Writer of Soul-Searching Snark

Posts tagged ‘farm life’

When Life Gets in the Way

This post was originally published in the Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc winter newsletter, The Report

When I quit my job to pursue a writing career and moved back to Arkansas to be near family, I honestly had no idea what I was getting myself into. I could have developed a daily schedule that outlined the number of hours a day I’d spend helping my mother, driving to the nearest town for supplies (an hour away,) feeding critters and writing, but I didn’t. Why? Because I approach life the same way I approach writing—by the seat of my pants.

The pantsing method worked fairly well for a while. I dedicated four hours a day to writing. I’d wake up in the morning, drink something heavily caffeinated and then sit down at the computer. Stories flew out of my mind. My fingers flew over the keyboard as those tales were transcribed into works of literary genius. Anthologies published my short stories. Publishers clamored to buy my novels (okay, maybe not clamored.) My writerly life was on fire.

Then… life happened.smshed

I live on a farm. Not just any anywhere, but in the Ozark Mountains. Why is that different than say one in Kansas? There isn’t a single building on this place that has a new piece of lumber or nail in it.

“Buy a new hose? Are you insane? This one has been in the family for forty-three years.”

“There’s nothing wrong with rust, Claire. Just get a tetanus shot every ten years. You’ll be fine.”

My dad bought the tractor three years before I was born. Fortunately, it’s in better shape than I am, but like me, it has a hard time waking up in the morning and requires a great deal of pampering.

Not only do I live on a ramshackle farm, I live near my family. It took me three hours of quality time with my kin folk to recall my reason for moving five-thousand miles away in the first place. They’re nuts!

Somehow my writing time dwindled. Sure, I still had something heavily caffeinated in the morning, but that is where the writing routine ended. Instead of sitting down to better the world with my prose, I was outside feeding chickens and planting gardens. Farm workers needed to be fed and guess who cooked lunch?

Frustration ruled. I decided to take my writing life back. God knows, the romance world would weep without a new release from Claire Croxton! I’m a project manager by profession. I know how to create spreadsheets and I’m a master of getting jobs done on time and under budget. It was time to apply my skills to my writing life. I made a schedule. Wake up, drink caffeine, ignore e-mails, don’t answer the phone, hang a sign “I’m writing smut, stay out!” lock the door, write.

Then…life happened.

farm life 024It’s impossible to plan life. You can’t predict accidents, injuries, sickness or death. It’s impossible to know that your dad will die five days after being diagnosed with cancer. How do you schedule grieving time with your mother?

When your cousin calls and asks you to meet the ambulance at the hospital because her mother has been in a car accident, do you say “Sorry. I’m writing?” No. You go. Do you deny your mother’s request for a ride to the hospital to sit with her sister? No. You go. Do you refuse to attend your favorite aunt’s funeral because she’s being buried three counties away and you have to finish chapter ten of your latest novel? No. You go.

You forget your projects and you focus on your family.

Needless to say, it’s been a tough couple of years. Seems like every time I get back into the writing groove, something catastrophic occurs.

My mother, my greatest supporter, asked me the other day about my writing schedule. “Sugar dumpling, how’s that story, Loch Lonnie, coming along?”

“Not so well, Ma. I’ve been kind of distracted.”

She looked up from her knitting and said, “Call the Sisters.”

The Arkansas version of the Algonquin Round Table is comprised of brilliant novelists, poets, and inspirational speakers. We call ourselves The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pen. Every writer needs such a group of friends—people who understand your frustration and appreciate your creative process. Folks who will look you square in the eye and say, “That’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever written and you’ve written a lot of really, really bad stuff. I mean really bad stuff! And this takes the cake.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a strong believer in critique groups. I’m eternally grateful to Dusty Richards and Velda Brotherton for the Northwest Arkansas Writers Workshop. I’ll never forget the first time I read a passage at group. The stunned silence afterward wasn’t a good sign. Dusty telling me, “That ain’t bad for a government report, but this is fiction,” will forever ring in my ears. Their patience and guidance led to me becoming a published author. Critique groups are great, but they don’t know you viscerally.

Writers need to surround themselves with people who “get” them. That’s one of the great things about the Oklahoma Writers Federation Inc.  Conference. Writers can meet likeminded individuals who understand what it means to spend hours in your head working out the dialogue to a love scene or devising the perfect way to kill your main character’s abusive boyfriend and disposing of his body.

smsistersSeptMama was right—she always is—I needed the Sisters. One e-mail was all it took. Within minutes, messages of encouragement filled my inbox and our next meeting time was arranged. Over wine and pizza, the girls listened to my tales of woe. After a few minutes of commiseration, all their patience seeped from their bodies and they went into fierce-encouragement mode. It is impossible to ignore, four, strong, intelligent, talented women staring you down and doling out nuggets of wisdom.

I’ll spare you the tears and snark and sum up their advice. It’s nothing new, but something I need to hear on a regular basis. Bottom line: Making your writing a priority is the only way you’re going to be a successful writer. Sure, life gets in the way, but you must always make time for your writing. It’s your job. It’s your outlet. It’s your reason for being on this planet. So, WRITE!


Perished Possum and Aromatic Armadillo

In an attempt to ready my yard for a quick pass of the lawnmower, I strolled through the grass picking up deer bones, sticks, and flower pots the dogs had dragged from the greenhouse. The aroma struck me first, then the crunch. I stumbled upon the rotting carcass of an armadillo–Apun’s favorite new toy.  Instead of moving the offensive lump of rotting flesh, I decided to mow around it.

As I mowed, I recalled a blog posting from my first spring in Arkansas.  I’ve decided to share it here, besides it includes my dad and Reba, who are both no longer with us.

