I Found My Mayfly, What’s Yours?

As any writer knows, the creative process can be a peculiar thing, sometimes bordering on the ridiculous, to those watching from the outside. Speaking for myself, I have my frumpy pilled camel color sweater that’s kept me just the right amount of cozy, through many a book writing endeavor. I would have been lost without it.

As I get older my process has shifted. I find it’s no longer just about the cozy. It’s more about the crowbar prying me away from the television or the “to-do list” or kids in need or the husband that I swear, uses me for the carpool lane when he takes me on a business trip. Gone are the glory days of writing for an entire summer under a tree, on one of those old fashioned wooden swings, where my biggest problem was, “Time to charge my laptop. Guess I’ll just have to write inside my charming rented cabin in the woods.” Ah, sweet memories, when my books pretty much wrote themselves.

Now I’m more like a dog spinning around three times before sitting down. There’s so much to do, I’m whirling and twirling and running until I plunk down, exhausted. I cannot write after having “plunked.” Even a dog would agree. When a dog spins around three times, is it instinct? I think not. The dog has simply found its process for a really great nap. “If I spin around, I’ll get a little woozy and tired, plus I’ll shoo away any bugs and snakes that I’d rather not sleep on. I’ve cleared all the worry away and I’m feeling a little loopy now so I’m ready for sleep.” See? Even animals need a process. Writers need a creative process. It takes a bit of experimenting sometimes to find it. A dog’s goal may be to have a nice snooze. Mine is to find the time, place and most importantly, the mindset to write.

I get tired, and I mean really zonked. Life is busy and distractions bombard me like confetti at a parade. I think about the dog spinning around and around until its dog universe aligns perfectly. It’s canine Zen. Then, and only then, is the dog content to rest.

I have experimented a thousand ways, up, down and sideways, to find my perfect creative process—the steps that I can take to ensure a positive writing experience where the world is my oyster and imagination spills onto the pages. Oh, that delicious writing frenzy, where my hands are barely keeping up with my mind—what a rush! If I could bottle that feeling and sell it, I could pay off the national deficit and bring world peace in one fell swoop.
Alas, more often than not, I’m busy with errands and the dirty dishes are screaming at me. I’m wearing yesterday’s socks but if I skip the laundry I have an hour to write something…anything.

Pressure doesn’t mix with creativity. I’d love to be a Hemingway or a J.K. Rowling where I can actually write for a living, undisturbed, and hire a maid to boot. I could say to everyone, “I’m going to work now, see you in eight hours or so,” and walk outside onto that swing set under the tree, and no one would tell me to go back to school or consider a career in real estate or wonder if I had a screw loose.

The reality is, I’m not Steven King or Milton or Shakespeare, so I have to be a mayfly. A mayfly is an insect with the unfortunate distinction of having the shortest lifespan of the entire animal kingdom—anywhere from a half hour to twenty-four hours. Mayflies do not eat, they live only to create. Literally. They reproduce and that’s it. And they do so in a teensy weensy window of time. That’s how I feel. I am forced sometimes, under great pressure, to create in a nano-second. It’s either that, or give up writing.
Mayflies are born with one thing on their minds. They don’t come out of their egg and say, “First I’ll balance my checkbook, then grocery shop, mop the floor, go to work and…oh yeah, see if I can squeeze in a date with that hot little morsel fluttering her wings at me.” Nope. It’s the hot chick or nothing. I bet they don’t even care about dirty socks.

And so, I need to prioritize. Catch myself at my most undistracted, my freshest, my most alert, my most positive. And I’ve found it. I’ve found my mayfly. My maximum creativity. It takes work to get hatched out of an egg. That little mayfly comes out pumped up and raring to go! Exercise. That’s the key. So first thing in the morning, I wrestle my blankets until I’ve found the corner of the sheet, and emerge, fresh and alive—a brand new day with brand new opportunities.
I force myself to put on, not my cozy fluffy robe that has a homing beacon for the couch. Instead, I put on my exercise clothes that say, “Energize, Mr. Scott!”

