Small Talk and Slightly Bigger Ideas

canstockphoto3538551.jpgSpring is a dangerous time for writing in my world. It’s the time I’m most likely to quit blogging. It’s the time when every new novel idea looks better than the one I’m working on. It’s the time when dust collects in the study.

It was a tepid winter this year in Minnesota. I might need to move further north at this rate. Ride a melting glacier, run a homeless polar bear shelter. I’d like to see some studies on the impact of hot flashes on climate change. All I know is that wherever I am, it’s too damned hot.


It was two weeks ago last when I was inspired about my writing. It got kicked off by an extended family get-together.

So, are you working now? Oh, still writing? How’s that going? What’s it about?

I have a script I now use for these occasions. Little jokes. Self-deprecating nonsense that flies out of my mouth automatically. Well, my book is about my husband wanting to retire eventually, so I’d better sell something. Har, har, har.

My spirits sunk a bit. I’d had this same conversation for years.

canstockphoto0970790.jpgThe following day, I pulled out all my notecards, the rough first/second/third draft and I starting writing page after page of notes. I reviewed old notes. I rewrote the first chapter and last chapters for the sixth time. I scrawled deliriously across blank paper. Lines connecting words, concepts, timelines. It was heady. It felt productive, but I was suspicious. I’m the queen of busywork when it comes to writing.

Then I started to see motifs and themes and realized that there was a reason I was writing this particular story over and over again. A flash of understanding, a moment when the entire novel coalesced inside my head. It’s these damned moments that keep bringing me back. Progress? I don’t know. Just when I think it’s time to move on, I get hooked again.


Summer vacations have already been planned and scrapped and planned again. A family road trip through southern states was vetoed by moi. The heat was a determinant, but throw in bugs that don’t get controlled by an annual killing frost and a little regressive anti-LGBT legislation and it got crossed off the list.

A friend said “Why do you care about the legislation? It doesn’t affect you.” That’s what these times do to us – they surprise us with bigotry in our familiars. People who have never seemed particularly unkind take on a malevolent glint and you step back a bit.

canstockphoto14554749My first impulse is a rage that I have to rein in. Then I go to reason, which usually involves these questions “How are these laws going to be enforced? Are they going to be doing crotch checks?” My rage is not reined in well enough.

I’ve written several draft posts about the laws in Missouri and North Carolina (and southern states are not on the hook for this – many states are taking a trip in the way back time machine), but they always end in spluttering anger.

And if you’re not in fear of your life in public restrooms before these laws, you should have been- it’s a public restroom. They’ve never been high security against people intent on nefarious actions or drunk couples who can’t wait until closing. Do your business and get the hell out. Stop worrying about other people’s genitals. I’d back a law for mandatory soap and water hand washing before exiting, though. Seriously, that’s just gross.


canstockphoto17007161.jpgMy daughter wanted a musical weekend for her birthday present. We were fortunate to catch a Jeremy Messersmith performance on Friday and then on Saturday, the Minnesota Orchestra. I’d never seen a professional full orchestra before, except on TV. We went whole hog and bought box balcony seats, another first. We are the plebes, the unwashed masses (well, we did shower) and usually sit in the cheaper seats.

It was a lovely experience not being shoved ass to elbows for a performance. My daughter is a viola player and we were able to see Roberto Diaz play the Viola Concerto composed by Jennifer Higdon. The piece had been commissioned by the Library of Congress not for an event, but for an instrument – a Stradivarius viola. I felt pretty posh about it all, but seeing my daughter’s wide eyes and having her say “this is awesome” a hundred times made it worth it.


A melancholy settled over me these last few weeks. It surprised me. Spring seems a time when the world blooms with possibility. I was moody and my need for quiet became its own sort of clamoring. I walked through the woods a lot last week and listened to the birds. I saw a group of wild turkeys – the males in full regalia strutting their stuff. A fat muskrat puttered its way along the water’s edge. Bluebirds and woodpeckers and ducks, all plotting and courting.

canstockphoto4786661.jpgI saw a man with a large camera on the path coming towards me. My body tensed. I smiled a tight smile and he smiled back. I immediately thought thank you. It was the fear that I’d have to talk, when I was in a place both physically and mentally that needed no words. Maybe that’s where he was too.

