch, and a shopping trip to the Tennyson neighborhood of Denver. For the first time, RoadBroad’s chauffeur became a passenger — nice! 

Today became mix‐it‐up day. We had no retreat classes, by design. Why not try a different city, different restaurants, different bookstores — an altogether different approach? BookBar whispered, thanks to a writer friend’s recommendation. Its theme says buy a book, drink a vino.

I did neither. Instead I bought a clever set of writer notecards plus a pair of map earrings. Do you hear the RoadBroads clapping? After my purchase, I turned around and left. Leaving the writer notecards on the counter.

BookBar bookstore: for books and wine, in that order (for some of us).
Little maps of tiny towns cover quirky earrings. Perfect for a RoadBroad!

Oh, no! Guess who now must return to the BookBar? Who knows what else she can buy? Books maybe?

Of course, she’ll be wearing her new pair of RoadBroads earrings.

New Scenes and Memories

This morning I sat in the room on the upper floor of the Boulder Bookstore gazing out of the window. From where I was sitting I could see the tip of the flatirons. While that may not make for historic news in this town, for someone who lives in Houston where the landscape is quite flat, this is magnificent. The picture below was taken when I was just standing on Pearl Street Mall. Everywhere I look I see these wonderful mountains.

I

And then I am reminded why I am here and that is to write. I look away from the mountains and back into myself to see where my mind and creativity are headed.

My thoughts move to the serious arena today as I am reminded that this is the anniversary of the assassination of Bobby Kennedy when he was running for President back in 1968. I was 11 years old at the time and remember being awakened by my mother with the sad announcement. We watched the television news reports. We were saddened. Since I was living in Memphis, Tennessee at the time, we were still recovering from the assassination of Martin Luther King earlier in the year. So many memories of sadness that year.

As a current resident of Houston, Texas, I am also reminded that this is the anniversary of Tropical Storm Allison back in 2001. So much of the Houston area flooded, people were killed in the flood waters, so much property destroyed. Up until Hurricane Harvey last year, this had been the worst local flooding in recent history. It was the first time as a local government employee that I was assigned to help with recovery activities.

These are definitely part of the tapestry that make up my life. They have both helped shape who I am today and what I feel drawn to write about.

Then as I left my writing class and head back for home, I learn of the suicide of Kate Spade. Don’t get me wrong, I am no expert on fashion and do not think I ever owned one of her namesake purses. However, she was a creative and successful woman. She was a mother. She was only 55 years old. There is so much need for good mental health services in this country. Sadly, sometimes even those who can afford good quality health care, cannot escape the hellish depths of depression.

Back at the townhouse, I refocus on my writing. I am preparing to read some of my work at the salon that will take place Thursday evening. I hope I can do justice to the world I see around me and try to make it a better place. Having dinner prepared by two wonderful roommates definitely helps.

As I reflect at the end of this day, I am reminded of a quote by George Bernard Shaw that was borrowed by John, Robert and Edward Kennedy:

There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why.….I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

Off for a good night’s sleep and more writing tomorrow.

Dog Days

Today was about the dogs. They showed up twice in 20 minutes. 

The first dog sighting came in a quick stop on a goat hunt. Ellen swears Diana and I resemble bouncing mountain goats. Have you seen them? They’re the Internet‐famous baby goats hopping around an Alpian farm. When I heard of Boulder’s Laughing Goats cafe, I had to find out if I fit in. Plus get a picture of the goats for Ellen. Maybe I could hop and laugh?

Dogs like goats? Or is it only a water thing?

Instead, I found this.

The dog bowl would seem a disappointment. Instead, I saw a thread.

Writers are, among other things, seamstresses. We search for threads with which to sew a story. Sometimes those threads come from multiple places.

After the Laughing Goat, I had one more thread to find.

I walked to the Trident Cafe in search of a real‐life dog.

In 2011, I witnessed the heroic Dylan. That’s what I dubbed the golden retriever mix who stumbled down the sidewalk then stopped in front of the Trident Cafe. Make that “was stopped at the cafe.” Dylan was draped in a complicated contraption of leashes, harnesses, collars, and dog boots–all colored a cruel cobalt blue. I watched for several painful minutes as his master tugged, dragged, and yanked her dog down the sidewalk before shoving him against the Trident’s outside wall. Dylan laid against the brick building and baked in the sun as his owner went inside the cafe. I watched, horrified. Then walked away. Seven years later, the images — and my choice — haunt.

