What are you doing in my dream?

Dear One,
Sometimes, when the writing is precarious, I feel like Maria Spelterini, the only woman to traverse Niagara Falls on a tightrope.

Even though I sit in at my pine desk in a black pleather chair from Staples, I may as well be alone on a high wire, miles above the earth, walking a strand thin as gossamer strung between invisible moons.  From this dizzying height, the din dims. Wind whistles through silver hoops at my ears.

I. Am. Trying. So. Hard. To. Put. Into. Words. This. Thing. This. Thing!

For far too many months I’ve been polishing a poetry manuscript.  It’s good – the process and the work.  But from the great height in the clouds it’s easy to feel lost.

This week I stood firmly on solid ground in front of four university classes filled with new students, faces all turned expectantly toward me.  Some even had pens poised above empty notebooks ready to capture writing secrets.

“Why are you here?” I asked.

I want to be a good writer.
I want to be a better writer.
I’m a terrible writer; I think there’s no hope for me.

I tell them there’s no such thing as a good writer, a better writer, a bad or even a worst writer.  Rather there are people who effectively transmit their ideas and dreams and made-up universes, or even their all-too-real stories, with the kind of language that stops others long enough to read what they have to say.  Some are more effective at this language game than others and no matter the style or voice, writers who ultimately stand apart are the ones who find the truth and write it pure, pure enough that a reader discovers a breath more about this thing called humanity.

As Dinty Moore notes in his new little gem, The Mindful Writer: Noble Truths of the Writing Life:

 What we have is ourselves, and that is all we can really write about.”

Moore’s book is fill with all kinds of sage wisdom, dished out thoughtfully in 1-2 page bit, organized around a writer’s quote.  The segment about being ourselves is under a quote by Barbara Kingsolver:

Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.

After Maria Spelterini completed her first crossing in July, 1876, within a matter of weeks she repeated the feat with peach baskets strapped to her feet, then once again blindfolded, and yet again with her hands and feet bound in iron cuffs.

Sometimes I think I make the writing process more difficult than it needs to be, especially when I begin to circle too closely toward self-doubt, or some other truth I’d rather ignore.  I’m tempted to throw up peach baskets, a blindfold, shackles, or in the case of my poetry book, obscure references to ancient Greek myths and long forgotten gods.

It isn’t just writers who do this. We all at some time face a startling self-discovery with distractions.  We try to affirm that we’re still good enough, daring enough, special enough.  I suppose it’s easy to receive acclaim if you’ve got a high wire and an audience.  There’s far less fanfare for walking the wire of one true self.

One night, I dream I’m Maria Spelterini.  I pause midway in my crossing, the thunder of Niagara Falls all around. I leap, a scissor kick. For one brief second I hang in flight.

Oh—              the view!

With balance and daring,

p.s. Dinty Moore will be a presenter at League of Utah Writers Roundup, September 14-15, 2012.  Click here for more information.

Things I will miss someday

You, of course, Dear One,

And books made of paper.

I know this for certain as I pack my bookcases, preparing to move.  When I open my dog-eared copy of Barbara Kingsolver’s, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I discover a pencil-scrawled note in my own hand.

…overheard in Target at the checkout line by a little girl wearing a bee yellow soccer t-shirt.

“Can I start reading my new book in the car, Mom?”
No, Chelsea. No. Don’t ask me again.”

I write all kinds of things in books. Notes to myself. Things to track down.  Finding this jot immediately takes me back to that night in Target and how I almost touched Chelsea’s shoulder and told her she could drive home with me.  Realizing that would be an infintely eerie and highly misunderstood act, I inscribed her name instead and recorded these words in a book I hadn’t even paid for yet to remind me to speak wisely to my own daughter.

I wonder someday, when all the books are digital, where I’ll keep these memorandums.

It’s frontismatter – will that word become extinct? – and marginalia words recorded in another’s hand that I’ll miss even more when paper books have dwindled to near extinction.

As I pack another shelf, I discover my mother’s signature, swirled in black fountain pen, on the browned and brittle first page of a 1965 Vintage edition of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift From the Sea. So many years after the lend I feel guilty that I’ve not returned it, but in exact opposition to the slow way I lost track of having her book, I immediately remember her words the day she pressed it into my hands.

“This is a lovely book for a woman in the middle of family life. I think you might enjoy it. I know I did.”

I read the book as grown-up daughter, not the seven-year-old I was when my mother read it first, and I wonder if this passage also began a slow shift in the river of her life the way it opened in me the possibility of finding rhythm, peace, and solitude in nature.

“…Woman’s life today is tending more and more toward the state of William James describes so well in the German word, “‘Zerrissenheit—torn-to-pieces-hood.’ She cannot live perpetually in ‘Zerrissenheit. She will be shattered into a thousand pieces.”

The wonderful thing about my mother is the graceful way she can guide without seeming to do so. So subtle was her influence that even though I own several editions of Gift From the Sea, and I’ve given it frequently as a present, it wasn’t until I found my mother’s copy, with her tidy penmanship on the blank first page, that I remembered who first introduced me to its beauty and its wisdom.  I also realize if I alone have kept it all these years, my sisters haven’t had a chance to read their mother’s treasure. Mea culpa, mea culpa.

Packing and moving can make a person feel nostalgic, but this longing for the permanence of pen and ink goes deeper than my desire to touch the same page as one I love.

Where will I find the croissant crumbs from that little boulangerie in Paris when I reread Baudelaire?

Where will I tuck the card or letter from my book’s giver and how will he inscribe upon the front, “Love, Dad.”

When I really really miss you, where will I find your chocolate fingerprints, or the sand leftover from your own sojourn one summer by the sea?

I suppose these things will remain alone in my memory’s cache or I’ll forget and never miss what I don’t recall.

Oh I suppose I could always write about them, but how would I find the time and words?

Imagine this in pen and ink,