Category Archives: writing

A Truce

It had been a strugglesome week at work and I was feeling rushed and dejected when my husband suggested we go outside and have a few practice swings with the clubs. A few days before, I had reluctantly agreed to join an outing of four couples for nine holes of golf. Let me tell you something about golf. I don’t care for it. I find it full of aggravation and without reward. I was dreading spending my first opportunity to relax feeling like a total failure surrounded by people who play regularly. But I am a good sport…sort of. “Fine,” I had said, sounding more like “Why GOLF?”

The last time I had played was four years before and it had ranked among the worst leisure experiences of my life. I don’t know how many years it was before that I had played but it was more than four. Last Friday out in the yard, I picked up my driver with poor grace and assumed the position. Instantly there was a blaring chorus of voices in my head. Some were telling me what a bad experience I was about to have, some were telling me what a lousy golfer I am in general, and others were critiquing every single aspect of my swing (SO many ways to do it wrong). It was both deafening and oddly familiar. They sounded just like the voices that used to hound me when I was writing. I couldn’t believe how awful it felt, and I couldn’t believe I had persevered with writing as long as I had, clinging to a certainty that I had to battle through the noise and the unrelenting negativity. As I said in my last post I eventually did give up, and rebooted my writing in Safe Mode, which for me was to only write when I felt like it and to only write for myself. I chose to share my writing when I wanted to with a supportive group of friends who also write, but I absolutely gave myself permission to not do our writing prompts at all, or to write about something else if I wanted. I gave up overthinking and trying to be perfect, and in doing so had made peace with my writing. The voices quieted to a manageable murmur.

Out there in the yard, facing down a leaf in substitution for a dimpled ball, I decided that If I could do that with writing, when I really, really care about writing, I could also do this with golf. Some of the advice my husband offered made no sense. “Position your club face so it impacts the leaf like this.” “Aim so you hit the leaf right at this point.” Incomprehensible concepts which I rejected. Some of the things he said resonated. “Plant your feet.” Yes, this I had experienced in yoga and Pilates, feeling my feet connected with the earth as though my body was an extension of the planet. “Slow your swing.” That I understood, even if I didn’t like it. I just wanted to get the game OVER, but when I slowed down, my swing felt more controlled. Out on the course with an actual ball and an adjusted attitude (less competitive, more experimental and compassionate toward myself) I had a not-terrible time. I had a few (feet planted, slow tempo) strokes that were pretty decent, and the rest (which were absolutely consistent with my status as a perennial beginner) didn’t bother me. Best of all, my inner critics were silent. Nine holes wore me out, and I ended up with a blister on my thumb and some sore muscles the next day, but I also found I had been able to call a truce with the sport. I would be willing to golf again…you know, once my back loosened up.

I even learned a few things from golf that I can apply to my writing. If my metaphysical feet are planted, I have strength and balance to write from. If I don’t rush my message, it comes at its own pace and makes more sense. More peace, fewer voices seems like a good direction to keep moving toward. Fore!

Lynnette golfing

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Re-Feathering the Nest

It feels like a day to clean out, reorganize, and start fresh. I have a boatload of photos that I need to categorize in a sensible fashion. I want to redo the categories here on Wordtabulous.  My projects remind me of how, a few weeks ago, I watched some chickadees working on a nest in a tree in my backyard.

I love their little black caps!

I love their little black caps!

Then, after last week’s snowstorm, the nest looked like this:

nest resized

This has nothing to do with the post, I just like how it looks like an ice cream cone.

Today there is nothing left of that nest but a few scattered bits of grass on the snow beneath the tree. What I hadn’t realized is that the birds weren’t building a new nest, they were demolishing an old one for scrap to use in a new location. Talk about green construction.

It isn’t healthy to cling to stuff that doesn’t work anymore, be they ideas, systems, behaviors, or old ball point pens, but taking the old stuff apart, learning from it and reusing what is still good appeals to me. Do you have a closet, a desktop, a lifestyle or something else that needs a fresh start?

