Just A Pup

FourLeaf's Surfer Girl, aka Gidget - 7 weeks old

FourLeaf’s Surfer Girl, aka Gidget – 7 weeks old

A Difficult Circle to Draw: Those of you who know me know that I am a dog lover. The last time I wrote a canine-connected post here was in February, when I delivered the sad news of the loss of our beloved Belle. I genuinely appreciate the outpouring of heartfelt condolences and support the post initiated. It was a very healing process, indeed.

We still sorely miss our Belle. The loss lingers, hitting us in unexpected ways. Today’s post is about dealing with the opposite—with the circle of life starting over again. And yet, as you’ll see, there are surprising similarities between the two extremes. If we are Facebook friends, you undoubtedly know that we have a new puppy in our lives. The steady stream of photos there are sort of my version of Rafiki holding up Simba for the appraisal of the realm.Rafiki displaying Simba

FourLeaf’s Surfer Girl, a.k.a. Gidget, arrived in our home at seven weeks of age in mid-May. She’s fourteen weeks old to the day as of the writing of this post. And she’s mostly adorable (I’ve heard people joke that puppies are cute so that we don’t kill them – I am once again reminded how bitingly funny that joke is). And quite often she’s even fun to have around. And so, in spite of life’s occasional trials and sorrows, the circle continues.

Consumed by Chaos: Gidget has now lived exactly half her life with us, and in some ways it feels like half a lifetime to me, too. It’s embarrassing to admit, but the chaos of having a puppy has more or less consumed my life these past seven weeks. The bursts of unbridled energy combined with a mouthful of needle teeth and no concept of manners can be utterly exhausting. Thank God puppies sleep sixteen to eighteen hours a day. Any more hours of that level of vitality would make raising one nigh unbearable. I’d forgotten what a relief it is to close a kennel door (as I did just before starting this post).

All of this gives me a renewed sense of appreciation for those of you who have kids and jobs outside of the house, let alone a pet (or pets), and still manage to get some writing done. I can see that it’s going to take much more focus from me, and rapid improvement from our new family member, for me to get my current rewrite done anytime soon.

Lessons at the Near End of the Leash: Sometimes I feel a bit of resentment for having to deal with such a turbulent presence in our house, in the stead of my dear lost writing partner. And I suffer occasional pangs of guilt over my increasing affection for Gidget (it’s not logical, but it feels like a betrayal to Belle). And yet I think having had so much of my attention and effort tied up in caring for and training our new family member has had its benefits. It’s a diversion from loss and grief over her predecessor. The overall experience has been a healing one. And, when I pay heed to the being at the near end of the leash, it’s been enlightening and growth inducing as well.

So, without further ado (and before she wakes up, and I’m back at it), I give you Gidget’s Puppy Lessons for Writers:

Pink puppy collar (9 weeks)*“Aww, isn’t that cute?” Sure, a puppy seems to be as cute as a cartoon character, or a stuffed animal. At least from the outside looking in. I’m always shocked when a parent blithely encourages a very small and unsteady child to approach and touch an animal that can’t possibly be relied upon to behave; one that is also teething and has a mouthful of fishhooks. I know—they’re just playing, right? I’d remind you how rough retriever pups’ play is by showing you the scars on my hands and arms. It’s nothing that won’t heal, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t sting.

It’s very similar to when outsiders hear that you are a writer, isn’t it? You can almost hear it in their voices: “Aww, isn’t that cute?” They think we’re cartoon characters, scribbling down our little stories—livin’ the dream. They can’t know about the angst the blank page can induce, or the fortitude it takes to overcome writerly dread and hit the send button—to feel the sting of even a playfully tough critique. When someone’s stroking me about how great the writer’s life must be, it’s almost enough to make me want to unexpectedly bite. “What? I was just playing,” I’d say. “It’ll heal.”

