Thursday, September 27, 2012

In the Beginning . . . .

Tonight I read an essay of mine that was published in a collection of essays written by women, titled "Spring."  The reading was at Beaverdale Books in Des Moines, Iowa.  My good friends, the three Ds came along and showered me with words of praise and adulation that I probably do not deserve, but for which I am thankful.  At our celebratory dinner at the Drake Diner, my friends shared with the waitress that she was in the presence of a published author.  I am not sure if the young woman who served us was impressed or if she felt that the accomplishment was not so special given our dress, our ages, and the place chosen for celebration.  Whatever she thought, she was a good sport and rewarded me with a free slice of devil's food cake.  These simple gifts - friends and cake - have made me decide to continue in my pursuit of writing great stories.  Here is the one I read tonight:


Spring has been abundant in my life.    There is the planet’s spring every year when all of life is renewed, and my internal spring when wisdom I’ve ignored or forgotten sprouts up, infusing me with renewed life. 

One profound spring was when I was trying to understand my three-year-old son’s fear, rather terror, of dogs.  I could remember no incident in my son’s life as a genesis of this terror.   To get to the source of the fear I asked my son about it.  Holding him I asked, “Honey, can you tell me why you’re so frightened of dogs?  Did one ever bite you?

My son’s eyes widened in disbelief.  His breathing told me the question was more that startling to him.  Slowly, as if to assure I was paying attention, he reached out his arms, took my cheeks in his chubby little hands and asked calmly and quietly, “Don’t you remember?” 

“No, I don’t,” I replied.  I assumed he was referring to something in his three-year old life.  I encouraged him, “Can you tell mommy what happened?  Who was with you?”

His wide eyes filled with tears.  “You were with me mamma.  Remember?” he whispered.

My brain did not remember.   “Oh honey,” came my standard mommy platitude, “Mama would never let a anything hurt you.” 

The next thing my son said changed my world forever.  Still holding my cheeks and shaking his head he said softly, “but you weren’t the mom then.”   Hearing his words, I knew that he had access to something that I did not.  Despite my doubt, I was led to listen with belief to his story.  His detailed story of the two of us, children at the time and left in an unsafe place, unfolded.  Mean dogs hurt us so bad we couldn’t wake up.  That is, we could not wake up in that place anymore. His older sister was there, but she did wake up, she stayed in that place.  Later, I asked him if he could remind me why he was afraid of dogs.  He repeated the story, verbatim. 

My entire being was changed with his story.  Despite teachings of heaven and hell when growing up, hearing this concept of reincarnation from my toddler seemed very real.  His words rang honest and sure as he spoke, just as true and sacred as the scripture I learned as a child.

As I listened to his story, my body was flooded with warmth and bliss.  It was as if my senses, my heart, my mind – all the parts of me that that were becoming frozen by adulthood and my evolving fears relating to life, death, and especially the unknown - was thawed by a joy that transcends words.  I felt seeds of wisdom inherent in humanness begin to sprout.  I claimed an understanding that diverse explorations of life’s questions and mysteries is not turning away from God, but rather seeking ways to define and experience God.  In this seeking, I have found an omnipresent spring in my heart.

Lori Allen  ©   2012    This is the book -

September 20th, 2012
The new Tending Your Inner Garden book, Spring: Inspiration for the Season of  Hope and New Beginnings,releases Thursday, Sept. 27. We’re delighted to introduce this second in our series of four seasonal books, all made possible thanks to the submissions of essays and poems from around the country and other parts of the world.

This is a book to keep by your bedside or your favorite chair–and to pick up and savor whenever you feel the stirrings of new possibilities in your life.
It includes stories about finding your own space, transforming your life, moving into new stages of motherhood, accepting unexpected transitions, growing on a soul level and so much more. And it provides just the right hope and inspiration when you’re nurturing new beginnings in your life.
Transformational author and change agent Margaret Wheatley offers this endorsement of the book:
“Each offering invites you into the mind and heart of the writer, promising a rich, reflective experience that both stays with you and moves you forward.”
In the central Iowa area? Join us for a book-signing Thursday, Sept. 27 at Beaverdale Books from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Or pre-order your copy now at a special price:

Friday, June 8, 2012

After a one year self-imposed sabbatical from blogging, I'm back.

The Love Shack

The smell of mold from the open cellar door permeated every square millimeter of the Love Shack.  I followed close behind Nan as we moved from room to room.  I thought that besides mold, I might also be smelling the musk of a wild animal in this closed up house.   In the downstairs bedroom I leaned away from Nan to peer into the doorless closet.  I was not really interested in investigating the closet situation in the Love Shack, but I was curious to  confirm that I was seeing a white wire closet organizer in there.  Just as I stepped close to the doorless frame I heard a scratching noise on the wall inside.  I stepped back with a snap, close to Nan.  But not too close.  I didn't want this earth goddess crone type woman who's recently become my friend to think I'd be scared of one of nature's animals in her Love Shack.  I had, after all, asked to have a tour of the inside of the crusty old farmhouse that I drove by each time I visited her new eco-friendly home across the road.   The Love Shack has very little in common with her new home, a home proud enough to be open to the public as a retreat center.  She named the home she lives in now The Centering Porch because of it's great shaded porch on the west side of the house.  You can sit out there all day watching hundreds of colorful birds feeding as you gaze past the feeders, through a grove, and onto a small pond.

