Friday, January 22, 2010

the best thing about flying.

Listening To: New Strings by Miranda Lambert
Mr. Elton: is totally into Emma. And it's driving me crazy that she can't see this. Or is choosing not to see this. She's making the situation so awkward I get nervous when I read it!

With so much going on in the past week (Conan leaving - BOO and Heidi having surgery - ugh), you would think I would have been lighting up the blog more often. Sorry my reporter skills are lacking. If this were a real place, a funky little coffee shop with artsy bands playing in the corner, the occasional silence would be okay. We could all hang out and chat and talk books and you wouldn't think it was uber-weird when I entered The Zone and tried to finish up some writing. But until technology can give us a blog/coffee zone (hasten the day!), I'll be ducking in and out over the next few weeks. I've learned something about myself when it comes to writing: in order to accomplish much, I've got to turn off the Internet. I can't even have it looming in the background in icon form. I can't check Facebook. I can't check email. I must de-interweb. I'll try to plan better in the future and do some pre-written blog posts. Or just some very short ones :) Hopefully, what I've been working on during this lull will be worth all the silence. I'm really excited about sharing it with you. Someday. Always someday.

Good news.

I already have three lovely posts lined up for the week of February 1st. That week also happens to be my birthday week, and if you think I'm the kind of girl that smiles sweetly and doesn't care when people forget it's my birthday you are so very wrong. If it were up to me, I would plan a parade. I refer to my entire birthday week as Birthdaypalooza because I force my friends and fam to celebrate with me all week long. Various events are already planned. The peeps are getting in some shut eye so they can handle marathons of Clue and Trivial Pursuit. And trips to Ichiban. I don't want gifts for my birthday (loot is not a requirement!), I just love to hang out with people I love. And stretch that hang out time as far as I possibly can :) I think they're all a little bit relieved when it's over ...

Next year's Birthdaypalooza will the be the ultimate party because dad and I are planning to attend the Groundhog Day Festival in Punxsautawny, PA! This trip has been a long time in the making. My birthday is on Groundhog Day, by far the most amazing holiday that exists* (except for Christmas or Easter, or whatever). I can't wait to celebrate it big. Nothing says special like sharing your date of birth with a day set aside to celebrate a chubby rodent.

So I'm celebrating my birthday here on the blog with some virtual confetti. Since I can't bus you guys in and force you to play board games, watch chick flicks, and eat cupcakes, I've settled on the next best thing. I'm giving away copies of Paperdoll. Even better, I'm interviewing three blog readers who inspire me all to pieces. I can't wait for you to meet them. I called Sarah the other day just to read her parts of the interview they filled out for me. So, so, so good. Next week we'll be talking Emma and her meddling ways, but the week after ... the party train commeth!

Here's a post I was saving ... but I have no idea what I was saving it for :) Hope you enjoy it! Thanks for letting me duck out for awhile. I hope you haven't left! :) I miss you guys when I'm gone. (Also - Emma readers, I added a new comment to our first Emma post. Would love your thoughts!)


A few months ago, I was writing at Starbucks while I waited for Sarah to get off work so we could have a junkfood movie marathon (complete with a big bottle of Tums). I was working on a new project, trying especially hard to untangle a new scene. The scene needed to be there (I think) but it was clunky and weird and I think I was probably half asleep when I wrote it. It's one of those drafty scenes where the action stops moving and the dialogue stops popping and the characters just stand around and scratch their armpits and say boring things like, "Weird weather, huh?" I'm exaggerating a little but not much. So. In effort to get back in the emotional thick of things, I turned on my track changes and made little notes. One of the notes was this:

What's the best thing about flying?

This question was metaphorical, there to help met get to the root of my character's fear ... and figure out what could possibly motivate her to get past it. I needed the motivator that would take her from stand-offish to kick-buttish. I listed a few ideas but the scene wasn't changing. The clunk was still present. After fifteen minutes of trying to get inside this fictional girl's frazzled brain I made a funny growling sound and closed the document.

Just as I did this, a kind looking older man came walking toward the corner where I was sitting. The chair beside me was empty.

"Anybody sitting there?" he asked.

I smiled, shook my head no, and looked back at the computer screen. I was doing my best to give off my seat's-not-taken-but-don't-strike-up-a-convo pose.

The man smiled and said, "Mind if I join you, Natalie?"

I kid you not, he said my name.

My fingers froze on the keys as I went through three possible scenarios of what was about to happen to me:

Scenario 1.) I was about to realize this kind older man was actually a stalker. Thus, I was about to grip that laptop (and the coffee... never leave good coffee behind ...) and run like the wind. Or maybe run like the gentle breeze. I can't really run, but you get the idea.

Scenario 2.) The man would give me an envelope with a top secret letter instructing me to go to a certain place at a certain time. And there, I would be told I had been chosen to be a top secret spy who gets to travel the world, ninja chop bad guys, and wear loads of black eyeliner. (I was on an Alias kick at the time.)

Scenario 3.) My writing time was about to be interrupted by a guardian angel named Clarence, who would show me what the world would have been like if I had never been born. Like ... what if I hadn't won the treasure troll trophy in the fifth grade spelling bee? And the guy who sat behind me, who came in second place, won instead? Maybe winning a treasure troll would have made him feel entitled to win at all costs for the rest of his life, and he would have gone on to become a thief, a swindler, a scoundrel (and various other outdated words). Or ... what if I hadn't slammed on my breaks that time to let a baby skunk cross the road? And the guy behind me, who honked his horn and flipped me off, had run over it? And his wife divorced him because his truck smelled like stank and skunk juice? Maybe I saved a marriage that day. Clarence would show me all that stuff. Then I would plop back into the present day renewed, invigorated, and grateful to be alive. Every time the the coffee timer dings an angle gets it's wings.

None of those scenarios were true, of course.

The man just saw where the barista had written my name in big bold Sharpie letters on my coffee cup. Which, admittedly, is not the best way to start a conversation with as skittish girl. Despite my better efforts to be snooty, he was determined to strike up a conversation. I wasn't (hello I had work to do! scenes to write! characters to make unsucky!), but I closed my laptop all the same and decided to chat.

I'm really glad I did. His life is a better story than anything I'll ever write.

This is what I discovered about The Starbucks Man:

Though only in his early sixties, he'd spent the last few years recovering from a stroke. One night, a few years ago, he fell asleep feeling fine. He woke up unable to move one side of his body. He had a cane that day in Starbucks and told me the stroke was to blame for the delay in his speech. His doctors told him he would never walk again, but he did. At first, he considered it a victory to make it down the hospital hallway. Last spring, He walked to the top of Clingman's Dome. I had just returned from a trip to the Smokies. We talked about the view from the top of Clingman's Dome - the gray mountains, the fog, all the skeletons of trees eaten by beetles. We agreed it was still beautiful, even with all the dead tress. Just beautiful in a different way.

He talked about all the friends he'd made in his support group. He told me about his kids and grandkids and how he was grateful for more time to spend with them. He talked about physics and Beethoven and Morris Code. "Do you know how Beethoven's 5th goes?" he asked. "It goes - da-da-da-da. Do you know the roman numeral for five? The letter V. Do you know the letter V in Morris Code? It's da-da-da-da."

Before long, I was totally wrapped up in the conversation. I was laughing, and listening, and sipping my coffee while he told me about the amazing life he'd lived, and kept living when everybody else told him to quit.

"Know what I miss most?" he asked, "More than having control over my speech? More than being able to walk up a hill without getting out of breath? More than having to ask people to drive me around? ...

... I miss flying."

I nearly choked on my coffee.

"I'm a pilot," he said. "Well ... I was a pilot, I guess. I flew through snow and rain and sleet. I flew through zero visibility and survived. Twice, I thought I was going to crash. But I never did. I flew people in my church on hundreds of missions trips. After all that, a messed up spark plug in my brain was what got me. And now I can't fly. Do you like to fly?"

"Not really," I said. It's not that I dislike it either. I like the window seat. I mellow out fairly quickly, but flying still me pretty nervous. I'm Piglet, you'll remember. I told him that. He laughed at the Piglet thing.

"I taught for a few years," he said. "One year, I taught a girl afraid of flying how to fly. That's the only way to get over fear - just to keep doing what makes you afraid."

And he talked a little bit more about the places he'd flown and the crazy weather he'd flown in. Eventually, I got around the the question behind the blinking cursor on my computer screen:

"What's the best thing about flying?"

He looked past me, out the window streaked with rain, into clouds rolling with thunder and wind and summer. Storms and Chaos. Light and Dark.

"Freedom," he said. "Once you've tasted freedom, you can't settle for anything else."

