Thursday, November 29, 2012

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner!

I am infinitely proud to announce that I completed my Nanowrimo novel! 50,000 words of novelly goodness now rests in my computer. I had WAY more fun than I thought I would and I love my first draft of Song of Three Sisters.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Knight-Eater

Treasure in the Belly of the Beast
            The Knight-Eater crouched in our garage. In a fit of creativity and whimsy, my parents had painted a tall metal cabinet canary yellow. Then they added on a cartoony orange dragon tail with a suspicious bulge in the middle that wrapped around the cabinet. Thus, the "Knight-Eater" was born.
            The Knight-Eater held the keys to an entire world of creativity and fantasy for my brother, sister, and me. Inside its belly, we kept brushes, paints, Plaster of Paris, dowels, yarn, and other remnants of old crafts my mother had attempted. But most importantly, the Knight-Eater held an old, scratched-up boxed set of books. Their worn pages were turned down at the corners where my mother had marked the pages repeatedly and the edges were frayed.
            Every winter, my mother would rescue the boxed set from the Knight-Eater's belly and pack it in her bag to read to us on our winter vacation. My family had a special vacation place, a small Christian camp near Redlands called Forest Home. My father would work on sermons, read books to help him with his ministry, and spend hours in prayer, while my mother would take us on walks around the empty lake, through the snowy trails, and around all the bare places that were normally full during the summer. In the evenings, we would light a fire and my mother would read to us from the boxed set of C. S. Lewis's famous series, The Chronicles of Narnia.
            In my child's mind, Forest Home and Narnia were inextricably linked. The forests we walked through in the winter became the forests of Narnia when the White Witch had them under enchantment, and the coast of that empty lake became the coast of Narnia when the castles lay in ruins. Much of my early understanding about God and Jesus Christ came from the stories in those books. My heart swelled with joy and courage when Aslan (the Christ-figure in the books) came back to life and led the Narnians to victory. I related to Eustace from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader who was ill-spirited and selfish, but who Aslan appeared to and helped him change. And to Lucy whose simple faith was more important than her siblings’ intelligence or physical strength. Even now, as an adult my faith is strengthened by the story of Puddleglum in The Silver Chair who chose to believe in Aslan and Narnia even though it caused him great pain and ridicule to do so. It took our family years to get through all the books, and that tattered paperback set in the Knight-Eater lay in wait for us all through the school year, waiting to bring us new adventures and teach us more about the real Christ and the joy and freedom that Christians can have.
            Now I am twenty-nine years old. The Knight-Eater still sits in my parent’s garage and my husband and I have a baby boy of our own. Next summer, my husband and I will take him to Forest Home for their summer camp for the first time. When he’s older, I will read the Chronicles of Narnia to him and I will tell him what they mean to me. Perhaps I will paint a yellow Knight-Eater cabinet of my own to hold the craft supplies my son will play with and he will open it sometimes to find the treasure we will keep there- the treasure of family, love, and faith.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Resurrection Blogfest!


I am participating in the "Resurrection Blogfest" today.
I heard about it from David over at Brits in the UK

 Should I be writing my Nanowrimo novel instead? 

Heck yes. 

Am I? Clearly not at the moment, but I will later...really I will! In any case, the blogfest is all about resurrecting an old blog post from your first year of blogging that you thought was pretty good but has since lain in your old list of postings growing mold and being generally unappreciated by the community of ppl we call the internet. So here is an old, moldering post which I wrote long ago in those sad, sad days when I was still a high school teacher. 


Putting on a high school play has many unique blessings and challenges. As far as blessings go, the students are usually very enthusiastic about the show. They are willing to put in long hours after school and on weekends. They are full of inspiring creativity and energy and are often capable of solving problems that crop up in the show by themselves. By the end of the rehearsal and performance process, the students have become a tightly knit group of performers and as their director, I am included in this group. These are the blessings of putting on a high school show.
But oh, the challenges. As I mentioned before, the students are highly creative. However, their sense of the resources available to our program sometimes seems slightly impaired.

