Category Archives: On Living

Happy Birthday Savannah Renée


"here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)"

-ee cummings
©E. E. Cummings Trust and the Liveright Publishing Corporation

Savannah Renée, you are without a doubt, the person who has made the most impact on my life and who I have grown to be. Without you, my life would be incomplete. I would be incomplete.

Today, on your 27th birthday, I look back on my life with you and it plays like a movie in my mind. Flashes of a girl running through the woods, chasing ducks and climbing trees, eating strawberries fresh from Grandma’s garden, white confetti floating in the air after a toss of a bean bag chair (from the year you discovered scissors), and long blonde hair under giant yellow sunflowers pinned to floppy hats (you always had a style all your own).

I remember our first moments alone together. I’ll be the first to admit I was terrified. You were so small, I thought you might break. The idea of you so big, I was certain I would fail. But there you were needing me and I needing you. Somehow we managed. You didn’t break and we didn’t fail. I became a better person because of you. And you? You became the sun and the moon and the stars in my sky, the root of my life that keeps me grounded. Happy Birthday, Savannah. You are beautiful. I love you.

“I carry your heart. I carry it in my heart.”

Wordless Wednesday

Photo by Savannah Renée ©2012 "Sawyer"

Wordless Wednesday

Photography by Sofia Spidalieri

What is Love?

Last month, my writing friend Michelle Simkins invited me to participate in her latest brainchild, The Summer of Bloggerly Love, in which guest posts are exchanged between bloggers. Today I’d like to share my post which appeared on Michelle’s blog on July 27th, 2011. You can read below or visit Michelle’s Greenwoman blog directly. Michelle’s post, Filling the Well, can be found here. Enjoy!

What is Love?
by Susan Warren Utley

This morning as I sit before my keyboard contemplating love, the writing topic of the day, my muse is at my feet. I stare down at her and pose the question, “When you think of the word love, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?” The four year old Jack Russell Terrier stares up at me and tilts her head as if contemplating my question. Then in an instant she jumps up and is gone. I call after her as she heads off toward the living room, “Thanks a lot Lucy. You’re a big help.”

The Muse

A few moments later I hear the clicking of her nails upon the wood floor as she reenters the studio. She has something in her mouth. It is Duck. Or rather, it was Duck. Now it is just a slobbery mess of shredded brown and orange fabric not a single piece of stuffing remaining inside its formless body. I’m fairly certain she ate the squeaker. This is the fate of all stuffed creatures that enter this house. They must be skinned alive, their pelts carried around as trophies for weeks until one day they mysteriously disappear. On that day Lucy sulks and paces in front of the trash as if to say, “You had no right. I killed it. It belonged to me.”

She approaches with caution and lays the coveted remains at my feet. “I don’t have time to play,” I say. “I have to write. I have a deadline,” I insist.

But she is persistent. She picks up the irreparable fowl, shakes it vigorously between her jaws as if going for the overkill and tosses it once again at my feet.

I sigh. “Duck’s days are numbered, you know.” I reach for the remains. Just as my fingertips hover above the mutilated carcass she snatches it away again, tossing it over her head. She proceeds to roll around on the flattened toy, her tail wagging as she wiggles her body back and forth embedding the scent of the fibers in her coat.

I watch her play for a few moments and then I get it. This is her answer. It’s just a shredded duck but it belongs to her. Love is an attachment, a connection we feel to all the things we become accustomed to over the years. Things we can’t bear to part with even though they might not be as perfect as they once were.

I am reminded of a fuzzy bear who has lost most of his fuzz, the one the girl wouldn’t go anywhere without. A collector bear worth thousands, but priceless to her, so she keeps it. Or the sweatshirt, ripped and faded, the one you agreed was not good enough to donate but argued that it was still too good for the trash. It reminds you of home, so you keep it. Or the man whose hair is a little thinner and eyes a little older, but they still look at you with the same expression you saw for the first time so many years ago. It’s a look that says he’d do anything for you, so you keep him.

