Volume VIII, Issue 40
October 9, 2019
Word of the Week: hard-won
When I met this week's featured writer, Emily Buehler, at the John Campbell Folk School back in May, we discovered that we had a lot in common: we both love to travel, we both appreciate the natural world, we're both deeply introspective, we're both writers, and we've both taken bicycle trips.
In my twenties, I biked the Blue Ridge Parkway from Mile 0 in Rockfish Gap, Virginia, to Asheville, North Carolina—some 360 miles, which was as far as the parkway went back then. And, a few years ago, Emily biked across the country, from Cape May, New Jersey to Oceanside, Oregon—ocean to ocean.
In fact, my first publication was a "Voices" column I wrote about my bike trek, which the Charlotte Observer titled "One Cyclist's Glorious Ordeal." And Emily wrote a memoir about hers, Somewhere & Nowhere: A Bicycle Journey Across America, which she describes as "the adventure of Wild, the contemplation of Zen and the Art
of Motorcycle Maintenance, and the neuroses of Eat, Pray, Love, all on a shoestring budget… and bicycles."
With a description like that, how could I not share Emily and her book with you? There was so much I could relate to within its pages, and I love Emily's Lessons of the road:
- Worry doesn’t help.
- Just wait and see.
- Let go of the trip you thought you’d be on.
- Balance self-improvement with self-acceptance.
- Be present.
These are the perfect lessons for me to lean into as I work on my own memoir, How She Fed Us: Reflections on the Recipes of a Perfectly Imperfect Mother. I'd forgotten how vulnerable and frightened writing can make me. Taking a "wait and see" attitude and "letting go of the [perfect book I hoped I'd be creating]" helps me when I find, as I so often do when I'm "being present," that I
am filled with worry about whether my words are good enough. And once I've improved my writing all I can, acceptance is the only access to peace—and to moving forward.
One zine reader and friend, writer Ann Campanella, told me yesterday that she was checking every week for a progress report, so I guess it's a good time for a quick update: I have written each one of the past six Mondays, for at least four hours, and several times up to eight hours. Yay! This "beginning of the week instead of the end"
trick is really working well for me! (Maybe it will work well for you, too? Hint, hint.)
I've mostly been in what I call "the energy of revision"—cutting weak words, passages, and pieces; adding new insights from the vantage point of a fresh perspective as I've come back to the book 17 years after I wrote the original How She Fed Us as a family cookbook with stories in the last year of I
my mother's life. I'm also finding that my having become a grandmother has opened a whole new dimension.
This past Monday, though, I focused on "the energy of structure," reading from the beginning of the book and charting each vignette or reflection on my new "How She Fed Us Command Central" Excel spreadsheet. I'm so very right brain that having one central place to document each piece's what, when, and status (idea, draft, copy edit ready) is immensely
It's also immensely helpful to read sections of Emily's book, like the one she so graciously agreed to share with you, "Eastern Minnesota, in which hot days and straight roads are filled with revelation." I feel so much less alone! It also helps to read the words that Ragini Elizabeth Michaels, author of Unflappable – Six Steps to Staying Happy, Centered, and Peaceful No Matter What used
to describe Somewhere & Everywhere:
“In this beautifully written memoir, author Emily Buehler shares the hard
won joys and sorrows of her bicycling journey across America. She thought
it was going to be many things. But the surprising outcome was a deep change
in her way of looking at life. She shares her experiences with an honest voice,
and how they shifted her understanding of letting go, finding balance, and living
with the rhythms of life – both the ups AND the downs. An enjoyable and worthy
read for anyone interested in living a more balanced and happy life.”
While our memoirs are different in so many ways, they are alike in many others, and these words of praise are a kind of compass to guide me to share "with an honest voice" my own hard-won joys and sorrows on my journey through life with and without my mother.
Yes, reading Emily's Somewhere & Everywhere right now has been a gift, helping me to remember and accept anew that a completed book is by its nature a hard-won accomplishment. And what I need to do is, no matter what my thoughts
may tell me, keep on pedaling and pedaling and pedaling until How She Fed Us is complete.
I think Thomas Paine had it right when he said, "The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value."
Here's to your hard-won accomplishments! May they be many.
Love and light,
As host Landis Wade says, in this conversation "we meet author and writing coach, Maureen Ryan Griffin, who reads poetry from her collection Ten Thousand Cicadas Can’t Be Wrong and guides us through her writing book, Spinning Words into Gold: A Hands-On Guide to the
Craft of Writing.
This is a great episode to get your writing juices flowing, whether you are seasoned writer or one that wants to start dabbling, because writing can be for everyone.
