To Tell a Better Story

Recently I’ve been working on a course by Storyline for creating a life plan. I thought it might direct my biographical writing a little more if I had a process in place because otherwise I have zero process.  One of the first steps in the course is creating a timeline of significant turns in your life, both positive and negative turns.  I had Boo list the big events she remembers in her life so we could make a timeline for her too. I thought it would be neat to look back on later in life and see what she thought were significant events…something I wish I’d done earlier on.

Things she listed: my father’s funeral (she remembers the bagpipes and the hearse); when I was diagnosed with cancer (she doesn’t remember much, just that I had cancer and lost my hair); the time she was wrapped in wrapping paper at a party we hosted for our church’s youth group and she was crying from being claustrophobic inside, moving to North Carolina, starting a new school, and getting her dog Max a few weeks ago.

Timeline

At first I was really sad and disappointed that her memories have been mostly sad and traumatic up until our move to NC. (How could she not remember that birthday party?  Or Christmas? Or the time we went to Disneyland?) I made each event into a little strip and taped it to her timeline and when we looked at the events together she obviously noticed the same thing.  After a few minutes of contemplation she asked me to change the rules of the process:

“we don’t have to put things that just I remember, you can help me remember big events that were happy that I was too little to remember”

She is my greatest teacher. And it’s true…we need other people to help remember our stories, the perspective of another lens to look at our life through. A biography to compliment our autobiography. My timeline takes up 4 pages to her 1…but her 1 pager is already such a great story. My job is to help her see that.

The cool thing is that no matter how crappy things have ever been at times children can see the positive changes we make in our lives…the impact of being determined to tell a BETTER story. Living that out.

I love this quote:

“And once you live a good story, you get a taste for a kind of meaning in life, and you can’t go back to being normal; you can’t go back to meaningless scenes stitched together by the forgettable thread of wasted time.” -Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

We can edit our own life. Always a rough draft. I have this quote cut out and pasted into one of my journals:

I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be. -Joan Didion

One night Brett asked me if I knew what my purpose was in life. I answered: I don’t know, and I don’t know if I will ever know, but I think I get glimpses of it.  I don’t think we are ever supposed to know, otherwise it would be like we’d reached our story’s arc: hey, I know what my purpose is! now I can retire at age 37!  It seems like it would be all downhill from there. I think we do get some signs to help us head in the right direction, sometimes they are u-turns. And so I can reinvent myself every day towards the story I want my life to tell. I can safely say that I may never find myself, and I’m okay with that.

It’s never too late to be who you might have been. -George Eliot

 

 

 

 

Snow Angel Bombing

Today is the 2nd snow day this week.  Boo and I stayed in all morning and watched the resort cam of downtown Bryson where we could see Brett working on his building and the snow accumulating at the Great Smoky Mountains Train Depot. Then I asked Brett:

Hey, will you stop by the train depot parking lot and do a snow angel for us?

And I captured it:

It made our morning.

You can view the resort cams live here:

Bryson City Resort Cam (at town square)

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Cam (at the depot below our house)

Hope everyone is staying warm today. A few views from our small town of Bryson City yesterday:

Morning snow:

bryson1

Early afternoon clearing up:

bryson3

Venturing out for lunch:

bryson2

 

And this morning…

Snuggling in with Max who just had surgery yesterday:

bryson4

Walking to the neighbor’s:

snowday

I’m just glad to be here!  I was flying back from Seattle on Sunday and my flight was cancelled from Atlanta to Bryson City.  I had just gotten off a long flight at 7pm:

flight

Because of the forecast I knew if I didn’t get home Sunday night I wouldn’t be able to get home for a few days…so I rented a car and drove the 3 hours to Asheville to pick up my truck. There wasn’t a single solitary soul at the Asheville airport at 1:30am when I dropped off the rental car.  A little eery.  I cranked up Ruby, checked her transmission fluid, and drove the remaining hour and half home to Bryson City.  As I drove I thought:

I have never been so content, after navigating the cities and airports and highways and rental cars, to get into my rumbling little 1982 truck and drive the rural winding mountain roads of NC at 3am.

