An Ode to the Pencil

An Ode to Writing Supplies with a special nod to the Pencil

Oh, dear pencils, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Found in drawers, backpacks, and desks, the pencil, one could argue, is one of our most-used writing tools. Modest in form but mighty in function my pencils are used to brainstorm, record, sketch, draft, create, and communicate. Many people comment on my variety of pencils as my interactions with this tool are purely physical because I have the freedom to choose the perfect fit, color, shape, size. With all, it has going for it – as, after all, it’s erasable. And, the graphite? Well, I’m partial to smooth cake-like graphite where more clay has been added to create a softer, more fluid line. My pencil needs to move on paper, not tear it up!

When selecting the perfect pencil, I am drawn to Caroline Weaver’s brick-and-mortar store, CW Pencil Enterprise; CW Pencil Enterprise.

I marvel at all of the pencil choices her store has available and am always drawn to the vintage boxes in an array of colors, the variety of graphite, and the array of flexible and pliable pink erasers located at the top of a pencil or purchased separately. This website is a dream come true for me as the many variations of pencils that are sold result in a huge modern selection for everyone. 

In a time when our lives are so tightly woven around technology, I find myself yearning to go back to all things analog, as simply writing by hand with a quality pencil. Nothing compares to the smooth flow of my black wing palominos or that bright yellow perfectly crafted No. 2 that evokes memories of elementary school and writing by hand. I often reflect on the importance of the pencil as it relates to my creativity, literacy, and innovation as I write children’s books. Ultimately, it is both a tool and a perfect metaphor – at one end you have the creation of anything and at the exact opposite end, you have the negative of that creation with the ability to erase and re-create with one swift movement of the hand. It’s like the alpha and the omega of this little yellow, black, brown, or blue stick.

Two books that caught my eye are The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance and  The Pencil Perfect: The Untold Story of a Cultural Icon. Both books are chock-a-block full of the pencil’s evolving history over hundreds of years, the complexity of the pencil manufacturing process, and how a simple block of wood, usually red cedar, begins this entire process of a writer’s creative vision.

 

Lines – Crafting a Writer

 

LINES – CRAFTING A WRITER

At a recent late Saturday morning virtual coffee and brunch gathering, I realized that I had two types of friends. All five of us had indulged in breakfast burritos – filled to bursting with ingredients such as fluffy scrambled eggs, savory-sweet onions, zesty peppers, crunchy celery, zucchini, and spicy chili, sweet with a hint of cumin and garlic according to my friend Mary. As I looked around at the faces on the screen I realized that four of us were nodding in agreement having only ‘oohed and ahhed’ at the flavors, never describing this flavorful delicacy and finally and not until Mary described each ingredient that was listed we wondered how she knew what spices had been added to this take-out dish that made it so extraordinary. The rest of us looked around with something between confusion and amazement. “How did you know that cumin & garlic were the “secret ingredients,” we asked. “I’m not sure,” replied Mary with a shrug. “I guess I can just tell.”

What I decided I witnessed during this meeting became an important connection with my work in helping young children write. Just as all five of us could recognize that the burrito was “delicious’ and ‘flavorful,” most people can recognize when writing has “voice” and “lots of details.” I believe that cooking and writing are considered to be an art and a science. There are basic rules to each but also, a tremendous amount of room for individual creativity and choice.

Most people, me included, would agree with the notion that writing on your own outside of teaching/classroom time, even if it’s once in a while, will greatly improve your thought process and aid in putting ideas to paper. Writing for young children can be a powerful way to process ideas, reflections, and thoughts, whether one teaches one or not. What I do believe is that if the expectation of what we teach others about writing is changing- from the rigid structure of academic writing to the craft of writing – then so should our preparation.

The fact that I came from a writing background, combined with the fact that I spent several years studying early writing with researchers from Boston University lent a vision that propelled me forward in my own learning to become familiar with the smaller craft skills behind the writing. To really look at the art of writing itself and for noticing the craft of writing in order to see its strengths. I realized that the possible next steps in all levels of my own personal writing helped enlarge the tip-toe approach I had grown accustomed to while writing. My personal craft felt strangled by the fundamentals of teaching writing. I needed a fresh perspective that allowed me to fully dive in and create wonderful meaning from my galloping ideas. Now to get to work and finish those last few paragraphs, but first, another cup of tea.

 

So Many Good Books!

 

SO MANY GOOD BOOKS!

