Heart Stone Feathers

Word Nerd – Feather Finder – Heart Stone Hunter – Synchronicity Searcher Winging It While Lovingly Writing Through Life

Category: Feathers

A New Type (of) Writer

Underwood Junior Typewriter

One of the topics I was surprised to find myself writing about in my VerbTribe class was my parents’ typewriters. While my mother begrudgingly used hers for working at home, my father prayed over his to help him become a published author (prayers which went unanswered).

Regardless of their different functions, both my mother and father issued a “hands-off-they’re-not-toys” policy to my sister and I. Being a poor listener, I took every opportunity I could find to get my hands on those magical machines. One of the few regrets I have in life was in not keeping my father’s typewriter – and his desk – when it came time to “weed out” his possessions after he passed away in 2001.

Since writing about those typewriters, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about buying one for myself. Not just for decoration though. I wanted to be able to use my new baby.

My desire grew exponentially after seeing the blue and orange beauties used by Maya Stein and Amy Tingle Williamson to create their “tandem poetry” at the recent Design Your Life Camp I attended. Thinking I was an oddball for wanting such a technological relic, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see so many Facebook posts by my fellow campers about their own adventures finding a typewriter since they returned home.

Due to the seasonality of my husband’s garden center, last weekend was the first one we’ve had to ourselves since February. On Sunday, we headed out to our favorite flea market. Right before we left, I pronounced (quite loudly and confidently) that I was finally going to find my typewriter. Tim knows that’s my weird way of “letting the Universe know my intentions,” but he still thinks I’m a little crazy when I do it.

Truth be told, we’d only seen one typewriter there in the years we’d been going, but it was in pretty rough shape so we walked away. The odds didn’t seem to be in our favor, but a girl’s gotta’ dream, right?

I’m certain you can see where this tale is going, so I’ll just jump to the part where I tell you we not only found one typewriter that day…we found three! While my heart has long been set on owning a red one, we would have needed a wheelbarrow to haul around the IBM Selectric that had a $75 price tag (for those who might be interested, here’s a good photo and article about that exact model). The green and white one was a child’s plastic version, so that was another easy decision to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

But then….there on the top shelf of a dealer who actually lives just a few miles from us, was the petite treasure in the above photo. It was so pristine looking that I asked if it was a reproduction. She assured me it wasn’t. When she offered to knock the asking price down from $20 to $18, I just knew I had to take “her” home with me.

My husband was as excited as I was, so we went straight home and started Googling to find out what we could about her. It turns out that – not only is she legitimate – she’s actually quite rare.

Tracking her serial number (591,834) revealed that she’s a “four-bank” Underwood Junior Portable, made in 1932. She measures a mere 4-1/4″ tall x 10″ deep x 11-1/2″ wide and weighs only 9.5 pounds.

Like many portable machines made during the pre-war era, she was scaled down to the basics. She has only one shift key (on the left side, which is perfect for this southpaw) and no 1 key, exclamation-mark, or dollar sign. All of those quirks are more than made up for by her glass and steel keys (which are soothing to my old eyes), as well as her ribbon-reverser.

But the story doesn’t end there. When we’d finished Googling, we started to tinker with her. We began by taking the ribbon off to practice “resetting” it. As one might expect, it unrolled more than we had anticipated once it was off. As it did, Tim scared the crap out of me when he suddenly screamed, “Stop!”

Unable to speak coherently, he simply kept pointing at the ribbon. I had to adjust my reading glasses to see what had caught his attention. Stuck to the ribbon – in two separate places – were white feathers (as shown in the photo below).

Typewriter Feathers

Anyone who knows ANYTHING about me, knows that feathers are my “thing.” My symbol…my calling card…my messages from lost loved ones. Over the years, they’ve popped up in my world in the most unusual places and at very poignant moments. This one though left me nearly speechless.

Every time I touch her now, I keep wondering, how long had they been there? How had they ended up there? Why were they there? How come I was the one to find them (well – actually Tim found them, but you know what I mean)?

In the end, I know none of those answers are important. What is, is being grateful and acknowledging their presence. I am and I do. Very much so.

And so the story continues, with me at the helm of writing it. I finally have my own typewriter and you can be certain it WILL be used. In fact, I invite anyone who visits to use it. There is NO hands-off policy in my writing world…and there NEVER will be.