Gidget’s Lesson: Although it takes time and maturity, we can inhibit our antisocial impulses, and learn to appreciate that those who pay attention to us mostly mean well. We know that no one really likes a rough patting on the head, but those who pat are oblivious. So just take it in the spirit in which it’s intended, and move on.

*Renewed Sense of Wonder: When was the last time you really appreciated the dew on every blade of grass, or marveled at the grace of a dragonfly? How about the splendor of the sun reflecting on the lake, or the rhythm of waves lapping on the shore? What about the feel of sun-warmed sand on your belly? How evocative is the echoing honking of a passing flock of geese in the gray of dawn? I must admit, it had been a while since I was up that early, let alone stopped and watched geese flying over. But I got chills in watching my puppy’s wide-eyed appraisal.Digging in the dune (10 weeks)

To a puppy everything is new. Every person is a marvel, there to be met and known. Every other animal is a magnificent wonder. Every new dog is a potential best friend.

Gidget’s Lesson: Seeing the world through a puppy’s eyes is a real gift. Life’s fascinating details can become peripheral to our attention if we don’t take note. And isn’t the best writing born of noticing?

*There Is No Finish Line: I keep wondering when this puppy thing will be over. When do those needle teeth fall out again? How long before we can rely on her to come when we call? When will she just chill out with us while we read or watch TV? When will she become my writing partner, and hang out in my office with me during the day (without demanding three-quarters of my attention)?

It’s pretty easy to remember the latter halves of Belle’s and Maggie’s lives, when they were ideal companions. It’s convenient to forget the years of training and the frustrating days along the way. For the first three years of Belle’s life, if she found a dead fish on the beach, the only thing on her mind was whether to roll on it or eat it (depending on the state of rot, I suppose). Paying heed to my bellowing was not even on her radar. And yet, at some point, we could easily call her off of a dead fish. It took time, patience, and a lot of soapy baths to get there. Even then, heaven knows she was no angel. Heaven also knows that her selective hearing loss was not due to her advancing age so much as to her lifelong bouts of stubbornness.

Gidget’s Lesson: This lesson is more of a reminder. Raising a canine companion is about the evolution of a relationship. The bonding and the improved reliability are gradual. It takes daily dedication and practice. And there are going to be setbacks. When reversals happen, all that can be done is to begin again. (I think the similarity to the evolution of the writing life is evident without further explanation, don’t you?)

Staying Playful:

Gidget Goes to the beach (8 weeks)

“Dogs and people aren’t normal mammals. Most mammals play a lot when they’re young and then gradually become more sedate… There are few other animals, besides dogs and humans, who also show high levels of play as adults…Overall, the young of any species are much quicker to welcome change than their elders… From a broad perspective, adult humans are amazingly flexible compared to the adults of other species. Our love of play goes hand in hand with that flexibility, and it’s one of the defining characteristics of our bond with our dogs.” ~Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D. (from The Other End of the Leash)

Some days I think I’m getting too old for this puppy thing. On a recent trying day I even told my wife that I thought this was the last time. “The next one’s going to be an adult rescue,” I vowed. But on the good days, I’m not so sure. And history indicates I have a short memory for these types of vows. Perhaps Gidget is just the ticket to shaking this staid writer back to flexibility—both physically and mentally. A reminder to stay playful, about my work and my life, might be just what I need right now.

First water fetch (12 weeks)I’ve noticed that, through happenstance during play, Gidget is learning and growing. By being interested in a toy bumper, and chasing it, she’s learned both to swim and retrieve—both important aspects of the serious work of her lineage. Labs were originally bred to haul nets in the frigid Atlantic, after all. Through play, she’s gaining the skills and the aptitude for work. And it’ll be work she’ll enjoy for the rest of her life.

Gidget sees every waking hour as a chance to play. Perhaps I should take that approach to my own work. Perhaps that’s not such a bad thing to stay a pup.

