Most of the white beach-washed pebbles are limestone fossils, remnants of a former coral reef. Some are chert with a coating of lime. When I first began hunting rocks on the shores of Lake Superior, I couldn’t tell my limestone from my chert, but with one I learned to recognize glossiness and a microcrystalline structure, and with the other distinct patterns and often a macrocrystaline structure. If I could see crystals like rock sugar, it’s likely a limestone fossil. Yet sometimes — sneaky as metamorphosis can be — chert can replace the original fossil structure.
A big black tote bag holds all my rocks not yet displayed in window sills or gifted away. The window sills are so nearly mine, I’m taking the chance to clean them. Deep cleaning. Nesting. Rock sorting. I don’t have time to sort rocks, so lively as my days have been, but I find comfort in the process. If my rocks are organized, if I can name them, recognize their details and structures, then everything might yet be okay. I could also go to hell in a big black tote bag, and it will still be okay.
Point is, it’s okay. It’s more than okay. I don’t have to name all the rocks, but I can dream of what I’ll do next with them.
In the span of a week, I spent the night with a ghost, attended and presented at a writing conference out of town, met my next great author mentor, helped my kids move out of my not-yet house, picked out paint for the walls, got a bed (GOT A BED!), moved from the Rodeo Room to the Happy Trails (named rooms), deep-cleaned kitchen cupboards, swapped out the spice cupboard for the tea cupboard and contemplated how to fill the rest of the pantry, unburied my desk and planned how to live in more space than my previous four foot by two foot corner, spent late nights at the Lake with Cynthia to watch sunsets and listen to cold spring-peeper, talked to my neighbors, talked to my flowers (which confused a neighbor who thought I was telling him to “Grow, baby, grow”), planned curtains with the Hub’s cousin, and buried a grandmother.
Some of these things were more life-altering than others. My neighbors will adjust. Before Sunday, they were my daughter’s neighbors, now they are mine. Now they get to learn I talk to flowers and chipmunks and stare long and hard into the eyes of the stars late at night. It has to be late — I don’t get back from the Lake until dark, and that’s after 11 p.m. My new bed is glorious (do you hear angels singing?), and I’ve been slipping off to sleep earlier than normal. We are adjusting to space. We are preparing to own this space. The Hub leaves a trail of socks and discarded shirts from room to room like he’s marking territory.
Of all these things, the biggest splash came from the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association Writing Conference in Marquette. That’s where I met the ghost and my newest writing heroine. I want to tell you about my teacher, but you’re probably curious about the ghost story and starting to wonder if my new neighbors are right to think I might be a bit off my rocker. So first, the eerie tale.
When I signed up for the writing conference back in November, I didn’t know it would coincide with the weekend my kids would move out, and I was designated Cook to the Movers. Sunday was the official move day, and my conference was all day Saturday, so I canceled my second night and drove home afterward to fix strata and macaroni salad. I drove to Marquette on Friday after Warrior Wives group to attend a dinner for presenters and UPPAA board directors.
A funny thing happens when I get to a hotel — my inner introvert wants to curl up and stay in. But I had a BOGO free card for drinks, a $20 meal credit from the hotel for having signed up for the room during their Spring Fling, and the expectation to show up. Marquette is home to Northern Michigan University, which has a competitive MFA in Creative Writing. This gives the town a strong literary base. From that base, grew UPPAA which welcomes authors of all genres and forms of publication. When they asked for someone to join the marketing panel, I raised my hand.
Let me pause a moment and encourage you to attend regional writing conferences. When I lived in Minneapolis, I attended Loft events, Rain Taxi, and workshops throughout the upper Midwest. When I lived in Idaho, I won a scholarship to attend BinderCon in LA and worked with Montana organizers to bring a satellite BinderCon event to Missoula. Sometimes you have to travel, but the biggest gains are networking and learning the current state of the industry and publication interests. It’s fun, too! Which I told my inner introvert who just wanted to hang out in the room with the purple and lavender wallpaper.
Before dinner, I sat down with ten strangers. After dinner, I parted from new friends. I sat next to a brilliant children’s book author and her seeing eye dog, Floyd. I met a historian who writes about Upper Michigan history, and he told me about his latest discovery — an abandoned quarry where the town was built into the rock like some 1800s Anasazi city. It’s off the grid with no discernable road. I met the incoming UPPA president, one of my co-presenters who publishes regional imprints. Then I met the outgoing president, author of Haunted Marquette. He asked me if I was staying at The Landmark Inn, and I said yes, up on the sixth floor.
“Not the Lilac Room?”
“Uh, yes, the Lilac Room.”
After a brief chat about the librarian and her lost-at-sea lover, I was warned to check for screws in the bed. Upon retiring to my (haunted) room, I was skeptical. The room was bright and clean and didn’t feel creepy at all. I pulled back the sheets — no screws. Settling into bed, I read and nodded off, waking up to bright lights. I opened my eyes, and it was dark. I flipped on the bedside lamp, feeling a bit uneasy. I chalked it up to the ghost story playing with my mind. But when I turned back off the light and closed my eyes, I could see bright lights. I wondered if I was getting an ocular migraine, a rare occurrence but I’ve had three in my lifetime, and I see bright lights in my periphery. Whatever the phenomenon, it was difficult for me to fall back asleep. So I read and finally drifted off.
In the morning, I thought about my “haunting” and laughed it off as being tired, impressionable, and maybe something weird but explicable with my eyes. On a whim, I tossed back the covers and no screws. No sheet, either. I know there was a top sheet because I folded back the cover and just used the sheet until I went to bed. I found the sheet at the far corner as if it had been neatly pulled taut all the way down. Not scrunched or kicked down. Pulled. I couldn’t explain it. I turned to coffee, but my Keurig would turn off seconds after I pressed the power button. I gave up, showered, packed, and gratefully left the Lilac Room.
What isn’t in the haunting stories is that the lovelorn librarian hung herself with the sheets in that room.
Okay! Moving on from haunted rooms (don’t let that deter you from going out of town to conferences). On my way out of the hotel, I recognized one of my author, idols. I was surprised because Karen Dionne had been at Finlandia University the week before and I was bummed to have missed her. I try not to idolize authors, but I have great admiration for her breakout novel. I called her by the first name and asked if she was headed to the Peter White Library — turns out she was our keynote speaker. I felt embarrassed that I missed that detail, but thrilled that not only would she be there, but I was walking with her. Karen is lovely and down to earth. And she had just sent off her next novel to her publisher. Like that morning. She rose at 4 a.m. and wrote until 9 a.m.
Good thing she didn’t get the Lilac Room.
I want to share with you, what Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Big Magic, says of teachers and why I look to my favorite authors as mentors, whether they know I exist or not:
“Do you want to study under the great teachers? Is that it? Well, you can find them anywhere. They live on the shelves of your library; they live on the walls of museums; they live in recordings made decades ago. Your teachers don’t even need to be alive to educate you masterfully. No living writer has ever taught me more about plotting and characterization than Charles Dickens has taught me—and needless to say, I never met with him during office hours to discuss it. All I had to do in order to learn from Dickens was to spend years privately studying his novels like they were holy scripture, and then to practice like the devil on my own.”~ Elizabeth Gilbert
Karen Dionne shared with us her story and lessons from her journey. To me, she made a big splash when she said, “Have the temperament to take risks.”
And here I sit, at the end of what’s been a long journey to home, surrounded by all the risks I took to keep writing no matter what. And I will keep going. Don’t quit. Adjust, as needed. Learn. Take a deep breath but don’t quit. Bat-crazy stuff will go down in your life. Sorrows will rise, distractions will tempt. But stay the course. Writing is a journey with disappointing and astonishing destinations along the way. It is the act of writing, of shaping yourself into a Writer. Go catch stories, haunted, real, or imaginary. Find mentors. Take risks. Take risks with your writing and write something that scares you — not ghosts, but pushing into that deep place, feeling uncertain about what is rising to the page. Let it rise. Go write.
It’s been a rough few weeks for me emotionally. And it will be a difficult wait until we close. The Hub is having trouble with the transition, and I have to occasionally escape to the Lake to ground so I can return and practice patience when I want to come unhinged, too. No matter what, I still write. And sort rocks.
June 6, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that makes a big splash. It can be fluid, or you can play with the idiom (to make a big splash is to do or say something that becomes unforgettable). Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by June 11, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Lucinda Arrives (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
The rumble of a Harley echoed across the valley, crushing the crackle of a nighttime bonfire. Ramona leaned forward on her lawn-chair and asked Michael, “Is that her?”
“Yes, that’d be Lucinda.”
Danni hoped Michael’s tension was excitement. Ever since he visited his aunts last fall, he spoke about the Navajo biologist he met at powwow. Lucinda rode her bike from Red Cliff, Wisconsin to Elmira, Idaho.
Rumbling up Danni’s driveway, the woman dressed in fringed black leather stopped and dismounted. Ramona gaped when Lucinda shook thick black hair from her helmet. “Oh, Michael. She’ll make a big splash.”