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The cover for Travels with Maggie, which I had designed back in 2014.

“It is always better when you give a damn.” – John D. MacDonald

Coming to the End of a Long Road

In May of 2006, I left my youngest daughter’s home in Camden, Arkansas. Six months later, in time for Thanksgiving dinner, I arrived at my oldest daughter’s home on the outskirts of Dallas.

In-between, my canine companion, Maggie, and I traveled 7,000 miles in a small RV, through 23 states and Canada, to Maine, where we stood on top of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park one morning to get this country’s first ray of sunlight.

The Mark Twain Lighthouse in Hannibal, Missouri, which I climbed up to explore during my Travels with Maggie. — Photo by Pat Bean

The in-between miles are the topics of my book, Travels with Maggie, which soon will be available at Amazon. It’s part travelogue, part memoir, part bird book, part nature book, and part about one woman’s conversations with her dog. I think it would fit nicely on a book shelf between John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley and Charles Kuralt’s On the Road, with Peter Cashwell’s The Verb to Bird nearby.

But this book is written with a feminine voice, that of an old-broad, wandering-wonderer.

This week I put the mechanics of putting Travels with Maggie up on Amazon into the hands of an angel who, unlike me, knows what she is doing. I spent three frustrated weeks trying before I finally gave up.

A view from Acadia National Park in Maine, which was the destination of my journey. — Photo by Pat Bean

Late yesterday evening, when I was having a Jack and Coke on my back balcony with my friend, Jean, who needed it after her high school teaching day, to celebrate the new stage of my book, I suddenly found myself crying.

I’m not exactly sure why.

My book, whose first draft was named one of the top 10 when it was entered in a Mayborn Non-Fiction Writing Workshop contest, has now been through five rewrites, edits and proofings.

The second rewrite was a major one to add voice, which I had omitted because I was trying to hide the fact I was an old-broad. The Mayborn critiques, all of them, said this was the book’s one major fault – and I knew immediately they were right.

The third rewrite was mostly a polishing of my writing, as was the fourth. The fifth was

Mostly a typo-catching read-through. And there will be a sixth proofing yet to come. This is a 75,000-word manuscript so each of these steps took some time.

My dream of writing just such a book is over a half-century old, during which time the whole world of publishing changed. I was reluctant to let go of the traditional world, but finally decided I didn’t have the time to wait around any longer. In the traditional world, the publisher would have done the marketing for the book. In today’s world, most writers are now having to accomplish this step themselves.

It’s what I am going to have to do – and telling my blog readers about my book is a first step toward that goal. Whew! I feel a weight lifted off my shoulders for writing this. I’ll now let you follow each step of getting Travels with Maggie out there with me. Maybe you’ll even buy my book when it’s finally out to the public.

Bean Pat: Citizen Sketcher http://tinyurl.com/k9xrpq4 I love the watercolors on this blog, and the artist’s celebration of them. Reminds me of my current celebration.

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“There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti

The Caryatid Porch of the Erechtheion in Athens. Wikimedia photo

A New Word for my Vocabulary

I love analogies, especially ones that are as fresh as the smell of baby powder, as bright as the shine on a new car in a showroom, and as unused as a heavy wool court on a summer day in the desert.

Austrian Parliament Building. … Encyclopedia Britannica.

A writer can say a lot with a few words and a good analogy. But I recently came across one that left me puzzled because it contained a word that wasn’t yet in my vocabulary. The phrase that threw me was: “as straight-backed as a caryatid,” which was part of a sentence in Rosemary Mahoney’s Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman’s Skiff.

What in the heck is a caryatid, I wondered, then copied the word down in the notebook that is always beside me when I read.

Usually I can guess what a word means because of how it is used by the

Intricate hairstyle of Caryatid, displayed at the Acropolis Museum in Athens. — Wikimedia photo

writer, and I usually discover I’ve pretty much hit the mark when I finally look the word up in a dictionary, but caryatid had me fully stumped. I used to actually have a dictionary by my reading chair, but these days, having kept up with the computer age, I use an online version.

When I finally got on my computer, I learned, according to Wikipedia, that a caryatid is a sculpted female figure serving as an architectural support that takes the place of a column or a pillar, and that the karyatides is a Greek term that means “maidens of Karyai.”

Who are the maidens of Karvai, and who are what is Karvai? This wondering mind of mine never seems to stop.

