Growing a Contented Heart

So there it is, the true title of this blog. I’m well-acquainted with loss of short-term memory. Oh yes, did I say ‘well acquainted’? I’m also realizing I’m experiencing short-term vision loss. I refer to the spiritual type of vision. This blog was started a few years ago with the express vision of growing my own contented heart and helping others do likewise. Well, I lost the vision, or misplaced it perhaps.

The concept of growing something involves work, doesn’t it? It’s something that involves effort, discipline, practice. Sadly, I’ve never been very disciplined. But if I really want that garden of contentment to grow, I’ve a need to restore my vision.  That will take, uck! discipline.

Gardens are not woodlands with a natural beauty, where weeds look quite at home amidst the ferns and grasses. Gardens need tending. The weeds need to go or they choke out the flowers. That takes daily effort. In my garden the enemy weed begins with a negative thought, a demoralizing attack from within. You aren’t smart enough, young enough, old enough, good enough, pretty enough. You aren’t. So where does that leave you? Defeated? Yep! That’s bad water for the roots! That’s putting a bag over the seedling you are attempting to help grow, shutting out the light source.

The goal is not to feel good about myself.  This isn’t a self-improvement class. I must confess that when my vision is fuzzy, I forget and think that is the goal. I want so desperately to approve of myself. But that is when I’m suffering from spiritual amnesia. If I fail to exercise my faith and allow the negative voice to shout down the voice of truth, that poor heart isn’t going to grow in contentment.

Practically, how does one shout down the voices of negativity? I’m disciplining myself to count my blessings. When I actually start to name them, it’s astounding how many there are. Part of that discipline means I don’t compare my blessings to those given to others. I work at tearing down false expectations. I choose to believe in His love and that He has given me just what I need for today. Elyse Fitzpatrick has written it this way in her book Comforts From Romans, “Rest…expect his blessing. Believe, and when you don’t, believe again.”

So my new exercise for the second half of 2016 is to shout the truth louder than the lie. The truth is simple and beautiful. God accepts me where I am. He approves of me even when I don’t. My choices may be flawed. My thoughts may be poison to that garden. My hope may be misplaced. But He waters the garden even when I neglect it. He pours nourishment into the soil when I forget to look to Him for my hope. Planting in such a soil will produce a healthy, contented heart.

This isn’t just about thinking positively to produce a good outcome. That can be simply an act of self-deception. But if I have trusted in the One who has called me out of darkness into light, I have a real reason for hope and true contentment. I will cry out as the father in Mark 9:24, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”

So this may not be a stunning post, but it’s a course adjustment. We need those frequently.

Next up will be a cover reveal for my recently released historical fiction under a pen name for a different audience than the Distant Shores of Home series.  Speaking of Distant Shores, it has its own website now. You can find it here:  https://distantshoresofhome.com

If you like it please leave a “like” or comment please.

 

The Divine Romance

In the creation of fiction, writers should and usually do spend much time selecting names for their characters. Names convey information. The author wants readers to know  his characters, how they think, how they respond, how they view their world. Ultimately, he wants the reader to love them. That’s easier in fiction than in real life.

In fiction, the writer can reveal what those characters are thinking. He can show you how they respond and go on to tell you why. He can show you their worldview as they experience trials. He can create empathy in the reader with prose that is crafted for that very purpose. The writer’s job is to help the reader know the character as well as he does.

To truly know God is to love him. But knowing him goes beyond knowledge of him. Knowing him is a personal experience. That knowing has to first be initiated by a gift of grace. “We love because He first loved us.”

But as the author of the greatest book in human history, he shows us how he responds, how he views our life and our dire position in a fallen world. He leads us every step of the way to allow us to know him and love him. One of those means of revealing his character is through the names he uses for himself.

El Shaddai                            The All-Sufficient One

El Elyon                                  The God Most High

El Olam                                  The  Everlasting God

Adonai                                    Lord, Master

Jehovah-nissi                       The Lord My Banner

Yahweh                                    Lord (Jehovah)

Jehovah-jireh                        The Lord Will Provide

Elohim                                      The Creator

Jehovah-raah                        The Lord My Shepherd

Qanna                                       Jealous

Jehovh-rapha                        The Lord Who Heals

Jehovah-shalom                   The Lord is Peace

Jehovah-shammah              The Lord is There

El Roi                                           The God Who Sees

Jehovah-sabaoth                   The Lord of Hosts

Jehovah-tsidkenu                  The Lord Our Righteousness

Jehovah-mekoddishkern    The Lord Who Sanctifies You

Admittedly, some of these names are preferable to others. While it is comforting to think of God as the Good Shepherd, it could be disconcerting to also remember that He is the God who sees. But in a different situation, when an injustice has been committed against us, the knowledge that God has seen it provides comfort. So He is the totality of his names. Complex and mysterious, but fully accessible, he invites us into this divine romance.

