When was the last time you made up a story, out of the clear blue sky? Exhilaration! There is nothing else like it. I have been telling myself I lack the time to work on my novel, and there is always room for this to be the truth, if I choose it to be.
After all, I tell myself, so many things going on! Between my family and my paid writing jobs and the registration for the Solstice Retreat, now in full swing, and the mini-retreat, and the Writing Salon (which I absolutely love!), I'm running in happy exhausting circles. But ... as my friend Susan tells me, one need only commit fifteen minutes a day to make progress on a novel. Just fifteen minutes a day, every day. Between this advice and the inspiration and accountability of the Writing Salon, I am immersed again in the novel I started over a year ago and then drifted apart from for all of the usual reasons. I've been re-reading the 12,000 words I cranked out during National Novel Writing Month in 2011, rediscovering the characters, allowing them back into my mind and heart, inviting them to keep me company as I spin through my days.
Turns out, they've been waiting, ready to pick up where we left off. The better news is that I still care about them, even more than I remember.
In their honor, here's a sliver from a scene I've been working on, something from early in the book. As you know, this novel is about a teacher (not me, even though indeed I was a schoolteacher for many years!) whose student wanders off on a field trip. The student is found unharmed, and for one shimmering moment the entire cast of characters is suspended in the miracle of gratitude. The real story, however, unfolds in the aftermath, as community members digest and respond to what happened.
Here's a tiny scene from the first part of the field trip:
Right Here, Right Now
The cowbell was one of Simone’s favorite teacher belongings. It was made of hammered brass, mottled with a rich, dark patina, pleasantly dented, and tied with a worn calico ribbon long since faded to gray. The ring of it was rich and mellow, a soothing tone that even Simone’s mentor Tamara had remarked upon.
“How nice it must be for the children to be summoned by such a lovely warm sound, day after day. You’re steeping them in an archetype—the sound of human beings at work, farm animals, nature, all in one beautiful reverberating soul sound.” Simone had literally flushed with joy when Tamara had said these things. The memory rang in her ears every time she used the bell.
Now, standing before the big red barn, Simone stretched her arm high above her head and shook the bell firmly—but not too firmly. All of the carpools had arrived now, and parent chaperones visited cheerfully as third-graders scrambled like puppies across the farmyard, exploring every stick, stone, and patch of mud. As the ring of the bell reverberated in the clear air, the kids came running across the field like starlings in murmuration, their open raincoats flapping brightly behind them. It was a sight Simone loved. How well the children responded, in spite of her shortcomings. What pure intentions they had. She wished that Tamara could be here to see it.
The sky overhead was a startling September blue, but the grass was still sodden and squishy, so there would be no rolling or sitting games in this circle. She started by crossing her arms over her chest, fingertips resting lightly on the tips of each shoulder. She lowered her eyelids and peered out at the children from beneath her lashes. They, too, crossed their arms over their chests, placed their fingertips on their shoulders, and lowered their eyelids. Except Leo, who stood with his arms hanging at his sides, swaying gently from side to side. And Eleanor and May, who each crossed only one arm while holding the other out to each other and hooking their pinkies together in some sort of girlhood pact. Good enough, Simone thought, and breathed deeply, filling her lungs with rain and grass and dirt. She and the children spoke their morning verse in unison:
The sun with loving light
Makes bright for me each day
The soul with spirit power
Gives strength unto my limbs
In sunlight shining clear
I reverence oh God
The strength of humankind
Which thou so graciously
Hast planted in my soul
That I with all my might
May love to work and learn
From thee stream light and strength
To thee rise love and thanks
“Good morning, third grade!” Simone called brightly.
“Good morning, Miss Mallery!”
Their voices hovered in the air, and Simone's chest swelled with renewed determination to be worthy of them.
She raised her right hand high, palm flat and straight like a blade. “I am a knight of Michael, I stand both straight and tall.”
“I am a knight of Michael, I stand both straight and tall,” the children chanted along. Their parents were clustered now near the corner of the barn, a respectful distance from the circle, and Simone’s chest deflated again as she realized she should have invited them to join in. Was it too late now? Flickering on the very periphery of her vision was Foster, karate-chopping Daron every time he raised and lowered his knight’s arm. Simone shot him a look. Amazing how it never failed. Every single time she let her thoughts wander, the circle started to fall apart. Pay attention, she told herself. Be right here in the moment. Nothing matters except the teaching, right here, right now.