Love to all!
Love to all!
This time of year brings joy and melancholy, too. I am filled with memories of people no longer here, grateful that they were, sad at their absence. I cherish the times I get to spend with those I love even as I miss the far-aways, geographical and emotional. As the carols wash over every location, I recall singing most of them in choirs, yet their endless repetition pushes me into annoyance before the season is half over.
It’s hard to prevent the hope for a “good Christmas” from becoming a race to check off the lists of gifts, activities, traditions not to be forgotten. The older I get, the less able I am to reach all those goals, thereby saving myself from the harried days of previous years. Yet that realization is edged with the knowledge that many of those tasks no longer must be done, thanks to the shortening list of family and friends who were here to appreciate them. But to let that sorrow define the changes defeats the purpose of the season.
To all of you in my life I say thank you, I love you, may the year ahead bring you joy. To the ghosts who visit me I say, bless you for having been in my life, for teaching me how to live, for memories-good and bad–that made me who I am.
May we all rest our heads on soft pillows and dream of the things we love.
Earlier this year I wrote here about our daughter’s stay at the Michigan Head-Pain and Neurological Institute. (Taking a long walk off a short pier and And then you find a bridge, both on view below.) Misty’s had many ups and downs since she returned to Colorado, but to date she’s had the same migraine for eleven+ months and it’s taking a toll.
While it hurts to see her paring down her life due to her illness, it makes me proud to witness Misty’s determination to maintain the things closest to her heart. She lavishes love and support on family and friends, but helping the denizens of the Colorado Prairie is her passion. She doesn’t have the energy to work at her job and to volunteer for the prairie as well. Her solution is to try to raise the money to get paid for doing what she loves.
Misty has created a Crowdrise campaign to generate the money to pay her to work half-time for the coyotes and tarantulas, the pronghorn and painted turtles, and her beloved prairie dogs of the Southern Plains Land Trust during the upcoming year. If you would like to participate in helping Misty raise the funds to meet her goal, please click on the link below.
You can follow Misty’s campaign at http://lawandmotherhood.com/20…/…/21/donate-and-enter-to-win
Thanks so much for the love and support shown to Misty this year.
The promise in hushed air–such is the power of rain. Word has it we’ll get snow tomorrow night into Sunday. There’s a reason we’re told here in Colorado not to plant anything before Mother’s Day.
I’ve been getting Facebook posts and email from relatives living in drought-land. They’re joyous at receiving rain, and I’m so happy for them. Fingers crossed they don’t get tornadoes as well.
Here’s to rain falling on spring gardens, to hope growing from tired soil, to words spreading across empty pages. To rebirth.
Here comes the thunder.
It’s been nearly a week since our daughter Misty returned from the Michigan Head-Pain & Neurological Institute. With her she brought a couple of diagnoses, a management plan, and strategies for life style changes and coping mechanisms. You notice I don’t use the word “cure.” There is none. She is among a small group of people who chronically have migraines and who must manage their conditions, much like diabetics manage their blood sugars. She has a long and winding road ahead of her, but her experience in Michigan provides a bridge from lack of information to some understanding and a path forward. I’m grateful for that.
I’m also grateful to family and friends who have shared prayers, good wishes, and love during this ongoing crisis. Thank you all so much.
Happy Spring to us all.
I’ve lived long enough to believe in ghosts, not to say I’ve ever met a vaporous shade on the stairs. I’m haunted by memories of people I’ve loved and hated who are dead now; by regrets of actions done and left undone; by unwritten story ideas that don’t go away; by a deepening knowledge that someday I will go away. This time of year, as light dwindles and leaves fall, I appreciate the leering jack-o-lanterns and tilting headstones appearing in neighborhood yards. It’s the perfect time to exhume more thoughts about plot threads.
We’re advised to write about what we know. We’re told to read everything we can of the fiction genres we like. When I suffered the fatal writer’s epiphany, throwing a novel I’d been reading across the room, declaring “I can do better than that!”, I’d read lots of mysteries and figured I could write one.
But what did I know? What could I write about?