“Please, pull up a chair and join me. Let’s play with letters and see what we can create. Let me begin by introducing you to Matilda (Matty) Underwood…she’s lovingly named after my grandmother-in-law; a solidly built petite woman who lost her eyesight, but not her sense of humor or wonder.”

Addendum: If you’re interested in learning more about Underwood Portable typewriters, this is a great website to start your journey. And yes…that is me in the photo above, sitting next to my mother’s typewriter, aching to “play” with it.

The Rookie Poet’s Review of Anis Mojgani’s “The Feather Room”

The Feather Room Book

There is no way for me to hide the fact that I am a rookie when it comes to reading, as well as to writing, poetry. To be honest, had it not been for Patti Digh’s online VerbTribe writing classes that I happily submerged myself in these past few months, I’m certain I wouldn’t even be able to claim the title of rookie.

It’s really not due to a lack of appreciation for poetry, nor a disinterest in it, that I’ve shied away from it for four-and-a-half decades. I simply find it intimidating. Especially when it comes to reading comprehension.

I unexpectedly came face-to-face with that fear on Day 2 of my first VerbTribe class. One of our assignments for the day was to read, as well as to rewrite in longhand, Mark Doty’s “Robert Harms Paints the Surface of Little Fresh Pond.” For those who are unfamiliar with the poem, it reads as follows.

Surface the action of the day,
a means of tracing the dynamic,
so that a jitter of blue’s
sparked by little coals,
sun a glimmer
of the day’s intent. He knows
to trace an alphabet written on water
is to surface the action of the day,
a way of proceeding,
entering into the never-
to-be repeated,
a way of reading
a nearly infinite variety of gestures
legible only to one versed
in surface, the action of the day.
When my eye nearly failed –
the frail foil-back torn,
wild profusion of smoke-curls,
what I saw was just this:
what he sees on and in water,
by his hand
the action of surface notated,
the rhythm of things
discerned and ridden.

As the final part of our assignment, we were asked to answer the question, “What stood out for you in this exercise?” My reply, which in hindsight now sounds pathetically whining, was at least candid.

“Being honest here…no matter how many times I read this, I kept hearing my own personal Negative Nelly whispering in my ear, “You SUCK at stuff like this!” This one truly had my head spinning, even AFTER I rewrote it in longhand. Some of the phrases just left me wondering what he was trying to convey. I was so desperate to figure it out that I Googled it. I found a video of a guy reading it…THAT didn’t help. Then I actually found Mark Doty’s blog that had a post about when he went to an art gallery show that featured work by Robert Harms. Then – and only then – did I “get it.” Or at least I then understood half of what he wrote. Instead of telling myself I can never be a decent writer unless I can understand ALL forms of writing, I’m just going to cut myself some slack and assume that there are others out there that don’t always “get” every word found in works like this. (…slinking off to the back of the class now, feeling somewhat inadequate…)”

Patti, in her infinite teaching wisdom (and concise writing style), simply replied, “I wonder what would happen if there were no right answer.” Well DAMN! What if? That was quite a foreign concept for a perfectionistic, control-freak Virgo such as myself, but there really was no way for me to argue with it. Touché! One writing (and reading) dragon slain on Day 2!

Just a few days later, I surprised myself by purchasing several “generic” and beginner’s level poetry books at a local library sale. My husband almost fainted when he saw them, as he knew I was venturing into a land I had long avoided. Feeling more comfortable after greedily ingesting verse after verse, I decided to go all out and try my hand at deciphering Anis Mojgani’s, The Feather Room.

The only reason I use the term decipher is that, even when Mojgani himself – an international award-winning poet, perhaps best known for his poetry slam presentations (you can view one of his readings below) – is asked to classify his genre of poetry with an original name, his reply is simply, “I wouldn’t want to define a specific genre for this. I just write poems.”

The summary for The Feather Room refers to it as being “storytelling in poetic form while traveling farther down the path of magic realism.” I’m torn between calling it a verse novel or a collection of nearly-narrative poems. Whatever it is, it truly is mind-expanding. Or at least it was for me.

