Through the Windshield

Looking Out

I’ve been home for sixteen days and nothing is settled.

I wrote a lot of copy last week. I think I have a gig teaching. I wasn’t expecting to have so much work only a week after getting here. I am very grateful for that. The falcon is in his chamber. He complains at the dog, “chee-ups” at me, already content. A pair of my pigeons are on eggs. The wisteria I wincingly loosed from the pots on my porch in Sacramento were transplanted in my yard in Banning, their spring leaves already unfurling. This sense of “right” is almost overwhelming. Home, I think. And I remember why I bought this house 7 years ago. I heard it say my name, dreamily, but not unlike the California quail I hear on my morning walks, “re-BEC-ca. re-BEC-ca.”

All the same, most of my things are in a container on the street, my office isn’t ready for me yet and my mom and I still haven’t quite sorted our things into a sharable space. Tasks are queued and have to fall like dominos or not at all. It’s hard to be patient during the frantic desire of Spring. I told myself on my birthday, on Imbolc, that this would be the year of less yearning, more doing, but I yearn.

And I feel like I should be writing. Really writing. But I’m not yet.

I keep thinking of Annie Dillard chopping wood. I have been in the yard, shifting contents, tearing out the guts of my carriage house, shoring up the walls, pruning trees, my muscles screaming louder than any questions about my choices. And somewhere behind all that my subconscious is sorting and this I guess is writing too. Writing needs space… and sometimes aching muscles.

In this haze of sharp mind dulled by over-tired limbs, I nursed a beer last night on the couch next to my mom and asked her about the car accident when she was a teenager. I had heard this story many times, but there are things you do not wonder about when you are young. Now I wondered what this did to my mom, her own mother long lost to wherever the dead are taken and my mom making a swift knock on the same door.

 

Broken Glass Shards by Steven Depolo

She was a sophomore in high school in the passenger seat of a Datsun and she went through the windshield in the crash. No one wore seat belts then. There was no safety glass. She remembers seeing the car they hit and then nothing until the emergency room, but she lost teeth, fractured her skull, fractured her pelvic bone and the wrist of the hand she brought up to instinctively cover her eyes. And when she runs her fingers over the scars I’ve never noticed on her face, we ponder that surely she lay in the street with her face flayed open. It took 88 stitches to sew her face back together.

My mom was in intensive care for eight days, but back to school in three weeks. She had to have follow-up plastic surgery and really wasn’t supposed to walk for three months. Yet the girl in the back seat of the Datsun, the girl with barely bumps and bruises, didn’t go back to school for the rest of the year. My mom and I sipped our drinks on the couch and wondered if the sight of her, pretty, petite, sixteen and now disfigured on the road was more than the girl in the backseat could manage.

Me & Mom

It seems to me that sixteen is far too young to lose time, to have your face changed by fate, to go through the windshield. And my mother had already lost my grandmother, Barbara Jean to suicide (or perhaps something more sinister) when she was much younger. She has always told me that she thought it was a good thing that the pretty sister, that my aunt Dorothy hadn’t been in the accident –as if fate had been kind. And the way she says this, I think that her father, her step-mother, her sisters, that they all must have felt that same way. They must have called her “lucky” when a mother would have pulled her close and begged her to never knock on such wicked door again.

This makes me so angry at Barbara Jean. This makes me think about how dark and long the void a dead mother can leave behind. This makes me ache because somehow life wasn’t precious in my family and loss was a given. I want to ask Barbara Jean, “Why,” but I can only hear her answer in my head and there is a lot more wood to chop, stories to hear, words to mull before I take comfort in anything I channel her saying. And this makes me glad I came home, that my mom and I decided to share space for a while until the details feel a little less like flotsam, until we decipher the legacy of Barbara Jean.

I am trying to be patient. I am trying to write. I am hugging my mom because it scares me that she went through the windshield and because this means so much more than I realized. And I am so very glad to be home.

And… Begin (Again)

 

Wonderful finding things you planted, hoped for and abandoned now blooming.

I made it home on Saturday after an eight hour drive and with a truck full of animals. And by full, I mean 11 pigeons, 3 parrots, a falcon, a dog and a goldfish. All survived the journey. Although I had my doubts about my own well-being in the face of mutiny. The grey parrot started asking for “apple” about an hour and a half from home and was rather insistent. I kept reminding myself to be grateful that he and I were the only ones in the vehicle who could talk.

By home, I mean the house I bought seven years ago. I bought it because I love it and I still do. It rests in a mountain pass, in a town that is about to celebrate being incorporated for 100 years, but is much older. It was the last stagecoach stop before the brutality of crossing the desert. It was the last haven before hard journeys. In my fiction, I call it “Storms End” because it is, in fact, where the storms end. For a little while, at least, my mother is living here with me- and all of this seems right. No. It seems perfect.

