The Gift of Travel

My son was recently accepted to his dream university in Leeds, UK to play in soccer academy, and I am suddenly filled with the excited anticipation of traveling again. It’s difficult to believe that it has been 20 years since my maiden voyage around the world. The stories, people, markets, sights, and food came back to life as I wrote my novel, Through the Ganesh Gate, but over the years it felt like my journey was purely a work of fiction.

Now, with the upcoming trip to Europe, I recall the delicious anticipation of stepping off the train in a new city; feeling the currency, listening to the accents from all over the world, and learning the history of foreign cultures. I remember the feeling of studying maps and train
schedules, and dreaming about how to pack gear in the most space efficient manner possible. I reminisce in the feeling of standing in a monolithic church that has stood for thousands of years.

Perhaps I am using my travel excitement to stave off the fact that my one and only child will be moving half way around the world. If I linger with this knowledge, the lump in my throat become too great to bear. So for now, I will silently thank my son for giving me yet one more gift: a reason to travel again.

 

Facebook Roulette

There it was. The tiny, innocuous red circle, perched off to the side of the ‘Requests’ category. I stared at the glowing dot as if sizing up the red numbers on a giant Vegas roulette wheel. “Come on baby, make it a good one!” I hit the ‘Requests’ category and watched the name and face come forth.

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I was a late-comer and reluctant joiner of Facebook, long after everyone I knew had lost the ability to lift their heads during gatherings, except to smile for a photo tag. I eventually gave in since there was no one left to talk to in person. I wasn’t even going to join at all until a writer I revere said, “If you ever plan to get published, then you should start your online platform now.” Platform? The only platform I ever knew was the one my college professor said needed to be lit on fire in order to change points of view.

None the less, I succumbed to starting my platform on Facebook. I picked a photo, twenty years younger; how else would anyone know who I was? I filled in a profile with as little information as possible. Then, after nearly throwing up, I hit the ‘Go’ button. Next on the list of humiliating prospects was begging for friends. I started with my boyfriend. Surely, he would be my ‘friend’. After he accepted my ‘friend request’ I was thrilled. One friend was enough- Right? “You need more friends,” he said. “No, I like having just one- thanks,” I replied. For weeks, he would mock me through emails containing screenshots stating:        “Melanie has 1 friend.” facebook-no-friends
At last, after being teased by my real, live, heads-down friends, I accepted more people into my anxiety riddled Facebook world. Beyond my closest friends I couldn’t imagine who would care what I had to say or what I was doing. Does anyone care where I ‘checked in’ at 6:42 pm? My boyfriend offered me a tinfoil hat and recommended I loosen up; pretend to be social and see what happens.

The real roulette game started after I became ‘friends’ with the queen bee; my high school girlfriend who knew every face she ever met and remembers amazing amounts of dirt on everyone. After linking to her on Facebook, the ‘friend requests’ started rolling in. Many of the early requests were from people I actually remembered from college or high school, but others were remote names I recognized from some distant, other life that I could not place in time or space.

My greatest surprise was learning the real meaning of social media: Anyone can say nearly anything without regard for decorum, wit, intelligence or couth, and it will shoot out into the universe and land just inches from my face. I was utterly shocked to learn that the bubbly athletic girl who had had public hot-tub sex at a kegger party was now a bible-preaching gun advocate. And worse were the frequent ‘likes’ that pushed Walmart into my ‘Newsfeed’. In contrast, I was pleased to learn that my first boyfriend, fifth grade kiss behind the school, was now an advocate fighting for gay rights in a deeply religious small town. From there, the game of roulette commenced; deciding who to ‘accept’ and who to ‘ignore’ and then see where the roulette wheel would land.

There were ‘friends’ who popped up pretending to know me (or perhaps were just building their own platform) despite the fact that I had zero recognition of them. Or the ‘friends’ whom I truly enjoy but who post something new approximately every 20 seconds. Why did it seem like everyone was doing cool stuff except me? I was fortunate to connect with some very interesting friends who travel and post pictures of cool cultures and rare plants, or those with a wicked sense of humor who share great jokes and fabulously written New Yorker pieces. My cooking friends grace my ‘Newsfeed’ with golden, crusty bread and oozing berry pies hot from the oven.

So, with trepidation I hit the red dot indicating that I have one new friend request and spin the roulette wheel, not knowing whether my new friend will be a hilarious photo bomber or a raving Fox ‘news’ lunatic. I guess that’s what makes it all the more interesting. So, on those occasions where the gamble turns out to be an utter, terrible mistake, I am grateful for the ‘unfriend’ button. Now where did they move that thing?

