Ode To The Trail

In the spirit of this monumental week (bookending the days with a mountain writing retreat and probably the death of me by trail marathon on Saturday) I give you a short and sweet look at what trail running will do for a soul and what we can learn from a steady state of being present. Enjoy.

Nothing about trail running is easy.  I mean, sure for some skinny running-all-his-life-young-mountain-goat type it’s probably a walk in the park.   But for me, aging-used-to-flat streets-and-shady-neighborhoods, its one of the most challenging things I’ve done.  I like running.  I like hiking.  I hate combining the two.  Not just because it is difficult but it takes the worst parts of both and combines them. 

Running down a sidewalk in the cool and quiet morning is a practice in meditation for me.  My mind can wander; it can go over plot lines or character traits, dialogues and settings.  It can breeze over life’s complicated spider webs of responsibilities and desires.  Hiking up a rocky and single-tract trail, in the middle of the beautiful and chaotic dance of nature, stopping to smell the sun soaked dirt and hear the clicking of bugs as they dodge past your ear is good for the primal soul within.

But when you combine the two, your mind cannot wander.  It must remain focused, because the speed of your journey is encumbered and dangerous, riddled with rocks and snakes and jagged-reaching branches.  You cannot look around beyond the future path of your feet because you will surely falter. Your feet are twisted and tripped and if you aren’t living solely in that specific moment of forward motion, you could end up rolling down a yucca spiked hill and planting face-first in the delicate sharp tear-drops of cactus.

Trail running is hard, not just because of the altitude, or the climbing, or the sheer terror of descending down rocky terrain at a speed that threatens my control.  It’s hard because it forces me to live in a specific moment.  I can only look ahead briefly, I cannot plan the next mile, only the next footfall.  It is hard.  But it’s also a brilliant lesson in staying focused in the moment you are in. 

Very often I get ahead of myself, even more so, I falter back into the past.  It’s comforting to go back in my mind to the places I’ve been and the people I knew.  Its exciting to imagine where I will go in the future, and easy to build it into much bigger dream than attainable.  But to live in the now, with what I have to work with and what lies directly on my path makes me get out of my head and truly live.  And that, my friends, is hard.

Mining your memories: A Short Blog About Memoirs

Good morning kids. Today’s blog is about memoir. Before you close out of my page, thinking you’re too young to write such a thing and that it’s for little old people who are trying to recapture the sand slipping away in their hourglass…let me stop you.

Good stories are ones we relate to, and so can come from anywhere, in any time period, in any state. Being able to tap into your memory, isn’t just good for memoirs, it’s also good for descriptive scene setting, character development, and capturing those beautiful ‘show’ moments.

How do I figure?

Fiction or not, being able to recall details, sift through what you remember and why it was memorable, is a skill that will serve you in any genre. The perspective of ten-year-old you is a charming voice that we all, in some part, want to re-experience. Retelling from your memories is a practice that can help you see the world through different lenses, and what you remember tells you a lot about where you were in life and the character you embodied. A mom’s perspective and memory of her child’s first day of school is going to be completely different than her child’s memory of the day. The first breaking of your heart at 16 is going to harken a different intensity than your last broken heart a decade later. Understanding the humanity of your memories will bring you closer to creating depth in your characters.

So, how do you even begin?

Everything has a story and the best stories are told by ordinary people. It’s not about what happened, necessarily, it’s what happened to you. What you remember and what stands out to you from past memories, creates a personal tie to your reader and their own memories. It also shrinks down big events and forces the humanity into view.

Example:

“I remember the spiky Velcro of my sneakers, scratching my legs as I sat criss-cross in the lunchroom (still smelling of sloppy joes and spilled milk) while the third-grade teacher wheeled in the small TV to the center of our circle. The grainy picture of a rocket puffing out into a cloud of white with the trailing boosters snaking off into the atmosphere was confusing and anticlimactic to the excitement in the room. But what was more troubling was the way the teachers behind us gasped, crumpled to the floor, sobbed and looked to one another for explaination that could not be found, before hurrying us back to our classrooms.”

