The Crow

tilt shift photography of birds
Crow nest hidden in forest

There he is again, on the same place in the road that runs through the forest. That crow, feet stepping in place, wings jerking open and closed, picking at an imaginary acorn, a speck in the road grasping then dropping it. Is it a small piece of gravel falling from its beak? He’s wooing passers by (human or other animals) with a treasure, “ Look here. Feast your eyes on this.” For the last two weeks he’s there displaying one tiny object or another, looking in my car window as I watch him. He directs my attention to a spot on the ground or, rather redirects my attention away from something else. He pretends, faking his own interest in an imaginary object, an actor on the asphalt stage. Because he’s there, pecking at nothing, I wonder, what he’s hiding. Where his nest is located. Is his mate sitting on eggs in the oaks there above the road? But, I won’t stop to investigate. I’ll allow him his bait and switch, let it succeed. I drive off every time, as if I fallen for his ruse. I don’t like to eat crow. Okay. Sorry.

Something about that crow resonates. We all pretend. Smile to mask a rough patch, spoke over a friend in class who is about to tell the teacher about a schoolyard misdeed, push a cool washcloth over a hot forehead and get a child to guzzle a cold drink on the way to preschool. A fever? Not today, please, I have an important client. Sometimes pretending covers for what’s real, lies close to an untruth. Is one. BUT, Sometimes pretending masks not yet knowing, covering for ignorance.

As a writer of a true story, my own true story, a story only as true as I reveal, I sometimes mask the truth. I divert the reader, either intentionally or because I may not yet fully understand the truth of a scene myself. Writing and revising, even after several drafts, continues to include diversions, doubts, hidden information, hesitancy and more discovery. Some of these are part of the character’s arc, as the character develops, scene by scene. She grows, transforms, behaves with new insight. But some places in my piece, in my manuscript, unable to hear my own story or read my own heart, I resort to self-deprecation when I, as the writer, am as befuddled as the character was at the time. Impatient with my own incapability. The writer must become wiser than the protagonist in a memoir. The writer of a novel must hold the wisdom of the story and characters, too. Discoveries are part of both. We must understand human nature, motivation, misbehavior and character innuendo and behaviors to demonstrate a character’s flaws, our own flaws. We write our own story as if we are not yet wiser and share a journey to gain some kernels of wisdom. We best offer ourselves compassion, tenderness and appreciation as we hold our own hand through the hard parts of a story. Love ourselves and let the reader in on that love. It is hard for me forgive myself and work my way through some of the hard places.

My Beta Readers, a few selected people who agreed to read this draft and offer feedback on the current version of my story, Fallen From the Nest, 25 chapters 350 pages, have been invaluable in nudging me to consider a few shared issues. Among them was that I lessen the incidences of self-deprecation, leaving self doubt as a motivator for discovery, when overwhelmed and confused, but to love for this struggling grandmother as she settles into her role with her grandchildren and her troubling son. Tell the story with more self-kindness and generosity, love her more. How can I be compassionate with myself when I made so many mistakes? Bad choices? One thing I know is that I’d  be kinder to others in this situation, more generous and understanding. This is where I begin the next revision, wrapped in tenderness for that old me as  a friend. Back I go into the weeds of words and ideas I planted on my own, scythe in one hand and a soft pillow and shawl in the other, a pot of tea for our journey.

Shall I enjoy myself, with laughter, puns, jokes and silliness? Might that help the reader want to spend time with me, like me more, enjoy hanging out? I’ll have to tease the reader, a little bait and switch on the crow’s road, the same one where my story begins. How can I make the reader care for a woman who kidnaps her grandson? To protect her son from losing another child or to protect her own professional reputation. It was never about my reputation. My beak plucks a tiny stone from the road, tells you its delicious, to try some as I sneak back home to revisit myself and write what I discover.

Send love and understanding my way as I dig a little deeper, tease out a thread of tenderness and weave it in and around softening, opening my heart throughout the manuscript. Nancy

black bird
Crow on the road


We Were All a Wreck

Two-year old Ryan hid behind my legs as “the snort” came up the driveway. The ground vibrated and rumbled. It belched smoke and steam, growled and groaned, engines grinding, treads clacking up the driveway. A suspended grapple with teeth appeared first, looming above the trees like a dinosaur, its hinged face bowed atop a tall neck called an arm, its body read, CAT. It clanked and roared to a stop, quieted before emitting one last cough. Our snort, the name inspired by a children’s book we’d read about a backhoe, had come to knock down our old house. After a final battle with rats in the floors and nesting in walls, we’d about had it with that old place; were ready to start fresh. Our snort was an excavator with a grapple that looked like jaws with teeth; very big ones. 

In the silence, Ryan eased out toward the machine, his hands cupped over his ears, tilted his head all the way back and looked up. The driver was up there perched in the seat, hardhat, red suspenders. Ryan called, “Are you here to fix our house?”

Just days earlier we had moved to into the rental unit near the house to manage the remodel. Ryan and his sister lived in a tent in back of the shop with my underemployed son (their father) and unemployed mother, Jan. Ryan was three and his baby sister nearly one. Jan and Liza stayed in the tent most days, rarely venturing out. So, Ryan spent a lot of time with me as I tended the place: trimming trees, planting a garden, climbing up in the seat of my own tractor to turn the compost, feeding the horses and looking after chickens. 

“Nope,” the driver stretched out of the cab to hook a hand around the grab bar and jumped down. Taking off her helmet, she shook out her hair. Dwarfed by the immense machine our neighbor Sharon was sleek and taught as an animal. “Sorry. I’m here to wreck it.”  Ryan burst into tears.

We were all a wreck at that time, our lives unsettled by disruption: getting ourselves and our household items packed up for the construction project, moving into the cabin, fighting with Jan and Tony, erecting a tent our back for Tony’s family to live in, Jan’s illnesses, medications and depression, social services complaints and we were bleeding money, twice as much as we’d planned for. But most importantly we knew by then that we had to do something about Tony and Jan, because they were driving over the line, heading in the wrong direction.

(This memory and the way the deconstruction aligned with our family’s situation, one deconstruction after another, like the house, was eventually followed by reconstruction. It seemed a relevant thought. Not quite an epiphany. Simply a moment when I paused while editing a nearby scene in my memoir, Fallen From the Nest.) (names changed to protect the innocent and the guilty)