Thursday, July 11, 2019

The Butterfly Business

Monarch Madness is upon those of us who are trying to increase the population of Monarch butterflies here in the QC urban area. We do it because it helps the annual migration. We do it because, like gardening in general, it’s a satisfying hobby with tangible results.

Last year’s harsh winter took out some of my Whorled milkweed. The taller varieties seem okay. And, new this year, I’ve figured out that pruning the plants back early can produce more compact plants with additional tender leaves that momma Monarchs seem to look for. A sensible idea that needed reinforcing. Many thanks to: for supplying this helpful hint and a nudge to go for it. My “weed” patch looks so much better.

This year, I’ve rescued eggs and caterpillars to raise and release. So has my neighbor. It makes for pleasant days watching Monarchs flit around our gardens. The photo I’ve added has three Monarchs going about their business. Difficult to see, but they are there.

All this has inspired me to dig out my “Letters to a Butterfly.” This began last year with my milkweed expansion in an isolated area at Fairmount Library, Davenport. (They now have four different kinds growing.) It turned into a letter writing project for visitors to my booth for Art in the Garden held at the Quad-City Botanical Center, Rock Island.

Here are the letters I collected:

Go forth and flutter lovely Monarch.

Keep flapping your wings! You’ll get there!

Oh! The places you will go 😊

Watch out for cars.

Though it may seem hard, and there will be mistakes, you’ll get there!

Come back …

Lots of encouraging thoughts for those hot summer days in the garden.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Ben Miller

Ben Miller was the keynote speaker for this year’s David R. Collins Writers’ Conference on Thursday, June 27 at the Figge’s John Deere auditorium. What follows are my remarks at the open mic event held Friday, June 28 at Rozz-Tox, Rock Island, IL.

"Ben Miller was the perfect choice to be the keynote speaker for the 40th anniversary edition of the David R. Collins Writers’ Conference. The Figge was the perfect venue. I toured two exhibits that involved recycling: the first artist used garbage from Rio’s largest dump to restage famous paintings, the other artist reused knick-knacks to form collages that transformed familiar objects into shrines and 3-D sculptures. Perfect tie ins with the title of Ben Miller’s book which is rather long and involved. It begins with “River Bend Chronicle” moves on to mention “Junkification,” then alludes to a “Boyhood,” before concluding with “the Curious Glory of Urban Iowa.” To date it is his one and only book.

I believe Ben Miller is better known for his essays. I believe that after listening to him speak to us current members of the Midwest Writing Center and this year’s conference attendees. His remarks were quite literate and eloquent. Testament to the many people he mentioned and thanked for helping a needy youngster turn a writing passion into a life’s work.

Dick Stahl still writes poems inspired by the Mississippi River; he just celebrated his 80th birthday. Steve Lackey keeps the Writer’s Studio chugging along; its twice monthly meetings still welcome all comers. Rochelle Murray may be a retired librarian, but she never tires of being the champion for children’s reading skills. These are only a few of Miller’s cast of life-changing, perhaps lifesaving, characters.

The Midwest Writing Center began as the vision of David R. Collins, teacher. It continues as a hard-working resource for all aspiring writers. Just as it supplied Ben Miller with what he needed, when he needed it. The Midwest Writing Center has always been there for my writing journey by offering just the right workshop, and the perfect inspiration when I needed it. So yes, I answered Ben Miller’s call to action— DO SOMETHING FOR YOUR WRITING EVERY DAY! I wrote this today, at 5 AM. And I will write something else tomorrow.

Thank you all for your support."                 Mary R. Davidsaver                                                                                                                          

Friday, April 12, 2019

A Timely Quote: Gardening

“Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do especially in the inner city.” – Ron Finley

I love a quote that presents itself at the perfect moment for maximum impact. This one came in time for a morning of aching back and legs, the inevitable result of spending the previous warm afternoon clearing away last year’s garden clutter. Springtime squats—the exercise I’m always unprepared for—are those repetitive motions performed by bending the knees to get closer to the clump of dried up stuff you need to cut off or pull out to make way for the new growth that’s just peaking out of the ground. Anyway, that’s my ritual. Someday I’ll get smart enough to pull up a stool and sit down right away. 

