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Wow, this is a dusty blog! I had to bring in the upright vacuum cleaner and the heavy-duty sweeper to even find my way to the panel where one writes new posts.
Practically a whole year has whisked behind me since I’ve posted here. There I was, yelling at the snakes–no, I mean making a deal with the snakes that they would leave me alone–and now it’s a whole year later and time to make another deal with them. (Last year they behaved perfectly, but you can’t count on them remembering from year to year, not after they’ve so recently awakened from their long winter’s nap.)
It’s been a mild, sunny spring, and I am writing a new book. I have a contract for a book I’m calling “The Opposite of Maybe,” and it’s a fun book to write–one filled with love and trouble, which really are the most fun books to write.
I’ve been writing it a long time now, and it misbehaves from time to time, as all books do when one is first beginning to feel one’s way inside the story. My main character, a woman named Julia, at first objected to everything about the story: she argued with me about her name, her relationships, her livelihood. You name it: she thought it should be different.
“Fine,” I told her. I don’t like to fight with characters. If they really feel strongly about something, they usually are right. It’s their story, after all. So we made some compromises, she and I, and then she settled down, but I can see that I’ll have to keep my eye on her throughout the writing of this book. She might be scrappy. Theoretically I love scrappy characters, but sometimes you have to try to reason with them and appeal to their better natures–if they have one.
The book isn’t due until February 15, which sounds like a whole lot of time from now…but truly I do know that it’s just the blink of an eye really. And there are many lovely disruptions between now and then: four grandchildren to play with, a bunch of birthdays and major American holidays, a much-anticipated family vacation in the summer with all of us together making campfires on the beach, visits from friends from far away.
But just now, sitting in a Dunkin’ Donuts, waiting while the oil change place next door flushes the radiator of my Honda, I’m thinking February 15th seems very far away indeed. It’s plenty of time to hear what Julia wants to tell me.

I hate to complain, but frankly, it has not been The Most Wonderful Spring Ever here in the Northeast. First of all, it dumped buckets and buckets of snow on us for the first part of it–and then, when that started to seem inappropriate even to the weather gods, it started raining and wouldn’t stop for days on end. Throughout the first two-thirds (yes, TWO-THIRDS) of spring, there have been only a handful of days when the temperature has struggled out of the 50s and 60s, and I think one day it accidentally might have reached 70 degrees before heading back down for a late-season frost that night.

But today–May 21st, the day when the world was actually supposed to be ending–the sun came out and the sky filled up with white, puffy clouds against a backdrop of deep blue, and I was moved to shed my hoodie and sweatpants and actually go outside and survey the yard.

It came to my attention that it’s time to make some deals with the natural world.

Here are my proposals:

1. PLANTS:

My responsibilities: I am willing to buy and plant several species of colorful flowers that the nursery near me calls “annuals,” meaning that they will only grow this one season, and then will die. (Never mind that “annual” seems to imply that they will last a year; they will not. I know this now, and I don’t expect it). I will offer this: a nice soaking in Miracle-Gro before I put them in the ground; I will water their little delicate roots, and I will tuck them into place with mounds of dirt and mulch around them to protect them from whatever they need protection from. During the next few months, I will from time to time water them again from the hose, unless I get too busy and forget. Probably once more during the summer, I will remember to give them another taste of Miracle-Gro.

Nature’s responsibilities: In addition to enough hours of sunlight, I respectfully request that nature takes up the task of giving them the water they need. Would it be too much to ask that they not be allowed to get all passive-aggressive and suicidal in front of me and act like I’ve done some massive wrong to them by trying to provide them with a good home? This hurts my feelings. I mean well, and they should know that. Make them stand up straight and act grateful that they’re not still in those black plastic cartons that only gave them a half-inch of dirt. I would also appreciate it if they could just agree to hang on until the end of the summer without getting all straggly and pale and telegraphing to the world at large that they being mistreated. I will throw in extra weedings and at least one more dose of Miracle-Gro if they could just be grateful.

BUGS:

My responsibilities: I’m sorry. I mean the bug kingdom no harm, but I can assume no responsibilities toward helping out the bugs. STAY OUT OF MY AREA. This means you, carpenter ants, that are every morning marching around in the bathtub before I get into it. If you don’t want to drown when I run the water, get the hell out of the way. And you, ticks, who are determined to make every day a nightmare of searching our bodies for bulls-eye rings, the sign that Lyme disease is slowly working its way through our systems…just go hang out with the deer. (Aren’t you called DEER TICKS?) And don’t even get me started on mosquitoes and gnats. Don’t force me to endlessly chase and swat you by buzzing my ears and landing on my skin.

