All posts by LHM

About LHM

Lisa Minney is a writer, librarian, teacher, amateur gardener, porch sitter, typewriter collector, and publisher. She lives in West Virginia with her husband Frank, their beagle, Daisy; a tabby cat, Dandelion; and several hens.

Indian Summer (a poem)

To the casual driver passing through,
the hills might still look green.
But I see yellow in the poplar,
brown in the sumac,
tinges of rust around the oak.
The chestnut and ash are absent.

There used to be music,
but the summer songbirds
have all gone.
The cacophony now of
cricket chirps and katydid trills,
the fluttering wings of
dragon and horse fly.

Calendars claim it is summer still,
Indian Summer they say,
those warm days and cool nights.
Nothing blooms now but goldenrod,
ragweed, and untrained morning glories
the hummingbird no longer visits.

A crow calls out what’s coming in
the distance, and several friends reply.
The breezes are far too slight
to make the wind chime sing,
but plenty powerful enough to
loosen withered leaves who,
falling,
dance their way to death.

Me and the Zero-Turn Mower

(Not our actual mower, but very similar.)

This spring, Frank went out and purchased a new zero-turn riding mower. Mind you, he’s not the one who mows around here. But with that male “bigger is better” mentality, he wanted to purchase something that would cut down on the time his mom and I spend mowing. We mow acres every week.

The first day I attempted to use the zero-turn, I was livid. This new contraption had turned one of my Zen processes into a challenging new game I was not familiar or comfortable with. I ran over rocks, broke a flower pot, damaged things just trying to get the thing in and out of its storage space.

Because the zero-turn has no steering wheel and instead has… What to call them? Toggles? Steering arms? Handlebars? I don’t know. At any rate, after mowing this land for more than 20 years and knowing I could do it with a drink in one hand and the steering wheel in the other — the zero-turn mower created a whole new ball game.  Mowing was no longer an automatic thoughtless process.

I don’t like change. Especially in routines I have down-pat and can accomplish without thinking. One reason I like mowing is because my mind can wander without having to give the task at hand very much thought.  The zero-turn steers differently, turns differently, rides and handles differently. I have to pay attention. Focus. Concentrate on what I’m doing.

In other words, it wiped out all that I love about mowing.

The wider mower deck is nice, yes. Very nice. It seems as though I can cover twice as much ground in half the time. Less time out of the house in the sunshine, away from housework, ringing phones, internet notifications. I might just be riding around the yard, but mowing is often the closest I can get to running away from my life. Mowing was my excuse to just sit and let my mind muddle, a time-out disguised as work.

The zero-turn cut down the time spent, but turned mowing into work again. I pouted about it. Fiercely complained. This financed man’s mower and I were not going to be friends. No sir. I spent the first month of the summer doing all the lawn and yard edges with my old steering-wheel mower, and only mowing the middle of the yard with the zero-turn.

And then the mower belt on my old mower broke, and Frank didn’t fix it.

Gah. Well, I’m not about to replace a mower belt myself.

So I have spent the last two months of this summer getting accustomed to that zero-turn lawn tractor.

Frank did make adjustments to the handlebars so I could manage it better, and I have learned since how to mow very slowly to handle the trimming around the edges. But I can’t quite set in my mind where the exact pivot point of the zero-turn is beneath me. I’m often pivoting too early, or worse yet, too late.

I googled how to drive a zero-turn. Most of them simply stated the obvious.

And reverse? Frankly, I’ve never been that good at reverse even with a steering wheel.  I’m not good at reverse on my own two feet. With the zero-turn, if I just need to back straight up, I’m okay. But maneuvering or turning in reverse still causes me to curse under my breath. I have to do it at the slowest possible speed just to make sure I’m not flailing around like a landed fish.

So, I am growing a relationship with this zero-turn contraption that I cursed in May and bitched about on social media. It’s a fine machine, but we’re not friends yet. It’s damn near impossible to drive it one-handed, which means I have to actually slow down or stop to take a drink, slap a fly, or wipe sweat from my brow. That frustrates me. It breaks the groove.

I also have not yet come to grasp how a “lawn tractor” could or would have bald wheels in the front. Bald. Zero tread. Are they even tires? I don’t know. Hard, slippery things that they are. Because our yard is nowhere near perfectly flat, those tiny smooth front wheels are often spinning in the air. I can see where tread on the front might tear up the lawn in certain zero-turn situations, but come on! This girl needs tread. Uphill, downhill, across ditches, dimples, and pockets. How can you have two treadless tires on a lawn tractor? What’s up with that? Even if it’s just for some kind of show to make me feel better, something decorative if there’s some sane reason for having none. Smooth tires in the country are just — wrong.

There are two places in the yard where the new wider mower deck won’t fit. Spaces which I now have to weed-eat in addition to all the other weed-eating we do. Frank got me a new weedeater this year as well–a man-size, gas-powered creature to supplement my small battery-powered baby I’ve been working with for nearly a decade now.

We aren’t friends yet either.

Making Up with my Muse

I wrote an essay this week! My first free-flowing, inspired, creative writing moment since I received my Master’s Degree in Creative Writing – two years, nine months, and three days ago. You have no idea what a relief it is to know that my muse has not permanently left me after all.

