Two Males, Six Females

On a remote farm in the Midwest-and I mean in the middle of absolutely nowhere-there are eight new puppies. One of them will become our comforter, our protector, and our lifelong shadow. 

We will strive to give him as much as he will bring to us, but no matter how hard we try, even though we will love him with our whole hearts, we will not be able to return the same depth of love to him that he will have for us. 

Happy, lucky day. Happy, lucky us.


Moses, upon hearing the news. 

The Vagaries of Writing

I have been procrastinating. It is a well-known, but little understood phenomenon of the writing process.

Every writer procrastinates differently. My method is cleaning and de-cluttering my work space, and finishing up little tasks that distract me. Having a clear, open space, and no little worries helps to clear my mind, and then the ideas that are spinning around my head in an inchoate mess suddenly coalesce into plot lines and sometimes into complete scenes. I know this process, but it is very hard to accept that I need to do it when I feel a deadline looming, and time slipping away from me.

The other night I was driving home from some evening event and suddenly an entire sequence for the new book entered my mind, and I couldn’t get my coat off fast enough to write it all down. It is an odd sequence–a departure from my usual style–and after a few days of musing over it I put it down. It was risky, and it didn’t fit the book. Maybe another book.

Then everything stopped. I couldn’t write much. I couldn’t catch the wind that sails me through my writing. I sat at my desk, restlessly, unproductively, staring out the window, looking at YouTube videos, researching mammals and explosives (not together), and periodically going downstairs to see if I could alleviate my boredom by eating.  Spring snowFortunately, knowing myself, I have purged my kitchen of these kinds of foods, and even though I am a novelist, drinking in the middle of the day does not normally appeal to me. I consumed a lot of tea, and far too much coffee.

So, finally, I gave up. I stopped worrying about it and just got on with other tasks. I cleaned out a closet in the kitchen. I rearranged my office, and made plans for new bookcases. I dusted under beds. I threw a small dinner party, and took the dogs for walks.

This morning I began my day pre-dawn standing barefoot on the patio, loudly and frantically calling my dogs in–no doubt to the amusement of my neighbors who were recovering from their New Year’s Eve revelries–while a fairly large contingent of coyotes barked and yipped and howled somewhere very nearby.

Dogs safe, I sat drinking coffee and watching the turkeys begin their new year from their treetop berths, their big bulbous shapes silhouetted against the pink and orange sky.

All at once, the spinning stopped, and the words began again in my head. My refusal to accept the strange sequence as part of the novel had shut me down. I suddenly knew that it did belong, and that it had to be the beginning of the book. And then everything began to fall in place in my mind, like the tumblers in a lock falling into place.

There it is. Not all of it. But the main points of it.

Time to write.

 

Moving toward the Sun

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I love winter. This past week of snow and bitter cold delighted and invigorated me. I can’t quite explain why. Maybe it has something to do with the light and the transformation of the world into a different place.

But getting up in the dark is very, very hard. This morning as I awoke, the great horned owls were still singing to one another deep in the woods, and the dogs startled the deer who like to browse in the darkness.

Today, however, even though the sunrises will keep getting later and and later, the hours of light begin to lengthen. In deepest winter we find ourselves thinking about the path we are beginning to the longest day in summer. In summer, the joy of that long day is tinged with sadness that the days will begin to shorten. Now, the darkness is enlivened by the hope of spring.

Two of our friends have lost parents this week. They are deeply religious people, so I imagine their grief is filled with this same mixture of despair and promise: the paradox of faith. As they gaze out on this new and alien landscape of their lives, may they find the consolation of light and hope.

 

Big News!!!

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Pete and Moses are getting a baby brother. He is due to be born on January 11th, and we hope to pick him up in early March.

Oh, and there’s this book thing. Also a third of its kind: Book Three in the North of the Tension Line series. It’s still gestating. But it, too, is due in 2017.

Puppy might be cuter, but the book won’t require a bigger car.

The Faith of Justine

I almost had a student whose life I changed. But she changed mine instead.

Justine came into my high school Speech class on the first day of a soggy August afternoon and sat in the front row. She was quiet and serious, and she didn’t seem to have a lot of interaction with the other students. She wore the thickest set of glasses I have ever seen. And I realized almost immediately that she sat in the front because she could see almost nothing.

She was an eager student who came to class, joined in discussions, did her work, and clearly wanted to learn. She was highly intelligent and motivated. I didn’t realize at first that she also eagerly wanted to be in mainstream classes with her peers. But that was not to be.

A few weeks after school had started she was removed from my class, and Justine came to ask my help. The administration—a good one, by the way—had determined that she should be in another class that would be more helpful to her. Justine wanted to be in my class. I wanted that, too.

I did what I could, but we lost that battle. And maybe we should have. I’m still not really sure. But I do know now that even if it was the wrong decision, it was not enough to stop her.

I lost track of Justine. I left teaching to do other work; and she went on with her education. I heard of her now and then. She was at a private university and doing well. She was a member of a society run by and for the visually impaired, and was an advocate for their work.

Years passed, and one day I met Justine at a banquet for the society she belonged to. She didn’t remember me. But the next day she sent an email apologizing. She couldn’t see my face, and in the noise of the banquet hall she couldn’t hear my voice well enough. But now she remembered. As I do with all the former students who contact me, I invited her to lunch.