In planning this writing retreat, I had an odd mission to look for Dylan. Call it one of those things. This time, I’d do the right thing.

The Trident today held no Dylan, of course. Waiting instead was cobalt blue:

Cobalt blue haunts Trident Cafe dog.

Logo. Awning. Sky.

I am glad Dylan was gone. I pray he’s out of pain, no longer defined by cobalt blue.

The Dylan story and all this rambling about dogs and goats in a writer’s life must strike you as weird. If so, I am glad. Because that’s the job of a writer. To make others uncomfortable. Stories do that as we novelists and essayists and others of the writing life gather threads to create stories that impact your life somehow.

Interesting that this shirt chose me this morning. Upon awakening, I lacked full understanding of the importance surrounding today’s mission. The t-shirt’s words best explain this seamstress metaphor.

Weird People. Writers. Artists. Dreamers. Outsiders. Pretty Special People. Can I say that?

I only sought a goat and a dog, never knowing I’d end up with two dogs and a blog post. And a really strange tale about the writing life.

Sherlock would be delighted my dedicated efforts at observation.

Somewhere my mother laughs.

I failed the sewing badge in Girl Scouts.

Writing!

A pocket watch, a turtle, and an elephant walk into a bar.…..wait, that’s not right.

What do a pocket watch, a turtle, and an elephant have in common? I have no idea…yet…but I am using them as writing prompts.

So goes the beginning of our writing retreat which meets in the wonderful Boulder Bookstore.

After our first meeting on Saturday, I spend Sunday morning at the townhouse getting inspired by my three prompts. Finally, the words begin to flow and I am ready for class this afternoon. I also work on story outlines and plot points. I am ready to head out to class.

My roommates already left for their class. Everyone at the retreat is divided into three groups. Melanie and Diana are in the same group (maybe I am a little jealous not to be with them?). Oh well, we will be in some of the same writing groups when we return to Houston.

I enjoyed the few hours I have by myself at the townhouse. I am finally beginning to adjust to both the Boulder altitude and sharing house with two roommates. All three of us have been friends for a while now but have never roomed together before. Three strong, independent, assertive women. We all know what we want and how we want the universe to revolve. It is inspiring to see us adjust to each other. We are dedicated to our writing and to supporting other women writers. The room may be too cold for one or too hot for the other, but we don’t lose focus on why we are here. RoadBroads Unite!

I Uber to the bookstore. Now I’ve Ubered twice in two days. That makes me a pro. I even tipped Howard, the driver.

I walk along the Pearl Street Mall enjoying the shops and all the people. Each block seems to have its own street performer. Guitar players, drum players, even one guy standing on top of a ladder while juggling. The day felt festive.

I stop at one of the many coffee shops to get coffee and water to take with me to class. Then I enter the bookstore, walk up the stairs to the second floor and make my way back to our meeting spot in the middle of the religious/spiritual book section.

Max Regan lectures on different aspects of writing. Several of us read our writing assignments and get good solid feedback. The two hours fly by quickly and class is over.

It is now time to head out for dinner and our first salon. I walk the four blocks to the location of the salon to find a wonderful spread of salad, breads, cheeses, sliced veggies and more. There was fruit for dessert which included some of the best fresh mango I have had in a long time.

We will have several of these salon meetings during the retreat so that every writer shares some of their work with the entire group. Melanie read tonight and did a masterful job. I take a turn at reading next Thursday. I hope I can be as good as Melanie. She has set the bar very high.

Now back at the townhouse, the day is over. I am exhausted but pleased with that I have accomplished today.

Ready to do it all over again tomorrow.

From Car to Bus and Back Again

The lady promised us the Boulder bus service was “quite efficient — very good actually.” We met her as we searched for our first bus stop near 28th and Valmont. Her directions took us to an easy‐to‐find pole with a simple sign, clearly marked:

Such a beautiful sign — and so easy to find!

The morning bus run from our townhouse to the Boulder Bookstore exceeded the stranger’s boast. We arrived early for class.

It marked our first official group working session. Three hours later, we left like we always do after experiencing a Max Regan seminar: eager, confident writers itchy to engage every storytelling possibility that our creative minds can conjure. The experience resembles a church revival, minus guilt and a tithe.

Ellen and I headed to the designated bus stop. Based on our morning experience, we felt confident in our ability to navigate the afternoon ride. Our only worry (at least mine; Ellen trusts me more than she probably should) was getting to the bus stop on time.

We arrived early at the designated location given to us by RTD (Regional Transportation District). The map planner had told us to board the 2:24 p.m. bus arriving at Spruce and Broadway.

A city bus neared us. It was 2:17 p.m.

Not ours,” I told Ellen before I saw our route number splashed across the top front of the bus. With ticket in hand, I waved at the bus driver as he sped by. He shook his head “no” and motioned to the next block. I began to run, waving my arms back at the driver as I yelled at Ellen behind me, “I’ll hold him for you.”

No such luck. The driver boarded three passengers then took off. I stood there in Texas disgust then waved harder and yelled a little louder. Don’t mess with a RoadBroad. Especially when she’s running and frustrated.

Can you see the red RTD sign? It’s behind the tree, peeking out from its upper left branches.

After the drama, we retraced our steps. There’s the bus stop sign we missed. Who looks behind a tree for a bus stop sign? Especially when it’s half a block from where you’ve been told to be? Do you follow the bus company’s specific instructions or do you wander sidewalks looking for hidden signs?

We parked ourselves at the corrected bus stop, crossing our fingers that maybe, maybe we’d get lucky and another #208 would miraculously appear. Then, an elderly man  with a beautiful German Shepherd joined us at the bus stop. He told us that sometimes RTD is early, “but never that early.” He shook his head in disgust. 

Of course, no later bus came. After our new friend got on his bus, Ellen and I looked at each other. What now? We now had no way of getting home because we didn’t have the later bus schedules. Who comes to town with all the city bus schedules in their backpack? Especially when they’re in town as a working visitor?

To the entire mess, Ellen offered one word: Uber.

Uber joins the RoadBroads team.

A minute later, we had Uber on the phone with a driver on the way. We met Frank of the silver Nissan Versa near Walnut and Broadway. We unlocked the townhome, an hour later than a pre‐paid bus coupon had promised.

Of course, Uber cost five times the value of that coupon. But we traveled from where we were to where we needed to be. Time and place no longer mattered.

Now we’re rethinking those books of bus coupons we bought long distance.

Today’s two learnings?

One good experience does not ensure another.

Sometimes cars really are the only way to travel.

****

By the way, the answer to Thursday’s post: the photo is of from high atop the Rio Grande River Gorge Bridge outside Taos, New Mexico. Sara Jackson: you got it — almost! The gorge bridge is a little bit upstream (or is it downstream?) of the Taos Box. Thanks for the guess!

Boulder At Last!

Early this morning we had to leave the wonderful Dream Catcher Bed and Breakfast in Taos to head out for another day of exciting travel. That bed sure was comfortable and the people there sure were nice. Even Jake, the dog and official B&B greeter, was a delight as you can see in his picture.

But our focus is getting to Boulder for the writing retreat. And, on the way, we needed to pick up Diana (another “Sister RoadBroad”) at the Denver airport. I enjoyed the wonderful travel through New Mexico as we were continuously hugged by all of the beautiful mountains. I could stare out at that scenery for hours on end.

Finally we arrived in Colorado. We took our first stop in what looked to me as a typical Colorado town called Walensberg. We visited a coffee shop called Serendipity that was right across the street from a building called “Roof and Dick”. There has to be a good story behind that name. Maybe one day I will write about it.

Inside the coffee shop there was a young gentleman playing the guitar and all of the pastries were homemade. I got the biggest cup of coffee available and Melanie got tea and a blueberry pastry. As people came in to the shop, you could tell everyone knew everyone else. I got the sense that some of the folks went by the coffee shop every morning for their daily caffeine requirement.

All through Colorado the wind blew and Melanie white‐knuckled the steering wheel to keep our car on the road. I once again fulfilled the role of navigator and tried not to forget too many important turns. Driving through places like Pueblo and Colorado Springs the traffic became more and more congested.

