Friday, July 20, 2012

Underground railways, navigating by "following the drinking gourd"

I was at the orchard table this morning. A mug of ginger tea sweetened with Fireweed honey and a copy -- the first draft of my mythic fiction Splinters were my companyI am editing the old-fashioned way, using a sharp red pencil the story of time travel, Hawaiian culture and cross-pollination that weaves through this work which feels perfectly timed for me at this stage of life. When I started Splinters the inspiration came through the pump of creativity -- Prime the Pump, my weekly on-line writers' group. From random bits and phrases that come intuitively I invite a small handful of writer friends to whatever inspiration bubbles from what is called a 'tickle line.' Successfully and consistently that watering hole of a writers' group has served me and my friends as a ritual encampment for story, poetry; and for me the large and small linkages of characters and legacy write themselves into my writing life. For months now characters have sketched their nature and their quandries through my fingers and onto the blog page. Interesting and loveable characters. Powerful time travelers. God father. God mother. Aumakua. Children of wisdom. Unexpected plots grew. Personal passions and my curious exploring nature create a riotous work that spans centuries of known history while simaltaneously fabricating dialogue for heroines from the fertile water of a writer's imagination. That's fiction. And fiction is a path as broad and deep as the bowl that is Earth.

When I began writing it was letters that pieced together my real life as I recalled it for women, one woman in particular. Across the Pacific my Aunty lived her life much as she'd lived it when I was the little neighbor girl on the other side of the hibiscus hedge that divided her yard from ours. I was twenty-five, newly married and soon a mother living in a place and a culture that was foreign. Homesick yet strangely aware even as I struggled with weather, protocol and customs I kept my island-seeds alive through the letters to Aunty who lived in my first valley. She was first to nurture stories that were true for me. In the knotted cord of my story rope, Aunty is primary. Today I can go days, weeks and shamefully years without acknowledging Aunty Lily's letters but always the foundation of her support remain a legacy upon which all the writing grows. Still I write about the life I live as the years of columns written for The Hawaiian Island Journal read like letters to my aunty. Those regular columns were written in the same house where the girl who loved the small Japanese woman who wore dark sunglasses day and night wandered regularly through a hole in the red hibiscus hedge. Back in that Kuliouou Valley homestead where the mothers were long gone across the wa of time, I was given a ticket of time in a place and a home where my history would revisit while I lived the present. Nine years of rebuilding my old family home would be collected in writings about the life being lived. A cardboard box filled with these stories is stored and protected in a large black plastic garbage bag. Piecing this story together, patience has gained a foothold in my impatient makeup and even when time and worry interrupt, I keep going. I'm not sure how to distribute those stories; the solution changes. Still, there is a 'how' and soon the way will show itself. I have faith it will.

This new morning, another day, the lightning Relampago! has come again. Between the afternoon of clear time, soft breezes and conversations with the friends -- two women, who live upon this land with me and Pete the lightning and the thunder storms have come again. Stirring my comfort just enough to make the condition of my physical life a blessing of understanding, forgiveness and mercy. Oh my, how full can a life be? As full as understanding and creating a new way of looking at the 'handicaps' of a wounded life, a temporary or long-lasting enslavement: too poor, unsuitable, ill-equipped, overly sensitive, trapped by Them, weakened, unable to hear out of one ear. Between that afternoon in the orchard and this new morning of thick rain and a night of storms we thought out loved cat JOTS would not return because she is always here or at least close by. We worried, tossed and turned restless sleep waiting for her scratching on the porch rails. My one uncongested ear tuned to high. Sleep was fitfull. We were woken for the third time in the month of July by thunder. Pete dreamed of our cat while the thunder moved him to climb over me and out to the Quonset. JOTS was home. Relief relaxed our tensed bodies, and maybe the lesson of fear that we will lose one we love and then, what? Then, we will grieve and mourn, and then there will be something more.

In the late afternoon on the same day when I sat to edit my fiction with the sharp red pencil we went to town for a bit of enjoyment; a seaside interlude while the tide rose high; a visit to a puppet shop to find a gift for a birthday; and then a celebration for volunteers who feed and service our local food bank (Pete among them). A BBQ was happening. Tents and a table of food was set along with benches and tables. Pete carried the tiny puppet he'd chosen for the birthday girl and gardener master. She was delighted by the finger puppet, a tiny bunny the innanimate version of creators who threaten the beds of lettuces and other living goodies like Peter Rabbit. Pete and Carey the birthday girl work together week after week in these gardens, and perhaps the greatest add-on experience for them is the playfulness Pete brings in his quirky way. I get to see that happen when I show up for these celebrations. I am the other, the mate, the one who is not often seen. Meeting people Pete talked about is fun, and different for in years passed I was the public one. Story changes.

Recalling the many events in a single day and night, the conversation shared in the orchard with my friends included the theme of the Underground Railways created for the protective and covert transportation of slaves in the American South to places of safety in the North. While I edit the draft of Splinters I also continue to research and tune to the inspiration of ideas or images to complete the story. One of those inspirations was the reality and the metaphor of that collective endeavor called the Underground Railway. The image at the start of this essay is the star cluster, The Big Dipper. The link below it will take you if you are curious, to a site that describes the workings and history of slaves bound generation after generation to a life of capture. The depth and widely woven network and beliefs that created this form of slavery taps into every soul's memory. The conversation I had in the orchard reinforced this for each of the three women who contributed to that orchard conversation is in the middle of writing which has as one of its themes, the family of slaves. In our lives today, one woman is a nurse anthropologist who continues, though is slowing her career as teacher; another is retired from a career as a physical anthropologist and works now at writing about a Moses in her life; and I write in relative seclusion the letters I began writing as a young woman to an Aunt who would encourage me to see the North Star of my own underground railway.

Journeys are rarely simple the ones that have most meaning are nearly always froth with discoveries, obstacles; freedom. Time becomes a companion that can be the most valuable of any, but one can never guarantee how much time. What one values can change over time. But if in the long run the journey is that of freedom ...

“If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there's shouting after you, keep going. Don't ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.” ― Harriet Tubman

P.S. from Terri Windling's watering hole, "About Blogging and Spoons" if you need more on navigational tools

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