Consistency, Surprise, and a Note to Readers

To all of you who read here, you may be wondering what the hell I am up to (especially lately) with the zigs and the zags on topics. It must be very confusing for those who think they have found here a fitness blog, or a photography blog or a quasi-humor blog, only to see the next post and wonder how many different people write here. This is the thing: I have a lot of interests, a nimble attention span, and a low tolerance for  uniformity. I am approaching my two year Blogaversary and have resigned myself to the fact that my “niche” is more of a blanket. This does not bode well for popularity; all the rules say that to be “follow-able” a blogger needs to be consistent with content. Oh, well. Popularity has never been my strong suit anyway. If you are also a member of the quirky, random tribe, and like what you see here, please follow my blog and let’s see where it takes us. If you have arrived expecting something else and are feeling confused and would like to find the nearest exit, let me just say thank you for stopping by and you are always welcome back. (The door is over there.)

I would like to add that there are certain things that I do often enough that it thwarts my no-consistency approach. Granola for breakfast and tea once or more daily, for instance.  Most days I take time in the morning to face east and greet the day. I take an insane number of photographs of sunrises. At least on this count, I can say that doing the same thing over and over doesn’t yield the same results. This morning, I didn’t expect much from the dawn. It is early March, and this time of year gray skies usually win, but today I got a surprise (click on the picture to see a larger version):

Photo by Lynnette Dobberpuhl

Photo by Lynnette Dobberpuhl

Regardless of what you were looking for when you got here, I hope you found something you can use. Peace!

Out of the Comfort Zone and Into the Fire

As a nearly four year veteran of freelance article writing for Twin Cities community magazines, the idea of attending the Minnesota Magazine Mingle at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis was completely inside my comfort zone. I clicked on the registration link in The Loft e-newsletter and was pleasantly surprised to be directed to the Facebook page for the event. Attending? Why, thank you, yes I am.

The day of the event I took off twenty minutes early, but was still twenty minutes late due to an accident on 94W and University resulting in INSANELY backed up traffic. When I got to The Loft I discovered, at the welcome desk, that only a moron would think that accepting an invitation on Facebook would be the same as registering, and that there was, in fact, a $35 fee. On the upside, they immediately printed me a very snazzy nametag. I had heard that the event was being held in the auditorium, but another room nearby looked pretty populated and rowdy, so while I hung my coat I asked a staffer if the event was being held in both rooms. “Go in there,” she said, pointing at the auditorium. I obediently went, and spent some time looking at the amazing assortment of Minnesota-based magazines laid out for the rather sparse crowd. People noticed me, mostly because unlike them, I didn’t have a sticker on my nametag identifying me as a “writer” and/or an “editor.” I struck up a conversation with an “editor’ and “matchmaker” (someone officially charged with introducing compatible writers and editors) and learned about her work with industrial journals and newsletters for the powdercoat industry. I ate some grapes and gazed longingly at the raspberry topped brownie but strategically bypassed the salmon and dill hors d’oeuvre. Clearly, that was there as a test to see how committed we were to face-to-face networking in close quarters. I started to question what I was doing there. My community lifestyle writing didn’t seem like a big deal anymore. I drew a blank as I wondered what I could submit to various magazines representing the interests of universities, business, the History Channel, physicians, golfers, the fabric industry, or environmental sciences. I started to doubt whether I had knowledge of anything worthwhile, when I spotted a nametag for an editor of a national craft publication. I introduced myself and quickly learned (before I totally embarrassed myself) that ‘craft’ referred to, for instance, sculpture, not, say, crochet and that he was more resigned to the conversation than engaged. Because I am striving to be mentally healthy, I decided that it probably wasn’t me, that the editor was finding the whole event not that interesting. He was probably there because he had to be and the booze he was drinking was making it tolerable. I wondered where he got that booze. As a last gasp effort, I offered him my business card and he made no move to take it. “Just check our submission guidelines online,” he said. He wasn’t smiling.

