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Picking My Battles Posts

Honest Work

One of the things I have enjoyed about the Hubbard Hall Writer’s Project is not just having the permission but the encouragement to get in touch with my inner smart ass.  And, while reviving a love of drawing and sketching in a writing group may seem like a supreme act of contrariness – an absolute requirement for anyone who takes being a smart ass seriously – it has helped me be truer to the project and also truer to myself than I have been in many years.

I drew constantly in high school.  I drew in art class, out of art class.  I drew to drown out the reality of being unpopular.  I drew to kill time until graduation would liberate me from a sort of geeky existence at a school where being geeky was a one-way ticket to popularity poverty.  But mostly, I drew to tell stories.

Highly political, all thumbs with a makeup kit and blow-dryer, I successfully skewered any hope of attaining the social skills needed to enter the higher echelons of high school society when I dove into the world of Dungeons and Dragons.  Like most questionable decisions in high school, this one was motivated by an interest in a specific boy, and I worked hard to feign interest in the dice and the byzantine layers of rules.

But I loved designing characters.  I loved creating people, and I loved drawing them.  I drew them for myself and occasionally for other people, and as I drew, I conceived whole histories for these people on paper.


I dropped art for a number of reasons, and even though I wrote, I alway felt I was missing something.  Now, as our workshop explores all the new avenues for story telling, it seems the visual and the verbal increasingly buttress each other, and I have come back to it, slowly reclaiming my craft.  With each cartoon or animation,  I am filling a void and finding the confidence to follow not only my own creative urges, but encourage them in others.  And building little temples of creativity and encouragement is ultimately what this Writer’s Project has come to mean.

Things I Carry

We live in the palm of a mountain range, with the surrounding hills stretching like fur-covered fingers toward the sky, and the forest surrounding us has a voice. It is not a Loraxy voice full of reproach, but a layered, textured chorus; a swishing siren call to worship on sunny summer days, and a hypnotic drumbeat when the rain comes.

Beyond my bedroom window a strip of lawn separates the house from the front lines of the forest.   Some nights I can hear the neighborhood bear  ravaging our composter, but after the dog (and my car clicker) frighten her off, rushing water and swishing trees are the only sounds.  And, even though I know the only open eyes belong to the trees and the wildlife, when dark divides my room from the world, I still close the curtains to dress for bed – just as I when I lived in the city.

A few nights ago the bear visited another house down the mountain, a fact confirmed by gunfire echoing through the hills.  I’ve gotten used to that sound now, but the first time let to an unpleasant revival of a self I thought I had killed but was only hibernating.


It was a swishing summer evening when a coyote stopped to sample a nearby neighbor’s garbage cans. Like many Vermonters, this neighbor was armed, and one too many morning garbage can clean-ups had prompted an evening vigil. Had I known this before the shots rang out that soft summer night, my old self – an urban self, reckless and given to frequent fits of terrified catatonia – might have been allowed to expire.

The first crack-crack of rifle fire rang out just as I was starting to doze. A third crack echoed back and forth against the mountains, and I was one with the old me, cowering face-down on a filthy gold and mustard shag rug, praying that I would not be able later to identify the boy standing over me with a gun whose size and color were the only features I’d noticed.  Crack! and I was cursing this hell of  being own making, a torment I invited by knowingly being in a place that was always wrong at any time.  Crack! I raced to the window, wondering if I should call 911. Where were the sirens? In the city, I’d hear them by now. Would the constable be faster? The cracks stopped, and I berated myself for panicking.  Chilling sweat soaked my nightgown.

Watching my slumbering hound dog on the rug next to me, I waited for another crack. Surely she would have warned us of an apporaching serial killer.  I giggled, and she acknowledged me. Once assured that I wouldn’t disturb her again, she yawned, and I feel my clenched muscles relax.

Then I saw it. A white blur darted across the yard. I knew it had to be a coyote, and the pup’s ferocious and vocal reaction attested to it.  My old self refused to be dismissed, however. And even as my perverse pondering subsided, lingering fear nurtured her, reminding me how easily she could control – and possibly derail – the life I don’t curse.


Two Roads Converge

Robert Frost once wrote about the value of taking a less-traveled road.  I, however, stood at the crossroads for many years before choosing the more traditional path of partnership and parenthood, and that, for me, has made all the difference.

When I was in high school, I assumed I would take that bumpier road – I had no intention of succumbing to what I saw as a life of housework (to be fair, I don’t succumb to that all that often) and diaper changing.  I fantasized about being an impoverished writer or artist living in a Parisian garret over a cafe where I would have croissants and marmalade for breakfast every day (and somehow be able to enjoy the shoe shopping)  Did I mention it was a fantasy?  Somewhere in the hormone-soaked daydreams, I knew the reality would be different, but one theme was constant – I would have adventure in my life.  And, even though I would choose the same path if I found myself at the same fork again, I sometimes wish it was possible to send a part of myself down the road less-traveled and have those adventures.

Recently, though, I have had a glimpse of that other road through the trees.  Through work and the Hubbard Hall Writer’s Project, I have had the unexpected pleasure of meeting several amazing women who not only forsook the well-traveled path but blazed their own trails.  They dared not only to imagine lives outside of marriage and/or motherhood (something that still sparks heated debate in our society), but they dared to live them.  Some stories I know, some I guess at, and, while I wouldn’t trade my own adventures for all the pastries in Paris, knowing these women and hearing about their adventures enriches my own journey every day.
Vive la difference!

Dog Demoted

Katy is our second shelter dog.  She’s some kind of hound mix, and her gentle nature is a perfect fit for a family with small children.  Even our cats have warmed up to her over the last two years.

They were hardly overjoyed when she first arrived, however.  They welcomed her with World War III – hissing and scratching at every opportunity – and then settled into low-level guerilla warfare for the first few months.  Katy never fought back, and her patience eventually earned her the coveted title of honorary cat, private forth class.

A few days ago, that changed.

We are inundated with chipmunks this summer, and we can’t walk out to the driveway without tripping over a furry striped carcass.  The fresh daily kills are offerings from the cats.  It’s their contribution to the survival of my garden.

Katy is not much of a hunter (or a watch dog, or a working dog).  The cats apparently decided that failing reflected badly on them, so Snoop, the fatter of our two black cats, snagged an unsuspecting chipmunk near the garden fence and brought the struggling rodent to Katy for the final blow.  Snoop dropped their prey an inch in front of Katy who sniffed it.  Then she sniffed Snoop.  The terrified critter started to run.  Snoop looked at Katy for a second before pouncing on and retrieving the chipmunk.  He dropped it in front of Katy again who stood there wagging her tail.  She looked from chipmunk to cat and back to the chipmunk, and the chipmunk escaped again – this time making it to the safety of the crevices in the fieldstone wall.

Snoop stared stonily at Katy for another moment.  Then, flicking his tail, he started walking toward the forest.  As usual, Katy started to follow, wagging tail and tongue at the prospect of a romp in the woods, but Snoop turned and leveled his gaze at her.   Their noses were almost touching.  Snoop glared into her eyes, and Katy’s tail was suddenly still.  Then he turned and walked to the edge of the woods, not bothering to look back because he knew she was not following any more.

She had been demoted.

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