Thursday, April 23, 2015

Unfinished Stories

'Nigh on twenty years ago, my mother gave me a book to read. It was called Outlander, written by a new author named Diana Gabaldon. She told me I'd enjoy it. She was right.

By her own admission noted on her web page, Gabaldon wrote Outlander by accident when she decided to write the book for practice to learn what it took to write a novel and decide whether she really wanted to do it. And now eight 900-page historical romance novels later, I guess she figured out 1) how to write a novel and 2) that she really did have a story to tell and really did want to tell it.

After the first three novels, there was a pause in her publications. The first three flowed easily together. The next books were different. For a bit, I thought the story just might be over. The historical elements dominated and clouded the tale and I lost some connection to the characters in the process.

Last June, Gabaldon published the eighth book in the series. I pre-ordered it. I owned the entire series in hardcover after all. But when I picked it up at B & N, I realized that I hadn't read book seven. And when I started book seven, I was confused by where I was. And therein lay the rub ... I was lost in a series twenty years in the making and my only recourse was to start over. So, last July, I posted on Facebook my intention to read all the books and I began at the beginning.

Now this is a HUGE commitment in reading. Each book is complex and, as I said, about 900 pages, give or take a few. And these pages are chock full of detail and description and stuff that make the reading "chewy." 

When I'd first begun the series, my focus was on the main characters -- for those of you who live under a rock and either 1) haven't read the books or 2) haven't heard the hype brought on by the Starz mini-series -- that would be Jamie and Claire. Then along came a daughter, Brianna and her love interest Roger. My first time thru, I lacked interest in that "subplot." That changed the second time around -- probably because I had kids of my own. As a parent, particularly of a precocious daughter, I saw things differently. Brianna and Roger became intriguing.

Several of the middle books began to read like a series of short stories pieced together. Convoluted. Disjointed. I lost interest and had to push though at times. The chapters were full of the mundane. But then -- I reminded myself -- isn't life like that sometimes? I found a different appreciation when I embraced that perspective and the characters' lives became a bit more ordinary. Made me a bit sad, though and I kinda feared their story had run its course. What more could there be to tell? Perhaps, after twenty years, the story was tired, complete, at an end. 

Then I started book seven, An Echo In The Bone. I was drawn in immediately. As I reached the final words on page 814, I wanted more right away. There WAS more to say and it was exciting stuff!

Made me reflective, that discovery. See, the best stories don't have endings. Our favorite tales don't truly have a final epitaph. Even as you turn that last page, you know there is more to the story ... it just may not be written yet. 

Take Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca. After the blazing of Manderley, Maxim and Mrs. de Winter had to go somewhere ... something happened next.

As Rhett marched out the door at the conclusion of Gone With The Wind, Scarlett was NOT done. After all, tomorrow was another day and she was not going to sit on those stairs forever. 

Even after seven books, Harry Potter's story continues as his kids go to Hogwarts and begin their own post-Voldemort adventures. I'm sure Harry, Ginny and their friends have things happening to them too. 

Our own lives actually unfold like the writing in a book. Sometimes you turn the final page and move on quickly. Sometime you have to wait for the next chapter to be written. Sometimes the pace is slow -- other times, fast. Sometimes characters come in for a bit and disappear until a later chapter. Sometimes they depart for good and you mourn their loss. Sometimes you write off a character and then they pop in later by surprise. At times, you just have to take a step back and allow time for the tale to define its direction and take its course -- that can take months or even years. Sometimes it may seem like the end but there's still more to say. You must be patient ...

If you think about it, our very lives are actually an evolving tale and not everything is already written -- thank goodness. What you think is an end may just be one of those Nancy Drew chapter cliffhangers with the resolution TBD.

And if our life is a book, then it's full of plot-twists with characters that we are close to and that change the scenario by their very presence -- whether they are on every page or featured now and then. But, like what happens to Jamie and Claire ... sometimes distance, disappointment, change, the mundane or even separation are necessary for the story. So we read on ... 

Oh it's hard to let our favorite characters go. At some point, Gabaldon will write a final novel about Jamie and Claire. But even if she does, I know that their story continues. The End doesn't stop my imagination from writing them an "and then ..." 

The Story goes on, after all. How many of us have said goodbye to characters in our lives only to encounter them again down the line? I personally was just inspired by an email from my best friend from high school ... and I don't think I've seen her in at least ten or so years. But, Tiffany's character still has a place in my own story. Still influences the plot-line even from a distance.

Over the years, many characters have disappeared only to reappear chapters later. I never write anybody out. Who can say what words will be written next in my own ongoing unfinished "story?"  What will happen next?  Only the Author knows ... 
                                                                                                   -- Jenni  

Thursday, April 16, 2015

A View From The Beach

On my recent vacation, I spent a lot of time at the beach. I love the beach ... the waves, the feel of the sand on my toes, the warm breeze off the ocean. The Beach has healing properties that no doctor or pill can duplicate. Perhaps this blog would better be called, changes in latitude, changes in attitude -- but Jimmy Buffet already trademarked that remark.

