Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Some of All My Fears


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HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: There's a whole network of writers, all across the country (the world?), who cannot start their writing day without Ramona DeFelice Long. Her enthusiastic and supportive morning writing sprints get many of us on our way--knowing we're in it together, facing the same hurdles and frustrations and joys.

It's a writer thing, right? We're often so alone, facing that monitor screen or blank page, and Ramona's Facebook page is a wonderful way to find our colleagues--and not only start us writing, but start us counting our blessings. 
But Ramona's support system is not only on line. She's also organized a real-life way for writers to come together. And whoa.  They went into the woods--and look what came out? And more on the anthology in a minute.
But, oh, yeah.  The venture into the woods was certainly successful--but not without its pitfalls.   Of course, writers fear the lack of ideas, or not finding the perfect word, or missing a deadline.  HA. This was way more than that.

Some of All My Fears
by Ramona DeFelice Long

Bears. Snakes. Centipedes. Fire. Waking up….no, not waking up from a carbon monoxide leak. The midnight phone call. Sunburns. The check engine light. Basements. The Undertoad. Seeing police lights in my rear view mirror while driving on a deserted road, so I look for the ubiquitous well-lit public area women are supposed to find when unsure about police imposters, only they’re never ubiquitous when you need one, are they, so I drive and drive until I realize I’m in a loop….Hang on, that was a dream. Never mind.
We all have fears, some real, some irrational. Snakes are real—they’re in my yard. One even shed its skin in the gutter over my laundry room, hanging there like a flag. Bears, though, I have never seen a bear in the wild. I live in the suburbs in a college town and am not on guard for a grizzly on my way to the Rite Aid. This should be a fear I could cross of my list.
Except, twice a year, I retreat in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania with a group of Mindful Writers. 

Twenty-odd writers sit in the great room of a lodge, at our writing stations, working in silence. We break for meals and meditations and relaxing in the evenings in front of the huge fireplace. It’s a safe space, both physically and creatively, but mindfulness is not only about comfort. It’s about seeking the peaceful ambiance of outdoors, so every morning before sunrise, we take a meditative walk. 
We begin with stretching and guidance from our leader, whose mantra is “Back to the breath, back to the body, back to the book.” Then we go out into the dark, in the fog or mist, towards the woods, to watch the sun rise and open a new day.
 There are bears in the woods, though, sometimes close enough to smell. Rangers and local police have advised us what do if we meet a bear.
 My plan—drop dead on the spot—is never part of that advice, but every day at retreat is a choice: hide from the bears and miss the sunrise, or step carefully out into a world that is dangerous but beautiful. Live another day to write. 
Reject the fear.
I write a lot about fear—the real, the irrational, the loops of our dreams. We joke about bears in the Mindful Writers group, and when we put together INTO THE WOODS, an anthology of our stories, poetry, and essays, bears appear in several stories, but not mine. 
No, I wrote about what I believe is the greatest human terror: the fear of being left alone. Alone is good when you have a deadline or a new book to read, but not so good when you’re driving in a loop looking for a safe, well-lit place. I tell myself I write about fear because I want to conquer it but I’m still pretty sure that, should I see a bear in the wild, I’d drop down dead.
What do you think is the greatest human fear?  

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: My mother always told me the joy of being alone was pure only when you knew you wouldn't always be alone.
The greatest human fear? Sorrow. Grief.  Shock and loss. Which is all the more reason to embrace happiness, joy, togetherness, love. Aren't we philosophical today?  SO those heartbreaks aside, what are you afraid of?
In the more mundane realm of--like me--centipedes. Cavities. Food poisoning. Unmet deadlines.  And I think of the Undertoad every day.
How about you?
And what a wonderful thing Ramona and her troops are doing--donating the proceeds of their anthology to the Children's Heart Foundation! So I'll happily buy two more--and give them to two lucky commenters!



RamonaDeFelice Long is an author, editor, and online writing instructor who grew up in the South but somehow ended up in Delaware. Her short fiction and personal essays have appeared in numerous literary and regional journals, and she’s been the recipient of multiple artist grants and fellowships. She maintains a literary website at www.ramonadef.com



Into the Woods is the title and theme of an anthology of short fiction, personal essays, original music, and one walking meditation from Mindful Writers who retreat several times a year in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania. Proceeds from Into theWoods benefit the Children’s Heart Foundation. 




