Finding the Water

I’m spending November writing little random bits of fiction inspired by photographs. Each piece is largely unedited and entirely made up.

To learn more about this project, click here.

Here’s my piece for November 10th:

The woods don’t speak to me the way the water does. It calls to me sometimes with such force that I will change directions, cancel plans, and search for it until I find it. There are woods everywhere here, but the water hides. It hides in little lakes and streams, buried in the trees. I have lived in this cabin for a whole year now, not because I chose to, but because it was available. I still dream about the ocean, such vivid dreams that I am convinced it is nearby, just around a corner, hidden, despite the map that tells me I am surrounded by mountains and miles from any coast. I awoke from just such a dream this morning. Today was suppose to be a writing day, there were deadlines to meet and editors to appease, but the call was too strong.

I didn’t bother showering, or even getting dressed. I rolled out of bed, pulled on my boots and reached for my coat. I pulled my hair back into a messy knot on the top of my head and walked out the door. Perhaps today I would find it. The air was cool and crisp and the trees were dripping wet. It must have rained in the night, I thought looking up. The sky was mostly hidden but I could see patches of grey between the green tree tops. I didn’t bother locking the door. I was miles away from everyone. When the opportunity to live here landed on my lap, I thought a few years of living in the woods would do me good. I thought following in Thoreau’s foot steps would perhaps produce a work of literature with lasting power. All I found was my own restlessness.

The woods felt like a cage. The trees were beautiful and majestic. They spoke to me, but I was coming to realize it wasn’t my natural language. I wanted it to be, but to me their words always felt boxed, confined, trapped. There language was a language of stability, and I wanted something fluid. I wanted water.

I had walked nearly every trail through these mountains now, I knew the woods well. I knew where the deer liked to graze. I’d watched them during slow afternoons in the spring, when the flowers had just started to pop out of the earth. I knew where the river got thin and I could cross it by hopping on boulders, always careful not to step on the frogs that played their own games in the shallows. Today I didn’t want any of my normal walks. I didn’t want the paths, I wanted to find the sea. I knew it was silly, but the desire was heavy on me, taking on a life of it’s own, pulling me forwards. I went towards the west.

As I walked I thought about what I had written the day before. I kept stringing words together hoping they would turn into a strand of pearls, something beautiful, pure, and captivating. Instead I was left holding a noodle necklace made with all the rough imprecision and misplaced eagerness of a preschooler. I stopped walking and turned back towards the cabin. What was I thinking? I thought. “That plot twist will never work,” I mumbled to myself.

I stood still between the trees, trapped between my desire to explore, create, unearth, and the alternate desire to hide, to run back to the cabin and rip the written pages to shreds, press the delete key on the computer and go get a normal job. I could see the cabin peeking out from the trees, I hadn’t gone that far. Then I heard a bird calling. Did he know the way to the water? I wondered. I turned and followed the noise.

I walked for a long while without much thought in my mind at all, just walking. One foot in front of the other. Listening to the birds. Listening to the wind. Listening to the active living quiet.

Eventually it started to rain again. I felt one drop on my nose, than another on my ear, a third on the back of my neck and then little droplets were falling all around me. I wasn’t really prepared for it, though I should have been. It always rains here, it rained last night, but I hated carrying an umbrella. It always turned out the times I had it with me the rain held off until I got home and the times I didn’t have it I ended up soaked to the bone before I made it back through my door. I thought about turning around, but it was water of some kind, even if it wasn’t the broad freedom of the sea that I was looking for. I’ll walk just a little farther, maybe over that hill, I thought.

When I got to the top of the hill, I saw the most beautiful lake I had ever seen. It sounds trite to say it that way, but it truly did surpass all other lakes I had ever come across. It wasn’t the sea, but it felt large and expansive. In the mist of the rain it was hard to see the other side and I could imagine the water going on and on unendingly. There was a little makeshift dock near where I stood, if it could even be called a dock. It was really just two large thick slices of wood hammered onto a few rough wood poles that jutted out of the lake. I walked down the hill and straight out onto the dock. I lay down on my side, as if a small child curling into a ball to sleep. I stared at the circles of tiny waves that spun out and away from every rain drop as it hit the lake. The rain fell on my face, my hair, my arms, my legs. I dripped as if melting, and shivered from the chill, but I didn’t care. I had found the water.