I pour my coffee and a glass of water—coffee for my pleasure, water for my health—and get on my exercise bike. Then, and only then, do I get to pick my favorite show and watch it. I have to be disciplined and never watch my favs unless I’m on the bike. Now I associate the pleasure of a kick-ass chick flick with exercise. I’ve tricked myself into being… healthy! Sneaky me.
Just like the mayfly, emerging with energy to do only one thing, I get off that bike, pumped up and glistening, grab my laptop and step outside to my patio. If I listen to the rustling leaves and the birds singing, I can transport myself to that swing in the woods, and… I write.

The phone rings, invariably. But this is my time. Like the creative span of the mayfly, I can indeed live a lifetime on paper in this precious moment or two. I feel not shame, but pride, when I send a quick text message to my phone friends, “Can I call you in a couple hours? I just sat down to write.” I am validated. My creative lifespan for the day has been honored.

When I finish—when my little window of existence as a writer has been spent for the day—I am left with a few paragraphs in my journal, or the beginning of a novel, or a little story about dogs spinning and insects reproducing, which to the normal human may seem curious at best, but just may make sense to a few other mayflies like me.

Songs For Mum

As any artist can attest to, there are bound to be dry spells. This can be very disheartening. I find that even when I feel foggy and blah, if I just push through it and put my fingers on a piano or a laptop, my heart is rekindled and something is born; a song, a story, or a fresh “harebrained scheme.” So here I am, pushing through.

There’s a nip in the air and a rustle in the leaves. It’s time for a cozy sweater, a steaming cup of coffee, and writing songs and stories about home and hearth. My home and hearth are different this fall—I no longer have my mother’s sparkling eyes, a happy sigh and a clap of her hands, her “Pinch me, I can’t believe it’s you!” every time I’d come into view.

My mom had Alzheimer’s, but I was truly blessed to have her in my life, throughout it all. She sparkled until the end. Her optimism, even in the midst of a ravaging disease, still leaves me humbled. When her memory faded and then left her completely, she still loved me. The love wasn’t taken. And that was enough. That was so much. There were times when she would look at me with kind, warm eyes, trying to place me. I would kiss her soft velvety cheek and say, “It’s your little girl Rosalyn!” and rock her in my arms. She always hugged me back. I would say, with a fake English accent, “Me Mum…”
And she’d answer with an exaggerated accent, “Me dough-tah!”
Love transcends. It was okay if she didn’t remember my name. The little “Mum and Dough-tah” dialogue was an old memory, and somehow stayed with her.

The last day before she was hospitalized, we celebrated my Dad’s birthday at a park. The sun glistened upon the lake, the sky was a vibrant blue and the emerald grass seemed to glow. Everyone was there—her children, grandchildren, and her beloved husband who sat by her side holding her hand. Throughout the afternoon she watched with delight as her grandchildren blew wand bubbles for her and played. We brought her favorite music; old songs from her childhood. Music is the magic formula for Alzheimer’s, for those who don’t know; it is the last memory to fade. Mom remembered music till the end. She could barely talk, but she could sing.

Music was always a part of Mom. My earliest memories are of Mom washing the dishes and singing. Walking on the beach and singing. Driving and singing. Singing to us, singing to no one, but always, always singing, with her soft gentle English accent and her sweet pretty voice. No wonder I became a musician.

And here she was at a park all these years later, still singing, or nodding her head to the music, or smiling at a familiar tune, perhaps triggering a flash of an old memory. It was, by all accounts, a perfect day. The most alert we’d seen Mom in a long time.

Strangely, fifteen minutes after we left the park, she was rushed to the hospital, and then brought home with hospice care. Her last words were to her youngest daughter Cathy, her precious baby who traveled from Washington to be by her side. Mom was unresponsive, as Cathy said with a broken heart over and over, “You are my beautiful Momma.”

And then, Mom’s eyes opened one last time. Clear eyed and clear minded for a fleeting moment, Mom answered, “You are my beautiful.”

And then she was quiet and still. It was our turn, our loving duty, to sing to her.
We played Joan Baez’ “Diamonds and Rust.” Cathy had to leave the room to cry—that was Mom’s and Cathy’s favorite.