And this is what was waiting for me on Monday morning…our first snow in Bryson City. Probably Max’s first snow ever…he’s not so sure about it:
snowangel

Who Can See the Wind

On my way to Patti Digh’s Life is a Verb Camp last week, outside of Hendersonville, I stopped by the Biltmore House to walk around. At 4pm it felt like I was the only one there, not a person in sight on the South Terrace:

Who can see the wind? Neither you nor I.  -Christina Rossetti

biltmore3

The wind was fierce and cleared the sky of everything below cloud level, making the landscape seem unreal:

biltmore2

Did I just step through the wardrobe? Or maybe into Wuthering Heights? Jane Eyre! That red maple looked to me like a cross between Medusa and Merida. While walking back to my truck I paused and then made my way back to find out its name:

 Red Cutleaf Japanese Maple (dissectum atropurpureum).  aka Medusam Meridaum.

biltmore1

I just got really tired. I think this will be the end of this post. Hopefully I spelled everything right.  If not just consider it a new word.

P.S. I think I need a Jane Eyre quote just to wrap this up…and this one stands out because someone recently asked me if I knew what an automaton was.

“Do you think I am an automaton? — a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal — as we are!”
― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

P.P.S. automaton: a moving mechanical device made in imitation of a human being (i.e. C3PO I guess)

Begin at the Beginning

Sometimes I have so much to tell you I don’t know where to start. I write things down in bits and pieces in word documents, journals, emails to my self and I even dictate while driving.  It all piles up for a few days and then it’s too much to pare down into one post. So I have to choose what to write, what to save for later, and what to set free into the black-hole-of-writing-that-no-one-will-ever-see-for-eternity.

Begin at the beginning and go on til you come to the end then stop. -Lewis Caroll

Starting at the beginning? That would take forever. I don’t have forever. I’ll just start at the part about exploring the lake bed this past week.  This is what the lake bed looks like right now:

Fontana Lake Bed in Bryson City, NC (at the 288 boat ramp)

In the winter the lake water is let out of the Fontana Dam to prepare for the spring rains.  I think it’s the most amazing thing in the world. I always want to know what is at the bottom of a lake or river. I always imagine it’s pretty dark and sinister.  In my mind I see old rotted out trucks, like in Fried Green Tomatoes, but it really isn’t like that.  I guess I expected to see a lot of trash and discarded stuff, but I wasn’t prepared for all the clothing we saw: jeans, khakis, a prom dress.  A lot of people lose their clothing in the lake apparently.  I wanted to stop and pick it all up because I thought it would make an interesting art project:

Clothing Found in Fontana.

If anyone would like to fund this “found clothing” project or collaborate let me know…because I need a partner willing to pick it up and wash it out. Or I need one of those long handled picker-uppers.

Among all the discarded clothing we found the old bridge from Highway 288.  It wasn’t really lost, but it’s usually underwater:

Fontana Lake Bed (and bridge) in Bryson City, NC (at the 288 boat ramp)

Speaking of writing that ends up in the black-hole-of-writing-that-no-one-will-ever-see-for-eternity:

Google God be one of us
Kubla gob blah on the bus
Boobs got blah I want no bus
Kubla got that one of us
Google got that one no bust
Good luck out that one of us
Could look up that one of us
Luck got that one of us
But the bus got that one that best
Go but I got the one that must
Got butt no one noticed us

I was trying to get my phone to transcribe “Gooba gobble one of us“, that scene from the 1932 movie Freaks. Instead I got 11 lines of gibberish. I saved it anyway. It’s good stuff.  Boobs got blah I want no bus.  I couldn’t have come up with that if I’d tried.

Last night we visited our friend George (who is a cook at the inn) and his wife Deborah at their house on one of the Fontana coves.  I love when directions around here are:

Drive down the highway
Pass the mulch piles
Turn right
Drive until the road ends. 

If we’d tried to use the GPS it would have said we needed a ferry. GPS doesn’t work here. It’s like the Bermuda Triangle. So we followed the written directions and drove until the road ended. And found George. He was on his tractor. And the craziest thing is that you can’t even really tell that the lake reaches this point except for the docks and boats sitting at odd angles on the ground in the little dish-like hollows:

lake fontana2

 

And now I’ve come to the end for now.

