Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Blog

May your hay last until the green grass and your firewood until warm  weather.
May your animals stay safe, nor the deer knock down your fences.
May the ravens fly over you, and may your children thrive. May your New Year be filled with
My wood stove: "The Elm."     Be well in the new year.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Here Comes the Sun

Despite week-long computer problems that have retreated without being resolved yet (as my computer guy is out with...a virus)...despite the ice floes in my driveway and the muck in my horse pasture...the chickens who, just a week ago, left me a promissory note in the form of a white feather were right.

This is what I found in a nest box this morning. Like birds singing in the spring dawn, my hens are ... well, laying in lengthening days, maybe.

I have more faith in their predictions than our interpretation of the Mayan calendar. I love the way chickens feel the slightest shift in the season. Yes, the farmers say "The days lengthen and the cold strengthens." I think it's a fair exchange.

OK, I can't help myself now: cue George. My favorite Beatle.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Looking for the eye of the storm

It's all too much. I read somewhere that we humans are really only wired to cope with the stresses, relationships and challenges of a tribe, of a village, of a few dozen people. All I know is that when I'm on overload, I'm grateful for chores. Moving hay. Feeding animals. Pitching manure.

This was the sunrise at seven-thirty this morning when I went to get a load of hay from Matt. I was hoping to get a picture of his pigs--they sleep in a pile and snore--but they were awake and eating breakfast.

Yesterday morning I finally had a chance to get a good look at the eagles living in Spencer a couple ridges over. One was eating a deer carcase in a field about fifty feet from the road. Then it flew to a tree in the hedgerow where its mate was perched. It was thrilling to see them: huge, powerful birds with such a presence, even at a distance. There are several pairs around here the past few years.

Today I turned off the news and mulched my garden until my muscles were tired and my mind was coasting and peaceful. There's nothing like manual labor to kick in those endorphins. My replaced-knee feels great now. I'm trying to push my body to adapt to a better range of motion, straighter posture, a smoother gait. And  probably the most familiar action in  my life is shoveling. Pitching. Repetitive movements from a million reps over thousands of days. So that's my workout plan. It makes me view the never-ending manure, matted goat-pen hay, and muck in front of the horse shed as opportunity and potential.

I let my small flock of chickens out of their run this morning so they could scratch all over the yard. The four hens aren't laying now. Last year they started up again the day after the winter solstice; they knew the light was returning. Tonight when I locked them up I checked the nests, hopeful and resigned. No eggs.

But one nest held a beautiful little white feather. A post-it note from a hen. An I.O.U.

I brought the feather inside. It's on my desk now as I type. A fluffy little white feather. It feels like a promise of all the good to come.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Plot Thickens

So damn, Sam--my video interview with Sean Faircloth is gone. And I just found out the new Richard Dawkins youtube has been shut down.

Sorry about the bait & switch. am I one of the victims in some vast conspiracy?? I can only hope. I have resisted using the word nefarious two posts in a row. Oops.

Can't find it in any of the independent channels either. Well. Stay tuned. More news as it happens.

Miz Liz goes to Washington

A year ago today I had the privilege of being interviewed by Sean Faircloth, formerly the Executive Director of the Secular Coalition of America, currently the Director of Strategy and Policy at the Richard Dawkins Foundation US.  I'd written a statement about religion-based medical neglect for the Secular Coalition's White House meeting in 2010. (I was supposed to fly to DC and read it myself but a blizzard intervened and shut down the northeast above Washington; this was the work, my daughter said, of the fashionista gods because I didn't really have suitable clothes.) Here's the link, if you're interested:

But last year I flew to DC to accept Sean's invitation of an interview. It was a one-day whirlwind. Buying a plane ticket means throwing yourself into the casino of airports, gates, flight schedules and security checks like a pinball in the machine. The trip spun out of control just as soon as it began.

I made it to Reagan (not my original destination) several hours late, swooping past the Pentagon and the National Mall. Sean's (borrowed?) car had a GPS computer voice feeding him directions for our hairy, rushed ride to the studio. Before my plane had even landed I'd promised myself to NOT worry about the skewed schedule and my desperate flight times.  I had an emergency trump card--the phone number of a friend's sister who, I'd been assured, would let me crash on her couch. So I focused.

You can see how it went right here:

Afterwards Sean drove like a maniac to the train station, all the while pointing out Washington landmarks.  I'd been too distracted to even bring a camera. We stopped for a red light and Sean said, "That's the White House." Sure enough, it was right there, looking crowded and as unready for scrutiny as I'd felt before my cancelled trip to it. 

At the station Sean hurriedly signed me a copy of his book. I caught a train, late again. My plane was boarding as I speed-hobbled into the terminal. I still had to get my ticket. I won't even go into the security check; amputees have to put their feet on the designated footprints and be wanded. And where the hell was a wheelchair, a golf cart, anything when I really needed it? I was one click away from Toddler Meltdown, ready to lie on the floor and bang my head.  (I flagged down a luggage trolley,prepared to offer the guy five bucks to haul me to my gate but he was going the wrong way.)

Suffice to say I made my flight. I was sweating and panting, and the flight attendants weren't giving out water, but I was so pathetic they relented. After that, it was cake, even the rain and fog delays. You know the drill.

The interview received upwards of sixteen thousand views in a year. Last night I hit the Youtube link for it and found this: "The Youtube account associated with this video has been terminated due to multiple third-party notifications of copyright infringement."

So of course, I was thrilled: I pictured the Christian Science church coming with torches and pitchforks... Alas. The whole Richard Dawkins youtube channel had been shut down. Apparently this happens sometimes. I don't know any details, nefarious or dull.

Now their new channel's up. My interview's on it. See what you think.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Still Life with Goats & Horses

The flip side of the Dark Days before the winter solstice is the good dusks that settle gently, powerfully, without threatening my emotional balance.

Yesterday it took me a while to get outside to start on my animal projects. It bothers me that it's hard for me to get going. I used to pretty much live in my barn, or in the riding ring working horses and teaching lessons, or off freelancing ditto; years before that I spent on other people's farms and at a small racetrack in the exact middle of nowhere. Even just a few years ago I moved from outside to inside and out again so many times in a day that I called my home "a run-in shed" like the free choice shelters I keep my animals in.

Four months have passed since my knee replacement surgery. When I finally got cracking (mid afternoon) (OK, late afternoon) on my outside tasks, it felt wonderful. Moving, working, accomplishing things! I cleaned and refilled all the water tubs & buckets, then juggled loose goats and my St. Bernard grand-dog (here for the day) as I cleaned the goat pen. 

Goat pens tend to grow deep (like two feet deep) with droppings and wasted hay. They yield an unending supply of great mulch for gardens and flowerbeds. Six months ago I was in too much pain to fork matted hay and goat manure for an hour and wheelbarrow it out to the flowerbeds. Last night: no problem! Cleaned down to the floor, raked in front of the shed, dumped the last load and bedded down the does: J.J. & Tiki,my older daughter's former champions of the 4H ring, now retired, always eagerly awaiting their next feed.

As it got dark I turned on the lights to finish. I don't have a barn now, just sheds I built. But fresh pine sawdust smells like the same comfort and safety of chores I've done since I was seven years old. My little pony wandered in and pawed furiously (translation: I want supper NOW) and my two mares nickered. It was familiar, homey. 

My fear of November darkness is tangled with the "last day" I rode and biked and ran in 1975; that night my knee swelled while I was watching TV, the beginning of a disease that  forced so many changes on my world. It's no wonder I don't like to go inside, these evenings. Of course I don't want my day to end. I want to grab hold of the sun and stop it slipping over the horizon.

