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Thursday, January 27, 2011
WELCOME TO THE BONEYARD
3:51 pm mst
might have noticed my silence these past few months. It's a rare thing for me, but to tell you the truth, I haven't known
what to say to you. This, from a wordsmith who can usually figure out a darn fine way to say almost anything.
I decided to cowgirl up. And actually, I have a lot to say to you, but I'm afraid not much of it will
seem like good news—at first. Maybe in retrospect. Maybe when the dust settles and we can all see what we have to work
with. But, unless I'm really, really wrong, we are not going to have the same things
to work with that we take for granted now. Did you see THE BOOK OF ELI? Think of that with respect to publishing. One blogger
called it the Publipocalypse. Right on the nose, if I'm any judge of things. I'm going to continue to
use that term myself. It best describes what's happening, in my estimation.
I've been talking to
friends, other authors, editors, agents, and readers about this in friendly conversation for several years now: The physical
book is going the way of the petroglyph and the scroll. I have not heard one echo of agreement, except from
the evidence I see around me. Everyone argues:
- But there are a lot
of people who prefer to read a book-book, they say.
- I sit in front of a computer all
day. I don't want to read a book on a device of any kind, they say.
- There will
always be books, they say.
- If it happens, they hedge, it's going
to take a long time. Maybe next generation.
And why do I have to always be the one to say the
emperor has no clothes? Believe me, this is a lifelong role of mine. I'm always the one calling the ball, doing the intervention,
pointing out the elephant in the living room, announcing the bad news in a calm voice and getting everyone into a lifeboat
while they argue with me and fuss with the straps on their flotation vests—and the ship we just exited sinks. Am I some
kind of canary in a coalmine? I don't know.
But here's when I had my real-there's-no-going-back
divination: when I first saw the iPad. I know, I know, they had the Kindle before that, the Nook, the Yugo,
the Sony E-Reader, and more. But the iPad was the contender that I knew would strike the final blow in a knockdown battle
and put the publishing world—as we once knew it—out cold on the mat. Why the iPad? Because it was sexy. In color.
Did everything (well, almost everything—I guess it still can't make coffee, but it can program the power for the coffee
maker to come on and then wake you up when the coffee is ready, so it's close). It was the one. A Kindle
is a reader. A Nook is a reader. A Yugo is a reader. An iPad is a portable music player and stores an entire library of music;
it's a photo display and editor, an email port, a movie/video/television player, a web surfer, a game console, a writing tablet,
a drawing pad, a portable piano and guitar, a plethora of business tools, a sharing and display device and more. You can journal
on it, make spreadsheets on it, create slideshows and videos on it, log your calories and workouts on it, get the news and
the weather on it, have it wake you up and lull you to sleep. There is almost nothing you can't do on an iPad, and what little
there is, they will surely upgrade into future versions. And honestly, I'm not selling the iPad. I just see it poised and
ready to deliver the kayo punch to the current publishing empire. Does that mean it's the ideal reading experience? Maybe
not. But maybe it's a sacrifice you're willing to make, given all its other capabilities, if you're going to go E. And believe
me, whether you want to or not, if you want to continue to read newspapers or books for the next ten years, you're almost
certainly going to go E.
Why? Because the iPad is the fourth horseman. The Publipocalypse is now. The
devastation is already widespread. The first horseman for traditional publishing was the chain booksellers, although they
didn't intend to be, for sure. Hoping to promote the proliferation of books, they made big deals with the publishers that
led to a trend of over-publishing, over-wholesaling, and over-returns. Not to mention the huge bite they took out of the stalwart
independent booksellers who had always been there cautiously and prudently buying only those books the publishers printed
that they thought they could sell, and making sure their customers knew about them.
The second horseman
was the internet. Here's an example: see if you can find a definition for—and some background on the first use of—the
word Publipocalypse. Go! Do it now!
- How many
of you put on your hat and coat and went to the library to peruse their hard copy of The Encyclopedia Britannica, and their
collection of periodicals to get the latest information?
- How many of you pulled down your brand new, most
up-to-date physical copy of the dictionary from your own shelves just for the definition alone?
- And how
many of you went online and searched on the ‘net?
