PROGRESS

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On Tuesday, I “won” the National Novel Writing Month (NaNo) challenge by completing fifty thousand words. It needs at least twenty or thirty thousand more words, but I have identified the arc of the story, my two main characters in their parallel experiences, a structure that imposes both tension and order, and some sort of closure. Words, words, words. I am not done but have the beginning of a novel, and I have cheated, which is totally allowed.

Once a week I play Scrabble with a friend and we cheat. We do not keep score, we use  the dictionary and a page with two-letter-words to check spelling and aid our choices, and our goal is interesting words and enjoyable play. We have never actually traded tiles, but we frequently lament picking a third and fourth A from the bag of letters. The letter I seems to gather too often as well. We offer to move our new word to another part of the board in order to make play easier for the other. We both celebrate a new word neither of us has used before. We laugh when each of us manages to put down the same word: OATH or QUIET. We play until we have used all the tiles, and then we play a second game. We have been doing this most weeks for a couple of years.

My husband and I began playing Scrabble in 2015 when I retired from full time teaching. But I usually won because I like winning competitive activities and I am a strategist. It was not so much fun for Gary. Running had to be abandoned because of my arthritic feet. Instead, we began taking our daily walks together. Yesterday, we walked for over two hours. We do not go so far from the house, even in two hours. We walk up and down the beach, and gather a lot of plastic, until my back aches from bending over fifty or a hundred times to fish a bit of blue plastic or cup lid from between stones. On certain parts of the beach we follow a very close zig-zagging course, searching every inch for sea glass. Yesterday I found a nub of thick brown glass. Gary found an impressive lump of clear and pale green larger than a quarter.

He tells me I am grieving because I have left teaching. He was delighted that I retired. (Gary takes exception to the “delighted” because “from the situation you were in—yes. From the work that you loved—no,” he says.) It was the right decision, the situation was too stressful, and it was good that I retired. But he still says I am grieving.

I have gained ten pounds, and my days are a muddle. I hope, once an entire school year has passed that I will be in a better state. We miss our children and grandchildren though they are not so far away. We miss the dog. We miss the cat. We are clearing out the house. Only one bedroom is piled with gifts waiting to be wrapped, and my work space is pure chaos. I have three quilts wanting binding. Three knitted items being blocked. Boxes of materials and piles of scraps that want sorting.

My life wants sorting. I recently read Gail Collins’ new nonfiction, No Stopping Us Now, which chronicles the accomplishments (and struggles) of older women in the United States. Despite medical opinion over the decades that women are unfit, insane, or simply dangerous in age, older women have managed to change the world. My personal favorite example is the author of Silent Spring, Rachel Carson. Carson did what many women I have known and worked with have done. She sacrificed her ambitions, abandoned her educational goals after completing a Masters and went to work as a marine biologist for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in order to support her family. When a friend begged her to find out why all the songbirds were dying after a community DDT spray, she looked for someone in that field to write about the danger of pesticides. She was in her 50s when she accepted that no one in the field would risk the backlash from industry, she devoted the remainder of her life to documenting the dangers of the poisons spread on crops and neighborhoods.

“Although Silent Spring was met with fierce opposition by chemical companies, it 1024px-Rachel-Carsonspurred a reversal in national pesticide policy, which led to a nationwide ban on DDT and other pesticides. It also inspired a grassroots environmental movement that led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Carson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter.”—Wikipedia

Rachel Carson was 56 when she died of cancer.

November is the beginning of the dark days of the winter season. It is a false glittering and interior time. I tend to look inward, to make plans, set goals in this season. I have no illusion of contributing to the world as Carson did, but I am not done contributing. I will complete the projects currently cluttering my work space, clear it out and begin cluttering it again. I am teaching a workshop for Willamette Writers in April, and perhaps I will complete a novel over the coming months.

7 thoughts on “PROGRESS

    1. Oh Crystal, thank you so much! I am in a quandary about what exactly to teach adults. It’s a nonfiction writing class. What do you think: thankfulness, mapping childhood, rediscovering an idyllic place, or identifying mastery? I have outlined plans for the last two, but haven’t made up my mind which to do.

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      1. Whenever I’ve taken a workshop, I usually have a story already written or waiting to be told, and I need help with the lyricism. I would probably keep a list of prompts in case, and bring in published samples—narrative essays and memoir excerpts to model and illustrate style. Good luck! You’ll be great!

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      2. The April event is not a critique workshop but a generative workshop. My job is to help people find stories . . . new work.

        Lyricism. Yes, sprinkle the glitter with care, where you want attention. That is my best advice. I do not always follow my own best advice here. These posts off the cuff, straight into the blog.

        There is a marvelous story by Leslie Marmon Silko called “Yellow Woman” about a woman who sleeps by a river with a man she has just met. She feels like a woman in an old story and he talks to her as if this is the case, that she is Yellow Woman. About a third of the way in, there is a gorgeous line with a rhyme. It is the moment she accepts what she suspects and he insist is true. She is the woman in that old tale.

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