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I woke this morning to the thunder of a train passing on the high track above the river, a bizarre, neon-pink patch of cloud in an otherwise grey sky, sunlit patches of river moving in the wrong direction with the feeding of small fish, and a head thoroughly determined to confound me.
Chalk it up to the time change. Or the lingering vibes of the Oklahoma earthquake. Or the advance psychic tremor of the asteroid due to pass close to the earth tomorrow. Or a few unresolved questions that are disturbing my personal space-time fabric. But—even at this pre-seven a.m. hour—this is already one strange day.
My fiction writing is visited by the fidgets. I sit determined to find the idea that will make this short chapter shine. I nag and pout, cajoling the created world that has, for the moment, shut the door in my face. I look to wrap it around me, warmth in this cold mental November. Not so, the advertising writing: In extremis, the sheer craft takes over, and tells me exactly what needs to be done amidst those promises and obligations I’ve taken on.
But the book (and today, it’s “the damned book”): This close to the ending, I’m scared. Not of finishing. But of how I’m finishing.
This is not an ending of hero-with-explosion-in-the-background. Not an ending where lovers clinch. Not an ending where the bad guys get all shot to hell and goodness and justice triumph and all goes right with the world. This is an ending that treads the fine line between this world and all worlds; the line between physical and metaphysical. A kind of Stephen Hawking meets Bodhisattva disguised as Stanley Kubrick.
The meaning of everything. The ending I’ve been envisioning from the first. A near-impossible challenge…and one for which I have no fixed star of precedent on which to focus.
If this is the cause, every word in this post ’til now has been the effect. Where is the certainty I should be feeling now? Where is the hard-eyed commitment to my own vision?
Or am I just hopelessly muddled, in love with a bad idea? Have I been lying to myself all along?
At moments like these, the story should be fertile ground; the ideas, a shovel; the task as straightforward as digging the hole and planting the tree.
Perhaps this is a price of growing up with TV shows in which every problem gets resolved in an hour and makes the world right once again. Maybe a doubtful impasse like this is part of the evolutionary demands of coming winter that want us to den-up, hibernate and put the world away.
Or maybe the ending is just a bad idea.
Still, how could an otherwise-good brain have been lying to us all along? How could the thing that has driven the notes with such promise have turned so quickly into compost? And what is the answer that lay beyond the answer—without turning into who-chases-who-with-a gun?
No birth without pain, I know. No clarity without confusion. But damn…shouldn’t the task be easier by now? And after all this time, how can I trust a tricky little brain that still takes delight in undermining me? How can I be sure that my own head is not an unrepentant, skulking liar?
The answer: I can’t. Next question.
On this crisp, bright, altogether magnificent day, those four words are as much a question as a statement.
Okay, I’ll admit it: I am feeling slightly sorry for myself this morning, the mockery of sunny days.
The world seems indifferent to my presence. The boxes that still clog the garage certainly are. The tasks that need doing have retreated from urgency, to the realm of out-of-sight-out-of-mind; have reduced themselves to a box-by-box evaluation of what’s needed, what’s necessary, what’s still confused and refusing to find a niche. The cats are, I think sometimes, all about what’s in it for them. Selfish little boogers.
The book doesn’t need me. Or doesn’t seem to. With The Spiritkeeper, the emotional wellbeing of the characters was something I carried in my hands, sheltered with all the love and warmth in me. They loved me, those creatures of Word, and I them. This book, less so. I am small compared to the greater presence of the cosmos where the characters’ eyes are turned. I am invisible.
It’s okay. It is. This is a maudlin self-indulgence that will pass.
I have the stillness. The birdsong. The prism-rainbows that dance on my walls, mornings. I have shelter and enough to eat. I have happy cats that sleep in the sunshine. I have friends whose love I treasure, even from a distance. I have this book. And the next one. And possibility for both, despite self-doubt.
That the book, the professional world, the things and people I love are not clamoring for me…that my voice is the only one I hear…that my characters are not whispering for me to give myself to them…it’s okay.
It’s a low-barometric-pressure day for me emotionally. The signal of a change in inner weather. And the change will carry me with it. It always does.
So…here’s an understanding I never expected.
Granted, it’s coming at the end of a very full day, an hour in which I’m inclined to harsh self-assessment; a moment in which I’m winding down on a vastly improved chapter that still has a way to go to be right, improvements I haven’t quite qualified yet. But here’s the thing….
I realize that I thrive on contrast. Being torn between two places sharpens my wits. Wanting one thing and living another makes the experiencing of both more acute.
That need works itself out quite nicely when there’s a job involved. The demands of the job make the writing hours more valuable. The writing that’s made to fit into the off-hours becomes more valuable. I know that I’ll have the enforced step away from it when the workweek starts again. A big loop.
Similarly, the chaos of moving and job-searching makes the writing time more valuable. But when I’m settled, here—what then?
I am 14-plus miles from the nearest town of any size. The things that one can do in town are limited…imagine a place where panko breadcrumbs and manchego cheese are alien life-forms. Where rock music stopped in the 80s. Where I couldn’t find raw duck breast to save my life. The forced-focus of contrast is absent. The observances that make up the new paradigm of contrasts are smaller; subtler.
It’s a wakeup call.