I knew how it feels to be so angry at a person I wanted to kill her. I understood how someone could feel outside his own life, as though he were acting a part instead of interacting with the people he saw everyday. I’d worked with cops and social agency staffers, and I knew several distinct personality types who end up in those jobs. I knew a lot about feeling uncertain and yearning to accomplish something I wasn’t sure I could do. Those personality traits gave birth to my first protagonist, Finny Aletter, the burned-out Denver stockbroker who discovers by accident that she really loves rehabbing her old house and might want to make the activity her new career. My husband and I were making our century-old house livable, and I used my own work stripping and refinishing wood, sanding and painting, caulking and polishing to supply Finny with a desire to use her hands instead of her killer instincts as a broker.
Finny had to be more than conflicted about her job, so I gave her an ex-lover, who was also her boss, a lingering affection for him standing in the way of her giving notice. The police detective investigating the requisite murder let me use my own lustful thoughts (but not actions–sigh) toward several men who, in composite, became Chris Barelli. His occasionally asshole behavior was based on several men I’d known. The killer, and motives thereof, gave me the most fun, since I was able to channel vitriol I’d built up over a lifetime of swallowing anger to convince the world I was a “good girl.” I added some ragpickers wandering through Denver alleys and a lost literary manuscript (a nod to my English lit degree) and wrote and revised for years. A wonderful editor at Arbor House, Liza Dawson, took me under her wing. Finally, Scavengers, now titled Scavenger Hunt in ebook form, came to be.
Plot threads are woven from dandelion fluff in the mind, bits and pieces observed, felt, wished. When such ephemera is combined with years of reading, and with what is learned from teachers, a novel can come to be. The most influential for me was Lawrence Block, whose fiction column in Writer’s Digest taught me the basics. He is the most insightful writer on writing I’ve ever encountered, and one of the best writers, period.
So, what do you know? What do you feel? What have you observed? What can you weave from those threads?
I’m climbing out of jet lag from my trip to Worcester, MA. Got back Friday and have been searching for brain cells while enjoying the cloudy, rainy weather. It was raining when I flew out of Boston, so you can thank me for bringing the moisture back home in my suitcase. You’re welcome.
I like Worcester a lot, despite having had every person I told my destination look askance. “Worcester!?” It’s not as impressive architecturally as Boston, but it has a style of its own, with many big frame houses and lots of greenery. I loved their art museum, which has an impressive collection that includes paintings by Sargent, Monet, and El Greco, and a twelfth-century Chapter House brought over from France, stone by stone, reassembled inside the museum. (Services therein conducted on Sundays.) The Tower Hill Botanic Garden in nearby Boylston was pure pleasure, from the walk through the woods (where we came upon Pan!) to the folly perched above a path, to the marshland pond where birds could be watched from a rustic gazebo. It provided time out of time, and when did you last find that?
I had a lovely visit with my son and his girlfriend, a gifted chef who cooked the most wonderful gluten-free and vegan food. Their two tiny dogs amused me and kept me from pining for my two dachshunds. It was a restful, relaxing vacation during which I read ebooks and watched vintage X-Files episodes and slept. (And we went to see “The Conjuring”, which is a pretty decent ghost story.)
Now I’m back and it’s time to return to the issues at hand: finishing A Signal Shown, Book Two of the Wisdom Court Books; and finding nooks and crannies for the belongings of our daughter and her two kiddos, who have moved into Victoria Turtleshell along with their two cats. Our little ark is full: of laughter, tears, books, hope, good intentions, and fur.
It’s nearly August and I’m filled with energy and plans. The next adventure has begun. Cheers!
2013. I wake up this morning far too early, the thought of a new year dropping into place as I listen to the furnace and feel two dachshunds against my back. I give thought to events in the last year, losses and gains, joys and sorrows. I think of those who are no longer here, sad at the dwindling list of cast members in my personal drama. My mind picks up speed, whirring into time machine mode.
1959. A memory flashes of my thirteen-year-old self, crouched along with classmates on an open playing field at Casey Junior High School. The air raid test sirens have caught us outside with no desks for shelter, and the gym teacher tells us to cover our heads with our arms. I sharply recall the moment I realize odds are I’ll never make it to thirty. Soviet nuclear attacks will take out Boulder early, and all the desks and cradling arms in the world won’t save me. And why am I thinking this today?
