Tag Archives | Melissa A. Bartell

Sunday Brunch: On Silence

Silence. Most of us either love it or hate it, sometimes both depending on the circumstances.

From our earliest ages we’re taught that certain places are meant for silence. We are shushed in church, and reminded to be quiet when we visit libraries. We write poems about silence, repeat proverbs about it, and even sing songs lauding it, or, in the case of lullabies, we sing songs to coax it from others.

But those early types of silence, the enforced silences, are radically different from the kinds of quiet, of silence, that we embrace as adults. We might take our morning coffee out to the deck or patio to enjoy the quiet of an early morning. We make time in the middle of a busy day to meditate or pray. We seclude ourselves in the bathroom and soak in a scented bath in the evening.

And in all those moments, we think we’re experiencing silence, but really, we’re not. What we’re truly hearing is the lack of intentional sound. We may have turned off the radio, set our phones to do not disturb, or locked the bathroom door against chattery interlopers, but that isn’t really silence.

Fireplace

Last Wednesday evening, my husband and I sat in our darkened living room and listened to the crackle of the fireplace. We’d just finished eating tacos by candlelight. It wasn’t the meal I’d planned for us – I try to limit our ‘wrapper food’ to the occasional lunch – but the power had gone out late that afternoon, and our house has an all-electric kitchen.

It was late enough in the day that neither of us had fully-charged phones or laptops. We’d received an initial text that power would be restored at five pm, then seven, and finally midnight. It was supposed to dip below freezing that night – not as cold as the conditions our friends and family in the Midwest and Midlantic states were experiencing, but cold for Texas, where houses are built to shed heat, not retain it.

So we stoked the fire, and we lit all the candles and we brought blankets out to the living room and cuddled on the couch. We played games on our phones while we could, but eventually, we lapsed into quiet.

Into silence.

It’s a strange thing about modern life. We so rarely experience true silence. Even when snow blankets the world with its special, magical hush, we are still surrounded by electrical hum.

But when the power is out… when the fridge ceases cycling and the clocks stop blinking in digital blue or green… when light pollution is suddenly dimmed… that’s when silence truly falls.

As a rule, I’m not a fan of silence. I can’t sleep without white noise distracting me from the external house sounds that come with life in outer suburbia and muting the often too-loud thoughts inside my own head.

Last Wednesday, silence was an annoyance. I complained loudly to my husband. I even texted one of my friends that it was too quiet, that instead of being soothing, the silence felt oppressive and creepy.

But eventually, I relaxed into the softness, the cool darkness, and the almost perfect soundlessness. I went to the bedroom to curl up with my dogs and let the steady sound of their breathing – the only discernable noise – lull me into sleep.

My husband guarded the fire until it had burned low enough that it was safe to leave it, and then joined me in the bed. We lay together in the darkness, not speaking. Not really touching. Just breathing in the silence.

Shortly after midnight, the power returned, jarring us out of our quietude and into wakefulness. I wish I could say that we looked at each other, laughed, and turned the lights back off, but we’re tech addicts and habitual night owls.

We went back to bed around two in the morning, our usual hour, but something of our evening of enforced silence lingered. We were gentler with each other that night and the next day, more mindful.

I’m still not fond of silence.

But I like quiet.

And I love the peacefulness of snuggling on the couch with my husband, not talking, not watching television, just being together.

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, listen to her podcast, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Sunday Brunch: Winter Flames

“The darkness of the whole world cannot swallow the glowing of a candle.”  ~Robert Altinger

Christmas. Hanukkah. Yule. Whether you come from a single faith tradition, or from a family like mine, that blends and merges traditions from several cultures, there is no shortage of winter holidays to choose from.

All are radically different. Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ. Hanukkah remembers the Maccabees and their defeat of the Seleucids as well as the rededication of their temple and the miracle of the oil, which was only enough for one night, but lasted for eight. Yule originated as Nordic and Germanic midwinter celebration that involved feasting and gift-giving (and in the oldest celebrations, sacrifices).

And yet, these winter holidays all have something in common as well – aside from the tendency to celebrate with incredibly delicious, albeit unhealthy foods. They all bring light to the longest nights of the year.

Copyright: arcticphotoworks / 123RF Stock Photo

True, in this age of technological wonders when we can have books in our hands at the touch of a button, and get antsy when we’re away from our smart-phones or tablets for more than a few minutes, and are limited in our ability to work late into the wee hours, not by waning daylight, but only by our stamina and the amount of caffeine we’re willing to ingest, we no longer rely on candles or firelight for physical illumination.

And yet…

And yet we light candles to mark the progress through Advent.

We light them, one at a time, to count the eight days of Hanukkah.

We build fires in our hearths as symbolic representations of the bonfires our ancestors might have danced around, or we build actual bonfires and invite our friends to dance with us.