Among other topics, Maureen explores the why, when and where of writing, and discusses some of the secrets to good writing.
We start the show with Maureen reading her poem: 'Why You Can Go Back to a Story You Abandoned Years Ago and Finally Finish It.' "
Find it via your favorite podcast app, or here on the Charlotte Readers Podcast website.
Would you like your writing — prose and/or poetry — to be more graceful, powerful, beautiful? Do you sometimes find poetry confusing or intimidating and wish you could “crack the code”? Or do you enjoy writing and reading poems, but want a more thorough understanding of what makes a poem good? Then this poetry extravaganza is for you.
Expect a good time exploring what makes a poem a poem, gaining the knowledge you need to confidently create and revise poetry, and strengthening your writing skills in all genres.
It would be a joy and an honor to share what rocks about poetry with you!
HERE’S WHAT YOU GET:
- 23 poetry creation tools, delivered one per day (Monday through Friday) to your inbox — in honor of National Poetry month. Use them as you get them, use them when you can, use them over and over to create poems. Each tool zeroes in on one aspect of poetry and provides an innovative method to approach writing a poem. Many of them are great for creating prose,
too. The tools include:
* a purpose, so you’re clear what you will learn
* background information when helpful
* “how-to” directions to create a poem
* an example that illustrates the poetry tool in action
* a short reflection to solidify the concepts covered
* “Hone Your Craft” suggestions for further exploration
* a short reflection to solidify the concepts covered
- A PDF document of each tool that you can print or save on your computer
- An audio recording of each tool, so you can learn by listening and/or reading
- Instruction on the role of audience, reading like a writer, and the process of revision, including a handy Revision Checkpoint Chart — this information can be applied to strengthen your prose as well as poetry
- Additional poetry resources
- An e-book that contains the information and resources covered, as well as your 23 poetry creation tools for ongoing use
WHERE: From the comfort of your own home, via the web.
WHEN: Any time you want! And once you receive all 23 tools, they’re yours to keep, which means that you can keep using them for years to come.
TO REGISTER: To pay with a check via mail, email email@example.com for instructions. To register for Poetry Rocks online, click here.
More WordPlay opportunities coming soon. Stay posted!
Emily Jane Buehler is an author and editor based in Hillsborough, North Carolina. She has published
two nonfiction books: Bread Science and a bicycle trip memoir called Somewhere and Nowhere.
Emily is currently writing a feminist romance novel. Part fairy tale, part social revolution, The Forest Bride follows the imprisoned princess Rose as she’s enchanted by one suitor, kidnapped by another, and eventually freed to find her own way outside the castle, where she sets about rescuing those in need, overthrowing the monarchy, and finding her way back to her true love. Emily writes
romance using her middle name, Jane. You can learn more about her mission as a fiction writer and download a free short story at https://janebuehler.com.
For occasional news, thoughts, or writing tips, subscribe at https://emilybuehler.com/news/
an excerpt from
Somewhere & Nowhere
A Bicycle Journey Across America
Eastern Minnesota, in which hot days
and straight roads are filled with revelation
Wispy clouds feathered the blue sky, and I inhaled the fresh air. Like yesterday, the road ran due west with no towns, but today the grassy fields and lonely barns looked prettier. Yesterday, we’d biked thirty-five miles of long, straight nothingness as the temperature climbed to ninety. I’d been lucky to have leftovers for lunch, because we hadn’t passed a gas station, much less a restaurant. But we’d found a
park in the town of Lyle, where I’d washed up and enjoyed the shade while the locals played ball nearby.
Probably the scenery was the same, but today I was able to appreciate it because it was morning and I had clean hair. I’d washed my hair that morning under the pump in Lyle’s park, scrubbing and rinsing until it squeaked.
Coiling my hair under my rinsed-clean bandana, stiff with the imprint of the picnic table where it had hung to dry, had given me a feeling that my hair would stay clean forever. This made me think of the hills we’d climbed in Pennsylvania—how I hadn’t accepted climbing hills as a regular part of life, but had wanted each hill to be the last, with reaching the top my final reward. Or how, after we dried out our
gear in the sun, I resented the next rain shower for wetting it again. Now I wanted my hair to stay clean indefinitely.
But it was easy to move on from the top of a hill, or to keep biking when it rained, or to continue living after washing my hair. It was harder when I “got stuck” in life. Like when I had a group of friends that worked well together, and I kept trying to make plans with only them even as they made new friends. Or when I’d hang on to an exciting crush on one guy, keeping my buoyant feelings secret so I’d never
have a definite response from him. When life felt particularly happy, I wanted to freeze it, and I didn’t recognize when it was time to move on. Then, when I finally let go of how things had been, I had to make an unsettling transition to the new present, only to become stuck again. So, life advanced in unpleasant leaps forward instead of one smooth progression.