We played “Over the Sea to Skye” and I sang along, as Mom would have done. I remember as a young girl, Mom pushing me on our swing set, singing that song to me. I remember the sunny day, the contentment in my heart, being with my mom like that. I remember Mom saying it was written for “Bonnie Prince Charles” of old, and I visualized “The lad who’s born to be king” sailing in a great ship with sails unfurled, exhilarated.

My daughter Shannon sang songs from movies she used to watch with her dear grandma.

And, in case mom’s spirit had already left her unresponsive body, we played “Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog,” so she could dance to it like she used to. It’s strange how you can laugh and grieve at the same time. It is a very cathartic thing to do.

When Mom passed, we held each other and cried. I remember saying, through my tears, “I know she had Alzheimer’s. But it was enough. It was enough for me.” There was a remnant of Mom till the end. In her smile, in her sparkle. In her music. She…was my music.

A month before Mom died, she started fidgeting with her hands. It is a natural progression of the disease. I bought her a little stuffed bear, and I’d place it in her hands so she’d have something to fidget with. Dad asked once, “What’s the name of the bear?”
I didn’t have a name, so Dad said, “How about Comfy?”
We laughed, and Comfy Bear was christened.

After Mom’s funeral we all gathered at my sister Charlotte’s house. She brought out some knickknacks and costume jewelry of Mom’s. Strangely, it was the medical alert bracelet that caught my eye. I lost the old mom years ago. But the “Loopy Mom…” the one I could hold in my arms and rock, the one that said, “Pinch me, is it really you?” just because I walked to the kitchen and back…oh how I miss her.

I took that medical alert bracelet and placed it around Comfy Bear’s neck. It sits right by my bedside, and I ache every time I look at it. It is a good ache.

Now when I look up at the sky, I see mom in the birds, I feel mom in the wind. I feel her love. Perhaps, after a long hard road, she is at last free to sail “Over the Sea to Skye.”

Like A Rug

First: An explanation. Everyone tells me the way to begin the agent/publisher search is to start with contests. So I researched and Writer’s Digest is a well reputed source. I found a contest where I had to write a story in 700 words, starting with “The difference is, I lie for a reason.” I came up with the following fiction. Its not Hemingway, but I’m getting my feet wet with my first contest. Okay, I lied, its my second.

LIKE A RUG

The difference is, I lie for a reason. Susan lies compulsively and James lies because he’s an ass. It all started with a mailbox—the one that Dad made, with the words Air Mail painted on the side. It sat on a clear glass pole that was supposed to look invisible. Dad thought it was really funny. Until he found it broken on the lawn.

Dad came stomping in. “James, if you broke my mailbox, it’s off to boarding school for you!”

James was always running over things with the car. First a bicycle, then Dad’s favorite lawn chair. Each time Dad threatened to send him off to boarding school. This time he looked like he meant it.
Susan, our little sister, compulsively blurted out to Dad, “Irene did it.”

Of course I didn’t do it, but I didn’t want James to get kicked out. So I decided to take the blame. I shrugged and nodded unconvincingly.

James looked surprised.

Dad was sure it was James, and Susan always lied—she couldn’t help it, so Dad turned to me with eyes that could drill an oil well. “Irene?”

I was cornered. I took the high road. I lied.

The high road left me feeling a little guilty, and Dad wasn’t buying it. Dad planted his hands on his waist. “Outside, all of you. When you want to tell me the truth, you can come back in.”

We sat on the front porch in silence, six legs dangling over the edge.

Finally Susan said, “Did you see the three-legged dog this morning?”

James smirked. “The one chasing the two legged cat?”

I glared at him. “The doctor said no teasing her, James.”

James pointed to the broken mailbox. “Maybe we could fix it… do you have any money?”

Susan said, “I have fifty dollars.”

James tugged her blond braid. “We need real money.”

I shook my head. “I’m broke. What do we do now?”

James shrugged. “We go back inside.”

I frowned uncomfortably. “So we stick to our story.”

James raised an eyebrow. “What story?”

What an ass. “The story where I save your butt, by taking the blame for your sucky driving.”

