My Life In Trees

 
I don’t know how tall the tree next to the driveway really was, but it seemed like a giant to me.  I was five, and the streets of small-town California were my whole world.  I had already watched my father fall out of this same tree, but it didn’t stop me from loving it, from climbing up the little two-by-fours nailed to the trunk and stepping onto the branches and going higher and higher until it felt like I was all alone on the top of the world.  

Or, mostly alone, at least.  My brother was usually with me, just a branch or two below. Being two years older meant he was bigger and more cautious.  He told me not to go up too high, not to step out so far.  Naturally, I didn’t listen.  Do little sisters ever listen?  Not the stubborn, independent kind.  I don’t recall exactly, but I’m pretty sure that’s what brought on the dare.  Me venturing out too far, ignoring his warnings, no doubt bragging a bit that I wasn’t afraid.  If you’re so unafraid, he said, why don’t you crawl across the carport, over the roof, and down the porch rails on the other side?  

I dare you. 

It probably seemed like a safe dare, so outlandish that he could prove his point without fear of any danger.  Let’s just say he learned two things about me that day (and maybe that was when I discovered them myself): 1. I truly wasn’t afraid (not of things in the real world, at least) and 2. I would always take a dare.  

I held my breath on hands and knees the whole way across that fiberglass carport roof.  I scrambed nimbly and much more sure of myself over the sloping shingles of the house roof.  I was assailed by a moment of doubt at the thought of swinging my legs over the edge to climb down the porch, but the thought of that dare pushed me to action. 

I was just climbing onto the porch rails when my mother came out the front door.  Now that I am a mother, I am truly sorry for the heart attach I gave her.  Everyone was amazed.  Shocked.  Angry.  Terrified.  But amazed.  I was pretty impressed with myself, to be honest.  

I’ve been daring myself to do terrifying things ever since.

 
You know that girl will do absolutely any crazy thing. 

I still remember when I discovered the little stand of silk trees behind our neighbors’ houses. They were a whole land of imagination all by themselves.  We were really living in military issued housing, a tile-floored ranch on a little housing development plopped in the middle of some fields on an Oklahoma Army base.  But across that quiet street and behind that row of boring yards was a magical world.  

The branches swooped low and waved their fronds of fern-like leaves.  The blossoms were pink puffs of softness, perfect for decoration or for gathering to be woven into magical garments.  The long seed-pods hung down in clusters to be gathered for stews or to be stowed as provisions for all sorts of adventures.  Even now when I think of the endless private world of wonder that is childhood, of long afternoons outside, of skinned knees and twigs in my hair, of sun and shade and the smell of honesuckle, those silk trees are the picture I see. 

There I learned to create worlds and to be rich while owning nothing at all.  I played in those worlds alone and I also brought friends in to play along, only to discover that nothing seemed the same through someone else’s eyes.  So there it was that I came to the sad conclusion (childish, but then, I was a child) that I should always only hug my magical worlds close and keep them safe from prying eyes. 

 
For the record, this is the only time I can ever remember my mother holding a gun, but if those red pants and that pointed hood don’t say “doesn’t fit in this all too real world” I don’t know what does.

Later the tree was in our back yard.  For as much as it was my favorite place to be, for as many hours as I spent in its branches, I couldn’t now describe even a single branch to you.  I know it was off to the side, up against the neighbor’s fence.  I know that the bottom branches were low enough that I could reach up and, holding on tight, walk my feet up the trunk until my whole 13-year-old self could scramble up into the tree and disappear among the leaves.  I know that somewhere up above the roofline was the perfect forking branch where I could settle in, leaning back against the trunk and reaching up to the perfect little branch above where I kept the box.

I’m not sure when I thought to start keeping the box in the tree, but I do know once I put it there, it stayed there for a long time.  It was only an old cardboard shoe box, but inside I could keep a few treasures, things I thought were beautiful and should be stowed in a secret hideout in a tree.  A rock.  A pinecone.  A few faded flowers.  And a book.  Always a book that I could pull out and read, sitting on my branch, hidden from the world that contained middle school and poufy bangs and acid washed jeans.  

I could just be me, in a tree, where things were green and other lands were just a page-turn away.

