The woman tells her friends to go on without her. They’re at the crest of a ridge that overlooks thousands of acres of wilderness in the Inland Pacific Northwest. Sun breaks through the clouds and they are illuminated, a human crown on top of the world. The friends want to hike to a thumb of sheer granite further up the trail. She declines. Says she doesn’t feel well.
In two hours the friends return to find the woman curled up beneath the boughs of a pine, sobbing. She can’t explain why. She says every time she stands she feels vertigo. One friend stays, to help her off the mountain ridge, while the others continue their hike and several days of back-country camping.
“Agoraphobia,” says the man, recounting the story. He was one of the friends who continued on the journey. Later he found out that she’d suffered an attack of agoraphobia — “a type of anxiety disorder in which you fear and often avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed.” (Mayo Clinic definition.)
The man became fascinated by his friend’s condition. He empathized with her anxiety, understanding that she had many possibilities open to her but had to make a decision to choose one. The rest would go away. Unable to let go of the possibilities and confronted with endless wilderness, she succumbed to anxiety. This incident sparked the idea of a new book and and a new character. The author telling the story had just read from book two of the series.
Writers are story-catchers. I believe many of us were (are) voracious readers, but at some point we have to catch our own stories and not the ones already upon the page. Many writers are inspired to write because of the stories they read. Others find inspiration in discovered stories. I’ve gravitated to the latter, becoming a story-catcher in the way song-catchers record and reclaim forgotten tunes of folk history.
Before I ventured to the Well Read Moose in Coeur d’Alene, south of Sandpoint, I went to North Idaho Cider. It was a social event, yet I had managed to arrive late and the social part had left. So I chatted with the brewers, sipped a Logger dry cider that tasted of wood and spring sunshine, and caught fantastic stories. One of the brewers is a long-time investigative journalist covering the political beat. We started lamenting how writing has changed since the 1990s and how writers fell from grace and no longer earn their value as wordsmiths, story-tellers and truth-seekers.
Yes, we cried little pity tears in our cider, then we moved on to the good stuff: swapping stories.
By the time I arrived to the bookstore, I was ready for more stories. As I’m meeting more local writers, I’m pushing myself to ridges of vulnerability. I’m continuing to read your flash fiction and mine at Open Mic to get people interested in what we are doing at Carrot Ranch; to find new authors and bloggers. I’m hosting Wrangling Words (the Idaho Writers League and two screen-writers showed up last time) and volunteering at the library. I’m helping other writing organizations to support writers, including BinderCon. And I’m stepping up my freelancing — I just submitted to some major US magazine networks, the Washington Post and some big regional publications.
I fell into a gig because I was outside my comfort zone and in the right place at an opportune time.
I’ve said it before — serendipity happens when we do something. We can’t hide in the boughs of a pine forever and expect unexpected gifts. Yet, not only is it uncomfortable out the comfort zone, it’s also vulnerable. We might fail. We might look foolish. We might be misunderstood or under-valued. But we won’t succeed, shine or prove our worth without trying. Despite our best efforts, situations occur beyond our control and we have to deal with them.
Last week I had shared a soul/sole polishing experience for Irene Water’s Times Past challenge. Every time I thought of the beach (which was the prompt) I thought of the sand at Sioux Beach, which made me think of what it felt like to lose my home. Not a cuddly memory. Yet, I had just met an inspiring New York Times best-selling author, Laura Munson, at the BinderCon event I had hosted in Missoula. She was our live speaker. I also met the phenomenal rising star, Montana writer and Binder, Stephanie Land. Both inspired me to write harder truths. So I did. And I felt vulnerable.
I don’t know if feeling vulnerable made a difference, but when I learned last Monday — completely out of the blue — that our house lease was not going to be renewed because the owners decided to sell, I was rocked to the core. I became that agoraphobic woman and huddled beneath a tree. I didn’t just sob, I howled. How can I be displaced — again? What is so wrong with me that I’d face the possibility of homelessness a second time. Vulnerability. As renters, we are vulnerable to the whims of owners. As owners we are vulnerable to a fraudulent system.
Every time I stand up, I get vertigo. My eyes water when I’m trying to watch my screen. I feel a sharp pain when I look outside at the beauty of Elmira Pond and think, it’s not mine. But it never was. In fact, my first post at Elmira Pond Spotter acknowledged that Paradise resides in the Shadow.
Still I rise from that hiding place on the ridge and face the wilderness like a Weeble (Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down). Agoraphobia demands that fears be faced. This is the worst thing I’ve feared. A repeat. But it is not a repeat because I can make choices. I am not without those. And one choice remains strong: I’ll write my way off this ridge.
This has me thinking of Mary McCanles. I’ve struggled with the last segment of Rock Creek because her scenes feel flat. Sarah and Nancy Jane are clearer. Then it came to me. I can imagine Mary feeling similar to how I feel. She must have felt displaced by Cobb’s tragedy. It wasn’t her doing, yet she was the one left behind. Even Sarah and Nancy Jane left. She was vulnerable, too.
But she made it off that ridge and raised all her children on one of the ranches Cobb built. She survived Indian attacks, locusts and the villainized reputation of her husband.
April 6, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a response to an agoraphobic moment. Does your character see the shadows or the light filtering through? This can be used as a character trait or as a moment that causes an anxious reaction. Explore the character’s discomfort — embarrassment, indecision, feeling trapped. The scene can be direct or overheard. Is there a solution when fears are faced?
Respond by April 12, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
When Breakfast Becomes a Decision by Charli Mills
The wagons left yesterday. East, not west. Mary collected eggs in the henhouse at dawn. Soon the orb was orange, the rutted road empty. Leroy said he’d not come back if she refused to go.
And refused she did.
Except now, Mary wanted to toss eggs from her gathered apron and run down the road. She changed her mind. Eggs splattered and Mary fell to her knees, clawing at her clenched throat, wheezing.
“Ma! Ma!” Roe ran to her throwing his arm around her shoulders. A sob finally escaped and she cried muddy tears before rising to cook breakfast.