If you’ve read my blog for any length of time you’ve probably learned a few things about me.
1. I love writing poetry and books for kids, my dog, my native plant garden, Santa Cruz, and chocolate.
2. A little over a year ago I was laid off from my day job and have spent the last year adjusting and enjoying being a full-time writer.
3. I’m filled with all kinds of doubts and insecurities about who I am, what kind of a writer I’m supposed to be, and if I am ever good enough whatever task is waiting right in front of me. (In other words, I worry a lot about things I should quit worrying about.)
But probably the single thing that tells you the most about me is that I have never known my father. His name, yes, but that’s all. I’ve never met him or anyone in his family. The only pictures I’ve ever seen were of him as a gawky young man in a white suit at their wedding. He was gone before I was born.
As I kid I used to bug my mom all the time for information about him but she never really said much. No one in the family talked about him and when they did, they never painted the prettiest picture. But here’s the thing, I didn’t want them to tell me whether the picture was any good or not. I wanted to see for myself. Still families do what they can to protect what they feel needs protecting and by the time I was in the 4th grade and someone asked me if I was Tommy Webb’s daughter I said no, without hesitation. I had been trained well.
When you have a hole like that in your life it’s like a scab you can’t let heal. And people who don’t have the same kind of hole often find it difficult to understand why just can’t leave it all alone and move on. I can’t explain the why. I can only claim the hole. It’s grown smaller over the years but it’s still there.
Last week I wrote about the distance we need between real life and our stories before we can write about them. In the past I’ve written about feeling safe enough to write the truth of your story. I believe we should always strive to write with emotional honesty, even when (or especially when) that seems like an impossible task.
That’s where Flyboy comes in. Every question I’ve ever had about my father, about my worth as a person, about how I felt something missing when there was no reason to feel that way because my life was just fine the way it was….all of that has been pouring into Flyboy for, well, over 25 years now.
Characters and plot, I’ve got them. But to take that emotional plunge into the ice water of my past…I just couldn’t make myself do it. I give myself a lot of sleep suggestions about my books, hoping my subconscious will take me where I need to go.
Four years ago I had a dream about my father. In my dream I went to answer the front door and there was a man there, kind of old, his short beard was gray but he had some black hair on his head. He wore a suit that had seen better days. He handed me a box, a white box, like one you might get clothes in or a little bigger. It was tied with string, not a ribbon. I asked him what was in the box. He shook his head. I asked him again to please tell me what was in the box. Nothing. I don’t know why I didn’t just open it myself but I didn’t. Then he walked away. I asked him to wait. He kept walking. Then I asked him who he was. He turned around and said, “I am your father.” And then I woke up without opening the box.
Last week for some random reason I decided to check for my father on Classmates.com. I knew where he had gone to high school so I kept hoping that he might show up there. It was a far-fetched hope since people in his generation aren’t as into the Internet as I am. Once I had gone there and found nothing I went through my normal little routine, putting in his name, the town he went to school in and the state where he was born. I’d never gotten anything back with that combo before but it was a familiar search I had done many, many times.
This time was different. This time an obituary popped up. I read it and burst into tears then almost as quickly I chastised myself for crying over someone who had never wanted me.
I’ve pieced together a story from my mom over the years. My father Tommy Webb was born in Arkansas and went to high school in Vallejo, California. His family eventually moved to Concord, to Bonifacio Street, into the little duplex across the street from where my mom lived. He worked at a service station in Walnut Creek, back when they had guys who pumped the gas for you. My grandmother’s name was Tina. She was pregnant with my uncle Robert at the same time my mom was pregnant with me. I had an aunt Kitty who was two years older than I am. There was another aunt Janette. That’s about it. Except for the not so pretty stories that I’ll keep to myself because, as my mom told me today. He could have changed. Turned his life around. People do it all the time.
My father died in Missouri. In January. This year.
In January I was still recovering from being laid off, trying to piece my new life together, trying to figure out how to create a life that nourished my creative soul. I was whole but with rough edges that still needed smoothing. I think if I had found him then it would have been too much. Much too much. Sometimes distance is a good thing. Even if it means we never get the chance to say goodbye.
