My Congress with a Fickle Woman

This post originally appeared yesterday on Unstressed Syllables. Maybe I’m a cheat to re-post it here — but I thought my Court Can subscribers might like a chance to read my latest adventure, too.

Near Chickasha, Oklahoma

In case you haven’t heard, we Oklahomans had some excitement this past Tuesday.

50 Humans, 5 Cats, 4 Dogs, and a Partridge in a Pear Tree*

Said excitement is how I ended up in the basement of the church building across the street, wondering if I’d still have a neighborhood when I emerged, much less an apartment.

It was stuffy; it was crowded. There were leggy preteen girls running up and down the basement corridor. The whole place was crawling with people I didn’t know. (And if you know me, you know that’s not my favorite type of social situation.)

When we arrived, a woman thrust a blanket-wrapped bundle into my friend Brian’s arms and said, “Will you hold him? I have to go to the bathroom, I’m so scared.” As she hurried away, we unwrapped the bundle. I thought it was going to be a baby. It was some kind of scrawny terrier with mournful eyes and long mustaches.

Ed, my husband, is an amateur radio operator (aka ham), so he glued his ear to his radio as we hunkered in the hallway. Brian retrieved a map of Oklahoma City, and we pored over it, looking for the county names coming in over the airwaves. Logan. Canadian. McClain. When I heard mention of the western part of Oklahoma County, I realized I was clenching my teeth.

We’re in Oklahoma County.

10 for 10 — But I Can’t Count on It

Since Ed and I moved here three-and-a-half years ago, we’ve had a tornado scare every spring. And without fail, every time there’s a tornado headed our way, it lifts somewhere west of us and passes us by.

The same thing happened on Tuesday, May 24, 2011. We huddled in that basement for an hour, while the temperature rose, the humidity increased, and the dander of unfamiliar pets got my sinuses draining. (Yum.) A tornado touched down to the south (and I said a silent prayer for Moore and Norman). My heart ached as the radio told us of massive destruction in Piedmont to the north.

But the tornado coming up from Chickasha (and it might be the one in the picture above; I don’t know) never reached us. I don’t know if it blew itself out, or if it’s the one that touched down to the south. Either way, we got an “all-clear” of sorts. We gathered up our two terrified cats and went home. After the tornado sirens, the near-silence was a blaring siren all by itself.

Once again, nature’s devastation passed us by. There’s a lake less than a mile west of our area, so maybe the temperature change around the lake has something to do with it. I don’t know. I only know that so far, every time a tornado has headed straight for us, it has spared us.

But Mother Nature’s a capricious lady. I know I can’t trust her. She’s beautiful, always. Even in the midst of tornadic destruction, I recognize the raw beauty in that unimaginable power. But I’ll watch her from a distance, thank you. If she glances in my direction, I’m taking cover.

Don’t look at me, Mother Nature. I’m just a bug, I promise — never worthy of your closer attentions.

Moral of the Story

What does all of this have to do with writing? Nothing, really.

Oh, you can draw conclusions, if you like, about the application of fear and adventure to the writing process. “Remember these emotions,” I might tell myself. “Lean on them when your characters are in trouble.”

Or, I could advise us all to observe people during a crisis and use those observations for character development. Really, I gleaned something from Tueday’s adventure about every part of the writing process.

But today, I’m not thinking about any of that. I’m thinking about the families who lost loved ones. I’m thinking about the people in Piedmont whose homes now resemble piles of broken matchsticks. I’m thinking of the devastation in Joplin, Missouri (they got hit far worse on Sunday night).

I’m thinking about how control is an illusion. I’m thinking about how I’m not the one in charge, and I never will be.

______________________

*Some assembly required.

Confessing My Creative Sins, Pt. 1

As a large, flippered, marine mammal once said, the time has come to talk of other things.

But these aren’t easy things like shoes and sealing wax, dear readers. These are hard things, and they’re things it hurts me to talk about. I need to talk about them…but the telling comes with a painful price.

2nd grade short stories

I’m going to tell you about how, once upon a time, I forgot that I was created to create. I’m going to tell you about how I lived in constant fear and about how I did not stand up for my artist-child self. I’m going to tell you about how I didn’t protect her.

Permission

This will be a story in multiple parts. It’ll require dredging up stuff about my past that I would rather not think about.

So, let me put it off just a little longer by sharing with you something I recently read:

“In life…we only have one choice at any given time. The choice to go left or right…forward or backward. The choice to live or to die. The choice to grow or stay the same… .

Just the same as our choice, we have the ability to grant permission or deny it. Permission to love. Permission to praise. Permission to dance. Permission to edify and to justify. Whether in conversations, relationships or alone, we give permission to those around us every single day.

What I find to be most intriguing in my travels as coach and motivating speaker, is how often people give up their choice by granting permission to someone else to make it for them.”
Tammy Redmon of www.tammyredmon.com*

Darling readers, I’ve spent much of my life fiercely defending my belief that we humans are blessed with free will, with choice. And, while I was so vigorously defending my free will, I was also refusing to exercise it. I paid bounteous lip service to the idea of choice, but I allowed other people to make my choices for me.

Created To Create

If you’ve read my About page, then you know the story of how I first realized that my teenhood dreams of authordom actually went farther back than I thought. If you haven’t read my About page, then you should go do that now.

No, really. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

All right! So, now you know about the wordy second grader, the spiders, and the haunted castle. We can move on from there.

My second-grade self knew and took for granted that I was created to create. With all the innocent, stronger-than-steel faith of a child, she trusted wholly in her connection to the thirst-slaking wellspring of creativity. She drank deeply and constantly from the Source. At age 8, age 10, age 12, I had no doubts about what and who I was.

I was creative. I was a word-artist.

When did I start to forget? Ah, it’s impossible to pinpoint. The forgetting didn’t happen from one day to the next. No, it was a gradual clouding-over of vision over the course of more than a decade. I couldn’t have stopped it. I was too young and naive to imagine it could happen to me, much less recognize that insidious progression.

Creative Memory Loss

My late teen years probably saw the most rapid and intense onset of creative memory loss. I was thinking ahead to universities, to majors, to job-after-college. Make money with writing? Not likely, so let’s get a degree in psychology and write on the side.

“On the side” meant “not at all” until my last year of college, when I finished my novel-in-progress for my senior project in English. By now, I’d dropped Psych as a major and adopted Writing instead. One would think this would encourage a prolific pen. Instead, I finished the project, graduated, and let my writing slow to a crawl for a couple of years.

“Real life” left me neither time nor energy for writing. It didn’t seem like a grown-up activity. Forgetting the creativity felt more mature. Not to mention easier.

Who was telling me that being a grown-up canceled out being a writer? The answer: nobody. Nobody came to me and said, “Courtney, you’re an adult now. It’s time to put these childish dreams of writerdom behind you. It’s time to Make Something Of Yourself. Grow up.”

I wish someone had said that to my face! Blatant attempts at control are easy to combat when they’re right under my nose! I could have stood firm under a barrage of verbal criticism, but I didn’t know how to fight the subtle undermining of my creative foundation.

Giving Away Permission

My soul submitted to the shackles one tiny little step at a time. They were laid upon me by society and by unspoken, between-the-lines judgments from various people in my life.

I learned to see my writing as just a hobby. Oh, if anyone had asked, I would’ve assured them that I still intended to publish someday. But I didn’t behave as though I believe that. I behaved as though, in a Top Ten list of priorities, writing hovered somewhere around 9.5.

After I graduated from college, three years passed before I started writing another novel. In the meantime, I wrote poetry. I painted. I moved to the other side of the world.

I did everything I thought I was supposed to be doing.

Read Tammy’s quote again. See those lines about permission? I gave society and other people permission to decide what I should do with my creativity. Everybody had sanction to determine the fate of my artist-child self.

Everybody except me.

To Be Continued…

So, my dearies, that’s the start of the sordid story I’m trying to tell you. I don’t really want to tell it, but I think I need to tell it. And from what some of you have told me and asked me — both in comments here and in person — I suspect some of you might need to hear it.

So keep coming back. I’ll be talking about this for at least a few more posts.

*Quoted by permission.