“Mrs. Hughes!” They will say, convinced that their idea is the best ever conceived, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if we ended the show in a gigantic display of pyrotechnics?! We could have rockets shooting from the stage and the characters flying in from the wind, and fake smoke billowing up through the audience. That would be awesome!”

I take a deep breath and pause for a moment before I answer, “Hmm….that’s an interesting idea. It would be awesome, but I think that might also be illegal. Maybe someday you should work for Disney. They might have the capabilities to do that sort of thing.” I say this in all seriousness, because they really should use these creative ideas somewhere, but not at this stage in our drama program.
Or, I have the observant students who see what other, much more developed drama programs are accomplishing in Kern County.

“Mrs. Hughes!” They shriek in a frantic, get-over-here-right-now sort of tone which makes me wonder if someone needs First-Aid or CPR (which, thanks to the State of California, I am certified in.) As I rush over, I start trying to remember the ratio of rescue breaths to chest compressions. ‘Is it 30 rescue breaths to one chest compression? Or one rescue breath to 30 chest compressions?’

One of the really special things about taking CPR is that they are always changing the ratio. I have been to CPR training three times in the past 6 years, and every single time, they have changed the ratio. Apparently, they just can’t make up their minds. This means that in an actual emergency, I can never be exactly sure just what the best ratio to use is.

“Stockdale High School is doing the musical, ‘Moby Dick,’” they explain frenetically with a newspaper in their hands as I begin to realize that there really was no emergency, “They have a cast of forty students and every night has been packed out. Look at these pictures, and this set. We should totally do a musical next year! How about, ‘Alice in Wonderland?’”

“Ooh, or that new Beatles Musical, ‘Across the Universe,’” another little darling will interject.

“Oookay…I will think about those suggestions.” I reply (‘deep breaths,’ I tell myself, ‘deep breaths’), “You know,” I go on; “I read that article, too. Stockdale has a really amazing program that they’ve had for like 20 years. Their Drama director is a full-time drama teacher, who is practically the best high school drama director in Kern County.

“‘Alice in Wonderland,’ the musical, hasn’t been performed seriously since the 1920’s,” I continue, “and ‘Across the Universe,’ is not actually a stage production, and even if it were, the royalties alone would cost more than we could potentially make in 15 years worth of drama productions . But we will be doing a musical at some point in the next few years.”

The students sadly listen to my reasons and as I see the light die in their eyes, I too wish that we had the unlimited capabilities to perform a stage production of, “Across the Universe,” or at least, include a vast pyrotechnics display in our latest show, complete with smoke and rockets. Maybe next year.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

First Glimpses- 11/4/12

They suctioned you out with a hoover and gutted me like a fish

Like a cored apple or the yolk of a hard boiled egg.

Pushmepullme, pushmepullme. Push was me, pulled was you.

And after an hour and half of empty-husk progress promises I clung to like a life-raft,

And a burst of fuschial, nuchal color,

I saw you sail by, grey and splotchy and strangely long,

The unidentified flying baby,

Unmoving, uncrying, unconscious baby.

Not pink, not screaming.

Your father spoke to you and something deep inside you recognized his voice

And you cried and I breathed again.

Hands carried you to me for inspection like a factory shirt they put those stickers on,

“Inspected by #9.”

And I looked into the sapphire dragon’s jewels you had for eyes and you looked back and I sang

to you.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Nanowrimo, 2012!

They say the journey of 1,000 miles starts with one step. Well, today I started a journey of 50,000 words by taking the step of signing up for Nanowrimo 2012. You may have heard of it. If not, here is a link.

I was just sort of thinking about writing today and remembered an acquaintance who had done the Nanowrimo writing challenge a few years ago. I thought I might look into it. I went to the website and was dismayed to see that the challenge is in November every year. I believed I would have to wait until next year...until I remembered that it is still October! I don't know why I keep thinking we're already in November, because we're not, so the challenge actually begins in about a week.