When I recovered from my humiliation a bit, I met a lovely writer who seemed confused that I hadn’t gone into the other room where it turned out people had been meeting and chatting from the beginning. As people flooded from there into the auditorium, all best friends by now, she and I compared notes on editors in the room. I mentally wished her luck when she seemed interested in the craft magazine. Then, I won a door prize! Books from Loft writers and a tote bag! Sweet! Another prize winner, whose business card said Freelance Humorist was nearby. We began a conversation about blogging when a young woman walked up, told a hipster joke “Why did the hipster burn his mouth? He ate the pizza before it was cool,” and began a one-sided no-punctuation conversation about a zombie survival guide she wrote and how she thought about doing a hipster survival guide but hasn’t because she isn’t a hipster. I interrupted her to point out she wasn’t a zombie, either, but that didn’t stop her. She seemed confused by the fact I was talking, so maybe she WAS a zombie. I was trying to extricate myself politely from the conversation when I saw the last, and maybe only, editor I’d really hoped to speak to walking toward the door. I chose abruptness over etiquette but missed him anyway. I know somebody who knows somebody, so that might be fixable. I got a few more pity chats from very nice editors whose publications didn’t overlap with my skill/knowledge set, and then gave up. I grabbed a mouthful of stinky salmon dill goodness and went to sit in a comfortable chair in the hallway/lobby. I finally spied the drinks table, but was soon to be driving. I saw a big group of people chatting together, magnifying my aloneness. I thumbed a long and bitter text to a friend, then gathered my coat, and decided to go back to get a brownie for the road. At the food table, a business magazine editor appeared to be having a conversation with an intense gentleman, but within a few seconds I realized he was just listing everything he likes and dislikes about St. Paul, where it seems the editor lives. After he told her St. Paul’s cathedral is very nice but she pays too much in taxes, I decided it was imperative I find out more about her magazine. I stood there pointedly until she glanced my way and the man strode off, no doubt to make more friends. I didn’t mention him, but started what turned out to be an enjoyable conversation about her magazine and her job. I realized I was more relaxed listening and responding to what she was looking for than I am apologetically flinging my credentials into strangers’ faces, and I seemed to be making a better impression as well. She suggested we exchange cards and asked me to send her a link to some of my work. The Mingle was over.

What have we learned, kids? If it seems super easy and cheap, you are probably missing something. Don’t trust what people tell you, go where the energy is. Do your research beforehand. Most of the people out there are nice, but even so, they can’t help you if you don’t know what you are looking for. Know your questions, and make sure one of them is, “what kind of story are you excited about getting?” Most importantly, go back for the brownie.

A Bit of Fiction, and An Observation

The problem with writing science fiction in this age is that it catches up to you. I get an idea, I mull it over, I write it down, I let it ripen, I revise, I dither, and then there it is, a reality on the news. Perhaps if I cut out the dithering…Anyway, I wrote the first draft of this piece in June of 2011 and the other day on public radio I heard about this and this. Which aren’t quite what the story is about, but enough so to make what I thought were some innovative ideas look pretty ho-hum. If I didn’t know what to do with the story before when it felt edgy, I certainly don’t now. There is always a risk in sharing fiction like this, more so than just spilling commentary and images like I usually do, but I feel 2013 should be a little more about risk in the Wordtabulous domain. So here it is, first fiction in 2013. I hope you like it.

Rose Colored Lenses

by Lynnette Dobberpuhl

“Sit here,” Leone directed, glancing around the park center. Mason took a spot on the cement bench encircling a fountain, feeling burdened by the backpack she’d made him put on over his suit jacket. The sky was slightly overcast as usual, and the robust drought-loving plants sagged wearily in their planters. People hurried by alone and in couples, a few pushing strollers or walking dogs, rarely looking at each other. They were like the lackluster breeze: not fully there. Leone reached into Mason’s backpack and pulled out a folded piece of paper, a pair of eyeglasses and a brown fedora. She held them out to him.

He looked from the items to her face. “Seriously?” he asked.

“Trust me,” she urged. He studied her a moment more. Her black hair pulled back in a shellacked bun was as intense as her manner. She pierced him with blue eyes framed by black eyeglasses. He sighed. The hat was heavy, and felt tighter than it should have; there was something built into the band. The eyeglasses also felt weighty, but were perfectly clear. She handed him the sheet of paper, which looked like a normal piece of copier paper folded in half along its width. Mason looked at the blank page, then quizzically turned his gaze back to Leone. She was fiddling with an electronic tablet. “Wait,” she advised without looking at him.

Mason looked back at the paper. He heard a click and then saw a flash. His vision began to swim a bit. Small swirls of color coalesced into letters on the page, which seemed to gain weight in his hand and suddenly he was no longer holding a piece of paper, but a hardcover book. “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times,” he read. It was A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens. He concealed his surprise: the pages were thick, and turned with a rustle. They appeared to be sewn in and hand trimmed. The cover was slightly distressed leather with the title and author embossed in gold. He ran his hands over the book; it looked and felt like a beloved tome from a grand library. “Smell it,” commanded Leone. Mason pulled the book closer to his face and inhaled a familiar aged, dry papery aroma, with…was that a hint of pipe smoke? “Flip through the pages,” Mason felt the weight of the book shift in his hand as he opened it. He stopped at page 145, and read these words ‘Many a night he vaguely and unhappily wandered there, when wine had brought no transitory gladness to him; many a dreary daybreak revealed his solitary figure lingering there…’ He closed the book, hearing the snap of the cover clapping shut, feeling the whisper of air on his face as the pages came together.

