The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you.
Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision.
So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.
~ Neil Gaiman
Started my day with some hoop dancing, and now it’s off to write.
Today feels like a wonderful day to be me.
Thanks for reading this. Now go be you.
Look at all the bright and shiny colors!
The rocket ship! The stars!
There’s even a dotted line to map out the route.
There’s so much potential in the marble maze of life.
But the secret to the marble maze of life is finesse,
a little bit of TILT,
and a willingness to fall down,
get back up,
and show Hole 15 that this aggression will not stand.
The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.
~ Helen Keller
As per my last late-night post, yesterday we were evacuated due to a fire in the open space near our home. We hadn’t experienced that before. The only other time there was a big fire, we were out of town. (Our former neighbors took it upon themselves to come in the house to collect a crate full of framed wedding and family photos. They also put a sprinkler on top of our shake-shingle roof. Good neighbors.)
So last night as we watched the fire out our windows, we had to start thinking about what we should take in case of evacuation. Zippy and I believed it would be easy to grab the basics (the animals and the same framed photos plus passports, social security cards, etc and a few clothes) and get out. But by the time we received the automated call telling us to get out, we’d amassed more than that.
I gained some insights into my personal world view.
- Jog bras (Bra shopping is a horrible experience, and I’d be damned if I have to go through that again)
- An entire box of project notebooks and journals, including those containing quotes from young Wildebeest and Zebu plus one from my three weeks spent with Marilynne Robinson at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop
- Every single photo album
- Binder filled with negatives
- Gratitude journal (that I’ve been actively resenting and willfully neglecting for the past couple months)
- New container of raw cashews
- New bottles of nutritional supplements
- New bottle of tequila
- Huge suitcase of family-of-origin photos recently brought back from Mom in Florida
- Laptop, current fiction project notebook, current nonfiction project notebook
- Camera and lenses
- Binoculars, bird books, birding notebook woefully out of date re sightings
- Medical records for Zippy, Wildebeest, Zebu, and myself
That list makes it seem as if I brought every single thing I owned. Not true. All sorts of stuff was left behind. Objects that caught my eye as I passed through rooms, shuttling stuff to the cars.
- My brother’s gorgeous painting of a Jesus lizard walking on water.
- The denim jacket that first belonged to Zippy’s sheep rancher grandfather and was passed down to Zippy’s father (Stu) and now Zippy.
- Stu’s hat that became mine after he died last February because I’m the only one in the family with a head small enough to fit.
- The metal rooster that sits on top of our piano in honor of friend Michelle Begley who died in January 2015, and which also serves as mascot for the monthly Writing Roosters critique group gatherings.
- Books, many of them signed by the authors.
- The ceramic penguin doing a power salute (and showing off underarm hair) made for me by Wildebeest in high school.
- Zebu’s sticker-bedecked water bottle that’s been at his place at the dining room table since he left for Sweden in August.
- The poseable Batman featured in many blog posts over the years.
- An enormous plastic bin filled with photos that have been put in chronological order, but have not yet made it into albums.
But my decisions are a moot point. The fire was extinguished and we’re back in our house with all our stuff. Or, as George Carlin would say, all our shit.
Yesterday I sent off the manuscript for the first book of mine that will be published. It’s a short work-fore-hire book about composting and how to build a compost tumbler. (One of my critique partners (yo, LP!) is a nonfiction goddess who guided me every step of the way as I applied to the editorial company. Thank you, friend!)
One of the hardest parts of that writing process was switching from my fiction brain to my nonfiction brain. Plus there was the research that triggered my ADD tendencies, writing to a lower reading level, explaining complex concepts in a simplified format, footnoting and formatting, glossary terms and pronunciation keys . . . Suffice to say there was a steep learning curve and a few tears of frustration.
But I put my head down to push through the doubts and nasty voices, and I prevailed. Plus, I (mostly) kept to my promise to myself and worked on my middle-grade novel revisions every day. I learned to bounce from fiction to nonfiction and back again. And it felt like a real accomplishment to hit SEND when I emailed my manuscript yesterday.
This morning Zippy and I went out for our run on the trails. As we took off, I mentioned how I wished we could take a different route out there in the open space. I love the trails and they’re kinder to my body than pavement as I pound out the miles, but lately I’ve noticed my mind wanders when I run. And my mind shouldn’t wander when there are rocks and knapweed and eroded trail segments to navigate. But it wanders because I’m comfortable with my route; I’ve run it so often I can close my eyes and visualize exactly where the rabbit brush stalk sticks out onto the trail and how far up the trail past the turn-off it is that I need to side-step a cluster of partially submerged rocks.