I do not blame my MFA experience on this extended dry spell, (a spell that lasted longer than my time in the program). The graduate environment I experienced was encouraging, empowering, enlightening. I read, heard, and met amazing writers who were doing fantastic work. The lessons I learned and tools I was given are invaluable to me.

But muses are finicky, you know. My muse is more organic than academic, and in my graduate goal to become a better writer, I think she somehow got the impression that she was no longer good enough. I thought my MFA would make me a “real” writer. My muse, after all, isn’t “real,” but she is a true part of my writing process.

My muse and I have been writing together all my life. She’s whimsical. She likes to do her own thing, without expectations. She likes to figure it out herself without structure or strings. She doesn’t think about writing rules or prescriptions or possibilities of getting published. She doesn’t care what others think. She just needs a fine-point pen and a college-ruled page.

But even these will not persuade her when she’s pouting.

I tried to appease her. New pens, new notebooks, new books on the craft of writing. Writing prompts. Writer’s Group. I read Julia Cameron’s The Artists’ Way (again), and when that didn’t work, I read Cameron’s The Right to Write.

I tried to write without my muse. Real writers write as a discipline you know, inspired or not. The results were clunky, forced, and without flow. Chunks of purposeless rambling without direction. Clearly, though I now have my Master’s, I am nothing without my muse.

I did all I could to conjure her. I tried to bribe her, entice her, force her to appear and produce, to maintain the production level I imposed on her during graduate school. All to no avail. I could not find her nor force her, so I let her be.

In her absence, I colored adult coloring books. I redecorated the spare bedroom, began scrapbooking. I started reading for enjoyment again, re-organizing my house, playing word puzzles on my phone. I got promoted at work and adjusted my life to spend more weekends with my aging mother.

I waited, with dwindling faith that my muse would return.

And then, on my long drive home from my mother’s last weekend, I heard her. My muse was sitting quietly in the back of my mind, drafting an essay about what my visits to Mother’s have become.

A disciplined writer might have pulled over to scratch down the words. The thought occurred to me, from fear I might miss the chance to catch them. But instead, I listened to her. I listened to her routine of tasks she tackles on her regular visits to Mother’s. I listened to her strain for honor and gratitude beneath the burdens of the increasing caregiving responsibilities.

When the muse fell silent, she left an unfinished essay in my head. But I knew, as I pulled into our driveway, that she would be back for it.

Four days later, I caught my muse running through the introduction of the essay again, and I sat down with a fine-point pen and a college-ruled pad. Within a few minutes, together we filled a full page.

I believe my muse has finally forgiven me. Forgiven me for comparing her to others, telling her she had to improve, for whispering shoulds and coulds in her ear. She and I are working together again, and she even used some of the new tools from the MFA toolbox. For her they are new toys, not tools. (And of course, there’s always revision.)

I don’t believe though, that all is completely well between us yet. That new essay we started on visits to Mother’s still isn’t finished. When we sat down to finish it, we wrote this essay instead.

I’m hoping she and I can move forward from here.

.

Mountains Piled Upon Mountains

I am so proud to have my work included in Mountains Piled Upon Mountains:  Appalachian Nature Writing in the Anthropocene.

Image from the corresponding article at 100daysinappalachia.com.

Available from West Virginia University PressMountains Piled upon Mountains features nearly fifty writers from across Appalachia sharing their place-based fiction, literary nonfiction, and poetry. Moving beyond the tradition of transcendental nature writing, much of the work collected here engages current issues facing the region and the planet (such as hydraulic fracturing, water contamination, mountaintop removal, and deforestation), and provides readers with insights on the human-nature relationship in an era of rapid environmental change.

This book includes a mix of new and recent creative work by established and emerging authors. The contributors write about experiences from northern Georgia to upstate New York, invite parallels between a watershed in West Virginia and one in North Carolina, and often emphasize connections between Appalachia and more distant locations. In the pages of Mountains Piled upon Mountains are celebration, mourning, confusion, loneliness, admiration, and other emotions and experiences rooted in place but transcending Appalachia’s boundaries.

The collection includes my essay, “Shaken Foundations.” An excerpt from this essay was included in the fall issue of “Mountain State Sierran,” the WV Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Shaken Foundations” has also been used in college composition classes as an example of a fact-driven narrative.

You can read and hear more about Mountains Upon Mountains from WV Public Broadcasting, or from 100 Days in Appalachia.

You can purchase the book from Amazon here:

Feminine Rising: Voices of Power and Invisibility

I am so proud and pleased to have my work included in the recently released anthology: Feminine Rising: Voices of Power and Invisibility, from Cynren Press.

My essay, “Mental Pause,” discusses many of the issues that are included with the onset of menopause, and how this right of passage can affect a woman’s life.

Feminine Rising: Voices of Power and Invisibility brings together international poets and essayists, both award-winning and emergent, to answer these questions with raw, honest meditations that speak to women of all races, nationalities, and sexual orientations. It is an anthology of unforgettable stories both humorous and frightening, inspirational and sensual, employing traditional poetry and prose alongside exciting experimental forms. Feminine Rising celebrates women’s differences while embracing the source of their sameness–the unique experience of womanhood.

Edited by Andrea Fekete & Lara Lillibridge, with a foreword by Amy Hudock, PhD, this collection includes voices of women from all over the world.

You can read Lara’s introduction here, Andrea’s here, and listen to contributor Rashida Murphyread her poem from the anthology here.

Get your copy below: