Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Something under the bed...Part 2

For your viewing pleasure, Pacific Ocean Park in its early, prosperous days. It did not look like this when I visited.



In Part 2, we leave the ocean and climb into the San Bernardino mountains. Once again, I am with my grandparents. My grandfather, whose driving I came to recognize as being from the "accelerator/brake, accelerator/brake" school, was happy to go anywhere, everywhere; the more people in the car the better. (Wherever we would go, my grandmother brought along the picnic hamper with thermoses of goulash, Cornish pasties, sweet mixed pickles that she always served with pasties, desserts, I can't recall everything, as there was food for days, even if we were on our way, ultimately, to a restaurant. Stopping for a picnic was part of the journey - no wonder I came to equate food with love. And she expressed surprise when, as we arrived at our destination, I was queasy and had no appetite. None of the grandchildren was ever able to tell her that Grandpa's jerky driving made us carsick.)

Even now the roads to Lake Arrowhead are prone to rock slides and other perils. In the early 1950s I can imagine them as narrow, steep and fairly slow going; I know we had a vapor lock on at least one drive. On what was probably my first visit with them to the lake, my grandmother chose to tell me undocumented and harrowing tales of our destination. She said (and I haven't googled this to check so please accept it at face value) that Arrowhead was a man-made lake, an existing canyon that had been filled with water to create a recreation - and realtor's dream - spot. She said that many people had drowned there having become caught in the tops of trees which still stood underwater, left behind when the canyon was flooded. In my mind, she described the trees as almost reaching up and grabbing the unwary, wrapping them in their piney branches where I supposed their skeletons - or corpses - remained. I never put so much as a toe in that water and can picture myself becoming hysterical if anyone offered a boat ride. Murderous, submerged forests were added to the list of terrors. Since then I have had the repulsion/attraction conflict about water that covers once-inhabited land. Watching documentaries on the building of the Three-Gorges Dam in China, as villages and, perhaps more importantly, their cemeteries were taken by the rising tide, my thoughts went to ghost-controlled rivers and centuries of a way of life, now gone. The closing line of A River Runs Through It affects me still: "I am haunted by waters."

To be continued further.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Something under the bed is drooling*

(*There was no way I could come up with a better title than this, which Bill Watterson used for one of his Calvin and Hobbes collections. Thank you.)

Irrational. A normally-nourished child of five or so will not slip between the planks of the Balboa pier, plunging to the churning sea beneath. An image lingers of stumbling, of the wayward foot once caught on the splintery board, managing - unaware - to pry itself an opening sufficient to permit the nightmare drop. It is nearly dusk; lights along the pier can't illuminate the ocean below. Vigilance, caution, and slow, slow progress, board by board, may carry me the distance. Someone - grandmother, grandfather - takes my hand without scolding or impatience. I am more sure of foot with their help. To this day I watch every step on a weathered, wooden pier. The water remembers me.

Childhood fears - loathings is a whole separate category - may come from something (the lizard in the shoebox left on top of the trash can at the curb) or nothing identifiable, i.e. malevolent piers. I know I wasn't in an altered state when I rode the Skyway AND the Cyclone coaster during the last questionable glory of Pacific Ocean Park. Both the Skyway gondolas and the roller coaster followed the pier out over the water and neither gave any indication of having been scrupulously maintained. The Diving Bell - read elevator dunked into a tank of sealife, harmless and not - leaked; we stood ankle-deep in water and I imagined all the seams and windows giving way. At Marineland of the Pacific, viewing the creatures from a lower ramp gave me a foreboding of glass cracking and tourists swept away along with the attractions. THAT particular dread manifested, years later and not in my presence, when one of the performing whales gave the window a great whack as he prepared for his leap.

I'll call this Part One - that seems to be turning into a pattern - to be continued.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Once again, to the daredevil surgeons

Life, as I left in a comment the other day, is something I identify as a two-fisted business; it is not a game we play with one hand behind our backs. Whatever we have, we need to bring, even if it has to be carried in swap meet suitcases and duct-taped plastic bags.

Nearly a year ago - June 28, 2009 - I posted the following. I am re-running it now as I am inspired by readers - and writers - to keep excavating and sharing what I find.

Reprinted by no popular demand whatsoever:

A good life and a pain-free life are two different things. It may be that this information is widely available but somehow I have come to it late. In the first place, I cannot imagine how one is actually alive and without pain. Ever. Of any description. How much anaesthesia would that require?

There is too much meaningless hilarity around us, or so it seems to one for whom an authentic, unforced lightheartedness was unimaginable and unattainable for so long. Many of us - and there are days when I am certain the numbers are much higher than that - come from places we recognize in the work of Joseph Campbell as he tells of mythic struggles, trial by ordeal, shamans as wounded healers. Abuse, neglect, exploitation, violence, indifference, damage and despair were not explored in Nancy Drew books. If only she could have solved that mystery, shone any sort of light on all the ways in which children had their souls stolen by predators in business suits, clerical garb or masks that could pass for ordinary.

These children grow with the sense that they have no control over their actions, choices or lives. A malevolent force resides in the space that should belong to heart and spirit, as though even those stout allies fled in helplessness once they assessed the gravity of the wounds. Sometimes the demons win. Sometimes the pain overshadows the ability to believe in anything but the pain. For more years than I can say I thought healing meant that all the hurt would be taken; that what was lost would be returned, like for like; that clarity, decisions arrived at through thought and caution, sobriety and consistency would result and only grow stronger. I believed the past could be rewritten, or more accurately, erased; it never happened. This is what I longed for.

But a piece at a time, over 24 (and counting) years of relentless recovery, I discovered that to exclude certain moments, to somehow have the warping, indigestible parts of my life removed like a curse lifted, would leave me a different creature. I realized there were aspects of me which I actually treasured. I didn't possess the wisdom to know what should stay, what should go, if it had been possible to undo what already was. Which left only one choice: repair what was still fixable, modify or alter the seriously wrecked bits into something that would work well enough, keep moving forward.

(An aside: In the Los Angeles Times of Tuesday, June 16, 2009, there was a front page story headlined, "Cars in Ghana can't be totaled," which told of the Odawana neighborhood of Accra in which no car had ever been seen as too broken to be fixed. The writer described the area, saying "(it) teems with industry and purpose." Reporter Robyn Dixon added, "nothing is ever useless junk.")

Reclamation, restoration, redemption - themes to which I gravitate in movies and stories - result from the pick-and-shovel work of this earthly incarnation and Divine intervention. Pain in some measure still shows up and asks to stay in our spare rooms; in small quarters it sleeps on the couch and leaves its stuff everywhere. And still life is a gift. It will not happen, that all those whom we lost to the darkness will be among us again, with buoyant spirits and anxieties forgotten, so our best plan is to celebrate resilience, grace and benevolence without limit that has never given up on any of us. One day, like the cars in Odawana, we will realize that we, with masterful help, have become the "daredevil surgeons" and found a way to bring our crumpled pieces back to function and purpose. We will continue to grieve, but not every moment, and less for ourselves than those for whom the journey was simply too long.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

In quiet

"A capacity for stillness," that is how I think of the primary lesson gained since I stopped trying to be an over-achiever. Years of compressing 30 hours of living into a 24-hour day resulted in pneumonia; the pneumonia lingered and became chronic respiratory infections, chronic fatigue, the usual penalties for not knowing when to stop voluntarily. In retrospect, it is easily identified as part of not knowing a lot of things.

This saga began 20 years ago and I don't recall the moment when I knew it was not meant to punish me but to save me. Learning to be at ease with quiet and one's own company is not something I sought consciously. Being well-behaved, "seen and not heard," were habits from childhood. They bought me some peace in my home but I thought of them as signs of repression; could some part of that behavior be seen as positive?

The learning curve for any new skill seldom goes as I expect. Perhaps it is just me, but I seem to require (by my calculation) a greater-than-normal amount of time to identify realizations, absorb truths, travel from uninformed to a semblance of awareness. This makes it necessary to repeat certain courses. I see you're back taking "Sit Down and Get Quiet" for the third time, Mrs. Kelly. With a determined and patient tutor, Life itself, and my eventual willingness to pay attention, we had something that could, in bad light, be seen as progress.

And now 20 years have passed; arthritis and reduced mobility (plus the 23 stairs between our apartment and the car) have been added to the list and I am no longer confused about why what seemed to be my life took this once-unwelcome turn. In the quiet of mind and body, I've found that I am not who I thought I was. I am some version of a contemplative; not a volunteer in the ordinary sense, but one whose soul required certain conditions in order to expand. Left entirely to the mind, this decision would never have been made.

As I observe the capacity for stillness in my son, I know that it has always been part of me, an undernourished yet significant aspect of my authentic self. I am not able to foresee all the places it will take me, the assignments it will bring, but I know it is the heart of what supports my need and desire to write, to draw, to understand. In his book, The Tao of Being, Ray Grigg says, "Understanding comes effortlessly. It is not acquired but happens...Wonder and soften and open."

Monday, June 21, 2010

Meanwhile,

My fiction writing teacher loathed what she called refrigerator words; words like big or heavy, small, long, far, close...HOW big? she would ask, HOW far? Big tells you nothing without comparison. And so they invented humongous; problem solved. Forgive me, Marsha, for the times I have allowed that easier, softer way to lure me. The ability to think in words and pictures cannot be a common one; finding the reasons why this is similar to that is the game we will be playing until our thoughts run out.

To be a writer is, for me, to be a life-long apprentice. How do you quantify mastery as a writer...do the words cause you to weep, give you goosebumps, send you reeling like a Monty Python fish slap? How it feels in my writer's heart is that fresh degrees of precision await, if I take the time to reach them. Within the writing world, there are measures of achievement - published books, stories and essays and opinions selected by periodicals of note - and yet it does not feel incomplete simply to have a self-assigned task every few days, more often if possible; a sampler of what I hope are my best stitches or the newer ones which I'm trying out.

My memory was once such that my family would quiz me on meals we had eaten in certain locations along the California roads we traveled. Some of the towns we never saw again; to others we returned at least once a year. Now I can remember favorite meals at a Mojave cafe but not the name of the coffee shop. With a map in hand to prompt me, I could at least identify places we stayed overnight. From that it might be possible to recall dinner or breakfast, but mostly the names of restaurants have faded.

Occasionally the specifics are essential to the story, and there is the accuracy death-grip that comes from reporting. Then, if you factor in the vanity of recalling minutia over so many decades (all yawning lapses of time and event notwithstanding), I am uncomfortable, though not every moment, admitting that some of the pieces are gone.

This, you have guessed by now, is tap dancing, stalling before I am ready to burrow back into the cave of the drooling carnivore that "Wedded" turned out to be. On the days when mumbling and shuffling are as good as it gets, I give thanks for whatever sound and movement can be mustered. With the fantods upon us, any sign of life is reassuring.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Wedded

My son, who has never come closer to a farm than a Ventura County strawberry field, can pick a ripe cantaloupe at the supermarket. One of those genes that skips a generation now and then. His grandfather and great-grandfather knew their produce; I, on the other hand, have brought home melons that - for a few days, anyway - were only fit to serve as doorstops.

His last triumph was a pair of mostly-greenish, loofa-scratchy and webby looking things that were perfect sweetness inside. Since I pick husbands as well as I choose cantaloupes, I think, if the possibility ever appears again - and if it does it will be without any seeking from me, I swear - I will let my son do the selecting. Should there ever be another, a sweet one would be welcome.

Last Thursday, June 17, would have been my 38th wedding anniversary. We lasted 22 years. I was betting on our little family, not based on anything other than wanting so much for it to be true. Too many sure things had already been sighted thumbing rides out of town; I should have known.

Some of us come from places that nullify rational thought, giving all notions equal value; a land where there is no such thing as a bad idea. A former roommate devised her own method of learning to parallel park near her job on Capitol Hill; it consisted entirely of smashing into the cars ahead and behind as many times as it took to shoehorn herself into a spot. We lacked the skills, the simple, basic information, to fashion anything enduring out of faulty parts.

Just the act of thinking, of remembering, takes all my energy. I have found truths worth telling, the words are just out of reach. This will either vanish as soon as I post it or it will be continued. Come back, please, and find out.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

It's only a paper...

Fireworks - the edgy and explosive ones, anything that shot sparks over a distance greater than the length of a child's arm, anything that spun or whistled or fizzed - was forbidden inside Pasadena city limits. Driven once again to rely on our quiet wits, we three children made our own faux contraband out of paper.

Our replicas impersonated, roughly, not only the products but their packaging...boxes for the sparklers, Vesuvius-like cones, firecrackers - which nobody sold legally but many smuggled from Mexico or bought in Chinatown - and unidentified ordnance with string or paper fuses. Patriotic-appearing crafts kept us as busy as we wanted to be through the daylight hours. If we ran out of red or white or blue paper, there were always crayons. We turned out a colorful line.

There were years when, hose and water bucket at the ready, we got to light those charcoalish worms on the driveway or wave sparklers without much gusto behind a hedge. One holiday we did drive to the carnival-garish stand in a reckless, nearby town where we bought the BIG assortment and took it to the grandparents' farm later in the summer to see what we'd been missing. We had hoped for great boomings and things flying into bits. We got whistling and fizzing and spinning. No bang. Still...

Our holiday crafting completed, as dusk settled we sat crossed-legged on the sidewalk at the end of our driveway. Our house faced south and we positioned ourselves on the still-warm cement to look north, over the Chinese elm in the yard, to the display put on at the country club, five blocks further uphill. The shimmering rain seemed so close, the cannon sound thumped in our chests.

To this day, towns with picnics, bicycle parades, watermelon seed spitting contests and retriever-sized dogs wearing red bandanas seem like the 4th of July as presented by Norman Rockwell or Hollywood; I am as removed from them as any fiction. Subdued fun is still fun after a fashion; it is what we knew. I feel uncomfortable in the midst of too much hilarity, too many group endeavors, organized good times...games at baby and bridal showers, I simply shudder. Some of us participate, some of us observe. Over these 65 years, there have been high-wire moments beyond my control which I'd happily delete from my timeline. As July 4 peels off the calendar, I'll strike an imaginary match and lob make-believe cherry bombs from our second floor windows. Then I'll meet you where the watermelons are being sliced.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Stardust

The first glimpse of the infinite is never forgotten. Girl Scout camp with seasoned troopers who volunteered us for a wilderness site. I had only been there for weekends in reasonably snug shelters. Shelters with raised sleeping spaces, but also with roofs. Less likely that creatures would make slithery welcome when you tucked your feet into the bedroll but no clear view of the sky.

With our beds on the ground in an open mountain meadow, we four venturesome fools (three willing participants, one dubious foot-dragger) found sleep remote as we became lost in the Milky Way's expanse, which seemed to touch the horizons. The Griffith Park Planetarium is no preparation for the truth, which is that we are truly aswim in this ribbon of stars. Welcome to your galaxy, around which our solar system will complete its orbit in roughly 200 to 250 million years. Enjoy your flight.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Last lemonade stand for 30, 60, 90 miles

Today, thinking about the end of the school year makes me think of Bakersfield and Bakersfield makes me think about cars.

My grandparents' farm was about half an hour south of Fresno. On the drive there, Bakersfield was the final town of any size larger than something explored by Larry McMurtry in The Last Picture Show. Back when Highway 99 passed right through Bakersfield, we'd stop for hamburgers at a Carnation Ice Cream...place. They called them fountains back then, though that word usually referred to the counter in a drugstore. Maybe it was a diner, maybe a cafe. It was an oasis before the road became a ruled line through fields of cotton and alfalfa, edged on the east by a misty silhouette of the Sierra Nevada range.

It was the era of billboards, enticing the traveler to exotic destinations beyond the valley - Reno, Tahoe, mountains and lakes and gambling. Burma Shave still put its sequence of advertising prose along the route; signage was shaped like soda bottles. Plaster-covered chicken wire mimetic architecture - giant lemons and oranges - sold ice-cold, all-you-can-drink citrus quenchers at the edges of farmland, spaced about every half-hour or so. Summers in the central valley left tourists - even natives - panting and diminished.

When we journeyed mid-summer, we drove at night. As we stopped to stretch our legs once we were on the downward side of the Grapevine, even in the dark the heat rushed up the scorched hills and the shape of the land created its own wind. Stepping outside the car, stifling though it was, felt like an oven set at 350 degrees, opened to check how brown the ice box cookies were.

As the oldest of the three of us in the station wagon backseat, I usually got a window. Beyond the towns there were few lights, the ones visible either illuminating the names of not-too-distant motels or marking sites of agriculture, due to start up again with the sun. The only activity available was reverie. I wonder how many miles I have ridden in a trance state, having the conversations, living the life, of my child-then-adolescent imagination. Staring into the fenced and flattened dark, knowing that whenever we arrived, my grandmother would waken us from our dreams, saying either, "You're late," or "You're early," I waited for the right turn that took us onto secondary roads and meant we only had about 30 more minutes to go.

If we drove during daylight, we'd notice sedans with bulky, cylindrical window attachments, early versions of air conditioning. Unless someone complained - and good luck, majority rules - we had all the windows open. We were not the family that played games with license plates or named sighted objects alphabetically. We rarely had the radio on; my mother wanted no part of farm reports or country music. If I sang to myself, it annoyed my brother or sister, as it would have me, had they tried it. We might bicker, but quietly, since everybody got a swat if one of us caused a fuss. If we hadn't been in shorts and summery shirts, we could have been mistaken for pilgrims from some cloistered order, our vows of silence riding with us to the new monastery.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Litter

"The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there." Opening sentence from THE GO-BETWEEN, by L. P. Hartley

Nothing like a family for keeping secrets. All the accumulated skeletons in closets that reach back for generations, no wonder the clothes are just piled on the floor. My mother told me of my less-than-welcome origins as I was driving a car on the freeway. In the same wheel-jerking conversation, she also told me, placing the blame entirely on the father-to-be, whom she did marry, of an attempted miscarriage. Yet here I am, like the lizard that I hoovered up from the kitchen counter in our old house (reptiles, not so much) and who could not, would not be shaken from the vacuum hose, stretching out his four short legs and refusing to be (a) sucked into the vacuum or (b) shaken out in the garden. I left the hose in the yard; eventually he climbed out. Ah, but he never left the area around our front door. I felt half-way haunted. Maybe my parents did as well.

There are revelations which make things clear. Then there is the leaked information that just makes it all murkier. But for a while - a few days, a sleepless night - it seems that here, at last, is THE unveiling which will pull all the threads together. The truth is, when these glimpses of what might have been, had one but known, come so long after the fact they actually have little worth. In the metaphoric house of myself, I have chosen to leave great piles of old business on the table.

I have written that time has a fluid quality for me, as though it - at least all the years I have experienced - is a vast lake upon which I am contentedly adrift. Yet within the anti-structure of this liquid state, there are rules. Chief among them is the necessity of moving ever forward. From either a movie or novel, absorbed at an impressionable (aren't they all?) age, comes the image of a wagon train as it rolls out of the last civilized town. Soon the pioneers are lightening the loads which slow their migration; hope chests and harpsichords left at the side of the track.

Time-lapse photography would show my wake littered with jettisoned encumbrances...most of them recently discarded. One Peruvian worry doll bound and overloaded with a Pandora's box of trouble, that has been me. Let me see how much of this I can keep hold of. Is there more duct tape or fishing line?

Yes, it is our stuff, after a fashion, though I swear, in great measure it is as much hand-me-downs as the exotic, grown-up clothes my aunt passed along to my grade-school self. Stories for another day. I believe it may - still trying to have this somehow notarized or chiseled in stone - be possible to outgrow the need to suffer. I know that I lack the tolerance for more than one fitful night of sleep in a row and whatever has brought on this disquietude has to go. If it is my mind trying to bend itself around facts that are no longer relevant, good God, woman; write yourself a note asking if you may, please, be excused from participating. Here, on this side of the lake, it is 2010. We may float past 1955 or 1948 or 1963 in our meanderings, but we no longer live there. And whatever they try to call out as we glide by, the words are inaudible above the gentle splash along the sides of the boat. We can no longer hear the message; it doesn't matter.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Would you rather be right...?

Forty-one years ago, I was led, shell-shocked and defeated, to an Al-Anon meeting. In memory, on that day someone gave me a pen which had the Serenity Prayer printed on it. However many days there have been between then and now on which I forgot the simple instruction of seeking the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference, there have been equally as many - probably more - on which I remembered them.

To me, the heart of the message resides in, "...the wisdom to know the difference." If it is the action, attitude, opinion or condition of someone else, acceptance - not easily found and with greater difficulty maintained - is generally the wise path. If the source of discomfort is us, the options multiply.

What is shown to me most often, with neon arrows and beacon-carrying landing strip personnel, is how my own thinking, the ease with which I am able to misinterpret, can back me into a corner. It is, however, my good fortune - for I have declared it so - that I no longer see changing my mind as an indication of weakness. Taking a new stance may indicate that I have made a poor choice but my days of letting, "well, you made your bed, now you have to lie in it," prolong unhappiness are over. As I am sure I've said before, being right is over-rated. If you don't have a friend who asks you, "Would you rather be right or would you rather be happy?" I recommend that you find one.

The moment at which we recognize that a husband's/sibling's/friend's choices are not about us, and no matter how much they wish to hand us the blame and responsibility, if we don't accept it, we are freed. We are not immune to the sense of loss or grief that we carry in allowing them the dignity - or otherwise - of their own path, but we are not imprisoned by that meddling urge (raving untruths of the monkey mind) that tells us we are smart enough to be able to fix this. At our house, and it should probably be the motto inscribed above the door, the most frequently heard phrase, aside from, "is there anything on tv tonight?" would be, "It is what it is."

Which brings me to the things we can change.

Learning to be grateful continually is my lesson of the moment and something tells me I am not going to be the one with my hand always in the air - oooh, oooh, I know the answer. It requires finding a new place to stand when viewing the circumstances of my present and my past. Difficult as it is, falling as I do into the old dog category, there is a sense of wonder - mingled with confusion - in revisiting what I assumed to be true and acknowledging that what I took for the whole of it was but a piece. Re-examined and considered as a possible gift rather than being categorized as failure for what it never became, a decades-long friendship that possessed overtones and blurts of romance, may be celebrated for its humor and affection, shining and enduring.

It takes me by surprise, acquiring a measure of flexibility at an age when joints have begun to freeze and ways of being - or doing - generally become less easy to relinquish. Life is serial adaptation; we bend or we break. I wonder if talking to my knees will get them to come to the party?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Future uncertain (may contain whining)

At times I think we'd never have a fuel shortage if the world ran on bad ideas. The other commodity in endless supply seems to be uncertainty. If we had each signed a contract before showing up for life, who would have said yes to never knowing what was going to happen in the next moment?

Pessimism is not a neighborhood where I hang out. Expecting a bad outcome feels like the surest way to guarantee one, not to mention how it pickpockets all happiness out of the here-and-now. It has been a process of retraining, finding (to the best of my ability) how to belong to the half-full club, identifying the good, in spite of often convincing evidence to the contrary.

Mine is far from the bumpiest road I know, yet there are times when all I can think of is screaming, "You're joking, right...?" Lucky for me I don't expect an answer. I have experienced good which I call miraculous - last-minute granting of favors from the most unlikely sources. I am not confused about the blessings that season my days. It is just that, every now and then, it feels like, as Dobie Gray sings in Loving Arms, "I've been too long in the wind, too long in the rain..." Consecutive uncertainty, along with that wind and rain, can wear a girl down.

Is it natural, as in: does everybody do it?, to wish for the bigger miracle sometimes? I was struck by Leonard Cohen's song from MC CABE AND MRS. MILLER about the poker hand so high and wild you'll never have to deal another. Is it fantasy or residual victimhood that makes us, occasionally, long for deliverance? No, deliverance may too strong a word; it is longing for a reprieve from the daily, constant absence of information about what awaits. Something both solid AND buoyant, that could work - the rock that also floats, so it can be clung to today on solid ground, clung to tomorrow when the waters rise. I suppose that would be a form of deliverance.

My energy level undulates. At times I carry on no matter what, at others I take to my bed and leave it all for sleep to work out. Once upon a time I wished for a periscope that I could use to peek around the corner at the future. You may be surprised to learn that I never found one. In the answerless present, what I would find most useful is the ability to trust, without waivering, the rightness of the Next Indicated Thing and whatever solution it offers. Between 80 and 90 per cent of the time, I have that; it is my touchstone. Now all I need is the combination of wire, glue, patching compound, duct tape, sturdy rope, matches and gum, along with complete surrender to the unknowability of tomorrow, to help me across the tightrope of the remaining 10 to 20 per cent.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Stories - it is only the beginning

This morning I followed links from blog to blog, looking in on others who write because writing is at or very near the top of their Things That Matter list. I am not a marathon blog-reader; being too long on the computer makes me tired, though I no longer suspect it sucks energy from my eyes and fingertips to keep itself running. In the time before I drooped, I found five or six self-assigned correspondents who are filing dispatches from the field. The too-random sampling - it would never withstand the scrutiny of market researchers - assured me that thinking has not gone completely out of fashion.

We are our stories. I learned this in a fiction writing workshop 25 years ago, as each of us wove fact into the pieces we shared. Sometimes they were undisguised accounts of other days. How can we know that much of what we call fiction isn't the same? Today's discoveries felt like open-mike night at the Contemplative Cafe. Not just the stories and the clarity with which they were told, it was more the way encounters, moments and conversations were interpreted. Finding meaning in the ordinary is not a common practice; being able and willing to transfer that meaning from one situation to another is even more rare.

It took me months to build myself a compelling argument in favor of starting a blog. Then it took me considerably longer to recognize this as an act which I took seriously, to commit to writing a minimum number of posts each month, to produce something of substance as often as possible. There are days when the best that can be hoped for is just passing along some information.

A quiet life viewed thoughtfully is as rich as any mad, character-filled escapade. My earlier years were generously populated, active, textured and, I believe, deliver the chewy parts of my assorted tales. The more recent era, the age of sitting and being still, has - I hope - given me perspective and an ability to see the bigger picture.

Today I left only a few comments; I will return and leave more. Where it is an option, I'll sign on as a follower or request e-mail notification of new posts. In trying to offer a comment that matches the honesty and wisdom of the post, I can become mute and need time to gather my wits. The do-si-do of blogging and commenting throws us into a whirl of new connections, the opportunity to be mutually gracious - and appreciative - and stretches what we once thought of as our somewhat narrow worlds.

In my bag of tricks, stories are my greatest treasure. I assume the same is true for many others. Each turn of the shovel unearths fresh artifacts; the view from a Sierra highway, eating ice cream late at night, a phone call that shifts the planet on its axis, a birth, a death. My wish is that words find me, expanding themselves into stories, then lifting into the winds which will bear them far from home.