Space

Part of the appeal of the recent pictures of Mars may be the emptiness. No people. No buildings. Just rocks and dirt. It looks a bit like New Mexico. I’m fortunate to have access to open space, places where I can run alone and in silence.

My yoga teacher often guides savasana by reminding us to enter the spaces between the thoughts. One method of meditation is to attend not only to the breath but to the space between, the unforced transitional pause that’s neither inhalation nor exhalation. Likewise, there are spaces—small but deep—that are neither one thought nor the next.

When the to-do list is long and the calendar is full, spaciousness is still possible. The space between.

 

Making Mistakes

I’m at a point in my work in progress (Mae Martin Mysteries book eight) where my protagonist feels compelled to both help and confront the antagonist—a person who has wronged her and done even greater wrongs to people she cares about. Then the antagonist, through actions that karmically earned a disaster, is in crisis. Perhaps there’s an ideal path Mae could take, but can she see it? As the author, do I want her to?

In this book, Mae is taking a college course on Eastern Philosophy. She’s doing her best as a beginner to explore the wisdom of the Buddha. The antagonist’s brother and his roommate are dedicated yogis, not just in asana practice but in attempting to live the philosophy. Mae’s summer house guest is an Apache teenager who is training to become a medicine man. In the scene I’m working on, these well meaning, spiritually aware young people are in a situation where the right action is hard to find. Hard to agree on. Is there room for compassion and outrage at the same time in the same heart? At thirty, Mae is the oldest of the group. She’s likely to mess up. I was not very wise at thirty, myself. Wiser than I was in my teens or twenties, but I’d be making a mistake to portray her with the wisdom of an elder.

I’d also be making a mistake if my characters’ errors are unsympathetic. I have to write this so the reader can feel the struggle. It’s not easy to love your enemies.

Nothing but Nature

To my surprise, I hardly miss my favorite trail. By leaving it to the unmasked dog-walkers and the political sand-scribblers, I’ve found peace. Peace along the sandy lake shore, a strangely un-desert-like experience, running only inches away from the vast blue water and little peeping beach birds. Even deeper peace in my secret place, running on a set of hidden trails with bizarre rock formations, some like geodes made of geodes.

When the weather was warm, bees greeted me two days in a row when I emerged from my car, about to head for my new running routes. I paused to let a bee walk on my hand, honored by its gentle, curious attention. Most of the time, I like people. I enjoy company. But when I’m out in nature, my soul is happiest with nothing but nature.

A Writing Lesson

Those of you who’ve followed this blog for a while know that a certain trail in Elephant Butte Lake State Park is my sacred space, my refuge where I run in beauty. This fall, it began to lose some of its peacefulness to people who vented their feelings by writing. They could have done it in journals, blog posts, poems, or song lyrics—but they wrote in sand and on rocks.

Today, I decided to do something about it while in the park and later by writing a letter to the editor of the only local print paper. My original letter was 376 words. The paper allows 250. I had to find 125 excess words in what I thought was already perfect.

This was a fascinating process. The original version wasn’t perfect after all. It was wordy. I’d like it better with three of four more words. But I removed 120 I don’t even miss. Can I cut excess words in my fiction this ruthlessly? I’ll have to remember the lesson as I revise my works in progress.

The letter:

At first, I thought the wind would blow the words away. It didn’t. More appeared, political words, in the sand along Luchini Trail. Then words spelled out with pebbles. Then words scrawled on rocks in black marker. Not bad words—honor, respect, integrity etc. But it’s still graffiti. If one person starts defacing the rocks, what’s to stop others from doing it? (Except respect, honor, and integrity.) I turned those rocks over. The graffiti writer returned with yellow paint and rewrote the words. Every time I run, I stop to flip a heavy rock. The person responsible for the graffiti flips it back later. Dear scribbler, I don’t object to your words, but to the fact that you painted them on rocks.

Most of the sand writings were angry. When an f-bomb appeared, I couldn’t wait for wind erasure. With a fallen twig shaped like a broom, I swept away the rage, whether I agreed or disagreed with the writer. I tossed the political-opinion pebbles. One landed in sand so untouched it simply vanished.

The sand I swept was soft and warm. There were delicate little quail tracks in it. Peace. Beauty. It’s what people seek on this trail. But every time I passed those angry words, my mind snagged on inner noise and argument.

We benefit from a space that calms our spirits rather than aggravating our outrages. Perhaps the graffiti writer thinks they’re sending positive messages. But nature can do it better, without black marker or yellow paint.

Not shutting the door

Though I’ll be glad to see 2020 end, I’m not slamming the door on it. And I’m not fantasizing going back to exactly the way things were before. I want the whole world to be wiser. More compassionate. More aware. More cooperative and creative.

Nightmares are our teachers

Like leaks from neglected infrastructure

Erupting into the sunny streets from below,

Bad dreams reveal the unseen we need to know.

2020 shocked us into vision.

We’re not who we thought we were.

Some of us became much more;

And some much less. The division

and distress won’t be over on the first of 2021.

It won’t be over ’til we learn the lessons

And live them for years to come.

*****

I hope you all have a safe and happy New Year. May 2021 be the Year of Healing.

New Mae Martin Book Coming in March 2021

If you’ve just discovered my work, you may be wondering if this is all you’ll get. It’s been a year since Shadow Family came out. I’m hooked on several series, and I want the characters to stay in my life. I realized I should update my progress when a reader asked if there will be an eighth Mae Martin Mystery. Yes, there will. And even sooner, there’ll be a sort of a “book 7.5” in the series.

