October 6, 2012

My Bedroom

Does not take a lot of room for “just the two of us”!

This is a snapshot of our sleeping space. In this quiet spot each of us feels safe, secure, warm and cared for, whether we are together or alone. From my side of the bed, I compose drafts, have my devotional time, or “warm up” for the day by being served breakfast in bed. Who knew a cowboy could cook so well, and be so willing?

From his side of the bed he rests, sleeps, passes the time, or heals from his decades as a roughneck, farrier, cowboy, laborer…on the premise he is “giving me space and quiet” while I write. I sleep on a rather regular 11PM to 7AM schedule and he is on a roughly 8PM-4AM sleeping schedule. In this way, we have togetherness with apartness, something we enjoy. There is freedom for us as individuals when nobody is mandating bed time or rising time.

Each of us needs serenity and quiet, and we must allow space for it in our homes. The outside world gets chaotic, and we need safety and peace when we are tired. This is my space for resting when my shoulders droop, and I feel heavy in my heart.


Keep Writing!

Casting about for a worthwhile blog topic, I clicked around online, reading many great pieces of solitary thought, and stories about historical and inspiring characters, and many other things…but I knew I was procrastinating.  I had no inspiration of my own, yet I had the itch.

I decided to write about character development.  When humming along in a story, I do not construct characters.  They appear from the mists fully developed and with their own opinions and dialects.  My job is to “record what they say and do” which helps my story along in ways I never could have anticipated!

Gunny is one character who came into life in just that way.  Here is an excerpt:

         “Name’s Gunny.  What’s yours?”

         “William O. Barrett, sir, please to make your acquaintance,” Billy responded automatically, still staring at the food and ignoring the man’s outstretched hand.

           Gunny turned his back on the boy and turned toward the fire, pouring a cup of coffee into an enamel cup.

           “Here you go.” he said, rising and turning, holding the cup out to Billy.  Billy took it without saying anything, and took a careful sip, testing the heat of the black liquid before taking a mouthful.  The aroma filled him as much as the liquid itself.

He blew across the top of it before taking another sip.  He leaned against a large granite boulder.

           Gunny stared hard at him while he drank.  The old man’s powers of observation surpassed even his own awareness of them.  They had built up naturally over time.  His curiosity had a patient quality about it, a self contained and non interfering quality.  In the same way that Billy had assessed the red mare, Gunny now assessed his visitor, sensing more than knowing that something was amiss.  He checked the fish, and turned it over in the pan, saying nothing.

          Billy’s voice cut into the atmosphere, saying,

          “What happened to the mare?”

           This truly surprised Gunny.  His preliminary assessment of the kid did not include the power of observation as a probable skill.  Gunny did not respond.  It wasn’t out of rudeness, but was simply due to the fact that he did not know for sure what was wrong.

           In the world of horsemen silence is preferred to openly stated ignorance.  The ultimate way to display ignorance is to pretend you know more than you do. 

Gunny is a favorite character of mine, even though Billy is the real protagonist in my novel. I believe I may write another where Gunny plays a featured role.  He is an amazingly generous  person who helps to save Billy’s life and later dies at Billy’s hands when the situation is reversed.  I would love to develop a novel about Gunny’s life and times.

I like to use dialogue for character development, allowing each character to speak for himself.  Gunny is a man of very few words, but even his reticence relays much about his character.

It was somewhat frustrating to me as a writer to record Gunny’s contribution to the story.  I had to allow him time to show me, through his body language what kind of person he was.  I had to see deeply into him, and respond to the very few words he spoke to Billy.

I had no idea who he was when I first encountered him.  But as he revealed himself to me, I would laugh at his jokes, marvel at his kindness, and grieve for his losses.  I cannot fully understand how he “came to be” but to me, he is a very real human being.

October 4, 2012

Psalm 137

Psalm 137 (Photo credit: Mouse)

To be on the planet at all is a stupendous opportunity!  Each of us has the chance to improve conditions here, clarifying and identifying situations that could be ameliorated by our special attention.

How frequently I become overwhelmed with “things that something should be done about”!