I took the plunge and signed up. It's free (hooray!) and it sounds really fun. Here goes nothing!

Also, my very pregnant amazing twin sister who is also a writer sent me this poem the other day about her pregnancy feelings. It made me laugh, so I asked her if I could post it here.

Pregnant Dragon
by Carolyn Cummings

"Pregnant Dragon."

Pregnant Dragon,
Pregnant Dragon,
Don't ever separate her from her food!
Pregnant Dragon,
Pregnant Dragon,
-She's just not in the mood!

Pregnant Dragon,
Pregnant Dragon,
There's a Bee in her bonnet (but don't call her on it!)
Pregnant Dragon,
Pregnant Dragon,
-She's got a fiery attitude!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Cat Ballad

I am constantly struggling with meter in my rhyming poems. I was relatively pleased with the outcome of this poem, but it’s not quite there yet. I seem to always end up writing about cats...

The Ballad of Mr. Snowy Rivers

Out there, they went, out into the night,

To fight for their brother, to fight for the right.

In their white gleaming four-door the two sped away,

With wives praying, fretting, until the new day.

And over they drove, through the pass and the hills

On the old jet-black highway, through October chills.

As they drove through the desert to that dusty dark city,

Both speculated with thoughts that weren’t pretty.

Their children were snuggled in bed in their homes,

the mothers kept vigil alone by the phones.

Out there they were, they drove through the night,

To go save their brother, to go pick a fight.

In their white gleaming four-door the two had arrived,

Where their angular brother and his three cats survived.

They kicked in the door and they found him unharmed,

But surrounded by thieves who were heavily armed.

The brothers ‘ arrival served as a distraction

And three angry cats started cat Kung-Fu action.

The cats and the brothers would soon apprehend

The ignomious thieves who had dared to break in.

Out there on the streets, under yellow fog light,

They fought with the robbers and put up a fight.

It wasn’t too long before the brothers prevailed,

Back to Robber’s roost, the thieves soon high-tailed.

Three men and two cats stood strong on their ground,

And they celebrated the victory they’d found.

But the shadows bore witness to one feline’s last stand,

Whose fight had been felled by a robber’s cruel hand.

A black and white tom who had fought ‘til the end

Proved himself ever a brave and true friend.

Out there they’d gone, out into the night,

They brought back their brother, back home at daylight.

The brothers returned to their wives and their brats,

But the angular brother lost his favorite cat.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Water and Mud.

Sometimes writing is like turning a faucet, releasing words in spurts and streams moving so quickly that your fingers can hardly keep up with the flow. And when it's like that, transforming the words from the flow of your brain into words on a page is a blessed release.

But other times, it's like slogging through mud. Every step is awkward and the results are dismal.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Glow- a Love Poem

As I lay here in your arms in the smooth velvet darkness, 

with our baby son asleep next to us, 

I feel that my heart is so full that if you could see inside my chest, 

it would be glowing from within, 

the way the moon glows from the sunlight streaming behind it. 

My love would radiate from behind my heart and it would throb

and glow from too, too much joy

and so much fulness that it would flow out my fingertips, 

my mouth, my eyes. 

How can the room be dark when so much light glows from our love? 

And how is it possible for two mortals to find heaven on this earth?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

I am my biggest obstacle.

So I’ve been researching poetry workshops. As I stated in a previous blog, I would like to take one before the end of the year. I know it would greatly enhance my work, open my mind to new possibilities, yada yada.

But I’m still terrified. I have stumbled onto some truly awesome poetry workshops in my searches and they sound so extremely wonderful that I can’t really believe that they were meant for someone like me.  Like the Bread Loaf Writer's Conference:

Apparently Robert Frost (aka- one of the best poets ever) was inspired by this conference. Now there is no way I could actually go to this conference- it’s in a completely different part of the country and I have a baby to take care of and we really don’t have the money. I really just want one workshop anyway, not a whole conference. But just browsing the website and hearing author’s names like Robert Frost makes me want to shut down the laptop, and throw it into the pool along with all my pens, papers, and pencils and end my search and my poetry habit right away. It’s so very, very intimidating.

