When things aren’t perfect, but you keep going anyway

Not long ago, the Engineer observed my tendency to let relatively small obstacles derail me from something I said I wanted to do. This made my face all scrunchy because it was true and I didn’t like hearing it. To be fair, the thing I said I wanted to do was go to the gym, and no one really actually wants to go to the gym. What I actually want to do is to sit around in stretchy pants drinking coffee and admiring my naturally-occurring six-pack abs. But, alas, this is not to be for me.

On the first morning of NaNoWriMo, I awoke bright-eyed and ready to begin streaming brilliance into the pages of my perfect notebook with my perfect pen. The universe had positively conspired to line everything in front of me like a virtual yellow brick road of inspiration. I laid down on the floor with my collection of pillows, coffee, antique suitcase/writing desk, outline, perfect notebook, and perfect pen and got to work.

But then a funny thing happened. The pen, that had been perfect when writing in my Molskine*, seemed a little less perfect when writing in my perfect Leuchtturm1917. It was not as smooth and a little more bleedy and less forgiving and just overall less, well, perfect, than I imagined. I grabbed my Moleskine and wrote, “Is it the pen, or the paper? It might be the paper–oh no!” I had hoped the brand-new Le Pen I had started that morning might be a dud. Those two little sentences written in my Moleskine proved to me, however, that the Le Pen/Moleskine combination was indeed still perfection in my mind, while the Le Pen/Leuchttum1917 was decidedly, well, not.

This put me in a foul mood on the morning of the first day of NaNoWriMo. The Engineer, very generously, suggested that we would solve this problem, in fact, it would be no problem at all. He’s wonderful like that. Neil Gaiman writes with a fountain pen, and that’s probably what I need. This suggestion just made me grumpier because I freaking love my Le Pens, dammit, and I just want them to stay perfect. (Although, if forced to admit it, I do really love the idea now of a fountain pen because apparently I’m slowly turning into a character in an old-timey story.)

What I decided to do instead is plug ahead with my imperfect Le Pens and my teal Leuchtturm1917 because I had decided to write my NaNoWriMo words in my perfect teal Leuchtturm1917 (“with two T’s!!,” she sobs) and my perfect Le Pens (in Dark Grey, Oriental Blue, or Teal only, please) and I will not be derailed by the discovery that they are not perfect together after all.

I have 8,000 definitely imperfect words written under imperfect conditions, with 42,000 to go and everything is fine, and it will be fine, and someday this will make a great story that I’ll probably write in a navy Moleskine journal with a Le Pen in one of three colors.

*Aside: I recently learned the proper spelling of “Moleskine.” I’ll leave my previous errors for posterity.

See you in December! (Final Countdown to NaNoWriMo)

The National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge begins in 2 days! I’m excited, and the tiniest bit nervous. I’ve been working the last few weeks on outline after slightly-improved outline, and fortunately, the impending deadline of November 1st has given me a sense of urgency and a stopping point for endless refinements. I’m itching to start writing, so I think that means I’m ready.

Over the last month or so I’ve discovered some things about my writing process that have made me grateful I had time to prep, but not too much time to prep. First, I think it could potentially be tough to transition from outlining to writing. I feel good about the iterative process my outlines have gone through; it feels like the quality of the story has improved (in my humble opinion) dramatically since the first draft. I can see how it would be tempting to keep refining outlines in perpetuity, so a deadline is helpful.

Second, I threw my initial logistical plan for getting words on “paper” completely out the window a week ago. During the last month, I’ve fallen in love (I know, such mellow-drama) with the feeling of physically putting words on paper. Like, with a pen. Prior to this revelation last weekend, I would have never considered attempting to write the first draft of a novel on paper. The thought didn’t just sound silly and overly-romantic to me, it sounded downright ridiculous. I do a lot of writing for my day job, and I wouldn’t dream of moving that process to paper.

