I recently had the privilege of speaking as a guest on a podcast about writing and marketing challenges with Michelle Vandepas–business and marketing strategist, TEDx speaker, best-selling author and all around great person!
We discuss writing styles, marketing strategies, writer’s block (I say “bah, humbug” to that!), and inspiration.
Put the kettle on and sip some tea while you visit with us!
Join me for just under an hour as Jerry Fabyanic–columnist, radio show host, and author of Sisyphus Wins–interviews me!
Here’s the link to his show, The Writers Talk. You might want to clean out your closet or your sock drawer while listening . . . or maybe even take notes! We talk about all kinds of writing ideas and challenges!
She’ll sit, perhaps feel
Celestial alignment flux
But won’t look skyward
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“Hi, Mum! It’s Laurel Jean. What will you be doing for the eclipse today?”
“Oh, I dunno. I won’t be looking at it, that’s for sure. I can watch it on T.V.”
Mum is more than halfway beyond her 88th year and is having trouble with her vision. I want to tell her to go ahead and take a peak, but I don’t.
She made a decision several months ago to move into an assisted living home a stone’s throw from where my younger sister lives, a decision all five of us daughters appreciate.
“The kids are gone for a few days,” she tells me. “Isn’t it wonderful they can do that now and not have to worry about me?”
I agree it’s a wonderful thing.
“You should at least go outside and sit while it’s happening,” I suggest. “You don’t have to look at it. Just feel it.”
“I suppose I could do that,” she agrees. “I could sit in one of the chairs on the porch.”
I tell her I’ll check in later.
I don’t tell her what I’m about to do.
At 10:30 a.m. I pick up my friend Elise and the two of us drive way up toward Mosquito Pass on a road that gives my old 4-Runner a workout.
“Oh! There are lots of people up here,” Elise comments as we continue our slow, upward crawl. “I guess that makes sense.”
It makes perfect sense to me. What better place to witness a solar eclipse than way up high on a mountain in Colorado?
“Don’t worry about it. I’m not shy,” I tell her, and she laughs.
Along with being a friend, Elise is the photographer for a calendar project I’m working on to raise funds for the restoration and preservation of the historic Tabor Opera House in Leadville: the 2018 Calendar Girls of Leadville. One of our models suggested our motto could be “Leadville Antiques: Uncovered” because all of the women in the calendar are age 50 and older . . . and in the spirit of the original 2003 film Calendar Girls, we’ve all agreed to be photographed tastefully “uncovered.”
Although the common rule for something to be considered antique is that it be 100 years or older, according to an article in mentalfloss.com, “An exception to this rule is cars and other items that are subject to frequent wear—they can be called antique when they are over 25 years old.”
All my volunteer models have agreed that they’ve been subject to frequent wear, so splitting the difference between 25 and 100 gave us our new 50-year antique designation.
So why am I driving up this gnarly road with my photographer?
Just yesterday, my friend Char asked, “Are you doing an eclipse photo shoot for the calendar?” And then she saw my eyes grow wide. I hadn’t even considered it. And I can’t believe I hadn’t even considered it. But who could I convince with less than a day’s notice to get naked outside during the much-heralded eclipse?
After a few failed phone calls, I knew it had to be me. Suddenly, I wanted it to be me.
Elise spots a pull-off far enough away and between two other groups of eclipse watchers and we head across a field toward a large, lichen-covered boulder. It’s perfect.
I drop my clothes, don my approved eclipse-watching eye protection, grab my diaphanous silk scarf and climb atop the boulder.
The boulder is cold.
The breeze way up high on a mountain on a cold boulder under an eclipsing sun is cold.
But I’m on fire.
I’m doing something I’ve never done before, and it makes me giddy.
I’m a naked antique woman experiencing a total solar eclipse in a way I’d never imagined. Though the fingernail of sun is still bright around the edge of the moon, I feel the temperature drop when I liberate my body from my sheer prop.
“Beautiful!” Elise encourages me as I turn, catching the chilling breeze in flutters of sunset-colored silk.
Elise suggests various compositions and I comply as the moon stealthily steals what little warmth the sun might offer. We laugh with each new pose I make.
“You haven’t lived till you’ve had lichen scratch your butt,” I comment. “Not sure I’m liken this!” It’s a goofy pun, but it helps release me from sudden self-consciousness.
If it’s possible, Elise is as stunned and elated as I am about what we’re doing.