His obituary mentions my aunts and my uncle. Where they live. It also says he has two sons and a daughter. My half-siblings. And lots of grandchildren. Aunts and Uncles. Bothers and Sisters. Nieces and Nephews. Family or not. It all depends on your point of view. The kind of picture you want to paint.
The obituary does not, of course, mention me.
I keep thinking about that dream I had. How odd to think that my father, who never paid a dime of child support, might give me a gift I’ve always wanted. Answers to questions that have haunted me for years.
The Internet makes things easy sometimes. Really it took no more than a few hours of searching to locate most of the family. They’re not active online. No websites or blogs or Facebook profiles. But mailing addresses. Phone numbers. I have some of them now.
It’s a chance. A chance to see at least part of the picture for myself.
For the last week my question I ask myself before bed is “Who am I?” It may sound like a silly question but I am interested in what my subconscious pulls up.
Last night I had a dream that I was going to New York to meet with my editor. I’ve only been to New York once before, when I went to teach at Chautauqua, and I didn’t really see much of the New York I imagined (busy streets, brownstones, etc.)
In my dream I was on a bus with a bunch of people, not a normal bus but more like cable car sort of thing. The driver stopped. For some reason I got off. No suitcase. No purse. Nothing. Just me. I looked back at the driver who was standing on the steps of the bus, the only way to get on. He clutched his chest, his heart perhaps, in excruciating pain. Then he yelled something horribly scary. I don’t know what but it scared me too much to move. I didn’t move toward him and I didn’t run away.
Then he turned around, got back on the bus, and drove away. Without me.
I freaked out.
I ran into the nearest building. The only thing I could think of was to find my agent and to find my hotel. I was staying at a hotel that started with the letter C. That’s all I could remember about it. The building I walked into was a restaurant, a big old style diner with tons of open space, slow pace, and nothing I would have expected to see in New York. I explained the situation and the waitress brought me a phone book so I could look for the hotel. There were only 3 hotels that started with the letter C. That seemed insane for a place as big as New York. Then I looked at the cover of the phone book. It said Metairie, Louisiana. (Metairie is a town not far from where I lived in New Orleans.)
I ran to the next building. It was a room filled with people playing video games. Every room had a different game and different players. No one could see what my problem was. No one understood that there was anything wrong with being dumped in a strange place with only the clothes on my back.
I remembered I had my cell phone and I called my agent.
She didn’t know what I was talking about. She had no idea why I was in New York.
I went back to the restaurant, no longer sure if I was in New York or Lousiana. But it wasn’t a restaurant anymore. It was an office building and the manager came out to the reception area and said she would take me where I needed to go. We headed out to her car and I woke up.
This one I can’t figure out, at least not just yet.
Every night I give myself a sleep question. This last week it has all been focused around the changes going on in my life right now and how to make the next stage of my life into what I really want it to be. I usually ask, "What should I work on next?" and "How can I give myself the best chance of succeeding in my literary life?"
Last night I dreamt of my first agent. She was so excited that I had contacted her again. Very excited that I wanted to work with her again. She was amazingly enthusiastic.
For a moment I thought this was great! I knew I was dreaming. I knew I had asked sleep questions. I felt this was a good sign that I needed to get back to my writing as soon as possible.
But then I remembered.
That agent is dead. She can’t help me anymore. I have another agent, one who might not be as enthusasitac about me at the moment (because I haven’t given her much to work with) but a really great agent.
When I woke up I let myself just lay there a while and think about the dream. At first I was sad. I thought I had the "answer" only to have it disappear. I thought the dream was telling me that I wanted to go back and rebuild my writing career from the beginning (oh boy – sometimes I think that would be great) but that I couldn’t do that. I have often wondered what my career would have been like if I had started writing seriously in the last 10 years or so, after computers and the Internet and the surge in children’s publishing were all very real events. But I can’t undo the things that happened along my path. And I don’t really want to….I don’t think.
I think what the dream really means is that yes, this is a new chapter, a new beginning, in my writing life. I can shape it into anything I want it to be. And while it is wonderful to have enthusiastic supporters, it is most important to remember I am the one in charge.
