Love, Death, and Sweetness

Did episode 4 kick you in the heart, or what?

Jamie finally gets to be a daddy, only to never admit so aloud, and eventually must leave his offspring  behind for the sake of appearances, family honor, and all that. I have to admit, though, even while sinking in all the precious sweetness, I definitely got kicked in the head with more of that deus ex machina. Jamie has that in spades.

Sure, he can’t take his kid back to Lallybroch and introduce him to the rest of the clan, but check it out — he has a son! How? Because a hot young heiress wanted him to be her first. And not once, but three times, he’s told oh yes we know you’re a dirty jacobite, but it’s cool. Hang around as long as you like, leave whenever you like, don’t worry about getting charged for murder, etc., etc. By the way, your good chess buddy, the socially acceptable Englishman, will gladly raise your son for  you. Phew! That worked out so well.

So, we torture Jamie within an inch of his life, then give him everything, then torture him some more. Is this going to go on forever? Meanwhile, I’m nuts about Brianna and that McKenzie lad.

Wasn’t it sweet that after years of cold shoulder, Brianna called Claire Mama! For me, that was more than sweet, it was an actual advancement in the 20th century segment of the story. Brianna feels closer to her mom now, finally seeing her as a complicated woman, rather than a cold-hearted task master, which allows us to see her in a better light. And, since she’s a history geek and young McKenzie is such an adorable history geek, their attraction and affection bring a bit of … I don’t know, maybe it’s plausible normalcy … to the story.

Which leaves me curious: Are these characters well developed in the books? Is their story followed while Jamie is still lonely in the 18th century?

One thing that I expected to see this season was an exploration of that little hint given way back in episode one of the first season. Remember, Claire’s in the quaint Inverness inn and Frank has gone off somewhere. Down on the street is the shadowy form of a fella in obvious highlander garb, peering longingly up at Claire’s window as she brushes her hair. Frank spots the peeper on his way back up and remains so suspicious that once Claire goes missing, he has sketches distributed all over town … sketches that resemble the Dun Bonnet. Jamie went through those damn stones, I just know it! But landed a wee bit too early and feared ruining his reunion with Claire?

I need to see this played out, or at least have it explained.

This episode satisfied me with some much needed story advancements. Now I’m looking forward to the next, instead of sitting here sour-faced hating on Claire.

 

 

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Nonfiction: An Introduction, by Ann Patchett

I discovered audio books way back in the 90s, then, books on tape, and almost instantly fell in love. STORIES WHILE DRIVING IS AWESOME! Years later, when I had the opportunity to listen to a book read by its author for the first time, I thought, pffft! Now this is love!

That first opportunity came with Eat Pray Love, read by Elizabeth Gilbert, sent to me from a dear friend in 2012. The author’s voice lent something to the story no one else could have, regardless of their talent. It was the depth of emotion and humor and embarrassment that can only emerge from authenticity. I’d already read the book, and truly liked it, but this audio! Wow. By the end of it, I was 100% a fan of Elizabeth Gilbert.

The next book of hers that I was interested in reading came along several years later, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. In the second chapter, Gilbert goes into detail about her first meeting with Ann Patchett and tells a remarkable story of what transpired between them. These two brilliant authors believe that from their greeting, with a kiss, inspiration for a book was exchanged. Neither of them spoke of the book at the time, which made the end result all the more remarkable. But for me, this passage was even better because I’d rediscovered Ann Patchett!

About a year before picking up Big Magic, I’d participated in an online writing workshop hosted by Southeast Review, in which an audio of Patchett introducing her book, Truth and Beauty, was shared. Oh, my. Her voice! The warmth and depth of emotion describing her friendship with Lucy, describing her life as a young MFA student, and later, exploring her grief over losing Lucy … to say I was moved is a dreadful understatement.

I put off searching for the book to finish the workshop, but I did share that audio with a couple of friends. And I listened to it at least twice more. Time passed and, blah, blah, blah, writing and reading and seeking out more craft pieces got shoved to the wayside. Thankfully, Big Magic brought Ann back to me. I bought Truth and Beauty, read it twice, then, in an unrelated turn of events, became an Audible customer.

My most recent purchase was The Story of A Happy Marriage, a collection of essays by Ann Patchett. I didn’t buy it because Patchett is the author, but because she is also the reader!