“This is crazy,” I say, “and exciting, and . . . it’s probably illegal . . . but it just seems so right, right?” I’m pretty sure the other groups of people on either side of us can’t clearly see what’s happening on the cold boulder, but they probably have a good idea. My scarf is hard to miss, and although the eclipse is what they’re there for, they might make out an occasional full moon.
“When people see my work, I want them to feel joy,” Elise tells me as she snaps photo after photo, and I am filled with happiness. This is joy.
The thrill of baring all keeps the fire burning in my soul even while goosebumps cover my body. I want the movement of the celestial bodies to slow down, to appreciate what’s happening on the tiny planet and all the tiny specs upon it below, perhaps even to acknowledge me somehow. But that’s just ridiculous, and I know it.
I feel special and beautiful and just a spec naughty, and this satisfies me.
We’re just about done when I hear a jeep making its way up the road between us and the group down the hill.
“OH! My GOD!” a man’s voice carries across the field as I wrap my scarf around me and sit on the scratchy boulder.
I wonder if the jeep will stop. I wonder if I’ll be arrested. But the jeep continues its crawl up the road, and we laugh again. I’m pretty sure I’ve just made someone’s day.
I have a feeling Elise wants to experience the pure delight and freedom I’ve just experienced.
“I could take photos of you . . .”
And so I do, and they’re joyful.
We complete the photo shoot but don’t want to leave right away. Everyone has left the mountain, even the wind gods, and it’s quiet. We laugh some more and thank one another for our friendship and the experience.
“We’re all part of this . . . the eclipse dust, the lichen bones . . .” I know I sound like a hippy, but I don’t mind. I tell Elise how insignificant I’d felt standing under the star-spangled, Milky-Way-splashed sky the night of my son Nick’s 100-mile mountain race just two nights prior.
“But we’re not insignificant,” she corrects me. “We’re a part of all of that too.”
This eclipse is history. We drive back down the mountain to work and home and rain clouds approaching. We have photos we might use for the calendar project and memories of a special event made that much more memorable because of how we chose to experience it. *
I call Mum after I take a hot shower to remove the chill in my bones and the lichen from my butt.
“So?” I ask. “Did you go outside?”
She tells me she did, and she felt the temperature drop. I tell her what I’ve just done and she laughs. Even more, she understands why I did it and why I’m still giddy.
“You know,” she confesses, “when I was about twenty-two, my best friend Ginger Gray and I took pin-up girl photos of each other for our husbands. I looked pretty good back then.”
“You still look pretty good, Mum! And I love you.”
“I love you too, my darlin’ girl, to the stars and back.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
* Every photo shoot we’ve done for this calendar project has been joyful because the women who have volunteered to bare more than their souls for it have brought with them their feisty, fun-loving spirits. I hope all my readers will order multiple copies of the 2018 Calendar Girls of Leadville calendar when they’re ready. All net proceeds will be donated to the Tabor Opera House Preservation Foundation.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
If you like my writing, you might enjoy my books! Check them out here, and thank you!
You might also enjoy my story about how “the girls” were used to thwart an international incident: Battle-Dressed Breasts
I led a WeWrite session for Chaffee County Writers Exchange this morning and thought I’d have a little fun with my prompt-a-thon. After deciding on a smorgasborg theme, we started the session off with this prompt:
An important person you respect and like is coming to dinner. You prepare a smorgasborg. Who is coming and what will you have on your table?
Even though I came up with the prompt, I wasn’t prepared to answer the “Who is coming” part. So I closed my journal and got my answer. HA! My Wonder Woman journal (thank you, sister-in-law, for the fun gift) got me started! Here’s what I wrote:
When Wonder Woman agreed to spend a weekend in Leadville and speak at our writing group meeting, I knew our first dinner together had to be extra special. I mean, come on now . . . Wonder Woman?
As I had no way to contact her about any potential food allergies—she’d be flying around the planet doing really important work before landing in my back yard for dinner—I’d have to guess what kind of foods she’d appreciate.
And, come on now . . . Wonder Woman having any food allergies? Ridiculous.
Nevertheless, I chose to play it safe and go with a gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free, meat-free, hormone-free spread. Here’s what’s on my table:
A bowl full of rusty nails for all her mineral needs
Local spring water for all her hydration needs.
That should be enough. It she’s still hungry after dinner, I”ll take her to High Mountain Pies for pizza and beer.
[Hey, I only had 10 minutes to write this, and I used 2 minutes to figure out my “who” and think about dinner. Don’t judge!]
