Category Archives: courage

Of what are we so afraid?

This isn’t an entry about gun control or our country’s leadership.  This is a post about us.

For it is to us human beings that this tragedy has befallen, all of us.  It directly affects those injured and the families of those slain, yet we are interconnected regardless of how distant some wish us to be.  Spirits who long for discord and chaos revel in the catastrophe in Parkland, Florida, also delighting in the sorrow of every other mass killing, be it with weapons or war or any other form of violence.  The threat of bodily harm stirs urges toward self-defense, the sensation of fear increases the adrenaline.  Yet, of whom (or who) are we terrified?

Adolf Hitler blamed the Jews, the Hutu government slaughtered upwards of one million fellow Tutsi Rwandans, Jim Jones led nearly a thousand followers to take their lives in the Guyana jungle.  Fear and hatred brought together form a powerful sword and we wave that blade even at the most innocuous moments; on the freeway when a driver cuts us off, at the suspicious looking stranger pushing an overfilled shopping cart, within our hearts due to this wrong perpetrated or that perceived slight.  Spirits who stir our animosity become they, and we wish to further ourselves from them.  The further we step away, the poorer become our souls, because they are us.

We are not a planet populated with alternate beings, we are all humans, imperfect and aching.  Love is what binds our wounds, but love, compassion, kindness, and understanding are being squeezed out of the equation, for it is so much easier to condemn, then turn away from, what seems loveless.  When we look upon our neighbor with fear, how simple is it to ratchet that to loathing, then reach for our sword, striking down that enemy.  This is exactly the position we must resist, gathering all our courage to instead embrace what is frightening, what seems insurmountable.  We must step toward another, leaving our weapons of destruction behind us.

From last Easter; The Burrito helps Little Miss navigate the shrubbery.

Those weapons aren’t merely guns; they are thoughts and words steeped in fear, heightened by callousness.  Our hearts turn cold, our tolerance wanes.  Apathy becomes hostility, and they turn into a group less than human, deserving no pity.  Today I pray for those in Parkland, but I also pray for myself to love more, be less afraid, and to embrace despite differences.  Only in these manners can peace and healing truly be achieved.

Enjoying the fruits of my labours….

A cold has kept me from accomplishing much more than the basics, but sometimes it takes a small malady to force me into quiet time.  I’ve worked several Sudoku puzzles over the weekend, a pastime from my Yorkshire days. Mended a pair of jeans, sewed a couple of vibrant squares my grandson left on the quilt wall, watched a little basketball.  It’s been a busy time, what with The Burrito having turned three, Miss Em’s impending baptism on Sunday, plus my hubby and I will celebrate thirty years of wedded bliss this week.  I’m grateful to be feeling better, but lethargy lingers.

Two colourful blocks recently fashioned, their future currently undecided.

Weary of doing puzzles, yesterday afternoon I started reading one of my older books.  I’m not sure what led me to this particular novel, but I downloaded it onto my phone, laid on the sofa, setting a quilt over my lap, and suddenly I was transported over forty years in the past to Arkendale, Oregon.  Simultaneously I was dwelling in my more recent history, about nine years ago when I wrote Alvin’s Farm, yet residing along two different planes of existence wasn’t a bother, maybe due to my cold, or merely what happens when an author peeks back into their literary timeline.  To my delight, I couldn’t put down my phone; while the prose was at times rough, the story remained compelling, even though I know how it ends.

Miss Em catching a snooze….

Even more, I recall how this initial novel was concluded; like The Hawk, Alvin’s Farm had originally been meant as a short story.  HA!  As I wrote, the tale unfolded in manners not anticipated, but in following the muse, I didn’t become frustrated, permitting characters to unwind at their pace, or show up unexpectedly.  (Probably why writing The Hawk continues, as I managed to find The End on a previously enlongated tale….)  But what struck me most was how simple were my intentions; I wrote for the sheer joy of it.  Publishing was a dream, but releasing my books wasn’t even considered, which proves how quickly independent publishing became part of the authorial landscape.

Little Miss and The Burrito hard at work.

But eschewing indie and traditional publishing, what matters most to this writer is the need to share a story.  Nine years ago, I was enraptured with crafting prose, creating characters, bringing to life plots and schemes that seemed to leap from my brain onto the keyboard with an ease that led me to believe it would always be so uncomplicated.  Time to write has become the issue, I certainly have yarns to spin.  But maybe as I approach the last section of The Hawk, I need to remind myself why I do this.

I write because I love to tell stories and want to learn more about the world I inhabit.