How did that book get wet? my mother asked.  Did you leave it outside?

I just nodded, not wanting to explain that I hadn’t really considered the ineffectiveness of a cardboard box as protection against the Oregon rains.  But the book dried out.  And I loved it all the more because it had had its own treetop adventure.  

It turns out a book can take you away from your adolescent self and drop you in someone else’s life and also be a wrinkly-paged reminder that rains will change you but never stop you from being who you are inside.  

Not long after, I sat up in that tree while a gentle rain fell down and felt that life was a pretty beautiful thing after all.

 
It was an awkward time.  You would have hidden in a tree, too.

 
The Indiana tree was miles down the road, tucked away in a park only a few a locals ever visited.  When I just had to get away, to be out of the dorm life of college friends and the pressures of trying to be someone grown up and headed somewhere, I sped down the country road to the empty park and stared at the lonely little trees and breathed.

Breathing really only works when you’re looking at trees.

Then I would drive back, get on with life, be social again and enjoy the thrills of becoming.

As college neared its end, the panic began to grow.  The visits to the out-of-the-way park became more frequent.  The breathing became more determined.  

One day in a burst of desperation I got out of the car and strode over to the nearest little tree.  With great difficulty, I pulled myself onto the bottom branch.  I scraped my leg.  My shoulder ached.  I climbed one branch higher and had to stop.  I wasn’t sure the poor tree could handle my weight.  I stood there, clinging to the trunk, feeling huge and awkward, and it hit me.  

I was a grown-up.

Without trying or achieving or performing any sort of ritual, I just was what I was.  An adult.  Too big to climb little trees.  

A wave of sadness came over me.  I couldn’t be as light and care-free as I once was.  I was all grown up now, weighed down to the earth, confined to the realities of my real-world age and size.

And then I relaxed.  The breathing got easier.  Because just living had gotten me here to this place, so just living would get me through it.

I got back in my car and went back to my living.  

A few short weeks later I sat in a different car looking at that same tree when the man who would become my husband gave me my first kiss.  The tree waved in the wind, just being a tree, not trying to be anything else.  

All felt right with the world.

 

I wanted to go on and on. There are probably half a dozen more significant trees in my life. But time is short and memories are hard work. Thanks to Lil Blue Boo for the idea. It gave me an excuse to think about trees, which is another way of saying, it made me happy. More of life should be spent on things like remembering trees. Especially since, as you can see, I have no pictures of those places. This is my snapshot, probably as poorly lit and unevenly colored as all old snapshots are, but what’s the use of memories if not to be slanted in just the way you want them?

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Announcements, Announcements, Annou-ouncements

You know you’re singing the song now.  You’re welcome.

This is a special one for those (few, loyal) of you who have been waiting for Book 4 of The Book of Sight series.

We have a release date!!  And a title!!  And we’re ready to tell you what it is.

Ready?

I’m proud to announce that Book 4, The Poisoned Cure, will be released on Sept. 8, 2015!

Yes.  The Poisoned Cure 

You’ll understand when you’ve read it.

And yes, Sept. 8.

Not at all coincidentally one year after the release of The Secret Source.

Not at all coincidentally my birthday.

And if you haven’t read Books 1-3, you still have time!  Click the links over there to the right and get your copy in ebook or paperback.  They are a quick and fun summer read, so the month of August is the perfect time.

Stay tuned for the cover reveal for The Poisoned Cure, coming very, very soon!

(You guys are going to love it.  It’s my favorite one yet.)

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Storytelling Aids: Sticker Fun!

I have a houseful of children this week, as we’ve added four friends to the mix for a few days.  (That makes seven, if you’re counting.)  So far, it’s been a pretty great time, but there isn’t much left over for writing, so I’ll keep this quick.

Just wanted to share with you all this fun little packet of stickers I found at Wal-Mart last week.  The second I saw it, I knew I had to have it.

  
See that little fox?  That was the true selling point.  That and the $3 price.  So much cuteness.  I brought it home, thinking of fun storytelling times with little girls (did I mention the houseful of children?) and then I had to spend two days beating my daughters off with a stick until I had time to take a couple of pictures.  As soon as I took these, they went to town.

