One of us lives on the east coast. One of us lives on the west.

One of us lives in a rural community. One of us lives in a city.

Both of us wander. Both of us witness. Both of us write.

This is a record of what we find.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Reprise: The Landscape of Longing

Kind of amazing to read this, a year later, a year that has been filled with much change.  Among many things I took note of over the last twelve months, one thing stood out for me, which is just what I was contemplating below: how to sit with longing.  I truly spent the year trying to do this, and being curious about it, thinking about it, feeling what it felt like to do it… It's not easy.  It feels like too-tight shoes much of the time, and the urge to kick it away is strong.  But I got used to it, and the result was that I developed a quirky sort of relationship with it, like it was a strange, but endearing, sister. I came to appreciate its presence in my life.  And as I practiced sitting with it, and recognizing its nuances, I found that I was better able to sit with other people's feelings too - people real and imagined.  So I was a better mother and a better friend, perhaps.  And I was definitely a better writer.  By the end of this year of practice I was so much better able to understand, empathize and write about my characters' longings, as well as their other emotions.

So here it is, a year later...

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I feel on-my-knees grateful for the people in my life. I don't know how to articulate the depth of that gratitude... I mean, I can barely scratch the surface of the meaning my family, friends and community make of my life. I feel the same way about my home, the landscape around my home, the dogs, cats and chickens in and out of my home. And I most definitely feel the same way about being a writer.

by Thiemo Muller
 But--or maybe And is a more appropriate conjunction--And, at the same time, this sense of longing has taken up residence inside me...somewhere near my heart, lodged against the curve in my ribs. I feel it in my heartbeat, I feel it when I breathe. I know the reasons for it. There are a few. For now, and for here, I will say that some of it is about wanting to sell a book, wanting to work with an editor, wanting to feel that collaboration and build a story in that way, and wanting to finally see my book in print and share it share it share it with the world.

My longing for this experience is intense. So intense that sometimes, for short bursts of time, it blocks my view, and blocks my other sensory capacities, of other details in my life. Do you know what I mean?

I've been contemplating this longing for the last few weeks.  I have noticed that there is a tendency to do one of two things with longing.  One is to try to push it away. And I think the most common way to accomplish that is to transform maybe, let's say, you turn it into jealousy (she got that and I was supposed to get that and I'm probably entitled to that more than she is, damn it...) or into denial (I never wanted that, and even if I did, which I didn't by the way, but even if I did, I certainly don't want it now...) The other is to allow it to consume you (I feel this longing so badly and so deeply that I think I, in fact, AM this longing...where are my hands and feet and heart and mind?...they have been taken over by the body-snatching longing monster...)

But what about just letting

When my sister, Callie*, was diagnosed with cancer she had, not surprisingly, a deep and loud fear. I remember sitting by her bedside during a few of her chemotherapy sessions and listening to her talk about it. She told me she knew she couldn't push her fear away. She told me she knew, also, that she couldn't let it become her either. And so, she said, she was learning to sit with it...pull up a chair, invite that ole' deep and loud fear to sit, not on her but next to her.

A chair for her fear.

I mentioned this idea to two of my friends** while I was contemplating my longing one morning (and by contemplating it I mean, on this particular day, having a total crying breakdown about it...sigh...what can you do?!) and one of them said, You need a bed for your longing...a place to tuck it in, let it be, while you get on with being you... The other one came over later that day and gave me this:

An actual bed for my longing! Isn't it awesome?  A beautiful purple bed with cozy white feathers to rest upon...

So here's the other part of my contemplations: longing is not a bad thing. It might not be the most comfortable feeling in the world (think a slightly-too-sharp object stuck under your rib), but if it is given a place to call home, longing kind of smooths itself out, and is even kind of sweet-looking as it rests there... Longing is not a bad thing at all.  It lets us know what matters in our lives. It indicates our dreams. It reminds us that we have hearts and minds and that they are beating and buzzing all the time.

The trick, for me, is to let longing hang out while I sit at my computer revising my picture book for the 12th time, or writing a new chapter for my middle-grade novel, or or or...

And now that it has its own happy home, I can do just that.