Full stop.

Darn…that’s not even a full story.

But sometimes I see a really beautiful story being written right before my eyes and it just hasn’t been lived out quite yet.

I wrote this in my journal this week, a note to myself:

Find things interesting.
It’s all interesting.
The blah days turn into “neato”…
…if you look hard enough.
It will keep you going.

It’s not poetry. But maybe this is: Boobs got blah I want no bus.

 

 

Our Lives are in Chapters

Earlier this week we made a new friend.  One who is going to bulldoze a house to build a new one.  He let us spend some time in the house to see if anything was worth salvaging.

Here’s what I didn’t expect: the wide range of emotions I felt as we went through the house.

All of these:

Elation: I need shelves and this is the mother-load.

Anxiety: I know someone who could use all of this chicken wire. I know someone who could use this dishwasher. I don’t have a big enough truck. What will become of all of this!?

Embarrassment: Is this kind of like dumpster diving?

Greed: I want all of these old bricks. I don’t know what I’d make with them yet, but I want them. Just because I can. 

Awe: I haven’t seen one of these in 30 years. 

Humor: This IS kind of like dumpster diving. I am a dumpster diver.

Gratitude: So thankful for this opportunity.

Sadness: Look at these old papers and letters from the original owners. Receipts from her antique shop she ran, newspaper clippings saves, cards from loved ones.  These people are long gone now.  And from this pile of memories they were once very much alive.

Nostalgia: Walking through this old house is like deja vu: the blue carpet, the parquet flooring, the ceramic tile, the blue and white kitchen.

Nostalgia because 11 years ago we lived across the same golf course in a very similar home. We’d purchased it from a family friend. The house was deemed a tear down so basically we only purchased the land it was on. But a lot of hard work made it a home for us:

our Charlotte home back then 

ouroldhouse

I learned to reglaze windows, we renovated bathrooms, and every winter we had a huge oil tank refilled so we would have heat.  I loved the history. I loved finding old photos of the family who lived there before us. I loved finding traces of the old wallpaper and bits and pieces of past lives in the big scary basement. And while working in the yard we would get visitors from the golf course, people would stop by and say: you live here?  this is amazing. And it was a source of pride. And then one day we decided to walk away from it…we sold it to another family friend who we knew would tear it down and build something brand new:

the rubble of our home

bulldozedhouse

Brett: Would we have been happy in this life?

Me: I don’t know. Maybe. It’s all relative.

Brett: I guess we’ll never know.

Me: And that’s okay too.

Oh the questions: Would we have eventually torn down the house and built a larger one? Would we have been able to appreciate such a beautiful home with huge newer homes going up all around ours? Would we still be working at the banks we’d worked at?  Would we have enjoyed the country club life?

Does any of it really matter? It’s just one or two chapters.

The thing is, earlier this week, we ate at the country club with my family a few nights. I felt so much nostalgia for the place. My sister told the waitress how we’d grown up there and even our grandfather had been a member.  I remember the humble beginnings when the pool house was just a plain brick rectangle where we purchased frozen candy bars and greasy cheeseburgers.  I love the life my sister and her husband have created for themselves there. I love the life my brother and his wife have created there too. It’s for them. It wasn’t for us.  And that’s what makes life beautiful.

And the replay of questions:

Would I have had more kids if we’d stayed in our old life? Well yes probably.

Would I have been diagnosed with cancer and lost my ability to have more children? Maybe. Maybe not.

Would we have millions in the bank if we’d stayed at our investment banking jobs. Quite possibly.

I don’t know.

I don’t know.

And I don’t have to know.

I can live in the questions.

I can find safety there too.

And sometimes I wish for a tablespoon of it all here and there.  Can this kind of life be a side dish?  No, not for me.  Because I know myself and I bend myself all out of shape because of what others are doing. And in that chapter I would have never seen my husband except for on the weekends. And in that chapter I would have had to hire a nanny to watch the kids so I could work 16 hours a day downtown. There was no way to balance it all. Sometimes there can’t be baby steps, there just has to be a huge leap.

