Why I Write

It’s about Power.

As a writer of fiction, I can create a city, a village, a country, a world. I can fill it with characters that I love or love to hate. I can imbue them with a certain amount of free will and, if I don’t like how they use it, I have the power of the eraser or delete key. The characters I create may be human or they may be animals, even mechanical beings, or a combination of these.  I can ride down a country road feeling the fluid strength of the steed beneath me, enjoying the bucolic scene of field and meadow, knowing that around the next bend there is a plot twist that will change my story, transform the world. I can change the weather from stormy to sunny and back again. In short, I am god.  I can wander through forests of words and chop down the one I want to take to a sentence I’m constructing. I can plunge into oceans of emotions to catch the one that will give my character motivation to propel the story forward.

Similarly, when I write memoir or creative non-fiction, I take an event from the headlines or from memory and, while sticking to the reality of it, invent or reimagine dialogue I did not hear or do not remember. I give the incident a spin to emphasize the part I think is important or transformative. It is my story told my way. This kind of writing does require research to authenticate it. I enjoy research because it opens the discovery of things I did not know and enriches knowledge that I then mine for other stories.  I prefer fiction and poetry because I am not bounded by facts, annoying facts that constrict my imagination.

Writing is an inexpensive form of entertainment and also therapy. The cost of a pencil and paper can set me up for hours and hours of diversion. I disappear into a world I create. Sometimes it is hard for me to resurface, to attend to my daily tasks and the real-life characters, human and animal, who live with me. I am glassy-eyed and slightly incoherent for a time when I leave my writing desk depending on how long I have been immersed in writing. My dear husband can attest to the state of suspended animation that surrounds me. I gave up the idea of writing the great American novel by the time I was thirty. I write for myself because I love to play god.

One Festive Moment

“Twas four weeks before Christmas, when all through the house, flour was sitting…” and so on. I love Christmas and all the festivities accompanying it. However, I diligently wait until December 1st to begin with music, decorating and cards (yes, I still write them). So, two nights ago I cheated. I decided to make chicken rice soup while listening to Christmas music. I was tra-la-la singing along with Hallelujah by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The soup called for flour to thicken the broth. Still singing loudly (I was alone in the house), I opened the pantry door and grabbed the flour stored in a large, square plastic Oxo container secured with its awesome push-down lock lid. Before you could wink an eye, as I turned around to leave, the lid gave way in my hands. At least half of the full container of unbleached flour soared into the air like confetti tossed on the bride and groom as they exit the church. 

After considerable cussing, I surveyed the area. Our wooden floor, the stove-top and oven door, the entire bottom half of the cupboards, the counters, the garbage can, the Keurig coffee machine on the counter, the pottery Keurig cup container and my sweatshirt, sweatpants and wool socks were covered in a flour mist. A rather thick one. 

I took off my sweatshirt, pants and socks, leaving footprints across the laundry room. Tossing them in the washer, I grabbed a broom. Bad idea. It doesn’t work. Just then, our dog Rusty came trotting around the kitchen counter to check out the situation. After walking through the floured floor to check on me, he happily pranced down the hallway to go to sit in his favorite chair, leaving white dog prints the entire length. Taking a very deep breath, I set the broom outside on the deck rather forcefully and watched as the bristles made a cloud of flour softly sift into the air like angel dust.

I didn’t want to use our vacuum, so filled the kitchen sink with warm water and a little dish soap. Using two sponges, a rag, and my hands and knees, I wiped it all. Over and over. I locked Rusty in my room and wiped up his canine trail. The entire chore lasted nearly an hour. I no longer wanted to hear Christmas music. Instead, I fixed the lid on the Oxo container and still maintained enough composure to thicken the soup. When my husband came home, I casually remarked, “Guess what happened?” I knew he wouldn’t be surprised. He knows me. And by the way, today I found traces of flour under the dining room table and oven.   

September – November

Today is the last day of November, representing for me the last day of autumn from three glorious months. Another farewell to fall. Although a few leaves are still rustling themselves from my one tree, the neighbor behind has two oversize Mulberry trees that are just turning. Fortunately for me, the wind usually blows them right into my raked yard. Does that count for extending my autumn?

Recently I pulled several photo albums off the shelf that was my mother’s. She had dozens of shoeboxes full of photos that had not found a home in her albums. I made that an early task after I brought them all to Arizona, to fill those empty pages. In thinking of fall, my grandmother had large oak trees on two sides of her property. In these pictures are many snapshots over the years of those trees. One is of my dad in his Navy uniform on an early chilly winter day, another of my son at four, raking and burning leaves with great grandma and step grandpa.

Another of my uncle in an army uniform holding a transistor radio. He was Grandma’s youngest and only boy. Of course, she spoiled him. But my point is never can I travel back in time without Grandma’s home, her gardens, her large yard, her daffodils, and her playing the piano or reading, to which these memories dominate my seasons.