Gifts and Thefts, a short suite of six Mae Martin stories, picks up where Shadow Family left off, following Mae Martin and Jamie Ellerbee through the changes and challenges of the following year. The mini-mysteries include:

  • Rodeo Regrets: Will Baca receives a cat from an anonymous giver, and his girlfriend suspects it’s from another woman. Mae’s psychic journey into Will’s past on the rodeo circuit takes a puzzling twist while she’s solving the mystery behind the gift.
  • Responsible Party: Mae’s internship in fitness management gets stressful when her supervisor starts accusing other employees of theft and tells Mae to find the responsible party. Her efforts bring results neither of them expected.
  • Guardian Angel: When Jamie stops at a roadhouse in west Texas, a woman who won a pool tournament is in trouble and needs a guardian angel. Is he up to the job? Was he somehow called to it?
  • Hidden Fish: Mae’s stepdaughters create an elaborate trivia treasure hunt as a Christmas gift for their Uncle Vaughan, leaving a trail of clues and origami fish hidden around downtown Truth or Consequences. But the fish vanish before Vaughan can solve the puzzle, and the children ask Mae to find out what happened. At Jamie’s New Year’s Eve concert, she’s caught between the suspects.
  • Tipped Off: Who would leave a hotel housekeeper that big a tip, and why? Montana Chino has a birthday surprise for Mae, but first she needs Mae to do a psychic investigation into the tip. Was there a mistake, or did the guest have mischief in mind?
  • Elephant: On the weekend Mae and Jamie attend two weddings, she can tell he’s keeping something from her. He has to resolve a problem before he can talk to her, though. A problem that began almost a year before, when he healed Will Baca’s cat.

The Mae Martin Series

No murder, just mystery. Every life hides a secret, and love is the deepest mystery of all

Rock Watching

Trying new running routes, I have to be mindful, a rock watcher, even on a broad, sandy trail. I dare look up only for seconds at a time to admire the view—a cliff in the distance, blue water even further off—under the bluebird-blue sky. Little flying silhouettes might be bluebirds, but the light is so strong behind them, they have no color at all. The same slant of light does wonders for the view at my feet, though. The late afternoon sun makes them stand out in the sand and dirt, dull gray tricksters I might otherwise trip over. Strange formations like a giant’s petrified bubble-bath bulge from the sides of hills, scrubby junipers perched among them like the giant’s bonsai. (I know, that’s a clunky juxtaposition, bath and bonsai, but I did it anyway.) The bubble rocks may be lithophysae—meaning there could be geodes inside. But I’m not going to bring tools and attack them to find out. The mystery is part of their magic.

Thanks to observing the ground as I ran, I found a fine little metal toy truck of the kind I used to love a child, the kind that could whizz along the floor of the playroom with satisfying smoothness. The truck is weathered, its white paint marbled by sand-scrubbing so the black metal underneath shows. Its wheels are gone. Its windshield has turned dark. But it’s still an excellent little truck. It has a story. Somehow, it got half-buried in a road so seldom used, so totally abandoned, that a lizard I startled ducked into a large, well-established hole in smack the middle of it.  Another reason for rock watching.

Scaring the Bluebirds

I felt bad for alarming them. They’d settled into the tall junipers on either side of the trail. But if I let them sit, I’d have never finished my run. So, three times, making laps of my favorite trail, I scared the newly-arrived flock of bluebirds into flight. Once they were aloft, it was moving, magical, a soul-stretching experience. Thirty or forty bluebirds, the males’ wings flashing like fragments of the New Mexico blue sky.

I have to upend my characters’ lives. Make them fly. It brings out the beauty and strength in them. No one wants to read a book about an easy life. We’d all like to have one, I suppose, but according to the concept of Flow, doing something difficult that we can master makes life interesting, not doing what’s easy. The character arc in a book and in a series is like that. Characters have to struggle and face setbacks before finally they arrive at some version of their goals, changed by the effort. And then, as they get comfortable in a new stage of life, the author comes around the bend in the trail again. The bluebirds take flight.

*****

Bird notes: I have learned that the Western Bluebird lives in most parts of New Mexico year-round, but some from further north may migrate here. This flock arrived in Elephant Butte Lake Park about a week before the state parks shut down again due to the pandemic. The closure may only be for two weeks, or it may last a while, depending how things go. My alternate running route is beautiful, but without bluebirds. I hope they stay the winter, and I can see them again. If I do, I will probably scare them again. I miss them, but I doubt they miss me.

Whole Series Sale

In the mood to curl up with a good book? How about seven? The entire Mae Martin Series is on sale through December 16th. The Calling is free, Shaman’s Blues is $2.99, and the rest of the books in the series are $3.99 each. If you haven’t caught up with all seven, this is a great time to do it.

Uncertainty

It’s Tuesday night as I write this, 11:30 p.m. Mountain time. I turned off the election updates over an hour ago and focused on critiquing a fellow author’s historical mystery. I didn’t listen to news all day, but did my every-three-week grocery run to Natural Grocers in Las Cruces. I did housework and yoga, took a brisk walk after dark, listened briefly to the election results trickling in, and let it go. Not that I don’t care how it turns out. I do. I did everything I could to assist the outcome I believe is best. But I can’t know it yet.

We humans are so attached to prognosticating. Augury has changed from the interpretation of entrails and other enigmatic patterns to a science that originated with 18th century gamblers. If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that uncertainty is real, and if I can’t tolerate it, I have a hard time ahead. The questions keep coming. But all I have is the present moment. Within that moment, I’m aware of my home, my physical aliveness, the sensation of touching the keyboard, the tiny clicks and thunks of typing, the hum of the refrigerator, and the greater silence beyond. This is it.

As I walked home under the stars, the silhouettes of small animals appeared up ahead. Four skunks crossing the street. Above them Mars and Venus were bright. I crossed to the other side, just in case.