Yaweh has come down that we might know him and love him. He has further revealed his love in the name Emmanuel, God With Us. A greater love has never been known.

Those who know your name trust in you, for you, O Lord, do not abandon those who search for you.   NLT Psalm 9:10

Happy Valentine’s Day

 

 

 

 

Misha Alexandrov – Chapter Two

In a previous post, I spoke of using setting as a character. That was what prompted me to include the previous chapter in Misha Alexandrov. But as a novel for middle grade readers, the following chapter might have been a better beginning.

Chapter 2

“We cross that, yes?” Dimitri pulled at his grizzled beard. A skeptical eyebrow disappeared beneath his fur cap.

The fort construction foreman, Stepan Tarasov, pulled up the reins and grinned mirthlessly at Dimitri who sat beside him. “We’ve no other way to get to the fort. The Slavianka River shows her temper this time of year, but the Miwok Indians know her moods well, and the Aleuts are skilled with the baidarka. You can either trust their skill, trust God for deliverance to the other side, or both. Either way, the odds are in your favor, I think.”

“And the horses? How do the horses cross? Surely they don’t swim?” Dimitri asked.

“No, not this time of year. A wagon and a sturdy pair of mules are waiting on the other side. Only men are foolish enough to cross the river,” Tarasov answered with a snort.

Dimitri turned to Misha, who had scrambled to perch on the box behind them. “Well, we’ve survived a sea crossing from Unalaska. I suppose one river shouldn’t stop us from reaching our destination, eh, my young friend?”

Misha stared ahead at the flooded torrent gorged with floating debris. Giant logs tumbled in their race to the sea. The boy gulped at the prospect of crossing in the small boats pulled up on the shore. He offered Dimitri a wan smile in a feeble attempt to hide his fear.

After spending the night at Port Rumianstev, Foreman Tarasov had collected Dimitri and Misha for the overland trip to the fort. He’d made it clear from the beginning that he did not approve of the boy’s presence. He had no skills and no contract with the Russian American Company, and therefore no business with the colony. Had his father not died and instead been with him as they’d planned, the boy’s presence would not have been the problem it now posed. But Tarasov lacked the authority to send him back on the ship at least, not yet.

Four men stood on the shore, two Misha recognized to be Aleut, like his mother. The third man stood taller with deep-set eyes that gave him a fierce expression. Tarasov told Dimitri that he was a Miwok Indian from Bodega.

The imposing man smiled and spoke in heavily accented Russian, “You haven’t ridden a bucking horse, have you?”

Misha had seen no horses until today and would not have known a bucking one from a docile one. He shook his head.

“After today, you might say you have.” The man laughed, and his face softened.

A few items were loaded into the middle seat of the baidarka that Tarasov would pilot. Dimitri stepped up to the water’s edge and slowly eased himself into the forward compartment. Into the middle seat of the second baidarka, the two Aleuts loaded Dimitri’s trunk.

The Miwok pulled the smaller boat into the shallow waters and motioned to Misha to come closer. Misha quickly pulled on his parka to free his hands and tried unsuccessfully to lift his leg into the rocking baidarka, losing his footing on the slippery rocks. The Miwok grabbed his arm and pulled him upright before the cold waters drenched him.

Misha glanced over at Tarasov, whose eyes were narrowed watching his clumsy attempts. Misha knew he was small for his age and appeared weak in the man’s eyes. He mustn’t let the man think he was too small to be of use to him.

“Here!” Before Misha could protest and try again, the Indian lifted Misha like a sack of potatoes and lowered him into the boat’s narrow opening. He then pushed the baidarka forward and slid into the back compartment. Pulling away from the shore with strong strokes, Misha’s boat easily caught up to the other pair. The men strained against the rushing current, aiming for the landing visible on the opposite bank. With each stroke of the paddle, Misha heard their labored breath come in grunts.