The shoeboxes of photos were a treasure to draw from when in the workshop where I first met my soon-to-be, lifelong writers group to date. Until this class ‘writing from photos’, I had no idea what lay hidden. As I say goodbye to autumn, here is one of those poems.  

Autumn 1962

Under a broken sidewalk,

    roots of aged maple and oak trees

    crawl. Evening red, summer gold

    and slumber brown leaves smolder,

    raked into a pile.

Overhead, the winter sky approaches,

  the last of the leaves have vanished,

  their ashes rise sooty, sugary

  and damp.

Grandma grips the rake,

  fire glows in her eyes and

  under the leaves, embers

  burn her skin and presses

  against her stockings.

A photo is snug in her apron pocket,

   her only son, barely a young man,    

   stands below this tree’s molten red leaves

   like lava, waiting to say goodbye.

   His shoulders newly wide enough

   to carry the weight of his Army uniform.

Years ahead, she watches from the door,

  lends a hand and leans the rake against the

cold bark.

   Her black glove dangles with a hole in

   the right thumb, the last of the leaves,

   the last of her autumn held tight within

  her sigh.

Elvis

There is only one. My husband and I went to see the movie, Elvis, with Austin Butler as Elvis and Tom Hanks as Colonel Tom Parker. Let me just say, Austin may be a good actor, but he is no Elvis. The 1979 movie with Kurt Russell as The King was a more convincing portrait. This new movie, however, was heavy on the portrayal of Parker and his relationship with Elvis. Tom Hanks disappeared into the role of the Colonel. He was amazing. How sweet Tom H. could embody the sleaze that was Parker makes it clear he is an incredible actor. This is not meant to be a movie critique. Many of my friends saw the show and have differing opinions. I think it is doing well at the box office but I would not recommend it. The music, of course, carries the show.

I was twelve when Elvis entered my life. He had been around for a while by then, but it was his music played on KJR in Seattle that got my attention. I think the fervent plea Don’t Be Cruel was my introduction. With the urgency only a teen can understand, I talked my mom into taking me to the record store. In those days there were stores dedicated to vinyl records, where you could spend hours listening to your favorite songs at individual turntables with headphones. It was a Saturday pastime for me and my friends. I bought a 45 of Don’t Be Cruel with Hound Dog on the B side.  Don’t Be Cruel was played until there were no more grooves, Hound Dog not so much. With my babysitting money, I bought each album as they came out from 1957 to 1963. Elvis was the guest of honor at all sleepovers with my friends – swooning, giggling, weeping, whispered secrets, popcorn, hot dogs, layered jello dessert, and coke, the order of the night. The walls in my bedroom were papered floor to ceiling and wall to wall around windows and closets with Elvis pictures taken from fan magazines. That is impressive in my memory because my mother was a stickler for clean and orderly. Nothing in her house was less than perfect – except my room. I teased her that she lived in a Doris Day movie – sheets and underwear ironed; closets, cupboards, and drawers in color coordinated tidy stacks and rows. The fact that she accommodated my obsession with Elvis adorning every nook and cranny of my room for six years is, as I look back, a testament to love or maybe just giving up to a headstrong teen. When I married and left home, the room was quickly reclaimed.

In 1963, as a newly engaged woman, I believed it was time to put those teenage things away and become the adult my new status decreed, even though I was still 18. I had my own real-life love (even better looking than Elvis in my eyes) so dream lovers were no longer significant. I gave all my LP’s and 45’s to my sixteen-year-old neighbor who was as ga-ga about Elvis as I had been.

Now fifty-eight years later I am an Elvis fan-atic once again after being reintroduced to his music.  I listen to his channel on SiriusXM Radio, on Amazon Music, and Alexa. I rediscovered songs I forgot. His voice is unmistakable and moves me whether I’m listening to heartfelt gospel, crooned love ballads, or feverish rock and roll tunes. They send me back in time, but in another way, I enjoy a new perspective after living and loving for so many years. Thank you, Elvis. Your legacy is very much appreciated.

This is one of the stories in my life, a short version. It is important to recognize all the stories that make up a life and honor them. Sharing tales, fiction, and non-fiction, is how humans connect. We discover that we have more in common and our differences become less important. As we show in our book, Telling Tales and Sharing Secrets, a writers’ group can help a writer develop those stories for themselves and their families. Take some time today to write a memory.

This Time

We move from Thanksgiving into Christmas this year of 2022. Holidays bring front and center so many emotions—happiness of sharing them with family and friends, loneliness for those not so fortunate, gratitude and appreciation for many reasons. Holidays bring back memories, too. I can get very melancholy over the past, especially during this time of year.

Growing up, my parents always had Thanksgiving dinner. My grandparents, aunts and uncles, plus cousins filled the length of our living room. Dad and my brother set up the tables while Mom made the dinner, her pies everyone loved included. After we kids set the table for over twenty people while Dad helped Mom, people began to arrive with more food and soon, the kitchen was packed and filled with laughter and the dinner table was covered with dishes of delicious homemade food (no Costco purchases then!).