(The picture that inspired this piece)

If you'd like to help with medical bills or the other expenses related to Bryan's cancer or Sage's special needs click here. Thank you! We are forever so grateful to so many who have gotten us this far and continue to carry us forward. Grace and peace.

The Unique and The Common

I’m only one full week into this November writing project and I’m already fighting against the desire to quit.

Here’s the truth friends, lately I just want to crawl in my shell. I don’t want to put myself out there. I don’t want to create. I don’t want to open my heart. I don’t want to be involved in things. I just want to crawl in my shell and hide.

I’m trying to give myself grace for that feeling, trying to acknowledge what is valid and necessary in that feeling, while also not letting it rule and reign. So today, I’m trying for small steps. I’m showing up to write even though I want to run and hide. I might spend the rest of the day hiding, but for this small moment I’m choosing to create.

If you’re curious to know more about my November writing project, click here.

Remember these are all unedited pieces, and all are strictly fiction. 

Here’s what I have for November 9th:

The snow was coming down hard now, but I was prepared. My umbrella kept most of it from clinging to my eye lashes and blurring my vision, but it couldn’t keep out the wind. I marveled at the women I past on the street in their high heels and short skirts. Didn’t they know it was winter? Were they made of some stronger material than skin?

As for me, my boots were thick and my coat thicker. I’d lived in New York for years now and knew how to handle the cold. I didn’t wear my high heels in the snow anymore. I carried mine in a bag slung over my shoulder, but I still carried them.

I turned the corner and headed straight into the wind. It whipped at my face and made me feel awake despite the exhaustion that had filled my body for most of the day. The city felt quieter in the middle of a snow storm, perhaps the snow acted as insulation for the noise. Perhaps it was just that less people were out in the middle of it. I could have taken a taxi, but I always walked home during the first snow storm of the year. It had become my ritual, my tradition. My way of taking note of time passing, and differentiating the seasons that seemed to get smudged and smeared together.

I liked to watch the little snow drops fight for my attention. I knew they were each unique and individual, but in this moment each one seemed nothing more than a part of the whole.  They could only be seen as unique when surrounded by space, seen up close. There was never any space. Not here. In the middle of the city, in the middle of the storm, they weren’t each unique snow flakes, they were just snowflakes. A mass of ambiguity held together by quantity. I thought of the people I passed on the street, the people I worked with, I thought of myself. If someone could take a microscope to our lives I’m sure that we would each be stunningly unique, but, here in the city, we were just a mass of ambiguity held together by quantity.

Each snow flake may be unique, but when you view a storm of snow flakes you see that they are really all the same. Each person may be unique also, but when you view a city full of people, they feel pretty much the same too.

I pulled my coat a little closer around my body, and shifted the case I carried full of contracts and obligations in my hand. At the cross walk I pushed the button and waited for the light to turn. It felt even colder when standing still. Where the roads crossed there was no protection from the buildings and the wind was free to rule the night. I watched as the cars moved past. It seemed the drivers were even crazier than normal. I saw a taxi cab cut narrowly in front of another car to make a turn they hadn’t originally planned. I was glad I had chosen to walk.

The light turned and I started across the street with purpose. I only had one more block until I reached home. The lights from the cars acted like spotlights for the snow. It fell at a steady pace, no one flake getting too much time in the spotlight, each looking exactly the same as all the others even in the light. But, the light did make them sparkle and glow, a bit like diamonds for a moment and then simple white and neutral again as they fell out of the light. I like them better in the dark, I thought. Less striving, more just being what they are, all unique and yet the same too. They were held in the tension of the special and the ordinary. The invaluable and the cheap.

I reached my apartment and paused on the front step. My bags were heavy and my shoulder’s ached, I wanted to get inside, but I stopped and turned around. Standing on the step I looked back at the snow falling onto the street. It would soon turn to mush and mud, but for this moment it was beautiful. Peaceful and calm, content in it’s commonness.

