January 2020 Story Sparks
Somewhere, I’m not sure where, I read about a practice to handle stress and keep one from spending too much time in the future or captured by the past. Here’s the practice. In any given moment – standing in line at the post office, worrying while stuck in traffic or the waiting room – identify 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. Should a thought wander in such as “what if the treatments don’t work?”one is advised to just label it as “thought” dribbling through the moment threatening to take one to that anxious place like the future or the past. Then return to your sensory inventory.
Perhaps I’m drawn to those sensory suggestions because those are characteristics I hope to put onto every page I write. In fact, when a work is finished and I’m reading it out loud off paper (not on the computer), I check each page and if there isn’t something there that a reader can see, hear, smell, touch or taste, I write an “s” for sensory and go back to see where I can bring the reader in. Because it is the senses activated at the brain stem that can always reach us in a time of trial, the senses bring vividness into story. It’s where those treating PTSD go, keeping people in the moment by asking them to listen to their breathing, or taking a drink of water, or watching a lemon wiggle in the wind but staying attached to its tree with the PTSD sufferer attached to the present. One of the characters from literature I remember was Isabelle Allende’s woman who had a terrific sense of smell. It became an important feature in the story and while I can’t remember the title of that book, I bet some of you will because her character was so distinctive.
With that practice when I walk the dog, I’m more rested when I return. Instead of the “thought” of organizing the day, wondering how Jerry will do, obsessing about mail not getting forwarded, anxious about the future, I now notice the bright green of the golf course we walk beside. I’ve paid attention to a crow and some sort of singing bird creating a chorus louder than the airplane flying overhead but not so loud I can’t hear the dog’s collar jingling. When I’ve gone through the 5,4,3,2,1 sequence, I change it and do 5 things I can hear, 4 things I can taste (much harder) or notice the weight of my sweater on my shoulders. It’s made me more attuned to the doctor’s words, to the nurse’s smile, to the color of the carpet. And less overwhelmed by thoughts and circumstances I can’t control like Jerry’s cancer fight.
Jerry’s immunotherapy appears to be working for which we are extremely grateful. Some of the old tumors are gone! New ones have appeared but they are small. In another month there’ll be another scan to see where we are. We still await some DNA information about whether there is another treatment that can be added to his twice monthly infusions that take about an hour. Or can be used to extend his life. His infusion means time for me to take the dog for a walk and notice the rough bark on the palm tree, the feel of desert sun on my face, the sound of my shoes on the pavement. And through it all, I feel as though I have renewed strength through the gifts of senses. I highly recommend it for staying in the present. It could even be a new year’s resolution. But those would be “thoughts.”
Bestseller: One More River to Cross
To my delight, One More River to Cross, the story of the 1844-45 Stephens-Murphy-Townsend wagon train’s peril in the Sierra Nevada has been on the Pacific Northwest Independent Booksellers bestseller list since December 2. It’s reached # 5 above The Handmaiden’s Tale and some other pretty big names. Thank you to each of you who bought a real book whose pages you can feel and smell or who commented on Facebook or told your friends. You not only made my day but you also supported independent bookstores in Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Washington, Oregon and California. Personally, I think having a dog named Chica in the story line (Chica in contemporary times belongs to Skip and Lynda Paznokas) was a huge plus. Her little footprint stamp at signings is also a draw. But it’s the story of perseverance, faith and friendship of these intrepid characters that I think has drawn readers in and I’m grateful I got to tell their story. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out my works page. It offers great information comparing that trip with the Donner Party two years later. I think you might enjoy it. Maybe even buy another book to give to your local library!
Siskiyou County Library Hosting Event
Jerry and I are in the Coachella Valley that includes cities like Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage, Cathedral City, Indian Wells, Palm Desert. There are mountains on either side of us. Maybe when we return next year I’ll have some events scheduled here but for now check out my calendar for events beginning in May. Meanwhile? I’m working on final edits of the two projects coming out this year. My next novel, Something Worth Doing and Eminent Oregonians where I have a chapter, both about Abigail Scott Duniway, early novelist, mother of 6, owner for 16 years of a newspaper supporting women’s rights and working for 40 years to get women the vote. Both will be out this fall. Meanwhile, I’m working on another title due in September so I’ll be researching and writing.
Thanks to the Siskiyou County Library in Yreka, CA for hosting my last event of 2019. A great gathering!
Waterston Desert Writing Prize
For those of you writers who also love the high desert places, I give you the opportunity offered to earn a $2500 prize plus a writing retreat. (You don’t need to be an Oregonian or even from the US to enter). This year there is also a student entry process. Oregonian Ellie Waterston imagined the prize and the celebration of both writing and the desert. I’ve already marked June 24 as the evening when the winner and some of the finalists will read from their work. No, I’m not entering but I love the readings. I urge other writers to do as I say not as I do! Here’s the link. Check it out!
The Weight of Ink
by Rachel Kaddish
Houghton Mifflin, 2017
This historical novel that moves between the 1600s of Shakespeare and Spinoza and the year 2000 with two remarkable women living three centuries apart kept me up until 2:00 AM more than once. It’s a fat book but it reads like wildfire. A compelling page-turner where I gasped at one point and Jerry asked me what was wrong. “Nothing, just I didn’t see that plot twist coming.” This book won the Jewish Book of the Year among many other awards and it’s filled with details of life in 1600 London and academic politics of university historians in contemporary times. Documents generated in that plague-ridden time 300 years previous unveil the story deeply layered with fascinating characters, every single one! A friend recommended this book and I found it at an independent bookstore in Washington State, Island Books. So glad I did and you’ll be pleased when you find it too!
Finding a church in our new community has taken me to a variety of experiences which has been great. Jerry hasn’t felt much like going or sitting for long so we are listening to sermons from Bend First Pres on line too. He hopes to make it to Palm Springs Presbyterian, a church Vancouver friends introduced us to. One thing that each worship service has given is reassurance that God is with us and as one pastor added, “and we are with you.” So many of you have put Jerry (and me!) on your prayer lists and we so appreciate that. At the suggestion of someone, I’m including our California address should you want to drop a note of encouragement to Jerry especially. But what we do know is that prayer doesn’t need a stamp so thank you for prayers of healing, encouragement and hope. The oncologists believe the treatments are working and while they leave Jerry fatigued, he is tolerating them pretty well. There could b a change in response in February so we are gearing up for that possibility. Blessings to each of you. Take a deep breath. Smell the roses – or notice the pine trees- watch the snow fall (or lemon tree leaves drop to the desert floor) pet your horse or cat or dog or bird. (I frequently meet a man taking his African Grey parrot for a walk). Taste the goodness of life and know you are not alone