Noticing

2020-03-22 12.01.54.jpgAs it has for many of us, my world has grown smaller in the last few weeks. We aren’t under a shelter in place order here in Arizona (yet), but the number of coronavirus cases is rising rapidly, and most public facilities are either closed or restricted.

Like most Gen-Xers, I’m good at entertaining myself. I also know how to cook, and I enjoy time at home, away from people. But still, having to be home for an extended period of time can get monotonous, even for an introverted librarian/writer like me. And so I’m consciously looking for ways to improve the experience.

Sunday afternoon, my husband and I took a walk in the Coconino National Forest near our home. We lingered in the woods, taking pictures of interesting tree trunks, 2020-03-22 12.04.25.jpg

smelling the sharp scent of Ponderosa pine, and admiring the patterns of lichen on boulders.

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We admired a baby pine sprouting beside a stump, life from death, the promise of hope and rebirth in this strange, dark time.

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We spent way too much time studying a mysterious glob of melted plastic, likely a remnant of the 2010 forest fire, the scars of which still mar these mountains nearly a decade after the fact.

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We discovered a tiny cactus peeking through the pine needles on the forest floor.

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In other words, we noticed things.

Little things. Unglamorous things. Things we’d normally cruise right past with little more than a passing glance–if we looked at them at all. But our world is smaller now, and the pace of our lives has slowed to a crawl. There’s time now to see, to take in, to notice.

Many years ago, I signed up for a drawing class at a community college. I’d never been able to draw even a decent-looking stick figure, but I let myself be talked into taking a drawing class.

I plead temporary insanity.

On the first night, the professor heard me whine, “I can’t draw!” He came up to me, studied me with crinkled, professorial eyes, and informed me of the following:

“Your problem isn’t that you don’t know how to draw. It’s that you don’t know how to see.”

He had us draw our own closed fist. And I found myself studying the details of my own hand, the lines, the curves, the creases and whorls, and reproducing them on a page in a sketch pad. The result would win no prizes in an art show, but it was recognizably a hand.

I had drawn a hand. A real hand.

My hand.

With my own hand.

That old professor had been right. Sort of. I knew how to see, but I’d never taken the time to notice. To really look at something in its minute detail. To shut out all the distractions and busy-ness of the world and focus on a single, simple thing and see the magic in it.

I’ve carried that lesson with me these last thirty-some years. Oh, I forget it often enough. I let busy-ness crowd out magic, I run on the hamster wheel of life and berate myself for not doing more, better, faster. Work more, write more, make more money, do more laundry, why is the house such a mess and the garden full of weeds and my body out of shape and…

Yeah.

Hard to make room for magic in all that doing.

But on Sunday I made room for that magic. Amid the fear and the disruption and the absurd shortage of toilet paper, I made room for magic. For wonder. For joy.

I took the time to notice–and found healing and peace in that noticing.

IWSG: Traditions and addictions

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Greetings fellow insecure writers! And if you’re new here and not familiar with the IWSG, click on over there and check it out (after you read my post. You wouldn’t to hurt my insecure writer fee-fees, would you?) This post is part of the monthly IWSG blog hop. If you’d like to see some other great IWSG posts, check out the list of participants here. (Powered by Linky Tools).

This month’s optional question: Other than the obvious holiday traditions, have you ever included any personal or family traditions/customs in your stories?

My current novel in progress is a thriller set where I grew up, near the San Joaquin Delta. It includes some autobiographical details, though my main character is most definitely Not Me, and she faces lots of dangers that would have left Actual Me crumpled in a broken, twitching heap. But still, it’s been fun to season the story with settings and events from my own life. So this month’s IWSG question is timely.

My main character’s father is based loosely on my own father. He wasn’t much for holidays or family traditions, but we did have one annual tradition that was inviolable: Derby Day. My father had a gambling problem, and horse races were his absolute favorite way to lose money. Even when he didn’t have a bet going, we watched the Kentucky Derby (and the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes) every. single. year, including all the pre-race coverage.

Triple Crown race days were some of the few times I saw my father genuinely happy, genuinely excited about something. Mostly he endured life, grinding through the days, self-medicating his depression with whatever addiction currently held him in its clutches. But on race days, there was a light in his eyes, a tiny window into the charming, funny man my mother fell in love with. A man I rarely got to see.

And so there is horse racing in my new novel and even a reference or two to Derby Day. And as I write this character and her father, I am finding a new understanding of my own dad, deeply flawed and deeply wounded, yet steadfast in his love for me. Sometimes I feel like I’ve spent most of my life trying to make peace with dad, though he’s been in his grave for well over 30 years. I don’t know if we can ever truly make peace with those who both hurt us and are part of us, but through fiction, through digging deep into characters and motivations, maybe we can get a little closer to that elusive state.

How about you, fellow insecure writers? Have you ever tried working out real-life relationships on the page?