In Solidarity

I’ve chosen several photographs for this posting, as respite, as distraction, as hopeful image. Bread—to wit, sourdough bread! I was caught up in the pandemic baking fever like many others and have a way to go to perfect it, but it sure tastes good toasted. I’m currently following a grain-free diet, so at present my husband gets to reap the rewards, lucky man.

Nearby Lovers Leap with Gibbous Moon and Sky Writing. ’Nough said. Our loving Lab, Gabe, in kerchief, named after one of my literary characters. Both, sweet guys.

Late winter arrangement of amaryllis and narcissus, a snow globe, framed outdoor scene. Can spring be far behind? (Yes, afraid so, darlin’)

Apple-spice tea cookies, yum! A loved one peeks from behind. And calligraphy from Plum Village. May Peace Prevail. Everywhere.

In my recently completed narrative, CROFTER, A Wyoming Homestead Manual and Radical Memoir, Rooted in Place, I pair defining moments in my early life, as a member of an Air Force family, with descriptions and suggestions for what’s worked for my husband and me in living, now rooted purposefully on a “croft” (a smaller acreage than what passes for “ranch” in these parts). I’m currently submitting the finished proposal and manuscript to agents and publishers, with hopes for a wider audience. Though (truth be told) I’d miss the responsibility of being my own boss, even with attending cares and headaches. We shall see. . . .

My father-in-law was fond of a saying, “Cast your bread upon the waters.” I believe it’s biblical. Ah, yes, here it is, from Ecclesiastes 11:1. . . Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again. At the end of the chapter and verses, we are told that life is good, and that we should enjoy it. However, this day I stand in solidarity with the Ukrainians, and with all those suffering war, abuse, addiction, loneliness, hopelessness, and homelessness. May peace prevail. May we wake up.

Rest in Peace, Thich Nhat Hanh

Note: I am republishing this post, as for some <cosmic> reason, some folks could access it, and some could not. Apologies to those who may receive it a second time. May it bear a review.

I mourn the passing of a venerable Vietnamese monk. Impermanence. As mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been studying his thought-provoking call to save the planet, via Zen, kindness, patience, and better communication skills than I and many of us have employed of late. Yes, he took the problem “by their smooth handle,” how Thomas Jefferson recommended we respond to tricky issues. As usual, easier said than done. The French philosopher Blaise Pascal once warned, “L’homme n’est ni ange ni bête, et le malheur veut que qui veut faire l’ange, fait la bête,” or, man is neither angel nor beast, and the misfortune remains, whosoever strives to be angelic winds up behaving beastly. My close translation, and sadly true. The more we try to practice our good manners, the more we notice how painfully shy we arrive at them. Said another way, what you pay attention to grows. . . but it could boomerang.

If we wait for perfection, we’ll never arrive to appreciate it, or so we’re told. Case in point: I’d just settled on my black cushion to meditate, when I noticed the top of the guest bed I was sitting beside was littered with clothing to be ironed, several pieces sorted for a donation bag, or a stack to be put away. It was not a peaceful scene in other words, not conducive to a proper Zen session. Yet I persisted and was able to sink below those waves of dissonance. Three days I managed to ignore the mess on the bed. When it came to actually do something about it, I did, and felt the small satisfaction of checking off another task from my list. But I first had to try not to let it derail my intent.

So, are we doomed?

If we pore over the news and opinion pieces, it would seem so. Yet, we cannot ignore the science, nor the political scientists, nor the populace. And lest I contribute my particular brand of rant here, I’ll pause and take a breath, another, and another, and seek my center. This practice places me smack dab in the middle of the known and unknown universe(s)—it’s the only solution and premise I have to go on. At this moment in Time.

Some of you, as readers (deep bows) know that my Riven Country novels suggest a theory of time, and therein I play with ramifications of such. Not to repeat my premise here, but to propose we ponder at least one of the notions, that of regarding all that happens, has happened, and will happen, as occurring in a singular moment, the now, and that being humans—with a contracted sense of organization and consciousness—our psychology must separate our living into past, present, and future. Else we’d implode with too much information. The angels are so equipped, I wager, but not us. Perhaps the beasts as well.