“Remarkable, the new reader, is it?” He slipped the glasses off and the weight and image dissolved to reveal the paper still in his hand.

“The paper is nothing special, it’s just a prop to keep you from looking silly as you turn invisible pages,” Leone explained as she took the paper from him. “But Mason, that’s not why I brought you out here. I could have shown you that in the lab. Put the specs back on.” He complied and she fiddled again with the tablet. A movie played in front of his eyes, hovering at arm’s length. “This is kid stuff. Now this,” she said, working the tablet, “is the real thing.” The movie stopped and he heard the soft strains of a violin concerto. “Look around,” she said. As he did, Mason noted that the hazy sky had blued up somewhat, and that a few puffy clouds had formed. The flora looked greener in the better light. Altogether, the park seemed more cheerful. To his surprise the people walking by seemed to feel it, too. He detected a few soft smiles, some open gestures in conversation, unlike the usual huddled hurry. My God, he thought, is that a butterfly? With a gasp, he pulled the eyeglasses from his face and the illusion faded away. The sky was still overcast, the plants limp and tinged with gray, the sullen parade moved on as though watched by a judgmental eye. “Put those back on, you’re not done,” protested Leone. Taking a deep breath, Mason once again submitted and the music changed to a Latin beat. The bright sun beamed in a cloudless sky and flowers appeared in the hedges. A blond woman in a cheerful red dress moved down the path, swinging her hips to the beat. She smiled at him. He nudged the glasses down slightly to peer over the tops to see a pale woman in a burgundy trench coat glancing at him nervously before hurrying past. Then the music changed to death metal. Grey clouds swirled overhead and the plants around all withered. The path looked as though it was paved with crumbling gravestones. The people wore dark clothes that were slightly tattered and now seemed to move with a menacing intensity. Mason began shaking his head in disbelief.

“Hey, different strokes for different folks, right? One more thing…” Leone said, and the music switched back to the concerto. The weather cleared and Mason caught a hint of fresh cut grass on the wind. “Look around, and tell me if you notice anyone in particular,” Leone instructed. Mason looked around. The people walking past moved at the same pace, but seemed unrushed, more dignified. A mother was smiling at her child on a park bench to their right. Everyone seemed attractive but unremarkable. Then he saw her, across the path and a little to their left. An older woman was leaning against a low stone wall, doing a crossword or something on a folded newspaper. She glowed faintly, and Mason felt a surge of amiability toward her, as though she was someone pleasant he’d met briefly some time ago, except he was sure he’d never seen her before.

“Who is that?” he asked.

“That is our department head, Jane Fairbanks, and she wants to meet you,” Leone said, switching off the device. The better world faded back into the everyday and Mason stood, removing the hat and glasses. Jane Fairbanks, genuinely smiling, came over to greet him.

Back in the lab’s conference room they sipped a fortified tea-flavored beverage and ignored a plate of grayish wafers and cookies. Mason had questions: what was it called, how had they kept it a secret, how soon before the system could be streamlined and miniaturized, his head hurt; had they given him a tumor? And finally, would it work on food, adding flavor to the tasteless cookies for instance?

Fairbanks smiled at his enthusiasm. “We call it Lensis,” she said. “It has been developed entirely in-house by a small group of professionals in fields ranging from neuroscience, computer programming and engineering, and psychology, to fine art. Headaches are not uncommon at first, but there are no detectable health impacts beyond an elevated feeling of well-being. We are making in-roads on the taste issue, though it isn’t ready yet, and we have all the designs set up for a variety of streamlined systems. We are only months away from prototypes that could be worn under any type of hat or headband, or with modified eyeglasses and a slim strap that could be inserted around the back of the head and hidden under hair. Ultimately, people could have implants inserted invisibly beneath the scalp and wear contact lenses and never have a visible gadget at all. We won’t even need an external controller, because it can be operated with eye and head movements.”

“How would such a device be powered?” Mason asked, imagining a five pound battery pack implanted beneath his skin.

“Future generations can be powered wirelessly using kinetic, solar or chemical power cells.”