The book is broken into three sections, based on the opening prose that describes three “off limit” rooms a young man ventures into. The first room features a yellow wooden door and a young girl sitting amongst a pile of bicycle parts; a room depicting where the man once was and the girl someone he loved. The second room has a red stone door and a crying elderly man who is trying to encourage a plethora of featherless, screeching birds to leave via an open window. This room symbolizes where the young man currently is, as well as sadness he is “holding on to something long gone and broke.” A blue glass door protects the final room – one simply overflowing with feathers and representative of where the man is going.

I would be lying if I said I understood and liked every single one of the sixty-nine poems in this book, the longest comprising nine pages and the shortest a mere eleven words. In fact, some of the titles even left me slightly confused. Such was definitely the case with “Call it magic call it fish eye call it fish lung call you magic pocket of science.” Kudos for such a creative title though!

Although I wasn’t able to follow every single step along the journey, the path kept beckoning me to continue onwards with luscious lines like those below. (Please forgive me if “luscious” is an inappropriate term to describe poetry – I tried to warn you that I was at the beginning of the learning curve.)

“…the geese…balancing the moon on their backs.”

“…ceiling fans worshipping my skin…”

“Everything has a ghost. The measuring cups my mama used.”

“…the telephone poles do not speak as loudly as they once did.”

“This is what the walls taste like. Cucumbers sliced and salted. Dill growing in the window. The smell of coffee. Lick the wall.”

“March is a long month…Sometimes it stretches through the following winters.”

Would I recommend this book to other rookie poets? I actually would. It’s not overloaded with unfamiliar words or difficult rhythms; it’s simply one that needs to be read slowly – savoring every word to understand its significance to the overall story. I guess that could be said for most poems though.

I personally will gladly be revisiting The Feather Room – perhaps quite often. I have a feeling I’ll discover something new each time. To me, that’s the truest definition of quality poetry. But who am I to say? I’m still just a rookie working on obtaining my junior appreciation status. For today, that’s good enough, especially considering how far I’ve come in just the last few months.

And now I’d love to know…who or what are some of your favorite poets or poems? This newbie would really appreciate any and all suggestions of where to venture next on this odyssey.

Addendum: For those who might be interested, Anis Mojgani’s next book, Songs From Under the River: Early and New Work, is due to be released on March 15, 2013. I foresee it gracing my shelves some day soon thereafter.

A Flight Feather of a Different Kind

Falcon Feather Left On The Moon

It’s really not a very good photo, but seeing it certainly has made my life a little lighter. What is it, you wonder? It’s a Peregrine Falcon feather that was dropped onto the surface of the moon by the astronauts of Apollo 15 back on August 3, 1971.

I was a few weeks shy of my fifth birthday when this feather – unbeknownst to me – became part on a famous experiment that demonstrated how falling objects (in this case – a feather and a hammer) accelerate at the same rate, regardless of their mass. In the forty-one-and-a-half years that have passed since then, I never heard about this well-traveled feather until yesterday when a copy of “Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle” (one of two books I mentioned in last Wednesday’s blog post) arrived on my doorstep.

The second the mailman rang the doorbell to let me know the Amazon box was sitting on my porch, I turned into the proverbial kid in a candy store. I dove into the middle of the book, planning on taking a quick peek at the wonders that I just knew had to be woven between the covers.

I never made it past the first page I opened to…..page 133. The one featuring this lunar lying feather.

Supposedly, the experiment was conducted under such a time crunch, that the astronauts didn’t even have a chance to retrieve the feather before they lifted off in – what else – “Falcon,” the flight module that had brought them safely to the moon’s surface. Just knowing that this feather is (hopefully) still gracing the moon with its presence, captivates me.

Why, you wonder? I’m not certain I can adequately explain it. I think it simply has to do with the fact that I believe every world – whether it’s deemed a planet, a moon, a sun, a star – is better with feathers in it. Even if it’s just one.

To me, feathers are such a strong symbol of living lightly – in our own skin, with others, in unison with whatever astronomical object we’re blessed to carry out our lives on – that I feel more hopeful knowing they’re potentially floating around out in space. That or simply lining other lunar surfaces.

Word of the Week: x 1,078

Red-Tailed Hawk Feathers

In last Friday’s post, I introduced my intention to write a “Word of the Week” column every Friday. As a word nerd, it just seems like the perfect way to usher in the weekend.