Sometimes it’s good to hear life firsthand.

52 thoughts on “Small Talk and Slightly Bigger Ideas

  1. fransiweinstein

    You should vacation in Canada. It is a beautiful country, there’s lots to see and do, we are decent, friendly, open-minded, welcoming and a BARGAIN, because your dollar is worth so much more than ours. No guns, we’re not building any walls, gay marriage is not a problem here, we are a country of immigrants and like that about ourselves, our vaginas — and what we do with them — is nobody’s business, we’re glad Ted Cruz wants nothing to do with us and we want nothing to do with the Donald. Plus there are no elections going on here so if you stick to watching Canadian TV you’ll actually see what’s going on in the rest of the world. I’m not crazy about our flag, it’s kind of boring, but no one’s perfect.

    Liked by 3 people

    • We go up to Canada every couple of years and this year, we’re going up to camp with some friends from Manitoba. I wanted to take a longer trip as well and we’ve decided on the Pacific Northwest.

      Fortunately, with the internet, I have plenty of access to news sources outside of the U.S. I do love it in Canada, although I’ve read enough lately about the issues experienced by the indigenous populations to know it’s never all wine and roses in any country.

      Liked by 2 people

    • I love the simplicity of the Canadian flag and the anthem “O Canada!” You might have convinced me to vacation there this summer, too — just when I was thinking I couldn’t afford to go anywhere where I’d need a passport.

      Liked by 1 person

      • fransiweinstein

        When I was a child we flew the British flag, which I’ve always thought was more impressive and beautiful. It’s interesting that you say you like the simplicity of the Canadian flag. Maybe I should look at it with fresh eyes πŸ™‚ There’s so much to see and do here, you should definitely think about it. Newfoundland and PEI are quaint and beautiful, BC will just take your breath away, Montreal’s like being in Europe. Lots of choices.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I haven’t been to a live symphony orchestra concert in years. I miss them, now that I think about it. I love that your daughter plays viola. It’s such a cool, but often overlooked instrument. I understand your reasons for not wanting to go south this year. I, too, think everywhere is way too hot– or way too stupid for my liking. Like the commenter above suggested, Canada seems like a good choice for a vacation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We’re going to Canada, but taking a later trip out to the Pacific Northwest. Still hoping to travel south, but when some of this nonsense shakes down and the temps drop.

      My daughter started off with four years of piano, but didn’t like always playing by herself. She loves the orchestra and playing in various groups. I play the flute, but feel like I’m being reintroduced to classical music through her enthusiasm. It really is a lovely thing.


  3. michelle213norton

    I personally am not looking forward to the “change of life.” I’m already too hot most of the time! I don’t get to go to live performances much (although this year I’ve made a concerted effort to change that!) But every time I attend a symphony or ballet, I wish I could more often! At least this weekend, hubby and I got to see a Led Zepplin tribute band, Get The Led Out! They were great!!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you, Michelle, for not reining in your rage completely. That’s a part of the solutions, I think. I’m not sure if you’ve been to the Pacific Northwest of the U.S, or our country, but in the summer, it couldn’t be a more gorgeous area in the whole world. Mind you, I’m kind of partial to pretty much any area of Canada, but still, no black flies in our region! I hope you have a wonderful summer and holiday.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s very hard not to be angry all the time these days. There’s just too much happening with religion, politics and social issues not to be, but I know it’s not healthy as a constant and I have to keep striving for balance!

      I’m looking forward to going out to the coast. My daughter has never seen an ocean. I was born in California, but have never been to Washington or Oregon. Thanks for the good wishes!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. pinklightsabre

    I like the asterisk breaks here in this post, not sure I’ve seen you do that before. It’s nice. I’ve thought about doing that myself but don’t for some reason, probably results in people sometimes spinning or getting frustrated. Above all, just good to hear your voice. Let’s hope the temperatures are nice in the PNW when you visit this summer.


