Monthly Archives: October 2008

Mermaids live in coral caves

When I woke up this morning, mist was rising from a lake in the distance, and I felt like I was in a fairy tale. I was really in a cub scout campout for my grandson. Exhausted by our adventures, canoeing, pellet gun shooting, archery, swimming, not to mention sleeping badly in a cold tent, I came home to sit in my garden, notice my favorite roses had sent out sunset orange blooms, and read Peter Pan. I picked it up on a whim last week, and after a weekend with my grandson, I am struck by its wisdom and also the beauty of the writing.

My own intrepid Peter Pan had bigger adventures this weekend in his mind than in reality, but where do we exist, except in what we believe to be happening? There is real magic and fearsomeness in J.M. Barrie’s story. Peter spills blood: Hooks’, wolves, bears. Life in Neverland is an adventure, but not a safe adventure. It is as scary as children’s dreams. Fairies says curse words (though we don’t read them) and plot death on little girls who steal Peter’s heart. Pirates really do want to kill the lost children, and battles are epic. Mermaids live in coral caves.

My grandson coaxed, cajoled, argued me into helping carve a pumpkin I did not want to. He took it to a contest and literally talked everyone in his pack into voting for it as best decorated pumpkin. He was one of the winners. He snuck candy and insisted he didn’t need more covers. He was always a little too rambunctious and brash. My nerves frayed.

Den leaders made a fire circle of rope around the campfire this morning. The reason: to keep boys back behind it so they didn’t fall in and burn themselves. Would they? Yes. In a tussle, in curiosity to see a fire closer, in sheer boy. They were drawn to standing or sitting around the fire. J.M. Barrie’s world was alive and well and in each pair of eyes. Barrie wrote that mothers always have one kiss you can’t capture, that the stars watch us, and that the youngest stars cry out warnings only Peter Pans can hear.

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Back from New York

I’ve just come back from New York and an interesting conversation with my agent, who has been in the business thirty years. She asked me to send my next manuscript to her either PDF or as a word document because she was going to read it on her Sony Reader. She said that many publishing houses have bought their editors Sony Readers (Amazon has the Kindle) and that no one is lugging around big manuscripts anymore. Piles of paper are disappearing.

I asked her if reading on a Reader would be different from the flat page, and she said she didn’t know. I don’t like scrolling back to find something, am more comfortable with turning pages. I don’t like reading anything long on the computer. Is it all a matter of perception and use and custom? School children in some districts get more and more material digitally. Ten to fifteen years ago my son never thought of opening an encyclopedia but went regularly to the Internet for research. 

My agent doesn’t see the end of books as we know them, but she does say that publishing is floundering as sales and reading habits shift and change. Perhaps hard covers might become a thing of the past, as people don’t want to lug around heavy books and have the option not to. I don’t know how this affects me as a writer. It feels strange to be fretting over a Louis XIV plot line during this tense election and economic times anyway. I’m guessing there will always be a market for good stories; it is the presentation of them to readers, or maybe the scope of presentation, that changes. Certainly the way one submits a manuscript is. Wow.

When Sunday night rolls

When Sunday night rolls around, and I haven’t noticed that tiny little pop around something that has happened in the week (fodder for this blog), I turn to my journals. I don’t keep them on any kind of regular basis. But when I do, I write one or two lines (more if so inclined) on what inspired me that particular day, what surprised me that day, what touched me that day. Those prompts are from Rachel Remen’s My Grandfather’s Blessings. Remen is a M.D. who specializes in the treatment of those who have chronic or fatal diseases, not only patients, but the doctors who treat them. Those three questions make me think about my day in a new way (they were Remen’s advice to an extremely successful and extremely burned out physician–a kind of physician, heal thyself), and when I go back and read what I’ve written, I find I have often captured the day’s tiny nuggets of gold that I cover over with fret and worry and unexamined ambition otherwise. 

All of which is to say that I don’t know what to write about tonight, so I flipped open a journal and came across the page I wrote after seeing The Bucket List with my mother as my movie companion. I loved the idea of the movie, writing down the things you would do before you die and doing as many of them as possible. What a way to live. So I’ll share some of my list with you.

  • learn French
  • live for several months in Paris
  • learn to embroider
  • make a quilt for each of my grandchildren
  • write a young adult novel
  • learn to watercolor

I’ve already jumped out of an airplane, as the movie heroes did, and already kiss beautiful men (my son, son-in-law, husband, and grandson) on a regular basis. Kiss a beautiful woman was on the movie heroes’ list, and that moment in the film is priceless. Anyway, looking at this list reminds me that answering those three questions in my journal is also priceless. Already, the texture of my day has changed by my simply writing this….

Because I’m tired

Because I’m tried of mean politics delivered in gosh darn accents, because the stock market and depression talk of last week scared me (the cats say it scared everybody), because friends did something so kind and heartfelt I haven’t words for it yet, because I feel rudderless and writing the ending of this fourth book is hard, because I feel empty today………I offer an old journal entry.

The writing prompt was from a workshop in which there was a reading about life putting bags of gold in one’s path. The question was, did you recognize them or not.

My response: I’m in my bathroom, which is connected to my bedroom, and I can hear my sister very clearly as she speaks to her two young daughters. What do you do if Daddy is sad? she asks. We hug him, they answer. Yes, you give him a big old hug, she responds. Hugs cure anything.

I look around the bathroom, at towels, toothpaste, some spiritual saying on the wall. The moment is frozen. It’s a saber-toothed tiger of a moment, a mastadon wrapped in deep glacier ice,  the glacier of all that is happening. For my sister is dying, and we all know it–her, me, her children, our brothers and sisters, our children, our mother. The cancer, dorment for six precious years, has metastasized in her brain and lungs.

She seems normal now, but in six months from this moment, we’ll go to her funeral service on an appropriately cold and rainy day.

Grief is in me–only I don’t yet recognize its full face–and later, when I name it, love will follow, and I’ll say the love and see my sister model nothing else in her last months.

Poems will come later, slipping out of me like easy births. Grief for her will push me to new tenderness and depth. Do I know this in that suspended moment in my bathroom? I know there’s gold but all I can feel is pain–later the gold will be made shiny with tears and regrets from my deepest heart. 

Writing tip: Don’t be afraid of griefs or joys. Write them. Explore them. Give them to characters. My sister died in 1995. In 2006, when I wrote a certain death scene, I realized  that I was yet again writing my experience in her dying, the wound clean finally but not yet healed, pink tender still.