Revision in the Desert

An oasis.

A soothing breeze. Stillness. Color. Space and time.

On a Spanish-named street, Calle Corte de Moda (that could be translated as Fashionable Street), I look up from writing and see the camel tattoo on my foot.

I am in the California desert on a Spanish-named street, finishing a story about leaving Spain.

I find myself repeating “Life is queer with its twists and turns” and the rest of this poem by John Greenleaf Whittier my mother sent to me in college that I still carry with me around the world:

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,

When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,

When the funds are low and the debts are high,

And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,

When care is pressing you down a bit-

Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns,

As every one of us sometimes learns,

And many a fellow turns about

When he might have won had he stuck it out.

Don’t give up though the pace seems slow –

You may succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than

It seems to a faint and faltering man;

Often the struggler has given up

When he might have captured the victor’s cup;

And he learned too late when the night came down,

How close he was to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned inside out –

The silver tint in the clouds of doubt,

And you never can tell how close you are,

It might be near when it seems afar;

So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit –

It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.

I’m in the very-close-to-final draft. Written in first-person, it is the story of a woman returning, with foreign husband and teenager son in tow, to the cradle of her civilization in Iowa after a quarter-of-a-century of fancy-living, working as a model and actress in foreign capitals, then settling in a Mediterranean village.

She aches for her dead father, cares for her ailing mother, is exasperated by a university teaching job with mostly uninterested students, and reacquaints herself with a family who are both glad she’s back and wondering how soon she will go again.

This test of her stamina takes readers, with humor, through a confused, open-hearted, yet on occasion close-minded Midwest, and a gorgeous seasonal landscape as the narrator deals with her ill and angry husband, their excited then depressed son, her relieved mother in misery, grateful siblings, funny and loving friends (false ones, too), and some local wooers. Traveling through time and space, playing with past, present, and future, the tale is often epigrammatic and aphoristic .

This is a journey that brings this unnamed woman ultimately home to herself, as she lets go of one dream and realizes others.

The characters are nameless to focus on relationship–with self and others–to explore how these connections move people.

This woman may have a different life from many on the outside, but like all of us, her interior search is one for joy and freedom, our truest home.

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