A Birthday, a Book, and Camino or Bust

Today marks what would have been the 80th birthday of my mother, Davida Cecilia (nee Creamer) Craig. Everyone called her Dee. She liked milestone birthdays and she would have loved this one. 80. I always thought there was something magical about her birth year because it was 1939. The same year as The Wizard of Oz. I always remembered that odd fact, for some reason.

A couple of weeks ago, I took out the recipe box my mother used to keep. To be honest, there was a time when we kept it together. We once began a project together of organizing that box and re-writing all the recipes on index cards. We bought the alphabetical dividers and everything. It was going to be a perfectly appointed collection to pass down. As I scrolled through the chaos of cards, pamphlets, magazines, magazine clippings and scrap pieces of paper with faded recipes scrawled on them, it became obvious that the project was a complete failure. We hadn’t even made it halfway through the reorganization process, and it seems to have declined back to chaos in the ensuing years. This recipe box is the Miss Havisham of recipe boxes. Hope lost.

But perhaps this is the way recipe collections should be, no? Fully loved and used and faded and worn and torn and in shambles. Maybe that’s the sign of a good recipe collection. Maybe our little project was where we went wrong. It was, come to think of it, my idea. Sure, Mom always said, “One day I should sit down and sort this mess out.” But I wonder now if everyone who loves to bake and cook says that occasionally when they open up their fragile elastic-reinforced recipe collections to get to work.

What I also realized as I flipped through all the beloved baking recipes from my childhood is that we must have began that project when I was no more than 10 years old. All the rewritten recipes on index cards were in my childhood eerily perfect and meticulous left-handed scrawl. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with her and going through the recipes and being cautious to the point of insanity while I carefully wrote them out. All the 1/2s and 1/4s and 1/3s had to be 100% correct. Not a single word could be omitted. Baking is, after all, an exact science.

Our most baked recipe had to be peanut butter cookies (molasses cookies would take a quick second place…but they were harder to make and took more time). That’s the recipe I looked for while I took my nostalgic dip back into the recipe box. It was only after 3 thorough trips down memory lane that I finally found the recipe in a spiral notebook. I never did find the index card. And almost nothing was filed in alphabetical order in the filing system.

The peanut butter cookie recipe that I did finally find, after much panic, was in my mother’s gorgeous swirling curlicue handwriting. I always thought she had the most magical handwriting of them all. I remember watching her make words come to life on the page, knowing I’d never be able to come close to that kind of fancy. But I followed each and every swirl when I made my first post-Mom batch of peanut butter cookies.

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What I realized when I made a batch of these cookies was that my mother was always baking for an army. The batch was ENDLESS. But, as memory serves, a batch would last no more than a day in my childhood home. Her cookies often served the purpose of pied piper in our neighbourhood.

In retrospect, maybe the bomb that went off inside the recipe box that we never quite got a handle on is an allegory for the bomb that went off between us. No matter. Things happened. They won’t take away the time we spent together, though. We had a few things together. One was definitely baking. One was photo albums. The two of us were the official curators of our family photo albums. A third was puzzles. I can’t even begin to count the hours we spent together working on puzzles at the dining room table. One picture appeared after the other, seemingly out of nowhere. We never seemed to tire of that one.

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Mom, Manny, Me, Dave, Dad. Not in this pic is baby brother George. He wasn’t quite here yet. This was early 1971…George arrived in 1972.

Rest in peace, Mom. I’m glad that all the good memories eventually came bubbling back up to the surface. They never go away, do they? Not really. I just have to close my eyes and I remember being elbows deep in batter, helping you make your own birthday cake and trying DESPERATELY not to ask you for any help…because nobody should have to make their own birthday cake. Not now, not ever. Happy Birthday.

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This pic has nothing to do with anything I’m writing today. I’m using it only as a subject divider, because I’m all over the place today. As usual. This is me following Michael on foot for the last mile or so into Nepal, from India. It was really the only way for us to cross from one country to the other in any reasonable amount of time last September.

I have a book out on submission right now and I’d probably trade all my other publications combined to see it to market. I just finished a reread. This is something I sometimes do when a book is out in the hands of publishers. It’s on my list of thing I do to second guess myself and question my abilities as a writer. I still love this book, though. I still hope it finds a home. It’s not often that I feel this good about something I wrote. So, fingers crossed. I’m kind of at a standstill at the moment, because I’m thinking so much about this novel finding a home that it stops me from diving into the next and the next. I’m sure it won’t be an excuse forever. It will either happen or it won’t.

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This subject divider makes a little more sense. This is one of soooo many shrouds to shoes one finds on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in Spain. Shoes literally play out their entire lives on this path. I’ll be returning there in September, but I hope to leave my shoes at home.

The countdown to the beginning of Our Camino Adventure is now 181 days. As much as I love spring and summer, I have never wished them to speed by as much as I am wishing them to do so now. On September 10th we are boarding a plane that will take us to Madrid, by way of Lisbon, and I cannot wait. The Camino de Santiago is constantly percolating in the back of my mind. I daydream about the day my feet will once again touchdown on its sacred path. Like Frank N. Furter realizing he’s about to get the opportunity to return to his home planet of Transsexual in the galaxy of Transylvania, I am beside myself with excitement.