Since then, I began work on the second level of the life-altering writing course that I discussed in my very first blog post. I was BEYOND thrilled when I discovered that our very first writing assignment focused on – what else – birds! In fact, this was the exact prompt, “You are a bird. Briefly describe yourself. Then describe in great detail the flight from one tree to another one mile away.” With that, I was off and running. OK – flying.

In an attempt to honor my 2013 desire to share my writing, I’ve decided to take a leap of faith and to post the piece I wrote for my homework. Two days and 1,078 words later (give or take a few words, depending on which “word counting” program you use), I think it’s sufficient for public viewing.

I hope you’ll forgive me for momentarily diverting from my “Word of the Week” intent. By choosing the title of this blog post, I tried to reassure myself that I really hadn’t gone astray from that goal (and now you know what “Word of the Week: x 1,078” means).

I would GREATLY appreciate any and all feedback…..positive, negative, or neutral. I can only improve if I’m open to honest input. On that note, I take flight…..

Final Flight

Looking down from her daily perch on the 60-foot-tall power transmission lines that dissected the southern portion of the seventeen acre parcel, Yana saw the protected one begin her own circadian voyage around the perimeter. She was honored to have been her totem Red-Tailed Hawk for as many years as the protected one had resided on this piece of land.

Yana had been unaware that she had such a name until she heard it lovingly whispered on the wind one day as she circled in salute over the protected one. The wind not only explained that it meant “You Are Never Alone,” but that the protected one wanted her to know that she was aware of her presence and the blessed guardianship that she provided.

Yana’s Broad-Winged Hawk cousin had actually been responsible for uniting the protected one and her husband back in 1987 when they were studying the Buteo family in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. Now mated for life, as was Yana, they shared many other similarities.

They both stayed true to their voice, even when they were referred to as “screamers.” Stocky in build, but fast when they needed to be, they utilized their energy best by riding the wind and letting it carry them when their load simply seemed too heavy to bear alone. While they both adored their red attire, Yana looked far more fetching in hers. Both also seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time searching for food – one out of need, the other out of greed.

Sadly, the protected one was rooted to the earth and had not been blessed with hawk-eyesight. It was therefore Yana’s job to soar into the heavens and to relay the messages and visions she received to the protected one. It was that insight that gave wings to the earthbound one and – for that – they were both eternally grateful.

The day had finally come though for Yana to pass the totem torch to one of her own young. She had been blessed to witness the arrival of thirteen winters, but it would soon be her time to soar into the depths of the heavens she had only been allowed to skim the surface of for so many years. Serena, her winged daughter, would now be the caretaker of the human.

Yana timed the lift-off from her perch to allow her to effortlessly dip her wings in a final feathery bow to the flightless one she had come to love. The featherless wave of acknowledgement that came from below was all Yana needed to begin her last turn towards the west with a full heart.

As her life was now at a juncture with death, it seemed only fitting that Yana’s final flight would begin at the intersection of Catatonk Creek – once called Tiatachschiunge by the Onondaga Indian Nation – and Sulphur Spring Creek. The breeze arched her smoothly through the S-curve of the historic Tiatachschiunge and her feathers remained unruffled as she coasted along the straight section that ran parallel to Candor Road.

Also known by the the locals as Route 96, this stretch of road lies close to the stream and is often littered with the carcasses of critters that have been impaled by cars going at least 55 miles per hour. Yana had found many a meal during lean times when she scoured that paved hunting ground. An occasional fish feast of white suckers could also be found there, as lazy fishermen and women tossed their filleting efforts alongside the folding chairs from where they had cast their lines. The humans always kept the stocked brown trout to fill their own gizzards.

Continuing west, Yana simply coasted along with the wind that rose from the creek bed. The creek itself varied in depth from a mere few inches, to one section that was rumored by the resident Hooded Mergansers to be twenty feet deep. No hawk dared to verify that information. What they did know was that the creek ranged in width from only a few feet where deer were known to cross easily, to around thirty feet where even humans needed a boat to safely make the shore-to-shore journey.