“Hey…”

Susan hopped up and skipped across the porch. “Irene did it. Irene did it.”

James shrugged. “See?”

Okay, now I was pissed off. “Or I just tell the truth and you get shipped off to boarding school.”

“What the hell are you talking about? You already confessed!”

“Irene did it, Irene did it!” Susan hopscotched in a circle.

James turned towards the door mimicking, “Irene did it, Irene did it.”

Burning mad, I grabbed James by the shoulder. “Fine then, I’ll just let you get shipped off to boarding school!”

A car pulled up. Mom! She had a way of calming Dad down. Maybe Dad was exaggerating. Perhaps it was time to tell the truth.

But…what if they did send James to boarding school? As much as he made me mad, he was still my brother. I slunk down onto the porch to think. I knew James wouldn’t confess. And Susan…well, no one was going to listen to Susan. It was up to me. My brother’s fate rested in my hands. I took a deep breath and stepped into the house. “Dad…I’m sorry. I broke the mailbox.”

He didn’t hear me. He was talking to Mom. He said to her, “Did you have a nice day, Reney?”

She laughed. “I had an absurd day. First, I was late for work. I backed out of the driveway and Susan came running out, right in front of the car! She was chasing some dog. To avoid her I had to drive across the lawn. I’m sorry dear, I hit your mailbox.”

Dad squeezed her shoulder. “That’s alright Irene, it’s just a mailbox.”

“But that’s not all. Susan kept right on chasing that dog. What a sight, I was running after Susan and she was running after a three-legged dog! When she caught it, the owner was so grateful he rewarded her with a fifty dollar bill!”

“It was a million dollars,” said Susan, jumping across the living room.

“Now, Susan…” said Mom, frowning, “No more lying; Doctor’s orders.”

Sounds Like Autumn

Leaves clink sometimes. I notice that, as I sit outside with my laptop. I close my eyes and explore the sound of the maple tree above my head. It sends crisp glove-shaped presents drifting down into my enclosed patio. On a different day I might roll my eyes and get out my little rake, but today I just want to listen to the tree on this blustery day.

Its leaves are dry from the Indian summer, and they playfully collide and bounce off each other like wooden chimes. I close my eyes again and hear them mimicking a crackling fire. And now, the distinct sound of rain. The wind picks up and I hear rushing water. The gust of wind settles down and I hear sizzling bacon. Bubbling water in a pan.

The wind silences and everything is mute. Then I hear one leaf—only one, tip tapping its neighbor. Shh.

The silence is a teaser, and a violent wallop of wind pounds at the branches! I am blasted with a swirl of leaves, bark and dust. My hair is mangled, whipping every which way. I grab my laptop and run inside, laughing!

Tomorrow the leaves will get an indignant burial in my green recycling bin, but today… today I watch them through the window as they dance with triumph, celebrating their victory. They have won the day and the child in me is glad they did.

My Friend Dad

My dad is pretty amazing. He’s 86. He’s a cancer survivor, he’s had a double bypass and last Spring he lost his beloved wife, my beautiful mother, after a ten year bout with Alzheimer’s. And yet Dad signs up for creative writing classes, joins in world event discussion meetings, he always looks nice and keeps a sense of humor. He is passionate about animals and the environment, and I have been happily designated his travel buddy.

Still, he gets restless and blue when he stays put too long. He says the heartbreaking phrase, “I feel like I’m just sitting around waiting to die.”
That’s my cue. “Okay Dad, it’s time for another adventure.” And whether it’s a car, plane or boat, off we go.

We make great travel buddies. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from both my parents, is that everything is an adventure if you treat it as such. Whether you’re walking in a nearby park or sailing the seven seas, it’s all about the “Can Do” spirit, and finding joy in the little things.

During one of my engagements as a cruise ship entertainer, I brought my Dad, and we sailed together from Florida to Peru. We signed up for every excursion we could squeeze in!

One of my fondest memories was in Guatemala, where a Panama hat caught my dad’s eye. He placed it on his head with a chuckle and boy did he look handsome! Though well into his 80’s, all the ladies young and old commented on the dapper man on my arm.