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
If you like my writing, you might enjoy my books! Check them out here, and thank you!
Several months ago over pizza and beer and far too much testosterone, my husband (Mike), our friend (another Mike, so I’ll call him Lamond hereafter), and our son Nick decided they’d all compete in 100-mile foot races this summer. As Mike and Lamond have completed the Leadville Trail 100 (LT 100) run several times already, they got online and without a lick of forethought, registered for the Ouray 100, a race with cumulative elevation gain equivalent to climbing Mount Everest three and a half times (see map below). No big deal, really, as they’re given 52 hours (nonstop but for an occasional aid station and tree watering) to complete the course. Buoyed by the enthusiasm of the older men, Nick registered for his first LT 100 run.
Lamond’s wife, Sunni, and I looked at one another through the haze of hormones and rolled our eyes. We have crewed many, many, far-too-many races over the years and knew that this one would be a humdinger.
I’ll interject a little tidbit here about my husband. Three days after he completed his ninth LT 100 Mountain Bike race a few years ago, he agreed it was time to undergo a full right hip replacement. Last year, three days after he completed his 11th one—because he had to earn the 1,100-mile jacket—he completed his transformation from Leadman to Titanium man with a matching left hip.
And one more tidbit about surgeons. When healing is complete and they say, “Sure! No restrictions,” they really should listen to what their patients tell them. Mike was quite clear with his surgeon about his desire to continue a life of mountaineering and racing.
“No problem. No restrictions,” said the doc. I could’ve punched him.
But enough tidbits. Back to the race.
Ouray, Colorado is a gorgeous location and we had trailer camped there three times prior to the event. Mike and Nick had hiked almost every leg of the race course, and Nick was prepared to pace Mike for the last 50 miles. Mike was motivated and confident in his ability to finish a race only 9 had finished the previous year.
“Get it out of your system,” he told the sniveling sky the night before the race as thunder boomed and lightning crackled through the atmosphere. It poured all night.
Race day started with partly cloudy skies. The soaking-pelting-brutalizing-hailing-rain began again within moments of the start of the race, but Mike had the right gear for every eventuality. A deluge would make completing this race just that much more badass.
Nick and Sunni and I would meet up with our racers that evening at a point where we’d see them three times between 4 p.m. and 3 a.m. the following morning. If they didn’t make the time cutoffs at each point, the race would be over.
Sitting with Sunni in our truck while Nick took my pink Victoria’s Secret umbrella to watch for our racers, I questioned my own sanity. The truck was packed with bags of gear and food and blankets—silly me, thinking I’d ever sleep!—and oh yes, Ranger, 90 pounds of muddy-wet German Shepherd.
“Here we are again.”
“Waiting and worrying.”
“We keep supporting them, though.”
“Yeah. Maybe our two Mikes should live together next year—”
“And you and I should take a cruise!”
We were both pleasantly surprised when Lamond cleared the first checkpoint early, drenched, but in great humor. Nick and I stood under umbrellas while Sunni tended to his feet.
“So, what do you think?” he asked me. “Is it going to clear?”
I’d seen the forecast and paused for too long before looking him square in the eyes and declaring, “Yes.” He laughed out loud. Guess I didn’t really sell it, but he appreciated my optimism.
He took off for his first of two loops up the mountain at Ironton and we waited for Mike. And waited. And waited. I can’t help getting anxious when the wait stretches longer than planned. Both our men had told us they’d be okay if they’d given it their all but couldn’t make a time cutoff, and we almost believed them.
“Well, if Mike doesn’t make it in time, then Nick can pace your guy the last half.” I not-so-secretly hoped I wouldn’t have to spend all night in the muddy-wet-dog-smelly truck. Lamond had seen Mike earlier and said he was in good spirits, but his hip was giving him issues.
I was not happy. I was damp and hungry and worried. Nothing in the bags of not-quite-food appealed, and the idea of setting up our camp stove in the rain made me angry.
“I really hate this,” I confessed to Sunni. She understood completely.
Nearing the cutoff time, I saw the pink umbrella and Nick waving at us with a big smile, and behind him trudged Mike.
Shit, I thought. He made the cutoff.
He wolfed down a bowl of mac & cheese from the aid station, changed his gear for nighttime navigating, and off he went. As I watched my husband hobble up the mountain, I gave Nick a look that said, “Are you kidding me?”
