QUAIL MUTTERINGS #47. Writing: Navigating the Obstacles (September 2017)

I must admit that I’ve been negligent about writing Quail Mutterings lately. My excuse is the same as everyone else’s: no time. But the fact of the matter is we all have the same amount of time available to us in a day and, for the most part, we simply decide, either consciously or unconsciously, how to spend it. For me, besides following my usual “to-do” lists, I’ve chosen to work on my other writing for the time being.

After retiring from The Dance Centre over a year ago, I’ve begun writing a fictional series about a dance studio. Each novel will focus on a different story ballet and include the adventures of some of the dancers. There doesn’t seem to be much available, in this vein, for eight to fourteen-year-old ballet-obsessed girls. There are plenty of books for horse-crazy kids so why not for dancers? They’re just as rabid for stories about their passion and so, I figured, who better to tackle this project than me? Thirty-seven years of fodder ought to keep me going for quite a while, I should think.

Last spring, when I had the rough draft of the first few chapters done, I met with a group of young dancers at a local elementary school. Each followed along on their pages as I, or a former student of mine, read aloud. We had the best time. Some of them contributed ideas about things they would like to see included in the story or ways to make it more interesting. It was a win/win. I got tips from my target audience and they got “extra credit” for participating.

Since finishing the full rough draft of the manuscript I, once again, am attending writer’s groups and classes. Having my work read and critiqued is essential in this process. The endless details to address in the re-writing and editing phases, such as believability, character point of view and arc of plotting, are next to impossible to get right without other’s feedback.

So now, back to the quail for a moment. I can only afford brief visits to mental wanderings while entrenched in my chosen endeavor. There are literally hundreds of quail in the canyon these days. Yesterday morning, during my run, I accidentally flushed out dozens of them from the sumac bushes lining the trail. I panted my apologies and carried on. After cooling down I took a cold shower. Not by choice, just no hot water. I suppose I’ll have to turn away from the writing project again and attend to the demands of a no-longer-functioning water heater. Things were going so well! Why now?

This morning, after a short writing session, it was time for a break. I headed down to the kitchen for a drink of water. Before taking a sip I noticed a fairly large bird lying in the dirt outside. It reminded me of a Porwil, but it was late morning, so that wasn’t right. I guess it startled when I went outside and it took off. Through the leaves of the Red Berry bush I noticed movement on the other side. I held still and watched. It was a big, beautiful doe. While watching her walk toward the trail I looked around for the two fawns who usually come around with their mother. Perhaps this was a different doe. Anyway, she made my day.

Since I’ve committed to this writing project for now, I’m not going to lead any of the docent-led hikes out at Ramona Grasslands Old Survey Road this fall. I will, instead, take walks on my own when I feel the need to break up the writing concentration sessions. Power hikes, walking meditations, trail running… whatever it takes. Plus working, of course. That goes without saying. And then, after looking up the mountain at the wet boulder beneath our water tank, I hiked up there to play detective. Great. It’s just what I thought it was. Our water storage vessel has sprung a leak! The fun never stops. The writing goes on hold once again.


Chi Varnado’s memoir, A CANYON TRILOGY: Life Before, During and After the Cedar Fire and her children’s book, The Tale of Broken Tail are available on www.amazon.com. Her collection of essays, Quail Mutterings, can be found on www.chivarnado.com.

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QUAIL MUTTERINGS #43. The Ants Go Marching (December 2016)

QUAIL MUTTERINGS #43. The Ants Go Marching (December 2016)

I think we humans are a lot like ants. Like them, we all spend an awful lot of time moving stuff from one place to another. In fact, this activity seems to occupy most of our waking hours. Mail is sorted into various piles or the recycling bin. Food gets pulled out of the refrigerator or cupboards and combined into meals. The act of shopping transports items from the store to home to the appropriate storage areas. On a different scale, yard work just moves bigger things. We rake leaves into mini mountains and cart them somewhere else. No longer needed or wanted items are carried off to pawn them onto someone else or donate to a charity. Remodel, add-on, spruce it up. As a lot, we big-brained, bipedal, opposable thumbed primates are not satisfied unless we are shifting stuff around.
When we travel we take our stuff with us. At least the things we think we might need. Earlier this month Kent and I went to Florida for ten days. And yes, we took our fair share of stuff with us. Being cheap, and frugal, we each only took one small, free, carry-on suitcase and a backpack. It’s enough. In fact, I’m sure we could whittle it down even more, but we don’t travel enough to not have to reinvent the wheel every time we pack. It doesn’t seem to matter if the getaway is a month, a week, or a few days. We each still pack the same small suitcase and backpack. Like the ants, we are creatures of habit.
Neither of us had ever been to Florida before. Kent was interested in running in the USATF National Club Cross Country Championships and had, by the way, talked me into racing there also. Unfortunately, I had a migraine that day and therefore did not run. His team ran quite well with the older men placing second for their seventy and up age division. That weekend was at the tail-end of our trip.
The first weekend we visited Key West, a beautiful tropical island located at the most southerly tip of the United States. The lush green landscape was not as bug-infested as I expected. Yes, I had toted a semi-natural bug spray all the way from California, but had used very little of it. Our son-in-law’s parents own a house there and we were fortunate to spend a couple of days with them. One morning, we ran a few miles barefoot in the deep sand on the beach since we couldn’t find any long dirt roads. Perhaps this is due to the development of marsh areas into people-friendly, non-muddy spaces. I was not interested in running on any more pavement.
Our next stop was the Everglades where we took a small boat and explored the mangroves getting up close and personal with alligators, crabs and tropical flora. A highlight was watching a mother alligator doze in the sun, half in the swamp water and half out. She was surrounded by a dozen or so squeaking little baby alligators who were swimming or crawling on the bank. When we were boating around the Ten Thousand Island area dolphins played in the craft’s wake, following us for several miles.
Cruising along the interstate, heading northward in our little rental car, I was again reminded how much like ants we really are. At least they all seem to follow a similar path. While we humans travel along all scattered-like, when viewed from an airplane, we appear to be marching along the well-worn ant highways.
A stop in Gainesville to visit my aunt was our next destination. It felt good to visit. I suppose it was the last time I’ll ever see her. The impermanence of everything strikes me every so often and pulls me down. Then it’s time to resume ant-like activity. Get up. Take an apple from the refrigerator and eat it with almond butter. Go outside and move firewood from one of the heaps in the yard and pile it on the front porch. Keep marching!

