03 January 2010

under my feet

My mother was surprised this holiday season to get a greeting from an old friend with whom she had lost contact over the years, another military wife like herself from years ago when my father was serving in the USAF, and we were stationed in Japan. My mother called last night, excited to tell me about her found-friend.

Even though I was young, I remember many of those same places and people as my mother. Our perspectives are different, and often the only reason I remember certain families is because I remember their children, older or younger than me.

I have six brothers and sisters, but there were only four of us when we lived in Japan, one born there, so she was just a baby. Many of my memories are visual - the smooth wood floors of our home in Kokobunji with its sunroom and beautiful garden, the red girders of the Tokyo Tower and the gray water and enormous ships in Tokyo Bay, deep square baths tiled with little square tiles, the white and red bullet trains, Pocky sticks, markets and open-front stores, and the standard school uniforms of white shirts and dark skirts or shorts and knee-high socks. I loved school, and I loved cartoons. My heroes were the Samurai and the super-hero warriors prevalent in the local culture. I also loved the reassuring snow-white peak of Mt. Fuji that I could see from my bedroom window.

We were transferred around in Japan. We lived off-base, then on. I learned to ride a bicycle when we lived in the military housing with The Big Tree - a set of three two-story apartment buildings arranged in a horseshoe. In the center of the open yard grew a single, enormous tree, a pine or fir of some kind. All of us little girls and perhaps some of the boys were so impressed and enamored by the teenage Gunnell boys who could climb The Big Tree. Evenings we would sit out on the apartment stoop as it got dark to see if a game would start up of "No Bears Are Out Tonight" and to see how long we could stay out before our mother would insist we come in. My parents were connected to a tight-knit group of other military families in their church as well, and I remember it was a very nurturing and supportive community within the larger whole of the Japanese culture. I did not at first know what my father did for a living; I assumed that he was one of the armed military personnel like the security guards who saluted us in and out of the bases.

By the time we came back to the states, that community life was all I knew, and re-entering the U.S. was a culture shock in all its glory. My early context was completely different from that of my peers - of geography, language, social structure, TV characters and superheroes. I had grown up as a minority in a vivid, ancient culture of respect and ritual. Our beautiful and quiet nanny/housekeeper had assured me, "Buddha love you same as Jesus," and my sense of the world had been broadened by the miles of travel and the wonders we had seen: Hiroshima, Shinto shrines, peaceful gardens, small villages, the Cherry Blossom festival, Kyoto, fishermen throwing their nets in the ocean, rice paddies, the pink and blue fish kites of Boys' and Girls' Day. I loved the elaborate silks of the kimonos, the white swans in the moat around the dark stone walls of the Imperial Palace, and old stone and wooden pillars of the Buddhist temple. I had danced the Obon with my mother and sister to celebrate our ancestors and couldn't begin to find the words to explain to my new American schoolmates what that even meant.

To make my social integration more difficult, I had a severe lisp and, to my shame, was put in a special education class for language and reading. The little square flash-cards of vowels kept in my childhood scrapbook still evoke a twinge of pain, although it feels more like sorrow today.

My father served his final year at Fairchild AFB in Spokane, Wash. Afterwards, he moved us to Bakersfield, California. Then Tustin. Then Idaho, Utah, and back to Idaho. Along the way, I gained three more siblings, several dogs, a horse, a guitar, and a reinforced sense of nomadic detachment. Over the years, it would manifest regularly as a light flutter that would kick around inside my stomach, telling me it was time to move on. In 1984, my parents settled in Utah, and I continued to move, ungracefully, through my life and to different places and spaces until I landed in the Pacific Northwest in 1995.

So much happened that year, good and bad, change and more change. I moved nine times in the next 12 months. But the spiral of journey had turned inward, and I moved one final time and have since remained in the same place for ten years, content for the time being.

I remain grateful for those years during my formative childhood. They continue to influence my life for good today. Perhaps it is, finally, something else our Japanese nanny told me so many years ago when I was young and full of questions.

