Goodbye and Farewell

GOODBYE

Dear Readers: This is my last post for Live to Write – Write to Live.

It has been deeply gratifying to post my thoughts about the business and craft of writing here every other week for almost eight years. I have enjoyed sharing my knowledge, my successes and my challenges with you. And I’ve loved the “Likes” and comments you have given me in reply.

I’ve come to recognize many of your avatars, enjoyed stimulating correspondence with others of you, and consider a few of you my on-line friends. I will miss you, but it’s time for me to consolidate.

CONSOLIDATION

The impasse I came to with Vermont Public Radio has shaken me in curious and unlooked for ways. Most notably, I am honoring a need to consolidate my thoughts and energies to telling the two stories I’ve been working on in fits and starts these past years. I recognize the need to make telling them my priority, and to do that, I have to give up the shorter, easier, extremely gratifying work of writing for you.

TURNING INWARD

Between the death of my father, the end of my term as Chair of the Brattleboro Community Justice Center, and my break with VPR, I sense in myself a great moving inward, as if I’m finally ready to sit still and listen to the voice rising from deep inside.

LIVING IN PLACE

I will continue to post an essay every Wednesday on my personal blog, Living in Place. I invite you to join me there, where I write about our human condition by telling stories. Humans are a narrative species. We thrive on stories.

For reasons I don’t begin to understand, I seem to have been chosen to tell them. I hope you will honor me by subscribing to Living in Place. I look forward to seeing your avatars there, and to engaging in thoughtful exchanges of ideas and opinions.

FARE WELL, WRITE WELL

I wish you all the courage to tell your own stories. May you always find the exact word you need to say what you mean and thereby engage in that intimate relationship between writer and reader.

Fare well,

Deborah.

Goodbye and FarewellDeborah Lee Luskin is a writer, speaker and educator who blogs weekly at Living in Place.

 

Reposting: Six Writing Lessons From The Garden

veg garden I love to garden. It’s a meditative activity – something I can do while my mind freewheels. Last Sunday, I found myself thinking how preparing a small vegetable patch is like writing a book.
Lesson 1: Writing is Solitary.Scarecrow

For the first time in thirty years, I’m planting the garden solo. My husband helped me install the fence posts (just as he built the studio where I write), but he prefers to nurture the orchard. I’m on my own, just as I write by myself during the week while he’s off tending to his patients’ health.

Lesson 2: Selectivity is Good.

There was a time when we grew and preserved all our food – but no longer. We’re now supplied with locally grown produce from a neighbor’s organic farm, so I’m only planting high-value items that are harder to find in local markets – shallots and leeks, fennel, veg garden2escarole and Brussels sprouts – as well as items we consume in quantity – cucumbers and cherry tomatoes, hot peppers and a wide assortment of culinary herbs.

I’m leaving the prosaic vegetables – the zucchini and green beans, the carrots and potatoes – to the production professionals. In a similar way, I’ve retired from the teaching, managerial and editorial jobs that others can do as well as or even better than I can. No one else can tell the stories I imagine, so I’m concentrating on them.

Lesson 3: Limits are Helpful.

GardenPrep050513I started by limiting the scope of my garden. I’ve fenced off an eight- by sixteen-foot rectangle to keep the free-range chickens out, and to keep my intentions focused – and manageable. Our previous gardens were huge, time-sucking affairs, and sometimes we raised an equal quantity of weeds as tomatoes. Similarly, over the past year, I’ve drafted thousands of words about my character’s life. But recently, I’ve come to realize that the story I’m telling takes place over the course of nineteen months. So that’s what I’ll develop; everything else must come out, just like the weeds.

Lesson 4: Writing Takes Time.

At the outset, a hundred and twenty-eight square feet looks just as big as a 100,000-word novel, and turning it over with a hand fork appears as daunting as filling a ream of paper by pen. My husband offered to do this heavy task for me; he sundialwould have had the garden-plot ready in less than an hour. I thanked him and said I would do it myself. It took me three hours, during which time I meditated on how preparing the garden is like writing a novel. I stopped only for water and to take pictures for this post, which I was composing as I dug.

Lesson 5: Small Tasks Yield Success.

gardenprep10A week earlier, I’d covered my plot with a tarp to warm the earth and kill weeds. The weeds continued to flourish, however, and the prospect of turning the soil by hand and pulling the weeds out by the root was too much. So I put the tarp back in place and

Working a small section at a time.

Working a small section at a time.

uncovered only a quarter of the space. After I turned those thirty-two square feet, I peeled the tarp back again, turning and weeding the next section. Now, the job was half done. I folded the tarp back again and again, always giving myself a small, measurable task that I could reasonably accomplish. Writing a book is just the same: I break each chapter into sections, and each section into paragraphs, each paragraph into sentences, each sentence into words. Each time I stuck the fork into the soil, it was a reminder that books are written one word at a time.

Lesson 6: The End is the Beginning

By the time I had raked the soil into beds and outlined the footpath with string, my neck was sunburned, my back was sore, and I was ready for a bath. I was done – for the day. I now had a well-defined garden plot with clearly outlined beds as weed-free as a clean piece of paper. Even though I was done-in, I’m anything but done. In fact, I’m just ready to start.

GardenPrep8Ellen, the novel I’m crafting, is further along than my garden. But the garden is a good reminder about how to maintain forward progress on this first draft. My afternoon preparing my garden yielded these six truths: 1) Even though I work alone, I’m deeply engaged with my characters; 2) every time I cut out a scene or a character or an unnecessary word, I gain a clearer sense of what aspect of the story to nurture; 3) knowing the limit of the narrative has helped me focus on the story I have to tell; 4) drafting the novel is taking a long time – and I make progress daily; 5) I experience the elation of success when I set myself small, measurable tasks; and 6) every time I finish a section, a chapter, an entire draft, I’m ready to begin another section, another chapter, another draft.  And even when that’s done – even when the writing and revision are finished – there’s another whole set of steps to see a book to completion, but those are chores of another season.

This growing season has just started. I tell myself, if I write word by word, weed by weed, my effort will blossom, and in time, I’ll see my book in my readers’ hands.

Meanwhile, I have a lovely garden bed ready for seeds.

I garden and write about my rural, rooted life in Vermont at Living in Place.

This essay originally posted in May 5, 2013. I’ve scheduled more reruns while I’m on summer vacation. Look for replies to your comments in mid-July.

Setting Goals for 2018

setting goals for 2018Last year, I made affirmations, not resolutions; this year, I’m setting goals for 2018.

I’m using a technique I learned last February, when I felt overwhelmed by projects and obligations.

It worked, so I’m trying it again.

THE TECHNIQUE

setting goals for 2018Take a pad of paper, sticky notes, or a stack of index cards and write one goal per slip of paper. It doesn’t matter how large or small the goal is, and the number of cards you can fill out is limited only by the number of cards you have on hand.

On one slip, I wrote down “Time Passes” the middle section of a novel-in-progress. On another, I wrote down, “Weekly posts for Living in Place”.

I also wrote down the perennial homestead activities, like plant the vegetable garden and order meat birds.

I wrote down the dates of the board meetings I chair for the Brattleboro Community Justice Center and the date I’ll be moderating Town Meeting this year (always the first Tuesday in March).

SORT

Once I’d written down all the things I could think of, I sorted them by kind, and came up with seven categories: Writing Projects; Writing Business; Teaching & Public Speaking; Family; Household; Self-Care and Civic Engagement.

These categories mimic those I use in my Planner Pad, part of my Month, Week, Day system of keeping track and accounting for my time.

PRIORITIZE & SCHEDULE

setting goals 2018Since many of my goals are to work on long-term projects, I’ve learned to prioritize and schedule the steps that will help me meet them.

One of my writing goals for this year is to “Draft Hunting Book” This is a large, on-going project to which I assign a block of time most workdays. How I’ll use that time will become apparent as the work progresses. Some days I’ll write; some days I’ll read or research; some edit. And some days, I’ll set the project aside to meet a deadline for a teaching gig or a public lecture.

BALANCE

In addition to meeting work goals, I’ve also set goals for self-care, which include outdoor exercise, yoga, and piano. On another page, I wrote down “vacation.” We’re planning a trip to Alaska.

ACCOUNTABILITY

I meet deadlines, including ones I set for myself, and I track my progress in my work diary. Of course, I also keep track of my earnings, although I’ve learned that income is only one measure of success.

