Writer’s Confessional Part Five

It’s said that if you kiss the Blarney Stone, you’re gifted with eloquence. Or, if I tell it like most people have heard it, the gift of gab. Well, I didn’t kiss the Blarney Stone. Too many lips on the same surface for my taste. But, what I won’t bullshit you about is as soon as I saw the green of Ireland I fell in love. I already felt a pull toward the land of Skellig Island off Portmagee, which is southwest of Dublin, also the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren’s. Setting foot on the earth where God granted a little more green than other places, the magic of the island was captivating. Larger modern cities like Dublin, Cork, or Killarney, they have their own mystique, their own magic in music, the people, the pastel-painted architecture, the history, the beer. Take away those larger cities and I’m left with nature so beautiful it’s overwhelming. So much history, blood, and struggle poured out into the land I can’t possibly fathom what life was like a thousand years ago or beyond. It was inspiring, as an artist, a writer, as a person with Irish blood.

I took my sketchbook with me but didn’t pull it out, surprising myself, since everything there is a sketch study. I took as many photos as I could though, a lot of the flavor of Ireland waiting to be written or drawn.
One thing that caught my writer’s mind was the concept of the fairy myth and folklore. I didn’t see it marketed anywhere. As an American you can go to any craft store and find ceramic garden fairy’s, fairy doors, mushrooms to go with the fairy’s, etc. I found it odd, but satisfying that they didn’t market the fairy myths or the idea of leprechauns for the touristy crowd throughout most of the country. There was a particular store, but it was done in a commercial way rather than done by craftsmen or artisans.
But what are your thoughts on Irish myths and folklore? Conjure your concept of a leprechaun in your mind. Some might consider a character from a movie wearing green pants and coat with scary bright orange hair, a sinister angry face, or maybe something from a children’s book a little softer, more inviting with a rainbow and a pot of gold. In my mind, it’s a bit of both. I did see something that caused me to think of just those kind of stories, though.

We landed on Irish soil during the sunniest week Ireland will ever see this year (I actually got a sunburn). As we enjoyed the shade in Cork’s shopping district I noticed a man that looked a little separate from everyone else, like he was floating through the brick and mortar landscape of shops and the modern world. He was about my height, five feet nine inches tall, squarer in the shoulders, dramatically so. The man’s hair was not the stark orange-red that most people think of when they think Irish heritage, but it was a deep rusty red, a windswept mess. His clothes were bland in color, plaid shirt, and twill pants, hanging off him like they didn’t belong. As we passed him a shiver danced across my skin because his stare in his craggily and pitted face was blank almost as if he was looking off somewhere that no one could see. I asked myself if he was seeing something other than the fast-bustling pedestrians needing to get their tourist trap purchases back to their hotel rooms before they went off to the next pub to have a pint or if he was so displaced in time lost to all the people around him. It scared me a bit, his blank stare, his ghostly demeanor. But I brushed it off and continued to wander through Cork with my hubby. But I couldn’t get the man out of mind so when I saw another person that was so similar in features, a smaller frame, feminine this time, I started to pay more attention and this new set of characters came to life in my head. It was exciting.

There were other instances where this happened too. A dilapidated house in the middle of a flourishing neighborhood outside of Dublin, the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin, with its jewelry made by Vikings, or the sheep and cows littering the landscape disappearing into the rocky green hills, or the castles that would pop up just around the bend on the narrow road. It was a compelling and fantastical place.
So, as a writer what am I trying to tell myself? What did I learn while I was on the green island? I would say that I need to go outside more, wander a bit, even if it’s to a city or park I’ve been to several times. Pay attention to what surrounds me and stop being so apathetic to my city, towns and parks nearby. Do a little digging into the history of the places and I might just find a story somewhere left in the cracks of time.

A Writer’s Confessional Part Four

A lot has been on my plate this month. I decided to start my own business, my art illustrations and my jewelry the focus. It’s entailed time away from fiction writing but directed me towards writing copy for the marketing end of my business, where I got my ideas for my jewelry and art. It brought me back to around the time I began attending the Deadwood Writer’s Group. I was writing a children’s picture book. I’d developed illustrations which now I am selling as prints on my Etsy page, www.wjkartisandesigns.com. It’s an exciting time in my life and I’m glad and grateful that I get to share these artworks in my own way now.

Another aspect that’s filled my attention is all that goes into starting a business. Finance, marketing, social media, product development – more jewelry and illustration development. It’s a bit nerve-racking to fit everything in, meaning my artistic nature and my need to write juicy and intriguing romances. But a smart woman, when I thought doing both was crazy, told me, “Why can’t you do both?” Her encouragement toward my success and happiness has always been given right when I needed it. So, thanks Mom. Love you!

On other exciting news, I’m going to Ireland soon. I’m not even there yet and I’m already inspired. What kind of stories will sprout from my visit, the brogue, the people, the colors, the constant green that everyone talks about? My heart gallops to fiery beat of a stampede when I think of all the opportunities that have become evident these past few months, words that have been spoken by friends and family. I’ve heard encouragement before, but this time, as my friend and sister of the heart, Jo Self- who is also a branding/strengths consultant for business and the individual, would say, I listened to what the universe was trying to tell me and am using the strengths I’ve been given to make positive things happen.

Coffee Shop Chronicles: Making friends in coffee shops, Part 2

The Fine Grind, a coffee bar

Little Falls, NJ

March 2017

Now that I have a seat, I’m restless.

It’s March, and far from feeling like winter. I settle into my cushion bench seat and look around the room.  This is still the only place to sit.  I reach for my writing bag when my for-here mug of Columbian coffee is brought to my table restaurant style.  What unexpected service.  Coffee shops are usually more self-serve.  I already know I’ll be back.

Time to look busy.  First thing, set up the tablet.  While it boots, I’ll look even more productive with my Happy Planner calendar on the table.  It has my blog schedule in it.  Next, my yellow notepad, a few colored pens and voila!  I’m all set to do work.

I don’t feel productive.  I feel cluttered.  I’m restless.

I always carry a few distractions in my workbag.  The item I’m craving to use is my Café Bingo game.  It was a gift from my writerly friend, Kelly, who said, “I thought of you instantly when I saw it.”  Yep, she got me right.  The idea is to Bingo with coffee shop stereotypes.  There are 12 cards, but I can play by myself.  I wonder: can I cover the entire board, or at least get a bingo?  There’s 0nly one way to find out.

These cards are reusable.  Cool!  I wasn’t sure how that worked.  When I read “pushing back” the squares on the package, visions of pieces popping off onto the table, never to be replaced again filled my head.  With this, you fold the cardstock squares back while playing and then refold them when you’re done.  I’m set to play with only one rule: I can’t count myself in any of the squares.

— Barista

That’s the center square and a gimme.

— MP3 player

Who carries these anymore?  I amend that to seeing a cell phone with headphones.  I see a hipster guy plugged in over in the comfy chair corner.

— Tip Jar

There’s one at the register where I ordered.  I don’t recall the handwritten note on it, but I’m sure it’s something like “Fear change? Leave it here” or “Tipping isn’t just for cows.”

— Newspaper

Sure enough, there’s an older man in a comfy leather lounge chair in the corner.  He’s reading a real newspaper, buried beneath an umbrella of inky pages.

— Laptop

Uhhh…yeah.  Who doesn’t come to a coffee shop without a laptop?  You have to look hip and trendy and productive.  Okay, I’m two for three right now, but my Surface has a detachable keyboard, so it would count for that square, if I included myself, which I’m not.  I’m still hipster-ette.

— Briefcase

There’s a guy in business clothes–a suit, maybe–with a speckled tan bag next to him.  I can’t see it exactly because it’s sitting on the floor and I don’t have a clear shot.  I count it.  I wouldn’t expect to see one of those hardcover square boxes with a latch and handle, and I’m surprised I think that.

— Cell Phone

This is another gimme.  A more challenging square would be “No cell phone.”

