Today is our last day on the Sanctuary. We're nearly all packed. Tomorrow we'll leave before the sun is up. Mario is inside the casita preparing dinner. I am in the Quail House where I have as company a huge spider. She clings to an old blanket in the chair behind me. Perhaps she is waiting to hear stories from me, or else she's come to share some of her own.
Outside the wind blows, stirring up dust and memories of winters past.
I lean my head out the top half of the Dutch door and listen. Does the wind bring me more stories? Coyote serenades? Bobcat purrs? Mesquite wisdom? The secrets of the paloverde?
I came here a month ago still recovering from the flu. For the first few weeks, I felt a bit battered. A rough year had taken its toll. I felt unmoored by dynamics in relationships I didn't understand. And when I felt I did understand, I didn't understand. Why was it that some people felt lifted up when they were trying to bring someone down? I had encountered this throughout my life. Because I often appeared confident, people saw this as an opening to try to degrade me—knock me down a few pegs.
Confidence was not a characteristic often valued, especially in women.
It often seemed that some of the people in my life--friends, family, acquaintances--liked me better when I was ill or not myself, when I was failing rather than succeeding.
Mario believes this is often true with many people, especially those who leave their familial environs. "The tribe doesn't want us to change," he says. "That's why people who go away are often teased or belittled when they return for a visit."
Often if we know something, we're accused of being know-it-alls. And if we're good at something, we're accused of not working hard enough or not deserving what we have.
I don't understand this attitude.
I like to be around people who are smarter than I am. I like it when people know more than I do. I like it when people I know and love are successful. I love it when they are hale and healthy. I love it when they are full of themselves and having a great and joyful life. I am cheering them on, always.
I realized this month that many people like it when the people around them are small.
That must be an awful feeling, to wish people ill, to want them to fail, to want them to be less than who they can be.
So this month, I had an opportunity to observe and contemplate the world of people. During this same time, I sat down and started to write my novel Whackadoodle Times.
I had a tough time at first. I had written the first chapter a few years earlier. I had really liked it, and I was afraid I couldn't keep going and have it be as good. In it, a homeless woman comes to live with a very rich family (at least that's what we think is going on); in exchange for room and board, the homeless woman promises to do one great thing a day.
Besides worrying about whether I could make the entire book good, I was stymied about the "one great thing a day" idea. I thought I needed to figure each "great thing" a head of time, and I couldn't. That was my first concern.
My second concern was that the main character was not exactly admirable. She was a foul-mouthed adulterer. And she was rich. I didn't really want to be in her head space.
But she really wanted me to write her story. I balked, figured I'd write something else, but there she was. Ideas kept popping into my head like little word balloons from her saying, "See, wouldn't this be fun?"
She was funny, I'll give her that.
So I told myself I'd try it for 10,000 words.
I began writing.
All the emotional crap I'd been struggling with dropped away almost as soon as I began writing. And I wasn't aware of any of my physical stuff. If I felt crappy, I didn't notice while I wrote.
It turned out I didn't have to worry about the one "great thing." Each day (in the book) something happened that became the "one great thing." And I fell in love with the main character, Brooke McMurphy. I felt liberated as I wrote because she says pretty much anything and does pretty much anything. That was wonderful!
Of course, she was screwed up. She had so many problems, but I sympathized with her. She was surrounded by people who did not live up to her expectations, but mostly, she didn't live up to her own expectations.
I wrote this book more quickly than I'd ever written any other book. I never laughed as hard while writing a book as I did writing this one. In the end, I never cried so hard during the writing of a novel.
Each night I'd read a section to Mario, and he'd laugh. This gave me the confidence to keep going.
I finished writing it in about ten days, give or take. Then I went up to Sedona with my oldest and youngest sisters. We had such a good time. We didn't fight; we didn't have awkward silences. We talked and laughed and hiked and grossed each other out. It was fabulous.
When we came back to Scottsdale, I stayed overnight with my father and got to spend time with my dad, three of my sisters, and three of my brothers-in-law. It was a good visit. Once again, everyone seemed kind and funny and just nice to be arouond.
Back at the Sanctuary, I took a day off. But I had decided that I wanted to try and write another book. I had about ten days left before we were heading home. I could do it.
At first, I didn't know what I wanted to write. About twenty years ago, I wrote a mystery novel with the character Jane Deere. In that version, Jane had run away from her family when she was young, changed her name, and was living in a small town in Washington. Even though I loved her character (and the character of Dragon, her main squeeze), I didn't like the novel so I put it away. During this last summer, Jane had come knocking on my imagination again, only this time, she was living in Portland, Oregon.
Now while I was sitting in the Quail House figuring out what I'd write, Jane Deere came out of the woodwork: She was here in Tucson and her entire family thought she had died in a fire-bombed cottage twenty-years earlier.
So I began writing her story. When the events of the novel were going to take place Portland, the novel was called Doe. But here in Tucson, the novel became Pricked. The title kept me thinking about the fairy tale, Briar Rose, which happened to be one of my touchstone fairy tales. Years ago I had written a short story called "Briar Rose," and it was one of my most reprinted stories.
During the time I was working on Pricked, I read several versions of Sleeping Beauty and Briar Rose. Even though my novel was not a retelling of Briar Rose or anything close to that, I felt like the essence of that tale was at the heart of this book.
I also came to believe that the essence of this tale was at the heart of my life.
For years, I have had this theory--unprovable thus far--that Western fairy tales may be coded instructions left by our ancestors. They were a way of preserving the Old Ways, but they were encoded so that the conquerors, the church, or the new dominant culture wouldn't know the truth of them; those who could figure out the key or code would. They were liked pages of a Book of Shadows hidden in plain sight.
Even if this isn't true--and there's no research that indicates it is--I like thinking about it, and I like reading fairy tales with this in mind. (One day, perhaps, I'll do more with this idea.)
In any case, one night Mario and I went out to dinner and we read a version of Briar Rose. He had never heard the Grimm's version before. We tried to look for hidden meaning in the tale. But we kept coming up with what seemed obvious: Don't disrespect the women, especially the old wise women. (Good advice.) Don't try to subvert fate because it's useless. (I'm all for trying to subvert fate or anything else.) Your prince will come. (I don't think so.)
I said let's look at the fairy tale the way some people look at dreams: Imagine that everything and everyone in it is the dreamer.
This made me contemplate the prince, which I hadn't done before because he seemed incidental. I hadn't cared about him. But now, I was thinking of him as the dreamer. The thorns were the dreamer. The spindle, Briar Rose, the king, queen, the prince: They were all the dreamer.
I realized that the prince didn't fight his way through the thorns. He happened to come along when the 100 year curse was over. He approached, the thorny hedge moved out of the way for him, and he stepped through. He walked into the palace where everything and everyone was asleep until he found Briar Rose's room. She was just waking up.
In the version Mario and I read, she was waking up when he entered the room. He didn't kiss her. He wasn't the hero. He just had great timing.
I kept thinking about this over the days that followed. I imagined that thorny hedge growing up to cover the palace and everyone inside. They were protected from the outside world during that 100 years. No one could come and hurt them, rob them, destroy anything.
But when the time was right, the thorny hedge moved aside and let the prince enter the palace grounds.
When the time was right, the princess woke up.
I walked the Sonora Desert and looked at the thorny bushes and trees all around me. In most places, it looked impenetrable.
Often I felt covered in the thorns of my suffering. Out here in the desert, surrounded by thorns, I became more aware of who I was and what my life had become. Was I inside my own thorny palace? Only I wasn't asleep, I was coming awake.
One day I wrote 7,000 plus words on Pricked. The next day I wrote 10,000 or thereabouts. It didn't feel like work. It felt like how it always feels when I'm in the flow: Like I was writing down what I saw.
Each morning I did what I had done every day here. I'd step outside of the Quail House with my rattle, the one I had made last spring out of elk hide, a rosemary branch, and rabbit fur. I acknowledged the Mysteries, asked if they would co-create this day, this novel, and my good health with me. After my song, after my prayer to the elementals, I'd go in and write.
I was feeling more and more free.
How can I explain? It felt physical. It felt soulful.
For a year or more I'd been trying this indie writing path. I didn't worry about finding a publisher for my work. I didn't worry about the length of my books. I just let the stories come to me, and I wrote them down.
My true creativity was returning.
When I was a girl, I had written for the pure joy of it.
I'm not saying I wrote for myself, but it was joyful. I always wanted an audience. My mother introduced me to Emily Dickinson when I was a girl, and I loved her poetry. But I knew her story was not my story: I wanted my work to be read.
I used to say, "I'm not writing for my dresser drawers."
Now, in the Quail House, I felt as though I was writing for an audience, but it was not an audience of publishers, editors, or agents. I wasn't writing for the marketplace. I was writing for an audience of readers.
Writing Whackadoodle Times was one of the most joyful writing times I've ever had. And writing Pricked was equally as joyous for a different reason. It felt physically joyful. It's hard to explain. I was being transformed by these novels.
On the last day that I wrote on Pricked, I stood under the sun with my rattle in hand. I sang to the directions. I sang to the desert. I sang to the sun. As I did so, I saw in my mind's eye that thorny hedge covering the palace, that thorny hedge that staved off all intruders and visitors. Staved off all saviors, had there been one. I saw the thorny hedge move away, saw flowers blossom, saw the path leading into the palace. Into my heart? My healing? My own happiness.
Timing is everything.
I felt as though joy was bubbling up from the desert ground. I raised the rattle up high and sang. Now was my time. Now was the time for healing. Now was the time for success. My slumber was over; my suffering was over.
Timing is everything.
Time for healing.
I went into the Quail House and continued writing on Pricked. That evening, Mario came and sat with me as I wrote. I was completely in my imaginal world. For years I had thought it strange that I was the most comfortable in my stories. Wasn't that a sign of some societal deficiency?
I have often said that I'm a stenographer to the imaginal worlds.
Now as I finished this book--my second completed novel in less than a month--I realized I wasn't just a stenographer: I was a mediator between this world and the imaginal worlds. I brought these stories out of there and into here.
The thorny hedge was moving. I looked out into the Sonora Desert, the desert that had pricked me awake for the last eight winters, and I brought Jane Deere's story into the here and now.
When I wrote the last sentence, I stood up and cheered.
Wow. I had written a novel in five days.
Now it is our last night here at the Old Mermaids Sanctuary. (We call it this; the owners have a different name, but we respect their privacy.)
I first came here eight winters ago. This place has been a sanctuary for me. It has saved my life. I am a different person from the one who first came here. I was struggling inside my thorny palace, not comfortable with my thorns. Or anyone else's. Today many of the same issues haunt me that haunted me eight winters ago.
And yet, the stories are freer now.
I am freer now. I feel my true self rising again after a long painful slumber. It can't matter that anyone wants me to be small or wants me to be less than I can be. It can't matter. It's too high a price for companionship.
I'll tell the stories.
The rest will follow. Healing will follow.
That is my wish. My desire.
I wonder if I should redecorate the thorny palace or leave it all together?
I suppose if we imagine that Briar Rose was on a pilgrimage (albeit a sleepy pilgrimage) and now the pilgrimage is over, she must leave the palace.
I must leave this thorny palace, this refuge.
So that I may be healed.
May I be healed, may I be healed, may it be so.
It is so.
I wish the same for you.
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