Thursday, July 10, 2008

On Visiting My Great Aunt

While I was in Sweden, my Great Uncle died. Though my Great Aunt has had many close encounters with death, she is still alive and as well as can be expected.

My dear Aunt Leone wrote an e-mail that she was feeling a bit better since her husband died. Could she, please, use one of my outdated (no more than two years) Writer's Market books? Could I bring it the next time I visited?

Hint, hint.

I hadn't visited since sometime last summer (2007) and it was, indeed, high time I visited. Sure enough, I had an outdated WM and decided I would take one of my writing days to go see her--a one hour drive each way. It seemed a good use of a writing day to learn from a pro, since she has published some incredible number of times.

When I arrived, she met me on her porch, leaning on the rail. There was quite a bit of catching up to do, so we were already catching up as we walked in the front door. Aunt Leone took to her electric wheelchair explaining that she could still walk but grew awfully tired. She took me beyond her writing desk into a back room to show me the memorial of Uncle Earl she had set up on a bookcase. There were photos of key times in his life, including the first photo he ever sent her when he would soon propose by letter, writing, "Say yes or forever hold your peace." His teaching days, preaching days, a family photo that survived a house fire, a watch, his "not to be misplaced" nail clippers, his Bible, etc.

Everything has a story. Even how the beds had been rearranged since Uncle Earl's passing. I realized it was going to be awhile before we got started writing.

Soon, my cousin and his son came downstairs from their upstairs apartment and we said quick hellos. I thought both would be going off to work, so I didn't worry too much about the interruption to our already late start.

One went to work and the young one hung around.

Aunt Leone was pleased to get her hands on a newer Writer's Market. She was also pleased to visit with her great-grandson. Between questions and comments, she looked up her normal publications to verify editor's names and whether or not the publication was still publishing. I got into my on-line version to show her how to use it to get up-to-the-minute information. She listened half-heartedly, still flipping through the book, and finally said, "I just don't think I'm up to learning how to do all that. I'm barely using e-mail, you know."

I read a manuscript she had started on the back of some bank statements while she waited at a doctor's office. It was comforting to note that she also crossed out whole phrases and sentences, editing as she went. The story wasn't finished, yet, and wasn't at the point that I could get a feel for where it was going. I was certain, however, that whatever she wrote would find its way into the published world.

My work, however, is nowhere but here in this blog. I've published all of two poems and two small stories. Another story is at the Coeur d'Alene library as a winner in a past contest. It feels great, and all, but I'm definitely not bringing in the $150 reprinted piece checks my aunt is!

We ate the sandwiches my aunt had prepared for us before I arrived. We chatted over lunch. We still hadn't written. Time kept ticking away. Aunt Leone told me she'd sent off four reprints in the last two days. I had barely gotten a new piece up on this blog. Somehow, she had time to chat with her great-grandson, enjoy visitors, be a story-teller at church and still get a few things sent off and all I was doing was housework, blog research and writing and being a mom. Nothing really "sent out."

It was beginning to feel like my time with her was as fruitless as my own time at home. Additionally, I was learning nothing more than what her grieving process and coming back into life in the community was like (worthy things to learn, of course).

I had her read a story of mine. The whole time she held that piece in her hands, her head on a pillow and her feet at the other end of the couch, she was either conversing with her great-grandson, or telling me she must have slept a little because she kept having to catch the pages when they slipped. Mind you, she is in her late 80's.

As I waited for her to finish the piece, I finally opened my laptop to begin working on a new blog (which is not finished, yet) while I waited. The clock face told me I had less than a half an hour before I had to drive the hour back to pick my son up from the sitter's (his grandmother).

She got up from the couch, asked me questions about my story which indicated she hadn't really read it, then took up the Writer's Market again. When I started packing up my computer and announcing I had to go, I finally learned the key to her success.

Here I will digress. I've been going through my 2007 Poet's Market. On page 220 is an "Insider Report" titled, "A Moment of Intensity: Short form called 'the minute'." There were poems, so I stopped to read the article and the poems. The minute form interested me. It is a "12-line poem consisting of 60 syllables, with a syllabic line count of 8,4,4,4,8,4,4,4,8,4,4,4, with rhyming couplets. The creator of this form is Verna Lee Hinegardner, "whose official definition of the minute form included . . .'a strict iambic meter . . .capitalized and punctuated like prose and capturing a slice of life.'"

Sounded fun. So, to finish this longish story about a shortish visit, I will introduce a new poem by me (without the rhyme):

Key to Writerly Success

(a loose Minute)

“So you’ve come to write. What do you

do on the days

you write?” asks my


well-published Aunt as she flips through

Writer’s Market.

“Write,” I say, while

we do not write.

I open my laptop and start

typing something.

“Oh,” she mutters

“I spend more time

searching markets.”

Now you know why I'm back to flipping through my own market listings and more diligently researching than writing. Don't be surprised if these blog entries appear less and less often!

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