Reels in the Dark

First, news from the writing front couldn’t be better! The Sacred Woods is entering the home stretch. I’ve been smashing personal records right and left for words written in a day. First there was the 3,315-word output on July 4th (fitting, huh?) — then came a few days of “real” work (the kind where you have to make a living); then 3,827 words on Thursday, 3,121 yesterday, and 2,795 today. The book is now at 57,242. [It’s easier to write faster near the end of a book or story, because you have the momentum and focus; you’re no longer trying to figure out what it’s all about.] So you can see what I’ve been up to, and that’s why this posting is coming at the bottom of the weekend instead of at the top, as I’d prefer. I’m still hoping to have the book’s first draft finished by about the end of the month. This is one of those cases in which the story is practically writing itself: it knows where it wants to go, and I’m just careening along with it, holding onto the bridle for dear life with one hand, opening doors for it and smashing down fences with the other. This has very little to do with my abilities or lack thereof; it’s one of those best instances that we writers always hope for in which an idea finds you and comes pouring through.

I was struck tonight by the words from Proverbs 3:5-6 — “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

When writing is going well, it truly is an experience of the Divine — a sacred experience. And so little of it seems to come from “my own understanding.” It’s a “trust-with-all-your-heart” thing all the way, and you just rejoice and give thanks when the paths are straight. A good (writer) friend once quoted this line to me from Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire, and I’ve kept it right here on my desk ever since: “God made me fast, and when I run I feel His pleasure.” That’s what it’s like as a writer, when you’re writing. Worries about your life and the future pale away to almost nothing, because you’re doing what you’re meant to be doing. You try not to get hit by cars when crossing the street, because you feel you have to live until you get this story finished. I suspect it’s something like the feeling a pregnant mother has when she’s carrying around a baby inside her. She knows what she’s supposed to do. The world is remarkably clear.

You may think this is all purple and hyperbolic, but it’s not, really.

Since we’ve talked about Anne of Green Gables — another line from it that has stayed with me through the years — and I’m quoting from memory here, so this will be inaccurate — is something like, “And, as usually happens when duty is looked squarely in the face, she had looked duty in the face and found it to be a friend.”

There’s a line at the end of The Untouchables spoken by Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness, in which he tries to put his role into perspective when he’s asked by a reporter to give a comment as “the man who got Capone,” the one who put Al Capone behind bars. Ness says: “I was just there when the wheel went ’round.”

I think that’s true for anything good we accomplish in life, writing or otherwise. But Stephen King makes the point in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft that you have to put yourself in that place where the ideas can find you. You have to show up at your keyboard or your notebook (or whatever your particular life’s canvas is). You have to be ready. Writing is a guy who may show up at that place, if he knows you’re going to be there and have the lights on and be hospitable.

That being said, I’m definitely not suggesting that we should sit through our lives waiting for inspiration to strike. Inspiration needs people who are in shape enough to handle the work — to open those doors and smash those fences out of the way. By the same token, you can turn out good, salable stories that are solidly crafted but not necessarily inspired. Nor should we worry too much about what is inspired and what isn’t. Is it a good story? — That’s the more important question.

So, anyway, keep thinking about what Eliot Ness says about being there when the wheel comes ’round. . . . I’ve been thinking this week about how some aspects of life move in circles.

1. As a kid, I read Cricket Magazine. Mom got me a charter subscription when the magazine launched back in 1973. I had the LP record album they put out in those years and practically wore it thin listening to it so much. I remember sending them a story when I was in my early twenties, which came back with a form rejection. I really hadn’t learned my craft well enough yet — the wheel hadn’t come ’round. A little over ten years ago, I started sending them stories they accepted.

2. As a kid, I was fascinated by the covers on the H.P. Lovecraft paperbacks in our bookstore — grotesque monsters with scales and tentacles and eyes in strange places. I would sit in the yard on long summer days, in long summer twilights, delighting in the smell of mown grass around me and the reek of noisome swamps and unspeakable crypts and squamous horrors emanating from the Lovecraftian tales. I used to look at the name “Arkham House” on the copyright pages, never dreaming that one day my own book would be published by Arkham House.

