Monday, October 24, 2011

Childhood Echoes

The essence of childhood is uncluttered. Yes, parents and others usually confuse it unwittingly as they love us the best they can. Circumstances beyond everyone’s control muffle it.
            Still, beneath all the messiness, there is a knowing that Another breathes life into us.
            For me this knowing revealed itself in nature. (Which probably explains my earlier reference to tromping through the woods as a kid.) This has remained true throughout the years, even when I wasn’t paying attention. The whispers were always there.
            At 60-plus I find the volume is increasing. Giraffes and geraniums shout, “SALLY, LOOK AT ME! I AM RIGHT HERE AND MY CREATION REFLECTS MY GLORY!”
            Well, what else is there? God just told me I reflect His glory.
            Whoa, am I special or what? Are you special or what? Is life special or what?

OTHER STUFF: The weekend was full of shouted reminders. =)
            (Movie review…) Tim and I saw The Big Year, an odd story about birding. (If your sense of humor is a little offbeat, you know you’re going to laugh because Owen Wilson and Steve Martin are in it.)
            Three men compete for the title of Best Birder in the World. Whoever sees (or hears) the most species of birds in the continental U.S. within a year wins. The record set by one of them is something like 732, so we are talking a lot of birds. Of course their lives are changed in the process, relationships blossom or die, lessons are learned.
            In the meantime, I was caught up in the wonder of birds and their habits and habitats. Fun, joyous stuff.
            Tim and I also visited the San Diego Botanic Garden, our first time there. It was amazing, plant after plant after plant, from all over the world. =)    

Here's Tim beneath a banana tree. Note the bananas, upper right.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Time Keeps on Slipping…Slipping…Slipping into the Future

Time keeps on slipping into the future…and memory keeps on slipping into the past, the more and more distant past. It’s an odd phenomenon that has become even weirder because I observe it in myself and Tim. When did we become our parents?
            Weeks fly by. Really, they do. Childhood hours spent tromping through the woods with my best friend Amy are as clear as – okay, sometimes clearer than – last weekend.
            Of course there are the biggies, those life-changing moments that remain intact, in Technicolor and 3-D with surround-sound. October 22 marks the fourth anniversary of the loss of our house and things in a wildfire. We’ll “celebrate” in what is becoming tradition: dinner at our friends’ house (not lost in the fire) in the community where it happened. Dave and Peggy evacuated that day and met up with us on the coast; we spent several days together with two of their children and their dog before being allowed back into the neighborhood.
            Four years is better than three. There’s more space in between, more distance. More interior detritus has been processed, freeing up emotions to now engage in fields of good.           
            So . . . in this jumble of past meets future in the blink of an eye, I am reminded of what is most important, most lasting: this moment.

OTHER STUFF: Isn’t ‘detritus’ a fun word? I’ve wanted to use it for ever so long. I didn’t even know how to pronounce it until now. (The ‘i’ is long and the syllable ‘tri’ accented.) Its effect is much nicer in print than its synonym, ‘crap.’
            A new baby girl John was born this week to our nephew and his wife. Yay! Births are big deals to us old folks, even long-distance ones. Can you imagine? I saw a cell phone photo of her within minutes of her appearance.
            I remember – I use that phrase a lot, by the way – I remember the role of aunts (my own and the in-law ones) in my life. They seemed to have a license to invade: they made me laugh, they hired me to babysit, they gave me gifts, they spoke their minds, they prayed for me. The words ‘immunity’ and ‘unconditional’ come to mind.  =)  

Photo:  This was taken in our backyard, after the fire. The wooden angel bird feeder escaped injury (as did two Isabel Bloom angels and a marble plaque that had three crosses carved into it).

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Bucket Lists

I have been seriously thinking about writing a new bucket list since I turned in Desert Gift. That was the summer of 2010.
            I had a short one as a teenager: tour Europe, join the Peace Corps, be a teacher, get married, have 5 kids, live happily ever after. Most of that happened. Five kids got downsized to two. “Happily” got re-defined into something deeper. People tell me the Peace Corps takes seniors.
            When I started writing, I wanted to become published. Check. When I began writing fiction, I wanted to see one novel with my name on the spine on a library shelf. Check and then some.
            I haven’t figured out the procrastination / hesitation at this stage. Rohr probably addresses this in that Falling Upward book mentioned earlier. To paraphrase, it has something to do with a changing mindset (as in ongoing changing). Doing takes a back seat to being.
            Thomas Merton sums up my contentment:  “Every day love corners me somewhere and surrounds me with peace without having to look very far or very hard or do anything special.”
            What else is there?
            I’ll keep us posted because I’m sure there is more, in some fashion, that can go on the List. =)

            Last night Tim and I attended a small trade show for Christian booksellers in the Los Angeles area. I got to meet bookstore people and sign copies of Desert Gift and give them away and I met the sales rep from Tyndale who makes sure my books get into a whole lot of stores. VERY fun. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Old people on being old

