NaNoWriMo and a Cast of Characters

IMG951291November 1st is fast approaching. That crazy time every year when I try to architect 50,000 words toward writing a novel. I can honestly say that I am 100% successful in starting the process. I can also say the completion of my goal is a bit more on the dismal side. I could moan and groan about that, but the truth is, I’m okay with the results. As I look over the challenges our family has faced over the last 10 years, I am amazed any of us are still able to speak in complete sentences.

My focus today is a little preparation before the writing starts. I don’t do character development, nor do I create plot lines. I fly by the seat of my pants. That works for me. The characters live fully within my head and I take them everywhere I go. They have coffee with me, sometimes they take my side in arguments and sometimes they laugh at me in my most clumsy moments. That’s how I know they are real and relatable.

I will say I need to get into the mindset of writing. I don’t use a lot of flourish, but I call on memories to remind me of the feeling of a moment. It’s hard to explain so I decided today I would write a little about some of those memories and get the creative juices flowing.

I have a memory that has been in my mind for weeks now of my grandmother. She was a strong woman and when I close my eyes, I see her vividly. I remember long ago I was on a plane and I stared constantly at the woman sitting on the aisle one row in front of me. She looked just like Granny, just a little younger. I found myself wanting to talk to her, to tap her on the shoulder, to have a moment with her. She was quiet and reserved, but her face, her stature, her smile. It was crippling.

My memory:

She sat in a rocking chair crafted by my grandfather, but it wasn’t rocking. It was pulled forward, rockers mid-air, balanced by her bare feet in front of the old heating register by the window. Wisps of gray hair escaped the bun and framed her face. Her glasses magnified the intensity in her eyes. I watched her grimace and blink as she read which made me realize some sort of conflict must be at hand. I had seen the same trait in my own mother so many times as she immersed herself in stories that kept the world at bay. These were the women who worked hard to make a small space in this world for me and for my life to come. I felt a great sense of admiration balanced with a healthy dose of caution because in some ways I slightly feared the woman I loved so much. I guess it was strength she exhibited for I had never seen her cry. She came close once when she told she had been accused of killing her own mother by controlling the dosage of morphine required to ease her pain. We never spoke of it again, but as I looked at her now I knew I saw her differently than most people. And for that, I was glad.

My writing calls upon those strong tactile memories. The small details that invoke a mood or a smell or a memory. Close your eyes. See someone. Now bring them into focus. All of your experiences with that person create what you see – often years of experiences that craft a very simple, fleeting moment.

In 4 days I will sit at a keyboard and attempt to write. I do not know what story will have formed in my mind by then, but I will sit and write and create something magical. Even if the only person who ever reads it is me.

For all my fellow writers – good luck. Drink lots of coffee and live fully with your characters. They will talk to you and may even try to distract your muse. Play along and remember, they aren’t in control – you are.

See you on the flip side.


Hawks on the Hunt

IMAG1712-1-1My internal clock is out of sync. I open my eyes and realize it is early as I pull the sheet over my head in hopes of coaxing sleep to return. Thoughts start to swirl in my mind unwelcome at such an early hour. I concede that morning has claimed me as I swing my feet onto the floor.

I want to write, but nothing comes to mind other than all the chores and tasks that lie ahead of me. My mind has always run amuck and I have been helpless to stop it. I start writing……..delete, delete, delete. Nothing. Instead I decide to read other blogs for a bit. I try to write again……delete, delete, delete. This desire to write is really my desire to make this time productive. Relaxing is hard for me these days; I feel every moment must have a purpose.

That’s when I hear the hawks. The sun is just breaking through the trees — it must be time for breakfast. I step outside to hear them better. Usually the hawks are high in the trees, but not this morning. I can tell by the chatter of the squirrels they are on the hunt. With phone in hand, I try to record the sound. It’s audible, but the layers of morning sounds are hidden. I stop and listen. The hawks are the most prominent sound. Then, the squirrels. I hear a mockingbird and then the high-pitched chirp of the cardinals. As I walk the perimeter of the pool, the hawks take flight. Of course I am not prepared so I do not capture the grandeur of their flight into the morning sun.

