Of all the characters in Cinderella, I identify most with the pumpkin, if a pumpkin can be called a character. Yes, the dress is a big step up from rags and the glass slippers are how-fast-can-you-run-‘cuz-I’m-taking-them worthy. But the coach!
Imagine being a pumpkin slumbering in the moonlight when suddenly you are magicked right out of the patch. You grow and grow, your pulpy insides forming golden struts and leather seats and steely springs. Your seed-coins are exchanged for a pearly coachman’s perch and silver wheels.
You are wide awake and purpose-driven.
These last few years I’ve felt like a pumpkin dozing beneath broad green leaves. I could hear crows caw overhead and feel the warmth of the sun on my skin and the tunnelings of earthworms beneath my thick shell. I was present on this planet, but I couldn’t move. It wasn’t always this way.
Once upon a time I was Cinderella’s coach. I raced through the night, writing book after book, giving talk after talk, piling up page after page. I had to hurry but the clock struck midnight anyway.
Things happened, things beyond my pumpkin-coach control. I realized I was no longer sleek and swift, silver and gold, shiny and bright. I slowed down until soon I was back in the patch, fastened to a vine, earth-bound. Just another pumpkin.
Do pumpkins get a second chance? Do they get picked to be the coach again?
Maybe. In April I sold a book that I’ve only mentioned to a few friends. It’s a Step into Reading for Random House called Pumpkin Day. Why didn’t I announce it to the world? Because I still felt soft and unsure inside my shell.
And this month, I left the patch to participate in writer’s conferences. I gave workshops on picture books, chapter books, middle grade fiction, and nonfiction. I delivered the keynote speech at one conference. As the first adviser of the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI region, I cut a 35th anniversary cake with Steve Mooser, one of the founders of that organization.
I swapped my work-rags for lacy scarves, tulle-trimmed jackets, and funky cowboy boots (no glass slipper would fit over my bunions). I swept through a ballroom to the theme of “Superman.” I talked. I listened. I hugged old friends. I met new people. I learned new ways of working. I was reminded of what’s important.
I woke up, felt that old familiar drive.
Pumpkin month is nearly over. My conference glow won’t disappear like Cinderella’s coach at midnight. The swirling energy will linger because I’m going to implement what I learned, remember what’s important, and call those faces to mind when I feel alone in the patch.
To celebrate Pumpkin Day (out fall 2015), I picked a big round pumpkin and brought it home. It’s dozing on our front porch, dreaming of the time it once raced through the dark night, all gold and silver, swift and determined, bright with purpose. Wondering about second chances.
It could happen.
“Look at that!” my husband exclaimed one morning. Through the breakfast room window we saw a saucer-sized spider web that seemed to float in midair, a shimmery wheel backlit by the sun. Perfectly round. Perfectly woven with tight spiraling radials.
My husband ran for his camera. By the time I reached the back yard with my own camera, the jeweled light had vanished and the web trembled in a rising breeze. The tiny blue-and-green orchard weaver sitting in the center had anchored her creation precariously, four long silk threads stretched from a high tree branch down to the grass.
As I watched, the stiff wind folded the web once, twice, then into nothingness. The spider raced along one of the guidelines to safety. All her work . . . gone in an instant. I wondered why she built her web in such an unlikely place. Not even up long enough to snare a single insect.
Maybe that wasn’t the spider’s intent.
When I unplugged my Internet computer September first, I felt relief and freedom. But in my head, I heard the refrain of the Trace Adkins song, “You’re gonna miss this. You’re gonna waaant this back.”
Twice before at the end of my Online Shutdowns, I did want it back. I’d eagerly put my computer together and hurry to log in. Not long after, I’d spiral downward into the usual net of distraction and unhappiness.
This time within days of the Shutdown, the crippling agitation and lack of focus faded. I went to the library to check my email. The rest of the day I worked and read.
I read about smart phone addiction. Did you know people check their phones an average of 100 times a day? One man admitted his phone is his “truest companion.”
I read about the lack of time. Someone wrote to the Wall Street Journal: How can I enjoy life more? Every year, time seems to go by faster. The columnist responded that time seems to pass more slowly when we were kids because we experienced things that were new and unique. As we get older, our lives drop into a routine. The columnist concluded: Maybe we need some new app that will encourage us to try out new experiences, point out things we’ve never seen, and suggest places we’ve never been to make our lives more varied. Tongue in cheek? Maybe.
I read that children spend less than 40 minutes a week in their back yards. Parents use their back yards less than 15 minutes a week. Despite Memorial Day displays of new porch furniture, grills, and swing sets, people still spend most of their time indoors.
Two weeks into my Online Shutdown, I felt a seismic shift beyond the shedding of my fractured, distracted skin. Random memories came at odd moments: the lift of anticipation when handed new textbooks on the first day of school, the feeling of being in this world one summer evening when my cousins and I played tag, the sense of being on this planet as I lay watching bats, the earth pressed firmly against my shoulderblades.
I had become my old self again. Someone I had not seen in years. The stiff wind that rattled thoughts and stirred too many emotions settled down. In my head, all was quiet.
Oh, yes, I wanted this back.
But how could I keep it? I can’t live in a bubble. When I first announced going offline, people said, “I want to do this too!” and I thought, Why don’t you? Then I realized I only had to unplug my Internet computer. I don’t have an iPad or an iPhone or i-anything. To follow my example, people would have to give up their phones.
I spend a lot of time defending my decision not to get a smartphone. You can’t text me or call me on my cell because I don’t even carry it half the time. Who needs to be in touch with me that much? I’m not Hilary Clinton. Although I use email and the web for my business, I’ve reached the conclusion that my life online needs to be on my terms.
Online controls seem ridiculous and fiddly. Covering my monitor like parrot cage or shutting the processor down doesn’t work. A program that locks Internet usage for a period of time would make me feel the machine has even more power over me.
So I decided on the scorched-earth method: five days a week my husband leaves for work with the DSL router in a little lunch bag. When he comes home, he gives it back to me. I’m busy with supper then, which means I don’t go online until after six o’clock.
Truthfully? It’s kind of a pain. I’m working more in the evenings, but I’ve learned to zip through emails. Yet . . . I shop less. I sleep better. I can concentrate on the projects I have underway and not feel pressured. I don’t feel rushed or “crazy busy.”
Untethered to the Internet, I’m able to react less and act more. Move forward and not spin in circles. Make connections that are meaningful and not become ensnared.
Create a web—a fantastic weaving of midair dreams that might perish with a breath—because I can.