Space to Breathe

I’ve been teaching yoga outdoors for two years now, renting the patio and back yard of a friend’s Airbnb property on weekdays. Hot yoga in the summer, windy vata yoga in the spring with weights anchoring my mat, blissful perfect-weather yoga in the fall, and slightly chilly yoga in the winter. It’s not bad at midday as long as we’re in the sun. Bees still hum in the ice plants, low-growing succulents that bloom year-round.

I’ve come to appreciate the spaciousness of being under the sky and hearing the sounds of the world around us. Not only the bees, but the birds fluttering in a tree next door and for some reason occasionally whacking into the metal fence. Neighborhood noises such as a passing car or a barking dog. Life surrounding us. I don’t miss being in a studio. Where I teach now, people who see my yoga website or get a referral from someone in town have to ask for directions, and I get to know them on the phone before they come to class. I can check with them privately about health concerns.

Of course, it’s the pandemic that moved my teaching outdoors, and not all my former students have wanted to do an outdoor class. I have to accept that. Will I ever teach indoors again? Will they take my classes again? Perhaps. But I don’t fantasize going back to everything the way it used to be.

I heard an interview with a man who volunteers to help at disaster sites like the recent tornadoes in Kentucky. He said people often tell him, “Nothing will ever be the same.” He doesn’t deny it. But he also says, “That doesn’t mean it will be bad.”

 

Last Gas

I stopped at $25.00, though the little car could have taken a wee bit more. I was only buying gas because it would be rude to sell the vehicle near empty. For a car that uses gas, the Fiesta is a wonderful thing. Forty mpg still, even after ten years and over 173,000 miles. I was getting ready to sell her to a neighbor who will give her a makeover and enjoy the fuel economy. He assured me I’ll get to see her, showing he understood how a person can bond with a car. She’s been a loyal companion, bright blue and beautiful, and I’ll miss her.

But not gas.

As I pumped, I looked forward to going electric and never dealing with the stuff again. The stink. The spills. The general griminess of it.

A guy on a motorcycle pulled up on the other side of the pumps. There were fancy leather saddlebags on his bike. He had a thick short beard and wore a cowboy hat, leather jacket, and aviator shades. When he walked into the station, his shoes made clinking sounds like spurs. I turned to look. The noisy shoes? Cut-away cowboy boots turned into a kind of slip-on mule. How he got the sound effect, I don’t know.

Nor do I know how his cowboy hat stayed on when he rode away.

At the next set of pumps, a skinny man with the kind of long white hair that you think is blond until you realize it’s nicotine stained got out of a battered, late 50s-early-60s car-truck, in the low, wide, sharp-edged style that was trendy once upon a time. The back half was pick-up truck, the front half was car—the mullet of the automotive world. It emitted a deep rumble when it pulled away, louder than the cowboy’s motorcycle.

I won’t miss gas. But I might miss gas stations.

Image: Ghost gas station in Pecos, NM.

What’s at Stake?

How many personal threats can the protagonist of an amateur sleuth series face? Perhaps you’ve marveled at how often the lead characters in long-running series encounter murders, but then suspended disbelief and kept reading. I’ve done it myself. Then I get distracted by scenes in which friends of the lead character point out the very thing I’ve just put aside. Gosh, you sure you do get involved in a lot of murders. It’s one way for an author to handle the problem, though. Acknowledge it and keep telling the story.

It’s been a while since I blogged about my writing process. At present, I’m in the final revision stage for Chloride Canyon, the eighth Mae Martin Psychic Mystery. I’ve received valuable feedback from several beta readers and critique partners. Now I’m blending their various insights into the plot, cleaning up problems they noticed, and raising the stakes—the one thing three out of four suggested I do.

That’s the hardest part. A professional detective wants to solve a crime, and cares because it’s a job. However, I have that amateur problem. My mysteries aren’t about murder, but they sometimes involve crimes. Others center around wrongs that are harmful, but not criminal. Mae’s reasons to get involved can be deeply personal or tied to people she cares about. In several of the books, she’s hired as a psychic to solve a mystery. In the majority of cases, the stake for Mae is empathic rather than a direct threat. What makes the plot work is a serious risk to the emotional, financial and/or physical well-being of others.

The two antagonists in Chloride Canyon create stress in Mae’s life at college, but they don’t endanger her. Her constant challenges in the series include choices about using her psychic ability and how to handle her sometimes excessive urge to help people. In this book, by helping friends, she ends up also having to help her enemies. Will this be enough to make readers care? Only if there’s enough of a threat. And it can’t always be a threat to Mae if I want the arc of the series to be believable. How can I raise the stakes for her, then? By raising the stakes for characters she cares about.

Okay. I’ve figured it out. Back to work on revisions.

 

Kindness to the Earth

Ezra picked up a plastic bottle from the grass, tire-crushed litter blown in from the road. “I hate this … People trashing everything. Like, what do they think is sacred? The earth or the inside of their cars?”             Ghost Sickness, Mae Martin Mysteries book five

On Thanksgiving Day, I saw a post on the T or C Litter Pickers Facebook page from a man who said was he passing through and had collected twenty bags of litter on the road between Truth or Consequences and Elephant Butte. He wondered who he should call to collect it. Our members let him know there was no one to call, but several of us drove out and picked up the bags.

For the entire holiday weekend, our roadside angel kept cleaning. He posted that he was camping in his van and had no room to transport trash in it. We kept finding and collecting more bags.

The scenery on the steep, two-mile hill he adopted is subtle but beautiful. An expanse of brown desert with cacti and thorny shrubs, a small reedy pond where migratory waterfowl spend the winter, and a view of mountains in the distance. At night, it’s a place of stars, with no streetlights and little traffic. To some folks, though, it’s a convenient place to toss cans, cups, bottles, plastic bags, straws, foam shell food containers, and other junk they can’t tolerate keeping in their cars until they get where they’re going.

The roadside angel filled over thirty bags of litter. A couple of days into his project, one of our Litter Pickers members finally met him. The angel is a visitor from South Africa. I’m in awe of him. How many tourists leave a place better than when they first arrived? Does he travel the world, being kind to each patch of earth where he stops to camp? Or did he feel some special pity for our abused roadside land, for the snow geese and ducks and pelicans who visit the pond?

Such kindness to the earth can change how we see it. Stopping near the pond to put some of the last few bags into the trunk of my Fiesta, I had a moment of closeness to the silver-blue water, the rusty-colored plants poking up from it, and the ducks gliding on its surface. I’ve often wanted to stop and contemplate the pond, but I’ve been On My Way Somewhere. This time, I slowed down. In gratitude to the angel.

 

Darkness Underestimated

Dark humor. Dark moods. Dark and stormy nights. As a night person, I feel that darkness is underestimated. There’s soothing, sacred darkness. Darkness that makes us see.

This week, we had one of those brief, random power outages that strikes Truth or Consequences a few times a year. No light from anything but the night sky crept through my windows. The neighborhood was perfectly silent. I found my one candle and a small LED flashlight. My old flip phone made a good flashlight, too. The lack of brightness was peaceful. I had to move slowly, paying attention. With less stimulation, my mind eased into a softer place.  A shower by candlelight was calming. When I turned on my new smartphone to call in the outage (in case hundreds of other people hadn’t already done so), the light was glaring and disagreeable. I was glad to turn it off.

Darkness shone a light.

Slow but Deep

Many writers are participating in NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month—aiming to compete 50,000 words of a first draft in November. I cheer them on, but I won’t be doing it myself. I don’t work well at that speed. I tried writing fast recently, as I was working on chapter three of book nine in the Mae Martin Series, and I realized the next day that I’d ignored the characters deeper inclinations in order to make Something Exciting happen. I had to go back, delete most of it, and change what remained. If I go fast, I also make incomprehensible typos and even end up typing in the middle of a previous line somehow. In the long run,  writing slowly while listening to the characters hearts and letting what drives them drive the plot is the best way for me to make Something Exciting happen.

Some writers can do this while producing over 1,600 words a day, or through an outline. Not me. The closest I’ve come was when I outlined the initial premise for each of the short stories in Gifts and Thefts, following the path through my main characters’ lives in 2012 and half of 2013. And even then, a new theme emerged I hadn’t planned on. In response, I improvised the middle story, Guardian Angel, with no plan at all. I guess it’s not a Mae Martin Mystery, since it’s about her boyfriend, not her, and while mysterious, it’s not a mystery to be solved the way the other five stories are. But it fits those stories together like the keystone of an arch.

I mentioned book nine at the beginning of this post, and you may be wondering what happened to book eight. I’ve gotten feedback on it from two critique partners and am waiting to hear from two beta readers later this month. (What’s the difference? Critique partners swap manuscripts and provide feedback to each other; beta readers do the critique without reciprocity. I love beta reading for writers whose series I follow, getting to be the first to read the next book.)