Karvai was an ancient Peloponnese village with a temple dedicated to the goddess Artemis, where maidens held dances in which they carried baskets of live reeds on their heads, as if they were dancing plants.

But, as a good journalist always does, I went to a second source. And the answers here were a bit different. According to the online version of the Encyclopedia Britannica:

A Caryatid, in classical architecture, is a draped female figure used instead of a column. They first as appeared in pairs in three small buildings at Delphi  (550–530 bc), and their origin can be traced back to mirror handles of nude figures carved from ivory in Phoenicia, and draped figures cast from bronze in archaic  Greece. According to a story related by the 1st-century-bc Roman architectural writer Vitruvius, caryatids represented the women of Caryae, who were doomed to hard labor because the town sided with the Persians in 480 bc during their second invasion of Greece.

And so went my morning of research instead of writing. But I did add a new word to my vocabulary.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Bean Pat: Something to Think About http://tinyurl.com/lmab4qh And do — in a world gone mightily mad.

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“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”  — Stephen King

A good writer will let you see beyond the picture and hear the water gurgling. — Photo by Pat Bean in Smoky Mountain National Park.

Five Books at a Time

My reading table always contains five books. In addition, there are books scattered all around my house – many waiting to become one of the five that are currently being read. I usually read the selected five one chapter at a time, rotating between them in order.

Well that’s what I do until one of the five demands I continue reading until I finish it without stopping, which I have to admit, is not a rare occurrence. And if that happens, nothing else gets done until the book is finished – and I love it when this happens.

I started my unusual reading habit for two reasons. The first is that there are books that I knew I wanted to read, but couldn’t seem to get into them. If I recall correctly, the first time that happened was with a James Michener novel, The Source. So I began reading just a few pages in it every night, and then I would pick up a book that held my attention better, At some point in Michener’s book, my interest took hold and I finished it quickly.

A good writer can place you in this forest and let you see the colors. — Photo by Pat Bean

I’m not a speed reader, but I can read fast when my attention is harnessed. On average, I read two complete books in a week. Reading too fast, however, was my second reason for reading several books at a time. Once a book takes hold of me, especially if I want to know what is going to happen next, I find myself reading so fast I don’t digest what I’m reading,

By reading several books at a time, I find myself better able to remember what I’ve read, maybe because I have to recall what went before when I return to the book. It works for me is all I can say.

Another habit I have is reading with both my journal and my daily to-do list nearby. In the journal, I write down quotes from the books, and my own thoughts about things I read. On my to-do list, I often jot down names of places that are mentioned, which I will later locate on a map or read more about. I also write down any words I do not know the meaning of, and will later look them up in a dictionary. This habit means nary a day goes by that I don’ learn something new.

Meanwhile, this slow-down ritual of reading that I’ve developed is also a tool for studying good writing, a habit that hundreds of authors have suggested makes for good writing. And good writing is definitely something I’ve come to love and appreciate. It was actually a piece of good writing that inspired this blog. After copying the paragraph down in my journal, I was inspired to share it.

I came across the paragraph in an essay by Eric Hansen that was included in his book, The Bird Man and the Lap Dancer: Close Encounters with Strangers.

It is the story of an elderly Russian woman who narrowly escaped with her life during World War II, and who now lives in a rent-controlled apartment in one of New York City’s worst sections of town. The woman, known as Madame Zova, warns Eric not to visit at night because it is too dangerous. He admits he is afraid to visit in the day, too, But he does. Later, when Eric has moved to California, he talks to Zoey, as he came to call her, on the phone, and asks if she is afraid to live alone. It is her reply, which Eric recalls in a marvelous piece of writing, that moves me intensely.

“No,” she said. “I am not afraid because I know what it means to love life and survive. People with no belief and no faith and no hope are like empty box. They have nothing. Miracles happen every day. You think red tulip growing from black soil is not a miracle?”

So what good books are you reading?

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Bean Pat: The Day After http://tinyurl.com/htebvmj As a person with wanderlust in my soul, these photos made me want to take a walk. Perhaps they will affect you the same way.

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“A newspaper is lumber made malleable. It is ink made into words and pictures. It is conceived, born, grows up and dies of old age in a day.” — Jim Bishop

Newspaper Rock, Utah. I don't want to go back in time, I just want truth to once again become possible.

Newspaper Rock, Utah. I don’t want to go back in time, I just want truth to once again become possible.