“He’ll warm up. He always looks like that when he starts,” Nick reminded me. Nick always finds a way to say just the right thing to talk me down from my overblown worries, a skill he must have inherited from his father.
Lamond completed his first loop faster again than anticipated, and before he started off on his second loop, the moon peeked out.
“See! I told you it would clear!”
He thanked me for stopping the rain, but I knew it wouldn’t last. And it didn’t. Off he galloped up the mountain for lap two just as Mike completed lap one. Did I mention that Lamond is about six-foot-twelve and his walking stride is faster than Mike’s shuffling stride? No matter. Everyone was suffering.
Everyone but a racer I’ll call “Skippy Girl.” Skippy Girl skipped through every aid station throughout the race, and according to our guys, chatted the whole way too. It was enough to make a person want to hate her, but she was just so damned skippy that I really wanted to adopt her. I never offered, as it would’ve been weird—she being 29 and all—but the thought crossed my mind. Despite my miserable mental condition, she made me smile.
Lamond completed lap two at 10:20 p.m. just minutes after Mike started the lap (which took him four cold, dark, wet hours) and Sunni departed with Nick, leaving me in the rain with a stinky-wet-dog-wet-sock-smelling truck. Nick would go to the 58.8 mile point and wait for Mike with our friend Erich, who would start pacing Lamond at that point.
And now I must give praise to our pooch. We think Ranger is about 6 ½ (they said he was about 3 when we rescued him), and as long as he is with us, he’s a happy boy. I could learn a few things from him. Never once throughout that long night did he complain, despite being muddy and wet and crammed in among the bags of stuff in the back seat. He’s a very good boy.
I, on the other hand, grumbled and groused and tried to find a comfortable position while shaking from my mind thoughts of all the horrible things that could happen to my husband alone and impaired on a slippery mountainside. I knew he was hurting from the first time he limped into the checkpoint. And I knew he wouldn’t quit. I played Solitaire on my phone until my eyes blurred from weariness and ambient humidity.
Finally, a lone headlight lurched into sight at 2:14 a.m. Though I wanted to, I didn’t dare take a photo of Mike as he sat in the passenger seat, his hands frozen and barely able to scoop mac & cheese into his mouth, his stomach rejecting it immediately, his eyes a mixture of fatigue and resolve.
I wanted to say, “Stop. Please stop now.” But I couldn’t. I wouldn’t be the one to give him any reason to question his ability to complete this ridiculous race. And I knew I wouldn’t deter him from his goal even if I’d tried.
Instead, I kissed him and cheered him on to his next checkpoint, confident that once he reached Nick, he’d be in good hands. Calculating time to the next checkpoint I could go to, I wouldn’t see him again until around noon on day two of the race.
I returned to the trailer at about 3 a.m., took Ranger for a little walk since there was a break in the deluge, posted some Facebook updates, and threw myself under some covers on the bed.
At 8:45 a.m., almost 25 hours after the start of the race and 58.8 miles in, Mike missed the cutoff time where Nick was waiting.
“He’s done. Missed the cutoff. He’s in good spirits, though.” Nick’s text made me want to cry . . . from relief, because I knew the only reason Mike would stop would be because his titanium parts just weren’t working correctly, and from sadness, because I knew how strongly he wanted to finish this race.
His mind was far stronger than his matter this time.
“Thank you for supporting my insanity,” he told me when I picked him up. I told him he couldn’t get into bed without showering, and shortly after he was asleep, I got a text from Sunni:
When Mike [Lamond] came down to Crystal Lake he said he was done and had no desire to continue. He was easily talked into going back out for a nice strolling hike with his boys (both Erich and Nick went). Not sure if he’ll continue after the park. I told him ‘I’ll see you at the park and we can discuss you stopping.’ Figure mentally he’d be better saying he stopped at 75 miles. He now agrees how stupid this race is.
The next 24 hours blurred into a haze of back and forths to different checkpoints as Nick ran with Lamond throughout the day and night (day 2 was clear and moonlit!) to complete the stupid race by 8 a.m., a mere 48 hours after it had begun.
Sunni’s father played classic tunes on his bagpipes at the finish line, and nearly all of us complained of “something in the air” as we wiped our eyes. I secretly chastised myself for my meager discomforts. In fact, I felt great pride at the accomplishments of my husband, son, and friends who participated in the stupid 102.1-mile race.
