A time for goodbye

26 Dec

Two years ago I began this blog to keep myself writing, I told myself. That wasn’t entirely true. Looking back on it, I see that this blog was about much more than that. When I first started writing here, I had recently gone through the most painful experience of my life: heartbreak. The posts I wrote shortly after that were ways to explore feelings I never before felt: love, heart break, loss. I needed an outlet. The posts I continued to write continued to be about, for the most part, those same themes. I’ve come a long way since those beginning posts. I read through some of them recently, and I knew I couldn’t produce anything like those again. They flowed from my pain, and amazingly, some of them I consider good pieces of writing. Some of the best, in fact. To that I say this: Good comes out of bad, even if we cannot see how during the throws of it. I didn’t at the time know how I could live in a world where the person I loved didn’t love me back. I hated myself for a long time, hated that I couldn’t be the person he wanted. “If only…” I though so many times, “If only I were different, he would have wanted me.” It would be too simple to say I’m stronger now for that experience. In a way, I still feel broken. The fracture line is still there, and still hurts sometimes, but now I know my great capacity for healing. I know that it can feel like someone’s twisting my stomach, and I still get up in the morning and not only go to work but do a good job. I know that each month I can think about someone I love a little bit less until one day I go to bed and night and realize I hadn’t thought once about him. Slowly as the memories fade so too does the pain. One day you wake up and know the scars are there, because you still see them, but you know that you’re healed. That day is here. My posts no longer deal with the same themes they once did. For that I’m grateful. And thought it was worth noting.

I also thought it’s time to start a new Blog, one that’s more focused, that deals with different themes. So I did. I will no longer be posting to this Blog. I will however, be posting to www.storiesfromreallife.wordpress.com. The name says it all. I plan to write about real stories from real life, as the best stories are those that are true. I look forward to writing about interesting people and places I discover in this journey called life. Thanks to those who have read this Blog and commented over years (mainly Grayquill) and even to those anonymous readers. It truly has been fun.


Christmas 2011

26 Dec

The crown roast wasn’t done on time, so it went back into the oven. The main part of Christmas dinner was a bit late, but it was okay. When Christmas dinner finished and everyone went home, I asked my mom if she felt one of the people present seemed like he didn’t really want to be there. She agreed but didn’t know why he seemed that way; we know he’s working many hours and, every day, spends two hours in the car for his commute to Rochester. Maybe that was it? By the end of the day, I reflected back on the Christmas. The pork wasn’t done right (but the rest of the meal was fantastic). After opening presents, I found my little sister upstairs crying. My mom and I went up to talk to her, and we talked about much more than just her post-Christmas let-down, about how she feels like she falls through the cracks a lot as the youngest child. We talked it out and, by the end, hugged. I asked her if she felt better, and she said yes. I thought it would be fun this year to give my parents stockings, so all five of us kids shopped, wrapped and arranged it. Well, it was more like I did everything, and they just gave me their share of the money. We also surprised them with more Christmas gifts than either could have imaged. It was fun—a lot of fun—to see their expressions when they opened them. My dad opened books on the Civil War and my mom, Estee Lauder perfume, among other things. I got a book I wanted, “Storycraft” by Jack Hart, and a gift certificate to the outlet mall. My parents gave us all journals. They told us to write down everything we’re thankful for in them. By the end of the day, I realize the pork roast wasn’t done right, but there was a microwave to fix it. My little sister cried on Christmas, but because of that, we had a really good talk. And someone came to the house who didn’t seem to want to be there. Life isn’t perfect. Family isn’t perfect. Despite what Hallmark tells us, Christmas isn’t perfect. But you know what? If life was anything but messy and sometimes uncomfortable, it wouldn’t be real. We wouldn’t have love. And today wouldn’t have been one of the best Christmases I’ve ever had.

“Coming Into the Country”

23 Dec

I should probably stop reading books about Alaska. They make me want to see it, bad. I just finished “Coming Into the County” by John McPhee this week. I chose to read it mainly because I’d heard it’s his best. I haven’t read any of his other books, but I was not disappointed by this one.  I found not only the subject—Alaska and the people who live there—fascinating, but also his reporting and writing style. The nonfiction book weaves character sketches, profiles, geography and history seamlessly into one cohesive, 400 plus page narrative.

