People read my newsletter, see posts on social media, and assume (I think) that a job at hand is a full time gig. I love my work at Xavier University, but it doesn’t consume all of my time. Nor does book coaching or the clientele seeking transitional help. My workshops, I master like the rest of my time. But there are times when describing the various pursuits, that I apologize and say, “I have doer-A.D.D.” What I don’t say is that it was difficult, even as a young person, trying to fit into a work-a-day world of Nine to Five.
I’m a creative. People of my ilk are not married to one thing; not our families, our friends, our jobs. We are always investigating pathways to bring about some sort of change. It may appear that I'm busy with 8 hours a day of coaching or 8 hours a day of preparation for a memoir workshop, not to mention anything of my writing projects. Our large family can be a source of amusement for me and will fill up time as well. How did I fit a trip to Canada with old friends into the mix of being present to others and true to myself? It leads back to my choices. Of course, a bit of time management skills is a plus.
I use a tool for mapping out my characters in a piece of fiction. It starts with the protagonist in the center. Surrounding that character are bubbles with people’s names in them. Lines are drawn to other bubbles where the character might interact with someone else. In the process triangulated stories or subplots appear with outlying characters. It becomes this way of understanding that in the course of telling the story all roads lead back to the main character.
I invite you to think about the various pathways in your life. Who do you touch and who touches you? How do you manage the stories that populate your map? Why and what matters to you? In the visual of a map, you can begin to understand how you effect change in the world and in yourself.
Oh Canada, Like Holy Wine
Me and Chicken Little had a thing going on shortly before I left for a much-needed vacation to the wilds of Canada. My older brother, who lives in California, tested positive for Covid in late September. In his oxygen-deprived state, he refused to go to the hospital. I vacillated between my assigned role of next-of-kin and taking care of myself. I-am-not-enough anger rose in me as I slipped once more into a savior complex which I’d played out many times before, first with my mother, then our older brother.
A song looped in my head: should I stay or should I go, cue guitars. My family and friends must have gotten sick of my morose, angsty ramblings about what if he dies, as I imagined my brother laying breathless in his apartment, while police swore he wasn’t home. I knew better.
From the Midwest, through text messages and phone calls, I became acquainted with my brother’s community, something he would never let me in on prior to this. His friend met an ambulance at his Mojave Desert home, and convinced him to go to the hospital. His church leader called in various members to ensure he would be taken care of in the hospital. And, I decided to go to Canada.
A week of solitude among tall trees, forests ablaze with color, and lapping up the unconditional acceptance by old friends, gave me renewed hope and focus on what matters. I came home knowing I will love my brother from afar as he has loved me for so many years. I will remember that I didn’t cause his infection, his shortness of breath, and I have no way of changing his path.
The only path before me is my own. It is bright with hope as my brother moves to a post-acute center to wean him off of oxygen, give him physical therapy, and resume his life; one of his own choosing 3000 miles away from me, maybe. I stand ready to change the course of my thinking should he need something more from me, and I do so out of love, not duty.
Soft-footed steps on beds of pine needles, golden leaves that fall like a gentle snow, and silence broken only by the swish of a crow’s wing cutting the air above fed my soul while in Canada. There was no one to save, no need to put aside my desires. The deep learning from this is that I didn’t cause my brother’s situation, I can’t control it, nor can I change it.
Mapping Your Characters: Fiction and Memoir
My office has a white wall blank of anything but the butcher paper I often tape to the wall in order to begin to detail the characters in my writing projects. When there are numerous characters and plot points, a map of the characters’ interrelationship and appearance in the story can help to get straight in your head who does what and when.
I find it most helpful to first list the story line or the date line to see how the story plays out over time. Then, it’s about listing who is in each of the data points and a brief not as to why they appear there. From there, I draw bubbles of people who connect to one another and that sometimes can become like a spider web. It might look something like this image taken from http://writeonsisters.com of the map of Pride and Prejudice.
The process can be daunting so I offer another format of storyboard and index cards. While creating your story, it may be necessary to move your plot points and characters around to various parts of the story. Index cards on a storyboard are an easy way to visualize pathways that may work for you without trying to recreate a map every time.
Don’t be afraid to try either of these formats. They both have a purpose in your creative process.
In September we had a one-day workshop on Memoir packed full of information to clarify the guiding principles of the genre. In a large zoom class, it was encouraging to see attendees from other parts of the country outweighed participants from Cincinnati. Online classes have become a successful way to stabilize and grow the organization along with the craft classes.
While no dates have been announced yet, look for an 8-week class starting in March.
If you live in Greater Cincinnati, would you have interest in an in-person class in 2022. If so, please get in touch with me by email or private message on social media. A number of individuals have expressed an interest in safely meeting at a convenient location. I am in conversation with 2 separate venues and will keep you posted.
Someone’s In the Kitchen with Ina
The wishbone from last year’s turkey is in a bowl on a shelf in the kitchen. My hand has passed over it several times in the past year but I’ve not thrown it away because of one fact. During last year’s Thanksgiving dinner, at precisely 3:05 p.m., I received word from my son that his daughter was born. I had not seen them for weeks because both he and his wife had contracted Covid. I would not set my hands on that little baby for another several weeks. And so, when disposing of the carcass, I harvested the wishbone; the memory of my own small hands pulling at another wishbone against my grandmother’s older, wiser hand.
We count our blessings that everyone survived mostly unscathed from Covid and the birth of Eloise Marie. By Christmas time last year, I had devised a plan for safely celebrating our traditional Christmas Eve gathering. We wrapped gifts, made beef tenderloin as usual, baked cookies, and decorated our tree. The only difference was that our friendly Grinch, a.k.a. My husband delivered the packages early in the day to doorsteps all over town.
This year will be different. The wishbone waits for Eloise to test her fortunes when she might understand it better. But for now, we celebrate the goodness of a family that has survived another year of isolation and illness with only minor issues.
What Does the Future Hold
The last couple of months have brought dramatic change to my life. I’ve had to roll with some punches that I didn’t expect. I’m looking forward to the Winter Solstice with more curiosity these days as I’m taking a class in Astrology. I’m a child of the Sixties and the Fifth Dimension’s Aquarius pops into my mind every time I think of the term.
However, beyond that, I believe our world is filled with energy we can’t quite see, but feel the presence of something beyond ourselves. As I learn more, I’ll share more. Things such as what impact growing up with three Sagittarius had on me, or why I gravitate toward Cancers for long term relationships. How is it that two of my children were born Virgos and one an Aquarian, my moon sign. I’ll keep you posted on what I learn. Should prove interesting.
Until next time:
Read, write, practice kindness toward yourself and others.