Vail Daily column: Life strays off script | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Life strays off script

Don Rogers
Laura Mahaffy/lmahaffy@theunion.com | The Union

I’m working on a scene in a silly piece of fiction I’m writing for the pure act of writing. Actually, I’m stumbling and bumbling and learning while exploring a form of this high art alien to my career.

This is what I do around 5:30 most weekday mornings, after letting the dogs out, feeding the cat and piling more wood on the last orange coals in the woodstove. Oh, and pouring the cup of coffee that makes this all happen.

Only now it’s evening and I’m chasing a fluttering little muse, hoping to catch that mote before it vanishes. This won’t keep till morning.

The characters, well, they have no consideration. They can’t be corralled in my plans for them. They’re acting out independently in this chapter situated in a place I had never been when I began this piece, and didn’t know even existed.

Bolinas, Calif. A quirky beach town without signs just up the coast from San Francisco and over Mount Tamalpais. I know much superficially now about the place through reading about it and studying photographs and paintings online.

A main character had written herself into a yellow cottage there before I discovered the town. Turned out it was perfect, just funky and private enough, and it fit her exactly. There could be no place where she’d belong more than here.

This evening I need a church, a conventionally Protestant one in the middle of lefty, hippy, artsy Bolinas. Ideally a quaint white church with a steeple. It wasn’t my idea. Another character had appeared out of the mist I call my mind, and insisted she was a member. No way, not here. But there it is in Google images — in the tiny, tiny downtown, too. Calvary Presbyterian Church, a real place in a crazy little story.

By chance while fishing around for the church, I clicked on a picture of a knowing sort of middle-aged lady in short blonde dreadlocks. An author. Anne Lamott. Looked like she vacationed or maybe lived in Bolinas. There had to be some connection, anyway, for her photo to pop up in this search. Hungry for morsels about this town where my character had moved herself, I clicked onward.

And so I wound up buying a book Lamott wrote in the mid-’90s about writing, “Bird by Bird.” And wow. The introduction was exactly what I needed to read at this very moment.

I didn’t know this. I didn’t expect anything. I was just stumbling and bumbling while chasing a story and wandering off track. Except that I hadn’t.

This is how I roll, why I laugh (ruefully sometimes) at trying to script life. We’re warned off serendipity. Might become, gosh, a ski bum or something when you drop in Vail, telling yourself it’s just for a winter. OK, maybe two winters, and then back to The Plan. You swear.

Humans plan. God laughs. He laughs a lot around here, and I’m sure to the point of sprouting tears over this soul. But serendipity has served me well. I’ve been lucky. Not lottery lucky. Better.

Bumbling into Lamott was just the latest. The brain is a poor calculator in these matters. The gut knows.

It knew as soon as I began reading that I’d landed this evening exactly where I needed to be, in a book laden with clues I hadn’t realized I’d been searching for.

Couldn’t have planned it any better.

Editor and Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at drogers@vaildaily.com and 970-748-2920.