But creative writing feels altogether different to me. It’s art. And the physical experience of it has become unexpectedly important to me. My connection to the story feels deeper and more intense when I’m looking at my notebook, feeling the pen, feeling the words flow onto paper. Each letter feels unique. Typing is just a series of impersonal poking motions, and with the exception of slight variations in finger positioning, all letters and all words feel essentially the same. Not so when writing with a pen. I love the way it feels to write my main character’s name. Typing it just isn’t the same.

I’ll have to admit at this point the Engineer has earned the right to tell me “I told you so,” at least a bit. A while back, long before he suggested NaNoWriMo, he told me about listening to an interview with the author Neil Gaiman. He was very interested in Neil’s description of his writing process, especially that he wrote all of his first drafts with a fountain pen, in part, because it forced him to be much more selective with the words he chose. I totally dismissed this idea at the time, and the reason I gave was something really dumb and untrue like, I’m naturally economical with words so I don’t need that.

Last weekend I independently and with no outside influence whatsoever came up with the idea that I would write the first draft of my novel in a notebook like my Moleskin journal. In a completely unrelated turn of events, the Engineer had bought himself a beautiful teal Leuchtturm1917 journal that I had somehow co-opted noting that teal is my “power color” (as told to me in 2005 by a Starbucks barista who was apparently skilled in some form of metaphysical color theory). It was sitting on my desk, clearly “mine” at this point, just waiting for my navy Moleskin journal to complete its tour of duty. It became clear: I would write the first draft of my novel in the beautiful teal Leuchtturm gifted to me by the Engineer.

On Saturday night, we decided to listen to the Neil Gaiman interview he had been so interested in this summer. As we listened to Neil’s description of his writing process, I was feeling much more enthusiastic about the whole writing-on-paper thing. The interviewer asked what form of paper he used, was it a notebook? Neil Gaiman described how he arrived at his preferred choice before revealing the secret. He said he started with a Moleskin journal–I made a very sophisticated squealy noise and held up my own Moleskin journal and the Engineer smiled indulgently. Unfortunately, Neil noted, at some point Moleskin lowered the quality of their paper, so he had to give it up. Just wouldn’t do with a fountain pen. Then Neil, sort of deliciously and carefully, started describing the replacement he found which had lovely quality paper, and it was, well, it was German, he thought. I held my breath. What was the name??? “Leuchtturm1917,” he said. With two ‘T’s.

My eyes went wide and my mouth made an “o” and I had to pause the interview to freak out a bit. Neil Gaiman writes first drafts in Leuchtturm journals! I’m all for interpreting coincidence as a sign from the universe, so this was very meaningful to me. I have a Leuchtturm journal! It was given to me by the Engineer, who has been so supportive and instrumental in encouraging me to write. Not to mention–and this is important–it’s teal. My power color. My teal, gifted, Leuchtturm is positively guaranteed to contain my first best seller. All signs point to it.

So, obviously, that’s my plan. I went back in my journal and found a relatively dense and relatively neat page of writing and counted the words. 250-ish. My goal for NaNoWriMo is 50,000-ish words which I’ll know I’ve achieved if I fill 200-ish of the 251 pages in that very special journal.

When do I get to be a writer?

There’s something either audacious or ridiculous about the claim to have a novel in your future, and I think there’s probably a very thin line between the two. If you want to be taken very seriously (but not really) at a cocktail party, may I suggest opening your elevator speech with, “I’m mostly just working on my novel.”

I’m telling the world I’m writing a novel because I want to finish it, and I’m hoping to be audacious and not ridiculous. It’s hard. As a threshold matter, you have to type between 80,000 and 100,000 words. That’s a lot of words. Even more difficult, these words have to tell a story of some sort, which is harder than it sounds. Or maybe it also sounds really hard. It does to me. And then you should think about getting all of the proper elements in the proper order with the proper pacing. It’s not a small undertaking, especially if you need to do things like have functional relationships and work a full time job to earn money for food.