3. As a kid, and increasingly with every decade of my life, I read FATE Magazine. It was my dad’s favorite periodical. (Mom was all Cricket and The Smithsonian.) My very first professional acceptance was a non-fiction article I wrote for FATE back in the April 1998 issue. I still remember literally jumping around the room for joy when I opened their acceptance letter. That’s a good story in and of itself: I was living in Japan and got this idea for a wonderful surprise for Dad. I knew he looked forward to his subscription copy of FATE each month. So without breathing a word to my parents about what I was doing, I researched a mysterious phenomenon in Japan, took the pictures, wrote the article, and sent it off to FATE. That was during their “good” years, when they were doing the large-sized magazine instead of the little digest-sized one that they’ve done before and since. They accepted it, I got to experience being paid for writing (!!!), and the first my parents knew about it was when Dad starting flipping through his copy when it came in the mail. As I heard the story later, he kept repeating “I don’t believe it! I don’t believe it!” Then he asked Mom if there could be more than one Frederic S. Durbin teaching at Niigata University. “No,” she assured him, “that’s him.” When I talked to him, he asked me how I got those amazing pictures, and I was able to tell him, “With your old Minolta camera.” That was a very happy circle that came ’round — and I even managed to do it again a couple years later. (“There’s sure a lot of weird stuff in Japan,” Dad said the second time around. Yes, there surely is. Mom said, “You sure can keep a secret!”)

I still read FATE, by the way, and aside from the fascination and escapism, it yields some really good ideas for stories. I won’t tell you which ones — because I sure can keep a secret.

So . . . by grace, in the fullness of time, I got published in Dad’s favorite magazine, and then in Mom’s. And by august old Arkham House, the pulp-era book publisher that has endured.

There’s one more “circle” story: back in high school, I went to my first writer’s conference, held at Illinois Wesleyan University, a conference later known as the Blooming Grove Writers’ Conference. The fiction workshop leader that first time I went was Paul Darcy Boles. (I still use a quote from his workshop in my writing classes. I’ll bet you can find it back in the archives of this blog!) At that time he was a hale, white-haired gentleman with twinkling blue eyes. We discovered a mutual love of the movie Dragonslayer, and he read two manuscripts I’d sent in: one was a little Tolkien-derivative story, and one was the beginning of what later became The Threshold of Twilight. He liked the Dwarf in my Tolkien-derivative story — he said it wasn’t a “Disneyfied” Dwarf; he said I didn’t poke fun at my characters. About the Threshold piece, he said the only thing wrong with it was that it wasn’t finished. Very much the right things to say to a high-school kid wanting to write! He signed his wonderful book Night Watch for me with the words: “For Fred — A fine writer who knows about enchantment.” I learned a few years later that he had passed away. I’ve never ceased to be grateful for the early encouragement he gave me. (And to Mom, for taking me there!)

What makes that a “circle” story? Two things: one is that just last week I found his book Glory Day on-line and ordered it. He talked about it all those years ago, and the idea fascinated me, but I’ve never thought to try to get a copy. (During the years before the Internet, I doubt it would have been possible.) The second is that I’ve used the title for both a poem and for a  short story that I’m trying to whip into shape for Cicada but don’t really know how. The editors there liked it, but it’s really not a story yet — they’d like to see it again if I can figure out what the story is.

So I’m going to close out this post with a rather lengthy extract from that story (my story, not Boles’s) — because it’s appropriate for summer, and because it brings the Boles circle around — and because the title of this entry is “Reels in the Dark,” and this excerpt is about home movies and what they represent.

I’ll just say that this story is intensely autobiographical. The “John” character is me, and there’s almost nothing in this passage that’s made up. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

At full dark, the home movies began. John had long since become the projectionist, his dad having turned over all the equipment to him. But Dad still governed the proceedings, ensconced in his recliner. Dad’s movies were from the era of eight millimeter film, almost unheard of these days. Watching them was like traveling to the past in more ways than one. TVs, no matter how big they got, could never match the ambience of a darkened room, the whir of celluloid and sprockets, and the bright, flickering images on the tall tripod screen. Dad’s movies distilled the sunlight of long-past days, the green of vanished summers, the faces of relatives now old or gone.