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Hometown Author Event

Idaho State Journal

Idaho State Journal

It was a wonderful weekend in Pocatello, Idaho visiting with friends at the 30-year Poky High Reunion and at the wonderful book reading / signing event. The event location, The Walrus and Carpenter is a groovy new and used bookstore on the small main street of downtown Pocatello. I knew by the smell of the pages and the stacks of books in every genre, that I would love the venue. My family was amazing! They involved the community by announcing the event it the Idaho State Journal.

Many people helped with food and pictures, and provided terrific support all around. Highlights of the event was a visit from my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Browning, and a drop in from childhood neighbor friend. Thank you to everyone. It was a wonderful author event!

 

Book at the Beach

Manzanita, Oregon is my favorite Oregon beach town for many reasons: the wide open and sparsely populated beach, the few but tasty restaurants, and the Cloud and Leaf bookstore. As I come through the drizzly coast range, I can already feel the pull of the little book shop. The door is usually propped open, a soft light emanating from inside. 20160521_140829.jpg The smell of clean paper is mixed with fresh rain. Colorful titles jump forward requesting my attention; mystery, humor, literature, best sellers. 20160521_140757.jpgThe owner is a soft-spoken, friendly woman who without a pause invites my book to joint the others. With delight, I see that my story has a new home in the local authors section. After years of work and buckets of self-doubt, my dream has come true. My book is on the shelf.

The Way Station

In Christi Krug’s Wildfire Writing process there is an important step called The Way Station. In her book, Burn Wild, she describes the Way Station as a “stopover, a breather, and a place to lose attachments to your work.” Over the past 5 years while writing Through the Ganesh Gate I have parked at the Way Station many times, and with good purpose.

In the beginning of the writing process I was shy, embarrassed even to put words on the page. I kept telling myself that no one would want to read the story, it was not important, and that I had no expertise that gave me the right to write. Many times I put a chapter away for weeks, and whole sections were shelved for months at time. But instead of getting frustrated, I accepted that I had returned to the Way Station. Each time I started writing again, the story felt exciting and a little less scary.

After I completed the full draft, it was terrifying to send it out to my early readers. Even with 300 pages and a start, middle, and end, the novel felt unfinished, raw, and untidy. But I sent it anyway and parked again at the Way Station. The magic of giving it away allowed me to separate myself from the story that I had written. I even started writing my second novel just to get the first out of my mind. That separation was vital to gain perspective, hear critical feedback, and ultimately, rewrite both the beginning and the end (yet another time).

My last stop at the Way Station occurred when the story was turned over to my editor Bjorn. I wanted so desperately for the book to be finished, but I parked at the Way Station and allowed the process to move at its own pace. So, for the past year, Bjorn and I have played a slow game of Ping-Pong. Each draft got better, more concise, and the story came into balance. By embracing the concept of losing attachment to my work, the novel found its own final form.

I will never be a current or proficient blogger (as you can clearly see), nor am I likely to master many new skills in this lifetime, but I can finally say, with reasonable comfort, that I am an author. I will forever be grateful for both the writing process and the amazing people who helped me along the way. I hope that there are many more stories to come.

Learn more about Wildfire Writing.

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Words don’t bleed, cut them

I can’t recall who said it, but this quote has proven true: “Words don’t bleed, cut them.”1

Over the past five years I have crafted a story onto the page. Plodded toward the finish line pushing hard for word count, straining for depth and meaning. I rewrote the story twice to make the characters more engaging. I reworked the structure to follow the hero’s journey, carefully adding pace and plot. Eventually, the story was done. Then it came time to give it away to someone else, an editor and publisher, who would look at it with fresh eyes and a steel heart.

When the novel came back, I stared at the corrections. Mountains of corrections. Not just grammatical, but technical, developmental, and logistical. I stared at the page. My heart broke a little. Then I took a deep breath, hit “accept all” and dug in. I cut full scenes. I cut entire plot lines. I cut words, favorite and beloved. I realized then the real truth, that in fact the words did not bleed. Instead, cutting words set the story free.

Now, I am rebuilding. I am happy to find that in the more trim version, the plot is less leaden. The protagonist has purpose, and the story baggage has been left for someone else to claim. I love the story arc more than ever before. I am energized to write again, to create, to live inside my characters.

Perhaps this year will be the one that sees this novel to print. No matter if this draft comes back once again from a second edit with “Try again” written all over it, I know that I will see it through. I will trust the objective view from outsiders. I will trust that the story will only strengthen each time. And I will trust that things cut back, will only return stronger and more beautiful.

1 if anyone knows the source of the title quote please let me know – I’d love to give proper credit.

Brain Tune Up

I wish I could shrink down, just small enough to fit inside my brain so that I could do a little tune up. Not a full shut-down-reboot, just a little work. I’m not expecting or even hoping for the agility of my younger self, but a pinch of coordination and a dash of refinement would be nice to carry me into the next decade of life.

The first stop on the maintenance tour would be the eyes. The vision system is a complex Eyeand delicate operation that would require great care during a tune up. I’d be careful not to fiddle too much, just make a few adjustments. I’d gently pry open the lens and give it a quick clean. Images would come through crisp and clear like looking through a freshly washed window as you roll out of the carwash. After that, I’d do a bit of tightening to the ciliary muscles; a turn or two would do to pull the lens into tender tautness. Images, recently blurry without the aid of reading glasses, would come into perfect focus once again.

Nerve1From the eyes, I’d surf the neural pathways back to the cerebellum. Here, I’d find the broken connections and battered neurons that connect to the arms and legs. With magical duct tape and gorilla glue I’d hook up those lost connections that once allowed me to dance with rhythm and to smash a zinger of a ping pong ball across the net. The whole system has not collapsed, it has just lost its efficiency. Direction, extent, force, and timing are no longer at peak performance. With a few repairs on the cerebellar highway, perhaps I’d no longer trip going up the stairs.

Now when someone says to me: “Hey, we should take a vacation to Hawaii.” My amygdala hollers out:”No, flying is dangerous, volcanoes explode, the sun will cause you cancer!”

After the cerebellum is humming like a well timed engine, I’d slide down the hippocampus to the amygdala. One of my favorite anatomical words, it’s a tiny structure deep in the center of the brain. It’s main function is the perception and regulation of fear. Maintenance on the should-be almond shaped structure might take some time. I’m pretty sure that instead of getting a nice small pair of amygdalae, I got two softball-sized whoppers. My overactive amygdalae have been flexing their fear-muscles for decades. They have hypertrophied into brawny, rigid, controlling entities. Now when someone says to me: “Hey, we should take a vacation to Hawaii.” My amygdala hollers out:”No, flying is dangerous, volcanoes explode, the sun will cause you cancer!” All this occurs before I can conjure up even one beautiful image of a waterfall or white sand beach. With my tune up tools I would carefully remove the overgrown and useless sections of the amygdala and return it to it’s normal size. Just big enough to keep me from jumping into the lion exhibit at the zoo, but no longer stopping me from taking a few, calculated risks.

With my tools packed up and debris cleared away, I’d be ready to leave the brain. The changes might not be outwardly recognizable, but to my former self, the change would be palpable. Life with a little better clarity, an improved sense of precision, and a lot less fear might open up all kinds of possibilities. Anyone want to dance?

 

Months of Growth

There’s was something special about being a woman and being bald. The way people looked at me with a careful tenderness. The gentle way they approach the question. Visible relief washed over when I told them I shaved for a charity event. But the open space between knowing and not, was full of beautiful opportunity. More than once, I had strangers share their stories of battling cancer. They praised me for my courage (though I knew they were the ones with true courage). A darling young hipster in Portland even requested to take a selfie with me so she could show her parents that bald could be beautiful.

I love the thick, dark hair that is growing back, but feel a tiny hint of sadness. Sadness at the closing of the door, where strangers go back to mumbled greetings and closed hearts. It feels like a rare moment when people act from a place of pureness of heart, where social rules are abandoned in favor of making a connection, however brief, out of empathy or curiosity. My hair is back to the point of looking like an intentional hairstyle. Perhaps, with a full head of hair, I can figure out the alchemy that brings people together; learn the mystery of what causes a spark of connection. I’ll give it some time and energy. But in the event that the mystery does not reveal itself, summer is just around the corner from the barbershop.

Books for Food

For weeks on end I have been feeding an insatiable appetite. Trolling the fridge for fat-laden, cream-based anything; savoring hunks of bread laden with wads of peanut butter, stirring up huge bowls of mac and cheese, delving into the depths of the bag to find the saltiest, thickest chip.

I finally found time to run to my local book store with an hour to shop. With a foamy latte in one hand, I ran my fingers over the table of ‘Hot Summer Reads.’ Torrid love affairs and twisted family secrets offered up their titles. ‘Fiction and Literature’ tempted me with rich plot lines and deep moral exploration like something cooked long and slow, covered in a rich sauce. My mouth watered at the thought of finding the perfect book to read late into the night.

Finally, in ‘Mysteries’, I found a small cache of previously unread books from a known favorite author. I plucked two books from the shelf, paid in full, and ran to my car. I sat and looked into the small bag with a deep smile on my face; I had hit the jackpot and found not one book, but two. It was like opening the pink bakers box and finding that not only had the baker delicately wrapped the cool chocolate éclair in lacy paper, but he had also included a creamy hazelnut-vanilla cannoli.

Next time I find myself staring into the abyss of the fridge or the kitchen carb drawer, I think instead that I’ll go to the book store and pick up a delicious treat.

Before and After

Melanie Before IMG_0560Read more…