We fill our homes with candles that represent nothing more than a cozy glow, and we gather ’round our gas logs or Franklin stoves even when our houses are fitted with central heating systems, because there’s something – some magical thing – about fire that seems to drive away the stress and darkness of winter in a way that electric light never can.

I think we forget, sometimes, that the holidays aren’t always merry and bright. They’re not always full of smiling faces and joyous laughter.

These winter holidays come to us at the end of the year, which means they’re both an ending, a sort of finish line we’re all racing toward, and a final hurdle we must overcome before we have the opportunity to start anew. We fill our homes with those colorful candles and crackling fires as much to keep the shadows at bay and drive away the darkness, as we do to celebrate the light.

Our flames aren’t some form of denial, though. Rather, they’re sort of a nightlight for our souls. They keep our hearts warm and our homes welcoming, and remind us that all winters end.

Hanukkah begins on Tuesday evening. Yule comes with the Winter Solstice on December 21st. Christmas follows a few days after that. Whether you’re celebrating one of those old holidays, or you’ve embraced something newer, like Kwanzaa or Chalica – or even Festivus – may the flames you ignite keep you warm in body and soul this winter.

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog,  listen to her podcast, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Instrumental: Farmbox Adventures by Melissa A. Bartell

Two years ago, driving home from a visit to my husband’s family in South Dakota, we were in rural Nebraska when we passed by a lush, green, field. It was the kind of farmland typical of a postcard image, and it was beautiful, until we saw the sign “Presented by Monsanto” at the corner of the field, just outside the fence, and our hearts fell.

Summer Farmbox by Melissa A. BartellNearly ten years ago, on another trip to South Dakota, we saw the number of family farms that had been bought by commercial soybean growers, and found an eerie response in the fact that the high school had been made smaller, and the population was going down.

Both of these images have haunted me for years, but even though I strive to buy vegetables in season, to buy locally-sourced or organic products whenever possible, when you live in Outer Suburbia doing so can be a challenge, and while my city does have a farmer’s market that operates throughout the year, its hours are far too early to be compatible with my extremely nocturnal tendencies.

Ironically, it was my friend Tabitha (she of Sunday Sensations) who gave me the key to making a difference in my own life, as well as in my community. She’d mentioned her recent delivery from a local-to-her CSA (community supported agriculture) organization, and it spurred me to find something similar in my own neighborhood.

Choosing a CSA was easy for me: of the several that exist in my region, only one delivers to my address. I spent the weekend of my birthday reading all their information, and made my first order that week. Thus began my relationship with FarmboxDelivery.com.

While many CSAs operate as co-ops – you buy shares and get a box that represents the number of shares you have – this one is a bit simpler. They have several ‘sizes’ of boxes ranging from wee (which is apparently their most popular option, and, they say, is ideal for a two-adult household) to boxes large enough for corporations to share out (or use in the company kitchen, maybe?), and we also have the option of choosing all fruit, all vegetables, or a mix.

Even better, there’s a way to ban certain items from ever showing up in my box. I’m one of those people for whom cilantro tastes like soap (this is genetic – it means I lack a specific enzyme), so I’ve asked that they never deliver cilantro. Similarly, I’m not a fan of kale (and as someone who is extremely hypothyroid, I’m not supposed to eat it, anyway) so I’ve asked them never to send me that.

My CSA allows me to customize my box, as well. Every Friday, I can access the list of the next week’s box, and if there’s something I have too much of, or isn’t included but is available, I can add or change a few items. As well, I can add some meats, dairy, and eggs, all from local farmers. We’ve become big fans of the cherry-smoked bacon and Mexican-style ground chicken sausage we can get, and I no longer buy milk in the grocery store unless I’m making something that requires a lot of it. The milk we get with our farm box isn’t raw, but it is low-temperature pasteurized, and it comes with the cream on top.

In addition to exploring many of the various add-on options, I’m having a blast discovering new-to-me vegetables, or learning new ways of preparing familiar ones. Farmbox Sausage by Melissa A. Bartell

This fall, I’ve received acorn squash three times, butternut squash once, and delicata squash twice, and the latter was previously unknown to me. Another week, I received Swiss chard, which I’d never cooked before, and really enjoyed trying.

Even though the farm box I receive is meant for two people, there are days when I’m just not in the mood to cook, or I’m not home. When we had to make an emergency trip to South Dakota over Labor Day weekend because my mother-in-law died, the friend who kindly took care of my dogs was invited to take home anything that wouldn’t keep, and when we get behind on using things, she isn’t offended if I beg her to take things off my hands, so they won’t go to waste.

My Wednesday night routine now involves setting the empty carton from the previous week’s farm box out on the front porch (along with any empty egg cartons or cold-bags) to be picked up when the new box is dropped on Thursday.

My new Thursday ritual is opening the new farm box.