Unlike some narrative nonfiction writers, McPhee stays out of his story. I found this puzzling, and I think I know why. In the 40 years since McPhee published the book (It was published sometime in the 1970s; I’d have to look it up to find the exact date), nonfiction exploded while fictions, meanwhile, all but died. McPhee was one of its early pioneers, doing things with language and stories that hadn’t been done much before, exploring real people and real places not in a pedantic, textbook way but in a way that puts the reader right there in the story, too.

Nonfiction writers today often insert themselves into their story, making themselves a character in the plot and telling it through the prism of their own thoughts, observations and feelings. I would say writers of nonfiction books do this more often now than not, which is why I expected it of McPhee. Think Ian Frazier or Bill Bryson, for example. But when I consider the era he wrote it in, this, perhaps, was not so widely accepted as it now is. Journalists didn’t enter their stories, and if they did, they did it quick and jumped back out again. Which is what McPhee does. Incidentally, I thought the parts where he puts himself in the story were one of the most enjoyable, and wished he’d done more of it. Maybe he would have if he wrote it in the twenty-first century, but maybe not. I have a feel that’s just his personality, to stay in the background and tell the stories of others.

The reporter in me kept wondering how he did his reporting. I am curious about the nitty gritty logistics of it all. He rented a cabin in Eagle, Alaska, clearly for a long time—judging by all the people he must have interviewed. But, I mean, how did he know how long he was going to stay for? How did he approach people? “Hi, I’m John, and I’m writing a book about Alaska.” How did he get people to trust him, to overcome their own insecurities about being written about in a book—not just a magazine or newspaper article—but book? Did he even tell them? How did he get such fantastic access? Surely, though, his notebook gave him away if nothing else. Yet I read something recently that said he hung out with a guy for a week, never took notes and still, according to his subject, “pretty much got everything right.” Incredible.

I plan to read his other books now, too.

In other news, I discovered a wonderful blog about journalism by Beth Macy, a writer for the RoanokeTimes in Virginia: http://intrepidpapergirl.com/.

Ten ways to know when you’re an adult

17 Dec

1.) You get excited about strange things like frying pans and new light fixtures.

2.) You get excited to fall asleep at night—as in, the sooner the better.

3.) Giving at Christmas becomes more fun than getting.

4.) You begin saying things like, “We didn’t have that when I was a kid.”

5.) You pay the bills.

6.) Everyone starts getting married/having babies.

7.) A night with no plans is attractive, not terrible.

8.) No matter what, you make time for morning coffee.

9.) You buy weird things like light bulbs and paper towels at the grocery store.

10.) You often feel as if you’re still a kid.


Afternoon on the Jetty

15 Dec

The warmth radiates through my shoulders, arms and even to my fingertips. After a few minutes I feel it sting and slick on another coat of sunscreen. The concrete jetty stretches out before me, with waves crashing into it on either side. Surfers wobble, stand, glide and crash through the waves, even though the rip tide warning’s posted. The hurricane will come tomorrow, they say. Before it does, the surfer crowd enjoys the rollicking water. I stood in the sand earlier, close enough so that the water came to my knees. I turned back to look for my sister, and as I did, a wave swooshed higher than I expected, splashing up to my stomach and knocking me off my feet. I fell into the water and slid a few feet toward the ocean before regaining my balance. It scared me, left me feeling powerless, which, in front of the ocean, I am. I didn’t go near the water again, not on a day when a hurricane’s only 24 hours away.