          “A newspaper is a circulating library with high blood pressure.” — Arthur Baer

My Heart is Breaking

It was my usual morning. I walked Pepper, came back and fixed myself a cup of cream-lace coffee, and settled down with a book to read while I drank. And suddenly there were tears in my eyes, tears that are still falling, which is why I am writing this blog.

I need to tell someone, besides Pepper, why my face is wet.

The book I’m reading is a simple book by Ari L. Goldman called The Late Starters Orchestra. It’s about the author’s efforts to play the cello. Ari is a former New York Times reporter, and now a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Toward the end of his book Ari achieves his goal of playing in public at his 60th birthday party.

He then writes “…I would die a happy man. I was a musician. Maybe that wouldn’t be the first thing that the newspapers would write in my obituary (if there are still newspapers) … “It was those last five words that opened the floodgates in my eyes.

I was a journalist for 37 years. I worked for honorable newspapers that did not slant the news, which was most of them during my career era. I tried, as did my reporter colleagues, to give the people what they needed to know in as objective a manner as possible. One of the newspapers I worked for has folded. The others are dying, or hollow publications of what they once were.

As a city editor at a 65,000 circulation daily, I had 21 reporters covering local beats. The last time I visited the paper, the city editor had seven reporters covering the same beats.

In the past few days, I’ve been reading stories, proudly told, about how fake online news impacted the recent election. And I’ve heard newspapers referred to as archaic. Shouldn’t we all be crying?

I love the Internet, the connection it gives me to loved ones, and the ease it gives me to have the answer to almost every question I have at my fingertips. But I also know not to believe everything I read. That has always been true, even when newspapers were in their prime. But it is especially true these days when anyone can write anything they want without regard to truth.

You can’t be a journalist and not believe in, and support, freedom of speech. And I do.

So where do we go from here? I don’t know. And that’s another reason my heart is breaking.

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   “The more often we see the things around us – even the beautiful and wonderful things – the more they become invisible to us. That is why we often take for granted the beauty of this world: the flowers, the trees, the birds, the clouds – even those we love. Because we see things so often, we see them less and less.” — Joseph B. Wirthlin

A male house finch sitting on the tree limb  next to my third-floor balcony. -- Photo by Pat Bean

A male house finch sitting on the tree limb next to my third-floor balcony. — Photo by Pat Bean

A Spot of Cheer

            Almost anywhere you live in North America, your day could easily be brightened by a house finch, a seemingly common name for a little brown bird, whose scarlet bib and head band worn by the male lights up any gray day. The female wears only a pale brown feather coat whose white front is brown streaked, as is the male’s lower belly. Both have a sturdy bill for their dainty size.

House finches are the most widely distributed songbirds in America. And since they love backyards and bird feeders, they’re also one of the easiest birds to identify. Here in Tucson I see them almost daily.

This house finch decided to watch me as I watched it. -- Photo by Pat Bean

This house finch decided to watch me as I watched it. It’s in full breeding colors with more red on it than usual. — Photo by Pat Bean

Because of their coloring and whistle punctuated song, these birds were once popular pets. A crackdown on keeping wild birds in this country, however, pinched off most of that activity – and also is the reason these birds can now be found in all 48 mainland states. Before 1940, when New York house finch breeders loosed their breeding stock because of the new laws, house finches were only found in the West. The freed pet birds, however, quickly dispersed, and today their North America numbers are estimated at a billion.

I only learned the bird’s history this morning, when I was reading Feather Brained by Bob Tarte, a late-blooming birder like myself. I was 60 years old before I begin fully seeing all the birds that share our spaces. Today I can’t not see birds. And that is a gift I’ve come to treasure.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Bean Pat: Ruffed Grouse http://tinyurl.com/jjfnxpm Great photo of a ruffed grouse for birdwatchers. This blog also took me back to my 2012 drive down the Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park, where if you look hard enough you’ll find this species of grouse.

 

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  “A woman’s mind is cleaner than a man’s. She changes it more often.” – Oliver Herford

            “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” – Marcus Aurelius

The story of how the magpie became my animal totem would make a good first chapter  for my bird book. -- Photo by Pat Bean

The story of how the magpie became my animal totem would make a good first chapter for my bird book. — Photo by Pat Bean

It’s OK to Change One’s Mind

I’m not sure where I got it in my head that once I made a decision I had to follow through on it, but it got me in trouble in my earlier years. Young minds don’t always make the right choices.

Old minds don’t either.

But more often than not, the choices and decisions we make in life, especially those we make on a daily basis, have nothing to do with right or wrong. They are simply choices, like the one I made recently to do NANO in November, which is to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.