The first in this collection is, Nonfiction: An Introduction. Without going on any longer about her voice, I’ll say that in this piece, we discover how one writer made writing work for her. Intending to be a novelist since leaving her MFA program, she discovered that working day jobs exhausted her too much to focus on writing an actual novel.

It was laboring over tiny word-count articles that became her bread and butter. After a while Patchett realized that besides paying her rent and buying groceries, writing for demanding editors, being the go-to-girl for various magazines, honed her writing skills. She refers to those years as her apprenticeship. Writing nonfiction, as luck would have it, also left her with plenty of time and energy to focus on getting down to the business of writing those novels.

These writers, Ann Patchett and Elizabeth Gilbert, inspire me every time I read them, every time I listen to them. Gilbert always seems to inspire study, while Patchett makes me write! After reading Truth and Beauty, I began to write daily love letters to my dearest ones. After reading The Get Away Car (also shared in the audio essay collection), I began to submit poems for the first time in two years. Since finishing her essay collection, I have edited two of my old essays and started to apply for freelance work.

Can I get anymore of this stuff, please?

How do you say Deus Ex Machina in Gaelic?

Boy howdy! Does Jamie get saved by the hair of that fine, fine chin an awful lot! Sure, he’s suffered terrible treatment over the years, treatment meant to torture the life out of him … but that God in the Machine just keeps on churning out the salvation. (Warning: there are spoilers for Outlander’s Season 3 ahead.)

Last week’s episode was emotional, but I’m not sure it evoked the intended emotions. Fairly certain I hate Claire with a much bigger hate now. But I keep checking that, questioning myself. Trying to (and this may seem a bit beyond the point) see her as a real person, trying to step into her shoes, rather than feeling around the screenwriter’s page for insight. Ok, so let’s think in terms of real life for a moment. It’s true people can over-complicate their situations out of sheer stubbornness, narrow mindedness, emotional pain, etc. True.

Is that what happened with Claire? Why she couldn’t articulate to Frank, hey, I’ve always loved you. When I was stuck in 18th century Scotland that first few months I was utterly miserable and desperate to get back to you, I swear! She’s so perfect in everything except dealing with what’s happening right in front of her face, am I wrong? So there’s poor old Frank dead from drunk driving AND NOW SHE APOLOGIZES? NOW SHE FEELS REMORSE FOR TREATING HIM LIKE SHIT AFTER MAKING AN IMPOSSIBLE BARGAIN?

At this point I can just imagine her going through the stones and reuniting with Jamie only to bitch at him for not coming to find her, or for getting some inlander strange once or twice over the past two decades. Yeah, she’s totally going to find a way to screw that up.

Meanwhile, Jamie’s getting into one near-fatal scrape after another and all the gay boys find him impossibly irresistible. At least the warden wasn’t a sadist. At least. Poor Jamie’s major flaw seems to be his charm. Will it be the death of him before Claire can get there to needlessly over-complicate his life some more?

It seems to me that these characters’ path is twisty enough without the author (or the screenwriters?) creating more perils for them to wrestle out of. Yes, I do prefer a bit of plausibility in my fiction.

Maybe tonight’s episode will convince be, once and for all, if I should succumb to the screenwriters or go ahead and get the books to find out, once and for all, if Claire stupidity and deus ex machina reigned so hard throughout the original pages.

Outlanders & Underdogs

So, here I am two episodes into Season 2 of my favorite TV show since the introduction of Game of Thrones. And I’m miserable.

As with Game of Thrones, I was introduced to the show before knowing about the existence of the books, so I bypassed reading and sit googly eyed for scheduled viewings. (I know, I know. Hush.)

Here’s the main reason I’ve opted to ignore the books, for now: In the past when I’ve read before viewing, murderous rage gets a bit overwhelming. Murderous rage is exhausting. So, yeah, I get why all the fans of Martin’s and Gabaldon’s books sneer and call the shows mere fan fiction. I get it. With that said, leave me to my TV geekgasms. Kthnx.

Or misery, whichever.

What I do see besides utter heartbreak in this season of Outlander, is the attempt to bring Claire out of the muck of Mary Janeness. There were moments in Season 1 that made me quite sick of her. Okay… we get it… she’s a bundle of hotness in bed, she’s a brilliant healer, and a daring feminist among brutal patriarchal assholes. Got it. She’s so awesome she’ll even do favor after favor for the despicable Black Jack. Sure, she’s operating under the guise of ensuring Frank is born centuries later, but come on, anyone can see she’s digging the drama.

