Evening in BarnhillLand

So here’s the thing: I’ve got a really weird job.

Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I’ve had lots of jobs in my life (lots and lots and lots of them), and I discovered along the way that I’m, well, ill-suited for……pretty much everything. And I’m not whining and I’m not being annoyingly or fishingly self-deprecating. These are just the facts.

I’m overly chatty, I can’t type for crap, I’m disorganized, I’m surly with folks in authority, I’ve got poor attention to detail when working on other people’s projects, I bristle at wasted time, I fall asleep in meetings and I am not a team player. I’ve been fired from eight different waitressing jobs for consistently writing down orders – not what people wanted, but what I thought they should have. And once for spilling a $300 bottle of wine down my shirt. I nearly came to blows once with a district official over a reading curriculum that I absolutely refused to use in my classroom. (Because it sucked). (She told me that I’d be lucky if a single child passed their state reading test. I told her I didn’t care because the tests in Minnesota at the time were the laughingstock of the nation – which was true.) (79% of my kids passed – one of the highest stats in the district. So I told her to suck it.)

Anyway. I work very hard when I’m on my own. In the world – in the real world – I’m sorta….vague. My husband says this is adorable. I think he’s being nice.

So I have this job instead. This writing job. This live-in-a-world-of-my-own-making job. And….well it’s weird, isn’t it? It’s a weird job.

But another weird part of my job is porous division between the imagined and the real. Particularly since my real life is written in the language of hyperbole, and synched to the rhythm of hyperbole and painted with hyperbole’s brush. Every day I must comfort a daughter whose life, apparently, is over, and another daughter whose leg is falling off and must stop a son who has decided to destroy a house (that part wasn’t hyperbole at all, though. That bit was real). Also, the little boys who daily invade my house, are constantly threatening to explode.

In any case, it’s an odd bit of vertigo that happens, when my head is still in the story, still sitting on the shoulders of runty, foul-mouthed gods who are – as we speak – creating universes, and smelling the sulfury breath of easily annoyed dragons who have no hearts in their bodies, or looking up the gory details of shoulder wounds or armpit wounds, or inventing the masonic structure of an ancient castle – then figuring out how to destroy it…..and then – THEN – be interrupted by my panicked children because the toilet, apparently is overflowing. Or the bank’s on the phone, and they’re pissed. Or I’ve forgotten to meet a friend for lunch. Or the email that I thought I sent I only sent in my mind. Or whatever.

In any case, I’m terribly grateful to my children for keeping me in this world. I don’t know what I’ll do when they grow and move out. Maybe I’ll have to hire kids to hang around the house and distract me from my work. Or maybe I’ll fade into the pages of a story and you’ll never see me again.

Right now, with my head in VIOLET, that feels like a possibility.

In fact, all day, I felt partially-faded. Like Frodo when he had the ring on too long. I was translucent-faced, cellophane-bodied, eyes made of smoke. And I would have continued like that – a half-existence, a half-life – had it not been for Leo.

I was hunched at my computer, rewriting a scene for about the nine-thousandth time, when Leo tapped on my shoulder with two fingers.

(and really hard, I might add. I think I have a bruise.)

“Mom,” he said. “Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, MOM!”

“What!” I yelled. Honestly, I only heard the last MOM. “Why are you yelling?”

“Mom,” he said. He was red faced, red lipped, eyes bright as full moons. “GUESS WHAT?”

“What?” said. Thinking: This better be good.

“What happens, when every person on earth burps AND coughs AND sneezes AND farts….. AT THE SAME TIME?”

I pulled my hands from the keys, cracking the knuckles. I brought my fingertips to my brow and pressed at the headache that I’m sure was there all day, but I was only just noticing (does this happen to you too? Do you feel separated from your body when you spend all day at a story? Or not even all day, but three or four hours? Sometimes I forget that I have a body at all.) Leo waited. He bounced on his toes. He was thrilled.

