Friday, March 19, 2010

Rose Geranium

I have an enormous, spindly rose geranium growing in my kitchen. A sweet-hearted friend blessed my new home with a seedling three years ago. I had no idea how to care for it, but it has defied my ignorance and grown. The thing has freakishly stretched out like Mario’s beanstalk straight to Ludwig von Koopa.

It isn’t a lovely plant. I’ve seen pictures of full-bodied bushes grown in South Africa. (Check out this gorgeous picture from organic farms that grow and distill the plant for Aveda.)

Now check out my darling girl.

It doesn’t flower. I’ve read that the plant blooms delicate white flowers with deep purple hearts. Not once in three years have I spied a blossom.

So, not so gorgeous, my long-limbed rose geranium. But have you ever smelled its leaves? Their scent is described as “lemony-rose,” and I think that’s a beautiful name for many of things: my daughter’s baby doll, a martini, or a poem about loving the wrong kind of boy. The smell, as an essential oil, is often used as an antidepressant. When I pull the shades open each morning, the rough fabric brushes the plant’s mint-green leaves and wafts their sweet scent over the kitchen table. It’s a calming smell, an after-bath-lotioning smell, an enfolded-in-Grandma-Lillian’s-arms smell.

How easy would it be to draw parallels between myself and the plant: spindly, not so bloom-full. Taking up a good amount of space for no determined purpose (but, you know, smells kind of pretty). But that sort of comparison isn't kind to me or to the plant, so instead I look for maybe its witching-worth. What do the wise women say are the magickal properties of the rose geranium? I think that finding layers of meaning in common things like plants and colors gives existence just a little more significance, a little more glamour.

I read tonight that some claim the rose geranium offers courage and protection.

Now there's a lovely thought to meditate on. All that winding wood, all those curled, grooved leaves are casting a lemony-rose spell of protection over my home and my family. Jason and Clarabella Snow can sleep still, wrapped in a sweet-scented shield. I can face ogres of depression and wizards of cynicism with deeply rooted courage.

It's romantic, I know, but I love the idea that a plant--especially a weird looking, flowerless one--can strengthen our hearts and guard our lives. I hope I look for the might and valor growing steadily in all my dusty corners.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Book Review: Hold Still by Nina LaCour

Imagine waking without your spine. Losing the bone and cord that holds you upright, that gives you your nerve. Caitlyn wakes on a warm June day to news that her best friend, Ingrid, committed suicide. We experience every crushed breath, every limping thought as Caitlyn staggers beneath the weight of her anguish. The story's first-person narrative takes us through each season of Caitlyn's first year alone. The summer passes quickly as the main character flees literally and figuratively from her loss. As fall brings her back to high school, though, she reinserts herself into society a staggering, hollow figure.

What awakens Caitlyn from her numb state? Who will fill the void in her heart? It certainly doesn't seem to be her favorite photography teacher, Ms. Delani. No help comes from Alicia, Valerie, or any of the other popular girls. Will the new girl, Dylan, offer solace? And why does cute, popular Taylor keep hanging around?

Some of the strongest scenes in this novel are shared among Caitlyn and her mom and dad. YA novels, like YA movies, can prop parents in a scene like store displays, waving too-wide hands and smiling too-bright smiles. But Caitlyn's parents have enough layers of their own to make them real and extremely sympathetic. Also, the scenes that take Caitlyn out of her affluent suburb and into San Francisco thrum with energetic detail that surely must come from the author's own delight in her hometown.

Caitlyn is a girl you want to know. She's angry and haunted, she's considerate and bold, she's resilient and kind. She uses art to heal, and her art inspires the reader to look at the world in honest colors, just as Nina LaCour's writing inspires us to look at the women around us with clear, compassionate eyes.

Check out Nina's very cool site,

Monday, March 8, 2010

Really More of a Sprinter . . .

I've never run a marathon. I did a 5k ten years ago, and you know, how could I not be proud of the gold medal that I (and 15 others) received that bright Saturday? However, I'm usually really ready to be done moving after two miles. Going the distance? Meh. Not so much my thing. I'm more into snacks. Watching snow fall. Smelling pretty soaps.

Honestly, coming to terms with my lack of stamina is oozing out this week more than ever before. The scoop is that not only do I love reading YA fiction, I seriously want to put out some stories of my own. So I signed up with Laini Taylor and two dozen strong-willed writers to pound out a rough draft of my current work-in-progress by the end of the month. (Check it out and join the fun! )To accomplish this goal, I genuinely need to write 1100 words a day. We've all been at it for five days now, and I am flat-out, nose-to-the-ground exhausted.

Who knew writing took this much work? :)

My brain hurts. My eyes hurt. My ears hurt--straining to hear the conversations, the background noises, the scratches, the breaths that my characters hear.

So, okay, I get it. You can't be a sprinter and hope to win a marathon. Writing 200 words a day between baby cries and laundry cycles wasn't getting a book written; it was just fanning the dream of the someday, the I hope to be. At best, I could hope for a plastic medal on a nylon ribbon at the end of the Door County Fun Run.

I saw Billy Collins many years ago at a poetry reading. He told a story about how a man asked him his vocation, and Billy said, "I'm a poet." The man nodded enthusiastically, gestured toward the young girl next to him, and said, "Oh, my daughter writes poetry."
Billy told us that he wished, later, that the conversation had continued; that he could have asked the man, "Oh, and what do you do?" and the man would have said, "I'm a banker." Then Billy could have gestured to the toddler next to him and have said, "Oh, my son plays with loose change."

I've been playing with loose change and calling myself a banker.

What an excellent and awful lesson to learn. :)