The Writing Life



Book Lovers Day- August 9

Posted by on Aug 8, 2019 in Writing | 0 comments

What I’m reading these days is an eclectic grouping, that’s for sure. These are some the books I’m loving. Check back on BLD, Book Lovers Day  August 9 to read a snippet about each one. You may like them.

What are you reading?

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s been immersed in writing for over 30 years, teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. She also enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Tucson Tellers of Tales, and just about anywhere there’s a mic. 

I Just Want to Stay in Bed

Posted by on Aug 7, 2019 in Writing | 0 comments

Some days I just want to stay in bed. My bed is really comfortable. I have a Goldilocks mattress, not too firm, not too soft, just right. Three pillows assure me of neck and head comfort. There’s the three I start with at night almost sitting up; the kind of firm one that I use as I slide into sleep, and the really soft one that takes me through ’til morning when I somehow end up totally horizontal.

Early morning sunlight slides through the slats of the shutters, diffusing the light so the room is hazy with a soft white light. The AC air is cool. Under the sheet I’m just warm enough. Have you felt that? There’s a very slight stretch where the purpose is not to elongate muscles and tendons to get up and get going, but to open and then curl up again and… stay in bed. For just a short period of time. In that halfway space between sleeping and wakefulness, there’s a lazy path of thoughts. Not the to-do list.

But sometimes, “what ifs?” What if I stay in bed all day today? What if I go out on the patio and slip into the pool before the sun rises? What if I get on my bike and just ride with no particular goal of where to go?

Sometimes the “I wonders” start. I wonder what my sweetheart is dreaming about right now? I wonder what my sister is doing? Are folks in another time zone eating breakfast? What do other writers do when they wake up?

