Posts tagged: writing
(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)
I see a thousand automobiles every day. They’re all around me. They roll down my street in the morning and late at night. They ride in formation in front, beside, or behind me on the highways and freeways. And yet, never does it occur to me to wish I was in any of those steel cages. They hold no mystery. I suspect, for the most part, they are going to work, to the grocery story, to have the dog groomed or on any of the countless necessary but mundane trips I take each week.
But when I see a train, when I hear the whistle blow in the night or early in the morning, I automatically stop to listen; to wonder if it is a freight train or passenger train. To wonder where it is headed and where it has been. I put myself onboard, on the other side of the wide windows, and my imagination settles down onto the steel rails and is pulled forward with the chain.
I’m not alone. I hear others say the same thing. There is a romance to train travel that time and progress haven’t managed to dampen. A train is going somewhere slow and steady, rolling through valleys, over mountains and on high trestles spanning wild rivers. Even animals seem to catch the spirit, drawn to the fenceline beside the tracks and then stopping to lift their heads to watch the boxcars or coaches rumble by.
The last time I was on the Rocky Mountaineer, the luxury excursion train that snakes across British Columbia and Alberta, winter was closing in. We left Vancouver in the darkness of an October morning and pulled into stations in deep twilight at the end of each day’s ride. The rivers were low and slow and grasses and shrubs painted the hillsides with autumn color that flamed at the feet of tall evergreens and the pale skeletons of Pine Beetle-damaged pines.
But this trip I gazed out at the fresh green of a late Western Canada spring. Sipping coffee over breakfast in the dining car, we left the big city behind and moved out into the countryside. In mid-morning we watched eagles and Osprey fly over rivers that were swollen with snowmelt and spring rains. in the afternoon someone called out “Bear” and people popped up like Prairie Dogs, craning to see a big Black Bear grazing at the edge of the road. Bighorn Sheep perched on rocky outcroppings, tails flicking as they watched us roll by.
The next day we reached the Rocky Mountains and cameras clicked all around me. Many of the passengers were making the trip of a lifetime: a dozen or so from Australia, two women from Chile, a couple from Wales, another from Scotland. All were there to see the iconic Canadian landscape of the west, and Mother Nature happily obliged. Just as we pulled into Banff, as if cued to provide the grand finale, a grizzly sow and her cubs stepped out of the pines and stuck around just long enough to be photographed before melting back into the shadowy forest.
Listening to others in the coach talk about the bears, about the mountains and the places we’d passed on the trip, I was able to put my finger on one of the aspects of train travel that is so appealing: It is a community experience. It is a journey in the company of others who share the love. And, really, when you think about it, that’s what we’re all looking for in everything.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Spokesman-Review Home Planet and Treasure Hunting columns and blogs and her CAMera: Travel and Photo blog, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: The Rocky Mountaineer has added SilverLeaf service for the 2012 season. Find more information about it here.
(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)
We meet a couple of times a month, schedules permitting. We drink a cup of coffee and if I’m lucky there’s cake or pie. Then we spend an hour or two working on the words she has put on paper since we last met.
In her mid-80s, she is writing down the memories she spent a lifetime collecting, organizing them as a surprise gift for her children, great-grandchildren and newborn great-grandson.
My job is more than just editing what she’s written or giving her advice about the choice of words or a turn of phrase. I’m her coach, there to give her confidence.
“I’m not a writer,” she said the first time we spoke by phone. “I’m not a writer,” she says as she hands me the paper. Oh, but she is. And like all of us, she has a unique story to tell.
She married young and stayed married for half a century. She raised a family, navigating the upheaval and shifting social landscape of the late 1960s and 70s. She volunteered at her church, traveled some and survived the loss of a spouse.
Now, grounded by arthritis and failing eyesight, she wants to leave her family with a window to who she was and how she came to be the woman they know as mother and grandmother. The stories she is writing down aren’t grand, sweeping dramas. They’re the quiet stuff of an ordinary life.
Her children know their parents took a cruise through the Panama Canal but they don’t the couple sat on the deck one night and, holding hands, began to talk, looking back over their years together. And that both ended up in tears, crying over the flush of first love, over the harsh words, the occasional cold nights and wasted time given over to the ordinary spats and grudges of any marriage. They wept over the sweetness of family and the beauty of the life they’d had together. In less than a year he was gone and she’s never told anyone about that night. Until now.
The children know the dishes on the table each Christmas belonged to a great-grandmother, but they’ve never heard the story of how that china, packed in excelsior and shipped in a big wood barrel, made its way across an ocean as a wedding gift only to arrive just after the groom succumbed to influenza and died leaving a grieving young widow. And the barrel was passed down, still unpacked, to the next generation.
She is writing about the scar on her knee and how she got it when she fell through the ice as a child, ripping the skin on a jagged rock on the edge of the lake. She’s putting into words just how it felt to hear the ice break beneath her and feel herself plunge into water so cold it stole her breath. How her legs were so numb she didn’t know she was injured until she was pulled to shore and the blood trailed bright scarlet across the ice. The memory is still so terrifying she’s never talked about it to anyone. Until now.
So we meet. And one day at a time, one word at a time, I encourage her. Together we tell her story as she becomes the writer she never believed herself to be.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Spokesman-Review Home Planet , Treasure Hunting blogs, she chronicles her travels on CAMera: Travel and Photo. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at email@example.com
For most of my work-from-home career, we’ve shared an office and a routine. As soon as the door closes behind the rest of the family, we go to work.
I have a tendency to fuss and fidget, jumping up from my computer to answer the phone or scan a document or make another cup of tea. He is more quiet. More content. He makes himself comfortable nearby, watching me move around, paying attention to what I’m doing, especially when I wander into the kitchen. He’s always willing to join me in a snack. Occasionally he gets restless and asks to go outside, but for the most part, he’s happy to simply share the space with me
Actually, that’s the way we used to spend our days. Things are changing now. At 14, he’s an old dog. He no longer sits and watches me work. Now, as soon as we’re alone for the day, he is instantly asleep. He sleeps deeply and quietly, seldom “chasing rabbits” in his dreams the way he used to. I can step over him, open the refrigerator and even crunch into a carrot, his favorite treat, without waking him.
And when he is awake, he doesn’t move a lot. Moving hurts, I can tell. He rarely climbs the stairs to my daughter’s room and even the two short steps leading from the kitchen to the back yard are sometimes difficult. Sometimes, as he sleeps, he groans softly, forgetting to hide the aches and pains.
The other day, on deadline and stuck for the right word, I pushed away from the computer and my restless eyes wandered away from my keyboard and chased ideas around the room, gazing out the window, over the newspaper on the floor beside my chair, before settling on him.
For a while I watched him as he lay there, remembering the day I brought him home. At just over a year old, he was a big, strong, sensitive puppy with a tendency to worry. But he had the soul of a rambler, which is exactly how he came to be with us; a stray who’d been picked up and taken to the Humane Society. And for the last 13 years I’ve had to keep my eye on him because he still likes nothing better than a solitary walkabout. Even now, on a bad day as stiff and slow as a mechanical toy, when I let him out the back door I have to watch him or he’ll slip away and stroll down to the park on his own.
The saddest thing is that he can no longer drop and have a good roll in the snow. That was always his favorite thing to do on a winter day, to roll back and forth, scrubbing his coat in the fresh powder. I used to laugh at him when occasionally he would stop rolling and, relaxed and content, his feet still in the air, he would lie there for a few minutes gazing up at the sky like a child. Now he just stands and looks down at the snow for a moment and then moves on.
I thought about all of this as I watched him and my throat tightened. I just don’t know how much more time we have together.
Pushing my computer aside, I dropped down onto the floor beside him. He didn’t move. Stretching out, I lay beside my old dog and draped my arm over him, pressing my face into the rough fur of his back. He woke up enough to lift his head and look back over his shoulder at me as his tail thumped the floor a few times, but if he was surprised to find me lying on the floor next to him, he didn’t give any sign. He just stretched a bit, sighed deeply and went back to sleep.