Often, I am greeted by the earthy smell of potatoes – they leave them loose in the box – but equally frequently the first thing I encounter is the greens. (I confess, I often sing “The Witch’s Rap” from Into the Woods when I’m unboxing lettuces and other greens. My life is a musical, after all.)

As I write this, we’ve just finished a lovely dinner of broiled teriyaki salmon, Yukon gold potatoes sautéed with yellow onions and garlic, and a salad of green leaf lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes, and except for the garlic, every vegetable came from my farm box. This is a fairly usual occurrence now, and there are some nights when I try to make an entire meal solely from farm box products (so far, our favorite is quiche made with the afore-mentioned chicken sausage and mushrooms).

You might be asking me, is it worth the money? Well, I pay about $25/week for my box. $5 of that is a delivery fee but when I add milk and eggs, the total isn’t much different, because I’m over the minimum price for free delivery. It’s probably slightly more expensive doing this than it would be just buying veggies at the store, but not only does it mean I’m not heading to the grocery store as often, I’m also supporting local farmers, which is vitally important.

If only my CSA delivered coffee, I’d be completely happy.

Farmbox Unboxing by Melissa A. Bartell

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, listen to her podcast, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Welcome to Issue #8: Hope & Wonder

“God puts rainbows in the clouds so that each of us — in the dreariest and most dreaded moments — can see a possibility of hope.”
~Maya Angelou

You see a rainbow emerging from a cloudy sky, and you can’t help but smile.

You stop at the mailbox on your way home from work, and take a moment to consider what might be inside. A letter or card from a dear friend, maybe, or the latest issue of a favorite magazine.

You catch a glimpse of your dog or cat, nose pressed to the window, waiting for you to come home – even though you’ve only been out for ten minutes.

“A snow day literally and figuratively falls from the sky, unbidden, and seems a thing of wonder.”
~ Susan Orlean

You stand on the patio as a squall builds, and you let the mounting energy of the storm invigorate your heart, mind, and body.

You spend more time in the kitchen, cooking amazing foods, laughing with your best friend, your partner, your parents, as you slice and dice and saute and stir.

You wake in the middle of the night to silence, the magical hush of the season’s first snow.

“He who marvels at the beauty of the world in summer will find equal cause for wonder and admiration in winter.”
~John Burroughs

You try to capture these feelings – hope and wonder – that exist hand in hand, and are so close to the surface as the holidays approach.

Maybe something you overhear in a café or witness while shopping sparks a story. Perhaps there’s a poem waiting in the crackle of your fireplace or the pattering of rain on the roof. A child playing in the last of the autumn leaves might make a perfect photo, or inspire a memory of your own childhood, your cheeks rosy from playing in chilly air.

“Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.”
~Christopher Reeve

Welcome to Hope & Wonder, the 8th issue of Modern Creative Life, and the end-cap of our second year of publication.

While this issue is slightly abbreviated (the first issue of our third year will launch in mid-January), it’s also packed with content.

In Hope & Wonder, you’ll get a peek into the daily lives of other creative folk in our Studio Tours and Typical Tuesday series, and meet people walking fascinating creative pathways in Conversations Over Coffee. With photos and fiction, poetry and prompts, essays and enlightenment, you’ll find a deeper understanding into all the ways in which we all create.

As always, our mission at Modern Creative Life is to honor the pursuit and practice of joyful creativity. We believe that the creative arts enrich our everyday living, enhance our environment, create lasting connections, and sustain our souls. Please join us as we look to other creatives for ways in which they find peace in the shadows, or succor in the sunshine.

As we share the stories of other makers, we invite you to use their experiences as a guide on your quest for your own Modern Creative Life.

What do you hope for, or wonder about? What gives you hope, or makes that childlike bubble of delight and wonder surround you? We invite you to share your stories, poems, essays and photos with us as we celebrate the hope and wonder all around us, and the way each helps to nourish our creative selves. We are open to single contributions as well as new regular contributors. Email us at moderncreativelife@gmail.com.

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, listen to her podcast, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Sunday Brunch: The Coming of the Cardinals

Like the swallows that return to Capistrano every year, the heart of fall brings the cardinals back to my yard, and I return to my morning routine of coffee and writing at the kitchen table so I can watch as they flit from tree to tree, sometimes visiting the bird feeder outside my window, and sometimes avoiding it (likely because the smell of squirrel is too strong).

I’ve always loved watching birds. I don’t mean that I sling a pair of binoculars around my neck and go tromping through fields and forests on a avian hunt, though I understand the appeal of capturing a rare moment on film.

Copyright: <a href='https://www.123rf.com/profile_steve_byland'>steve_byland / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Rather, I’m a backyard bird-watcher. I enjoy following the antics of the bully Blue Jay who drives the starlings and finches out of the trees, only for them to settle right back in. Winter comes with doves, one of whom insists that the birdfeeder is really her nest. She never stays in it for long, though. In spring and summer, we have robins and hummingbirds who buzz our windows and skim low over the puppy pool, stealing sips of water, or using it as a bath. (We don’t chlorinate the puppy pool.)