— Reuse of Cup

Remember, I can’t count myself.  A lot of people have for-here mugs on their tables.  Some people don’t.  What a waste.  Unless it’s tea.  Tea almost always needs a disposable cup.

— Date

I’m not sure how to count this.  The square shows two stick figures holding hands with a heart between them.  It’s just past lunchtime, so there are no caffeine kisses here.  There are lots of people sitting together in twos, and I’m sure someone is on some kind of date.  Meeting a friend for lunch, I count that.

— Iced Drink

I don’t see ice cubes anywhere, nor a dome lid cup sitting on any table.  Straight ahead there’s a woman with what looks like an icy blended drink.  It’s a shade color different than the store’s cardboard cups, but that’s good enough for me.

— Bulletin Board

This is a local coffee shop. Of course, there’s one.  Heck, even Starbucks has them.  The Fine Grind has theirs on the back wall between the bathrooms.  I saw that the first time I was here, but I found it awkward to peruse while people pee nearby.

— Spilled Drink

I didn’t expect to see this, but within five minutes of pulling out this game, a patron sloshes something on the floor.  It looks like water, but I feel rude staring at him.

— Meeting

There are no poster-board graphs or carpet swatches anywhere in here.   There’s no table of suits. There’s no cluster of notepad papers.  I bet some of these couples are in some sort of business meeting.  I glance at Briefcase Guy and wonder, can I count him twice?

— Rushed Patron

There’s one person walking deliberately to the door, so I count him.  He’s walking with a purpose not trudging along.

Now even the game is making me restless and bored.  I don’t think I can find the rest of the squares right now.  I can’t see outside the door, so I’m not sure there’s a Dog Waiting, another game square. This coffee shop is smooshed in a strip mall, not stretched on a quaint, tree-lined street among boutique stores, so I doubt I’d ever find one.  The woman at the high-top table against the wall, she may be dressed in All-Black Attire, again another game square, but I can’t tell if those are black pants or dark blue dress pants.

The other items I can’t find now are: Book; Menu Typo; Foreigners; Student; Latte Art; Goatee; Political Debate; Pastry Crumbs; and Artiste Glasses.

What I can’t wait to find is a friend to play this game with.

Coffee Shop Chronicles: Making friends in coffee shops, Part 1

The Fine Grind, a coffee bar

Little Falls, NJ

March 2017

It’s my second week in New Jersey, and I see a woman in a yellow University of Michigan sweatshirt.

Really?

I live in some vortex that I can’t escape my former home state.  Are there more of them?  I scan the room.  The big windows behind me let in light, but at this hour, there’s more shadow than light.  It’s one of those wood-floor hipster coffee places with tables scattered around the room to add a cohesive look with a funky vibe.  The tables match way too much.  It’s not like Plymouth Bean back home–I mean, back in Michigan.  Speaking of, I don’t see any more Michigan folks, but I also don’t see a free table near an outlet.

Just as well.  I can’t resist.  I shuffle left and say, “I notice your sweatshirt.  I just moved here from Michigan.  Did you go there?”

“Oh, my daughter goes there,” she says with that proud momma smile.  “She’s a freshman and loves it there.  When we went to visit, it’s beautiful there.”

I have my own opinions of campus.  There’s too much cement with wide walkways and sidewalks, making the campus look grey.  I’m used to my campus with its lawn stretches of grass and tall, green trees lining thin sidewalks.  There’s too little greenery for me to call Michigan’s main campus pretty, let alone, beautiful.  I smile politely.  I hope my eyes don’t betray me.

“What about you and Penn State?” she asks, nodding at me and my sweatshirt.

I heft my writing bag on my shoulder, adjusting it.  The bag’s getting heavy and awkward.  I spy a free table on my right.  I want to snag it, but I can’t resist a Penn State question.

“My husband and I are alumni.”  I pause.  I never know people’s reaction to that:  Love?  Hate?  Ambivalence?  I have no idea what the atmosphere is in New Jersey these days, especially now that Rutgers, The State University joined the B1G Ten.

