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red writing hood — the role of fate

June 16, 2012

Happy weekend.  Today, I am linking up with the community at Write on Edge, having responded to this prompt:

This week, write a fiction or creative non-fiction piece where fate plays a prominent role. You can write from the position of a complete belief or absolute disbelief in the role of fate in our lives or the lives of our characters.

The word limit was 400.

*****

My mother told me about a benevolent, benign, white-bearded Father.  I relished Him, since my own father was nothing more than half a face in one curling photograph.  My father was a cautionary legend told through clenched teeth and averted eyes (the moral:  don’t turn out like him), while everything I heard about God in Sunday school was stained glass and miracles.

Apparently, one of my parents’ great battles was about religion.  My earthly father’s tribe believed in totems and nature, so I imagine the idea of a universal CEO with stern eyes made the hair on his arms stand on end.  My mother, uniformed in Presbyterianism, needed me to accept the ordered universe as she understood it.  Her God wanted confessions of wrongdoing in order to forgive.  Her God had already decided how we would all end up, although we should certainly keep trying anyway.  What she believed – that everything happens for a reason, that God is demanding and merciful – was how she loved me.  As a child in her house, I didn’t want to test her capacity for forgiveness.  It was easier to just be good.

“Step slowly, honey.”  The voice is vaguely familiar, like a character in a movie I watched once, years ago.

“Lots of rocks out here, maybe even a snake.”

It’s a kind voice.  It should belong to a round face with smooth cheeks, but I can’t make out anything through the black cloth tied around my eyes.

Sweat is collecting in the corners of my eyes, but when I start to wipe it away, I realize my hands are bound behind my back.  A firm hand, presumably attached to the voice, grips my upper arm.  I take a sharp breath as a slow panic roils in my stomach.

Dear God please protect me.  Please let this all be a dream.

It is such an old prayer; a child’s prayer, reflexive.  “Bright, God helps those who help themselves,” I hear the voice of Sister Veronica, my religion teacher in fifth grade, admonishing me.

My face is soaked with sweat now, and I feel the sun burning the top of my head.  A pain is building behind my eyes.  I try to steady myself before I speak, too politely.

“Excuse me.” I clear my throat. “Who are you?  And what’s happening?” Panic tips up my final word.

Laughter.

“Oh, Natalie, it’s me… your mother.”

*****

Thanks for any feedback you are willing to share.

Here’s to keeping our eyes wide open to the inspiration all around us.  Thanks, as always, for showing up.

hours and words and water

June 13, 2012

Good morning, friends.

After nearly a month-long recess from Chasing Maybes — during which I’ve crossed oceans, relaxed with old friends, read and written thousands of words, splashed in the pool with my little people, and relished the advent of summer — I’m back.  I hope you’ve had a month of wonderful, too.

Just a tree, really.

[Before I forget, I'd like to share this post from Austin blogger Tolly Moseley about artist Ellen Heck.  As a passionate Frida Kahlo fan, I'm looking forward to checking out Heck's "Forty Fridas" collection, in which she features forty of her friends and family dressed up as Frida and immortalized in woodcuts.  How cool is that?]

So, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ll share that I plan to continue my trend of infrequent posting this summer.  This is due to several factors, the most critical being my limited time — with small children currently out of school and desperate for my attention — to write.  Because I began this Chasing Maybes blogging project with the singular goal of extending myself in directions I’d previously ignored or dismissed, I should share that I’ve been chasing a great white maybe for several months now.  I’ve been writing a novel, and while my only goal is its completion, I’d like to achieve that goal while I’m still young enough to enjoy it.  Put in your requests now for a copy fresh from my HP Officejet — I won’t even charge you for the staples.

In the meantime, I’ll check in, bore you with minutiae, and share some of my prompt writing.  This week, I’ll be linking up with Write on Edge, writing 400 words on this prompt:

This week, write a fiction or creative non-fiction piece where fate plays a prominent role. You can write from the position of a complete belief or absolute disbelief in the role of fate in our lives or the lives of our characters.

Benjamin Franklin wrote, “You may delay, but time will not.”  How are you spending your hours these days?  Here’s to making them matter.  Thanks, as always, for showing up.

a little love, lately.

May 16, 2012

Next week, I’ll be taking a blog hiatus for ten days or so to spend some concentrated time with my little family.  Before I do, I wanted to share this article (“The Ultimate Guide for Writing Better than You Normally Do”) from McSweeney’s that I’ve seen bouncing around the web this week.  It features what I consider a winning balance of pithy writing tips and self-deprecation, bound nicely by boldfaced, capitalized headings.  Utility, mockery, and visual clarity — these are all things I love.

Speaking of love, I cannot stop listening to the Alabama Shakes.  If you haven’t heard them, take a listen and let me know what you think.  If you have heard them, tell me how much you love them, too.

My friend Katie Rogers got some love last week, also.  Through Kickstarter, she was able to exceed her fundraising goal in order to complete her documentary, CarLess in L.A.  I am so excited to see the finished product, and so happy for Katie.

This week, I hope you take the Shakes’ advice to just hang loose.  I also wish you the peerless joy of finding something new to love.  Thanks, as always, for showing up.

update on carless in l.a.

May 13, 2012

Good morning, happy weekend, and Happy Mother’s Day to all of you.

Several of you have asked me for an update on my friend Katie Rogers’ Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for her documentary, CarLess in L.A.  

“This is a movie which highlights the impact we humans – and the cars we drive – have on our planet. But more than that, CarLess in L.A. is a look at the impact that our cars have on us as a society and a culture,” Katie says.

As of this morning, Katie’s project is about 90% funded, which is excellent.  She has nine more days to meet her financial goal, or she will receive none of the donations contributed to her campaign (which would be less-than-excellent).

If you or someone you know might be interested in supporting this project, please stop by Katie’s Kickstarter page and look around.  Spread the word, if you are so inclined.  This film’s message is important.

Here’s to a life on two wheels.  Thanks for listening, and thanks for showing up.

red writing hood prompt — advancing the plot

May 10, 2012

As I type this, Austin is being pummeled by a torrential rainstorm.  To avoid losing power and/or being electrocuted (does that actually happen?), I suppose I’d better make this snappy.

Today, I’m linking up with Write On Edge, participating in the group’s weekly Red Writing Hood prompt exercise.  Below are the directions given by WOE:

Whether dialogue heavy or rich in description, every scene should serve the story; whether it is from flash fiction, a short story, your memoir, or an epic serial novel, every scene must advance the narrative in some fashion. If it doesn’t, it’s not holding its weight in words. Consider that as you head into your writing this week.

And now the prompt:

For this week, I’m offering you this opening line:

“Two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit lane.”

The line above is the first line of a well-known novel. Did you recognize it without Googling?

[Incidentally, I did not recognize the line without Googling.]

Below, please find my response.  I welcome your feedback, suggestions, and critique.

*****

Two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit lane.  Drawing closer, Bright realized it was the quilt of fog which had obscured them — these weren’t specters — and their sudden presence pumped her legs with adrenaline.  She ran faster toward the two, each step carrying her inches closer to home.

Home.  The word felt like a lifetime gone.  Now, her temples throbbing and her blood thick from dehydration, she couldn’t be sure how long she’d been in these woods.  As she ran, the two figures sharpening with the closing distance, she imagined her homecoming; to Kent, to Glenlake.  She imagined her stepfather greeting her in the newspaper-littered foyer, his eyes papery in the corners and shot through with red, his shirt crumpled from late nights and protracted phone calls, his cuticles bitten raw.  Aunt Laura would be there, too, gold bracelets clicking up her arms as she trapped Bright in her embrace.  “We are so glad you’re home,” Aunt Laura would sigh into Bright’s ear, crying quietly.  “We haven’t closed our eyes since you went away.”

And what about school, Bright wondered? What had the kids at school made of her absence?  Had they counted her as a casualty or a runaway?  Had they thought of her at all?  Bright was acutely aware that, while she never thought she cared about being missed, she relished a singular daydream.  Imagining Kent, Aunt Laura, her teachers, her classmates… imagining their thoughts trained on her absence, their prayers aimed at her safe return; picturing them hanging urgently-lettered signs on the community mailboxes around Glenlake (would they?), she was mortified to admit even to herself that this felt good.  She liked the fantasy of their regret.

Considering this, Bright realized she was now ten steps away from the moonlit men. In an instant, she also realized that they were not two men, after all.  One was, stout and black-haired, and one was a girl who looked to be about her age.  As she neared them, she tried to get their attention.

“Hey!”  Her voice was strangled, dry from lack of use.

“Hey!” she tried again, “Could you please — I need some help… hey.”  Each word weighed a hundred pounds, stuck in her flaming throat.  She tried to raise her arms for emphasis, noting that the man and the girl just stared at her in silence.

Whether caused by fog or dehydration, she couldn’t be sure, but Bright couldn’t keep either face in focus.  Each shifted and bloated, frightening her.  She stopped running.

“Please help me,” she muttered one last time, right before the world went dark.

