The only time I know that something is true is at the moment I discover it in the act of writing.

~Jean Malaquais

Dear Reader,

I adore missives that begin with “Dear Reader”; there is something so cozy and British and civilized about it, about imagining my words finding you, one person, just one, and not simply fading like soap bubbles in the cold outer space of the internet.

I’ve been absent from this virtual space for a while, so much going on in the world outside my head, and so many things swirling around inside it. It’s late summer, that strange sweet time of year that feels like summer but hints at autumn. There is some quality of the light these days, something in the way the morning mist clings to the hills and scatters moonstones over the spiderwebs that weave between the trees across the path–something tenuous and impending, something that hints at crisp days and cold nights, that promises a swirl of gold walnut leaves to match the swirl inside my mind.

The school year has begun. It has been my New Year for as long as I can remember, even during the past eight years, after I stepped out of the classroom to raise my two little boys. I am back now, very part time, teaching a single writing course. It is exciting, and scary. I hope that I can do my students justice. I hope I can offer them not only what they need to know, but a reason for knowing it.

My school's mascot is a dragon. Because OF COURSE.
My school’s mascot is a dragon. Because OF COURSE.

The death of my dog still lingers. She is everywhere. Grieving is a long, long path. I think sometimes, in our culture, we try to sprint down it, but it’s meant to be walked steadily, so I am plodding along, missing the dog who was not really a dog but something else, something in a tiny dog’s body, a being for which I have never had a name. What do you do when you lose a touchstone? I would not bring her back–she was suffering, old, ready–but the hole of her presence is unfillable. And it feels right that it should be this way, though it hurts. It is strange to think that every book I’ve ever written was written with her at my side, and that nothing I ever write from now on will be written that way, on a cushion on the floor next to my tea table, with a little Something in a terrier’s form curled on her own cushion beside me. What do you do when your Muse passes on into the great Mystery?

Why, hello there, story! Long time, no see.
Why, hello there, story! Long time, no see.

I’m mid-revision of a novel, my current work in progress. It’s a sort of dark, quirky faerie tale for grownups that’s tentatively titled “The Glass Box.” I was making steady progress over the summer, but a beach week and then back to school preparations threw my rhythm, and this story and I are now side-eyeing each other like friends who’ve let their friendship go to seed and are now not sure how to start up a conversation. Do I call my story and ask it out to lunch? When we meet, do we do that awkward girl-hug where we put our arms around each other’s shoulders but keep our bodies from touching? Do we split the check? Why am I acting like this story is a person?? Stories, like people, get crotchety if they’re ignored.

While I’m on the subject of things that are crotchety, my chickens are getting older. Every once in a while now, we lose one to old age. Very different from the early drama-days of doing M*A*S*H-style chicken surgery on the carport, or bolting into the yard in my jammies doing the Lakota old-lady war-cry at a hawk that is trying to pick off the girls one by one. I know that this is all part of the freaking Circle of Life, which, let me tell you, is in reality not the kind of thing you can accurately make into a Disney movie for small children. The Circle is rough, y’all.

Nature. It's for real.
Nature. It’s for real.

But the saving grace of the falling and the fading–well, there isn’t just one. There’s the blaze of color coming–the magic moment when the leaves cast off their green cloaks and become visible, for a few weeks, as they truly are. And then the magic of their mad flurry in the October wind, stripping the trees down to the spare beauty of limb and branch. Autumn is a truthful season, revealing the world in all its messy glory.

And there’s sweater-weather, and impossibly blue skies. There are chill mists that wreath the foothills of the Alleghenies in possibility. Autumn is the season that makes me long for an old wizard and a handful of dwarves to show up on my doorstep and shake me out of my cozy hobbit-hole, spilling me out on the path to adventure. There are adventures ahead this autumn, some planned, some as yet unimagined. There are bonfires waiting to happen, and numb fingers when I hang the laundry out on a frosty morning with the promise of a warm afternoon. There is also hot spiced cider ahead, and there are apple dumplings, because these things are important to hobbits. There is catching up again with my not-so-secret literary boyfriend, John Keats. We always have a little fling this time of year, because he gets me.

Even a dragon can use a little Zen in her world.
Even a dragon can use a little Zen in her world.