So what if you want to know what
the weather is going to be tonight? Or if you want to know what Obama said because you missed the State of the Union address?
Do you wait for your local newspaper to arrive? Look for the latest issue of Time Magazine? While
you may be still reading hard copies of the paper, magazines, and books—when you want something now, you almost
certainly seek it out online. The whole world is trending towards On Demand. Even television. It's
the same with the news. And with books. If you want it now, it's out there. Just not necessarily in physical form.
third horseman was Amazon. Amazon is the new Wal-mart. Consider what a huge bite of the book market it has taken out of the
pockets of independent booksellers—not to mention authors and publishers. In any business, your margin is your lifeline.
Take a big chunk of your margin, and you might compensate, flex, adapt, and barely make it. Whew! You
got through that! Amazing! Take another chunk, and you are in dire need of a transfusion. Take a third,
and you start to flatline. Witness the epidemic of closures of fine, long-standing independent bookstores. This month, the
legendary Mystery Bookstore in Los Angeles closes. This is not a minion, folks. This is one of our giants. And it is one of
hundreds, perhaps even thousands that have closed, are closing, or will soon close. And it's not just the independents: Borders
is on its deathbed. Even if this chain manages to survive this time, it is badly wounded. I report all this with tremendous
sadness. And this sort of urgent desire to yell: Retreat! Retreat! Take cover! The sky is falling!
seems obvious, but perhaps it helps to remind you: If there aren't booksellers to purchase the books wholesale and get them
to folks retail, the publishers don't make any money and can't hire editors, copy-editors, layout artists to do covers, text
designers, publicists, and so on. Even for print-on-demand! If there's no money to provide the staffing, they can't do the
work, they can't produce the books, and they can't pay the authors. If they can't pay the authors . . . well, you do the math.
why not self-publish your own e-books, you ask? Seriously, some of you have really asked me this. What are
you thinking?! Are you smoking crack? I have enough trouble churning out a book every year, doing the research,
doing the plotting, the writing, the initial editing, honing, and refining, and doing the promotional things I do to keep
my audience buying. Now you want me to be the publisher, editor, copy editor, cover artist, publicist, distributor, salesperson,
and financier as well? I don't think so. And besides, how are we going to establish a bar, a level of quality, a measure of
status of writing so you—the consumer or bookseller—don't have to sift through a million pounds of horse-dookey-buying
and trying every wanna-be-author's work to get to the good stuff—if you ever do before you give up reading altogether
because so much self-published work out there is total crap? Agents and editors were and are the Olympic Trials of publishing.
They set the bar. They establish a set of standards that must be met before books are published. Still, I'll admit, some mediocre
(even some skanky) stuff occasionally sneaks under the wire, but most traditionally-published (as opposed to self-published)
writing is getting better and better and better. The competition, the hard-target-aspect, it culls the pack down to its leanest
and best, or at the very least, its most determined. And it makes for better books. Good books. This is good for Story. I'm
sorry to report that (from what I have seen) letting every joe who thinks he has a good idea for a book (but not enough skills,
craft, or determination to rise through the maze to the top) publish—well, it just makes for more books.
Not better books. And it is certainly not good for Story to have an overwhelming glut of horse-dookey
on the market. My apologies if I have offended any of you who have produced a really good self-published book. There are always
exceptions, and I even know of a few.
But I digress. Back to the status of the physical book. Still not convinced
that the physical book is doomed? Still protesting and saying you know lots of folks who will continue to buy physical books?
Consider photography's path in the past couple decades. A friend recently told me that the last Kodachrome plant in Kentucky
just closed. Go ahead, look it up and confirm it. (Did you go to hard copy news sources or the internet? Based on your answer
to this alone, I could rest my case.) Many photographers long preferred film and the traditional SLR camera, the darkroom,
and the art of developing. But not enough. Not enough to stem the tide of digital instant gratification, on-demand photo processing,
and the ease of infinite storage and nearly eternal preservation in virtual space, not to mention the rampant possibilities
for digital manipulation and editing. Hence, the last film-making plant for Kodachrome bites the dust. Are some people disappointed?
