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5 am at desk

Well, folks, after taking a year and a half off, I’m back. I don’t promise to blog on a regular basis, but I do promise to write as I’m inspired.  I don’t know how daily bloggers have the time!  Time?  Isn’t that supposed to come with retirement?  Hardly. My days are filled with more than ever – but at least I’m doing what I love – writing about the history and landscape of women, California, and  the future we’re shaping  – all part of my novel – The Desk.

In my last blog (April 2014 – really?!) I had just taken on the editorship of our community’s small newspaper – The Camptonville Courier – rescuing it from near drowning. Nineteen issues later, it’s again thriving.

In spite of being distracted by running a newspaper (which I love), I’ve made decent progress on my novel this year. I’m semi-disciplined to rise before dawn and with a steaming cup of coffee, write for a few hours. The darkness keeps the real world out, and I can float back into Great-Grandmother’s world of 1850-1915, or forward to the future world of Great-Granddaughter, Amisha, end of this century and into the 2100’s, or stay right in the present and witness the slow deterioration of our planet.

Like the racing tortoise, (slowly, but Shirley), I’ve been steadily working on this book for over six years now.  As I look back at 2014, I’m amazed at some of my accomplishments.

First, the novel is now fully fleshed out, thanks to a few personal writing retreats at Skyline Harvest Retreat Center.  Having days alone with few interruptions enables me to immerse myself in the other worlds I’m creating.  There’s an unseen energy at Skyline that beckons me into a much deeper place.

I’ve made a few historical site visits.  Woodland, Yolo County, is where my Great-Grandmother lived and worked. I drove past where the family farm used to be (now a trailer, rusted cars and barking dogs), and left a bouquet of lavender on her grave in the Woodland cemetery. This summer I followed traces of her little-known life in the Nevada Desert before California – but that’s another blog!

I’m now standing at a new plateau in writing this novel, getting ready to interweave the three women’s stories with the legacy they inherited with the desk. Time to get out the cork board and move those 3X5 cards around.

© All materials copyright Shirley DicKard, 2015, except as otherwise noted.

Writing the Middle – Like Crossing a Desert

Immigrant Trail  Nevada Desert

Immigrant Trail – Nevada Desert

Sometimes I feel I’m writing across a desert  – that vast stretch between the beginning and ending of a novel.  The only way through is to take it one step at a time.

My Great-Grandmother had to do it literally.  Immigrants on the California Trail would make one last water stop in their covered wagons before leaving the Humboldt Sink where the river fanned out and disappeared into the Nevada desert. Forty miles and several days of waterless, hot parched desert lay ahead and there was no choice but to roll through.  Along the way animals died, prized possessions were jettisoned, despair set in.  Rather like writing through the middle of a story, I’m finding.

It’s humbling to learn that a great story takes more than a great idea. Writers have to craft this passage well so the reader wants to stay with the story.  But it’s also where authors can get stuck in boggy, soggy ground.  Between the beginning and end, there are elements of plot and character development, back stories, turning points, cliff hangers, triumphs, setbacks, reversals, and ever-present conflict and tension.  Add to this, layers of character arc, motivations, subplots, story theme, and . . .  Whew!  It’s why I immerse myself in writing classes, conferences, critique groups, and reading, reading, reading.

When will The Desk be finished?  Well, I’d say I’m about two-thirds across the desert.  Like Beulah the Ox who detected the faintest whiff of water and quickened her pace, I can feel the pieces coming together, but I’ve still many miles to go.  And when I do finally tie it all together, I’ll still have a steep granite mountain range to traverse, called Revisions.

© All materials copyright Shirley DicKard, 2012 – 2013, except as otherwise noted.

Beginnings

Emergence  Utah Petroglyph

Emergence
Utah Petroglyph

I think some beginnings are only recognized in retrospect.   You’ll be amazed at what you’ll be doing, the voice in my head told me.  It’s not even on your radar.  I’d been pondering my up-coming retirement and heard this not once, but many times – usually when meditation had cleared my mind of clutter.

When my sisters visited me in 2008, I read them a short fictional piece I’d written about inheriting the family desk. That was it – one page.  I made a few revisions and put it away.  Later I wrote another short story of an ancient woman obsessed with horrific visions of the future who died holding an acorn to her breast.  In one of those “ah-hah!” leaps, I knew this would be the acorn/oak tree from which the desk would be made.

Family women who wrote on the desk started lining up, starting with my activist Great Grandmother who farmed California’s north central valley after the 1849 Gold Rush, and ending with a present time woman struggling with how to live on a degraded earth. I thought that was it until the “visitation” one night from the future – Amisha, my great-granddaughter.