That’s truly what it’s about, and what a pleasure and gift to be able to write at all!  I need to remind myself of this mantra, as I’ve put pressure on myself for the last couple of years to finish up The Hawk; girl, it will be done when it’s good and ready, and once it is finished, you will never write it again.  Well, not the first draft anyway, hehehe….

I recall when I completed Alvin’s Farm, stepping from the writing grotto out to where my husband was mowing our front yard.  It was the end of April in 2009, the scent of freshly cut grass heady, matching how I felt at that moment.  So much lay ahead, but all I knew was a tremendous sense of accomplishment, and even completion.  I haven’t felt that lately when finishing up a section of The Hawk, but I should.  I need to embrace all aspects of writing, not fearing what has yet to be set onto my virtual document.  Trust is key here, not merely in my abilities, but in where this tale is meant to go.  And getting back to my mantra is essential: I write because I love to tell stories and want to learn more about the world I inhabit.

Buttercup is pretty happy plopped on a sofa, bless her….

There is a deep personal reward in writing, a great responsibility to readers, but also to oneself in allowing breaks in the work, maybe longer than desired, but life isn’t lived merely with my butt in the chair.  What I bring to The Hawk after an extended absence will enhance it, I can’t be afraid of that.  And in years to come, I’ll sit on my sofa, snuggle under a quilt, and read a part of my fictional history that occurred before I was born, yet imperative to who I am becoming.  I’m certainly not the same as when I began it in 2013, just as my skills aren’t where they were in the spring of 2009.  I need to embrace all these elements, then move forward.  No fear, just trust, and enjoy.  Always remember to enjoy the ride….

Chapter 203….

It’s taken several days for the rust to be shaken, but as today’s title suggests, I’ve just kept chugging along with The Hawk.  Sort of startling to think I’ve brought this story along this far, but even when chapters were being written as if pulled out through my nostrils, somehow the plot continues to bubble.

If I said the last ten days or so were painful, I’d be hitting the mark.  Sometimes writing happens as if by magic, but not always.

A coaster waiting to be bound.

A coaster waiting to be bound.

However, in addition to furthering this tale, I’ve learned something about myself, both as a writer and a person of faith; keep going regardless of the confusion or the pain.  The words may not seem to make sense, the purpose elusive.  But maybe more than we’d like to think about our lives, our reasons for being here are at times to simply BE.

Two completed place mats....

Two completed place mats….

That’s not glamorous or even personally satisfying.  It’s a quiet, often obscured path, but right now it’s where I’m being led to investigate, through words and scattershot paragraphs that upon further inspection actually seem to make sense.

Obedience does lead to cohesiveness, if one is willing to set aside presumptions.

Amid the random musings of my writerly mind, I finished up the place mats and coasters.  That was a fun project, which was supplemented by hand-quilting on the Big Bright Quilt.  Now I wonder what I got myself into, choosing to hand-quilt that behemoth, but the same could be said for continuing a novel-in-progress that has chalked up over two hundred chapters.  There’s a lot going on in Part 11, so I’m being careful to not overlook plot points.  I know a few will escape my eyes, but that’s what revisions are for.  Yet, I don’t wish this story to get too convoluted, so it’s important to go slowly as not to miss anything.

Binding ready for attachment....

Binding ready for attachment….

That’s what I told myself last week as my fingers plodded along the keyboard like the last thing I wanted was to be seated in front of my computer still telling this tale.  My goodness, isn’t this novel ever going to end?

And now it needs a little hand-sewing to finish it properly.

And now it needs a little hand-sewing to finish it properly.

But as most writers will say, often it’s not up to us.  We’re at the whim of our creative natures which ebb and flow, and when the tide is low, there’s not much to be done other than wait for it to roll back onto the shore.  Sunday and today were good examples of my digits and brain working together.  That was reassuring, not only in recognizing that yes, the tide had come back in, but that when darkness falls, daylight is only hours away.

Clumped in the corner of the sofa, the Big Bright Quilt awaits my attention....

Clumped in the corner of the sofa, the Big Bright Quilt awaits its turn….

Yet it’s more than that; it’s accepting that while the dawn has already risen for some, perhaps for me it’s still invisible.  I need to be patient, I need to just BE.  My previous writing style was ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom, here’s a rough draft!  This effort is nothing like that in method or scope of the project.  It’s like comparing place mats to a nearly king-sized comforter, which I can’t fairly do.  Not that one is less important than the other, they merely have different uses.  All I wrote in the past prepped me for this day, but to wring my hands over a still unfinished novel is silly.  Just keep writing is the key, just keep the faith.  Chapter 203 is waiting for tomorrow.  What an amazing chapter I imagine it’s going to be!

