Nature and Novel-Writing

I LEARNED SOMETHING FUNDAMENTAL about perspective more than twenty years ago when my late mother-in-law was in the hospital with a series of complex medical issues. When the surgeon arrived in her room, it was with a swagger quite astonishing for such a chubby, short man. After briefly examining her swollen belly and theatrically flipping through her chart, he announced his decision to schedule surgery immediately.  Buck moved so quickly into the doctor’s space that the little man swayed backward. Buck spoke two words, crisply enunciated: “No knives.”  The surgeon blinked, put down the chart, and vanished.

Each of the medical specialists who were called in on the case had an internal bias about the solution when they came in the door. To the surgeon, the solution was a knife. The nephrologist insisted that Buck and I immediately tour the Dialysis Center to help prepare Lois for his recommendation. The cardiologist wanted to do exploratory angioplasty. The infectious disease specialist warned us that he was concerned she might have bacterial meningitis and urged us to race to her home and scrub it and ourselves down with anti-bacterial agents. He wanted to quarantine her room until lab test results were obtained.

In one of our absences from her room, a visiting Baptist had his own solution to her condition. He was so determined to save her 81-year-old Presbyterian soul that poor Lois roused herself from near coma to call for a nurse and have the presumptuous piss-ant ousted.

Well. That was a long time ago. Lois survived those encounters and went on to have a few sunny days before we lost her on June 15, 1995. My memory of her this morning is as sharp as that bright green leaf in the photograph. It stands out from the black and white background one expects from old snapshots.

Writing a novel is teaching me about perspective, too. When one gets involved in a project like this, almost everything appears to have extraordinary meaning that connects back into the writing.  Everyday events turn into metaphorical rune castings and tarot readings, heavy with symbolism, treasures I spirit away to my desk for further revelations.

Two days ago, I opened the sliding glass door from our bedroom onto a patio overlooking the pool. I stood motionless as soon as I saw a young hen turkey inside the fence alone. She appeared to be distressed, and was running up and down the fence line. I saw the rest of the flock of roughly twenty birds outside the fence, feeding and moving slowly on toward the woods west of the clearing around the house. It was then I heard two completely different calls: one from a turkey — possibly more than one — outside the fence; the other from the young hen who apparently thought she was trapped.

In her state of extreme anxiety, the hen paid no attention to me. A volley of calls to assemble with the flock and her repeated distress calls continued. She finally ran up the incline from the fence to the edge of the concrete around the pool, then back down again. Then she ran up the incline again, turned around, took a few running steps, then lifted off, easily cleared the fence and rejoined her clan. Moved by this display, I slipped back inside to stalk around the house and ponder.

I BEGAN TO THINK OF MY CHARACTER, GRACE, her mother, Claire, and the man Grace falls in love with, Jess. Grace never had a flock, Claire made a life-changing poor decision and left hers when she was still a teenager, and Jess belongs to a multi-generational flock that he fears is being displaced and he can’t do anything about it.  I realized with a pop of surprise, that I am writing about myself at different stages. Why should that be a stunner? And yet, it is.

8 thoughts on “Nature and Novel-Writing

    1. Ain’t it the truth. By the way, I’m almost over that once every 7 years (or so) upper respiratory thing that felled me like a lightning-struck pine for the past 10 days. Ma Nature telling me it will teach me a lesson when I stay up too late and get up too early day after day after day!


  1. Solution to the cryptoquote in today’s newspaper:

    If you can’t get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you’d best teach it t dance–Geo. Bernard Shaw.

    Gotta be a life truth, huh?


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