“My other daughter goes to Penn State,” she says her eyes bright.  We’ve made two connections in about 30 seconds.  I’m almost spin-dizzy.   Really?  What are the odds?  Is there some practical joke camera hidden behind the dark paintings on the wall?  I feel foolish flicking my eyes around, but still, I do.

“She loves it there,” Proud Momma continues.  “She got so involved with THON last month.”

I swallow my tears.    I danced in THON   [https://www.thon.org/  –open link in new window]   twice: as an undergrad and years later as an alum.  THON is 100% student-run event that raises money for children with cancer.  This year, they raised $10.1 million dollars.  That’s the money raised this year.  I am so intensely proud of that organization and my stamina to stay awake and stand on my feet for 46 hours.  Simply saying the word THON makes me weepy.

Please don’t let me cry.  What will this woman think of me?

“They raised a lot of money this year,” she continues.  “She was so involved with it.  She stayed awake the entire time.”

Thank you, dear woman, for giving me time to compose myself.   Now I have the voice to ask, “As a freshman?”  This event is intensely popular, and participation as a dancer or committee member is competitive and priority is earned by upperclassmen.  I can’t think of a single freshman dancer.  Ever.

“She didn’t dance.  She didn’t have to be awake all 46 hours,” momma says, “but she was up for at least 24 hours or more.  Still, I donated.”

Still?  I would hope she didn’t need her daughter’s involvement to donate to this charity.  Given her daughter’s status, she was probably part of some general stay-awake cheering section for an organization or special interest group.  I wonder if she’s a pledge in my sorority.

I don’t the chance to ask because the man next to her shuffles his for-here plate and to-go cup.  He slides down the cushioned bench and stands up.  I feel his eyes rolling, so I look down at the wood floor.  The man must be her husband because he gathers her coffee cup.

“Take care,” I say to her and nod to her man.  They crumple napkins and brush crumbs on the floor.  I adjust my bag on my right shoulder and shuffle towards the pastry case.  I always check out the food in a new coffee shop.  I want to see a shop’s dedication to local or defrost.

I glance back to see if the woman waves at me.  She doesn’t, but she and her man step far enough away from the table that it won’t be rude for me to dash over and claim their seat.  I plop my workbag on her seat and toss my coat on the bench seat behind the table.  I look down and see outlet under the bench.  Thank you for giving me this space.

The Amazing Aruba Sandman

The Caribbean Sea smashed onto shore with nearly the same intensity as a migraine I woke with. “Stay . . . Rest a little longer . . . Warmth and the sunshine are good for you.” The self-indulgent temptation to remain in Aruba sang to me like a siren and fought hard to keep me firmly planted in paradise. A pounding headache was just a ploy to keep me from confronting my reality: my respite was over. Home—snow-covered, below zero, Michigan—beckoned. There was only time left to finish packing, shower, check-out, and drive to the airport. Rebellious, I drowned the pain with two Excedrin so I could make my way, once more, to the beach. I couldn’t fathom leaving without taking a picture of the spectacular sand sculpture that had been finished the day before.

Cathy and Heidi, my friends and travel companions, returned from a short walk and said there was a problem. During the night, the selfish tide had reached its gnarly fingers onto shore to reclaim raw materials it wanted back. Bit by bit, the ocean defiantly picked apart the seventy hours of craftsmanship that Marc Mangia had spent in building a story out of the sand.

I rushed to the shore. Marc wasn’t in sight, but other early risers were nearby, under the shade of their palapas. Five-gallon, white plastic buckets still held sand in them from days before and rested near Marc and his wife Debbie’s lounge chairs. Even in a state of collapse, the sand sculpture was impressive. One man walked slowly around the display and videotaped it from every direction. I sat close by so I could watch the reactions of others and hear their comments about Marc’s rapidly dilapidating creation.

“What a shame.”

“How awful.”

“That’s too bad.”

“It looks like the ruins of ancient Greece.”

All comments were tinged with pain as if the onlookers to the tragedy had spent their vacations transforming nature into another art form.

