Category Archives: story

love stories

There are three love stories around me…..

Second Grandson, 15 months, has fastened onto a white bear with a soft, soft fur and dangling legs and arms. He carries the bear around everywhere, tries to share food and water with it, wants it in the crib at night for sleep. He talks to it in the not-quite understandable burble that is definite conversation,  has all the tonal inflections and facial expressions of  conversation. It makes my heart glad that his little heart is large enough to love something tenderly already, to take care of it, to need it……

Second Cat has a cat’s fishing pole with a hodgepodge of old ribbon and who knows what that I’ve fastened on the end when the feather died a grisly death. Now there is a definite hierarchy in our house. First Cat decides who gets on the bed to sleep with us, and it is seldom Second Cat. But I’ve been noticing that Second Cat stretches out in the hallway nearby, and in the morning, the fishing pole, which had been propped up against a corner, is under her. She often brings the fishing pole with great yawls for us to play with her, and she keeps it by the food bowl, where both cats keep all important toys, so I know fishing pole, whom I call Baby, has importance in her life. But it struck me the other day that she was sleeping with Baby because she wasn’t allowed on the bed with everyone else. She might not have us, but there is always Baby.

Finally, Mother, who has Alzheimer’s, has a white long-haired chihuahua named Zoe. Zoe goes with Mother wherever she goes, and Mother shares food and kisses with her all the time. Zoe will stand guard while Mother putters around and will come to fetch one of us if Mother is too long out of sight. How Mother loves that dog, frets and fusses with her. Mother knows the dog’s name when she doesn’t know any of ours. There is real caring between them. I feel like Zoe is a little animal spirit sent to oversee. It gentles me on days when I don’t feel gentle.

We all need things to love and fuss about, don’t we? We need to feel cherished and to cherish in return. I often write about kinds of love in my novels. My conclusion is: tenderness is best. What’s your love story? What’s your conclusion?

tuesdays

It’s our usual day. She dozes on the couch most of the morning. I dress her for our outing. She’s as fragile as cracked glass, gasping and moaning at the putting on of socks, befuddled at the pulling up of pants, completely lost at the pulling over of a shirt. She can still tie her shoes.

We go out for lunch. It’s what we do on the Tuesdays when I visit her. It’s also become one of the ways I most see her decline: the inability to choose a utensil, know what a straw is, cut her own food anymore. She jabs at what’s on the plate and then opens her mouth, and it is a gamble that the food gets there. She has no preferences about what to eat, though she won’t eat what she doesn’t like. She couldn’t tell me if she did have a preference. It’s been a year or more since she’s collected enough words together to make meaning.

She still laughs. She still smiles. She is still more beautiful than any woman her age. She is willing to do what I ask if she understands it. That’s where I fall down so often, thinking she’ll understand. I’m always exhausted by my lack of acceptance as to what has happened and is happening to her and by my expectations, always too high.

Later, I make dinner, keep an eye on her as she does her rounds, from hall to dining room to den and around again. She walks carefully, so carefully, often reaching out to the wall or a chair. She runs her foot along the creases of the joined tiles. She doesn’t step, she shuffles.

I put her in pjs early, sit in a rocking chair, emotionally battered by our day, by what I see. I always try to prepare myself. I remind myself of her decline, but I am never, never ready for it. And so my mood dips in the afternoon. I hate myself for its dipping.

Are you tired, I say, more to make conversation than anything else. So often there is silence between us. She can’t talk, and I seldom chatter, but chatter is what is needed these days, a light ongoing constant from the only one of us who can do so, but I’m bad at it. She looks at me. She answers with stunning clarity: You’ll never know how tired I am.

It’s the first sentence I’ve heard in over a year. And before I can even respond, she’s back to her shuffle through the hall, the dining room, the den.

I sit where I am in shock. Yes, everything is hard for her, isn’t it? Moving, dressing, eating, getting up and down from a chair, walking, recalling, associating, living. All hard now.

