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One of the authors on a writing web site I follow noted that she doesn’t believe in writer’s block. She says, we block because we don’t know what we want to say next.

Come the end of November, it will be two years since we killed Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine, a monthly publication we produced for a decade.  When we ended the magazine, we were at the peak of our readership, reaching nearly 40,000 readers monthly with 18,000 print copies circulated around central West Virginia. We never could print enough copies.

Of course, I had a monthly column in the magazine, a continuing conversation I had with readers for ten years.

And when the magazine ended, I lost that audience and lost that conversation. For two years following, I did not know what to say. Who would I be talking to?

Perhaps I was reluctant to admit we failed the magazine. We could not rustle up enough advertising revenue to keep it alive. Perhaps I didn’t want to admit that I felt trapped by the business–its monthly deadlines, the routine of it, the box I had put around myself as a writer and career woman. I knew, for the last two years of the publication, that the magazine I had once dreamed of creating was something I didn’t want any more. The simple country Iife I had toted and promoted for ten years was feeling restrictive, limiting, and too much of a struggle.

I had hoped to create a publication that readers would love, and we did. That was the fun part. Keeping it financially viable with advertising income in an economically depressed region was a huge pain in the ass. That was no fun at all.

I did not realize until we discontinued the magazine, how much of a burden it was on us. Nor did I realize, until the deed was done, how much I would miss our readers. How much, as a writer, I needed that audience. I needed that conversation. (One-sided as it was.)

I was recently interviewed by an artist working on a project that she waited 30 years to start. We talked about how Two-Lane Livin’ started (an idea in a bubble bath) and how it ended (with phone calls to this day from readers who miss it).  We talked about my graduate school writing experiences, and then she asked me, “What do you want to do with your writing now?”

And the question that’s been percolating in the back of my mind for two years finally answered: I’d like to have an audience again. Not facebook followers, not sporadic literary journals, not a book (although that’s coming). I don’t want to deal with writing as a business right now, I don’t want to scour submission guidelines, subject my work to an editor, consider marketing tactics, web site SEO, cover photos, paper stock, sales tax.

I just want to write and be read. I want to start that conversation again, between me and the world out there, whoever cares to participate. For a writer, what other goal is there but to write – and to be read?

I have been blogging off and on, for 16 years. The archives on this site alone go back to 2006. Sixteen years. Good lord. That goes back to before I was a newspaper reporter, before I was a columnist, before I was a magazine publisher, graduate student, college professor, librarian. Who knows what is in those archives? I don’t. Who knows what new will be added? What’s this blog about? I don’t know that yet either. The photos I’ve put in the page give a review of some of the main points of my recent life — porch sitting, caregiving, library life, creative play, pictures of Daisy, our beagle. This is my space for expression — I cannot predict what is to come.

Blogs, they say, should have a niche. They should use photos, SEO, keywords, hashtags, make regular entries, include external links — there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it.  I may or may not adhere to those guidelines.  I’m an Amazon Affiliate and have a Google Adsense account, so I might put those in play at some point, but the point here is to put the words out there, and hope folks read it.

Blogs should allow commenting…  Yeah, that’s not going to happen. I’m not going to moderate comments or take crappy criticism from strangers. (I’ll post links to these entries on my facebook page and profile. You can comment there if you’d like.)

Since it already has nearly 400 subscribers, I’m also reviving my email newsletter. It was originally intended to be monthly, but I think seasonal/sporadic is a more realistic description.  Highlights folks might have missed. Favorite entries, work published elsewhere. You can sign up in the form in the right-hand column–I’m preparing the fall issue to send out some time next week. You can also sign up here.

So, here we go again–writing via the blogosphere. I hope you’ll join the conversation (one-sided as it may be).

What is Empathy? What is Love?

(This column is from the August 2016 edition of Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine. You can find the digital edition of the magazine online at www.twolanelivin.com)

With the way things have been going in this country lately, it should come as no surprise that as I come into my final semester of graduate school, I find myself studying the themes of empathy and love.  Obviously, our nation is lacking, and I have actually found research, studies that prove it. A long running survey of the level of empathy in our nation shows a 40% drop in empathy over the last 37 years. Those of us who are older than 37 can surely say we have seen the effects of this decline.

But what is empathy? What is love? Ask ten different people, and you will get ten different answers. How can we understand what we are lacking if we don’t understand what these terms mean? Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another without judgment. Can you see how a shortage of this ability ends up on your evening nightly news?

Love is the will to invest in someone or something else for your own or another’s spiritual benefit. Perfect love is mutually beneficial.  Love is not some indefinable emotion that makes us crazy. Love is an action, an investment in not only ourselves, but in others. Other people, pets, environments, communities.

I recently found myself in a discussion of tolerance among a group of people, one of whom kept flicking his cigarette butts on the sidewalk as he pontificated about the hatred that seems to have erupted in our culture. We discussed the roots of hatred; a lack of understanding, a lack of empathy, a lack of respect.  Once he agreed with those as roots of hatred, I thought of an example: “Just as you hate the environment and the custodian.”

Harsh? Perhaps. Accurate? Yes, I believe so. If hatred comes from a lack of empathy, a lack of understanding, a lack of respect, then every careless, thoughtless action we take can be another wave of suffering for someone or something else. Neglect is lack of care, and without empathy (understanding others) and love (investing in others) we have become a nation of neglect. No wonder we find ourselves arguing over which lives matter.

Life matters. Love matters.

I myself have a hard time with empathy.  It’s the “without judgment” part that gives me such a hard time. But, if we are making judgments, we cannot truly understand and share the feelings of another, now can we? I have a hard time with difficult people, which I suppose, likely makes me a difficult person in my own right. But, when I asked a wise woman how she deals with difficult people, she replied, “Bless them, then release them.” In other words, extend love and empathy, and then move on. It is not up to us to judge, to fix, to enlighten those we cannot find empathy for.  For our own well being, we can extend love to them, and then move on. We do not have to allow frustration, anger, hatred, grow within us.

How many of us dispense love as a reward, and not as an investment? How many of us actively love our community or the environment around us? There are those who believe our sole purpose on this earth is to love one another-to invest in one another for the greater good.  Look at the community parks around you, most of them built or established 50 years ago. Look at the festivals that were established. Our parents and grandparents were people who loved their community.

Since the terrible flooding in West Virginia last month, I have been hooked on the stories that have been coming out of the recovering regions. They are all terrible and sad, but one story hit me hard. A couple, very aware of the nearby creek, prepared for high water.  They were responsible and caring for their animals, their vehicles, and moved and secured what they could. But it wasn’t enough. They had to flee, and their bee hives, chicken coop, home, cars, camper, were all underwater. Their hives and tens of thousands of bees were washed away, and their birds, secured in their coop, all drown. I thought of our bee hives, our hens, our home, garden, all gone-and I sobbed.  It is easy to judge those who live on the water. Why do they live there? Don’t they pay attention when it rains? But like this couple, we live near water, and we know its typical behavior. I could not judge them for being naïve, or ignorant. I could not judge them for being unaware. I knew, like us, they tried to be responsible, tried to do all the right things, and still lost all. My sobbing was empathy. I could understand and feel her devastation because that loophole of judgment no longer kept me from feeling.

How sad it takes such horrible events for us to also see love. Love as an investment. Love as an action. Neighbors helping neighbors; those with little donating time, money and supplies to those who have nothing. People investing in others’ lives, other communities, in others’ survival.  When tragedy takes away all you have, we are reminded how important-and how effective-love is.  When all else is washed away, love is what carries us through.

I am old enough to remember a time when this country had more empathy. A time when the word LOVE was on t-shirts, candles, hats, Frisbees. A time when the hit song rang out, “All you need is love.” I remember when the term “trickle-down economics” was hot, and talking money, love or empathy, it seems like very little trickles down any more.

This world needs more love, less judgment. Until then, we can have no empathy for each other, for the planet and environment around us. Where do you invest your love? Facebook? Television? How harshly do you judge those you do not understand? When was the last time you actually felt the feelings of another?

Love is an action, one we have to practice in all modes of our lives in order to have empathy in our lives and to nurture our collective spirits.  There was a time when peace and love were trendy topics, a time when they were active elements in our society. It’s time to activate them again.

  Lisa is currently working on her MFA in Creative Writing. Visit http://www.Lhayesminney.net.

Reading Between Two-Lanes 11/11

(As published today on www.hurherald.com)
Passed Basic Gardening, Freezing
and Canning: On to Chickens 101

I’m very proud of my education. I graduated from Marietta High School, Parkersburg Beauty College, Washington State Community College, and Glenville State College. I have four diplomas, plus. And yet, here in such a rural region, I feel like a complete idiot. I was likely 20 years old before I realized that “made from scratch” meant “not out of a box.” I thought the box was scratch.

