Monday, January 26, 2009




MY WRITING LIFE

Carolyn Haines



I’m a fool for animals. It’s a simple fact that shapes the boundaries of my life in a way that many people don’t understand. I don’t really understand it myself, I only know that there are two things which seem essentially “right” about my life. One of them is writing and the other is caring for these animals.
It’s tax season, and the time to account for the financial landscape of the past year is here. While I’m always stunned at the figures that I tote up, I’m no longer ashamed of the fact that there will be under five visits (either in the flesh or on-line) to clothing/shoe stores and lots-o-trips to vet/farrier/farm and feed/pet supplies/etc., etc. My priorities are reflected (much to my accountant’s bemusement) in the totals. But no monetary figure can reflect the joy that I derive from knowing these 21 critters (horses, dogs and cats, plus a few wild things) have the best life I can provide for them. It doesn’t change the distressing global picture of animal welfare, but it is a small and tiny step. All of my animals are spayed and neutered, and I only wish I could do more.
With the exception of three of the horses, all of my animals are strays. They sought me out, one way or another. Each one has a unique story and personality. Each one has taught me lessons about courage and endurance and a willingness to trust after harsh abuse. My writing is incredibly richer because of them.
A famous writer once said that air-conditioning would be the death of the true Southern story (this is a bad paraphrase). His point was that our connection with the land made us unique. Once we’re “hermetically sealed” within the four walls of a building, we lose our contact with the environment and with our neighbors.
I can’t speak for other writers, but it is exactly my love of and connection to land that gives me many of my characters. I am part of this region, this place, these people, and much of my “reality” comes from living a rural life and an intimate, day to day connection to the weather, the seasons, the land.
My daily routine is fairly rigid, something that gives me problems in my writing life because it limits my freedom to travel and give talks. Normally, I’m up at six a.m. and after a couple of cups of coffee, I’m out the door to feed the horses. I never anticipated having more than three horses, but there are now seven here. Some are old and one is crippled. The dogs and cats head out the door with me. We are sprung—free of the house and out in the cold/wet/heat/sunshine. It doesn’t matter. The horses must be fed and hayed each day, twice a day, and sometimes three times if the weather is cold and Miss Scrapiron (she will be 32 this year) is not eating well. On bad weather days, my world revolves around Miss Scrapiron’s whims.
Consider the hundreds of pounds of feed that must be hauled in and unloaded. Stalls to be cleaned. Fences walked and mended. Grass bush-hogged. I spend a great deal of time outdoors, and I have to say my health is better for it, and my deep connection to the land is strong and true. I love this sandy soil that makes growing grass a challenge and makes me a slave to weather patterns when it’s time to lime and fertilize. I exert tremendous energy trying to control my life, but I must surrender to the weather.
While I teach at a university and my students gently tease me into an effort to keep one foot on the frontier of change (technology is as much a burden as a benefit for someone like me) I also have one foot firmly planted in the past and a way of life that’s being choked to death by subdivisions and the greed of developers. The farms all around me are dying. The cost of farming has gone through the roof, and the work is hard and difficult. Folks my age and older, especially those with children who want no part of such a demanding life, see that selling out is a way to put a little money aside for a future that doesn’t look too bright.
If you have a yen to gamble, buy a farm. Trying to raise a crop—any crop—is the biggest gamble you can take. The weather is far more exciting than any roulette wheel or deck of cards.
I’m not at a place where my heart will allow me to walk away from this life. If I lived in a subdivision or an apartment, I couldn’t write. The vein of story that I tap into is directly related to the life I lead.
And if I ever doubted that my love of land was a major part of my writing, WISHBONES brought home to me how much my audience also feels the roots that run deep into Southern soil. When my character Sarah Booth Delaney decided to follow her dream to Hollywood when she got a chance at a movie role—holy cow! The e-mails zinged into my box. Sarah Booth, like me, is a product of the soil of Mississippi and the majority of my readers wanted her back home in Zinnia, Mississippi.
She has her hound and her horse (being fictional creatures, they are not nearly as demanding as the real thing). I can write with authority about this life, because I live it everyday. And I love it.
The first word I learned to say (at least this is family legend) was horse. As a child, I was horse obsessed. I once “stole” a horse tethered outside a cafĂ© in Texas. We were on vacation and I told my mother I was going to the bathroom.
I was only six and god knows how I managed to climb up on that patient creature. But I did, and like all good cowgirls, I headed off into the sunset. My dream had been answered—until my parents and the owner of the horse caught me a short distance away. The horse was returned, no charges pressed (the cowboy thought I was cute with my pigtails), and I was safely put in the backseat while we continued on our way.
Growing up, I wanted to be a cowgirl, to solve mysteries like Nancy Drew, and to write. Fancy that.

2 comments:

Sanjana said...

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