23 August 2010

fast forward

That idea that we are each in control of our own destiny is quite possibly a myth created by the same ivory-tower dreamer who wrote every Leave It To Beaver episode and Disney happy ending script. To quote one of my friends, Randy Allen: "It clogs my bullshit filter."

Oh, I'm a huge fan of happy endings. Don't get me wrong. And for all the whirlwind life-comes-at-you-fast events of the last month, I've got nothing to complain about.

My point is simply that control is an illusion. A grain of sand thinking it controls the incoming tides.

Last weekend, my family and I spent a few days with my parents and my baby brother and his family at a cabin on the Wenatchee River. "Cabin" being a relative term as it was a spacious vacation house with all the amenities: hot tub, gourmet kitchen, double-decks, BBQ grills. We canoed up and down the river, ate way too much food and blackberry pie, played tourist in the town of Leavenworth, scouted Lake Wenatchee, bought fresh peaches and beans from the local fruit stands.

One morning, a baby barn swallow must have crashed its first flight out of its nest. It fell onto the main deck where my daughters and nephew were all doing the morning chill session. My husband and I had taken the canoe across the river to look for the tracks of a mama bear and her cub reported in the area. We came back to my girls calling to me, "Help! Help! What do we do?" They were distraught that this small bird was huddled down on the deck.

My husband, always resourceful, cleared the way of deck furniture and miscellaneous child items from the deck so that the baby bird might at least run back towards the nest area. Which it promptly did and remained huddled against one of the stairs all day and all through the next night. The two parent birds continued to feed it, alternately pecking and chirping at it in some kind of bird-speak.

The next morning, the feedings continued. Then in an instant, not unlike any other instant before it, the baby bird flew away. The three barn swallows swooped out together over the river, and I lost track of them in the flurry of all the other swallows feeding on mosquitoes and mayflies over the water.

Controlled destiny? Sheer luck? I'm not a big believer in limited options, and I don't believe in luck (really), so I have to go with the life-happens theory.

The only catch is that sometimes it happens quickly. In the flash of a bird's wing.

Don't miss it.


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