But think for a small moment: hold in your mind, if you will, the knowledge of discrimination, the evidence of abuses (all abuse), the reckless treatment of man against man, and layer on top of that, as though a swirling spiral had magically appeared to do the very thing, every moving effort we’ve made through the decades and ages (think democracy, civil rights, justice meted, mercy granted, truth and reconciliation), and then, observe the recent tumults (take your pick) appearing as an opposite force, a spiral moving, circling, the other way (forgive the convoluted image) and you may be able to apprehend the roiling state of what I think constitutes Time.

It’s time to take things by their smooth handle and calm down. It’s time to remember to practice our manners, while being gentle with ourselves. It’s time to remember that time is a construct, and that we truly don’t have that much of whatever it is, given our propensity for harsh, reactionary responses. Cutting off our noses to spite our faces is where we are today. Let us please consider our inward mirrors, while sitting on a cushion, on an ailing planet, spiraling in a 13.6-billion-year-old galaxy (one of the elders, I hear, in league with the spirit of a most courageous Zen Buddhist monk), through this mystery called space. Just consider.

New Year, New Mantras

Happy New Year! The phrase rings hopeful in our souls, at least I hope so. I offer it to those I meet, or when picking up the telephone, when writing a note. I express it, however, with secret intention, that I may hear it myself, resonating on a deep soul level. Happy New Year, love.

This last hiatus from blogging surprised me by its length. I have lived a whirlwind since early September. I won’t bore with details; suffice it to say, I offer no excuses—save “busy.” But a daughter’s wedding initiated the passage, and I smile with the knowledge, for her, for her husband, for their exquisite joy, and for finally reuniting with family and friends (outdoors!) after so long an absence.  

Seeing grandson dressed impeccably as ring bearer, and granddaughters treating their duties with perfection, I am indeed hopeful for the future, where children respect time-honored traditions with grace and care.

I am reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s beautiful book, Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet, with commentary by Sister True Dedication. The strongest lesson (in my view) seems to be in learning to listen. How we fail, continually, to realize how “inter-being” we all are, that yin/yang does exist as an energy principle; that we can’t have left without right; that dialogue requires both listening (deeply, no interrupting or correcting—how often I miss the mark on this one!) and, careful communication. But to notice, at last, and intend to improve is considered half the battle. Evidently and simply, the intention goes a long way toward expanding hearts, by opening those of both, if invisibly. It slows the zero to sixty-mile-an-hour round of insult and injury peppering our public discourse these turbulent days. So, “slow down,” as a mantra, might serve. One technique I hope to remember, is to practice breathing slowly while listening to someone—yes, in effect, meditating.

Another mantra for my new year comes from scripture: 1 Thessalonians 5:16—Rejoice always. It may be true that much hardship accompanies our days, that much suffering has ensued during the pandemic, that we Americans are demonstrating massive growing pains in realizing our purpose, and while I may harbor a definition of that purpose, would shouting it from rooftops truly accomplish anything? No, not really. Again, breathing calmly while quietly rejoicing—read: practicing gratitude—may help. Nay, it will help. Anodynes abound, if we would but consider the possibility. And last (but never least), a smile, both inward and offered to those we happen to meet, even through a mask, the kind intent shines through. Happy New Year.

The Liminal Places

Sitting in my writing hut, I raptly listen to splatters of rain on the cabin roof. It is curious to me (as I mull the continuing exigencies of our chosen rural lifestyle) that since my last post, it has not rained, not one drop. This was over a month ago. The ground gapes in wide cracks; the grass has turned brown for the most part, and we fear for our water well’s unknown capacity. The driller assured us it was a “good well,” being artesian, but aquifers can and do run dry. The gift of water—like those of health and peace—demands a deep period of grateful contemplation and attention. Eyes wide open.