“Tell me more about that trick where you were shining and no one else was.”

Fairbanks smiled again. “We call that the ‘Glow.’ There will be a setting on each Lensis unit that allows users to turn on the Glow so they can be recognized by anyone else using Lensis in the area. It will build a community feeling, which we anticipating being useful in marketing.”

“And that warm, fuzzy feeling I got when I saw you all lit up?”

“That’s all part of the Glow, Mr. Mason.”

“Could the Glow be applied to objects as well? Say cars, or restaurants?”

“Mr. Mason, I understand what you are getting at, but the use of Lensis as a marketing tool could be a problem. If the public feels they are being manipulated as consumers, there will be a backlash. You remember how laughable the product placement strategy was in movies from around the turn of the century?”

“Perhaps something more subtle and understated, then?”

An inscrutable Fairbanks regarded him for a moment. “Perhaps,” she said.

Mason nodded. “So what do you need me for?”

“We have contacted you because we are out of funds. To build our next prototypes, to miniaturize the devices to a practical level, we need an investor.”

“If you want money, I need to know more about the commercial application. I can see the potential as an entertainment device…”

“Mr. Mason, consider these numbers,” Fairbanks said, sliding a dig-I button toward him. Mason applied it to his smart device and began flipping through charts and tables. “The first charts indicate the earnings potential for the system as an entertainment device alone, but look at the data preceding charts 6 & 7.” Mason skipped ahead. “Our preliminary findings show that using the system alleviates symptoms of depression. As you saw, it completely alters, one could say revolutionizes, a person’s perception of reality without altering reality itself.” She paused for emphasis. “Mr. Mason, do you have any idea how much money is spent in this country alone on medication to alleviate depression?”

“22.8 billion dollars annually,” answered Mason.

Fairbanks raised an eyebrow at his ready answer and continued, “And since Lensis is a device intended for entertainment, do you know how much time and money would be needed to help it pass through FDA loopholes?”

“Exactly zero, I believe,” Mason said.

“You believe correctly. Mr. Mason, do you represent anyone you believe might be interested in being part of the Lensis revolution?”

“I just may have someone in mind, Ms. Fairbanks.”

A few days before the Lensis release Mason returned to his grandparent’s farm with a Lensis device. He was curious to see how the effect worked on isolated places untouched by urban blight. First, he walked around the house, the old barn, the pond and the orchard and examined it all with the naked eye. He noted the peeling paint on the house, the decaying boards in the hayloft under the gap where the roof had collapsed, the overgrowth of scrub trees in the ailing orchard, but overall the pond, the yard—everything looked roughly as he’d remembered it. Then, he’d put on Lensis. The breeze had freshened, the air softening against his skin. The windowpanes glittered in the sun and his ears were filled with the buzzing of insects and frogs and the chirping of birds. An earthy, barnyard smell hinted at the animals he now remembered: a horse and two cows, and a small flock of chickens. He walked around the barn and the air became fragrant with apples hanging on the branches. A light gust rustled the grasses around the pond and he turned to look, his breath catching in his throat. Every twenty-five feet or so a blinding white egret stood sentinel around the edge of the sparkling water, watching for minnows and frogs. Those birds had fascinated him every year until one fall, decades ago, they had flown away for the winter, and never returned. He felt an odd sort of anticipation, as though at any minute someone he loved would drive up and call him to help unload groceries from the car.

He was startled when, hours later, he was pulled from his Lensis state by the beeping of his alarm, warning him he needed to leave to be back in the city for his evening meetings. His head no longer hurt after using the device, but seeing the Lensis effect evaporate to leave him in a yard full of dingy buildings and a muddy wetland brought an ache to his soul. His hand trembled on the steering column as he drove back to the city thinking, too sweet a poison and resolved never to put Lensis on again.

Edward Brandell examined his reflection in the window overlooking the city that stretched as far as the eye could see. His kingdom was spread before him, dimly illuminated with the New Conservation Approved bulbs, but he was noting the bags under his eyes. He brought the lead glass highball tumbler to his lips and savored the flavor and burn of the whiskey in his mouth, throat and gut. In a world of synthetic food and artificial flavors the real thing was worth any price. A door opened and closed quietly behind him. “Well?” he asked without turning.

Mason’s voice was tired. “We quelled the riot at the tire plant. One dead and twelve injured before we re-engaged Lensis access.”

“Re-engaged? I banned that damned system from the workplace! You can’t give in to them like that.”

