Posted by: renaissancerebecca | November 13, 2013

Giving: Reimagined

After he spent two weeks volunteering at a hostel for pilgrims along the Camino, a friend returned with a gift for me. I was surprised he bought me anything as he knows I’m a minimalist who is on a seemingly neverending quest to live with less “stuff”. He smiled as I opened the bag. It contained a bar of soap. He proudly declared, “I know you don’t want any more ‘stuff’ but this is something that you will use up and it will disappear.” Indeed he was right. A perfect gift for a minimalist. Even better? It wasn’t purchased. It was among the items left behind by pilgrims wanting to lighten their load. Recycling at its finest.

Accepting gifts has not been easy for me in recent years. Yes, I like the thought with which they are given. And I love surprises. But I’m at the stage in my life where I prefer “experiences” to “stuff.” Friends have adjusted to this:

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Posted by: renaissancerebecca | November 6, 2013

A Note of Thanks

I came across a greeting card this morning that made me laugh. The front shows a Mom driving a car with a couple wild kids in the back and says, “Mom, you took us everywhere…” The inside says, “And even brought us back home! Astonishing!” It made me think back to the road trip my family took to Illinois. Five kids, two adults, one car. And this was 1992 — long before there were televisions to watch from the backseat. From Illinois, we headed north into Canada and, after a stop in Niagara Falls, headed back to New York. At the border my parents were asked for our birth certificates. “We didn’t really plan to come back this way,” they explained, “So we don’t have them.”

The officer said, “We work very closely with ChildFind. How do we know you didn’t kidnap these children?”

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Posted by: renaissancerebecca | October 16, 2013

Watching the Past Go Up in Flames

“Would you like to stay for dinner?” my friends asked.

“I would love to, but I already have plans,” I told them. “I’m going to a ceremonial burning.”

Their eyes grew wide with alarm and humor. “Who are you burning?” they asked.

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Posted by: renaissancerebecca | October 11, 2013

A Living-With-Less Challenge

The pilgrims of the Middle Ages didn’t carry much of anything. Images depict them in a long cloaks and simple sandals, a walking stick in one hand to which a drinking gourd was attached. No backpacks. No headlamps. No hiking shoes.

I realize they probably didn’t have nearly as much to take with them anyway. I’m guessing they didn’t own 10 cloaks and five pairs of sandals. Plus five more summer cloaks, and two more for the “off-season.”

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Posted by: renaissancerebecca | October 6, 2013

And For Her Next Stunt . . .

The book was called First Time Around the World. As if there might be a second or third time I embarked on such a journey. I could barely fathom planning a year of travels, let alone actually making it happen, so once would definitely be enough for me.

Having lived with myself for thirty-six years now, I don’t think my love of “big” trips is a fad. “Maybe one day you’ll travel for a week at a time, like most people,” my mother said after I returned from my most recent travels. “Mmmm,” I responded, wondering if one week in a place would ever be enough.

It surely doesn’t help that I have a proclivity toward travel-based memoirs. And people don’t tend to write about their week-long sojourns. My heart speeds up when I head into the travel writing section of the bookstore. Tales of a Female Nomad, Vagabonding, One Year Off. On this balmy Saturday I spent more than an hour on a beach towel with my nose tucked into An Embarrassment of Mangoesa couple’s tale of their two year hiatus sailing the Caribbean. I read with great interest the money part–how they figured out what it would cost. But then I realized they took this trip nearly twenty years ago.

Speaking of outdated numbers, my copy of First Time Around the World is seven years old. Yes, me, the girl who loves getting rid of stuff, has actually held onto a book for seven years. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, though, I can now find more accurate figures for this supposed trip. And just today it hit me: the money my father has saved for my wedding could fund an entire year of traveling. One day versus an entire year. Need I say more? Yes. I probably need to say, “Oh Daddy dearest . . . about that wedding money . . . “

I called him just now. “That would be a little drastic,” he told me.

But here’s the thing: I’ve got three years. I’m thinking a year around the world will be my fortieth birthday gift to myself–not from Dad, but from me. So my plan is to save that chunk of money.