I turned again towards the door, pushed my key into the lock, and went inside. The warmth engulfed me and left me sweating. Before I had made it up the stairs to my door I had removed my scarf and coat, shedding layers with each step. When I got inside my small corner of the city I left everything by the door and walked straight to the window. I pulled the old lounge chair my father had passed down to me close to the window and took a seat. These little drops of frozen water deserved an audience and I was going to give them one. Their beauty, uniqueness and commonness all needed to be recognized, at least for tonight, at least in this small corner of the city. I would be their audience, they could tell me their stories. I sat and watched and listened.

(The picture that inspired this piece)

If you'd like to help with medical bills or the other expenses related to Bryan's cancer or Sage's special needs click here. Thank you! We are forever so grateful to so many who have gotten us this far and continue to carry us forward. Grace and peace.

Dance With Me

For the month of November I’m sharing little scenes of fiction every day here on the blog. I’m hoping this project will serve as a jump start for other projects, and also as a tool for sharpening my writing.

Each piece is entirely made up fiction, not particular literal truth. But, I hope that each of these pieces of writing hold something of truth for the reader, an essence of truth.

I would love your feedback.

(To learn more about this project, click here.)

Here is what I wrote for November 4th:

I sat at the dinning room table rubbing the eraser from a pencil back and forth mindlessly against the wood. Homework papers surrounded me like sharks circling their prey. I pulled one paper closer to me and read the one word instruction: Multiply. I stared at the paper and the numbers seemed to move, to dance and jiggle, and mix themselves up, until I couldn’t distinguish one line from the other. I pushed the paper away from me and tilted the chair back so it balanced on only the back two legs.

“All four legs on the floor,” My mother called from the kitchen. I had no idea how she could tell what I was doing even with her back turned towards me. I set my feet on the floor on either side of the chair, but kept the chair tilted back. She looked at me then, through the open kitchen door. “Very clever,” she said, “Now. All legs on the floor.” Her look was stern, but there was a twinkle in her eye.

I set the chair on the ground and kicked my feet back and forth under the table, as if the action would curb my urge to run. Perhaps I should work on something other than math, I thought. I pulled my history notes towards me and tried to read them. There was a test tomorrow and I knew I needed to remember each scribble on the white paper. But, the words wouldn’t cooperate again. I pushed the papers as far as I could across the table.

A warm breeze stirred the curtains. They seemed to come alive with the movement, as if they were two unique creatures who’s only purpose was to float on the breeze. Looking out the window I could see the orange and gold leaves dancing to the same rhythm as the curtains. I wanted to go dance with them, twirl round and round with them until I fell to the grass. From here I could see the tire swing that my grandpa had hung from the biggest tree in our yard last summer and I thought how wonderful it would be if I could throw myself across it and fly into the sky.

“Are you getting your homework done, kid?” My dad’s voice interrupted my daydreaming.

“Trying,” I murmured in response, then reached for one of the papers in front of me, not really caring which one, since I was equally uninterested in all of them. It was math. I drummed my pencil eraser on the table and wrinkled my brow.

“Maybe we can go for an ice cream run after dinner as a reward,” my father’s voice was low and he bent in close to me when he spoke the words, as if sharing a secret.

“Could we? Oh pleeeeaaaaase,” I begged, nearly jumping out of the seat.

“What’s going on in there?” My mom called from the kitchen.

“Just a little motivating that’s all, Helen,” my dad called back. He turned to me and winked quickly before saying, “Finish that homework and we’ll see.”

I fixed my gaze on the page and scratched a 24 at the bottom of the first equation. My dad turned away from me and walked into the kitchen where my mom was cooking.

Within a few minutes I heard my mom’s voice carrying that particular note of playful agitation which was reserved only for my father, “Henry!”

Looking up from my work, I could see them through the arc of the kitchen door. My mother’s worn apron was wrapped tight around her waist, her hair was pulled into a low messy bun at the nape of her neck. She stood at the kitchen counter in front of the window and the golden light streaming in on her face made her glow like the autumn trees in the yard. My father was standing behind her. I watched as he turned her towards him and kiss the top of her forehead, then her cheek, then the side of her neck.

“Henry, I need to make dinner,” her words were soft, but I could still hear them from the other room. There was less playful agitation in her voice now. Her words still protested my father’s attention, but something in her voice seemed to have surrendered. He pulled her close and I could hear his gentle words, “No. You need to dance with me.” She didn’t protest, she just looked up at him. He kissed her then and she wrapped her arms around him. Then he stepped back, made a bow, and left her for a moment. I couldn’t see him through the doorframe anymore, but I guessed exactly where he was going.