The reel most in demand was a compilation of home movies shot over many years, spliced together in no particular order, one section even having gotten put in upside-down and backwards, with horses galloping in reverse in the sky, consuming their dust-clouds like living vacuum cleaners. Scenes of Mom and Dad’s courting blended with family baseball games (lots of swings-and-misses, and then a long, panoramic shot of a dozen guys searching for the ball in high weeds; but the dramatic hit that had sent the ball there was, of course, the one moment not captured). Picnics in the park gave way to more horses (these right side up); Dad looking like a movie star, young and straight; flowers in the park; and a Labor Day parade. Toward the film’s halfway point, there was a silver dot high in the sky, passing behind a transformer and power lines — an unidentified silver dot which never failed to generate obliging speculation from the audience about just what it WAS. Always Dad nodded gravely and knowingly in his chair, his gaze intent on the screen until the scene changed to the digging of the lake, which Dad had helped to survey.

“We saw more snakes than you’d believe,” Dad would say. “We tramped all through that bottomland, and I bet we saw a snake every twenty steps. They can hide anywhere there’s a blade of grass. Once some of the guys and I were sitting on the ground to eat our lunch. We were in a circle with our feet almost touching, and a snake crawled right out from between us. We never dreamed it was there.”

Dad told stories about the images in the same way every time, and the audience’s questions themselves followed a time-honored ritual. That, too, was a part of the enchantment of old silent eight as opposed to videos or DVDs. No music, no audio required the discipline of being quiet — not that any soundtrack could have competed with the cousins all together in a single room. The audio was supplied anew by the audience each time, viewers interacting with glimpses of the past.

It was almost, John thought, as if all the generations of the family were still here; as if those who had gone before somehow overflowed the screen and occupied the room’s shadowy corners, not ghosts but warm and chuckling presences, not morbidly returned from beyond but rather never gone in the first place — as comfortable and worn as the furniture, as solid as the bookcases, filling a space that must be filled for completeness, but unregistered in the sight.

There came shots of dogs, the wild fox cub Dad had found and cared for until it had been big enough to return to the wild, and then a full seven minutes of nothing but cigarette smoke in a sunbeam at the little house, where Mom and Dad had first lived when they were married — just cigarette smoke filling the frame, curling and swirling above an ash tray. “Now wait,” Dad would always say, holding up a finger. “Now watch. There’s a place where the smoke looks just like Aunt Opal’s face.” An obedient solemnity would settle over the group, and for a few minutes the summer night would take on a suggestion of chill. And this was the only point at which the movie litany varied. For sometimes Dad himself would miss the face, and would mutter, as the footage went on to other things, that somewhere in there Aunt Opal’s face was as clear as day; and at other viewings Dad would shout “There!” in triumph and point at the screen. And the kids in the audience would see only smoke, because they’d never met Aunt Opal; and a few of the cousins might give a start and cry “I saw her!” and rub at the gooseflesh on their arms. But whether Dad or anyone else saw or didn’t see Aunt Opal in the smoke, if anyone suggested rewinding and re-watching, Dad would say, “Oh, let’s go on. It’s getting late.” And even the most curious were secretly grateful, because the curling, drifting smoke was a little sinister.

Years ago, Dad had introduced the trick of running the film backwards in a certain part to the wild amusement of the audience. It was a scene of the cousins as kids, the oldest no more than ten, swimming in a plastic backyard pool. The ritual exclamations were always the same: “Look at Jack!”; “Look at my braces!”; “Can you believe I wore my hair like that?”; “J.T.’s trying to drown me — look, he keeps pushing my head under!” Interspersed with these lines came the frantic identifications of swimmers among all the splashing and submerging. “Is that you, Mom?” a little cousin would ask, standing up in front of the screen and reaching out a hand to touch the past — but blocking the very part of the image that held the most interest. The child would blend with the picture, its glowing colors projected on the hair and skin and T-shirt back, until everyone cried “Sit down!”

There would be the inevitable explanation for the young ones who hadn’t been there: “Dad threw in a bunch of nickels and pennies, and we were diving for them.” The “Dad” the cousins meant was Uncle Rick, and the film’s highlight was when he dashed across the yard in his swimsuit, the pool empty now of kids. Uncle Rick, all berry-brown and with jet-black hair, a scrawny Tarzan, dove into the pool, displacing a prodigious amount of water. At that point, John’s dad would switch the projector into reverse. The tidal wave would return from the lawn to the pool, and Uncle Rick would fly out backwards, land on his feet, and sprint away across the grass, receding into the distance. It was a delight that never grew old, when the whole group would shriek with laughter. This was what they came to see year after year, bringing new spouses, new girlfriends and boyfriends, new babies. In fact, the film had its identity in this scene: the request was always for “the movie where Dad jumps out of the pool,” as if it had been recorded that way.