Nature’s responsibilities: Go away. Go elsewhere. Surely these bugs have lots of other things they could be doing. Remind them.

SNAKES:

My responsibilities: First, snakes, I know how much you enjoy that fun game of popping out from between two rocks or from underneath a leaf when I’m outside doing my Once Annual Weeding. I’ve seen you lurking in the shade in a place where my foot was about to step, and watched you masquerade as a stick only to move quickly away when I got near. Ha ha! VERY FUNNY, snakes. And I know that I bring on your presence sometimes myself by being, shall we say, Overly Focused on just where you might be hiding (that time in the garage over by the rakes was a real hoot, wasn’t it?). I also do myself no favors by constantly talking about your scariness to others, swapping stories of your wicked tendencies, and then straining to discern if every single stick might in fact be another one of your brethren. I promise to stop talking about you, searching for you, obsessing about you, maligning you. I hereby admit that you OWN the planet earth and all its grasses and rocks and streams. Take my yard and all the fields, but leave me the house and the little plot of land where I have planted the above-mentioned annuals.

Also, please note that I planted marigolds all around. I read on the internets that you hate marigolds and won’t go where they are planted. I know my planting them may seem unwelcoming and perhaps even a hostile act. I don’t want to enrage you or anything. I just don’t want you to become confused about precisely where the boundaries of our agreement are.

Easy way to remember: Woods=yours. Where there are marigolds=mine.

STAY AWAY. Please. Don’t make me say bad things about you.

Hello! I have decided to crawl out of my cave, blow the dust off this blog, and try to get back to normal.
It’s part of my spring effort, you see.

After having survived a winter here in New England that involved such new concepts as “roof rakes” and “thundersnow,” I’m afraid we are all a little bit shell-shocked up here in the Northeast. It’s hard to think of it as the same old universe you always knew when people are telling you that you actually need to go outside, climb up on your roof, and start RAKING snow off, as though it was simply a pile of leaves. Because if you DON’T, those people were saying–(and many of them were wearing official uniforms and speaking into microphones), OTHERWISE, your roof will collapse while you are sleeping, and you will wake up in the middle of the night with an avalanche on top of you, as well as some stray bits of roof.

It was not a wonderful winter, not with that kind of talk–and spring has been slow in getting here. It’s windy and cold still, definitely not the flowery, languid Aprils of my youth, back when I lived in Florida and California. Frankly, I find it difficult not to resent this time of year when it seems as though the weather COULD work with you some, if it would just stop blowing all that wind around, let the sun break through the overcast, warm up those buds, and turn that grass green.

One day a few weeks ago it actually got to be 70 degrees, so we KNOW this possible, right? Ever since they changed our planetary diagnosis from “global warming” to “climate change,” I’ve not been able to get warm.

BUT. I am going to stop complaining right now, and share with you the little secret of how I’ve managed to hang onto even one microunit of sanity this winter, and it is by watching this video called “Animal Crackers.” I’m sure all of you have watched in thousands of times yourself–even you in the more reasonable climates who didn’t need a video for sanity because sanity existed right outside your doorway! But here it is anyway, just in case you’re having a bad moment and need some hysterical laughter to see you through.

There is no excuse for me lately. I have been writing and writing, and that means that a lot of other things have fallen away: cooking, coherent conversations, laundry, just to name a few of the really obvious ones.

The life that’s going on inside my book is the one that feels the most real lately, and yet I’m aware at some level that it is so not real that it’s possible that I’m the only one who’ll ever know about it. But I have a character who insists on talking to me all the time, and twice this week I’ve had to pull over while driving just to jot down on a torn Stop & Shop receipt what she had to say about her grandmother. Therefore I have little scraps of paper upon which the following phrases appear:

SOAPIE SHOULD KNOW AGE 88 IS TOO OLD TO BE HAVING AN AFFAIR!

and the ever mysterious:

STORY TELL YOGA PREGNANCY–NOT YOGA, BUT ENGLISH SECOND LANGUAGE

That one may be lost for all time.

Days like today, these pieces of paper are all that tether me to the real world of my book. They let me know I’m a writer.

