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Something Old, Something New…

Redesigning a website is like entering into a marriage. You’ve come to a crossroad and things change. You stop and reevaluate, reconfigure, and wiggle around the bits and differences until pieces fit together, the old and the new.

This photo from Ocean City is part of the old. I couldn’t part with it. Now it’s the first shot in the new slider. I like the crossroad of land and sky and water. There’s an old couple who struggled together up the dune to look. They, too, are at a crossroad. I like to imagine they have come to the ocean for years on vacation and played in the surf. Now they stand and remember.

The second photo in the slider, Prairie Nights, is from our family farm. My husband and I live in a crossroad city, Kansas City, and travel to Ocean City, where my husband spent much of his childhood, and to the farm, where I spent much of mine.

The old blog posts are still here in a new format, but the sidebar is gone, so readers will need to scroll down to the bottom banner which has links to the categories. Another old/new is the Publication Page with old images but in a new and updated style.

I’ve often stood at a crossroad. My crossroads usually read STOP on the side I can see, but the destination is written on the reverse side in ink fated to remain invisible for an unknown span of time. I stop, reconfigure, and head off somewhere, not knowing where or why I’m going, but trusting I’ll eventually understand.

Sort of like now. I’m at the crossroad between finishing a memoir and finding an agent to walk with it and me into publishing. That’ll be new—I expect I’ll keep you posted. While there is no end to advice or lists to finding an agent, the bottom line, as in all the arts professions, is who you know. So if you know or have an agent who might like a woman who wanders, let me know.

The completely new and figuring-out-how-it-works on this site are the pages for Workshops and Services. Two years ago, a stop sign ended twenty years of adjunct college teaching. Now I’m teaching through Workshops. I like teaching and I’m glad it’s evolved.

A year ago, a stop sign left us without a place to hold church services, but the Services page will offer us as presiders at weddings and memorial services. I’ve been a Spiritual Mentor/Counselor for more than twenty years. It was time to make it more public.

Please wander around in the new site. Let me know if you like it or if something doesn’t work for you. At base, we’re all in this together.

One last piece of new: in this new design, I’m working with Jen Wewers who has a great eye and knows social media. If it’s time for you to reconfigure, I highly recommend her.

 

Enter Actor

Yesterday, in one of my alt-personalities, I spent the day being an actor. While seldom a topic in my writing, this gig deserved a post. However, unlike my younger friends, it didn’t occur to me to snap any photos on my cell phone; 1. because I was playing a senior; and 2. because I am a senior.

But truth is, I’ve rarely shot photos when I’m on a film shoot: there are cameras in so many directions, front, side, several movie cameras rolling and still shots shooting, it hardly seems necessary for more.

The coolest thing, (besides being able to work as a professional actor, which I have been since 1979, professional in that’s when I joined the Screen Actors Guild although I’d been a nonprofessional since grade school), was I learned about a really cool program being developed in Kansas.

My role was that of a rural Kansas woman with two morbidity diseases (meaning, I learned, two diseases that could lead to sudden death i.e. cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease) and who was some distance away from health care practitioners. She wasn’t Ma Kettle if that’s what you’re thinking. Rather, one of many people in Kansas, especially seniors, who often still live on their farms or in small towns with no hospital.

Here’s the program, developed by KU Med Center on the Kansas side of Kansas City: it teaches rural people how to use a digital tablet to contact a health care practitioner for regular, live checkups, including checking their medications, a nurse-practitioner trained in remote care to listen to complaints, address concerns, give dietary and exercise information, and a way to get help immediately. The company setting up this program with KU Med even provides a portable receiver and trains the seniors how to use the remarkably simple tablet.

The representative of the company told me they have also partnered with several smaller hospitals throughout Kansas.

With all the who-ha about the Affordable Health Care debate, this is a valuable digital outreach. I’m probably somewhat biased because K.U. Med is our health care provider and I appreciate their Complementary Medicine department (I don’t take meds and rely on complementary medicine).

Okay. Enough about them. Now about me :). As always, I had a great time. While I’ve worked on stage and did for many years, I much prefer working in film. There’s less drama. No one yells, you’re a team, everyone says thank you often, and voices are calm. I realize there are difficult film directors and crazy film actors, but I’ve not had that experience.

The other cool thing about yesterday was I learned they chose me for this woman struggling with her health for another reason: they’d seen my reel on my agent’s site. A reel, for those who don’t know, is a short film with clips from several of an actor’s projects.