It’s funny how when young, I took those times for granted, figuring Thanksgiving would always be like that. Instead, due to moving to different states, it often hasn’t been, and we’ve only had just our family of five at the table. That is the reason yesterday at our daughter’s house was so special with sixteen people at their table. It reenacted those memories of long ago and this time I was grateful.

Reflections of Change

Autumn has been kind and gentle to us here in Tucson this season. The nights have not dropped below 38 degrees, the days remain between the ’60s to mid-’70s. Evenings quiet with a slight chill to invite a log lite in the fireplace. During the day, I slide open a door and window to allow the warmth of fall to slip into the house.

As I read through others’ blog posts, and read emails from friends or family, those close to my heart or those of new acquaintance, worries wedge in of health, aging, close calls, and uncertainty. I realize at this age in my life, and looking back, my growth has been like a small tree starting its place in the soil. Each year as I have grown, I grew and gained more limbs and vibrant leaves. Each leaf represents those I have gone to school with, worked alongside in various jobs over many years, relatives I have known since birth and now long gone, introductions to strangers that became a delightful newfound friendship, children, nieces and nephews, and anyone else that drifted onto my path. These leaves became thicker and denser with time, but at a certain point in a year, a certain point in life, they drop and flutter to the ground one by one.

Last Friday Jackie speaks of relationship love, child love, animal love, and sister love; all of which are bundles of leaves clinging to a branch, giving us beauty in small doses when we look closely.

On Monday, Diana speaks of gratitude in nature. She reaches toward our natural beauty as a solid substance, knowing nature withstands what we as humans cannot at the times we are weakened by uncertainties that spring up.

I speak of today, the moments that melt into the sound from our very close friend painting my husbands’ car shop, doing repairs in the house and around, tasks that my husband cannot do right now. A friend who didn’t drive down the road or across town to our home, but drove the long distance from Missouri to assist. The motion of self-sacrifice is one of the biggest gifts to give and receive. Like part of a tree, leaves filter through the seasons, and we season with the stream of life.

Take a moment to peer closer at one of your reflections, write a gift you can give to someone, write the gifts others have given you with their time and gather the leaves that rustle with you on your path.  

Gratitude

This prose poem was written during the excesses of Tucson’s summer heat but the sentiment can be applied to any of God’s seasons. Today, preparing for Thanksgiving this week, I remain grateful and aware of the treasures of nature and the love of family and friends. Wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving and the gift of gratitude.

Unfolding from sleep I turn toward the open window.

A desert breeze puffs gentle kisses across my eyes and lips.

Sage and desert broom play luscious harmony for my nose.

With feline grace dawn arches blue-gray-pink over the mountaintop

Bringing another day.

Thank you for the new beginning.

I walk the park path in the cool dawn air.

Desert heat will rise soon.

A voyeur, I listen to the gossip of palo verde leaves

Am I the topic of their soft whispers?

The park is alive with rumors of the coming day.

Thank you for nature’s secrets.

Rabbit romps across the path,

Coyote slinks among the shadows, 

Bobcat shelters under the creosote bush,

Quails strut in formation,

Hawk soars in lazy circles seeking breakfast.

Thank you for the companions of morning

Clear skies gather hazy bits of cloud

Building monuments to the midsummer heat.

Monsoons hiss, rumble, boom, crack and clap.

Summer torrents cool, coaxing fragrance from the earth’s bounty.

A kaleidoscope of color frolics among the wrinkles of Pusch Ridge.

Thank you for the intricate interplay of nature’s ensemble.

All Kinds

A friend mentioned in her email that since her husband wasn’t feeling well, it was she who had to fill her car with gas, an act her husband usually did because he knew she hated doing it. It touched me, making me think about his act of love for her. These acts are all kinds and come in all sizes to expand one’s heart, no matter what. Like when:

My brother-in-law buys clothing for my sister’s birthday or Christmas—jackets and dresses that fit her perfectly. The gifts are nice, but more, he knows her. Relationship love.

A woman from Poland is raising funds to build an eighty-room shelter for refugees crossing the border from Ukraine, the old, women and children. Love for mankind.

A pet is euthanized with the owner’s arms wrapped around their neck, stroking them as gentle words of love drift over both like comforting incense. Animal love.

My granddaughter insists the stuffed animal you bought at the store with her is for you, not her, and she smiles when you hug it to your chest, her beautiful brown eyes gleaming with happiness that now you own one too. Child love.

Your hairdresser has moved and the one who takes her place gives you a style that closely resembles that of Elvis. Your sister says, “It doesn’t really look that bad.” You know she is lying, but doesn’t want to wipe out the little bit of self-confidence you have left. Sister love.

I could go on, but I’m sure you have a long list to add to mine. We just sometimes forget.