FLEXIBILITY

flexibilityWhen I get stuck (and I will), I can always refer back to my stack of goals and shuffle them as I meet a goal, or as my priorities or circumstances change.

How do you set your goals?

 

Deborah Lee Luskin is a writer, teacher, radio commentator and blogger who spends so much time alone, she thinks yoga is a social activity.

Personal Becomes Universal Through Research

Guest Post by Novelist Donna D. Vitucci

Book cover

Donna Vitucci’s new novel, Salt of Patriots, published on Earth Day 2017.

The answer to my question, How long does it take to write a book? is fifteen for the novelist Donna Vitucci, who has just published Salt of Patriots after fifteen years of research, writing and revision. In this guest post, Vitucci describes what motivated her – and kept her going.

Origin of Salt

At my mother’s wake in the summer of 1999, the reminiscences we’d heard through the years got dragged out and enlivened by re-telling. The time all Uncle Bobby’s hair fell out when he was working at Fernald. The spills and inherent danger of any other kind of factory, but Fernald was processing uranium. A different kind of plant, in the early atomic days, in the 1950s.

Fernald closed after dust collectors failed in the 1980s and leaks into the Miami Aquifer hit the press. A class action lawsuit helped shutter the plant and place it on the Superfund Cleanup List. A Public Information Center was established as an aspect of remediation activities—eureka! I’d write my family Fernald stories infused with true and accessible information.

Research

To write it, I needed to understand it, and I’m no scientist. I dashed daily to the Information Center, reading and trying to understand what Fernald workers did. What were their jobs? What might Uncle Bob have done once he clocked in for 2nd shift? What made his hair fall out?

I read The Atomizers, the Fernald company newsletter. I studied processes the Fernald scientists developed, and the chemistry and metallurgy that had men in various buildings turn out uranium ingots or rods. I sought the secrets and security, the rumors in the community, how everybody had a relative or friend who worked there, or lost their acreage, or got sick or died. Newspaper articles on microfiche announced the building of the “new plant” and how it was going to bring hundreds of jobs—which it did. The nuclear industry was in its infancy. They were playing with dice and hoping for the best in beating the Russians.

Interviews

Uncle Bobby was my eyewitness, my conduit to the past, to the plant, to the human aspect. At the time, I’d envisioned the book completed and published to celebrate Fernald’s 50th anniversary—2001. I really had no idea.

I questioned Uncle Bob: “What about losing your hair?”

“That was nothing.” Same closed-mouth attitude from interviewees and others beholden to their government, their employer, and their own promises.

“Loose lips sink ships”—caution right there in The Atomizer. I don’t believe the workers were afraid. I believe they were patriotic. I believe they believed the government wouldn’t ask them to enter a dangerous work situation. And as long as a man was working he was doing the right best thing–echoing Uncle Bob and dozens of Fernald employees in their interview transcripts.

Striving for Authenticity

What did Uncle Bob do at Fernald, what it was like, what were his buddies like, did they understand the danger, and did they care? I took notes; I had a binder of industry and government papers I’d copied. I studied these like I’d be tested. Above all, I wanted to write with authenticity, and I knew it would be so hard. Till then, I’d only written stories that emerged from inside me. This story would have to be, on many counts, outside of me. I would immerse myself in research until I was busting with the Fernaldia I ingested.

Writing, Revisitng, Revising

A year and half later, nowhere near finished mourning my mother, and now her brother, Uncle Bob, was dying. Feed Materials, as I called the book, was where I poured this loss, revisiting my loved ones, revising them, and being among them, seeing them so clearly in memory and then freshly relevant in the stories where I cast them. No wonder it took me 15 years to complete. Writing this book kept them alive, and I didn’t want to lose them twice.

Donna VitucciDonna D. Vitucci is a life-long writer, and was a finalist for the Bellwether Prize in 2010. Her second novel, SALT OF PATRIOTS, shines light on the nuclear industry’s early days at the Feed Materials Production Center (FMPC) by focusing on ground level workers in this rural Ohio uranium processing plant. Characters and events are inspired by her uncles, who worked at the FMPC, and imagined from hundreds of true interviews conducted as part of lawsuit remediation activities in the 1990’s. Donna lives, works, and shares the best of urban living with her partner in the Historic Licking Riverside District of Covington, Kentucky.