I’m still in the planning stages of my first novel. I’m working through the second draft of my outline. I’m actually starting to feel sort of smug about that. Outlining is hard. It’s telling the whole story with just a few words, but not all of them. The telling of the story is the important part, I think. Which words you choose to use to do the ultimate telling is a secondary concern. Once you have the story told, filling in the details feels doable. Of course, I have no way of knowing this for sure.

Theoretically, I know that every successful author started with a first book. And mostly what distinguishes them from the infinite hoards of “aspiring” authors is execution. They finished the book and put it out for the judgment of the world. Maybe Joanne Rowling went to a high school reunion and was like, “I’m writing a novel,” and the mean popular girl was like, “oh, isn’t that nice?” I like to imagine that being true.

So, I’m mostly just working on my novel. If you think that sounds ridiculous, you’re probably not alone.

The Labor and Magic of Inspiration

There’s this mysterious thing about writing, and I presume other creative endeavors, that others can tell you but you won’t believe until you feel it. I’m starting to feel it and I will try to describe it myself, because it’s one of the more magical experiences of my life.

I decided I wanted to write a story. I had some vague (very vague!) ideas about the sort of story I might want to write. Mostly, I had in mind a character and a some general thoughts about what might be interesting experiences for her. What I knew is that I wanted to tell a story. Somewhere along the line I decided that was going to take work and I was willing to do the work. I started researching the mechanics of writing a novel. I figured out what the basic building blocks were and I could see the frame around which the final product would be built.

This unlocked something that allowed me to start making serious progress coming up with the story. I started thinking about the character, and her backstory, and the mission she might be on. I thought about an antagonist and conflict. I started to have ideas about all of these things. I would think, “that’s it!” as I came up with something for a character or a moment or a scene.

Then later I would realize “that,” whatever it was, wasn’t actually “it.” And I’d be back to the drawing board on a particular piece. I’ve been through this a few times now. Sometimes the things that aren’t “it” are small things, and sometimes they are big things. So far, I’ve just accepted that realization when I have it and keep chugging.

The remarkable insight I’ve arrived at in the last few days is that this doesn’t feel so much like creation as it does discovery. THAT is the thing I’ve heard artists say in the past that I honestly thought was total bullshit. Like, either you hear the voice from God or the muses or whatever, or you don’t. Great. How inspiring. The only thing I heard was my own incessant self doubt.

I was totally uninspired by this idea, that inspiration was a thing that happened passively, by sheer luck or happenstance. Why even bother trying to create if inspiration hasn’t struck?

What I’ve learned recently is that inspiration is not passive. If you wait for it, you’ll wait forever. You have to sign up for the adventure. You have to take up the challenge, and open space in your life and set aside time to find the story. I’m looking for it. It’s a mystery I need to solve. I’ll see a tiny piece of it and then I’ll develop a theory about what might explain what I’m seeing and I’ll investigate that theory. Sometimes I’ll be real confident about it and then it will turn out that I’m wrong. That’s okay. I come up with a new theory and explore that. Along the way I’ll see other little pieces that set me off investigating something else. Basically, I’m a scientist.

I’m learning that the first step in the process of being “inspired” is to start working. You research and learn and you’re willing to put forth the effort to receive inspiration. You start by deciding to create and then you get to experience the magic of discovery.

If you have ever wanted to create something but don’t know where to start, I would HIGHLY recommend starting a “deep work” practice. You’ll be amazed at the way it changes your life. I read the book, Deep Work by Cal Newport. That’s as good a starting point as any.

Book Status: Outline of Part I (and some thoughts on journaling)

I’ve been working on brainstorming the book in my Moleskin journal. Journaling is a new habit for me, one I wish I started years ago. My current journal is messy and disorganized, and rather reflective of my thought process. I’ve false-started journals in several forms in the past and always found reasons to stop, mostly because I had unreasonable expectations. This round, I’ve told myself not to have any expectations at all and just to let it be what it is. My only goal is to write something in it every day. Sometimes that’s a single line, sometimes it’s pages of thoughts or ideas or prose. This is working out real fine.