Paying Homage to Predecessors:  I said at the onset that there were surprising similarities to this post and the one I wrote after Belle’s passing. The lessons I note that Belle taught me are about patience, finding the joy in chaos, showing up every day, and that a job well-done was reward in and of itself. I’ll be damned if those aren’t lessons needed for raising a puppy. I also once wrote that because of Maggie before her, Belle had a specially blessed life. Now it’s Belle’s turn to pass along the blessing.

Not a day goes by that I am not grateful to Belle for the lessons she taught me—lessons so keenly needed now. And she’s there for me when I lose my patience, too—reminding me that I can do this. Belle reminds me that if I could survive her puppyhood, I can deal with just about anything the world dishes up. I close my eyes, then look skyward and take a deep breath, and I realize this puppy will be worth it.

So I will end this post as I ended that last one, by publicly restating: “Thank you, Miss. For everything—for all the lessons, all the stories, all the laughs and tears. I promise you, they will not go to waste. I will never forget.” It’s important to remind myself, because I’m still learning, still growing. It’s important because, after all, in many respects I’m really still just a pup.

I'm a big girl - Gidget at 14 weeks.

I’m a big girl – Gidget at 14 weeks.

How about you? Are just still “just a pup”? Give me your puppy stories. Do they apply to your writing journey? 

Author Journeys Interview – Redirect to John Robin’s Blog

 Autumn HazelhurstWU–Friendship Fountainhead: I’ve recently gotten to know a fellow fantasy writer, John Robin, and you’ll never guess where. Just kidding. I know you’ve guessed we became acquainted through Writer Unboxed–where else? John was kind enough to select me as his first subject for a new series he’s calling Author Journeys. I’m grateful. In the process, John and I discovered we have much in common as writers. I’m looking forward to watching his journey unfold.

The Road Goes Ever On: I’ve been interviewed before, and I’ve interviewed others, but John’s offer came at a good time for me. I recently came to a fork in my writerly road, and I’ve finally decided which path forward I will take. I haven’t abandoned the trilogy, but I’m going to set it aside for a few months. I think a break from book one rewrites will do me some good. Instead I have been working on a rewrite of my fourth manuscript, The Severing Son, which is the story of the rise and fall of Vahldan the Bold–the father of Thaedan, the primary protagonist of the the trilogy. It’s a long one–the longest of four very long manuscripts. I can now see how this book can be broken into yet another trilogy–one that will precede The Broken Oaths trilogy.  Two of my very dear friends and colleagues have been gracious enough to read The Severing Son and their praise and insightful critique have me very excited to dig into the project. Hopefully the work will lead me back to a rewrite of book one of Broken Oaths with a fresh outlook.

So you see, the chosen path will most likely lead me back to the characters that brought me to this crazy-making dance. It may be the long way around, but it seems fitting. I’ve rarely taken the easy road, but I continue to learn a lot along the way.

Please head over to John’s blog, and share a bit of your journey, and take a minute to check out what John is up to.  Happy Independence Day to my American friends. Happy summer to all!

The Truth Is Place (A Foundation for an Artistic Life)

HD Sunset“A song to thee, fair State of mine,
Michigan, my Michigan.
But greater song than this is thine,
Michigan, my Michigan.
The whisper of the forest tree,
The thunder of the inland sea,
Unite in one grand symphony
Of Michigan, my Michigan…”
~Douglas Malloch (from Michigan, My Michigan,1902)

Late- Winter Blues: I’ve done a bit of bitching about my home state this week. More specifically, about the weather here. Which is unusual for me. I’ve written about my love of the Snowy ravinechange of seasons, and my fondness for winter, here. But what a winter we’ve had here in the Mighty Mitten! With record-setting snow levels and a near record number of days below zero degrees Fahrenheit, I think I’ve finally gotten my fill.

But I still can’t imagine living anywhere else. In fact, even after such a brutal winter, I can honestly say that if I could move anywhere, I’d move further north, right here in my home state. Give me the tall, singing pines of Hartwick, the deep blue lakes of Leelanau, the soaring dunes of Sleeping Bear, the cold, clear streams of Little Traverse Bay.