“Ed, take it easy. We’ve got them on a five-minute access for every hour they are in the building. That’s huge progress. Maybe we can stretch it to five minutes for every three hours, but we are going to have to take this gradually. I swear to God, when we blocked that signal, I thought people were going to have seizures.”

“Those Lensis things aren’t even supposed to be in the building. It’s a condition of employment for Christ’s sake!”

“Well they ALL have them, and I am not exaggerating, Ed. People are hooked. Shutting them off cold turkey for eight hours will guarantee you a hell of a lot worse than some broken windows.”

“Well,” Brandell snapped, “letting them work with those things on is going to get people killed, either workers from being distracted on the factory floor, or customers driving on bad tires that looked good enough to quality control from their ‘happy place.’”

“It’s worse than that, Ed,” Mason said quietly. “The tire plant is the tip of the iceberg. The Lensis effect, which made you rich and got your candidates elected, is everywhere. We’ve got bus drivers, systems management people, doctors and teachers, hell, maybe even police officers using it at all hours, and now they wonder how they ever survived without it. Mistakes are being made, and no one notices because they are lost in feeling good. The number of people who have boycotted Lensis has dwindled to almost nothing, and the few who still are boycotting are written off as a fringe culture.”

“It’s a hell of a mess,” Brandell sighed. “What do we do?”

“Up to you. We could introduce a bug that would defeat some of the ‘feel good,’ and make it easier for people to wean themselves off, but then you are going to lose most of what you’ve gained. Society and the economy will reawaken to its slow demise.”

“That’s a cheery prospect.” Brandell took another sip of whiskey, looking at Mason’s reflection in the window. The man looked thin, he thought. “We’ll talk about it tomorrow; go get some rest. And, Mason,” he said, as Mason turned to the door.

“Yes?”

“Thanks.”

Mason sagged, then exited without reply. In his rooms a few floors down he slumped into an overstuffed armchair that looked out over the same view Brandell enjoyed above. His mind’s eye was not on the city, but turned inward to the farm that was his childhood home.

They had been horrifyingly successful. The Lensis product had sold out immediately and continued to sell out, with each new generation more profitable than the last. Suicide rates went down and the economy picked up as people worked to afford Lensis devices and then demand increased for several other products benefiting from a subtly engineered Glow. Specially built Lensis systems designed to decrease prison violence worked splendidly and soon educational applications were also developed. But by this time the problems began to surface. Claims of sexual assault became muddled with perceived consent and inaccurate rose-colored descriptions. The murder and suicide rates rose again, higher than before. Robbery also increased as those without work became desperate for resources to access Lensis states, but public outcry was absent. The world viewed through rose-colored lenses was bearable, a sanctuary removed from the disintegrating planet and unraveling future view that had been descending upon them for generations.

Groaning, Mason tore at his hair, as though by opening his skull he could exorcise the demons he himself had invited in. Then he stood and straightened his tie, smoothed his hair. In the next room, his bedroom, he opened a wall safe behind a painting of egrets. Inside, there were two items: a loaded handgun and the Lensis device. Choosing, Mason settled himself on the center of his bed. In the darkness there was a click and a flash.

Literary Therapy

John Updike wrote in Hugging the Shore: Essays and Criticism, “I want to write books that unlock the traffic jam in everybody’s head.” Me too. But until that day, as I battle the gridlock in my brain and either pound, snub or tentatively caress my laptop with conciliatory keystrokes, I continue to read fiction for entertainment and inspiration. As we do. And once in awhile, a phrase or sentence reaches out of the book and plucks a string in my core. Truth, figured in inked black symbols on a flat white page, unlocks light and sound somewhere inside me (my brain? my gut? my soul?) It is a miracle every time it happens, and it is why I write.

I had such a moment recently. I have been going through a particularly grim love/hate, approach/avoidance conflict with my writing for some time now.  No matter how many helpful people I discuss this with, or how many instructive articles and books I read, there is still a poisonous little voice in my head that hisses they don’t get it, you are SCREWED UP. Then I read a book recommended by hot-off-the-wire on Goodreads: The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver. In this novel, the main character, Harrison Shepherd, is the quiet center of a whirling storm of mercurial characters and events. For him, writing isn’t a problem; it is an outlet, his therapy, his way of reinventing the world to make it a more bearable place. A traumatic event results in him withdrawing from the world until he has the greatest difficulty even imagining leaving the small town where he has settled. When he feels conflicted over an invitation to visit a friend he confides in his clear thinking and plainspoken assistant, Mrs. Brown. He describes the exchange in his diary:

“We discussed it again this afternoon, or rather I talked. Justifying my absurd fear of travel and exposure, despising it all the while. My face must have been the Picture of Dorian Gray. At the end, when he goes to pieces.