73 comments:

  1. This sounds like a lovely place for writer to gather, Ramona, and I’m really looking forward to reading your anthology.

    Hank, I agree that loss is the greatest human fear. Loss hurts.
    As for those other fears, mice and their beady-eyed relatives are right up there at the top of the list. Getting lost is another one of those huge fears, probably because I have absolutely no sense of direction.

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    1. Joan, it is a beautiful place--the grounds dip into a valley and fog hovers in the morning. There's a small pond, and a place for outdoor meditation. Just lovely. I hope you enjoy the anthology. It's very much a project of the heart.

      Mice, I can handle if they stay outdoors. And I'm with you on no sense of direction! Which is why I hike in groups....

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    2. I am so with you on getting lost, ‘Joan! GPS has completely changed my life.

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  2. Yay for Ramona - the sprint club gets me going every single morning. And I can't wait to get my copy of the anthology next week when I see Ramona in person at a different retreat (in the convent guest house of all places).

    As a mother, I live in fear of the midnight phone call - which would be a call about loss. Minor fears? Falling. Missing deadlines. Losing passwords!

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    1. The midnight phone call is the terror for all parents, isn't it? Passwords might go on my list. The convent retreat is a different experience, but equally great. Sister Jean makes it so!

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  3. Since procrastination is one of my core skills as a writer, I love being part of Ramona's sprint club. It's that friendly reminder, first thing, that writing IS the first thing. As to what is scariest? Doesn't "loss" cover everything? The bears are just the stand in. And the only antidote - because losses will certainly happen- is to know what we love and value it while it is present.

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    1. Triss, yes, loss is the key. Loss of control, power, love is what drives almost every story. I am pleased you're part of the morning group. It gets me going, too, because I'd be as happy to lollygag, or read, as to work.

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  4. Yes loss covers it all Triss! I'm always attracted by the idea of your sprint group Ramona, but the allure of coffee and email and dog-walking always comes first. What a lovely essay and we're delighted to have you here!

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    1. Thank you for having me here, Robert/Lucy! I am honored to be a guest of the marvelous Jungle Reds.

      Not to be naggy or anything, but while the core group begins at 7:00 a.m., the Late Shift shows up mid-morning. Plenty of time for coffee, email,and dog-walking first.

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    2. What time is late shift, Ramona?

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  5. Welcome, Ramona! How did you get the idea for your morning sprint?

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    1. Many thanks for hosting me today, Hank! Your kind words made me a little teary....

      Sprint came via Twitter. When I first opened an account, I saw all of these notices about writing 1000 words in one hour. This was during NaNoWriMo, so I thought it was a NaNo thing, but when November ended, it was still happening. Somehow it ended up being called a "sprint" and the goal was to get down words quickly, with no interruptions. I am a demon for structure, so the idea of doing something similar every morning jumped at me. In my group, it doesn't matter if you are writing new words or revising or whatever, just so you do an hour of uninterrupted work. Sprint is easy once you create the habit.

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    2. I think it was… Walter Mosley? Maybe… Anyway, he said you have to write every day to at least give the muse a chance to visit! I love that!

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  6. And talk a little bit, too, about why the retreats are beneficial… do you remember your first one?

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    1. My first writing retreats were with the SCBWI, and then chapters of Sisters in Crime in Pittsburgh, and then beach retreats offered through the Delaware Division of the Arts. My big graduation was to an artist colony. For several years, I went for a month beginning in late November, to the Virginia Center of Creative Arts. That involves rearranging your entire life, but oh, is it worth it to have a room and a studio and your only task is to write!

      Now I have found a retreat place not far away from my home, so I put together week-long retreats for myself and a few writing pals. 3 or 4 a year. The benefits are many: the peaceful ambiance, the company of friends, the focus on words. The calming of the spirit combines with the energy of the group. That's the best way I can describe it.

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  7. Ramona's sprint thread and New Orleans dark roast coffee start my day. I've never been on a retreat. Why do death notification phone calls always happen in the middle of the night?

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    1. Margaret, get thee to a retreat! Bring some NOLA dark roast with you. I hope you can find a retreat someday. I don't know why death comes at night, but that question makes me think I might not sleep so well tonight....

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  8. Oh, what would we do without you, Ramona? I don’t always (as in never lately?) put in the early morning sprint at that time, but your post stimulates me to put in the work at another point during the day. I always check in and follow you faithfully, because you just keep us honest and keep us going!
    What am I afraid of? Not rodents or snakes or noises in the night - but Boston traffic! That merge on the Zakim Bridge or the godawful Sullivan Square rotary-that’s-not-a-rotary. I am even putting Sullivan Square as a tension point in my next book!
    Mindful Writer Retreats - brilliant!

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    1. Marian, you can pop into the sprint thread any time, day or night. It's always there, like the Undertoad, minus the menace.

      Traffic! Yes--and road rage. I was advised by a police friend to let it go--let the jerk in front of you cut you off if he must, let the tailgater pass you, let the crazy teenagers whip by you on the shoulder--and don't respond or react. It's not worth dying over. So I do that, but man, it is brutal out there.

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  9. Love this piece, especially "hide from the bears and miss the sunrise" - puts the issue of choice into perspective.

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    1. Thank you for commenting, Sandy. It really is an easy choice when the option is to miss the sunrise, right?

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  10. Ramona, you are so wise. And sometimes a wiseass, which makes me love you even more.

    Yes: loss. Loss of a loved one, loss of possessions, loss of physical abilities (or mental ones, even worse). Loss of freedom, loss of prestige, loss of power for some.

    The only retreats I've ever been on where spiritual. In Catholic high school we were supposed to go on one in senior year, but I can't remember it at all (nearly fifty years ago, so no surprise there). But I went on a "silent" one-day meditative retreat in the country several years ago. Others seemed to get more out of it than I did, but I'd like to try something similar over a longer period of time.

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    1. I am proud of my wiseassery, Karen, so thank you for pointing that out... A nurse friend once said that death isn't so scary, it's disease, decline, and dementia that is terrifying. I must agree.

      I think it takes a day to settle into any new situation, and that includes retreats. The last day is also limited because you have to leave. That means, 3 days at least to get a real sense of immersion.

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  11. Hi, Ramona! I have a copy of the book right here on my shelf! I had a great time reading it on the way back from Pennwriters conference where I had to pleasure of meeting many of its authors. Writers need community, and what a lovely way to create it.

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    1. Hallie, thank you for supporting the anthology! The Mindful Writers came together and bonded into a community. Some of us only see one another twice a year, but we pick right up as if no time at all has passed.
      It was such fun spending time with you at Pennwriters--and your mystery writing workshop was fab.

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  12. I love being alone in nature or on the beach for a few hours. Then I need people!
    I'm scared of spiders but more of losing loved ones and of dementia

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    1. The beach is such a lure, isn't it? I am very social, so I need people at the end of most days, too. Spiders--not my favorite but certainly better than painful losses.

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  13. Even though I often don't put fingers to keyboard until later because of the day-job, I cannot start the day without Ramona's sprint thread. Sometimes Facebook hides it from me and I get very put out.

    I miss retreats. I might have to do my own this fall, just a weekend in Confluence.

    And Hank, your mother was so right about joy in solitude. It's lovely being alone...when you know it's not a permanent state.

    Mary/Liz

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    1. Facebook is on my list for hiding the thread from you, Mary. I am also put out, but always happy to see you and the other regulars.

      The retreat near my home is run by Franciscans. They do a lot of religious retreats but will let civilians in when the place is not rented. Our Sister Jean is tickled that mystery writers are regulars at the convent's house. Maybe there is a Franciscan center near you?

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    2. There used to be. Unfortunately, it closed. =(

      Mary/Liz

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  14. A great essay, Ramona! My biggest fears are largely irrational, or at least unlikely to happen: getting sucked out of an airplane (so when that happened on Southwest Airlines recently, I was positively sick!), being eaten alive by a wild animal (I've researched what to do in every scenario. Don't worry so much about black bears, Ramona--they're rarely aggressive unless you are carrying food. Mountain lions--whoo, boy--you don't want to encounter one of them!), and being locked up all alone (I'd lose my mind in about three hours, I think). As Roberta/Lucy, the Reds' resident shrink, could probably verify, all my fears relate to loss of control. But I like to incorporate my fears into my mystery novels as a way of grappling with them.

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    1. Susan, loss of control nails all of my fears, too, even the centipedes. (How do they control so many wiggly legs? It's a wonder.) I am not afraid of flying, but the thought of an MRI tube puts me in a cold sweat, so I guess it's the size of the tube that matters....All of these fears sure do make for great fodder. And I will make note not to carry around a cheeseburger when I'm in the woods.

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    2. I'm actually not afraid to fly, as long as the plane is intact! It's the thought of hurtling through space that terrifies me. Many of my students have gone sky-diving. (Horrors!) I tell them if I had a choice between jumping out of a plane with a parachute or being shot to death on the spot, I'd take the shot.

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    3. It’s truly funny that you have researched which wild animals will really hurt you! Thank you, this is very reassuring. XOXO

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  15. How have I not know about the sprint? What a terrific idea, Ramona! I was just talking to a friend last night about how the past couple of days, I've gotten my work done too late in the day for my liking. The sprint sounds like a great way to get started on the right foot.

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    1. Ingrid, just pop on over to my Facebook wall in the morning, and you'll see the post. It begins the same way every day: "Good morning, FB friends and writing champions. This is the (day) sprint thread." I have now posted this so many times from my cell phone, it provides the words for me! I would be happy to welcome you to the group--we are great cheerleaders for one another.

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    2. Such a great spot! I am more of a nighttime writer , somehow it happens that way, but I can still read the sprint instructions, and make them PM instead of a.m.!

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  16. Oh my goodness. I have yearned and looked for a Ramona a person online who is there for the wanna be writer and the pros. Thank you. The meditation speaks to me as I have practiced mindfulness for half my life. So much good arises from connecting with others in silence.
    My greatest fear? the realization that in time I will be annihilated. No more collective memory of Coralee ergo.. no more Coralee .. the ultimate loss of self no?
    Do I park my ego outside the writing room, or enter to avoid said annihilation.
    Bowing to you.

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    1. That is such a powerful fear, Coralee. But it is one of the things that we have to embrace as the cycle, right? And think how much wonderful literature has been written about that very idea…

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    2. Coralee, we are FB friends now, so you can look at my wall early tomorrow morning and join the sprint. All you need to do is say hello and that you plan to write for an hour, at least.

      Annihilation--what a perfect word for the fear of being forgotten. Every person who shares a story leaves that story behind, and that is--what I believe--the most powerful of legacies. Nations fall, buildings crumble, people die, but stories last forever. A Coralee story put out into the world will prevent your annihilation.

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  17. "Reject the fear." Oh, I love that. The retreat sounds wonderful, even with the bears. I am thrilled to discover the sprint. I hadn't heard of it before and think it's a fabulous way to get in the right headspace before writing! I'm off to check out your FB page! Also, I love that Into the Woods proceeds will go to the Children's Heart Foundation. I know just the people who I want to gift copies to - so thank you for that, too!

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    1. Jenn, thank you for supporting the anthology! For a few people, it was a brave step to share their experiences in the woods. Come on over, any morning, and sign in for the sprint.

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  18. One of my fears? Sending a ms. to my editor without giving Ramona a crack at it first!

    Retreats are so delish -- they feed the writer's soul. I lost my location and need to find a new one. But I would really love to create a regular group retreat.

    We love in the woods in the Northern Rockies and worry more about not seeing the bears than seeing them. A 4-5 y.o. very shiny black bear seems to have us on his route this year and seeing him makes us very happy! The morning we saw the grizzly sow and cubs in the front yard? Well, that was a little different, but still, more awe than terror -- although we watched from the safety of the 2d floor deck!

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    1. Yes, the second floor deck changes your whole perspective, right?

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    2. Ha, Leslie, I'm happy to relieve one of your fears. It is too bad you are so far away, because a regular group retreat is a fantasy of mine. I'd happy go for one week per month, and my family is cool with that, too, now that we're all grown up.

      I am in awe of your bravery! You saw a grizzly sow and cubs in your front yard, and your hands are not shaking so much that you can't type? I bow to you, oh fearless one!

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  19. I have read that fear of public speaking ranks higher than fear of death. My high school and college speech classes helped me conquer that one, essential for a future teacher, and speaking out against the War in Vietnam helped me push past fear. A need outside oneself does help overcome personal fear. I still am nervous with heights, but since the firemen will change the smoke alarm batteries, I don't even have to do ladders.
    Now, Ramona, Hank, what's this Undertoad you fear?

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    1. Mary, public speaking is a fear you practice your way out of--that's my belief, anyway.

      In The World According to Garp, one of Garp's children wouldn't swim in the ocean because adults kept warning him to "watch out for the Undertoad."

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    2. And so Garp always watched for it, the dark unknown terror that would suck you under.

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  20. As a child I was constantly anxious and afraid of almost everything. Mostly I was afraid that something would "get" me in the dark. I wasn't as much afraid of the dark as what I couldn't see in the dark, but maybe that is the same thing. Now my main fear is that something will happen to someone I love. And I'm not crazy about bridges or heights!

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    1. Judi, I am not a fan of bridges or heights, either. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Maryland is a thing of nightmares, plain and simple.

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    2. I would not want to drive over the CBB! The one time I went on it I was young and not driving. But later a cool thing was that we went on a family cruise day with the Navy and so went out to sea over those tunnels!

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    3. Ramona, I saw a news segment on a driving service that takes people across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge for a fee, both ways. People interviewed who use the service said they are happy to pay someone to drive them over it, especially those needing to get to work, because they are truly too scared to drive it themselves.

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  21. Sorry to be so late checking in! I had a doctor's appointment this morning that should have taken me 40 minutes to get to. I sat stuck on the freeway for TWO hours! Talk about a meditation. I just thought how glad I was that it want me in that wreck.

    Ramona, I'm going to join your sprint thread. And I've always dreamed of doing a retreat, although my stays in London can give me the same sort of boost.

    Fears, yes, loss, the midnight phone call, etc. I'm okay with most critters, except for our huge Texas roaches. They always make me scream like a ninny.

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    1. Ack, I'd like to add freeways to my fears! That sounds dreadful.

      Any time you'd like to join the sprint, Deborah, we'd be thrilled to have you. Show up, sign in, sprint. All there is to it. And roaches are yuck, but I thought Texas weren't afraid of 'nuthin! Or is that just my big brother in Houston showing off?

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    2. Hank here: Roaches, yeah. Because they skitter.

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  22. Spiders
    Being falsely accused of a crime
    That horrible phone call
    Going to the dumpster after dark(because of the critters)
    Driving alone on a dark unlit road in a strange town

    I have been on a few spiritual retreats, and I love them, because they quiet down my mind. It's been too long since the last one,

    DebRo

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    1. Deborah, how interesting that you fear being falsely accused of a crime. Only an innocent person would feel that, I think. The driving alone at night in a strange place is a common fear, I think.

      I hope you get to go on another spiritual retreat--make that happen for yourself.

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  24. Ramona, thank you! I’ve just been reading about the Undertoad and will admit to the Garp gap in my book background because he’s such a revelation. Now I can picture him as the source of my maternal line’s general looming dread. My mother even writes books about toads, seemingly cheerful children’s tales that always threaten to go darker. Maybe the Undertoad will appear in her next story…

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    1. Nora, isn't Garp wonderful? That book was a revelation. Every once in a while I see a reference to the Undertoad--rarely with any background about it--and I know this is a kindred spirit. The Undertoad is the fear of all the things you think might get you if you don't watch out. Terrifying!

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    2. Hank here: SO agree! It's such a watershed reference to me.

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  25. Laughing over the Undertoad. When I was a kid we were told to watch out for the undertow. Got that right but thought it was some kind of eel-like fish that would wind itself around your ankles and pull you under. Oh well. One of my friends in high school thought the oyster dredger was some kind of sea creature to be avoided at all costs! What scares me? Heights. Or maybe not being high but being on the edge of a precipice. So, edges? Also snakes. If I see one and I am within a certain radius of it I do my famous snake dance backwards.

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    1. Pat, once you read about the Undertoad, you never forget! Edges and ledges--yes. That glass bottom one that overlooks the Grand Canyon? I can hardly look at a photo of it.

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    3. Hank here: YES. I have truly thought about that Grand Canyon thing. It has GOT to be gorgeous. But could I do it?

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    4. I might go out on that Grand Canyon thing, but the potential for crawling back while weeping is too high!

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    5. Hank here: we'll do it together!

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  26. I've had a busy day, but I still wanted to stop in tonight and read my favorite blog. Ramona, I enjoy your posts on FB so much, and your sprint would be great for me writing my reviews, but I'm late to bed and late to rise, so I miss it.

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    1. Kathy, the thread is open all day. Pop in with the Late Shift anytime. You can be the Very Late Shift!

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    2. Hank here: Hope you had a great day, dear Kathy!

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  27. Always wise, calm and kind. That’s Ramona! Your leadership, even when not in a formal leader role is a gift to us all.

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