Tagjoy

The spaces between

The freezing rain that was supposed to have ended by now is continuing. The trees look heavy outside, tired from the wet snow over Thanksgiving and now this. Whenever there is ice, the fear creeps back in. Our ice storm was years ago, but the sound of trees breaking apart in the dark remains fresh in my mind.

The next morning, once we saw exactly how much damage there was, we fled with everything we could pile in clothesbaskets, the dog wedged in with the kids in the backseat. We were let through the mostly closed roads because we promised we wouldn’t be back until after everything was cleared. When we returned, five days later, we passed lines of power trucks from all over the country, and wanted to stop and thank each and every one of their crews.

Driving away that first morning, the line between ice and no ice was clear and abrupt. All it took was a slight decrease in elevation, and suddenly we were looking at rainwashed roads and undamaged trees. In the valley, as we wandered through the grocery store, stunned, people chatted about all the normal things, their minds full of the usual business of life, while ours were still frozen, still thinking of power lines crumpled across the pavement, trees bent into tunnels over the roads, the snap and rush and shudder of hidden things falling in the night.

We’ve all played both roles in life. We’ve all been the one suffering silent grief, or fear, or trauma of an endless variety while others pass us by, unknowing. We’ve all been the one brushing shoulders with those suffering, ignorant and content in our lives. I remember reading, and rereading, “Musee des Beaux Arts”, by W.H. Auden, as a teen, being drawn to it because of how it captured that gap, acknowledged it in a way I hadn’t found before.

Of course, we all pass each other knowing so little of the cogs and wheels that tick inside. It’s not just the major tragedies, in fact, it’s not just tragedy. The person in the grocery store may be full of joy, not sorrow. If they stop to pick up the pen you’ve dropped, it’s just as possible that they do so to share their happiness as it is that sadness has taught them the necessity of kindness.

Or perhaps it’s just manners, and you’ll both go on your way, the moment one of many forgotten over the course of a day. There’s no way to know without questioning, and who stops to ask someone why they would pick up a dropped pen, rather than just thanking them?

For me, that’s part of the magic of fiction. I can store up all those little sparks and come home and write. I can calculate the distance between one person and the next, find the shortcuts between them. It is, for those of us drawn more to listening than to speaking, a way to share the things we’ve seen, the ice and the tired power crews running the wires to turn our lights back on, while others continued with their lives.

Goodbyes. Hellos.

Warning: Animal death discussed.

About a month ago my Ripley Cat started going off her food. In fairly short order we discovered that she’d been hiding a large bony tumor in the fluffy hair along her jaw. She came home from the vet on pain meds. Last Monday her life ended.

Ripley came to us seventeen years ago as a week old kitten. Abandoned by her feral mother on the side of the road, she fit entirely in the palm of my hand. I fed her with syringes at first, then bottles. I named her Ripley because things were touch and go at first, and I wanted a tough enough name to get her through. What better namesake than Ellen Ripley? She came to work with me in the library, my compassionate library coworkers ignoring the large cardboard box by my desk, and helping us hide when administrators dropped by. As a bigger kitten, she would climb her way up onto the bed, and burrow under the blankets to the foot of the bed, causing us to wake at night terrified that she might have smothered there.

As an adult, she hated strangers, and talked to me in a creaky door stutter of a voice, and greeted me, always, by sniffing my breath. She had a long good life, and we were certain she would outlive us all through sheer determination. She would have, too, were it not for pain. As terrible and hard as it was to say goodbye, there was a moment as I sat there with her when I realized all the pain she would ever feel in her life was already behind her, and that made everything else bearable.

Death has visited us frequently in the past few years. We’ve said so many goodbyes that it’s become hard to remember that the world is made from more than loss, in all its many forms. The truth is that death is only one of the transitions that brings grief. We’ve dabbled in many of the others as well.

The other day a pigeon landed on the roof of our garage. This is noteworthy because we live in the woods, and pigeons are exotic birds here. This pigeon was very handsome, and somewhat bumbling as he hopped in the maple, and then came down to the walkway. My husband went out to look at him, and the bird followed the stone path down to the steps and waited there. My husband picked him up, and my daughter found a box, and we tucked him in it with food and water.

What do you do with a tame pigeon, particularly when you are not prepared to care for it? If you are lucky, you know a child who has recently lost one of her pigeons, and you drive to her house, fingers crossed, hoping against all reason that the bird in your box is hers.

