Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Unexpected happenings

I wrote a long piece about unexpected happenings, pressed the wrong key and deleted it entirely. Before I recanted I pressed another key and then another and lost it all.

I wrote about the email I received from someone I last talked to thirty years ago. Her memories and mine differed. She recalled small things about me--or the persona she once knew.

We met at a Feminist Writer's Workshop. I drove up from Boston and she flew in from Rome. I wanted to be with a group of women who wrote passionately and she wanted to be with a group of women who were passionate.

I wrote poem after poem and listened to women write about everything from menstrual cramps to childbirth.

One woman raised sheep in Utah, another worked in a publishing house in New York City, and another smoked pot and worked as a reporter on a small rural newspaper. We came from all over. In the evening we sat and listened to what we wrote that day.

She was flying in from Rome for a conference and wanted to meet for dinner. We arranged to meet for lunch instead. She recalled my love of mountains and walking along beaches. I recalled her telling me that it was important to put moisturizer on your heels so that when you grew old your heels would still be soft.


Last week I sat and read in my favorite coffee shop. I heard that an hour earlier two regulars were to meet their son, only son, for coffee. They ordered coffee, chatted, and waited. When they woke that morning they didn't know about an unexpected phone call. The call came between sips of hot coffee.

Their son died in an accident.


My friend went into the hospital for eight-hour surgery. The doctor spelled out all the possible scenarios—starting with not making it through the surgery, days in ICU, a week in the hospital, possible rehab.

Instead she went home in four days. "Everything," the doctor said, "that could go well went well."

Going home so soon —unexpected.


A religious friend of mine doesn't believe in coincidences. If something happens once or twice it may be a coincidence, but when it happens three times the source is elsewhere.

Chance, if you left ten minutes later, ten minutes earlier, turned left instead of right.

Unexpected happenings—chance,
the throw of the dice,
of memory,
of skeins of yarn ready for winding.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Contemplating Risk

When the temperatures rise and skirt with the sixties, I ready myself for possibilities. Winter with its frost and my hunched shoulders tethers me to the familiar. Spring escalates the desire for risk— something new.

A word with permutations—
My sense of risk, dwarfed by intrepid aerialists who live on the edges—
My definition, pallid compared to the synonyms in Roget’s—
I dip a toe and let myself in gradually.


Writers, invigorated after the winter, leave behind tired words and ignite their sentences. Trader Joe's advertises: Battered Fish Nuggets, and thrusts me into a moral dilemma. Are these nuggets simply dragged through breadcrumbs or am I privy to a slaughter? If so, what is my position? Do I have a position? Will groups armed with petitions asking me to save the fish nugget appear in front of Trader Joes? Can I afford neutrality? I remember the months without grapes, the searches for politically correct tuna fish and the petitions I signed against encroachments in the Escalante wilderness. Neutrality is not an option.


Each spring I purchase a new book encouraging me to write a novel. Not a short story. Not micro fiction, not flash, sudden, cigarette fiction. The writers of these books offer incremental steps—a book in a year. They encourage positive thinking and the use of affirmations. One book, before the cost of stamps escalated, advised sending oneself a postcard each day. Suggested statements: I am a good writer. Everyone wants to read my book. I now recognize the truth. These books are the diet books for the writer. You start off buying into the entire program, set aside time, complete the exercises and required number of words, and then after a few weeks "you fall off" the program. This year I know the inevitable and refuse to support the writer who plays cheerleader.


Try to imagine standing in the middle tent with a lion—the lion contemplates the wisdom of jumping through a burning hoop?


Loggers, hit by a falling object —
steel workers hoisting metal beams—
people on scaffolding —
river surfers on a tidal bore on the Amazon River riding the waves for miles while avoiding alligators, rocks, tree limbs—
cliff diving—
sledging— a combined white water rafting and boogie-boarding—
sky diving in a free fall for two miles—
sitting for long periods of time—


My ode to spring, a leap into a new geography with dizzy abandonment.

Perhaps an exploration of non-linear creative non-fiction ....

Friday, March 12, 2010

First Lines

I've read about people who disappeared for years without any sightings or leads.

Every day, usually an ordinary day of uncommon weather and no Breaking News, people vanish. The family asks if something was amiss: burdensome financial strains, a relationship gone awry, a looming illness, ennui. Nothing out of the ordinary, no markers. Perhaps it's foul play, maybe a kidnapping, or maybe they left behind the accouterments of life and walked away, turned a corner, and revised their life.

This is the alchemy of prestidigitation to me.

I am always spotted. People see me walking in other towns — I'm busy attempting to accrue more steps. Walking 10,000 steps a day assures me of fitting into the guidelines for a healthy lifestyle. I am apt to disappear into a book or between the folios or walking on a line or spotted caressing a word.


Twenty-eight years ago I attended a writer's conference, wrote poetry, drank Grand Marnier, and took long walks.

A cocoon. We joined the holometabolic insects--and started our metamorphosis into writers, or perceptive readers. For some the trajectories spiraled, sputtered, or lost velocity.

Move out of a cocoon and the rules change. Revision.


Last week a conference participant found me and sent an email—twenty-seven years after our last contact.

I am easy to find. In two weeks we’ll meet, eat lunch and catch up. What does that mean? Catch the next wave? Catch someone up on your life? Catch hold of the past?

We’ll politely listen to one another and wonder if either of us has written a worthy sentence— sentence laden with meaning, angst, and existential substance, humor.


On July 21, 1873 Jesse James committed the first train robbery west of the Mississippi.

Rock Island Daily Argus, Thursday, July 24, 1873: "Des Moines, July 23. - Nothing entirely reliable in regard to the pursuit and capture of the railroad robbers has been received at this place today. It is thought that they have crossed into Missouri and are making for the wilds of Mercer County in that state. The total amount taken by the robbers from the train in now known to be twenty three hundred and thirty seven dollars.”


Everything has a first. People track firsts—first tooth, first word, first haircut, first toothbrush, first full sentence, and first no. Remember the first sentence you wrote? Probably not, but if your parents kept every piece of paper, every lock and picture, then somewhere buried in a box held together with rubber bands is the first written alphabet, the first sentence, the first story.


I'm still searching for the great first line.