I am strong enough to do it on my own.
I had an amazing dream last night.
I dreamt I was at some sort of nature event and they were talking about native bees. The girl on one side of the table said they wouldn’t stink and then promptly got stung. The other person at the table said, no, really, they’ll be fine. You’ll see.
When I looked down at my bare arms, both of them were slowing being covered with bees. This small hoard just started at my wrists and moved slowly up each arm, circling the arm, and then they just as easily, moved back off me again.
I wasn’t afraid or worried or anything. Just in absolute awe.
Okay, I’m editing this to add my thoughts on what the dream means to me. For thousands of years, bees have been the symbols of royalty and fertility. They are nurturing, food givers. You could live a long time just on the food of bees. They could symbolize renewal. I wasn’t attacked by bees. I wasn’t stung by bees. I was just allowed to see how beautiful they were, up close, and how they worked together to make something beautiful happen. There’s the old saying, “busy as a bee.”
To interpret a dream you need to think about what the symbols in the dream mean to your own life. Bees are life-givers to me. I am a native plant gardener and without the bees, there is less life in my garden. I have felt empty, especially of words lately, so it is significant to me that the only part of my body that the bees covered completely were my arms. They were doing what bees do – feeding me, feeding the part of me I needed to write. It’s time to do the work.
I took the dream as a very positive one.
Last night I had a dream that I had three dogs.
In real life I only have one but in the dream, all three of them looked like they’d been with me a while. One had a favorite chair. One would escape whenever I opened the door but always came home when I called. One was very good at hiding.
One of them kept bringing pieces of paper and putting them on the floor in front of me. One would run away as soon as I got close and didn’t really want to be touched. One just waited patiently for me to pay attention to it whenever I walked by. In my dream I went to work, to a friend’s house, and back home, and the dogs were always with me. When I went shopping, they were there. In the car, they were there. Always surrounded by dogs and never once was it a problem.
The connection to the three books I’m working on is obvious. Everywhere I go, I take the books with me. They are a part of my life. They are not a hindrance to living or working and having them near me makes me happy.
I do wonder though, which one kept bringing me paper. And was it paper for me to read or a prod to get me to write?
I have always tried to use the power of my subconscious to do some work for me when I am sleeping. If I am in the middle of a book I will give myself a sleep question before bed in the hope that the answer will come to me in a dream. And often it does. Lately, as I work my way back to words, I am giving myself a lot of sleep intentions that have to do with writing. I work hard to remember my dreams before getting out of bed, looking for insights into how my brain works when I’m not awake to put shackles around it in an attempt to control it.
I share them not because they are earth shattering but because they are not. They are the dreams of an ordinary writer trying to make sense out of her ordinary life.
Dream from 2/16/08
I was watching a young girl at a desk. I don’t think anyone else even knew I was in the room. Some woman said something to her and she started to write. I realized she was in an editor’s office. I don’t know what kind. She handed the woman her page and the editor said it was very good. That there was lots to work with and that she was looking forward to working with her on it. I stepped back into the shadows more and listened to the conversation about what she should do next and how she should proceed. Suddenly the girl was writing like crazy and getting all this encouragement from everyone in the room. One woman told her she needed to get her picture taken because she would need it for the press. The next thing I saw was a girl rearranging because she needed a place to write.
We have been in our new home just a few weeks shy of a year now. When we moved in the only two rooms we painted were the library and my office. The library is so warm and welcoming and gives you a “hug” the minute you walk in. My office is bright and airy and, well, I never work in it. Which means I work on the couch with the laptop resting on a pillow between my legs. That’s fine for blog posts or playing Scrabulous. Not so much for writing a novel.
Since that dream I’ve taken a good look at the office and what does and doesn’t work for me. While both the library and my office have the vaulted beam ceiling, the library was left natural. But the previous owners painted my office beams white. I am going to paint them to match the wood in the library, lower the ceiling and increase the coziness factor. While I love the pale yellow I think the room is too bright for work. I am looking at sage greens now. Most importantly (and actually the most difficult) is covering the windows. I have two patio doors that leave me feeling exposed (since we removed 99% of all the plants in the backyard and neighbors can look over the fence into the house.) Drapes will warm up the room but will have to always be partway open in order to allow the dog to keep watch over her domain. So I am going to look at some wood blinds with a block-out liner. That way I can leave the one section up partway for the dog.
