Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Healing Porch

I awoke this morning to a temperature of about 50 degrees (F), a sky with tinges of rose gold, and a nearly calm off-shore breeze. Walking out to the steps leading down from the dunes, and crossing the sandy beach to the edge of the incoming tide, I could see only a few others out ahead of the sun. It is a ritual I follow every year when we come down from our mountain for a week on this island in South Carolina: getting out before sunrise and walking north or south along the shore until the sky is fully committed to the day.
As always, there are a few others ahead of me walking, watching, waiting for the sun to disrobe, to tell us what the day will bring. It was 19 degrees when I stood out on the mountain yesterday to watch the opening of day, the sky gradually getting lighter, the air a little warmer. In the mountains or at the shore, offering my greeting to the new day holds a special place in my life. Part of it is that most primitive of reasons, I suspect: the knowledge that when the world renews itself, I am still a part of it, still alive to the cold or the heat, the calm or moving air, the scents of life, the light of sun. It is a renewal we all share every day that we awaken.
Another part of my ritual here at the shore is to photograph the joining of the sky with the horizon, taking pictures as the redness makes the first blush of color along the line, then again as it brightens, again when the red ball is still partially submerged in the sea, and finally when it stands clear of the horizon. Then it is back to the dunes, back to the stairway leading up and over, back to the big screened deck on the second floor of the house, the place our friend calls the "healing porch." Here she and I and the other early risers share the first cup of coffee, the first conversations of the day, the first warmth of the sun, and the healing begins anew.
I find the mountains healing, as I think I have since I was first introduced to them at about the age of five or six. It has taken many decades to discover the restorative power of sand and sea and sun. It is one of the things I truly look forward to, as well as the simple distance from our daily life of responsibilities, of family and home and commitments to other people and things. But it is that first step out of the house, that going to the edge of the land where the sea washes my feet, where the breeze combs my hair, where the sun renews my vision, that I truly feel the renewal each day brings.
This is what the whole world needs: a healing porch.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Aging is a Process of Deceit

It seems another year of living has slipped by, the only remarkable thing about that being that I don’t seem to mind it. I still look on birthdays as marking growth both personal and public. I’m at an age where I can look back a long way and still, with some clarity, see the path I have taken and yet have sufficient vision to look to the future. I’m fond of saying that I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

That isn’t wholly true, of course. I do know that I am probably as grown up as I’ll ever be, and that there is far less ahead than there is behind. Still, I have stories to tell, to write, and perhaps to share with a wider audience. There is a conceit most writers share, I suspect, that there are readers out there who want to know what we have to say; who care enough to take the time to read what we write. That isn’t the only reason for writing, of course. It does explain, perhaps, why one would sit down for hours every day to draw from within a sequence of words that tell a story to share with others. I keep thinking that maybe one day, in a year or two, I will close the door on the writing room, give myself up to reading, to playing, to just "being." But I know that won’t happen.

Writing is such an organic part of who and what a writer is. I could no more stop writing or thinking "story" than I could stop dreaming, or eating, or breathing. There is a part of me that looks at every act and action as a potential story. Sometimes it is simply how to relate an event to one other person, what words to use, how to structure the telling so that it is more than just a linear recounting. It is a writer’s burden, if you will, to care about structure, about entertaining, about capturing the reader or listener regardless of the information or size of the audience. I prefer to put words on paper, to read and edit before the words go out into the world, for an audience of one or of many. I often find that what I originally thought I had to say isn’t what I end up saying at all. It happens with a simple dialogue with one person, and it happens when I sit down to write a story. I always start out with a direction, an end point in mind, but like many things we all do, the direction, the conclusion, ends up being quite different.

There is an old proverb that says if we don’t change direction soon, we’ll end up where we’re headed. I think I’m at the point where I know where I’m headed, and it’s too late to change direction.