The mystery held within the family desk currently encompasses three women and the future.  I hope that’s it!  With my ending already in place (see my December 7 post), I have only to cross the desert to bridge the beginning with the ending  (my next post).  As I look back, the beginning of “The Desk” did sneak in under my radar, but now it’s an integral part of my life.  And yes, I am amazed!

© All materials copyright Shirley DicKard, 2012 – 2013, except as otherwise noted.

Endings

5 am at deskI’m often asked when my book will be finished – the novel I’ve been working on for four or five years now. “Who knows?” I shrug and sigh.  It’s become a journey unto itself.

It’s not that I don’t want it to end, for I know the last scene.  My friend Roger Rapp laid it out for me during a dinner conversation a few years ago.  He said John Irving always writes the last paragraph first, then writes toward it as if it were a piece of music he could hear.

Roger, who understood the underlying theme of my story, looked me in the eye and told me what the last paragraph of “The Desk” would be. I remember the goose bumps.  He was absolutely right on.  Roger died suddenly the next month, but his gift of the ending will endure.

 

© All materials copyright Shirley DicKard, 2012 – 2013, except as otherwise noted.

Travel Journals – When Less is More

me & g-girlsLooking out Amtrack’s over-sized train window, my three grandchildren and I decide what we’ll draw in the Travel Journals I gave them.  I share my own tiny journal filled with ink and watercolor memories of Hawaii, Utah’s Red Canyons, Italy, friends and family. My favorite pages are scenes looking out windows.

I think Travel Journals have a unique way of capturing memories.  Photographs may mirror reality, diaries describe with word-filled pages, but with a few wispy brush strokes and well- chosen words, my Travel Journal reflects the essence of my experience.

Unlike my talent for finding  just the right word to describe a scene or feeling, my drawing abilities stopped in 5th grade when art was dropped from the curriculum.  As an adult, I took art classes, hoping to learn to draw something more representative than my primitive head profile with bulbous nose and thin mouth plopped on a flat face.  No luck.

So I now just sketch impressions – a few brush strokes for a waving hand,  M&S 2purposely wiggly lines for squared buildings, a single up-curved mouth on a face, you get the idea.  Like brush strokes, I add a few spontaneous words to the page and Voila!  – a treasure journal of richly-remembered memories.

 Prity Truckee River

Prity Truckee River

As our train chugged along the tracks over the Sierras to Reno, the grandchildren started their journals like natural artists and writers.

The phonetically spelled “Traval Churnals” (!) were filled with 5, 7, and 9 year old drawings of Autumn color on the Truckee River, Papa’s profiled head, distant Sierra Nevada Mountains, close-up river rocks, ducks and later, a pink sunrise through the hotel window.

Mountain Sunset

Mountain Sunset

No one said “I can’t draw,” or “this isn’t good.”

 Reno Ducks

Reno Ducks

I’ve been working on enjoying life more with less shoulds, less structure, less control and less things.  And in my writing, working on replacing wordiness with a few brush-stroked words, trusting that readers will fill in with their own experiences and imagination.

© All materials copyright Shirley DicKard, 2012 – 2013, except as otherwise noted.

Day 3 – A Personal Writing Retreat

119 Autumn ColorOh, how did I sleep  in ’til 8:00 am, when mornings are my best time to write?  I’m into my new retreat rhythm of coffee, breakfast (eggs from my chickens), meditation then writing.  The autumn foliage scintillates in the breeze outside, making me wish I’d brought my watercolors!

I’m on a roll now.  Present-day Christie’s chapters are fleshing out, fueled by my conversation with Diane about seeing her through the lens of The Enneagram.  I’m already familiar with this ancient way of understanding human motivation and behavior, based on nine different personality patterns. In fact, after living with my main characters for awhile, I’ve figured out what personality type they most likely are. It’s become easier to write how each might express anger, stress, vulnerability, strength, and joy.

For example:  Christie is a “9” – the Mediator.  She wants her world to be peaceful and serene and not be bothered by the competing demands of the world’s problems on her attention and energy.  She sees all viewpoints and can’t decide, so she goes numb.  Inspired by Diane’s comments, Christie will now have a few more glasses of wine and declare she’ll deal with the world’s issues tomorrow.  (Yes, Scarlet).

Oops. . . A text message beeps from my iphone.  It’s my brother in law RV-ing  out in the Nevada desert.  They’re in Ely asking where the Immigrant Trail museum is I said they shouldn’t miss.  I text back that it’s Elko, not Ely, and it’s the California Trail Interpretive Center.  Good luck I think, as I sit back and mull over what just transpired – he in Nevada, me in Northern California. Being instantly accessible through technology definitely has its pluses.  If my children were still teens, I’d really appreciate it.  But I sense we’re slowly raising the bar of our expectations about immediate access to information and each other. Hey, after all, I’m on a retreat! (Guess I could have turned the dang thing off).