While I was in Bend last week, I developed a very good sense for who the main character of my book is. I made significant progress outlining the first part of the story, too, but something wasn’t sitting right. I knew what my character needed to experience in Part I, but the way it was unfolding felt a little strained. I kept finding the need to add elements to the first part to get all of the character development I was looking for. After I left Bend, I spent several hours in the car by myself driving through Eastern Washington. During the drive I realized that my character just needed to move to a new setting. She did, and Part I came together easily after that.

Now that I’m home, it’s time to start writing in earnest. I’m spending an hour and a half to two hours each morning writing before I start work, starting today. This morning I moved my outline out of my journal and into a Word document, filling in details as I went. I have all of the scenes in Part I outlined. I’ll see how I feel tomorrow, I’ll either start writing the prose of Part I, or outlining Part II.

This process is super exciting and rewarding. I can’t emphasize enough the value of spending focused time on creativity. If you haven’t already, I’d recommend starting a daily journal habit. This seems to be a slippery slope to a rich writing and reading habit. I love my Moleskin journal, and after exhaustive research, I settled on “Le Pen” as the only writing implement I’ll allow to touch the pages of it.

Do you have a daily journaling habit? If so, please consider sharing thoughts or tips!

But, actually. I’m writing a book. (And thoughts on “creative getaways.”)

I haven’t been as consistent with blogging as I would have liked, but I have the best excuse possible (in my own estimation). I’m writing a book. Like, actually writing it. Seriously, I have a concept, a main character, some sketches of the secondary characters, and a very high-level outline. The setting is coming together. I know, generally, what happens at the beginning, middle, and end.

This represents a HUGE shift for me, and I’m ridiculously excited about it. I thought I’d dash out a quick post with some recent lessons learned, in really no particular order. This is somewhat self-serving as I’d like to keep track of this for myself.

First, I needed to begin with the end in mind, as I’ve written about in the past. Not necessarily the end of the story itself, but a vision of the final product. My previous idea of what it took to write a novel was totally nebulous. It was overwhelming to try to just start writing. The idea of outlining appealed, because I use outlines in my professional writing, but I honestly had no idea what each point on the outline should contain.

The solution to this problem seems stupid obvious to me now, but there was something keeping me from seeing it before. My target genre for this story is young adult fantasy, and there are a few pretty proven models out there. I (finally!) arrived at a moment of inspiration and googled “Harry Potter story structure” a few weeks ago. I felt a thrilling little punch in the gut when that query delivered gold. One post in particular, from The Friendly Editor gave me exactly what I hoped for.

It turns out that J. K. Rowling followed a proven “template” (for lack of a better word) with the HP novels, and The Friendly Editor was nice enough to illustrate this for me (and you!). This alone began to lift the veil for me, but I also bought the book referenced in the post and began reading it immediately.

As I dug into the book, ideas for my own novel virtually started falling out of my head. I finished it shortly before I left on an “unplugged” trip to Bend, Oregon and had sketched an outline on one page of my journal before I left.

Which brings me to my next point: I carved out time to think deeply. Every morning in Bend, the Engineer and I started the day with quiet, creative time. We got up, made a small simple breakfast and good coffee, and spent the next few hours reading, writing, and thinking. It was THE BEST. I didn’t bring my computer, so I hand-wrote my ideas in my journal. On the first morning there, The Engineer asked when I planned to start writing my book. I responded, “I feel like it’s really close.” The next morning I was looking back through my notes from the day before and it struck me. I looked up at him and said, “It turns out I started writing my book yesterday.”

After the “deep work” of the morning, we went into town for lunch and to support the local bookstores. [old-timey cash register noise] We followed that with mountain biking on Bend’s world-class trail system. In the evenings we read our just-for-fun books. We didn’t check email, generally avoided social media (although I did keep my Instagram updated with my reading list progress and book acquisitions), and didn’t watch any television at all. This last one is par for the course–neither of us has even owned a TV in several years–but that was still an important aspect of the trip.