But November, always a dark for me because it’s the anniversary month of so many family deaths, is brightened by the arrival of the cardinals.

We have a whole family of those bright red birds, and they return every year. The females are feathered grey and rust and red, and arrive with the first signs of being egg-heavy. The males are brilliant crimson and scarlet, and when they cock their heads and stare at me from their bright eyes, I’m convinced they’re appraising me in the same way I’m assessing them.

At the beginning of the season, I watch them building nests, but as the fall deepens into what passes for winter in this part of Texas, they aren’t quite so visible. Instead of witnessing constant activity, a morning visit feels like a kind of gift from Mother Nature herself.

It’s not only live cardinals that come into my life each year, however. As I slowly turn the decorations in my house from fall and harvest, Halloween and Thanksgiving, to winter, Christmas, and even Valentine’s Day, these ruby-plumed birds have a presence inside my house.

First, there is the candle wreath. It’s not an Advent wreath, since it only has holders for four candles (though I sometimes place a pillar candle in the center and use it as such) but its theme is very much winter and not a specific holiday, with tiny pine trees and even tinier cardinals tucked in a wreath of greens. Since it isn’t specifically Christmas, it comes out in late November and stays until mid-February.

Then the napkin rings and guest towels come out. My grandmother taught her daughters and granddaughters to decorate all through the house for holidays, so I have cardinal-themed towels in the guest bath, and I try to find cardinal-themed paper napkins for parties and casual use, as well as a couple of candles – the kind that you never actually burn – to add punches of color to the guest room, the dining room, and even my office.

The last cardinals come at Christmas, in the form of stuffed birds that have wire clips so they can perch on the branches of our (plastic, pre-lit) tree. A couple of them are recent additions, but two of them are quite old, and much bedraggled. One of them bears tooth-marks – the scars from a barely-won battle against the curiosity of a puppy. Even though they’re faded and worn, however, I keep putting them on my tree, half-convinced that, in the words of the skin horse, they will Become Real.

My grandmother, I am told, loved cardinals. I never knew this until I found the napkin rings I mentioned earlier. It was on a trip to Tuesday Morning with my mother, and something about them spoke to me. We don’t actually use napkin rings (or cloth napkins, though we should) with any real frequency, but I had to buy them, even if it was just to have them.

More recently, I learned that my mother-in-law also loved the bright red birds. I imagine her looking out of the farmhouse window as a young bride, and seeing a streak of scarlet adding colorful cheer to a snow-blanketed prairie, and this image, whether it’s erroneous or not, makes me smile to myself.

They say that when you’re visited by cardinals you’re really being touched by the spirit of a loved one who has died. My grandmother died over a decade ago, but since there are times I swear I can smell her bath powder, or feel her cool hand soothing my brow in the middle of the night, I wouldn’t be surprised if she sent a bird or two to check up on me. My mother-in-law, on the other hand, died on the last day of August, just a couple of months ago, so maybe she’s the reason the avian family in my yard seems to have more members this year.

Of course, I’m a bit premature with some of this. Thanksgiving is weeks away, and Christmas doesn’t come until fall is truly over and winter has arrived. My wreath will remain in storage for a while longer, wrapped in a festive tablecloth, nestled in a box with dessert plates shaped like leaves and a ceramic turkey gravy boat.

In the meantime, I’m pouring another cup of coffee and returning to the library desk that serves as our kitchen table to write stories and watch the birds.

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, listen to her podcast, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Not Exactly Persephone by Melissa A. Bartell

Forest Hat via Flash PromptIn the end, it was his hat that clinched it.

She’d taken the short-cut through the forest for as long as she could remember, maybe even longer. As a child, she’d skipped down the path, heedless of what the brambles might be doing to the hem of her blue dress, or the ruffles on her white pinafore.

Who sent a child out to play dressed in such frippery anyway? Mary-Janes were great if you wanted to tap-dance down the circular stairway in the entrance hall, but they were next to useless on a dirt path, and even worse if it had rained the day before.

Black patent-leather and squelching mud puddles did not mix well.

As she grew older, and could dictate her own wardrobe, she chose more appropriate attire – hiking boots and jeans with duster-length cardigans were her unofficial uniform.

She still cut through the forest, though, breathing in the scents of earth and leaves and growing things on her way to work every morning. She carried her laptop in a messenger bag slung across her body, and tucked her hair up into one of her many berets, a different color almost every day.

It was her trademark, she said. A beret with a butterfly pin was how the world would know she was herself.

The first time she saw him, it was when she rounded the bend just this side of the creek. He was preternaturally still, focused on the winged creature perched on his fingertips (he had long, graceful fingers, she noticed) and she froze mid-step, afraid to disturb him, or spook the colorful insect he was studying.