Each night on the ship we would have a fine dinner, sitting with new friends from around the globe. Everyone enjoyed Dad’s company—as a matter of fact, he truly became somewhat of a celebrity while aboard! I would have to excuse myself at dessert and go to the piano bar to begin my three hour shift of taking requests. I would always say, “Dad, Will you be okay by yourself for a bit?” And everyone at the table would promise he’d be in good hands.
After his table-mates left, Dad would come to my show, order one snifter of brandy, and listen to every song until I had played my last note. Not a night would go by that someone wouldn’t come shake his hand, pat his shoulder or stop for a delightful chat.

Dad would request all the songs I grew up with—Impossible Dream being my favorite. That song will always and forever remind me of my dad, whose every “Impossible Dream” was made a reality by his hard work, an iron will and a “Just keep walking forward” mentality.

Sometimes Dad and I just go to the lake park a few miles away, and look at the whimsical variety of water birds and turtles. Animals always put a smile on Dad’s face. Sometimes it’s as simple as lunch overlooking the harbor, seeing the glory of the sea and the antics of the seagulls. Sometimes we pack a suitcase and take a road trip. Our last one was to Mission Bay for the night. Before that, Monterey, where Dad wanted to visit the old Cannery Row of Steinbeck fame.

One of my favorite traveling moments was in Cambria, sitting on a hotel balcony looking out into a forest and listening to frogs, who were putting on quite a show. My Dad tried to imitate them and we laughed so hard! Being silly is one of the main ingredients in the fountain of youth, I’m quite convinced.

Today though, we did something we’ve never done before. I brought Dad over for dinner and he told me that his hands had been shaking and he was feeling forgetful and uncreative. He said he’d stopped writing. I could see the great disappointment in his eyes. So I said, “Perhaps you just need a muse. I need one too. How about we write together?”
And that’s exactly what we’re doing.

Dad just looked up, happy, and said, “I’m writing. I haven’t been able to write for a long time.” It is nice to have a muse, and it is perhaps even better, to be one.

Dinner’s ready. Our writing adventure is over for today, but our hearts are full. Now for our bellies—hopefully dinner will be a good adventure too!

Yesterday’s Water: a short and silly essay that’s all wet

I found a full cup of water I’d left out from yesterday. I picked it up, looked at it, took a sip and discovered, “Yep, it’s still water.”

Instead of plastic bottles, I drink from cups of tap water. I bring them in my car when I travel. I don’t understand why people buy water when they have water from their sink, already purified. If there are minerals in it, they’re good for us. If there’s chlorine, we can buy a filter. Filling tons of bottles (that fill tons of landfill) with water just seems pointless to me.

The names of the water bottling companies crack me up. A bottle may be labeled “Tahitian waterfall bubbling babbling spring water.” But the small disclaimer is likely to say “Purified water, bottled in Detroit.”

This is America. We are the most anally sterile country in the world. We’re so isolated from impurities that we get Montezuma’s revenge when we go to Mexico because our bodies scream, “My god, is that a germ?” and shut down in horror.
Yes of course I’m all for clean water. I’m just saying “It IS clean for peep’s squeak!” People want a new level of clean. Putting it in a sky blue bottle with a picture of the Bahamas doesn’t make it any cleaner. And then there’s the boutique glass bottle with the zen label and haiku. Yes, you too, can achieve enlightenment, for only $2.99. Buy two, get one free, Nirvana is yours my friend! Still just purified water.

I’m wondering what’s next. Perhaps a crystal water goblet with a 14 carat gold pop-top which comes in a burgundy velvet pouch.

That’s all I have to say on the subject. I’m going to sit down now and finish drinking yesterday’s water. I just have to pick that fly out of it first.

Hello from Christchurch NZ!

Hello from beautiful, green New Zealand!

I’m in a lovely cafe in Christchurch, having one of their wonderful tarts– feta and spinach, and the Kiwis sure know how to make a melt-in-your-mouth flaky crust!

