26 July 2010

take a chance on me

The brown moth on my front porch was about the size of my open palm. Close up, its patterns were luminescent browns, golds and reds. It flicked out a delicate, white antennae like a fine-toothed comb that followed the movement of my camera. Its body was covered in something like soft fur and seemed to shiver at one point. I snapped my photos quickly to catch it before it could fly away.

Nothing is exactly what you see. While there's something admirable about living without pretense, it's rarely not complicated. And always intriguing.

I have four sisters and two brothers, all younger than me. None of us are just alike, but there are some definite genetic markers. It's that nose, eye color, knock-knees or shape of our calves, curve of lips or high forehead, that resemblance to our mother, father, cousins, grandmother, great uncle, aunt.

But it's complex, beyond counting red-eyed flies and white-eyed flies. Throw in environment and upbringing. It's response to stress. Sleeping patterns. Thickness of vital arteries. Tendon flexibility. Favorite color. Propensity to tick. Tolerance to light and noise. Shoe size. Perhaps one despises cats or loves the rain. Has an amazing roll cast. Plays the piano by ear. Sketches portraits. Bakes perfect lemon meringue pie.

The great mystery is not so much the extent of potential—vast and varied, it seems—as it is what we do with it. All that we carry forward, genetic or developed, informs and supports what we do next. So what you see is just the beginning. I am more than my brown hair, hazel eyes, freckles over my nose and that little scar on my lip. Perhaps the unassuming ring on my finger may not appear sacred as it is for me. I may be quiet. Perhaps I laugh too loud. Perhaps I cry easily or not at all. There is story in every piece of me.

My collective story builds relationships, connects the dots, flexes perspectives and thought with a critical review, taps into my deepest fears and joys, draws beauty from the moment. From a brown moth.

I did not see the moth except for that single morning when the rain came down in a fine, summer mist like wet fog. By the time I checked the mail in the afternoon, the moth was gone. That's the other thing—it's all so fleeting.


"You could be an astronaut if you wanted to, but you're not!"
~ Capt. Phil Harris

"I'm exactly what you see, honey; take a chance on me."
~ Bob Seger

18 July 2010

at work

Head down, I am in the middle of a rewrite, working out some issues with the structure of the novel. I shifted some pieces around about a month ago, and it changed up some real-life facts. The timeline shifts solved other issues, eliminated flashbacks and some "telling" to fill in the gaps - all important. Still feels like the right thing to do.

Last year about this time, I was struggling with POV, shifting verb tense and narration. Some big nuts and bolts to grapple with, and it felt overwhelming, but necessary. Solving for voice cleared the way for new variables to surface. Revealed the equation, so to speak. Solve for y; substitute, and solve for x.

The original novel timeline is mapped on a whiteboard over the desk in my home office. The most recent working timeline is a flexible set of post-its stuck to the top of my coffee table. I posted one version to my Facebook page the other day; this one is today's iteration. Note the bare space in the center. That's the transition to the start of 1976, still missing.

If I have learned anything, it's to trust the process. Keep writing forward. The missing post-its will appear; the stuck points will resolve. The human mind is an amazing place of relationships, connections and story.

The other thing I know is that for every decision I make, another writer out there will make the exact opposite one. I attended a fabulous session of the Tin House conference on Friday, disagreed completely with the presenter's evaluation of a Barry Lopez piece, and came away with some valuable perspective about my own plot structure. All hail diversity.

Today's morning trip to the grocery for toilet paper, milk and potato chips solved a piece of dialog. If I had a sign, I suspect I would have to wear it 24/7, taped to my forehead: Writer at Work.


"I think," said Anna, playing with the glove she had taken off, "I think...if so many men, so many minds, certainly so many hearts, so many kinds of love."

~ Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

14 July 2010

only love

It is early summer, and my family loses one of its patriarchs. My friend loses a child. Another, her father.

The season is cool and unseasonably wet. In the midst of it, I spend several weeks with my 91-year old grandmother. She is frail, slow of step and hard of hearing, but with a quick wit and a girlish giggle. Her hair is a perfect coif so white it is silver.

Grandma tells me stories easily. I have only to ask a leading question and then sit back and listen. Her courtship and marriage to my grandfather. A miscarriage. The births of her children, three cesarean deliveries. The military years. The family Cadillac. Her house in China where they were stationed until the Americans were evacuated. How she was the only one to get off the ship in Japan, a young military wife with three small children, to wait for my grandfather. The estate in England. Her bridge club. The car crash that left deep purple scars on her knee. The other one that left her unharmed, belted into the flipped-over car. The beloved red cocker spaniel, stolen the night before they were transferred from Ohio. Texas rain. Hill Air Force Base.

She tells me how it was for her the night my grandfather died. She had become fatigued by his extended illness, and on that night, she slept alone in their king-size bed. She had been his wife for more than 70 years.

When we walk together, I support my grandma at her left elbow. In the grocery aisle. At the hairdresser. On Friday when we go to Ruth’s Diner with my aunt and mother. Grandma orders mac and cheese because it is soft for her new teeth. She eats most of her lunch and drinks two full glasses of raspberry tea. She is engaging and chatty. By the time we get back to the house, she is tired. I hug her goodbye.

"I love you, Grandma."

"I love you, too, dear."

Blue rainclouds hang low over the Wasatch Front on the morning I board my plane for home. The teenage boy next to me says he is from Kansas City. Missouri, not Kansas. His mother has told him to watch out the other side of the plane when we land in Oregon to see Mt. Hood. He's on his way to summer camp. The plane taxis down the runway for takeoff, and I am crying. Goodbye.

So many gone from me. My grandfather, his last days in the nursing home. Goodbye. My bright, beautiful, addicted cousin, last seen through the glass window of a jail cell. Goodbye. My friend, like a brother, died too young. Goodbye. My first two babies, given for adoption more than 25 years ago. Uncle John. Aunt Vernetta. All of my other grandparents and great grandparents.

Grief opens up a hollow space, fresh as dug earth and rich with the loam of loss that I will carry all my life. The plane turns at the end of the runway. Sunlight slips through the clouds to glitter in the rain, and I understand that only love could give rise to such sadness. Profound love.

The boy in the next seat fidgets and tries not to look at me. Our plane takes off, circles the valley, turns out across the Great Salt Lake. Goodbye.

I have nothing else, so I wipe my face with my jacket.

"Missouri, huh?" I say.

"Oh, yeah," the boy says. His eyes are blue. He looks relieved.

"Is all your family there?" I say. "In Missouri?"


The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land's sharp features seemed to be
The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

~ Thomas Hardy (1900)