But even one small-ish woman’s breathing is enough to change the melody of the forest, and when he glanced up, their eyes met.

It wasn’t a cosmic thing, not really. Just two people acknowledging each other’s presence, and moving along on separate paths.

The met in the forest several times after that, never speaking.

Sometimes, he would beckon her closer, and point to a small bird sipping from a puddle, and they would watch together in communal rapture.

Sometimes, she would offer him a piece of fruit leftover from her day – an apple, maybe, or a banana – once it was half a pomegranate and a plastic spork – and he’d grinned at her, and called her Persephone.

His voice was like the ripples of water flowing over stone.

That one word, the name that wasn’t hers, but should have been, opened the floodgates of conversation. He was an art teacher at the local magnet school, he said. He came to the woods for inspiration.

When he learned that she owned the local café and was also trying to write a novel, he asked to read her pages.

She finally relented when he came into her workplace with a sketch of her on a purple beret day, sitting on a rock, surrounded by dragonflies. (In reality there had only been one or two, but she liked his enhancement.) Looking at the sketch, she realized she’d never thought of herself as being pretty, but that she looked so, at least when depicted in pencil-strokes.

Let me take you to dinner, he asked.

She demurred. She didn’t have time to date, she said.

In truth, she knew that it wouldn’t be just a date, or even just dinner. There was something about this man whom butterflies trusted that made her heart flutter like papery wings.

When you’re ready, he told her, I’ll be here.

She avoided the forest for days, after. Embarrassed. Attracted. Confused. She took the longer route to work. She even drove there, on the day it rained.

She missed him, she realized.

She returned to her usual path the next morning, and when she stepped into a puddle, she laughed at the squelching sound her boot made.

He appeared, as if from nowhere, with a green top-hat covering his dark, curly hair. You’re back, he didn’t say. I’ve missed you, his lips did not utter. But his eyes were shining, and his smile was like a ray of sun cutting through fog.

His hat looked as though the forest had gifted it to him, as if it were made from leaves and branches. It wasn’t, of course. It was only felted wool. But the effect caught her attention.

Nice hat, she said.

A student’s project, he explained. They were supposed to capture nature in an ordinary object.

I hope they got an ‘A,’ she replied.

He assured her that they had.

When he appeared in her café the next day, she accepted his invitation to dinner.

She had to, you see.

She’d always been a sucker for men in hats.

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, listen to her podcast, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Sunday Brunch: Kitchen Table Writing

I have a confession to make: I like to write at the kitchen table.

Kitchen Table Writing

This may not seem like something worthy of embarrassment, or even the least a bit of sheepishness, but the harsh reality is that when I write at the kitchen table, it means that I’m cheating on the Word Lounge, the blue-walled, soft-carpeted room filled with books and mermaid art, and beachy things and far too many Lt. Commander Data action figures (among others) that is my own special space on the top floor of the house. Action figures on office desk

That room, with the weight machine I’ve nicknamed Marcy’s Playground because that’s the brand of the apparatus, has a television with a Roku stick attached, because I like to listen to familiar dialogue while I’m working. It also has a giant picture window that looks onto the cozy street where we live, and a glass coffee table that used to live downstairs, but moved upstairs when we changed the living room furniture.

I love being up there when I’m editing audio, or recording an episode of the podcast I swear is not going to only exist in August this year. I love curling up on the ancient faded-denim couch that used to be my mother’s, with a book and a mug of tea or coffee. I love lighting the candle that sits within a wreath of seashells collected from the beaches around La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico, where my parents have lived for nearly two decades.

I love it when one of my dogs comes into that space with me and sprawls on that one sun-soaked rectangle of carpet, content to just be near me while I’m puttering or (com)putering.

But for some reason, I end up doing my best writing at the kitchen table. Well, I do a lot of really good writing in bed, a la Mark Twain, as well, but it’s the kitchen table where I feel most like a writer.

At this time of year, especially, the kitchen is my favorite room in my house. It has sliding glass doors that open to the back yard, and in the cool of the morning and evening, I can leave the door open and let the dogs wander in and out. I can look outside and see birds coming to visit the feeder I only fill when I remember. (This is intentional. I read somewhere that keeping a feeder full all the time makes the local birds dependent.)

Microphone - waitingMost often, the birds I see are grackles, but I actually like those birds, which aren’t jet black, after all, but deep indigo, purple, charcoal grey, and even, sometimes, subtle maroon. Sometimes there are woodpeckers. Often the big obnoxious blue jay with the Batman mask over his eyes comes to visit. I’m no Disney princess. The birds don’t ever clean up my house or create dresses from flowers and twigs, but I like seeing them.