Soaring Pines That SingTighten Your Rust Belt: I so often hear that people’s impression of Michigan is not one just of inclement weather, but one of closed auto factories, high unemployment and crime. I even saw a comment on a tourism site that condemned the whole state as having a “foul, sulfurous smell.” This from a guy who lived in Chicago. Makes one wonder about the prevailing westerly winds that originate from his industry intensive area. But nevertheless, it’s a bit silly to say that an entire state can have a certain odor.

Certainly Michigan has more than its share of closed factories. We’ve had our ups and downs. But to anyone who imagines these things define our state, I simply say: You’ve obviously never been here. Or at least: You’ve never really looked around outside the somewhat rusty belt of the state’s major cities’ limits.

Been Called Home:

I wanna live in a land of lakes, where the great waves break
And the night runs right into the day
I wanna be with the ones I left, but I’m way out west
And the years keep on slipping away
I
wanna run on the sacred dunes, through the ancient ruins
Where the fires of my ancestors bur
ned
I remember that fateful day, w
hen I ran away
And you told me I couldn’t return

You made me swear I’d never forget, I made a vow I’d see you again
I will be
back one day, and I’ll find you there by the great big lake…” ~Lord Huron (aka Ben Schneider of Okemos, MI, from the song, I Will Be Back One Day)

I have lived elsewhere. I’ve lived near enough to smell the ocean in Southern California; within sight of the capital across one of the majestic lakes of Madison, Wisconsin; in a quaintHazelhust as Lothlorien turn-of-the-century neighborhood in suburban Chicagoland; and in a rural village on the edge of farmland so flat and far-reaching one can watch an errant dog run away for days.

And I love to travel and spend time in other parts of the US and the world. I’ve seen places so beautiful they take your breath. I’ve been among folks so welcoming you’d think they considered all visitors to be kin. But these old dirt roads always beckon me. No other place can truly be home for me. As excited as I am each time we get out to see the wide world, I always end up longing for the contentment of home. In all the years I lived elsewhere, I think I always knew I’d end up back here.

Finding My Truth Is Place:

“In the end, of course, the truth is place.

Place is where we first become conscious of the world outside ourselves, then outside the family, then outside the community. Place is where we draw our first and last breath. Place either smothers our spirits, or liberates it.

A startlingly beautiful and varied place like Michigan most often frees the spirit. In doing so, it is parent to creativity—sometimes to everlasting art.” ~Dave and Jack Dempsey (from Ink Trails: Michigan’s Famous and Forgotten Authors)

I’d like to think I would’ve pursued my writing journey if I’d ended up living elsewhere, but sometimes I wonder. If I had started elsewhere, I’m guessing it would’ve been quite a different journey. Certainly living here, where I drew my first breath, and became conscious of the world outside myself, has been conducive to pursuing my writing dream. Maybe I’m as rooted in my journey here as Georgia O’Keeffe was in the New Mexican desert, or as Anne Rice is in New Orleans. Not to compare myself to them, but I do feel my home is my artistic foundation. Few writers have been more closely identified with a place than Carl Sandburg with Chicago (“City of big shoulders…”), and yet he did much of his writing on his rooftop deck overlooking the Lake Michigan shore, less than a mile from my house.

Majestic CloudinessThere is such a comforting lull to life in the woods near the shore. I even love the cloudiness—a condition often experienced living on the leeward side of a great lake. I remember longing for cloudy days when I lived in SoCal, where they are rare. Big billowing clouds have a way of filling me a nostalgic melancholy. For me it’s an ideal state for creativity—for letting my thoughts wander. I’m sure many of you won’t get it, but perhaps some of you will, when I say that cloudiness takes the pressure off.

And history is all around me. Our roads and beach paths were once trod by Potawatomi and Ottawa Indians; French voyageurs paddled our shores and rivers; and English forts originated our nearest towns—perfect for immersing myself in a historical world on the page.