Then there’s Jamie’s own threat of Mary Janeness … he’s a bit much sometimes as well. It’s often in the moments of his inexplicable perfection that I long to read the books. Claire, one would think, is the intended protagonist of this story, this series. But it seems to me the directors and writers of the show just might be all about Team Jaime. I don’t see a thing wrong with this, but still, I wonder what was intended by Gabaldon. Seriously, just how much of an underdog can one character be?

More than a few acquaintances on social media have made remarks in past weeks along the lines of “but what about Frank? While all you sluts are swooning over Jamie, take a minute to think about how amazing Frank is!” I agree, to an extent. Still, Frank will never come off as an underdog. Maybe it’s the way he tilts his head when he speaks in that English accent — nobility on the verge of utter snobbery. This guy isn’t going to humble himself. Not completely. Whereas Jamie would, has, will. And so, in this respect anyway, the underdog wins it all.

After a couple decades of soul-crushing misery anyway.

Right?

While I’m twisting here in the conflict of to read or not to read before the series finale, the question of whether or not I could write such an underdog niggles in the back of my mind. Early on in my writing, I found out just how easy it is to write a Mary Jane all the while thinking this was an amazing, complicated, brilliant character. (Totally not, as it turned out.)

She was an underdog that eventually overcame three rather nasty plot twists. But could I, without setting out to, write an underdog of Jamie’s stature? Would I stop myself one day and say, WAIT. How many self-sacrifices do I actually need in this 50k word count? Why am I doing this?

What would be the goal of writing such a character, other than making certain another character, either his foil or one true love, survived to be called hero?

I’ve done really well, remained absolutely strong in avoiding book spoilers and online book reviews/analysis. I’ll stay strong and stick to a promise I made myself in the third season of Game of Thrones — I’ll get the books about five minutes after the series finale.

Just Write

My favorite recurring fantasy involves a strict schedule. Yes, that is weird. Whatever. In this fantasy, I am a workaholic down at the desk by 7 a.m sharp, Monday-Friday, come hell or high water. Nose to the grindstone, slaving away on research and words, words, words. I would finish those four projects languishing away in boxes and drawers and tattered notebooks for the better part of five years. I’d rescue them, complete them, then move on with fiery diligence to THE NEXT GREAT THING. My only breaks from writing writing writing, would be to mine for gold in stacks of submission possibilities. I would flood lit mags and presses. They, the hundreds of thousands of possibilities, would never escape my fiery diligence, my flood of work. I would astonish them all with my doggedness.

Family and friends would beg me to visit, just get out of the house once in awhile. Sure, I walk the dog and venture out occasionally for food, but come on. A person can’t type ninety hours a week and remain a healthy, normal human. But I can! I would swear this in a passionate voice! I am happy, in fact, I’ll work longer hours. I walk my dog, and carve out a few minutes each week for the grocery store and bills, and maybe talk to people I love most, read to them.

Maybe, after a year or so, I’ll go see the world. Hang out. Follow a story, sniff out ideas and hang out. Observe. Listen. Involve myself in the story until it becomes multi-dimensional. Until it becomes so goddamned irresistible, I have to drive miles up into the mountains to one of those legendary writer’s cabins, nice and rustic in early spring, and there I’ll work ninety hours a week until I have a manuscript that proves once and for all I am the writer I always thought I would be. This will, of course, inspire celebration. A nice break from writing long enough to shop the manuscript, get a terrific book deal — one that will make other writers wistful and teary eyed.

Until then, I’ll be sitting down to sketch out my plan of attack, to map out my schedule. The map will not include by-ways of procrastination. No guilt over a messy abode. No worries for not having a “real job”, no panic attacks, no sense of failure. The road will be clear, wide-open, as endless as my dark little heart desires. On day one, in those wee hours when the birds haven’t yet gathered their voices, I will walk my dog, do a few chores wearing earbuds from which the wisdom of memoir and literary journalism themed audibles will enter my brain and trickle down to build muscle memory. Once satisfied that dawn will break any moment, I’ll put away the earbuds, turn on some music, shower then dress, and take breakfast to my desk.

