When the past expands

As a teacher, I have been using my Summer time to do a great deal of reading and research. The fiction works I have read are a mix of contemporary and those written in the 19th and 20th centuries – from Bram Stoker’s Dracula to Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit to Stephen King’s Carrie, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway to Michael Cunningham’s The Hours.

I’ve done this for several reasons, and it’s all related to the nonfiction I am reading – James West Davidson’s A Little History of the United States, Ann Royston Blouse and Cynthia Schafer Mann’s What Lies Beneath: The Farms, Mills, and Towns Under Our Reservoirs, David McCullough’s 1776, Thomas Payne’s Common Sense, Sebastian Junger’s Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, E.O. Wilson’s The Diversity of Life, and Alan Taylor’s American Revolutions.

To better understand where we are in the present, I must better understand the origins of this strange and outrageous time in which we live.

Here’s the challenge we face. Our lives are in these micro time capsules buffered by twenty or so years on each side. No matter where we are in our existence, we think about where we are in relation to what has happened in the last few decades, and what we foresee in the coming 10 to 20 years. We are connected by overlapping generations that create this span of 40 years where we remember “the good old days” and think ahead for what we might want our children and grandchildren to be and inherit in a future that we hope still includes us.

This time capsule makes us outraged of what is happening in our lifetimes, in our present, and how all of that establishes some kind of new foundation for our children’s future.

We remember the past as always better; we are in shock of the present world in which we live; we are hopeful (and fearful) of the future that awaits our most immediate and youngest relatives.

Reading about our history – and more creative works from times that were before my 57 years here on Earth, gives me greater pause in how I understand and reflect on this present. Our contemporary films depicting an earlier era – Downton Abbey, Emma, and Mr. Malcolm’s List, to name a few – can lead us to believe in a slice of that world that we might find romantic, perhaps even idealistic.

That’s what these nonfiction works are helping me better understand: having a greater grasp of the events that happened in the last 250 years expands the space of experience in that micro time capsule to capture the lineage connecting this “historical” event to the next, to the next, to today.

To help me appreciate this even more, I have started to dig into the genealogical roots of my own family. Suddenly, everything is more relevant, more immediate. Present Time includes my ancestors from World War I, The Civil War, The American Revolution, Their landfall in New York in 1602 from The Netherlands or, later, Barbados.

The weaving of our past and present allows us to embrace who we are today, with the DNA of our ancestors who have fought, survived, and even thrived through very difficult times. It is in us to do this very thing: Survive.

So writes Delia Owens in Crawdads:

“In Nature – out yonder where the crawdads sing – these ruthless-seeming behaviors [of a she-fox abandoning an offspring under great stress] actually increase the mother’s number of young over her lifetime, and thus her genes for abandoning offspring in times of stress are passed on to the next generation. and on and on. It happens in humans, too. Some behaviors that seem harsh to us now ensured the survival of early man in whatever swamp he was in at the time. Without them, we wouldn’t be here. We still store those instincts in our genes, and they express themselves when certain circumstances prevail. Some parts of us will always be what we were, what we had to be to survive – way back yonder.”

Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens, pages 237-238

This cross-weaving of history, fiction, and genealogy gives me greater perspective to understand who we are, where we are, and why. Perhaps it will help me, as well, understand how to navigate through these challenging times and effect change that offers greater hope beyond our micro time capsules of existence.

Returning to Cold Rock

In 2011, I finished writing, and published, my first novel. Actually, it was my second novel-length manuscript; the first one, Night Terrors, has still yet to see any public light. That was way back in 1992 when I finished that one.

30 years ago!

As you can imagine, my writing style has evolved quite a bit, and to bring Night Terrors to any kind of publishable level, it would require a serious rewrite. I’ve tried to do that on several occasions, but failed each time because the original writing was so, well, flat.

Cold Rock, written and published 20 years later, is more on the early edges of where I am now as a writer. It’s got a good strong voice, and for the most part, it works.

Except the ending.

When I was deep in revision, I received feedback from two individuals, whom I both trusted, that could not have been further apart in how the end of the story might be revised. After considering both options, I went with the one that made the most sense to me at the time.

What I neglected to embrace, however, was a third choice: my own revision of the ending. Instead, I felt, for some reason, that it was either suggestion no. 1 or suggestion no. 2; there were no other options.

Now, 11 years later, I’m picking option no. 3 and finally writing the ending that I think is more perfectly aligned with two areas: 1, the main character’s journey arc; and 2, the intimations of the supernatural throughout. Yes, it’s a pretty scary book at times, and I’m going to run more with that and less with the creepy priest angle that still makes me uncomfortable.

All things considered, this is going to be a quick rewrite, and we’ll be publishing the revised edition under The JAR Writers’ Collective “Vault” collection, maybe as early as this summer.

