The Gift. It was a pair of Zuni sun-face earrings. To me they symbolized light and sunshine, a welcome to the Southwest, recognition of an amazing life journey, and friendship. But they weren’t received that way. Instead, they were somehow seen as an attempt to undermine personal safety and pick someone apart. Out of that came an idea for a whole book, or perhaps it might be more accurate to say that I came up with the idea for a new book and then this happened.
Understanding this requires some backstory. I moved to Tucson last year with a vague idea of starting a new life and getting some writing done. After the main contract job I had petered out, I was left with lots of free time. I joined a hiking group and decided it might be a good time to start writing my second novel based on whatever came up in Tucson.
I’m not the kind of writer who promotes my books. I self-publish them under a pen name and never pretend I am a celebrity. I don’t tell people about my first novel unless they ask, and I’m reluctant to speak about the content or explain where I’m coming from. It’s an old-style introspective writer thing.
Not long after I joined the hiking group, an attractive woman showed up and we got to talking. She had just moved to Tucson, and she seemed to catch onto the idea of me being a writer faster than most people. Usually I’m faced with a barrage of questions about what kind of writer I am and how I earn a living at it. Even then, few refer to me as a ‘writer’, but this woman did almost right away, even saying that ‘writers are tortured souls’. We texted and talked and over 4 weeks became what seemed like good friends, but something felt a little off or too good to be true.
I chalked up that feeling to an age difference of over 15 years, but she was over 30 and had an advanced degree so it didn’t feel like robbing the cradle. We decided to get together one-on-one at a community buffet. While we were there, we went inside next to a Buddhist altar, (the buffet took place in a church,) and she shared bits and pieces of a core life story with me. I had to piece some of it together, and I wondered just how lucid she was to the whole thing, but the basic idea was that she was adopted away from a Buddhist family in the third world as a young girl and given the ‘miracle’ (via modern technology) of eyesight with a new family in America.
As a writer, this was one of the most intriguing stories I had ever heard. I thought my story fictionalized in ThunderBird Walking paled in comparison to it. I also worried that maybe she had shared too much too fast like some other people do—sparking the writer’s curse. My fears seemed to be proving true as I saw her struggling with her feelings. Soon she turned rather dark, and I felt like I needed to be there for her because she said she didn’t have any friends in town. The idea for the earrings came to me as a parallel for the gift of a thunderbird that someone once gave me, as told in my first novel.
Before I found a good occasion to present her with the earrings, she froze me out of her life. Things had unraveled and gotten very tense, and I saw it as that dark place inside erupting — what I call the chasm within in my first novel. In the back of my mind, I also began to wonder if some kind of game was afoot. I found it hard to believe the level of coincidences or negative synchronicities, and the stark dichotomy she presented. It seemed at best to be malingering or at worst some kind of setup. But why? Had she read my book?
After a few attempts to reconcile and several months passed, she became active in the group again, and both of us were invited to an event. With it being the beginning of spring, it felt like a good time to finally gift her with the sun-face earrings. I had long ago given up on the idea of romance, but I still wanted to acknowledge the story she shared and show that I accepted her as a friend. But upon sending the earrings to her, I learned that the chasm within hadn’t been calmed.
The gift was seen as an attempt to compromise her safety, as a lie or manipulation rather than something with good intent. I looked back over the whole relationship and began to wonder if her story was a lie designed to entrap me somehow or destroy my reputation with my hiking group friends. There were ample opportunities to be alone with her in the first few weeks, but I didn’t feel right about it so I suggested group activities instead. Now my intuition was telling me that the whole thing may have been a play designed to trump me up on a rape charge because of the controversy of my first book talking about government corruption. Had someone hired her to fuck up my life?
I really had no where to turn with this idea. There was no way to prove it, and I realized I could be very wrong about it. The woman left the group, but the alternate story stayed with me. The coincidences seemed a little too pat to be coincidences, and I had always read her as a cunning and sharp woman, not one so lost in the chasm of her core emotions. On the other hand, I could both see us living out our karma. If her story was true, and she hadn’t really put it all together, telling it might bring up feelings of vulnerability to someone who saw it more clearly. Writing — my ability to see stories — leaves me deconstructing and reconstructing people quickly, leaves me thinking narcissistically about the effect of my book.
The remnants of this still reverberate around the hiking group. I’ve never told my story and no one has ever asked besides one person. It’s never been talked about openly, but the labels applied to me have ranged from ‘depressed, melancholy, passive aggressive’ to being compared to ‘aspie’ weirdos and much more. I see it as my writing gift touching on the chasms within everyone. It’s nothing new. This happened in my childhood before I even knew how I affected others. I found grounding in it with my education, and there was a time when ‘the shine’ was seen as an asset, something people wanted to hang with, find in themselves, and we did. But the times have changed. We live our fears, we hide ourselves away, and we teach each other that it is best to hide your gifts away.
So this is the territory of the ‘Tucson Book’, that second novel: ThunderBird Talking. I have a plot line, but the themes are too raw right now to get into the writing. My subconscious mind needs time to work at it, create a fictional story of it, and find trust in my abilities. I know it’s the kind of book that few Americans read, but the way I figure it I could take antidepressants to narrow my mind and live happily in an unhappy world not seeing the amazing patterns, or I could write. I think I’ll stick with being what nature intended. One who shines light into chasms.