Has it really been two years? Just over two years ago in May of 2018 I retired from my long long time career as a Social Worker and set off to become a full-time writer and artist. One of the first things I did was to take a road trip with Melanie to Boulder, Colorado to attend Max Regan’s Writing Intensive. It was magical. Pearl street mall, Boulder Bookstore, the Flat Irons. I attended classes with Max at the Boulder Bookstore and then we met at the Boulder Dushanbe Tea House for one-on-one meetings. No matter where I was in Boulder, I could look out and see the Flat Irons. I was happy. I was writing. My future and my next career were in front of me.
This is how our blog, RoadBroads was born.
Two years later I wanted to go back to Boulder. I wanted to revisit the Boulder Bookstore and the Pearl Street Mall. I had made reservations for living arrangements and paid a deposit for my space at the Max Regan June Writing Intensive. Then Covid-19 happened. Travel cancelled. The Writing Intensive moved to an on-line class. There are still approximately 20 of us who want to engage in this writing exercise. Those of us who want to develop our writing craft skills are willing to meet online and share our collective wisdom. Share our stories, exchange ideas, and listen to one another. But it won’t take place in Boulder. Instead of looking out at the Flat Irons, I will look out at my living room. I will see all of the wonderful writing companions via Zoom. Little boxes with heads inside of them.
Online is not as good as being there; however, it’s what I can do for now. I love my writing community. I value their input. I will enjoy spending time with them for the next 10 days even if I’m not in Boulder. This promises to be a new adventure in my writing life.
A year ago on May 23, 2018, I wrote and published my first blog as a RoadBroad! Actually it was my first blog post ever. Thanks to Melanie for having the wonderful idea to start a blog. I became an official RoadBroad and have been writing about my journey ever since. The first picture I ever included on a blog was a picture of one of my cats. I bought a new suitcase to make a road trip to Boulder, Colorado for one of Max Regan’s writing retreats and Hannah (the cat) was trying to figure out how to pack herself into the trip.
I still hold fond memories of meeting with other writers, having writing meetings at the Dushanbe Tea House and gazing at the Flatiron Mountains. I am including some of my favorite photos from that first road trip in this blog post. This was my first trip to Colorado and can’t wait to return.
May 2018 was also notable because that was when I retired from a 25 year career of being a Social Services Administrator for local government. I had been either working, going to school, being a part-time adjunct faculty member, going to school some more, etc., since the age of 15. I completed all requirements to secure a pension and health care into my senior years. It was time for a change.
Now my entire life revolves around creativity. Either I am engaging in creative activities or I am appreciating the creative work of others. The Vincent Van Gogh exhibition is still going on at the Museum of Fine Arts. I have to go at least one more time before it ends.
Since May 2018 I have been a full-time writer. Sometimes I submit a piece of writing and it gets accepted. Sometimes it doesn’t. I keep reminding myself that I am not personally being rejected. I merely wrote a story or essay that was not accepted for a particular journal. I continue to work on a book about Memphis, Tennessee in the 1960s and 1970s.
I am also a visual artist. I’m a photographer and I work with collage. In my spare time I take art classes at the Glassell and this summer I will add a class at the Art League of Houston to my list of visual studies.
There was one not so fun part to this past year; I discovered I had arthritis. Then I had physical therapy, bariatric gastric sleeve surgery, got to where I could walk a lot again and enjoyed many classes in water aerobics at the local YMCA.
I’ve read a lot of books and attended many lectures by other writers and authors. I love hearing other writers talk about how they write and what their creative process looks like. I heard Annie Lamott who was absolutely inspirational. Getting to hear Annie Lebovitz talk about her life as a photographer was fascinating.
My Dear Friend and I have walked many miles through the Museum of Fine Arts, The Museum of Natural Science, Bayou Bend, Rienzi and various other art galleries. We have attended performances at the Alley Theatre, Houston Ballet, Houston Symphony, etc. We have traveled to the beach over the winter holidays and Austin for a sister writer’s book launch.
As a RoadBroad, I have enjoyed my creative journey and love this new phase of my life. I am going to continue my journey as a RoadBroad and look forward to sharing everything I see and learn with you. Here’s to another RoadBroad Year!
For years, the writings of Stephen King have enchanted, even as they terrified. The Stand. Carrie. The Shining.
DH and I planned our summer playtime around two creative locales: Boulder, CO and Portland, OR. From Boulder, he insisted on a quick jaunt to his old childhood haunt — Estes Park, CO. I replied, Stanley Hotel.
