Monday, November 28, 2011

Shrinking with Distance

Time had made things shrink. I stood on the cold gravel and decided that that was the only explanation.

Three weeks ago I had the great pleasure of attending an old friend’s wedding in Phoenix, Arizona. The last time I was in Phoenix was 26 years ago for my grandpa’s wedding. The day after my friend’s wedding Prajna and I drove up to The Verde Valley in Central Arizona. I had lived there from 1970 to 1975 and had not been back there since 1985. It was a pleasant drive north that I had vague images of taking the trip many times as a young kid. I found my way to Clarkdale partly from memory and mostly from Google Maps.

Once in town I knew how to get around. Clarkdale hadn’t changed much. The Methodist Church my dad had served, however, was now a library. We stopped in and I was happy to see it still somewhat resembled a church inside if you knew its past. The foyer had a display by the town’s historical society. There were pages of notes handwritten by a lady I remembered substitute teaching, attending our church and co-authoring a kid’s book that we still have a signed copy of. There was a church pulpit and a list of pastors that included my dad’s name.

After taking a few pictures of the outside of the building I drove down to where my elementary school was. I blogged about it in . There was the building right where I had left it in 1975 at the end of second grade. There was a big sign on it announcing it was for lease. I pulled over and stopped. I got out and was dumbstruck. The lot that surrounded the school where the playground had been was smaller. It had to have shrunk. They must have moved the old roads surrounding in tighter. I looked and remembered how it used to take me what felt like several minutes to run across this playground at full bore. I walked from the car to the building in the time it took me to take just a long breath of air. Looking in the windows I could reach I saw that the corridors were dilapidated, but still enormous. There was no evidence of any playground equipment. Even the concrete base of the slide I watched them put in from my second grade window was not there.
Clarkdale Elementary School

I felt a little numb as we drove up Main Street through town. The town’s park was still there. There was still a large gazebo. I turned left and then right and then there was the house I had lived in for five years. The yard was so much smaller now. The front gate I used to cling to was still there. One thing that was larger were two trees that my dad had planted as saplings. They were thirty feet tall now. I had planned on taking pictures here but I didn’t. I didn’t know why. We drove around to the back alley and I looked for where my story of up on the housetop in the sandbox place. The backyards were all fenced in. I turned out of the alley and headed out of town passing the new elementary school on the way.

We drove through the historical town of Jerome, over Mingus Mountain that was covered with snow and down through Prescott. Then we went down out of the mountains and though valleys and hills and finally joined up with Interstate 10. We took that all the way home.

I was eight years old when my life changed. Everyone had been jealous of me when they heard I was moving to Hawaii. For years after moving I wallowed in anger and loneliness. And my thoughts kept fixing on Arizona. If I could only go back everything would be alright. What I didn’t think about was that everything was growing. Life went on without me back there. My best friend and I wrote to each other for years and then stopped. He grew his way and although I didn’t know it I was growing mine. It wasn’t just the trees and the town and my lost friends growing and changing, I was too. And when I stood and looked at my old elementary school a realization hit me. The world will keep on turning and despite any efforts or attitude, time will take you with it. You can refuse to grow up as you get taller and your childhood haunts shrink down. Before you know it the past is a speck in the distance and you can’t grasp it any longer. You open your hand and there might be just a handful of cold gravel from a deserted playground.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A raucous Inventory

I love Thanksgiving. I am thankful for it. I don’t think I could like the month of November without it. By now, autumn has stopped being refreshing and is starting to behave a bit wintery. Holiday decorations are up in stores and I look like a fool walking through aisles with one hand on the shopping cart and the other putting a finger in one ear while my head is tilted askew enough to press my other ear into my shoulder while humming whatever was the last song to be stuck in my head in order to drown out the premature Christmas music blaring over the store’s sound system. I’m sorry but I get frustrated when I hear Christmas music too early and tend to communicate in run-on sentences. I will even stretch the truth to paint an amusing mental picture. No I have never really made a scene at a store doing that. But sometimes it helps to write out what I feel like doing so I don’t actually act on it. I’m think it’s okay for the music to start after Thanksgiving.

I have enjoyed reading friend’s Facebook status reports about what they are thankful for this month. In a way it’s like a writing assignment that most students get this time of year. Teachers have no problem having students compose something listing what they are thankful for. I don’t think that there is a secular humanist fringe objecting to that yet. But who knows. I am thankful we homeschool.

But more than just busywork or an easy assignment, I hope that students this year are able to examine their lives and count a few blessings. That’s what I think the best part of this Facebook project was. Sure, I like reading how people’s prayers are answered or they are thankful for their friends and family. But listing the things you are thankful for is not for anyone else as much as it is for the person composing the list. I think it’s a healthy thing to take an inventory of your blessings.

I rested the urge to blog this week about what I am thankful for. I like to say that I write for myself, but I really am thankful that people read this and don’t’ want to bore them with an outburst extolling how thankful I am for everything found on my table on Thanksgiving Day. I would go on to coffee and the cup I drink from most mornings, my shabby pickup truck with the stick shift and my ability to operate it. I could never fail to mention every person I come into contact with each day. Most of them have a kind word or smile for me. I have just about the best job and home and church I could hope for and of course my family. In my younger years I never prayed for a wife or family. I never really specified to God what I wanted in a spouse or children so God made the perfect selection for me.

And sometimes I feel a little guilty when I hear other’s prayer requests and I hear how not everyone has a job or a nice home or family. I look at my life and wonder what I did to deserve such a bounty of blessings. And I don’t have a good answer for this. I can only say that I am also thankful that I have God in my life and the knowledge that I am saved. And I am thankful that this is something that everyone can have.

It seemed that I went ahead and listed a few things here that I am very thankful for. I want to include whomever you are reading this. Every week I know some friends read this but so do some strangers. I wish I could thank everyone in person. Maybe someday I’ll see you on the other side. Until then I hope that whatever country you live in you are able to count your blessings once in a while and share at least a few of the things that I am thankful for. It would be my prayer that you share the most important thing. Nothing matters without that.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Pompatus of Love, Lyrics and Prime.

As tempting as it is I won’t be self indulgent and repeat the story I told last year in my blog entry titled The Life Changing Day. Suffice to say that on November 15th 1991 I kissed Prajna for the first time and my life was never the same after that. That was 20 years ago. So this week we celebrate our 20th anniversary. And hurray that the earth has gone around the sun for a number of times divisible by the fingers on two hands. It’s sometimes funny to think that the 23rd might not be as special. Even though it’s more than 20, it’s prime.

I do think that 20 years is something special. Prajna and I started out as a sweet, happy couple. I worked nights at KNUI radio. Prajna listened to the station for most of the day while I was sleeping. One day she called KNUI and requested a song for me. I slept through it but she told me that Billy Joel’s Just the way you Are played for me. I was touched and flattered. I couldn’t remember anyone ever asking a song on the radio for me. And this song meant a lot to me.

I said I love you, and that’s forever
And this I promice from the heart
I could not love you any better
I love you just the way you are

I realized I needed to reciprocate. That night at work I brooded over what song to play for her. I liked The Joker by Steve Miller. Referring to myself as a space cowboy and saying I was a smoker made sense. But he said the word love or lovie-dovie too much. And I didn’t want to use the word love. Billy Joel wasn’t afraid to mention that word. But I was. I didn’t feel I wanted to say that word yet. Not until I was more than positive that I meant it. So I finally settled on a song. It painted a picture of a carefree soul and didn’t talk about love. I left a note to the afternoon DJ requesting The Allman Brothers Band’s Ramblin’ Man.

Sometimes I hear that song on the radio today and marvel that we ever got together. But of course another thing happens when it comes on nowadays. Prajna and I smile together. Because we did get off to a bit of a rocky start. Like two young people learning a new dance together, we stepped on each other’s feet once in a while and took bad steps that led us away from each other. But the important thing is that the music kept playing and we kept at it. We learned the steps as we went and became better.

On Thanksgiving of that same year I finally told Prajna that I loved her. Not long after when I knew she was listening on my shift I pulled Three Dog Night’s Old Fashioned Love Song. I think that it made up for the ambiguous lyrics before.

I don’t work for a radio station now and I’m no longer on a first name basis with any air personalities. But I never call up radio stations anymore anyway. Nowadays whenever a song comes on and the spirit moves one of us we will turn to the other and say “I called them up and asked them to play this for you.” It’s just another step in the dance we’ve been doing for two decades now. It’s warm and familiar. Just like it ought to be.

Prajna, I love you just the way you are.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Get up and keep going.