My gardening space is more suburban than inner city. I still count it as a defiant act in so much as it tends to fly against the grain of a homeowner’s association’s idea of neat, tidy, and bland. I have a few supporters in my corner. Those who wish me well in working on my little island of a Monarch waystation. Their kind comments help me keep going. Plus, the butterflies have found me! Caterpillars, by the way, make great pets. I give them a head start in life by nurturing them through their main stages of growth then send them off into the world. At the end of the season, we are all free to go our separate ways.

As for therapeutic … Yes, I have the good feelings that come from helping the Monarch migration, but I have the look of a gardener: weathered skin, worn-out leather gloves, and a healthy respect for bees. I’m not sure I’d call that part therapeutic. For me the therapy comes when I absolutely need private time—I go out to the garden and find something to do. It’s a soothing repetitive routine that’s not without its surprises. Some good, like seeing a moth that behaves like a hummingbird. Some bad, as when I finally discover the parasite that’s killing caterpillars. Both spur me onward with new understanding and growth.

Gardening is work. Writing is work. Seeing them as therapeutic and/or defiant acts comes from your perspective and inner need. My need right now is get on with my next project.

Ron Findley’s quote comes from a recent Quad-Times Crytoquote puzzle.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Spending Time with Sarah Ruhl

Sarah Ruhl’s playwrighting workshop at Brunner Theatre, Augustana College, provided three writing exercises.

I missed the first one because I was late leaving home and then found my preferred parking spot filled with sports fans. So, I can only speculate on the myriad ways a roomful of eager college students might choose to name their main characters. My unfortunate loss.  

The second exercise had us pairing up and dedicating time to closely observing each other. I have to say that both looking and being looked at can be equally uncomfortable. But the mental images formed lingered quite a while. After being thus forced into “observation mode” we were given time to write about “home."

The third exercise had the feel of a Mad-Lib game. Our goal was not to fill in the blank spaces of a ready-made story grid. We would be fleshing out our own stories. It started by drawing five columns on a sheet of paper. Then we were asked to randomly place words: colors/3, names/2, the letter I/3, nouns/5, adjectives/3, adverbs/2, verbs/4, and a couple of exclamations throughout the page. The goal was to leave lots of blank spaces in between the pre-chosen words. Filling in those blanks within each column created sentences that made sense and often flowed into a coherent story. If the words chosen were related to a current writing project, I could see how it would inspire viewing your work with fresh potential.

That exercise was my best take-a-way from Ruhl’s workshop. I can see why she doesn’t believe in writer’s block. That and the time I spent among energized college students working on their plays.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Battle of the Prophets

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer was one book I had to finish. Not so much because of the true crime aspects, as sensational as they may be, but because of the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that Krakauer reported. As I read, I began to note some basic similarities between Joseph Smith and Eric Janson. The former was the founding prophet for the Mormons and the latter was the founding prophet of the Bishop Hill colony in Henry county, Illinois. I made my home in Bishop Hill for years, so reading this book became something of a personal journey.

Joseph Smith Jr.
Born: Dec. 23, 1805
Died: June 27, 1844 [age 39]
Cause of death: gunshot
Spouse(s) Emma Smith & other plural wives

Eric (Erik Jansson) Janson
Born: December 19, 1808
Died: May 13, 1850 [age 41]
Cause of death: gunshot
Spouse Maja Stina died of cholera. Janson remarried in September 1849. Plural wives? Not to my knowledge.

Smith was swept up in the American “Second Great Awakening. In Sweden, Janson was part of the Pietist Movement that had spread northward from Germany.

Smith had visions of a golden book. Janson had mystical experiences and claimed his rheumatism was cured.

1831 Smith and his followers moved from western New York to Ohio, to Missouri, and then to Nauvoo, Illinois. Janson led his pietist sect to emigrate from Sweden to US in 1846. They settled in west central Illinois. They Americanized themselves by learning the language and, in some cases, changing their names.

For a time, Nauvoo grew to be second largest city outside of Chicago. Bishop Hill, named for Janson’s birthplace, also grew but not nearly as much. Bishop Hill colonists used John Deere’s new plow to break the prairie and grow sustaining crops. Their letters sent back to Sweden sparked a wave of immigration to the US.

Smith landed in jail in Carthage, IL, and was fatally attacked by a mob. Janson was jailed in Sweden prior to escaping for America. His beliefs conflicted with the state religion. He was at the Henry County courthouse on business when he was attacked by former colonist John Root.

After Janson’s death, Bishop Hill colony had a group of trustees take control of the colony business. Which was in very bad shape. In no small part because a doctor Janson had called in during a cholera outbreak sued to get his bill paid.