“No wonder Marc isn’t anywhere to be seen,” I thought. “He must be devastated, witnessing the erosion.” But when he came forward, it was clear that, all along, he understood the impermanence of his craft. He quietly conceded, “What can I do? It’s the way it is.”

Initially, the passersby seemed more disappointed in the destruction than Marc, who didn’t outwardly convey how he was feeling. He told me that he had never before seen his work wash away. Usually, his pieces hold together long after he finishes his vacation and returns home to Ohio, where he’s a carpenter and business owner. Once, another vacationer sent him an e-mail to tell him that his work was still standing two weeks later.

I continued talking with Marc and watched him closely. Fighting an ache in his back that had plagued him for days, he stooped down to his knees once again. This time, he wasn’t adding a fine detail—chiseling miniature bricks; hollowing out windows; carving his name above a doorway. He bent down so he could reach a perfectly intact, miniature clay pot that had been pushed out of place by unruly waves. Marc gently lifted the pot and repositioned it to higher ground—on the steps of an arch that were half-gone. He prolonged the life of this one tiny remnant.

Not an artist, not a sculptor, Marc Mangia is a talented hobbyist who inspires people of all ages to play in the sand.

Marc next picked up a damaged and unidentifiable part of his masterpiece. He stood to show it to me. He explained that the outer covering was made from one part glue mixed with nine parts water. The concoction was gently sprayed to seal in moisture so the sand structure would hold together longer. He crushed the clump gently between his fingers, and I could see the fine sand underneath the outer surface. He handed some to me so I could squish it too. The outside consistency resembled icing on a cake—once the icing has been exposed to air for awhile and gets a little firm or stale. Inside, the sand was still moist and powdery. It crumbled easily.

“In the fifteen years we’ve been coming here, I’ve never seen the water come up this high,” he said.

Comparably, this was my sixth visit to Aruba and first time meeting The Aruba Sandman. On the first night of this trip, Cathy and I had arrived at the Marriott Ocean Club in time to make it to the beach for sunset, but Marc’s partially completed sand sculpture stole our attention away from the setting sun. Reaching up about five feet towards heaven, a lighthouse was the focal point and served as the foundation for the rest of the display. A spiral staircase wound its way up one side of the beacon.  Another set of stairs was carved into its rocky-looking base. Beneath an arch that connected the lighthouse to a clock-tower was a small fishing boat.

The creation looked so perfect that I initially thought it was made of plastic, like the three-foot high chess pieces laid out by Marriott for the vacationers to wile away their time. With closer inspection and considering the sign that requested, “Take pictures, but please don’t touch,” I realized that the sand sculpture was amazing.

That same evening, a father and son walked up and admired yet another feature—a church. Marc pulled out a picture of the island’s Alta Vista Chapel, showed it to the boy, and explained that this part of the sculpture was a replica of the church located nearby on the island.

Cathy and I examined the intricate design further. Detailed attention had been given to each part of the sandy display. Plastic, flameless, tea-light candles had been added for night-time ambiance. It was easy to visualize the hustle and bustle of a busy seaside town and imagine its residents hurrying home after a long day of work. Anchor the boat, cross over the bridge, stop in the chapel to light a candle, and get home before nightfall.

In a jealous attempt to earn back our admiration, the night sky could wait no longer to boast of its beauty. Clouds blocked the sun and hid it from view, but it wouldn’t go down without a fight. It squeezed in between every soft crevice it found and exploded with a fury. Reds, oranges, yellows and blues lashed out and burned away the daylight in a fiery glow. “One of the nicest sunsets I’ve seen,” was spoken out loud by many, including me.

“How did you get started in sand-sculpting?” I asked Marc.

“My wife and I spend a lot of time on the beach, and I just got sort of antsy. I started playing in the sand. I figured it out on my own throughout the years. What’s funny is that I recently spent time watching others so I could learn their techniques. But they weren’t doing anything different from what I was doing.”

Those of us who appreciate Marc’s talent disagree: That’s not so, Mr. Sandman. Not so.