The View from the Beach is very different from my home view ... and, honestly, my home outlook. I think differently there ... I am different there. On the Beach, there is a calmer, simpler rhythm. On the Beach, there is less drama and more laughter, blending in with the sounds of gulls or the rolling surf. On the Beach, people are less uptight as high heels and laced dress shoes are replaced with flip flops and bare feet. Fewer people scrolling smart phones and more people fishing or shelling. It's acceptable to play or to sit on the ground, to catch nothing when you fish, to spend days with a book and/or beverage in hand.

On my recent vacation, one of my favorite moments was sitting on the lanai after an early morning rain in Key West. I was drinking hotel coffee -- you know the ones from those little ready-brew pods -- along with a sugar packet and powder creamer. I can truly say it might have been the best cup of  coffee I ever drank, sitting there looking out at a majestic magnolia, a banyan tree and numerous palm trees outside my tiny yet not inexpensive motel room near the southernmost point of the United States. 

I found myself smiling, reflecting, and celebrating the day as the sun came out from behind morning clouds -- my daughter lounging in the big queen bed inside. We were in Key West for two days and making the most of it. It was a place in Florida new to me. But there is an ease there -- to Key West -- that found its way into my soul. This rather gritty, casual paradise, with its many artsy shoppes, open air bars with piano men and acoustic guitar players crooning away all day and all night along with backyard restaurants (complete with families of chickens and palm frond floors) found its way into my soul. My blood pressure slowed and my heart rate eased.

What is that? How does some rather dirty old town street heated with 85 degree temps appeal to me so much? Is it the balcony-lined architecture? Is it the colorful flowers and palm trees? Is it the street vendors? Is it Darth Vadar playing the banjo and Spiderman playing a 3-stringed sitar? I can't say but this place has a way of changing my attitude -- of easing my mind and both relaxing and restoring my spirit. Why is it that flip flops and t-shirts and hair made wild by wind, salty air and humidity create an ease and acceptance to my pace? Why does beer (or rum runners) in paper cups taste so much the better than the fussier pints and glasses in my hometown Michigan establishments? Why am I more accepting as I recognize a more eclectic way of life, noting bars full of people imbibing even before Noon?

Why does the rhythm of life in this warm, tropical oasis change my outlook, inspire me and slow my rate of breathing? Why is it drama seems less here and smiles and laughter pop up easier? In this little 7.4 mile island crammed with tiny houses and roosters who don't know what time sunrise is but regularly let you know they are quite happy to see the sun, why does life just seem better here? 

And how do I pack up that feeling, at the end of the day on the Beach? How do I keep it going? As I wander around in shorts and t-shirts -- or my bathing suit -- the sun gently tanning my SPF 50 coated skin and kissing my daughter's face until freckles dot her cheeks, I feel peaceful, Content, Happy and very at Ease. I don't want to argue or debate or challenge the unique ways people view the world and act in it. I'm cool with it.  I am more accepting and less judgmental. Less apt to define life by my way of limited thinking. I sense the joy that comes from fewer demands and imposed expectations. In this place, there is a live and let live mood which allows the status quo to be whatever it is ... and that's fine by me. 

Sadly, I've discovered that my View from the Beach is different from my every day outlook. Guess that's a choice, my getting wrapped up, or stressed out or seeing drama at every dark or unexpected corner. My Type A personality kicks into gear, over-analyzing or regretting, getting caught up in "stuff" and basing my decisions and choices on the societal imposed way it's supposed to be and the way I'm supposed to be in it. Less freedom. More judgement and stress. Long live the status quo.

But, as I return from the Beach this time, maybe I can make a different choice. Don't have to wear flip flops or drink my beer from plastic cups to retain my Key West attitude because attitude and how I choose to look around is a choice. Maybe it's three years of yoga that helped awake this shift, all those sessions of holding difficult poses and choosing to allow the shaky me to embrace the idea that stress and challenges are temporary and it's how I embrace and deal with this moment that's really what is important. Or maybe it's the feeling I picked up on Duvall Street. But what I've learned and know is this...

When my tan fades and the pictures on my wall become more distant memories, I have a piece of Key West I can still hold onto ... my View From The Beach ... where the livin' can be easy. If we let it. If I let it. And when the drama or stress hits, I'm gonna to remember that.

What about you? Could you use a slower pace? A simpler rhythm? Just because you aren't on the Beach or walking around Old Town Key West, doesn't mean you can't find it. Put on some flip flops if you need physical inspiration. Take a walk in the sunshine. Breathe deep ... imagine that fishy, salty air ... the caress of waves and sand on your feet ... and choose your View ...
                                                                                                                                       -- Jenni