With winter receding almost as quickly as the snowbanks, and with days still windy and cold I continue to be hard at work building my spring 2021 reading lists. Currently, I work in a large elementary school which means my vacation schedules circle around summer, the holidays, winter, and spring breaks. With this ebb and flow of days so do my book stacks ebb and flow.

Very often I find myself digging into indie presses’ upcoming releases, researching classics that I’ve never read, along with those I have read and never fully appreciated while in middle and high school, randomly googling things like “books about tea,” and asking friends and colleagues for recommendations. I’m always on the lookout for something unexpected that in turn bumps its way onto my reading list and then into the stacks I have created in various locations around my house. I once had a dear friend ask me, “What are you reading right now?” and my reply of 4 titles left her mouth open wide and wondering, “How can you read more than one book at a time?” This brought me to examining my reading habits and asking myself the following questions:

WHEN DO I READ?

Every day and all the time. Now that may sound a bit over the top, however, I am never without a book close by; in my handbag, in the car, and as I mentioned above my book stacks are scattered throughout the house. Also, I usually am the one who gets up early to make the coffee and set out breakfast, and while all that’s simmering, I’ll start reading. And, I always read before bed, no matter how late the hour is.

BOOKS: PRECIOUS OBJECTS?

I like to treat hardcover books very nicely. I always use bookmarks – sticky notes, postcards, scraps of paper torn from a magazine, or old business cards from previous acquaintances. Paperbacks take a wee bit more action in that I might turn down a page or slide a pencil or pen into the gutter – I always make notes in the paper books I’m reading.

PAPER BOOKS, E-READERS OR AUDIOBOOKS?

Paper books all the time! Years ago when tablets and Kindle readers first came out I was captivated by the backlit lighting, the ease at being able to order any book whenever I saw something appealing but then I realized how much I missed the weight of a good book. And, the smell of paper. Back to paper books I went. Several years ago I had a long commute to work so would listen to ‘books on tape’ in the car. That didn’t last long though as many of the narrator voices didn’t ‘speak’ to me. I preferred hearing my own voice, in my head with all of the inflections and imperfections.

MUSIC OR SILENCE WHILE READING?

It depends. When studying for school work I always have music playing; Tom Petty, Moody Blues, Chicago, Styx, the Beatles. However, when deeply entranced in a novel fiction/non-fiction it has to be quiet in order for me to lose myself amongst the words.

WHAT BOOKS AM I LOOKING FORWARD to READING IN SPRING 2021?

I’m really looking forward to reading Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore a ‘modern day’ fictional story that explores time leaps in and out of the years between 1982 up through 2015, How to Stop Time by Matt Haig, Normal People by Sally Rooney, Whose Names Are Unknown by Sanora Babb narrative indie nonfiction in Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl-1932, and a return to a classic, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.

Easy Does It

 

 

Easy Does It

As the year 2021 starts off snowy and cold and our greatest defenses are to put on a snuggly polar bear hooded snowsuit to dive deep into the stillness of the nearest snow pile, like my grandson, Nathan, I believe we continue to yearn for the silence and calm (Not Nathan!) that deep winter in the Northeast brings to us New Englanders. I often call it the ‘necessary’ calm or the calm ‘before the summer storm’ of visitors who arrive from away as early as April.

But, for now, while so much of life as we know it did in fact slow down and scale back for much of 2020 – out of necessity – emotionally, socially, and mentally it continues to be hard work, heavy, and pretty harried from day to day. Watching my grandson play joyfully in the snow crunchy mounds in his backyard, I notice each time that he plays hard, is emotionally exhausted after building a snowman or snow fort with his sister, but at the same time, he’s cultivating an inner sense of calm. He’s quieted any worries, instead taking on an inviting sense of ease and simplicity into his life as a 2 and a half-year-old. A most welcome and definitely timely respite from the day to day chatter in his external world.

Watching Nathan play I often think that maybe it’s a good time to adjust my expectations. A good time to give myself and others permission to lower the bar just a wee bit, to allow for more space for boredom, and ease, and quiet, and stillness. To practice becoming comfortable in that big open space we call our own backyard. 

To become confident in the knowledge that in order to make something cherished (a day, an event, reading a book) and memorable, we need not pack it full of endless lists of ‘to do’. Instead, to savor the sights, and sounds, and smells, and flavors of a moment lived and experienced well are most often our most cherished. 

I imagine that one day I will ask my grandson what he remembers most about his cherished moments playing in a snowy backyard as a toddler and I think I will hear, “Cocoa bombs, Mimi. Let’s make cocoa bombs!” 

Ahhh. My favorite winter beverage.