Robert Frost: 8,000,000% more Awesome than you.
I need something I can take online. Something moderately priced that I can save up for from my e-bay sales.  Something low-key enough that won’t terrify me, but solid enough that it’s worth my time to do.

There are a lot of options out there, but that’s not the biggest obstacle. My biggest obstacle is my own fear. Which brings me to this litany of courage by Mary Anne Radmacher:
“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day that says, “I will try again tomorrow.” 

So once more into the breach I go and the search continues...

Monday, October 8, 2012

We Sang and Danced Forever and a Day...

You've heard the song.

"Those were the days, my friend, we thought they'd never end, we sang and danced forever and a day..." etc.

Catchy tune, catchy rhythm, mesmerizing lyrics. My mother took my sister and I to see "Shout: The Mod Musical" at Stars Dinner Theater in Bakersfield last weekend. They sang that song. Everyone sang along happily and some people in the audience even stood up and danced. But I sat there wincing.

I hate that song. Every time I hear it, I vacillate between wanting to sing along and wanting to somehow turn it off (a difficult thing to do when you're watching musical theater.)

 It's a song of loss...a song of time passing and moments that can't be recaptured.

We all have a love/hate relationship with the passage of time. On one clock hand, it can be good that time passes- we don't want to be stuck forever in hard times, or painful times, or dull times. Time heals wounds, time gets us through labor pains and learning curves.

But on the other clock hand, every day, every minute, and every second that passes is one more moment used up, never to be regained.

I want my 3-month old son to learn to sit up and then crawl and then walk, but I also know that every day that passes where he grows bigger and stronger is one day fewer that I have to share with him. 

It makes me too sad to even think about. It makes me want to run away to Never-Never Land and never grow up. I would if I could take everyone with me.

I suppose that's where Faith comes in. I have to believe that everything good and true that was ever lost will be restored one day when we all get to heaven.

And that brings me to a song I like better.

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know He holds the future and life is worth the living just because He lives.

I'll dance to that.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Casey the Beagle- a Short Story