For eight hours I will rip away lines from old poets, paste them to the titles and endings of younger lesser-knowns, weed out genius word by word by line from dreamy-eyed dead folk and weave it all between the lines of contemporary feminists. With one hand I’ll keep an ink and white stack of citations, with the other, I will type and type, compile new work from the old and famous. Eight hours a day, for forty days will make a masterpiece that outshines my first attempts at a cento collection the same way the sun outshines a 40 watt bulb. But that’s just the first eight hours of the first in a forty-day stint.

An hour will be spent stretching the stiffness from unused muscles, feeding my dog, giving the hubby a loving phone call. Then, with a dinner plate next to the laptop. I’ll stand at that cute little pub table in the dining room, surrounded by Van Gogh reproductions, facing a window looking out toward a wink of the river. There, I will have dinner and get to that essay a small paying publication is anxiously awaiting. This will pay the rent and there might be some left over for the best doggy treats on the market. I will hit the send button and yawn. That’s a good day right there.

Day one will be so impressive that years later I will chronicle it an anthology piece, the opening to a brief synopsis of my success story. Just imagine what could be accomplished on day two, three, ten! I’ll need a bit of help, of course. A professional editor for the poetry collections. And once I’ve dug out those old pieces of speculative fiction and essays, saved them from languishing away in the dark, I’ll be keeping that editor so busy she will have to quit her day job. The essays will sell quickest. Let’s face it, readers are absolutely inundated with speculative fiction these days. And poetry, well, most people grimace when the P-Word is mentioned. Nevertheless, after the three collections are out in the wind and a dozen or so lit mags pick up individual pieces, who knows? The P-Word might be pronounced without a grimace by a few less readers. A few. But I won’t concern myself with that now. What’s important is the work. Do the work.

That’s what one of my favorite professors used to say. Be loyal to the work. She also said that I should send off Emancipation and I Am Not an Evangelist right away — that was four years ago. I never sent them anywhere. It’s as if when that class ended, when I no longer had reason to receive or send emails to that professor, I no longer had reason to consider what life those words would have outside the confines of my files. These messy files that have been packed and repacked, hauled from one end of the country to the other, digitized then lost, transcribed in the middle of the night, then shoved into the corner.

Why? Lots of things kept getting in the way. Mostly, basic survival. The last four years showed me something contrary to what that professor declared to be the ultimate truth, the ultimate goal of every creative. Sure, be loyal to the work … when it’s actually paying the rent. Or, if some benevolent deep pocket is paying the rent. For those of us who don’t have deep pockets dishing out the basic necessities, there’s forty hour weeks to be put in elsewhere. And to get through those, of course, there must be distractions. Distractions become as necessary paying the rent when a creative is punching a time clock, and spending distraction hours on poetry seems to make poetry less somehow. A shot of good whiskey and an hour of TV can save a life. Don’t waste breath in argument. It’s fact.

Before the next random person can spout a tired old platitude or start jabbering on about first world problems, four years have blinked by and here I sit with boxes of old notebooks and no real body of work. Before I can fully recall just what I took away from that brief university lecture about the importance of avoiding sentimentality in art, I realize that I can no longer introduce myself as a writer, or a student. I don’t write, I don’t study. I’ve got a job that affords me the opportunity to do neither. But the lights are on. The rent is paid. I’ve run Netflix out of good distractions. The whiskey bottle hasn’t been touched in months, and I’m sick of being a non-writer.

Lately I’ve filled free moments with fantasizing about putting in a 30-day notice and driving home to sit at my desk and start a new chapter, so to speak. It’s past 10:30 p.m., and tomorrow is coming at me way too fast. But I won’t concern myself with all that now. The work is priority.

So, let’s get to mapping out that schedule.

7 a.m. Monday: DAY ONE.

Just Write

My favorite recurring fantasy involves a strict schedule. Yes, that is weird. Whatever. In this fantasy, I am a workaholic down at the desk by 7 a.m sharp, Monday-Friday, come hell or high water. Nose to the grindstone, slaving away on research and words, words, words. I would finish those four projects languishing away in boxes and drawers and tattered notebooks for the better part of five years. I’d rescue them, complete them, then move on with fiery diligence to THE NEXT GREAT THING. My only breaks from writing writing writing, would be to mine for gold in stacks of submission possibilities. I would flood lit mags and presses. They, the hundreds of thousands of possibilities, would never escape my fiery diligence, my flood of work. I would astonish them all with my doggedness.