All the Love Shack boasts as a porch is an uneven cement slab, poured in pieces to extend to both doors.  There's no possibility of enjoying the afternoon sitting on that slab of cement.  If you could find a level spot for a chair, you'd be annoyed by all the dust that billows up off the road every time a car speeds by from the Ledges State Park just down the road.  Nan was smart with her new house, it's directly across the road, but about a quarter mile back.  No traffic noise, no dust.  Nan named this place the Love Shack because she says, you gotta be crazy deep in love to live in this place.  So in love that you are oblivious to your physical surroundings. She and Don lived in the Love Shack for seven years before moving into their swank new place.

"Was that you?" Nan asked, referring to the scratching noise coming from the closet.  It surprised me to see the lightly veiled fear in her eyes.

"No," I breathed softly.  To add emphasis I bit my teeth hard together and sort of made a sucking noise.

"Okay, we're outa here."  Nan did an about face and headed to the kitchen and toward the open door.  I tried not to step on her heels as I followed.  Her fear dissipated as she stopped abruptly in front of the closed door that led upstairs.  "Well, you can't leave without seeing the upstairs.  Let's see if anybody's home."  With that she began banging on the door and slapping the wall next to it.  She was demanding that anyone who was up there reveal themselves.  

Nan is like that.  She talks to animals the same way I talk to people.  She demands they do what she says, or at least respond to her.  Witness her demanding any unknown, unseen, critters to come out of hiding.  She often requests that her dog follow her directions.  "Toby," she'll say, "Can you quit begging from Lori?"  Then, if the dog does anything, like make a move or let out a sigh, she'll say, "thank you" as if it replied positvely.  When she does this, you don't think of her as being wacky or eccentric, it just occurs to you that she gives the same esteem to all living creatures.  I've even heard her talking to trees and plants in a similar manner.  While it makes me feel no less important when she does this in my presence, it does remind me that I am no more important, either.  

As she continued banging on the wall, I caught something in my left peripheral field of vision skittering across the kitchen floor.  It was brown, or grey, and had a long tail.  I am not sure if it was a bushy tail or not.  I was delighted to see there was a small hole in the corner where the floor and wall met on the far side of the room.  The critter was headed right for that and I could see it would be an easy entry into the hole.  Whatever it was would not have to run around the room panicking as it looked for an escape. It could scamper right into the hole and save me from screaming like a banshie.  Nan did not see it, but she heard me suck in a large moldy breath.  

"There it is," came out of my mouth in such a calm metered statement that I thought someone else might be in the room using my voice.  I was astonished to know I could talk in that calm sort of voice when in the same room with a varmint.   You would have thought I engaged in this kind of conversation on a regular basis.

"What was it?" she asked.

Hesitating for a moment, but a very brief moment so as to not let my naivete about abandoned farmhouse vermin betray me to Nan, I said, "a chipmunk."

"Ah," Nan said with a sense of relief.  "That is an okay occupant for this place."  Then she opened the door to the stairs and headed to the second floor.

Now, I didn't know if that critter was a chipmunk, mole, or rat.  I was proud that I'd chosen an answer that pleased Nan.  It seemed to put her at ease to think it was a chipmunk, a happy Disney-type creature, that was merely visiting the Love Shack.  Earlier, when Nan was unlocking the door, she turned to me and told me, as a warning or perhaps as a chance to decline a tour of the Love Shack, that every time she unlocked this door she imagined badgers, raccoons, skunks, and hedgehogs sitting around in a circle on the old patio furniture inside, studying their hands of poker.  As they heard the key in lock, they all returned the furniture to it's original position and dove for cover.  Or, in her worst case scenario, there was not time for them to dive for cover so they'd all pounce on her.  I don't think the animal I saw was large enough to be one of the animals she listed as the lock turned, but I can not say with any level of certainty that it was a chipmunk.  It was just the first thing that came to my mind or out of my mouth - I am not sure which.  

I hurried to catch up with her on the stairs.  I'd stared at the hole the animal went into long enough - two or three seconds - to make certain it was not coming back out.  My feet got good traction on the stairs considering they were covered with a dull green carpet that was so old, matted, and moldy that it was slick.  I commented to Nan how much the house reminded me of the house I grew up in back in South Dakota.  And it did.  The area at the top of the steps, not really a room, was large enough for a double bed.  Beyond that, a small room with a plywood wall in place to make a closet.   We commented on the wallpaper and the pine paneling then descended the steps, slowing at the bottom to see if the critter was in the kitchen.  It was not.  We headed back outside.

