We Interrupt this Program…

The Green Study will be returning on September 1, 2014.

A brief announcement for readers of this blog. As the result of yet another injury (stress fracture from running this time), I’ve spent the last few weeks feeling a tad miserable. Writing is not going well, but that’s the nature of the beast.

I started reading a lot of books on health and nutrition. As a birthday gift to myself, I’m dedicating the month of August to finding my path to better health, consistent fitness and joy. Seriously, I’m a joyless git right now.

Since I was going to journal through the month anyway, I’ll be throwing my entries up on another blog called TGS Zen Garden. As it is health and lifestyle focused, it may not be your cup of green tea, but that’s where I’ll be for the next month.

Let’s hope I don’t turn into a self-righteous bastard, which is an often unreported side effect of good, clean living.

Wishing you a pleasant summer!

MichelleSig copy



Comments Off

Filed under Personal

The Ghosts of Blogging: Past, Present and the Future

The Green Study will be returning on September 1, 2014.canstockphoto3712376

I’ve had a mental block against blog writing for the last few weeks. I’ve been frustrated and uncertain of what the problem is, but it finally occurred to me that it’s simultaneously too much restraint and a reckless use of energy. It is my desire as a human being to be moderate, thoughtful and courteous. However, what works well on a blog or committees or around small children does not work well with creative writing. And I’m spreading my energy thinly about, as if I have unlimited resources.

This blog has become a stale patch of writing ground for me. I’ve been fighting to maintain it, lingering with a whole lot of shoulds about having a social media presence as a writer. At some point though, I became a pretender. I am writing less and less offline, easily distracted and worn out by the bumbling hive of social media. That was not my intent and it is now a constant dark shadow following me.

I read a lot of well-written and issue-oriented blogs, which means that after a session of blog reading, I’m just randomly pissed off at the world. I don’t do anything, but I’m angry. It’s my least favorite use of anger – the holding pattern. The energy-burning, scowl-inducing waste of emotional energy. I’m angry about so many issues that it is like having an overwhelming to do list. I don’t know where to start, so I simmer in a paralytic state until Netflix releases another season of a favorite show.

I’ve read an excessive amount of books lately (as if reading could ever be in excess!). The contrast between online and longer form reading shows me a potential abnegation of critical thinking processes. Online reading makes me feel like I’m constantly in a hurry. My thought loops are shorter and faster and weigh less – becoming more like fumes than substance. Like most people, how I choose to spend my time is how I spend my life. At this point, seeing how far off the path of my personal intention that I’ve strayed, I’m not spending my time wisely.

I recently ran across a couple of writers whose work I’ve enjoyed reading. Their blogs bear testament to all the hard work they’ve had to do to get recognition and readership. I felt a great deal of envy – not for the accolades they receive, but for the drive and time they were willing to invest in their “presence”. I don’t have that and sometimes I wish I did. But they have street cred. They’re published authors. They did all the foundational work before becoming bloggers. First, they were writers. Not that one necessarily precludes the other, but human time is finite. It’s time for me to earn cred as a writer beyond this blog.

I have a friend who recently started her blogging journey. It reminded me of the cyclical nature of blogging. I’m sure that she will enjoy it, maybe get excited by the likes and the comments, maybe hit the Freshly Pressed lottery. It’s exciting as a writer to get immediate feedback and it can prevent the journey to authorship from seeming like such a lonely one. It got me moving, writing regularly and “meeting” so many lovely people. It made me say “yes” to writing when it seemed like a someday dream. I hope that she enjoys herself.

I’m taking the summer off from blogging and forcing myself through novel edits, as well as doing some short story writing. My intent is to hire an editor I’m not related to or have had drinks with, as well as submitting some shorter work to publications. My hope is to return in the fall with stronger skills, a sense of purpose and a little more joie de vivre than I’ve been feeling lately. No pressure or anything, right?

I have regularly taken burnout breaks from blogging over the last couple of years, but things have evolved in a way that I need to take a break for writing. That seems like progress somehow.

I wish you a wonderful summer!

MichelleSig copy


Filed under Blogging, Personal, Uncategorized

Reading the Classics (or How I Might Be a Totally Stupid Reader)

canstockphoto8858462Okay, I did it. I finally read all the way through Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice And I don’t understand all the sound and fury. I know that some people are nearly rabid about Austen. I was amazed that the writing did keep me engaged, despite the fact that the story and the characters made me want to smash a pianoforte to a million bits and then set it afire. I am a flawed reader who often fails to appreciate nuance in the absence of action, I suppose.

