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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.

Do You Do Twitter? Follow our Tweets!

I’ve recently been reworking our twitter feeds, after getting my mobile device (tablet) working again. Also, I have worked through some bugs with some of our scheduling and auto-fowarding apps, so there have been some changes. If you are on twitter, please consider following one or both of our feeds:

@2LaneTweet – This is our original twitter feed, the feed for Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine, and it includes all the updates that happen at twolanelivin.com. These posts are blog posts from our columnists that happen throughout the month between print issues. Blogs listed are from Randy Bodkins, Janet Smart, Granny Sue Holstein, Sherri Brake and myself. This feed also includes links to my facebook posts about country life and living.

@hayesminney – This is a new twitter feed. In addition to links to new posts on this blog, it will include posts affiliated with writing, my MFA work, our upcoming literary journal, plans for next year’s writing workshops and overall developments in my work as a freelance literary writer.

What’s the difference? One is for our magazine, Two-Lane Livin’, and the second is for my own work, outside the magazine, as a writer, editor and teacher.

So, join me over at twitter. I look forward to our future tweets.

Dear Cousin, I Practice Laughter

Dear Cousin,

I was thinking today about laughter, and when I think about laughter, I think about you. Very few people in this world can inspire me to the point of genuine, amused laughter – but you provoke such joyous behavior in all those who experience you.

Oh, how I miss you. Years go by and it’s like we never missed a day, but the years have gone so long this round, and we’ve missed so many days. Time passes faster now than it did on those nights long ago, when as teenagers we snuck out of the house after curfew. Long gone are the foolish teens who stirred New Year’s moonshine with Christmas candy canes. Two who sang karaoke in back woods bars.

But here we are, both of us tucked away now in our country homes, preferring the seclusion and safety of our homes over social visits; out of practice of summoning the gumption for an entire day’s trip or (gasp) an overnighter. Bodies at rest tend to stay at rest, and we are wrapped up in our own daily motions.

When I close my eyes though, I can see the corner of your lips curling into a smile and hear the sound of your giggle. I know in your struggles you have found answers similar to those I found in mine, that we’ve been traveling parallel in our lives – apart but in the same direction. You learning through laughter, me through work and study. How your laughter has lifted me, how I miss it now.

I practice laughter on occasion, it’s called laughter yoga. You basically follow through exercises of fake laughter until you find it easier (by such practice) to laugh spontaneously. Laughter is trained out of most of us as we develop in this culture you know – those who can find humor in this life are rare, and valuable. For you laughter is natural. I have to practice.

As family, we are each other’s roots. We are connected by blood, by place, people, culture – by memories and histories and reunions and funerals and weddings. Summer sleepovers, swapping shoes, sharing makeup tips and tips on making-out. Lots of giggling – and laughter.

Laughter at who we were, stupid decisions we’ve made, giggling at our own quirks and shortcomings, knowing we are simply who we are, and recognizing the blessed humor in our mishaps and blessings alike. Life IS funny, if you remember to look at it that way.

I will practice laughing today, and I will think of you – as always promising we will get together soon. We will. We have to we must. Soon.

With love,
Lisa

That’s 56 in Dog Years… 96 issues of Two-Lane Livin’

“We are all victims of the imagination in this country. The American Dream may sometimes seem like a dirty joke these days, but it was internalized long ago by our fevered little minds and it remains to haunt us as we fumble with the unglamorous pennies of life….”
American Author, Seymour Krim

One of the requirements of getting a MFA (Master of Fine Arts) in Creative Writing is reading. Lots and lots of reading. Because I am specializing in Creative Nonfiction, a majority of my homework includes essays. I also prefer American writers because I enjoy getting glimpses of our cultural past, our cultural history.

Seymour Krim’s essay, “For my Brothers and Sisters in the Failure Business” was written in the mid-1970’s as a call out to others who like him, had come to mid-life without a plan or settled profession. “We know all along,” he says of himself and those like him, “that time is squeezing us into a corner while we mentally rocket to each new star that flares across our sky, and yet we can’t help ourselves.” He explains, “We still have an epic longing to be more than what we are.”

When I was young, and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I could never decide. One day I wanted to be one thing, and the next day something else. Seymour Krim felt the same challenge, he wanted to be everything. There were too many options to choose just one. But he was surprised when he was 51 and someone referred to him as a “failure.” He realized that in America, it is “your work or role that gives you your definition in our society, and the thousands upon thousands of people who I believe are like me are those who have never found the professional skin to fit the riot in their souls. Many never will.”

Just arriving at mid-life myself, I find myself thinking I should have had some kind of plan. I didn’t. My parents had a general plan for me which included going to college and getting a real job, but along the way I just seemed to bounce from one opportunity to the next, with recovery from downfalls in between. Like Seymour Krim, I mentally rocket to new stars that flare across my sky, and I can’t help myself. The longest I’ve ever kept a job is four years. Next month, this magazine will be eight years old.

Like Seymour and myself, Two-Lane Livin’ is also a failure by American standards. It isn’t the picture of what a successful magazine should be. It isn’t glossy, it isn’t newsworthy, isn’t the image of professionalism. It’s back woods, it’s rural, it’s grassroots. It’s something “professional” publishers and marketers look down upon as rugged and unpolished. In fact, if you travel into the urban depths of Charleston, Morgantown or Huntington, chances are, folks have never even heard of it. Certainly no big city folks have yet stepped up to help support it. They want glossy. They want mobile.

But just look at the stars I’ve chased since we launched this magazine: organic gardening, canning, quilting, crocheting, local foods, keeping chickens, keeping bees, growing mushrooms, forest foraging, herbal remedies, teaching… And now I chase my MFA. For what purpose? I can’t explain. Like Seymour Krim, I can’t help myself. I have an epic longing to me more than what I am.

When we launched the magazine, I wanted Two-Lane Livin’ to be more than what it was. I wanted it to be online, mobile, supported by educational venues and tourist destinations and corporate sponsors and recognized state wide. I wanted it to have a bright white cover stock and a section for discussions and I wanted to incorporate every star that flashed across our publishing sky. I wanted it to be all it could be and I wanted the world to recognize how fantastic it really is. I dream big. I also am disappointed often.

But also like Seymour, “my decision to aim at the stars has been a conscious one.” I still aim for the stars. But I know now that this magazine in only one star in the sky, and frankly, it’s not shining so brightly for me these days. In fact, with these wet, rainy days – I’m not too thrilled with rural life much lately either. Mud, blight, mildew. Even my favorite places are dank and damp. It’s hard to appreciate the stars when you’re standing calf-deep in mud.

Following the “big storm” of July, we were without phone service for ten days. If you happened to call and got the message that our phone had been disconnected (as some callers did apparently) rest assured it was not by any fault of ours. And here I am, facing tomorrow’smagazine deadline, and we haven’t had internet for fifteen days and still don’t. All my early tomatoes are blighting and have bottom rot, and our washer has gone on the fritz. There’s not much I can do about any of it but shrug. In the end, it’s all rotten tomatoes, and none of it really matters in the long run.

These are the times when I feel that epic longing. That need to believe that at some point in my life all this hard work, all this struggle will all come together for some kind of… I don’t know, resolution. I feel a longing for a life traditionally successful, a life with paved sidewalks, and 9 to 5. I think about my home town, Marietta Ohio, and of movie theaters and shopping malls and Saturday sidewalk sales. I think of places where there is no mud, where free wifi is a block away, and I can get a hot submarine sandwich and a cold chocolate milkshake delivered to my door while the appliance repair man fixes the washer in the basement.

And I can hear some of you now, saying, “if that’s how you feel, then why don’t you just go back where you came from?!” I’ve heard it said before to me, I’ve heard it said to others, and I exactly know the type of person to say it. And then I’ve also heard folks sit around and wonder why people are leaving the state by the hundreds each year. I’ve thought about this, hard and often. I’ve also heard, “it’s like this anywhere you go.” And as someone who has been other places – I know that’s not quite so. The state’s broadband access (or lack thereof, or sale of but then not providing of) and the state school board (don’t EVEN get me started) are enough to make me beat my head on a wall.

While there are times, plenty of times, when I recognize that rural life is a simpler life, there are also times when it seems to me that everything here is so daggone complicated. And all the while I feel this epic longing to make myself, our magazine, our community, our state – MORE than what we are. Some folks seem so resistant to the idea. Some folks would rather we just went back to where we came from. It’s no wonder so many of us do. There’s less mud.

There’s a name for people like Seymour, like me, for the thousands of others like us. We’re called “romantics.” We believe, if we keep plugging along, bouncing from one project to the next, following one path and then another, that at some point in the future, all those paths will come together and everything will work out just fine. In fact, some of literature’s greatest stories are those in which a romantic hero never gives up on his quest and in the end rides off into the sunset. Of course, for thousands out there, the end of the quest never comes. And those stories are some of the greatest in literature as well.

So, here’s to eight years in print. It is my true romantic hope that it has meant something and reaches others who can’t find a skin to fit the riot in their souls. Here’s to the failures and the flops and the nontraditional achievers who don’t look much like a success. Here’s to those with an epic longing to do more, be more, than what they are. Aim for the stars. The worst you can do is land in the mud.