It is so easy to get lost in the labyrinth of problems.  The planet is too large for me!  The old platitude occurs to me today:  Bloom where you are planted.  I have always chafed at the idea of being planted.  I yearn for lightness, airiness, freedom.  Still…

We all need the good earth to pull sap into our veins, to stay hydrated, to fully live.  My daily practice is to open the Holy scriptures before the day is fully underway.  Here is what I do:  I ask God to lead me to what I need.  Then, I open the Bible randomly to a place in the Old Testament, the story of the Jewish people, the chosen family of God.  His miraculous interactions with ordinary people all through it make exciting reading.  Though often callous and rebellious, God reached down to guide and protect them from their many enemies.

Next, I open randomly to the New Testament, reading the pages in front of me, and finishing at least one chapter.  They are usually short.  The sayings of Jesus are in red ink in my version.  But quite often, the passages I am reading are all in black.  Both provide immediacy and intimacy for me, drawing me (small inconsequential human) to know there is a plan, has always been a plan, and I am counted.  I have a part to play.

Next I go to Proverbs, a book of 31 chapters, one for each day.  Pithy, wise, simple to understand, if I were only be able to read one book, it would be Proverbs.  Today is October 4, so I read Chapter 4.  Verse 23 is circled in my Bible:  Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.  I ponder its meaning.

Last of all, I randomly select a Psalm.  For me, the Psalms are a book of comfort and reassurance.  Once I have read a chapter, I feel refreshed and close my Bible.  The entire process is about 15-20 minutes.  If I want to, I can read more, but normally I do not.  I am a busy girl!

The immediacy of knowing God is with me, even when I seriously doubt it, as others have done since the very beginning, way before my time, and long before these books were written consoles me.  I relax, knowing it has never been just up to me to solve every temporal problem on earth.  All things work together in some mysterious way.  All we have to do is align ourselves with goodness, love, light and peace, to get a perspective of knowing when we have choices, to make good ones.  It is a VERY individual walk, yet it affects the entirety.

I must bloom today, but could not do so if I had not been firmly planted first.

I Produced a Play, Accidentally

The faces in the crowd swirled into a colorful mass, and I felt great trepidation.   I could not see her, but I listened for her.  Her distinctive dry cough was always a great comfort to me in crowds.  That involuntary sound was discernible to me and meant nothing to anyone else.  From the presence of my mother I knew everything would be all right.  She’s here.  I can do this.  I am so happy this is real.

I had written a play.  In my room upstairs, all alone, I’d had an idea for a take-off on “The Night Before Christmas” and wrote it up, working late into the night.  The next day, I presented it to my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Carpenter.  He was busy, but he took it and when the school day was over, asked me to remain after class.

He asked me a few questions about why I wrote it, and what I thought should be done.  I came to life, explaining how every single person in our class could have a role, and it came to a point when he said, “That’s type-casting,” and he laughed.  I had to ask him what type-casting was, and he explained it.  My response was, “It makes it easier, as the kids will not really be acting.”  He laughed again, yet I did not really see the humor.

“If I can get permission”, he continued, “would you allow it to be put on for the school?”
“All right, then.  You go on home and I will see what I can do.”  He gathered my pages into a stack, giving them a straightening bump, and I left, completely unaware of what it all meant.  In my imagination, I could see the entire play completed.  I can do this.  I am so happy this is real.

I told my mother about it after school, and she looked very pleased, interested, and asked a few questions, probing for more.  There was no more. 

The next morning, Mr. Carpenter opened the day with my pages in his hand, and announced, “Tandy has written a play, and I have permission to put it on for the other 6th grade classes.  Would everyone like to participate?  We only have a month to get ready, and it will be a lot of work, but everyone will have a part.”

To my shock, every hand in the room went up, waving wildly, generating a palpable wave of enthusiasm.
Even then I was unaware of anything unusual occurring.  I was confident of my ability to lead the play into production.

“If she is willing, Tandy will be the director.  This means each of you will listen to her, and do what she says.”
All eyes shifted to me, and I smiled back, never doubting they would gladly follow.  Oh, for that blissful innocence of knowing one is omnipotent, and will never die or be disappointed.  I was twelve.  Immediately I assigned myself the “lead” part, and one by one, everyone in class eagerly approached me to learn what parts I would assign for them.  It was easy and gratifying.  I felt important.