The soft humming music of the record player soon poured through the kitchen door and surrounded me. My mother hadn’t gone back to her dinner preparations, she leaned against the counter watching my father as he walked the short length of the kitchen towards her. They drew close together, and I felt as if they were letting me in on a secret: they weren’t really two separate beings, they were one. My father took hold of one of my mother’s hands in his and she wrapped her other arm around the back of his neck. Then they moved, swaying back and forth, rotating in a tight square. It wasn’t a fancy dance, but then they weren’t fancy people either. It fit them, just like they fit each other.

Watching them I knew that was what I wanted. It was the first time I put clear thought to the feeling, “Someday I want a relationship that is like the one my parents have with each other.”

They danced until the end of the song and I watched them all the while. They never seemed to notice that I was watching, or that I had stopped doing my homework again, for the length of that song they were oblivious to time or obligations or anything other than each other. When the song ended my dad helped chop the rest of the green onions, while my mom moved over to the stove to check on the soup. I went back to my math homework and scribbled 75 at the bottom of the second equation. Life moved forward as if nothing special had happened, but I knew even at that young age that I had caught a glimpse of something precious and magical and I would never forget it.

(To see the picture that inspired this post, click here)

If you'd like to help with medical bills or the other expenses related to Bryan's cancer or Sage's special needs click here. Thank you! We are forever so grateful to so many who have gotten us this far and continue to carry us forward. Grace and peace.

We Ran

For the month of November I’m writing a bit of random fiction every day and posting it. Each piece will be inspired by a photograph and posted as a very rough first draft without much editing.

What I write for this November project will not be true, or based on real events. 

I would love this practice over the month of November to sharpen my writing skills, not just by providing a framework and some discipline for the craft, but also through feedback. So I would love to hear what you think. Don’t like that use of simile, let me know. Think that particular sentence doesn’t read quite right, tell me. I’m up for it 😉 Thanks friends!

Want to learn more about this project, click here.

Here’s my piece for November 3rd:

We ran as if someone was chasing us, but every time I glanced behind me all I saw was the tall grass that had been stomped flat into a makeshift road. I didn’t glance behind often. I didn’t want to see the house in the distance. I just wanted to run. I could still hear the yelling ringing in my ears and I wanted to drowned it out, get away from it.

I could see both of my sister’s running ahead of me. We hadn’t said anything, but as soon as the porch door slammed behind us Mary started to run, and Rose and I joined her. I ran with all my might, but I couldn’t quite catch up to them. They were faster than me. They had always been faster that me. I was the oldest, and yet somehow this view, running behind them, felt so familiar, so in keeping with our lives.

When we had crossed the yard and reached the field we didn’t stop. Mary ran straight ahead along the well worn road between the tall grasses. Right away I knew where she was headed. I watched my sisters long legs lift and propel them forward, their sunday dresses twisting and wrapping around them. Their hair whipped from side to side with each step. Perhaps if we ran far enough we could be free. Perhaps if we ran fast enough we could fly.

My side began to hurt, but I didn’t stop. I didn’t want to stop. I wanted to feel the wind in my face and the pounding of my heart. I even wanted to feel the ache, to feel my legs ache and throb, to feel the sharp pain in my side, it made me feel as if I was real. Sometimes I felt as if I was floating though my life, but in this moment as each foot slammed down into the sharp dry grass I felt desperately solid. I was here in this present moment and nowhere else.

I ran faster.

By the time we reached the top of the hill I had nearly caught up with Rose. I could hear her quick sharp breathing mingle with the rhythmic noise of her feet hitting the ground. The sounds played back and forth with one another, like the call and response of liturgies. The noise beckoned me onward.

I could see Mary now far ahead, almost to the river. She had always loved to run the most, she had always rushed head first into all of life. I wished often that I could be more like her, less in my head and more present and passionate in each moment. But, Mary felt it all the most. She couldn’t detach herself from her hurts so she carried them, adding the past highs to the current ones, adding the past lows to the present ones. She was like a tornado and I loved every second of her swirling.