I’ll feel different in the morning. Possibilities are illuminated in daylight. As in birding, every day holds the chance of the unexpected, the good bird. Every walk holds the chance of the company of mink and deer, as this morning. Every look at the river might have a bald eagle in it. Dinners wait to be created. Books wait to be read. Songs wait for an extra voice.
It’s up to me to find the living in living. And that is the best revelation of all.
Because I’ve needed to remind myself to do it.
In writing as in life, that need to stand back and look. Without judgment, without fear. A view from a perspective that doesn’t come readily when you’re looking up from the bottom of the well of uncertainty. Where the sky is up there somewhere, even though the easy view isn’t.
That view helped the writing over the weekend, a span half-buried under the demands of the house…rooms torn up in the effort to get the water-damaged rooms fixed…rooms without a square inch of order as I try to get two houses collected into one.
In the chapter—that monstrously technical challenge of a collaboration between two people, one conscious, one not—I discovered that I needed to rob Peter to pay myself; to pull the wiring out of a previous chapter to string together the lights that might shine brighter in this one. Not as hard as I’d thought. Considering the makeup of life, lately, not much would be by comparison. Still have to figure out some really important switches and levers to make the thing work…still faced by an ending that might just be wrong…but the distance gave me…well, distance.
The other revelation was not a far-seeing; instead, it was a glimpse of what will eventually be. A desk, a little cabinet, a matching chair. Put together in a corner of what will be the office. Three incomplete suggestions of order in a room piled high with stuff I have no idea what to do with. Promising.
Funny, having chaos grow out of order is one thing. It is organic. Natural. An archeology site built out of the leftover bits of days. To claim order out of chaos not of your own making, exactly: tougher. I keep reminding myself with everything I move or store or throw out that another square yard/foot/inch has appeared. Soon that space will double. And triple. Soon, the room will give me enough perspective to let my thoughts wander there.
Like the view of the pasture. Of rain that never showed, in a sky that was soon swept clean.
The sky is beautiful this morning, just 60 miles from where lives are in ruin. The cloud are bleached white, tipped with silver.
It doesn’t seem fair, somehow.
The people of devastated Joplin, MO, couldn’t catch a break yesterday. Rain and lightning all day, to add misery to chaos. The forecast today predicts more of the same, a chance of all forms of severe weather later on, a contradiction to the morning’s lying sky.
The knowledge weighs heavily here. I can see it in the wan, stunned faces of the TV newspeople. I see it in the language of bodies, hearts, struggling to find some small good amidst the hopelessness, the outward emotional expressions of their gleanings through the rubble piles.
Things are not what they were, here. Physical objects are no longer recognizable as what they once were. Lives are not. And, for many, there are no lives left at all.
I think, too, of those victims of a more muted, stealthy disaster. The ruin that no longer shows up much on the news—the less camera ready one. These are the lives rearranged by creeping water. Mile upon mile of flood victims whose houses are left standing—for now—but whose existences are tossed on the crest of unstill waters. We have forgotten them.
Life is filled with challenges. Fortunately, for most of us, those challenges are not compacted into a deadly few
minutes of black-sky destruction. Empathy is not help. Sympathy is not solution. But we must feel—and do—what we can. Under this sky of unfair and deceitful blue.
Sundays are hard enough. Even after a lovely weekend down on the river with Glorious, and all the great food and amazing conversation that went with it, there is the return to the workday reality that always crushes my heart. Not even sitting with the page for the hours of the afternoon and evening are enough to reinflate the spirits.
And last night was accompanied by a darkness of another kind. A darkness far more threatening and dire. The sky. This was the storm that devastated Joplin, MO, fifty miles from Republic. The TV was full of it, given over to the tracking of the towering cell that cut through towns like hot knives through butter.
Much of Joplin is gone. Flattened. There will be many too many analogies on the news today about “cars tossed like toys” and homes “crushed as if by a giant’s foot” and “like a scene of nuclear devastation”; we don’t need another one here. 89 dead—and counting—should tell you enough of the story. Much of the town that was…isn’t.
The brilliant sunset that crept out from under the tail-end of the storm line, the sparkling double rainbow…cold comforts. This is blackness upon a blackness, the irredeemable helplessness of disaster, and the other, far lesser, of being suspended in a life lived out of necessity, not love. One feels bad about suffering in private amidst a greater and more important suffering-for-cause. Let the two live side by side. Let one exist to pay tribute to the other.
Joplin, I am sorry for your loss.
I have written something that follows me through my days. A book that taps me gently on the shoulder and reminds me that it is still there. It feels to me the way love should feel. It feels like the love I live but have never known; that wonderful, impossible thing invested with all the joyful awe we so rarely experience.
That is The Spiritkeeper. My love letter to love.
It still takes my breath, It still makes me cry. And I am not just deluding myself or flattering the hopeful writer in me. I have been told that it is pastoral. That it lacks the sharper, harsher edges that fiction wants in order to be published these days.
Sharper, harsher edges are not what love wants.
Love—and the love story that represents it—are a finding. A softness amidst the hardness. A breathless discovery in the flat, bright light of ordinary days. It is the thing that is found when no expectation of finding exists; the thing that is given from the most inspired part of our uninspired selves.
It is given without asking. Given without knowing whether it will ever be given back. The thing discovered between two adults who have ceased to live in hope. It surrenders and sacrifices. It saves lives. It saves souls.
The Spiritkeeper is who I am.