IMAG1713-1-1I move on to the window seat and see activity starting at the bird feeder. The male cardinal is balding. This is a common sight this time of year – a condition caused by feather mites. On the ground, the squirrel digs for seeds dropped from the feeder. The squirrels are relentless, but we have one or two feeders designed to keep them at bay. They are only slightly effective.

A movement in the grapefruit tree catches my eye. The hawks. I watch as they move in and out of the low branches of the cedar and the grapefruit tree. They are stalking a squirrel as it uses the fence to find its way to the feeders. The hawks are almost always in pairs, so when I see a third hawk I look closer. There are two sets of hawks hunting. I watch them dive in and out of the trees, so caught up in their beauty I forget to try to photograph them. Quietly, I step outside, still only armed with my phone. The hawks are well concealed so my camera phone is ineffective. One hawk approaches the squirrel, but my movement thwarted its attempt. The second hawk flew out of hiding close overhead. The sound of the huge wings send chills down my spine. For a moment I wonder what it must be like for the creatures that fall prey to them – I shake my head. The hawks are gone.  As I turn to go back IMAG1714-1-1-1-1into the house I catch a glimpse of grey out of the corner of my eye.  I turn to see the hawk perched on the fence. I couldn’t get very close, and the camera is inadequate, but I am always so thrilled to see these majestic creatures. As quickly as he appeared, the hawk took flight again. Maybe this was the single reason my internal clock woke me at 6:00 am this morning. I smiled to myself as I walked back into the house.

Time to put the coffee on.


A Person of Words

I think I’ve come to the conclusion that I can divide people into two groups.  People of words and everyone else.

For me, I am a person of words.  What you say means something to me.  The phraseology, the inflections, the delicate choice of words.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t judge anyone.  I just find meaning in all the nuances of words.  I love the language of vocality.  I love to watch a person’s eyes when they speak.  The tenor of a particular voice is engrained in the mind forever.  I can close my eyes and remember my mom’s raucous laugh, my dad’s bass voice in the quartet at church, and I can still hear the sound of my grandmother singing ‘There Will be Peace in the Valley’ as she moved through the kitchen.  I have missed Rosie’s voice so much this week but I take comfort in remembering the sparkle in her voice.  I have one message from her on my answering machine.  Sometimes, for comfort, I back through the messages and play it just to hear her voice.

The written word to me is just as beautiful.  A person who loves words and puts them to work on paper paints such beautiful scenery.  I treasure these precious words as a rare gift and hold them close to me.  I love to write.  I’m not always prepared to write.  It’s okay though because at times like those, unprepared and vulnerable, your heart pours onto the page.  I feel through my writing.  I languish thinking of all the poets who live on through the intensity of their words.

Some people are encumbered and frightened by words.  Indeed, words are long-lasting.  I was recently reminded of that distinct possibility as I read through words I had written some 30 odd years ago.  It hurt to hear what I felt at that time and realize how wrong I was about my situation.  But in the end, it was all honest and it came from a special place inside of me.  I wish people wrote more.  I miss the exchange of letters.  It is a beautiful sharing that can be cherished again and again.

Rosie’s granddaughter wrote me a letter a week or so after the funeral.  That letter brought me such joy I cannot tell you.  It was the simplicity of the voice of a child.  A child who I know lost her precious Teedle.  Her short letter reminded me more of the value of this life we lead that most anything I have encountered these last few weeks.  She inspired me to sit down with pen in hand and write some letters to people I haven’t corresponded with in a while.  As a result, I reconnected with my dear friend Gen and my heart is aglow just knowing the joy our exchange of words will bring me.

Not everyone in my life is a person of words.  I respect that.  You have gifts too numerous to mention.  I hope that my gift is one of words even though I’ve been told I do tend to go on and on and on…….Ha!  The gift that keeps on giving.

I remember my grandmother helping me write a story about where I lived as a child.  I was so upset with her because she suggested as the last line of my story to say….’here amongst the trees and the mountains you will find my humble abode.’  Funny, I never forgot the word abode and now it rings of magic each and every time I hear it.  Thanks, Mam-Maw.  It took me years to realize the gift you gave me.