I lay there a few more minutes, taking and giving comfort, thinking about time and how it always slips away from us in the end, and then got up and went back to my desk. Back to my computer. Back to work in the company of my tired and true companion.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Home Planet , Treasure Hunting and CAMera: Travel and Photo blogs, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
I got a call from a friend the other night. One of those late-night calls women make when they have a moment to themselves.
She was alone in a quiet house full of sleeping children and a husband who was softly snoring in front of the television. She was desperately tired. After all, she’d spent the day caring for her three small children. She’d packed lunches, driven the morning carpool, played with the toddler who was still home all day, shuttled to after-school activities, made dinner, helped with homework, refereed baths, read a bed-time story, fetched one more glass of water and finally, finally, turned out the light.
Then, when she could have gone straight to bed to catch up on some much-needed sleep, she did what mothers do all the time. She got busy.
Sitting at the kitchen table, surrounded by her boxes of beads and stones and all the tools and findings she uses to make the beautiful necklaces and earrings she gives as gifts to friends and family, she let her mind wander as her fingers worked. She felt the tension slip away. For a few minutes she wasn’t Mommy. She was herself again. That’s when she picked up the phone to call me.
While we talked, I thought back to my life when my children were still small. I spent the day doing all the things stay-at-home mothers do. At night I spent hours answering a powerful creative urge.
This seems to happen to many of us when our children are born. We get crafty.
I see young mothers experiencing this all the time. Women who were once busy professionals with pressured careers now sew baby dresses or construct elaborate scrapbooks and photo albums. They revel in this new side of themselves, gathering with others who are experiencing the same delight in handcrafting.
I think it has something to do with the way we change after the babies come along. Suddenly, we are no longer the carefree women we were before. Our minds are never still. We’re listening, watching, weighing and evaluating. We fret. We forecast the future and regret the past. Mothering is all-consuming. There are few moments when our children aren’t foremost in our thoughts.
Creativity is a way to slip out of the confines of being the responsible party. It is a way to open and explore the child who still lives within us.
My days were consumed by the work and worry of four young children. Goodness knows, I had plenty to keep me busy. But every night, even when I was so tired I could barely keep my eyes open, I sat down to create. Like my friend, I went through my beading phase. I strung freshwater pears into ropes, adding antique charms and other found objects to make one-of-a-kind necklaces and earrings. I sold these to a boutique in the area and soon began to notice my work on women at the children’s schools and around town. That spurred me on to stay up later and make more.
After that, I spent long hours making hats, steaming and blocking the fabric, stitching silk roses and velvet leaves onto the felt and straw. These went to the same boutique. Again, I began to see my hats on women at the mall or at church.
Later, I polished and cut old silverware and bent the handles into earrings, rings, key rings and necklaces. These went to local gift shops and to antiques and craft shows.
I took black-and-white photographs of children and families and then delicately hand-tinted the photos, adding small touches of color to give the portraits a vintage look.
I packaged gift trays using and vintage china, silver and lace and shipped them across the country to be opened by grateful strangers.
I smocked dresses and rompers for my daughters and my son, sometimes finding myself nodding over my needle.
Most of this was done at night. When I should have been sleeping. When I should have been too tired to do anything more than close my eyes and rest up for the coming day.
But, like my friend, like so many women, I crafted into the wee hours. I made things with my hands. Letting my mind play while my fingers worked.
After a while I realized that my newfound passion for crafting was nothing new. I was just one more in a long history. Middle-class Victorian women, gifted with time by the household innovations of the industrial revolution, wove accessories from the hair of loved ones or painted delicate watercolors.
I tinted photographs and strung tiny pearls. Now, I write. I still sit down and write late into the night the way my friend works with chunky gemstones and glass beads.
Some mothers sew. They crochet or knit. They bake. They refinish furniture. The commonality, just as it always has been, is the desire to create. To construct and produce and, each in our own way, to provide proof beyond our most precious contribution - the children that own us so completely - that we were here. That deep inside there was a spark, a gift, a source of happiness that was completely handmade.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at email@example.com.
So, I had this little thing I wanted to write. I tried all day to get it right, but the words played a game of chase and stayed just out of reach. Finally, out of patience, I walked away.
“I don’t care,” I
called over my shoulder. “I didn’t want you anyway.” And, just like
that, there they were.