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.

Helpful Signs Along The Way

In Melanie’s latest post, she discussed her walking road trip through nature and her observation of trees. Today my road trip will be somewhat different.

I begin this journey by traveling through a concrete jungle that is under construction. Going around road construction is a full-time hobby for anyone who lives in the Houston area. This little jaunt just happens to be along I‑10. I am on my way to visit the Swedish jungles of IKEA.

A friend and I made the journey together. He is an Engineer. If you have never traveled through IKEA with an Engineer, then you really don’t know what you are missing. I will explain as I go along.

To begin with, journeying through IKEA is like going through life with all kinds of assistance, hints, and signposts. From the moment you walk in the front door, you are immediately directed to go up. Go up, dear friend, into the spectacle that is Swedish furniture and housewares.

Then as soon as you reach the pinnacle of the escalator, you begin to see arrows directing you as to the path you are to take.

Where Dorothy and Toto followed the yellow brick road, the Engineer and I followed the white arrows painted on the concrete floor. Do I ever wonder on where I am going in life? I just have to take a trip to IKEA and am told what direction to take at all times.

Of course I am with an Engineer who can figure a lot of things out for himself. He can look at a map and tell where we should go next.

Since the Engineer has a Ph.D, he can even find his way between the Showroom and the Marketplace. He is very smart indeed! Then I noticed that if we followed the arrows on the floor, it will take us on the same pathway as shown on the master floor map and I almost feel as smart as an Engineer.

Actually we have decided to spend the morning at IKEA because I am rearranging my home. I have way more books than I have bookcases to hold them. Also, I have two closets that are completely disorganized. I am quite sure that if I just organize my closets, then the rest of my life will follow suit. Doesn’t that make sense? Also, since I have recently retired, I am motivated to purge my home of all the stuff I have retired from and no longer suits me. I hope I wind up with more room for lots more books and art supplies!

For the novice shoppers at IKEA, the store is great about providing the proper tools to find, measure and write down everything you need. When you travel with an Engineer he comes with his own high precision shopping tools as is demonstrated below:

Of course once all is said and done, it is important to keep a view on the big picture of your life. Again, IKEA helps with this.

From this perspective, you can see all of the tools that are there to help you and all the options you have for arranging and decorating your existence.

If any of this does not help you, then you can simply go home. Your cat will tell you to get back to work on your writing and stop goofing off.

Life can be so simple, if we will only let it.

Until next week.……

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/

Self-Care Matters

My assignment at 7 p.m. last night was to sleep for a few hours then awake and post here.

It’s 4:30 a.m.

Ahem.…that’s a little later than planned. Yet, the last 9.5 hours marked my best sleep of the past two weeks. And I’m still groggy. As in my body’s not done with its 40 winks tonight/this morning. 

There’s a message here: my body needs a major rest. Two stimulating weeks involving a 1300-mile road trip and an hyper-invigorating writing retreat will cry out for good sleep at some point. That point came last night. 

But…it’s my turn to post on RoadBroads. I promised Ellen.

I arise out of commitment, devotion, and frustration. Continued sleep will elude until the third necessary is answered.

Thus, dear reader, I offer preliminary pictures from yesterday’s Denver excursion. They provide partial explanation for the good-tired.

Tattered Cover in Denver: more stacks than any reader can count.
Take a guess: how many new books are stuffed in this one sack?
Done lingering, aunt and niece head to the ice cream stand, walking toward Denver’s handsome skyline.
Olinger mortuary become Linger restaurant when new owners blacked out the “O.”

Linger Restaurant was a must-stop for a pair of ladies with a Memphis funeral business in the family heritage. We refilled our water from brown bottles once used for organ storage and ordered drinks from an old metal patient chart. Toe tags used to mark the drinks but they were gone yesterday. Too macabre a memory for some? I missed that part of the adventure.

It’s back to bed I go, the call of duty answered, potential guilt assuaged.

The CPAP lets a snore machine sleep well.

Tomorrow — oops, make that today’s — post will focus on my learnings from a writing retreat. First is how to manage this ongoing body-mind hum.

What a time for my writing life!

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.

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.