Chi Varnado is a contributing writer for The San Diego Reader. Her memoir, A CANYON TRILOGY: Life Before, During and After the Cedar Fire and her children’s book, The Tale of Broken Tail are available on www.amazon.com. Her collection of essays, Quail Mutterings, can be found on www.chivarnado.com.



QUAIL MUTTERINGS #42. Stretching Out (October 2016)

QUAIL MUTTERINGS #42. Stretching Out (October 2016)


I’m actually stealing away for about half an hour or so during a prep period in a substitute teaching job. It’s rare, but when this happens I seize the opportunity to write. I feel fortunate today that I get to be outside most of the day overseeing PE classes out on the track. At least I’m not cooped up inside behind closed doors under florescent lighting. Carpe diem!
This weekend was bitter-sweet for me as our youngest flew the nest. Again. For a mom, each time this happens it creates a tug on the heart strings even when I know that it’s for the best. First, his coming and going during college breaks; and then, returning home after graduation. Working locally, it made sense for Chance to live at home and pay rent. Almost a year-and-a-half later he’s moving down the hill, to the city, to live with his sister, Kali, and her family. This will help them with their mortgage and he will be closer to the kind of energy that seems to fuel a millennial’s psyche. Logically, it’s a win-win for everyone and I know it’s what he needs. But I still have to go through my own grieving process as Chance moves out yet again. However, this time feels more permanent.
Milo, our big yellow cat, will miss him too. He’s used to Chance carrying him around outside on the porch for a shoulder ride, almost daily. For an inside kitty this is a special treat. I’ll miss the little unexpected connections we share. Just the other evening we watched three deer frolic on the hillside. We’ve often seen a big doe wander through the front yard and stop for a drink from the water trough fountain. At dusk a bobcat’s whisper-bark grabs our attention. A few nights ago I woke to a coyote’s yipping just outside the bedroom window. In the mornings, pre-dawn, as we are all up by then, the owls serenade us in the last hours of darkness. I’m grateful that I’m not moving to the city.

(One week later: During the next sub job’s prep period)
Chance isn’t the only one stretching his wings. I, too, am trying to reach beyond the usual parameters of my life. It had been a year of not hearing back from a literary agent who had agreed to re-read a manuscript I’d written, if I reworked it as to her suggestions. When I’d mailed it I had included a self-addressed, stamped envelope for her response so I should have at least gotten that back. I finally got up the nerve to call the phone number for the agency and, after punching the numbers for the appropriate prompts, I actually reached her. In person! She had moved her office and had not received all her mail so she gave me the new address so that I could send it again. I’m not keeping my fingers crossed, since the likelihood of actually getting picked up by a New York agent is next to nil, but I had at least followed through to the best of my ability. I’ve done what I can.
My husband, Kent, is upping his game too. He is going to run in the USATF National Club Cross Country Championships in Florida, this December. He’s joined a team of seniors to race together in Tallahassee. My spouse has found a new niche with these guys. He looks forward to the races where they share fun camaraderie afterwards no matter how they have placed. And, of course, he still runs a million miles every morning.
We’re looking forward to our adventure in Florida. We’ll probably visit a few relatives, speckled throughout the state, during the week leading up to the competition. Neither one of us has ever been to the Everglades so we plan on checking out the swamps and coastlines in that area as well. There’s always something to look forward to when you shake up your routine every so often. It feels good to spice things up a little and add to the old memory banks. We’re trying to do these kinds of things while we still can.

Chi Varnado is a contributing writer for The San Diego Reader. Her memoir, A CANYON TRILOGY: Life Before, During and After the Cedar Fire and her children’s book, The Tale of Broken Tail are available on www.amazon.com. Her collection of essays, Quail Mutterings, can be found on www.chivarnado.com.