I stare down at the white dog, the one who challenged me as a pup with sharp teeth and an angry snarl. The one who steals from the nativity scene making me chase her around the house screaming “Drop the baby Jesus!” The one who destroys anything with a face. Here she stands holding in her mouth the shredded remains of a stuffed duck made of indestructible fabric. She eyes me suspiciously and takes a step backwards. “Don’t worry,” I say, “you can keep it.” A tilt of her head and a wag of her tail, and I know this is love. She may not be perfect and on occasion she can be the cause of all that falls apart at the seams, but I’ve become attached to her. She’s my muse, so I keep her.

Summer of Bloggerly Love: Guest Post by Michelle Simkins

My writing friend Michelle Simkins invited me to participate in her latest brainchild, The Summer of Bloggerly Love, in which guest posts are exchanged between bloggers. Michelle had a specific theme in mind when she created the exchange so today you will find my “love” post over at Michelle’s Greenwoman blog. As Wednesdays on Creative Procrastination are typically Wordless Wednesdays, I told Michelle she could write about anything her heart desired.  So here’s to a Not-So-Wordless Wednesday. Thanks Michelle! Enjoy!

Filling the Well
by Michelle Simkins

Several years ago, I quit my day job because I hated it. I thought, at the time, that I’d eventually find another day job, but that didn’t end up happening. Once I started writing again, I was really, really happy that I didn’t have to “go to work” anymore, and I said “ALL I WANT TO DO IS WRITE! But I will clean and cook and garden, because that’s the right thing to do.”

Those of you who have a day job are probably saying “I’d kill to be in your shoes. I wouldn’t do anything except sleep, eat, and write.” Some of you might add “drink and have sex” to that list.

But I bet you my copy of Garden Spells that’s not true. Or it wouldn’t be true for long. Because my friends, if I learned anything from my artistic recovery process, it’s that you have to fill the well.

As it turns out, writing isn’t all I want to do. It’s what I want to do most, definitely. But it’s not enough.

Every amateur author interview on the planet has the same question: “Where do you get your ideas.” Very few authors answer “From my own writing.”

To write, we have to be engaged in life. What makes a beautiful story–no matter the genre–is the way the story lifts out of the book and becomes a living, breathing world, so real we feel we could walk through it, taste the coffee, touch the peeling paint on the porch railing, get weak in the knees from that kiss. You don’t attain that level of sensory richness by spending every moment in front of a computer. You have to walk outside yourself to get there. If you don’t, the story remains print on a page, and is relegated forever to the B list. Or disappears entirely.

I will hold out an example. One of my favorite authors of all time is Robin McKinley. Her books draw me in and pierce my heart, twist my guts, make me cry and laugh and swoon. I have to re-read them frequently because I can’t stand saying goodbye to the characters. They are rich and alive. After I read one of her books, I sometimes dream of living inside the story. Have you read her blog? She doesn’t talk a lot about writing. She talks a lot about handbells, voice lessons, dog walking, gardening, owning two houses. She is up to her ears in life. And it shines through her writing.

Katherine Paterson has been quoted as saying “If we marvel at the artist who has written a great book, we must marvel more at those people whose lives are works of art and who don’t even know it, who wouldn’t believe it if they were told. However hard work good writing may be, it is easier than good living.”

I think this is true. I also think that good living feeds good writing more effectively than anything else does.

I don’t report to anyone but myself these days. And I’m pretty sure I could get away with “just” writing and taking care of the house. But I think my writing would dry up. And I’m grateful for my full plate. I have an acre of flowers, vegetables, and herbs to tend. I run an Etsy shop. I cook dinner every night. I attend a meditation circle. I have a husband and stepkids. I volunteer at the library. I knit. And maybe none of those activities helps me tighten up my plot, raise my word count, or get my heroine to reveal her innermost secrets. Maybe none of them will ever find their way into my books. But I persist in their pursuit because I love them, and because they fill the well. And because writing isn’t enough: I want LIFE.

So if you are laboring away on your life’s work, remember to pay attention and ask yourself periodically if you actually have a life. If you don’t? Maybe step away from the manuscript for a few hours. Go for a walk, eat a new food, watch a movie, go dancing. I promise the words will still be there when you get back.

Michelle Simkins is a writer, knitter, gardener, and radical homemaker. She shares a tumbledown acre in Oregon with her partner and stepchildren, three neurotic cats and a whole pile of ornery chickens. Visit Greenwoman to read more from Michelle.

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