But last night felt good. One of the hardest things I've learned since I began writing about my hellish bone disease, about shame and depression, about recovery and amputation, is to allow myself to remember the normal days of my childhood: a time  when I couldn't imagine life coming off the rails, when I believed my legs and running were a right instead of a privilege. The most difficult has been to recognize and inhabit the memory of a happy thirteen-year-old who raced around on her own two legs as well as her horse. For too long I was terrified of the emotions that can flood me at sunset. I've come to identify them as a resonance of pain, the shape and vibration of it which is the closest thing my brain allows. I'm learning to make peace with my fear, and so defuse it. And this year has reminded me about patience in relation to physical progress.

Last night something slipped back into place, a kind of chiropractic adjustment of my self, or maybe of the relationship with my fifty-year-old body that's been worked disproportionately hard over the years. Again, I've made it to December without disaster. It's one more piece of evidence against my Last Day, the personal apocalypse I experienced thirty-seven years ago.

...Just looked up 'apocalypse' for the spelling. Its roots mean 'uncovering' or 'unveiling.' Pretty cool. So as Inspector Clouseau says, Until we meet again and the case is solv-ed. *click heels*

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Life in the Flow Chart

Yeah. November goes on. Some days, you have to remind yourself to take one step at a time.

I wrote a poem about this a long time ago when I had one daughter (four years old) & one ex (instead of two) & two legs (more or less)  & had only begun to leave my lifelong religion (Christian Science) & ask....why?....what has it all been for??

(My favorite film then--read: my obsessive, see-it-five-or-so-times-in-the-theatre, buy-the-soundtrack-and-learn-the-main-theme-by-ear-on-the-piano-in-the-back-room-at-the-library-on-Wednesday-nights-because-you-just-left-your-own-piano-behind movie--was Jane Campion's The Piano with Harvey Keitel, Holly Hunter & Anna Paquin. If you haven't seen it, rent it tonight. I mean do it. No better November movie exists.)

It was January 1994. I wrote a lot of poems that winter. I got mentally  and artistically loose in a way I'd never allowed myself before. Challenged myself to write about all the things that were forbidden: sensuality, emotion, sexuality, and a wide-open dream log which, I began to understand, made amazing poems. (Try this: just write them down.)

That  winter was a Manly Winter, the likes of which I can't even remember since. We had a major storm once a week for two or three months and totaled over 125" of snow for central upstate NY.  That was the winter a lot of barn roofs caved in, including the indoor arena at the racetrack where I'd exercised so many horses from 1985 to 1992.

I remember shoveling the snow from the spot just ahead of me, repeated ad nauseum. It was how I spent that winter of survival. I was Single, a position I'd been too terrified to face sooner. Which was why, at twenty-two, I'd married the man I was now divorcing at thirty-two.


Here's a poem for November (as Garrison Keillor would say) entitled "Flow Chart" by Liz Heywood. (Garrison & I are sorry about the stripes: chalk it up to cut & paste of a *sigh* newbie inter-web blogger.)

Flow Chart

 In the morning
try to leave at the usual time.

If the truck starts
                      take your daughter to the babysitter.

If the truck won’t start
find a jump:
                       ask your neighbor.
                       ask your best friend.
                       ask your mother.

                                  Jump the truck.
                                  Take your daughter to the babysitter.

                                            Go to work.

               If the truck won’t start after work find a jump:
sk your co-worker.
                                                                       Stop by the garage on the way home
                                                                                (for heavens sake
                                                                                leave the damn truck running.)

                                                   If the car is done, leave the truck.
                                                                                 If the car isn’t done
                                                                                 drive the truck to pick up your daughter
                                                                           (do I have to add leave it running??)

                                         go home.
                                                                                                   …and yeah,
                                                                                                   back into the driveway
                                                                                                   in case etc.
                                                                return to first line

                                                                                  unless it snows.

If it snows:                       

stay home.    


January 17 1994

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Cooking with Liz: Thanksgiving!

Start late. The later the better. Put a movie on the DVD player, one you've seen many times so you can listen to it without having to walk over & watch. Say, Sunshine by Danny Boyle. When it's over, if you're still cooking, start it again with the director's commentary.

