Tag Archives: Inspiration

The Dust Bowl

IMG_1041What does this luscious cake photo have to do with the devastating period in American history know as the Dust Bowl?  Nothing, and that’s the point.

If you want to get a kid interested in history, introduce them to a subject they can really chow down on…like the Dust Bowl.  What child can’t wrap their imagination around:

  • Adults who did dumb things and ruined millions of acres of the most fertile lane on earth.
  • The idea of living in a one-room “soddie” with all your family, stuck half in the earth and topped by the very grass that could have saved your life, dust seeping in at every crack and crevice.
  • Ma going out to the barn in a dust storm so bad that Pa can’t see her after she closes the kitchen door. Pa not finding Ma till spring…where she blew away and finally came to rest up against a barbed wire fence a mile away, now nestled among the tumbleweeds.

 And kids think history is boring?  My beloved Chapter III book club just read The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan.  Winner of a National Book Award, this story of those who trekked West in good faith, only to become embroiled in a Titanic-sized effort to survive, is riveting.  If I wrote a book for kids on this subject, I would call it Death by Dust.  Some families left; others stayed.  Imagine kids going to school in a cloud of dust, wet handkerchiefs tied over their faces to try to avoid “dust pneumonia,” which many children did die of eventually.

And the cake?  Well, of all the cookbook and recipe research that I have done over the years, when I Googled “What did they eat during the Dust Bowl?” I pretty much came up with…nothing.  I know they had to eat something?  Maybe a stray potato, some beans?  Dust soup?  I think this cake would have lived in my imagination as what I sacrificed for the errors of my ways.  Or, perhaps, what I hoped to chow down on in my future, should I liveto tell the tale.

Also worthy:  Ken Burn’s outstanding PBS series on the Dust Bowl; watch it with a kid.  Have some cake.

The Desk

Desk Blog ImageI’ve been a writer since before I was born.  A writer is all about her desk.  My first desk was a small, kneehole, four-drawer black desk.  If I still owned it, I’d hang it on the wall and just look at it.  It had been painted red, green and black over the years, as nicks and gouges clearly showed.  It was the kind of desk a school kid from the 1950s might have done their homework on.  It’s hard for me to imagine that I once corralled a typewriter, reams of yellow paper, a dictionary and all the other accoutrements of a writer on that measly pad of real estate.  Mostly I remember writing on it, including my first book—at night, many nights; many, many nights.

The kitchen table has often served as my desk.  I have fond memories of my small children banging away on pots and pans while I banged away on my first manual typewriter.

Over the years I graduated to swankier desks:  a thick glass slab atop chrome sawhorse legs…a slick candy-apple red desk with oak legs…and a lovely tobacco-leaf carved quarter-moon desk perched beneath an iron gazebo dangling lavender wisteria in a room overlooking downtown Savannah.

I’ve had other “desks” over the years:  the hoods of cars and trucks, my lap in bed, the floor of many a motel room when on the road doing research, and now, with my ultra-light Mac Book Air, the crook of my arm serves as a desk just fine.

When I travel, and visit literary historic sites, I always pay attention to the desks:  Carl Sandburg’s orange crate desk at Connemara in Morganton, North Carolina.  (Located in the boiler room, he often bottle- fed his wife’s prize-winning baby goats while he wrote.)  Thomas Wolfe was so tall he preferred to slap his typewriter on top of the refrigerator to write.  He often wrote “nekkid,” much to the consternation (or amusement) of his neighbors, since he cared not for curtains.

Since moving to Palmetto Bluff, the island in my light-filled laundry room has served as my desk.  I think I bought this house because of this thick slab of dark beech wood reclaimed from an Ohio barn.  It is glazed slick as glass and gleams with the clean slate look of possibilities.  Somehow, I could just imagine myself really cranking out the words there amidst the canned goods and cameras…the swish-swash of the washer and kalumph-kalumph of the dryer…the flicker of cell phones and iPads charging.  I enjoy being able to see what’s going on outside while I’m trapped inside writing, to wave to a neighbor, keep an eye out for Bob to fetch our red “Ladybug” golf cart so we can go to lunch.