One more contemplation: It feels good to talk about longing. I have a hunch that if we writers, especially, talked about it more we would feel better.  Pure longing, no more, no less. What a cool topic for an SCBWI conference, perhaps?  Or for a conversation between blogs?

What do you all think?

With gratitude,

*Callie, by the way, kicked cancer's butt, as she likes to say. I think it's been five years now that she has been cancer about on-my-knees gratitude...

**Thank you Alice and Stef...

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Remembering Cody

It has been a year since Cody died.  And I thought it appropriate to remember him here, with a rerun of my post about him.  He plays a big part in my middle grade novel, Marble Boys, which, amazingly, I just found out (almost exactly a year since Cody died, mind you) will be published by Schwartz and Wade in August 2015.

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My running buddy, Cody, is gone. He was Kara's dog and we all ran together, with my dog Winn-Dixie, three times a week. On the river trail. At Mud Pond. In the cornfield at the end of our road. We've done it---consistently, religiously, rhythmically---for the last few years or so.

Kara is always the leader. She sets the pace.
Cody is always second in command. His steady gait focuses me, and on dark, winter mornings the white tip of his tail is like a light.
I take up the rear.
(And Winn-Dixie? He runs here and there, and way over there, and then comes on back and does it all again.)

It is this way.
It was this way.
But Cody died.
And so the landscape of my runs has changed.

Cody was this enormous black and white dog. Part border collie and (if you asked Adam, Kara's husband, he would say:) part holstein cow. Smart and sharp, he would stare into my eyes and I felt like he was telling me things--secret dog things, like how it felt to chase Winn-Dixie at top speed in the field by the river on a windy autumn day (the best feeling in the world!), and I felt like he heard me too. There were plenty of nights I lay on the floor by his side and sought his advice on how to handle life (stay present, love a lot, let the rest go.) He also taught my son to laugh. Luc was not even half a year old when he belly laughed for the first time...that deep in the gut, pure joy kind of laugh...and it was Cody, simply Cody's presence, that caused that reaction. Created that joy. Cody had sleep-overs at our house, and he came to my parents' farm in the summers where he waded in the pond to fish for salamanders. He was kind and tolerant. He was wise and thoughtful. He was full up with love.

My littlest daughter, Tavia, said to me this weekend, "Cody is in the ground but his energy is out in the world."

I said yes.

Then she asked, "Will the energy float down to our house? Onto the field? Into the river? Into a new puppy?"

I said yes again. Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

And I realized that not only had the landscape of my runs changed, but the landscape of my house, the field, the river...the landscape of all of us...had changed.

(And maybe, just maybe, there is a new and tiny black and white puppy out there somewhere too.)

Gratefully yours,

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Haiku And The Art Of Flaneur

I’ve been taking an online class in Flash Fiction and really enjoying it. It’s good to think about writing differently and to try some new approaches to story.
One of the first things we did was write a series of haikus—still observations, descriptions with a sense of presence. In each haiku, we were asked to depict a moment in time when we were suddenly aware of reality though something simple and ordinary but striking.
Recording the art of flaneur.
Here are a few from my daily wanderings~
A man in the park
Sits on a stool and plays the saxophone
Cars honk and dogs bark

Six tai chi dancers

Slowly swing their swords in circles

Overhead a hawk

Dog chases a pigeon

Wet grass shimmers in the sun

My socks are cold and wet

Boots pound down the hill 

Hot sun on the back of my neck

No fog on the bay

A flock of green and red

Squealing like bicycle breaks

Backpack baby cries

Hydrangea stars burst

Wood steps lined in green and white

Bridge lights sweep in waves

After writing the haikus, we used them to build a story—or rather tried to incorporate them into a very short story—a piece of flash fiction. This turned out to be a brilliant tool for bringing specific details, sensual details, into a scene. I’ve started using it in my longer fiction—mentally “walking” through a scene with an eye, an ear, a sniff here and there, and then jotting down a series of quick haiku-like poems that can be folded back into the scene.
It’s also a fun way to make journal entries, to find the extraordinary in the ordinary details of your day. 
I encourage you to try a little haiku in your life—you just might really like it!
Take good care,