Or I can look at it this way: I’ve got three years to convince my father that visiting places he’s probably never heard of is going to make his first-born a lot happier than spending all that money on a one day event that, most brides say, goes by so fast they don’t remember much of it at all.

Posted by: renaissancerebecca | September 27, 2013

Home Sweet Home

A couple Sundays ago, 500 people walked through my house. I — or more accurately my home — was part of the 2013 Tour of Homes. These sorts of things usually showcase large, meticulously decorated places. I, however, live in a 780-square-foot log cabin. There’s a taxidermied rooster on my mantle.

So how is it that this proponent of simple living and small houses finds herself and her abode on a home tour?

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Posted by: renaissancerebecca | September 18, 2013

A Mess of Words

The flowers left by the property manager were a nice touch, but they stood stick-straight in a vase. I decided to pull them out and arrange them into something more decorative. The only problem? The house we were renting had no scissors with which to trim the stems. I was not yet so desperate as to use a knife, so I left them as they were.

Soon, though, the lack of scissors would become a problem.

I was on my semi-annual writing retreat. After writing over two hundred pages about my Camino last year, I had all but abandoned the project, overwhelmed by the prospect of turning it into something with structure and purpose that others might want to read.

Wandering Malaprop’s a couple months ago, my eyes stopped on the book “Blueprint Your Bestseller.” I had no intention of writing a bestseller, but I was definitely curious when I saw the author would be speaking at the store next week. I skimmed the first few pages of the book. It was written for people who had a minimum of a hundred pages or so and didn’t know what to do next. I love when I come across books written just for me. So I bought it and dug in.

Step 1: Make a list of every scene in your book without looking at your manuscript. Ha. This should be good.

Steps 2 & 3: Highlight the “good” scenes on our list in green .. . Highlight the “bad” scenes on your list in pink. Okay. That was hard, but I did it.

Step 4: Go back through your manuscript and identify your “forgotten” scenes.  Ugh. Are you kidding me? I’ve got two hundred pages here! And every time I start looking through them, I want to hop a plane to Spain. So much for this idea.

At some point, I read that you don’t really have a book until you print it out. So I determined I was going to face those two hundred pages–in the flesh. Which required me to buy some printer ink. And some paper. This was turning into quite a project. So as not to make it feel like burdensome homework, I bought purple paper–printing black on white brought back too many memories of college lab reports.

Soon after printing I was able to answer the question, “What’s more intimidating than knowing you have two hundred pages to read through?” Seeing those two hundred pages in a huge pile on your coffee table. There they sat.

I determined I would continue the steps in the book on my writing retreat. And here I am. Yesterday, I listed every darn scene (since I seem to have misplaced the first list I’d created months ago). I lost track of the number of times my mind wandered to thoughts of doing another Camino. Would I walk the route from Le Puy this time? Or from Oviedo? And I want to volunteer at a hostel while I’m there. Or should I volunteer at the Pilgrim office in St. Jean? If I walk in France first, I can get my French back up to speed so I can use it at the Pilgrim office . . . 

The next task, once I pulled myself away from thoughts of planes across the Atlantic, was to literally cut my manuscript into scenes. Oh. My. God. Seriously? Crap. Now I really needed scissors. Lois and I headed to Wal-mart. She wasn’t going to let a lack of office supplies stop me.

Mission: Procrastination

Mission: Procrastination

Upon our return, I did an excellent job of procrastinating and now have two lovely flower arrangements to show for it.

Eventually, though, I dug in. And guess what? Cutting up a manuscript means reading through the whole darn thing again. Well, okay, skimming, but still. It has taken me hours. I was nearly finished when I came upon the blog posts I wrote while on the Camino. Thirty pages of them. Single spaced. Seriously Rebecca? Who knew one woman could write so much. (Yes, I know. I have a blog with years of writing on it. That still shocks me, too.)

So here is the state of my room. Purple pages cut into pieces, labeled with scene names. Part of me is eager to finish this step. Part of me doesn’t want to for fear what’s next!

Scene from a Writing Retreat

Scene from a Writing Retreat

Posted by: renaissancerebecca | September 11, 2013

Expectations

Before I left for the Camino, I’d read about the Cruz de Ferro: an iron cross that stood atop a pole that reached high into the air. Around its base pilgrims left stones they had either brought from home or picked up along the way. I read that the stone I carried was to be symbolic of my fears, worries, and expectations and that by leaving the stone at the base of the cross I was leaving those things behind.