This is actually about the writing….

Last week I went to Oregon to visit my youngest sister.  My eldest and Little Miss tagged along, and it was a merry week of familial togetherness, with sport on the side.  My brother-in-law is as devoted as I to various team games, so while girly chit-chat ruled during the day, basketball and hockey battled little ladies (and three mums) while my granddaughter fell in love with their dog Butter as well being mesmerized by their chickens.

Amid all the activities, in the back of my head was The Hawk.  We even saw one on a walk, as if signaling what I’d be up to upon my return to California.  I don’t know if the chickens were the impetus, or that it was merely time to return to prose.  During the weekend, wondering if Draymond Green was going to be suspended for tonight’s Warriors/Cavaliers game, I finished reading over Part Ten, becoming even more eager to dive back into this tale.  But this morning….

Spent most of this morning cutting fabric....

Spent most of this morning cutting fabric….

I didn’t feel like writing.  I was mulling over other ideas, like yesterday’s shooting in Orlando, last night’s Tony Awards, how the Giants took two games from the Dodgers, and of course how might Golden State fare without the only member of their team who has played in every game this season.

Not quite halfway designed....

Not quite halfway designed….

Or had played; tonight Draymond won’t even be in Oracle Arena, and I won’t speculate about whether or not the Warriors will beat Cleveland minus one of their best players.  In the big picture, Game 5 of this year’s NBA Finals is somewhat diminished by another event.  Which brings me back to what this post is truly about, doing what I love.  Last week it was celebrating relatives.  This week it’s….

More than halfway done.

More than halfway done.

Okay, so today the writing tanked.  I sat down with the best of intentions, but I didn’t feel exceptionally well, my mind was elsewhere, and….  And I know myself enough to say, “Right.  Today I’ll do something unplanned.”  This quilt, for someone very dear to me, wasn’t at all in my head.  But now it’s on the wall, and I’m not sure exactly how it got there, other than to say sometimes the words land on the document as if by magic.  Tunes were rollicking; I was up to my ears in the Hamilton Soundtrack (thank you so much Julie Rose!) which morphed into a dance playlist that kept my feet tapping as squares decorated the quilt wall, still playing as I type this entry.  I can say I did some writing today, but it wasn’t what I assumed would be written.

The completed design, simply awaiting its turn under the needle.

The completed design, simply awaiting its turn under the needle.

But life can’t be lived according to schedules; it’s precarious, often far too brief.  Sometimes it seems endless, like how The Hawk is taking ages to write, how Lin-Manuel Miranda spent seven years composing Hamilton, how over two hundred years after the Revolutionary War the awful sense of helplessness and horror attempts to again stifle our freedoms.  Yet in the face of such evil, good does triumph, although it’s tinged with deeper considerations.  What does freedom mean, what does love overcome?  What is the state of our nation, a nation of states, a collection of people, ideas, hopes, dreams….

I didn’t watch the Tony Awards live, but I listened to the backstage chatter while watching the Giants and Dodgers.  When the game was over, I returned to my computer just as Miranda was giving his post-win remarks, noting how long it had taken him to write Hamilton.  Good things don’t often occur overnight; some treasures are lengthy in their gestation, and patience is required.  But it’s hard to wait, although as I age, waiting has gotten easier.  Or maybe my perception has altered, a longer view permissible.  That wisdom, for lack of a better word, doesn’t make massacres more acceptable, but terrible things have happened all through history, and they won’t cease in my lifetime.  Yet, I can do my very small part via prayer, and of course, the work.  I write about love, hope, and perseverance in the face of long odds.  I write about the nature of healing, even if healing seems impossible.  And today I started a Christmas quilt, which perhaps is the best sort of quilt to design even in the middle of June.

Random pre-cut squares drew me to this project, at least consciously.  But perhaps buried in the gray matter was a need to seek a deeper peace that not even writing could provide.  Not that I understand any better what happened in Orlando, or who Steve Kerr will start in place of Draymond Green.  I don’t even know why I didn’t feel like writing this morning, other than instead I began another quilt.  A colourful Christmas quilt that hearkens to the future, which sits ahead of us like a gift.  It’s our task to unwrap it with hopeful hearts, then find a place for it within our lives, even if we can’t imagine how or where.  And if we allow grace to lead us, we don’t have to think too hard about the how or the where.  We just do, or be, or….  Watch some sport on TV when the game starts.  And if writing is on the docket too, okay!  I’ll open my arms and mind to whatever is slated.

These squares remain; I think I'll sew them into a row, then fit them into the back of the quilt....

These squares remain; I think I’ll sew them into a row, then fit them into the back of the quilt.

It’s how I get anything done anyways; ignore the uncertainties, embrace the now.  Embrace all gifts, for you never know where a miracle is lurking.

The Beauty of Change

After a mild and pleasant May, summer has descended upon Northern California.  This morning at a little after six, my youngest daughter went for a walk with her son, sending me the above photo, also noting it was already hot out.  I was pleased for her foresight to get out while it wasn’t stifling, also for the gorgeous shot of her neighborhood, the quiet stillness a balm on my heart.

I’ve been faffing about with The Hawk: Part Two, and have uploaded a revised version, which now leads me to going through the novel again before attempting any writing.  I suppose I could note that my granddaughter’s belated arrival has set back the writing, but all these events occur for more reasons than my puny vision can manage.  My plan had been that by now I’d be adding to that story, but Little Miss took her time, and my sister is having surgery this week, so instead of labouring over plot and characters, I’ll be otherwise engaged.  In the meantime, I’ll reacquaint myself with the latter two-thirds of the novel so that when I do have time to write, I’ll possess a better grasp of just what is going on.

Sometimes certain parts of life get revisited more often than we plan.  That’s not a bad thing, when it comes to new babies and editing.  Summer heat however isn’t on my list of favourite things.

Still, the heat is a variable for some purpose, maybe only to appreciate cooler days when they arrive.  (Are they here yet?)  I was born and raised in the Sacramento Valley, yet eleven years spent in Yorkshire, England, turned this Golden State girl into a wilting flower when the temperature rises above 90 F.  Silicon Valley isn’t immune to scorching days, but our nights cool off more easily than in the Central Valley, thank the lord.  And due to all the bustling activity, no quilts are under the hammer.  I have a couple of placemats to hand-bind while waiting during my sister’s surgery, and if nothing else, hospitals are never hot, so I can hide out while the sun blazes.

I used my bathroom wall hanging as a comforter of sorts when my eldest was in hospital two weeks ago, draping that little quilt across my lap in the middle of the night as a baby was taking her sweet time to be born.  Now that quilt lives in the master loo, Little Miss is coming on two weeks old, time marching right along.  The Burrito is four months old, and I’m getting one step closer to delving back into a story that at times feels like it will never find completion.

Yet, The Hawk needs this time of contemplation.  The editing that took place as I revised Part Two wasn’t more than cleaning up two typos and eliminating several commas, but it has led me to reading through the rest of the tale, which for whatever reason is what this story requires.  And after going through three chapters this morning, revision is essential, what with slight sentence modification and more commas removed.  It’s keeping me in touch with this behemoth, maybe that is the most important part of this novel’s construction.  Never before has so much time elapsed within the writing process, which at times has been a little frightening.  Will I actually finish this saga has become the biggest query, but I can’t lose myself in that.  I need to stay right where I am today, which is in sticky Silicon Valley, although high clouds are providing a break in the heat.

The Hawk echoes many themes, love and war and faith.  But for me personally it’s about perseverance and the challenge of letting go.  Never before have I written in this scattershot manner, editing on the fly.  It’s akin to improv quilting, adding colours here and there without a plan.  And if I am willing to put everything on the line, not looking too far ahead, a fantastic beauty awaits, like this morning’s scene from my daughter.  I’m sure she wasn’t expecting to start her day so early, but the opportunity presented itself, and off she went, the Burrito in tow.   Her energy lifted my morning, it suffuses this post, and from there, who knows where it will lead.

Behind the Scenes

The rhythm of writing isn’t always that of actual writing; occasionally it’s taking stock of what has been written, what I did last week.  Then I went away for the weekend, and while I considered immediately returning to fashioning the story, other tasks have jumped the queue.  Behind the scenes, or chapters perhaps, life constantly percolates, nudging aside the words for a day, or two…

But these lulls are good for pondering the plot, of which The Hawk has plenty.  In reading over what I had crafted since the early part of August, I was pleasantly surprised by how cohesive it all was, well, mostly cohesive.  Pretty darn cohesive, actually, for all that I know that the reader doesn’t know.   And then there was what was being revealed, in bits and pieces, which somehow I managed to leak out without giving too much away.