Did I miss things in the present while I clung to the past?
Fifteen miles passed uneventfully, with Mary pulling ahead and out of sight. I came to the larger (but still deserted) Route 65, which ran northwest for eleven miles to Albert Lea. Sure that Albert Lea would have a restaurant, I kept going even when a gnawing began in my stomach. But as I grew hungrier, I grew sad, and familiar thoughts moved in. Why am I not having fun? I was away from work and the
crushes that made me feel sad at home; why was I still sad?
I tried to work out what thoughts had led to feeling sad, but nothing clicked. The sun felt hot, and I was hungry . . . why did I have to feel so bad? And how much farther is Albert Lea?
A large tree approached, over a bridge. Shade covered the wide cement walls, at a perfect height for sitting. I could easily lean my bike on the wall, well off the road. I braked without thinking.
Overhead, leaves swirled in the hot breeze. A silent stream flowed under the bridge. I got out peanut butter and a spoon and sat on the wall, scooching my butt backward until my legs dangled and rested.
In the shade, breezes cooled me as the sun’s heat radiated off. I sucked on a spoonful of peanut butter and watched the road. Does the peanut allergy ever develop midlife? What if I suddenly can’t breathe? Would a car come along in time?
“I’m not allergic to peanuts,” I told myself.
I looked left down the long stretch of deserted road. I studied the wood posts supporting the metal guardrail, the backs of the road signs. As the minutes ticked past, my skin cooled. The peanut butter placated my hunger. I again looked down the road. “The view backward down the road,” popped into my head, and the air grew clearer. Unexpectedly, I felt aware of myself sitting on the bridge, as if I were
thinking, “I’m on the bridge, I’m in the shade,” only I was not thinking at all. Stray thoughts and feelings spiraled together into an exact moment. It was like the feeling I’d had in the movie theater in Madison.
This time it unnerved me, but I still wanted it to last. But I couldn’t resist: gently, as if the moment could be scared off like a deer, I reached into my bag for my camera and snapped a picture looking backward down the road.
I felt better, but I made myself keep sitting. I wanted to be sure. There was no need to rush to Albert Lea.
“I shouldn’t be so hard on myself,” I thought, “upset at myself for feeling upset. And the tension that keeps popping up between Mary and me . . . it’s not my fault or Mary’s fault. It’s just the way it is.”
And then suddenly my stress had gone. The world had calmed, quieted. I looked at the road. I was awake and ready to go.
Mary and I split up for lunch in Albert Lea, so afterward, I left town alone. Mary was surely ahead; disappointed with lunch, I’d gone to Dairy Queen.
The sunlight beat down. The roadside offered no shade; any trees were behind a fence. Route 46 paralleled Interstate 90, but I couldn’t see or hear the interstate.
Ten miles slowly passed. I bought juice at a gas station, the only building I’d seen. Route 46 joined Route 22. There was nothing to mark the intersection but grass and the fence. I turned.
And then I saw a tree: a gigantic tree, sprawled over a driveway. The fence broke for the driveway: I could reach the shade! With a burst of pedaling, I rolled onto the gravel. The shade enveloped me. I lay my bike down and collapsed next to it, panting as heat wafted off. While I rested, I scratched a heart into the dust caked on my sweaty legs.
The final spot on the day’s itinerary was Brushy Creek. I found nothing but a crossroads with two houses: one standing and another, catty-corner, falling down. As usual, the trees were behind fencing, the shade a foot away. I sat as close as I could, as if being near the shade would somehow help. My knees and thighs gave their familiar twangy ache as I lowered myself to the ground, where I leaned against the
fence and closed my eyes. Damp grass stuck to the bottoms of my legs. Ants crawled on the dirt.
When I dragged myself up for the last ten miles of the day, my exhaustion magnified the ache of my sore knees and the stiffness of my shoulders. The energy in my legs waned as soon as I started pedaling. I watched for the two crossroads I had to pass as the miles crawled by. Finally, after a total of sixty-two miles, I arrived in Blue Earth, Minnesota.
Blue Earth radiated quietness, with more cars parked than driving. I pulled over at a visitor center. My stiff body unfolded off my bike, which I leaned on the wall before plodding toward the door. Cool air hit me as I entered, and a woman looked up from her desk and smiled.
“Hi.” I hesitated. “Has my friend been here?” She didn’t reply. “Another woman on a bike?”
“Oh, no, I haven’t seen her.”
“Oh, okay, she’s probably at the library. Is there a library?”