Though Christchurch was horribly damaged in the earthquake last year, the spirit of this town is undefeated. The shops that were destroyed are thriving in an incredibly creative makeshift mall made of shipping containers, painted bright colors and with glass doors and windows. There is a charm here, not even a “stiff upper lip,” but a true joyful dedication to the task at hand, of rebuilding this beautiful city. A city where the shallow Avon river ripples and shimmers as the boats glide along, with the proud captains punting in their straw hats like something out of Mary Poppins.

My show is going well. I had a wonderful standing room only crowd the other night, where passengers sat, lined up and down the stairs because the chairs were all filled! I took two solid hours of requests before taking a quick break, not to get some water, but to sign CDs. Delightful people!

My Halloween production went very well October 31st, complete with four dancers, props, a fog machine and incredible lighting! Can’t wait for the Trade show in January, where I can push my new Halloween CD!

Bye for now!

Rose

Hello from Sydney!

I’m in an Internet cafe in Sydney, Australia! The first segment of the cruise is finished, and today we set off around Australia with a new group of passengers.

The first order of business when stepping onto the magical land of Australia is to rush into the nearest cafe and ask the vital question, “Do you have any pies?”
They don’t hand you an apple pie or a cherry pie. You get a scrumptious, flaky, melt-in your mouth meat pie. Mine was beef with wine sauce. Dee-lish!

I have been going through internet withdrawal, and it took four attempts, even in the thriving metropolis of Sydney, to get proper internet. The pie shop had internet, but it was not working. The Starbucks was closed. The McDonalds, whom the locals all said to go to, had such slow internet I couldn’t Skype. The trick is, to go to an actual Internet store, pay by the hour, and get hardwired. Now I’m happy as a clam. YES the Opera House is out there, and the harbor in all its magnificence, but when you’ve been away a month like I have, the most precious thing of all is “Hi everybody! I’m alive and well– how about you?” And catching up on all the stuff. So I say a very warm “G’Day” to all of you, and I’m going to get back to Skype. “See” you at the next port!

Hello from Honolulu!

Sitting at the Bikini Cafe at the Aloha Tower in Hopnolulu! I just went for an awesome submarine ride, saw sunken ships and airplanes, parrot fish, barracudas, and my favorite, humuhumu nukunuku apua a! Theyr’e so cute! But they also bite!

I’ve had a wonderful crowd aboard the Sea Princess, sometimes standing room only! I’m also teaching a choir, and they’re doing such a great job!

Kawaii tomorrow! For now, back to my $2 taco! Good stuff!

Mastering a CD in a hotel!

Eight days until I sail out of San Francisco! That means eight days to finish my CD!

As life would have it, we have moved out of one home, and will be moving into a new one in May, when I return. And so I find myself in a hotel, surrounded by my stripped-down recording studio, my keyboard, and a cup of coffee, with a looming deadline– I can’t bring my studio on board the Sea Princess! My husband is in Europe right now, which means– one: I MISS YOU ANTHONY!!! and two: I can work to the wee hours without keeping him awake.

I’ve managed to do my master mixes with no complaints by the other hotel guests, but today I need to sing some vocals. I wonder what my neighbors will think? When I’m singing through headphones, all they will hear is my voice, “tra-la-la”-ing through the halls! I have often said, “If you can’t find a hammer, use a rock.” And so I say to all out there, “Yes you CAN record an album in a hotel room.” One of my speakers is hanging over the kitchen sink, the other is propped up by a box of CDs on a dresser. Just thought you’d like a visual– it’s quite funny!

Well, if I can record an album in a hotel room, I think I can do just about anything. Today I will be singing a tune I’ve written called “Howling at the Moon.” In case you’re wondering, I’m recording a (not just for) Halloween album! Complete with a sassy version of Monster Mash, Spooky, Werewolves of London, Jar of Hearts, I Put a Spell on you, and four of my originals. I made a video of “Mr. Bag o Bones”– check out the extended version on my video page, or you can see the shorter video on my Rose Winters youtube channel.

Okay, enough chatting, I have three more songs to finish, and eight days left, and somewhere in there I need to pack for my three month trip to the South Seas!

Thanks for tuning in, I’m very grateful that you’re here on my web page! Feel free to send me an email on my contact page, I’d love to say “hey!” XO