Sometimes I do an in-bed meditation. Just breathe. Do a mental gratitude list.

~~~~~~~

Sometimes I just want to stay in bed. But I don’t want the light. I want to pull the sheet and comforter over me and block out all the light. Mostly I want to block out thoughts that have crept into my bed with me. “Why is there so much violence in our world?” “Why haven’t I heard from you?” “Why do I feel so alone?” There’s an opening in me that can let in self-pity, or anxiety, frustration, anger, fear. If I’m not aware, the seeds of those thoughts can sprout and take hold. I know it’s happening when I realize I’m clenching my teeth, or holding my breath, or my thoughts leap from one dark shadow of thought to another.

“Move a muscle, change a thought.” I think I’ve used that phrase for almost four decades to shift the mood. If I can just sit up, not get up. Or just force one arm up out of the covers. And remember:

Fate whispers to the Warrior,

“You cannot withstand the Storm.”

And the Warrior whispers back,

“I AM THE STORM.”

A few words like that have the power to remind me what’s true. I am a warrior when I need to be. I can take care of all the scared and soft and vulnerable parts of me. I am not alone.woman standing on rocks arms up victorious

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s been immersed in writing for over 30 years, teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. She also enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Tucson Tellers of Tales, and just about anywhere there’s a mic. 

Book Lovers Day is Aug. 9

Posted by on Aug 6, 2019 in Writing | 0 comments

August 9. BLD.

Huh? Yes it will be BLD – Book Lovers Day, celebrated internationally, according to Wikipedia.  “This is an unofficial holiday observed to encourage bibliophiles celebrate reading and literature. People are advised to put away their smartphones and every possible technological distraction and pick up a book to read.”

 

How I Got Started with Books

I’ve always loved books, starting with The Funny Bunny when I was a pre-reader, moving to Fun with Dick and Jane which introduced me to my first literary friends group: Dick and Jane, Sally, Puff and Spot. In retrospect, of course, Dick and Jane had a pretty thin story arc, no antagonists, no climax, and no dénouement. But at five years old I loved going through the book and finding the strings of letters that looked the same. My sister and I used to laugh at how the “a” was not like any a that we wrote. And the “g”? It was so much easier to make a sloping g rather than all those squiggly lines. But we accepted the a and g, and were on our way to decoding words.

 

Trixie Belden Books

The first books that “took” me somewhere were Trixie Belden books. We had a whole set of what must have been first edition Trixie Belden books at home which I read and reread.

Trixie regularly walked along the path in the woods from her house to her friend Honey’s house. No big excitement, just a teenage girl setting off on her own to see a friend. How many times did I replicate a trip like that through Poison Ivy Lane, the wooded, and edged with poison ivy, lane my dad cleared each summer to get to the beach during our idyllic summers in Miller Place Long Island? Was Trixie the impetus for loving hikes along trails in the Adirondacks, High Point New Jersey, and now up on Mt Lemmon in Summerhaven Arizona? A seed of a writing idea to be explored another time.

For BLD, what matters is that all those squiggles made words, then sentences, and then stories that entertained me, educated me, advised me, and inspired me to write my own stories.

 

The Covers of My Childhood Favorites:

The images are ones I grew up with. I’m a first edition reader on these!

 

 

 

 

So here’s to August 9!

When the digital date on my laptop flips to August 9, I doubt if I’ll put away my smartphone and other devices, but I plan to spend a few hours sitting in the big chair in my office – reading.

A Question for Readers

What are you reading? Post your favorites then or now in Comments

Check in with me on BLD (August 9): Books I’m Loving These Days

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. She also enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Tucson Tellers of Tales, and just about anywhere there’s a mic. 

Sweet Memories of Summer

Posted by on Jul 14, 2019 in Writing | 0 comments

“If you’re not barefoot, then you’re over dressed.”

Thoughts of my childhood summers wrap around me like a well-worn quilt.

Over the years the clarity of the square pieces have faded, some colors have run into others with multiple spills and washings. But the feel of it is always soft and smooth, a tactile connection that takes me back to lying on the wicker couch on a rainy day in Miller Place. It’s not really cool enough to need a blanket, but it is cozy and safe.

If you need a summer escape, reading a summer book may be the answer.

Especially if you are unable to physically get away, make your escape in Thinking of Miller Place: A Memoir of Summer Comfort. If you summered on Long Island, this may just do the trick.

(Contact Ethel about getting your copy)

 

The MP Historical Society captures that feel of a country town on Long Island

The brick “dedicated” to the book.

 

 

A Handful of Writing Prompts Using Summer Quotes

Posted by on Jun 25, 2019 in Writing | 0 comments

What musings/stories/essays might emerge from these quotes?:

Those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.   ~Nat King Cole

Summertime and the living is easy.   ~George and Ira Gershwin

Yes, in summer we all live in the dreamy palace.   ~Mary Oliver

Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability.  ~Sam Keen

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass on a summer day listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is hardly a waste of time.  ~John Lubbock

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place: A Memoir of Summer Comfort, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. She also enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Tucson Tellers of Tales, and just about anywhere there’s a mic. 

