Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Writers block and missing Joan

A week or so ago, I realized that my feeling of apathy was the result of a writer's block, probably due to the pressure I was putting on myself to get three separate writing projects done. I didn't feel like working on any of them. My habit in such cases has always been to pick up the phone and call my writer sister. She would commiserate with me and we would have a long conversation about many things,  we'd laugh together, and she'd fix me.

The fact that she is no longer here for me to do that hit me harder than it has at any other time since she died almost a year ago. Oh, Joanie, my darling sister, my mentor, my best friend, my hero, how I miss you!

A few days later, my muse seemed to return, and I finished two of the projects in two days, leaving the biggest one, the one that is jointly mine and Joan's. She began a book years ago. During my visits with her during her last months, we discussed it. I read the parts she had written, and they are amazing.  She said she wanted it finished. She hoped she could do it, but in the end she just couldn't, and I promised her I would. Thanks to her drawing her characters so completely and the many hints about where the plot might go, I think I can.

But today, when I thought I would get back into it, I found myself doing other things, including writing poems. I know I will get back to writing, and the muse will be with me, and I will make more progress on her book called, Prism. In the meantime, let me share a little ditty I wrote about the seasons, because there is a bit about the book in there too.

(September 2, 2014, 5:30 am)

Dang you time, you go so fast.
I'd rather see my summer last
A few more weeks so I can do
Half the things I've planned to do.

Yet autumn's here. I cannot waste
The lovely days with undue haste.
It's time to get up from my chair
And hike the hills when weather's fair.

Winter's coming. It won't be long,
Cold and dark. I must be strong,
And put the long, dark nights to use
Penning stories like a recluse.

I've finished two of my tasks this week
and now can return to Prism speak
And let the muse carry me on
To solve the mystery of where Deb has gone.

The Prism surely has some power
to transport her in the witching hour
So yes, I'll write to find the key
to unlock Prism's mystery.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The beginnning of Joan Bochmann's unfinished novel: Prism

Prism, by Joan Bochmann 
The Prologue:

She slipped silently through the grove of aspen trees and knelt by the clear mountain stream. Motionless, she studied her rippling reflection in the water. Small, slender, with straight blond hair falling below her shoulders, she was dressed in blue jeans and a plaid shirt open at the neck revealing a fine gold chain from which a small pyramid-shaped crystal was suspended. As she watched her reflection, her slim fingers strayed to the prism, exploring all its facets. She held it to her eye and watched the colors come to life.
Suddenly he gasped. The reflection in the water was changing—the hair was curlier and lay softly around a face that was hers, yet wasn’t. The shirt and jeans were replaced by a gown of some floating, wispy material.
“No,” she moaned. “Go away—please.”

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Joan Bochmann's Writing

It's been a long time since I've posted here. Not because I've forgotten her—my dear sister, Joan. Far to the contrary. I miss her as much as ever, and I think of her a million times a day. I guess it's because it was just too hard at times. But Joan will never be forgotten, and in time, I will continue to share her wonderful writing—the book starts, the articles, and stories she entrusted to me—with the world.

I made a promise to Joan and I plan to keep it. She asked me to finish one of her books, if she didn't get it done. Unfortunately, she was unable to, although she worked on it almost up to the time of her death. The name of the book is Prism. There are nineteen chapters and various notes and possible inserts to it in her wonderful voice. It would be a shame to leave them hidden away in a box of file folders.

For a while, I suffered overwhelming sadness when I attempted to retrieve them. Besides, I was working on a novel of my own. I've finished the first draft of that, and so I attempted to delve into hers. At first I just couldn't do it. On the second attempt, I packed up all the files pertaining to that book and took them to a quiet coffee shop to work on them. It was a good start. I began by reading through her pages and taking notes on each chapter. In the process, I've been given ideas of where the story might go. Once I pick up her characters where she left them, I'll let them lead me to solve the story's mysteries and find the perfect ending. I don't know how long this will take. I've other jobs pressing for my time, making this a more or less spare-time endeavor.