                The dog ran limping through the woods, panting. His instincts did not let him rest, despite the ache in his paw and his exhaustion. He was not a dog who was used to physical exertion. In fact, if you had seen him earlier that morning, you would have seen a complacently fat, contented (not despite the fat, but because of it) beagle living in the lap of luxury.
                But now here he was- a hunted thing, desperate to escape the mountain lion running behind him. If the lion had not been wounded, she would surely have caught up to the beagle by then, but, luckily for Casey the beagle, this mountain lion had been wounded back in town where the chase had begun.
                Casey had been enjoying his morning. The sun was shining, his owner had given him some dried turkey, and all he had to do was lie around, protecting the stoop as usual. It was a sweet deal, and he knew it. He barked at the occasional car that parked nearby or pedestrian who walked down the sidewalk. Even the barking didn’t take much energy, and it was really all for formality anyway. No one had ever actually tried to hurt him or his owners before, so he just barked out of instinct, not a real sense of danger. He also barked because he felt it was his job. How else was he going to earn the glorious canned food, human leftovers, or treats he longed for?  All animals had jobs to do and he was just happy his was so very easy.
                A strange smell startled Casey out of his happy contemplations. He sniffed cautiously. It was a wild smell, the smell of an animal who had never lived inside, who was thoroughly feral.  The hair rose on his back as he heard the low growl of an animal he had never before encountered: a giant tawny cat, staring at him, stalking him, and barreling down towards him like a locomotive flying towards a car stalled on the tracks. Casey bolted to his feet, wide girth and all, and yelped, as he ran away from his stoop into the street and huddled panting, beneath a car where he began barking as loud as he could. The mountain lion batted at him with her huge padded paws, while her eyes gleamed sinisterly.
                There was soon a flurry of activity as humans began to come out of their homes to see what the commotion was about. Casey could hear yelling and screams. Several men ran for their guns and began advancing on the big cat who had mistakenly stumbled into a residential neighborhood to hunt for easy prey.  The cat began to back away from the car, hissing at the humans advancing on her. Casey thought he saw a safe chance to get away from the lion and bolted away from the car back towards the safety of his house. Unfortunately, she saw the motion of his running form and lunged after him, snapping at his paws. Casey felt the bones in his back leg crack and cried out in pain. He kept trying to run, but the big cat would have easily overpowered him had not one of the men with the guns taken a shot.
                Blinded by pain and fear, Casey began running.  He lost all sense of direction as his instincts took over and he ended up plunging into the woods near the neighborhood, with the mountain lion pursuing. The two wounded animals crashed through brush and trees and over hills and streams. Casey could hear the angry spitting and yowling of the big cat behind him and the humans pursuing the cat with their guns.
                Suddenly Casey came to a rock wall. Sheer and high, he knew he couldn’t hope to scrabble up the rock face. He ran from side to side, looking for a way up or a hole to hide in, but there was no escape.   He turned to see the lion bearing down on him, teeth ready to grab him by the throat. He turned and stood his ground, barking his fear out in the last few moments before he was sure he would die. For a moment, the two animals stared at each other- a hungry mountain lion and a brave beagle locked in the usual life and death struggle of predator and prey. There was no anger or malevolence in the lion- just hunger and instinct. And Casey was not angry with her- he understood that perhaps this was to be his place in the circle of life- food for another bigger, stronger animal. With that thought came a measure of peace for the beagle. After all, every animal had a job to do, and sometimes you were the eater, and sometimes you were the meal.  Though the thought gave him peace, and he understood what was about to happen, he could not help but feel grief at the thought of dying. He very much wanted to live.
                The mountain lion leaped towards Casey, but right before she made contact with his vulnerable throat, a shot rang out through the trees and the lion fell dead in a tawny, muscular heap at his feet. Astonished and still barking his shrill, loud bark, Casey looked up to see the men with their guns arrive. They fired a few more shots into the now-still body of the lion and knelt to inspect her.
                “Can someone take this poor dog home?” One of the men asked. Casey was relieved to see his owner walk out of the trees toward him. He limped up to his owner and licked his hand, grateful to see the familiar face.
                “Poor Casey. She got you good, didn’t she? I can’t believe this happened to us. I am going to get you home and take care of you.” The owner scooped up the exhausted beagle and began walking back to their neighborhood.
                Later that evening, Casey lay in his dog bed, his broken paw splinted and bandaged, enjoying the warmth and comfort of his home. His ordeal was over and he could get back to the spoiled existence he was used to. But sometimes, when there was a full moon or something to bark at, he thought back to his chase with the mountain lion and his brush with death. And he felt that he really was more of a true dog for the experience.  He held his head a little higher and ate his food with just a little more gusto.  

Friday, October 5, 2012

A hidden room in a dream

                I had that dream again last night. The situation changes, the faces change, but there is always the hidden room. Through a small door, through a small tunnel, through a narrow tall hallway so tight you have to hold your breath to squeeze through. The way is always dark and hard to find, with many ways to get lost in the darkness.  At the end of your journey, which is sometimes long and sometimes short, depending on the dream, there is a room. The room changes. Sometimes there are people holding secret meetings, sometimes there’s treasure, sometimes there are just lost and forgotten boxes. The worst thing about the room is the knowledge that you have to come back out the way you came in and sometimes you have to go alone.
                I have dreamt about this room for years, I realized this morning when I woke up. And I can’t shake the feeling that it’s based on a real place I’ve been before- somewhere as a child, possibly? I find the possibility frightening.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

It's October- How are you doing on your New Years Resolutions?