My mind raced to memorable scenes from the film made from King’s novel, The Shining.
”Redrum” scrawled in blood across a bathroom mirror.
Jack Nicholson taunting, “Here’s Johnny!” through a cracked-open door.
A hundred sheets of paper filled with a single sentence, repeated over and over — “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
Memory reminded me the movie was filmed at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. What could be more fun than seeing the mirror, the door, the paper.
Then we did. Saw the paper.
What you can’t see in the typewriter photo is what’s beneath the space bar. A red cautionary note warns the tempted: CAUTION! Old! Do Not Touch!
This third sign confirmed our suspicions. Nothing was as it seemed with either the hotel or the movie.
The first was the entry fee.
To enter the hotel parking lot — guest, visitor, whomever — you discover a $10 entry fee that “you only pay one time but you receive this $5 gold coin which you can use in our gift shop or restaurant.”
You mean the Stanley keeps $5 to stave off the unwanted, the cheap, and the wise.
We discussed leaving. As we did, a line of cars grew to the street. The parking gate behind the guard was down. He glared at us as DH and I strategized. My writerly curiousity won, we paid the ten and drove in, both of us irritated to a slow burn.
Seventy minutes later into our tour (another $20 per person, the reduced senior rate) and I seethed.
The movie was filmed in Oregon, not Colorado.
Because a different hotel was used, there’s no basement bar. No maze either. Except…
…for this: what the Stanley built itself. Three years ago. How many years is that post-movie?
Room 217 is where Stephen King slept the night he conceived The Shining. Hotel officials asked the movie’s director to change the room number to 237. Here’s why:
Room 217 never has a posted number. Novel readers are smart people. They figure things out. Eventually.
Kimg hated the movie so much, he helped to fund a later mini-series of his novel. Filmed at the Stanley.
It is a beautiful, old hotel. With a rich heritage. And a clever marketing staff.
But now, when I think The Shining, bile fills my throat. I remember what the marriage of marketing and money-making can create.
I hope Stephen King gets a cut of the Stanley dough.
I got mine. It’s a $5 gold coin. Forgot to use it when I bought that #217 room marker.
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’).
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 afterwhat 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.
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.
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.
Community enriches a writer’s life and all her projects. To wit:
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.
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:
Friends can remain friends even after sharing house for ten days.
Colorado trees and my nose are not friends. Not going to happen. Ever.
Never buy unbranded gasoline. Unless you want a coach rescue.
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.
Allergy: Welcome to the yellow pollen and white wispys now attacking Boulder. Even my car has taken on new hues.
I call them “white whispys” because they don’t stay still for photos. Instead, these feathery bits float around in the air like ephemeral angels (devils?), unnoticed until the sneezing and red eye begin. I thought they were pretty. Until Thursday morning.
It was my fifth morning of four mile walks. A speedwalk on Elmer’s 2 Mile Path devolved into sudden paroxysms of sneezing. Why am I sneezing? Then the teary gushers with itchy red eye began. On my return to the townhouse, I noticed the yellow pollen blanketing my orange car. When I caught me in the bathroom mirror, even I was afraid.
The delightful millenial barista at the Pekoe Sip House proclaimed similar agonies when I explained my junkie eyes. She said blame the oaks for the yellow pollen then curse the dogwoods for the white whispys.
The why of the what matters less than the cure. First, it’s load up on tissues, nose sprays, and eye drops. Second, it’s leave town to head south where after 34 years, my body is well-acclimated to Houston’s tree floaties.
Auto: My Subaru Forrester died in traffic only hours after the allergy attack. It took Magic Max of our Summer Writing Retreat fame only minutes to get the car (and its two women travelers) safely out of rush hour traffic and parked back at the townhouse.
I met my two BNF’s, as in Best New Friends, this morning: Eric from Triple A who linked with Phil of Hoshi Motors, Yes, that’s two bald commercial endorsements. How many mechanics have you met who will build a list of best gas stations in town to help you avoid another misadventure?
Everything checked out: battery, starter, alternator, transmission, blah-blah-blah. Even my homeboy mechanic was perplexed, and he did a thorough car check pre-road-trip. Best guess of these three mechanics? Bad gas from an off-brand service station and a quirky car unused to mountain driving in summer temperatures.
Two learnings emerged from today’s RoadBroad misadventure. If you’re a woman, both can help you.
Don’t buy gasoline from off-brand stations, especially when you’re on the road. Brand means the major oil companies such as Conoco, Exxon, Shell, etc. What’s four cents a gallon saved today when the engine quits tomorrow?