So I did it. I mean I really did it, although I still don’t entirely believe it. I keep having dreams that I get talked into going back to my old job or that I forgot to tell them I was leaving. That isn’t what’s coming though. All that’s next is to the placing of one foot ahead and following with the other. This all feels so rash, so resolute… so real.

I’m a writer. For a living. I wonder what Barbara Jean would say to me, what my artist grandmother would say if she hadn’t died in 1958, if there hadn’t been a shotgun in that closet. In fact, I think I’m going to spend a lot of time wondering this, whispering to her in trying moments. I can still feel the hollow of letters on her headstone beneath my fingers.  I imagine too that I will have some choice words for her when I stumble upon her blame. But we are none of us blameless and I will also forgive her. And by Barbara Jean I mean myself.

I’m doing some crime reporting, a few blog posts for National Geographic, press releases, content for non-profits and pitching articles.  And I’m hoping that as soon as I get a little more settled I will be tackling a short story I’ve been outlining for a month, figuring out how to revive my ailing 3/4 done novel, writing things that steal me away when I should be crafting something I’ve committed to finishing.

I wonder what I’m going to say about my process, about my schedule, about my struggles. I suppose none of this is as important as being able to say what I’ve really wanted to all along.

I’m home. I’m writing.

Just Like Today

The only fun part about moving is the rediscovery of things lost. This seems especially true when your movement is toward home. Little trinkets everywhere remind me of good things I had left behind and am going back to reclaim. Nothing more than this postcard I found fallen behind my desk. My dad had found it for me on eBay, a card sent from Banning the year after my house was built, the house my dad and I worked on together.

I have found myself thinking a lot about mail lately, about the things we write in letters. Matthew Specktor wrote a lovely reverie on this same thing after sending out a letter through the Letters in the Mail subscription at The Rumpus. I have a subscription. I read his letter and you might recognize a few details about those who wrote him back.

I had forgotten what it was like to write words meant for only one person. There are things I would say to you over a beer that I would never put online. There are things in a letter that can be sculpted and explored in a way conversation cannot. A letter bears water, woven with small secrets and sealed with a single reader’s imagined reactions. A missive is a sturdy enough vessel to carry a moment long enough to become artifact.

Dearest Ruth,
I am here in this resful place and am sure enjoying a quiet rest. Seems good to know where a fellow will be the next day. Have been going to bed at nine o’clock or before ever since I have been here. that is better than you do I am sure. THis climate is the best ever. You always know that the next day will be just like today.
Jimmy

I hope Jimmy convinced Ruth to come live with him in Banning. I for one am looking forward to living there again… and going to bed at 9 o’clock.

The Joy of Moving

 

Packing.
My current favorite pastime.
It goes a little something like this:

 

 

Pack box of books.

Realize that you probably needed that one falconry book for the paper you need to write.

Unpack box of books to discover it’s not there.

Find book in stack you left on your desk because you might need them.

Have shot of tequila.

Pack box of books.

Take box of books to stack in dining room.

Glare at grey parrot when he gleefully calls out, “Bye! See you later.”

Stop to explain to him that he is not getting rid of you that easily.

Back into office to pack more books. Trip over dog is who practically attached to your ankles.

Explain to the dog that you are not getting rid of him that easily.

Have shot of tequila.

Check and see if anyone is talking about being accepted to Clarion on Twitter.

Have a shot of tequila.

Take photo of dog kennel serving as weathering yard for falcon to put on craigslist.

Eat cold pizza.

Fill box with books.

Spend 5 minutes looking for where you left knife.

Spend 10 minutes looking for where you left packing tape.

Spend 15 minutes looking for where you left shot glass.

Trip over box after tripping over dog.

Glare at grey parrot when he calls out “Aaaaaa PLUS!”

Consider selling all your things including the animals on craigslist.

Have shot of tequila.

Pack another box of books.

Getting Out of Your Own Way

BoxedToday is my last day working a “real” job. My life is about to become something wholly different, but it still feels like one of those afternoon naps that just won’t let you loose. I feel like I can just make out the sound and vibration of the world shuffling around me, but I just don’t want to wake up and face my Sunday chores. And Monday is coming.

My house is partly packed. My plans are partly made. My life is partly this but mostly that and I think I should be scared or excited, but I’m mostly just stunned. Last week I was a Director in a large company. Next week I’m going to be a writer for, well, mostly me. I don’t really know what the future looks like exactly, but who really does?

Friends have been so wonderful and supportive. Everyone tells me that I’m brave. If this is true, I don’t think this is nearly hard as you think it is. I think that perhaps being brave is nothing more than getting out of your own way. You know what to you want to do in terrible moments, in hard times, when presented with pivotal possibilities. The question is- will you find a way to talk yourself out of doing the thing that is pounding through your pulse, that your heart says is right? Or will you pause to rationalize and listen to the voices of your own haunted past, those bullies of long gone consequences. I cheated a little though. Quit your job and it suddenly becomes a little too late to talk yourself out of anything.