  6. Pat

    A real eye opener and I totally agree about vetoeing a vacation down south. The heat and flashes will only compound the problem. The bugs, will certainly be out in droves this year. Enjoy your spring. It’s a time for rebirth, relaxation and renewal😊


  7. I love it when you let your sense of humor and your sense of justice reside side by side Michelle. I live in the PNW and highly recommend the mountains in Washington and the coast in Oregon. And if you stay on the west side of the Cascades, it’s mostly progressive. Quite conservative in the east. I’ve lived both and much prefer the west side. Hope it’s a memorable vacation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Ilona. I think it’s becoming more important than ever to temper our rhetoric for justice with humor and equanimity. It’s too easy to get burnt out on the constant raging and then check out when attention is most needed.
      We are planning on driving the entire coast from Seattle down to San Francisco, with a few forays inland to the forests. Our vacations always land heavily on the side of nature.
      Despite our decision not to travel south this summer, people can be great humanitarians or jackwagons wherever one goes, regardless of political inclination. There are some progressives that creep me out a bit!


      • Heavy on nature is the way to go out here Michelle. Let me know if you have any questions on places along your way. We are childless and traveled around this part of the world a lot. It should re-charge your feel good batteries.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I happen to live in North Carolina and these stupid laws not only effect my transgender friend who now feels she has no where to go to the bathroom, but everyone in the state. We’re daily losing jobs and entertainment to these stupid laws. I say don’t reign yourself in at all. The people who don’t get it need to start paying attention and just accept.


    • As much as I’d like to stay atop my high horse, we have a dimwitted politician in Minnesota who just sponsored a similar bill. Fortunately, it won’t even make it out of committee.

      It’s tough for the residents, but on the plus side, North Carolina is serving as an example to the rest of the nutters out there who spend all their time thinking about laws they can make about wieners and wa-hoos. It’s almost like we’re not at war or have socioeconomic or criminal injustice in this country. Maybe they’re trying to get us to not notice that.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I don’t follow the news. It’s too full of bad news and myopic insanity – like Missouri and North Carolina, which I didn’t know about until now. Confirms my suspicions. There is plenty of myopic insanity in the world, but the world is also full of amazing wonderful heart-opening good news all over the place. I seek it out. Sadly the “News” seems only interested in the myopic insanity. I too could easily go to rage, and sometimes do, but it doesn’t seem to achieve much. I’m astonished and appalled by your friend.
    The Pacific Northwest is a beautiful part of the world. Well, I’m a Vancouverite so I know it well. Have a wonderful vacation.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I, too, can be the queen of busywork! So wonderful that you were able to share the concert experience with your daughter. These days, it seems, people make less and less time available for those kinds of things. Beautiful read. If I haven’t mentioned it to you before I think you would enjoy Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert πŸ˜ŒπŸ’™

    Liked by 1 person

    • We focus a lot on experiences versus things and the payoff is really worth it – the shared memories and broadened horizons. Plus, I just love live performances.

      I started to listen to the audiobook of “Big Magic”, but I don’t know if I’m in the right frame of mind. I took a break after the bit regarding ideas in the universe – as New Agey and weird as I can be, that idea didn’t resonate, but again, I’ve been in a surly, less open mood lately. Makes a big difference in how receptive one can be to ephemeral ideas!

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I’ve also been thinking recently about the themes and motifs that recur in people’s work, both conscious and un-. About the stories that we each retell — the stories that _I_ keep retelling — and why.

    If you are ever in a mood to share what you see your own as being, I’d be quite interested. In the meantime, I’d also be quite happy just hanging with you and Sandy Sue, grunting pleasantly at one another, if you’ll have me! πŸ™‚


    • It’s a really big question – understanding what our themes and stories are. When I strip away some of my big personal issues relating to poverty, fundamentalist religion and domestic violence, I surprise myself with the optimistic story I always want to tell: resiliency and how we save first ourselves, then each other. And how we are not doomed to repeat our family stories – or even our own stories. Maybe it is, by writing about it, how I’m saving myself.

      All grunters are welcome. It’s funny – the weather is lovely, there’s no great crises looming, but I’m feeling as verbally uncommunicative as can be. Sometimes a person just wants to sit alone with their thoughts and it feels exhausting to share.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Michelle, idea for summer vacation: Take the Empire Builder to Portland and come see me. πŸ™‚ Arrange to get off for two or three days at Glacier Park and drive through on Going to the Sun Road. See you in August! πŸ™‚


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