I'd asked for a tour of the Love Shack after a familiar exchange with Nan back at her real house.  "So," I'd ask, trying to sound like I could not think of another topic of conversation and not at all like I was cooking up plans in my mind to one day own the property with the Love Shack on it, "how are things coming along with the young couple who hope to buy your property across the road?"

"Oh," Nan groaned.  "So much (big emphasis on the much) has to happen for them to buy it.  They have to sell their house that they're in, and we just found out the valuation of the property is going down."  As she spoke she held her head back, feigning a pain that originated deep in her body.  It was just the reaction I always hoped for.  I know that once this couple is really ready to buy the place, my opportunity will be past.  I don't wish for Nan and Don to have to suffer in anticipation of whether anyone will buy the property or not, but each inquiry that is answered in this way is like a deeper prod from the Universe to me to take a chance.  

After the inside tour of the Love Shack, Nan and I embarked on the property tour.  We toured the crumbling out buildings, standing nearly stripped of their once bright red paint.  I commented on the windmill that has been non-functional so long that it serves as a giant topiary for the massive vines that have claimed it as their own.  And then, off down the gravel road we hiked, all the way around to the other side of the "round forty" that is for sale.  I tried to broach the topic of price politely.  "So, do you and Don have a price in mind for this property."  Nan wasn't having it.  I'd come out to accompany her to a Taize service in Boone.  We'd gotten distracted talking and eating a light supper and missed Taize. That's when I suggested a tour of the Love Shack.  She was not going to turn what was supposed to be an evening of spiritual deepening into a real estate open house.

"Assessed value is on the web," she retorted.  "Anyone can look it up."  She kept walking.  She pointed out the ravine where Don played as a boy and the difficulty involved in fencing that part of the property to keep cattle in. We walked on in silence for a few meters.  "You'd need a lot of sheep to pay for this," she mused.  Well, she didn't really muse, I'd told her earlier that I had an idea I might want to buy an acreage and raise some sheep and write stories.  She knew I was talking about the Love Shack acreage.  There's no fooling Nan.

"I know," I said, even though I didn't really.  The rest of the walk, all the way to the end of the forty acres and back, we engaged in easy conversation.  The words and phases that came out of my mouth were minute compared to the spacious thoughts that were fighting for equal attention in my mind.  Now I was getting eager to get home and look up the assessed value of the property and put together some numbers.  Not real numbers, probably, but numbers that would fit into my plan.

The plan.  It's pretty simple, actually.  I sell my house, make a boat-load of money (this is not a fantasy, I have a lot invested in my house and a good idea of what it would sell for), buy the Love Shack property, build a tiny house on the property after demolishing the Love Shack, and become a writer.  I know I could be a writer, I've even been solicited to submit my writing for guaranteed publication in an anthology and a magazine.  What I don't have is an interesting, even romantic, venue to write from, to be inspired by.  

Sometimes, I imagine that all I need is the right setting, the right house, the right pets - something like that, to be endearing to readers who are yet to discover my work.  Isn't that how it happened with the writers I adore?  Kathleen Norris moved to Lemmon, South Dakota from New York when she inherited her grandparent's house.  Instant writing success - in my mind, at least.   Those monks at the monastery helped a bit, too.  Anne Lamott raised a baby as a single mother and struggled with addiction - great writing prompts.  Fredrick Manfred built a house into the stone hills of the blue mounds of southern Minnesota for his home and writing retreat.  He even had a bird's nest office for writing from which he could see Minnesota, South Dakota, and Iowa on a clear day.  Louise Erdrich runs a small bookstore in northern Minnesota these days, writing in the back room as shoppers linger over books, I'm sure.  And Bill Holm, he lived in tiny Minneota, Minnesota interacting with all the people who did not have the skills or motivation to leave his small ancestral town.  By writing about their eccentricities and weird ways, he elevated himself as local anthropologist and world famous author.   Each of these authors had amusive surroundings, fueling their creative energies.   

Me, I live in Ames, Iowa, on a street that is so self-absorbed that has it's own parade independent of the town's larger parade on July 4th.  I have a house that is too big for me except when my children come for extended visits.  To me, and I am sure to many others who know me in superficial ways, the setting in which I write is not interesting and quirky enough to produce good fiction and poetry.  The Love Shack could be my Lemmon, South Dakota, my drug addiction, my bird's nest studio, my bookstore, or even my Minneota.  I worry that becoming a successful author is like winning the lottery, or being struck by lightening.  If that is the case, I'm screwed.  Jane Smiley lived in Ames and you know what they say, lightening never strikes twice in the same place.  I do not know myself well enough yet to know if these thoughts are part of a paranoia, an elaborate ruse for constructing and maintaing excuses, or really a message from the Universe.     

Do I need the Love Shack?  Or do I just need to devote plenty of time to writing millions of words until they fall into place in pleasing rhythms and descriptions of events real and imagined?  What do you think . . .