Reading is such a subjective activity and I can be a contrary person. If something is all the rage, I’m likely to read it several decades down the road, when people finally shut up about it. I wait until bestsellers show up in secondhand bookstores, when they’ve already been turned into crappy movies and mouse pads. If it’s a classic, I’m likely never to read it at all, unless a grade is involved.

I force marched myself through Tolstoy’s War and Peace as some sort of masochistic challenge. I’m sure it was a fine novel. I forgot the whole damned thing while I was reading it, because I had to spend too much time looking at the cast of characters in the front of the book. I have a background in Russian language, yet I could not keep the  -ovs, -ichs and -skis straight.

I’m an eclectic reader and I don’t pretend to have good taste. I like a good story, direct language and a sense at the end of the book that the writer pulled a hat trick. He or she drew me into a world, into emotions that were not my own. Toni Morrison breaks my heart. Wally Lamb makes me sigh. Voltaire makes me giggle at absurdity. Flannery O’Connor gives me the chills.

It hit me over the last couple of weeks that I may have gotten myself completely wrong as a writer. I wrote a contemporary novel, but got bored part way in and just started turning my characters into complete freaks. When I look at what I like to read, it is apparent that longer works of fiction are rarely in my book stack. This gives me pause, due to that old truism about writing what you want to read. Apparently there is more than one reason why I’d prefer not to read what I’ve written.

As I’ve gotten older, I read more nonfiction and random one-off books, as well as short story collections. I try to read from a variety of genres, genders, geographical and ethnic backgrounds, but I wonder if this dilutes my ability to truly appreciate any one particular form. I don’t have the chance to develop a keen sense of “good” writing because my leap from one form to the other prevents comparison.

I am often grateful that I did not pursue a degree in literature, though. The lit classes I took throughout high school and college ruined whatever piece of work we were reading. I learned to loathe Joseph Conrad and Jonathan Swift in this manner. And I was disappointed after reading The Great Gatsby that any single character was left standing. I felt a pianoforte inferno was due there as well.

The books that I hold dear are great stories, but maybe not great literature. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is a cherished book on my shelf, as is Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn and Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Everything by Kurt Vonnegut, Douglas Adams and Anne Tyler has a home on the shelf, as do my Mark Twain and Arthur Conan Doyle collections (gifts from my grandfather). My shelf of light reading contains a lot of Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum, J.K. Rowling, Patricia Cornwell and short story collections – paperbacks well worn from airports and beaches. I might never read them again, but they are what I imagine luxury to look like.

There are times when I read what I think I should, but maybe it’s that sense of obligation that turns things for me. There’s never as much pleasure as when I “discover” a book on my own. This latest turn about the garden with Austen reminds me that it is unlikely I’ll ever enjoy something that is described as a “novel of manners”, because I apparently don’t have any when it comes to literary appreciation. But in the words of Elizabeth Bennett: you must give me leave to judge for myself. 

I usually have several books in play at any given time. I’m currently reading:

The Big Sea by Langston Hughes

Sustainable [R]evolution: Permaculture in Ecovillages, Urban Farms and Communities Worldwide by Juliana Birnbaum and Louis Fox

Every War Has Two Losers by William Stafford

We Learn Nothing by Tim Kreider

What’s in your reading stack?



Filed under Reading, Writing

A Walk on the Ired Side: Gender Rhetoric

canstockphoto7503414It’s been hard to read the news and blogs this week. I’ve been sucked into reading comment sections full of vitriol and spite and rage – not far removed from the emotions that drove a man to kill 4 men and 2 women in California this week. It is only through blogging that I’ve become aware of all the hatred that thrives on this medium of spurious anonymity. I’ve seen the hashtag campaigns, I’ve read a lot of feminist and men’s rights blogs. The tactics, name-calling and dogma are right out of a bipartisan political playbook. We are our own worst enemies.

I don’t talk much about feminism, because there are plenty of people who have taken and twisted it into whatever suits their purpose in the moment. People write blog post after blog post telling us what it is and isn’t. Some men’s blogs have entire forums dedicated to insulting anyone who calls themselves a feminist. The latest backlash includes women proudly proclaiming that they are not feminists. That’s a whole lot of insecurity on parade.

Having been very young and very stupid once, I remember when I thought gender didn’t matter. I blundered through life like that. I thought periods sucked. I didn’t want to get married or have kids. I dated a lot of men people. But I am not beautiful by society’s standards (although I’ll be excited when knock knees and having no chin comes into fashion) and someone once told me that I walked like I was getting ready to kick someone’s ass. Apparently these things in combination insulated me against much of the everyday misbehavior about which many women have posted.