There are other things to be covered in the room as well, two sets of French doors and a small window at the end of the room. It is no wonder it doesn’t feel as cozy. I’d take out the small window if I could but for now, I just need to cover it up.
The most important aspect of the room (and the dream) was the desk. Currently I have two desks in my office. One is working well, the other one, not so much. The two desks are back-to-back. When you come into the room there is a big antique library table. It’s the perfect place to write notes by hand or spread out research books. On the other side is the computer desk. But it is (and has been for a while) too small. Once I have the laptop and the docking station and the big monitor on there there is no place left for a piece of paper or a cup of tea. So I am searching for a new, larger computer desk that will work in the room. (Like one of those old oak teacher desks.)
All this began from a dream.
Dream night 2/18/08
Last night I gave myself the sleep intention to dream about what is keeping me cut-off from writing, from being fully present in the moment and how I could change it. I had three short dreams.
First I dreamt I was trapped like a mummy but instead of with cloth, it was some kind of plaster. Only my eyes and mouth were visible. I couldn’t hear anything.
Then I dreamt there was this tiger laying on his back in the swimming pool – sprawled like arms to each side, just drifting along as happy as could be.
Then I dreamt I was in a pool with a whale and I had my arm around his “neck” and I was dragging him away to the ocean, to freedom.
I am feeling trapped by something, still, perhaps myself. I am not sure what it means to that I could see and talk but not hear. Perhaps I am not listening to something, to someone that I should.
A tiger is a strong hunter, a powerful animal. I do not know what it means in my life but I felt like the power was there for the taking.
I liked the idea that I was taking the whale to freedom but I wonder why I was working so hard to save someone else and why I won’t work that hard to save myself?
I had this dream while I was at a 3 day writing conference. I had spent the conference just trying to connect with people for talking about how writing and creativity fit into their lives. Just trying to learn how other people made it work from them.
In the dream one of the women from the conference came to my house (I knew it was my house but it didn’t look anything like the house I live in) I walked her all over the house and told her all about my writing and all the wonderful ideas I had for simplifying my life, getting back on track, writing the stories I meant to write. She was very encouraging, kept saying, “yes! yes! yes!” and then she started to drag me out of the house toward her car. My husband came home then and I started telling him all about this fabulous day that the two of us had had, how exciting it was, how motivated I was. He got all excited with me, FOR me.
Then the woman pulled me out of the house and opened her car door. I had a hold of my husband’s hand. She shut the door and he was left on the outside. I had to tell him that he couldn’t go with me.
I confess, at first this dream made sad and a bit afraid. I didn’t want to have to choose between my husband and my writing. But then I realized that of course the writing is the one place he can’t go with me. When I think about why the dream scared me I had to think about what my husband means to me. He is my safe zone. He is the one who has given me the comfort and security that I need in order to go deep with my writing. I remember reading this wonderful quote by Pat Schneider that said (paraphrasing) “You can write as powerfully and as deeply as you want, provided you feel safe.”
It was that quote which made me realize that my husband had helped create a safe haven for me that allowed me to write the painful story of Hugging the Rock.
Which must mean that it is time for me to go deep, once more, knowing that he is there waiting for me, making it safe enough for me to write the truth.
This is a hodgepodge post with 3 points and no plot.
#1 – This weekend we had our first party in our new home, a housewarming. It was so much fun to have our friends see our place. It was also a good time for us to reflect on how much we have accomplished since we moved in March. Except for our computer desks, the folding bookcases, and a cedar chest that was my grandmother’s, every piece of furniture in the house has been replaced in 6 months. Whew! Still not 100 % done but enough of it was complete that it “feels” done. As always with us and parties, we had way too much food.
#2 – Something woke me up at about 2am this morning. I can only describe it as a “clicking sound”, like if you had one of those toys you would use to click for dog training. I have no idea what it could be. It went on for about 1/2 an hour and then stopped.