The river lay right in front of me now. It was a large river. It rested on the landscape of grains and grasses like a snake, swaying in large arcs across the ground. From the top of the hill I could see it stretch out over the land from Rivenna to Hilldale. Today, I didn’t stop to look and my feet picked up speed as the ground began to slope down towards the river. I felt as if I would crash from the speed and be unable to stop myself, but I knew I didn’t need to stop. I just needed to go faster.

Mary had reached the river now. She didn’t stop, she just ran straight into the water, until it was too deep to run any more. I could see Rose slow and hesitate as she reached the waters edge, was she wondering what Mother would say when she saw our Sunday dresses dripping wet with dirty lake water? She didn’t slow much and I watched her shake her wavy auburn hair, as if shaking the arguments out of her head before running straight into the water as well. I was right behind her. No hesitating for me.I couldn’t stop even if I wanted to.

The water felt cool and crisp after the heat of the run. It flowed lazily forward, and I wished for a moment it would sweep me along with it in it’s idle current. I sank down under the depths, my dress tangling about my legs and dragging me down deeper. When my feet touched the rocky muddy earth below I pushed with all my strength and shot back up to the surface for the water.

Rose was floating on her back. I didn’t see Mary, but she soon surfaced from under the water too. I rolled over and floated next to Rose. We didn’t say anything. We didn’t need to, we all knew. There was a shared understanding that only we three could have.

I listened to the babble of the river as it ran it’s course, imagining it had secrets to tell me. I thought of all the places it had been, from it’s cold bubbling origins in the mountains all the way down to this place on the plains. What had it seen? Who had it met? How many others had floated as we were floating now? Did it know the way to get free?

It seemed to me that the river was apart from time, free from the hindrances that held me back. Free from all ties and obligations, hurts and repercussions, free even from self awareness and insecurities. The river was only a river and content to be just that.

Before long we dragged our dripping selves out of the water and lay in the weeds that grew along the water’s edge. We stared up at the cloudless blue sky. My sisters lay on either side of me and I reached out my hands to grab hold of theirs.

“Do you think that some day we could run fast enough to break free of the earth and fly up into the sky?” I asked.

Mary laughed. Rose smiled, “Maybe. Someday.”

We were silent again, but we were together. And for that moment we really were free.

(The photo that inspired this piece)

If you'd like to help with medical bills or the other expenses related to Bryan's cancer or Sage's special needs click here. Thank you! We are forever so grateful to so many who have gotten us this far and continue to carry us forward. Grace and peace.

Why Am I Writing A Memoir?

Every story has value. Every story is as unique as the soul that lived it. These are the things I say I believe. But, when it comes to my own story…well, my actions prove my disbelief.

I have written 23,021 words about my life. My story. We call it memoir, but today it feels like garbage. I’m tempted to throw it all out.

A month ago I felt so excited about this project. I even hired an editor to give me some feedback, but today all the excitement is gone. Maybe I just lost the momentum. Maybe everything else in my life has clouded my view. Or maybe this offering of story really is garbage. I’m not sure. I hope not.

Yesterday I heard from the editor. She was very encouraging and gave some very balanced, specific and helpful feedback. But somehow her “It really is a great story, and the world needs to read it” felt a little like it was coming from my mom. It felt a little like that statement “every story has value”. I don’t want my story to have value because every story has value. I want it to be something more than that.

I guess I’m realizing that I don’t actually believe that every story has value and that every story is unique. I don’t actually believe that every story should be told, even if I’ve said it in the past. Even if I want to believe it.

After talking with this editor friend the biggest thing I’m left with is questions.

I’ve known for a long time that my story lacks focus, a core, a thesis. It lacks clear direction. The editor picked up on that as well and gave me a few questions to think about:

Who is your ideal reader?

What do you want your readers to take away from the book?

I have been wrestling with these questions for nearly two years since I started writing and I feel no closer to having an answer. But, they have stirred up another question in my heart, a more fundamental question… Why?

Why am I writing this book? Why have I spent so many hours putting words on a page? Why do I have 23,021 words strung out together? Why do I keep working on it? Why do I want it out in the world? Why?

When I look at that question, and feel the uncertainty of my answer, I want to just press delete on the whole thing. I don’t know why I’m writing this memoir.

I think it started because I needed a way to process through everything that has been going on. But, I can process in blog posts. I do process in blog posts. Why memoir?