2012. Sunday night our granddaughter and grandson are here and we decide to make the gingerbread house we’ve talked about all through Christmas vacation. We mix the batter, bravely soldiering on without molasses, pressing the smooth dough into the silicon mold I had the cunning to order on-line. As the pieces bake, I remember the winter when our children pressed against me while I measured and sliced pieces of dough for walls and the roof, my eyes crossing as I tried to translate the recipe into supplies for 3-D construction. They squabbled over who would use which piece for what, just as the grandkids now announce how they’ll build their house, voices rising in the oven-warmed air. The crispy house rises on its foil-covered cardboard foundation, and the memory of that older cookie cottage recedes as the brave new structure is adorned with frosting and gumdrops and sprinkles.
1956. I’m in the backseat of our Ford Crown Victoria with my brother Mike, and Dad and Mom are up front. We’ve had New Year’s Day dinner, maybe roast beef with potatoes and carrots and parsnips cooked by Dad and a mincemeat pie baked by Mom. We’re out for a drive, and when Mike says he’s still hungry Dad steers the car toward Twinburger, our favorite drive-in restaurant. I can almost taste the tangy red sauce on the BBQ burger, my favorite. The Flatirons have a dusting of snow and the delft blue sky stretches over Boulder. We drive farther east, catching sight of a rabbit in the stand of trees beside the road. I smile now, thinking Mike & I were probably giving each other the fish eye, just as my children used to battle over the line between their places in the backseat of our car. I think I remember the satisfaction of believing we could go on forever in that car, together.
2013. The morning is winter quiet, and even the birds are sleeping in. It’s cold here in my garret and I reach for the wrap I keep nearby. Each January I feel such gratitude for what has gone before, such hope and possibility for what is to come. The present, the everlasting now, is sharpened by a sense of loss. It is that combination, I suppose, that makes me who I am. I wish the world a happy new year, knowing it both will and will not be.
Apparently I must.
Yesterday came The Cutting of the Trees, an epic set into motion decades ago. We moved into Victoria Turtleshell in 1973. The old three-story house had stately elms along the street, homes to birds and squirrels. This was shortly before Dutch Elm Disease cut through Denver like a scythe. We lost them all.
Sad but determined, we planted new trees: one each silver maple and Norway maple, a honey locust in front, a dwarf cherry in the west yard, and along the alley what we thought was a bing cherry tree. Have I mentioned I was in my earth-mother stage, planning to can cherries, bake cherry pies, cherry Danish, cook cherry dumplings, crochet cherry antimacassars…well, you get the idea.
We bought the biggest trees we could afford and chipped in several more for the old lady next door. Our block was forested once more, offering homes for the birds and squirrels. After a few years the honey locust died (recalled fondly for the shelter it provided during a wild afternoon when a mother robin spread her wings over her eggs as she rode out the storm.) We replaced it with a Russian Olive named Zoya.
Over the years we trimmed branches here and there and the trees grew bigger. My vegetable garden gave way to shade-loving plants, and until recently (global warming!) we didn’t need any air conditioning downstairs because of that shade. But the idiosyncratic growth of the so-called bing cherry tree began to concern us. (Though it bloomed each year, it never bore fruit.) By then we were calling it the Octopus Tree, though it had far more than eight branches spreading up to the roof and looming over the alley. I often listened to birds gossiping outside my study window, and when I peeked between the slats of the blinds, I knew I worked in a tree house.
We trimmed some of the dead wood under the tree canopy several weeks ago, smug at how we’d been able to handle the problem. While we were out to breakfast that Sunday, wind gusted through the neighborhood and half the tree fell beside the house. No damage to anything else, no one hurt. We’d unbalanced it enough to allow the big diseased branch–the tree house branch–to shift in that wind. Then we could clearly see how other branches were draped over the cable and telephone wires. We had to call the professionals.