No doubt. But decreased dollars equals doom for any business. Just remember that if you care about the physical book. Or about
good books in any form.
So, let's say you're a die-hard fan of physical books. And maybe I'm one of
your fave authors. Say my book comes out on Friday. (It doesn't, not yet, but say it did.) You could have my book on your
iPad or Nook or whatever at midnight on Thursday night. Or you could pick it up at a bookstore (if you can still find one)
any time after Friday, but you have to spend the time, gas, and effort to go there, and maybe they have a copy and maybe they
don't—you would have to call to make sure, and besides you would also have to get out of your jammies to go there, and
it's the weekend already after work on Friday night, so... Which do you choose?
If you said the physical
book, despite the inconvenience and the need for storage, I'm happy about that. Because I can almost buy a
gallon of gas with my royalty from a physical book sold at retail price, so if enough of you buy it in that form, then I can
afford to come see you and sign it for you and the publisher can afford to send me on tour and get reviewers copies so we
can let the world know about the book so it has half a chance of selling, and then if it does sell, the publisher can pay
to have an office and even maybe coffee in that office so everyone can stay awake while they read the latest submissions.
But I cannot even buy one small bunch of green onions (never mind organic) with the royalty I make off of an e-book. In fact,
if Amazon has anything to say about it, I might have to buy them a small bunch of green
onions for every e-book they sell. So I probably can't come see you and meet you and shake your hand and maybe even teach
you a writing class or whatever. Unless they invent cars and planes fueled by green onions, (and scant few of them per mile).
Or unless every single one of my fans who used to buy hardcovers now personally buys at least a dozen e-book copies of my
new book—and why would they? Now, take this model and extrapolate it across the whole industry, for all your favorite
authors, the books you read and the books you buy for reference, the magazines, the newspapers, and more. If you don't see
a serious shakedown coming, I submit that your head is somewhere deep in the beachfront strata.
can be done? I suppose we could try to organize a revolution of reading fans who would defiantly devote ever more of their
hard-earned funds to staunching the bloodletting and trying to prevent the demise of the physical book. You could vow
to buy at least several physical copies of each new book by your favorite author, buy them from your independent bookseller
to keep her in business, buy them at retail so the author and the publisher actually make money instead of practically having
to pay the retailer, as with online book sales and e-books. You could vow to give additional copies of your favorite books
at Christmas, on birthdays, to your senior center and VA hospital and you could sequester an entire amped-up-budget-line-item
of your annual income for this cause, giving up Starbucks or ding-dongs or ho-hos or pantyhose or horse-feed or your gym membership
or whatever to make this possible. No more bringing a bag of Amazon-bought books to the signings at the hard-strapped
local mystery bookseller to get them autographed when I'm there, you could promise. No more
waiting until the latest comes out in pocket-sized paperback because they're so much cheaper—I mean,
so what if your kids are hungry, right? No more waiting on the list for the library copy—you
could pledge, because you know the physical book will go away if millions of you don't ante up big-time and support it. But
can you really do this? I could be wrong, but I don't think so. And even if you did, I am not certain it would work for long.
Remember the Kodachrome plant.
Change is inevitable. We are truly in the midst of a revolution away from
the physical and ever-more toward digital and on-demand. People are downsizing, de-cluttering, getting rid of stuff, going
green, and limiting their space-gobbling possessions in favor of . . . well, space. But also ease of access and storage, preservation,
and more. Many of us will always have our shelves of beloved dust-magnet books, but we will likely also have our e-books,
e-newspapers, and e-everything we can get.
Is this a bad thing? I don't think it's black and white. In some ways, it
is scary, and in other ways it's exciting. One thing that is for darn sure is that authors and publishers and their partners
in crime are going to have to figure out a new model for making a living. And by that, I mean, we are going to have to look
at new ways to make sure we can earn enough to survive while still producing quality literature, (as opposed to the idea of
getting jobs sacking groceries). I'm talking about new sales models and royalty structures and e-book pricing and so on. If
you want good books to keep coming, we are all going to have to consider the price and the value of them. The medium is probably
inevitable and indisputable—we're talking E. But in the meantime, if you still want physical books, I say buy them while
you can! And buy as many as you can. Treasure them. Like precious, soon-to-be-ancient scrolls, which
they will no doubt rapidly become.