She gave me directions while my brain slowly began functioning in the cool air. “Are there any parks in town?” I asked next. “Like somewhere we could camp?”
“There’s Putnam Park, but a lot of people camp at the fairgrounds.”
“How do I get to the fairgrounds?”
“They’re on the far side of town, just go up the main street and it’ll be on the right.”
I found Mary at the library, and we rode to the fairgrounds. The driveway rolled in past deserted buildings. We crested a hill and the grounds spread before us: green hills, sheds, tall light poles, a horse barn, and far across it all, something that looked like a life-size replica of the Jolly Green Giant.
I stared. It couldn’t be anything else. “Oh my God, do you see that?” I called.
“Yup.” Towering fifty feet tall, two-toned green in the late sun, he stood hands on hips, muscular biceps flexed, just like on the bags of frozen peas. I was so glad we were camping here.
I kept glancing at the Giant as Mary and I chose a picnic table. A family filled a nearby table, grilling and drinking beer, talking loudly while the kids ran around unsupervised. The sunlight had taken on its late golden hue so we hurried to set up the tent.
I got out the stove and began ripping spinach for a salad. Mary made her own dinner across from me. Then, out of nowhere, she said, “Do you wish I weren’t here?” I stared, and she continued. “I feel like you’d rather be alone, or doing this with someone else.”
My brain limped helplessly along, struggling to find a response. My first impulse was to make her feel better. But I wanted to tell the truth. What was the truth? Of course I didn’t want to be alone—I’d be scared to be alone. But did I want Mary with me, or did I just want someone? I complained to myself about her, but I never wished she were someone else, did I? All the same, I never appreciated her. I
felt thankful for the lady at Dairy Queen today who chatted with me, but not for Mary. Now I felt ashamed.
I’d been staring at my spinach for five seconds. If I said the things I’d like to feel, maybe lying wasn’t so bad.
“No,” I mumbled, “I couldn’t do this without you.” I looked up but couldn’t make my eyes meet Mary’s.
She began talking about how we didn’t communicate or support each other. It was good to talk. We hadn’t really talked since Madison.
“It just seems like we’re so tired by the end of the day, we don’t discuss anything,” Mary was saying.
“I know,” I replied. “I don’t know why, when something bothers me it’s so hard to speak up about it. I know you won’t be mad, but instead I convince myself it’s not a big deal and that I can just deal with it on my own instead of saying something.”
We felt like friends again. After dinner, we walked to the Green Giant, laughing at the unlikely landmark. I thought again of happiness and “having fun,” the terms I’d been trying to define while I’d sat on the bridge that morning. I thought of my friends who’d ridden cross-country the previous summer and told me fun stories. Then I thought of another friend, Jo, who’d left Chapel Hill and flown to San
Francisco with no money and no plan. She’d ended up crying in a train station until some strangers took her home.
“Maybe my trip isn’t the same kind of trip those bike friends were on,” I wrote in my journal later. They’d been on a honeymoon sort of trip, whereas Jo had seemed to be on a search for personal growth. “Maybe mine is a Jo-crying-in-the-train-station kind of trip.”
Purchase a paperback copy of Somewhere & Nowhere here. (Scroll down to the bottom of the page. This link allows you to buy right from Emily. You can also find it on Amazon if you prefer.)
Purchase a Kindle copy of Somewhere & Nowhere here. (You
can also find it on Amazon if you prefer.)
Purchase an EPUB copy of Somewhere & Nowhere here.
WordPlay Now! Writing Prompt
This is WordPlay—so why not revel in the power and potential of one good word after another? This week, it's "hard-won."
PROMPT: Write about something "hard-won" by you (or one of your characters) at any point in your life—an event or experience, that challenged you, perhaps even beyond what you thought you were capable off and brought great reward: physically, emotionally, mentally, and/or spiritually. This can be
something that you took on yourself, like Emily did her bike ride, or something that happened to you: an accident, an illness (your own or someone else's), a move, a loss, etc.
MAUREEN RYAN GRIFFIN, an award-winning poetry and nonfiction writer, is the author of Spinning Words into Gold, a Hands-On Guide
to the Craft of Writing, a grief workbook entitled I Will Never Forget You, and three collections of poetry, Ten Thousand Cicadas Can't Be Wrong, This Scatter of Blossoms and When the Leaves Are in the Water.
She believes, as author Julia Cameron says, "We are meant to midwife dreams for one another." Maureen also believes that serious "word work" requires serious WordPlay, as play is how we humans best
learn—and perform. What she loves best is witnessing all the other dreams that come true for her clients along the way. Language, when used with intentionality and focus, is, after all, serious fuel for joy. Here's to yours!