The BEST Hot Chocolate Bomb Recipe + Tutorial – Sugar Geek Show

 

Our Creativity Changes As We Do

 

The Various Paths We Take Can Lead Us Somewhere New

A creative life is not linear – it’s full of curves, swoops, dips, and sometimes confusion. 

For each step we take forward toward a chosen destination, there can often be many steps backward, providing perfect circumstances for discouragement to cultivate.

My grand-daughter is 5 ½ and living through a pandemic; hybrid schooling, no access to her grand-parents except through the virtual world, and yet she thrives. Telling me often that she loves school, wants to be an artist and a scientist when she grows up, and rejoices in sharing, via a ZOOM session, the loss of her very first tooth!

She’s resilient. Creative. Determined. Focused. And, loves learning new things. Her creative path has diverged many times during 2020, however, a good life doesn’t always move stoically forward in a single direction – rather, it’s full of slow and steady progress and tiny breakthroughs. 

For my grand-daughter, her tiny breakthrough came when her mother registered her for a ZOOM cooking class. She and several other friends her age connect each week to create, cook, and take the challenge of learning something new – slicing, dicing, spreading, mushing, stirring, pouring, and measuring – all while following the directions of a chef who assists on the screen.

For Natalie, her pathways in a good life have been interrupted and re-directed yet she continues to thrive and persevere to learn more, do more, and create her own map of crisscrossing paths and places that she might never have imagined.

I think my take-away from this divergence is believing the best thing a person can do is embrace the positives and possibilities from every situation that you are in or choose to be in. Every Thursday, Natalie connects virtually to prepare and cook a meal for her parents and younger brother which I’ve heard has become the highlight of everyone’s week. And, each week her mother, Kris, sends me photos that I, in turn, send off to family and friends who delight in seeing Natalie grow and embrace this new activity. At the same time, those photos bring more smiles and exclamations and comment that swirl inside of an email ‘reply – all’ button. Eventually, we all learn what works for us and what doesn’t and move forward with the lessons we’ve learned; our creativity changes just as we do.

The Art of Seeing Simplicity

Photo courtesy of Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge 

Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson was a world-renowned marine biologist, author, and environmentalist who served as an aquatic biologist and editor-in-chief for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. She has been credited with launching the contemporary environmental movement and awakening the concern of Americans for the environment.

The Art of Seeing Simplicity

SIMPLICITY has many forms. What at first might appear simple, when observed more closely, reveals a complex world. What does simple mean to you? For me, simple is a clean minimal workspace in which to create and write, several uninterrupted quiet hours, a straightforward plan, sharpened pencils, a hot cup of tea, cloth napkins, a warm slice of peanut butter toast, and to invigorate my creative thinking a cold winter’s walk crunchy with frost underneath my boots. 

With the hustle and bustle of life, for me, there is a peace that comes with simplifying. Even my hobbies, where I often turn to for solace, can be overwhelming, especially when pressures to keep up with what others are doing. When that overflow begins to take shape there is often a call for me to simplify, in whichever way this word takes form, be it in my writing, the meals I prepare, the walks that I take each day. The respite comes for me when I take that deep breath, calm my buzzing thoughts, look around me, and know that I am at my best when I can celebrate basic forms, colors, textures, and silhouettes. This celebration arrives in many different ways, through my writing, knitting, sewing, drawing, or cooking. Some of my projects are simple in structure, while others are simple in style. Still, others are simple only in appearance and interestingly enough require more of my attention and skill to create. 

I am filled with immense gratitude each and every day; especially for places like the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge. http://fms.gov/rachel_carson

The soft sand where trails wind along the edge of the marsh, the spongy moss trails that guide my walks, and the coastal sky so blue that it often takes my breath away all combine to create a natural interlude that always allows me to breathe new life, perspective, and joy into my everyday creative world. 

 

 

We Are All Better When We Stand Together

WORDS & IMAGES

Writing as a Creative Tool

 

 

 

 

 

 

WE ARE ALL BETTER WHEN WE STAND TOGETHER & USE WRITING AS A CREATIVE TOOL, just as my son, Eric, used a creative tool to split wood. No splitting maul was available to him, so he checked out what he had in the shed and voila – a pickaxe.

As I grow as a writer, I understand more and more that it’s not about words. I am always chasing the magic of an image. Words for me are a translation of the source of the story – and for me, this exists in and through an image. Just like these photos; A woodpile. A pickaxe. A family. A father who’s a hero to his children. I try to embody my scenes, which means landing in the presence of a world in action, exploring it with my five senses, and trying to get those details down. When it works, language can be a conduit, so the experience of the scene moves through my body and into the body of you, the reader.