As what passes for fall in Texas deepens into October and November, kitchen table writing increases its appeal. I can’t count the number of words I’ve written while also baking cookies, creating stews, checking on a simmering soup or baking pot pie, or even just nibbling on carrots and hummus, or apples and cheese, or wedges of oranges and endless pots of tea.

Outside, I can see the light change, not just from hour to hour as dawn becomes full daylight, and then fades into nighttime, but season by season – the light starts to thin in August, and by October, there’s a sense of crispness to the afternoon sunlight, even when the thermometer insists it’s really eighty-two degrees outside.

While my kitchen table writing is often the work I’m most connected to, the specific table doesn’t seem to matter. For years I wrote at my mother’s hand-me-down teak dining table from the Copenhagen store in Fresno… or was it San Jose?

Currently, my kitchen table is actually a big old library-type ‘partner’s desk’ with a center drawer in either side. It’s perfect for the breakfast nook, and more than ample for two or four people. Or one person, her laptop, several notebooks, coffee, and a plate of food. I told my husband the other day that when we move (we’re planning to sell our huge house and move to something smaller and all on one floor after the first of the year) I want to replace the corner desk in my office and use this table as the desk in my office.

I can’t explain where it comes from, but I have a feeling that kitchen table writing can happen even if the table is no longer in the kitchen.

Sunflowers on Kitchen Table

The thing about writing for a living is that it’s an incredibly internal vocation. I know I’m not the only writer who spends a significant amount of time living in her own head. I suspect that part of the attraction of writing at the kitchen table is that the kitchen is the heart of any house.

Or at least, it’s been the heart of every house where I’ve ever spent any length of time.

I grew up spending the summers with my grandparents in New Jersey, and the dining table was party central all the time. Whether it was just the family having a simple meal of grilled hamburgers, tomatoes from my grandfather’s garden, and corn on the cob from the farm stand down the road, or a late-night thing where all the adults were playing canasta and drinking syrupy black coffee, that table was the place to be.

When I visit my mother in Mexico, I bring my laptop to her kitchen table and write while everyone else is watching television (I’m really bad at ‘just’ watching television; I have to be doing something.) Last year, when I found that my travel charger would no longer provide my laptop with any power, I usurped my stepfather’s barely-touched laptop and used that, saving everything I did to OneDrive and Dropbox, because I had to write. Living room writing

There are times, of course, when I don’t want to write at the kitchen table. I often (usually) bring my laptop into the living room, set it up on a snack tray, and write while Fuzzy (my husband) and I watch television. Over last month, recuperating from pneumonia, I’ve returned to writing in bed a lot more, typically with a dog or two sharing the space with me.

But for the most part, the kitchen is my happy place, and one of my favorite memories is from one of my parents’ early visits to my home, where not one, but all four of us had our laptops or tablets on the kitchen table, all of us tapping away between bits of conversation, nibbling on cookies and sipping coffee.

Apparently, kitchen table writing runs in the family.

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Sunday Brunch: Melancholy

The days may not be so bright and balmy—yet the quiet and melancholy that linger around them is fraught with glory. Over everything connected with autumn there lingers some golden spell—some unseen influence that penetrates the soul with its mysterious power. ~Northern Advocate

Copyright: <a href='https://www.123rf.com/profile_ajalbert'>ajalbert / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

As much as I often protest that September is still summer, at least until the equinox occurs, the reality is that fall begins to displace summer sometime in August. Where I live, in north-central Texas, that displacement is a gradual one, and for me, it’s tied to the way the sunlight begins to seem thinner, and that a 90-degree day in late August has an underlying crispness to it that you never find in a similarly warm day in early June.

But it’s not just the light that heralds the change of seasons. For me, there’s also a combination of wistfulness and melancholy.

Most years, it’s the wistfulness that dominates my being. As my friends’ children return to school (many before Labor Day – that seems so wrong to me) and the rhythm of my neighborhood changes to accommodate earlier nights and earlier mornings, I find myself longing to be back in that dance of school days and work days. I imagine myself braiding the hair of the daughter I never had, or making sure my non-existent son has his shoes tied correctly.

Most years, the sense of melancholy is a subtle note among the harvest gold and darkening reds of changing leaves, and the soft blue-black of cool night air. That annual melancholy manifests itself in me as a sort of restlessness. My feet get itchy, and I feel a bit suffocated in my life, despite the fact that I’m living the live I chose, with a man who both adores and understands me.

This year, the melancholy is dominating, and it tastes like grief and loss and absence.

While the annual die-off of plants, the sloughing off of leaves, the shriveling and drying of grasses, represents change more than death, it is death that is prevalent in everything I see, this season.

Why? Because this year, death is close to me.

My mother-in-law died about a week ago. My husband has lost his mother, and I lost one of the many women who surround me with love and wisdom and stories.

We buried her on Tuesday. We spent the week in Sioux Falls, SD, surrounded by Fuzzy’s family.