Normally not a desert, our northwestern edge of the Black Hills usually remains greenish through the fall months. Even past an early snowfall, our gardens and trees have generally continued to flourish. Not so the more sensitive species, like basil and the leaves of squash however. . . But while my husband attends the gardens’ needs, I dutifully perform my watering tasks and keep to schedule: the orchard trees, the fruiting bushes, the herbs. We notice the diminished size of several varieties of vegetables this summer—tomatoes, eggplant and ears of corn—but they taste particularly sweet, as though having struck a bargain in lieu of weight.

The apples may or may not have time to fill out, and this would be disappointing, as more hang from the branches than in previous years. Fingers crossed, I continue to water. “Doesn’t matter; carry on,” I hear from my observer. Remember The Observer? The one you may have read about in Psychology 101? I just completed a further review of a work-in-progress, examining our lifestyle choices, paired with memoir, and in it I make brief mention of this observing psychological construct. Such is the thirteen-year-old me who has the advantage and distinction (now) of having watched my so-called growing-up. Not quite having reached the cusp of crone-dom, having earned “elder” status (if ever I do), this in-between state I occupy at present seems to complement my thirteen-year-old self: not a child, nor yet a young woman. Thirteen was—is, a between place, a liminal age. Like mine today, at sixty-eight. One of my own constructs, Things happen in the liminal places.

How this pertains to an intermittent rain interrupting a drought is suspect, yet I seek the parallel. (Why else has the notion occurred to me?) Fractals and patterns erupt continually during these strange days. . . Anyhow, as the rain fell yesterday (and into this day) I opened windows to its strains and heard the barrel filling from the roof gutter run-off. I heard it as laughter—all that gurgling and splashing, a spectacular giggling symphony to joy. Definitely an ode.

My observer, I have decided, wants to play with me, employing the skills I’ve managed to learn, through love of writing and playing music, in order to do this: Just. Play. This morning I read in my news feed that nostalgia is actually good for us—that reviewing one’s difficult, and/or wistful parts leads to a more fulfilling life. The rain falls, to arrive like the bright visit of a thirteen-year-old self, come to visit, bringing forgotten joy.

The Smell of Rain

St. John’s Wort and Motherwort in bloom.

Our yellow Lab behaved strangely most of yesterday, acting mopey and dull. We thought he merely missed the stimulation—and overflowing love—of our grandchildren during their first visit in twenty-one months (due to the pandemic). Maybe. But, when the heavy rain began, he shot up, clamored to go outside where he ran about like a fool, then he came back in and resumed his happy-go-lucky Lab nature. Thank the gods of weather.

Whether pre-storm air contains mass quantities of positive ions, (some say these can trigger migraine, and I can attest), flipping to the better (for us) negative ions during the downpour—or not—it certainly appears that way. I welcome any source of healthful well-being I can snatch, from the dizzying merry-go-round we’ve been riding: up and down, up and down, round and round we go. . .

I plead guilty of taking another hiatus from posting, and (forgive the excuse) attribute this neglect to psychological response after having been on guard all these many months (years). Some of us shine during a crisis, then fall apart afterwards. That would be me. Not good. After a period of sweet-talking myself and refocusing my intentions, I believe I’m nearing the “good red road,” a phrase entwined with living in harmony on the Earth and by our better angels, to mix spiritual metaphors. Emerson’s “Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of our own minds,” comes to mind.

Several tribes of Native Americans inhabit Wyoming and borderlands, including Northern Arapaho, Eastern Shoshone; Northern Cheyenne and Crow in Montana, just north of here; Lakota and Dakota to the east. This is a gross generalization, as of course many folks have left the reservations. In yet another instance of recognizing (do we really have to say this?) lives that matter, may we cease to ignore or dismiss the myriad cultural gifts our First Nation neighbors have made to our collective civilization, in obvious appeal. Would that “civil” were better represented today. I love how Potawatomi Citizen and author Robin Wall Kimmerer ignites conversation about indigenous people’s methods of scientific inquiry and practice; of late, their wisdom about fire and how to manage controlled burns is pertinent. Her recent book, Braiding Sweetgrass, burns with such wisdom—knowledge paired with experience, eons of it.

