This time of year really entices you into thinking of renewal. Maybe it’s the dark-dark well of Dec. 21st, the shortest day of the year, reminding us that when we round the corner of the solstice in late December we do see light beginning to come back into our days. For some reason I noticed the bleak feeling of the absence of the sun on Dec. 21st this year more than I have before. It might have been my late-afternoon walk with my son that brought me right up against the darkening air around me. At our latitude here in Seattle we get the sun setting around 4 pm at its earliest, where I noticed in Arizona where I was born the sun seems much more forgiving, setting as late as another hour or so beyond what we have here. Not only that, but we have had some blustery rainy storms (yay!) in the past couple of weeks that I’ll be remembering with fondness when we get to summer’s blistery 85- and 90-degree days without rain next August.
So. New Year’s resolutions. This time of year we get lots of media attention on changing our habits. In this morning’s paper I noticed articles on how to diet better, how to exercise more, how to get things done around the house, how to be more productive at work. January is the month for aspirations, for expectations, for hoping that things will be better. Isn’t it? How often we are asked, “Do you have any New Year’s resolutions?” And just as often we suspect that making a New Year’s resolution is just the first step to failure in whatever we have resolved to do.
I’m not sure how you like to think about New Year’s resolution, but a few years back I shuffled off the idea of resolutions and instead thought: what would I like to have more of this year? At that time I said to myself, I want more humor in my life. As it turned out, that year (2014? 2015?) I did succeed in laughing more, in paying more attention to the amusing, or the bemusing, rather than to the “must-dos.”
This year I was thinking about a new theme for the year. Here’s what I came up with: I’d like to try being more mindful (hah!), to enjoy the experiences around me, to take the time away from the “must-dos” and to dabble in the “would be nice to do”s. As far as my writing goes, I am in the process of learning, really learning, what it takes to be a novelist. This sounds strange, yes, partly because I have already written a couple of novels previously, and also because, don’t we all think if you know how to write, that’s all it takes. But there’s more to it, I’m discovering. With a story you can hold the entire plot in your head and write in out, usually, in a few days. After having spent the past three years writing short stories, editing and sending them out, and having a few published, I feel like I know HOW to write a story. But a book takes much more. It is an endeavor that brings you out into a vast sea of scenes, characters, subplots, developments, description, dialogue, and on and on. You may be paddling around in a rowboat – or a kayak – touching base here and there with your oars, now coming to an island or a long sand spit where you can pause temporarily, figure out where you are, get your bearings, and then you have to set out again into the borderless waves. I’m learning to do this. It may take the entire year, or longer – and it puts me in a place of uncertainty and questioning of my skills and ability – but I’m also looking forward to the journey!
Here is an excerpt of some of my writing this week!
The adobe house with the tin roof
Her grandmother had left Vivian the house in her will. She thought she didn’t want it. But she went to the town to take a look at the house before making a decision about what to do with it.
When she came into the village, the first thing she saw was the newly refurbished downtown. In her mind she remembered the last time she had visited, was it ten years ago? Back then the shops downtown along the Main Street were all sadly in need of repair, half of them empty, and the ones still occupied were nearly mordant. Now she saw a brightly decent hardware store, a crafty bakery. The old diner had been spruced up, and the Main Street was bookended by two brewpubs.
She turned left onto 4th and drove the three blocks to her grandmother’s house. As she came toward the end of the block where her grandmother’s house sat, Vivian winced inwardly. She prepared herself for shabby, rundown.Yet the houses she passed were brightly painted, the yards decked out with cactus and succulent plants. Everything looked done up and cozy. Where had this miracle come from?
When she came to the end of the block she slowed the car and pulled over to the curb. There it was, the white-gray adobe exterior she remembered, complete with green baize canopy over the front door to shade the entrance. The paint was peeling, yes, around the window frames, starting to split and curl where the wood had not been properly maintained. Perhaps the only hope for the house she could see was the front door, the bright green-Irish color gleaming amid the dull-dishwater color of the house itself. It was strange that the door should still be in such good shape given the neglect that the rest of the house had sustained, but there it was.
But when she stepped out of her car, when she saw that friendly welcoming front door greet her, Vivian found herself stepping onto the porch with warm remembrances of her grandmother’s baking and gardening. She could almost smell the hot biscuits her grandmother used to make. She took out the key from the envelope sent by the estate attorney and slid it into the lock above the ornate wrought-iron door handle. It went in smoothly, as though she belonged her.
She swung open the door and stepped inside.
Wide-slabbed hardwood floors. Open-beamed ceilings. She walked through the little hallway to the kitchen, which had Mexican-ceramic tiles on the floor and painted-ceramic tiles on the counters, still in good condition, from what she could see. She remembered wonderful times of baking in this kitchen. She caught a glimpse out the kitchen window of the little garden her grandmother used to keep, or the remnants of it. Yes, it was weedy and overgrown, but the outlines of the vegetable garden on the right and the flower garden on the left tugged at her heart. Her grandmother had spent many afternoons watering and caring for those little plants that grew in her garden and it had been a treasure to have the fresh vegetables in the oven and fresh flowers on the table. She turned back to the interior of the house. The familiar feeling of the rooms surprised her. It was almost like the house was haunted, or un-haunted. The house was putting on its best effort to keep her here.
Take care and good writing,