Over my vacation I had opportunities to do some old-fashioned creative writing; short stories. This wasn’t a formal part of the writing conference. It came about because of time use and the fact that I was in the hot-house atmosphere of a conference where the focus was on writing. It helped that I had time to incubate a story in my head, mull it over, think about it more. It made me realize how little chance I’ve had to do that in the last year — which might explain some of the problems I’m having working on my novel.
Sometimes, when you are able to focus deeply on a project, the universe seems to curve around you and offer a lot of synchronous events. Usually they are good. You’ve all heard the examples. You’re writing about Egypt, and suddenly your sister-in-law tells you about her coworker who just got back from a trip to Egypt and has all these awesome photographs — you name a character Destiny and then find out your down-the-street neighbor named her new daughter Destiny. You can get those weird predictive moments where you write something as a throw-away, and then three days on CNN you see a story headline that’s just like what you wrote.
I had a couple of synchronous events after writing these two short stories. Let me quickly add that I will be the first to acknowledge the power of Blue Car Syndrome. That’s when you buy a new car and it’s blue, and everywhere you go you see blue cars. You just didn’t register blue cars before because they weren’t part of your world view.
These aren’t Blue Car Syndrome incidents. I don’t want to seem arrogant. It’s just that sometimes the act of writing reminds me how deeply interconnected the web of life of this planet is — sometimes in ways I don’t understand.
I wrote one story about a man who takes his two sons to the botanical garden in Mendocino. The older boy has a brain injury, and there is a lot of tension (I hope) in the first part of the story. The boy, whose name originally was Jason, keeps asking where Mom is. Mom is not there, for reasons that must be obvious even from this — Mom was killed in the same accident that caused Jason’s injury. His younger brother finally snaps under the strain of the trip and upsetting things happen. The name Jason started to creep me out, and on Thursday I changed it to Jeff. I couldn’t say why the name Jason was bothering me, but it was. I rationalized that it was too old a name for the character, and that it had to much resonance with horror movies.
Then I wrote a story set in the same universe as my science fiction novel, mainly to play with point of view and to give myself some ideas about the backstory. I wanted names that weren’t contemporary and that sounded the opposite of “futuristic,” so I settled on Earl and Ruby.
When I came home Sunday I stopped in Gualala, to find that one of the people we know there had suffered a tragedy. His wife had been killed instantly in a head-on collision on Highway One on Thursday. That was shocking and terrible (she was a wonderful person). The creepy part was that they have a son named Jason. No, he wasn’t in the car with her; no, he doesn’t have a head injury, but it was disturbing and I was glad I changed the name — and glad I changed it before I knew about the accident.
Yesterday I was visiting my mother-in-law at the intermediate care facility where she is staying because of some problems with her hip. It was a pleasant day, not too hot, and she was sitting outside with one of the nurses when I walked up. I pulled up a chair and we munched on Gravenstein apples from the tree in the parking lot. A while later an attendant came out with a slender white-haired woman in a wheelchair. She looked a lot younger than most of the residents. She directed the attendant to wheel her over to where we were sitting and struck up a conversation as if we knew her. (We didn’t.) “I haven’t seen you in so long!” she said to my mother-in-law. “I’m out here waiting for my husband Earl. Have you seen him?” Needless to say we had not. She talked quite a bit about Earl, about how he had told her he was driving downtown to look at clothes. Usually he wears jeans, she said. He was supposed to be around here somewhere.
I tried to politely pull us away from the conversation, but she reacted with hurt feelings, so I went to find our nurse for back-up. His comment, as we came through the door out into the parking lot, was, “Oh, yes, I see what the problem is.” He approached, was cheerful and friendly to the wife of Earl, genially authoritative about getting my mother-in-law back to her room, and generally took charge. As we were going through the door, he said, “She has some cognitive damage. She was in a car accident.”