Musical Chairs

My daughter recently paid a visit and commented, pointedly, on the vast number of chairs in our home. Tongue in cheek, I reminded her (as I’d mentioned before) that, “They’re for my characters.” It’s a fancy I enjoy, in order to feel less isolated, I suppose. Which brings me to the last couple years of relative solitude and “social” distancing. (I prefer the phrase, “physical distancing,” as it describes the thing more accurately.) Between my husband and our Lab, and the occasional visit from physically distant children and grandchildren, sisters, brothers, and friends, the Covid pandemic demanded (demands?) a sabbatical of sorts; a retreat, a withdrawal, a quietude. I already live in the least populated state, 56 miles from a large town.

Notwithstanding the telephone calls, texts, and other communications during the imposed isolation, I was able to finish producing the first three novels of my Riven Country series. Having nothing to do with the present polarities in the United States, the title refers to a woman’s heartbreak. CROFTER, my non-fiction narrative/memoir, is being shown to agents as I work on a fourth novel.

Regarding the writer’s seeming self-isolation and need for solitude—I am not strictly “alone” when writing my stories. As CROFTER is largely a homestead manual, fleshed out by memoir, my conjured company therein appears mainly as ghosts of my past, loving or otherwise. I include a few dangerous critters sharing the land with us here in Wyoming, one of which needed killing just yesterday, a large rattler coiled a few steps from our front porch. And, no ma’am, they cannot be reasoned with, enticed away, or asked to leave quietly. They are deadly. “Situational awareness” is, perforce, an ongoing practice here. The land itself (not a character) cannot be relegated to any notion but that of respect. And neither can the weather. The Earth is her own, and always shall be.

But back to those chairs and literary characters. . . . So far, I’ve agreed and managed to find a home for a single chair: a sweet second-hand, blue wingback we had reupholstered thirty years ago. And yes, it was uncomfortable to part with it. Marie Kondo, a maven of uncluttering, asks us to politely thank our possessions for their service and gratefully release them. I’m contemplating a few more farewells.

My characters have adequate seating in our home, the very least I can do. I’m fairly certain I’m not alone in this train of thought, that we authors forge such friendships (and yes, aversions) to these imaginary friends and foes, so that our so-called solitude is not quite that. And here’s the crux—if I ignore these folks for any length of time, they play the sullen card and by turns, ignore me. I’ve found I’ve had to coax their precious or peevish presence (depending on the character) if I’ve had to attend to other responsibilities for a time, such as having shoulder surgery, or entertaining house guests, or, when traveling. And so, resolve calls for more attention paid to all my friends. And, to watch out for the snakes.

A summer day, with the Loving Lab in the mountains