Misha gripped the baidarka’s sides, his eyes wide as he watched the oarsmen fight against the pull of the sea. At this crossing, so near the ocean, the tide could also be a factor in the current. More than just a matter of a pulling from one side of the river to the other, this trip required constant maneuvering to avoid one obstacle after another. Everything from tangled twigs to full-size trees that had fallen close to the river’s shore through the winter months careened wildly to the sea.

The boy watched Dimitri’s pilot dodge a mass of limbs that were trapped in their own whirlpool. The Miwok skillfully steered the craft upstream away from the snag. As the mass passed harmlessly to the side, Misha caught sight of movement in the branches of a small floating tree – a tiny, brown bundle of wet fur. A squirrel stared back at Misha with defiant eyes and scolded him as if all this was somehow his fault.

Another log suddenly loomed into view and once more the Miwok maneuvered the craft upstream, steering away from the tree’s path. The Indian grunted with the effort and the little boat tipped sharply. Misha grabbed the edge, and his eyes grew even wider.

The boatman corrected his course and shifted his balance. A sudden lifting of the bow, and then the boat lurched sideways as a log, wider in diameter than three grown men, brushed the side. Again the Indian corrected their course, but not before a second log hit them broadside with such force that Misha’s hands tore free of the side. The small boat tilted wildly. Misha grabbed for something but found only air, and then only water.

He kicked his legs, attempting to push himself back to the surface, but broke above the water just as a piece of debris smacked into his head, plunging him beneath the surface again. He struggled once more, frantic for air, and emerged several feet farther away. In a desperate attempt to stay afloat, he thrashed his arms.

At one point, Misha heard Dimitri shout to him. Because of the number of times he had been spun by the waters, he strained to orient himself, uncertain of the opposite bank. He tried to locate the other boats, but logs and his own hair plastered to his face obstructed a clear view. Once more he heard a distant shout.

His parka hung heavy now and made lifting his arms difficult. His boots pulled like anchors on his legs. He kicked wildly and tugged his arm free of one sleeve, but sank again. The shock of the cold further hindered his movements.

Over and over he struggled, pushing his nose above the water, but his other arm remained trapped in the water-logged jacket. He took in a lungful of air and dived to wrestle with the sleeve that bound him. He tore at it with his unencumbered hand until at last his tangled arm pulled free. His head surfaced again, his lungs burning, but the parka was gone.

With awkward strokes, he began to paddle toward the shore when something grabbed his leg. He kicked frantically, but his foot had caught in the branches of the log snag. He twisted his body, grabbing for another branch, and managed to pull himself partially out of the water onto a larger limb. Clinging to the swiftly moving tree, he remembered the poor, drenched creature he’d seen before, who had done exactly this. Like the hapless squirrel, he was now at the mercy of the raging current.

Misha-Alexandrov-800 Cover reveal and Promotional

 

 Available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

Now also available on Nook

 

The Power of Positive Words

I’ve been thinking a lot about encouragement and those who give it so timely and with such natural grace. While texting with two friends last night, I saw that timeliness exhibited in my friend. Our mutual friend was expressing her concerns about navigating an airport pickup in an unfamiliar city. My instant response was to commiserate with her situation. “Scary” was my reply.

The quieter friend in the string said, “You can do it!” She then proceeded to give simple suggestions to help our friend find her way. It hit me between the eyes – the difference. You can do it! Let me help you. Isn’t that it? One response still has an element of self. Oooo, I’d be scared too. The other is genuinely empathetic and as a result, helpful.

My first novel was born out of a desire to encourage my son who had made a surprising decision to enlist in the Marine Corp while still in college. I was disappointed that he would not complete his studies first, but I wanted him to know without doubt that I still loved and supported him. My fictional character, Misha, struggled with acceptance and issues of identity. He ultimately finds both, but not after some false starts and travels down some circuitous paths.

I hope my writing will be a source of encouragement. Time will tell. Need to check the motivations from time-to-time. I think most of us want to be encouragers. But we often miss the mark in our attempts. Reminds me of the definition of humility – Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, but not thinking of yourself at all.  That’s a real challenge. I don’t think it’s a change we can make in our own goodness or strength. It’s a Spirit thing.

There is a community of encouraging folks online at a website I’ve recently discovered – http://www.TheSeeds4Life.com Go check it out! You’ll even find an article by this blogger.

Thanks to Matt and all those who see the beauty of encouragement.

 

Setting As Character

From the moment I first saw the chapel of Fort Ross when rounding the bend of the foggy Hwy 101, it became a she. Emerging from the fog so unexpectedly, she took on personality, mysterious and yet benevolent. She had a story to tell, and I had to listen. That was four years ago, nearly five.