On the day I went away, goodbye
Was all I had to say, now I
I want to come again and stay, oh my my
Smile, and that will mean I may

Cause I’ve seen oh, blue skies through the tears
In my eyes
And I realize, I’m going home

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This is the face of someone who knows they’re going home. This will be my face at the airport on Tuesday, September 10th, 2019. I may go slightly less dramatic with the eye shadow, but we shall see. I’m not promising anything.

Unlike Frank N. Furter, I’m not going to find out at the last second that I’ll be lasered to death just before take-off. At least I hope that’s not in the cards for me.

We now have our entire itinerary mapped out. We managed, through trial and error, to come up with it all by ourselves. We’re hoping we aced the journey and gave ourselves enough but not too much time for each day’s trek. It’s such a fine balance when figuring out in advance how far you’re going to walk each day. And with the throngs growing each and every year on the Camino**, we didn’t want to take our chances with not booking our nightly stays in advance. So, it’s all locked and loaded…even though we still have 181 days to go.

**In 2017 the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago de Compostela received 301,006 pilgrims, up from 237,882 in 2014…which is the year I first walked the Camino. Last year, there was an even greater amount of pilgrims. More are expected to walk in 2019.

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Not only was my first Camino experience a mostly WET AND RAINY one, but the cathedral was also undergoing a massive exterior refurbishing. The front was covered in scaffolding. I’m told that the scaffolding is now gone. I’m excited to see the polished new exterior. Unfortunately, this means the interior is now under restoration. I’m told the Botafumeiro will not swing.

I will be attempting a BAREFOOT walk this coming Camino. I went barefoot for a few portions of my last Camino. Hopefully, I can do it all the way…only slipping into footwear to enter places that won’t allow bare feet. That’s the goal, anyway. We shall see.

THE SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION FOR THE TOPICS OF THIS POST

Not really six degrees.

Mom’s Birthday – The Book I have on Submission Takes Place on the Camino de Santiago – I’m walking the Camino. I’m dedicating this pilgrimage to the memory of my mother. Full circle.

Anyway…a lot on my mind today. I find getting it out helps. Happy Birthday, Mom…wherever you happen to be in the universe. Imagine me baking you a cake and I’ll imagine you being impressed by my cake decorating abilities.

 

Love_Is_Love Anthology and I Will Tell the Night Aesthetic

Two things. The first, I’m thrilled to announce the release of an anthology in which I have a short story! Love_Is_Love released yesterday (Jan 24/19):

Love_Is_Love: An Anthology for LGBTQIA+ Teens

All proceeds from the sale of the anthology go to THE TREVOR PROJECT (The leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ youth. The Trevor Lifeline: 866.488.7386.)

My story is called THIS IS ME IN GRADE NINE and it follows a trans girl in the moments leading up to her first day of high school.

Here’s some cover love for you! The strength of the Rainbow Fist in the Air is divine:

 

 

YOU CAN PICK UP A COPY OF THE ANTHOLOGY HERE. PLEASE CONSIDER DOING SO, AS THE TREVOR PROJECTS NEEDS YOUR HELP IN ORDER TO CONTINUE TO THRIVE.

The second thing? During part of the festivities on Twitter this month for #LGBTRelease I made a NOVEL AESTHETIC for my upcoming release I WILL TELL THE NIGHT. I wanted to share it here. 🙂

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Steven & Finn and their cross-country journey to healing, complete with BEETS.

The origin story for the title of I WILL TELL THE NIGHT can be found at this recent blog post HERE. Details on its release to follow, but it is SOON.

Rejection/Acceptance – Are You Being Served?

…and if so, which do you prefer—the hard or soft option?

I have a novel–HALF DEAD & FULLY BROKEN–in the hands of my agent, who has it sent out on submission at the moment. The waiting is the hardest part. When you’re waiting to hear back from agents/publishers—whether it’s for a novel, a poem, an article, an essay or a grocery list—what kind of response do you prefer? Are you one of those people who would rather have an immediate rejection, or are you willing to wait for months on end for a possibly-maybe? Another one of my novels has been with a publisher for about 6 months now. There are days that go by where I forget it even exists… and other days where I want to send an email to remind them of my existence (something one does not do). I suppose we are all like Bambi’s mother. “Don’t go into the meadow!” and then that inexplicable need to go into the meadow…

I’d rather not get shot by the hunter, but I still feel the need to know if the hunter can see me or not. “I’m over here! I’m over here!” –waving frantically, waiting to be shot. “Hello!”

How do you like to be served? Rejection is a medicine best served quickly, is it not?

Lamu Town

(Originally appeared as PART THREE in a THREE PART SERIES in the WORDWEAVER.)

As our plane landed at the Manda Island airstrip, I was crazy with anticipation. Out the window, I had glimpses of the Indian Ocean and the tiny Arabic/Swahili island of Lamu!