#3 – Last night I dreamt I was going to prision. They told me I could let people know I was going to be taken in on Monday so I was busy trying to notify my boss and my family but then they wouldn’t tell me where they were taking me. They were being very nice but kept saying “No, you can’t take any paper with you. No, you can’t take anything to write with. No, you can’t take any books.” They said I wouldn’t have to wear a uniform but I would have to stay there for “quite a while” so I should get used to the idea.
I haven’t figure out what it all means yet.
Or maybe I have and I don’t like the answer. Sigh.
It was in a dream, but still, who am I to argue?
I dreamt I was having this great conversation with Matthew Perry. We were laughing and he was being wonderfully witty and funny and all sorts of things that I admired. So I told him so. I said I wished I could be like him and always know the right thing to say at the right time. I said I wished I was clever at conversations and knew how to make people laugh.
And he said, “I’m not doing anything special. All I’m doing is reading things from this book.”
I laughed and said, “Yeah right.” But I did notice that he had a book with a pale blue cover in his hands.
He said, “Really. That’s all. I just read what someone else already wrote. See, let me show you.”
Then he came around and stood behind me and lifted this book down in front of me. In it were many of the things we had talked about and so much more. He let me hold the book and I felt a little trickle of excitement before he took it back.
He started to walk away, turned around, and gave me that Matthew Perry grin before he said, “Someone had to write it all down for me. Someone had to write the book.”
And I knew when I woke up that it was time to start thinking about writing again even though I can’t imagine where it is going to fit into my day.
After all, someone has to write the book.
One of the things I believe is most important in our writing is to write with emotional honesty. For me that means finding something in my own life that somehow will connect itself with the main character so I can use my emotion to fuel the character emotion. I’m not talking about an exact match in the event that causes the emotion but a matching emotion that can drive more events. So far it’s missing in Frankie’s story which means I think about it a lot. For me the emotional connection between my life and my character’s life makes the difference between a book with voice and just a bunch of words on the page.
I read a recent interview with Deborah Wiles that she did for The Institute of Children’s Literature. In it she said, ”When I say I start with a voice, I think I’m also saying that I start with a feeling. And that’s how it works for me that I get my life into stories. It’s a voice, yes, but it’s really a feeling that I want to make manifest, if that makes any sense. I don’t even understand it myself all that well. I just know that when something is bothering me, or making me particularly joyful, it can find a voice in story.”
That resonates with me, most especially with Frankie. I know he is in pain and I know he hasn’t had an easy life. I don’t know the details but I know that he doesn’t believe his life can be anything different than what it is right now and that somehow it is my job to help him think differently. I try to use my dreams as a way to help me with my writing. I often give myself a sleep suggestion to let my subconscious work while I rest. Of late it has been the same suggestion: “tell me more about Frankie and his story.” Most mornings I wake up and remember very few dreams but sometimes they are vivid like one I had just the other night.
In my dream I went to answer the front door and there was a man there, kind of old, his short beard was gray but he had some black hair on his head. He wore a bit a suit that had seen better days. He handed me a box, a white box, like one you might get clothes in or a little bigger. It was tied with string, not a ribbon. I asked him what was in the box. He shook his head. I asked him again to please tell me what was in the box. Nothing. I don’t know why I didn’t just open it myself but I didn’t. Then he walked away. I asked him to wait. He kept walking. Then I asked him who he was. He turned around and said, “I am your father.” And then I woke up. And I have NO idea what was in the box.
No, this is not a Star Wars connection. I haven’t seen that movie since it came out and am not a big fan. And here’s the thing, I don’t know my own father. I’ve never met my dad or anyone in his family. In my 47 years I’ve only seen the few wedding pictures of him from when he was a gawky 18-year-old in a white suite. He was gone before I was born and I have heard little about him. What little I did hear wasn’t good. In fact, it was so bad that back in elementary school when someone asked me if I was Tommy Webb’s daughter I automatically said no, so conditioned was I to hiding the truth.
So it is odd and maybe a bit scary to think that my father, who never paid a dime of child support, might give me a gift, perhaps even what I need. And it is sad to think I don’t know what is in the box.