Reworking the novels that now stand as Daffodil Uprising and Pit-a-Pat High Jinks also had me elbows-deep in some unfinished emotional detritus left in my personal past.
I feel I’ve pretty well examined and released the baggage from my larger intimate relationships – the failed marriage and a subsequent broken engagement, especially.
The novels, though, started churning up unanticipated buried feelings elsewhere.
Anger at my first lover, for one. I had long suffered disappointment, guilt, and depression after we shattered apart, and then let her fade into what I thought was oblivion. But, as I’m told, feelings are what they are – you can’t control them. As I relived my college years, I realized how much of my own leftward change came about because of her. Moreover, in the ensuing decades, I’ve never had another partner who could so sensitively respond to what I was writing at the time and suggest changes. Still, I can now see how she never could have been the wife I’ve needed, no matter how intense our passion or, like Kenzie with his Liz, how shallow my understanding of her or even her self-centeredness or my own.
The anger, though, still hit as a shock. It just wasn’t something I had ever felt permitted to admit. You’re not allowed to feel that toward the one you love, not according to my upbringing or code of conduct. Now, however, I could come up with a list of offenses, as well as moments when I should have confronted her actions or even broken off, if I had only possessed enough backbone.
Another set of emotions swirled up around the character now known as Shoshanna. While Kenzie is quite smitten by her, he’s never able to make much sense of her romantic history, at least as she presents it. Like him, I’ve always tried to put a positive spin on events, and like him, I’ve always been a sucker for the promise of talent. Over the years, though, I’ve also learned about the long-lasting impact of abuse – physical, verbal, or sexual – as well as similar harm from an alcoholic parent. As I revised, I found myself – intuitively, it seems – connecting that dynamic to her past. I started weeping. It didn’t have to be true in regards to the original inspiration for the story, but it certainly advanced the character and her motivations. No, I wept for what such buried damage had done to women I’ve loved, to myself, and to my relationships. Too often, the bruises remained out of sight, out of the possibility of awareness, taboo. But no longer.
Judith, meanwhile, took the reality of violence much further, into kink. I was once dropped by a lover after her ex-boyfriend showed up in town and they went out. She simply vanished for the night, from my perspective. As she said afterward, when she told him about us, he hit her – beat her, actually, in her words – and she felt better. She insisted the manhandling absolved her guilt, as if she had anything to be guilty about. I was appalled and confused. I really knew very little about her, by her own choice. A decade later, another lover had a similar connection to physical aggression, and my non-violent nature doomed any future to our initial attraction. It had been presented as a fault on my end, by the way, a matter of shame or weakness. And she had been so exciting. Shall we say I was left feeling quite conflicted?
Revising my fictional character, though, allowed me to scrutinize this forbidden zone, no matter how troubling. I was also seeing how much further my first lover had wanted to explore than I was ready to venture. She really had no sense of her own vulnerability – or ours. In the end, she had me seeing how not everyone in the hippie world was really Peace & Love oriented or even satisfied with Flower Power romance.
As Kenzie was reminded, not everyone wanted marriage or even a soul mate.
It’s an insight that still jars me, looking back on my zig-zag journey to here and all that I missed out on along the way.
So here we are, all the same.
One of the themes running through my new novel, What’s Left, is an acknowledgement of what I’ve sometimes called “guerrilla economics.”
In one passage in an earlier draft of the story, I argued:
On the other hand, he just might learn along the way that the Amish keep to their ways not because they’re entirely sold on horsepower and kerosene lamps but because of the hedge their style puts around them, enabling them to keep their families and communities intact against the onslaught that’s devouring everything else.
Well, the Amish do provide the Swiss cheese essential to the family’s signature Streetcar sandwich, but there’s more. They’re a model of community, something Cassia’s family is also trying to do beside the college campus.
You can’t have it all – it’s an essential lesson when it comes to money issues if you want any freedom. Besides, where would you store it all? Who would even dust or polish it?
Again, this subject runs beyond the scope of my new novel, but there is a question of just how much is enough. For Cassia and her parents, they’re comfortable living modestly while successfully working in their world. And, no, they don’t live out by the country club or buy a new car every year, even when Cassia might see that as the way “normal” people might live.
What sacrifice would you be willing to make to pursue your dreams? (Give up your cell phone? Your laptop?) And what would you find’s essential to keep?
Cassia’s roots included inspiration like this.
I’ve been considering some differences and similarities of beatniks and hippies, but they’re just part of a much longer tradition that is often called bohemian.
Without trying to distinguish what identifies each of these (I do get awfully confused at times), here are ten to consider.
- Stoner. (Oops, I just saw that this one can be broken down into ten more categories!)
How would you distinguish any or all of these?
What would you suggest for the list?
Considering the negative image of some, what would you offer as more positive alternatives when it comes to alternative awareness and living?
Flowers in the compost
Through much of my working career, the question lingered: What do I want to be when I grow up?
The answer finally shaped up: Retired!
So it’s hard to think I’ve been retired six years now – make it seven if you include the early buyout that allowed me to work more flexibly in the newsroom for a year.
Frankly, I don’t feel retired – whatever that is. I don’t play golf or spend all day at the beach or play evenings of card games like bridge.
For me, what I wanted was more time to read and write and attend to Quaker matters and be out in the wilderness – that sort of thing. Do what Gary Snyder would call the Real Work.
My wife scoffed when she saw some of my early plans for retirement. Would I devote regular blocks of time to each pursuit? Would I rise at five to meditate and do yoga before moving on poetry or fiction?
Scoff? She was more infuriated that I wasn’t including time for household chores or gardening or togetherness along other kinds. Saw it as being self-centered.
Suffice it to say those early scheduling ideas are far from what emerged. They didn’t include swimming laps every weekday, thanks to the brilliant Christmas present of an annual indoor pool pass from my elder daughter, who wisely decided I needed more exercise, seconding a motion from my physician.
Nor did they include being performing in incredible choir in Boston, which takes up the better part of a day. Or, more accurately, an afternoon and evening. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever anticipate making music on such a high level.
Nor was blogging on those blueprints. It’s wound up occupying more time than I expected, but it’s also freed me from the submissions process in getting work published – so timewise, I think it’s a bargain. And that includes having my own small-press imprint on my Thistle Finch line here at WordPress.
I have been able to devote more blocks of time to the fiction, which has been satisfying, but I still feel myself pressed for time when it comes to doing all I want or should.
I’m still trying to make adjustments for the domestic needs, especially now that my wife’s back in the workforce.
The joke is I’m not really retired – I’m just not receiving a paycheck.
In retrospect, I’m surprised by how much writing I actually accomplished in my own time all those years I was employed. It gives me a deep well to draw on.