I can always tell when I am “about to write.”  I do a desk check.  Today, I moved my yellow Parson’s table so I could sit facing the fireplace to write.  It just felt right.  The right desk at the right time in the right place makes all the difference to a writer.  All the difference in the world.

A Book as Quilt

Some of my favorite things are beautiful quilts!Quilts

Once, I even packed up husband Bob and then twelve-year-old granddaughter Christina and we headed to Lincoln, Nebraska for the grand opening of the International Quilt Museum. Lest you imagine that meant only old-fashioned frontier- and colonial-era quilts, envision a much broader spectrum of craft.

This impressive collection included fantastic white on white quilts from France, with teeny-tiny stitches only a fair hand of yore could have produced. Yes, the range of quilts included historical log cabin quilts, but zoomed on into the future with amazing three-dimensional quilts in brilliant jewel-tone colors, suitable for the multi-million dollar loft apartment overlooking Central Park in New York City.

In addition to quilts hung on the museum walls or stretched over quilting frames, a high tech multimedia studio let you look up any quilt and enlarge any area to see the magic of a single stitch.

Once, I admired a really old cigar wrapper quilt, and before I could quite think, “Hmm, that could be a collector’s item and worthy investment,” the quilt was snatched from the window in the heart of Buckhead in Atlanta, and traded to a smiling young man in exchange for a gold American Express card. Darn!

I have often compared writing a book to quilting. The covers are the front and back of the book quilt. In between, you must tuck a thick layer of wonderful story. Overall, you must stitch the story into a whole with clever stitches, intricate design, and the occasional surprise—a secret pocket, perhaps, in which to hide the missing wedding ring?

Quilting is metaphor for many a thing. When I quilt a good book, I feel I can wrap myself in it forever. I can’t do a good stitch at all with needle and thread—but I can cobble together some worthy words on occasion.

We are all quilters—in some fashion or the other—if we think about it, aren’t we?


Quilts created by Dyani White Hawk, of Lakota/European ancestry

Are You A Designing Woman?

Blog_2-DesigningWomanI’m a designing woman!

People often ask me (as a writer), “Where do you get your ideas”

Where does anyone get ideas? Most just come to me, often at the most inconvenient times, such as when I have no paper or pencil or digital doodah on which to record them…my memory is not that good!

But ideas come to be because I seek them out. How? By inhaling, exhaling, looking, listening—so many ideas. I do not try to curate them at the time. How could I?! What, indeed, could the following have in common?:

  • A robin’s egg blue and dull brass French cooking range
  • A picture of a new navy blue and chrome Lexus Rx Hybrid car
  • A fire engine red and chrome ultra-chic door handle
  • A sea glass green and mosque blue invitation to a Casablanca Ball
  • A sailboat, listing to port, red sails billowing, and a woman at the helm

Now all these “ideas” came in the last 20 minutes. I put them in my brain crockpot to let them stew awhile, knowing full well that one day (sooner or later), I will write a novel, decorate a room, buy an outfit, design a logo or a catalog, etc. with some, if not all, of these components. It will not be a surprise to me at all. I will not have to struggle over “what to do.”

When I teach kids (who always say, “But I don’t have any ideas!”) to write, I say, “STOP! LOOK! LISTEN!” In a classroom setting, they are so startled that they do just that.

“Don’t you see,” I say, “that there is a secret panel up there on the ceiling?” “Can’t you tell?” I urge, “that your teacher used to be a spy?” “And can’t you hear,” I reprimand, “that haunting tune coming from the graveyard that used to be in the courtyard of your school?”

Inevitably, all eyes zip and dart from one thing to the other. Eyes go wide. Grins begin. And one pencil, then another, begin to audibly scratch on some form of paper.

It has begun. The magic of imagination. It is there everyday, all the time. Even when your eyes are closed. Even as you sleep.

What are YOU looking at right now?

Excuse me, please: I have a story to write!