Dania Looks Suspiciously Like Michigan: For those who have read my work, whether you realize it or not, you have undoubtedly sensed my world here in the Mighty Mitten in the settings. From the blue ribbon of the Danian River, to the log walls around the village of Danihem, to the pine and fir forested foothills of the Skolani Rainy day in the foresthunting grounds, and eastward to the ancient beeches and oaks of Afletam Forest and the open grasslands of Oium—Michigan haunts the world I’ve created on the page. Even the weather is familiar. There are lots of cloudy and inclement days in Dania—have you noticed?

I once thought my first novel would be a fantasy based on first encounters between Native Americans and Europeans, set here in the Great Lakes Region. In hindsight I can see how much of my interest in that history suffuses my story. It’s in the conflict between a self-identified civilized culture versus another they deem to be less so. I particularly see it in my creation of the Skolani tribe. It’s in their love of, and dependence on, their horses. I see it in their Kabitka—a moveable village of wagons and hide tents.

And I haven’t discarded the notion of writing the one set in the New World. After all, the research is right outside my door.

For Those Who See: As for our tough Michigan winter, I know this too shall pass. Past experience shows me that things change, even in the Mighty Mitten. I might even say especially here. And there’s beauty in change. Beauty that has the ability to inspire.

“To those who see bare branches –
and know they hold the buds of spring
 
To those who see stars falling in the heavens
and know the constellations will remain forever
 
To those who see long lines of geese fade far beyond –
and know they come back again to nest
 
To those who see with wonder in their hearts and know –
what glories there can be for those who see…”

~Benzonia, Michigan native Gwen Frostic (To Those Who See, from Contemplations, 1973)

IMG_0329 

What about you? Do you believe that “the truth is place”? Has your world informed your writing? When you hear the name “Michigan” do closed factories or flourishing forests and white sand beaches come to mind? How do you feel about clouds? 

[Photos by Vaughn Roycroft]

I’ve Been High

Markus Pernhart - Romantic Vista of Triglav (1860)  “I’ve Been High” ~ by Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Michael Stipe (R.E.M.)

Have you seen?
Have-
not will travel
Have I missed the big reveal?
Do my eyes,
Do my eyes seem empty?
I’ve forgotten how this feels.

I’ve been high
I’ve climbed so high
The light, sometimes it washes over me.

Standardized Success: By my fortieth birthday, despite all predictions to the contrary, by current societal standards my life was a success. I truly felt I had it all. I was happily married to my soul mate. My wife and I had built a successful business. We were a financially sound enterprise. I was esteemed by colleagues and clients, and was often sought and consulted for my expertise in my field.

I held court on my fortieth birthday by plopping down in my beach chair at the shoreline near my summer house, craft beer in hand and feet dangling in the warm wash of the Lake Michigan waves. Several dozen friends and family stopped by to toast me and wish me continuing success. Looking back on my life that day, I knew I’d climbed so high. The light of it washed over me.

And yet, I knew there was more. This was success, but what did it mean? Had I missed the big reveal?

Have you been?
Have-
done will travel
I fell down on my
knees

Was I wrong?
I don’t know, don’t answer.
I just needed to believe.

Something More: Six weeks after my fortieth came 9-11-01. A year after that we lost a loved one, and learned of the terminal illness of another loved one. Life went on. Business was still business. Success paid the bills—but the challenge of it no longer tasted so sweet.

We knew it was time to reevaluate. I’ve told the tale before (in detail here), but I’ll synopsize for those who haven’t heard it. We walked away, leaving the comforts of success behind. Have-done will travel.

We downsized, moving to our beloved cottage in the woods. We sold or gave away the lion’s share of our possessions. Life slowed down. Things were less certain, less secure. And yet we found the time to search for meaning and peace, to attempt to be in the moment—seeking to better know ourselves, and to enjoy each other every day. Striving for success by our own standards.