Summer – Read, Relax, Travel, Write

Posted by on Jun 15, 2019 in Writing | 10 comments

Summer’s Coming

Arizona summer monsoon morning

It’s still happening. Memorial Day. Then the middle of June. Then the first day of summer. And I want to  travel. Relax. Do lots of stream of consciousness writing. A bit weird considering I’ve been retired from official careers of teaching and life coaching for  two decades. I don’t have to wait for summer vacation to relax or take a trip. I can have the lazy attitude of summer whenever I want, especially living in Tucson Arizona. But old habits linger. Only in June, July and August does my desk get cleared of more organized writing and home projects. I’ll still be editing and writing, but with a bit of a different attitude. Here are some of my ideas. They may work for you too.

Summer Reading

Read “fluff” books as my fellow teachers and I did each summer when classroom goodbyes and hugs were given, with a mix of smiles, relief, and some good-bye tears. School reports were completed, supplies packed away, keys handed in. My colleagues and I met for a long lunch (because we could with no time restrictions), and exchanged books and book titles for summer reading.

Thinking of Miller Place

My favorite summer read is still my first book Thinking of Miller Place: A Memoir of Summer Comfort. It’s been ten years since the book first came out and five years since I visited Miller Place, my childhood haven on Long Island in New York. Posts from former residents show they miss it as much as I do.

Summer Viewing

Favorite films wait to be viewed again. This will free my mind from over-concern for clients and colleagues. I want to watch films of pretty and exotic places and idealized times. Think Little Women, Enchanted April, Queen of the Desert, and still my all-time favorite Gone with the Wind. New and recommended films inspire me to go to an actual movie theater. The White Crow (yes, I loved it), Rocketman, Bohemian Rhapsody (yes, again), Amazing Grace (just to see Aretha again)

Summer Travel

Travel catalogues start to accumulate on our dining room table. My most recent lure has been to become active with my community’s travel group. My list of want-to-go-to places just tripled. One of our members has been to all seven continents. Another organizes barge travel groups. There is strong appeal about travel to new places, and revisiting old favorites. Summer is when local trips become a reality and plans get made for the year ahead.

Summer Writing

Snippets for writing

I want to play with words. My Snippets pad is overflowing. Snippets is where I jot down funny phrases, bits of overheard conversation, and visual memories that I hope to turn into words, and to essays and stories that will translate back into visual journeys for readers. Phrases from our travel group’s viewing of Rick Steve’s  “The Value of Travel” are calling to be explored and expanded. “Thoughtful travel.” “Travel wallops my ethnocentricity.” “Embrace other heroes.”

Summer travel will find us on the East Coast to see family and friends; some familiar spots; some new. Will it be the same? What will be different? How am I different? Grist for the writing mill.

Where are you off to this summer?

Tucson writer Ethel Lee-Miller writes about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. She also enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Tucson Tellers of Tales, and just about anywhere there’s a mic. 

My Summer Home

Posted by on Jun 10, 2019 in Writing | 0 comments

Since summer is coming, my thoughts turn to the place that was most influential in my life. This was my grandfather’s summer home in Miller Place New York. From my birth until I was sixteen I spent each summer there with my family in glorious innocence and freedom. So much so that I wrote my first book about it. Thinking of Miller Place: A Memoir of Summer Comfort.

“In my memory I am resting in a hammock between a childhood that was and the reality of today. In it, I am in a place where I can still, if only in my daydreams, take off my shoes and run barefoot up the hill.”

This memoir is filled with reflections on my childhood summers in an idyllic town on the northeastern shore of Long Island, New York. The house was almost like a character itself – a big white house on a hill with a huge screened-in porch that was the hub of the house. Breakfasts, lunches, and dinners were eaten at the big round oak table. On rainy summer days the wooden shades were pulled down against the gentle rain, lamps turned on for card games of Canasta and I Doubt It or 1000-piece puzzles. Carefree summers in Miller Place in the 1950’s sustained my twin sister and me through the inevitable clumsiness of adolescence and informed the beliefs and values serve me today.

Thinking of Miller Place was first published in 2008, and revised in 2016 (©Wheatmark). Each summer I read it and remember. I loved being there, loved writing about it, and still cherish the memories of that home of my childhood.

Where did you spend your summers?

Do you have a “place” like Miller Place?

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. She also enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Tucson Tellers of Tales, and just about anywhere there’s a mic. 

Start with a House: Homes with a Life Partner

Posted by on Jun 7, 2019 in Writing | 0 comments

Sharing Space, Ideas, Chores, and Love

Homes with Hank

The fifteenth house that I lived in was the beginning of living with Hank.

15. If I had to divide my life into phases, this most recent phase started when I met Hank in 1988. We’ve often said we were led to each other, at just the right time, and we both had the good sense to recognize a good thing crossing our life radar screens. We’ve been building a life together over thirty years and four homes – first with a blended family in Lincoln Park New Jersey. That was my beginning with Hank and extending love to two step-daughters. A story about blending a family?

Two Alphas in Empty Nest Homes

