For Christmas of 2001, Alene was given a calligraphy starter set. Not by me, of course — by someone else. Neither one of us could fathom this choice of present — but we were both excited at the prospect of a new project. A few days after Christmas, Alene bought some calligraphy paper and gave it a try. Within a week, she had found a whole new groove.
This was definitely one of our happiest periods together. We were both living near the Junction in West Seattle. Neither of us was working. And we had both left much of our respective lives behind us. January 2002 was wonderfully dreary and dismal — ideal weather for an indoor project. Alene spent many happy hours of those winter afternoons standing at her kitchen counter working the ink.
About a year before arriving in Seattle, we had both had a vision of some rather strange calligraphy — and then forgotten it. But as Alene worked with pen and ink, the shapes started manifesting on her worksheets. Before long, Alene was producing articles such as this:
Over the next three months, we fancied that we understood what she was writing — and the following summer, she actually compiled a “dictionary” of the symbols — but the notebook it was written in was accidentally thrown away. It’s disheartening, because we no longer can translate these pieces. However, they do look pretty — and Alene has this one framed on her living-room wall.
The story of Zanda was inspired by those happy winter afternoons putting pen and ink to paper — and it’s so, so wonderful to be sharing it at last.
Lately, I find myself zoning out as I walk home at night — hardly remembering any of it. Tonight I could barely remember which way I walked — and had to retrace my steps from when I left work — which bus I took from downtown Seattle — and which coffee shop I stopped at in West Seattle. After all these years, Mark knows my walking routes as well as I do — and perhaps he acts as my auto pilot.
I come to once I reach my apartment building. I have no idea why this is happening. It’s a very recent thing. If I’m thinking about anything as I walk, I don’t remember that either. I literally black out — and no drugs/alcohol involved!
Tonight I decided to revisit my 2014 NaNoWriMo writing project. Recent events at home and abroad have renewed my urge to tell a story that I have been incubating for the last fifteen years — OK, I guess it’s Mark’s story too — but I’ve been the one doing the writing — as usual. I don’t even know he exists anyway – so it might as well be my story.
The first thing I did, after making a duplicate file, was to delete all but four of the chapters. Sounds drastic — and the word count is now a mere 12,000— but those chapters are almost perfect! Now I will write two or three more chapters, perhaps incorporating some of the better sections of the deleted chapters. Perhaps this is what I think about as I walk.
On the bus, I’ve been listening to a Librivox recording of Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl, by Herself, “herself” being Harriot Jacobs. On Twitter, I’ve been reading a backlog of tweets by Crimes of Britain (@crimesofbrits). And the hymn I Vow To Thee My Country, the subject of the post Mistaken Identity, has been an ear worm in my head since November 11.
It’s time to write the story.
Mark is back in Melbourne — so I gather — and he seems relieved to finally have some time to himself. He’s not quite sure what to do next. I asked if he might return to Patagonia — and then we were both suddenly very sad, remembering those months spent there — as it dawned on us that we are never to return. That was an incredibly happy chapter — but it’s over. Sounds like he’s had an email from his buddy Allen. The deck would have been finished in time for the Labor Day weekend — but last weekend’s storm got in the way. Allen was happy to drink beer and watch TV. And — Seattle traffic is driving him nuts!
I wondered what to write about. I’ve had a rocky start to the work week and would rather not think too much. The WiFi was out at the coffee shop I was at this evening. Three buses to West Seattle were cancelled — but at least Metro has finally got its act together to announce cancellations on Twitter. And for dinner, I had carrots, red kale, and a red potato with pink flesh inside — topped with butter and black pepper.
Anyway, Mark suggested going through an old notebook (not my elementary school notebook!) and picking something. A few years ago, I had a daily writing prompt habit. An app on my iPhone generated two random words — and this is what the two words in the above title prompted:
The words canter playfully across the page. The sentences are short — or perhaps not. Words come to a screeching halt and snort and dig their toes into the page. Then they spin on the page and launch themselves into the air — and are off again — fast as lightning in the other direction — only to turn once again and stop — before leaping into the air and and racing off at full speed.