Were we wrong to walk away from the comforts of making a lucrative living? I don’t know, don’t answer. But I still suspect we are meant for something more than making money and accumulating possessions. I just needed to believe. And still do.

I’ve been high
I’ve climbed so high
The light, sometimes it washes over me.

So I dive into a pool.
So cool and deep that if I sink I sink,
And when I swim I fly, so high.

Taking the Plunge: Writing fiction has stripped away all of the vestiges of my so-called former success. And not just due to a lack of monetary compensation. I am the boss of one—myself. I amFree-diving image no longer an expert. Far from it. I am, and shall long be, a humble student of the process—a protégé to those who’ve spent a lifetime swimming these waters. It’s daunting. There are no lifeguards. If I sink, I sink.

But since diving in, I’ve come to realize that nothing feels more natural, or more rewarding, than writing. I know my early attempts were awkward, and yet they awoke a love of learning and challenge, and revealed a longing to strive for deeper understanding.

The exposure afterward can be cold, but also bracing. The muscle memory gained through practice allows me to go deeper with each attempt than I’d previously dared. By most societal standards, I am not yet a successful writer. But when I swim I fly—so high.

What I want
All I really want is

Just to live my life on high.

And I know
I know you want the same
I can see it in your eyes.

Success by Choice: Every writer I know was or is a success… At something. I know plenty of successful novelists and publishing industry folks. But I also know fiction writers who are former doctors, lawyers, and journalists. There are former painters and actors. And so many are so well-educated—with multiple degrees from prestigious schools.

Or they are successful because they did not have such opportunities. Some have raised themselves up from the humblest of upbringings, taking steady jobs and bonding with partners for love, and raising beautiful children. And they write for an hour after the family is in bed, or before they get up. I think I admire them the most.

But we all choose to write—to dive into those daunting waters. Only to expose ourselves to the cold afterward, hoping to learn and grow. Striving to go deeper. When I see your posts, and hear of your ongoing writerly struggles, I know you want the same thing I do—to live life on high. I can see it in your eyes.

We know that when we swim we fly. We are all successes. By our own standards. Just for continuing to dive and to strive—and to fly, so high.

I’ve been high
I’ve climbed so high
The light, sometimes it washes over me.

Washes over me
I close my eyes
So I can see
Make my make-
believe, believe in me.

Seeing the Real Me: It’s odd to think that only by delving into a make-believe world have I come to know myself. I’d hardly paused to try to recognize myself through the years of my successful business run. I didn’t really know what I considered heroic or honorable. I hadn’t asked myself what I really believe are admirable traits in my fellow human beings—let alone myself. I’d never asked myself if I thought mankind was intrinsically noble or base. I hadn’t asked what my marriage really meant to me, or what I hoped to achieve before I left this earth—what I’d like to be remembered for, or even if I was worthy of being remembered.

Sure, by society’s standards, I’ve been high. But my writerly self finds those standards lacking. I’ve found that writing takes me to another level. Society might see my fiction-writing as a make-believe form of success. But I close my eyes to their standards. I close them so I can see. Only through my make-believe perspective have I come to believe in me.

How about you? Do you consider yourself a success? By whose standards?

Image credit: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/photo_20329071_freediver-gliding-underwater-over-vivid-coral-reef.html’>mihtiander / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

The Travel Muse

Antique postcard of Bacharach, Germany“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” ~Bilbo Baggins (JRR Tolkien)

Getting Out There: Since most of you are writers, I’m guessing a few of you will identify with this: I dread going places. And the longer I write, the worse I get. Even an approaching dinner party can make me squirm with reluctance. Heck, I even dread going to the grocery store on a Saturday. I’ll take a non-crowded Tuesday morning, please.

And as exciting as vacation travel can be, as the departure date looms, I am filled with dread. You have the packing, the passports, the parking, and dealing with people. There are airports, security checks, and dealing with people. There are hotels, tour schedules, and dealing with people. Have I mentioned that you have to deal with people?