Books are going interactive. You can already see evidence of that. The media
will likely continue to hybridize with film, music, photography, research tools, and more. This part is really exciting to
me. And like movies after the advent of videotape and DVDs, like the traditional music business after Nabster and iTunes,
I do believe the publishing world can reinvent itself. I do, and I'm on board for that. I think it could make for some really
interesting developments. It's a brave new world.
But, at the same time, I cannot help but look around
at the shambles of the old one—the boneyard of what once was. The Rocky Mountain News and countless
other newspapers have gone under. Author friends I know and love have had their contracts
cut, despite producing excellent work. So many wonderful booksellers are losing their life's work and sole means of support
as they close their doors and watch their dreams dissipate into ashes. Reduced tours, decreased advances, review coverage
cut, well-qualified, established reviewers being replaced by amateurs with no critical training. And don't get me started
on self-published books. Not that some of them aren't exceptions, but... I'm talking industry-wide ramifications here.
back to that film, THE BOOK OF ELI. If you haven't seen it, do. And consider the role of one man determined to save a book
from annihilation. Now, I'm not asking you to trudge through a dangerous landscape with a six-shooter, no water and a broken-down
iPod. But if you love books, buy the authors you love and show your support—in whatever form you choose to buy them.
It's really in your hands what happens next. Welcome to the boneyard.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
3:42 pm mdt
For months now, I've
been disappeared. Yes, gone, vanished, whoosh! Not there. Off the grid. No official status, unknown, black ops. (If you have emailed me in the
past few months, sent me a message on Facebook, even maybe called me, you already know this.) It started a few months ago
when I did some research that required me to take time away from phone, friends, email, etc. When time came for me to resurface,
assume my old identity and reappear, I found myself stalling. I knew if I opened my inbox there would be hundreds of emails
awaiting me. I figured if I got on Facebook, I'd have about a thousand messages. I feared that if I answered the phone everyone would know I was back, and I'd
be officially Undisappeared. I couldn't bring myself to do it.
The thing is, I liked being nowhere, no one. Maybe it was temporary insanity
(or the continuation of insanity, depending on how you might have viewed my mental status prior to this episode). Or burnout
from four years of almost-constant touring and promoting, or FITBSD (Fill In The Blank Stress Disorder—you name it,
I got it), or perhaps I just needed some time away. But I relished being gone. I started taking extended trips, mini-vacations,
hikes, trail rides, long drives, whatever I could muster to divert me from the daily grind. I couldn't get back in the saddle,
so to speak. I promised myself that I would sit down and read and answer all those emails tomorrow. Or next week. I would
make a list of all the things I ought to do and then schedule them on the calendar out in the future somewhere, but not today.
No, not today. Today, I was disappeared, and the wind could blow right through me, there was no sign of me, no sightings,
not a glimpse, not a peep, not a tweet, not a blog or a blurb or a blot to be found anywhere.
The rest of The Pack tried to
prompt me back to reality. "Hey, it's been a couple months since we did an issue of the WILD News," Eric would say.
Lee Ann would ask:
"Do you want me to book this speaking engagement, or that book festival?" She was getting all sorts of requests,
and she needed answers.
How did they even find me to ask? I was so invisible, I didn't even cast a shadow. I was like the wind, I stayed mobile,
whirling around, never in one place for long. Either racking up the frequent flyer miles or the wear and tear on the all-terrain
tires. Or reducing the tread on my hiking boots. Or whitewater-washing the skin off my kayak. Not home. Not here. Gone.
Now, mind you, I did
show up for things that I drop-dead needed to do. The bills got paid. I went to the events I'd scheduled. I didn't cop out
on anything I truly had
to do. But I felt like a ghost. Transparent. My body was there, but my spirit was... disappeared. After a while I settled
down—back in my cabin (and believe me, that took some doing). But even though I was now physically in one place, I stayed
disappeared working on my current project. Writing. And more writing. All-nighters with characters that demanded a voice.
I love being with my characters, and I love writing, so this is good. But...