The eighth Mae Martin Mystery will get a final in-depth revision based on those four critiques, and then I’ll send it to my editor. Since Gifts and Thefts came out in spring 2021, I’d love to have book eight, Chloride Canyon, come out in spring 2022. And that’s why I’m starting on book nine already. Maybe I’ll finish it in a year. Chloride Canyon has been in in progress for four years, with breaks to write Shadow Family and Gifts and Thefts. That was slow, even for me.

 

 

Bee-ing in the Moment

The purple asters in the yard of my apartment building are as tall as I am and full of pollinators. I invited a neighbor to admire the pollen party. The guests were four kinds of bees—big furry bumblebees, honeybees, tiny bright green bees, and one enormous black bee with iridescent wings—and three kinds of butterflies. Though I’ve seen other species, this day’s visitors were a Western Pygmy Blue (the world’s smallest), a green butterfly with yellow spots on its wings, and a black one with white trim. In a ceaseless and seemingly random dance of wings and petals vibrating, they changed flowers and sought nectar again.

My neighbor and I became entranced, neither of ready to move on. He said, “They’re so busy, I feel a sense of accomplishment just watching them.”  I said I felt the opposite way, that I was doing nothing at all but watching bees.

My Days with No Clock

“To Customer Service, Now and Zen:

The clock I received for the order copied below does not work. I tried reinstalling the batteries. Removed them and tried it on the cord alone. I guess it’s truly a Zen clock, because, as in that classic cartoon of the two monks, “Nothing happens next.”

I have owned one of the older and truly perfect models for over ten years, the triangular wooden clock with the circular face, its hands moving over art, not numbers. I’m sorry that style has been discontinued. Last week, I knocked it over by accident, and the hour hand is loose, though the minute hand is still working.

The new design is dull and blocky in comparison, offering limited aesthetic value, just the chime. The energy of the digital face isn’t serene like the old circular face. Sad change, Zen clocks, sad change. The symbolic relationship with time as expressed by clock design is so different. A digital readout, a relentless march of numbers, is linear and measurement-oriented. Quantitative time. People in a state of nature experience time as circular. The round clock face with no numbers echoed the roundness of the earth, the curve of the horizon, the cycles of planets and the sun and moon, all round, all moving in circles. In mathematical perfection, yes, but with no numbers.

I mourn my old clock. Maybe the new one felt judged and refused to function for me. I know all things must pass and change, but I as they do, I would like to experience time as a circle and my clock as a work of art. If the old clock can’t be fixed. I may have to settle for a new one to replace the malfunctioning one I received, but I may hide it behind the old one and just let it ring for me, unseen.”

*****

After I sent this message to Now and Zen, I packed the digital clock for shipping and waited a few days for a return authorization. Meanwhile, in my clock-less bedroom, I slept well—unusually well—and woke thinking of Evan Pritchard’s book, No Word for Time, his account of studying with Mi’kmaq tribal elders to learn his ancestral culture. He tells of asking what the word for time was. The answer? There is no word for time. Apparently, that was also the case at Now and Zen. Nothing happened next. So, I unpacked the digital clock, put the batteries back in, and it worked. Today, I found someone who may be able to repair the old clock. I could end up living with both linear and circular time. And remembering the peace of sleeping and waking with no sense of time at all.

Lessons from the World’s Smallest Butterfly

Have you ever seen a Western Pygmy Blue? They aren’t rare or endangered. In fact, they’re all over the map, north to south, wherever there’s desert habitat that suits them. But they’re hard to notice. It’s easy to walk past the flutter of such small wings and not realize whose wings they are unless they arrive in a flock.

The yard of my apartment building has been honored with a little flock. One of my neighbors and I get wrapped up in gazing at them, the exquisite patterns on the tiny wings, the mingled flight as all the butterflies rise and flutter and change flowers, as if a square dance caller had directed a new part of the dance.

They remind me not to overlook small wonders. The scent of purple sage in bloom. A baby greater earless lizard with perfect little orange forelegs. The silver fuzz on green creosote berries. Breath. Movement. Friendship. Another day of being alive, connected, and grateful.

Image source: https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/sighting_details/1236172

Any Day Can Be a New Beginning

It doesn’t have to be a birthday, a new year, or an anniversary. It can be any random day. There’s no perfect time, so all times are good. A new beginning may be as simple as rediscovering how it feels to stand straighter, to move more mindfully, noticing the scents of desert flowers, the sounds of birds, and a breeze’s breath.

My past is truly past, including the part I imagined would also be my future. But my present life, if I let go of what I thought it would be, is beautiful. Change has found me, and that frees me to seek it more.