I must remember this, I tell myself. But I won’t. I’ll be as surprised and upset next week as I am this week. Later, I think of the poet Mary Oliver:

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

 

The family of things….her place in it and mine, her despair and mine, her love and mine…………….

test

This week:

Sat outside in late dusk….the tenderness of the evening, air so soft, color so lovely that green of trees had soft sulphur poured into the palette, wind so chimes were playing….an outdoor cathedral with my old and huge camphor tree as ceiling through which shadowing sky showed.

Seized by orchid fever starting by going to Orchid Express to have orchid replanted. They did it for free, and I walked among the ones blooming. Then Kroger’s and Whole Foods both had orchids for $9. So now I have three in all, two blooming creamy hopeful faces, one, repotted, hopefully to bloom in the fall.

Read Jessica Mitford‘s memoir, Hons and Rebels, in a day, the Hons being short for Honorable, which is the title given the daughters of lords. She was part of the extraordinary Mitford sisters, some six young women who took the 1930s world by storm. She ran off with a young rebel and anti-fascist, Esmond Romilly, at 19, and her memoir ends with his early death (the war, the second world war). She felt entombed by her English life and family and broke free like an eagle suddenly untethered. I think about my  life, no war, no earthquake, no tsunami, no radiation, no political unrest that involves guns– in a sense, no way to be extraordinary or not by a huge test of character, so my test must be making the best of it and looking at what is set in front of me and finding its story and practicing gratitude, hard for a restless spirit like mine, a spirit I soothe by reading the tales of others who flew the coop….

karen blixen

Mother and I were watching Out of Africa, or I was watching and Mother was dozing. It was the scene where Denys has died and Karen  is about to throw clods of dirt into the grave, and my mind went tumbling back to my friend Robert’s death last summer, to our throwing dirt on the grave, to how long it had been since I’d been to a funeral, to how final the gesture is, an extraordinary gesture that puts what has happened into sharp focus. And then I was thinking about Karen Blixen and how amazing her life was. Do you know her? Isak Dinesen was the writing name she gave herself and I’ve read  two of her books of short stories, Out of Africa and Shadows in the Grass, and many of the exquisite overvoiced lines of the movie come from those stories. The stories are discreet, but her life wasn’t. Or maybe that’s the wrong paint color. She didn’t live soundlessly, in the box decent women were supposed to lie (and are still supposed to lie, for that matter). She loved a nobleman who didn’t love her back, married his twin brother for a title and security and who knows if spite was in the mix, went with her husband to Kenya to raise coffee, contracted syphillus from the philandering  husband, started a school for native children, refused to stay home and knit when war came, and loved an English nobleman’s adventurer son, Denys Finch Hatten. I didn’t like Out of Africa when I first saw it, thought too many dramatic moments were crammed into the story, so that it was all drama, without valleys, but I was intrigued by her, and I read her biography and her letters, and I learned the director had recreated what truly happened to her….that her life in Africa had been full of drama and full of real life, loving hard, loving badly, hard work, doing what she wished when society around her disapproved, failing, losing her health and home. I cried some tears from a seldom visited place in me for what the ending of the movie brought up–she began another life as a writer, but she had to say goodbye to a life and people she loved to do it–anyway, I cried from a place that was deep and that it hurt to cry from. And my thought was, the fragility of love and life, the smoke and mirrors of it, it can’t be grasped and held tightly, love itself does live, die, change, transmute, and I thought, to everyone young, be tender in your love, be courteous to one another, revere the sweet green…..

To Japan: faith and courage and may all the gods watch over you…..

