Journal Jam

IMG_1094_2 My sister-in-law Gretchin and I are putting together a series of joint art and writing prompt classes that we are calling Journal Jam. We will be announcing the location of the first workshop shortly. In the meantime, we have both been working on our own journal pages. One of the prompts I love to offer comes from a book by Tristine Rainer called Your Life as Story. In it Rainer gives a prompt on How to be ________. The writer than offers a list of criteria describing how to be ______. Gretchin and I plan to use this prompt in our class and as an example I tried my hand at my own.

The night before I had been visiting Gretchin's house where my three-year-old niece Ellie was dancing around in the buff. I decided to write How to Be Three-Year-Old Ellie Dancing. Here's the result:

How to Be Three-Year-Old Ellie Dancing

Be Stark Naked

Lift Your Arms in the Air


Mold Your Hands into Tight Little Fists

Roll Them One Over the Other

Do Your Magic

Stare Up Into the Sky with a Smug Look of Satisfaction

Burst Into Song

Sing the Theme to Frozen

Twirl Again

Lose Interest

Walk Across the Room, Strutting like a Drunken Supermodel

Turn and Walk Back Toward Me

Shout "Hey Bee, Look at This!"

Twirl One Final Time.

I then went to work on my own journal pages, but as so often happens the preliminary sketches seemed better than the final result, so I experimented a couple of times.

One of the things I love about digital collage and one of the reasons I turned to working in that medium is that nothing every has to go waste. You can always use a "bad" photo or sketch and transform it into something else. I started to do so with one of the iphone pics I took of my sketch.

I had an older picture of Ellie and when I put them together it seemed as if the two were dancing. I am still working on the collage. This is just the preliminary piece. I'm calling it Shadow Dancers or Fairytale 699.

blog shadow dancing

I'm hoping to add a version of this to my journal pages as well.


My Story

IMG_6330 It's been a desert for a while. Truth be known I haven't figured out this writing thing--writing for a living, writing blog posts, writing a book, writing festivals, two-page prompts, blogging conferences, teaching writing, correcting papers. I've only got so many words in me before I feel like the well is dry. The story that is my life continues, but admittedly I've left you out of it, drawing back the curtain here and there, revealing only a peek.

From the very beginning of the blog I've struggled with what it is, how to make it one thing when I'm so many. Is it a dog blog, a memoir, a site to sell my art, promote my photography, share my writing? "A site for lovers of pugs, small dogs, writing, art and photography is a mouthful" and is it accurate? My web designers listened to me describe myself and came up with it, but sometimes I drown in its complexity, suffocate to put on the straight jacket and be only one thing. Alternatively, exhausting myself in trying to be all at once. Nobody knows who they are starting out, of course, we all change and grow, but the very fact I rely on web designers, on others makes me hesitant to experiment--it comes with a cost.

Have you figured out this isn't just about the blog yet? You won't violate your family in becoming more of you a counselor once told me. It's hard to figure out who you are when you are trying to be all things to all people. It's hard to be who you are when you confine yourself to someone's singular vision of you.

As recently as last week I lied to my best friend about my then upcoming trip to Las Vegas. True, I was sick and wasn't sure I was going, wasn't sure I could spare the time away, wasn't even sure if it was something I even wanted to do or if it was something I craved. How does a person not know that? How do you explain all that to a friend when she innocently asks "I heard you might be away this week?" She wouldn't be mad, but there are those in my life who might or might offer their unsolicited judgment. Where does she get the time or the money to do that, I imagine them saying, sometimes even hear it to my face, by people with more time and money than I'll ever have. But instead of telling them to f*** off, I tell her no, I don't think so.  I try to become a smaller target, ask permission, lie, cover up even as one resilient, brilliant part of myself struggles like  a flickering lightbulb to shine.

I go to Vegas and fess up to her at least. I go to Blogpaws where people have these neat niche blogs about dogs and cats and even rodents of unusual size (it's an actual organization) and listen as they talk about securing sponsors who will indeed seek out their blogs because they are easy to comprehend and digest. They have their elevator pitch in place-we work to promote pet heath, we rescue canaries, we write from the point of view of our cats.

