Reminiscing

Tucked

It’s been ten years since my mother died. But no, that’s not right. When I snuggle into the cool sheets on a February night I am again seven years old and the heat rises through the grates under the window in the pink bedroom I share with my sisters. Just a few hours before we billowed the just-out-of-the-dryer sheets, the best part of making the bed, and then tucked blankets and stuffed pillows with pink flowered cases. Everything is new again with this simple bit of housework, or is it homemaking? The next morning I will try to repeat the techniques of bed making that my mother performed so deftly last night. The day after I will return to my hasty pull up the covers move that is a poor relation to her expertise. Something I still do, I admit.

There are moments that can get lost if they don’t tap you on the shoulder when you’re not looking and return you, giggles and all, to the most innocent of times. If we are not careful, or if those whispers abandon us, we can color the past in the wrong shades of blue and neglect the light that was there, tucked away maybe, but there just at the end of your fingertips.

 

Creative Process

I've had a request to write about the 'creative process' sitting in my suggestion box for several months now.  Mea culpa. When my spouse (who got me started on this adventure) pointed out that I have not yet answered the request for a blog on Creative Process,  I countered with my argument that I write about the creative process all the time.  But, I am informed, I need to be more direct.  So, here's direct.

The 'creative process' is a bit of a slippery fish.  It starts early.  In infancy.  In very young childhood.  In all the reflection and memories and dinner table anecdotes that happen at every holiday and family/friend get togethers.  The creative process takes shape in sitting around with friends and  having a beer or a cup of coffee.  We cannot help but engage in the creative process if we tune into life at all.  It is a default setting for anyone with a brain wave. But for those of us who want to take the raw materials that life hands us and turn them into something more, we pay attention, tune in, remember just a bit more acutely than others.

What if we would like to capture that process on 'paper' though?  Turn the process into something a bit more tangible, like a short story, a novel, an essay?  That's where the work comes in.

And it is work.  It is a re-shaping,  selection, a series of decisions about what to include and what to leave out.  It cannot merely be a rambling, every detail re-telling of some long ago event.  That's what unedited video cameras are for, and no one really wants to spend time with unedited video.

In order to take the raw materials of life and turn them into something resembling 'art' we must ruminate, cogitate, write, re-write, edit and edit again before we present the stuff of life and transform them into a gem that we would like to share. We must 'cook' our thoughts and pay attention to our dreams, where we are off guard enough to let some whispers through. Whether we write fiction or non-fiction, imagination and selection are essential.

In a recent article, Digging to China, I wrote about playing in the mud.  In the creative process you have to get a little muddy-- you have to feel the dirt ooze between your fingers and watch as the worms wriggle to freedom.  You have to slap the mud into cakes and have enough imagination to believe they are hamburgers or cupcakes or mashed potatoes or weapons to lob at your brother.  You have to not mind getting messy and dropping down into that experience.  You have to 'make believe' as most young children do naturally, whether what you are aiming at is memoir or the next great novel.

The creative process is not some mystical whoo-whoo encounter with a muse.  Many of us wish it were.  Many of us would like to take dictation from some higher elusive being than slog through memories, create or re-create characters, situations, events.  Many of us would like to wake up in the morning and just type out a fabulous dream that is a little gem ready for publication.  Some writers do seem so gifted.  Most of us, I'm afraid, have to work a little harder and do the digging the old fashioned way.  When we get to the place of exotic treasure and work it into something we are proud of it does feel like we dug all the way to China.

September

September is almost over and I have not added to this blog in several weeks.  You'd think after 18 years in the grand state of Texas I'd be used to hot brown Septembers, but, no, I still cannot adjust.  Stubborn, you say?  Well, yes.  Always have been and I don't see that changing anytime soon. September still means to me cooler weather, sweaters, leaves  goldening on the branch to fall to the ground in October and November, and then of course, raking a big pile of leaves and jumping into them in anticipation of the snow mounds to come in December and January.  September means new notebooks and pens, new books and back to school trying to soak it all in.  September means a fresh start after the stifling days of August.  Alas, I live in Texas where Autumn is just a fairy tale concept stolen from lively photos of other, far away places.

You'd think, wouldn't you, that after 18 years in this warm (okay, hot) climate I would have come to appreciate the mild winters -- and yes I do.  That snow that was so fun to jump in and build igloos and snow forts turns to black slush and the glamour of the white crystals that fall from the sky are not as romantic when you are an adult trying to drive on the icy and slushy roads.

So, I long for cool crisp days  with that sweet smell so different than summer in the breeze.  If you are a cynic you might say that the goldening leaves are a sign of death and decay.  But it all depends on how you look at it.  They will always be to me a promise of renewal, a new start, a glorious ending to the full cycle of the years we are given.

Most importantly, though, those magnificent trees of glorious golds and reds and oranges are beautiful.  And missing such a glimpse of heaven is my bow to the wonders of God.

Legacy

Sitting on the cool basement floor, legs splayed on the blue linoleum squares, my knees hold the cover of a large colorful book. I lean against the boxy yellow bookcase that holds childrens books when I am not bent over examining a picture or outlining the shapes of words with my small fingers.  Mom is doing laundry in the back room, the basement door opened to let in the breeze.  Blossoms from the apple tree float down the concrete stairwell, itself the location of many games.   The breeze smells sweet, the jalousy windows have been turned open letting in the air and the occasional noise of a passing car or people walking past the house or birds calling to each other.    My thick 'mink blonde' hair is held back from my face with a barette.  I wear pale cordouroys and a pink cardigan with pearl like buttons.  Mom has tied the laces of my black and white oxfords securely so I don't trip. The oversized childrens books have been well used by the time I get to treasure them.  There are crayon scribblings from older siblings, and many which I myself have added.  We don't think of this as desecrating a book, no, it is much more like being part of the book, part of the story that the books tell. They make their mark on us and we return the favor.

My grandfather's collection are housed in the more serious bookcases. I touch the paper wraps on the hard covered books, the smooth feel of heavy paper, triangles bent and yellowed where they have caught on a table, or been jostled in the carrying, seem to my young mind to give these books a weight of seriousness, an entry into a world bigger than my basement library, bigger than my backyard covered in fallen blossoms, bigger than the smell of fresh laundry on clothesline that looks like a tree in yard.  For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, the collected works of Poe, Dickens and Shakespeare are some of the titles that intrigue me.  I plan to read these works someday when I am big like Mom and Dad.

On its own table sits the king of books: an ancient Oxford Dictionary.  The inside of the leather cover is done up in a faded paisley and the pages have been swept with gold paint on the edges re-iterating the importance of this formidable work.  Through the years I open this book with great curiosity, with a sense of stepping into a large and brilliant world where ideas are born and lives are shaped.  From time to time I would retreat to the basement with a blue fountain pen and a marbled notebook and copy words and definitions of words from that great book.  Being left handed, I felt pride at the ubiquitous blue stain on my pinky, because, well, because that was witness to my love of words and writing them.

I never met the grandfather whose books now lined the basement of our house.  But I learned something of him through stories.  He was printer, an editor, a writer, a speaker, and of course, a reader.  He obviously loved books because this is the treasure we inherited from him.  This is his legacy to me, a fellow lover of words, of the texture and smell and sight of books, of the way words sound on the tongue and their history, their evolution through the languages of humanity.