It was not. But the bird in the box was beautiful to her, and she was delighted to see him, to examine his face, his tail feathers, to explain what type of pigeon he was, to admire everything about him. To take him in. And for a few minutes, standing there in the twilight, learning about the world of tame pigeons, I watched her and thought this is what utter joy looks like.

One pigeon goes. A different one returns. Beloved aunts and uncles pass away. Beloved nephews are born. Our paths through the world are always paved with goodbyes and hellos, even when the hellos feel so much rarer.

In keeping with that, we have a new family member. We are her third home in her short life. As a firm believer in the magic of three, I know that this home is the one that will count. She has the body of a little leopard, and the stripes of a tiger, and very little patience with things like typing at the computer rather than adoring her. Those are just the things we know so far. Hopefully we will have another seventeen years or so to learn the rest.

We love you always, Ripley.

We welcome you in, Coco.

The joy of art

I like this.

A picture break

Outside, it’s the kind of day that makes you grateful to be alive. Inside, it’s all pain and suffering and working on unbearably boring things. Suffice it to say, there are days when I covet the ability to write a high concept story, if only to make it easier to summarize it in an exciting way.

But I’m kind, and I won’t drag the rest of you through that particular mire. Instead, pictures! Why? Because I’m occasionally clever, and am able to not only remember to snap a few, but also to load them onto this creaking relic of a computer.

This is a foundation. With trees! There are few things I love more than old stone foundations with trees growing out of them. Actually, there are quite a few things I love more, but I also love these. The reservoir I live beside swallowed whole towns when it was built. Before the flooding began, the houses were dismantled, but the cellar holes remain, here and there and everywhere. In another month they will be filled with ferns. The forgotten patches of daffodils will have bloomed already, but the old apple trees will just be starting.

One of the things about reservoirs is that they have water. Really! This time of year, the streams are full and busy draining into the lake. They’re not as full as they are some years, as there’s been no snow to melt, but they’re running. I could easily be convinced to sit beside running water until I grew roots and leaves and had to stay forever. Especially streams like this, with the incredible green of the mosses on the rocks and the burble of the water.

One last picture. Along with foundations, there remain other signs of the lost towns. Rusty buckets, bits of pottery, random bits of metal. These stairs are one of my favorites relics. They are surrounded by periwinkle, which will also be blooming before long. They’re along a dirt road, and while they lead to an old foundation, they’re situated in a way that looks more like an invitation to a pine grove. To either side are gnarled maples, half dead and half alive, and further back is a small meadow.

That’s as much of a break as I get today. Enjoy the world.

A story, a picture

Late summer, 2010. Hiking in the White Mountains with Jon. No kids, just us, on a vacation paid for by his work in honor of ten years of service. On the way back down, we stop by a little waterfall.

My old boots don’t quite fit. They never have; they never fit either of us quite right, but I’m lazy about my footwear, so I wear them with two pairs of wool socks. This day, though, they’re not feeling kind to my feet. I take them off, stick my feet in the water until they are numb. Pull them out, and they are reborn. That’s the way cold streams are when you’re hiking: holy.

I hate having my picture taken, avoid it like the plague. This trip, I allow a few. They’re for the kids, waiting at home for us. I once read an essay by a woman who wished her mother had allowed more pictures of herself, because after she was gone, the woman had so few images of her. So, sometimes I let the pictures happen.

This picture, though, this one I didn’t notice, because Jon was waiting for me back on the rocks. It’s one of my favorites–I prefer to play second fiddle to a waterfall.

It’s also going to live on the About Me page from now on.

Sea Glass

A little more good news.

“Sea Glass” is a simple story. Two brothers, an ocean, a girl on the beach. Despair that runs like black ink through the water, joy that fills the air like kite streamers in the wind.

It’s also so much more to me. The conflicts of The Lost originate in the events of “Sea Glass”. Without those brothers, and that ocean, and that girl on the beach, there would be no novel series for me. I wrote it after I wrote The Lost, then sat on it for a long time, too chicken to send it out.

Now it has a home. The good people at Abyss and Apex will be including it in their April 2012 issue. I couldn’t be happier!

Learning to see

Once upon a time, long, long ago, I counted insects for a living. Primarily the lovely apple maggot fly (Rhagoletis pomonella), though there were many others.

The thing about spending summers deeply involved with insects is that you start to realize exactly how much life exists around you unnoticed. Mites scurrying back and forth across the undersides of leaves, lacewing eggs on long slender stalks, aphid colonies tended by ever vigilant ants. (Aphids! Really, anyone interested in science fiction should have to read up on the life cycles of aphids.) Shifting populations, battles over territory, ravenous predators, the threat of sudden chemical intervention which favors some groups over others, all playing out in a mad rush before winter comes.