Pour yourself a spiced-rum-on-the-rocks.

OK, kids. Tonight we're making the Day Before Stuff for dinner tomorrow night:
Raspberry jello with pineapple
Pumpkin pie
Grasshopper pie
& clam dip.

First: boil the water for the jello. Pick out a casserole dish for it that looks a little too shallow. Use it anyway. Stir up that unnatural red stuff & pop that puppy in the fridge.

Preheat the over (REALLY hot) for the pumpkin pies. (Recipe makes two.) Cover the smoke alarm  (just temporarily!!!. The oven gets turned back down after 15 min.)

Misplace the cinnamon. Realize you have no ginger. Shrug in a cavalier manner and substitute Allspice and Nutmeg. Hope for the best. Whip up those pies.

Meanwhile, thaw the (bought) pastry  pie crusts. Also chill the (bought) chocolate graham cracker crust for the Grasshopper pie. Pop those pumpkin pies in the oven. Refresh your drink.  Pour the leftover pumpkin  pie in a small baking dish & eat tonight!

Stir the drained crushed pineapple into the jello in the too-shallow baking dish in the fridge. (It was hard enough getting the damn dish in there--don't take it out.)

Slop raspberry jello liberally through the fridge when it overflows the too-shallow dish including into the chocolate graham cracker crust which you rather unwisely have taken the plastic lid off.

Grab the pie crust and attempt to pour the excess red jello into the sink.
Instead, dump the chocolate crust into the dishwater. (See the bonus companion piece to tonight's show: "Cursing with Liz: Thanksgiving!")

Decide that Grasshopper Pie is equally tasty as a  crust-less concoction. Forge ahead, only temporarily slowed as you find the lost cinnamon, hidden in plain sight. Shrug again. Refresh that drink, dammit! It 's a holiday!

Whip up the Grasshopper Pie, melting marshmallows, stirring in creme de menthe and whipping cream from scratch in a bowl not quite deep enough so that you spray the coffee maker with dots of white. Dump it in a plain pie dish, what the hell. Garnish with chopped dark chocolate & freeze that sucker.

Lick off the whipped cream beaters and reminisce how your dad always held the beaters for your family's dog (a terrier named Frances) to lick, when you were a kid. Ah, nostalgia.

Pull the pumpkin pies out of the oven. Taste the extra filling! Yes--it's delicious, despite the improvised spices! You've done it again.

Stir up the clam dip. Yes, you forgot to get garlic. But hey, good thing your daughter grabbed some cloves to plant at the Bulb Giveaway last weekend! Ask her to fetch you one from the bag on the porch waiting to be planted.

Finish the damn dishes, listening to Danny Boyle discuss his sci-fi movie about flying into the sun. A happy thought, here when the year scrapes bottom in the November darkness.

Until we cook again. May you survive the holiday and your relatives. Bon appetit!     :-)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

November Confessions

Damn, that sounds juicy, doesn't it? I could relate a few stories, that's for sure. I guess it's a good thing to be cresting The Hill (or well down the far side, Over It) and have some wild tales. I definitely have my share. You'll have to wait for my novel.

For me November is a crazy, risky month prone to disaster and fortune, inspiration and despair. The wind and dark evenings shake loose memories, emotions, aches and desires.

Last night I watched the DVD of The Traveling Wilburys which came with the CD set I bought myself for my birthday four years ago. George Harrison was always my favorite Beatle, and I fell in love with "Crackerbox Palace" at fifteen. But Jeff Lynne is my favorite Wilbury (Otis) & my daughter laughed last night when I howled "Jeff!!" every time there was a close up.

So tonight I've played YouTube recordings of early ELO, mainly "Ma-ma-ma Belle"  and some long, string-filled pieces from ELO 2. (I have it on vinyl but need to clear off the record-player. Plus, my computer speakers are far superior when it come to blasting my tunes.) 

This is how I fight the darkness.

ELO reminded me of an especially obscure offshoot band called Violinski. The inter-webs are a funny phenomena in that they both insult my penchant for The Search (for discontinued out of print records, books etc , for which I combed Cambridge's Harvard Square's used book & record shops back in the late  1970's when I was supposed to be at high school; the Mass Transit bus ran from Hansom Field Air force Base past my house to school and on to Harvard Square...I meant to get off at the school, those days, I really did...) Now it's both satisfying and offensively simple to Google, oh, for instance, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and come up with  416,000 results (as I did just now to check) when I spent several years in Cambridge building up a limited collection of their records, each a gold mine. But I digress.

Violinski: Summer 1980. I was eighteen, working at a movie theatre in Lexington Massachusetts, riding my two steeds (Brewster and Sleuth) and working on a novel when I was ambushed by a terrible crush and a song. The crush was a 21 year old projectionist at the movie theatre: Steve. He was shy and/or oblivious, and the only candidate in my orbit. I have always been nothing if not practical.

The song was "Save Me" by Violinski, the offshoot of ELO that cut an album or two in the late seventies. I was smitten by both the song and the fellow at the theatre. It was a long hot summer of unrequited love. I moved heaven and earth to work extra nights; I recorded every glance and scrap of conversation in my journal, sometimes by the bare bulb in the hayloft of the barn where I worked on my novel on an ancient typewriter I lugged up the ladder to pound on those summer midnights as bats flew through the barn's tall doorway.

Look and see, before you try to condemn me
I have been left alone too long... me

Daydreams were all I had, then, but they did save me. It's terrible to be eighteen and never have been asked out, not to mention never kissed--even if you have a sneaking suspicion you've set up a force field around yourself to repel all intruders. (This is wildly obvious in my school picture that year.) I hugged my horses' necks, rode them far and wide, completed my manuscript and, after work, buried myself in the bulky headphones of our living room stereo with Violinski cranked up.

At the end of the summer, still undated, unkissed, I went off to England to train for the British Horse Society's exam. At least I knew could ride a horse and write a book. Dammit. I figured the kissing would catch up.

It did, too.

So for old time's sake, and to escape November, here's "Save Me" by Violinski.  Hey, at least I didn't paste the link to my other Violinski favorite, Cow Caped Crusader.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

November dusk

This time of year can be rough: early sunset, darkness closing like a lid way before I'm ready, and long nights. I would say, long cold nights, but the cold hasn't really arrived.

My four hens were only laying one egg a day, and now have given up. It's the lack of light; last year they quit, but started up exactly one day after the solstice.

I think of this chunk of time--the six or so weeks from when we surrender Daylight Savings and duck into  five o'clock dusk, until Winter Solstice--as its own dark season. November stores some of my worst memories and anniversaries. Car wrecks. People I know & love getting hurt in accidents. A local barn burning down. And when I was a kid, one Saturday in late November was the last, perfect day I ever ran; a bone disease hijacked my leg and life just hours later.

Years vary. I've had good Novembers, and I think my average has improved over the years. I'm still wondering what happened to my summer that was sucked away by the knee replacement surgery. But my knee feels really good and stronger all the time. I'm still adjusting to the increased height in my prosthetic leg (a quarter inch!) and going to the chiropractor a lot. When my steps are awkward and weak I remind myself: it's only hard the first thousand times.

And I'm chugging along writing my YA free-verse novel. At the Highlights workshop (I always want to write/say "clinic" instead of workshop--too many horse training clinics in my previous life)  I heard these novels made of poems called "impressionistic" and "film noir." I really like that: edgy,  uneasy, moody poetry.

Something suitable to  be writing this November.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Nano Rhino & other exotic literary creatures

So today's the day all serious, obsessed, curious and/or desperate writers take to their keyboards. Their goal is to write a 50,000-word novel by the last day of the month. It's called National Novel Writing Month,though when I first heard writers tossing around the abbreviation na-no-wri-mo I pictured a microscopic rhinoceros.