It has two little backgrounds to work with:

  
And then four pages of darling little stickers to make all the action:

 
The orange racoon!  The pink fox!  The funny little frog thing!  The hedgehog!  I don’t know what adventures they’re all going to get up to, but if there isn’t some fighting over apples and falling off of logs, I’ll be disappointed.
The stickers themselves really do appear to be reusable, can be peeled off and moved around and rearranged, which is perfect for storytelling.

Three dollars, people.  Just thought you should know.

And happy last week of July!  Next week we’ll be going back to school, so this houseful of children will drop from 7 to 0, at least for a few hours each day.  

Oh, glorious quiet!  Oh, tremendous pile of work.

See you all then!

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Denouement

  

Cinderella married the prince, attended by all her woodland friends and congratulated by the entire kingdom.

And they lived happily ever after.

They really did.  Happiness stuck with them all their days.

But he had to admit it didn’t really look like he thought it would.  

She was wonderful, of course.  Lovely and intelligent and kind and, by some miracle, in love with him and not just with his crown.  Who wouldn’t be happy with a wife like that?

It’s just that happiness, it turned out, was so much work.

They had hopes and dreams, plans for what they wanted to build in their kingdom.  They wanted to see to it that their kingdom was just, that everyone was treated equally and had all their needs provided for.  They wanted to see to it that their kingdome was beautiful, with roads in good repair and green spaces available to all and art of all kinds being created often.  

So they worked tirelessly to learn to know their people, to create fair laws, to set up systems to provide for the poor, to patronize artists, to fund the building of roads and parks.  It was happy work.  They could be together.  They could end each day with a sense of accomplishment.  Their people loved them.

It was also endless work.  No matter how many injustices they righted, there were always more that had been missed.  No matter how many buildings they restored, there were always more that were crumbling.  At times it was hard not to despair.

Of course, even in this sense of forever incompleteness, he had her by his side, so in spite of the nagging sense of failure, his life was still, in its essence, happy.

Then came the children.

Of course, they had children, first of all for love but also to have a new generation to carry their dreams and accomplishments on into the future.  And the children were wonderful.  They were a constant source of joy and pride.  They added new depths to the happiness of life.

It’s just that children, it turned out, were so much work.

They needed care every day, of course, but that was only the beginning.  Their every lovely quality had a corresponding pitfall that must be faced on a daily basis.  The boy, so spirited, so determined, so hardworking, could be stubborn and willful and disdainful of others.  The girl, so creative, so luminous, could be thoughtless and careless of others.  Their emotions, so intense and powerful, were a force to be reckoned with, a force that could be turned to good or to destruction.  

So their parents worked tirelessly to show love, to teach restraint, to model a mature life.  It was happy work.  They could be together.  They could see the slow progress of good in their children’s lives.  Their children loved them and were happy.

It was also exhausting work.  Though some days ended in a sense of accomplishment, many ended with a sense of failure.  A good many days never ended at all, but extended straight through the night.  This did not bring out the best in either the prince or Cinderella.  For every charged moment successfully navigated, there was a corresponding one that left them all in doubt.  And there would be no end to these moments.  They stretched out to the horizon in endless years of dangerous waters.

Of course, even in this sense of high stakes, of walking a tight rope above a pit of alligators, he had her by his side, so in spite of the nagging worries, his life was still, completely, happy.

It’s just that happiness was not the same as bliss.  Happiness emcompassed highs and lows.  Happiness grew up amidst anxiety and discouragement.  Happiness dripped with sweat.

He wouldn’t have traded it for anything.

For this happiness was not just a fairy-tale illusion.  This happiness was real.  This happiness was built to last.

Ever. After.

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Monday Morning Treasure

Only two week of summer break left!  We are busily cramming in as much swimming and sunning and playing with friends as we possibly can.  We are really good at cramming.  We want to be sunsoaked and happy and pleasantly tired as we head back to school to be serious again.  I think we’re going to achieve that goal.

  
In the mean time, we still have the gentle summer mornings: the sleeping in a little later, the sitting in the window seat and reading for an hour before getting down to the business of the day.  Some of that reading has been really grave and disturbing lately.  The world is a difficult place.  