So today Zippy took the lead and he mixed it up. He took us on side trails and detours, but the biggest change was we ran parts of the route in reverse. Which meant I was running downhill where I’m usually straining to run uphill, and struggling up the steep inclines where I’m used to flying down the trail.
Talk about a learning curve. I thought my brain was going to explode! (Not to mention the other very real concern that I was about to barf up a lung).
Well, I eventually made it home and recovered enough to have today’s deep thought:
It’s good to step outside my comfort zone because doing so allows me to learn new skills and expand my muscles (whether brain or brawn). Becoming more flexible ain’t always pretty, but it’s necessary.
For a long time I mostly resisted watching those “Inside the Episode” segments that seem to be all the rage in cable shows. They come on after the episode to supposedly give you a behind-the-scenes glimpse into that creative world. But one “insider” bit I’d watched had the show’s creator saying stuff about the characters that was so obvious, it felt like talking for the sake of talking. (I’m looking at you, Lena Dunham.)
Zippy and I have recently started watching a show we really like, and thought we’d give the “insider” thing another try. We watched a few of those segments and enjoyed getting the creators’ take on what they were trying to accomplish. However, the last one I watched was especially valuable for me as a writer.
The creators/writers talked about an interaction between two of the characters and said the one character acted selfishly and purposely put down the other character. That wasn’t my take. I’d interpreted the first character as being a bit clueless, but also truly coming from a good place. I’d still liked and rooted for her until I got the insider treatment which has now warped my sense of that character.
My two takeaways:
1) Stop watching “Inside the Episode” segments
2) I can’t control how readers will react to what I’ve written.
This morning I reported for jury duty at the county courthouse. I had mixed feelings about being there (because selection would mean I’d have to reschedule an appointment set for tomorrow), but was mostly focused on doing my civic duty.
I was pulled from the larger pool into a group of 36 potential jurors for a criminal trial of a man charged with doing $1000 – $25,000 in property damages (this was the summary given by judge before jury selection; basically, a vandalism trial). Twenty-two names were drawn from a box (twelve in jury box and ten seated in front as alternates; I was not one of them) and those people were interviewed by the judge. After that, the prosecutor and defense attorney each had thirty minutes to ask those potential jurors questions that would help them determine who was and who was not a good fit for that jury.
Holy crap. I’m paraphrasing, but it went like this:
“Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. If someone is charged, it usually means they’re guilty.”
“In Italy, where I’m from, a person is presumed guilty until proved innocent.” (Paging Amanda Knox!)
“I’m a former police officer and I would always believe testimony from the police.”
“People don’t get stopped for no reason.” (I wanted to shout “Do you have any idea how many men get pulled over for Driving While Black?!”)
It was a fascinating peek into the minds of my fellow citizens in mostly-white Jefferson County, Colorado. When the prosecutor asked each person “Do you think you’d be a good juror?” I thought to myself, “Yes, I’d be a good juror.” And then I started thinking about why I would be a good juror, and I decided it was because of my strong sense of justice and fair play. But then he pressed one woman for why she thought she’d be a good juror and she said, “Because I’d want me on my jury,” and my brain went *ping*
That’s it, I thought. The proof that I’d be a good juror is that I know for a fact I’d want me on my jury. Somehow, that epiphany was such a relief!
Except. It turns out that I’m not so unique. A bunch of other potential jurors repeated that same sentiment. And then Zebu confessed to having that same *ping* this afternoon when I repeated that woman’s remark. Which leads me to believe that if we ALL feel that way, maybe it’s not a very compelling argument.
So now I’m broadening my field of inquiry: Would YOU feel better having yourself on your own jury? And, if so, why do you think that is?
I’d forgotten that these photos from a couple weeks ago were on the camera and when I looked at them just now, I realized they held an important reminder for me.
Breathing is good. Stepping back is good. And, by golly, every single day has its moments of good.
Here is a screen grab from today of the third and last hawk that has yet to leave the nest above the Cornell University athletic fields:
And here’s today’s Agnes episode as she makes her yearly attempt to go off the high dive at the pool:
AGNES by Tony Cochran
The hawk is 70 feet above the athletic field
and Agnes is probably only about 10 feet from the water.
I very much empathize with both of them
as they summon the energy and courage to take the plunge.
AGNES by Tony Cochran
I've gotta admit I'm with Agnes on this one: Why do only humans shave?