Each step of the process, from costumes, to selection of music, to individual consultations with various actors, and rehearsals was given to me, and I “just did it.”  We were all having fun, and Mr. Carpenter must have been a brilliant teacher because we barely felt his supervision.  He met with each of us privately, reminding us of gaps that needed filling, and phone calls from actors and dancers each evening were all part of it.  The mother of the “dog” even called me to ask what could be done to transform her son into a dog.  I was pretty surprised a grown up would seek me out for advice, but I cheerfully told her how to do it, and went on with my life.

Mr. Carpenter called our class to order one day with an announcement.  “We are going to have a dress rehearsal” he claimed and explained it would be like any other rehearsal, but it would be in full costume, and there would be no interruptions.  It would be just like the real thing, only the audience would be limited to “just the administration.”  He told us there would be “no messing around” and put a special glare onto a couple of boys in the back.  “The Principal will be there,” was his final threat.

Oh, man!  I cannot tell you how excited we were to be opening our play, finally.  I put on my “old lady” costume, and took a seat at the edge of the stage.  I was the “moderator” who was reading the actual unadulterated lines of “The Night Before Christmas” to the audience, as various crazy scenes would erupt onstage, just out of my line of sight.  I did not need to see it.  It was all in my head anyway.  I was the ultimate straight man.  How did I know just when to read and when to stop for each scene?  The actors had no lines.  It was all broad comedy.  I reveled in the fact I was writer, director, and playing the lead, yet I had no idea of my own narcissism, and nobody called me on it.

The play ended, and the small audience had about died laughing.  I was happy and surprised by the jolly face on the principal as he congratulated me.  “I will be at every performance,” he declared and walked away.
Mr. Carpenter was glowing and gave everyone his best congratulations on a great dress rehearsal.  It was then it happened.

The metal folding chair I was seated in had worked its way to the edge of the stairs, and one of the legs went off, tumbling me head over heels all the way down the steps and onto the floor.  I sat up in my long dress, my old lady glasses half off, and my old lady wig beside me.  The entire class erupted into laughter, and so did I, but Mr. Carpenter helped me to my feet, and hugged me, and admonished the class for their insensitivity.  “She could have been hurt!” he thundered.  “Every single one of you owes her an apology.  She has done all of this for you!”  I was stunned.  I was not hurt, and it had been hilarious.  I even thought of adding it to the play, but was too embarrassed my dress might fly up again.

We did the play for the sixty 6th graders the next day and they laughed at all the points they should have.  At the end, they were on their feet, clapping and yelling.  Well, that’s done.  It was fun.  Back to class.  They filed out, and we began to organize clean up.

Mr. Carpenter was talking to the principal, and the two of them approached me to ask a question.  “Since it went so well for the sixth grade classes, would you be willing to do it for the entire school tomorrow?”
We all looked at one another thinking the same thing.  If we can get out of class to put it on again, we will.  Duh.

Parents were invited, and every class from first to sixth attended.  The auditorium was packed.  We  felt even more secure the next day, and the actors laid it on real thick.   In the end, the entire audience was on its feet, clapping and cheering.  Mr. Carpenter made me go to center stage and take credit.  We all lined up and bowed and they went on clapping.  There were announcements, and credit given, and it was done.  I felt really happy about it all.

Later, at home, Mom said, “I can’t believe you got three standing ovations!”  I was perplexed.  “What’s a standing ovation?”  She explained, and I felt pretty humble about it.  I said, “I thought they were just standing up to leave, and clapping on their way out.”

“No,” she said.  They were telling you ‘thank you’ for the play.”

As I sit typing today, I think back to Mr. Carpenter, and how amazing he really was to allow it to happen.  Those ovations really belonged to him.  He is long dead, and life has gone on for us all.  In our minds, we were just playing around, not really working.  We had no idea at all how much we were learning.  We had no idea how much we were loved.

To this day, whenever I hear “The Nutcracker Suite” I see two ballerinas dancing while a boy dressed like a dog with paper ears and brown pajamas nips at their feet.  One was actually a great dancer, and one was not.  The one who was not very good concentrated on the music and dance staring seriously into the audience completely oblivious to the counterpoint of her graceful partner kicking at the dog.  The paper ears flapped up and down and the boy transformedplayed his part brilliantly.  He chased them off the stage, barking furiously.