Wouldn’t it be an amazement if we could always just sit right down and write, freely, flowingly, and daily? But life keeps intervening. Right now writing is more challenging than usual. Life is intervening more than usual, primarily because at least temporarily, I’m not able to see my computer as well as usual as I peer through the ruby red orb located in my right eye socket like some artifact from a science fiction movie.

On Wednesday I had my third eye surgery in three months. The first two were to remove cataracts, replacing cloudy lenses with dazzlingly bright ones. I chose Crystalens replacements, a premium lens that’s hinged to move back and forth like a healthy young lens, restoring nearly a full range of vision. Those surgeries were a snap, with vision clear and complete as soon as the dilation was gone. The only inconvenience was the need to use eye drops three times a day for a couple of weeks, and I’m thrilled that for the first time in my life I can see my computer screen clearly without glasses — a writer’s dream!

This third one was a vitrectomy. The doctor swapped out the gel inside my right eye with saline solution. This is a common procedure, used when the natural vitreous becomes polluted with clumps of dried out cells of various types, obscuring vision. In my case I’d had a tiny amount of bleeding when the vitreous detached from my retina a few years ago, and the resulting “amoeba” in the center of my vision has been driving me nuts for years. The good news is that the amoeba is gone. But … this surgery required more anesthetic, requiring a longer recovery time to feel fully alert and peppy, and the drops form a film over my eye. This is surely a temporary situation, but it’s distracting when I sit at the computer, and quite frankly, my mind has seldom  been on writing!

It’s coming back though. I opened my file and reread what I’ve done so far on the new first chapter. I see where to fit in a couple more flashback vignettes that will add to the backstory and fit here better than anywhere else. The “road map” I made of the trip through town is helpful, but only in generalities. Nothing can substitute from moving fingers on keyboard. But most likely the next few days will mostly be spent on projects requiring less close-range concentration.

As a side note, when I first saw this retinologist, he observed that my description of symptoms was “amazingly detailed and complete,” and made his job easier. I smiled and told him that I’m a writer, and accurate, detailed description is a primary tool of my trade. What better example that honing writing skills can benefit wide areas of life?


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.

I’m not exaggerating in profiles and other material when I claim to have written over 500 life stories. There is no way of counting exactly, because they are scattered all over creation, and some of those may be two paragraphs, but I really do have that many. The past couple of days I’ve been rereading anything I have in print (far from the whole collection, I admit).

My intention as I pulled out the bulging portfolio was to read those folders with material that may be relevant to The Los Alamos Years. I quickly discovered that my filing system is a joke, and began reading through the whole collection — at least the equivalent of a book by now. Probably two volumes. This experience is fascinating! Yes, I’m noting edits on nearly every piece, but few or substantial. Earlier edits are holding up well.

What I’m finding is that this pile of isolated vignettes is powerful stuff, way more so than I remotely realized. Many of my own pieces move me to tears all over again as I reexperience the situations I wrote about. These are good tears. Tears of re-experienced resolution. If no other person ever reads them, the effort I put into bringing them to this state was worth it.

But the good news is that there is a ton of material to be incorporated into A Los Alamos Girlhood. Some of it is well-written as it stands. Other is resource material to be woven in.  I’m encouraged by this.

I also found a piece I wrote almost five years ago that could serve as a lead-in. Or maybe not. But I have set it aside.

Bottom line: if you are reading this and not yet ready to tackle an organized memoir, don’t hesistate for a moment to write a huge pile (500 or more) of vignette stories. If I were to die tomorrow, those vignettes would be there and bear powerful testimony to years I may never get round to dgesting further. Vignettes, life story writing, is a valuable resource and well worth your time to write. At this point I’m glad that I began that way, and encourage others to do likewise.

My challenge now is to weave together all the memories and resources I have discovered.