For Sam

There are times when you know that something will become a snapshot in your memory. A moment of profound clarity that will forever be with you.

When you first hear the news that her son, that baby, that toddler, that gawky teenager, that wonderful, grounded young man, has been taken.

When you walk in the house and see her and feel that moment of relief because she’s there, in the circle of women. Those women, who have all been in many circles with her over the years.

You see how the women grieve. Always touching, tears flowing freely, hands held, hair stroked back. The one who presses a mug of soup into her hand. They sit close, so close the circle is closed.

The men grieve just as deeply. But they hover in the periphery, helpless. This is something they can’t fix. So they wait, and watch their women for the moment there is something they can do. A table to put up for all the food. A fire to be started outside. To step in and hold someone when needed. To talk in low voices out on the porch, to look up at the mountains so no one will see their tears.

Except for the middle child. Now the oldest child. He comes to the circle of women and is enfolded. The youngest, still the youngest, moves through the fringe, seeks solitude, and then they, too, come to the circle.

That moment when she’s talking, and then goes still, her gaze inward. What does she see? That moment when she first felt him move, first knew those cells were her child? His first smile? The last moment she spoke to him, not knowing it was the last?

That moment when they are talking about the need to go to the funeral home to see him. This woman, this strong earth mother, who has rescued strangers from the river, who knows what to expect. And she says, ‘the river was kind to him’.

The river took him for its own, but in the end was kind in its taking.

And now he goes where none of us can yet follow, into river and wind and mountains.

Last night the tiny town lit candles so he could find his way home.

We step forward into a life we never expected, finding a path we don’t want to follow. But we form circles. We hug. We touch. We sob so deep it becomes the moan of the wind. And we never forget.

We just grieve and grieve and grieve into our rivers.

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Myths And Reality

If you want to read an excellent blog post on why the world needs more fairy tales, go to Jaimie Lee Wallace’s post on ‘Live to Write – Write to Live’. She talks about what we learn from fairytales, how they teach us to deal with monsters, and ties them to modern-day problems and genres such as urban fantasy and science fiction.

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Wild woodland creatures

Her post made me think about how our current society is so cut off from not just fairy tales, but from each other. Where do we go when facing a monster like a terminal diagnosis, or bullying? Do we seek out the elders in our family or tribe? Do we call mom? Ask to have tea with a friend? Of course, but also we google. We sit alone in front of a computer and interact with the internet. Or we post it on Facebook and wait for replies from ‘friends’. Some who are actually friends and some who are strangers. We think interaction with a friend via a computer screen is the same as sitting with someone over that steaming cup of tea.

Not that I’m someone who’s comfortable in crowds. I get on people-overload mighty fast. But I’m sure my point is apparent.

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Something magical must live in that keyhole

Yesterday I needed to find out how to wind wool on a kniddy-knoddy, a process in spinning. I went to YouTube (and then had to have my husband explain what I’d just watched). I realized that years ago I would have had to interact with people to find the same thing. I would have found a spinning group, or gone to the library, or called a grandma or auntie.

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Auntie and me

My current work in progress has to do with myths. The idea came from the classic ‘what if’ question and made me look at our fears. Why we fear certain things, what fear is beyond just an extreme version of feeling out of control.

But Jaimie Lee Wallace’s blog post also brings out another reason for this current story. It is making me look at, not just fear, but isolation in all its many forms.

I choose to believe in fairy tales. Heck, I tell people I still believe in Santa. And it’s why I love super-hero movies. Show me how to put the monster back in its box and banish it for a hundred years. Show me how a band of friends can beat back the end of civilization as we know it. Show me there’s someone out there who can save the day, and then teach me how to be that person.

And remind me to unplug, walk in the woods, and look for magic.

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Do you see the dragon? Or some mythical beast?

Dogs and Rules

Hubert Horatio Humphrey was a dachshund mix with the classic body shape and size, but with scruffy gray fur. And this long silky white hair on top of his head that I’d part down the middle and comb.

Hubert chased cars. So dad took a small board and hung it from Hubert’s collar thinking it would bang the dog’s knees and keep him from chasing things. But Hubert figured out how to run with a weird hip-swinging gait in time with the board. It didn’t slow him down at all and eventually at an advanced age, he lost a race with a garbage truck.

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Brandy. One of the few dogs who didn’t break rules. But knocked over Christmas trees.

Then there was Peppy Le Pew, a teacup poodle. He also didn’t like to stay in the yard but his thing was visiting. Our house had huge windows along the back of the house. Dad put chicken wire up around the outside of one of the windows. We could simply open the window and put Peppy out into his little yard, fenced six feet high.

Peppy climbed the chicken wire.

After all, aren’t rules made for breaking and boundaries made for crossing? Or at least challenging?

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Vaila, who wasn’t supposed to be on the bed.

They are in writing, as long as you purposely break rules for a reason that improves the whole. If you understand the rules, you know how to revise them or ignore them as a specific story requires. But it’s something you have to be cautious of because readers have an expectation and if you don’t live up to that, they may simply move on.

The Longmire series by Craig Johnson comes immediately to mind. A typical dialog rule is that each speaker has a separate paragraph so it’s clear who’s speaking. But Johnson combines multiple speakers in one paragraph, sometimes with no dialog tag to help a reader follow the conversation. A lot of readers like this, obviously, but how many others have walked away? I know I did. That device took me out of the story.

It’s always a gamble to break a rule. It’s especially risky for a new author.

But hey, that’s also a rule that can be broken. If the story and characters are strong enough and vivid enough, even that rule about new writers can be ignored.

Then there was our dog, Sorka. Fences, windows, doors, cables, and crates were all boundaries to be broken. Rules that involved words like ‘sit’, ‘I said sit!’, ‘come’, ‘come back here right now’, ‘COME BACK HERE YOU F***ING DOG!’ were ignored. Breaking the record for how long a dog and its owners had to work with a canine behavioral therapist was something to strive for in her world. Two years, in case you’re wondering.

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Sorka in a rare holding-still moment.

It’s one thing to break a few rules. It’s another entirely to excel at breaking every single one.

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And then there are cats…for whom rules simply do not apply.