Because people asked me to. That’s a pretty poor reason, but plenty of people have read blog posts about what we’ve been going through and have said, “You should write a book.” So, I started writing, but if the only reason for writing was because other people wanted me to I would never have written more than a few pages. So, why have I written 23,021 words?

Because I’ve always dreamed of writing a book and being an author. Truth be told, I have a lot of ego hidden under my shy disposition. I secretly (or not so secretly) have always dreamed of some sort of recognition and acclaim. I wanted to be an actress, a dancer, a public speaker, and author – do you see a little bit of a theme here? I had other reasons besides recognition that I wanted to do all those things, but under the surface there was that quiet…”what if this really takes off?” Then there was the sly little smile that followed the thought. But, if that’s my reason I should be writing something very different from this memoir. I should be writing some pop culture inspired novel instead. Why memoir? Why this story?

Because there’s something that life has taught me, something this battle with cancer has showed me about myself and God and life in general that I want to share. Now we are getting closer to a real reason, but this is where I get stuck. What is it that I want to share? What is it that all of this has shifted and changed in me? The truth is that the things I’ve learned through these difficult seasons are incredibly hard to put in words, they can’t be summed up in one nice neat statement. They can’t be tied up into a nice little bow of a lesson. They aren’t easily crammed into a three point outline. It’s not a lesson. It’s a shift.

It has something to do with openhandedness and grace, with the image of the tide and the cycles of the moon. With spiraling non-linear mystery. It has something to do with the crashing waves on the shore and the boswellia tree. Something to do with expectations and not being in control. Something to do with the story of the Israelites in the desert and the resurrected Christ. But, I can’t quite put it all together.

This week I read Bellweather by Connie Willis. It’s a short, brilliantly written story about a scientist, a sociologist to be exact. Throughout the book she is on the edge of something, a break through, she keeps skirting around it, almost finding it, but not quite getting there. The chaos builds in the story, until it finally breaks and the discovery is made, there is an answer to the questions that have been raised, or at least a strong thesis emerges.

“Poincaré had believed creative thought was a process of inducing inner chaos to achieve a higher level of equilibrium. But did it have to be inner?…Chaotic systems create feedback loops that tend to randomize the elements of the system, displace them, shake them around so they’re next to elements they’ve never come in contact with before. Chaotic systems tend to increase in chaos, but not always. Sometimes they destabilize into a new level of order.” – Connie Willis, Bellwether

I’m dancing around the thesis and focus of this memoir, but I can’t quite find it, just like the the main character in Bellwether was dancing around her scientific discovery. Somewhere in the chaos the answer is there, but the chaos hasn’t “destabilized into a new level of order” yet. I haven’t found the order in the chaos yet.

Sometimes I don’t think I want to find it.

When people tie things up in neat little packages, I can’t help but think they don’t really get it. “This is what I learned from that experience”. “This is the one thing God taught me”. “Here is my three point summery of how God revealed x to me”. Statements like this get under my skin, like sandpaper they stick and rub and irritate. Oh, God is so much bigger than that. So much more mysterious. So much more complex.

Last night as I wrestled with the questions – why I am writing this story, who am I writing it for, what is the focus, the message, the core – I had a deep desire to just hop in the car and drive to the beach. To sit there in silence and solitude until the answer finally came to me.

Today as I process through these questions again I’m struck with a different solution. Perhaps all I need is more chaos, not less. Inspiration and innovation, ideas and discoveries, they often come in the midst of chaos and life.

I can’t imagine how my life could get more chaotic, but if I want to find my thesis, perhaps all I need to do is start paying more attention within the chaos.

Perhaps focus for the book doesn’t need to look like a linear thesis statement, or a three part outline, or a one sentence summary. Perhaps the core and focus can be more like a spiral, more like chaos itself. I don’t know. I’m just gonna sit with the question for awhile longer and see where it takes me.

For tonight I’m choosing not to push the delete button, and instead believe that this story really does have value. Even if I don’t yet know and can’t yet figure out, what it has to offer the world.

Rejoicing in the journey,

Bethany

If you'd like to help with medical bills or the other expenses related to Bryan's cancer or Sage's special needs click here. Thank you! We are forever so grateful to so many who have gotten us this far and continue to carry us forward. Grace and peace.