That being said, I’ve been called a whore in the middle of a party. I’ve been called a bitch by male coworkers. I discovered disparate pay situations for equal work. I worked harder than most of my fellow soldiers only to be looked askew at by military wives. Believe me, your husband smelled like dirty sweat socks in the field and so did I – Barry White doesn’t have a song that covers that sweet, sweet romance.

I resist calling myself a feminist, because I hate labels of any kind. I don’t want to belong to any group. I don’t do religion or follow pop stars. I avoid gatherings and groupings of more than two. I don’t want to join a fan base or grocery discount club. I’m not going to follow rules, guidelines or policy if it curtails thinking for myself and making whatever choices are right for me. If somebody is going to keep redefining the labels, I’m always going to be a failure and I don’t see the point.

As a spouse and a parent now, I see things from multiple perspectives. I think it must suck for my husband, a perfectly decent human being, to see all the anger directed at white men. Sure, he might assume some things, but that’s why we have conversations. We also have a daughter – an amazing, confident kid who is entering a world that seems fraught with bias and violence. And it’s time for our talks to go beyond that false “stranger danger” scenario. I am afraid for her and am trying to not let that fear permeate our discussions. No matter how much I teach her, someone, somewhere, will make a judgment about her based on her gender. I hope she kicks their ass, figuratively or otherwise.

I’m trying to teach her to see every individual as an individual and avoid relying on stereotypes to inform her decisions. I am teaching her how to do things the hard way – that is the path of critical thinking. I am teaching her to question everything, including assumptions she might already be carrying with her. I have taught her to lead by example and that no matter what you say, it’s what you do that is important. Kindness is not weakness. Saying no is not cruelty. Above all, I want her to know that she can trust herself, her intuition and her boundaries.

The reading of the last week and my own offline experiences have really made me think about how conversation regarding gender can engage, rather than repel and what does dialogue, instead of competing monologues, look like? We are capable of great imagination and creative solutions, but most of the public forums I’ve seen have been absent of reason, respect and common sense. Just a lot of the same cookie cutter sentiments bouncing around an empty room. It makes one hungry for real conversation and engagement.


Useful reading regarding semantics and rhetoric:

Taking the War Out of Our Words:The Art of Powerful Non-Defensive Communication by Sharon Ellison

Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion by Jay Heinrichs



Filed under In the News, Parenting, Personal

Hypnic Jerks: Not Just for Sleeping Anymore

Does it really matter? I blurted out this question in the middle of a school equity team meeting. We were discussing how teachers approached dress code issues and the usual example of saggy pants, underwear on display. The discussion was focused on how not to handle the situation punitively, but rather provide some guidance and instruction to the child to understand what was appropriate in the classroom.

This question about what matters has been cropping up repeatedly in my head. It’s not a flippant attitude – it’s an awakening. I thought getting a tattoo and quitting my job to pursue writing were the markers of middle age and time a-creeping away. But the red convertible is happening in my head. Trying to sort out what is worth spending my emotional and intellectual energy on is the greater challenge.

For much of the first half of my life, I have been disciplined, strict with my personal expectations and intensely goal-oriented, which often rolled into critical judgment of others. Conservative in my personal conduct, but growing increasingly liberal in my thinking, I wonder about the evolution we often see in humans throughout their lifetimes. This is the path – a shifting, winding path that one hopes is progressive and enlightening.

canstockphoto10767838I have dreams about mortality, waking up, afraid that I’ve wasted so much time doing very little. What neural pathways are now ruts? Can I change? What would I change? When will all that past emotional masochism, not to mention smoking and drinking, catch up to my body? I am not a nervous, anxious person as a matter of practice, but occasionally my mind goes into free fall. I catch myself, like that startling, semiconscious moment before sleep when you feel like you’re falling.

I’m experiencing a metaphorical hypnic jerk, startled by how many years have gone by, how long it has taken me to learn how to take care of myself, how to love others with my whole heart. It has taken me so much time to come to terms with the past and to learn to be present. And everything has to constantly be revisited in order to hold onto those lessons.

I’ve always had the sense that being a survivor was the holy grail, but I’ve been there, done that. It feels like greed to want more, to want to live a life not just in resistance to failure. A friend asked me why I felt like it was selfish to want to be happy. I don’t know what happiness looks like and what it would look like for me. Maybe it’s here and the skill I lack is being able to see that, without feeling like the other shoe is going to drop.