As the protagonist, Misha Alexandrov, developed in my imagination, the fortress continued to be a significant presence. Because he was an orphan, it seemed that the fortress was taking him into her care, providing more than shelter, but also identity. The first novel delves into that need in Misha to find a place to belong. Neither his Russian father or Aleut mother are there when we meet the young Misha. He has traveled from Archangel to Bodega Bay in the company of his father’s friend, Dimitri.

So when I was advised to cut the first chapter, I was confused and conflicted. It was there that this maternal relationship is revealed. For many revisions, it remained in my deleted scenes folder. When I made the decision to self-publish, I pulled it out again. Perhaps it didn’t have the faster pace beginning that the second chapter provided, but I was satisfied.

What books have you read that enlist the setting as a character? I can think of a few. I’d like to hear yours.

I offer Chapter One to you here. Comments are, as always, welcome.

MISHA ALEXANDROV

Ross Colony, Alta California, 1827Misha-Alexandrov-800 Cover reveal and Promotional

Misha Alexandrov pushed himself through a narrow space between two burly men, bursting through to the ship’s railing in time to catch the old crewman pointing just beyond the bow. The man shouted again, “There she is, beyond the point! See the top of her southern guard tower? There, on the peninsula ahead!”

Men dressed in heavy parkas leaned against the ship’s railing peering ahead to where the grizzled sailor’s eyes were focused. Misha, who didn’t look his ten years, stood his ground, defending his small space at the rail. He braced himself as the ship heaved its bulk over yet another wave, then lifted his hand, shielding his eyes against the sun’s morning rays.

The fog which had blanketed the coast since first light had lifted, leaving behind only drifting wisps. At last, the rocky shore and sandstone cliffs revealed themselves to the crew and passengers of the Russian brigantine ship, Surorov. Weeks of sailing rough seas in the waters of the north Pacific made the fortress an especially welcome sight.

Now the boy saw the stout wooden walls of the stockade along with its guard towers. Ross Fortress sat serenely on the peninsula just above a small, secluded cove flanked by deep ravines on either side. On the beach, a partially constructed ship balanced on giant logs.

The Surorov floated close enough for the boy to recognize men on the shore working around a half-dozen small boats, the ones the Russians called baidarkas, the same Aleut kayaks that fished the waters of Archangel. The men near these boats waved at the passengers. Misha, along with several others at the rail, waved back.

“Look, Misha, the men must be going seal hunting! One of them already put his baidarka into the sea.” Dimitri Makarova gestured just beyond the bow of the ship. Misha looked up into the man’s whiskered face, a man scarcely more than a stranger, but one on whom he had suddenly become completely dependent. The boy turned his attention once more to the shore, where one of the small crafts was just launching into the breakers.

Another passenger spoke from behind them, “They don’t hunt so much now. The Aleuts were too good at their jobs, so not many seals remain. Now the hunters become farmers. I’ve heard that many grumble because of this, but stomachs must be filled with something other than fish.”

Dimitri nodded. “Ah! I’ve heard the colony grows wheat here! I’d surely welcome even a crust of bread.”

Misha watched Dimitri’s eyes close at the memory, just as his father’s had when he’d spoken of his longing for bread. What type of food could be more delicious than sea lion or salmon? He peered eagerly again at the shore, while his stomach made a curious murmur.

Coming into view were smaller buildings huddled close to the fortress like chicks near their mother hen. This village reminded Misha of the picture books from his Russian homeland, stories his father had read to him. Here were those same quaint isbas, cottages, painted blue. A short distance from the fortress stood a stocky windmill, its arms turning gently, driven by the coastal winds.

Despite the forbidding stockade walls, the open gates of the fortress seemed to extend welcoming arms to the sea. Misha smiled for the first time in many, long, cold months, and something awakened within him that had vanished with their sudden departure from Archangel, Alaska.

Misha looked up again at Dimitri’s naturally serious face. This man, though his father’s oldest friend and a good and decent man, was not accustomed to children. Misha knew he was uncomfortable in this sudden role thrust upon him as his guardian. Dimitri was honoring his father’s dying wish, but it had been awkward for both of them.

A lonely cold clutched at the boy’s heart, banishing his flush of excitement. He hugged himself against the brisk sea breeze, his fingers stroking the familiar soft sealskin of his parka. A fleeting image of his mother passed behind his closed eyelids. This touch of her last gift to him, one she’d spent a year crafting, braced his courage.