My first vegetable garden was a fiasco. What I did harvest, I ate immediately, and there was no surplus to concern myself with preserving. My first year canning tomatoes was a disaster. And the first year I canned peppers and made pepper relish and jelly was successful, but I didn’t know to wear gloves and seriously burned my hands with chemical burns.

As someone who moved here from “the city,” I have a suggestion for welcoming folks. Take them the traditional plate of food (with recipe included) and a copy of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Country Living,” or my favorite, “Storey’s Basic Country Skills.” They’ll thank you again and again, and it’ll save you from bailing them out so often.

I’m still afraid of the pressure canner, but I have mastered making applesauce in the crock pot, and can freeze just about anything you give me.

When I moved here, and found myself in a garden, or kitchen – I had to learn from scratch. When I worked outside our home, I never really had the time to focus on learning about canning or gardening or cooking – and it has taken me nearly twelve years to have both the time and knowledge to have even moderate success with the garden, and thus another three years to fully learn about canning and freezing and drying.

I think I have moved past basic vegetable gardening, and I am darn proud of my flower beds. We doubled the size of our vegetable garden this year — trying some new things — and I feel confident that I can preserve our harvest for the year(s) to come. In other words, I have enough experience now to know what NOT to do, so I think I can pull it off. I feel now, after fourteen years, that I can plant, grow, harvest and preserve a garden with moderate success.

This year, however, I have selected a new challenge. I’m getting chickens. I announced this to my friend Sue, who asked, “What kind of chickens do you want?” I replied, “The kind that lay eggs.” Until a few months ago, that’s all I knew about chickens. I want eggs, and I’m afraid of roosters. That’s all I knew.

I wanted chickens last year. Frank, knowing my ignorance, was not as excited as I. And when I said I didn’t want a rooster, several folks told me, “You can’t have eggs without a rooster!”

I was dismayed, because I really, really don’t like roosters. I was flogged by a rooster when I was a kid, and I certainly don’t want one of those around.

It was several months before I discovered that if you want eggs to eat — not to hatch – you don’t need a rooster. When I shared my discovery with Frank (who of course, knew this all along) he began asking me how I intended to house the chickens.

“Well,” I said. “They have a coop and they run around the yard, right?”

“Do you want chickens tearing up your flower beds?” He asked, knowing how I fret and coo over my flowers.

“No,” I said, perplexed.

“So you need a coop and a pen…” He started, and left me again to find my own solution.

Then, I discovered chicken tractors. Movable coops. Small investment; low maintenance; some limited evening roaming for the hens. I had my solution. Frank could put me off no longer.

I then announced to my mother on one of our Saturday morning chats, “I’m getting chickens this year,” and she, ‘country-girl-turned-city-girl’ laughed at her ‘city-girl-going-county’ daughter. “What are you going to do when it’s time to kill them?” She asked. “Kill them? I’m not going to kill them.” I said. “If they’re dead, they can’t lay eggs.”

I don’t have my chickens yet. I don’t even have the chicken tractor but I have the supplies I need. I don’t know what chickens eat, or why they don’t fly away, but I do know what critters will eat my chickens, and I do know a lot of people who have chickens that I can call and learn from, because there is no “Complete Idiot’s Guide to Raising Chickens.”

One reason I enjoy Two-Lane Livin’ so much is because I, along with our readers, get to learn from our columnists. I learned how to grow my own garlic, clean my house with basics like baking soda and vinegar, save money on every day things, make my own compost, and more. For me, Two-Lane Livin’ is like my own “Complete Idiot’s Guide” to whatever topic each columnist has chosen to discuss. Several of our columnists even have chickens, and although none of them have covered chickens yet, I know I can contact them with questions any time I need.

You can too. Contact information for our columnists is usually included at the end of their articles in our print edition, and within their pages in our online edition. We’ve also gathered a collection of links to columnist e-mails, web sites, and blogs on our Passin’ Time page at   www.twolanelivin.com

Our columnists would love to hear from you about your newest challenge, just as much as they’ll be happy to advise me about my chickens. Feel free to contact them, ask them questions, or send your encouragement to them any time.

Reading Between Two Lanes – Have You Seen the Signs?

(Preview of this installment for The Hur Herald: www.hurherald.com.)

Have You Seen The Signs?

Are we there yet? Seems as though we’ve had a long journey through Winter, and our destination has been Spring. And, as is on any journey home, the closer you get the more familiar signs you see that you’re getting close.

