Monthly Archives: June 2008

Mourning the trees

Ran across this sweet little oral essay at the NPR site and I couldn’t believe how much it approximates the angst I felt last week when my sort-of-neighbors (they live behind us but only the corners of our backyards meet, and just barely at that) had two of their oldest and tallest trees chopped down. I didn’t think the trees looked as if they were diseased or dying, though in retrospect I suppose they had been looking a little sparse these past several summers. But the top halves of the trees were still leafy and full, and they served as a room divider of sorts between the neighbors’ yard and ours. I had grown accustomed to the trees’ guardian status during the eight years we have lived in this house. Winters here in northeast Ohio are stark and bleak; the naked deciduous trees and shrubs mean that we—my immediate neighbors and I—all have a direct view onto each other’s houses and yards. Each winter I find myself looking forward to late spring and summer, when the trees are in full leaf and provide enough privacy so that I can dress in my bedroom of an evening without shutting the blinds.

So the trees are gone, and now I miss them. I wish I’d appreciated them more when they were still there. (Kind of a metaphor for the people in my life, I think.)

 bare tree in winter


Words as delicious as food

Just came across this quote about cooking (and eating). It made me very hungry:

Feeling, sniffing, chopping, sizzling, grilling, frying, roasting, baking, tasting, licking, sucking, biting, savouring and swallowing food are pleasures that would, to put it mildly, be a crime to miss out on. And to that buzz, the satisfying tingle that goes down your spine when you watch someone eating something you have made for them, and you have one of the greatest joys known to man.” ~Nigel Slater, Appetite

C’est la belle France

Maggie is in the south of France doing her semester abroad and by the looks of her blog she is having the time of her life. She is based in Pau, a town situated at the base of the Pyrenees. The study abroad organization arranges weekly getaways to different parts of the country so that students have a chance to explore the most interesting and culture-rich cities. Last weekend she and some fellow students took the train to Nice. The photos she posted are beyond beautiful. I am posting some here:


Maggie (on right) with her friend Metta


Flower marketFlower stall


Nice streetscapeNice streetscape


Old Nice View of Old Nice

 fruit stallFruit stand

Ripe peaches Have you ever seen more gorgeous peaches?


Midlife crisis, multiplied

I don’t read Judith Warner much these days because even though she’s a very good writer, her views on gender grate on my nerves, but this essay really impacted me. Not sure why. Certainly I identify with her thought (during the Faulkner seminar) that she wished she could “stay [t]here forever”. Is there any better mode of escapism than sitting in a classroom whilst a favorite professor waxes eloquent on the virtues of a piece of literature? So is what I am feeling envy (jealousy even?) over the fact that, like me, she loved the written word from a tender age but then, unlike me, went on to pursue and excel in a writing career? No, I think the reason I am feeling so deflated is because I read this and think, How could I have deluded myself into believing I could ever get anything published? My writing is SO mediocre compared with this. Common wisdom says that constant consumption of exemplary writing is essential in making one a better writer, but it just makes me feel incompetent.


It’s still too hot

The storms blew the infernal humidity away, for now, but the temperature is still in the upper 80s and it’s too hot to work in the garden or even sit out on the front porch to read. And the heat seems to turn my brain to mush, so much so that I can’t come up with a coherent thought. Oh well…it’s as convenient an excuse as any for writer’s block.

Perhaps it’s the heat and the accompanying inertia that hot weather instills in me, but I feel a desperate longing to get away. A mere week, or even a long weekend…someplace that isn’t here…would do me a world of good. Nearly everyone I know is either on vacation or in the midst of planning one. The girls are in Myrtle Beach with their friends, and they’re having the time of their lives. I am so happy for them; they really needed this getaway. I hope and pray that they are getting some serious sisterly bonding under their belts. But the house is so still and quiet without them here. God knows how much I need, and so often crave, solitude and serenity. And yet…I’m beginning to wonder if an Empty Nest, when it finally comes, will be lonely rather than liberating?

Maggie is in France doing her semester abroad; Bryn has started her internship in London; Lisa and her family are in Orlando.

With so many of my dearest ones being away from home and out of reach, I find myself wishing that someone would write me a letter—or even a postcard—detailing the events and adventures that inhabit their days.  I came across a quote recently about letter-writing, and it filled me with longing for the pre-Internet, pre-Email days when people communicated via letters. I don’t recall anything more delightful, in my youth, than discovering a letter in our mailbox. Especially if it was a letter from Lisa. She and I were such faithful correspondents, and I saved each and every letter that she sent me.

For several years during grade school I was penpals with a girl my age who lived in England. Her name was Geraldine, and I kept all of her letters, as well. I also saved the letters from my “summer boyfriend” from Beaverdale, Phil, with whom I corresponded during his entire first year of college. He wrote beautiful letters; I can still see his neat and compact handwriting in my mind. All of these missives, and others, I preserved, separating them into small bundles bound carefully in satin ribbon of the palest blue (probably assuming, in my overtly romantic young self’s imagination, that this was how people back in Jane Austen’s day tied up their letters) and then filing them in tight rows in old shoeboxes.

I have no idea what happened to those letters. I never took them with me when I married and moved from home. My old bedroom was kept pretty much as I left it until about fifteen years ago when my dad gave the house to my brother, who eventually converted my old room into his master bedroom. I’ve never asked him what he’d done with those letters. I’m not sure why. Perhaps I don’t really want to know what I have long feared: that he’s simply thrown them away. Sometimes I like to fantasize that he is cleaning out the basement and happens upon the shoeboxes and calls me up to ask me if I still want those old letters. In my fantasy I delight in sorting through those boxes, bundle by bundle, and rekindle the pleasures of a literary childhood.

“Please write again soon. Though my own life is filled with activity, letters encourage momentary escape into others lives and I come back to my own with greater contentment.”
 –Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey, ‘A Woman of Independent Means’

Being original

Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.
C. S. Lewis (1898 – 1963)

I can’t believe how hard it is for me to write in this blog! I have been wanting to do this for so long; to have a safe place where I could pour out all of my thoughts, longings, fears, and hopes; rant, rave, cry, and complain. A place that was mine, all mine, unlike the other, more public places where I spend my days, at work or at home, surrounded by people who expect me to behave a certain way, to be the Erin they need me to be.  

I used to keep journals. I wrote in a journal for years and years. I started my first one in junior high school, and it immediately became somewhat of an addiction. I was such a faithful journalist! Where I went, my journal went. I took every opportunity to scribble in it: during the precious few minutes at the end of class while waiting for the bell; during study hall while the other kids did their algebra homework or played euchre; every night before I went to bed. I filled page after page with everything that was going on in my head, of which there was a scarily large amount. I was one of those angst-ridden teenagers–much more of a rarity back then—whose brain never had any downtime. (What am I saying? I am now an adult whose brain never has any downtime!)

I went to college to study writing with an eye toward pursuing a writing career. I wrote and wrote and wrote. In class and in private diaries and in endless letters to loved ones, I practiced my craft. The professors liked my writing, which boosted my confidence (a little). They encouraged me to try to get something published. I didn’t. I left university just a few credits shy of earning my degree in English, got married relatively young, produced three children, supported my husband in his climb up the corporate ladder, contributed to my community, and raised my kids. I did all of those things—all noble things—with all my might. But my desire to write for a living? It has festered, all of these years, on the back burner. And the burner wasn’t even on low.

  I returned to university a couple of years ago to complete that long-ago abandoned English degree. It was lovely. It was energizing. It was cathartic. It was the finishing of unfinished business. I adored everything about it. And the professors seemed to like my writing even more than the first time. It was a huge boost to my battle-scarred ego. They encouraged me to try to get published. And still…..I’ve yet to summon the confidence to submit anything for publication. The fear of not being good enough; the fear of rejection; the fear (this is the Biggie) of not being completely and utterly original—these fears have paralysed and stymied me in my lifelong desire to write.

So what shall I do? Is it too late for me? Have all the good ideas been taken? Is there really nothing new under the sun?

I once read an interview of an author who had “made it” (I regret that his name escapes me) and he was asked, as most successful authors are, what advice, if any, he would give to an aspiring writer. His answer—forgive my murky paraphrase—was something along the lines of this:  “Just write. Every day.  Just do it. It doesn’t matter what you write as long as you are writing. The editing can come later.”

So maybe that’s what I need to do. Start carrying a notebook with me everywhere I go, and when I think of something to say, I will write it down. When I see something that intrigues me, I will write it down. When I remember something from long ago that brings a smile or a tear, I will write it down.

I will write.

I will just write.