If a questionnaire asks me what my hobbies are I list writing. I enjoy other things like spending time with my family, playing with my kids, visiting with our backyard chickens and those sorts of things. But as long as I can remember I liked to create stories. Before I could write a sentence I would create worlds with my toy cars. Later in my life when I didn’t have any real friends to speak of I would retreat to my room and enter into the worlds I created with Matchbox and Hot Wheels. Toy spaceships were hard to come by back then. I used toy airplanes, bottle caps, a hairbrush, and whatever else suited me. The thing I liked the most was the escape from reality that making up stories gave me. At night after bedtime I could stretch my imagination more quietly telling stories like a radio narrative to myself. Without toys for props my stories could be more about adventures. But spacecraft often played in. By junior high school I was writing stories in longhand on lined paper. Character development was secondary to a good exploit. But I was writing stories. I was a writer.

I have several short stories I have written over the years. I am writing the a complete revision of my novel Icarus now. And for a long time I have wanted to participate in National Novel Writing Month. Called NaNoWriMo by most people, this takes place every November. Writers are encouraged to spend the month writing a novel which by some definitions is 50,000 words. My first draft of Icarus was 57 thousand something. And it took over a year to write. But I thought what fun this could be. I decided to go for it. To help commit myself I changed my Facebook picture to the NaNoWriMo logo and announced that I was going to try for it. Friends congratulated me. And I had a story in mind that I started years ago. The Christmas song “Do you hear what I Hear?” has always intrigued me. I have imagined that there is some inspiring backstory with this song and I have wanted to write this story for the every Christmas for the past decade or so. I figured it was time.

Tuesday morning, the first of November I got up at my usual writing time. I fire up my little laptop. The IBM Thinkpad® has no internet. I am used to the configuration and feel of the keys. When we moved to this new house I set up a writing space with this laptop plugged in and set up there. That morning I wrote 679 words. That is about what my Roadwalker blog has each Monday. The target word count per day is just under 1700 words to be able to reach 50,000 in 30 days. So the next morning I got up at four.

I felt like such a writer. I am up hours before dawn. I am going to write my novel. I am a writer.

My laptop wouldn’t boot. It had died. I went back to bed. As far as I was concerned the novel was off. Everything I ever wanted to write again was off. I was no longer a writer and nothing was worth anything anymore and I would never feel joy again for as long as I lived. I really felt like that. I changed my Facebook picture to a scowling Wile E Coyote. I crumpled and threw away my 30 day calendar with and plan.

Prajna reminded me that I could use one of the family laptops. I knew that, but it wasn’t the same. The mojo I got from my very own laptop was gone. I went to work as usual and finally began to calm down. I thought about an iconic scene in the move Chariots of Fire when Eric Liddle is running a race. He gets knocked to the ground and everyone is sure he has lost. Then in slow motion with a majestic Vangelis music score behind him, Liddle gets to his feet and begins running again. And he wins the race.

So I suffered a setback. The question isn’t who doesn’t. The question is: what now? So the next morning I got up at four again and wrote 1531 words. The next day I wrote 1792. At the end of four days I had 4001 words. Not the daily average I needed to attain 50k by the end of the month, but still something. I changed my profile picture back.

Then the next day I wrote nothing. And the day after that the same. It’s all good. I don’t think I can handle getting up at four every morning;. I work until 10 at night. I just need more sleep. But I’ve taken it on. And most important to me, I got back up after a setback. When the story is done I’ll let you know. When, not if, it is done.

Now I’m outside a Starbucks on a rainy Monday morning polishing up this entry before posting it. It’s a cold rainy day and I’m drinking coffee outside a café. Novel or not, I feel like a writer today.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

NaNoWriMo day zero

NaNoWriMo Day 2
Day 2. The second day. Got up at four in the morning with determination that I usually don’t have for anything. Ideas and excitement and the desire to persevere. I fire up my little laptop and the cat jumps up and I wait for it to boot.
And the laptop doesn’t boot.
The laptop is broken and won’t boot.
So I went back to bed and dreamed about my laptop.
The novel is off. I don’t care that there are other computers in the house. Anyone who writes will understand the mojo. Anyone who doesn’t. Just don’t talk to me.
I’m a little dissapointed. I’ve had this laptop for about 5 years. I know that’s a long time. There never would have been a good time for it to quit on me. But if there was a worst time it would have been this month.
I keep going over and turning it on and looking at the little IBM screen doing nothing.
Doing nothing.
Which is me now every morning