Maybe the past, John thought, it what we make of it. Once it’s happened, it belongs to us, for our re-shaping. All these decades later, Uncle Rick’s jumping out of the pool was far more important than his jumping in. It was better-remembered, better loved. It became the reality.

John’s favorite part came just at the end, when the audience had had their fun, when the little ones were starting to fall asleep, and the moms were collecting baby bottles and socks, and the dads were jingling car keys. It was a slow pan across a front-yard Fourth of July party in a distant time. Distant, for the film, though it was in color, had a slightly washed-out look, and the cars in the driveway had fins like Batmobiles, and some of the old men wore straw hats or fedoras, and the women had Catwoman glasses with heavy black frames.

The scene always recaptured the crowd’s flagging interest and spawned arguments about who was under that tree, whether or not that car was Uncle Rick’s (Uncle Rick fiercely denying it if he were present), and whether that could really be Cousin Liz at the end of the table. (“When did Liz ever have hair like that?” someone would roar in genuine indignation.)

At the end of the pan, the camera would be pointing at the porch steps. Someone had set down a paper plate there, and the food on it was now being gobbled up by Tag, Dad’s matronly beagle. As the plate slipped to the ground and Tag hurried down the steps after it, the camera went back to the party.

What fascinated John even more than the long-ago people he’d never met was the yard, the trees, the buildings, and the background fields, all of which he knew intimately. Here, though, he was seeing them as they had looked thirty years ago, the landscape more open, the giant oaks younger, the barn roofs straighter-edged. He stared past the picnickers at the root cellar, its concrete dome free of the trees of heaven it now wore, whose roots were destroying it. He gazed in wonder at the ingrown gate — the last remnant of some dismantled corral fence. In John’s own time it was half-swallowed by the trunks of the maples against which it rested, but in the film, the gate was newly leaned in place, its boards smooth and solid.

Okay, wake up! Thanks for wading through a long post! As for comment direction this time — any comments are welcome — but some possible jumping-off points are:

1. Circles of life: tales of things in your own experience that have come full circle.

2. Questions about any of the above. I welcome questions.

3. Stories of things families do together: family rituals, celebrations, traditions, etc. Do you have your own version of the “home movie” experience?

4. Tales of your own “doing what you’re meant to be doing” experiences. Is it writing for you, or something else?

5. Theories on our interactions with the past. Is the past fluid, as John comes to suppose in this story? I think this could be a really interesting topic.


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6 Responses to “Reels in the Dark”

  1. Chris Says:

    As usual a very interesting post. And interestingly “timed” if you will.

    As must be obvious at this point I clearly don’t believe in some “raison d’etre” for people. Even as a believer I didn’t believe I was put here for any particular reason. I was once asked by a young woman on campus at grad school as I walked across campus if I believed in God. I did at the time and said “yes.” She then asked if she thought He had put me here for some reason and I responded “no.”

    I always felt that any reason I was here was up to me to create and implement. I wasn’t “preloaded” with some greater reason. No matter how comforting that thought would be have.

    But in true fashion of “spinning all the wheels back to start”, you write about FATE magazine, and I, as happenstance, just finished reading “Flim Flam” by James “The Amazing” Randi. It is a debunking of various fortean phenomena. He is a former stage magicians who has for decades worked with Committee for the Scientific Claims of the Paranormal exposing “paranormal events” and claims to that effect (usually psychics and the like).

    It is fun to think about the mysteries and, as we’ve talked about on this forum before, it is fun to have the dark places just off stage to provide some drama. But Randi sums it up best in the Epilogue of this book:
    “Parapsychology is a farce and a delusion, along with other claims of wonders and powers that assail us every day in our lives. Knowing what I do, and holding the opinions that I do, has not made the world any the less exciting and wonderful and challenging for me, nor should it for you. On the contrary, to know that you are an individual not put here for some mysterious reason by some supernatural means, and that you are not protected by unknown powers or beings; to know that you are the product of millions of experiments in the evolutionary process and no the result of a seed thrown on this planet by extraterrestrials–that to me is _very_ exciting. I am a responsible member of a race that reached out into space and walked on the moon, folks! In a small way I also walked there, and so did you. And I’m thrilled about it!”