Versus-

“The Challenger, carrying high school teacher Christa McAulliffe, exploded shortly after takeoff, on January, 28 1986”

The biggest obstacle to this practice is, the human brain is often complex and muddled and gleaming the true memory of an event or time can be hard. Having practiced this a little, I can tell you that it’s really shocking how much of my childhood I don’t remember. Because I simply haven’t made a habit of talking about it. Many of us don’t. We no longer live in an oral-storytelling society and it’s a real detriment to how we solidify memories.

When writing from memory, we have to work from both memory and imagination, and reassemble the past with both. We have no other choice than to see it through the lens of who we are now, so even the best memories are filtered by the knowledge and experience we’ve gained since the time we’re trying to remember. We often reframe memories in a way that fits into our whole story, and as soon as we write about it, we begin to shape it. That’s not all that’s funny about memories.

If you’ve ever noticed telling a story and retelling it to a different person or group, the story starts to change depending on the audience. Other factors that can contribute to muddling the memory water are how long its been since the event, who was there, and how we want people to perceive it.

My suggestion to you is to start writing events down that you remember. Big and small (the death of a family member, to the first time you tied your shoes). Pick a year, an event, a memory, just one a day and write what you remember about it. Find a quiet spot. Close your eyes, think of the memory and with pen and paper (or laptop if you simply must) write down whatever comes up. Even if it’s murky, even if its disjointed. These are shadows that exist for a reason. In fact, write down what you can’t remember (I remember the flowers were bright pink and orange, but I can’t remember walking out of the funeral home). Those details speak to the state of mind you were in.

These are the rough drafts of human interest and ways to connect to others. Your essays on memories can be the the bulk material needed for character history, short stories or poetry. And maybe one day, your own memoir.

Whatever your past, however dull or fantastical you think it is, whether it’s 89 years worth of experience and life or only 12, you have a responsibility to put it down.

Poetry, Pasts, and Lessons Learned

One of the things I love most about poetry, especially the words you write in the heat or ache of intense emotion, is that even when you’ve healed up and haired over, reading those words makes that moment real and bright once again in your mind.

Hopefully, when those poems and words are the rock-bottom kind, we can look back, feel the gut-sting, and thank our lucky stars that we wrote the words down instead of burying them inside to fester. Because like trials and hardships, joys and celebrations, everything in life is in constant motion. We live in flux, and especially as writers, must catch the moments on their sharpest edge to be reminded, in the dull lulls between, that life is brilliant and biting, and every moment worth being present for.

I hope you all have some dark words out there, and by out there I mean on a page or in a journal and not sitting still inside your chest. I hope you all are walking in brightness now, with a touch of perspective and an appreciation for the battles that made us stronger.

And now, this:

Spectre

Dawn breaks
and the spectre of you
lives in my chest
ever-claiming, each cell of my useless heart

I wake and you softly stir
the creature in my rib-bone cage
a wooden spoon against an empty pot
you push my blood to move
to exist
and though I so desperately fight
against the notion,
I blink

I rise

If only you’d leave me in peace
I could go
stop fighting, stop pushing
stop throbbing heart beats against
this useless existence
and tissue paper flesh.

It goes on in this way
from the rise of the sun
cresting over head
to when it crashes back down
over the western sky

Still you stay

fighting to continue
determined to survive
against ribs that long to be still
and lungs aching to be emptied one last time

Night comes like false reprieve
bearing sleep, the closest I can come
to separating my soul from your memory
a little death where I can close my eyes and pretend
the uplifting will finally cut the tie
the chain of love, I so stubbornly tied.

But dawn breaks
And the spectre of you
still wakes in my chest.

Verseday 8-9-18

Good evening! Today is about the terrible habit of looking behind, and being tethered to memory… and I also think I might have a hankering for fall.

Enjoy!

 

autumn autumn leaves blur close up
Photo by Vali S. on Pexels.com

Lie in Weight

 

Now the days of yielding past

And fallow fields in quiet repose

Beckon down dark geese in flight

 

The crackle of air settling cold

The dusty birth of Autumn spreads

Waits for coy light to brave horizon.

 

I am still and lingering.

Patient like the fading light

The callous bite of snows to come

And the bitter taste of wood smoke in lungs

 

I remember the hush frosted grass beneath feet

Like your breath on the apple of my cheek

Clear as the fading day and vibrant as fog on the moor

How I long to miss the memory

 

When will it burrow beneath ground

Settle somewhere in the dirt where you hide

Silently waiting.

For my dawdling to cease.