Saturday, October 29, 2011

Happy Hallowe'en ... and happy hunting.

Happy Hallowe'en! (c) Sept. 2011 by RLMT

     In the past couple of years, I have earned quite a few new gray hairs. Some of the cause is just plain life as ordinary people know it, and part of it has come from learning something new the hard way: by hands-on experience. 

       I am a tomboy sort, which will probably never change. Though my mother tried to fit me into the picture she persists in holding, regarding how ‘feminine’ should appear, Dad’s more interesting skills and habits took hold within a willing soul in a way neither of them could have foreseen. 

       Yes, I like to cook and enjoy the work when I am physically capable of doing it. However, I have never limited my practice of country culinary arts to a well-appointed modern kitchen. Microwaves do not impress me. Nor do I see that outdoor cooking should be done on a grill of some sort. Fire is fire, and where there is a will, the results can be quite tasty. 

       Cooking, painting a picture, doing a little rough and ready photography … everything has a set of parallel rules. This will work under certain circumstances, while that other way may have possible negative results. By experimenting, we make mistakes. This is the process of learning. 

       The same is true of writing.

       As a child, I could not see well; I was well into elementary school years when a random eyes-and-ears test was done in my school. Suddenly, my parents realized why their late-born youngest was so clumsy and yet had unusually acute hearing. And why some things in school came easy to me, as well: my greatest adventures came from reading, which I had puzzled out how to do two years before seeing the inside of a classroom of any sort. 

       Now I’m far nearer 50 than 40, and I still love books. It still plagues my mother that the only shopping sprees I truly could enjoy – given adequate funds – would have to involve (in order of preference) a bookstore, a computer store, a craft shop, a tack shop, or a good old-fashioned farm store. I can read tracks, shoot firearms of several kinds, ride horses, do a little in various forms of the arts, and have no interest at all in fashion (hair, clothes, jewelry, makeup) as my sister did. Mom loves flea markets, and I have eyes only for the books in such a place. When I go shopping for ‘other’ needs, I take a list and keep it short. 

        The advent of the internet and my later acquiring a ’net-ready computer sealed the deal for me; somewhere in this world were like-minded, and better yet, open-minded people. I found Yahoo’s Books and Literature chat rooms and got to know quite a few people. When the 360 blogs opened up, I had only a vague idea of what was involved. I signed up anyway, and I have enjoyed blogging ever since. When Yahoo deleted the 360s, spam bots and troublemakers made chat a negative experience, and dozens of us scattered, losing touch with each other. Now some of us have gathered at Facebook in a ‘secret’ group called The Confused/Clueless Couch. Others have declined the group, but found old friends to connect with just the same. The one major thing all these people have in common is a deep love of the printed word. It is a powerful fellowship, one with threads in every part of the world. I am truly honored to be a part of it. 
A granddaddy long-legs spider with prey. (c) Sept. 2011 by RLMT.

        The amazing thing is that 20-odd years after finding this community of the book enthusiasts, something I had never dreamed of happened: I took up writing. For better or worse, for richer or poorer (mostly ‘poorer’, so far). I admired from afar and worshiped among the bookstore and library shelves even as my own collection, gathered by occasionally odd means, outgrew more and more bookshelves. As a child, I watched my mother, who had no idea what she was doing since she was never much of a reader, ‘clean’ my bookshelves and donate the contents to the local library (luckily they were mostly understanding, and I got back most of the books later). It simply never occurred to me that such as I could possibly write something anyone else would want to read; writing belonged to the elite and famous. The chat-folk began teaching me how wrong that idea was, bless them.

         On that first 360 blog, I first shared nonfiction animal-related stories. I added photos, artwork, and just plain fun online findings as well. Then after a couple of weeks, I signed on and tried to go blog, only to find that I kept being refused access to it due to SERVER OVERLOAD FOR THIS PAGE, PLEASE TRY AGAIN LATER. It scared me, the internet being what it is in terms of open range for predators and pests. Reluctantly I closed the page down to just a few highly trusted friends. To practice a form of discipline, I blogged something every day for a solid year. With only about 75 viewers permitted access, I had more than 40,000 hits that one year. 

An old cabin on a ridge-top near our home. (c) Sept. 2011 by RLMT.

         Writing is not something my family encouraged; none of them were or are readers by comparison to myself. This is why the family has simply not understood the compulsion to meld words into mental shapes and give them color, life, and a voice all their own in a way a reader could love. It is and always has been my friends – some of whom I have yet to meet, though roughly two decades have passed – who lit the fuse and professed to look forward to the results. I feel grateful and very lucky indeed to have such friends.
        Two years ago I set up – for the third time, actually; the first two being learning experiments – to write a novel. This round, I have had far more encouragement and guidance than I would have imagined could exist. It has been a humbling experience. I have gotten cards and gifts by snail-mail. Even a new laptop when my old one failed, brought to me by someone I consider a dear, loving friend, though we have yet to meet, and who out-and-out refused to take my ‘no’ for an answer. I have fought down naysayers in my family by, regretfully, finally yelling louder than they could. It is a method I deplore, and it was my last hope. More than once I lost my voice while refusing to give up the one form of work or art I seem to have some small, if true, skill at doing. I do not wish to repeat the experience, though it seems to have been a needful thing in this case. 

         Perhaps foolishly, I chose a story that requires a great deal of research and is open to many errors on my part, given a decided lack of formal education. Neither of my prior attempts at novel writing involved historical matter. It is an immense job with a lot of quirky complications. 

An overlook in the Red River Gorge of eastern Kentucky. (c) Oct. 2011

         When I cannot get a chance to spread out all the chapter roughs and piles of notes, I work on something else. A short story here, a blog tucked in for good measure. Rarely, a poem creeps in, but those are mostly for personal fun; I do not understand the forms well enough to do what I feel is a good job on those. The main thing is to, as a famous writer put it, ‘apply ass to chair’ and work, constantly work. 

          During all this, the word ‘talent’ crops up to trouble me. ‘Talent’, to me, is ordinary sweat in practice. Sweat is something I know well, and this ‘talent’ is something alien. Sweat comes easy during farm work or while tending potential racehorses. It is also a requirement on manual home building if the job is to be done right. 

         The song of the rain crow, familiar among my beloved hills and mountains during warm months, is not forgotten while the leaves fall and the snow flies. There is a time to labor and a time to rest, a time to turn to the tending of life outside, and a time to turn within and do whatever other that must be done. The price of blood and anguish is forever in that song. It echoes through the hollows and slips along the ridges, trickles through every spring and stream, and flows with heart’s blood at every drumbeat of life. 

         And so I must write. Because, as simple as it is, that song breathes the same air I do, flies on wide wings in my dreams. It walks on soft padded feet, come what may upon the path, ever by my side. 

View from a small field on Indian Creek, Red River Gorge area of eastern Kentucky. (c) Oct. 2011 by RLMT.