A few years ago, I included a post in which other people wrote to Connecticut Muse and told how they know they are writers. And here are a bunch of their comments. Feel free to add your own to the mix. It’s a wonderful subject for discussion.

Also: I’ll be speaking about writing and creativity at the Women’s Creativity Conference at Quinnipiac University this Saturday (March 5) at 9:30 a.m. Want to come and join in the discussion? For more information, or to register, go to Creativity Conference or call (203) 582-8954.

You know you’re a writer if looking out the window is part of the job.

Andy Thibault

You know you’re a writer if:

you make notes right after sex
you stutter when asked what you do
you edit others conversations in your head while listening to them
you always carry a note book
you go to bed too late and get up too early
you are constantly saying…I should write that down
Joel Fried

You know you’re a writer if you get cranky when you don’t have time to write.

Pat Aust

You know you’re a writer if you check your email twelve times an hour when you’re supposed to be working on your computer. No, actually it could be more than that.

Nora Baskin

You know you’re a writer if you’ve done everything you possibly can in life to avoid writing but still find yourself needing to.

Marc Wortman

You know you’re a writer if you have constant bags under your eyes, your purse is stuffed with at least five pens and random pieces of paper napkins on which you’ve made notes for the next chapter of your novel, you are constantly on a caffeine high, you never back up your material, you wake up nightly with cold sweats from a free-floating anxiety wondering if anyone is going to buy your book.  The only thought that keeps you relatively sane is: if all else fails, you can always run away, never to be heard from again.

Judith Marks-White

You know you’re a writer if your friend tells you a heartbreaking story and your first reaction is – wow, that would make an incredible plot for a novel. You know you’re a smart writer if you manage to keep that reaction to yourself.

MJ Rose

You know you’re a writer when you are not writing with pen to paper or with fingers to keys, you are writing twenty-four /seven in your brain because everything around you becomes a story.

Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle

You know you’re a writer if you are still in your jammies at five o’clock, the dog hasn’t gone out since the sun rose and your kids are wondering if someone has paid you a hundred thousand dollar advance that they don’t know about.

Linda Merlino

You know you’re a writer if the poetry book on your kitchen table was a pile of napkins last week.

Brian Trent

You know you’re a writer if (like me at this very moment) you are wakened at 2:37 am, a character whispering (shouting perhaps?) in your ear, urging you, no, commanding you, to fire up your laptop, cup of tea in hand, and write the next chapter, in which she insists on taking you places you never intended to go!

Madeleine Parish

You know you’re a writer if your work clothes are mostly sweat pants and pajamas.
Kathryn Smith

You know you’re a writer if:
…you burn through more ink cartridges than Kleenex in the winter
…you see the next story line while arguing with your lover and leave to “get it down” before forgetting it
…on good days there’s a lingering smell of burnt plastic coming from your keyboard
…the dogs would rather float away, whimpering, than interrupt you at the key board to take them outside
…there are oxygen lines, intravenous feeding tubes, and large Starbucks syringes attached to your desk, and nobody in the family notices any of this anymore.

Daniel Holden

You know you are a writer if everyone has told you that you’ll never get published and you keep writing.

Julian Padowicz

You know you’re a writer if you can’t remember some of the plot details of the book you just released because you’re so engrossed in writing the next one.

Chris Knopf

You know you are a writer if every overheard remark becomes a beginning of a story, if  what you glimpse from the corner of your eye triggers a vignette, if you awake in the morning wondering what the characters in your novel are going to do today, if something you read  evokes a memory you can use in your writing, if all of life is about making connections that help you understand who you are, well then, indeed you are a writer! Claire Vreeland

You know you’re a writer when you walk around in the zone, open to believing that every person is a potential character, and every object suggests a metaphor.

Pegi Deitz Shea

You know you’re a writer if everyone around you is totally engrossed in watching James Bond extricate himself from his latest cliff hanger escapade and you are sitting with pencil in hand making notes about the couple in front of you.

C.J.Golden

You know you’re a writer if you’re still in your pajamas at 5 pm and yet you’ve been working all day!
Roberta Isleib

You know you’re a writer when every moment of every day you turn whatever you are facing at the moment into a short spurt of prose or poetry in your head, including your dreams, and it has become so commonplace that you have stopped writing things down and bemoan the loss of them later as the story or poem idea that would have wowed your readership, as if you had a readership because you are, after all, a writer.

Faith Vicinanza

You know you’re a writer if writing about something makes it real.