3pm.   I continue writing until it’s time to pack up.  I’ve got to make it to town for my cello lesson.  When I close up Scrivener, I see my grand total for the two days is 3,273 words.  Not quite half.  I guess I’d expected that if I had unlimited time to myself with no interruptions, I could write to the sky.  But there’s still  interruptions even on a retreat.  The difference is that here, I always went right back to writing.  At home, I would have drifted off, distracted.

Shirley

Shirley

I’m most thankful for this time to move within my own rhythms.  I also know I’ma lot further along in understanding some of the deeper currents in my story:  How three family women, each living centuries apart, are bound together by an ancient woman’s wisdom for the earth’s future – a message held deep within the heartwood of The Desk.

Skyline Meadow

Skyline Meadow

It’s really easy to arrange your own personal – or couples – or group retreat.  Diane and Teresa are warm and hospitable while honoring guest’s need for privacy and quiet.  Scott and Mike are around to help if needed.  Everyone’s a short walk away through the woods .  Skyline’s 45 minutes from Nevada City/Grass Valley in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Northern California, and a 2 hour drive from the Sacramento airport.  Call Diane at 530-288-0308 or email:  skyline@gotsky.com   (www.ecocontemplative.org)

Now, back to my life!

© All materials copyright Shirley DicKard, 2012 – 2013, except as otherwise noted.

Day 2 – A Personal Writing Retreat

The Bed Nook

The Bed Nook

I reluctantly leave my cozy down comforter,  knowing I have miles of words to write today.  After yesterday’s drizzle, the sun is invigorating.  First, a tall mug of black coffee and a bowl of hot oatmeal, then I open my laptop to where I left off in the Scrivener program.

Hummer and Rupalini pop up on the screen to greet me.  They’re the old couple who escaped the growing dystopic world of the mid-2000’s and settled in the hills.   He’s saving his last 2 bullets from his now empty stockpile;  her mind long gone, she’s obsessed with finding out when the world turned.

After that chapter, I return to the present day narrator, wondering what will move her from feeling overwhelmed and hopeless about the state of the world and get her motivated into action.

Skyline Meadow

Skyline Meadow

Scott knocks at my door with a refilled jar of brown sugar and the most recent copy of Yes! Magazine from Diane.  I’m drawn into conversation with him, and write down his blog,  The Rambling Taoist.  He came to Skyline Harvest for a short visit and stayed. Skyline attracts such interesting people!

I write all morning, take a break for lunch and a short nap, then continue into the afternoon.  My word count is mounting, but not fast enough.  I console myself that the time I spend thinking through larger aspects of this project doesn’t show up as word counts.

There’s a lot of good stuff in Yes! Magazine’s Summer 2013 issue.  Here’s a few notes I took:

  • Will we turn against one another in a struggle for the last resources, or turn to one another in cooperation and community?  (Sarah van Gelder)
  • How to create new cultural stories and what we consider sources of true happiness? (van Gelder)
  • Definition of Revelation (Latin) and Apocalypse (Greek) is “A lifting of the veil, a disclosure of something hidden; coming to clarity.”  (Robert Jensen)
  • It’s an illusion we can maintain an extractive economy indefinitely.  Our planet is not just a mine and a landfill. For some, it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of air conditioning! (Jensen)
  • “Prefigurative  Interventions” – Playful Protests, Pranks & Serious Works of Imagination.”  Look it up!   Beautiful Trouble, a Toolbox for Revolution at  http://www.beautifultrouble.org
The Ranch House

The Ranch House

The afternoon sun beckons me out to pick some figs from the huge tree next to the Ranch House.  I also explore the other buildings for future stays.  Each one is cozy in a grandmotherly kind of way.

The Cabin's Livingroom

The Cabin’s Livingroom

The Cabin

The Cabin

Gazebo

The Gazebo

Next time I come to Skyline Harvest, I might stay at the Cabin with its multi-level outside deck.  Or if I had a group, we’d take over The Ranch House.  I probably won’t have time to spend writing in the screened Gazebo, but maybe next visit.

After dinner and another session with Diane, then an hour of cello practice, I’m revitalized to write again.  Work Table -NightThe moths check in on me against the lighted window, wondering how I’m doing.

When I close the laptop at 11:30 pm, I’m at 2,159 words for the day, for a grand total of 2,525.  Not as many as I’d hoped.

As my Grandma Moffett would say, “Well, it is.”

© All materials copyright Shirley DicKard, 2012 – 2013, except as otherwise noted.