There are those times when things happen so swiftly and unexpectedly that balance is lost, regained, tipped again and finally retrieved. There was a sudden death and a joyous wedding and within one week I flew to the East Coast to sift through my sister’s belongings and then to Hawaii to celebrate in the sun. When I returned to California I launched back into work and friendships and life without allowing myself time to rest.
But this week I realized that sometimes it’s all right to forget about obligation and promises to others. Sometimes it’s all right to relinquish urgency and to set aside – at least temporarily – the goals and plans and lists. At the end of the day, does any of it matter?
My sister and I were not close and that has made her passing more difficult. We sucked at being siblings and I fell short in my immediate care for her memory after she died. I don’t want to turn her into a martyr. She was an angry and bitter woman. I think it’s possible she had a right to be. There’s nothing I can do about the abuse she accepted and the hurt she caused. All I can do is tell her story.
Maybe I will.
The world is full of beautiful and dark and amazing chaos. And then there are flowers:
Who hasn’t gone through a Jim Morrison phase? Mine happened around late June and early July too many years ago. I traveled to Paris, slept in a bocce ball court, and watched the ‘crusty travelers’ pound on the gates of Pere Lachaise Cemetery until I was hit in the back of the head by an empty wine bottle and tear gas was hurled to make way for a funeral. But don’t we all have stories like that somewhere in our history?
To mark the upcoming anniversary of what I hesitate to call an adventure, here’s the poem that came out of it:
Two blind mice and a cast of thousands
were we the ones who saw?
crusty travelers abandoned on the sidewalk
taking that sucker punch straight on
or strutting their peacocked dance and offering a jaw
Three blind mice leaping turnstiles
mistaking myth for history
Three blind mice leaping turnstiles
Like liquid lightening
Hey, is that thunder? Is that thunder I hear?
The famous photographer
and her famous entourage are fleeing the rain for food
One blind mouse is pissing mad next to Oscar and seeing saviours
Has anyone seen Patricia? Patricia? Is Patricia here?
One blind mouse is watching a cinematic event behind closed eyes
Orphans of Hope
Shh…wait…quiet. Was that an angel?
Sometimes a girl just needs a little balance. And I’m not talking about tree pose.
What’s most important to me? Managing two blogs badly or sending my work out into the word with polish and panache? I’ll take the polish and panache, thank you very much.
I kept two blogs because I wanted to keep my two lives – my writing life and my yoga life – separate. Yeah. How’d that work out for you, Mimm?
Not too well. How can we keep separate the parts of ourselves that make us whole?
And so I say a fond farewell to Diving with Gems. If you want to keep up with me (and I know you do), you can follow me on my other blog Practically Twisted.
So today was sorta interesting.
This morning, in an act of desperation – apparently I am so desperate to call myself published that I will do anything – I applied for a freelance job with one of those websites that pay pennies for your paragraphs. Seriously. On top of that, they keep the rights and the author receives no credit for their work. Like I said – I was feeling a little desperate. But more on that later.
I arrived at work, eager to teach. One of my students said,
“You know, you look just like that actress…you know…that one in that Keanu movie…the one about surfing…”
“Yeah, that one.”
“Really?” My ego massaged, I wondered what actress she meant, and couldn’t wait to Google the movie to find out. And then she said,
“Yeah…I bet you looked just like her before you were old.”
Taught. Taught again. Grabbed a salad for lunch. Massaged. Purchased a birthday present for a friend. Taught again. Came home. Checked emails.
There was an email waiting for me from the website. Yay! Despite their terms, and despite my better judgment, I was excited. I opened the email, eager to begin my new writing life. And guess what? After sending them a writing sample, links to both blogs and a full resume. THEY TURNED ME DOWN.
I’m rolling with it. Life is good…and has better things in store for me. But it was an interesting day.
And if anyone’s curious – I’m fifty-two next Wednesday.
ps…and I don’t look anything like Lori Petty.
How long does a first manuscript have to “cook” in a drawer before we admit defeat? And, of course, by “cook” I mean, “gather dust”. Is there a limit to how long we can wait before we rewrite the first chapter? How do we revive personal passion for the story and the characters we’ve created – or is it better to let them quietly fade to nothing?
After all – we cut our teeth on our first novel. We learn grammar we forgot when we were twelve and we learn about hooks and plot devices and discipline and story arcs. We fight to make our characters real and their journey believable. Our first novel teaches us that we’ve got what it takes. Shouldn’t the accomplishment of writing a cohesive ninety-thousand word first novel be enough? After all, how many people, determined to dedicate themselves to that novel inside them, never get around to it?
The problem is, I sorta kinda fell in love with my protagonists and I can’t abandon them. I lived with Maggie, Ben and their families for over a year. I watched their story take shape. How can I turn my back on them, even as I plunge into the second book? Is it possible to bring Maggie’s story to a level where an agent may take an interest while working on The Growing Season? Is it possible to date two people at the same time? I don’t know, but I can find out. Because here’s the thing – as much as I love hanging out with Cora and Rose (the protagonist and her sister from The Growing Season) I can’t stop thinking about Maggie and how badly she wanted to fly. Don’t I have a responsibility to make sure she does?
When I began to write the story about Maggie and her romance with Ben Nakada at the start of World War II (she joins the Women’s Airforce Service Pilot and he is interned until they reunite in 1945) friends were eager to ask ‘how’s the book going‘. And I usually answered ‘not bad’ or ‘plugging away‘ or sometimes – rarely – ‘I don’t want to talk about it‘.
When I declared the book ‘finished’ I headed to the San Francisco Writer’s Conference and piqued the interest of a few agents. Friends then asked, ‘When’s it comin’ out‘ or ‘Is it published‘ and the wonderful ‘Have you sold the movie rights yet‘.
But they grew tired of hearing me say ‘No, not yet…I’m revising…it’s resting for a while‘. And they were definitely bored when I tried to explain how difficult it is to find an agent and to have a book published – that it can take years. My very well-meaning and supportive friends (and I mean that – thank you!) began to suggest self-publishing. But my reasons for avoiding self-publishing will wait for another blog post.
And so, here I am, almost three years from the day I walked into the writing group at Avenidas and said, “I know this woman who was a WASP…”
Fortunately, it’s that time of year when life’s pace slows. Four of the yoga classes I teach are approaching a month-long hiatus. I’ll have a few spare hours in the week to look over my research, read Maggie’s story for the first time in almost eight months, and decide, once and for all, what my next step should be. My heart wants her to fly.
It’s good to be home. I’m unpacked but I’m too tired to do much else, not even laundry, even though everything in my suitcase is holding on to the scent of my mom’s Smokin’ Joe’s Vanilla Cigars.
Instead, as I move back into my ‘real’ life, I’m going to take a little time to process the past three weeks. I hadn’t had a chance to reflect on the Yin Yoga Teacher Training before I was packing up to fly across the country. So it’s only fair that I take a few days to let everything percolate and settle.
While I’m settling, tell me, what the heck is this:
I don’t know how to begin to describe today. I slept in until quarter past seven and was on the road toward Lynnport an hour later. I stopped at what remains of Leaser Lake and then carried on to Kempton. On my way back I turned left on the Old Philly Turnpike where I found an abandoned house with a beautiful view at the top of a hill.
When I returned to my Mom’s trailer, we still had several photo albums to pour through. I was looking for a photograph of my father. I had never seen him before – or at least I had no memory of him. When I saw him holding me – even knowing his violent history – seeing him hold me so tenderly broke my heart and the tears fell.
We carried on, my Mom and I; through volume after volume until I had the four or five photographs I needed to prove I was part of something. I belonged to a family. I wasn’t an orphan in the world. And then we said goodbye, and I promised I would see her in a year or so. And I will. I promise.
I returned to my hotel to pack and prepare for dinner with high school classmates I had not seen since our nation’s bicentennial. They were the class of 1975; I was the class of 1976. I’m certain none of us knew what to expect. Beckie, Patty and Donna had remained friends through the years, but I had disappeared off the face of the earth.
And we picked up the conversation where we left off thirty-four years ago. Beckie is still beautiful, Patty still exuberant and Donna still full of sharp, stinging wit. We had a dinner at the Fogelsville Hotel that lasted for three hours. We covered births, deaths, grandchildren, divorces and recoveries.
Recovery. Resurrection. Redemption.
I found a mother I abandoned, met a father I lost and hugged friends I didn’t know I missed. I found home again.
It was a glorious day today. The weather was bright, there was a strong breeze and the temperatures were down. I slept until seven and was in the car on my way to New Tripoli by eight. I took the back road, through Werley’s Corner and Lynnville. I’d forgotten about how beautiful the barn architecture is in this part of Pennsylvania. I’m certain I probably didn’t think of barns as being beautiful when I was fifteen and aching to be anywhere else but here. But they are. Simply beautiful.
As are the Blue Ridge Mountains. But I knew they would be and was not surprised.
I stopped at Ebenezer Church, where the choral group I was in as a teenager practiced and then followed the road out to Lynnport. I turned down the lane I lived on and slowly past the house I grew up in. The Old Lynnport School house has a new belfry with tiny little windows. They chopped down the beautiful weeping willows years ago, but I was still happy that the house was standing and in good repair.
The silver bridge is long gone, too. When I stepped on its replacement I startled a Blue Heron, a White Egret and a team of ducks. They all took off and settled a few hundred yards downstream. At the same time, right above me, was a Sparrow Hawk and in the distance a soaring vulture.
I followed the lane around a corner to this abandoned schoolhouse. I remember in high school becoming involved in a history project to restore the structure. But why restore this one when we’ve the beautiful Claussville Schoolhouse a few miles away?
I returned to my car, determined to fulfill the final goal on my list. When it came to forging, climbing and clamoring, as a child I was fearless. Today, as I dove into the shoulder-high weeds, I wanted to find the abandoned slate quarry, and that child, again.
And, as promised, here’s my Mom’s recipe for Orange Mousse.
- 16 oz. cottage cheese
- 1 large orange Jell-o (6 oz)
- 1 can crushed pineapple (20 oz)
- 1 can mandarin oranges (15 oz)
- 1 Cool Whip (8 oz)
Drain fruit. Mix in dry Jell-o and cottage cheese, and then fold in Cool Whip until blended. Chill.
We are shaped by our history.
I have to admit, I was a little nervous. I didn’t know what to expect from my Mom. I didn’t know what to expect from me.
As it happens, she is a guitar cigar smoking, Glenn Beck watching, American flag waving, Tea Party loving ultra-conservative who believes the world is going to end with the Mayan calendar. And I’m not. This fruit has fallen far, far away from the tree.
After several tries she found the love of her life about twenty-five years ago and lost him last Easter.
As I listened to her talk about her memories, which are so very, very different from mine, it became clear to me that I was fine and perfect and happy and ready to take on the rest of my life. I was in good shape.
It was a good visit for both of us.
We had pork chops for lunch. Dessert was Orange Moose Mousse – a wonderful concoction reminiscent of Mad Men dinner parties circa 1962. I can see it sitting proudly next to the Seven-Layer Salad. I’ll provide the recipe tomorrow.