A science fair for my granddaughter’s school’s third grade: hilarious: brilliant: horseshoes with springs so horses run faster; bandages with art on them so they look prettier; mechanical dogs for people who have dog allergies; a goldfish crackers’ cruncher so you can put the crumbs in your milk…..need I say more…..America is in good hands……..and how was your week?

fences

Well, I was going to cheat today and just hunt up an old blog post to repost, but as I read through them I liked them so much, I decided I would follow Ray Bradbury’s advice: Start writing more; it’ll get rid of those moods you’re having. This week the side fence fell over. It wasn’t much of a surprise; in fact it was leaning so much that it didn’t even make much of a racket smacking the ground. The neighbor’s house is gone, razed to make way for a townhouse at some point in the future, and the wind was just strong enough, the fence just weak enough, the lack of a barrier just lack enough for the fence to topple. At first I felt invaded. Anyone could see in. But now I’m growing used to it, and I like the space open to me and am going to feel boxed in when the fence is back. It made me think about my life. How boxed in is it? What old habits keep me small and cramped? Am I just so used to it all that I don’t even notice? My very dear Dunya, a practicing meditator and mystic, wrote this comment last week: the ‘seasons of the heart’ has new meaning for me; I truly am surprised now at my heart. As life progresses she turns her beating more clearly toward infinite joy and away from transient happiness, but this turning brings me into places and into contact with people in a fashion that mystifies me. Some joy is found right where it has always been, — in plain sight — and some is found where I had no idea I would ever look.

Turning toward infinite joy and away from transient happiness….how often transient happiness has been transient for me and how mad I’ve been when I couldn’t keep it in my hot little grasping hand. Somehow the fence’s blowing over swept away some cobwebs, and now I’m thinking of Rilke: Whoever you are: some evening take a step out of your house, which you know so well. Enormous space is near…….

Enormous space is near. What fences do you need blown over?


revolution in books

I’m in New York on business, the business of being a published author. Borders declared bankruptcy while I’m here. Everyone in the publishing business is reeling from that. My agent thinks the day of the hardcover book may be ending. An editor friend talks about authors she represents having more e-book sales than actual books you touch. The Authors’ Guild and other organizations that represent authors are wrangling with publishers and e-book creators about the percentage of e-book sales that go to the author. It’s like the publishing world has been eating hay in the stall, while the tech thoroughbreds raced out of the gate long ago and are far off in the distance. Another agent talked about browsing in a book store, and the sales that come from that. Think about walking into one, and covers of different books luring you. How do you establish the same lure online? It’s do-able, I know. I wonder what it will look like.

I don’t think the actual, touchable book is dead. I do think we’re in a revolution of immense proportions about how we access information. Many people I know have e-readers of some kind now, even those that adore books and bookstores. Interesting times.

Me? I’ve got a foot in each world. I’m going to be doing something called a blog tour for the new book in June. The author tour, except for big names and celebrities, is dead, so I’m told. I ought to know because I did an author tour a few years ago (another blog sometime when I’ve had some wine to kill the pain). But I’ll do a few book signings in Houston. And my agent wants me to do a small video on my site (will I tap dance or sing?), and I already have skype, and I’ve just written to you online and linked to a place where you can buy my latest book.

And I’m going to the Strand Bookstore here in New York as soon as I finish this. On Broadway, 18 miles of books, so it brags. Got to go wander among some books, dream the dreams they make me vision. 

Where are you in this revolution? Do you like your e-reader? What do you miss about an actual book….if anything…..I don’t think the book is dead, and I know story isn’t….what about you?

soft upon your fields

My plants in outside pots are crushed by Houston’s icy weather, even though they were covered. The succulents look as if they were never fat and tender. Ivies are withered to nothing. I talk with a friend today and find out bids she’d been hoping for have been rejected. The icy economic weather is taking its toll, too. We can withstand so much, and then there’s a breaking point. Our faith cracks, and our hope. Fear or faith. Fear or love, we always choosing one or the other, say the psychologists. I’m going to carefully trim the dead parts off each and every one of my plants. It will be interesting to me to watch them make their comeback. I’ll be excited by the first little tender shows of green. I wish I could trim the hurt from my friend. I know she’ll green again. But does she? Someone said to me over the phone this week, this is a hard planet. Yes, and yes again. What do you do when the wind is not at your back, but pushing against your every step. It makes little blisters in the heart. At the beginning of the week, a group of us looked up an old blessing:

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

What do you do when it’s hard, when you’re in the valley, and the high mountains around cover the sunlight? When there is no rain on your fields? Our internal fields are so much more fragile than outside ones. How do you yourself hold the faith?

