For months now, my life has been in a state of upheaval.
Leaving Idaho. Moving to Vermont. Settling in and adjusting.
It has been a bumpy, scary, exciting and ultimately life-altering-in-a-good-way twelve months.
This morning, walking through rain-soaked field grass with Finn and Conall, a light mist thickening the air and hushing the world around us, the saying, No matter where you go, there you are kept filling my head.
But with an odd, ultimately positive spin.
I was chastising myself for not writing the book that has been filling my thoughts and dreams for years.
A book about wolves.
I had excuses while living in Idaho. And now I have excuses here in Vermont. Some are even the same.
So, what’s stopping me from writing? Really?
Me. I’m the only thing stopping me from writing my book. Me, and me alone. No matter how I try, I can’t run away from me.
Yesterday Finn woke up with a slight relapse of his vertigo.
Mornings have always been “our time” for me and my dogs. In Idaho, we would run or walk in the forest. Since moving to Vermont, though, Finn hasn’t been able to run, so instead, we walk in the fields and woods across the road.
Finn’s first bout of vertigo kept him from walking for a couple days, but eventually we resumed and each day he went farther and was steadier on his feet. Three days ago, after a small increase in the dosage of his twice-daily anti-inflammatory, he was trotting along happily on our walk, flushing a flock of turkeys with joy (and no danger to the birds), tromping through fields and woods for two-plus miles.
Finn was back!
Then yesterday’s relapse.
Finn is doing better today, so I’m hopeful for another rebound.
But he’s going to be fourteen years old in December. There’s only so much rebounding I can hope for.
As the boys and I meandered along a path where the grass has been tramped by vehicle wheels, my eyes drawn to the nearby trees with leaves doing their stunning autumn colors trick, some already decorating the ground, I had time to think about writing, or more precisely, not writing. I reflected on the process that ultimately led to writing and publishing my first book about Boeing test pilots, and why that succeeded.
I started recording interviews of key people, including my father and his colleagues, in 2002. I did lots of research. Then I moved to Idaho in 2005, and those interviews and research slowed to a trickle. I let life intervene, in part because I didn’t believe I was worthy of the task.
In late 2008 I left Idaho and returned to Seattle to ride out the recession, I had already done most of the research for a book about Boeing test pilots, but then, in the summer of 2009, my father died. The project, started because his stories entertained me throughout my life, suddenly seemed undoable without him.
For the next few years, I despaired of ever writing the book. I couldn’t focus on the actual writing. In late 2012, certain I had to do something with all those interviews and stories I had been gifted, but unsure if I even had an audience for a book, I decided to try raising funds through Kickstarter – enough to buy me three months of “unemployment” to focus on nothing but writing, plus extra to hire an experienced editor and book formatter. The campaign succeeded, both in raising the desired funds, but more importantly, showing me that I did, indeed, have an audience of aviation enthusiasts out there who believed in the project.
In May of 2013, Kickstarter funds in my bank account, my three dogs (Maia, Meadow and a young Finn) and I left Seattle for Idaho. I holed up there until after Labor Day, avoiding distractions, including work, family and friends.
I wrote. I revised. I fact checked. I fleshed out interviews. I wrote some more.
It was an intense summer.
I discovered my writing zone. It was…amazing. It’s an exhilarating feeling, almost drug-like in how addicting it is. I’ve never been so eager to start each day, itching to sit at my desk and write. I literally lost track of time.
But that summer I also had to say goodbye to both Maia and Meadow.
Maia first, in June. She had been diagnosed with lymphoma in January, but with chemotherapy, was in remission. Old age waits for no one, though; she had turned fourteen in April that year, and by June, she let me know was ready to go on her next adventure without me.
Meadow’s leaving a few weeks later, though, was a shock. She was twelve. I anticipated another two years with her. While I was focused on treating Maia’s lymphoma that spring, Meadow developed a slight limp that never resolved. After arriving in Idaho, an x-ray disclosed bone cancer. In July she joined Maia on that next adventure, which I told myself was fitting, as they’d been closely bonded since the day I brought Meadow home as an eight-week-old puppy and Maia immediately took her into her heart.
My own heart, though, was shattered.
To assuage my grief, for the rest of that summer I focused on two sustaining things: morning runs or walks in the forest with Finn, and writing. Nothing else mattered.