My desktop had disappeared, too—not in that weightless
and formless way, like me. Instead, it had been obscured by piles of unanswered (and unopened) letters, junk mail, old lists
of should-do items I hadn't done, unfiled papers, unread newspapers and newsletters and magazines. In a fit of phobic projection,
I began to fear my desktop computer, which is the one I use to do business, answer email, all the "non-book-writing"
stuff. My laptop (which I use to write my novels, journal, etc.) became my new BFF. It didn't ask anything of me, was always
ready to take up the story where I left off and help me vanish into it. And it was mobile. I could take it anywhere in the
house and still not be at my desk.
As if that weren't enough to avoid getting back into gear, I dreamed up a construction project here
at the cabin and we launched into building it: an arbor over our deck for shade. The heavy snows this past spring had cost
us some key pine branches in the Ponderosas that used to provide copious sunscreen over the deck. I wanted to write outside
again—away from the mounds of papers and the inbox full of unanswered emails inside in my little office, both of which
seemed to be crying out for me to return to structure and accountability. I argued (that's right, I talk to myself) that I
needed to be in nature for my creativity to flow, but I needed shade to do it. And, I remembered how Mountain used to love
to lie out on the deck while I sat beneath the pine branches and wrote on my laptop. I missed that. I missed him. The arbor
took shape, a friend created some stellar deck furniture, we got one of those cool outdoor rugs and some solar lanterns, and
I once again had my outdoor writing studio. A way to be home and yet still disappeared.
As soon as the arbor was finished and ready
for use, one of those powerful summer-in-the-mountains storms boiled up suddenly out of a blue afternoon sky. The sunny weather
shifted rapidly to pounding rain, then pelting hail, the marbles of ice accumulating on the surface of the deck so deep that
it looked like a good snow had fallen. Again, I was reminded of Mountain (who passed beyond the ridge some years ago about this time of year), because four
days after he left us, we experienced just such a hailstorm. I remember that day vividly: I went out on the deck and felt
as if Mountain had conjured the hailstorm himself to reassure me that his spirit had completed the four-day journey beyond
the ridge, and to remind me how quickly things can turn and change. I felt as if he were telling me not to worry. Not to grieve
too intensely. To everything a season.
And now, cue the Twilight Zone theme! Another notable event took place that same day just as we finished the arbor: my friends
Rick and Sandra called with fantastic news: Mountain's totem was finished, culminating an eight-months project that returned
a precious item once lost, then found, then recreated by these two artists into a new, even more precious and sturdy pendant made from Mountain's
tag. The beautiful work these dear friends poured into this totem—their creativity and generosity—made this simple
treasure even more beloved and special. (I will post a photo of it with this blog so you can see.) Suffice to say, this amulet
made a long, long journey to get back home to its rightful place around my neck after being lost in another town, another
state, another part of the country. After months of being disappeared itself, this magic charm of mine was returned, transformed,
and was once again a part of me. For me, the totem now embodied not only the spirit of a wolf who became my teacher and best
friend, but also the kindness of a total stranger who found it and reached out across the miles to return it, the love and
creativity of friends who recreated it, and proof of the true goodness of life, of the gift of being here now.
And so it was that when Mountain's
totem Undisappeared, I did, too. When I first felt the weight of the pendant around my neck in its latest incarnation, I felt
as if blood took the place of air in my veins. I was becoming solid, substance and form again. A day or two later, I took
to my little office (a/k/a the Sky Chapel) with a vacuum cleaner, duster, trash can and a letter opener and I found the top
of my aspen desk again. I tentatively contacted a few friends, phoned the other members of The Pack and told them I was alive,
and I started to be in the "real" world again. Every day, I wrote on the deck under the arbor, but I wasn't avoiding
the Sky Chapel or my desk any longer. I was unvanishing, beginning to cast a shadow once more. I still haven't made my way
through all the emails. But I will, eventually. I'm back in the material world. Undisappeared.