Our first dhow (a traditional Arab sailing vessel) ride took us to Lamu Island. I didn’t know then that I would spend much of the upcoming week aboard these beautiful boats. We climbed from the dhow onto cement stairs that ascended right up out of the water. Lamu Town!

We arrived on a very special day: Islamic New Year, 1430—a day of festivities: donkey races, dhow races, dancing in the streets and vibrant reverent prayer. I was enamoured with everything I saw. Fellow traveller Venus Thrash was
offered a donkey ride upon our arrival. We followed her through the narrow streets of Lamu Town as she was escorted, like visiting royalty, to Lamu Fort and the town square. We were swept up and fully embraced in their celebration!

I woke the next morning at 4 a.m. to the gorgeous sound of Muslim prayer. It was so beautiful, I didn’t care about the early hour. I had too much to take in to waste time sleeping. The weekend was free time and only half of our group had arrived in Lamu. Eight of us had arranged for a special day trip with one of the dhow captains.

The dhow crew took us to Manda Beach, where we swam in the ocean while they made us a meal of fresh fish, coconut rice and tantalizing curry. After the meal, which was served under the shade of an acacia tree on beach sand-raked smooth by the crew, we lazed around while the crew cleaned up. Later, we piled into the dhow and made our way through an intricate mangrove forest waterway. As the path narrowed, we had to step out into the black waters and walk among the ancient mangroves to the entrance of the 15th-century Swahili trading town of Takwa. We walked the ruins with mouths agape. Crumbling walls of an ancient mosque, dinosaur baobab trees, wells, homes, a withering school and the burial site of a revered Imam…it all fascinated us. The air of Takwa was alive, abuzz—either with the voices of long dead ghosts or a mass of unseen insects. We didn’t know which. We only knew the peace of being there…the sacredness of the island.

Unfortunately, we only had half an hour in Takwa. Any longer and the waterway leading to the island would vanish. We’d be forced to spend the night within the island’s sacred hum. As much as we loved the ruins, we didn’t have to be told twice when it was time to leave.

One last surprise for the day… we emerged from the mangrove forest at the precise moment the sun touched the horizon and melted into the Indian Ocean. Perfect timing! We watched the sun melt into the ocean as we ate freshly cut fruit served to us by the crew.

That was just the first full day on Lamu. Every day was the same: perfection. We had our writing classes on the rooftop terrace of a hotel in the centre of town—a terrace with a 360 degree view of Lamu Town and the ocean surrounding it. We had sun, donkeys, dhows, sharks, weddings, Masai dancers, poetry readings on the beach, Imams, absolute joy in the face of abject poverty, a dancing/singing festive Kiswahili Christmas Eve mass in a tiny Catholic church, Rastafarians, children playing soccer, hennaed hands and so much more.

What a perfect place to end our Kenyan trip. I will never forget the people of Lamu. Their joy has changed me. Their remarkable radiance is something we could all aspire to. And writing. Ah, yes. I was there for the love of writing. My passion for words has never been stronger. The beauty of the world classroom…what a perfect place to dance with one’s muse!

Spark 10! It’s on!

…and I am so thrilled to be a part of it!

What is SPARK? I’m so glad you asked. You can click on the Spark 10 participant badge above to visit the Spark site.

SPARK is  a participatory creativity event that takes place four times a year. The rules are simple: Writers send their artist partners a story or a poem; artists send an image of their painting, photograph or sculpture. Musicians and video artists send either a link or a file of their work. Once all the creations have changed hands, the participants have 10 days to use their designated partner’s piece as a jumping off point for new work of their own.

The SPARK site will post the inspiration pieces, along with the response pieces, once the 10 day project draws to a close. It’s a collaborative art project! And SPARK site readers get to see how art begets art in such a unique and interesting way.

Keep a link to the SPARK site so you can discover the inspiration and response pieces, once the project wraps up. There are participants from all over the world taking part. It’s bound to be an exciting exhibit, once unveiled!

(I received a painting from a fellow participant, and I sent her a poem. Now, we are both leaping away from these pieces to create two new ones! Can’t wait to see what she comes up with.)

Forty Books I Would Rather Not Live Without.

  1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  2. Franny & Zooey by J.D. Salinger
  3. Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon
  4. The Feast of All Saints by Anne Rice
  5. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  6. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  7. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
  8. Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
  9. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  10. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  11. Clock Without Hands by Carson McCullers
  12. Old School by Tobias Wolff
  13. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
  14. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  15. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  16. The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac
  17. Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal
  18. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino
  19. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  20. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  21. Raise High the Roofbeams, Carpenters by J.D. Salinger
  22. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon
  23. Ash Wednesday by Ethan Hawke
  24. The Funnies by J. Robert Lennon
  25. Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem
  26. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  27. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
  28. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  29. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
  30. The Beginning and the End by Naguib Mahfouz
  31. The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy
  32. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler
  33. The Chrysalids by John Wyndham
  34. A Separate Peace by John Knowles
  35. Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  36. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  37. The Favourite Game by Leonard Cohen
  38. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
  39. The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem
  40. A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews