I’m working from the porch today.
Well, in theory I’m working but the black-headed grosbeaks and Bewick’s wrens are having such a boisterous sing-off I can’t think. Oblivious, white-crowned sparrows splash in the bird bath, scrub jays drink at the pond, and every winged creature vies for a turn at the feeder. Pecking beneath it are California towhees, thrashers, and quail. Beyond the feeder, turkey vultures soar over the canyon. A raven gurgles from behind the house. Titmice and house finches grab sunflower seeds and fly to their nests. And here comes a roadrunner, strolling up from the canyon for a sip at the pond. I don’t usually see them until later in the year when all the water has dried up below. The dusky-throated flycatcher announces his raspy presence and a western tanager flashes like feathered fire.
The sun is almost overhead and as the birds begin to settle into their afternoon naps I hear the falling ping-pong ball song of wrentits across the canyon. An Anna’s hummingbird buzzes in the sage by the steps and one of the red koi breaches in the pond like a bloody, mini-Moby Dick. The scrub jays have moved out and a pair of tanagers take their place. I’ve never seen a female here and hope they’re a breeding pair. They’re timid and a flock of goldfinches (lesser and American) easily displace them from the water’s edge. I can’t see it but from high in the eucalyptus tree comes the chatter of a Bullock’s oriole. A spotted towhee screes from the thick cover of chaparral.
Then, for a moment, there is only a shushing wind. It comes cool, up from the canyon, bringing hints of buckbrush and wild lilac. “Shhh,” it tells the birds. “Go take a nap.” The birds listen. Maybe now I can get some work done. Or take a nap, too…
I was at the dog beach this morning and a very casual acquaintance approached me. She said, “I hope I’m not being presumptuous but I thought I heard you introduce your wife to me last week.” I answered yes, and she proceeded to tell me how her niece had come out to her over the weekend, and that the girl was upset that her mother had disowned her. She asked if I had any advice, and truly I didn’t. The niece sounds very healthy and well-adjusted. She is carrying on with plans to marry her partner, and will invite her mother even though the woman has disowned her. I said that sounded like the best thing she could do – live her life with honesty, joy, and integrity. She can’t change her mother, as none of us can change the unfortunate bigots in the world. All we can do is live well despite them. (And isn’t that really the best revenge:)
I find great hope that this woman and her husband are extremely supportive of their niece, and that the girl’s partner’s family (from Iowa – yea for the Midwest!) are also very loving and supportive. There will always be bigotry. There will always be people like this girl’s mom and the North Carolina preacher man. But I see everyday, even from strangers on the beach, that there are increasingly more supportive people. Folks like this girl’s aunt, who takes the trouble to approach a virtual stranger out of love for her niece. Folks like the partner’s family that have welcomed their daughter-in-law to be and are hosting the wedding. Anyone who has ever been hurt by bigotry wants it all to go away. We want to stamp it out and make it disappear. It won’t. As long as there is fear in the world, its cousin bigotry will walk right next to it. That’s the bad news. The good news is, as long as there is love in the world, its cousin tolerance will be hand in hand with it.
So congratulations to this unknown young woman for continuing to love her mother and her partner. Congratulations to this almost stranger for loving her niece so much. Congratulations to the public outcry against that poor, sad preacher soul. And congratulations to each of us every time we choose the high road of love over the bottom road of fear.
This question was posted on Writer Unboxed a few weeks past. I opened the docs on my WIP this morning, feeling the need to answer that question. The book is at least a third, maybe half written, and I’m not sure I know the answer. Should I know? Should I have a burning question at the heart of my work? Or should I let unbridled instinct have it’s head? I rather like not knowing, but for the sake of plot and pacing I need to choose whether my character is gradually developing her spirituality or diving straight into a battle between good and evil. I’m ambivalent about committing. (Ambi, meaning both, and valence, meaning strong – I have strong feeling about both. How do I choose?)
I started the work as an immediate confrontation between good and evil, with the good character needing to develop her spirituality in order to even have a fighting chance against a strongly evolved evil. That could work because I have already set her up in another novel for this kind of confrontation. She is primed for growth and subsequent battle. The stage has been set. It is a plausible scenario.
At some point, I decided I didn’t want to go the good/bad route, that I wanted to take more time developing her spirituality before thrusting her into battle. At the time it seemed enough to foreshadow the upcoming struggle, to suggest that her previous work was merely prelude. This leads me to another question – will readers be patient with this concept? Do I have enough of a story to keep them interested?
When I decided the above, I must have had a reason, but damned if I can pinpoint what that was. I can’t remember if I decided to abandon the good/bad plot or if the story turned from it. If it was the story’s idea, I should absolutely follow where it leads. If it was my idea, why wasn’t it important enough to remember the reason for it? Which makes me think it was the story’s idea. The story never lies. It tells the pure tale. I, however, as author, am a compulsive liar, insistent on deleting, cutting, copying, adding, etcetera, that I might make the final product palatable to THE READER. With no tongue for truth, I writes in term of sales, rejection, and review. The author’s words are suspect at best. The story’s are true.
I think I’ve just answered that question. As for the central question, it’s the same as it is in all my work – will my characters grow or stay small? It’s a question I face a hundred times a day – will my next action push me beyond my comfort zone and make me grow, or will it keep me comfortable, safe, and small?
What will you do today that’s risky, that nudges you off the couch of your comfort zone?
It’s spring in California, which means rain and green, green weeds. I’ve let them go around my house. The place looks wild. Not abandoned, just wild. Like crazy ladies that spit and wear purple might live in that yellow house on the hill. I used to yank the bromes and foxtails out from between the iris beds, pull the mustard up from along the driveway, and dig the mallow off the hillside. This year I’ve let the the weeds grow tall and thick. It’s hard to watch them, because I know someday I’ll have to cut them all back before they become a fire hazard, but today, they are growing. They are as happy I think as weeds can be. When I’m not dwelling on the ordeal of weed-whacking come summer, I can relax into their fertile, unforced beauty.
Writing is like tending the weeds. I can pluck, trim, and shape each idea as it arises, or I can let each sprout into it’s full potential. I can allow them to grow wild, untended. It’s been my habit to push my stories where I think they should go. I prod, fuss, and meddle. I force my plots to go where I think they must, that they will convey what I think others want to hear. All this shaping, paring, and trimming eventually creates a book, a book that while quite lovely and acceptable, is clearly controlled. What if I just let my ideas grow where they wanted? What if I didn’t limit them to perfectly manicured plots, letting them root freely instead? The resulting story might not be pretty. It may be too wild for some. It might stir their own managed wildness, making them shy in fright.
Too bad. For I am becoming that crazy woman that lives in the yellow house on the hill. I am letting my beautiful green weeds grow wild. I won’t let them take over and become next season’s tinder, but today I am giving them their full, glorious head. If they frighten you, look away. If you’re curious, come closer. For in their wild swaying beauty, you might just find your own.