Water dampens the concrete beneath me, water and fish guts. Men lean on the metal railing holding out their fishing poles, as if they reach further with them the fish will meet them half way. When one’s caught, they struggle for a few moments, the line growing taught. Then out of the water flipping, twirling and looking fierce comes the fish, bright-eyed in the Florida sunshine. It lands splat on the jetty, and the fisherman holds it down with his dirty hands. The scales heave with its labored breathing, and the red, blue and gold of its body sparkle brilliantly against the gray concrete. A few minutes before it swam free through endless ocean water. I feel silly for wanting to wrestle it from the fisherman and throw it back into the water. I feel ashamed to see such a beautiful thing caught by such an ugly man with such ugly fishing tackle. I look away, but the same scene’s played out everywhere. Some men gather in clusters, talking seriously about which bate works best with what sort of fish. Some sit alone in folding chairs, drinking a beer. Nearly all go shirtless, and their skin is brown and crisp like the tips of palm tree leaves. None slick on sunscreen wear hats with wide brims or don sunglasses. Like everything else about the jetty, they’ve adapted. The fisherman unhooks the bate from the fish’s lip and puts it into a blue bucket, where it idles listlessly.

I feel the sun soaking further into my skin, through into my blood, warming my bones. Heat doesn’t come this hot in the north, where the summers are short and other seasons, fall, spring and winter, still hang in the air, just out of reach, as if tucked away on a shelf when not in use. The sun comes for a short while, a few splendid, perfect months, until it whisks away again until next year. Here there’s solidity about the sunshine, a year-round permanency to it. And it’s something I not only feel but see in the fishermen, as if they’ve digested it and it’s become a part of them, part of their blood and sinews. They say the ocean also gets into your blood, that it becomes a part of you so that you cannot leave. I feel the pull. I walk to the tip of the jetty and feel the salty breeze mussing through my hair. The wind whips the tips of the waves into white caps, rippling and rolling and rollicking. Beside me in clusters the men, and a few women and children, busy about their poles, lines, buckets and fish. Whenever one’s caught—which is frequently—they shout and pull it out of the water. It slaps onto the concrete, and I see again the same sad stare, straight forward, defeated. No fight left. I recall the surface of a globe, spinning on its axel, the green and the blue, mixed together. Something I can trace with my finger, spin with my hand and see with one good look. Out here the ocean’s not tame, charted, or even together in one glob. You know the maps exist, but it’s easy to forget them when you’re up close. I look toward the horizon and nothing but water, endless water, fills it, with undiscovered worlds underneath.

One surfer swims beyond the tip of the jetty, windmilling his arms through the waves with his belly flat on the surf board. I am the typical northern girl, imagining a shark around every reef and shadow. I worry for him, for the lurking fish nearby and for the undercurrents that could sweep him away. He paddles his arms faster and faster toward a dark blue stretch of water. He swims toward it furiously. As it crests, he leaps onto the orange board in one fluid movement, lifting higher with the wave until it pushes him horizontal. He rides through the ocean as if on skis going sideways. The sun hits his sandy blond hair, his green swimming trunks and orange board, and I hold my breath, wondering how long the incredible feat will last. As soon as it began it ends, and for a few seconds he disappears before popping back up with his board. A huge smile spreads across his young face, and he swims toward shore.

I turn back from the end of the jetty and begin walking home.

View from Above

4 Dec

I stand at the top of an old stone church in the rainforest. The roof long ago crumbled, leaving the stars to shower down light at night and visitors to see the treetops surging into the distance. Endless green, with only purple, red and orange flowers to punctuate its otherworldly color. But such green I never have seen, a thousand shades, all different, all with some other fleck of color adding to it. A green leaf with stripes of fiery red or another leaf with streaks of purple. The birds screech and swoop through the trees, the bugs burrow in the ground and flit through the air and the leaves, so large and thick, seem animated. They reach their gigantic, bulky selves toward us on the trail inquiring who we are and why we’re here walking. They whisper together at our strange speech and clothing.

I see over the clouds that gather at the tops of the trees, spreading out like a white, porous blanket. The hike leaves me breathless but the view more so. I put my hands on the cool stone of the church and lean, letting its weight absorb my weakness. Up here the heat melts into a welcome cool, a treat after the steamy jungle air below. I imagine the missionaries who brought each stone mile after mile into the dense forest of Puerto Rico, up hills and across streams to build this church in the clouds. A monument to God. But no one worships in the church anymore, not in an organized way. To reach the top of the church, we climbed a stone, winding staircase. I felt the stone brush my sides at time it was so narrow and, until the light appeared, inky black. It seemed those stairs never would end but then in a burst of color, air and sound the top appeared, and we fanned out across it, each lost in our own thoughts. Words fail in the sight of profound beauty. It silences. It put us rightly in our place. We are humbled, awed and unable to speak. It was so that day.

After some time, we gather together in a loose cluster, and David asks if I’m feeling better. On the van ride up the mountain, I jostled, bumped and careened along with everyone else as we rode to the rainforest. Half-way up, I felt sick, and upon arriving, nearly threw up but managed to avoid it. He noticed and asked if he could help me somehow. I said he couldn’t. It would take time to feel better. After a half hour of steady walking, my stomach evened itself back out again, and I could enjoy my surroundings. I tell David I’m wonderful now, and I appreciate his concern.

I wish I could take this moment, this feeling, this ethereal beauty back down the mountain with me. But I know I cannot. I know the moment so resplendent now will soon become a memory. It will fade dimmer and darker just as the clouds dancing in and out of the treetops do as it nears night.  I am ecstatic and sad at the same time, for in the moment I know the beauty intimately and yet also must bid it goodbye. Dew fills the air, and it refreshes me, wrapping around me, cooling my skin. I lean against the stone for a long time and keep looking across the treetops, across the clouds and in the far distance, the endless blue ocean. How perfect they three fit together, how lovely and divine. After some time, we leave the top of the stone church, walk back down the winding stair case and find ourselves once again below the clouds with the soft ground underneath our feet. I unscrew the top from my water bottle and take a long drink, preparing for the hike down the mountainside.

Interview with an author

29 Nov

Today I interviewed an author of a crime novel published just three weeks ago. We met at Panera Bread, and I was flustered and late because two accidents on the thru-way destroyed my punctuality. I was six long minutes late, and before I walked in I saw him in the window. I knew it was him. He was cool, composed, and wore a vest over a button down, checkered shirt. He was tall, with shaggy brown hair and a relaxed manner.

We went to the counter to order, and he surprised me, telling me he’d pay. Now I considered whether this would make things awkward, him paying for me. Did he think it’d buy him a better story? Was it ethical? But then I thought, what the heck, it’s under $2, and besides, one must take advantage of the rare opportunities when people offer to buy one’s drink at Panera Bread. He wasn’t buying me a ticket on a cruise ship. So he bought me my tea, and he got a salad, and we brought them back to the table. He told me about he doesn’t care whether he’s writing fiction or nonfiction, as long as he’s writing a good story: “It’s just about the story,” he said. I nodded emphatically. I too, love good stories.

He always goes to see authors in Buffalo, he said. At 8 p.m., he was going to see Joyce Carol Oates speak at Canisius College. I was jealous. I wished I were going with this stranger to see Oates speak. At 8 p.m., I’d be seated at the Village Board meeting listening to heated discussions on crosswalks. Now I admit a certain attraction while scribbling notes and listening to the author talk about his novels. Not every day—nay, never before, in fact—had I heard a grown man talk unabashedly about his love for good stories, about a love for writing, about a love for reading. Maybe I just run in the wrong circles. But here before me was a man I hadn’t thought existed, one who loved to read and write and who was telling me all about it. “They do exist!” I thought, and my heart secretly sung.

Then he told me a bit more about his latest novel. “It’s what I consider R-rated,” he said, “lots of violence and profanity.” He took a bite of his salad. I pondered this; it was something I didn’t know prior to the interview for my family-friendly paper. “Well,” I thought, “I just won’t go into details on it.” Suddenly he seemed not so attractive as a few moments before. The bad-boy type, even the bad-boy novelist, never appealed much to me. Before we left, he told me to keep the copy of the novel resting on the table. I thanked him and tucked it into my purse. I may not like crime novels, but it’s cool getting free anything, let alone a free book and one from its author.

I said goodbye, and I admit to a certain feeling of wistfulness as I saw his shaggy brown hair round the corner. Then he popped back around, “Hey, what’s your last name?” “Spencer,” I told him. “Naomi Spencer.” I pulled out of the Panera Bread parking lot feeling more enlightened than when I have drove into it an hour before.