Patricia D’Ascoli

If there is anything better than holding a new baby and carrying TWO ice cream cones, I just don’t know what it could be. I could pretend that one of the cones is for the baby, but you probably wouldn’t fall for that.

I think it was Melanie Wilkes who said it best, in Gone With the Wind. “Oh, I think the days that babies come are just the happiest days!” or something like that.

Melanie could be pretty sugary-sweet sometimes, but she nailed that one all right: it is the best day when a baby comes–especially if it’s a baby you’ve been waiting for, and a baby who fooled everyone into thinking she was going to come weeks early and then, after hours and hours and days and days of false labor, seemingly decided to forego the whole getting-born thing after all. The bulletins from the inside were: “Thanks, but I’ve just decided to remain an inside person. It’s true that it’s getting crowded in here, but I’ll be fine, thank you.”

We were concerned. Okay, at times we were distraught. Had she heard about the BP thing? Had the World Cup vuvuzelas made her rethink life on earth? And what about the wars and the housing market and the fact that Vienna and Ryan broke up when anyone knew he shouldn’t have picked her anyway.  You never know what kind of news a pre-baby can hear about and get frightened by.  We who were waiting for her tried to concentrate on having good conversations, just so she’d have an incentive to push the EXIT button and come out to be with the rest of us.

“It’s not so bad,” I called to Allie’s belly. “Really. The BP thing is far from us, and anyway, Kevin Costner’s on the case. We liked him in Bull Durham and that other movie about ballplayers where he built a ball field, so even though he’s been a bit sappy in everything since then, I think we can be happy that he’s cleaning up the Gulf rather than trying to act young anymore.”

Surprisingly, Allie remained pregnant for days after I delivered my Kevin Costner talk.

I switched over to discussing the World Cup and the fact that no one in the U.S. really cared about soccer until recently, and I admitted that I still don’t and can’t understand the rules at all–but I said it was fun to watch people getting all excited and painting their faces and wrapping themselves in flags while they jumped up and down. I said that watching humans get excited is one of the pleasures of life. (I promised that mostly in life on earth, you don’t hear the vuvuzela being played.)

No birth.

We all took turns thinking up good reasons to get born, reasons we would have signed up again if given the chance. (Every now and then, I think, this is a pretty good exercise to do: renew your contract with life.) I came up with  iced tea, the Beatles, swings at the playground, changing the furniture around, shade on a hot day, ice cream sundaes with strawberries and whipped cream, the first day you can wear flipflops, laughing until you can’t stand it anymore, falling asleep on a soft pillow, ferris wheels, fireflies, rain on the roof, bagels and cream cheese, loving somebody who loves you back, the coming attractions at the movies, hot baths, candlelight. (It was June, so all my reasons had to do with summer, I realize now. I’ll have to redo this in the winter.)

“All that is just big picture stuff,” I told her. “But rest assured that immediately when you come out, there’ll be people there to welcome you: your mother and father, your grandparents, your big brother, your aunts, uncles and bunches of cousins.”

No response, except that we figured she gained another pound.

“Okay, here’s something you haven’t thought about. You’ll have room to stretch. I think you should come for the stretching, if for no other reason.”

So she finally came out, a day after her due date. And then, when I met her, I realized why she hadn’t come out before: it wasn’t that she was scared or doubtful. She hadn’t heard about BP, or the vuvuzelas. She’s just one of those people who seems perfectly happy wherever she is. Put her on a blanket, and she lies there looking around. She doesn’t seem to care about being swaddled or carried around every single minute. She’ll cuddle and sleep in your arms or in her bassinet, or on a blanket on the floor. You don’t have to constantly rock her or make little noises like, “Bobobobobobo” to keep her interested.

I think she’s decided the world is a good place after all.

And, as you can see, she seems pretty happy to see that there’s somebody right there beside her: 3-year-old Miles is showing her the way. Lucky Emma Charlotte.

 

My favorite part is at the end, when I thought that camera was off—and I’m doing a high-five with the host, Desiree Fontaine, and I say triumphantly, “I didn’t cough!” It’s because I had the world’s worst cough, and I was quite sure that at some point in the interview, she would ask me a question, and I would start hacking up a lung and would fall to the ground, eyes and nose streaming. (I think the producer of the show might have been worried about that, too, since she ran and got me a throat lozenge, which later I found stuck to my skirt.)

Sometimes I just have to stop and count my blessings that I’m a writer and so I don’t have to go in public very often.