I cheated. I started Spring a little early. My friend (and fellow columnist), Sue, trimmed Forsythia and Quince branches for me about a month ago. Enough that, when I returned home and put them in water, I ended up with four large vases of bare twigs and branches. Within a week, I had pink and yellow and white blossoms all through the house. How wonderful to watch the blossoms plump, ripen and open.

Even deep down though, I knew it wasn’t really Spring yet. That was, until I heard them. I was letting Daisy out the back door when, “Peep?” I tipped my head in disbelief, thinking my mind was playing tricks on me. But then, there it was again, and this time, there also came the reply, “Peep? Peep?” Peeper frogs. My heart swelled with excitement. Peeper frogs. Spring was surely not far away.

Each year, the peepers are a little early. Each year, they get themselves frozen at least once. I suppose they crawl back down in the mud to keep warm. But the next morning, as I stood on the back porch I have missed so much during the Winter, I spotted the fronds of my Crocus peeking up through the ground. Another sign. Another sign that we’re almost there.

We even had a pleasant day or two, with sunshine, and then, as per Murphy’s Law, the weather went sour just in time for delivery of the March issue. But it wasn’t snow this time, just wind and rain and grey, and I saw more signs of Spring along the way.

There is sound again. Birds chirping, water flowing, you can hear life in the world again. The silence of Winter’s frozen clasp on the hills and hollows echoes no more.

In the forests of Webster County, the mountains have taken on that pink hue. Those who don’t live here may not know or notice, but right before Spring, the grey and brown hillside trees take on a cast of color – pink. They are almost ready, primed and waiting, to burst out into full season color – almost. This is a sure sign that we’re close.

March is the roller coaster ride between Winter and Spring. This is where the journey becomes the most exciting, and perilous. Temperatures rising and falling, wind gusts and thunderstorms and Winter’s last blasts. Seems as though we encounter a little bit of everything before Spring wins out.

The March issue of Two-Lane Livin’ isn’t like a roller coaster, but it does seem to have a little bit of everything. Spear fishing, anyone? Poetry? How about some new uses for duct tape or salt? Just think, by the time you finish reading this issue, Spring will have arrived.

Reading Between Two Lanes 9/9

As published today on The Hur Herald (www.hurherald.com)

Obviously, the weather hasn’t been so cooperative for the delivery of the February issue. Losing two days of delivery last week has put us a little behind. As much of our delivery route includes what the Department of Highways calls “Secondary Roads,” delivery is especially challenging in the winter. But, that’s Two-Lane Livin’, isn’t it? If your area hasn’t yet received their copies, and you simply can’t wait, you can check out this month’s articles online at   www.twolanelivin.com

No matter how inconvenient, I can’t deny the beauty of white winters. Daisy, our beagle, and I have enjoyed daily walks through the snow covered fields following rabbit tracks, and I enjoy watching the morning sun sparkle on the fresh fallen, freeze-dried flakes on the ground. I find immense joy in the fact that I can walk through my yard, along the paths, without worrying about mud. I have a new flock of friends at the birdfeeder. I’ve finished two books, knowing that such reading time is only possible because of the extreme weather outside.

Winter weather captivity allows time for reflection and regrouping, adjusting plans and goals, and when that extreme weather seems to just keeps coming, even allows time to put some plans into action. It also allows us time to be creative, or, better yet, just “be.” I completed an art project – one that I started last year in February, and never finished. I’ve redrafted my business goals, objectives and strategies, and created a new sub-section to our web site to help business owners understand the uses of print advertising. All things I never found time for before.

So often, in today’s world, everyone seems to be in “Go” mode. But when winter weather really lets us have it, we seem to have no choice but to at least take a pause or slow down. How often are adults given a day to fine tune their routine, catch up on their chores or, even take a nap? Like school children on their snow days, even adults get the opportunity to “play,” or at least get a break from their routine when winter weather gets extreme.

Still, I am glad to see they days growing longer, and relished in the unseasonable warm day of sunshine this past Sunday, knowing the mud appearing beneath the melting snow would be frozen again Monday morning. I truly wouldn’t mind such cold winters if the days weren’t so gray.

We’re only four weeks away from Daylight Savings Time, and as much as I try to appreciate this winter opportunity for hibernative activities, I count the days until the time change.

With the February issue in circulation, our staff and columnists are already thinking on those days of daylight, the Ides of March a month from now. The March issue is already filling with the light and warmth and rich smells of pending spring. So, enjoy these quiet days of winter. Enjoy the February issue of Two-Lane Livin’, knowing that within a few short weeks, the March issue will be at hand, and spring shall not be far behind. We’ll all be back into “go” mode then.