I am somewhat surprised by the feeling that working on this book gives me. The grief and regrets that have plagued me since she died seem to be replaced by or maybe morphed into a feeling of solace as though through this work I am close to her.  Once again, I am blessed by her words.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Another entry from Joan's workshop exercises

As Joan further developed her character, she wrote:
Jan pulled back on the yoke of the aircraft and climbed to cruising altitude, resisting the urge to point the nose of the plane at the ground below. It wasn't a new feeling, but it was getting stronger. She fought against it by concentrating on the blue sky and the horizon and began to feel the joy and the freedom that flying always engendered.

She had only soloed a few weeks ago, but she still felt the warmth and pleasure when Scott got out of the plane and told her she was on her own.

"You're a natural, Jan," he had said. "Fly the pattern a couple of times and then go have fun." 

She smiled at the memory. She could still feel Scott's hug when she finally landed. She would miss his presence in the cockpit, but she cherished this new feeling of freedom and independence.

As she thought about Scott, sh compared him to Brian—the man who was so much like her father, although she didn't realize that when she married him. The divorce had been a relief, really, even if it did mean she had to take the teaching job she hated. How different Scott was—gentle but strong. He didn't seem to think she was an idiot. "Your a natural," she said aloud. What sweet words.

I love how Joan turned the memory of a bad experience into the beginning of a story that has a complex character and the potential for development of an intriguing plot. She didn't continue the story, as she was unable to attend all of the lessons, and because her life was very busy at the time, and she had other stories underway. But I wanted to share this much of her creative process. With her permission, of course. When she gave me the boxes of her saved writing assignments and essays and beginnings of novels, she said I could publish any of it as I wished.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Joan's creative writing: Lesson on POV

Continuing from yesterday's post, I want to share what Joan wrote when asked to take the antagonists point of view from the humiliating experience she had in third grade. She could have chosen Susie, but wisely chose the teacher.  Here is what she wrote in two short timed writing.  The first, "take the point of view of the antagonist."

Miss Harlan had had a very bad day. She had so hoped to be hired for the high school position only to learn that one of her male colleagues had won that prize. 

She really didn't like little kids. She particularly disliked the shy mousy ones. When little Susie Castle told her that Joan had stolen her beads, she was furious.  This was exactly the kind of junk she had no time to deal with. Susie, however, was a pretty little thing, and her father was on the school board. Before she thought it through she had confronted the frightened little mouse in front of the whole class. knowing that was wrong just made her more angry at the weeping child. 

The next assignment: Using the same character, give them a passion. Something they care a great deal about. Joan wrote:

Janet Harlan erased the board and put away the books on her desk. She was still shaken by her own behavior this afternoon. 

"How did I ever get into this profession, anyway?" she asked herself. 

She knew, though. It was her father who had insisted that she major in education, totally ignoring her protests that she wanted to be a pilot. She recalled all the arguments—that the world always needed teachers—she could get a job anywhere—she would be respected. 

What she really hated was that she had lacked the courage to stand up to him. She had always been so fearful—so mousy. 

Tears welled in her eyes as it dawned on her why she so disliked the shy, fearful girl she had humiliated today.

And so "Janet Harlan" becomes the protagonist for a story that continues through out the workshop.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Memory from Childhood

As I look through the many essays, stories, and writing assignments that my sister left me, “for whatever they’re worth” I see a treasure trove of excellent writing and rich story-telling skills. An imagination backed by a close empathy with humanity that comes from not only experience, but also from a close observation of human nature. Joanie paid attention, and her intuitive understanding of people made her a master at characterization.

Today I picked up the workbook she wrote in when taking a writing class that I gave in Colorado several years ago. Here is the anecdote she wrote for lesson one. “Fiction is a Lens on Life” The instructions were to look into your memory and chose an incident in which you were embarrassed, humiliated. or had your feelings hurt by another person. This is a timed writing. You don’t have time to plan ahead or revise.