So, it finally rained yesterday evening and during the night, a real gully-washer, and a refreshing topic neighbors can discuss, at last, as my husband just did with the honey-wagon man (who cleans out septic systems—a necessary chore every few years here on the croft). The rain gauge registered .9 inches, nearly an inch. Outstanding! June is normally our wet month, but not so this year. The land suffered six weeks with no rainfall, save short spritzes here and there. I did water the orchard trees, one by one, as usual, and all around the house for fear of fire danger. This moisture, thankfully, may offset some of the drought effects. I’d forgotten how sweet the air smells after a long, hard rain. Ahhhh.

“Gabe”

Negative ions or not, the Lab’s response may prove the more righteous one and demonstrates the greater gratitude.

Silence Gives Consent

I never set out to write a novel touching on racism—but the story found its author, its time and its place, as it were. Wyoming, where I live, is ninety percent Caucasian, eight percent Hispanic or Latino, and three percent of what is listed as “other,” in galling assertion, signifying Blacks and indigenous peoples, or “First Nations,” as our neighbor Canada prefers. White supremacy—two words I cringe to pair—rears its shameless head in my story, but so too, the remedial antidotes of friendship, courage, moral indignation, and finally, love. These qualities, among others, have imbued the Black Hills region with a particular sacredness to many peoples, including the Lakota, Cheyenne, Omaha, Arapaho, Kiowa and Kiowa-Apache. We who dwell here today may soak up sacrament through a sort of osmosis, despite the occasionally alkaline water, the bland color of a toad’s belly. Peely wally, say the Scots, refers to a pale skin color, and actually means, to appear sickly, but I digress.

In 2015, at sixty-two, I set out on my literary journey, hero or not. The entire previous year I had sat out—reading, resting, and consuming words, “like tiny tranquilizers,” as creative Julia Cameron once warned. Having had a collection of short essays published in 2006, I wanted to write the story that had percolated for years. During my so-called sabbatical, I studied the way tales are woven together, the warp and woof of the myriad possible decisions and choices. To do my level best would be my aim and I blocked out mornings for writing. Determination is a powerful thing. Within a year, after revisions and cutting 16,000 words, I completed The Riven Country of Senga Munro with welcomed assistance from my editor. “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it,” Goethe said.

Two more novels in the Riven Country series followed: Starwallow and The Simpler. After querying and much deliberation, I chose to publish on KDP Amazon, taking the recommendation of two friends, given that I am nearing seventy. Mostly pleased with my decision (a wider audience and readership would be a fine thing), I never expected the cataclysm of events that have since upended our lives. Travel restrictions and health precautions squelched travel to see loved ones, and normal book release activities, like book tours, readings, and signings were postponed. I carried on with my efforts, however, and I am glad I did so. “Write your book—it will change your life,” is not a facile suggestion, at least it doesn’t have to be. I might substitute “save” for “change.”

The work of writing and its attendant tasks have eased long absences from my family and friends. It has delivered a quiet sense of joy and agency—if solely personal—and indeed my life has been enriched for the dogged doing of it. Forgive the overwrought reference, but it’s as if I made a pact with my soul. (Nay, I did.) Set mostly in the Black Hills region, and at times featuring Paris, Denmark, Italy, and Ireland, the series centers around Senga Munro, a middle-aged wounded healer who is nudged by the universe after the tragic loss of her young daughter.

The second protagonist, Gabe Belizaire, confronts racism for being “other.” Senga is also other, for seeing what others can’t, in the series’ thread of magic realism. The notion to include a former bull rider/Tulane-educated M.A. from southwest Louisiana, who simply wants to write while working on a Wyoming ranch, might not have raised eyebrows (at least in this part of the country), but Gabe’s skin color is rare in Wyoming. I describe an incident at a regional rodeo (unnamed, as it could have occurred anywhere, sadly), which leads to Gabe’s acquaintance of an irascible old ranch couple and their neighbor Senga. To set the matter straight, similar incidents as Gabe endured have been reported in first-hand accounts. From one of these I took my cue, but no spoilers from me.

