Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Only for Those Who Have Birthdays

I am writing this on my birthday. This year’s birthday has challenged me to take a good look at where I’ve been, where I’m going, and how far I am along the path. After all, I am two-thirds as old as my mother at this point.

I’ve been looking particularly at my writing years and considering how easy it is to get into a rut. If something works, do it again! Especially if you enjoy it.

And yet, I wonder if that’s good for our minds and spirits?

For the past ten years or more I’ve been writing the Thoroughly Southern mystery series. It’s been a lot of fun. It has made me research some very weird things, like Japanese sword fighting classes, traumatic head injury, used car dealers, and taxidermy. It has let me air opinions about superstores in small towns, real estate developers more concerned for bucks than beauty, and folks who don’t step up to the plate when their community needs them. Having never written in first person before, I have enjoyed sneaking inside the head of MacLaren Yarbrough as she relates to her sizeable circle of family and friends. And I have met some fantastic readers.

Gradually, however, I have begun to wonder if I am merging with Mac. She has aged two years in ten books, while I’ve aged ten. I’m almost as old as she by now. Next year I’ll pass her. And more and more often people say, “I can just see you in those books.”

Not too long ago, a wise bookseller friend asked a penetrating and painful question: “Is MacLaren simply softer than your earlier sleuth, or have you lost your edge?”


I recoiled, but then I reconsidered.

Was it time for a new challenge? I began a new series, the Family Tree Mysteries. The books in that series incorporate genealogical research into solving the mystery. They have required me to spend hours and even days in libraries reading books about Confederate privateers, World War II heavy bomber missions, and Celtic settlements in Roman Europe. My mind has stretched in new directions. My spirit has crawled into new corners of knowledge. Growth has felt real good.

Growth. That’s the issue I wrestle with. It's a challenge. Growth is one determinative sign of life. Nothing lives without growth. When we stop growing, we die, no matter how old we are.

Yet only one thing grows without discipline—the other word for undisciplined growth is “cancer.”

I live in North Georgia, which is currently wrestling with a severe water shortage. While our political leaders blame other states for wanting too much of “our” water, I find myself wondering if there doesn’t come a time in any community and any life when it has achieved its optimum size. Does a community get to a point when it is wise to limit exponential growth and concentrate on growing in terms of quality of life?

What is the parallel for a human being?

I don’t have answers. The longer I live, the less I am certain that I know. But the longer I live the more I also see that knowing the questions is far more important than knowing the answers.
So I leave you with this question: in the current year, how are you going to grow?

And if you need a break from mulling that over, you might check out my new and upcoming titles.

No comments: