Today I posted an article on Austin Mystery Writers about a recent visit to Huntsville. I thought I’d post it here too.
I recently took a trip to Huntsville, Texas, and everything I saw at every turn stirred up old memories.
– Right behind the hotel where I stayed was the apartment complex where my cousins had lived. A few blocks away was a second place they lived.
– I passed a street of good friends of many years. They hosted a wedding shower for me.
– I passed the fancy restaurant where my grandmother lived for a while when she was a child. I remember that when she told us, we had no idea!
– I saw the nursing home where my other grandmother spent her last years.
All of this within a short drive just to get a burger! My mother’s family has been in the Huntsville area since the mid 1800’s so we have a lot of stories. A couple of my favorites:
– Sam Houston was a friend of the family. He used to come and visit.
– My great-grandfather was sheriff for a while and lived in the jail.
Neither of my parents grew up there, but my father moved there after my parents got divorced. He was offered a job at Sam Houston State University as a Criminal Justice professor. So I have a personal connection to the place through my mother and my father.
Besides the personal connections, there is something that draws me to the place. Maybe it’s something about the vines growing in the pines, maybe it’s because I love history and old things, maybe it’s because of my “writer brain”, but when I pass old houses, I imagine children playing and grannies rocking while shelling peas. I love browsing through the old stores. I sometimes look at what they’re selling, though I’m more likely to be looking at the tin ceilings and wondering what the original store was.
The history of a place just calls out to me. I look at the red leather seats in the booth at a diner and remember when not everyone was welcome as a customer. I look at the young, happy families and wonder if they hear or feel the negative things that happened. Can they even imagine it? I pass the prison walls and know the prison has been there since 1849. Lots of famous and infamous people have been in those walls.
At the university I think of my great great aunts who attended when it was a Sam Houston Normal School. We’ve had a graduate from there in every generation. My grandmother went to kindergarten at Old Main, which has since burned down.
I think about my father when I sit on the bench outside the CJ building that’s dedicated to him. There’s a plaque with his name on it. He used to sit outside and smoke and talk to students. Inside the building there’s a big picture of him. Next to it are plaques with names of students who have received scholarships named after him.
Sometimes when I’m in town, I visit the cemetery. I look up my folks and browse around. Yep, some people like museums, I like cemeteries.When you’re looking at someone’s headstone, you see when they were born and when they died. You can see if they were married or had children buried with them. So many stories untold.
It’s all a bit overwhelming for me at times. But I guess it’s no surprise that I like to write historical fiction. For me the place is full of mystery, history, conflicts, love, death and birth. Those piney woods have a lot of secrets.
Do you have a place that calls to you?
Posted in Writing and tagged fiction, history, memories, Sam Houston, Writing by VP with .
So many things are connected! I have all of these things swirling around in my head and I wanted to write them down and share them with you.
I was trimming some plants this morning and it made me think of a quote by Einstein:
Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.
At that moment I felt as if I was within a fractal.
It dawned on me that the act of trimming what was unnecessary from the plant to make way for new growth, can apply to larger aspects of our lives.
We can’t have vibrant, healthy lives if all the excess “dead stuff” gets in the way of the sunlight that is needed to nourish the new growth. I think this applies to things such as having too many material possessions, how we live in our homes, how we live our daily lives, and how we write.
When was the last time you really took a look at your life? Is everything running smoothly? Are there some things that just cause anxiety the moment you think about them?
Maybe you have too much stuff. Maybe you have too many clothes or a collection that’s gotten out of hand. Is just the thought of dusting the house too much for you? Fewer items make your life easier. Are you like me and have projects that you have shelved and just can’t seem to get to? Maybe it’s even too much media in your life or too many obligations. Have you overbooked your life? When was the last time you took a minute to watch butterflies or just to take a deep breath? We all have stuff we need to whack away from the clutter of our lives.
Here are some things I do that help to keep me from feeling overwhelmed and once I do them, I feel freer.
1. Going through clothes- sometimes when I’m thumbing through the clothes, if I feel an unfavorable gut reaction at the thought of wearing that item, I toss it.
2. Household chores- Are you like me? I have a big project to do, but I can’t do it until I do A, B, and C. I can’t seem to get around to doing step A, so the project never gets done. Break down large tasks into smaller ones. Take five minutes of your day and it will make a dent in the larger task. Need to clean out the garage? Pick one box to go through. The next day, pick another. Before you know it, the large task will be accomplished.
3. Learn to say, “No.” – this is a difficult one for me, but we’ve heard again and again that it can be a great way to simplify your life.
4. Write about what is bothering you or about what seems wrong- I’m writing this blog to control and organize the thoughts flying around in my head. Even if it’s just for yourself, write about what is bothering you. You’d be surprised at how it clears your mind and you can see things clearer.
Remember, (another Einstein quote):
No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.
Another thing I’ve been thinking about lately are problems. (I told you I have a lot of stuff swirling in my brain!) Problems in life, problems in stories, and how we solve them. I’ve been watching episodes of Mr. Bean lately.
What a great character he is! (Not to mention Rowan Atkinson’s wonderful acting. I think only he could Mr. Bean.) We laugh at his silly antics, but I also admire him for his inventiveness. When confronted with an problem that seems insurmountable, he always seems to find a way to solve it. My favorite is the way he locks his car, I love it.
Sometimes in life (and in writing), when a problem seems insurmountable, I try to think of a way of changing the problem. Of course, it isn’t always possible to change the problem, but this mental exercise may help you change how you view the problem and then create an effective solution. One way I do this is to think of being interrogated by a three year old. (I’m telling you, my brain works in weird ways!) Imagine you say, “I can’t do ____ because of ____.” The three year old will ask, “Why?” For every answer you give, ask yourself, “why?” Do this until you want to scream, “Because I’m your mother and I say so!” But really it may show your problem in a different light, which will make solving it easier. Sometimes we need to break things down to build them up again.
Which leads me to the craft of writing! All of these thoughts made me think about literary characters and writing. As writers, how do we go about solving problems? Is there a problem that you just can’t seem to solve? Come at it a different way. The craziest solution just may be the right solution for you (or your characters).
For me, I’m still working on my first draft. I’ve already had to trim scenes I love dearly, but for the sake of the complete work, I was willing to chop them away. I know there will be more to come. I won’t be able to look at the whole until I have a complete draft, but I’m willing to cut away parts that don’t work and nurture parts that do. ( I was going to say “fertilize” the good parts, but that brings up visions of manure and I don’t want any part of my story to be” manure”!)
Thanks for taking the time to read this. I should be working on the story at the moment, but taking the time to think about these things helps me to see the bigger picture in life and my writing.
Posted in Uncategorized and tagged Einstein, fractals, Mr. Bean, simplify, Writing by VP with .