O, may the road rise to meet you………………..

rest, rewrite, tinker

I had something planned to write, but the last two days have changed my mind. Here is the truth of being a working novelist. For awhile, I’ve been beginning a new novel, with all the angst that comes with that. And I teach a writing novels class or two (writing can’t be taught, only facilitated), and prepare notebooks of information with each class. Anyway, I carefully measure my time on the novel, not driving crazy hard when everything is so unknown and messy and my nerves fray, but working steadily enough to keep some current of electricity going. When I say working, I mean actual writing, not just research.

Into that come chores for the about-to-be-published novel.  So, last week, I had a notebook to pull together for a class I’m teaching, some work on it done, but also it had to be compiled into pdfs to send to where I’m teaching. And I’d delayed looking at 2nd pass pages that came for Before Versailles, novel #4. 2nd pass pages are the corrections I’d made to the page proofs whose corrections came from the copy edits I approved, deleted, added to. The manuscript all over again. Are you lost yet? Me, too.

And I had a great idea slither in, as they do when one is actively working on something new, about the new novel. I got the idea to begin it differently, from a different point in the characters lives than what I was writing, and the idea had that little tingle that I’ve learned to trust, and I was excited about it. But it meant new research.

However, 2nd pass pages were waiting. Now, I only looked at the pages where I had made changes (I CANNOT read myself in entirety again!), but the job took 2 days, and, of course it came to me, in the soft way that I have learned to take seriously, that I could do a better job on the Author’s Note, a little historical context I threw in at the end. What occurred to me was that I could reshape the Author’s Note to reflect more of the ending and more of importance of one of the characters that I really wanted to highlight, as well as to reflect more of the love story, as well as make it a little less brag don’t-I-know-a-lot-of-history and more poetic and lovely to the reader. So all weekend, I rewrote two pages of material. A word here, a change there. Rest. Reread, tinker some more. I can’t tell you how many times. As well as dealing with notebook typo corrections and those #@#$#@ pdf conversions and some scanning to pdf for the class. And even compressed, the file was too big to send, and I had to make it two files. Kill me.

And my editor and agent and I brainstormed about blurbs over email last week. The editor sends out galleys to various folks hoping they’ll agree to say something nice that can be put on the cover. And so there was checking information on the internet, and I agreed to write notes, none of which I’ve been able to get to. That will be tomorrow’s task. Meanwhile, the new book, which needs its flame tended in the same way you would attend a fire that would be difficult to start again, is pushed to one side.

Oh, and I’ve been cleaning out my office. Three to four years of the clutter and tomorrow-is-another-day that happens when I write a book. Am I feeling a little nuts? Can’t keep all the plates in the air? You bet. And by mid-week, I will be back to making work on something raw and messy and unknown, and there will again be nothing but silence from New York. Writing for a living is not for sissies.

scribbles

Leafing through journals tonight to find something to put here…in this empty space I aim to fill each week.  I feel too dull to find fresh words, a concept behind them. I come across this from another January…………………

From a Story Circle conference, from Texas poet Lianne Mercer: a poem is a picture in your mind of a moment in your mind. Metaphor is implicit rather than explicit. Trust the process; your mind will hand you what you need. Be present at the page………………….

And from another entry, just a page futher, what I call scribbles—hurried writing to a prompt or because I see something I know I ought to put in words, and if I’m lucky, I do….

Clutter. Unraked leaves, old boards from Hurricane Rita’s threat…the back yard  a mess…overgrown, brown with fallen leaves. I go to my bench in the morning sun, sun filtered by the camphor tree that dominates the yard, making all under its great spreading limbs feeble and brown from lack of light and water. I’m moody, fractured inside, feeling without grace. And then I see one sulfur yellow daffodil’s trumpet thrusting out…the only one of its mates daring to bloom, a grace note, a horn blast, a call to me from the great unknown…here I am, always, pilgrim……….