Musings and reflections about writing, storytelling, literacy, Rowan the Golden, and everything in-between
September, 2019, was when I had everything all planned out. Refirement, volunteer work, workshops, consulting, blah, blah, blah. And then life happened, assaulting my well-made plans with many interruptions.
First, a painful interruption. My mother, age 94, let go after a failed surgery and decided it was time to join my father in the light. She died November 1. My grief was more than just grief. It was acceptance and regret and loneliness and memories all tumbling through me and grabbing at me. I miss her no less today than I did then. I couldn't write. I just let myself feel, and survive the holidays.
Next came a world-wide interruption. Then came March, 2020. You remember that, right? Suddenly we couldn't hug or visit or gather. My daughter had to leave her university to complete her senior year at home. She had a "drive by" graduation. We searched for masks on the internet that reflected our selves. (They were all uncomfortable.) We wrote a silly Youtube musical, complete with puppets, to the tune of "From a Distance." We talked a lot about my mother.
A cute interruption. In July we got a pandemic puppy. Not because of the pandemic. I had planned for his adoption long before we knew about Covid-19. I'd never had a dog, let alone an 8-week-old puppy. It was a nightmare. Actually, worse than a nightmare because that would imply sleeping. Every day I wondered, "What was I thinking?" He controlled our thoughts, our movements, our schedules. We commiserated with others who had puppies, and we gradually established boundaries. We took him to obedience classes. Most of all, we loved his silly, doodley, adorable antics. He twisted himself around to look like Scrat from Ice Age. (He still does.) He invaded our hearts and, thirteen months later, we are smitten with Keep on Goin' Rowan.
Interruption Four. Volunteer work came and went. I'll write more about that another day. Suffice it to say I tried to do too much, and was on Zoom too often for trainings, meetings, and other communications. Worst of all, I wasn't getting any writing done. So, I pulled back. A lot. A friend once told me that when you retire, at first it's "Go, go, go." Then comes "Slow, slow, slow." And, finally, "No, no no."
I reached the "No" stage in May when I realized that the one thing--the ONE thing--I wanted most to do when I retired was not getting done. Writing. I did manage to finish the manuscript for "Bringing Heart and Mind Into Storytime: Presenting Social Emotional Learning With Books and Creative Activities," to be published by ABC-CLIO soon. (I say "managed" because I literally had to put a pet fence around me as I wrote so the pupper could not jump on me.) But I was anxious to work on a teen novel. I have two completed historical fantasies that I sent out, but no agent has responded with an enthusiastic, "YES!" Yet. I wanted to try something more realistic. It wasn't happening.
The fifth interruption. I had dinner with a friend (Were we wearing masks? I can't remember.) and she listened to me talk about the craziness of my house with a puppy eager for play and attention, and two middle-aged anti-social cats who did not comply with my plans for kumbaya and group hug. Not happening. The cats hissed, the puppy cowered. Then the cats became permanent daytime residents of my bedroom to avoid any contact with the intruder. I still have guilt. But my friend said, "You should write a book. Two Cats and a Dog." So I did.
It's a funny early chapter book of conversations between the two cats who are disgusted by the antics of a puppy that has been brought into "their" home. "He has to learn to sit? Dumb." "Why is she putting up a gate to our bathroom? Gates are for keeping someone in. So, once we use our litter box we can never come out? We're in there with the poo forever?" I'm sending it out, searching for the right agent.
Still, there's the teen novel, knocking about in my head. I considered what teens like to read, based on my forty years of being a youth librarian, manager and avid reader. I knew I wanted it to be about important stuff, real stuff, thinking stuff. Being a member of Moms Demand Action, I tried writing about a shooting at a park and how it impacts each of the victims and survivors but it was too disturbing, and my writing was disjointed and trite. Recent news tickled my brain with Greta Thunberg, polar ice caps melting, the disadvantages of fracking, the death of the last male white rhino in Kenya. Bits and pieces that mulled and roiled and, eventually, gelled.
In March I finally sat at my grandfather's roll top desk (which I had moved out of my bedroom and into the living room in order to provide more motivation) and waited for clarity. All of this climate change/global warming/ecosystem disaster stuff would mean research. A lot of research. How much was I willing to do? I also knew I wanted an animal to be part of the story. What animal? I've always been captivated by sleek and playful river otters. Yes? No. I have been to Kenya twice and love every animal, from warthog to leopard. Yes? No. And then a word crashed into my brain.
What I knew about wolverines five months ago would be less than enough to write a sentence. "Wolverines are scary mammals with big claws." A very short sentence. So I began the research. I discovered The Wolverine Way by Douglas H. Chadwick, who studied and tracked wolverines in Montana. I was impressed and intrigued. I wanted more. I read The Lone Wolverine: Tracking Michigan's Most Elusive Animal by Elizabeth Philips Shaw and Jeff Ford, and was not impressed. Too much of one guy's obsession and not enough about the wolverine. Barry Lopez's Lessons from the Wolverine is a lovely "spiritual adventure" about one man's journey to understand the power of wolverines. I watched videos of wolverines hunting, traveling, devouring, and, most of all, being elusive. I tracked down wolverine legends and facts. The more I knew about this "phantom of the woods," the more I knew this was exactly the right animal for my book.
So I began writing. And researching. I am still writing and researching. There is a girl, Coral, and her cello, Camille, in my book. There are street wise young adults. There is a missing person, fracking, a Wild Child, and there is the wolverine, traveling through it all, searching for a mate and what she needs to survive. Snow. Water. Food without deadly chemicals. I wrote 25,000 words and then rewrote it all, changing from first to third person. Why? Because it worked better is all I can say.
Interruptions will still happen. Rowan needs to be walked, groceries need to be purchased, social media needs to be addressed (thus this blog), friends need to be hugged. But writers need to write. And so I am now traveling with the wolverine, to wherever she guides me.
All My Hats
Manager of Youth Services in public libraries for 40 years. Avid reader.