“Dimitri?” he asked, his gaze now upon the bluffs and gentle hills rising just beyond the fort.

“Yes?” Dimitri smiled down at the boy, a smile that seemed tight at the edges, as if his face were unaccustomed to the expression.

“Why isn’t the ship stopping? She’s sailing away from the shore, not closer?”

“The ship will take us to Port Rumianstev in Bodega Bay where the ship’s cargo can be more easily unloaded. A sailor said we’ll return north to the fort by land. I think we don’t have more than a few hours before we arrive at the port,” Dimitri answered.

“I see.”

Misha gripped the rail and peered back at the shore. Slicing easily through the gentle waves, the ship sent cold spray over the deck, while the golden sun reached down, warming the young boy’s face and heart. Misha laughed and licked sticky salt from his lips. With renewed hope for finding a place to once more belong, he watched the colony on the bluff grow smaller as the ship sailed south to Bodega Bay. Ross Fortress, resting high on the bluff, returned the boy’s gaze and beckoned.

 

A Few New Chapters

That’s what happens when you forget to back up and focus. One chapter flows into the next, and then the next, and then one more until you at last you take a step back and see that life is flowing too rapidly into the future and you’ve been swept along without contemplating the significance of each. That’s normal life I suppose, but it’s not the way I wish to live.

We’ve made some fairly significant, no, we’ve made significant changes in the last few months. Decisions were made; directions were changed; landscapes were altered. We’ve relocated to the Pacific Northwest, really northwest, as far as the tip of the Olympic Peninsula. In the last month, despite record rainfall, we’ve logged a few dozen miles hiking the shores and highlands of this breathtakingly beautiful region. From our new home we can see the lights of Victoria, Canada, watch eagles overhead and spot deer nibbling in our field. It’s more than distance from southern California that we’ve traveled. It feels we’ve traveled through time as well.

There’s a slower pace here. People are not afraid to make eye contact. When a store clerk asks you how you’re day is going, she listens to your answer and before you know it you’re communicating-genuine communication. That slower pace can lure me into forgetting some of the goals I’ve set for this next chapter of life. Writing takes discipline in any setting, but here I’m going to have to learn to take a lesson from my husband and establish routines. And so I have.

This post is a step in that direction. I have three books in process, and I hope to share some chapters with you in the next few weeks. I haven’t found a writers’ group here yet, so I’m hoping to connect with those of you who enjoy dialog about your writing endeavors. I know you are out there. I’m even following a few of those blogs.

Let me know how you’ve kept the discipline to think creatively on a schedule. Seems improbable. But I don’t want my life chapters to sweep me to the end of my book unaware.

 

Misha is Home

I set a short range goal after visiting Fort Ross five years ago, and that was to see Misha Alexandrov’s story on the shelf at the Fort Ross bookstore. He made it there in November of 2015. He started the journey from Archangel as an orphan of a Russian carpenter and an Aleut mother in 1824.

Ten-year-old Misha Alexandrov sails into Bodega Bay on Alta-California’s north coast as an uninvited member of the Russian American Company. Even before he steps foot into the Russian colony of Fort Ross, his heart is captivated by the beauty of the coast and a longing is born to claim it as his home. Aware of the urgency to prove his worth as a working member of the colony the orphan must also overcome the perception that he brings with him a bag of bad luck. Testing at the hands of a tyrannical foreman forces him to develop the mental strength to stand up to the waves of prejudice and self-doubt that threaten to pull him from the shore he comes to love. Ultimately, Misha discovers that it is neither the mixed blood that flows through his veins nor the cultures he admires that will define him, but the land itself.

If you have an interest in the Russian colony on California’s beautiful north coast, I invite you to read his story available now on Amazon in paperback and Kindle format.

The second book in the series is nearly complete. If you would like to read portions of Dragonfly before publication and offer feedback, I would love to hear from you.

Click on the link below to order.

Misha-Alexandrov-800 Cover reveal and Promotional

Can Talent be Defined?

DSC_2295Michael Hauge often speaks of the protagonist’s search for his essence. It’s an essential element of the hero’s tale. The hero lives in denial for a period of time, clinging to what he knows to be true of himself, or rather what he believes to be true of himself. The story reveals his essence which opposes that perception, and while the reader sees the reality, the protagonist must discover that truth along his own painful journey. I’ve also read that each of us must make that painful transition or languish in our delusions, never satisfied. Looking back at my own career path, I can see the truth of this. That path has been long and full of some interesting switchbacks. That is the universal story, and I’m only living out one version.