Here’s the thing, though: since publishing Fossil Five and now Prisms in the last two years, it is absolute fun to rework an old book and make it better for all of you. I hope you like it. I’ll be sure to let you know when it releases.

Back to edits. See you all tomorrow.

Watershed moments

Sunday, 13 March 2022

I grew up on the shores and waters of the Loch Raven Reservoir watershed here in Towson. First, it was all about the picnics my family enjoyed in the wooded area just off of Dulaney Valley Road. The site closed when I was in my late teens because of fights and unruly behavior that kept breaking out in what was always a sanctuary for me. Now, it is a parking area for hunters and walkers.

When I got a little older, my father started taking me on long walks in the woods along narrow footpaths that would lead to obscure shores where the fish were supposed to be plentiful. Sometimes they were, especially the bluegills and the crappie. We even caught a bass or two if were were lucky. But that wasn’t what those long walks in the woods were all about; it was about spending time with my dad in those quiet moments, singing little songs to the fishies to jump on the bait so we could reel them in.

Soon, I graduated to being old enough to take a boat out on the water, and we fished some of the hidden fishing holes that were supposed to be secret. Here’s where we caught the odd fish: sometimes a carp, sometimes a northern pickerel, and always a good laugh cracking stupid jokes that no one would ever understand.

As I became more independent, I would often go to Loch Raven with friends to hike, or enjoy the sunset, or just to get away from the world for a few hours. It was still my sanctuary, and we savored those quiet moments together.

Now, as I return to the trails and shores as an older man, now that my children are all nearly grown, and now that I have endured the experiences of loss and hardship, this watershed brings its own watershed moments in my life.

Today, we stopped by to take some photos, and as I meandered through the mucky trails and brittle brambles, I realized that Loch Raven has been there for me in so many turning points of my life. And that’s true for so many others, too. As you walk along the shores, you can’t help but see memorials, or initials etched in trees, or sacred grounds where lives have been lost tragically.

Just a few years ago, I happened upon a car where somebody had died, and as they removed her body from the car, her white hand slipped from their grip, and it offered me – us- a final wave goodbye, a salute to all Loch Raven has provided, perhaps, or a reminder to cherish what we do have – what we have always had – in and around this watershed we drive through nearly every day of our lives.

A watershed, by definition, includes all of the surrounding area around a body of water that captures runoff and contributes to the overall ecosystem that reservoir, or river, or bay, creates.

I can’t help but think that we comprise a watershed area, too, in our friendships, our relationships, our neighbors, our everyone that matters in our lives. If we saw our connections being as vital to our own ecosystems as the watershed area is around Loch Raven, or Chesapeake Bay, or any other body of water, then maybe we would do a better job of taking care of each other.

It’s so easy to neglect that, as it is easy to neglect the land around Loch Raven. But it has been a lifetime sanctuary of memories and experiences to so many, as we have been to each other in our own communities.

Watershedding over watersheds. I appreciate the water a little more today, as I appreciate you a little more, too.

A song of myself

Saturday, 12 March 2022, 0643

The rain has been falling most of the night, and even though we are nearing mid-March, heavy snow will fall within the next few hours, bringing up to five inches in some areas north and west of Interstate 95.

This is our home, where variations of seasons blur the lines of winter, spring, summer, or fall. There are no absolutes; only winds that bring cold, driving rains into the heart of sun-filled days. Like all Marylanders who have chosen this to be their home, we have come to embrace it.

This, too, is the place where I call home, both within and among.

I am the weather of our region. The seasons within blur their own lines with no absolutes. The song of myself is a pastel blend of snow and sun, wind and rain, weaving and whirling a good long life of weathered experiences that bring me to today, where the rain has been falling most of the night, and snow is on its way.

Last night, I shared on social media that I had made the decision to change the entire focus of this space called The Baltimore Writer. Years ago, in 2019, I wrote this post intimating my hopes of doing just this, but I wasn’t ready yet. The idea was there, but not the full understanding of what I needed to do. And maybe more importantly, why. When I wrote that post, I was just months away from publishing Fossil Five, and I had great expectations for what it might become, and how far of a readership it might earn. I was trying to do too many things at one time: launch a writing career and be a more authentic artist and human. I got the order mixed up, though, and I put the platform before the person.

I remember talking to my brother Warren about such things when he was struggling between his art and what he wanted out of life. I told him long ago that I thought he should focus on his art, and let everything else take care of itself. It will follow.

I guess now I am listening to my own words, the song of myself is emerging more authentically, and I have found this space to be the place to call, humbly, my home. These are my “Leaves of Rus.”

The wind howls louder as the rain drives more urgently against my window, a repetitive tat-tat-tat that reminds me of the words I spoke to my brother so many years ago.

This is the song of myself.

I am home.

Welcome.