If you’re stuck in traffic with a malfunctioning car engine, try these Magic Max tricks, in this order:
1. Turn off the engine.
2. Pump the gas pedal twice (or more, but don’t flood the engine).
3. Turn on the engine until it “catches.”
4. Rev the engine for several minutes.
5. Your car should be drivable now. If not, your car has a different problem.
Thank you, Max Regan!
Aspergas: The morning’s car drama preceded our regular two-hour small group writing class. Only at 12 noon did I realized I had not eaten since consuming a mango popsicle at our Thursday night salon. At a quirky Pearl Street restaurant, I ordered an egg white fritatta.
What you don’t see is the surprise vegetable sandwiched amid the gorgeous arugula that tops the crepe-style egg white underneath.
You know this vegetable as asparagus.
I call it Aspergas. It should be regulated by the E.P.A. as a toxic substance. It is the most awful vegetable known to sentient beings. This truth has something to do with my mother’s inability to undercook it, causing aspergas fumes to permeate our entire house. For days. As a result: I. Do. Not. Eat. Aspergas. Or Asparagus.
Only after I bit into a thick wad of arugula on my fork did I taste the Aspergas. But it tasted different, and it was OMG good. I left nothing on the plate.
I reported the experience to DH. He was stunned. A first. After 34 years.
Art: Whlle eating my Aspergas surprise, I made art.
When I had entered the restaurant, I noticed a crayon basket on the table behind the restaurant hostess. I asked for two crayons, plus a puzzle page. She did a double-take. Not many 61-year-olds request art time while dining?
I thought of Pat Clark, my dear writer friend who taught me about how art can heal during rough times. I needed ease after my allergy/auto misadventure. Pat’s clever Kindergarten Art morphed into my Crayon Art today.
I felt so much better when I finished.
Thank you, Pat!
Aspergas and Art.
A healing combination after Allergies and Autos.
P.S. My longest post as a RoadBroad. Forgive the windy! I hope you’ve enjoyed this read, even as you’ve learned something. That’s our goal.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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:
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.
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.
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.
I am now a full-time writer. I have waited a long time to say that and it feels good. Right now, I am getting ready to head out on a long road trip to Boulder, Colorado with one friend, books, journals, lap top, and hopefully at least a little good sense. My friend, Melanie, is traveling with me. I am packing the books and journals. We will have to wait and see about the good sense.
The cat in the picture will try to go with me, but she will stay at home. Many thanks to Jim and my great team of house-sitters and cat-sitters who will look out for everything while I am gone.
Two months ago, I was a full-time Social Services administrator for a local governmental organization. I was your “tax dollars at work”. During these last two months, I have had surgery (which restricted movement for six weeks), then I had to speak in front of a crowd at a cemetery for the placement of a historical marker, then I had a major water leak in my home thanks to my upstairs neighbor, then I retired from the governmental bureaucracy.
I had planned to spend my first week of retired life in my night gown, sleeping a great deal, reading and watching junky television. Instead, I was visited daily by contractors and maintenance personnel who repaired walls, ceilings and floors damaged by the water leak. Fortunately, within 2 weeks all home repairs were complete…all except for the dust. Thanks to a great team of professional housekeepers for helping me to clean up.
Needless to say, I still haven’t had my week of sleeping, reading and couch potatoing and now I don’t have time. I am Boulder Bound! Melanie and I are attending a writing retreat in Boulder. Enroute, we will stop and visit a few sites. It’s my first trip to Colorado and I want to see as much as possible.
What does it mean to be Boulder Bound? It means I no longer work in an office. I am a writer. I can write at home, at a coffee shop, or while gazing at whatever mountains I keep hearing everyone talk about in Boulder. Hopefully by the time I return home, I will know the names of the mountains.
Being Boulder Bound means I am hitting the road to see what there is to see. On the road. I almost feel like Jack Kerouac using the “essentials of spontaneous prose” to outline my journey. Before, during and after the retreat I will share my existence and experiences with a couple of talented writers exploring the depths of our visions and talents. Unlike Kerouac, I will probably skip the substance abuse and sexual experimentation.
Okay, for anyone who does not know about Jack Kerouac and his book On the Road which was published the year I was born, please Google now. I will wait.
I have several writing projects, but while in Colorado, I will be working on one in particular. This project involves my writing about growing up in Memphis, Tennessee during the 60’s and 70’s. Like now, it was a time of great change in both me as a person and in the society and culture that surrounds me.
Wish me luck with my journey! I will keep you posted on everything (or almost everything) that happens.