I go to writers festivals and people share their stories of domestic abuse, incest, a year spent with pirates. I'm writing about my pugs and their breeder, I say and worry I am no longer taken seriously. Should I send my writing students and my editors to my blog? Is this revealing too much of myself?

You shouldn't care what other people think, but what if you're not sure what you think? Do you know you've been talking about Blogpaws since you came back last year, my mother says, using this as proof that I want to go. Maybe that's because I've been trying to decide I argue. It's another lie, I do know what I think, but I say it in such a tiny, quiet voice it's hard to hear.

The problem's not the blog or even figuring out who I am. It’s learning how to be me—the all-over-the-place, many things at once, always moving, always changing, totality of me without apologizing. It’s learning that I don’t have to have all the i’s dotted, the t’s crossed and the curtains hung in place just so before moving forward, before sharing who I am with the world.

That same friend‑the one I lied to, she reminded me of the poem I wrote and shared in the neighboring town’s month-long celebration of poetry. In it I write about my struggle as a photographer to take in the whole scene – “Decide what it is you are trying to say,” a photographer suggests, “with a nod and a period as if that settles the matter.”

“It doesn’t,” I write. “The story pretty much tells itself.” I guess that’s it. I can pre-package and assemble, rearrange and try to put it all in place and just like I return to the struggle, the answer is always the same. Me and my blog? Me and my story? Just like all of you, we’re more than one thing and who we really are always comes to the surface.

So what does this mean? For now, I hope to expand and rearrange the blog a bit, continue tweaking it to help me tell the story in a way that I feel satisfied. But, it also means I’m going to try to be more content with what’s here—not concentrating on the window dressing as much as the content. I’m gonna try to get back to updating you and sharing with you more. I’m going to try to make peace with the fact that it does no good to suck in my gut. I gotta keep letting it all hang out and be all of who I am. This is my story after all.

A Mission Statement of Sorts

IMG_4568 It was easy starting out. I began on Blogger and Posterous, posting photos and a few simple lines to explain them. Then came the  move to Wordpress. A place to write whatever I wanted. I wanted to share about my friend Joan and her pugs and her unorthodox life and how it had influenced me. I had a lot to say. I was part of a writing group. I was going to share my stories. And, then the question came, "What are you going to do with your blog?" It stopped me cold. I thought I was doing it. But, what was it? And, if I wasn't doing it, how would I start?

I pondered this question and I pressed on, finding it challenging to blog, take pictures, draw, work on my own writing and my work writing. Oh, and did I mention living? Had to work that in. I struggled with all that in my writing and behind the scenes and tried to remain faithful while the writing class went on. But, then it ended. I didn't need to write everyday anymore. I felt discouraged Sure, there were people reading, but what did I have to say? What was I doing with my blog?  How did I maintain it and keep up with everything else. Some days it was a relief that the class had ended. Mostly it was disheartening. I need goals and deadlines. I was floundering.

The beautiful design of my blog felt suffocating, closed-in. To make changes and additions I needed to ask a designer, that required money. I found myself wishing I had called the blog something else and then glad I hadn't. I wondered if I could create another to have more freedom and questioned what that would accomplish, making lists of things to add and rearrange. All the time studying what everyone else was doing and coming up short. I wanted to be as ethereal, funny, open as all these blogs I read, but I was too practical, sometimes too happy, sometimes too angry, always too practical to sound so easygoing. Perhaps I had been writing magazine articles too long? Maybe I had lost my individual voice? Perhaps I had an individual voice and it was all wrong. My blog felt too red and heavy, the pictures too small. I came up short.

I struggle with a niche. There are people with cute dog blogs, beautiful photography blogs, funky art blogs, simple, clean writing blogs, open, revealing memoir blogs -- mine is not one thing. Neither am I. I wondered if anyone was listening. There's a verse in the Bible where Jesus asks "Who Do You Say That I Am?" I want to ask that, to gauge the responses. I'm afraid of the answers. But, I like that Jesus asked the question. I mean if Jesus was wondering if anyone got him, I am in good company, right?