One major switchback or plot twist occurred early in my life. I’ve spoken of it in an earlier post. The fact that this event continues to come to mind reveals its significance. In love with the process of creating, at the time manifesting itself in the visual arts, my path seemed straight and clear. I would pursue my passion, seeking out those who could teach me the skills I needed to succeed. Unfortunately, the teacher became the obstacle to that pursuit. Young and perhaps threatened by her inexperience, she asserted her opinion that what I lacked to become successful was talent.

Such a judgement, from one to whom an impressionable youth looks for guidance, is devastating. Although it altered my career path, the experience shaped me for the better. Later in life, when I found myself in the position of art teacher for a small private school, I made a commitment to encourage my students and pass opinions on their talents to others. But on the negative side, while I see myself as a teacher of students in the arts I refuse to think of myself as an artist. I still believe I lack the talent.

Along the way, I met a wonderful teacher of ceramic art. He was the C.S. Lewis of potters for his time. Students thrived under his instruction. We aspired to be like him and learn all we could from his vast years of experience. He taught us the chemistry of glaze creations, but he taught us so much more. Never allowing us to keep anything we had made on a potter’s wheel unless it was 12 inches high, he taught us discipline and to pursue excellence in our craft. To me, he gave words that began to undo the damage of that youthful teacher from my past. He said that to become an excellent potter was more about skill than talent. Oh what a revelation! Here was an excuse for me to continue to pursue my essence, just in a different medium. So I did.

Yet another creative passion has bubbled within. I loved crafting stories since childhood. Written over a decade ago, one novel still rests in the memory of my word processor. And now the first book of my Distant Shores of Home historical fiction series is in the hands of an editor. Once again, I read the words that have given me confidence to pursue my essence. This time the champion is one Martha Alderson. In her book, The Plot Whisperer, she states very simply, “I believe that writing is not a gift but a skill…”

Thank you, Martha, from the bottom of my anxious heart. She goes on to challenge her audience to pursue the craft diligently, finding our weaknesses and our strengths. I’m bent over my keyboard now just as I was bent over my potter’s wheel for so many years. Pursuing excellence in the craft is something I can aspire to do. Putting aside my fears of public opinion, I am following after my essence. It’s what I must do. Happily, it’s also what I want to do in this chapter of my own hero tale.

So here’s the question? Is talent simply in the mind of the beholder? While he lived, few would have called Vincent van Gogh a talented artist or surely he would have sold more than one painting in his lifetime. Yet Harper Lee was acknowledged as a talented writer from her debut with To Kill a Mockingbird. Most of us believe that these two were gifted artists.

My perspective now is this. I have to pursue the craft as if I am pursuing my essence and leave the opinions to others. While I want readers to love my characters and settings as much as I do, I must only concern myself with crafting the best story I can.

I’d welcome your observations and experiences in pursuit of the craft.

Whale Songs

DSC_1290

Been absent for awhile from posting here. Was convicted that I did not simply want to blather. In the interim I’ve been contemplating voice. Specifically, I’ve wondered if anyone can really have a unique voice, you know that mysterious element agents are all looking for in our manuscripts. It’s the thing that will make us “stand out from the crowd”. Instead of a unique perspective, I’ve been seeing the commonality of voice.

I work with children, playing with them really. My classroom is the fun place on campus where children explore the wonder of creation, both big “C” and little “c”. We paint, draw, play with clay and generally have a good time getting messy – and discovering what our minds and hands can do to make something worthy of being called art. With each passing year, I see myself, and those I know, reflected in the behavior of the children. In an atmosphere designed for relaxation, and I hope joy, they are driven to perfection. Like their counterparts in grown-up bodies, they are weakened by pride in their desire to get it right. More than in previous years, I’ve seen children break down in tears when their penguin’s feet aren’t just right. They are pretty harsh self-critics. Many of us are, and it hinders our creativity.

This may be a leap, but I’m going with my creative spirit on this. This week as I was revising the ending to Pebble On the Shore yet again, I recalled an amazing experience on the leeward side of Maui. My husband and I were snorkeling close to shore, watching sea turtles and watching sea turtles watching us. Sounds wonderful in January, doesn’t it? That was amazing in itself, but what happened later was something I hope I never forget. I was a little way apart from my husband and floating on my back, heart rate slowed, mind in full relax mode, when I heard something. Lifting my head, I could see my husband a few yards away bouncing in the surf, his back to me. He grew up on the island, and I hoped he’d be able to explain the odd sound. But I couldn’t attract his attention.

