28 June 2008


Yesterday in the early morning when I looked at my bedside clock for the millionth time since my husband was away and it wakes me to reach out to his side and find it empty, and it was 4 a.m. and that morning bird began its early song and I remember thinking that the birdsong would keep me awake longer but really that was the last conscious thought I had before my alarm went off at 6:30 and the day began in earnest.

It is still dark at 4 a.m. but not like winter dark. In the summer it is much more gradual, the light spread thin, a quiet refusal to retreat entirely. The bird begins its call.

It is a robin. An American robin, different from the European robin since it is related rather to a thrush than the little robins over the pond. Lang Elliott, an authority on birds (what would that be like - to be an authority on birds?), qualifies the dawn call of a robin as a "more animated, excited territorial declaration."

Some 5-ish years ago I worked a graveyard shift at a women's care facility while I was in between jobs. It was summer and I kept the wide windows on the west side of the front office thrown open all night since they were high enough to be inaccessible from the outside. The robin's song became my touchstone. It signaled the shift from one side to the other, the ramping upside to the quiet slide down into dawn. The pitch and timbre translated into a desperate stand against the vestiges of night. And a call to the sun.

It speaks to another time, years ago, a time of desperation and my last failed stand. I had lost everything. I couldn't sleep for the terrors that waited for me in my dreams and the weight of my grief and shame and of a nameless, bottomless, demoralizing despair. I paced. Tried to read. Listened to Eric Clapton, Bob Segar, Stone Temple Pilots, Nirvana—Cobain newly dead. In the dark, pre-dawn, I would give up and stand outside with my back against the peeling red paint of the door to the sleeping quarters and smoke, lighting each new cigarette off the last, until the black shape of the Wasatch Front deepened, its topmost edge backlit gold to fire-white, the sky fading purple, violet, lilac to the spread of peach and pink and then, at last, the sun would break over the peak to another day. And then, at last, I would sleep.

I did not hear the robin before. But there were many sacred gifts I missed back then, back in those old bad days of old bad ways of ignorance and self-will and despair.

A restless night might lay on me still. And it is a comfort to hear the robin call up the sun.


12 June 2008


This week, my novel found its voice. It has been more than a year of writing pages and pages of these boys, the Wildish boys. I have worked parts of it in and out of sessions at The Pinewood Table with Stevan Allred and Joanna Rose.

Most recently in a short summer session, I read a section that I knew was key but not working. Around the table with Stevan, Joanna, Hope, and Christi, the comments were as I expected - and more. High marks on character details, language and energy, but lots of confusion. Chaos. Anarchy, even.

Stevan wrote in his end notes, "I'm pretty lost."

But the conversation over the table was exactly what I needed. It prodded at the sensitive parts, revealed options, opened up language and potential. I went away last week with a new sense of direction and hope, infused with the energy and insights of my teachers, friends and peers.

Reading. Reading. I can hear it, that "thing" that I want, recognize it in my favorites. Stephen King's Stand By Me, William Kennedy's Ironweed and E.L. Doctorow's Billy Bathgate. I spent some days with Billy, marking "vertical" and "horizontal" in the margins, line by line.

Taking up my story, this novel in progress, I cleared away everything to get to the part that held my heart, the core of the Wildish story. And then I wrote. Or re-wrote, as it were.

Last night, Julia Stoops read the last chapter of her new novel, and we celebrated. A brilliant achievement. A lovely, talented writer. I am honored to have been across the table from Julia as she breathed life into her novel.

Then I read my revision, a 2-page segment, across the Pinewood Table. And I heard it. Voice.

Bigger than character voice. Stevan called it stance. It is the voice of the story.

It changes everything. I am elated.

My deepest thanks to Stevan and Joanna and all those who have sat across the table from me so that I might hear and practice. And write.


05 June 2008

Baby orca in the Puget Sound

There's a new baby, spotted on my own daughter's birthday. A new orca swimming in one of the returning pods in the Puget Sound. Most glorious!

Credit for the photos to Kelley Balcomb-Bartok at the Center for Whale Research. Please donate generously and frequently.

I have been on the Sound a number of times, but never seen orcas. Perhaps one day. For me, they embody an ancient spirit, of salt and wind, sunlight and the enfolding naissance of the sea. I am grateful for the very news of their return.