    Personally what I was “meant” to do, apparently (since it is the only thing I actually ever _do_) is try to learn just a little bit about what I can. To explore the known world around me. Clearly I won’t make any breakthroughs in anything. But I love to look around and see what is here. It some amazing stuff!

    To that end I now add “Flim Flam” to the triumvirate of a skeptics library that should found the core:

    “Demon Haunted World” by Carl Sagan
    “Flim Flam” by James Randi
    “Why People Believe Weird Things” by Michael Shermer

    (Once again, thanks for a post that makes me think!)

  2. Catherine Says:

    I wonder if I have a tendency to comment on the topics/posts that deal with memory and the past. I know that as soon as I saw the last comment “prompt” I was already formulating things in my mind. But first things first. I liked this post, I liked the excerpt; thanks for it, Fred!

    I certainly think the past is fluid . . . after all, if we had no capability/tendency to “rewrite” what actually happened, then why are there so many different spins on history out there? Besides that, I know that my memory changes things to make them fit more solidly into place. My opinion of a particular person has changed quite a bit in recent years (for the worse, unfortunately), and I keep lamenting to myself that this person has changed, that things are different from the way things used to be. And certainly, they have. But I look back and I see the same sorts of things happening that happen now; and I wonder that I didn’t recoil at it the way I do now. Has this person changed or have I? And then of course I have to wonder if I’m retooling my memory to add support to my latest postulation that this person is not a fallen angel, but a human being who did not change all that drastically.

    Being an aspiring writer and a bit of a self-centered ponderer, I’ve given thought to what I write about the best. I’ve already noted that characters and relationships are what come to me first and lay themselves out most easily. The ones that fascinate me the most, however — I mean, the ones who stick in my memory and gain flesh and blood and will not rest even after I have tucked them away into an “okay” story — are the ones with “pasts”. All characters, of course, have to come from somewhere; but the ones who have actual articulate memories stay with me and have more of a life. My poor father, who has to read all of my half-baked ramblings, could tell you about the story that was half-memory and half-bad-story. The memory part was better; partly because of its subject matter, I suppose, which was better for me to write. My character’s memories are one-part fiction and four-parts my own memories, smoothed and tamed to fit the molds I’ve set out for them. I think that’s part of it: if my characters and I remember the same thing, then deep in our hearts we’re the same, and who doesn’t like to talk about him/herself?

    (I sometimes realize, when re-reading something, how my characters are actually too much like someone I know/know of in real life; it was totally inadvertent and shows either my observations or my fantasies of how this person acts/should act. It’s not always fun to discover. Then I bite my nails hoping that no-one else will see it and ask me about it. They never do. I should know better; I’m not THAT good of a writer . . .)

    Come to think of it, most of the time I feel most inspired to write when listening to music or in a setting that triggers a feeling rather akin to “sweet sorrow”. It always feels like someone’s pulling at something in my chest, but I think that’s because I know all the hackneyed and not-so-hackneyed clichés this culture has for wistfulness. The settings and the music, especially, remind me of some idealized time in the past, when everything was wonderful except for what wasn’t; a time that I can only return to if I have a character whose life envelops me so completely that I can’t look out the window without seeing her through the trees. (Always a her. My imagination isn’t up to snuff, either.) I have several such times to remember, and I actually play music to trigger their emotions more than anything. My best stories have been built upon trying to relive a memory, or gather the “essence” of that time that I never really had. The trouble is finding a character and a situation that gives the place a concreteness, something to describe. (I can’t describe simply essence alone. It’s like trying to describe wind on perfectly clean, perfectly flat concrete that is all you can see or feel or hear.) And then I run into the difficulty of trying to fit in the music that has conjured up the memory. I keep thinking that it HAS to be in there somewhere, at some point. Most of the time it creeps in, badly described and boring to read about. Recently I succeeded in keeping it out; though that was a new story I had written in an existing story’s world, like a sequel except that I ignored the old story since it was bad. The new story was good.