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And I can write about my experience of seeing California condors flying free  over Zion National Park, and all the times I wrote about them when I was a reporter. -- Wikimedia phoot by Phil Armitage.

And I can write about my experience of seeing California condors flying free over Zion National Park, and all the times I wrote about them when I was a reporter. — Wikimedia photo by Phil Armitage.

Along with making that choice, I also made a decision to make my proposed book a mystery, and dedicated yesterday to working on an outline for it. Instead, I kept putting the task off and spent most of the day reading. The truth was I couldn’t come up with a good plot.

Then this morning I got to thinking. I have three completed (not sure how many uncompleted) first drafts of mysteries in my writing files, which I have no inclination to take to polished completion. I don’t think I need another.

Meanwhile, for the past year I have been outlining a book about my bird-watching experiences. I have numerous anecdotes about this late-blooming passion of mine. Why not, I thought, write my bird book for my NANO project?

The decision felt right. And suddenly I was more enthusiastic about my November writing marathon. Of course, I could change my mind again.

Learning to be comfortable with not having one’s decisions written in cement, even for life-changing choices, has made life a lot easier and more pleasant for me. Perhaps that’s because I make a lot of hummingbird-wing-quick decisions without thinking everything out fully first.

Patience simply isn’t a virtue in my mind. And while I believe, unlike Oliver Herford whose quote began this blog, that men change their minds as often as woman, I do believe I have a very clean mind.

Bean Pat: Hanging out: in Puerto Iguazu http://tinyurl.com/h6rg4vm A nice and easy day of armchair travel

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The starting point of discovering who you are, your gifts, your talents, your dreams is being comfortable with yourself. Spend time alone. Write a journal. Take long walks in the woods.” – Robin Sharma

The Mark Twain Lighthouse in Hannibal Missouri, which I wrote about climbing up to see in 2006, when I was traveling the country full time with my canine companion Maggie in a small RV. -- Photo by Pat Bean

The Mark Twain Lighthouse in Hannibal Missouri, which I wrote about climbing up to see in 2006, when I was traveling the country full-time with my canine companion Maggie in a small RV. — Photo by Pat Bean

A Half Century of Memories

            I began keeping journals when I was 25, when, like a bolt of lightning on a clear day, I discovered I wanted to be a writer. For the next 15 years, my journals were cheap spiral notebooks that never got completed. I might write for a week, and then the next entry wouldn’t happen for three months, and sometimes the journal got lost in the between times.

I say lost because I never threw one away, and I think I eventually found most of them. A few years ago, I recopied the scant early journaling pages into one volume.

Pages from my journal  written when I was in Hannibal, Missouri, and took a paddleboat cruise on the Mississippi River.

Pages from my journal, written when I was in Hannibal, Missouri, in 2006, and took a paddle boat cruise on the Mississippi River.

My first journals were written when I was a working mother of five with no help, and the journal contents were too often filled with my beating up on myself because I never completed a day’s to-do list. What amazed me in the rereading, however, were all the things I did accomplish, and never gave myself credit for doing. Today, I honestly don’t know how I did all I did back then.

Around the age of 40, I decided to buy decent journals – one of my favorite being a Gibson that has thick enough paper to write on both sides and a spiral binding for ease in writing. I also began journaling more regularly. As time passed, the journals filled more quickly, until the present when I complete about two a year with a record of my days and thoughts. My journals, even the early ones, are also packed with quotes that have meaning to me.

Until recently, I had never read most of my journals, a task that now finds its way on my daily to-do lists. Unlike many of my journal writing friends, who told me they wrote more when times were bad, I’ve discovered that most of my entries are about the good times. While that means there are big gaps, especially in my earlier journals, and makes for an incomplete recording of my life, I’m discovering a treasure trove of memories that are delightful to relive.

And the thoughts I did record are enough for me to see how I’ve changed over the years – from a goodie-two-shoes who beat up on herself to an imperfect human who makes mistakes and is not usually sorry for them – and into someone who actually likes herself.

And that’s enough for me.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Bean Pat: 10 Forgotten Books http://tinyurl.com/hs5qh7n This dang blog cost me money. As an avid reader of travel books, I had to have The Illustrated Journeys of Celia Fiennes, 1685-c.1712, which was on the list. But thankfully I found one for 97 cents (plus $3.99 shipping) instead of having to buy a new one for the listed price of $59.

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