I guess I’m a bit like old Bilbo. “Sorry! I don’t want any adventures, thank you. Not Today. Good morning!” But once something (or someone) gets me out there (I don’t have a Gandalf, but I do have an adventure-loving wife), especially after a day or two on the road, my old curious, wandering soul tends to reemerge. The dread dissipates and is replaced by what darn near resembles an adventurous spirit.

Such was the case on our last trip—a river-cruise on the Rhine River, from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam. And get this: the ship even offered second breakfast! That’s what I call traveling in style.

Seeing is Believing:

“Travel makes you modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” ~Gustave Flaubert

V Seeing is believingOne of the reasons we chose a Rhine River cruise was that part of my trilogy is set in the region (most of the first half of book three). Besides the second breakfasts, we also loved the idea of seeing such a vast swath of the heart of western Europe and only unpacking once. I’d done quite a bit of research in writing the segment set in the region. Traveling there let me know I’d mostly gotten it right; the slope of the river banks, the walls of the ancient cities, etcetera. But I knew from past experience, there’s nothing like actually being there and seeing it for yourself to sharpen your perceptions.

I’m actually looking forward to the inevitable rewrite of book three, just knowing I can imbue the prose with even more of the region’s atmosphere. Now I’ve actually stood on the banks of the mighty river, and contemplated a cold-weather crossing. I’ve gazed across to the far hilly shore, perfectly comprehending what it might feel like to know a hostile force was probably hidden in the trees overlooking the far bank (chilling). I’ve seen the old Roman arched gateway of Cologne—Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium in those days—and walked the original square. Roman glassI’ve seen the ornately-decorated, colored wine glasses and flagons used by the colony’s merchants and administrators (seen while touring Cologne’s Römisch-Germanische Museum, which was one of the highlights of the trip for me). I know from experience that the infusion of carefully placed details can breathe new life into the work. As wonderful a tool as the internet can be, there’s nothing quite like being in a place to sense its history.

Guiding Lights: I used to disdain guided tours while traveling. I used to think I was better off discovering a place on my own. I was a traveler, not a tourist, damn it! Tour guides were for blue-haired ladies and multi-camera-toting, sunburnt nerds. Now that I’m older (and a multi-camera-toting, sunburnt nerd), I’ve grown an appreciation. Particularly for a really good tour guide.

One of the first times I realized what a resource a guide could be was on a tour of Pearl Harbor and the USS Missouri. Here was a man who could point at the ground to show us where he was standing, at the age of seven, when he realized the attack was on. He then pointed up to the mountainous horizon as he told us where dozens of Zero fighters and Val carrier bombers came into view. The emotion was still fresh on his face and in his voice as he described first seeing the Japanese rising suns on the wings, and hearing the first rattle of machinegun fire. I can still clearly recall the tour, over ten years later.

Jack the Welsh tour guide.

Jack the Welsh tour guide.

And good tour guides abound. Some better than others, but there is always something to be learned from each. This trip was no exception. To name a few, we had Jack in Colmar, Alsace—a Welsh expatriate, fluent in French and German, with a tremendous grasp on the region’s history and culture, delivered with passion and humor. Then there was Franco in Cologne, whose knowledge of the cathedral and its history seemed an expertise that could not be topped—until we went to the Roman museum and he warmed to the topic of the Roman colonial era in the region.

So when the opportunity arises, don’t be too cool for school. Take the tours. Listen up and ask questions. You are bound to learn from those passionate enough about their area to put up with the likes of us sunburnt nerds. And don’t forget to tip!