    And that’s much too much for now. I could go on and on about rituals and traditions, but I’ll only say two things. One, the most important ritual for me is the music that goes with seasons and weather and moods; I have to have the right music for the right time. It’s rather a private ritual, though my mother started it by saying that we could only play Christmas-themed CDs at Christmas. Two, whenever we watch my parents’ wedding video I always start rewinding it before turning off the TV screen, so that we see the bride and groom running stiltedly back down the aisle. My mother always says: “If we watch it backwards, do we get un-married?” I said that we’d find the backmasking message, that was it. And, oh, no, now I could start getting into all that Paul is Dead stuff . . .

  3. mileposter Says:

    I agree concerning the fascination in movies as compared to video, although I saw more movies at school than at home–we didn’t do movies. I did shoot a few myself, though, in later years, and had a friend who did. He, like me, enjoyed filming rail subjects, and one of his favorite things was to run footage of steam engines backwards, saying that now they were cleaning up the pollution in the air!

    • mileposter Says:

      Since there seems to be some interest (thanks, Fred!), I’m going to add some more to the little I wrote the other night. I didn’t really have anything like the total “home movies” experience. There were pictures around from the past, but there have been only a few times we’ve looked at them together. As for interactions with the past, our perceptions are certainly fluid. I’ve thought about that a lot as my mom and dad have been getting ready to move out of their house, in which they lived for 50 years, and where I did most of my growing up. I thought I might be upset more about their selling it, but I soon came to realize that the house was no longer the way I remembered it while growing up–too much has changed since then, both inside and outside. At any given point in time, whether present or past, there are a lot of different points of view–even inside our own selves. And as we grow and change, those points of view get shifted around. And the more we gain in the ability to create things, the more we tend to see the past through new sets of spectacles.

      “Full circle” and “doing what I’m meant to be doing”–hmm–well, I broke into the world of cycling in a rather unspectacular way, by coasting down the hill on our dead-end street on a neighbor’s bike which was far too small for me–but it made me comfortable enough to learn how to balance it. Finally I dared to ride it back up the hill, and I was off and running. I’ve thanked my parents several times for what they did next, but I have never really understood why they did, and I don’t think they do either. Quite out of character for our family, they bought me a brand new lightweight, 3-speed English bike for Christmas. That same Christmas they gave my brothers used American bikes–a heavyweight tank bike for one, and a smaller mid-weight for the other. That bike opened up a whole new world for me, riding to school–and with no particular supervision or time frame on weekends, all over the town. I taught myself how to work on the bike and add accessories. Particular adventures include the day the back fender jammed onto the tire, crumpling itself and locking the wheel at speed, quickly destroying the tire, and seriously damaging the set of saddle baskets I had so carefully installed. Then there was the time that I set off on a “trip to Ohio” (from North Carolina), and rode 18 miles, guzzling soda pop along the way and filling up my leaking front tire at every gas station–there were plenty then, and air was free. When I got back, I drank the entire quart bottle of cold water in the refrigerator before I stretched out on the kitchen floor and wished to die.

      Between then–June 1961–and the date I count as my entry into “today’s world”–July 4, 1995–there were long years without any bikes, and some with; finally came events ramping me up–the most important of which was my being assigned to a two-bus charter where the lead driver was a veteran Washington, DC man–and he led us to a souvenir stand on a side street where the drivers got ten percent of the take. He came back beaming to my bus as the passengers were getting on, and handed me an envelope with $125 in cash. I went back home and bought the bike which I rode to Washington, DC, from Pittsburgh, in 1997, and again–the same bike–in 2000. And when I rode that bike on the Illinois Prairie Path (one of the original rail trails) during my stay at Concordia River Forest (now Concordia University Chicago, heh, heh), I thought to myself: “This is for me.” But July 4, 1995 was the day I rode it from Milepost 19 on the Youghiogheny River Trail to Milepost 37, and back. That clinched it–in 1996 I rode from my house (near Milepost 7) to Connellsville (Milepost 58) and then from my house to Grantsville, Maryland. I figured after that I could ride all the way to Washington, DC.

