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These days, as research for my own novels, I've been reading a lot of middle-grade novels (ages 8-12). The novels are just right for summer, where I spend a lot of time at the beach making art wherever I can. With these books I can dive right back into stories and times I remember from the olden days, when I was that age.

And I'm reminded of something that happened when I was 9:

When I was in 4th grade, I was out in left field quite a bit. That's where they put me in kickball during P.E., so I wouldn't do too much damage. Well, one time a ball was kicked to me at great speed. I tried to catch it. But the ball broke my left pinky. Unfortunately, not my right pinky, since I am left handed. I showed my broken finger to the teacher, who didn't believe it was broken. I guess she believed I wanted to get out of P.E. so badly I was willing to go to a military hospital. She sent me to the principal, who after a lot of needless questioning of my integrity, did believe me and sent me home, where no one was around, because my mom wasn't expecting me to need medical help midday.

Finally a neighbor took pity on me and dropped me off (yes! that's what they did in those days, I guess!) at the military hospital, where I was given a diagnosis of broken wrist, not finger (I imagine the doctor wrote illegibly). As I was getting my cast put on by a guy who seemed to be new at this, my dad found me--he seemed amazed to see me there--and drove me home, where I sat at the dinner table in agony. (Why did they not give me aspirin for this? Why did my parents not question the wrist/finger cast mistake?) My kind grandmother, who happened to be visiting at the time of the accident, did question it mightily, having been a nurse. "Are you sure you broke your little finger? So why did they put a cast on your wrist? That's ludicrous!" But she questioned me, rather than the doctor, and my parents repeatedly told her they were sure the hospital knew what it was doing. So nothing was done to fix the situation.

Why did so many people, from family to teachers to schoolmates, tease me about the accident, never asking, "Does it hurt? Can we help?" So I figured that it was supposed to hurt and hurt and hurt; it was my own cross to bear; I stayed quiet in deep pain. For the next 6 weeks my wrist was in a cast. I learned how to respond to the constant questioning and teasing (hunch shoulders, look down and reply politely but in short sentences), as well as to eat and write and dress with my right hand. Meanwhile my little finger continued to hurt like hell, unprotected as it was outside the cast and without aspirin. Today, decades later, my little finger is still bent at the angle where it was couched outside the cast, healed crooked. But with my flaw I have a secret strength: I play guitar for those in pain, stretching my bent finger across the wide spaces on the fretboard.

Here's what I'm finding in my reading:

In a middle-grade story, the main character (I tend to be drawn toward a brave girl) is an outcast, not understood by classmates, except maybe one kid more outcast than herself. She's also misunderstood by her family, except maybe one grandma or outlandish aunt. She decides on (or falls into) a plan to slowly resolve or blast through the issue that falls into her lap. She alone can do this, though she feels unworthy/unable/unaware of her strength. Before long, the forces of darkness (a rat? the posse outside the courthouse?) ramp up their game till the breaking point, when she REALIZES what she thought of as her flaw is actually her strength. The game is won, almost without her doing. By this time the game had reached the tipping point, because of time and placement of people and circumstances. And then it needed only the slightest tap to topple into the "falling action," the denouement. The resolution. A perfect answer. Love between characters bringing her into the circle in a new way that encompasses her flaw/strength. She is aware of herself, broken and healed crooked.

"Garden vase in rain" (2017), is my newest piece, which I painted last week. The colors and the light work together to make splashing sounds, if you like.

For those who followed some early chapters of "Annie California" before, I want to tell you about how Annie's doing now. She's doing great. She's the star of my recently completed middle-grade fiction manuscript. Last year, the almost-completed manuscript won the Ruth Marcus Memorial Writing Scholarship through the Humboldt Area Foundation. The scholarship gave me the kick in the pants I needed to finish the darn thing and start to bring it out to the light. Pretty soon, I'm hoping, you'll be able to read the journal of a brave, smart, funny girl while she takes a dysfunctional family road trip across the country and meets some pretty cool people along the way.

Flat things are not often singled out for gratitude. But in the Joy Dare, we were urged yesterday to single out 3 flat things to be happy about.

I'm experiencing the rare chance to take a long artist retreat. Sounds ideal, doesn't it? One caveat: you will have all the resources you need to paint, but you have to take all your voices with you.

The first week I was here, I went to a yard sale and found for $10 an old wooden drawing board, the kind that can tip horizontally or vertically, with a nice lip to hold canvases or what-have-you. The next week, I went to a couple of art supply stores and bought a lot of things I still haven't used yet: watercolors and pads and brushes and colored pens and acrylics and four square canvases on sale, 2 for 1. I set up the nicest art studio I've ever had, in the space between an old barn and the outdoors, in a large courtyard, with an old blue cabinet to hold things.

But there was the old voice asking none too gently, "Are you about to slather paint on squares of cloth? What makes you think that's worthwhile in the Grand Scheme of Things? Don't you need to pay some bills?" Another voice asked, " Don't you need a degree for that? Don't you need a pack to hang out with? Don't you need years of angst in New York?" Then another voice chimed in, asking, "Why haven't you done it yet? What are you waiting for, a muse?" It took me a long time to sort out those voices to hear one clear one (mine) saying, "I just want to, that's all." Then, finally (after reading Vonnegut's Bluebeard, of all things, whose main character is an Abstract Expressionist) I plopped on a floppy sunhat and tromped down to the barn, and under the porch roof where the honeysuckle are already giving off promises of home far away, I made these yesterday:

copyright 2013 margaret kellermann. Not to be reprinted without permission.

"Some Days Are Like That"

copyright 2013 margaret kellermann. Not to be reprinted without permission.

"You Are Here"

copyright 2007 margaret kellermann. Not to be reprinted without permission.

"Storm Vision"

Another thing that boosted my confidence a bunch: I pointed out this 2007 painting, "Storm Vision," the other day to my friend Mark. It wasn't even for sale. He said he might like to buy it. Which meant, he did.

"A poem should be
palpable and mute as globed fruit."
More than 3 perfect nectarine gifts to taste, at a fruit stand
on the way to Astoria on Highway 30. I love the presentation:
barn red basket and Sunday funnies packaging.

Photo Eric Smith

Has everyone else heard of the Joy Dare? Where you're urged to come up with 3 photographs or poems or tiny journal entries per day, according to the prompts in the Joy Dare, to find and express gratitude for 3 gifts a day? Sometimes the gifts can seem ironic, dark, even horrifying, and that's part of the overall plan: See everything as a gift, not just the brightly wrapped shiny things. This seems perfect for livejournalists. So if you're intrigued, and you haven't started already, I dare you.

I'm a bit late to the 2013 party, I fear, but the author of the blog A Holy Experience assures me I've arrived right where I am, right on time. And if I forget, or get distracted until December, that's all right, too.

So, to begin today, April 30:

Gifts given, made, sacrificed:

Paring down, I'm giving this lovely fairy queen to a poet friend who fills her walls with paintings of women of strength and beauty. I bought it at a yard sale two years ago from a woman who was also paring down; we shared stories of real fairy sightings in Ireland.

"There is nothing you can see that is not a flower." --Basho. I made this card recently, testing out watercolors again after years away. It's hard not to judge my art against the way I want it to look, but I'll just be grateful for watercolors and send it to my new grandson, 1 month old. He won't judge it. And besides, there is nothing you can see in the painting that is not a flower. (The yellow mug is a favorite, from Kensington Potteries, England.)

My concoction---freshly shaved coconut, unsalted peanuts and Ghirardelli chocolate drops---was a gift sacrificed to my stomach this morning. (The tablecloth is from a local kitchen shop, and the plate is old diner china.)

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