Papa Bob Lands & I Free Fall
In a workshop here at UAA's creative writing residency in Anchorage yesterday, writer Ed Allen told us that he divides the world into two kinds of people: the ones who have written novels and the ones who haven't. He reminded me of my dad, who used to say the same thing about marathon running. My mother, a teacher in a Quaker school, split the world into the people she called the givers and the takers. My mother taught me to be a giver, and my dad inspired me to run marathons. But writing a novel is all my own impulse. Part of the reason I thought I could write one, is that when I decided after my fourth child was born to run a marathon, I was able to. (Writing and long distance running have a lot in common, but that's another story.) This week my dad jumped out of an airplane. He went skydiving for the first time. We had told him not to, but he didn't listen. He said he'd rather have his grandchildren say he died when his parachute failed than when we turned off his ventilator in the nursing home. He will be 77 in September. The jump marked his lady friend's 70th birthday. When he called afterward he said, "Heath, I did it. It was incredible. 65 seconds of free fall from 12,000 feet. Unbelievable. The knee held up no problem. Looks like you won't be collecting that inheritance just yet." So, my dad is a skydiver now, and I've decided to spend next school year making the good novel that I wrote last year, great. (Or at least pretty good.) The other thing about that novel, it is called, "A Hole in the Middle of a Pretty Good Heart," is that it is a gift. The story in it is my gift to the world, as I suppose all my stories are, and writing it is a gift to myself. I told my father I'd never skydive. But you know, writing a novel is in lots of ways (we are writers here at summer school, and metaphors matter) a lot like jumping out of a perfectly good plane, especially when, like me, you have already written two pretty good non-fiction books. It is a free fall. Now it's time to go for a run in the rain before my morning class.