I haven't leaped into the fray, though it's appealing to think of joining all those writers around the world flailing away for a solid month, a literary flash-mob swimming the English Channel. I first climbed Mount Write-A-Book as a kid, and thrashed out the agonies of writer's block, schedules and work ethics on other epic works during my twenties. For better or worse, I have a stack of manuscripts (good, bad & ugly) to show for it. Now my goal is to slow down; I desperately need to learn the technical and structural elements I missed by not going to college.

But there's a headiness in blazing a trail through a complex story towards a deadline, sifting words from brain to screen or page. Crafting a whole novel--even if it never sees print--is a glorious achievement. This is the essence of Na-no-wri-mo. The thought of the myriad individuals crouched over computers makes me nostalgic the way women with tiny babies do...sometimes.

Ah, but I have an idea to join in, in a casual way: "my green-broke" YA novel-in-verse is partially done. I need it readable and reasonable by New Year's. So here's my personal challenge: a complete draft by the last day of this month.

This means writing  several poems per day. There's probably a month for that, but I haven't looked it up. It might even be this month. There are a lot of these events and they all have tongue-twister acronyms. A friend in my critique group participates in Picture Book Idea Month, or Pi-Bo-Ide-Mo, making up a new, solid concept for a picture book every day. She also does Pi-Bo-Wri-Mo. I bet you can figure out that one yourself. See? Isn't this fun? 

Another pragmatic critique group friend plans to stop procrastinating during November. She's christened this G'It-Fu-Do-Mo. Get It the Fuck Done Month. 

I guess that's what I've signed up for. All we need now is a website.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The dog ate my blogpost

Writing called me last night.

Writing hadn't heard from me since...
you know. Honesdale.
The workshop.  When Writing and I
spent an idyllic week
with fifteen other writers
led by three amazing women
who shook loose words
helped us pin them to slippery thoughts
all linked
in a narrative daisy chain.

Writing and I were so close all that week
loosening up
strengthening our voc-abs
striving for puns of steel.

Writing said
since we got back
I never called.

I tried to explain
how intimacy can react 
with the need
to speed to minimum safe distance
as intensity retracts
from sylvan country retreat
to passive tense-city.

Writing reminded me I live on a wooded hill two hours from Honesdale.

Well. Yeah.

Writing opined
that my maples and pines are as majestic
as Highlights
and though my days are more hectic
there's always nights.


Look, Writing.
I want to be with you
it's just frightening
it can't be the same
I'm just not --

Oh BUNK! Writing shouted.
Don't look now but

 you're writing.

The Holism of Highlights

Virginia unveils dactyl
and trochee
measurement to build a poem

just as The 3-4-5 Rule
once squared a Lancaster barn
whose beams 
Linda's husband salvaged
to construct this haven

where Sonya perches
in lotus position
 and I peruse Linda's book
Barn Savers.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Maintaining Radio Silence

Remember that green-broke noveI
I mentioned a few posts ago?
I load
it into my truck
set the headings to the southeast hills:
Boyds Mills.

I'm participating
in a Highlights Foundation workshop
on novels in free verse. 
Sonya Sones will teach
along with Virginia Euwer Wolff
and my friend Linda Oatman High
whom I met
the last time I
went to Boyds Mills.

my back
will not act up
as it has the last few days
hence my haze...
but  it's better now.
I love chiropractic.

So I'll be quiet then
til maybe the weekend
So: until we meet again
and the case is solve-ed,
as Inspector Clouseau used to say.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Fish Story

An invisible pull yanked me into a world
Two-leg Liz & friend
Riviere Brock Nord, Quebec, 1995
of alien birdcalls, whitecaps, treetops
The wide blue wind left me gasping
on the other side of the mirror 
following a hope
so bright it hurt,
that wild swoop upward.
So be it!
I could not have imagined
but now, let it happen—
teach me to breathe air.
In that moment of surrender
I was dropped through the looking-glass
so close by
left to swim the old currents,
my heart too full of sky.

~L.H. 1995