The motto repeated in my family was “Prepare for the worst, hope for the canstockphoto12691940best.” It sounds nice and pat, but it’s a dichotomous edict, to continually try to imagine the worst thing that could happen while remaining optimistic. I’ve often been called a pessimist, but I secretly (perhaps wrongly) believe that I’m an advanced optimist – I recognize the 15 million ways things can go haywire, but I’m always willing to try, to move forward, to apply myself.

I fear becoming rigid and brittle and hardhearted as I go through life. I see it in others. The fear of loss hardens their outer shell. They become less forgiving, less kind, less adaptable. They forget to question their beliefs and habits. Nothing new is allowed to enter. They live, but in a shrunken, isolated prison of their own design. The fragility of body accompanied by less and less neural plasticity.

canstockphoto7379441Epiphany is sometimes represented as a one-time fork in the road. But change is a choice that has to be made repeatedly and likely does not lie in picking a specific road, but in how one decides to travel. It’s hard to leave the preconceived notions and the well-trodden paths of the past. Each time I think I have a grasp on the journey, I get startled into some new awareness. I realize how little I know, how much there is to learn and how this anticipation of more knowledge is exactly what happiness looks like for me.


Filed under Personal

Dear Daughter,

Let’s face it, this Mother’s Day gig is more for businesses than for your mom. Your mom would rather hang out at home than bustle elbow-to-elbow with corsages, pastel dresses and Waldorf salads. I don’t need this day, because being your mother is a privilege and a joy.

I didn’t always think of parenting like this. I grew up believing it was drudgery, dirty hands, noisy squatters who were just bearable – little uncontrollable monsters who made life worse. Children were unending responsibility and to do lists. Maybe that’s why I waited so long to have you – I had to realize that there was another side to the story.canstockphoto13603068What no one told me about was the joy. The joy of watching you grow big and strong and confident. I watched you run across the soccer field this week and felt tears well up. My mind jumped back in time to when you first learned to crawl and then walk and then run, laughing as I would chase you about the house singing “We are the dinosaurs”.

No one told me how much I would learn – about myself, about others and about how to see the world around me. No one told me how much better I would want to be as a human being, in order to be a good example. No one told me I’d spend an afternoon pouring over bug books to figure out what we saw on a walk or sewing a Robin Hood costume because you wanted to be a character in a book.

canstockphoto12183648No one told me how much I’d laugh and giggle at your antics or how much pleasure I’d get having you snuggled up against me, talking about nothing at all. There’s no chapter in the books that would tell me how I’d watch you from the kitchen window, my heart overwhelmed by a song you belted out happily while going back and forth on your swing.

No one told me that when I read a story about the loss of a child, that I’d feel a weight on my chest and a fear creeping at the edge of my mind. No one told me that I’d stop what I was doing, find you and be so grateful for the moment. And that for many moments after, I’d feel my breath catch at the thought of losing you.

There have been many challenges along the way. Most of them had to do with sleep. But those baby days are growing distant in the rear view mirror and here you are, in braces, happily chatting away about this cool computer program you are writing. I am often stunned by how grown up you sound.

You amaze me each and every day with your kindness, your enthusiasm and your open heart.

I don’t need a day. I’ve had years. And I hope for many more.

Love, Your Very Lucky Mom


Filed under Parenting, Personal

The Dilettante Writer (#mywritingprocess Blog Tour)

canstockphoto13096454It was a happy coincidence that my friend and fellow writer, Bill at Pinklightsabre’s Blog asked if I’d like to participate in a blog hop/tour/thingamajiggy at a time when I was trying to build up a little more writing steam. It provided me yet another distraction and like any good writer, I jumped at the opportunity to write about writing rather than actually do any work writing. Bill is an engaging blogger and I often read his short, but powerful posts thinking “How does he do that?” Thanks, Bill!

I’m not usually game for blog chain letters, but when I saw some of my favorite blogging buddies doing it, including Ross over at Drinking Tips for Teens, I thought I’d give it the old college/grad school dropout try.

It starts off answering four questions about a writer’s process and project:

1)     What am I working on?

I am dragging myself back to the novel draft I wrote for NaNoWriMo in November 2012. I started a second novel, but the compulsive finisher in me kept being distracted by this unedited binder of slush.

I am slogging through Phoenix Rock page by grueling page. I started out with the lofty goal of writing about the effect of alcoholism on a single family and by the 3rd chapter, was completely bored. So, people started dying. By the end of the book, there was murder, secrets and betrayals. It turned into a soap opera.