Colorado has as much road construction as Texas. At one point we slowed down when we had to pass a four car pile‐up. Then we really slowed down when we had to pass what was only described as “police activity”. We never did find out what that was except that there were 6 to 8 squad cars, one guy with a large camera looking out over a bridge and several other men gathered around. Mystery or mysteries.

Driving around Denver from the Airport to the Brown Palace for lunch I observed that traffic is as bad in Denver as it is in Houston. Of course it is Friday and people want to get away from work to start their weekends.

Once we turned off onto the road that led us into Boulder, traffic once again lightened up. We arrived at our home away from home, dropped off our luggage and made it to downtown Boulder for dinner. This gathering was the official opening of the writing retreat.

On the way to the dinner, I took a picture of Boulder Creek. The weather here is beautiful with no humidity and full sunshine. In Houston the temperature is in the triple digits. Here in Boulder the high temperature today was about 86 degrees. I think I am going to like it here.

Now off to unpack and get some good rest. I have a busy week ahead of me.

Tick Tick Tick Tick…

I’m in trouble now. Serious time trouble. 

Can all this fit into that luggage?

In 8 hours and 15 minutes — yes, I’m counting — I must leave my house. Ellen expects me at her doorstep at 6:15 a‐m. Wake‐up for me comes one hour before.

At least it’s a makeup free drive. We agreed.

I digress.

A nine‐hour‐plus drive to Amarillo dictates our early departure. Land after 6:30 a‐m on any Bayou City roadway, especially US 59 heading to I‐45, and the asphalt clogs up. RoadBroads don’t do slow.

I digress again. My apologies. Look up there at the trashy picture. Can you figure out what’s not yet done?

But wait. Turn around, leave this room, look to your right. You’ll spot three piles of dirty laundry. Head down the hall, you’ll find an unfinished stack of June‐due bill payments. In the kitchen rests a week of RoadBroad blog papers to sort and file. Intensifying the growing overwhelm is the June family calendar: two birthdays followed by Father’s Day times four.

All awaiting these diminishing overnight hours, and this blog post.

At least, Mother Nature cooperates. Boulder weather shows 88 degree highs and 56 degree lows. Amarillo temps for tomorrow mirror Houston, less the coastal humidity. From my childhood I remember the dry heat of the Texas Panhandle. Translation? Manana, even in an air‐conditioned car, demands less. Tank top and shorts. Less equals cooler. For this post‐menopausal chauffeur and her human cargo, cool matters. As in non‐negotiable.

This begs what may be my salvation tonight. Hot weather means fewer clothes equals less to pack. Or should I pack more outfits because wet and sweaty demands dry and cool?

When did I get too old for this kind of silliness? Mind mania has set in, my god.

My brain hurts. I’m tired. And I’ve got miles of things to finish before I sleep. I can’t pull a Scarlett, either. Tonight and Ellen dictate action and completion. So off I go to take care of all the silly busywork a 19‐day RoadBroads adventure demands. Who knows when it’s lights out for me tonight. Besides, I’ll probably go all “journey proud,” as my grandmother used to say, and not sleep a wink.

We’ll see. Instead, I’ll leave you with what I saw on my morning walk.

The trio of deer lolled in the Full Moon morning, the sun insisting this day belonged to the animals.

Can you find the three deer?

I hope to observe similar vistas in the road days ahead. Amarillo or Santa Fe or Taos or Denver or Boulder.

Crossing fingers.

And off to pack.

About this Blog

This blog came to life, courtesy Ellen, who prefers road travel to soaring skyward. She suggested driving to a Colorado‐based writing retreat in June, 2018.

Melanie answered with two words, one of which can be repeated in mixed company. Young children, however, would probably be confused. C’est le vie — it wouldn’t be the first time either of us has been misunderstood.

Post‐writing retreat, we contemplated life sans RoadBroads. Should we continue this blog? We both proclaimed a loud two‐word answer, identical to Melanie’s reply to Ellen’s initial query. Amazing what happens when two women writers get to know each other on the road.

We’ve dialed back the blogging to one post each per week. Periodically, we’ll post a guest blogger — another woman writer, on the road — reporting some kind of trip and what she’s learned.

We can all learn from each other.

Looking forward to the lessons offered via observations, discoveries, and experiences. The good. The bad. The ugly. Adventure is all this, most especially the ugly. 

It’s only roadtrips. With two broads and some special guests.

Join us?