I still don’t feel ‘retired’

Yes, it sounds whiny, even insensitive, but it’s true. Since taking the buyout nearly eight years ago and leaving the newsroom altogether a year later, I still have no idea of what kicking back full-time means. You know, like playing golf or sunbathing or heading for the mountains.

What it has allowed is more time to tackle projects I’ve felt are important – and more sustained focus. The fiction, especially, has gained depth in the process. Remember, in the past two years, I’ve thoroughly revised nearly all of my novels and pulled related volumes from public view.

Curiously, poetry has taken a backseat. I’m not attending readings or society meetings – the latter conflict with other obligations. Meanwhile, submissions to small-press journals and presses have ceased altogether, replaced by my blogging presentations, which I feel are far more effective in relation to the time involved. What I sometimes refer to as collecting rejection slips.

I hate to admit that despite early warnings, blogging takes up more time than I expected – and even then, I’m not reading as widely as I hoped. The WordPress Reader has tons of fine postings to always check out.

Related to blogging is the photography. I’ve always had a strong visual awareness, abetted by four years of strict art training in high school. When I launched the Red Barn at the end of 2011, I expected it to be fully text-driven, but you can see how far we’ve moved away from that. I’m still at a point-and-shoot rather than technically precise attitude – last thing I need is another obsession – but I am proud of much of what I’ve collected and shared.

Quaker picked up with service on the New England Yearly Meeting’s Ministry and Counsel committee and its deliberations throughout the year, but my anticipated daily early morning meditation and yoga haven’t materialized. Frankly, Quaker could become a full-time but unpaid job all its own.

Instead, the daily swimming at the indoor pool has been giving me a cardio workout and a half-hour for clearing my head, and my early-morning Spanish drills just may come in useful if I ever travel to fellow members of the Iglesia de los Amigos in Cuba. The language itself is harder than I remember it being in high school.

Well, I wasn’t planning on being a member of a solid choir, either, or of finally self-publishing as I have at Smashwords. In today’s literary scene, getting a book out is only the beginning of the labor – promotion and marketing, for all but the best-selling authors, is a task left to the creator. It’s a common lament.

Should I mention falling way behind in household chores, gardening tasks, and general maintenance?

On reflection, I still don’t know how I managed all I did while I was still duly employed.

So here we are, beginning year No. 8 at the Red Barn. Let’s see what really happens ahead.

And now, for a peek ahead

Hard to believe I’m starting my eighth year of blogging here already. A lot has happened in my own life in that time, of course – much of it reflected in the postings and in the evolution of the blog itself.

Each year, there’s a slightly new tack at the Red Barn and its related blogs. The merry-go-round has lost some of its categories, for one thing. Gone are fresh entries reflecting Newspaper Traditions – I’ve been out of the trade too long and am viewing the current, sorry business woes from the outside these days. Likewise, my Poetry and Poetry Footnotes have moved over to free weekly releases at my Thistle Finch imprint. The Quaker Practice postings have their own blog at As Light Is Sown and, to a lesser extent, at Chicken Farmer I Still Love You, which is presenting personal finance exercises and insights. Even the Home & Garden and American Affairs entries have slowed down.

In their place has come an increased reliance on the topics stirred up by my eight novels, which are available as ebooks from Smashwords and its allied digital retailers. That will continue this year.

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Here at the Red Barn, you’ll be seeing two new features.

Each Monday, the Trail Markers category will hit the road to present a vanity license plate found in our corner of the world. Some of them are quite amusing or imaginative.

And Home & Garden will let our two rabbits, Salty and Pepper, stick their noses in on alternate Wednesdays. What is it about pets, anyway?

The weekly Tendrils will be looking mostly at topics related to the novels, a trend that picked up speed last year. Building these fact sheets has been fun for me, and I hope you, too.

Cassia’s World will continue to draw on passages discarded from the final revisions of What’s Left. I’m sure glad the tone and pace of the published book veered away from these clippings, but they do help shape the evolving thinking about the characters and plot. In addition, I’ll also add some insights from the two upcoming novels about Jaya after she leaves the ashram.

The Postcards, meanwhile, will have more entries from people other than me – and a few will actually include me as the subject rather than the shooter. We’ll be looking closely at the new construction in downtown Dover as well as our explorations of Downeast Maine.

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Take a peek, too, at the four related blogs.

As Light Is Sown is launching a weekly recap of my experience of reading the Bible straight-through. As you might imagine, I take an unconventional stance in tackling this collection of seminal and often puzzling writings.

Chicken Farmer I Still Love You continues its Talking Money exercises and insights. It’s well worth the reading.

The Orphan George Chronicles will turn to a miniseries drawn from the memories of a Hodgson line in the Pacific Northwest, one far rowdier than many of its Quaker relations back east. It’s a remarkable document.

And Thistle Finch will continue with 24 free poetry chapbooks plus photo albums, broadsides, and four Quaker posters ahead.

As always, there’s room for the unexpected.

Here’s hoping you’ll be a frequent visitor and commentator!

What would you most want to see?

They’re balancing the ring in Petronella

A style of community dance popular in New England since Colonial times, contras start out as two lines of partners facing each other and then the next couple on each side. There’s a live band and callers, and we walk through the sequence of steps before the music begins. The whole point is to have fun, and you wind up dancing with everyone in the line before the piece is finished. This example is from the  Lamprey River Band’s dance series in Dover’s city hall before the monthly event moved to a Unitarian-Universalist church in neighboring Durham. This particular dance is named Petronella.

Meet a Quaker

Many of the Dover’s churches have their booths at the city’s annual Apple Harvest Day festival, and the Quaker meeting is no exception. Here we are making the most of our past to let people know we’re still thriving today. We handed out homemade cookies – 1,162 of them baked the night before – and had kids pitch in to hand-crank grains of oats into oatmeal. The Quaker Oats company, by the way, was never owned by Quakers – they just liked our reputation for honesty and quality.

A missed opportunity

One of the delights of my small city is the waterfall at the heart of the downtown. It has powered mills since 1642, and with the addition of the dam atop the cataract, ran the textiles looms that made Cocheco calico world-famous.

The Central Falls and the dam atop it span the Cocheco River where it drops to the tide.

The river – seen here resting at the end of summer – rages in the springtime, with snowmelt and heavy rains, and plunges into the tides that fluctuate eight to ten feet every six hours. Hence, the fish ladder for salmon, herring, and migrating eels.

With the retraining wall on the south side of the site in danger, a new wall was installed during the summer – a major construction project that tied up traffic for months.

The new retaining wall is seen from the Central Avenue bridge.

When the old wall and the ground behind it were being removed earlier in the year, the excavation suggested that a much different design was in the works. Getting a clear view of the falling water has been difficult. The old walkway was charming, but you really wanted to get down lower and closer to the water. I envisioned a set of small terraces stepping downward beside the fish ladder.

 

The fish ladder ascends next to the retaining wall.

 

Here’s how the ladder and wall appear from a pedestrian bridge next to the mill.

Alas, that’s not what happened. We don’t even have the charming walkway anymore.

I’m hoping the new wall weathers quickly. Right now, it strikes me as an eyesore.

They bill this as Fish Ladder Park. No kidding. The tree-lined walkway and quaint lamps are gone.