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Posted by: renaissancerebecca | September 4, 2013

Walking Faster: Living Longer or Living Less?

I heard about a study the other day that showed the speed people walk is related to the number of years they will live. Faster walkers live longer. If this is true, my father may live forever. He is the man who doesn’t take cabs when we visit New York City. Nor do we ride the subway. We walk. This is no take-your-time-see-the-sights walking; this is man-on-a-mission walking. I thought of him Saturday as I sped by the throngs of tourists on the streets of downtown Asheville, attempting to get to the Fine Arts Theater in time for a movie.

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Posted by: renaissancerebecca | August 28, 2013

Hey, You Never Know.

I don’t particularly miss the start of the school year. I wasn’t popular in school. I hated homework. But this year, for the first time in quite a few years, I’m going to school again and I’m actually excited.

On Thursday, I begin a class with the Great Smokies Writing Program. I have been eyeing their classes since I moved here one year ago. My first hurdle was to become a legal resident of this state so as to pay in-state tuition. To me, I wasn’t “official” until I had a North Carolina drivers license and North Carolina license plates. According the the application for the program, I wasn’t “official” until I had lived in the state for one year. As of August 22–after more trips to the DMV than I care to admit–I’m legal on both counts.

The second hurdle, though, was scarier to me than the ladies behind the DMV counter. The words on the course description were clear: Instructor’s permission required for admittance. I was to e-mail the teacher. With what, I wasn’t sure. And so it was that I set out to write my second-ever “pitch.”

The class in question was for “intermediate” writers. Am I an intermediate writer? I wondered. After speaking with a few friends, I realized I certainly wasn’t a beginner. And the next step after beginner? Intermediate.

So on Sunday night–a mere four days before the class was due to begin–I got up the nerve. I combed through blog posts and articles deciding which to send. Reading things I wrote in my first writing class five years ago, I realized how much I had improved in that time. But would this man think I was good enough for his class?

I should note that my potential teacher is the head of the Great Smokies Writing Program. He teaches in not one but two Master of Fine Arts programs. He has written more than a few books and was just voted Best Creative Writing Teacher in western North Carolina. What was going through my head? That line from the old New York Lotto commercials, “Hey, you never know.”

So on Sunday night, I sent off my request: How I’d walked a five hundred mile pilgrimage across Spain. How I had 50,000 words written so far. Links to my posts on Busted Halo. Four pages from my draft.

On Monday morning, his response contained the words, “I love this” and “I have one opening in my class.” I was a little stunned.

Prior to five years ago, the only writing classes I had ever taken were forced upon me. I read Odysseus and wrote papers about the virtues of his long-waiting wife Penelope. I memorized the first paragraph of Moby Dick (and still, if pushed, can recite the first line). Prior to 2008, the last “creative” piece I wrote was probably for Mrs. Farina in sixth grade when our assignment was to describe our bedrooms. I’d written a line about the radio tower lights I could see blinking over the Catskills outside my bedroom window. I can still see her red-inked compliment next to that line. A smile crosses my lips when I think about how much that single compliment meant to me.

Prior to that, my greatest writing joy came from my mother’s laugh at a Christmas poem I had written in which I referred to “Holy Mother Mary and her husband Joe” (It was a rhyming poem. The previous line ended with “snow.”)

At some point, I deemed my writing only good enough for diaries. I hid them from the prying eyes of my siblings: under mattresses, in filing cabinets, and between winter sweaters stacked in my closet.

And then, my voice came out again: on the campus of the John C. Campbell Folk School. My classmates–complete strangers–complimented my style. Upon my return home, I got brave enough to read stories to my family after Easter dinner (much scarier than reading them in any public forum). And when friends asked me to write a book, I said, “No way. But how about a blog?” And five hundred of you liked it so much you subscribed to it.

The story now has a new chapter. On Thursday I will take my seat in an Advanced Creative Prose Workshop. And for the next fifteen weeks, Thursday nights may just be the best night of the week. Homework and all.

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