      But “full circle”? Not yet in 1997, although I moved toward it when I bought my first van and started taking kids from my school on bike rides. It wasn’t until 2002 that I made the first tentative move toward tandems, after reading an article about it in an old magazine–I began to see how much better it would be that way–the Trail-Gator, fastening a little bike behind a big one, worked, but not very well. Then things started to happen in a big way–I built my own tandem, and then a triplet, with which I took several other people to Washington, DC with me for the first time in 2005. I’ll say the rest is history, and that the Mileposters stable now has ten bikes–mostly tandems–but including a convertible quint–a bike for five riders.

      And yes–doing what I’m meant to be doing. When I’m out on the trail with two or three kids behind me on one bike, that is where it’s at. I try not to let us get hit by cars as we cross roads–we have to make it to the end of the ride and our meal together at Wendy’s, where we enjoy each other’s company before we leave the wonderful world we’ve inhabited for a few hours and return to “real life.” While I’m doing this, of course, I’m completing another circle–from the first time I helped out with kids at a Child Evangelism Fellowship camp in high school, through Sunday school and VBS to 21 years of teaching, but now my present positions of homeschool teacher and summer caregiver for two marvelous kids, plus education director at my church. It’s a circle completion that has been worth waiting for. As Fred puts it, I showed up with my tandem. The rest was up to God. Thanks be to Him!

  4. Elizabeth Says:

    As a writer, I have to agree with Fred. There are days when I’m writing and I’m just going through the motions. The writing feels just like that. Then there are the days, and sometimes only moments, where the writing is flying. I feel how good it is and I belong to it, and it to me. I know who I am and I take pleasure in how wonderful it is to be in tune with myself, to be doing “what I am meant to do.”

    So, yes, I think we are each made for something (writing, dancing, music, sports, etc.) and that we feel great, perhaps even at times transcendent, joy and pleasure when we are doing that activity. If you don’t believe in God, or prefer to think of it in another way, then keep in mind our genes give us traits and abilities and that it would only be natural that we respond well to using those.

    I remember when I was thirteen going on fourteen, and while my father was at work, I sat every day for well over two (?) weeks in his office, at his old Apple II machine. I wrote a novel, an SF epic, typing madly as it scenes and events unfolded in my mind’s eye. I remember that the summer was very hot, and that I drank my father’s secret stash of Pepsi while I worked. I was so proud of myself when I finished, but I enjoyed the writing perhaps even more. The act of creation was addictive and felt right, better than right, it gave me shape and purpose. That was the summer I knew I more than I wanted to be a writer — I had become a writer.

    These days I (mostly) write on my MacBook, in the basement, at my desk, in my bed, out in the yard — wherever I’m in the mood. But I’ll drink my Pepsi and type and again, there are those days when I feel joy and I cannot write fast enough to keep up. There are also days when it’s like pulling my own nails out — but I keep up with it because of the good moments, and because, in the end, even the bad days are better than the days when I don’t write at all.

  5. SwordLily Says:

    Sorry guys, I meant to write for this amazing post so much earlier, but I was on vacation for the last two weeks and wasn’t on the computer much. Well anyway, here’s my comment:

    “The past is fluid” I never really thought of it in those specific words, but I believe in some ways that phrase is true. The past is changed by what one desires and what one fears. Time is also fluid. The present always meets up with the past and the future is always determined by the present moment as well as the past. The way we view the world is heavily influenced by the ways in which our parents and ancestors saw it. Everything, the past, the present and the future, flow into everything else to create the great river of time.

    I know what you mean by duty to writing, Fred. I think if anyone asked me the reason I wanted to be some kind of author I would say that I owe it to my characters to give their stories to the world. I may not be very good as expressing myself in writing but I need to keep trying because I owe to all those stories I have not yet written

    When I am writing at my best I always feel as if it can’t possibly be me putting those words together. I can never quite figure out where I go when I am inspired. It’s like suddenly writing is as easy as I always wanted it to be. Then suddenly that moment of inspiration is over and stringing words together is once again a task. Elizabeth- I know exactly what you mean by “There are also days when it’s like pulling my own nails out”.

    I get those moments more easily when I am listening to music. A tip of the hat to you Cathrine for mentioning the phenomenon of music first. I get frequently frustrated that almost all songs are only four or five minutes long because after those few minutes the magic fades. It’s not gone, but it’s not the same *sigh*.

    Yet, in the end, I always get inspired again. The wheel always comes around. I just have to make sure to be there when it does ^_^

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