Fast-forward to the summer of 2020. I could not have known that late spring and summer would erupt in protest marches following the brutal killing of George Floyd in Minnesota at the hands of a policeman. “Black Lives Matter,” coined in 2013 after the Trayvon Martin killing, becomes a rallying cry tacitly including all races. The holographic principle declares, “The whole is inherent in the part.” That we are all one race is a given. No room for blind men trying to identify an elephant here. The BLM phrase could be interpreted with more subtlety, nuance, delicacy and truth by detractors. But what is understood is left out. Black Lives actually do Matter. The oft-used rebuttal, “All Lives Matter” weakens the argument of those who utter the retort. I hear it as sarcasm. It dismisses those who insist on simply being seen, acknowledged, and understood.

Since the inception of these United States, ever the hope and aspiration of our founders, people of color and destitute immigrants of all races have often been poorly received in this country. In blinding understatement. We fall short of our ideals—morally, democratically, and ethically. That there is always room for improvement must be accepted, moment to moment. If I sound painfully obvious, I mean to state an obvious fact. My literary series casts a wide net, but addressing respect and regard between people answered the questions my soul posed as I wrote. Daniel J. Levitin suggests in Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives that creative writing lends itself well to the aging brain. Late in life I set myself a challenge, and as the old poet wrote, it has made all the difference.

The much greater and more significant national challenge awaits.

The Bibliophile File

After reading and rereading the last several pages of A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles, I realized I harbor (apologies; it’s the only word) a list of “most favored books and authors,” as many do, and I wanted to give art and artist their own cove, as it were. A website might constitute one’s geography in a sense (among other ologies), and as such, I am inaugurating a link to these beloveds—in case you’re stranded in a moment of ennui and would welcome a diversion. Naturally, I hope you’ll consider mine, but that’s much beside the point. Note that I have omitted pre-twentieth century writers, and many from that century whose contributions have already been well established.

The fiction bookcase is off-stage to the left. No doubt, doing fiction stuff.

Someone once entreated me, “After falling in love with a certain book, just go ahead and read everything the author has written, as soon as possible!” She went on to warn that the sentiment, or “window,” if you will, would be available for only a short time. The fascination might well melt—like a dream sequence.

Be it fiction or nonfiction, I have practiced this exhortation somewhat, though with Dickens, or a couple of the Russians, it would mean I’d be tethered to them alone for a very long while, and there are just so many extraordinary writers out there. Here are a few, in alphabetical order (occasionally paired with a particular volume or series.) As the shy, or, the more indignant (never!) candidates reveal themselves to me, I will amend my list. This is not a complete listing, nor could ever be. An observation: I believe we are in an age of poetry at present, and I’ve only just begun to crack that magic cupboard, beginning with 2021’s Inauguration poet, Amanda Gorman. I’ll require another list.

Speaking of poetry . . . the reviews by Linda Spears (Film and Television Production Sound Recorder), of my latest novels, Starwallow and The Simpler. Her thoughts are short, witty, and (may it be) enticing. I beg your indulgence:

Starwallow and The Simpler~reviewed on March 21, 2021 on Amazon and GoodReads:

“Scenes of intimacy that are fluent and dense. Lives are lived between the momentous, as lives must be. This book takes the ordinary and turns it mystical. The setting is the mild, wild west. In this second book in a trilogy, characters are further illuminated. They are lit. And each authentic character continues to inspire. It’s a story of foundational connections that may be broken but never vanish.”

The Simpler~

“An astounding ending to a remarkable trilogy. . . [begins Spears, though work in the fourth is in progress] Okay [she continues] . . . how often do you read a book that has an ending that is utterly unforeseen? Ready to have your mind twisted? The writing is haunting, lush and soul-piercing.”