By the way, I’m only sharing this because Joan gave me permission. Customarily, anything written or discussed in any of my workshops is strictly confidential.

Joan remembered an incident from early elementary school that stayed with her for the rest of her life.  She wrote:

I was so excited. What a beautiful bauble! I hadn’t had that much luck lately, what with the hard time, Mom and dad in the mountains and me spending my third grade year with strangers. Now I’d found the pretty necklace in the dirt on the playground. I showed it to Susie, thinking it would surely elevate me in her eyes. She looked at it briefly and said nothing. The bell rang and I noticed Susie whispering something to the teacher.
“Joan,” the teacher said sternly, “Susie tell me you stole her necklace. Is that true?”
I felt my face flush as everyone stared. I was terrified. I thought I might wet my pants. There wasn’t a friendly face in the room.
I fingered the necklace I had put around my neck and looked at my shoes.
“Come up her,” the teacher commanded.
I couldn’t move.
She approached me and removed the beads from my neck. “Susie, is this your necklace?” she asked.
I stared in disbelief as Susie said, “Yes, It is.”
The entire class looked at me in disgust. I felt smaller and smaller and hoped I would just disappear!

A subsequent lesson from the workshop is on Point of View, and in order to get back into the realm of fiction, as well as to get writers thinking from a perspective other than their own, the exercise asks the writer to take the antagonist from the exercise above and get into that person’s head. What might have been going on to provoke the behavior that caused so much humiliation?  In the next post, I’ll share what Joan did with that assignment.

Monday, February 10, 2014

What Is Life?

(These are thoughts that came to mind as I remember not only Joanie, but other friends who've had struggles and disappointments, friends who've lost loved ones. Life wasn't always easy for Joan, especially after the cancer hit, yet, she carries on with dignity and hope, sharing love, light, and laughter with those around her. This is just another raw rhyme that came to me as memories of her and others and my own past tumbled through my mind.)

Joy and pain
loss and gain
    life is such a mixture.

Love and hate
hurry and wait
    searching for a fixture:

a solid anchor
lost in rancor
    when wedlock lost its bliss

Marriage and divorce
a ship off course
    What warning signs did we miss?

Hope and despair
When life's unfair
    We stumble on unmarked trails.

Dreams of perfection
dashed by rejection
    And the wind is gone from our sails.

Yet, time marches on
and we carry on
    learning, we hope, from our errors.

Happiness and sorrow
yesterday and tomorrow
    Life is much more than our terrors.

We focus on fun
and victories won
    instead of looking back with regret.

Blessing and trials
bring rueful smiles
    And we don't give up just yet.

Some dreams have come true
With others still due
    When we come to the end of life

Give thanks for the good.
Close the door on the "should"
    As we ask, "Was it worth all the strife?"

The answer lies deep
in the secrets we keep
    May we answer with a resounding, "Yea!"

The good times were rife
but what guided our life
    Were the lessons we learned on the way.

(by Janet Muirhead Hill)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Joanie, Do You Remember?

Joanie, Remember When?

Joanie, do you remember
When you made up plays
and we performed them for Mom and Dad
Each kid having a part?

Joanie, do you remember
walking barrels in the yard
giving them horse names?
The small one with holes was Clipper.

Joanie, I think of you night and day
in dreams and sudden memories
that make my heart beat faster
and my eyes fill with tears

Time, they say, will lessen the sorrow
that I feel when you can’t answer anymore.
I say, time has no such power
I miss you more each day

I bury myself in busy-ness,
Piling on more new jobs
So my mind will stay busy.
And keep memories away.

Yet, with every task at hand
my mind calls to you. Joanie?
What do you think?
I yearn for your wisdom.

Or I can be searching online,
Or looking at posts on Facebook
And I see a photo of a giant horse.
It’s black, muscular, and 19 hands tall.

