January: 31 Yays in 31 Days

It’s the last night of the month and I am curled up with a novel, nibbling cookies, my back a little twinge-y because I shoveled too vehemently this morning. Today was a Snow Day and I spent it most of it guiltlessly lounging about, my mind truly wandering in a bubbles-floating-through-the-backyard way. I am usually anxious about innumerable things; today the blinding snow and absurdly low temperatures replaced my apprehensions with a cold, blank slate. I will leave it unmarked for now, enjoy its simplicity. 

Part of my contentment comes from a month of writing and posting these electronic pages. My goal was to make writing a habit again, not utterly dread it. I accomplished my humble mission. There’s still a long way to go. And I am sticking with the slow and steady approach, though I will modify it in February. 

When I was teaching writing, one of the things I noticed again and again was that it took people a long time to get to the place where the story they were telling actually began. It was almost never on page one. “All this,” I would tell them as I ran my hand over their initial paragraphs, “is you clearing your throat.” I would draw a big purple star, smile, and point: “This, right here, this is the good stuff, where your real story starts.”

“So, everything else I wrote before this point was useless?”

“No. Nothing you write is useless. It matters to you, and you will use it somewhere, in some way.”

One of my goals is to talk to myself the way I talk to other writers. You know, nicely. So I’m giving myself a purple star as an act of hope, as a place marker between where I am and where I’m going. 

Guess who saved the day!

I had a crummy morning. Nothing unique or dramatic or actually bad. Just basic human grump. You know how it is. You have your version of tired/cold/don’t wanna leave your pajamas behind/wanna stay in bed and read/want the sun to come out/nobody better yap at me/wanna buy a plane ticket and get outta here/gimme some potato chips. You think maybe a new purse or sunglasses will cheer you up. Or a nap. Or perhaps an afternoon alone in a movie theater. Or ice cream in a cone. You get where I’m going with this.

I halfheartedly grumbled my way through some of the Things I Had to Do. Decided to let the non-essentials slide. Maybe ’til tomorrow, maybe ’til forever.

I needed to pick up some milk and remembered the dairy I’ve been meaning to visit.

Then this happened:

ImageA goat stuck her tongue out at me.

And then I pulled out my phone, and she did it again.

And all was right with my day.

Yes, I am that fickle, and grateful that I am.

Driving in Circles

Any story is a single option among a realm of possibilities.

–Peter Turchi, Maps of the Imagination

*

The first lie a map tells is that it is some kind of truth.

A map is many things: a beginning, a seemingly coherent picture, a depiction, a mental world. It is an imperfect attempt to show something that exists or existed. Sometimes it details something that never has and never will exist. Inevitably, much must be left out in order for it to make any sense.

A map is silent about most things. It decides what little you need to know. It gets away with telling you the least it possibly can.

*

This is what maps show between me and my past:

KIMBALL OGALLALA THE PURPLE HEART MEMORIAL HIGHWAY THE BLUE STAR MEMORIAL HIGHWAY THE PLATTE RIVER THE MISSOURI RIVER DES MOINES ALTOONA IOWA CITY THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER THE FRED SCHWENGEL MEMORIAL BRIDGE HORSESHOE CASINO FREEDOM ROCK KELLOGG THE WORLD’S LARGEST TRUCK STOP COUNCIL BLUFFS LA SALLE JOLIET THE TRI-STATE TOLLWAY THE KINGERY EXPRESSWAY THE BORMAN EXPRESSWAY THE INDIANA TOLL ROAD SOUTH BEND HOLIDAY CITY STRONGVILLE THE OHIO TURNPIKE THE CROSSROADS OF AMERICA SNOW SHOE SUGARLOAF TOWNSHIP THE DELAWARE WATER GAP THE DELAWARE RIVER THE CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS HIGHWAY THE PASSAIC RIVER

*

You’d think I’d remember how to find my old house, the one that overwhelms me when someone says “home.” The one that smells stale in my dreams. I should be able to trace my way back using some kind of psychic breadcrumbs. Maybe I left in too much of a hurry: hungry, itchy, pockets empty.

Growing up, wishing for somewhere, anywhere else. I had no idea how quickly my own car could take me away.

Freedom came from the discovery of unknown places. I drove until I ceased to be, filled my new self with miles, traffic, gas stations, bridges, bug-encrusted headlights, and a coffee-stained atlas.

At last.

I found myself at the other ocean, slammed my brakes, looked in the rear view mirror.

There I was, all over again.

…with the radio on…

ImageThe best driving soundtrack is the SCAN button, when the radio searches among however many stations are available, plays five seconds of whatever music or words are in progress, and then moves on to the next station. Which may be static. Which may be Led Zeppelin. Which may be a farmer selling a plow. Which may be mariachi. Which may be the song you forgot ever existed, the song the once-you once loved, the song with the confusing lyrics. The song that makes your eyes tear up. A giant endless loop of possibility.

Where there are fewer stations, there are larger silences, silences lasting long minutes. Once you forget you are scanning, a preacher may suddenly startle you, yelling something about truth.

But only for five seconds.

And you drive on.

How much courage is needed?

One of my goals is to read (at least) one book about the craft of writing every month in 2014. Today I plucked Jeff Heffron’s The Writer’s Idea Book off the library shelf. I don’t know anything about the book or Heffron, but I appreciate this part of his introduction:

Writing, therefore, is also an act of courage. How much easier is it to lead an unexamined life than to confront yourself on the page? How much easier is it to surrender to materialism or cynicism or to a hundred other ways of life that are, in fact, ways to hide from life and from our fears? When we write, we resist the facile seduction of these simpler roads. We insist on finding out and declaring these truths that we find, and we dare to put those truths on the page. 

As a non-confrontational person, this really struck a chord. I’m also considering the amount of courage I have vs. what I need; I’m not quite where I want to be on that front, either.