She used the quiet voice she seems to draw up from a different time, the childhood in mountain hells, I suppose.

“What do ye fear will happen?”

There was no sound but the clock in the hall: tick, tick.

“Mr. Shepherd, ye cannot stop a bad thought from coming into your head. But ye need not pull up a chair and bide it sit down.””

Those last two sentences stopped me in my tracks. Resonance. Truth.

When those self-defeating and crazy-making thoughts come…I don’t have to make them a nest? I don’t have to cajole or argue or submit evidence to their contrary? I don’t have to analyze them exhaustively? I imagine rolling my eyes, saying, “Oh, you again,” and firmly shutting the door. Peace. Let the jackals wait outside. That’s where they belong. No doubt someone has suggested this to me before, but in that quiet room with Mrs. Brown, Harrison and his agony, the message made it through the bottleneck in my head. Did it fix me? Sadly, no, it did not, but perhaps that is unrealistic. I suspect this is a road I’ll never get off entirely, and that traffic jams will come and go, but for now the cars have shifted and I am back at my keyboard.

What passage or author has unlocked a traffic jam or stopped the world for you?

Working Girl: Bright Lights, Big City

Starting on Tuesday last week I began the new job, still aching from moving uncounted bins to the dumpster and a vanload of heavy cartons of potentially useful but ultimately elusive stuff from the previous job to the new office in downtown Minneapolis. I don’t know how many times this week I have said, “Where in the world is…?” or how many circles I have walked checking those cartons looking for a device, a file, a cable or a tape dispenser. After four days of trying to get one computer talk to another, or talk to one of two printers for more than thirty minutes, my hottest fantasy was a day without someone saying, “Why isn’t this working?” Everything I accomplished unraveled by the following day. Oh, I got a picture hung, I was instrumental in getting two light bulbs changed, and my boss’ office no longer looked like a storage room by the end of the week. But there was still the electronic communications issue which slowed everything down, and while I love a creative challenge,  this is not my area of expertise. Following a *headdesk* moment  I groaned, “It would sure be nice if we had an IT person,” and Patrick, the new guy, laughed and said, “We do; it’s you.”

It all moved at a frenetic pace: everyone working their own variety of magic with a lot of keystrokes, edits, meetings, searches, and phone calls. Finally on Friday, at four p.m., when a lot of people in the city might expect to be heading home or going out, we gathered for a meeting about some time sheet and invoicing software, which thankfully evolved into a conversation about the strangest jobs we’d worked (you know I said the rat lab, right?) our favorite movies, dream vacation destinations and the kinds of topics that turn colleagues into friends. The white wine my boss brought to celebrate the end of week one smoothed the day’s jagged edges and even though I came away with more to-do items on my list, I was happier than I’d been going in.

As I finally left for the day, clouds cast the sky in indigo and the streets were quieter than I’d seen them all week. The cars that had packed the parking ramp when I’d entered that morning had dwindled to a scattered few. I had to exit via the open top level, where I was greeted with a view into Target Field, where the Twins were playing beneath lights as bright as the sun. The Target dog, sketched enormously in red and white neon, grinned from the wall of the Target Center, and the looming buildings either glowed in light or glowered in shadow. It was beautiful. I wanted so badly to take a picture, but there was an issue with having to climb on things to get a good angle and on the top of a seven-story building, that just wasn’t something I wanted to do.

I wish I could tell you that the IT issues have now been worked out. They have been worked, strenuously, but they remain in ever new configurations. I HAVE been able to make a few creative contributions and been assigned some writing which is awesome. I have figured out the bus schedule…mostly. I love my walks between the bus stop and work, and to get lunches or supplies. It isn’t perfect. There are random gusts of what smells like raw sewage here and there. There are blocks that feel marginally less safe than others, but I am figuring this out quickly. The commute isn’t stressful, but it does make my day long. The thing is, I like it here. I am glad I have been given this opportunity.

So this is here and now. Thank you for visiting, for your patience in waiting while I pulled myself together to share this, and for your indulgence as I rattle on.