But then there is a new idea — and the words want to slow down. They are sensing a presence. Something different. Something that needs to be investigated closely and carefully. And they draw towards it — slowly and quietly — hesitating and stopping — snorting into the air. What is this?
Bedtime can’t come soon enough tonight!
Writing can be habit forming. Over the years, I’ve kept journals in the Notes app on my iPhone, in Evernote, and in numerous little scrap notebooks purchased from the drugstore. I’ve also filled several composition books with short stories, poems, stream-of-consciousness ramblings, outlines, thoughts, ideas and confessions. I’ve written numerous blogs, and I successfully completed NaNoWriMo the last two years.
These days, I love writing into my MacBook Air — surely the nicest computer I’ve ever used for writing — but I still get incredible satisfaction from writing by hand in a notebook. I rarely re-read work saved on an old computer I no longer use — even if the computer still works — but I always enjoy flipping through an old composition book — rediscovering long-forgotten thoughts. Perhaps it’s different seeing the words written in your own hand — allowing you to step back into the world and your life as they were when you wrote those words. I haven’t fully appreciated the value of hand-written notebooks until now — a page and half of spontaneous scribbling done to pass the time in a coffee shop can end up as the opening paragraphs of a NaNoWriMo chapter many years later.
In the last post, Mark mentioned I’d found an old notebook from elementary school. My guess is it’s from 1968/69. Some of the little pieces are my own compositions — and some are obviously short passages we were made to copy down as writing practice.
This is one I surely copied:
Where are the snowdrops?
said the sun.
Dead said the frost
Buried and lost, every one.
A foolish answer said the sun
They did not die
Asleep they lie, every one
And I will wake them
I the sun
But I’m pretty sure this is my own, as I ended up writing about our chickens:
In winter the snow falls. Everything is white. The ponds are full of ice. The roofs are white. The streets are slippery. I am a hen called Jenny. My best friend is Ena. We love to make footprints in the snow and kick it about with our feet. We don’t stay out very long, so we go in our house, and lay an egg. Our feathers get very dirty. We are locked in at four o’clock and we have our food in the hen house, then we tuck our heads under our wings and go to sleep. The fox will never catch us.
The bubble of light in a dark room. I love it!
It’s now still a little dark when I get up at 5:30am in Seattle — dark enough for me to eat breakfast by the light of my desk lamp.
I used to love working at this hour. A couple of years ago, I had a part-time job that started at eleven. Rather than sleeping in, I got up early so as to put in some time on projects of my own. If I needed a WiFi connection I went to my neighborhood Starbucks as soon as it opened at 6am. I made quite a habit of it in January and February. There was something wonderfully comforting about the early morning walk in the dark and rain — with only the most committed of dog walkers and joggers out and about. And even though Starbucks was doing a fair amount of business at this hour, most customers were just doing a quick pick-up-and-go — and the seating was wide open. I always got my favorite table. Every now and then, I’d look up from my laptop and see the scene had changed — the line at the counter was longer — most of the tables were occupied — the crowd waiting for the next bus to downtown was bigger — and it was getting light outside. Then came the spring morning when it was getting light as I arrived at Starbucks — and I abandoned the routine.
A long time ago, a friend of a friend offered to do a psychic reading for me. He was supposed to be painting our bathroom — but he thought it was too nice of a fall day to be working indoors and talked me into taking a hike up Mount Wachusett (Massachusetts, USA.) He did the reading at the summit.
He saw me in several past-life (so I assume) situations — but one in particular really grabbed me — working as a scribe in a monastery — toiling away by candle light — working on a project that was a true labor of love — living a life of devotional service. I was working on my doctoral dissertation at the time — spending hours in that little bubble of light over my desk — and loving it.
I doubt I would enjoy NaNoWriMo so much if it happened in the summer instead of November.