I barely have time to type today because I’m busy thinking away away ten pounds. It’s clear that somehow along the way through forty pounds of Christmas cookies, I forgot to get in shape—and now it turns out that tomorrow morning I am going to be taped on a television show. Yes, that’s right. Channel 8, WTNH in New Haven has a fun show called “Connecticut Style,” and they’ve invited me to come and talk about Kissing Games of the World and how insane I was while I was writing it and stuff like that. The show will air at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday. If you live far away and want to see what decline and neglect will do to a person who is used to working at a computer all day long, you can go to WTNH.com and see the whole train wreck.

ALSO!  Because it seems to be Media Week in Sandi Shelton World, there is another media event I am doing this week, one that I won’t even have to take off the fleece sweatpants, the wooly sweater, the mukluks, the fingerless gloves and the plaid hat with flaps, in order to appear before the public.

My friend Barb Scala has begun an internet radio show, called “Bloom Talk,” and I have the honor of being her second guest EVER. We are going to be talking on the phone LIVE from 3-4 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 7th. To listen, you just need to click here …and if by chance you’re a Working Human and can’t listen live, I hear that it’s downloadable and you can listen on a podcast.

Also, if you’re available and want to be on the radio yourself, you can call in (877-864-4869) and ask me questions. Really! Ask me anything! I’ll be talking about how I got started with writing, how it was always my dream from the time I was a little girl…and then how it then happened that it took me 17 years to write my first novel, despite the fact that it was something I always always ALWAYS wanted to do.

In fact, that’s what Barb’s show is about—how women need to let themselves “bloom” and not be scared to do the things they really want to do.

And now, without further ado, I must go to about 100 sit-ups.

Which I am scared to do.

Well, we’re STILL awaiting spring here in the Northeast, still being teased by the fact that it’s April and yet ridiculously colder than it has any right to be.

Today, driving to the library, I saw little ICE crystals bouncing out of the sky onto my windshield. I wanted to close my eyes so I wouldn’t have to see such a miscarriage of meteorological justice, but then I would have probably driven off the road.

And now that I have gotten to the library, where it is warm enough that a person can drink iced tea without shivering, I have perceived yet ANOTHER problem. There is a little bit of a bad vibe here today, which I now realize is happening because nearly all the people here have TAX FORMS in front of them. Some are even whispering furiously with official accounting types and shuffling through briefcases filled with receipts and such. What can be worse than having ice crystals AND tax form pressure all in one day?

Life is so unfair sometimes.

But here is an offering, in case you also are shaking your fist at some sky somewhere, or else scowling at tax forms: a video that has a chance of making you smile. As my friend Beth Levine said when she sent it to me, “I already knew that musical theater could cure the world of all its troubles!”

Go–watch and smile.

Some people are starting to email me, wondering if I am still alive since I never blog, write, or call anybody anymore.

Yes, I am still breathing oxygen and drinking caffeine and typing as fast as my fingers can manage. As I may have mentioned, I have to hand in a book on Jan. 31st. And since I cannot seem to write this book at my house due to the fact that I have carelessly allowed wireless Internet to be there, I find myself every single day going to Starbucks.

Did you know that there are people who go to Starbucks every single day and stay there most of the day? And they don’t even work there!

It is a beautiful thing, like a recreation center with armchairs and good warm things to drink. We are all quite happy there. Obama has become president, and every now and then people need to have a discussion about how amazing that is.

Every day the chess players come and set up their games. Alan the Yoga Teacher comes in to write his newsletter exhorting us all to stretch more in the new year. Dick the Mailman comes in after his rounds and reads a book on burnout. Bob is on year five of writing a book. Jane, a visiting nurse, brings in her patient notes to write.

And then there is Ernie, who is possibly the oldest and kindest man in America today still driving a car, who comes in daily to discuss politics, movies, and possibly find a game of Scrabble. We have had many enlightening conversations about education and Hillary Clinton over the past weeks.

The other day he crossed the room to get to my armchair in the corner. It took about ten minutes with the cane and all, and when he got there, he wanted to know if I’d watched the Golden Globes. I said I had.

“Which won for best picture?” he wanted to know.

“Slumdog Millionare,” I said.

“Oh!” he said. “And have you seen it?”

I said that I hadn’t.

He stood there, ruminating on that for a moment. His rheumy old eyes looked as though they might lose focus altogether. Then he said, “Well, I heard it sucked.”

I wanted to get up and hug him.

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