I've written pieces of novels before, big huge pieces. I've only completed one novel (that still sits plump and awkward on my desk like, "Hey. Gonna fix me?") so this next theory might change eventually. I've noticed, to some degree, I tend to infuse my main character with an issue I'm going through. My characters don't look like me. They don't always have my personality. They don't react the way I would to a situation. But there's always some trait most definitely mirrored - a trait that's usually a weakness - and I tend to start off writing that quirk rather unintentionally. Maybe. I thought I did, at least. As I was meandering through that specific project, I was writing about a girl who was tired of sitting still but petrified at the thought of moving ahead. And in that situation, I think it's good to ask yourself the biggies ... what's holding you back? What are you really afraid of? Is not-knowing better than trying and failing?

But after I roll those questions around (and lose some sleep and get lots of heartburn), I've decided to ask myself this question too:

What's the best thing about flying?

I know what freedom feels like: it's loving, and being loved, unconditionally. It's doing what you love; making art that moves you and makes you feel alive. It's coming alive again. It's rain on your shoulders and a storm in your heart while you keep moving ahead, even when the most practical solution is to stay where you were. I have that Helen Keller quote rattling around in my brain right now, the one where she says something like, "you can't consent to creep when you feel an impulse to soar." In order to soar, you have to be impulsive enough to jump. And most people are afraid to jump.

I'm afraid too. But I'm doing it anyway.

How was your week? Any fab plans this weekend?

*Somewhat overdone: incessant jokes from my brother about whether or not I've seen my shadow yet.


  1. Oh! You are going to PA! Punxsatawny--totally not spelled correctly--is probably a good 4-5 hours from my house, if not more. Too bad I'm not in Maryland right now--I'd invite you over or come meet you somewhere. :)

    Freedom....making a jump....right now I am in the process of deciding if I am staying in Ukraine another year or simply returning to the US. Both involve drastic leaps, of different kinds. I know what I'd *like* to do, but I want to discern what GOD wants me to do.

    Anyway. For the time being, I am here in Ukraine, at KCA. Tonight are some basketball games, and for the weekend, I will probably hibernate in my apartment until Sunday morning. (It'd be wonderful to hibernate till March...)

  2. My gosh, I loved that story. I love random encounters with walking, living stories. And this line was the best:
    That's the only way to get over fear - just to keep doing what makes you afraid."

    It's one of my themes this year. But so far...not my theme for January. January is more like, "Try to wake up in time for work" theme.

  3. DOn't you just love when kind old men come tell your thier beutiful stories?
    I work at the YMCA and hea many fantastic stories from men and women who had lived way lonher than anyone I know. I love to listen to them. This blog was awesome. :) Since school has started, I haven't written as much as I have wanted to. But I am going to start up again. Thanks for the inspiration :)

  4. Jessica, you are so brave. When you said it was cold there I had no idea how cold it was until I saw your Facebook! Dang! And as for your big decision, I'm excited to see what you decide. Either way, I know the adventures and surprises will keep pouring in :) If you're back in the states you should meet up with me in Punxatawny (however you spell that :). Actually, you might not want to. One year, my mom found these giant groundhog hats they sell there. And I want one bad. And I'm pretty sure wearing one is not the best to cultivate friendships.

    Jen, totally my theme too. The fear thing AND the blah-to-January theme :) What is it about this time of year?!

    Steffanie, I do love it when sweet old men have stories to share. I've been approached by so many wackos in the past few years, I'm always on edge these days ;) but that encounter was a sweet one for sure! And it reminded me to be open and aware to the stories happening all around me all the time. Not to live in my head so much I miss something great. I can't imagine how many sweet stories you hear at the Y! So cute :) And you better be cranking up that blog again PRONTO. I miss reading it! (When I try to comment it won't accept my comment .. but I shall keep trying!)

  5. I can't wait for next week, then. I'm glad I found your blog before your birthday!

  6. Happy (almost) birthday! I'm with Elana, can't wait for next week!

  7. Thanks so much Elana! I've been reading your QueryTracker posts forever. They're so positive. I squealed when I saw your name in the comments! :)

    Thanks for the birthday wishes LiLa! :) I'm so excited for Pemberly #2 (even though I haven't read #1 ... I have a hunch it's going to rock :)

  8. Completely random comment, since i know you love Taylor Swift... i think you'll like this.

  9. Wow. I absolutely love this post! I'm in class right now (such a rebel), but I have to reread this.

    Happy birthday for next week!! :)

  10. I loved your story about your Starbucks encounter. I love moments like that. I wish they happened a little more, but if they did they wouldn't be as cool I guess.

    Have a great birthday next week!

  11. Sarah, Thanks so much! I'm glad the post helped you get through class (I only wish I'd had internet access for some of my classes ... ;) Thanks for the birthday wishes!

    GBTQ, Thank you! I'm with you. Maybe the rarity of moments like that makes them more special.