I cannot recommend the idea of a creative getaway highly enough. The template I would recommend and have every intention of repeating as soon as possible is this:

  1. Spend the morning on deep, creative work. Read the important books, do the important writing. Leave your phone in a different room. Make sure you won’t be derailed by hunger before you’re ready to be done. Set aside a specific place to do this work. We rearranged the vacation rental so the dining table was in front of the living room window overlooking the Deschutes river. This worked perfectly. We also agreed not to interrupt each other. This was hard when we got excited about ideas. I made notes to talk about at lunch. This worked reasonably well.
  2. Spend the afternoons in nature. This is something I hear repeated by serious creatives, the idea of afternoon walks through the woods. We rode mountain bikes and this worked just as well. We kept a pretty casual pace so we could safely allow our minds to wander. That feels like a key to me.
  3. Spend the evenings relaxing. Each day after mountain biking we sat in the sun and read the “brain candy” books (novels for me). Then we’d have a casual dinner and head back for more reading before a reasonable bedtime. I woke up refreshed and ready to work following this routine, even with a fair amount of appreciation for the Oregon beer scene.

If you’ve ever taken a creative getaway, I’d love to hear about it! Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.

The Accidental Art of Deception

I went to hear Malcolm Gladwell speak last night about his new book, Talking to Strangers. I must confess, I gave the purchase of the tickets to this event very little thought–not only have I not read the book, I hadn’t even read the blurb about it. I just like Malcolm Gladwell.

I wasn’t disappointed. I’ve never heard him speak at a live event, and he quickly launched into a quirky, charmingly flail-y soliloquy about his writing process. I took notes about his affinity for memoirs of retired mid-level bureaucrats, who fall in the perfect confluence of the “Interesting vs. Constrained” Scale* according to Gladwell’s estimation.

It took a minute for me to gather that he had written a book about deception and miscommunication. The first point he made was how surprisingly easy it is for humans to deceive each other. Perpetrators of massive deceptions are generally not diabolical geniuses (think, Bernie Madoff). Victims of deception are often not naive, sheltered individuals. It’s just as often the dumb but bold liar that pulls the wool over the eyes of a sophisticated and intelligent victim (or victims) with shocking effectiveness.

This illustrates the second point of his talk, and the one that really resonated with me. Evolution doesn’t select for skill in spotting deception, but rather, it selects for trust as our default response to others. The price of being human sometimes is being deceived.

This makes sense as Gladwell describes it. You don’t want to live the experience of the person who is proficient at spotting deception, because it’s likely to indicate you see deception everywhere and happen to get it right from time-to-time. Gladwell tells the story of Harry Markopolos, who was seemingly the only person to spot Madoff’s, in hindsight, obvious fraud. To hear Gladwell tell it, Markopolos was a paranoid kook who slept with a gun because he was convinced the SEC would assassinate him for exposing their failure to properly investigate Madoff.

My personal experience with this idea feels very immediate and close to the surface. I feel acutely aware of my tendency to take other people at face value, despite concrete proof that I’ve had the wool pulled over my own eyes. I feel almost belligerent about it. In a related way, it makes me feel nearly radical about transparency, about preserving other people’s ability to trust me. But that desire for radical transparency is deeply tempered by fear. That’s part of what drives the content of this blog. It reflects the internal conflict I feel; my first instinct is to hide every weakness in a safe, closed box, which wars with my impulse to fling the lid off the box and smash the sides letting every messy part of myself spill out.

In my mind, the one take away is this: Our human experience, our functional human experience, is necessarily premised on the assumption that we can and should trust our fellow humans. Trust flows both ways, and I’m interested in continuing to challenge myself to trust when it’s hard, and earn trust when it’s even harder.

*Imagine a graph which has “Interesting” on the vertical axis and “Constrained” on the horizontal axis. The life experience of someone like Barack Obama will be very high on the “Interesting” axis, but also very high on the “Constrained” axis– i.e., he won’t be able to talk about the most interesting of his experiences, so his memoir is not that interesting to Gladwell. Your next door neighbor, for example, will be very unconstrained in telling her life story, but it may not be so interesting. So, again, not such an interesting memoir.