Friday, March 19, 2010
What does it all mean? A leap across the cultural canyon…
2:55 pm mdt
my Tiwa family, everything means something. Every sign, symbol, occurrence, event, and element in their
surroundings has meaning. The wind blows out of the south, that means something. The weather warms up considerably, that means
something else. A deer crosses the road in front of your car, that means something. A pebble on the hiking path causes you
to trip, there's a message for you from the stone, the old one. The elders in my Tiwa family live in constant interaction
with life and all its elements. It's very different from the way most of the rest of us live, which (by contrast) might even
be characterized as half-asleep. I count myself among the dozing folks, so it's not a judgment. It's HARD waking up and staying
awake to everything, recognizing everything as having some symbolic or sacred importance and honoring that. It takes every
ounce of focus, and leaves me almost no time to check my email or fluff and buff so I look presentable, blog, make calls on
my cell phone, even just zone out and go stupid for a while. This being aware all the time is exhausting if you're not conditioned
to do it. And I'm not conditioned to do it.
For example, I recently caught a bad cold. No big deal, right? You stock up
on tissues, get some cold meds at the drugstore, push the fluids, take some naps. You spend your waking time imagining productive
uses for the gelatinous stuff you're exporting into the tissues: could be bottled and sold as an industrial lubricant, used
for glazing outdoor furniture, road resurfacing, whatever. That's how I do it, anyway, under normal conditions.
enter my Tiwa dad, who tells me to listen to this invasion of bacteria, viruses, whatever these ornery little buggers are.
Which means I'm not supposed to suppress the symptoms, or I won't "hear" what I'm supposed to hear. "You maybe
learn something," he says. The maybe part meaning: if I can get past the fact that I'm
so stubborn, willful, set in my own ways, generally inept at decoding the Universe, etc. And get this: he has his own health
challenges, and yet he sees them as part of his sacred journey. As teachers. Shapers and strengtheners. Challenges not to
be overcome, but to be understood and appreciated so that he can receive all the gifts they offer. Life companions, in some
cases, sent to him to have a positive effect on his growth and evolution that could not be attained in any other way. This,
I think, is faith beyond measure.
So back to the everything-has-meaning thing: let's take another example. It
snowed a foot overnight and is still snowing hard today, last day of winter. What does this mean? To me in the mundane world,
this means I don't know if I can make it down the mountain and all the way to Denver for a gig tomorrow, even with four-wheel
drive and good snow tires and chains. To my Tiwa grandma, this means winter is not ready to give the world over to spring
yet. Seems obvious enough, but then I have to report that winter means more than just a season to my Tiwa grandma. It is about
growth at a level beneath the conscious, germinating things under the surface, increasing personal wisdom, drawing down and
getting still and quiet, gaining strength and tenacity as a result of the physical challenges inherent in winter. And developing
certain skills and attributes. If winter is not ready to give the world over to spring yet, then somehow, we haven't quite
completed our current tasks. Grandma has a set of stories that are only told in the winter. They contain meaning and lessons
so subtle that they can whizz right by you on the tremor in her high-pitched voice and you can miss them. If that happens,
you have to wait another cycle around the medicine wheel before you can try again to get their meaning. To the Tiwa, the winter
is the perfect and only time for certain lessons. Certain songs, certain rituals, certain stories. If you get a cold and it
snows a foot and a half, that means something about your particular journey around this segment of the medicine wheel. If
you miss the meaning, you are doomed to repeat the same lesson again and again. And make everyone else immediately around
you wait for spring, in some cases. Or fail to grow through the cycle and be stunted, thereby not fulfilling your role in
the tribe in a timely way. Think about that in the global sense. Talk about responsibility!
to the conversation with my dad. The Tiwa consider it rude to be asked a direct question, in most cases. So, I said to my
dad, "If you have any ideas about what this cold is trying to teach me, I'd love to hear them." (Because I really
wanted to hurry up and get it figured out so I could take a decongestant and some other things so I could stop coughing and
sneezing and get some sleep.) To which he replied, "Maybe if I had a cold, I would know. But I don't have a cold. You do."
to wake up.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
What Would Jamaica Do?