Swirling around in the vortex of wind and leaves are the things I’ve been reading, too. The last book that rocked my socks was Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching. Which, DANG. When I was a teenager, my excuse for not going to church was that I was Buddhist. My parents pointed out that if I was Buddhist, I would actually read up on it and, well, be Buddhist. Confound you, unshakable parental logic!! Anyway, I read this book, and was just overwhelmed with a sense of its rightness, of its truth and beauty and sheer common sense, which seems increasingly uncommon sometimes. Turns out I really have been sort of Buddhist all along. I want to crawl inside this book and live there. But there are other books I’m excited about inhabiting, too, especially Lena Coakley’s forthcoming novel, Worlds of Ink and Shadow, which is a historical fantasy about the Bronte siblings. A historical fantasy. About the Bronte siblings. If it is half as amazing as her debut, Witchlanders, it will just–I don’t know. I don’t have words. She has all the words. Go read them and then come back and tell me what you think. And did I mention her new book is a historical fantasy? About the Bronte siblings?? GEEKING OUT.

There are other possbilities swirling, too, for collaborations with some truly phenomenal people. I am crisp-autumn-air-excited about these. Jump-in-the-leaves-excited. Hopefully I’ll have more to say about all that soon.

Note to self.
Note to self.

But for now, thanks for swirling with me. I needed to pin those thought-leaves down, still their chaos for a moment. Now I know what I need to do. I need to go bear-hug the heck out of that neglected story, even if it makes us both a little uncomfortable at first.

What is autumn swirling in your direction?

Love and leaves and cider promises,


15 thoughts on “Recalibrating

  1. Lots of exciting stuff going on in your life. I am excited for you! I am so sorry to hear that my old friend Diggyboody (the way I remember her name) has gone. Among my two living kitties, there are quite a few shadows of cats lingering around me , and I miss everyone of them, no matter how long ago they left us.

    1. Thanks so much, Sybille! I am loving this class you bequeathed to me. They are wondrous students, and it’s exciting to talk about writing with other humans again! Thanks also for the condolences, and I’m sorry for the loss of your kitties as well. Such passings are necessary but oh, so hard.

  2. So much to like about this post, so many lovely thoughts and golden bits of insight.
    And then there was the simple and straightforward “…sweater weather and impossibly blue skies.” – sigh. I feel it too. (And I know about one of your upcoming collaborations and am so excited for you!)

  3. Oh WOMAN! You have such energy and such words! Thanks for sharing and good luck hugging your story. I think you two will let your bodies touch when you hug. Hooray!

  4. Like you, Summer kind of derailed me and my book… But there were so many GOOD things about this Summer that I’m trying hard to be super frustrated and it’s not really happening. But I get you about needing to reconnect with this project. I have so many possibilities swirling right now that I feel like I might already be in the middle of Fall with each breeze bringing down a rainbow of leaves right over my head – thank goodness they don’t hurt when they land! So looking forward to my favorite season of the year. I feel like there is much promise in the Fall before the cold rain starts to fall here in the Northwest. I’ll be thinking of you as you reconnect – and I’ll want to hear ALL about your first awkward date! :O)

    1. Thanks, Barb! Yeah, that summer….she’s a tricksy thing. So shiny and distracting…..and you can’t regret a bit of it. I’ll be thinking of you, too. And I’ll be sure to blog about all the awkwardness (do I kiss the story on a (second) first date? what is it expecting if it buys me a drink?? should I text it the next day, or wait a while???)

  5. Dear Writer,
    I don’t always know where you’re headed, Brenna, but I always love the words you use to continue the journey and the explorations into which you invite me.

  6. Brenna I loved this reflection and adore your dragon photos and captions. So sorry for the passing of your sweet dog (and muse). My heart already aches thinking of the day my pup of 10 years will no longer bark like a nut at ups and the blender (or possibility of the blender emerging from the cabinet).

    I admire your work Colleen

    1. Thank you very much, Colleen, for reading and for your kind words. It’s so hard to let these companions go–so necessary, but so hard. I wish you many more healthy, happy years with yours!

  7. So good to see you, Brenna. I am sorry to hear about your muse – such a difficult time to work through, I know.

    I have always wanted to learn more about Buddhism, and now I have the perfect place to wander – thank you. And a fantasy starring the Brontes? Sign me up! I love messages that start with “Dear Reader,” too. This reader would love to share a cider with you someday. In the meantime, maybe you can ply your story with one. 🙂

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