Tell the truth and get your shit together (she tells herself)

“You must always tell the truth.”

In my opinion, this is the most important rule of writing, one that must never be broken. If readers can’t trust a writer, that writer is probably just a journal-er. Strict adherence to this rule requires attention to detail. I struggled with this principle in my last post. I really struggled to be brave, to tell the whole unpolished truth.

It feels risky, exposing to publish some honest language. For me, it takes bravery to put the F word on the Internet. I’m a bit of a rule follower, and I’m afraid of being judged. Anyone who knows me may find this admission ridiculous because they’ll know I don’t have any such hesitation with the words that come out of my mouth.

I’m not really sure where this fear comes from. My family doesn’t hesitate to use the F word. My friends don’t either. I have the best coworkers and they swear like sailors. But for some reason when it comes to writing things on the Internet I don’t just think about my ideal audience or even my likely audience (hi, mom and dad!). I think about every person who could possibly be reading it. My grandma doesn’t have a computer so I’m not so worried about that. Also, grandma, while she doesn’t exactly approve of some of my language, is pretty well acquainted with my foul mouth. My friends who have kids know that they’re going to have to have the conversation about appropriate language after they leave Aunt Talia’s house. I don’t expect to attract many members of the clergy to my blog or any other of my writing for that matter. Yet there’s something about seeing those words back-lit in black-and-white that gives me anxiety.

I tried telling the story in my last post without the F word but I just couldn’t do it. I don’t think I’ve ever told any story about horses without the F word. Horses and the F word just go together like coffee and a good book. In that post if I had talked about the “Messing Around Scale“ you would’ve known I meant “Fucking Around Scale” and you probably would have thought me a bit of a coward. Because we all know the only way to describe spending four hours trying to convince a horse to get into a metal box is “total and complete fuckery.”

What I’ve learned is that I’m still afraid of publishing my words. Every time I write something new, something that feels as though it exposes me, I feel afraid. I think that means I need to rethink the frequency at which I post here. I still need some “flag work,” as they say in horse circles, to desensitize myself. I guess that means more frequent posts with scary elements… Shit.

In which there is a rooster tail of mud and manure

[Content Warning: Horses and related strong language.]

Left: Willow the Uncatchable, Right: Nova the Unloadable

I have one horse I can’t catch and one who won’t get in a horse trailer. This is a big problem when I need both of them to get in a horse trailer, as I did this past weekend.

I moved to Seattle from the mountain top back in March of this year, and thanks to collaboration with the Firefighter (as he’ll now be known) and our amazing neighbors my girls were able to stay in their mountainy canyon paradise until last weekend. They moved to an enchanted forest full of delicious green things though, so don’t feel too bad for them. The canyon is mostly covered with dry brown things this time of year, and will soon be covered in cold white stuff.

Traveling with horses will fall on the Fucking Around Scale somewhere between “not very much fucking around, but some” and “total and complete fuckery.” My girls and I ended up as far-right outliers this weekend with record-setting (in my experience) amounts of fuckery.

When the Firefighter and I left the mountain top, he got the truck and I got the horse trailer. I have no hard feelings about this situation, but it does complicate equine travel a bit. Fortunately, he’s a wonderful human and let me borrow the rig for the weekend. The trailer was parked at the neighbor’s where the ponies were staying, so while it took a little fucking around to acquire the truck and get to the trailer and horses, it wasn’t very much fucking around all things considered.

The Engineer and I arrived in the canyon on Saturday, and had a lovely afternoon and evening with good friends, good ponies, and good food. We slept well, aside from the utterly apocalyptic thunderstorm that visited in the middle of the night. We all got up early Sunday morning, ate more of the neighbor’s spectacular cooking, and got to work on the expected fucking around by 9.

The Engineer and I got the trailer hooked to the truck with very minimal fucking around, and I managed to maneuver it somewhat adeptly (in my humble estimate) to get it facing in the right direction. I imagine the Firefighter may have chuckled to himself when he parked it there, knowing my tendency to sweat profusely when backing a trailer in tight confines.

