Reflection

Nuit Blanche

Nuit Blanche . . . White Night—French for sleeplessness. It sounds almost celestial, doesn't it? A vast, shining stretch of emptiness, a field of untouched snow, a freshly laundered sheet floating over a soft, welcoming bed.  

Mais non. A nuit blanche is a very dark, lonely sort of hell. But it is inevitable, this desperate return jet-lag, the body crying for food, coffee, bright lights, a farmers' market, a castle reach at the most inconvenient times.

 

Wide awake at one a.m. the day after our arrival, with just a handful of restless hours of sleep in reserve and still trembling from the stress of twenty-four hours of travel (white-knuckle driving in Paris morning rush hour traffic; white-knuckle queuing in a snaking line of hundreds for a flight leaving in two hours; white-knuckle bouncing along jet streams in a hot, cramped metal tub; white-knuckle winding through dark forests to return at last to our windswept island), I crept downstairs to the moonless dark of the living room—littered by luggage and still chilled from our absence—to wait out the nuit blanche with a movie and hot, buttered toast.

 

The afterglow of our journey lit my way and warmed my skin, freckled and peachy from days of hiking in the Dordogne. The region, resplendent in its sultry, tempestuous arrière-saison, had graced these fortunate travelers with October sunshine and a few welcome splashes of cleansing rain. I powered up the slide show function on my Nikon and took another journey, this time with knuckles unclenched.

 

I had fretted and fretted about this trip, shredding myself with worries about money, my flight claustrophobia, our sick cat, the resurgence of an Icelandic volcano, pilot strikes in France, not writing, oh, the list of the legitimate and the bizarre goes on and on.

 

The unfolding of my heart and mind, the releasing of the tension that had built since we hit 'Confirm Purchase' on those airline tickets back in April, began the moment we landed and continued as we explored anew, physically and intellectually, this place that means so much to us, to our individual and joined pasts, to our future.

 

But it was the present that captivated me, for I finally allowed myself to revel in it. My senses were gleefully pummeled by the taste of duck confît, the sight of pre-historical troglodytic dwellings beneath medieval castles, the wine-drenched scent of a village draining its fermentation tanks, the touch of acorns raining on my head from a sudden breeze, and the sound of French syllables swirling from all the mouths around us, including our own. I was grateful for the vulnerability and challenge of adapting to the whims and whiles of the different, eager as a hidden language revealed itself and poured out in a tumble, and delighted when a shopkeeper exclaimed, "Oh, I thought you were French!" As a traveller, I am renewed, replete with wonder and prismatic joy, able to see past the smallness of my worries as I open my heart to the newly possible.

 

There is linear time, real time, the actual days and weeks spent away. But then there's travel time—the sense that you've been gone for ages, because of all that you experience during your sojourn. A traveller never returns home unchanged and that time travel is the distance between who you were when you left and who you are upon your return.

 

Yet, this time away returned me to someone I'd lost sight of during these past two years of change. To keep hold of her and not lose her againthat journey now awaits.

 

“A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”

— John Steinbeck

 

 

Reflections on the Dordogne: Périgueux, October © Julie Christine Johnson 2014

Time The Avenger

I've arrived at one of those "If someone had told me a year ago, I'd be here/doing this" moments.  Do you do that? Look back, I mean. Pick an arbitrary point and see the recent past unrolled behind you like a tapestry and marvel how much things can change in such a short period? I do. And I'm always relieved that reflection's opposite isn't possible, that the laws of physics deny me the power of foresight, for I couldn't bear knowing what the future holds. Even if its palm extends to offer me what I wish for. And a year ago, that wish was to write full-time. I don't believe things happen for a reason. As in, there is no grand scheme for our lives with the wonderful and the wretched meted out by an omnipresent deity. I'm more in the "Shit Happens" camp. I believe we create reason from the compost. That doesn't stop me from praying, of course. But by the time I get into prayer mode, the shit is already happening, so I guess prayer is just an attempt to create reason, with hope and desperation mixed in.

I do believe in paying attention to the little shifts that are the universe's way of trying to get our attention. Not a full yanking of the rug out from under our feet, just the tugs that keep us off-balance. Wait, doesn't that mean I believe things happen for a reason, that there is an omnipresent...something? No, I think it's a matter of opening oneself up to possibility, of casting one's intentions into the wide world and then listening and watching carefully for the ripples of circumstance that follow in our wake.

So, things happened. The past year is what it is. We wrested control from circumstances not of our creation, we recognized the grace of opportunity, we leaped and we landed. I'm not writing full-time because of all that happened. I'm writing full-time because this was the reason we created from the compost. Be careful what you wish for.

Scrivener tells me I have three days. Three days to reach my goal of 78,0000 words on this novel. It's a date and word count I set just over a year ago, not long after I wrote this post, here: Today was the day.

I wasn't certain--with a full-time job, a shaky idea of my plot, all that research on medieval France, a writing habit that wasn't yet habit--what I could hope to complete in just over twelve months. I wasn't certain how many words constituted a full-length novel. So, August 1, 2013. 78,000 words. Sounded reasonable.

The goal date held steady. August 1 looms. But that word count? I recall upping it to 82,000 in the fall. Then 98,000. 105,000. 115,00. There, that should do it. The target bar in Scrivener shifted from red to orange to yellow and various shades of green as I approached 115,000.

Earlier this month I crested 130,000 words. There is no color shift in Scrivener when you exceed your target. That bar just glows a steady green. Good Girl, it says. You did it.

Since then, I've embarked on First Draft, Revision B and in the slicing and dicing and rewriting, I'm in the neighborhood of 126K. That's about 330 pages of a novel, if you're wondering.

I didn't set a goal of finishing a novel in a year. Thank goodness. Because I'm not finished. Good God. I have months of revision ahead of me. But it's all there--beginning, middle, and mostly the end. I'm muddling through the final third. Some days I run in place, others I leap hurdles. I try not to think ahead, not to worry about where I will be in a month or in a year.

But I do wonder.

Writing is the only thing that when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.

- Gloria Steinem

Your present circumstances don't determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start.

-Nido Qubein

Seeing the forest for the trees.    Quimper Peninsula

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The Light That I Have: Reflections On A Winter Solstice

IMG_1102 You wouldn't know looking around our small apartment that Christmas is but a few sleeps away. We've forgone our annual wet and windy visit to the Boy Scout Troop 100 Christmas Tree lot at St. Alphonsus Church across the street from Ballard Market. Although the stack of holiday greetings grows daily, the cards and letters remain unopened, as do the boxes of cards I bought for our own missives. I won't be watering poinsettias well into March because neither red nor white bloom graces our table. I can hardly be bothered to light even a candle.

We've decided to keep our heads down and plow through the rest of this year without celebration. Maybe we fear attracting any more attention from higher powers that seemed to hold the screw to us during 2012. Maybe we're just weary. Maybe celebration right now feels wrong.

But I can't stop myself from yearning for light, from reaching for the promise of renewal that the Solstice offers. It is not Christmas that holds my wonder and feeds my anticipation. I absolved December 25th of unreasonable expectations and spiritual significance some years ago. I just like the lights on the tree.

It is this ancient tradition of honoring evergreens and the burning of bright light in the darkest days that allows me to find solace in the Solstice. I think upon this day as the year's end, the time to pause and reflect as the seasons shift and the earth stutters, then marches resolutely toward Spring.

This was a year when light and dark were in constant flow, when the weight of deepest sorrow was counter-balanced by the relief of joy. Yet I come to the Solstice feeling smaller somehow, a bit shrunken and defeated by the 365 days that have passed since the night last receded, then grew full again. I watched as a loved one received the death sentence of a terrible, prolonged disease. A few weeks later life inside me stilled once again, even as I imagined names and hair color, tiny hands to hold and a little voice calling after me. I've had to stand idly to one side, fists clenched, heart pounding in rage, as the person I adore and respect most in the world agonizes over present and future and what little control he has over each seemingly stolen away. I've looked in the mirror at a body that seems hell-bent on thwarting every good thing I try to do for it, forcing me twice under a surgeon's knife and taking away in recent weeks the one thing that brought me endorphin-surging physical release. I've had to accept that many of those who've known me the longest are the least interested in discovering who I have become. And then, in the last days of this year, my voice joined the chorus of rage and grief as a stunned nation absorbed, helplessly, the news of the slaughter in Newtown.

And yet.

And yet there is light. There is laughter. There is deep happiness and certain peace. There is the celebration of twenty years of marriage - defying odds set against two very young people who knew one other five months before vowing to spend a lifetime together, listening to their hearts instead of their heads. I'd do it all again. One hundred times again. It takes my breath away to think how easily we could have slipped past each other during that busy, distracted spring of 1992, never to know what soul mate meant.

There were winter days in medieval ruelles of Paris and late summer afternoons in Irish meadows. Hundreds of miles of Seattle pavement under my running shoes (and there will be hundreds more, believe me: Body and I are working out the terms). Sunsets over Shilshole Bay. The sweet joy of new friendships blooming. The unexpected embrace of a colleague who says, "Things are better with you here." Laughter, dancing, beer and music in a beautiful community that is home, with spirited and loving people who are my family.

And there are my words, my sentences, paragraphs, pages. The slowly but steadily growing word count on a manuscript which has become my anchor, my refuge, my way - thank you, Richard Hugo - of saying the world and I have a chance. Perhaps Hugo meant that by the act of creating art, the world and I have chance together. And that perhaps I can, I should, I must, use my words to pursue what I believe is right and try to create good out of so much sadness.

Brendan and I went for a long walk late in the afternoon of this, the shortest day. I'm not one for portents, but I'll share this photo I captured of a Bald eagle against the cerulean sky and diamond-bright moon. I'll take the raptor's presence as the last blessing of this long season of darkness and be grateful for a moment of grace, no matter what the next seasons may bring.

Bald eagle, Green Lake, Winter Solstice

I am ready to meet this longest night and then watch as, minute by minute, it shrinks into the New Year and succumbs to the light of Spring.

"I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have." Attributed to Abraham Lincoln. No matter who said it, I like it.