“You know what I’d like to be?” I said. “I mean if I had my goddam choice?…I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all…And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff–I mean they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d be the catcher in the rye…”
Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
Who wouldn’t like to have written that? You can hardly put into words everything he’s caught in those lines–every bit of longing and need, every bit of hope, every bit of love. We want to know Holden, and we think we do.
I don’t think JD Salinger even wanted the fame and fortune that book brought him. What he wanted was to write it.
Taller than the Eiffel Tower, in a flat, desert area in the center of Australia. Eight miles around. More than 600 million years old.
Sacred places–unknown forces are at work to activate space with spirit. They hold things we want to know. Some of us believe we are meant to know. Some of us have a passion to know.
One morning, when I was staying up country in a valley of the Manzano Mountains, I got up early to see the sun rise. I went out on the deck, and as I looked across the field, I saw about a dozen turkey vultures, each perched on a fence post.
They stood with wings outstretched, unmoving, waiting to catch the sun’s rays, to warm their wings. It was a surreal sight, as if they were caught in a moment of worship.
It made me think of turkey vultures differently, to feel a kinship with them. We both were in that moment to appreciate something ancient and foundational that is rejuvenating to something deep within us. For that moment, we were worshiping at the same church.
Now when I see them surrounding road kill, I don’t go, “Ew-w-w!”
“I’m my mother’s girl,” she said drily.
Lines I love. It’s from an old movie.
So is this one:
“You should see her shoes.”
Look how much we know from that.
From a Taxi episode:
“I guess I’m in trouble when I start talking to the furniture,” Alex says.
“You’re in trouble when it goes to the door and scratches to get out,” Jim says, looking at the furniture.
From Anne Lamott:
She had such an epiphany, “I know I’ll be dating the Dalai Lama.”
A Native American proverb:
“As you go the way of life, you will see a great chasm. Jump. It is not as wide as you think.”
In a title for an article:
“Improvised Shakespeare theater company creates a fully improvised play in Elizabethan style two nights a week.”
In a medical article:
They’ve created a “beat-less artificial heart.”
From Jumping: a Novel.
Babe, on the arrival of her sisters. [I have three sisters.]
“I remember seeing a snake come down from the porch roof of a cabin I was staying in with friends. As we watched, it extended half of its length down through space as if the space had substance to support it, leaving its other half anchored on the porch roof. It lowered that front half right into a fir tree leaning against the porch, into the nest of a small mourning dove, a nest clearly visible to our group on the porch, a nest with two small eggs in it.
The dove had left the nest, probably because we had scared her off by coming out on the porch, and the snake had seen its chance. It moved into the nest with half of its body still on the porch roof, and swallowed both eggs, so quickly, so effortlessly, I could almost believe it hadn’t happened. I didn’t want to believe it had. Then it withdrew itself back up onto the roof, again as if suspended by invisible wires, and disappeared from sight. We stood there, silenced by the finality of its act. . . .
“Later I found a snakeskin tucked in the fold of the bottom step of the back porch. It was beautiful, elegant, like a woman’s elbow-length opera glove, dropped unheedingly, while she was on her way to somewhere else. . . .”
I discovered if you don’t regularly jump–off a porch, from a plane, into a new life–you’re not living. Life loses its juice and so do you. For every time I left town with a suitcase and never went back, I grew leaps as a human being–I think jumping is a shortcut to living. When do you feel more alive than when you take a risk, a life leap, a free fall?
I’m writing about a lead character who is going to jump into the Void, and I want to like her more. Isn’t it enough that she has the courage to jump? What’s missing? I think about the female characters I like–most recently, Scott & Bailey, the detectives on a PBS series (that’s them above, with their boss on the left). Why do I like them? I have to admit the truth–it’s because they smoke, drink, and make bad relationship decisions. And they might have tattoos. They’re a mixture of girly-girls (make-up, skirts, heels), bad girls (smoking, drinking, etc.), and smart girls (we have evidence of this, usually in their work).
But I discover there’s something else that’s part of the hook–they have some kind of inner courage, every-day courage, the kind no one else usually knows about but that is a defining pattern for them. They hold steady on this. That’s what I want to see in my lead character–something that isn’t publicly seen but that is regularly practiced, that helps us understand her jump. Other women might have a pattern of drama, a pattern of manipulation, a pattern of hiding, even a pay-it-forward pattern of kindness. But these women have a consistent pattern of courage born from living against the grain.
If they come up against rejection, abandonment, violence, they don’t stick at that spot, memorializing it so that they can borrow from it later. They’ll either take it aboard or they’ll discard it, but–either way–they move on. They aren’t held back a grade because they haven’t gotten what came before. They decide and move on.
I think it’s a hard thing to have. Life pounds and pulls, telling them they’re weak or stupid or crazy, but bent and weather beaten, they stand, deciding against the grain.
For me, that makes these characters jumpers–women who would. Without making a fuss about it. It’s what will make my lead character a jumper.
And I don’t think they’re alone out there.
I think that’s what you might be, if you’re reading this. A jumper. That’s what keeps me writing to you. I’m looking for the jumpers.