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Monday, August 26, 2013

Church of the Jetty, Take Three

At seven fifteen, I whisper to my husband, “Do you want to go to the Church of the Jetty?”  By eight, we are there.  I’ve written about it here and here, but each time we go, it's worth repeating.  A dry summer morning.  The August sun, low on the horizon, forces us to squint in spite of sunglasses.  This time, the motor is broken on the dinghy so we row across, accompanied by a chorus of “Go Tell it On the Mountain” from the harbor church service on the porch of the Sailing Club.    

We anchor the boat close in, take the long walk down the barrier beach and hip-hop the jetty to the end, sweatshirts off by the time we get there.  Seagulls
 cough, and cluck at the edges of tide pools.  A lobsterman navigates the Miss Jane through the channel.  Once we drain our coffees, we fanny crawl down the low-tide rocks to the tidal flats, where baby fountains squirt up from the quahogs and razor clams beneath.  Crystal air and gleaming water.  Two herons stick walking across the flats.  Hot bugs warming up in the marsh grass. Washboard waves in the wet sand wearing three-pronged footprints. 

An hour later, we walk the long way back to the boat, to the lawn mowing, the grocery shopping, the week ahead planning, holding to a kernel.  All day long we’ll clutch the essence of this, grateful for a summer morning that had its start, surrounded  by images of prayer.  

Monday, August 19, 2013

Orchestration - a Rerun

Company for a week.  Internet down for another.  Toss in a pseudo family reunion and our daughter’s 20th birthday and I am way off kilter here.  I'm struggling to catch up.  Here's a repeat from a couple of years ago.  It still works for me.

I love August around here.  It’s a no-brainer that my passion for this month coincides with the anniversary of our daughter’s birth, but in addition, those first-ever middle of the night feedings awakened me to sounds of late summer I’d never paid attention to before.

While growing up, I treated the month with a vague unease.  August supplied plenty of bathing-suit-clad and barefoot amusement, replete with scabbed over mosquito bites acquired during sunset games of Hide and Seek—but the eighth month also meant the horrors of back-to-school shopping and shoe wearing loomed all too close.
Long after those days ended for me, I still greeted August with an edgy regret for the endings it engendered—perennials dying in the garden, tinges of yellow on the tomato plants, the hint of red in low lying trees. Then, eighteen years ago, I sat by open windows with a mewing baby in my arms and heard, for the first time really, a nocturnal orchestra that begins mid-month and serenades us until the temperatures cool for good.
For the longest time, we assumed the quick and rhythmic pulsing that permeated our August nights were crickets; until recently though, we were never sure.  Lack of knowledge led our little family to christen the high fidelity tempo “The Waa Waaas,” our approximation of the revving, high-pitched heartbeats that gear up just as summer winds down. YouTube research revealed the maestros of this syncopation I’ve come to love could be Katydids—what  I know for sure though is that ever since discovering them during that first sleepless August, I look forward to the waning days of summer, when they assemble to tune their instruments. 

So when we stepped outside this past Sunday night to bid goodbye to guests and noticed the music for the first time this year, I stood in the driveway to breathe in the thwacking vibration.  Each year, it’s a sound that foretells the shadows deepening under the pines, the daylily stalks drying to straw.  Yet the nostalgia it triggers is a heartwarming reminder of a blessing once received amid this cacophony of noise. 

Later that night, I lay in bed, awake, but soothed by the continuous beat.   To some degree I suppose, I’ll always experience regret when summer winds down, but it’s never as bad as it used to be—because as the season fades, the rasping scrape of wings gear up, providing an acoustic memory of a time that resonated with joy.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

IWSG - Exit Stage Left

This is my post for Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group for the month of August.  We are writers helping writers here folks.  To read more posts, click on this link.

One of the rules of good writing tells us to show characters in logical sequences of action.  If you have someone in a room one moment, they can’t appear on the street in the same scene, unless you use your words to get them there.  I learned this a long time ago.  Good news, bad news.  I know what I’m supposed to do, but my method is flawed.  Last night, in class, I read pages and received direct, actionable feedback from our teacher.  “Stop with the stage direction,” she said.

Once I understood, I met this criticism with relief.  I’ve been so busy whirling my characters around, marching them back, making them look both ways before crossing the street, I’ve been slowing my action down.  I can’t tell you how I’ve searched for other ways to say, “She turned,” or “she stepped” when I didn’t need to say it at all.

Here’s are two examples, directly from my work.  In paragraph A, you’ll find the original pokey, bla, bla, bla version.  In paragraph B, a revision.

A)     Spinning around, she glanced toward the empty doorway to the market. Waiting for two cars to pass, she crossed the street and headed toward Waban Avenue, where the historical society stood, on the far side of the library, three doors down from the corner.”

B)      “She crossed the street and headed toward Waban Avenue.  The historical society stood on the far side of the library.  Three doors down from the corner.”

A)     “Turning, she ran from the room, ignoring the greeting offered by a black-haired woman now manning the front desk.  Pushing at the heavy door, she vaulted down the steps oblivious to the stares of a white haired man gripping the wrought iron railing as he climbed his way up.  Crossing the sidewalk, she leaned on the trunk of a maple tree, holding her pounding temples.  Uneven tree bark dug into her back.  Fighting to slow her breathing, she examined the cracks in the sidewalk in front of her.  “Keep to the program,” her therapist advised when she described how panic threatened to swamp her.  “Try not to give into it.” 

B)      “Marnie bolted.  Vaulting down the steps, she leaned on the trunk of a maple.  Fighting to slow her breathing, she examined the cracks in the sidewalk.  “Keep to the program,” her therapist advised when she described how panic threatened to swamp her.  ‘Try not to give into it.’" 

In both cases, I think you'll agree once I eliminated the “move to the right" detail, things move much faster. 
As writers, it’s up to us to decide on and control the pace. Sometimes, we may want to slow down our action, say, to increase the suspense.  In such cases, details may help.    But, if like me, you are tempted to show your movement, step by excruciating step, learn from my mistakes.  Unless you want to write in slow motion.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Pictures, not Perfect

Saturday morning.  I wake early.  I think about getting up, catching the remnants of a sunrise.  But out our window, to the west, the sky looks grey and overcast.  I procrastinate—then mention to my husband that I’d thought about getting up to take pictures.  He speaks as if it’s going to happen.   “Where are you going to go? To the harbor, to the beach?”  His enthusiasm stirs me, but not fast enough.  By the time I roll out of bed, wash the sleep from my eyes and brush my teeth, the sun is up, although blocked by a band of clouds. I go anyway.  There’s a blog post due and inspiration has been lacking.

Two weekends ago, we had company. Before dinner, my sister, brother and associated in-laws discussed the writing I do on my blog.  My brother looked across the table at me.  “You know what I like?  I like your pictures.”  

I got up to late and the good light was gone.  But PLC, these are for you.