Every year my family sits down together to write out their resolutions. One person with nice handwriting (not me) writes them down for all of us and then gives us all photocopies to post on our refrigerators.

I had a few resolutions this year:
1. Have a healthy baby. Check.

2. Put on a successful musical production of "The Secret Garden" as HS drama teacher. Check.

3. Put out a successful yearbook as HS yearbook advisor. Check.

4. Quit my job as a successful high school teacher to spend all day with my darling new baby (see #1). Check.

5. Move into my new house....not so much, because it is not done yet. When will it be? When will I move out of my parent's house? That is the question everyone has...but I do not have an answer. Maybe Christmas?

6. Take a writing workshop...Nope. It turns out that having a baby is a huge amount of work. It is a good day if I get dressed and brush my teeth. However, the year is not over and now that the little one is finally sleeping through the night and napping fairly reliably...the faintest hope is building in my heart. I would like to take a poetry workshop.

I've never taken any poetry classes or workshops, which is actually surprising because poetry is one of my favorite venues. Most of my best writing is poetry. I enjoy it and have had a few poems published here and there. Maybe that is why I have shied (shy-ed?) away from any classes or workshops...I'm so afraid that I will find out that I am doing it all wrong or something like that.

But it is time to face my fears because as I found out the with the creative nonfiction workshop I took last summer, workshops are great! Now I just  need to find a good one.

Does anyone have any suggestions for online poetry workshops?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Great Cruelty

It's been a while since I updated this blog.

In that time, I quit my job as a high school teacher, moved in with my parents, and gave birth to my firstborn son, who I've been learning to care for and breastfeed. As far as writing goes, I've written 2 half short stories and 3 poems, most of which I never finished or wasn't totally happy with. I've also tried on several occasions to write my birth story, but haven't been successful at that either, I think because I am still coming to terms with everything that happened. One of the wonderful things about writing is that it is very therapeutic. It helps me deal with life. Just putting certain things into words helps me lay them to rest.

The 48 hours of labor were difficult, going to the hospital when I had planned on a home birth was difficult, but those things don't bother me- they were what needed to happen. There was only one thing that still bothers me and this poem attempts to deal with it.

How can she leave the hospital when her heart lives there because
The mother needs 
the baby needs
the mother needs
the baby needs
the mother needs
the baby needs
...continuing on like a moebus strip. 

It is a great cruelty to take the baby from the mother (you might as well take away her oxygen) because
The mother needs
the baby needs
the mother needs
the baby needs
...well, you get the picture. 

But there is a golden thread connecting them, 
stronger than all the monitors and the incubators and IV's
and the doctors who think they know that what's best for the baby is to take him from the mother for five long days. 

And when they are finally together, when her heart is finally close to her body again, then the baby and the mother can both begin to heal. 


Sunday, April 29, 2012

Book Review: Of Eternal Life

I actually KNOW a published book writer. Not like in a "I stalk their blog and sometimes they comment on mine way," but in the very real sense that one of my best friends from college, Micah Persell-Council, is just about to get her first book published. Am I a little envious? Of course I am. But mainly, I am just proud that I know her. She's one of my favorite people and if she can write a book and get it picked up by a publishing company, that gives me hope, too. I'm especially pleased because she sent me an e-copy before the book comes out so that I could review it on this blog. Now Micah writes in a genre I had never heard of before: Paranormal Romance. As best as I can tell, it's sort of like your standard romance novel, but with sort of a psuedo-science-fiction/fantasy element tossed in, making it pretty darn interesting. The book has kidnapping, gun fights, characters with mysterious supernatural abilities, secret government cover-ups, and of course two very sexy main characters who share a lot of blush-worthy scenes. Graphic sex scenes, in fact, so I wouldn't recommend this book for your innocent teenage daughter. But if you like a good romance novel that's not your standard historical bodice-ripper, you will definitely enjoy the read. But don't take my word for it (apologies to Lavar Burton). You can visit Micah's author website here author website and the book's facebook page.