We are trained to write reports, fill in forms correctly, and communicate clearly in an email. We also think, because we’ve been doing this for so long, that this is what ‘writing’ feels like. If you are used to writing creatively you might believe that words are buckled into their fixed meanings. Anyone can learn a few creative writing skills, and learn how to unfasten that buckle. Then a delicious space opens between word and meaning. 

We all get to play with this because we all use language. Learning how to imbue a word with emotion can be incredibly liberating and healing. At the same time an empty canvas or a blank page, that oftentimes scary writing thing called white space can be down-right terrifying, and debilitating. But it can also be used to provide balance to a work of art or a page layout. A good amount of white space keeps things from feeling cluttered. And, many times, I’ve seen non-writers laugh with joy, their eyes lit up with surprise from something they discovered on their own writing journey, even while experiencing the dreaded white space that so many of us feel compelled to fill.

Along with this, I love the questions that come out when looking at images. I love the stories that emerge and sometimes they even surprise me. My words and images are company for each other. Sometimes they are thick and tight and sometimes they are sharing the same real estate. One way or another, they have decided they belong together, and very often I agree.

 

 

My Missy Cat

 

My Missy Cat

Earlier this summer I picked up a small relatively thin book titled, “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by T.S. Elliot. It originally caught my eye because of the word ‘possum’ and since publishing a book last year about an opossum I thought I’d like to add this to my collection. However, as most of you know, this is not a book about an opossum but a well-known collection of poems about cats which in turn became Cats a 2019 musical fantasy film based on the 1981 stage musical of the same name by Andrew Lloyd Webber, based on the poetry collection Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939) by T. S. Eliot

Upon reading this charming collection of poems I was attracted to a short selection titled,

“The Naming of Cats”.

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter, it isn’t just one of your holiday games; you may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter when I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.

And, yes, my Missy Cat has three different names. The first one is the one the family uses daily; Missy. A sensible every day often used cat name, according to our vet. Missy’s fancier name came 18 years ago when she was hand-delivered to us in a soft pink blanket. She was named Miss Clavell, after the teaching nun, in Ludwig Bemelmans; Madeline book series. And, very quickly, due to my 3-year-old son’s ease at making things quicker and easier to say, nicknamed her Miss. C. which quickly became Missy. The name the family uses almost as often as Missy Cat.

A recent photo of Missy was taken on a hot summer day in mid-July. The outside temperature was 96 degrees with no interior air conditioning. Missy cruised the house trying to find that perfect location in which to ‘chill’. I watched as she entered the bathroom, looked up, and then jumped into the bowl of the stone sink. Ahh. Cool at last! She turned twice, purring loudly and then promptly wrapped herself around the bowl to engage in what T.S. Elliot wrote as “profound meditation, her mind engaged in rapt contemplation of the thought, of the thought, of the thought, of her name.”

Day Lily Calm

DAY LILY CALM

A Poem 

by Ocean Rose

Nature awakens, stirs from the blanket of sleep, branches

stretch out, flower buds promise us of spring.

She asks of us to tread lighter than we have, take care, 

for she is one, our home.

Misty-eyed, dewdrops wrap around the delicate air.

The earth beneath us gently sighs, sprouts vibrate in unison.

Space for time to combine in these magical moments,

oh what courage.

To rise again when you’ve given your all.

The sun simply shines.

I have come to learn that simplicity has many forms. What at first might appear simple, when observed more closely, reveals complexity? For me, simple is a clean and minimal workplace, a quiet hour – or two! – a straightforward plan, a glass of ice tea, cloth napkins, and a pair of handknit socks. With the hustle and bustle of life, especially in this time of a virus run-a-muck, moments of peace and tranquility bring the act of simplifying. Even in my hobbies, where I often look for solace can be overwhelming when the burden of excess is in our way – too many projects and oftentimes the pressure to keep up with what others are doing. Lately, I have felt the call to simplify, in whichever way it takes shape – in my home, my writing, drawing, knitting, or in the meals I cook. I am celebrating the basics; colors, textures, and shapes. Some of my projects are simple in structure, while others are simple in style. And, still others, like my written stories for young children are simple only in appearance and require more attention and skill to create. I am filled with immense gratitude for every moment of blue sky, the vibrant sea breezes that blow through my living room windows, and the intense yellows, blues, and greens that are my gardens of daylilies and blueberry bushes. They are the beautiful backdrop for my moments of creative simplicity as I breathe fresh life, each day, into all of my new makings.