My deep gratitude to the sound recorder, whose auscultation (regarding the impression a book has made in her heart) are so beautifully rendered into words. Something of the sort, if not so fine-tuned and trained, leaves a pulse in my heart for the following:

Diane Ackerman

Ray Bradbury

Marion Zimmer Bradley—The Mists of Avalon

Chris Cleave—Everyone Brave is Forgiven

Amanda Coplin—The Orchardist

Anthony Doerr—All the Light We Cannot See

Louise Erdrich

Diana Gabaldon—The Outlander Series

Elizabeth Gilbert—The Signature of All Things

N.K. Jemisin—The Fifth Season

Robin Wall Kemmerer—Braiding Sweetgrass

Barbara Kingsolver

Madeleine L’Engle

John O’ Donahue—Eternal Echoes, Exploring Our Yearning to Belong

Louise Penny

Rosamunde Pilcher—The Shell Seekers

Richard Powers—The Overstory

Wallace Stegner

Mary Stewart

Amor Towles—The Gentleman in Moscow

Julie Yip-Williams—The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After

“Addictive and immersive, this series is a must-read…”

Heady words regarding one’s efforts, but I’ll take it. The Prairie Book Review has distilled the series well, always a difficult task for an author. “What are your books about?” often leaves me tongue-tied. So, here is a summary of the first three books.

Carrier combines love and intrigue with magical realism to build a stunning literary series set in rural Wyoming, Italy, Paris, and Ireland. In the debut installment, Senga is struggling to realize her true purpose in life as accidental death of her only daughter, nine-year-old Emily, weighs heavy on her mind. The second installment in the series sees Senga gradually coming to terms with her grief as Sebastian, a brilliant Danish artist, comes into her life. In the third installment, Senga finds herself following a magical realism thread that takes her to Ireland. She must weigh her own ability that makes her see what others cannot see. Carrier devotes considerable attention to developing her characters, especially Senga who is greatly affected by the tragic events of her past. The passages exploring Senga’s mental state, particularly after she loses her daughter to the tragic accident are haunting and raw. She balances the increasingly entangled lives of Senga and her friends, including the endearing Stricklands, Sebastian, Joe, Gabe, and Francesca with skill and precision. Carrier elegantly weaves the old legend into the main storyline, and High Wolf’s ancient story is as fascinating as Senga’s ongoing tale. Though it takes time to settle into Senga’s intricate world in the first installment, Carrier’s assured, lyrical prose expertly guides the reader throughout. The second and third installments read like a breeze, and new readers will have no trouble following Senga’s story. The plot unravels at a tantalizingly leisured pace, and Carrier’s immersive prose keep the pages turning. The characters’ complex relationships with one another are brilliantly portrayed, and the exquisitely detailed world and expert plotting are an added bonus. Along the way, Carrier explores deeper questions of love, life, regret, grief, racism, and the human cost of obsession and control. Intrigue, passion and madness, and hints of magical realism with tiny magical moments will keep readers spellbound from start to finish. With its Intricate worldbuilding, heartrending emotions, and expert characterization, this imaginatively told tale is sure to impress both the lovers of women’s fiction and literary fiction. Readers will eagerly await Carrier’s next.

~The Prairies Book Reviewhttps://theprairiesbookreview.com/2021/02/27/the-riven-country-series-by-renee-carrier/

Excerpt from THE SIMPLER, Book III in The Riven Country Series

The following passage opens the book. Greetings from a less cold Wyoming. The new solar array is producing energy, and today’s temperature may reach 54 degrees! I plan to go sop up some sun myself. Did you know, in order to absorb the most Vitamin D, your eyes mustn’t be covered with glasses? Closed eyelids are all right. Sunshine is a winter tonic. I hope it’s shining where you live.

Conservation of angular momentum describes the principle of force on spin. A loose interpretation: those who live near the massive igneous intrusion known as Devils Tower, in the northeast Wyoming Black Hills, are unwitting parties to this business of physics. To wit—given the rotation of the earth and the Tower’s hub-like form (consider a navel, a drain or a spinning ice skater)—a spiraling gravity is thereby exerted upon those in the environs. In other words; the nearer, the faster one spins. Metaphorically or not. A more facile account might read: the closer to the Tower, the crazier. Eggs, hard-boiled and raw, are often employed to demonstrate the principle. We’d be the raw egg white, sloshing around the yoke of the Tower. See? Crazy. Present company considered, naturally.