I lay back again, floating. In seconds the sound came again, something I’d heard before in videos but never here transmitted through the water. I knew what it must be, but could scarcely believe it. This was a whale song. I can think of no better way to describe it, because there were high and low notes with cadence. I stood hoping to visually confirm what my heart wanted to believe. From my low perspective, the spout I did see was half-way to Kaho’olawe. Sadly, I did not hear it again.

This was an experience I wanted to give to my protagonist, Misha. I wanted him to thrill to the song, to be changed by it. It is, after all, the story of the awakening of a naturalist. But unlike me, he heard three songs. You can embellish fiction, you know? I loved writing that scene, reliving the wonder of that moment in my own life and sharing it with my character. He allowed me to see it better, to recall details I’d forgotten or perhaps I created them when memory failed. That’s hard to determine when we write.

My point, I think, is that I have to stop trying to develop this unique voice. I have to stop trying to get it right. I have to enjoy the process of creation and write for the love of writing. I know that sage voices advise that we write for our audience if we want to market what we create. But first, I think we write for the joy of creating. Perhaps we revise for an audience, but initially don’t we write because we love our setting, or our characters, or the story? I know that I would very much like to share Misha’s journey with others, especially children, so I’ll have to attend to the details of writing engaging plots with all the proper points in order. But there has to be a balance, as in life.

Writing is being vulnerable. So here I am asking you if you ever forget to enjoy the process in the pressure to get it right. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Writing also seems to be painful at times, and like my art students I just want to cry when the penguin’s feet aren’t right.

 

 

 

James D. Houston – Place

There arDSC_1358e some writers gifted with a voice that resonates with almost universal appeal. I would venture to suggest that James Houston might have been one such author. I recently picked up the Heyday publication of Where Light Takes its Color From the Sea as reading material for a long road trip. As and artist and writer, I would love to borrow that title. It was a perfect selection. Subtitled A California Notebook, it is just that, a collection of thoughts about growing up in Santa Cruz, family, transitions, kinship, and a great deal of gentle philosophy gleaned from years as a keen observer. It certainly spoke to me and I found myself mentally ‘amening’  his insights.

Most of us are probably familiar with his writing through collaboration with his wife, Jeanne Wakatsuki, Farewell to Manzanar. Together they captured the full impact of that shameful chapter in California history. They accomplished much of that through contrasts which were vividly demonstrated through the attitudes of the Japanese toward honor, family loyalty,and work.  It is a masterful telling that focuses less on the rage toward injustice and more on the indomitable spirit of a people. I’ve seen that spirit personally in the life of a friend who, like Jeanne, lived through internment, not giving in to bitterness. Together, Houston and Wakatsuki captured place as well.

But these other stories and reflections speak of his very personal experiences as a native in this state where change is the constant. While showing us the before and after, he goes further to find the thread that ties them together. He has a profound sense of place and the ability to describe it in such a way as to enable the reader to nearly know it in tactile experiences. That’s a gift that any writer will covet.

He speaks beautifully of place and history in his article “Where Does History Live?”. His novel Snow Passage appears to be the result of a personal mystery. Having purchased a landmark Victorian house in Santa Cruz, he begins a quest for the story behind the original owner, Patty Reed. In just one more example of fact being stranger than fiction, Patty Reed is one of the survivors of the ill-fated Donner Party. What better story prompt than that! He lived in the house of his protagonist! He did not plan to write the story of her experience when he purchased the house, but someone did.

More than one person has stated that you do not choose your material, rather it chooses you. Houston credits Ernest Hemingway, but I know there are other iterations of the same idea. I’ve experienced that first hand at a hauntingly beautiful place known as Fort Ross, here on our California coast. Because of its remote location, it has retained the flavor and mystery of its history. The stories that were people’s lives speak clearly there, unencumbered by modern freeways and architecture. Fiction and fact marry easily there.

In the article, Houston concludes that in California most of our “history is passed on not by blood but by osmosis.” He completes the observation in this way, “Old voices are always in the air, in the towns and in the soil, waiting to be heard.” Did you hear my “Amen”?

Where have you heard those old voices?