And the grief that skulks
in the shadows of my mind
assaults me, suddenly,
and before I can stop it,

My whole body shakes
with an ambush of sobs,
And no one—save you and me
would understand why.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Joan Bochmann—on journaling and New Years resolutions


Joan Bochmann

©February, 2011

January—that awful month when the cold settles in, refusing to let go; when the bills fill your mailbox and when everyone you know seems to get the flu. Some Januarys are worse than others—sometimes we have blizzards and get snowed in; sometimes the power goes out and sometimes people die. I read somewhere that there are more deaths in January than any other month, but I don’t know if that is true. I do know that my mother died in a January, leaving a huge hole in my life.

January is also the month of resolutions, of goals, of renewed determination to achieve something worthwhile. This determination begins to diminish by the second week and more often than not has completely disappeared by mid-March.

            My new year’s resolution this year was to get rid of clutter. I have a very small house but I have bookshelves in every room, including the kitchen and one bathroom. I determined that reducing the size of my library would be the best place to begin my decluttering project. In the process of going through this intimidating number of books, I came across a sizeable number of journals. The irony is not lost upon me. Each volume reflects a prior New Year’s resolution to “journal” every day. There is a sort of beauty to the covers of the journals themselves. Some of them are quite lovely and inviting with butterflies and birdhouses, ribbons and rhymes, calligraphy and clasps; then there are the plain old spiral bound notebooks. It is the pages themselves that intrigued me and stopped me cold in my quest to conquer clutter.

            The entries all begin on January 1 of each year, except for one that begins on December 8, 1975, when I met my husband at a Boulder bar. That one ends with a paddleboat trip through the bayous outside New Orleans in September 1978. Another journal with a lovely cover, a gift from my daughter in 1996 was given faithful attention until February 2, 1997, with one more entry in July of 1999. This one is full of prayers of thanksgiving for a multitude of activities with my family.

            Parting with any book is difficult enough, but journals dating from 10 to 15 years ago are just begging to be read. After several cups of coffee and some serious eyestrain, I get this bright idea to consolidate these myriad snippets of my past by typing them all into the computer and then sorting them somehow. This is a bit daunting for several reasons. First, there is the sheer number of entries; and then there is the countless number of subjects covered. Do you sort chronologically, as they are written to get a picture of a certain time period, or do you sort according to subject; perhaps with the goal of seeing change and/or growth in certain areas of your life? Hard to know. Family is liberally interspersed through all of the volumes, so “family” itself would be a huge category. The good thing is I don’t have to decide yet, because I am still in the data entry stage of this project, with about fifteen more journals to go.

 The point I am trying to make, though, is that running across and gathering these journals in one place has slowed my “clean out the clutter project considerably.” I cannot put them down once I begin reading. Despite the paucity of entries, because there are many, many volumes, I have been tripping down memory lane for days now. I find entries about my parents, long ago departed, that are bittersweet. I sometimes marvel at the language I use, surprised that I could write that well. On the other hand, I find myself cringing with embarrassment at the clumsiness of certain sentences.

            These journals, which have lived in various corners, on various shelves ,and on my nightstand from time to time, are admittedly fragmented and incomplete, but they are scenes from my past. There are, of course, the mundane references to the weather and the whiny laments about the flu, colds, injuries, etc. On the more pleasant side, though, are anecdotes about kids and grandkids, camping trips and vacations—all of which paint memory pictures that brighten this tedious project. Several times I tried to set down my dreams—these have an almost science-fiction quality, even though they are usually peopled by characters in my life. There is the occasional rant about the total contrariness of my spouse, children, or bosses. References to some of the animals in my life, who are no longer with me, bring both tears and happy memories.

            There are, I am glad to say, many references to God and His creation and the blessings He has bestowed on me over the years, along with a few prayers for His favor as I travel through the peaks and valleys of life.

            Although these journals almost always stop sometime before mid-year, attesting to still another broken vow to write daily, they have been fun to read. I sort of cringe when I think of anyone reading them, but I can’t bring myself to get rid of them. As I grow more content with each passing year, I find it a little harder to find anything to write about, so typing these journal entries is, I hope, another tactic to waken my sleeping muse.

            As for the clutter elimination project, well, there’s always next year.