My name is Senga Munro. I’m a migrant, like early Southerners who turned westward in droves after the Civil War. The story spirals back on itself in every generation, dragging along with it hope (it is to be desired) of greater perspective and wisdom. Not quite working up the gumption to move on, some of us stuck fast, like tumbleweed snagged on barbed wire. Whipped up by the fierce Wyoming wind, I blew onto the high plains gyre. This is why I am here, north of Sara’s Spring in northeast Wyoming, making do in a small hunting cabin and earning a living as an assistant librarian and medicinal herbalist. I have savings and a few certificates of deposit as the result of a recent inheritance. My father died in Viet Nam while helping others during the evacuation. He was a hero. Mama died about two years later. She was sore tetched; I would learn the reason why.

Back on a mountain in western North Carolina, my Grannie and Papa Cowry fetched me up (as we also say). I learned herb craft from Grannie and went on healing calls with her. I helped Papa farm his tobacco and he taught me to hunt. He warned me against needing to know every blessèd last thing.

After they died, I came west with a musician, Rob McGhee. We had a baby who was born on the side of the highway near the Wyoming border. After, I wouldn’t leave, but Rob did; I asked him to. Our daughter died nine years later. Emily fell off the world. We’d climbed a cliff and she lost her balance. I blamed myself for years and years; the pack I had her wear pulled her backward. A man was holding her body when I reached the bottom of the cliff trail.

I’ve wondered what brought the man back into my life after nineteen years, after I’d gone so good and crazy with grief I thought I’d die from it (apart from the proximity of the Tower). A friend, Gabe Belizaire, who works for my neighbors, thinks nothing at all caused the man’s return, but I think I may have finally sorted it; Emily is the cause, my daughter herself, and the cause of my living.

Madness, the Tower and what lies beneath may well be the cause of my dying. . .

[Excerpt from THE SIMPLER, Copyright © 2020 Renée Carrier.]

Vigilance

The notion of choosing a word a year to study, exercise, and mull occurred to me especially this January, when upheaval and a sense of foreboding might have buried me in depression. Vigilance as refuge. Vigilance as resilience. Vigilance as agency. “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” has been repeated by several luminaries, including Thomas Jefferson, but in researching the phrase, I find no first mention. Maybe it appeared in our consciousness full blown like Athena, the goddess of wisdom, from the head of her father, Zeus. As a natural law and obvious fact, granted, it is invoked by disparate groups in their collective marches toward respective ideas of freedom.

Enter my word for the year. The quality of vigilance begs for watchfulness, attention, awareness, and mindfulness. By choosing it, I hope to set my intention firmly enough that my internal “observer” will allow me to rest more fully and in peace when I need to. At least one burden has been removed, but another remains (the virus), and while it is easier to haul two buckets of water, one in each hand, internally, I seek a working balance.

Decomposing the spectrum of Vigilance begins at the root. I see the vi as having to do with sight, with vision. The ritual of vigil has long informed our mythical side. From days of yore, as means to concentrate the mind of a soldier before battle, it came to be conflated with “wake,” related to vigil, inasmuch as remaining with a loved one until burial. And to make sure the deceased did not awaken. The wake evolved to often include a rowdy send-off, either in place of, or before the more solemn funeral.

The first exercise in making a year-long study of this word is in writing this piece. Invoking a word and imbuing it with meaning casts a spell of intent. Naming a thing settles the mind. Accepting a charge (in the old sense of the word) settles emotion. Practicing vigilance might entail myriad actions, as well as non-action, i.e., a daily period of meditation, to learn to listen with the ear of the heart. (If I harp on this one, it is because I require the constant drumbeat of its message—no inference to you, dear reader.)

Having published three novels over the last thirteen months, I might be tempted to confuse due diligence with vigilance, but they are not the same thing. Assiduous effort has forestalled the possibility of an existential break, as it were, and I am grateful for the work, and the support of loved ones. Vigilance becomes a discipline when followed with love, an internal message of love from my head to my heart.

The Simpler of The Riven Country Series and the author at home.