           “Old” carries a negative connotation, but Webster defines it as simply having been in existence for a long time. Of course “a long time” is relative. From my perspective, my grandmothers were always old. Although now I think how one was 46 and the other 51 when I was born. Those ages don’t seem “old” to me now.
            Which is probably why my email friend Juanita, at 80+, got a chuckle out of my first post here…she’s trying to remember what 60 felt like.  =)
            Grandma Mabel used to say, “It’s heck to get old.” This was as close to a complaint I ever heard from her. It would be her reaction to some age-related malady and was always accompanied by a smile that disallowed any anger or fear to enter into the picture for this granddaughter.
            That flowed into Grandma Ruth’s admonition: “It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.” Her eyes would twinkle and communicate to me, “Yeah, it’s hard, but embrace it all.”
            From my dad I heard, when he was in his 70s and suffering from lung cancer: “Inside I’m still 18.” By then I was in my 50s and I knew what he was saying.
            It’s an echo of Gertrude Stein’s “We are always the same age inside.”
            So I guess age matters but it doesn’t, not in the deep-down, real-self being.

            Movie review. . .My Afternoons with Margueritte, a delightful French movie about the friendship between an OLD woman and a man. Well really it’s about mother-son relationships but on the surface is this sweet connection. The woman is always dressed in pink and reading a book. He has left reading behind since a teacher basically told him he did not know how to read. Of course the woman introduces him to classics and before you know it he’s reading and he’s changing and he’s learning to forgive his mother and not be afraid to live and love well.
            Foreign movies are so fun because the actors are so real in appearance, not beautiful models.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Becoming 60

            I turned 60 in March. Which means I am six months and a week into my 61st year. Which means I should be settled into it by now. Right?
            I wish. I’m still pondering things like: okay, if health continues to be fine and I live to an average age of say, 75 or 80, we’re talking only 15 or 20 Christmases, summers, grandchildren’s birthdays, a finite number of moments to be all that God created me to be…
            It’s sort of paralyzing.
            Turning 30 was cool. I embraced the tiny crow’s feet around the eyes as evidence of now I’m getting down to it. Turning 40 was empowering: yes, I have a voice (this was my early writing days). Turning 50 was a blast. I wore a toy tiara at a fancy restaurant, sitting at a round table with hubby and kiddos and my first grandchild in her mama’s womb: I can be silly and really, what does it matter?
            Turning 60…Lovely weekend with Tim in the desert aside, I was hunched over the laptop, a deadline looming, one that I placed ahead of the publisher’s because I wanted the story off my plate yesterday. It was time to start the rest of my life. It was time to start Writing the Next Chapter!
            Richard Rohr calls it the “second half.” It’s not an age thing per se, but rather a new mindset we enter when it’s time…if we’re paying attention. In short, for me, it means I am freed up from the desire to write the end-all Great American Novel. Hahahaha.
            In his book Falling Upward, Rohr references the “hero’s journey” pattern. Fiction writers will recognize this template used by Joseph Campbell and later Christopher Vogler (in The Hero’s Journey) to describe a hero/heroine’s journey in story and myth.
            Like a hero, we journey through life’s stages (absolutely necessary) and eventually – hopefully – “seize the sword,” the reward of our efforts, the gift or the boon to share with others, wisdom.
            After a couple of months off, I’ve started writing fiction again. I’ve never taken that much time away. Usually after about a week I become cranky, too cranky even for myself. Bleagh. Not this time. Several factors have been at play, but the paralysis probably underlies them all. What now? What next? How do I give out enough hugs in time?
            A quote came the other day in an email. Dear friend Margo always passes along timely words, out of the blue, without even a clue as to what I’m thinking. This one is from writer Henri Nouwen, Beyond the Mirror:
            “I felt a deep, inner urge to tell my story to others. . .out of an awareness that my deepest vocation is to be a witness to the glimpses of God I have been allowed to catch.”
            To witness the glimpses of God that I have been allowed to catch. Amen.
            That says it all. This is what I do, in blogs and fiction. So perhaps it is time. . .

Other Stuff:
            {This part is for you, Cin and Sandy, because it keeps us in touch more than do my philosophical ramblings.}
            I’ve been working again on sewing (by hand) daughter Elizabeth’s old t-shirts together to make a quilt. (A years-long work-in-progress.) While looking at volleyball, soccer, and basketball shirts, I reminisced about her high school days. I remembered the distinct mom emotions, her friends, my friends who were all parents of her friends or teachers.
            And then a new character presented herself. Out of the blue.
            And so I am writing fiction again, lost in the luscious all-consuming fun world of creating names, personalities, situations. I spent hours the other day drawing an apartment complex for the setting. (In another time and place, I really could have been an architect.)
            This morning I walked the pier. It is 1900+ feet long, the longest on the west coast. Charlie, the resident pelican, was there perched on the railing. A friend was with him, a beautiful white-breasted pelican I don’t recall seeing before.
            The Advance Reader Copies of Heart Echoes arrived this week. The way I feel, you’d think it was the final copy ready for distribution. So satisfying, so gratitude-inducing. Anyway, it looks great.
            By the way, if you’d like a copy to review (this means reading a not-final-proofed book and then posting a review online), visit my Facebook page (Sally John Books) and sign up for the drawing. Or email me at and I’ll enter your name.