Expand that to an entire orchard, an entire world, and it makes your head spin.

I learned to see during that time. I learned to slow down enough to notice the cicada emerging from the skin she’d shed, stopping to allow her wings to fill and dry. To sit and watch a cecropia caterpillar eat a leaf, as methodically as a child might eat an ear of corn. To find a collection of tiny mite eggs, clustered around the scales of a dormant leaf bud.

Winter isn’t the best time for observing insects in the Northeast, but there’s still much to be seen. Spend some time exploring the bark of a tree. Listen for nuthatches, or the soft tap of woodpeckers, or the angry calls of crows mobbing a hawk. Look for tracks in the snow, and once you’ve found them, look for places they cross under or along a tree or a rock. Find the hairs left behind on those rough surfaces.

Sit quiet. Listen. Watch.

The book, the dog, and the mermaid

The first story I ever read by myself was The Little Red Hen. I have no memory of it, but I do remember the book of Hans Christian Andersen stories I received that Christmas from a family friend. More than the book, I remember sitting at their kitchen table and reading an entire story out loud, with a rotating crew of adults staying to listen to me. It felt as though it took hours, that I expect it didn’t. Someone there had a samoyed–to this day I still have a slight association of large white dogs with The Little Mermaid.

I don’t remember much of the story, or of the party, or the kitchen table. I remember my feet swinging as I sat in the chair, and always having someone listening to me. Mostly I remember the pride, that completely unabashed childish pride over being able to read, and not just a little picture book, but something long and complicated.

Kids have it easy. They haven’t internalized all the complicated social rules about showing pride, rules with endless variations. They just announce that they know how to read and will prove it by reading an entire story in the middle of a Christmas party. They’re awesome that way.

I’ve some good news coming. I think I’ll be ready to share within a few days. For now, I’ll be at the table, swinging my feet.

Little Bird

I’ve been working on Wren’s Book this weekend. Wren came from The Lost, showing up first as a minor character, a spy whose most noteworthy characteristic was that I changed her name every time I revised the story. Somewhere along the way, I decided I needed to know more about her, about why she’d risked her life to save the people she saved. No problem. I did what I usually do, and started a short story. I have a handful of these, most of them little more than character sketches. They live in a file on my computer, and I read them from time to time when I’m bored.

The trouble with Wren, however, is that her story turned out to be something more than I expected. Characters sometimes do that, have a hidden life far more complex than expected. I decided to ignore her, and continued writing the second book in The Lost series. She showed up again, this time toting a bit more story. Now she’d grown beyond being a scared teenage spy with a mercurial name who existed as something of a plot prop. She’d become a woman commanding a great deal of respect from her peers, a woman who once again saves someone in an unexpected way.

Fine. I could accept that there was more to her than I thought. I finished the draft of that book and continued on to the final book of the series. Halfway through? There was Wren again, and this time she was front and center, the key to a rather complex emotional piece of the story.

Wren gets her own book now. I started and stopped it several times, struggling, until I realized the problem was not in the story, but in how I kept thinking it should be told. I had to put aside my assumptions in order to be able to move forward. It’s finally flowing now. At this point, with about 2/3 written, I’m starting to feel pretty good about where it’s going. I hope to have the draft finished within a month.

I’m having fun.

The sound of two hands typing

January, 2009.

One morning I woke up with the thought that maybe I should try writing again. After all, it’d only been fifteen years since I last wrote anything, and I had this new feeling that maybe I had something to say. It couldn’t possibly hurt to try.

It didn’t hurt. It was spectacular. Now, sometimes, I experience that same feeling while writing, but only for brief stretches of time. Nothing can top the sheer intoxication of the months it took to get the first version of The Lost down on paper.

Why? Because during that time I wrote for myself alone. I had no expectation that anyone else would ever read my story. I was amazed, continuously, by things as simple as the fact that every day I got up and still wrote. After years of silence, I had things to say. After years of being defined through my relationships to others, here was a place where I defined myself, as writer.

Writing requires work, but work can mean so many things. Sometimes it means puzzling over a sentence for hours, and sometimes it means cutting scenes you love, but sometimes it also means allowing yourself freedom from the infernal editor who lurks within and says no, not like that, no one will ever want that, and challenging yourself to feel joy instead.

© 2017 Cosmic Driftwood

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