Deborah Lee Luskin has been a regular contributor to Live to Write – Write to Live since 2011. She blogs weekly about Living in Place, Lessons from the Long Trail, Middle Age, and Vermonters By Choice at www.deborahleeluskin.com. Hope to see you there!

Paid to Talk

Photo courtesy of Phyllis Groner

An unintended consequence of being a writer is being paid to talk.

Never shy about sharing my knowledge or opinions in print, I now speak them out loud to just about anyone who wants to listen, and I do it in a way that’s not just informative but also entertaining. And yet – just as in my opinion pieces – I challenge my audience to think about current problems in new and not always comfortable ways.

I have a collection of popular off-the-shelf talks, and a nearly limitless willingness to talk about anything about which an audience and I have a mutual interest. Give me a topic; I’ll give you a speech.

Currently, I have four off-the-shelf talks: Lessons From the Long Trail, about my transformative end-to-end through hike of The Long Trail when I turned sixty, and three through The Vermont Humanities Council Speakers Bureau:

Getting From Here to There: The history of transportation and settlement in VT

1964: A Watershed Year in Vermont Political and Cultural History

Why Are We Still Reading Jane Austen?

I make customized motivational and celebratory speeches to groups who want to hear what I have to say. After teaching reluctant writers, leading Weight Watchers, and raising three children, I’ve developed some serious motivational skills that can be translated into a celebration and/or call to action.

I’ve also spent the past ten years learning about restorative practices as well as Roberts Rules of Order, so if a group needs a facilitator, I’m good at making sure everyone in the room has a chance to be heard.

Of course, I’m always ready to talk about and teach writing and literature, from blogs to biographies. Earlier this year I lectured on Virginia Woolf for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, and I’m currently teaching a grant-funded memoir-writing class at my local library. We’re having a blast.

Between writing, teaching, and public speaking, I’ve fallen behind on other tasks, like keeping my website updated, but that’s next. In the works is a calendar where anyone who wants to attend one of my public lectures can find out the what, where, and when. And for those who may be interested in a custom-made talk, just contact me.

At the end of the Long Trail, 9/8/2016.

Deborah Lee Luskin posts an essay every Wednesday at www.deborahleeluskin.com

 

“Only One Thing To Do” – Guest Post by novelist Donna D. Vitucci

Only One Thing To Do

Donna D. Vitucci, a widely published short story writer whose first novel, At Bobby Trivette's Grave was published in June.

Donna D. Vitucci, author.

Hemingway wrote to Fitzgerald, his friend and competitor: “You just have to go on when it is worst and most helpless—there is only one thing to do with a novel and that is to go straight on through to the end of the damned thing.”

The size and breadth of a book overwhelms me –the writing of it. Writing the novel’s like taking medicine, in doses. I think of each chapter as a short story or a scene: one dose, just manage one swallow. Complete this, make this one piece entire and the best it can be and don’t fret over, don’t even think about what comes after. Self-trickery is the way I keep ahead of self-doubt. I certainly do not know the ending, and most times not even the why of the story. I look at the world, note circumstance and instances, I attribute reason where none exists.

Vitucci finds inspiration in the "the damp knuckled heart of all families" and childhood.

Vitucci finds inspiration in the “the damp knuckled heart of all families” and childhood.

I am disturbed by girls taken—Elizabeth Smart and others like her, here in my community a girl named Paige Johnson, who has never been found. The plaguing questions: why why, where are they, who would take them? I walk backwards to the trouble. It doesn’t need to be true, it’s not detective work, it’s less discovery and more burrowing into motive. I can’t see where I’m headed, till I arrive. Who could do such a thing, and how did they feel? Troubled, undoubtedly, and that trouble emerges via voice, voice of a character, a character in a situation, the more desperate and thornier the better.

Once I wrote a story called The Underneath. Touchpoint for the setting, the scene, the tension, the horror was the cellar of my childhood. Stuff under and behind, buried, covered up, secrets– the damp knuckled heart of all families. I regularly dig up my basement, excavate my childhood, assign motives to adults from my youth for the inexplicable things they did. I look and I can’t not see story.

Mommy sewed our baby doll pajamas, our school picture day outfits, our Easter dresses. She snapped thread with her teeth. She wielded pinking shears. Pinking shears. Does anyone else even know what they are?