Fifty-eight crazy people started the race and 22 strong, insane, skippy runners finished it. Many quit early on, and I can’t say I blame them. I was demoralized just standing under an umbrella. Many hadn’t trained enough to make the time cutoffs for each insane section of the race, and to those folks I say, “Good effort.” And some—like my mountain goat husband—gave more than they had to give.
What drives people to participate in these ultra-endurance races? Probably the same thing that drives people to compose music, to paint murals, to write books, to care for the sick and injured, to teach . . . it’s something in the genes and in the blood. We can’t help ourselves from pursuing our passions.
In less than two weeks, Nick will start the LT 100 run at 4 a.m. and I’ll be with him at the start. Mike and Lamond will be there to pace him for different sections the last 50 miles. And I’ll be there for him at the finish too, with tissues at the ready, just in case there’s “something in the air” again.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
If you like my writing, you might enjoy my books! Check them out here, and thank you!
It is with anger, growing frustration and rising blood pressure that I’m distracted from writing what I enjoy writing to compose this rant against irresponsible dog owners. I am so, so, SO sick of having to defend myself and my dog from almost routine incidents involving loose, aggressive dogs.
Just yesterday I delivered a stern written warning to an aggressive dog owner whose dog finally escaped its yard and attacked my dog, and this morning, while walking with my friend along a route we’ve taken several times each week for the past several years, an unsecured Rottweiler ran from its yard and charged us. I think the only thing stopping it from inflicting damage was the atmosphere of noise and confusion that ensued as its owners, a witness, and we—its target—all erupted in shouting from different directions. The same dog had apparently attacked another person two weeks prior.
I had my pepper spray at the ready as the dog circled us at close distance, and fortunately, the dog owners secured it before it made contact.
And then they apologized, right?
Hell, no. They acted belligerently, yelling at us for our reaction to the incident, telling us their dog is “friendly,” and walking away after being told to stay until the police arrived.
A well-meaning witness to the whole event suggested that we consider taking a different route for our morning walks. My emphatic “No!” was perhaps delivered too strongly—he was simply offering a solution—but his solution suggests that I remain a frightened victim. His solution suggests that unrestrained, aggressive dogs should be given control of their territory and beyond. It suggests that law-breakers should be allowed to continue breaking the law.
And it suggests I should just deal with the physical and emotional damage I endure after coming down from a spike of fight-or-flight adrenaline to my system.
To all those suggestions, I scream “NO!”
“It’s because your dog’s a German Shepherd,” we’ve heard from past aggressive dog owners after their off-leash dogs have charged us, as if owning a German Shepherd is a valid excuse for their dogs to attack. I suppose that was a similar excuse used by the owners of three different loose dogs who charged my friends as they walked their 14-pound Cavalier King Charles Spaniel around the Fish Hatchery recently. I suppose it was because my friends’ dog was too cute.
There’s been talk for years of sterner dog control ordinances, but if we’re all going to continue to avoid the law-breakers, to walk a different route, to veer into the street rather than stay on a sidewalk by a fence we know won’t contain an aggressive dog, to give someone “one more chance” before filing a report, what good will come of sterner laws?
I’m disgusted. I’m disgusted because this is not the first time I’ve been angry enough to write about dog attacks (see Going To The Dogs), and even as I write this—my heart still pounding too hard—I question what impact it will make.
Why, Leadvillians? Why do we keep making excuses? Why do we keep believing it will never happen again? Why do we even consider changing our route? Aren’t we smarter than dogs yet? Evidently, we’re not.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I sent this letter to our local paper’s editor today. I know this issue is not exclusive to our quirky little town, so I have to wonder why we (humans) can’t seem to figure out how not to continually be victimized by them (demonstrably dangerous dogs and their generally aggressive owners).
Clearly, it’s never appropriate to blame the dog. Some people believe there are no bad dogs, only bad dog owners. But bad dog owners can create bad dogs and allow them to behave aggressively around people and other animals. This is bad.
I believe my rights as a law-abiding individual trump (and how I hate to use that word anymore) those of law-breakers and animals. I’m not sure how I’ll respond to the next attack, but it won’t be pretty. For years now I’ve been holding Ranger back and pulling him away from attacking dogs, not wanting him to engage in a fight, not wanting him to experience what it might feel like to sink his teeth into a combatant, not wanting to “ruin” him.
I’m not going to hold him back anymore.
As of August 17, 2017, Leadville’s City Council is drafting new-and-improved guidelines for dangerous dogs!
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
If you like my writing, you might enjoy my other publications. Check them out here!