This isn’t the first family death I’ve experienced. My grandfather died when I was twenty-one, and my grandmother died about a decade later, but somehow this death, this loss, struck me differently. Perhaps it’s because the funeral was two days before my husband’s birthday, or perhaps it’s because seasonal melancholy is making it worse, or perhaps it’s because I had my forty-seventh birthday a few weeks ago and am feeling my own mortality in a way I haven’t before.

Death is never convenient. Loss is never easy. No matter how prepared you are for an event like this, it stabs you in the gut, and rips a hole when the blade is pulled out.

For me, grief comes in random waves of tears. Sometimes they’re a quiet trickle, but sometimes they’re sobs that come as a roaring waterfall, like the falls on the Big Sioux river that runs through the town that may not be the family’s true hometown, but is certainly its adopted one.

For my husband, the same grief comes in a deepening sense of broodiness and his need to play hermit for a few hours, or days. Both of us balance the grief with humor and laughter and fond memories, and we seek physical contact with each other more than is typical.

Tuesday night, after all the relatives had dispersed, we left our hotel room, went for a quiet dinner, and then drove to look at the Falls that Sioux Falls, SD is named for. There was a full moon in the sky, and an autumnal bite to the air, and as I watched and listened to the rushing water, I had a moment of peace, and the sadness was temporarily eased.

Melancholy will remain with me for a few more weeks – it usually dissipates by the beginning of October, when fall is fully present – but grief doesn’t last forever, it fades like a soft, slow, late summer sunset.

And, at least for another couple of weeks, September is still summer.

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Grocery Store Flowers: Crosswords and Sunflowers by Melissa A. Bartell

Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash

The old man’s eyes were growing dimmer with each passing year, but he still completed the crossword puzzle in the paper every day – and the big one in the Sunday Times – as if it was some kind of a ritual. He needed a magnifier, now, to see the grid, but he didn’t seem embarrassed to use it in public.

Daisy knew this because he often worked his puzzle sitting in the café at the front of the grocery store on Wednesdays, while his wife did the shopping. “Nita doesn’t like it when I help her shop,” he’d shared. “She says I do it wrong, just because I want to go up and down every aisle and see what’s new.” He’d tried to seem insulted, but she could tell he loved his wife, and didn’t really mind having an hour or so to sip a decaf coffee and ink in – he always used ink – the letters, fitting them into the correct boxes.

Daisy had gotten into the habit of taking her break at the same time the old man – Frank was his name – showed up. At least, she did so whenever she could. Some Wednesdays there was a rush at her kiosk, people needing flowers for birthdays or anniversaries, Secretary’s day or back-to-school. There were any number of reasons, and, she made a point of asking each customer who they were shopping for and what that person liked, doing her best to find the perfect blend of giver, receiver, and occasion.

Copyright: <a href='https://www.123rf.com/profile_stockbroker'>stockbroker / 123RF Stock Photo</a>She was surprised, therefore, when Frank beckoned her over one Wednesday morning, and said, “You’re the flower girl here, aren’t you?”

From anyone else, being called a ‘girl,’ would have caused Daisy to respond with a correction that she was over eighteen and was the floral manager, yes. But Frank was sort of a friend, and he was from the generation where ‘girl’ wasn’t meant offensively.  Context, she remembered a line from a favorite miniseries. It’s the difference between roadkill and a nice dinner.

She dropped into the other chair at Frank’s table. “I am,” she said. “What can I help you with?”

“Two things,” he answered. “First…what’s a five-letter word for ‘how daisies bloom?'”

Daisy grinned. She knew this one, being based on her name, and all. “Aster,” she said. “Daisies are asters. It means the flowers are star-shaped.”

Frank penned the letters into their blanks, and grinned. “Perfect. And second… Nita’s been a little blue lately. Our granddaughter was supposed to visit, but she got into a special music program for the summer, and won’t be able to come until later.”

“Aww, I’m sorry to hear that,” Daisy interjected. “I mean, you must be proud of her, but still…”

“We are proud of her,” Frank assured, “but Nita, she was really looking forward to some girl time. It’s hard for her – our daughters are all over the country, and don’t visit much, and most of the other grandkids don’t want to hang out with old folks anymore. But she and Katie have always had a special bond… I think because Katie’s the only one who went into music.”

“Was Nita a musician?” Daisy asked.

“She was. She still is. Plays piano for the church choir at St. Agnes. But when we met she was singing in her father’s restaurant. You’re probably too young to remember it – the opera café down on fifth?”

“I’ve heard of it,” Daisy said. “It closed before I ever had a chance to go. Tell me how you met?”

“Well, now… Nita was singing and I was there with my buddies. It was a counter serve place – you made your order at one end and took a tray and picked up your food at the other. Like that Frenchy place all the kids go to now… the one with the girl’s name?”

“La Madeleine?”