As I have the attention span of a gnat, I’m also writing short stories in the hopes of re-launching another blog focused on fiction.

2)     How does my work differ from others of its genre?

It doesn’t. Like most writing, the story has been told in a thousand different mutations. It’s just the author’s voice that shapes it differently. So, it’s my voice – one that I am still working on each time I write. What’s authentic, what is worth saying?

3)     Why do I write what I do?

The first novel for me is a stereotype – I have to get it out, so that I can move onto more creative endeavors. It is not based on my life, but it is certainly about the experiences many people have had in families destroyed by addiction. It’s my angry inner child working out issues.

The blog writing I do is about immediacy – whatever weighs on my mind or has piqued my interest at the moment. I started a blog to establish a writing habit and it still serves that purpose, but it has also helped me find a voice and pacing that suits me.

4)     How does my writing process work?

Initially, as a writer, I felt like a failure, because I didn’t write consistently. I still don’t and maybe that’s another good thing I’ve learned from blogging. It doesn’t work for me to write every day, not for my schedule or for my creative flow. Things have to brew in my head and I’ll think about a subject or phrase over the course of several days before writing about it. I’ll carry it with me in the garden or at the grocery store or while I’m running.

According to the advice, I go about everything ass-backwards. I edit while I write. I will work one sentence over and over until the rhythm or words roll the way I like them. A blog post rarely gets published with under 25 revisions. It’s part compulsive perfectionist, but also an absolute love of language. I read paragraphs aloud to see if the rhythm is natural and if the words easily convey what I’m trying to say.

I also like economical writing. This has made editing a novel very difficult. I know how to tell a story and how to tell it quickly, but I need to meander a bit more and flesh out characters and scenes with more detail. It’s my running joke that you could read my entire novel and have no idea what a single character looks like.

Writing is how I understand the world around me, so nothing ever gets written without me learning something. And that’s at the heart of my writing process.

It is a great honor to pass this blog tour torch onto two writers in the blogosphere. They will be posting about their own writing processes next week.

Meet, if you haven’t had the pleasure already, Helen Kuusela (aka Tiny) from Tiny Lessons Blog.

Helen spent her early years in Finland and Sweden where she earned her Master’s degree in canstockphoto14986248management. Her career in international development took her and her family to countries on several continents. During her eight years in Africa, she fell in love with the continent, its people, rich culture, nature and wildlife. She enjoyed adventures in the wild as a “weekend safari driver” and became a musician, presenting traditional African songs along with African musicians in each country where she lived.

In mid-1990’s she settled in the US and now lives with her family in Florida, where she also runs an international consulting practice.

Despite her successful career writing articles, white papers and research publications/books on organizational management and human resources, she always held onto the dream to “just write” – stories, poetry and even novels. Starting a blog in  July 2012, she connected with other writers, new and established in the blogging world, which gave her the inspiration and courage to sign up for NaNoWriMo 2013. She to wrote her first novel, Confessions of a Rescue Dog, which was published in February 2014. It’s a heartwarming story about a rescue dog, a treat for pet lovers of all ages. She is currently working on a poetry collection and a novel inspired by her years in Africa.

Blog link: www.tinylessonsblog.com

Book blog link: www.firdemontepress.com

Links to some of her favorite posts:

About writing: http://tinylessonsblog.com/2014/02/09/omg-he-did-it/

About blogging: http://tinylessonsblog.com/2012/07/20/blog-around-the-clock-a-poem/

About wildlife/travel: http://tinylessonsblog.com/2012/08/13/chasing-queen-elizabeths-elephants/


And meet my fellow struggling writer, Amy Reese from amyreesewrites. She’s got a short story habit. The End.

Okay, maybe not that short.

Amy likes to write stories that have a supernatural element, where fantasy and reality intersect and sometimes collide. She owes her love of reading to her mother who has been like her own private library, providing her with a constant source of great books. She has said she has never disliked a book recommended by her mom. On her blog, she explores different genres and focuses on the craft in the pursuit of writing that is fluid, seamless, and consuming, because being swept up by the words in a story is pure joy. Very soon, she will make a second attempt at writing her novel.

She is a Friday Fictioneer, which is slightly more dignified than my solo writing groups, the Saturday Slugs and the Sunday Sloths.

Keep an eye out next week for Helen and Amy’s takes on their writing processes. Meanwhile, back in The Green Study, I will be pointedly ignoring my novel while losing again at Solitaire.


Filed under Blogging, Writing