Here is a smattering of other things, though.  Things to stimulate your mind and lift your spirits.  We’re not ignoring the harsh the realities, but we’re giving ourselves permission to take a break.  After all, that’s part of the beauty of having these kids.  We work hard to give them a safe and happy childhood, a sunny summer to remember as they slog through the hard work of living the rest of the year.  And while we give it to them, we get ot briefly enjoy it, too.  Let’s take it all in.

  • Have I showed you this yet?  Cheap books!  What could be happier than that?
  • I should probably be embarrassed by how much I enjoyed this, but I’m not.  Good-night, Dune.  Brilliant.
  • These are beautiful and haunting.  The fact that they are also ground-breaking is just a bonus.  
  • Now I want to make my own list of beautiful lines.  There are just too many to choose from…
  • This.  Motherhood is wonderful on so many levels, but this.  This is why I wanted to do it in the first place.
  • NASA will always be a favorite, but it was the comments on this post that made my day last week.  Somehow this distant planet has an actual hold on our hearts.  Humans are funny creatures.
  • I can’t decide if I particularly love any of the words they’ve invented, but the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows deserves a read for its name alone.
  • Have any of you read this book?  I really want to see the movie, and I keep reading that the book is amazing.  It’s definitely on the list.
  • Also! Our copy of Go Set a Watchman came yesterday.  I can’t decide if I’m excited or terrified to read it.  Are any of you already on it?  Thoughts so far?

Enjoy your Monday, everyone, and soak up that summer while you can.


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Off the Shelves, Week 2

The need for the library is only growing, at least here in Indianapolis, where rain is making all of our gardens grow and flourish to a degree none of us will ever get to enjoy, as we will all be locked up in an institution after our constantly fighting children cause us to snap. 

What?  I’m fine.  Really.

Really.

Um…let’s look at some books, shall we?

  
This first one is for the littles among us.  I absolutely love books with imaginative stories told mostly in pictures.  Before learning how to read, all three of my kids loved to flip through books on their own and “read” the story they saw in the pictures.  This book would be ideal for that.

   
 As you can see, there are some words, but there are many pages without any words at all, and it’s such a lovely simple little imaginative story.  Super fun.

And for the slightly older among us, a little spin on the fairytales.

  
This whole story is told back in forth in letters from various fairy tale characters.

  
I love it when someone comes up with a creative new format.  This is fun conceptually, fun visually, and it weaves a new story across several fairytales.  What could be better?

Except sun, I mean.  

I’m happy to report that the forecast says today will be sunny!  So we’re putting books aside and going swimming while we can.  

We’ll be back at the library tomorrow during the next round of thunderstorms, though, so I’m sure I’ll have a fresh new crop of fun finds for you  next week.

Assuming I’m still sane, that is.

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Supine

  
Here I am and here I’ll stay
My skin warmed by the sun’s fierce rays
I hear the buzz of insects’ play
I breath the sweet, fat summer day
Merge with the ground on which I lay
As hours pass by as they may
I let my mind just drift away

Here I am and here I’ll stay

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Echoes

It’s funny how the stories stick with you.

How they’re buried deep down inside and you don’t think about them for years until the moment life rips you open and through the jagged tear you see light streaming out and when you lean in close you can see the story glowing. 

How they fill your mind with adventure and excitement and laughter, all of which fade quickly, leaving only the truth echoing around in your heart, ready to catch your ear when you least expect it.

When I was a kid, one of my favorite series to read all my own was, unsurprisingly, The Chronicles of Narnia.  I probably read each one of those books at least eight times.  What might be somewhat surprising is that my clear favorite of all of those books was The Horse and His Boy.  That one never gets the attention it deserves. 

I loved it for the simplest of reasons.  It was a great story.  All the classic elements.  Boy is mistreated, finds out his horrible father is not really his father, runs away from home, takes up with talking horses, meets a princess, saves the day, falls in love, finds out he’s really a king. What’s not to love?  Also, it’s funny.  At least, to a nine-year-old.  So I read it over and over, thrilled at the adventures, felt satisfied at the ending where everyone gets what he or she deserves.

It wasn’t until much later that it came back to haunt me.  