The lay of the land around the creek had changed severely after Tropical Storm Lee left a river of tears coursing through the area back in September of 2011. Gravel and tree debris coalesced into walls where there had never been any before. Beaver were now taking advantage of the work that Mother Nature had done for them; they were busy from sunrise to sunset shoring up areas that they once found unsuitable.

Yana was never certain which tree species the beaver preferred, but she knew the creek was lined with red maples, willow, multiflora rose, sumac, and ash. She and her mate had been fortunate to find the lone birch tree in the area to weave their home and to raise their many broods.

As there were less than a couple of dozen human homes that had grown their own roots along the creek, Yana’s flight filtered her through the hilly and mostly uninhabited woodlands to both the north and the south. She would miss the days when she soared high above the quiet land to gather the precious messages that she would then pass along to her protected one in the form of molted message-laden feathers.

In leftover memories from a previous life, Yana knew that the patchwork quilt of land below her had been made of earth-tone colors and had been stitched together by fence posts, power lines, telephone poles, meandering roads, and evergreens that abutted various shades of manicured field “fat squares.” The streams were merely appliquéd details. The earthen ponds threadbare spots where cooled lava tears congealed. Human habitations fancy baubles attached to the quilt with their cement and wooden threads.

Before she began her descent into the patch of land she had called her own for thirteen years, Yana soared one final time towards the heaven she would soon gain entrance to. From up high, she couldn’t help but notice that the surrounding creek beds she had flown hundreds of thousands of times looked like an ancient hand of glacial fingers that had long ago left its palm-print on the earth. It comforted her to think that it would still be there for decades to come – or at least long enough to guide her beloved daughter Serena as she too soared heavenward, gathering her own precious messages along the way.

Feathery Anticipation

Feathers Book         The Feather Room Book

What tickles the fancy of a self-professed word nerd who adores feathers? For this chick (yes – pun intended!), it doesn’t get much better than the purchase of books with titles like “Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle” and “The Feather Room.”

Committed this year to “investing” in myself and my somewhat unorthodox interests, I’m happy to report that, as of today, my Amazon Wish List no longer has those two items on it. You can be certain that I’ll now be anxiously monitoring the mailbox for their much-anticipated arrival.

I’ll post a review of each book once I’ve had a chance to read them. If your interest has soared and you simply can’t wait until then, click on the above photos and/or Google (I love that word!) the titles for more details. Both have received high-flying reviews. Of course, based on the subject matter alone, that really doesn’t surprise me…..

A Long-Distance Gift of Wings

Feather Bouquet Gift

Hope arrived on my doorstep today in the form of a large white envelope that had been lovingly gift-wrapped in paper featuring swoon-inducing fancy French words. Simply addressed to Donna McSchwender, a name I’ve only known my sister to use, its “First Class” stamp was an understatement to its contents. The package had made its transcontinental flight from an island off the coast of Washington to the red front door of my home in upstate New York, a mere 117 days after I had been blessed to meet the dear woman who had sent it to me.

The threads of my world became intertwined with those of this lovely lady in an online writing course that I dare say changed both of our lives in ways that we could not have foreseen. Somewhere along the way of sharing our stories, we came to discover that, not only had she actually raised her family in the small town that I currently live in, but we know many of the same people who still reside here. Never had the world seemed so small – so wonderful – so magical to me.

In the approximately 2,808 hours that we have now known one another, this soul sister has given me a newfound appreciation for the cliché of “someone knowing me better than I know myself.” As if the 24 feathers that had been lovingly labeled and placed inside the envelope weren’t enough of a gift, many of them are red, my favorite color. Some even have different colors on the reverse side. And polka dots?!? Oh my!!! Talk about eye candy! I have no idea why she also enclosed the glittery paper “13” (red, of course) that you see in the photo, but – perhaps the bigger question is – HOW did she know that’s my favorite number?!?

It only seems fitting that the container this beautiful bouquet of feathers will now reside in has a quote by Marjolein Bastin (an artist for Hallmark’s ‘Nature’s Sketchbook’ collection) on the lid that reads, “Finding a feather that a bird lost from his plumage is like finding a treasure! Always kneel down and take it as a gift from nature.”

Perhaps in yet another universal nudge, as I was preparing to arrange the feathers in the box, out fell an oId fortune cookie message reminding me to, “Do your work with your whole heart and you will succeed.” It brought a smile to my face as I could envision it being written (or kindly spoken to me) by my new friend.