So, since this is an intro to a piece of my life you probably know little about, here’s a link to my most recent reel on Talent Unlimited, my acting agency for years. When you click on that link, you’ll arrive at my home page; in the middle of the page, there’s a link that says DEMO REELS. Click on that. There’s four scenes from four different projects. You’ll notice I play old women often… or rather, always. One of my most favorite ever roles is the last one on this clip. Still makes me laugh.

And I’m still working. I will be the Judy Dench nobody’s ever heard of. Except you. And at the end of the day, like all working seniors, I was plumb tuckered out.

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…with a little help from my friends….

I’m a memorist who explores how personal history shapes our choices and how learning to accept and forgive failed choices leads to a more fulfilling life.

or

I’m a memorist who’s spent her life learning how to love and how to forgive herself and to keep a sense of humor as I mentor others in those skills.

 

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been working with a book, Be The Gateway, by Dan Blank. A great book on marketing…(oh the dreaded word marketing).

His writing is easy to read and his challenges to look at the way we present out work are, well, challenging. For example, in writing a bio, which I’ve done and revised and done and revised over the years, beginning, of course, with my name and Janet Sunderland is a….and all that, Dan says not to. An eye-opening sentence: “Nine months after someone reads your book, what do you want them to think quietly in their heads about the world you have opened for them?”

I finally arrived at self-forgiveness.

That was in the Craft a Mission Statement chapter on page 39. That ten page chapter has taken me ten days to complete. After writing my bio, which took a long time, the above statements are what I crafted as my mission statement.

The thing is, it’s not just my life I write about. I write about my mother, family, land, and other people, so it seems the first is perhaps more effective overall. Maybe I need to add keeping a sense of humor to the first one?

Here’s where a little help from my friends comes in. What do you think of them? What ideas would either give you? And after reading the below bio, which I will insert into a query letter to agents, what do you think of it? I could really use some feedback and those of you who know my writing after all these years of reading it (thank you all so much), probably have a better handle than anyone.

So here ’tis…the bio. Please comment, give feedback, say whatever you think might help me, including “this confused me…” (I’ve heard that a lot with my various and varied pieces, so feel free.) One of the things Dan Blank wrote for an opening statement: “something that your ideal reader would read and say “YES! This!”

BIO:

Most of us struggle, at some level, in outgrowing childhood. We were too tall or too short, too loud or too quiet, too fat or too skinny, too argumentative or too passive, and sometimes abused physically, emotionally, or sexually. Sometimes parents divorced, or a parent or grandparent died, leaving us stunned and fearful. We call it trauma, but it’s a wound that’s won’t heal.

Written on the Reverse is a memoir to explore how childhood trauma led me on a journey of transformation to heal and learn who I am is enough. The journey taught me forgiveness for myself, my father, and my grandfather. I also learned how difficult it is to trust love and how rewarding.

My journey from Mexico to Washington D.C., to a healing community in Hawaii, to Georgia for family tasks, and finally to Santa Fe recounts how my destination was always written on the reverse of a crossroad sign in ink destined to remain invisible for an unspecified span of years. All I had was trust in the journey to connect my dreams to reality. Throughout my journey, beginning in Washington D.C., I dreamed of this man as I named him, who, in dreams, came to me when I was struggling, or just to check in, and whom I met in Santa Fe.

In short, the memoir offers hope. For over twenty years, I’ve helped others learn to trust their journey, practice forgiveness, see themselves as valuable, and heal leftover wounds. While I’ve changed the world one person at a time with one-on-one mentoring and in college public speaking and writing classes, this memoir will guide a wider audience.

I’ve earned a BFA and two graduate degrees, but I’ve written all my life, or rather from age eight in my first diary. My mother was a writer and my grandmother a poet. My childhood in Kansas filled itself with words and books. My first published poem was in a college literary magazine. Since then, I’ve published essays and poetry in many journals, and a collection of poetry, Written on the Reverse, by Finishing Line Press. As a memoirist, the most life-changing books were Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook (I began keeping a journal), Natalie Goldberg (most of hers), and Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I no longer teach in college but I do lead writing workshops. My husband and I live in Kansas City in a 1924 built house. A Romare Bearden quote is taped to the window in front of my writing desk: Artists are like mice. They need old houses where they can roam around and nobody bothers them. I tend to wander around.

******

Thanking you all, again, in advance. In many ways, you have been my gateway for years.

J.

 

An Untimely Death

Last weekend, I presided at a friend’s memorial service. Ten years ago, I presided at their wedding. A second marriage for both and a happy marriage. They were out bicycling on a sunny day; an undetected blood clot; a heart attack; sudden death.