Up With People (No, Really):

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men, places, and things cannot be acquired vegetating in one small corner of the earth.” ~Mark Twain

One of the things I dread about cruising is that there are bound to be other passengers. Have I mentioned my reluctance about dealing with people? And yet, I am always intrigued. For a writer, travel is a wonderful people-watching opportunity. And we met our fair share of interesting folks on this trip. For example, there were the sisters traveling with their mother, revisiting Germany for the first time since their German father passed. We’d gotten friendly onboard, and they already knew I was a writer. Over a traditional German meal (and quite a bit of German wine), it came out that their father had written a book—a memoir. Turns out he had been in the Wehrmacht during WW2. He was not a Nazi, and was forcibly drafted into service as a boy, toward the end of the war. The book was about not just his experiences in the war, but the aftermath—living in a postwar world as an ex-German soldier. It sounds fascinating, but I’d have never learned of it if we hadn’t spent a week, and several meals (and no few cocktail hours) with these interesting folks.

There are also the people you encounter at every stop and on every outing. Not just the guides, but the shopkeepers, hotel and museum workers, fellow diners, even waiters and waitresses. Even very brief conversations (often with the difficulty of language differences) enhance the experience of being abroad. It’s always fun to tell people that we are from Chicago while traveling abroad (we actually live in SW Michigan, but Chicago is the nearest city). I often get the sense their image of Chicago is one of heavy industry, gangsters, and corrupt machine-politics. Which gives me a better insight into my own worldview.

Broadening Horizons:

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of looking at things.” ~Henry Miller

There’s more to travel than the specific things you learn or the pictures you take. There is a gained sense of worldliness. It’s inspiring, and as exhausting as it can seem in the short run, it’s ultimately revitalizing. Travel renews our sense of wonder.

As author Bill Bryson says in his book, Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe: “[This is the] glory of foreign travel, as far as I am concerned. I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.” I can vouch for the danger of street crossing, particularly in France. Our Welsh tour-guide Jack warned us that the French used their brakes as if each application depleted a finite and precious resource.

Just like reading a good book, travel is an immersion experience, and is bound to broaden your perspective and your worldview—which can only be a good thing for us writers, right? So if you’re a reluctant traveler, like me, do yourself a favor, and step out onto that road. The odds of being swept off your feet are much better than if you stay holed up in your writerly den.V Black Forest

Your turn to embark. Has travel influenced or inspired your work? Where are you off to next? 

The Three-Phase Writer – Redirect to A Thought Grows

Today I am happy to be the guest at Julie Luek‘s lovely blog, A Thought GrowsJean-Francois-Millet - Rabbit Warren at Dawn-1867. I first came to know Julie on the comment board of the WU blog. Then we became Facebook friends, and realized we both love walking in nature and dogs–an excellent basis for a friendship, don’t you think?

Some of you might have noticed that I’ve been a bit scarce this summer. No, I wasn’t “reverse hibernating,” although I do love autumn and winter. In the post I explain my whereabouts, and my partial absence in the writerly online community. And I even compare that very community to, of all things, a rabbit’s warren.

So head on over, if you would, and join me at A Thought Grows for The Three-Phase Writer.

A Writerly Pilot Light – Writer Unboxed Redirect

Gas Flame in handsToday I have the honor of contributing to the Writer Unboxed blog. And it really is an honor. As most of you know, WU is the home-base of my writing community. I’m a moderator on the WU group page, and a contributor for Writer Inboxed, the WU newsetter. But it’s just such a special thrill for me to be a featured contributor to the main page–among some of my all-time favorite bloggers and mentors.

Today’s post is about dealing with writerly waiting. Which is hell. Sorry I haven’t offered anything here in a few weeks. I wrote the WU post a little while back, when I was just coming out of a waiting period. I’ve since finished another rewrite of book one of my trilogy, which is what’s kept me from blogging. It’s about to go back out into the world. Once again I’m banking my writerly embers for the long haul.  So rereading my own words on this is particularly helpful. I hope so for some of you, too.

So please join me over on WU for A Writerly Pilot Light.

Image credit: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/photo_7708392_hands-holding-a-flame-gas.html’>pakhnyushchyy / 123RF Stock Photo</a>