It’s fledgling time here in the country and just a few days ago I heard a bump as something collided with the screen door. I hoped the bird was okay. I looked around and sure enough, there was a baby bird sitting on the deck. It looked alive and fine, upright and staring. I walked slowly toward it, aware that I must look like a giant monster advancing. As I got close I bent down to scoop it up and put it somewhere safer, like on a tree branch and what did the little thing do? It opened its wide beak, still lined with the markers of yellow, and begged the giant monster for food. “I just got out of my nest and this is the only thing I know how to do,” it seemed to say. And what a lovely, innocent, trusting, chutzpah-like thing it was, too.
This is what I leave you for the summer–what that little veery demonstrated for me: Have faith in life and move forward with confidence.
The Muse tells me it’s time to break for summer, and like the Wife (heads up, husbands) the Muse is always right. To that end, I will be on vacation from my blog until the beginning of September, when, I hope, you will join me again.
To tie up a loose end before I vacate: The Sweater has been completed. The Twenty Year Sweater Here is a photo.
I know. I never said I was a good knitter, did I? Check out the oddly puffy sleeves. When I put The Sweater on, I’ve got a weird Shakespeare-in-winter thing going on.
This morning I am going to go outside and paint a watercolor. Even though I have a boatload of books to review and three writing projects awaiting various revisions, I am still going to shove them aside and do a watercolor. It won’t advance my career or make me money, but. . .
I am the product of two very different people. My mother has, as my dad likes to say, two speeds: slow and stop. But I think he might be envious, since he’s fast and faster. I tend to be more like my dad, until I remember that I’m also part my mom. Once I asked her how she avoided over-doing. She told me that she does three “things”—“things” being chores—per day, and once they are done, she’s off the hook and free to do what she wants. (I believe one of the “things” is making the bed, so you see she’s not unduly stressing herself.)
When I find myself in a muddle of work, I remember her words. Painting a watercolor this morning is going to be more satisfying than disciplining myself through a revision and what’s more, I suspect it will free up other creative areas in my brain, making me more effective when I get back to writing.
If you’re more on the driven side like me, maybe today you can try to do one thing you truly enjoy, for no other reason than that you truly enjoy it–see how it goes.
Until September, then. Have a lovely summer.
I got a friendly, helpful note back from an agent this week. While she declined to take me on, she did tell me she found my story line intriguing, however it started off too slow.
Zing! I knew she was right. I moved the manuscript into Scrivener and started re-arranging scenes in Corkboard. Moving the scenes around allowed interesting gaps to develop—gaps that sparkled. As I was rearranging, part of my brain delighted in this freedom and part of it was aghast. “You can’t do that!” it said, “no one will look at it if you do that.” Well, let’s be honest, no one is really looking at it yet anyway, as far as I know. And besides, at 56 years old, at least two thirds of my life is over, so what is there to be afraid of? I’ve already experienced rejection and lived through it. I’ve already taken chances and succeeded or failed—and lived through it.
Fiction writing is a fairly new skill for me and I’m learning the craft daily. Even when I think I’ve written something lovely and amazing that really ought to win the National Book Award, or even better, a MacArthur grant, I remember how it was when I first started making baskets. I loved them too—those first ones—every crooked, sad, little lump of them. Then I got more polished and more polished still. And when I looked back at the first ones, I liked their gallantry, but let’s face it, they weren’t salable.
I think the same thing will happen with my writing. I am persistent. My stories will get more and more polished and one day my turn will come and I’ll get what I think I most want right now—a published book.
Even as I think this, though, I remind myself of something that I intuit is true: that the thrill of publication will never equal the satisfaction of the days I have now—of trying, failing, discovering and polishing—in a word, living.
There is a man I first met through my husband, who immediately embraced me with the same trust and love that embodies his friendship with Richie. Several times a year he sends gifts—wine, fresh fruit from Florida, chocolates, jams and jellies. He always ‘likes’ what I say on Facebook, and he always adds something supportive.
