Sunday, November 2, 2014

Soulmate? Are you sure?

The rains have returned and a brisk October wind is blowing leaves past my window. I won’t be working outside this afternoon, so why not settle back in the recliner and let the recurring stream of pleasant thoughts have their way with me? You can chalk up today’s post as unadulterated self-indulgence. As I say in the heading, it’s a “writer’s blog.”

For at least some of us it ranks high on our list of October perks---these unstructured visits to well-remembered good times, hoping to recapture the ethereal essence that made them so memorable in the first place. ‘Fess up now, you’ve been in that space too, haven’t you---when it feels like you are visiting an old friend, or reconnecting to special times spent with your children and grandchildren, the ones you watched as they grew into the persons they have become. When I return to the “writer” side of me, I must confess to that same “feel good” comfort when I close my eyes and revisit any one of my Tanner Chronicle stories. 

After all, they are offspring of my imagination, that indefinable something we sometimes want to hide from, but never can. From that murky reservoir of dated, but never-outgrown highs and lows I have birthed each of those stories---sending them off to follow the path they choose, pulling me along in ways I never expected, toward outcomes I had not foreseen. The results are almost always different than what I originally had in mind, leaving an unsuspecting October dreamer like me to wonder---where did all that come from?

For instance, imbedded in Long Way Home, the second half of a two-book story that begins with  Second Chances, there is an unexpected, but intriguing side trip---a visit with the woman Clint Harris thinks might be his “soulmate.” Like you, I had read about “soulmates” before. Though I suppose the term means different things to different people, the basic idea is probably the same---there is someone out there who is meant to be with you, the special one with whom you are paired in some mysterious, predestined way.

In Clint’s case, the lure of a soulmate is a fall-back situation, a way out when there seems to be no other options. He has lost his wife. The lady he hoped would fill that void has apparently taken up with his rival---Fat Tom Berry. 

From a writer’s standpoint it would have been awkward, so late in the story, to introduce a new female character who’s only purpose for being there was to provide Clint with another round of relational failure. So instead I have him considering a possibility that at least some of us can imagine and perhaps even relate to---meeting again after sixty-some years the person who had first stirred those emotional fires---the one who might be his “soulmate.” 

It begins as a mind game---as it would for any of us---an angst-driven return to the memory of a special adolescent moment, one he had carried somewhere in the back of his mind for his entire adult life. Though he could not know it at the time the impact of that incident on a young Clint Harris had been indelible---a brief, emotion-packed taste of how the affirmation he longed for ought to feel---providing a relational baseline he had never outgrown

Now, deep in his October Years, yearning for what he apparently cannot have, he returns to what-might-have-been. In spite of his doubts he wants to believe that first-time, long-ago soulmate could be the answer to his emptiness. With each swallow, his whiskey-propelled remembering of whom “she” had been sixty years before grows more persuasive. Finally, after enough swallows, he finds the courage to plan a much-belated reunion.

So there I was, sitting at the computer as I composed Clint Harris’ story---sifting through bit and pieces of my own youthful history, gathering snippets from which to assemble a rationale for the feelings I wanted him to feel. I was trying to imagine how it would feel to be caught up in that disorienting mind-drama so late in life. Before long I was wondering if they are real, those "soulmates" I was writing about. If so, did that mean the sweet lady who has been at my side for fifty-eight years was intended from the beginning to be there? Was that the Big Guy’s plan for us from the start---a pairing of soulmates? 

Of course, in the fictional setting I had created I was also dealing with other, more practical questions. Their stories---both Clint’s and his potential soulmate’s---had to provide some explanation of how a chance connection made sixty years earlier could have survived to become a possible “second chance.” What had there been about their first encounter, so brief and noncommittal, that now made her soulmate material? More to the point, if it had been meant to be, if they had really been soulmates, why hadn’t it happened the first time?

Without dwelling on the outcome of Clint’s soulmate adventure, let me take a moment to turn from the nebulous realm of literary construction to a more personal real-life look at how each of us---you, me, and everyone---deals with our own unique set of adolescent lessons. 

How was it for you? Were those “first time” experiences, the ones that felt so real in the moment, simply discarded and erased from your memory? Or did they, in some form---real or imagined---find a permanent home in some far corner of your mind? And if so, have they played any role in your becoming the person you are? Were they an important part of that process, or simply a bit of excess baggage you would rather have unloaded? 

Finally, having imagined the story of Clint Harris’ return to his roots, hoping to find his soulmate, I was left to put those conflicting elements on paper, a paragraph at a time. In truth I approached that process with a degree of timidity---proceeding with the certain knowledge that once finished I would be asking my own soulmate to read and critique my stumbling description of a time before we met, when perhaps an earlier soulmate candidate had crossed my path. 

Since then I have walked that same intimidating path again and again, as the “She” in my life has read all nine Tanner Chronicle stories---ones that by their very nature have included my personal interpretations of the “mind matter” I have gathered and stored away over the years. Truth is, it’s not something we normally talk about. Yet by the time she had finished reading about Clint's “soulmate” episode I was accepting her willingness to be part of the process as the ultimate endorsement of our shared history.

So what is your take on the cache of “memory clutter” you have stored away over the years---be it “soulmate” related or other “becoming” recollections? Does all that matter at all? Is it simply the stuff of an overactive imagination? (To which I plead guilty.) Or an acceptable way of recalling what we are sometimes unable to put into words?

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