I was thirty.  It had probably been ten years, at least, since the last time I’d read that book.  I lived in a slum in Argentina, and everything was going wrong.  People I’d been trying to help were being lost on every side.  Some were lost to terrible decisions, some to anger, and then some were actually killed, tragically, unepectedly. On we worked, trying to hold things together, to save what could be saved, to keep everything from falling apart, and just when I felt I’d performed some heroic feat of self-sacrifice, something new would be needed.  I remember the day someone showed up on my doorstep with a new horrible story (the tragic drowning of a small child), a new desperate request (an all-night wake with a hopeless family).  I remember saying to my husband, “It’s too much.  I don’t have anything left.”  He could only say that he felt the same.

But there was this echo.  It sounds a little silly, but it wouldn’t stop tumbling around in my head.  This:

  
Shasta had just run, as far and as fast as he could to save himself and his friends and bring warning to the King.  He thought he had made it to the end of his journey.  But then it wasn’t.  He had to run more.  No one else had to do it.  It was completely unfair.

“But all he said out loud was, ‘Where is the king?'”

Just that.  Okay.  What do I have to do? And then he ran.

If you do one good deed, your reward usually is to be set to do another and harder and better one.

Echo, echo, echo.

I carried on.  One step at a time.  Inspired and challenged by a silly story I read when I was a child.  

Because I had read the end of the story.  I had seen him run past endurance, get lost in the fog, nearly fall off a cliff, find himself landed in a battle that was beyond his skills.  I had seen him do the next thing and the next thing  until it all came out the way it was supposed to in the end. 

And I recognized with my grown-up mind what I had decided in my little girl heart all those years ago.

I wanted to be a hero like Shasta, and heroes run on.

I ran on.  

With the echoes in my head, I ran.

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Off the Shelf

It’s summer, and we’re barely breathing.  Swimming, picnicking, playing with friends.  And then there are the trips to the library.

Oh yeah.  It’s summer reading time, and hello, selection.

  
So many books!  So many colors…so many words…so many silly pictures.  (Quick side note: how insanely amazing is it that in our country we have access to this kind of awesomeness for free? Talk about wealth! When I count my blessings, this is in the top ten, easy.)  

How do you even choose? 

If you’re anything like me, you walk in, herd the kids through the fun of admiring the fish in the tank and playing for a few minutes on the computers and then you grab some books randomly off the shelf and get yourself home.

Please tell me you’re something like me.

My older kids are getting pretty good at browsing for themselves now, but this is stil my go-to move with the six-year-old. And believe me, we have brought home some seriously weird books with this method.

  
Can I be honest and say that I’d rather not have any books that are trying to teach my kids things?  I mean, I want my kids to be brave, but could we at least be a little subtle about it?

Also, I’d like to confess that I avoid ones that remind me of old Coke commercials.

  
But! Now that I don’t have to spend every second of library time worrying about where my kids have gotten off to, I have time to browse the shelves more thoroughly.  So I thought in the next few weeks I would bring you a few true gems that I found by just randomly pulling things off the shelf.  This week I have two great ones for you.

Ready? Here we go.  

  

Have you seen these Pig in a Wig books?  This is my first, though apparently it’s a series? It’s an early reader, and I’m super excited to have Lucy read it.  Because it really is simple, but it’s also fun.  If you haven’t taught anyone to read lately, you can’t know how rare that is.

Check it out:  

See? Simple.  But with each, page, more silly rhyming things get in the boat.

  

And it keeps going, getting more silly and wonderful with each page.  This one is a winner.

Next up:  

I mean, the title.  The warning at the bottom.  I’m already hooked.  But then you open the cover.

  

It’s like Wes Anderson made a book for kids.  The trees in the dome! The stowaways in the water tank!  And any book that uses the word “larder” is  book for me.

  

A nice Star Trekish adventure done in this psuedo comic book style makes for a book that entertains my older kids as well as the youngest.  I hesitate to admit it, but the story itself barely matters at this point.  Though a story about searching for mystic space nuts is bound to be pretty good.

Go online and reserve these ones now, and they’ll be waiting on a shelf with your name on them the next time you herd your littles through the library.  Because technology rocks. 

And we’ll be back next week with a few more gems.  And the week after that.  And the week after that.  

And then the kids will go back to school. And we’ll all take a deep breath.  
  

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Bombinate

  
It seemed like a good idea at the time.

When MegaCorp first rolled out their hum-activated bracelets, people flocked to buy them.

Both stylish and functional, the Buzzlet looked like a slim piece of jewelry and functioned like a portable computer.  Set to recognize the pitch and tone of its owner, each Buzzlet could be operated with a series of buzzes and hums.  Turn it on with a hum so soft no one but you could hear it! Call your mother with a quiet buzz!  A range of notes to play music, to search the internet, to record a conversation, to add something to your grocery list, or even to turn up the heat on your thermostat or open your garage door!

Interacting wordlessly and handsfree with the device that runs your life seemed like an elegant solution to the conflict between convenience and privacy.  The world was in love, and the object of its desire was a narrow metal cuff.

Soon everyone was walking the streets humming softly under his breath, driving along buzzing and chatting, issuing harsh bleats of wordless frustration in moments of stress.  It became nothing to see children sitting next to one another chatting via texts in a series of vibrating tones.  It was like a secret language had blossomed over night.  

Just as the Buzzlet became so inexpensive that it had spread to every corner of the globe, the side effects began to appear.

At first it was a few isolated cases.  The woman on the buzzing street corner who suddenly stepped out into traffic and was almost killed.  The child who nearly burned his humming parents to death when he intentionally set fire to the house. The couple who smashed their Buzzlets right before completing their murder-suicide pact.

It was easy to dismiss these as fringe events.  The world had always had crazies, people who seemed perfectly normal until the day they snapped.  Those who tried to draw attention to the Buzzlet connection in each case were ridiculed as nay-sayers and Luddites. 

The number of incidents increased over time.  Soon anti-Buzzlet cults rose up and even the world-famous Church of the Silence, which became known for its sound-proofed meeting chambers and members who walked the streets wearing noise-cancelling headphones. 

None of this stopped the popularity of the Buzzlet, however.  If anything, these protests were a kind of free advertising, and there were rumors that MegaCorps encouraged some of its high-profile detractors to speak out. Anything to keep the world talking about the Buzzlet.

Scientists had taken notice of the upswing in violence and began to conduct studies.  A few were well-funded, but many were condemned to obscurity until the Greenfield case brought them out of the woodwork.

George Greenfield was a respected senator from a wealthy New England family.  He was an early adopter of the Buzzlet and became known for interrupting high-stress debates on the floor with loud buzzes, ostensibly for taking notes but also conveniently distracting for his opponents.  Of course, others copied this strategy, necessitating new rules for Senate debates.  But even once use of the Buzzlet was banned from the chamber, Senator Greenfield continued to wear and use his Buzzlet prominantly, right up until the day that he brought a homemade bomb to a meeting on the hill and blew up two senators, three lobyists, and an unknown number of aids.

Suddenly the media was flooded with scientists touting their studies that hums and buzzes activated more than a computer chip.  Certain centers in the human brain were also agitated by these noises, they claimed, and over time this agitation built up into uncontrollable violent impulses.  Studies were still in progress to understand exactly why or how it could be countered, but in the mean time, scientists cautioned against use of the Buzzlet until more data had been collected.

Of course, MegaCorps produced its own scientists to debunk these findings.  They spoke at length about neurons and synapses and sound waves, muddying the waters just enough to keep public opinion divided.  The majority of people, by now completely dependent on their Buzzlets, carried on as normal.

The world was full of buzzing.

As always happens, there came a tipping point.  Naturally, it was in August, one of the hottest Augusts that North America had seen in decades.  Some have argued that the heat contributed to what happened.  Others say it was just coincidence.  It scarcely matters now.

All that matters is that in a matter of weeks, forty percent of the population of the western world turned from average citizens into berserkers, full of violent rage.  Homes were destroyed.  People were slaughterd in their places of work. There were massacres in the streets.  

When the violence had finished running its course, the population was decimated and the humming was silenced.

The world was full of silence.  

Those that remained to rebuild found that they had very little to say.  

And the bees, which had begun to die out in the world humans had created, thrived again and buzzing was left to their domain.

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