This is the insular world of a character, a young girl, stewed in her family broth. She walked around with Catholicism for spine instead of backbone, with litanies of saints and church Latin as right and left hands. I thought everyone was Catholic. At school, at Brownies, on our street, the kids I played with and their families, we all attended Mass at the same church. What? You don’t know Mass, or Jesus Christ Our Savior? Can it be that others also don’t know the gut-trench of Lenten sacrifice or special intention Thursdays, or the Infant of Prague’s varied coat colors and the guilt-blessing of being chosen to change the clothes on that Jesus-boy-doll?

How to populate the world of the novel? Build from the inside out, from imagination and experience, history and supposing, initiating in that voice of that character, that one child, that one stolen girl. Hemingway called it the great “what if.” Follow the undoing, find that dropped spool, the bobbin losing its thread. There you have it. Story could, literally, be under your feet.

I loved the language of this heartbreaker, and how it is so rooted in place.

I loved the language of this heartbreaker, and how it is so rooted in place. – DLL

 

Donna Vitucci is Development Director of Covington Ladies Home, the only free-standing personal care home exclusively for older adult women in Northern Kentucky. She is a life-long writer, and was a finalist for the Bellwether Prize in 2010. Her stories have appeared in dozens of print and online journals, including Kentucky Review, Gargoyle, Hinchas de Poesia, Forge Literary Journal, Prick of the Spindle, Southern Women’s Review, The Butter, and Change Seven. Her novel, AT BOBBY TRIVETTE’S GRAVE , a coming of age story set in Kentucky, was released in June 2016 by Rebel ePublishers.

Donna’s second novel, SALT OF PATRIOTS, will be published in 2017.

At the US-Canadian border on Day 25.

Deb’s still smiling after hiking 275 miles in 25 days from Massachusetts to Canada on Vermont’s Long Trail.

Currently, Deborah Lee Luskin posts Lessons From the Long Trail about her thru-hike from Massachusetts to Canada over the spine of the Green Mountains. Twenty-five days living outdoors, overcoming obstacles (aka mountains, rocks, mud, streams and sore feet), has changed her outlook on life and helped clarify her goals, most of which have to do with advancing issues through narrative; telling stories to create change.

How To Meet a Big Goal

 

On the summit of Jay Peak, a day away from the Canadian border

On the summit of Jay Peak, a day away from the Canadian border

Following a “footpath in the wilderness” from Massachusetts to Canada has helped me learn how to meet a Big Goal.

I’ve just returned from Hiking the Long Trail – the 275 mile recreational footpath that follows the spine of the Green Mountains the length of Vermont.

The trip was an unqualified success and, blisters aside, a great deal of fun. In addition to meeting all ten goals I set for myself beforehand, I also learned important lessons about writing. In particular, I learned how simple and easy it is to meet a Big Goal by setting and meeting daily, smaller, achievable and measurable ones.

While we set out to hike the length of Vermont, we did so by hiking between six and sixteen miles every day, for twenty-five days.

Over the chin of Mount Mansfield - Vermont's highest peak

Over the chin of Mount Mansfield – Vermont’s highest peak

The terrain varied. What remained fairly constant was not the distance we covered, but the number of hours on the trail. Every day, we woke, breakfasted, broke camp and returned to the trail. Only after we reached our nightly goal did we take time to wash, write, and read – except on the days we just collapsed.

Substitute hours at the desk for hours on the trail, and the analogy to writing a book becomes clear.

Wake, breakfast, write.

Everything else that has to be done will fall into place. For me, this means work on the novel first, then everything else. I’m not likely to miss writing a scheduled post, or fail to prepare for a lecture or class. But I won’t schedule or work on these tasks until I’ve put in two to three hours on the book first.

My goal is to finish this section by the end of the year.

So far, so good: my first week back was a complete success, and I’m determined to carry over the determination I had on the trail to life at my desk. Indeed, I learned so much about how to live from this long-distance hike, that I’ve started a new category on my Wednesday blog, Lessons From the Long Trail.

The trick now is to learn how to apply those lessons learned on the trail to life sitting still.

In the fire tower on Stratton Mountain.

In the fire tower on Stratton Mountain.

Novelist, essayist and educator Deborah Lee Luskin lives in southern Vermont.