Where did Dr. Robert Foster come from? —Nauvoo.

Nearing bankruptcy and depopulated by desertions, the Bishop Hill colony could still list the following: “100 men, 250 women, 200 children. It owned 4000 acres, a church, grist and flour mills, 3 dwelling houses, and 5 other buildings.” This list doesn’t begin to do justice to the imposing scale of those colony buildings. Most still exist.

The dissolution of the Bishop Hill colony began in 1862 but, because of the Civil War, was not finalized until 1879. The 200 remaining “Janssonists” dispersed among: the Methodist church, Pleasant Hill Shakers, and Seventh Day Adventists.

I found these rough similarities uncanny, but Jon Krakauer’s book plumbed a depth of violence in the background of the Mormon religion and its fundamentalist factions that I never experienced in my time living in Bishop Hill. I would subscribe to the following quote:

“The Bishop Hill colony was not insular & makes a useful contrast to Mormons in Nauvoo & the Amanas, both contemporaries.”

Monday, March 18, 2019

Valuable Marketing Tool

The saga of the orange “Crush” pencil stub or the review of Book Marketing Basics, either way you look at it, there’s a valuable marketing tool here.

I’ve known that marketing was Jodie Toohey’s passion since the first time I laid eyes on her. It was at a 2008 launch event for Crush and Other Love Poems for Girls and everything had an orange theme. I picked up an orange pencil. There wasn’t much left of that pencil after my husband used it for a carpentry project, but I saved the nub all these years. Printed on that four-inch piece of orange wood is “CRUSH” and a web address. I’ve kept it because it was, and still is, a valuable reminder of the essence of marketing: getting your name and your product out into the world, and letting people know how to find you.

Book Marketing Basics: The 5 Ps; Applying the Fundamentals to your Book is Toohey’s latest book. I was thrilled to receive a free early copy so I could provide a review. I have watched Toohey hone her approach to marketing by leading traditional classes, holding multi-day workshops, and experimenting with online avenues for instruction. She’s always made her educational tools interactive and relevant.

My favorite chapters from Book Marketing Basics:
Developmental Editing—a great money saving idea that’s easy to implement.
Line or Copy Editing—offers solid examples to help your writing.
Copyright—or now not to stress out about protection.
What To Charge? & Discounts—numbers are always important for the bottom line.
There are too many chapters on where to sell and how to promote to list them all separately.

I found things I knew and needed to be reminded of, plus new things I’d like to try out. There are tips for saving money and advice on spending your money wisely. Throughout is the mantra of knowing your readers and connecting with them either in person or online. The list of resources at the end of Book Marketing Basics is a gem all by itself. 

As a writer, I started out at the lowest level and I sure wish this practical resource book had been there for me. 

Monday, March 11, 2019

Iron Pen 2019 part 2

I was sorting through files looking for one thing and found another. This quote from Barbara Kingsolver is a favorite and worth sharing. I strive to follow this advice and look for joy and be hopeful. It's easiest in a garden. Hardest at the keyboard.

Excerpt from High Tide in Tucson

“Every one of us is called upon, probably many times, to start a new life. A frightening diagnosis, a marriage, a move, loss of a job or a limb or a loved one, a graduation, bringing a new baby home: it’s impossible to think at first how this all will be possible. Eventually, what moves it all forward is the subterranean ebb and flow of being alive among the living.

In my own worst seasons, I’ve come back from the colorless world of despair by forcing myself to look hard, for a long time at a single glorious thing: a flame of red geranium outside my bedroom window. And then another: my daughter in a yellow dress. And another: the perfect outline of a full, dark sphere behind the crescent moon. Until I learned to be in love with my life again. Like a stroke victim retraining new parts of the brain to grasp lost skills, I have taught myself joy, over and over again.

It’s not such a wide gulf to cross, then, from survival to poetry. We hold fast to the passions of endurance that buckle and creak beneath us, dovetailed, tight as a good wooden boat to carry us onward. And onward full tilt we go, pitched and wrecked and absurdly resolute, driven in spite of everything to make good on a new shore. To be hopeful, to embrace one possibility after another—that is surely the basic instinct. Baser even than hate, the thing with teeth, which can be stilled with a tone of voice or stunned by beauty. If the whole world of the living has to turn on the single point of remaining alive, that pointed endurance is the poetry of hope. The thing with feathers.”

Barbara Kingsolver from High Tide in Tucson, Essays from Now or Never