This has to be where I ultimately went wrong. After I got the truck and trailer turned around, I turned to the Engineer and said, “Well that was probably the crux of the whole trip!”

After we got the truck and trailer in position, I set out to catch the horses. I had to hike out to find them in the neighbor’s big pasture, but with a bucket of oats I was soon affectionately mobbed by five enthusiastic 1000-pound friends. I got a halter on Nova, the horse I can catch most of the time these days, and was feeling pretty pleased with myself. It quickly became evident that catching Willow, the horse I can sometimes catch but not always, was not to be. I didn’t worry about this too much at the time.

While Willow the Uncatchable can be somewhat difficult if you measure her behavior by horse standards, she’s a top-notch dog. Willow is a rescue and I tend to just embrace her charming golden retriever impression. When I moved Nova and Willow to the neighbor’s initially, I managed to get Nova the Unloadable in the trailer without incident and Willow just jumped in with her. My plan (haha) was to load Nova real quick, let Willow jump in and off we’d go. 

Instead, after three hours of alternately gently coaxing Nova to get in the trailer, sternly requiring Nova to get in the trailer, and begging Nova to get in the trailer, Nova was not in the trailer. And Willow was still gaily evading capture. The Engineer suggested we could “always come back next weekend and try again” which, while a wonderfully patient and generous offer, conjured a feeling I can only describe as unadulterated panic. I was not devoting another day to fucking around with this. I handed him Nova’s leadrope and set off to wish a halter onto the horse I couldn’t catch but whom I knew would jump right in the trailer if I did.

One of the things I love about interacting with horses is the way it feels like absolute magic when it goes right. I rescued Willow two years ago from an owner who didn’t exactly mistreat her, but who certainly didn’t understand her. She was extremely fearful when I got her, and I spent a long time gaining her trust. She goes through phases I imagine might be flashbacks when the sight of a halter will send her tearing across the pasture with a rooster tail of mud and manure in her wake if it happens there was a thunderstorm the night before. I know the response to her fear can be nothing other than quiet patience.

My friend had been squatting next to Willow feeding her treats as I worked with Nova. This is exactly the sort of approach it takes; gentle and incremental increasing contact. I grabbed a handful of apple cookies and adopted a similar stance, squatting with my attention facing 90 degrees from Willow. Even eye contact can be too much pressure when they’re feeling fearful.

She took treats from my hand and stayed when I stood up. She stayed when I turned to face her. When I walked away from her she took a step in my direction, a sign she was willing to consider “hooking on” to me. I took the lead from her and took a step in her direction pushing her away slightly with my energy. She took a corresponding step. I backed up again and she followed. I moved towards her one step asking her to stay. She looked at me curiously. I approached her and she stayed. I fed her a treat and she stayed. I put my arms around her neck in a hug and she stayed. I draped the small cord I had in my back pocket lightly around her neck and she stayed. I put a halter on her and she stayed.

I almost cried. To feel her trust is indescribable and I badly needed her help. As I suspected she would do, she walked quietly to the trailer and jumped right in, grabbing a mouthful of hay as I hooked the trailer tie to her halter. Nova followed shortly after, convinced now that perhaps the metal box wasn’t the torture chamber and/or death trap she had imagined.

I hurried to secure the door, hugged the neighbors, and climbed behind the wheel. We made our way gingerly down the steep and rutted dirt road to the canyon road a half-mile away. When we got to the bottom, we breathed a collective sigh of relief. We were a mere four hours behind schedule. Nearly on-time by equestrian standards!

The Engineer and I jumped out of the truck to check on the horses once more, and I made my second major mistake of the day. I violated the cardinal rule following the apparent resolution of extreme fuckery: leave well enough alone. The horses were fine, but I decided that they could be a little more fine if I made a small adjustment. This resulted in a whole new round of fuckery, in which Nova ended up outside the trailer again. Fortunately, this bout of shenanigans resolved much quicker and smoother than I would have anticipated and we were back on the road with the mantra, “Don’t fucking touch anything.”

