“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.
“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.”
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.
Last night, someone close to me who is reading Jumping said to me that so far Chapter 12 is his favorite, the most beautifully written.
It’s a description of one of the main characters–Miles, Duncan Robert’s uncle and a fellow jumper–and I’d thrown it in at the request of my editor, who wanted more background on Miles to explain the later anti-war stance he takes into the Void, into an epic battle scene.
I wrote that chapter straight as it came to me, not questioning it, not needing to edit it. My editor didn’t touch it, either.
Now I see my words differently, because of what my friend said.
I’m in my own words now, not someone else’s. I haven’t been reading much since I’ve been writing. I don’t think I was supposed to be reading, so I could steep in my own words for a change, after a lifetime of reading–since I was a child and won contests for reading the most books. I’d never let go of the words of others as the way, not seeing the power of my own words to set a life by.
No matter what happens to Jumping out there in the world, I see myself and my words differently.
I hope readers keep talking to me.
Sometimes I forget how and where and why I even wrote this book–after all, I wrote it more than two years ago and have written a few more since then–and now it’s out there. Actually, that was the first question of the Examiner interviewer–how did I come to write it.
I said I wrote it for two reasons: (1) I took a creative writing class at Inprint, a great writing program in Houston. There were eleven of us in the class, an engineer, a physicist, a lawyer, a teacher, a student, etc. What inspired me is that they always wanted me to read first, to see what happened next. I wrote the intro to the book in that class, but I didn’t know it. (2) Every psychic I’ve seen, and that would be about a half dozen in the past decade, generally done with a group for fun, would ask me where my book was. Not that psychics necessarily have a corner on the truth, but by the time the sixth one asks you, you begin to wonder.
Ultimately, writing is such a private act, there’s still something shocking about it going public, even when you know it’s coming. I wrote it every night after work is the how. Generally in my second-floor Albuquerque apartment (corner of Broadway and Coal) is the where, staring out the window at downtown whenever I paused in my typing. The real answer to why is that it came and it kept coming, every time I sat down to write and sometimes in between. It still comes. I keep a notebook with me, to catch it.
Now I feel as if I’m in that dream where you’re standing naked in front of a clothed crowd, no where to run, no where to hide. Even though this must have always been the goal, I’m still a little freaked out to have achieved it. I guess I’ve jumped.