“I don’t know, honey.” (I secretly did.) “But I would love it,” (a sigh, a long, slow, long-suffering sigh) “if you would tell me what happens – what really happens – when all the people on earth burp, cough, sneeze, and fart at the same time.”

Leo smiled with all his teeth. “THE WORLD EXPLODES!” he said, jumping up and down.

“Well,” I said. “Let’s hope that never happens. Next time you need to fart, be sure to tell us, so that we don’t accidentally do it at the same time, okay.”

And then we went outside to go spider hunting. Because I had been outside of this world for long enough. And it felt good to be running around the back yard – my real yard of my real life – with my son for a little bit.

The story will just have to wait its turn.

Underwater

Dear Blog,

I know, I know. And I’m sorry. I’ve been ignoring you, ignoring my commitment to the daily practice of poetry (was I completely mad for deciding to do that? Probably.), ignoring my commitment to engaging with Ideas (or, in other words, being Uppity, Bombastic, and Generally Annoying) and ignoring my insistance on gathering little bits of bright paper and pinning them against the sky.

(because, in the end, that’s what a blog is, right? Things gathered, things assembled, things roughly made. Like an automaton made of soda cans or a rendering of the Venus de Milo made of used wrapping paper and ribbon and tin foil. A blog is a wobbly thing, insubstantial, ephemeral, as permanent as smoke.)

If it’s any consolation, it’s not just you that I’m ignoring, dear blog. You should see my house. It’s a freaking mess. And I haven’t washed my son’s hair in about a week. (Of course, that is also due to the fact that he is very, very fast.)

But soon, I will crawl out from under the weight of this next revision, and soon I will feel happy (mostly) about the work that I’ve done, and soon I will breathe the sighs of the innocent and sleep the sleep of the blest.

I took this bit out of the book:

They say that an entire universe lives inside of the tear of a dragon, and, if you had eyes to see it, a close examination would reveal endless space, burning suns, spinning planets, and huge civilizations rising from the dust and vanishing into the ether in the time it takes for the tear to well, spill and evaporate.

Did my world originate in the tear of a dragon?

Did yours?

But I’m sorry to see it go, quite frankly. I like novels with thought experiments in them, and I really liked them when I was a kid. Maybe I’ll put it back in.

Don’t tell my editor.

I also took this out, my little bit of mythic scripture-making:

You see, the story that the children told was true. Or true enough. There truly was once a single Universe, and it did indeed split into the teeming, cacophonous multiverse – the Worlds upon Worlds upon infinite Worlds – that exists now. It was also true that the short, runty god (the one who had no name; the one we loved best of all) was the cause of it.

But there was more to the story.

The other gods, upon seeing what their brother had done, were enraged. Imagine their shock! : Three worlds where there once was one? “Madness!” the other gods cried. “Lunacy!” they shouted. “Stubby idiot,” they muttered under their breath. He was ordered to undo his rash creation.

But you see, the runty god with the stubby arms and legs found that he could not destroy the worlds he had made. “Look!” he said, “how the mountains uncurl from the sea! Look at the white clouds in this world, the golden clouds in that. Look how the planets spin, how the stars cast their light into the ragged edges of space and time.” Soon, the other gods noticed that the three new worlds were stable and whole. They didn’t wobble or shift. And what’s more, they saw how their stubby, ugly brother loved his new worlds. Loved them.

And so it was that the other gods decided to form new worlds as well – so many that they frothed and bubbled as though in a great sea. There were universes ruled by mathematics and those ruled by magic and those ruled by philosophy and those ruled by physics. There was even a universe entirely subject to the whims of a very large turtle. There were worlds that dwarfed their neighbors, and worlds that fitted neatly inside one another, like nesting dolls. Every universe imaginable erupted, spun and grew. The multiverse swelled and foamed. Worlds pressed so close to one another that their fragile skins stretched and bulged, curving the space within. And the creatures of these worlds saw strange reflections – the distorted glimpses of a world not their own. And they were afraid.

