Right now I am keenly aware of the process of writing and the sheer joy of sitting on my sun porch early in the morning, computer-in-lap. A raucous jay warns off other birds, or perhaps calls to the chicks that recently left the nest. Its harsh sound is intrusive and distracting, like a thorn or itching mosquito bite. Our house nestles into the west side of a steeply rising hill, and the first rays of sunshine have yet to rise above it. I love this softly gray, moist time of day, especially when the temperature is perfect for comfortably sitting out here, as it is today. The deciduous hardwood forests in Pennsylvania are so different from the ponderosa pine clad mountains I grew up in, yet the same deep sense of connection prevails. Memories seem more real out here.

As I consider what I’ve already written, I realize I need to add more details, and I see where they are lacking. For example, I have not described myself at all, nor have I said anything about my husband other than the fact that he is with me on this trip. I can add some self-description in an early scene about wearing my new turquoise chunk necklace on a visit to Old Town in Albuquerque. I can describe my husband in the scene I’m still working on that’s set near the apartment where he lived the summer I met him.

No, I’m not spending all my time revising, not even rereading — these revelations occur at odd moments, like in the shower, or while I’m cooking. If I don’t do something about them soon after I think of it, like any story idea, they’ll be lost. As I see it, I have three choices: scroll to the place I’m thinking of and add the material, jot some notes in a separate file (or scrap of paper), or take no action and hope I remember again when I’m ready to edit the whole manuscript.

“Just get the story on paper. Don’t stop to revise as you write.” So say the Experts. My decades of experience at the sewing machine tell me otherwise. A sleeve is a sleeve is a sleeve. Pattern instructions put cuffs on sleeves way late in the game. But it’s entirely possible to sew the side seam of the sleeve and fully finish a cuff buefore you even cut out the rest of the shirt. Aside from having to sew the shoulder seams before inserting collars and sleeves, little is sacred about the order of construction for a shirt. And so it is with stories. I listen to my inner sense of order most of the time.

Now my jay bird has moved a few hundred feet deeper into the woods, and a chorus of gentler birds has returned. I’m going back to my manuscript.


A few weeks ago I jotted story starters on a pile of sticky notes. I thought I’d arrange them in some sort of preliminary order for compiling into a manuscript as I wrote. That didn’t work, so I stacked them back together. The beauty of sticky notes is that they stay in order. Over the last several days I’ve been peeling them off, one at a time, and writing that story. Today I got to the one about Indians. “Indians — knew how to live on this earth and survive w/what’s on it. ‘No tech!’ ”

Yikes, how will I ever turn that into a story? Writing about the Indians will be a huge challenge. A single story can’t begin to do them justice. To me, they were as pervasive a feature of Los Alamos life as pine trees. I didn’t see them so often, but their spirit was everywhere. In my thinking, they really owned the land. No, that isn’t right — they didn’t own it in the sense that we think of owning it. They were one with it. Or so it seemed to me. They were as natural a part of the land there as the deer and chipmunks.

I’ll write a few vignettes about going to San Ildefonso pueblo to watch dances, and seeing squaws sitting with jewelry for sale along the portico in front of the Governor’s Palace along the Santa Fe plaza. Stories of picnics at Frijoles Canyon in Bandelier National Monument where we hiked to the cliff dwellings and I sensed ancient spirits. Memories of Indian awareness will add depth to descriptions in other stories. Thoughts like “I wonder what this canyon looked like when Indians lived here?” or “I wonder if Indians ever came up here? What did it look like then?” belong in canyon stories.  Much of this will be composite memory, and detail overlay. How else could I get the sense of a sense?

And there were Mike and Eddy, the janitors at Aspen school. Mike was officially named Armando Martinez. He and Eddie lived in an apartment under the gym at Aspen school during the week, and on the weekends Mike went home to assume his duties as governor of Picuris Pueblo in Peñasco. Mike was my friend even after elementary school.

Yes, I have many things to write about Indians.