Upon a second glance, I shocked myself, that it wasn’t a big mess of mumbo jumbo.  Sometimes (*sometimes*) a writer does know what they are doing (even if they think they have not one single clue).

It’s a lot like Buttercup; my daughter and son-in-law claim she’s not the smartest dog in the world, and at times, I agree.  At other times…  Well, she never goes hungry, gets lots of belly rubs, and spent much of Saturday being admired by my dad, who called her a pot likker in a voice I have heard since I knew better.  She was a good pot likker, he crooned, while scratching her ears, then rubbing that belly.  And later, Buttercup found a perfect spot on a mat, as if instead of pumpkins, it had her name on it.

Last week I was Buttercup, reminded that while I might not show it, I do know what’s going on.

When that happens, my goodness, it makes this whole writing gig worth it.  No, I’m not writing today, maybe not tomorrow either.  And no, I’m nowhere near being done.  But (*but*) I do have a clue.  Perhaps just one clue, but it’s better than no clues, and as long as I keep scribbling notes at the end of the manuscript, and not put too many days between when I next get around to Chapter 91, it’s all gonna be okay.

I firmly believe that; The Hawk will work itself out, one way or another.

In the meantime, some quilts are calling my name, a walk needs to be taken, a new rice cooker aches to be investigated.  But behind the scenes, that novel is bubbling, much like a big pot of spaghetti bolognese, tomorrow’s fare.  I’m always thinking, whether I realize it or not, as all the hoo-haa that accompanied chapters 75-90 has paid off, in ways I still have yet to understand.  Sometimes the reader isn’t always the one in the dark, but as long as the writer keeps the faith, the person behind the curtain continues to spin the dials, making sure the whole kettle of fish doesn’t boil over.

Buttercup isn’t worried.  Why should I be?

I will just sit. And write…

When I sit down in the morning, ready for a day’s writing work, the first thing I do is read over what I wrote yesterday, ostensibly to know what I’m going to write that day.  After reading, and doing a wee bit of revising, then I take some deep breaths.  And what the page looks like is this:

Well, it’s not quite a vacant quilt wall, but man, that’s how it feels.   Even though I have *plenty* to write, it’s a small wonder that I get it done, when the story is more than a little overwhelming.  Now the notes at the end of my document have grown; I think I’ve decided to not write them in longhand, although familial details are being scrawled in a notebook to my left, things like names of Stanford’s sisters, Sam and Renee’s siblings, Laurie’s too.  Most of those are being made up on the fly, the consequence of pantsing a novel, well, mostly pantsing it.  Does knowing how it ends make a story planned or pantsed?

I’m not sure.  But at this point, it matters very little.  Every day, or most of them, I sit.  And I write.  Yesterday and Sunday were big word days, 11K between them.  Today’s output was a more sedate 3,7 something-something, which was also fortuitous as I had errands to run, not all morning to write.  I love it when the writing happens to facilitate my life.

Because sometimes it doesn’t.

Yet, I don’t avoid the chair.  I plop my keister right into it, opening that document, reading over the previous chapter, then inhaling deeply, exhaling afterward.  Somehow, some way, those pages fill up, looking much like this:

Dude!  How in the world did that happen?  Now, it doesn’t always end up so, well, filled.  Occasionally the quilt wall, and the chapter, is more like so:

 

But either way, the sense of accomplishment is the same; again, I managed to further the story.  And with this novel, furthering the plot is about all I can consider.  It’s a square by square sort of wall being built, yet the cool part is while I know the end, I’m not sure how it’s going to look.

Now, that’s not very quilt-like at all, but novels aren’t always like quilts.  Novels aren’t visual, in the presentation.  They are word by word, which at times feels like brick by brick, falling on my toes, and I can’t jump away fast enough, ouch!  But yesterday I pounded out over 6,000 of those words, and not all of them were bad.  In fact, many of them were pretty nice.  Sometimes that happens in a first draft.  They’re not cruddy all the way through.

But then that makes the new day’s work a little more daunting; if yesterday’s was that, well, not bad, how can I manage to top it?  Sometimes I don’t.  That’s another part of just sitting in the chair; accepting that not every day is going to be stellar.  Sometimes, ahem, it’s gonna suck.

Yet, the chair beckons.  I need to sit, no, I must sit.  I must sit.  And write.  And when I’m done, I’ll do something else.  Like quilt, hehehe.  Or watch tennis or baseball, or clean, yuck.  But yeah, there is life beyond the written word.

Still, I will just sit.  And write.  (And clean when I’m bored…)