I was writing about my father, his Boeing colleagues, and happy childhood memories bound to their aviation stories and that time in history. I would get lost for hours in the writing and research, Finn having to nudge my thigh to remind me to feed him his dinner, forgetting to eat my own dinner until my stomach’s grumblings could no longer be ignored. The memories and writing got me through those difficult days and weeks, helping me heal. Finn’s enthusiasm for life as we ran through the forest most mornings kept me grounded in the present and fostered creative problem solving, which helped immeasurably with the writing. Each activity fed and enhanced the other.
Plus, there were those Kickstarter supporters who expected a finished book by the end of 2013. I couldn’t let them down, and I didn’t. By December, Growing Up Boeing: The Early Jet Age Through the Eyes of a Test Pilot’s Daughter was finished and edited. It was published in February, 2014.
A thought hit me while walking with the boys this morning, thinking about that journey in 2013: Am I now in a similar place and circumstance, where I have the time, resources, and ability to write the next book? Where I’m essentially isolated (in a good way), with no obligations to anyone but myself and my dogs? And if that’s the case, why the hell am I not taking advantage of it?
I stopped to take some closeup photos of Finn, sitting in the wet field grass, tiny droplets of mist on his fur. I don’t ever want to regret not having enough photos of him in his old age.
I also don’t want to regret missing a perfect opportunity to write my book about wolves.
I’ve been doing research about wolves for years. In fact, I began thinking about this book – another memoir, but this time focusing on wolves, wildlife, wilderness, and dogs (of course) – even before I wrote Growing Up Boeing. I’ve got a Word document titled Research & Notes that is presently 90 pages long, full of research citations, quotations, article links, whatever I come across that might be useful. I add to it regularly. The first entry was made in 2014, shortly after publishing Growing Up Boeing.
All around me in my office I have white boards on the wall and an easel with 25”x30” sheets of paper on which I write thoughts and ideas about wolves and the book I want to write.
I joke that researching and writing Growing Up Boeing took ten years. It seems this book about wolves might be on a similar schedule. Apparently my books are slow to germinate.
Writing about wolves, I mused as the boys and I continued our walk, will help me deal with Finn’s declining health over the winter months when getting him outside for exercise will be even more challenging. It will keep me from dwelling on him and things I can’t fix for him, like his vertigo and aging joints, just as writing Growing Up Boeing focused my thoughts away from my inability to save Maia and Meadow from the ravages of age and cancer.
Writing keeps me at home, near Finn, but less anxious and worried about him. Good for both of us.
Conall will continue being my running companion, taking up all the slack left by Finn’s inability to run, just as Finn filled that void for me when Maia and Meadow could no longer run.
And so it goes.
I’m seeing clear patterns in my writing life, including the circumstances required to feel ready to write a book.
Who am I to ignore those patterns?
Digging through some of those research notes, I stumbled upon an entry I made from December 2020. I have a friend, Susan, who is an editor by day and has, over the years, become a reliable ear, supporter, and confidant. I shared with her some stats on a blog post I’d written about the symbiosis between ravens and wolves. It had gotten more views than anything else I posted in 2020, by a factor of five. I wondered if this was a sign that the topic I wanted to write a book about – wolves and their place in the ecosystem – was indeed viable.
Susan wasn’t surprised by the readership statistic. She wrote back, in part: “Wolves touch something very old in the human consciousness, IMHO. Plus, they have that sexy, charismatic megafauna thing going on. :-)”
Yes, they do. No wonder I’ve always been fascinated by them, including having dogs – Alaskan Malamutes – closely related to them.
And checking those blog stats again, that post has had even more views in 2021.
I guess I’m onto something.
I share these musing with you, my blog readers, because…well, if things go as I intend and hope, I’ll be spending the winter rediscovering that writing “zone” I first experienced that summer of 2013. I want to dive fully and irretrievably into thinking about the wolves, wilderness, wildlife and dogs who have graced my life, teaching me valuable lessons, and if I’m successful…? That means writing a book, and far fewer blog posts.
Although I have a collection of dog photobombs in Vermont that need posting…
Wish me luck! Along with a healthy dose of determination, grit, and perseverance. I’m going to need it all.