And I think back to that house we were salvaging in pieces only a few days ago: The people who lived in that house probably had similar questions and dreams. Did they live their dreams? I hope so. But now they are gone. And it reminds me how short and fleeting life can be.  Their whole life in a blink of an eye. The passing of time marked by boxes of newspapers, antiquated postage and vintage greeting cards.

We’ve walked away from a few of those chapters already and might just walk away from a few more.  And those chapters pass in the blink of an eye too.  A blink of an eye. A millisecond in all of eternity. But here our lives are happy and full of joy, and it’s not that we didn’t have that before, but it’s much richer I feel. There are varying degrees of happiness and joy. I was re-reading parts of Under the Tuscan Sun this morning and these passages hit me like a ton of bricks:

Wonders. Miracles. In cities, we’re less and less capable of the imagination for the super real, ground down as we are by reality. In rural areas, close to the stars and groves, we’re still willing to give it a whirl.

Is it a whim? It feels very close to falling in love and that’s never really whimsical but it comes from some deep source. Or does it?

I think this rural-ness will be a long chapter, and the thing is….I’m always willing to quickly admit that I was wrong, and shift directions. It wasn’t always that way…. but now ….it is. Now I know that we lose a part of ourselves in the process and we leave things behind that other people would refer to as assets. We walk away from country club memberships. We walk away from sweat and hard work in a house only for it to be bulldozed, shoveled and dumped. And sometimes we grieve for what might have been and the idea of it all. And sometimes we fall in love and we quickly fall out of love. And then sometimes we stumble across opportunities to sift through what others have left behind, and someone else’s trash is another person’s treasure. And we are humbled, and we learn and we grow. And we end up gaining.

And yesterday when I heard the wheels of the tires hit the gravel at the inn I felt a sense of relief.  The crunch is oddly soothing and the way the truck rocks back and forth on a country road is something I’ll never grow tired of. Choose your rut carefully is that old saying.  Right now I want my rut to be gravel and rocking back and forth.

And I just write it all down so that I can live it all twice.

Writing about this place, our discoveries, wanderings, and daily life, also has been a pleasure. A Chinese poet many centuries ago noticed that to re-create something in words is like being alive twice. -Under the Tuscan Sun

If You Like Old Stuff Like I Do

Visiting my family in Charlotte, Brett and I went to the mall today. It was like being a fish out of water.

Me: Um, what is this?
Saleswoman: A shrug.
Me: Really? What are the holes for?
Saleswoman: Your arms.
Me: I don’t get it.
Saleswoman: Are you from another planet?

Ok just kidding she didn’t ask me that. She just walked away.

After escaping the mall, we spent the day salvaging a few usable items from a house that is being torn down.  Everyone’s trash is another person’s treasure…especially if you like old stuff like I do. Brett found some old hardware and fixtures, and I found some old newspaper articles in the attic.

salvage

Tonight we went to a new friend’s house for dinner, and I warned Boo ahead of time: we are going to a fairytale house, with a garden just like the Secret Garden, gargoyles and passageways, and the library looks just like the Book Thief and it has a staircase just like the Biltmore house. And you should have seen her face when we walked into the library…it was just like when Liesel sees the library in the mayor’s house in The Book Thief.

Boo on the stairs being followed by a Bengal cat:

library

We ate dinner with our friends Nick and Suzie and Boo asked if she could be excused from the table early, so she could spend time in the library. I’m not sure I’ll ever hear that again. She found The Boxcar Children on the shelf and she was told she could borrow it. Suzie also had this old mail order catalog she’d found and it was in perfect condition. Circa 1915 this catalog would have been right around the time of the Titanic.  The mail order form was still in the center of the catalog, making me want to fill it out and send it in with my 89 cents.

catalog

And yesterday we spent some time with my brother and his family. It was my nephew’s birthday. And I actually have a photo of me and my brother for once, although it does look like I’m trying to get away from him, but that was only because I was trying to take a photo with my nephew Carter:

brother

And since we are staying with my sister we’ve spent a lot of quality time with my little niece Leighton.  I get to bathe her each night and we all take turns feeding her and she’s just the sweetest baby. I might just steal her..because I’m pretty sure I’m her favorite person in the whole wide world:

leighton

Speaking of old stuff I picked up this really old metal globe last week while thrifting/antiquing. Even my thrifty hubby thought it was a find we couldn’t pass up. Not that we have the space for it right now.

globe

 

And then there’s just this:

tree

 

And this:

leighton

It Will all End Well

I had a dream that I was in a crash 2 nights ago. I assumed it was a plane.  As I was hoping on a plane to Houston yesterday I literally even texted my friend Jay before traveling so that someone would know:

planecrash

I gave up my seat on the earlier flight thinking it was kind of like Russian Roulette.  And on the second flight, I think I realized early on that I probably gave up the safer seat. (I have a deeply warped imagination….) As we neared the approach to Houston I wrote in my journal to document the passing time, just in case….I guess assuming my journal would survive impact:

The plane always gets eerily quiet as it starts to descend. Like this dampened hush.
Ears pop. Hush gone.

I have to pee. It would be nice to die without having to pee. 
Ever notice how the clouds always move by quicker than the ground does?
Houston looks like little collages of circuit boards.
Except for the pretty aqua cesspools.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we have been cleared to land.”
[Insert long, boring spiel about tray tables.]
Good grief. That was a really steep turn.
Something just doesn’t sound right. No one else seems to care.
What if we just dropped out of the sky? I’d pee. That’s what would happen.
There goes the landing gear. I choose hope.
The cars look like little ant cars down there. Where are all those people headed?
Aww…little ant-sized school buses park all in a row in their little ant-sized parking lot.
Horse farm.
Runway.
Landed.
Awesome.
Not my time to go.
Thank you God.

 

So…the plane didn’t crash.

But my rental car did.

It’s totaled.

I snuck out right before lunch today to pick up a few gifts for the directors of the conference I am at, and to get some books to hand out for the breakout session I am speaking at tomorrow.

I’ve never been in a car wreck before, and it was exactly like it is in the movies. It took a few seconds to realize what was happening. All I saw was a white hood coming straight towards me. Time slowed down to a halt. And I vividly remember thinking: This is not going to end well.

And then: I don’t want to die in Galveston.

(no offense Galveston)

And: You are wearing your conference name tag for easy identification.

Then the car slammed into the right side passenger door. Then everything was in slow motion: airbags deploying, car spinning uncontrollably, diet coke moving in a slow wave across the floorboard…

Then silence. What seemed like a silent forever.  Zero sound.

And then suddenly I was being sucked in reverse back through the black hole.

And then there were people yelling. I looked up and my car was inching forward slowly, my foot wasn’t on the brake.  My eyes hurt from the powder of the airbags. And there were feathers flying around like I’d had a pillow case fight.

Did I hit a chicken?

People yelling through the window: Are you okay? Stay put. We called 911. No, leave the car. Leaking fluids everywhere.

I got out and made my way to the curb.

I don’t remember seeing any cars when I made the turn. It must have been a blind spot. The lights at eye level in the intersection were covered by trash bags. Tattered trash bags flapping in the breeze and enough to pull your attention away for a brief moment.

One of the officers said that he wasn’t surprised….that it was the most dangerous intersection in Galveston.  He said there used to be a “no left turn” sign but businesses complained and the sign eventually came down. The accidents still happen.  That kind of makes me a little mad.

One of the police officers offered to take me back to the hotel.  He had a ride along. Nothing like getting dropped off at a blogging conference from the back seat of a police car. Only a few hours earlier and woman who had a murder warrant out was sitting in my same seat. It will probably be in the local paper.  Thanks Officer McNeill. It’s awesome riding in the back of a police car when you aren’t in any kind of trouble.

Life can shift so quickly:

10:00 am

selfie

 

1:00 pm

police car

 

I can tell my right arm is jacked, maybe I tried to brace against the impact.

My ears are still ringing.

I can feel my whole body stiffening as the adrenaline leaves.

But I walked away.

I always have a deep gut instinct about things. My mom and grandmother too.

Like the premonition about trying to outrun a tornado. …and then that happened:

kansas4

Premonitions are supposed to be warnings.