I'm taking a blogging course called Blogging from the Heart with Susannah Conway and she tells us to develop a mission statement - what is our intent, what are we trying to say? Who is our ideal reader? I'm beginning to think that blogging is not about asking these questions, but discovering them along the way. For the last few months, behind the scenes, while my blog postings have seemed sparse or not-even-there, I have been compiling my posts on Joan to see what I have for a book, working on a short story, taking first a publishing class and then a blogging class. I'm moving forward, but I'm not sure of the direction. My teaching life is changing. I can't see the path quite yet, but I'll be damned if I die anchored to shore. I'm pressing forward.

The other day someone asked me "What do you know about yourself?" It took a minute.  I felt too embarrassed to reveal anything and then I did. "I know I'm kind," I said. Here's what else I know about me and the blog.

Some days I'm happy. I enjoy simple things. Going to the movies, my pugs, my friends. My art. I could work on Photoshop for hours. Taking pictures. I love being in a moment, but I hate wasting time. Taking pictures of life around me allows me to do two things at once and satisfies both requirements. I love my friends and my family. I know being a mom isn't easy, but I would love more than anything to have any one of my nieces and nephews for my own. I love nurturing things.

Some days I'm lonely. My heart aches for someone to love, to be part of a pair, to be a mother, to have a home.  Some days I'm lucky. I may be single, but I am loved. I have a complex relationship with a Boy, whom I will never marry, but who sends me a pink Keurig on Valentine's Day and knows how to make me laugh. Love is love, my mother tells me and she is right.

I love to smile and have fun and although everyone says writers have to write, and I suppose they do, I would always rather be doing something than writing about it. Writing is my way of understanding life, not living it. It is hard for me to balance it all. I love my pugs and I write about them. I am tattooed with them. They are my tribe alongside my family and my students and my friends. I find pugs funny. I write about them and draw them because it makes me smile. It makes other people smile. There is more to my life than them, but few things that bring a quicker smile.

I want more than anything to be understood -- through my pictures and my drawings and my words. I don't like being labeled though. I may not always be right, but that doesn't make me wrong. Take me as I am.

I want my blog to somehow reflect this. I want to take you into my world. I want you to know that  although I may not always be happy with every aspect of my daily life,  I am happy with me. I am single and a writer and a teacher and an artist and a photographer and a blogger and a pug owner and a daughter and a sister and an aunt and a friend. That's a lot of things and it's hard to show them all at once. I'm not sure if the blog illustrates this. I'm not sure that I've figured out yet what I'm going to do with  it. But, be patient, I'm getting there. And, you're witnessing it here.


Writing Projects

Blog Abby I haven't been blogging much lately, but that doesn't mean I haven't been writing. I had three articles due by New Year's -- one on real estate sales, one on Rutland Regional Medical Center and one on the things we do for our pets. Each is either finished or almost so. I also had my friend Joan's (Waffles' breeders) annual Christmas letter to get out to all the people who had received puppies from her over the years and I've been working on a short story. Inspired by my work last year with the Hubbard Hall Writers' Project, I decided I needed to get some of my own writing projects out of my head and down on paper. The story isn't done yet and on the face of it isn't the most cheerful of subjects -- about a man who runs a pet crematorium -- but I think it has soul. I hope it will be one of many dog-focused stories and expect the follow-ups to be about happier themes. In the meantime, I have begun exploring the option of turning some of my photo collages into Kindle covers, I hear there's a market for them and many people have commented that my collages already remind them of book covers. My first attempt will be a collage to go along with the dog story, but I needed a Labrador model. I'm hoping to still take some more photos of some other friends dogs in the next couple of weeks to get a variety of shots to use, but one of my friends from my photography classes offered me the opportunity to take a picture of her brother's dog, Abby, who is a partial Lab. Today, I visited my friends house and got a number of shots to use for the collage in addition to this pretty portrait. I think she enjoyed modeling. When the collage and story are done I will let you all know.