Still, I’m not ready to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Getting Away With It

When I was very young, being married to the right partner seemed a good idea. At some point, between 18 and 28, I came to the conclusion that being single was really better. Having your own life, dependent on no one and answerable to no one (beyond those to whom you owed allegiance because they paid you) made a lot of sense.

Fifty-one years ago that changed for me. I discovered that there was one person in the world meant for me, and for whom I was meant. It was one of those rare moments in life when you just know something is true, and in fact, can have no other interpretation. Fortunately, I was wise enough to recognize the truth of that moment, and so was she. It hardly seems possible that more than half-a-century later, it is still true. For both of us. We are now at that awkward stage when the end is closer than the beginning, but (at least to me) it seems infinitely more distant. Perhaps it is because I can’t imagine life any other way. It may be, too, my personal perspective that says I am still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

In my time I have been an actor, a disc jockey (when that applied only to radio), a news reader (not a journalist), a draftsman in an architectural firm, a carpenter, and all of the skilled crafts associated with making films. All of those jobs were part of my journey to the writer’s life, and living. I enjoyed all of them, and other jobs that formed my skill-sets and outlook and work ethic. If there is a problem, it is in not knowing which I liked the most, what I would like to do next, what I want to be when I grow up.

Years ago we helped an elderly (meaning a little older than I am now) friend through the last years of her life. Mary was a survivor, meeting and beating back the kinds of life problems that many others could not withstand. She maintained an enthusiasm for life, for fun, for getting the most out of her days and nights, and until the very end remained in control of her life with a tenacity that was remarkable.

Which brings me to October. It is the month in which I was born, the month we were married, the month our youngest granddaughter was born, and our friend Mary’s birth month. I share these dates with you because they inform a lot of my personal philosophy. When the world in which we live is preparing for winter, looking at browns and reds and falling leaves, I am thinking about the spring to come; about green and growth and tomorrow.

And I think about Mary. Near the end, perhaps the last birthday party we shared, I still remember a quiet moment when Mary looked at me, winked, and said conspiratorially, "We got away with it." Well, not yet for me, at least.

I still wonder, what will I be when I grow up?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Word Worker

 I began writing these essays almost two years ago. My original idea was to use the format as a way of encouraging my own love for the form by setting a schedule that would require me to exercise it. Having worked in a world of deadlines for so many decades, it is a habit that is hard to break. It is also good discipline for one who works alone. There are now more than 110 of these short takes on life. I’m never, it would seem, at a loss for words.

Another reason for starting such a time-related project was to introduce myself, and my particular (some say skewed) view of the world, to more readers. The hope, of course, is that such a step would increase interest in my previously published work: Accidents of Time and Place: A Novel, and Mixed Freight - Checking Life’s Baggage, a collection of earlier essays. That, in turn, should lead to a larger audience for new books that will follow. How well that has worked is hard to gauge, but there has been a change in traffic to my website, and to sales, so perhaps this is working. What’s really important to me, is that I can resolve the compulsion to commit writing, without having to distract myself from whatever long-form project I may have in the computer at the time.

Not everything that I write has the merit of being worthy of a lot of words or work. As an observer of my own world, and the interactions with others and their worlds, it is often enough to sum up what I see or feel or believe in a quick, easy to digest form. And it is fun.

Writing, for me, has always been enjoyable. I don’t agonize over what I write. I do work and worry words until I am satisfied with what I have said, and the way I have said it. Working over a given piece of writing too long is not always the best way to make it better. The danger is that you become so immersed in the words that you forget or slight the intent.

Why I write is more important than what I write. I love the play of words with one-another, but one can play forever and end up with only that: play. The reason we have words, the usefulness of speech, whether spoken or written or even illustrated, is to say something so that others may hear it. We hear with our eyes as well as our ears, and sometimes with our skin I think. We "feel" the meaning of words; a visceral understanding when the clear expression of what we say is not always communicated in the mode in which it was created. The goal, either in writing or telling, is to be understood, so that with understanding, one may find answers to the questions life proposes.

Making words do their job is what writing is all about.

Writers write, but words work!