Family and friends would beg me to visit, just get out of the house once in awhile. Sure, I walk the dog and venture out occasionally for food, but come on. A person can’t type ninety hours a week and remain a healthy, normal human. But I can! I would swear this in a passionate voice! I am happy, in fact, I’ll work longer hours. I walk my dog, and carve out a few minutes each week for the grocery store and bills, and maybe talk to people I love most, read to them.

Maybe, after a year or so, I’ll go see the world. Hang out. Follow a story, sniff out ideas and hang out. Observe. Listen. Involve myself in the story until it becomes multi-dimensional. Until it becomes so goddamned irresistible, I have to drive miles up into the mountains to one of those legendary writer’s cabins, nice and rustic in early spring, and there I’ll work ninety hours a week until I have a manuscript that proves once and for all I am the writer I always thought I would be. This will, of course, inspire celebration. A nice break from writing long enough to shop the manuscript, get a terrific book deal — one that will make other writers wistful and teary eyed.

Until then, I’ll be sitting down to sketch out my plan of attack, to map out my schedule. The map will not include by-ways of procrastination. No guilt over a messy abode. No worries for not having a “real job”, no panic attacks, no sense of failure. The road will be clear, wide-open, as endless as my dark little heart desires. On day one, in those wee hours when the birds haven’t yet gathered their voices, I will walk my dog, do a few chores wearing earbuds from which the wisdom of memoir and literary journalism themed audibles will enter my brain and trickle down to build muscle memory. Once satisfied that dawn will break any moment, I’ll put away the earbuds, turn on some music, shower then dress, and take breakfast to my desk.

For eight hours I will rip away lines from old poets, paste them to the titles and endings of younger lesser-knowns, weed out genius word by word by line from dreamy-eyed dead folk and weave it all between the lines of contemporary feminists. With one hand I’ll keep an ink and white stack of citations, with the other, I will type and type, compile new work from the old and famous. Eight hours a day, for forty days will make a masterpiece that outshines my first attempts at a cento collection the same way the sun outshines a 40 watt bulb. But that’s just the first eight hours of the first in a forty-day stint.

An hour will be spent stretching the stiffness from unused muscles, feeding my dog, giving the hubby a loving phone call. Then, with a dinner plate next to the laptop. I’ll stand at that cute little pub table in the dining room, surrounded by Van Gogh reproductions, facing a window looking out toward a wink of the river. There, I will have dinner and get to that essay a small paying publication is anxiously awaiting. This will pay the rent and there might be some left over for the best doggy treats on the market. I will hit the send button and yawn. That’s a good day right there.

Day one will be so impressive that years later I will chronicle it an anthology piece, the opening to a brief synopsis of my success story. Just imagine what could be accomplished on day two, three, ten! I’ll need a bit of help, of course. A professional editor for the poetry collections. And once I’ve dug out those old pieces of speculative fiction and essays, saved them from languishing away in the dark, I’ll be keeping that editor so busy she will have to quit her day job. The essays will sell quickest. Let’s face it, readers are absolutely inundated with speculative fiction these days. And poetry, well, most people grimace when the P-Word is mentioned. Nevertheless, after the three collections are out in the wind and a dozen or so lit mags pick up individual pieces, who knows? The P-Word might be pronounced without a grimace by a few less readers. A few. But I won’t concern myself with that now. What’s important is the work. Do the work.

That’s what one of my favorite professors used to say. Be loyal to the work. She also said that I should send off Emancipation and I Am Not an Evangelist right away — that was four years ago. I never sent them anywhere. It’s as if when that class ended, when I no longer had reason to receive or send emails to that professor, I no longer had reason to consider what life those words would have outside the confines of my files. These messy files that have been packed and repacked, hauled from one end of the country to the other, digitized then lost, transcribed in the middle of the night, then shoved into the corner. But I won’t concern myself with all that now. Those days are over. The work is priority now. So, let’s get to mapping out that schedule.

7 a.m. Monday: DAY ONE.