8:27 am mst
had a rough year. I know I'm not alone in that, and I'm not asking for pity here, but it needs to be acknowledged. It's been
a really tough year. The normal one-thing-and-then-another rhythm of stuff that irks people now and again all happened at
once for me this year. And there was more: unimaginably busy schedules with impossible demands, loss of staff to injury, loss
of relatives to death, loss of family pets to old age, illness and even an oncoming car. Medical crises in loved ones, and
losses there, too. And a couple close calls of my own, both of them arising during trips into remote back country. In late
spring, I cracked my head open so severely that I can still trace the softball-shaped rent in my skull and I bear a scar across
my forehead from the wound. That one happened ninety miles from the nearest hospital, so we did a field triage and some butterfly
sutures, and I lived.
When I was writing WILD SORROW, I marveled at the tenacity, the strength,
and the toughness that Jamaica showed as that story unfolded. She suffered an ongoing lack of the normal amenities we all
take for granted (like electricity and running water), plus she got beat up, knocked down, smashed into, and broken up. And
she just kept going. Even when people around her advised her to slow down, lie down, stop, rest. And I was amazed at the strength
I found in her as I wrote. She had grit I didn't even know about, and I like to think I'm the one who created her! I grew
to admire Jamaica on a much deeper level than I ever had before. Slowly, over the year I was working on WILD SORROW, Jamaica
became my hero. Not just my sleuth. Not just someone I cared about. She became a role model for persistence and bravery in
the face of difficult odds. I wanted to be more like her in almost every way.
And then this autumn,
without meaning to—that is to say without planning to "camp out" or any of those rugged, outdoorsy things
we do that seem fun and exciting—I ended up enduring a lot of the same hardships as my hero did in the book I wrote
over two years ago. Just like Jamaica, I went without running water for what seemed like an eternity. The boiler went out
and the snows and cold came early, so that meant a wood fire had to be kept constantly burning in the cabin woodstove, or
if I had to leave, it meant returning to near-freezing temperatures, pets, and plants. The weather went straight from a rainy,
cold, Irish summer to a bitter, white winter and never passed go. A constant snow pack has clung to the ground for two months
now, not normal for autumn here.
On Halloween, in the White Mountains of Arizona, back off the grid nearly
fifty miles from anywhere, I was brought to my knees by jacking pain that doubled me over and wrung up whatever was inside
of me that could be torn loose and expelled. As one doctor put it, "You were vomiting like an animal." Indeed I
was. And vomiting blood. The nearest hospital was an hour away over treacherous roads, but my fearless friend, Betsy, got
me there. The specialists scratched their heads and ordered more tests, until finally a vascular surgeon read the CT scan
and asked for another with a dye injection for contrast. It was he who noted the stranding of infection around my spleen,
causing it to enlarge and become inflamed. But no one knows how or why it happened, or what might be done to prevent it happening
again. Thus, my spleen came sharply to my attention for the first time in my life and remained in the forefront of my thoughts
and feelings for some time.
After a brief recuperative time, I returned home to Colorado and the snows
and bitter cold, the broken water line (and thus, no running water), the ailing (if relatively new) boiler, the wood-ravenous
woodstove and the daily sponge baths in a scant bowl of water heated with my tea kettle. The weather delayed needed repairs,
the pain in my side subsided, re-emerged, and then subsided again, my belly remaining tender for weeks. And a rash of other
household systems breakdowns erupted until I started telling people we had the equivalent of the mechanical H1-N1 virus at
It seemed like the day would never come when the water would run through the pipes again and
the boiler would fire as backup so I could leave the house safely and return to it reasonably warm. I dreamed of hot showers,
of clean laundry, of flushing the toilet at will. One day, Lee Ann, my publicist and friend, said, "You're just like
Jamaica in WILD SORROW." And I realized that it was true!
From then on, I started asking
myself, "What would Jamaica do?" When my side ached and I felt the pain coming back, I remembered Jamaica holding
her broken ribs as she limped to the bathroom, determined to keep her commitment to help the Pueblo women deliver their Christmas
baskets. When I couldn't keep food down, I remembered her sipping applesauce and soup out of the good side of her smashed
mouth, knowing it would nourish her back to health. And when I wanted to feel self-pity because I hadn't had a hot shower
in well more than a week, I remembered Jamaica digging a trench for a latrine near the woods in the cold of winter. And I
figured I could hang on a little while longer. Maybe just one more day.
And the days stacked together until
one of them was full of the sounds of the backhoe digging in the meadow to replace the broken water line. The boiler manages
to run after a complete tune-up and a minor investment of funds. And my swollen spleen feels less tender to the touch and
more like it's going to make it. And me along with it.
Suddenly, the worst of the crises seems to have passed
and I can stop and take a breath. But, like Jamaica, I look around and note the changes. There have been losses that couldn't
be mended. Nothing to do but cowgirl up. That's what Jamaica would do.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Road Trip By Gillian Driscoll, Our Guest Blogger for August
11:58 pm mdt
While author Sandi Ault is
avidly researching for her next book, members of the WILD Bunch are offering fun guest blogs on a wide range
of subjects. This guest blog is from Gillian Driscol. Our thanks to Gill
for providing us with her account of a road trip to Sandi's WILD Writers Workshop.
Road Trip by Gillian Driscoll
When I first moved to the west from England 27 years ago (yikes,
has it really been almost 30 years!), I became fascinated with stories of the harrowing journeys of the original settlers.
I read book after book, account after account of those marathon meanderings across parched plains, towering mountains, raging
rivers and impenetrable canyons. I was awed at the stamina of those folks, at their determination, at their capacity
for winning through and the way they coped with crippling conditions and devastating losses.
I wondered just how
they coped on a daily basis, spending hour after hour, day after day, either walking alongside or riding in those covered
wagons. The women especially, with the responsibility of children not to mention giving birth on the go, won my undying
admiration. How did they do that? How did they survive?
My good friend Sandi and I have been friends
and fellow life travelers for many years. Lately, however, our busy lives have left us little time for chats over tea
or even extended phone calls. Undaunted, we two resourceful Geminis, came up with an answer. We would take advantage
of Sandi's writing class in New Mexico and take a road trip.
As I jumped into my car to drive to Sandi's house,
I tried to cheer up my husband, who had a "you're leaving me behind all on my own" look on his face, by chirping
brightly "Hey, why don't you take a road trip with your buddies sometime?" He stared back at me with
a look of incomprehension, mumbled something indeterminate and kissed me goodbye. I guess same sex road trips can't
be a guy thing? Who knew?
I was excited. Six hours in a car with my friend meant lots of time
to chat and catch up. I couldn't wait. I even had a couple of books with me that I wanted to share excerpts from
with her. When I got there, I found she had done the same. Oh the joys of having a friend on the same wavelength!
We packed the car and set off, immediately tuning into the same spot on the dial. Let the conversation begin!
The journey passed quickly. We fixed our families, our health, our futures, our spouses and the world. How satisfying!
We laughed and came to the brink of tears. We ate (healthy stuff), drank and gushed about how much we loved the West
and the stunning vistas we passed through. We were so engrossed in our mission to catch up, we only made one potty stop.
Sandi's workshop was wonderful. The weather was wonderful. The company was wonderful.
New Mexico was radiant.
On Sunday morning we slept late and embarked on our journey home. Now it will probably
come as no surprise to female readers that our return trip was not a rerun of the outward leg - it was a continuation.
Far from running out of topics, we had the weekend to process, further thoughts on previously raised issues and more reading
to do. Despite traffic holdups that extended the time by another hour, we never ran out of things to discuss.
Now at last, after all these years, I realized I had my answer to the question of just how those women settlers coped.
They just kept talking with their BFFs! Every day as they set out on their dangerous journey into unknown territory,
they settled into their wagon or strode alongside making sure that a woman friend was nearby. As they walked they must
have reminisced about places and family they had left behind, shared concerns with each other, given advice, offered support
and comfort, speculated about the future, laughed and cried.
This is how women cope. This is how they survive
the unthinkable and trudge into the unknown. With their friends at their sides, women can survive most anything.
As long as we can talk, we can live.
Gillian Driscoll Ph.D. is a writer, spiritual teacher and speaker who
enjoys finding surprises in the ordinary stuff of life.
2009, Sandi Ault, All Rights Reserved
Music by Sandi Ault,
Photos by Tracy A. Kerns and Sandi Ault unless otherwise stated