16. After the “girls” moved out on their own, a loft condo in Little Falls was where friends gathered as Hank and I honed our home entertainment style. Holiday parties top my memory chart, when Christmas tree decorators leaned over the balcony to get that star on the top of the tree, or tossed confetti “snow” down on the guests. 

 

17. I think of the next condo in Lincoln Park as our space and room to “grow.” This was the metamorphosis house, stepchildren on their own, a growing grandchild, an aging mother, my retirement from teaching, building a new career and seeing myself as a professional speaker and writer.

My personal hub was my office. I had a spacious corner room upstairs where I witnessed the changing seasons in New Jersey. I could look out from my desk and see turkeys doing their tipsy walk, wings flapping, out in the woods in the fall. One winter morning when the world was completely silenced by falling snow, I looked up from my desk to see eight deer walking in single file across the back lawn.

This home was large enough that Hank had his own office too, next to mine. Privacy but not far away.

18. Now it’s 2019. We’ve made our home in Tucson Arizona since 2009. It’s our “retirement” home although I have yet to retire. Hank and I have different interests; I go off for a morning walk at a labyrinth, he golfs. I meet storytelling colleagues, he goes on long hikes. We share the energy of a writing group in our home. We bike and play tennis together. We have planning meetings for “things that need to be done.” Evenings usually find us sharing dinner, walking in our community, reading or looking at a new movie on TV. Another Haven. A Comfort. The Next Adventure.

Eighteen homes, certainly more than eighteen stories.

I realize safety in the structure and layout of my homes has been important. We’ve decorated each home with care and things that have personal meaning. We enjoy connecting with people and inviting friends to our home, I’ve sometimes experienced a tangible feeling of very positive energy while watching friends talk, laugh, sing, or write with us. The gift they leave when they go home is bits of that positive energy.

What’s special about your home?

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. She also enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Tucson Tellers of Tales, and just about anywhere there’s a mic. 

Start with a House: On My Own

Posted by on Jun 6, 2019 in Writing | 0 comments

The World is My Oyster Homes

I’m on a roll. It’s 1969 and I’m on my own. I need my own place.

6. After graduation from Wagner College in 1969, I was out on my own. Each place where I lived was absolutely “mine.” My first apartment was a small studio on Staten Island near the Goethals Bridge making it an easy crossover to New Jersey and my first teaching job. It was one large square room with a big picture window, a dresser and double closet stuffed with clothes. A small cubby kitchen and bathroom made it a super-sized studio. I furnished it with beginner’s apartment finds – a studio bed/couch, TV on a rickety metal folding table, larger table with two chairs, and orange crates on bricks holding a portable record player, record albums (yes, vinyl) and lots of books. Today I wonder how I fit everything in the space. That tiny place was not filled with a lot of memories. But each time I put my key in the door, I had a sweeping feeling of independence. I was paying my own bills, and budgeting my salary to get the $125.00 a month rent check mailed on time.

7. and 8. When I began my relationship with Malachi in 1969 we started in the projects on Staten Island. He went off to work in the city and I drove to New Jersey. We both knew The City was where we wanted to be. Our next apartment was a fourth-floor walk-up in a renovated brownstone off Central Park West. The whole area was just starting to change. Two blocks west were still boarded-up buildings and abandoned cars. But our small one bedroom, with tiny kitchen, bathroom, two minuscule closets and living room was “deluxe” to us. It was complete with a working fireplace and onsite landlord who dropped in monthly to see how his “kids” were doing. This began my love affair with NYC.

9. We “moved on up” to West End Avenue to a 1925 pre-war very large apartment with three bedrooms, two bathrooms (yes, really), eat-in dining room, living room, and kitchen with pantry. This was my growing up home. Our experience with blatant discrimination and our neighbors’ help with the Human Rights Association in 1971 taught me about collective power, and being effectively assertive. I think it was then I adopted “knowledge is power.” This was a period of growing up in marriage and getting smarter about life. I met a diverse number of people, ate at upper Westside restaurants, danced at clubs in The Village, had picnics and flew kites in Central Park, and realized I was pretty lucky to be living in a beautiful neighborhood. The hour commute to New Jersey to teach was not even a blip on the radar screen of discomfort, although learning the ins and outs of alternate side of the street parking in NYC and the necessary assertiveness was interesting.

A Home as a Safe Haven

10. In 1975 my first husband died and I needed a home that was calm and safe. For a year I was surrounded by love, caring, and this sense of home with my second family. I was teaching and protected by the Ball family. Books, newspapers, and letters were comfortably strewn in the living room, and the smell of apple pie became wonderfully familiar.

The home I lived in in West Caldwell New Jersey fostered the idea of a home that was not only beautiful, but also calm and safe. The five-minute walk down the tree-lined street to my job at Washington School was the best way to start my day. It was a geographically small world, my home when I most needed a home.

The architecture of the Ball’s house added to the sense of security – a wrap-around porch, my place in the garret bedroom where I could retreat for privacy to read, grieve for Mal, and later dance at the beginning of returning happiness, and share time with my sister of the heart, Mary Alice.