I picked her up at her public housing apartment, silently worrying about her safety there. Justine described for me her passion to help the poorest of the poor in Africa. She told me of her missionary visits to Africa, of her plans for her master’s degree, of the small consulting firm she started to assist with the work she dreamed of doing. She was leaving in a few weeks for a new city, and she was going all alone.

Her vision was worsening. All she could see now were hazes of light and, if she turned her head a certain way, a small window of fuzzy images. She spoke about how difficult it is to function in an unknown place without the ability to see what’s around her. What was in the shadows? Was it something about to fall on her? A curb? A dangerous insect? Someone lurking in the dark to harm her?

Justine told me that if she wanted to, she could imagine in the darkness that there were dragons, and insects, and poisonous snakes. She could see dangers around her everywhere and all the time. But she chose, she said, to imagine other things: tall trees; flowers blooming; sunlight; and gentle creatures. Armed with these images, she goes alone into the darkest corners of the world and manages to survive. She seeks these journeys, and she seems to require them.

Faith…is about the stories we tell ourselves when we are in the dark.

Sunrise

 

Listening to her speak, I realized that faith is not just about a belief in God. It is about the stories we tell ourselves when we are in the dark.

I have lost touch with Justine again, but her steady vision has stayed with me. When I quaver in my incredibly easy life, I think of her somewhere in the dangerous world with only a cane to help her: patiently, quietly, and with unimaginable grit, making her way through the darkness, seeing only beauty all around her.

This is the faith of Justine. It is a stronger and richer faith than most of us could ever possess. The curse of her circumstances created the necessity, but it is the quality of her character that made it into a great and unwavering gift.

Sterling North Home

On my way home from the Edgerton Sterling North Book and Film Festival, I made a quick stop down the street to see where Rascal grew up and carried out his adventures. It was too late to go through the house, but I’m guessing the neighborhood is not much changed from the days when he was roaming there.

My thanks to all the friendly people of Edgerton and environs who came by to talk about books and writing. It was a lovely event.

The Fault is Not in Our Stars, But in Ourselves

I have many gaps in my education, and I do not spend as much time as I ought to in filling them. The list is long and daunting.

Last night, when I walked with the dogs for the last time before bed, I looked up with wonder at the many more stars that are visible here on the Island, and, for the thousandth time, I felt ashamed that I could not name more of them. I have often meant to learn more of the constellations, but my progress is slow and I am easily distracted by daily life.

Tonight, after much nagging from the dogs, I interrupted my reading to take them out into the night.  On All Saints Day, with Pete and Moses joyously romping around me, I walked in the dark, speaking the names of my beloved dead. My mother, my father, my grandmother whom I knew, my grandfather whom I did not; the grandfather whom I knew, the grandmother whom I did not. My cousin, Keith; my Uncle Bill; my Uncle Ken; my school friend, Dawn; my friend Bill; my mother-in-law, Kay; my honorary parents, Tom and Carol, and many others.

The dogs, who know my moods, but not their meaning, ran to and fro, happy merely to be outside and with me. The sound of the waves on the lake was slow and steady. The winds are still after yesterday’s wild weather.

Coming back up the path to the house I looked up, and realized that along with Ursa Major, there was another constellation I thought I knew, in the shape of a W. It was, I think, Cassiopeia, located almost above our heads. The crescent moon, which must be waxing, was large as it was setting into the Lake below the crest of the bluff.

The dogs were as indifferent to the stars as the stars are to human lives. But knowing things is both a burden and a gift.

Tonight, when the souls of the dead are closest to us, may they rest; may they find peace; may the momentary beauties of their lives enhance eternity. World without end. Amen.

 

 

Edgerton Sterling North Book and Film Festival: Saturday November 5th

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9am – 5pm

Edgerton High School
200 Elm High Dr.
Edgerton, WI 53534
Free Admission

My official schedule is as follows, and books will be available for purchase:

11:30-Noon     Meet and Greet in Gymnasium

12:15-12:45      The Audacity of Goats-Confessions of a Book Club Drop Out. Room 349

1:30-2:00          Meet and Greet in Gymnasium

2:15-2:45         The Audacity of Goats-Confessions of a Book Club Drop Out. Room 349

 

I will have just left the Island, so come and cheer me up. A raccoon would help.

 

 

Sunshine and Rain

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We went for a very long walk today, and I took these photos. These are the days I dream about all year.

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Now I am sitting outside to write because it is so perfectly splendid that it would be a waste to be indoors. The dogs, having had their multiple walks, are content to sit quietly on the grass (Moses) and at my feet (Pete). The sun is streaming from the west and casting a golden light through the leaves that still hang onto the birch and maple trees nearby. All is tranquil and warm, and lovely.

But it is raining. There must be one cloud drifting overhead in the crystalline deep blue sky, and the drops are hitting Moses on the head, making him flick his long ears with irritation. I am happy to sit on the porch with the roof protecting the computer–and me–and to be aware of the sunset while I write.

Meanwhile, in book three, Elisabeth is working on something new, and Fiona is chafing at all the public meetings she has to attend.  Peter Landry is being his usual enigmatic self, and that is causing some problems. Many new developments in the works. Stay tuned.

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Look carefully to discover dogs.