She said, "Answer under your feet."


29 December 2009

meant to delight

After all the rush of the holidays - tree decorating, lights, family dinners and laughter, mountains of wrapping paper and boxes - today it snows. Beautiful snow softens all the sharp corners, covers the brown leaves, and turns the evening blue in that light that only snow holds at night.

I was given a gift card for Powell's Books by my father. He called before Christmas.

"What kind of gift cards can I get for you and Rick?"

"For Rick, REI. Easy," I said. "For me, you could get Macy's or something for me to get some new work clothes. Or Powell's."

He might have snorted. At the very least, it was a scoff. "Work clothes are not for Christmas."

In the Christmas card that accompanied the two gift cards, he wrote, "These gifts are meant to delight. Love, Mom and Dad"

A couple nights ago after another round of holiday hoopla, after it got quiet again in my little home, I ordered my books.

Holy the Firm
by Annie Dillard
(trade paper) USED

Behold the Many: a Novel
by Lois Ann Yamanaka
(hardcover) USED

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
by David Wroblewski
(trade paper) SALE

New Guinea Tapeworms and Jewish Grandmothers: Tales of Parasites and People
by Robert S. Desowitz
(trade paper) USED

True Compass: A Memoir
by Edward M. Kennedy
(hardcover) USED

New Path To the Waterfall 1ST Edition
by Raymond Carver
(hardcover) USED

Love Medicine: a novel
by Louise Erdrich
(hardcover) USED

Order confirmed. Thank you for shopping at Powell's Books.

I am delighted.


26 December 2009

personal reflection at solstice

With all the holiday preparations and celebrations going on, I have been a bit neglectful of my blog. Almost all of my writing energy has gone into the novel as of late. On one hand, it feels productive to have that body of work nearing completion. At the expense of everything else. Current submissions are down to almost nothing. Multiple small projects suspended in varying stages of draft. Two larger projects waiting in the wings for time and space. A drawer full of post-it notes with story lines, scenes and snippets of dialogue.

Don't get me wrong. I remain grateful for it all.

There was a time when I was not writing anything. Given up the dream. Lost all faith. For almost ten years, I wrote only business letters, marketing copy, or technical web instructions.

Ah, I lie. I did find a set of song lyrics that I wrote during that time - angry, hurt, and emotionally broken. My old friend Craig Shell once said that professional musicians often made their best money on lyrics like these. No money here. Mine never made it out of the yellow pad stashed in a box marked "Personal" along with legal papers from the divorce, old resumes, bus schedules, and random news clippings ranging from the Oklahoma City bombing, local crime stories, and the 1995 NBA playoff standings - probably more of a story there.

But I digress.

December 31, 2003. The end of a most trying year. My husband was working two states away and only able to come home every month or so. My children were in varying stages of crisis and teenage angst, flailing around to find their way in the world. One of my nephews was living with us as all of his parents were away. I was in the early stages of what turned out to be a deep cycle of depression. We lit a handful of fireworks that night to send out that old, bad, sad year. My nephew said, "If it doesn't get any worse, it will be a better year."

And then it was worse.

The strain and the pain of that next year pushed me to a point where I had to write again, if only for my own sanity. Which led me to meet Christy Krug. Who directed me to Stevan Allred and Joanna Rose. Who in turn connected me to many, many other very talented writers who continue to guide, support and inspire my ongoing writing practice.

For every anxious writing session, rejected draft, or sleepless hour in the middle of the night spent agonizing over some character detail, I equally celebrate the process. The act of writing has given voice to something deeper, powerful, intimate. Something previously lost. Call it faith or inspiration. Call it love or light. Whatever it is, it is restored to me, and in turn, has restored my being.

Over this next week, I am doing a final sweep to complete a first draft of the current novel for its first full review. 40 hours of work, at least. I am at the same time anxious and hopeful.

And grateful.


About the photo: the analemma is the path of the sun throughout the year. The shape can be tracked by taking one picture per day, always at the same time, with a fixed camera.