Although I never really seem to heed them.

Because, if I DID heed them:

I’d never leave the house.

I am speaking tomorrow morning at the Blog Elevated Conference here in Galveston, TX about blogging with heart.

I might not be able to turn my head, but my heart still works.

It will all end well.

Praise God.

 

 

 

Life Piled on Life

A bit of Tennyson, from Christy

There’s a conference all week here at the Hemlock Inn for the Francis Asbury Society and Boo has gotten to know some of the attendees…including the worship leaders April and Jason.   They asked her to sing a song for the group tonight. As she practiced, Donna one of the cooks came out of the kitchen screen door with tears streaming down her face (which then made the rest of us cry).

As Boo sang her song to the crowd a little later in the night, 10,000 reasons by Matt Redman, I noticed a small crowd inside the dining room window….where the staff had congregated to watch her sing.  Boo is getting over a cold, and was so nervous, but she still had us all in tears just the same.  It was her first time ever singing by herself in front of anyone, out of her comfort zone. Running into the kitchen afterwards she was greeted with hugs and her proud new inn family. She was beaming.

Meanwhile Brett was at Tsali, part of the Nantahala National Forest, helping to work on the bike trails. It’s a volunteer effort to keep it clear and safe.

Tomorrow Harper “the intern” and I are off to visit Carl Sandburg’s home….something we’ve talked about doing all summer.

I’m an idealist. I don’t know where I’m going but I’m on my way. -Carl Sandburg

 

 

Life piled on life.

 

 

 

You and I Have a Date

At my sister’s house I found these sitting on a shelf: a large box of cards my parents used to set dates with each other when we were growing up.

My parents' old "you and I have a date" cards

The box only has a handful of the cards left…..they went on a lot of dates.  I remember seeing these on my parent’s bathroom vanities. I can still picture each of their handwriting.

What I Would Take to a Deserted Island

My family. My books and journals. Water?

We were going to go to church this morning but I have a horrendous cough.  We stayed home instead and made biscuits with apple butter.  Brett and Boo know me way too well because I got books from the two of them this morning:

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story by Donald Miller
and
Love Wins by Rob Bell


The Best Mommy in the World. That’s what my card says.

 

We spent the rest of the day packing up boxes and sorting more things for our move.  I did manage to get a photo of Boo and I yesterday at the Mother’s Day Tea at school:

 

It’s been a process getting rid of 30+ years of belongings and collections as we gear up for a simpler life. Last night we went to our usual pizza place and Boo took all of her 10K+ loose crayons for their almost empty bins. She even refilled them herself:

This has been good for us.  The more we get rid of the more we want to get rid of. It’s a domino effect.  I’ve made at least 2 thrift store runs a week and we plan to have a big moving sale for the remaining items right before we leave.  And the house we’ll hopefully still sell furnished (furniture, plates and silverware, pots, artwork…even the fish in the fish tank!)

Boo doesn’t want to really keep much at all….just her books and her dolls.  (Goodbye Barbie Dream House!)  Brett and I have narrowed our closets down to the bare necessities.  I’ve kept some craft supplies and tools so I can keep doing DIY on the blog but really we are only taking what we can haul with us.  No movers, no storage.  I feel like I’ve been playing that “what would you take on a deserted island” game for the past few weeks!

Except I do have that one issue: books. I haven’t really been able to get rid of any.  Actually not true…I did remove 2 from the pile, but only because they were duplicates. And I sorted my piles by memoir, fiction, self help, etc.  OCD. And when I try to pack them I end up rearranging piles: might want to read before I leave. pack last. leave out of boxes. hide in suitcase. hide in camera bag.

I did hand pick some items for the blue label page to help fund our move and the next few months as we figure things out.  Thank you for all the support. What’s on the page is just about the last of everything.  I can’t wait to get through all of this craziness so I can focus full time on writing finally.  We are leaving June 1st regardless of whether the house sells. We’ll just leave it. And rely on faith that it will sell in its right time.

(Note: Need to figure out the best way to get Internet in the car on the way cross country: hot spot phone or just stand alone hot spot?)

Hope you had a wonderful day!

 

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