11. and 12. Two other homes witnessed my sometimes shaky start to life as a widow- my alone apartment which including finding my “self.” A hard but necessary time. Then being nurtured by my Finn, Eileen, and her Paul in their house, which was my home for almost a year, another halfway house like college. But this time when I most needed a haven.

Declaring Independence Homes

13. In 1986 I moved to my own apartment in Upper Montclair New Jersey. I called it The Garrett. I lived there at a time when I cherished solitude. I relished the fact that I could sit on my bed and see straight through to the other end of the apartment where there was a tiny makeshift kitchen with sink, a half refrigerator, and a probably illegal microwave.

14. In 1988 I acquired a mortgage, deed and signed paper after paper to my first ownership – a 900-square-foot condo in Lake Hiawatha New Jersey. I had that feeling all over again of being a grown-up. But this time with monthly mortgage payments, and taxes. I learned diplomacy with over-friendly neighbors and assertiveness with household service workers.

Have you lived completely on your own? What have you learned about yourself, family, people, joy, sorrow?

Tomorrow: Homes with a Life Partner

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. She also enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Tucson Tellers of Tales, and just about anywhere there’s a mic. 

Start with a House: Part One

Posted by on Jun 5, 2019 in Writing | 0 comments

How To Begin A Story

Where can a story begin? “Start with your childhood home.” That advice from Jim May at a Tellers of Tales workshop in Tucson took me back to sitting on the floor in our living room in Merrick New York. The carpet was thin, but thick enough to alternately be an ocean, a patio, or a foundation for building a house for my dollhouse family.

When I shared this house idea with my  husband Hank, we tallied up the numbers of places we’ve lived, both together and before we met.

This led me down into a warren of homes. I never realized how many places have been home to me. Now in my eighth decade, my tally is up to eighteen.

What did each home represent for me? Certainly, it was not apparent what the overriding feeling was to live in most of the places while I lived there. Taking time to look back has been nostalgic, sometimes sad, but mostly very enjoyable. Each home was important. Looking back from my current home, I can pick out bits of memories of each home and what they symbolized for me.

Homes-Your Built-in Writing Prompts

If you need a boost for writing and want to do memoiric work, this can be an excellent jumpstart. As I brainstormed for this writing, I began to see it as is kind of a retrospective. I’m taking a trip and stopping at each home to reflect a bit on who I was becoming then. Once I got started, I was really into it. Looking at photos, talking to my sister, husband, and facebook friends from years ago were like writing prompts in themselves. If you’re not into memoir, the truth can be revised for a piece of fiction, or fantasy, or mystery. I know I’ll be returning to this theme a lot. Start with a house.

Expanding the Suggestion:

Take it as a stream of consciousness exercise. List each house, with or without the year(s) you lived there. Maybe add who else was in the house. Attach one word or phrase to each home you’ve lived in that describes its importance. Expand, layer, combine, or contrast homes. Will your focus be on the architecture of the house, the colors, the location, the people in it? Will you make a chronological list? List them in size order? Happiness factor? Anything is possible. How many possible stories will you have?

Bits and Pieces of My Chronological List:

  1. The home of my childhood was small in comparison to homes today. We had three bedrooms and one bathroom for five people, one phone, and one TV at Kenny Avenue in a suburban town serviced by the Long Island Railroad in Merrick, New York. My dad walked to the station and took the train to work each morning. Often the train whistle at night would be the signal that he’d be striding down Kenny Avenue about fifteen minutes later. A possible story about my dad.

2. The Miller Place house on the north shore of Long Island was the oasis in my life. I spent the first sixteen summers of my life there. We packed up the station wagon and drove out to the house when school ended. June, July, and August – three months for sixteen years amounts to about four years. Those times impacted me in the most fulfilling way. More about that later. Lots more.

 

3. When I went to college in 1965, (yes, this is history now) it was a protected environment. Wagner College is situated on Grymes Hill on Staten Island with a breathtaking view of the New York City skyline. As freshman “girls,” we lived at Guild Hall with curfews, quiet hours, and no men allowed except on Sunday afternoons. I think a story about our college Open House rules is certainly in the making. Does anyone else remember “doors” open” and “one foot on the floor”? Sounds stifling by today’s standards? I loved every minute of college life. The overriding thought about dorm living was how I became aware that by spending time with other women – studying, sharing clothes and makeup, listening to first date happiness or disasters, I was building caring relationships. It was in my freshman year at Guild that I met Aino Kay Lautsio and was a suitemate with my twin Eileen.

4. and 5. Later years my sister and I had cluster rooms with our independent women friends – Bev, Judy, Linda, Angie, and Mickey in Towers Dorm and the New Dorm (not so new anymore). I’ve reconnected with Aino Kay and Linda.  The “home” feeling came from the friendships, open doors, sharing, and an incredible amount of laughing.

 

Why not start your list of homes tonight?

How many have you had so far?

Tomorrow: Homes on My Own

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. She also enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Tucson Tellers of Tales, and just about anywhere there’s a mic.