“That’s the place. Anyway, it was spaghetti night, and I took my order – spaghetti and meatballs, salad, and the best garlic bread that was ever on this earth, and I was walking to a table, when all of a sudden, this dark angel – black hair, eyes the color of cinnamon toast, warm olive skin – opened her mouth and started singing, and I was overcome… I stood stock-still right in front of her, just staring, and my buddy Jack came crashing into me.”

“That doesn’t sound good,” Daisy observed.

“No, it wasn’t. My tray went flying, and landed upside down all over her feet. Good thing it had cooled off some while I was dumbstruck or she would’ve been burnt.”

“But she wasn’t…?”

“Naah, she was fine. Madder than a wet hen, but fine. Her father came running, even replaced my meal, but she glared at me for the rest of the night.”

Daisy chuckled to herself. She could just imagine. “So, what did you do?”

“Well, after we finished eating, my buddies and I left, but I knew I wanted to see Copyright: <a href='https://www.123rf.com/profile_onepony'>onepony / 123RF Stock Photo</a>her again. So, I told them I’d catch up with them at the pool hall, and I picked a bunch of yellow sunflowers that were poking out of someone’s fence on the corner. Then I went back to the café and gave them to her. Asked if maybe I could take her to dinner somewhere to apologize.”

“And she said yes?”

“Actually, she said she’d think about it. So, I showed up there on spaghetti night every week for a month, bringing sunflowers every time. After a while she gave in. We’ve been together ever since. Had three daughters, seven grandchildren, and more dogs and cats and parakeets than I care to count up.”

“That’s so sweet,” Daisy gushed. “So, you want to get her flowers today?”

“If I could, yes. But not roses or anything. I get her roses for her birthday and our anniversary, but… I saw you had some sunflowers in a bucket?”

“I do,” Daisy said. “Do you want me to put together a bouquet with some baby’s breath or stock?”

“Well now, that’d be just perfect,” Frank responded, giving her a cheeky grin. “Let me just finish the puzzle and I’ll be over there to pay for them.”

Daisy grinned right back at the old man. Getting up, she leaned over to peer at his puzzle, and poke a finger at one of the clues. “That one – seventeen across – ‘still waters do this?’ The answer is ‘run deep.’

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Welcome to Issue #7: Light & Shadow

“I see only forms that are lit up and forms that are not. There is only light and shadow.”
~ Francisco Goya

You open your eyes to a sunny day, and notice that the light is changing along with the seasons.

You change the way you’re standing in front of the mirror, letting the changes in light and shadow change the way your see yourself.

You turn your back to the sun, and see the shadow you cast on the ground. You turn around, face into the glare, and your shadow disappears.

You wake in the middle of a moonlight night, see the shadows of tree branches on the blinds.

You unleash your imagination and let the branches become the limbs of strange beings from other worlds.

You grow and change and come to realize that both light and shadows come in many flavors. You learn that light isn’t always ‘good’ and shadows aren’t always ‘bad,’ but that each gives dimension to the other.

You snap a photo, paint or draw a picture, write a scene, compose a song, and you find beauty in the contrast.

“Our job is to record, each in his own way, this world of light and shadow and time that will never come again exactly as it is today.”
~ Edward Abbey

Welcome to the 7th issue of Modern Creative Life:
Light & Shadow

When we planned the calendar for this year’s themes, we had no idea we’d be launching this issue on the day when much of North America will be witnessing a solar eclipse. Still, it seems as though the universe was – is – in synch with us as we make the transition from summer toward fall (or from winter toward spring).

For me, light and shadow aren’t opposites, but companions. Without one the other has little meaning.

As makers, as creators, we explore both, we appreciate both. We use the shadows in our lives to give the light times more dimension, and we embrace the light when the shadows encroach too far, or seem too dark. Art, in all its forms, is full of, and formed by, this duality.

We invite you to explore it with us.

In this issue, you’ll get a peek into the daily lives of other creative folk in our Studio Tours and Typical Tuesday series, and meet people walking fascinating creative pathways in Conversations Over Coffee. With photos and fiction, poetry and prompts, essays and enlightenment, you’ll find a deeper understanding into all the ways in which we all create.

“Life is a mixture of light and shadow, calm and storm, and it’s all good.”
~ Susan W. Krebs

As always, our mission at Modern Creative Life is to honor the pursuit and practice of joyful creativity. We believe that the creative arts enrich our everyday living, enhance our environment, create lasting connections, and sustain our souls. Please join us as we look to other creatives for ways in which they find peace in the shadows, or succor in the sunshine.

As we share the stories of other makers, we invite you to use their experiences as a guide on your quest for your own Modern Creative Life.

What lessons might you have to share with the world? Share your stories with us, serving as the example for others to learn from, and inspire them to explore the light and shadows in their own lives. We are open to single contributions as well as new regular contributors. Email us at moderncreativelife@gmail.com.

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

 

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