I’m not saying we should all quit our jobs and strike out on our own. I’m forty-one years-old and I don’t really think last year, two years ago or five years ago that writing for a living would have been what I truly wanted to do. But I do think that life is far too short to not get out of your own way. You don’t take any of this with you, so perhaps what is most important of all is what you leave behind – your children, your charities, your art – all the beautiful things that you can orchestrate that change this world if you will simply allow yourself to. So will you do it? Will you follow your pulse? I hope so and I hope you will share what comes of it!

(More on the whole quitting you job thing over on Beyond the Margins. Check it out!)

A Letter to My Friends and Family

You say, “You are going to do great!! I just know!”

But the thing is- you don’t.  I adore you for your belief in me. In fact, I need you to believe in me because I often don’t believe in myself. All the same, I may not “do great” at all. A published book, even beautifully written and backed up with stellar reviews does not equal any sort of cash flow. I promise you I have not made a cent on LIFT. I have learned to consider this book as an investment, one that will pay dividends in loving the world around me and leaving behind a whisper of what I had while I was here. This is what I expect the novel and the nonfiction project I am working on now to do for me as well. I expect them to make me a better person than I would have been had I not written them.

You tell me, “You are on the verge of something big. I can feel it.”

You are right! I am. I’m going to be living an authentic life. That too does not equal cold hard cash. It is worth more than cash, I can assure you. Finding the space in the world where you are becoming something more than the 17 year-old you ever thought you could be is more than most millionaires ever get. In fact, they are often chasing money to find this very thing. In this way I am about to be very rich. I am still, however, going to struggle to pay the mortgage.

You tell me, “I am certain that you are going to be a bestseller. I believe in you.”

Maybe I will be a best-seller, an overnight success after publishing 13 books, more than a hundred nationally published articles and essays, after winning a handful of awards. I doubt it, but I love that you believe I will have this kind of luck. I think you are a bit off to believe so mightily that something akin to winning the lottery will happen to me when so many others who are equally deserving are playing the game too. You are so wonderful to say this. I hope though that what you really believe is that I will finish this next book, the one after, the one after that. That’s the hard part, you know, the writing, the finishing of the damn thing. All else that happens after that is completely out of my control and yours, unless you are good friends with Oprah. And if you are, WHY THE HELL HAVEN’T YOU TOLD ME THAT?!

So now you are thinking, “Okay, Little Miss Glass-Is-Pretty-Much-Empty-So-Bring-Me-Some-Tequila. So what do you say to someone insane enough to walk away from her day job to write for a living?”

You say, “I will buy everything you write.”

You say, “I will tell my friends to read your blog, your books and to follow you on Twitter.”

You say, “I can’t afford to buy all the things you write, but I will check your book out of the library and write a thoughtful review on Amazon. I will tell the librarian I loved it.”

And I will say, “I love you.” I already do. Your support means the world.

–But it don’t pay the bills.

PS – Have you bought the new LIFT audiobook?  The royalties on your purchase will buy me two tacos and a burrito at Taco Bell. Feed me?

More Doing

I have a great job. I work to raise money to save the landscape I love the most, wetlands. I work with brilliant people. I sit at the most amazing roundtables. I am surrounded by passion and forward motion. I have a steady paycheck. I have wonderful benefits. And I’m leaving.

This is what I dream about:

Having the freedom to write whenever I happen to pull the muse into an embrace. And to keep writing all the way through to where the train of her dress tears from my fingers.

Being introduced backstage as a writer.

Leaving behind a body of work that evolves with me and describes a bit of my world that many people passed in their own wanderings.

Flying falcons in solitude. Reading to a crowd. Dancing with strangers who are immediately close friends. Driving and scrawling and seeking the moments everyone else is too busy to notice.

I dream of changing the world, but down my own muddy path.

Yet in these last few years, I dream instead of chasing. That has to stop. Less yearning. More doing.

So I quit my job.

This is crazy, right? I loved my job. I worked hard to get a Master’s degree and therefore to get a good job. I’m a responsible rational adult. I have three parrots, a flock of pigeons, a falcon and a dog to feed. I have a mortgage to pay.

But…

I only have one life to live in this place, during this time. This is it. This is what I get. So what am I going to do with it? Less yearning. More doing.

On March 16, 2012 I am officially writing full-time. I’ve owned my own business, twice. I’ve done this before, so I know what I’m stepping into. If anything that makes it more terrifying. I know all about 1099s, self-employment tax, clients who don’t pay and gigs that just never pan out. I know the sun rises and sets, the Santa Ana winds are inevitable and the migration starts on time every year (even though you’ll never find an app to calculate that date.) There are machinations, but there are possibilities. I also know that magic happens and that in desperation you will find a way to weave a net on your way down.

So I’m jumping.

It’s not going to be perfect. It may even be disastrous. I have a feeling though, that it will be exactly what I need. I hope you’ll follow my progress and take whatever goodness I can share. Like any rash journey, it will surely be better with company. Road trip, anyone?