This isn’t a post I particularly wanted to write, and yet, it kept digging at me. In part, because I’m still in dismay and sadness as I was all last week. In part, because I, too, am in a second and happy marriage; in part, because of the truth I spoke at the memorial service and which lingers.

None of us are guaranteed tomorrow.

At some level or another, we all know that. We just don’t want to recognize it or think about it.

None of us are guaranteed tomorrow.

It’s a very old idea: Benjamin Franklin said, “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today”; from the Book of Proverbs, much older than Ben Franklin and said to contain the sayings of King Solomon, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.”

I think I’m wandering in the land of meaning to avoid the reality: it sucks. It really sucks. But I didn’t say that.

What I said to the some 200 friends gathered was to live as our friend lived: kind, generous, loving, laughing. I said, take a moment to slow down in traffic; let someone in who’s trying to change lanes; take time to laugh with your family, to be generous to others in need.

All of which I believe. All of which I endeavor to do, even from my isolated perch at my desk at home.

I guess I thought writing might ease some of the sorrow I’m feeling, both for life and for my other friend in that marriage. A few months ago, my husband and I did both a marriage and two months later, a memorial service for a different couple.

Baby christenings are happier, as are weddings, usually, but the same rules apply. We do not know what tomorrow will bring.

Impermanence, the Buddhists teach: all things are in a constant state of flux.

We’ve had rain the past few days, finally, after a winter of drought with very little snow. The bluebonnets are thrusting little blue heads through the cold dirt and leftover oak leaves. That’s courage.

Perhaps that’s what I’m struggling with: the courage to accept impermanence. And yet, I know when the sun and warm days return, the bluebonnets will fade quickly as they do every year, leaving a mat of green leaves…as one thing transforms to another.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Dust and Rain

Nothing smells clean. Outside my window, the willow struggles into a fragile green sheen; the redbud is millimetering into tiny sharp arrow tips.

In the storms racing through Missouri this week, we missed being in a tornado, tornadoes being lazy creatures, all in all, in spite of their fierceness, and don’t like battling through a city for the most part. Their preference is for flat land. We did get a half inch of rain, which brings our grand total of moisture since the beginning of the year to about an inch and a half. We’ve had one mild snowfall.

Last evening, I cleaned the back porch, screened on two sides, buttressed into the house on two sides. We carried out the leftover firewood and stacked it back outside. I began sweeping up shovelfuls of dust and dry leaves, nose twitching at the reminder of drought creeping in from the west. Everything has a powdery coat.

I feel like one of the women Gordon Parks photographed during the dust bowl days: hand shading eyes, watching for locust or a rolling dust storm. But I’m probably being over-dramatic. It’s not quite that dry although dry enough.

When I lived in Hawaii at Kalani Honua down by Volcano, my job, in exchange for free room and board, was garden work (once the memoir is published, you can read all about it). In the nights, rain often pocked through the jungle and across the compound. I’d wake briefly, glance out the screened window beside my bed, think I won’t have to water the garden, and fall asleep in the soft green scent of jungle, leaves rejoicing, earth wafting its gratitude. I wondered, from time to time, how you’d explain the smell of dirt to someone who hadn’t stuck their hands in it: loamy, yes, but that presupposes knowing what loam smells like.

There is a word to explain the smell of rain, petrichor, a combination of bacterial spores and plant oils, but about as useful in terms of scent as describing loam.

We have city water and hoses. I water the yard, taking care to soak the ground close to the house so the old rock basement doesn’t shift and crack walls. You’d think a house this old, built in 1924, with a rock basement, would have gone through all the shifting it was going to do in its close to hundred years. You’d think.

I thought the same thing a few years ago when we had a summer drought. The ceiling in a dining room corner dropped nearly two inches and the stairway wall cracked. We found a company who restores old houses. They restored.

Hence, a pricey lesson in old home management. I learned to no longer think that way. I water the house.

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Enter Spring (soon we hope!)

The Spirit in Spring

 Redbuds
Redbud

March 21, 28, April 4th: Three one-hour online evening classes.  Contact Me for details.

Treat yourself to renewal. Join me for a quick burst of energy as spring arrives. Write open your heart as you write open your senses to shake off winter doldrums.

The focus on sensory details will help you develop seeing, hearing, touch, smell, and taste and how to incorporate those into your writing. The focus isn’t so much on a finished essay, although I’d be happy to see one if you want to submit it, as on learning how to richly describe the five senses in writing. Each week’s class will build on the previous week, but much of our work will be on finding freedom in writing.

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