*****

I’m pretty sure my world might go dark soon, too, in this phenomenal storm.  I hope you have all the rain you need, adrenaline for days, and people who will miss you if you leave.  Thanks for taking a moment to read my work, and thanks, always, for showing up.

learn something new every day

May 8, 2012

Just for a moment, imagine that it is 1989 (for ambiance, you might want to play Alphaville’s “Forever Young” softly in the background as you read this).  My hair is enormous; roughly the size of the chip on my padded shoulder.

I was always disappointed that my bangs weren’t as high as my hair was wide.

I’m seated at dinner with my family, no doubt powering through the meal with lightning speed so as not to miss the latest episode of  “Doogie Howser, M.D.”  The evening’s conversation begins a little something like this:

Dad: “So, what did you learn in school today?”

Sullen Teenage Anne: “Nothing.”

Dad: [pauses for emphasis] “Then why’d you go?” [chortles, shaking his head and muttering under his breath, "It just never gets old."]

STA: [skillfully rolls eyes while sighing dramatically]  “What – everrr.”

And… scene.

*****

Are you familiar with the writing exercise that prompts one to write a letter to his or her teenage self, encouraging and/or admonishing him or her to skirt those pitfalls of adulthood the writer wishes to have avoided?

I’ve done that.  In my letter, I tell my sixteen year-old self to shut her smart-aleck mouth already and listen, for once.  I plead with her to wear a big floppy hat and SPF 15 (I don’t think anything higher had then been invented) when she’s out in the sun.  I urge her to develop good study habits — she has no idea what she’s in for once she arrives at college — and to ignore those voices that would discourage her.  I tell her that most of the friends she cares so much about now won’t be in her life in five years.  I remind her she is a child of God and, as such, has a responsibility to herself, to her family, and to her community to do right.  My letter grabs my sixteen year-old self by the shoulders and shakes her just a little.  She, incidentally, rolls her eyes and sighs deeply in response.

I realized recently that one of the pieces of advice I most treasure derives from those eye-rolling, 1980′s dinner conversations.  “What did you learn?  Then why did you go?” speaks volumes to me, and I try to pay attention to it every day.  When the sun sets and I tuck my little boys into their bunk beds, visions of Angry Birds dancing in their heads, I’m compelled to ask them: “What did you learn today?”  It’s okay if they don’t have an answer readily available, and it’s okay if, at sixteen, they roll their eyes and groan at me in response.  Asking the question is enough, because asking the question forces me to consider my own response.

What I need to know is that they appreciate the nature of life’s progressive roll; the truth that we grow greater end over end, with each day’s experience snowballing onto the last, creating the sum of everything we are and can hope to be.  I want them to revere learning and to understand that wasted time never returns.  Moreover, I need to hold this truth close myself, to fold it up and carry it in my pocket, to keep my promise to learn something new each day.

What advice would you give your sixteen year-old self, if given the opportunity?  What do you plan to learn today?

I’ll be fully present today, with my number two pencil sharpened and my eyes wide open.  I’ll have a strong answer to an old question, and I’ll thank my Dad for the opportunity to ponder it.  Thanks for considering it with me, and thanks for showing up.

small heroics

May 3, 2012

(source)

“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.”  ~C.S. Lewis

This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about courage.

This is what I have not been thinking about:  rescuing a toddler from a burning building, diving into icy waters to retrieve a drowning man, wrestling a weapon from a crazed sniper.  These are all cliff-leaping examples of bravery, of course, and worthy of news coverage and shiny gold medals and warm handshakes.

What I have been thinking about, though, are the small heroics; those little curbs of courage we step off of every day without even realizing it.  In observing my friends and family this week, I’ve witnessed too many small heroics to count.  I’ve compiled a few below.

Acts of Courage (An Incomplete List)

  • saying no when you think you should say yes
  • leaving before it’s over
  • shining a light on ignorance
  • singing louder than the throng
  • demanding to be paid fairly
  • calling out the naked emperor
  • walking in late to an overstuffed room
  • having the hard conversation
  • putting your money where your heart is
  • refusing bigotry at any cost
  • choosing difference
  • loving more than you are angry, and so on, and so on, and so on.

We demand so much of ourselves.  When the day ends quietly — no parade celebrating our mettle, no letter in the mail congratulating us on getting through it alive — we forget the boldness our humanity demands.  Each morning, we step into a day that will bite us and feed us, imploring us to make things right in the world in spite of ourselves.  Today, I urge you to pay attention to your little acts of heroism.  They may not make front page news, but they are everything.

Keep being brave.  Thanks, as always, for showing up.

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