Just Write

My favorite recurring fantasy involves a strict schedule. Yes, that is weird. Whatever. In this fantasy, I am a workaholic down at the desk by 7 a.m sharp, Monday-Friday, come hell or high water. Nose to the grindstone, slaving away on research and words, words, words. I would finish those four projects languishing away in boxes and drawers and tattered notebooks for the better part of five years. I’d rescue them, complete them, then move on with fiery diligence to THE NEXT GREAT THING. My only breaks from writing writing writing, would be to mine for gold in stacks of submission possibilities. I would flood lit mags and presses. They, the hundreds of thousands of possibilities, would never escape my fiery diligence, my flood of work. I would astonish them all with my doggedness. Family and friends would beg me to visit, just get out of the house once in awhile. Sure, I walk the dog and venture out occasionally for food, but come on. A person can’t type ninety hours a week and remain a healthy, normal human. But I can! I would swear this in a passionate voice! I am happy, in fact, I’ll work longer hours. I walk my dog, and carve out a few minutes each week for the grocery store and bills, and maybe talk to people I love most, read to them. Maybe, after a year or so, I’ll go see the world. Hang out. Follow a story, sniff out ideas and hang out. Observe. Listen. Involve myself in the story until it becomes multi-dimensional. Until it becomes so goddamned irresistible, I have to drive miles up into the mountains to one of those legendary writer’s cabins, nice and rustic in early spring, and there I’ll work ninety hours a week until I have a manuscript that proves once and for all I am the writer I always thought I would be. This will, of course, inspire celebration. A nice break from writing long enough to shop the manuscript, get a terrific book deal — one that will make other writers wistful and teary eyed — then I’ll take a mini vacation. A day or two, long enough to go shopping for doggy treats and new pens before sitting down to sketch out my plan of attack, to map out my schedule.

The map will not include by-ways of procrastination. No guilt over a messy abode. No worries for not having a “real job”, no panic attacks, no sense of failure. The road will be clear, wide-open, as endless as my dark little heart desires. On day one, in those wee hours when the birds haven’t yet gathered their voices, I will walk my dog, do a few chores wearing earbuds from which the wisdom of memoir and literary journalism themed audibles will enter my brain and trickle down to build muscle memory. Once satisfied that dawn will break any moment, I’ll put away the earbuds, turn on some music, shower then dress, and take breakfast to my desk. For eight hours I will rip away lines from old poets, paste them to the titles and endings of younger folk, weed out genius word by word by line from dreamy-eyed dead folk and weave it all between the lines of contemporary feminists. With one hand I’ll keep an ink and white stack of citations, with the other, I will type and type, compile new work from the old and famous. Eight hours a day, for forty days will make a masterpiece that outshines my first attempts at a cento collection the same way the sun outshines a 40 watt bulb. But that’s just the first eight hours of the first in a forty-day stint. An hour will be spent stretching the stiffness from unused muscles, feeding my dog, giving the hubby a loving phone call. Then, with a dinner plate next to the laptop. I’ll stand at that cute little pub table in the dining room, surrounded by Van Gogh reproductions, facing a window looking out toward a wink of the river. There, I will have dinner and get to that essay a small paying publication is anxiously awaiting. This will pay the rent and there might be some left over for the best doggy treats on the market. I will hit the send button and yawn. That’s a good day right there.

Day one will be so impressive that years later I will chronicle it an anthology piece, the opening to a brief synopsis of my success story.

7 a.m. Monday: DAY ONE.

Just Write

My favorite recurring fantasy involves a strict schedule. Yes, that is weird. Whatever. In this fantasy, I am a workaholic down at the desk by 7 a.m sharp, Monday-Friday, come hell or high water. Nose to the grindstone, slaving away on research and words, words, words. I would finish those four projects languishing away in boxes and drawers and tattered notebooks for the better part of five years. I’d rescue them, complete them, then move on with fiery diligence to THE NEXT GREAT THING. My only breaks from writing writing writing, would be to mine for gold in stacks of submission possibilities. I would flood lit mags and presses. They, the hundreds of thousands of possibilities, would never escape my fiery diligence, my flood of work. I would astonish them all with my doggedness. Family and friends would beg me to visit, just get out of the house once in awhile. Sure, I walk the dog and venture out occasionally for food, but come on. A person can’t type ninety hours a week and remain a healthy, normal human. But I can! I would swear this in a passionate voice! I am happy, in fact, I’ll work longer hours. I walk my dog, and carve out a few minutes each week for the grocery store and bills, and maybe talk to people I love most, read to them. Maybe, after a year or so, I’ll go see the world. Hang out. Follow a story, sniff out ideas and hang out. Observe. Listen. Involve myself in the story until it becomes multi-dimensional. Until it becomes so goddamned irresistible, I have to drive miles up into the mountains to one of those legendary writer’s cabins, nice and rustic in early spring, and there I’ll work ninety hours a week until I have a manuscript that proves once and for all I am the writer I always thought I would be. This will, of course, inspire celebration. A nice break from writing long enough to shop the manuscript, get a terrific book deal — one that will make other writers wistful and teary eyed — then I’ll take a mini vacation. A day or two, long enough to go shopping for doggy treats and new pens before sitting down to sketch out my plan of attack, to map out my schedule.

