Jane-ism and Grave Digging

I’m reading a novel series by Thomas Perry revolving around a woman named Jane Whitefield. She’s not a member of any established intelligence agency, but it’s a good romp through the world of private contract security. She is so incredibly real to me that sometimes I have trouble remembering she’s a fictional character.

I am particularly interested in the relationship she has with her next door neighbor, who sees people (mostly men) coming to her house at all hours of the night, and jumps to the conclusion that she must be a whore. I laughed out loud at that one.

She thinks of herself as a guide, someone who gets people off the grid when they need it the most…. a guide, in the author’s words, not mine. But her methods are sometimes nefarious… but that may be too strong a word because “he needed killin'” is a valid defense.

She’ll do anything to keep Precious Cargo safe.

In addition to her professional life, delving into the personal is fascinating. Like, how much should she tell, and to whom? How do you deal with coming home after having to kill three people and not be able to talk about it? How do you deal with manipulating people with lies for their own protection?

If there’s anything I don’t like about the series, it’s that it’s incredibly serious. She’s not a “merc with a mouth,” so there’s very precious comedic relief/dark humor in order to deal with overwhelming emotions, mostly fear.

I’m also reading a series by John Gilstrap about a guy named Jonathan Grave (nicknamed “Digger”), a voyage through the world of ex-fil ops. I can tell that Gilstrap is local because when one of the characters gets hurt, they’re taken to the same hospital I went to when I got sick at work and the initial Dx was appendicitis (it wasn’t). Gilstrap says it’s one of the best in the world. It must be, because when I got there, there weren’t any beds available, so they put me in the hallway and shoved enough morphine in me that I didn’t care. Everyone who walked past saw me at 24 curled up with my SpongeBob doll, a gift from my then-brother in law, Ryan, and his husband, Tom.

[Incidentally, eventually I thought I was too old for it and gave it to Goodwill. It was, in fact, a horrible decision, because it was “life-size” and made a wonderful pillow, albeit one with feet.]

Reading about intel in DC feels so much more real than in other cities… not that it doesn’t happen, but when you picture The Agency, you picture Langley…. or in my case, driving from Silver Spring to Alexandria on the GW Parkway and seeing the entrance sign for George H.W. Bush. I devoured the TV show Covert Affairs, and one of the most consistent shots in the entire series is Annie Walker driving her little red Volkswagen down the same road and taking that exit.

It’s all research for my own novel, learning how and when “things” happen and the dialogue that surrounds it. Even though Jane Whitefield isn’t CIA, she’s definitely an archetype in the same vein. Actually, Jonathan Grave isn’t, either, but again, an archetype that fits. It wouldn’t surprise me if Gilstrap had, at one time or another, been at the Head Shed himself. There are too many details that scream “former life experiences” rather than “I looked it up on the Interwebs.”

He’s very thorough, in my best Maude Lebowski impression.

For the first time in months, I’ve been so wrapped up in something that my grief fades into the background, and I am overwhelmed with gratitude. It helps to be “somewhere else.”

I got an e-mail from a friend that made my day, offering concrete suggestions for how she’d support me through all of this, and a line made me laugh, that she’d bring me anything I was craving (well, not ANYTHING). I wrote her back and said, “so I guess crack is out?” Crack is definitely out. I’m not sharing, she replied. The line would be A LOT funnier if I could tell you what she does for a living (and no, she’s not intel, just Maryland important enough to maintain confidentiality).

I’m smart enough to know that I’m not at the writing stage, yet…. I am at the “staring off into space and hoping an idea sticks” stage. The only thing that bothers me is that when I read fiction, I tend to pick up the style of the last writer I just read, and the reason it’s a concern is that I don’t want to be John Gilstrap or Thomas Perry. I want to be Leslie Lanagan. I don’t need to fill their shoes. I brought my own.

Though this novel is about escapism into a different world, it’s also about legacy. I could give a shit about money. When a parent dies, your own mortality starts to weigh on you like a ton of bricks. In my case, that legacy is taking shape one entry at a time for now and hopefully a published book later on.

My grandchildren’s grandchildren, should I be so lucky, won’t just have the basic birth and death certificates. They’ll know me. Really know me. That’s why this blog and this novel and all the other writing ideas aren’t about money or fame, or anything even close to it. It’s that I don’t want my life to be lost to history when I’m gone.

In my own way, I am also making myself into a guide, leading people into wholeness by laying out all my cautionary tales.

If that’s all my writing ever does, it’s enough. My goals are humble, because I cannot imagine past them, and don’t really want to. Fame has its drawbacks. For instance, I don’t picture what it would be like to be Anthony Bourdain or Elizabeth Gilbert in a grocery store. It’s too scary for an introvert to contemplate. I know myself, that I would lapse back into the show mode of my childhood, not wanting to show my authentic self to complete strangers, because often, it’s not at your own hand. It’s people assuming that because they’ve read your work, they know you better than they really do and ask obnoxious and intrusive questions that you’d have trouble answering in a laid back coffee shop, much less while put on the spot.

As this blog has become modestly popular, it has started already. But luckily, it comes through e-mails and Facebook messages where I have a chance to think about my reply before I send it…. and at this point, I don’t have so many people writing to me that I can’t answer them all.

Authors walk a fine line between wanting to talk about intimate details of their lives in order to exorcise pain, and at the same time, hoping that the writing stands on its own. Cheryl Strayed has said that she doesn’t answer questions directly most of the time, because she feels that there’s nothing she has to add that hasn’t already been put in print.

I understand that feeling implicitly, and in my case, it manifests as my writing is okay and sometimes good, therefore, meeting me would just be anticlimactic because there’s no backspace in conversation.

As the old saying goes, there are some things that just shouldn’t be said, which I usually realize right after I’ve said them. The flip side is that because I enjoy so much alone time and people know it, I have few conversations at all. People tend to read me instead of reaching out, because they truly believe that they know how I’m doing based on snapshots of how I’m feeling at any given moment.

It feels kind of like being stalked in the mildest form of the word, like looking up old girlfriends on Facebook just to see what they’re doing now with no intention of actually asking them. Say I’ve written something about someone that they didn’t like. They’ll stop speaking to me, but that doesn’t mean they’re not spending ridiculous amounts of time reading hoping their names will show up again….

It’s a direct line of one-way communication, which for most people is enough; they don’t actually have time to reach out, anyway. I respect this. People lead busy lives with their own families, often sacrificing time with friends not because they don’t want it, but because being a member of a family is all-consuming- a cocoon of their own making.

Most of the time, this makes me ridiculously happy, because I am also cocooning, just not with anyone else. At the same time, there’s a lot between and behind the lines………………….. and the spaces.



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