And so they came and they cut. They thinned out the two maples, enhancing the shapes of the trees. They spruced up the cherry and the Russian Olive. And they set about trimming the Octopus Tree. The arborist gave us updates as he worked, lowering the cherry-picker to get our opinions as it became clear how much had to be cut. It was a lot. By the time he’d removed the branches from the cables, half the remaining tree was gone, but he left boughs to cup around the deck by the porch and a few more branches to reach toward the silver maple, meeting to form a smaller canopy over the sidewalk. It’s rather like trees in Japanese prints, spare but beautiful–or spare and beautiful, take your pick.
By the way, when I asked the man who came to estimate the job if the Octopus Tree was actually a bing cherry, he examined it silently, then shook his head. “I haven’t seen one in Denver for a long time, but I’m almost sure that’s an apricot tree.” Our Bonsai Octopus.
The metaphor? I’ve lived long enough to discern a pattern or two when I look back over the years. For a long time we were accumulators, buying the house, filling it with children and pets and things. We planted trees and flowers and bought computers and appliances and clothes and stuff. Now the wind has shifted. Our kids are grown and our grandchildren thunder through Victoria Turtleshell. We’re clearing out stuff, giving away things other people can use. We’re pruning the dead wood, letting sunshine in.
When I went outside this morning, I saw how much light shone on the corner rock garden, how different everything looks. The birds were swooping around the newly open branches as they waited their turns at the feeder.
I think I’ll be able to grow more flowers come spring.
I wrote two books about Finny Aletter. A Denver stockbroker, she decided to give up an exciting life of money and trading and living on the edge to rehab old houses. Yeah, it was the eighties, and she was burned out. Time for a hands-on job, time for simplicity she could get her mind around. But something happened, and the more basic life she craved was complicated by murder.
I’ve begun the process of formatting my two Finny Aletter mysteries for publication on-line, which will take a bit of time, so I thought I’d introduce her to you, my charming audience. I still walk by her house a couple of times a week, and I’m waiting to hear what she’s up to these days. (Her house was modeled on a gingerbread-trimmed three-story beauty I toured with a friend back in the day.)
Finny was a parallel image–of sorts–to my own life. After earning my B.A. in English Lit. (Go, Buffs!) I worked with several Law Enforcement Assistance Administration anti-crime programs, including one of Denver’s youth services bureaus, designed to divert juvenile offenders from the justice system. (I swear to God, you can do anything with an English Lit. degree.) After a couple of years, my husband & I wanted to reproduce our glorious genes & I left juvenile crime to raise my own little potential criminals. I went from fighting crime–so I wrote grants and reports, it counts–to voluntarily becoming a domestic.
We lived–and continue to live–in a century-plus-old house, Victoria Turtleshell, and over the years we’ve repaired, renovated, and sobbed quietly in corners over never-ending maintenance. I’d done my research on rehabbing. And, having chosen to be a stay-at-home mom, I’d discovered that I had no standing in our society. At parties, when asked what I did for a living, a truthful answer produced glazed eyes and fellow guests wandered away. In spite of my sparkling personality! I began to lie. “I’m a brain surgeon,” I’d say, then sneer at the lawyer-therapist-designer who’d asked and made MY eyes glaze, whereupon I’d stagger away, since it’s hard as hell to see where you’re going when your eyes are glazed.
Soon I grew weary of such games. I’d already experienced the epiphany every would-be writer goes through, that fatal moment when one sets down an unsatisfactory book and proclaims, “I can do better than THAT.” Clearly, it was time to prove it. And, my character could leave a somewhat glamorous life in order to join the eighties return to the Arts and Crafts movement, or whatever they were calling it. She, too, would go through the angst of trading one world for another. More importantly, when people asked me my profession, I could say, “I’m a writer.” No glazed eyes after a statement like that. No, eyes sparkled as eighty-five percent of those who asked wanted to tell me about the books they would write someday when they had time. The other fifteen percent wanted to know where I got my ideas. Alas, it took a long time to invent an answer: The Idea Store.
I will draw a curtain over the years that followed, at least for now. (Writers will use anything as grist for the mill, but I’m too short on time today to rake up what can only be called an eccentric adventure in getting published. And in a decent mood, which wouldn’t last.)
Finny came into being and eventually starred in her own books. Only two, but two is a plural.
And that, dear readers, is where we stop for today.