I understand that some people would look at this pile of reclaimed finch, mallard, turkey, chicken, lovebird, macaw, and African Grey feathers as just another bunch of detritus littering the pathway of their world. I look at them though and I can’t help but see a glorious gift of wings. Something my friend would want me to have, to trust in, and to take flight with.

Receiving such an uplifting and inspiring gift has left me feeling as if my heart is regenerating nerves that died long ago. When and if I do take flight, you can be certain that these 24 feathers will have been sewn securely into my winged cape. Until then, I’ll simply keep gathering more feathers and offering up a prayer of gratitude for every one that falls like yet another gift into my life. Much like the many wonderful friends that have flown into my life these past few months….

No Longer A Blank Page

New Year's 2013
Some of the best gifts we ever receive are ones we surprise ourselves with. Twenty-five days before my forty-sixth birthday, I enrolled myself in an online writing course – something I had NEVER done before and that was SO FAR outside my comfort zone it might as well have been a class in pole dancing (no offense to those who enjoy the activity, but it’s just not in the realm of possibility for this ole’ gal and I’m fine with that reality).

When I first saw the Facebook post announcing the class, I was intrigued. For days I kept returning to that message. Never brave enough to comment, but curious enough to keep watching from the sidelines. When a lady finally replied that she had enrolled, I desperately needed to know who this brave woman was, so I clicked on her name to take me to her Facebook page. Before I did though, I made a half-hearted deal with myself that, if this lady miraculously had some connection to “feathers” – a powerful and positive beacon in my life – I would take that as a sign from the universe that I too should FINALLY believe in myself and pursue writing in a way I had never allowed myself to.

Of the billions of people on this planet, the woman whose Facebook page I found myself staring at – as my peripheral vision slipped away and my jaw lost all cohesion with the rest of my face – was (I kid you not!) the author of the book, “All The Dancing Birds.” WTF?!? I wasn’t sure which to be more shocked about – the mind-blowing feather connection or the nerve-wracking fact that I was now committed to taking a writing class with an already-published author.

As someone who is always looking for signs to guide me along life’s path, this one shouted at me so loudly I simply couldn’t find an acceptable reason (a.k.a. “excuse”) to say “no, not now.” Hell – the only thing I could say then was, “Hey Universe, could you have been a little more vague with your input on the subject?!?” Yes – I can be a sarcastic bitch when the opportunity presents itself. And yes – my Navy sailing father bequeathed me not only his passion for writing but also his penchant for swearing when he passed away.

For the entire 37 days of the class, I not only upheld my part of the bargain to “show up” fully and to do the work, I held nothing back. In return, I was given a forum to finally have a reason to use luscious words like “dénouement,” as well as crass phrases like “taking a dump.” I wrote on a banana – not about one, but ON one. I composed my own obituary – and I liked it. I crafted the Author’s Bio for my as-yet unwritten first book – and I came to believe that one day I might be able to see it in print.

The motto of the class was, “Life is short. Write accordingly.” I wrote like I was dying. Some days, I felt like I was. In the end, I never felt more alive. Best. Gift. Ever.

John Green, an award-winning author, is reported to have said, “Writing is something you do alone. It’s a profession for introverts who want to tell you a story but don’t want to make eye contact while doing it.” For forty-six years, I wrote alone and in silence. I told myself it was good enough and I truly believed that I was content.

This class revealed the fictional story I had been writing about my own life though. It did so by presenting me with a community of AMAZING women writers – a tribe I had long denied needing but had unknowingly been yearning for. These ladies came flying into my world, gift-wrapped in glitter-encrusted words and wearing writing capes embroidered with encouraging stories. If I was to never write another word (don’t worry dear Universe, that is NOT my game plan), the friendship of these word-slinging sister soul mates will be enough to keep me happy and sane. Second. Best. Gift. Ever.

I’m not a fan of making New Year’s resolutions. I’ve been looking forward to 2013 for many years though. For no other oddball reason than I love the number thirteen. This year – THIS year though – I’m showing up for my life and I’m giving it my all. If that meets the definition of a resolution, so be it. Either way, I’m in. ALL the way in. Are you with me?

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