Spring 2009,

The morning started out fresh.  A light rain washed the holler in a sea of mist.  The raindrops glistened and the leaves sparkled like emeralds.  The scent of lilacs was carried through the windows on a cool breeze.  Birds sang.  Butterflies fluttered.  Pastoral bliss.

A perfect day for Ma’s birthday party.

Of course, the party was being held at my house and since I’ve been in finish-the-novel-mode followed by edit-the-damn-novel mode, my house was lacking in company’s-coming-cleanliness.  I do the basics, on occasion.  Sweeping, vacuuming, laundry.  And, sure, the kitchen is usually clean.  No real problem there.  The only cooking that has been happening is the weekly baking for my critique group.  Haven’t even been cooking for the dogs lately, which is the probable cause for the ruination of my pastoral bliss.

As Dusty Richards often says, “No one has ever been killed by a dust bunny.”  So, the deep down cleaning has been lacking of late.  If you ask, Mr. Taster-Editor, he’d say it never happens, but who’s asking him, right?

So, yesterday morning, I was waltzing through the house with a blue bird on my shoulder tidying things up for the gala.  A box full of miscellaneous items needed to be returned to Ma—mostly dishes that she had so thoughtfully filled with delicious treats to sustain me during a writing frenzy.  Gotta love Ma!  Since I have no room in this house to store anything, I carried the box to the car to take to her later.

When I opened the door, a funky smell ripped through my nasal passages and my breakfast of Diet Coke and Ritz crackers threatened to reappear.  Instantly, my nose found its way to my shoulder to block the offensive odor from my olfactory glands.  I stepped outside and as my right foot made contact with the rock I call my front step, I felt and heard the crunch at the same time.

There are some crunches that are good.  For example, crisp apples, Captain Crunch, peanut brittle, Crunch and Munch.  I’ve been told that abdominal crunches are good too, but I refuse to believe.

The crunch on my front step didn’t fall into the good crunch category.  As soon as I heard it, I cringed.  Dare I look?  Was it a present from my must-draw-blood-once-a-day kitty?  Doubtful, since fresh kill rarely crunches.  It’s more of a smoosh.

I looked down and a jawbone lay desecrated under my slipper.  Of what?  I was unsure.  Until Paps announced he was going to mow the lawn before company arrived.  See, I come by my don’t- clean-until-company’s-coming philosophy honestly.

Paps mowing meant I had to pick up items in the mid-calf length grass before he arrived with the tractor.  Fireplace tongs, elbow length leather gloves, face mask and trash bag in hand, I ventured into the wilds of my yard.

Ma was going to help, but for some reason it took her an hour to roll up the garden hose.  Smart woman!

Apun and Reba followed closely behind as I cleaned up their treasure trove of death.  At least seven specimens of mortality were strewn among the Bermuda grass.  Enough to fill half a 33 gallon trash bag!  Bones, hides and armadillo shells everywhere!  I discovered the source of the jawbone when I picked up a pile of fur and the other side jawbone fell out along with the slimy possum tail!

Why the hell did I leave Alaska?  I didn’t have dogs in Alaska.  No way I’d walk one when it was thirty below zero.  Cats never went outside.  We were all safe, snug and kill-zone free in Alaska.

I’m happy to report that I didn’t scream, cry or throw up.  A big improvement.  I’m toughening up to Ozark life.

Apun and Reba were extremely upset by the discovery of their treats.  And for the record, I feed the dogs daily!  I’d just slacked off on the nightly omelet routine.  All canine-carcass-confiscation-concerns vanished when the family arrived and there were new people to pay attention to them.

Pond time made up for the missing, rotting-possum corpse!

Minnows were in abundant supply and everyone decided fishing would be great fun.  How redneck is that?  Anyway, the white bass are spawning and people were jerking fish out of the pond as fast as they could cast.  Which meant, lots of flopping fish action!

Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!

At first Apun and Reba were working as a tag team, but with so people fishing they were missing out on some of the fish.  Eventually, they worked out a system.  Apun covered the north bank while Reba concentrated on the south.

Whew wee!  They got them some fish!

It was a catch-and- release day since no one was in the mood for filleting.  As a result, the dogs got to wrestle with the humans as they tried to get the fish off the hooks and they got to follow the fish as they swam back into the depths of the pond.

By seven last night, the dogs were crashed in the living room.  Too tired to even eat, which was upsetting because I made them omelets again.  Maybe they won’t feast on dead animals anymore?

Not very likely.

Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover . . .

or a Farm By Its Tractor.

1963 Ford Tractor

I learned to drive a tractor when I was in elementary school. One hot summer day, my dad was plowing the garden and making the rows for the green beans. I have to say that watching him drive down the 100′ row looked a lot much more fun than picking peas. So, I asked him to show me how to plow.

He agreed.

I’ll never forget crawling up to that tractor seat for the first time. I’ll never forget how nervous I was. I knew Ma wouldn’t be happy if I screwed up the green bean rows. And I’ll never forget how nice Pops was about the whole thing. The man never talked. Grunted a lot, but articulating a complete sentence wasn’t in his genetic makeup. That day though, he was patient and explained everything in detail and in terms I could understand.

Pretty, Ain't She?

I can’t begin to calculate how many hours I spent on that tractor over the years. When I moved to Alaska, I knew my farming days were over. Figured they’d be over forever. I considered having a small garden at the house in Wasilla once we retired, but instead of retiring to Wasilla, we bought a farm in Arkansas.

Imagine my surprise when I walked into the barn and was greeted by the same 1963 Ford tractor that I learned to drive all those years ago. To this day, we still use this tractor. It’s a workhorse that requires constant maintenance, but since I don’t have to crawl under it with a wrench, hammer and duct tape, the maintenance issues don’t bother me. I love that old tractor and fingers crossed we’ll be using it for a few more decades.