He has not had a charmed life. He was sent to Vietnam to fight and there he witnessed, first hand, the horrors of that war. But it didn’t harden him, rather the opposite. His life experience in Vietnam gave him the opportunity of turning mean and cynical, but instead he chose another way. Knowing at some deep level that to hate, was to hate oneself, he turned to humanity, having witnessed inhumanity.
He lives his life to connect to others with love and he does it perfectly. He—and the ones like him—the ones who choose love over hate, trust over fear, compassion over cruelty, they are the great ones.
I live my life from instinct. I started this as soon as I became an ‘adult’ at age eighteen. I went to college at nineteen, dropped out at twenty. Burned all my bridges at twenty-one.
It was while on a train from Stockholm to Paris, sleep deprived, trust undefended, that I let go of my fears that the universe would not hold me in its arms. I was in one of those European train compartments with three seats on each side. The train travelled overnight, but I didn’t have a sleeper–I was nineteen and on a tiny budget. There was one other person in my cabin, an American also. A man in his late twenties, perhaps. He said he had been the campaign manager for a candidate who had lost, and he needed a break. I wasn’t political, so I didn’t care to ask further.
But he slept on one side of the cabin and I slept on the other, and when we woke, we were somewhere in Germany, fog rising over the Rhine in the very early gray of morning. I rooted through my backpack, suddenly self-conscious around this man I had sort of spent the night with. I found two old pieces of bread and a can of those tiny cocktail weenies. I hesitated. It was all the food I had and it was hours before Paris was due. But I offered him half anyway, thinking he wouldn’t take it. He did. Then he pulled out two beers and offered me one. I took it. We drank warm beer and ate stale bread with cocktail weenies and swapped stories and became two travellers grateful for the kindness of each other. I knew then I had nothing to fear from life.
My careers and experiences, when I look back on them, have been tailor made for me to grow into the person I am today. I trust my life; I have a saying that I say when it looks like things are getting bad: “Everything that happens to me is for my highest good.” I believe that utterly.
My deep depression in my forties gave me the gift of becoming a massage therapist and developing my closed heart. My alcoholic first marriage gave me the gift of the courage of self-reliance, my moving away from family and friends gave me the gift of my voice, to write (with the support of my amazing second husband).
I can look at it as: alcoholic marriage, depression, loneliness, or I can see the real meaning: the courage developed, the compassion opened, and the voice discovered.
This is my last week of graduate school. After this weekend, when I present my final thesis and final Mentorship presentation, I am done. I am graduated.
I started grad school at age fifty-three. It felt like the right thing to do. I was in classes with twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings—I could have been their mother. We had some deep belly laughs as we tried to hash out the rules and ethics of writing for children. (Me: “Excuse me, the middle aged white person wants to know what a ‘straight-edge’ is.”)
At any rate, I’ve loved it. Except for the first half of the first semester when I broke out in hives (first time ever) from stress, and dissolved into tears during a phone call with my advisor. But once I realized that this commitment wasn’t going to be the twenty hours a week I thought, more like fifty to sixty hours, I gritted my teeth and rearranged my schedule.
I’ve had many sleepless nights, read too many grim Young Adult novels, and climbed up a steep learning curve with the Internet. (‘Track changes’ didn’t get on my radar until my second semester. God knows what my professors thought as I blithely ignored all their comments and continued turning in papers with antiquated punctuation.) And trying to access the Simmons Library via Internet…well, let’s just say I needed the help of a very patient Reference Librarian. But I persisted against the resistance created by my inexperience.
Persistence is trust at some deep level. It is the trust that the choice we’ve made and the path we’re following is the choice and the path we need to be on at this time in our life. We continue steadfastly because we trust. And this trust, in its turn, reveals to us to the larger consciousness and the intimation that that our individual lives are a vital and valuable part within it.
Persistence, it seems to me, is like a seed. Watered by trust, the sprout emerges, pushing first against the soil then the elements, to unfold its leaves and become its realized potential.