7 a.m. Monday: DAY ONE.

Road Sounds

The dream of small towns being miles off, cities being hundreds of miles off, hearing none of their road sounds or the blustering voices of their inhabitants, that dream belonged to my grandfather. He wanted to walk out onto his porch in early light, sipping coffee, and hear nothing but the occasional noise chickens make when wrestling breakfast from the soft ground above the creek. By then, the roosters would have hushed their wake-up calls and whatever night critters had been scuttling around had long since gone off to bed. His dream was dark nights turned daylight unpolluted by traffic or socializing with people who liked to make traffic. People who liked car radios, guzzled fuel and convenience store snacks, and always seemed to find places to go to later complain about.

He wanted none of it. He claimed this was perfection, but still considered moving out past his quiet green hills upon discovering a “neighbor” had gotten the gumption to start building fences and running a tractor just a mile away. We were concerned he wouldn’t get over the insult.

Being out there frightened me, thrilled me, centered me. The trees were full of racket at nightfall, not always musical. And beyond the creek, where sunlight never dared to drip down, came threatening feline screeches that froze my blood. Those screeches made my grandfather laugh softly. Whatever animal could make such blood freezing noise, though unseen, unnamed as far as I knew, gained his admiration. He liked the mystery of it, the threat, and didn’t have to warn me twice to stay within sight of the house. His land was wild, bounding with the kind of quiet he cherished. A property split in half by a skinny dirt road no one seemed inclined to travel, and if they did, oh Grandpa made sure to watch their taillights until they disappeared for good. He’d more likely invite one of those screeching wildcats onto his porch than wave at passersby.

I still remember the scent of the soil. The feel of that creek water, wintry cold even in the leaden heat of August. I remember the feel and scent of sweat wetting my face and forearms as I climbed tree limbs, or tried to walk carefully between the rows of a summer cornfield. To say those memories are precious is an understatement. To say that I still love the scent and feel of rich black soil and my own sweat is absolute truth. How I would love to be there now, as an adult, listening to chickens feed themselves and wondering what thing hid beyond the darkness of the creek bed as I put seedlings into the ground right on the spot where he once had his garden.

I do wonder what Grandpa might think about my equal love for city life. The rush rush and abrupt halts, the voices, the bridge lights and tall buildings and narrow streets. At this moment I’m listening to cars rounding the bend of Riverside Drive, way too fast. Rain has fallen for almost twelve hours, nonstop, and the sound of speeding tire rubber splashing past reminds me of marching band cymbals. Exuberant road sounds punctuate voices carrying from the sidewalks and parking lot, laughter sometimes, sometimes arguments, complaints, conversation via speaker phone. Saxophone music, blues guitar, birdsong, motorcycles growling, the screech and whine of sirens. It’s all mine.

Another Brief Project?

The ten days of letter writing did something for my writer soul. I started with no idea of how long it would last, no goals or list of names at hand. For now, it feels complete. And, I’m pleased to say, a complete tiny body of work I look forward to reading over and over again.

I hesitate to deliberately begin another project … my favorites are always those ideas that come out of nowhere. It was reading Ann Patchett’s Truth & Beauty that helped along the idea to write letters. It was reading Virginia Woolf’s A Writer’s Diary that inspired me to begin my own. And it was recalling a lighthearted old middle school assignment that inspired me to write cento and found poetry. I still indulge in the latter two quite often. Sometimes, reading a news article will inspire me to do research on particular topic. Or just start ranting.

For now, this very moment, I’ll concentrate on getting Ramshackle Houses out into the world (or at least a few literary contests). The month of June is already slotted for finishing up my first honest-to-goodness chapbook (of cento poetry) … maybe the next will be all love letter poems?