The rest of the trip was mercifully smooth and the girls arrived in their well-watered paradise in fine shape. I’m so glad to have them close to me again, and I’m happy to have survived the weekend with nothing more than a sunburn and a couple new life lessons.

By Boat

There are three ways to get to the Ross Lake Resort. One is via boat, truck, and a little more boat. This is the option you would choose if you happen to be in charge of the cooler probably.

You can get there by hiking and a little bit of boat. You would choose this option if you particularly like old, fast boats or particularly dislike heights and are not in charge of the cooler.

The third way to get to the Ross Lake Resort is by walking the whole way. You would choose this option if you particularly like walking over disconcertingly tall man-made structures or have a particular affinity for doing everything the hard way. The Engineer identifies with both and managed to not be in charge of the cooler.

If you chose the third way, you’d leave the truck and walk about a mile down to the Ross Dam, where you might peer tentatively over the sheer edge with your rigidly outstretched arms braced on the seems-too-low-to-reliably-keep-you-from-plunging-to-your-death concrete wall.

You would NOT become one of those people who dies taking a dam selfie.

From the dam, you would see across the short expanse of lake several small cabins floating along the far shore. You might think to yourself that you can imagine a quaint Scandinavian fishing village looking just like that.

When you step off the dam, without even a hint of irrational relief, and onto the far shore you’d follow the trail up. You might huff to yourself that the cabins are at lake level and that you don’t see the utility of the trail switchbacking so far UP. You may be forced to acknowledge at that point that you’re a bit hangry.

If you happen to be walking this trail at dusk, you may come face to face with a rather assertive toad in the middle of the trail. This toad may stare you down boldly as though she’s sure she’ll win this stand off. She’d be right of course, and you’d click your headlamp on as you tip-toed tentatively around her, trying not to make eye contact.

You probably wouldn’t glance briefly up the steep slope and think of cougars as the light continues to fade.

Eventually, the trail would fork to the right and you’d switchback down to the elevation at which you started with absolutely no trace of irrational indignation.

You may, depending on the level of the lake, scrabble down the scree left between the high water line and the patchwork of floating docks that hold the little cabins. You’d almost certainly be greeted with a hearty, “Welcome!” as though the stranger sitting outside the first cabin has been waiting for you.

If you’re very lucky, a group of warm and funny people will be waiting for you. You’ll be handed a beer and a plate piled high with something delicious. Depending on your perspective, you may be coming “home” (in a manner of speaking) to these people, or you may just feel that way. Either way, you’ll spend the evening laughing over silly anecdotes and shared memories (though new to you, you’ll feel included).

You’ll likely fall gratefully into the almost-too-short single bunk bed (definitely-too-short if you’re the Engineer) and sleep for 8 hours without moving.

If your luck continues, you’ll wake up and sip coffee that is your favorite everywhere, but tastes especially good from a splintery Adirondack chair on the narrow strip of dock. You’ll listen to the lap of gentle waves under the floating docks and marvel at the view that reminds you so strongly of the most magical place you knew as a child that it will make you scan the far shore for a glimpse of Bigfoot.

You might take a cold, noisy ride on a definitely seaworthy plywood fishing boat. You could, again if you were very lucky, spend an afternoon conquering a 1000-piece puzzle with new friends. You may, if you’re a little less lucky, discover that the second-hand 1000-piece puzzle is in fact a 999-piece puzzle. You’ll still feel a sense of accomplishment and high-five your new friend because you so cleverly identified the missing piece together rather early on.

Perhaps you’ll read some of the three books you carried in, but only a little because you’ll be repeatedly drawn into interesting conversations. You’ll very likely relish the absence of cell phone service and internet.

If you’re smart, and of course you are, you’ll savor every moment in this special place. You’ll hope, somewhat fervently, that you’ll have the opportunity to come back next year.