Finally, the runty god had an idea. “It isn’t right that the creatures of our new worlds should suffer. I propose that all of us spend time in the worlds of our devising. We must train teachers and thinkers and tellers. Stories shall be the antidote to fear.” And so they did, each god to its own world, its own creation.

All but one.

I may end up keeping that bit, but in a very, very, very different form. We’ll see.

In the meantime, someone tell me a story. Or tell me good news. Or tell me a joke. Put it into a bottle and throw it into the sea of my own making, my stormy, foaming brain. Or tie it to a rock, and let it sink to the bottom. And maybe I’ll find it. Maybe it’ll keep my heart from drowning.


Secret Doors

Our dear friends, John and Mike, purchased a large, rambling house right by Lake of the Isles recently, with the intention of renovating it into what is guaranteed to be an astonishing piece of beauty. Now John is my husband’s business partner at the architectural design firm Design 45, so I had been seeing the plans to this project for a while as my husband worked on them. But I only went into the house recently.

After exploring its many back staircases and hidden rooms, we went to the basement and found the thing that is currently haunting the stories that my children whisper to one another at night.

A secret door.

A long-since boarded up secret door at the very back wall of the basement. An inch-thick rectangle of plywood has been bolted across it and covered in thick coats of gray paint again and again.

“What is this?” I asked.

“We don’t know,” John said.

“A door.” Mike said. “Or at least it was. The children of the previous owner said that it used to be connected to a tunnel that went under the road and ended in the park.”

I stared at them.

“You’re kidding, right?”

“It’s not true,” John said.

“They said it was true,” Mike said. “I don’t know if it was so that they could access the park without having to go in the road or if it was a 1920′s speakeasy thing or what, but they were pretty sure there used to be a tunnel there.”

I was astonished. “Well, can we open it right now?” I asked.

At this point, my children were nearly hopping out of their skin. Secretdoorsecretdoorsecretdoor etched in their wilding faces. (Is wilding a word? If not, I think we should all declare it so. Wilding is giving me an inordinate amount of pleasure right now.) Their hands shook; their eyes shone; they jumped and jumped and jumped.

“There might be treasure in there!”

“Or zombies!”

“Or all the spiders ON EARTH!”

“Or zombies!”

“Or suitcases full of money.”

“Or zombies!”

“Or another world.”

“Or zombies!”

“Or magic tools.”

“Or ghosts AND vampires AND an anaconda AND zombies!” Leo was beside himself at that point. “Also, the Kraken!”

“We’re not going to open it,” Mike said.

The heads of my children collectively (and metaphorically) exploded. “WHY NOT?” they exclaimed.

Mike shrugged. “Everyone deserves a secret or two. Even a house.”

And I suppose that’s true. If they had opened the door right there and then, we would not have three weeks worth of Secret Door stories wafting through their play and their art and their dreams. We wouldn’t have the nightly requests by my son for yet another installment of “Leo Barnhill And The Mysterious Door,” of which there have been thirteen so far.

And it makes me think about my writing work as well. I don’t like reading books that open every door, that explain every little thing. I like it when the author consciously obscures the truth, when they force me to simply guess at what lies beyond the locked door. Sometimes, it’s enough to know the door exists, and what is beyond it is for me, the reader, to endlessly wonder and wonder and wonder.

In general, I hold Wonder in high regard.

There is a door – a secret door – in the basement at my friends’ house. I wonder what’s inside?

Now, as I wade through the revisions for my next book, Iron Hearted Violet, I am deliberately leaving some doors closed, some questions unanswered, some trails un-trod. Because I need to leave some space for my reader to wander. I want my readers to linger in this world I built, and to explore regions that I haven’t even thought to visit. I want my readers to wonder about the doors that I did not open, and for my story to engender new stories. And I like that idea very much.

Very much indeed.