Digging Up Bones

When I was in high school I wanted to be an archaeologist. I laugh now, fully aware how unsuitable that particular choice was, how incompatible the career path would have been with my distinctly quirky personality. My teenage goal perfectly illustrated how poorly I understood myself.

The part of the dream that fit was my yen for a simple rural life. But truth be told, I didn’t possess the patience to painstakingly brush dirt, grain by grain, from a square inch of fossil bed day after day, month after month. Still don’t. I’m a “cut a big swath” kind of gal. Give me a pair of monster clippers, a cup of coffee and a hearty breakfast and I will make neat work of a quarter acre of brush in a single day.

I never was a detail person, not in a “catalogue every speck of sand” sense. That was probably clear to everyone but me. I find it humorous now, that long-ago personal disconnect with my strengths and weaknesses. But it hobbled me for years, and brought a lot of pain. Only I am aware how long it took and what a challenge and a struggle it was to gain a modicum of personal knowledge about who I really am.

In retrospect, I was probably in love with the thought of seeking ancient truths. Mining the unseen. The romance of unearthing something hidden from sight for eons called to me. Old cultures, ancient people, different ways of life were a curiosity. Maybe I thought I could find a secret written a million years ago on the walls of a cave. On the other hand, I think I was simply wishing for an opportunity to discover the mystery of me.

I took five years of Spanish from eighth grade to my Senior year of high school – and I had a fair command of the language, a good native accent. I secured a position as an intern on a dig in Costa Rica, and a place as a starting freshman at College of the Americas outside Mexico City.

I made the arrangements all by myself, but in the end I couldn’t go. I was a big dreamer, an organizer who didn’t possess the follow through or the confidence to travel so far alone. I wasn’t able to implement the plan because I didn’t know what I needed to succeed.

That young person spent years digging up bones of another kind before she evolved into the adult incarnation of me. Now, as an author, my theory is that mining the depths of our character’s lives is easier if we’ve been able to delve deeply into our own, when we’ve stood on the edge of a sheer cliff and looked into the abyss, only to discover our dark side, down there, arms outstretched, begging our better halves to pull us back to center.

I didn’t start to write in earnest until well into the second half of life. It took that long to convert self-pity into compassion. That empathy – and understanding the difference – brought with it the ability to look at a character from all sides. To see what works in their fictional lives, and what doesn’t. To write their skill set from a narrator’s point of view.

It’s an odd twist, but my philosophy is that the closer our own lives come to balance, the easier it is to recognize when others – even fictional others – are spinning away from center. And maybe, with luck, we’ll know just what they need.  And pull them back.

The End. Or is it?

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29 Responses to Digging Up Bones

  1. dianewordsmith August 29, 2011 at 9:00 pm #

    A very enjoyable and insightful read, Molly … as always!

    • Molly Greene August 29, 2011 at 9:04 pm #

      Thank you so much Diane – Sláinte!

  2. Linus & Bubba Books August 29, 2011 at 9:57 pm #

    My childhood aspirations drifted from Ballerina to Baker to Actress to Singer to Journalist to Author and are now sitting somewhere between Author and Bookseller. I see now how so many of those dreams were the wrong ones, but they all reflect a part of myself, much like your dream to be an archeologist reflected your penchant for discovery. It’s fun to look back at the things we thought we knew… I’m a little nervous thinking about it, to know that in another 10 years I will look back at my current self and laugh!

    • Molly Greene August 29, 2011 at 11:52 pm #

      I love this! It’s so true, that everything we want to do it pertinent in some way and adds to the total of we are – whether it works out or not. Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment!

  3. Elizabeth Ann West August 30, 2011 at 12:02 am #

    I just had an email conversation about this with Christine Nolfi! I wanted to be an oceanographic cartographer when I was a kid thanks to compulsory 5th Grade watching of the Voyage of the Mimi. I had it all planned out at 10-year-old I would graduate and go to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Jolla, CA. I sounded very impressive as a 10-year-old.

    Here’s the cool thing Molly. WE CAN be an archaeologist or an ocean cartographer. In my current book I put on the hats of a robotics engineer, a corporate lawyer (a later dream), and a rich widow who travels the world (another dream sans the widowhood). Dream big, dear friend. It doesn’t matter how old we are, we can always make them come true, in real life or in print.

    • Molly Greene August 30, 2011 at 12:06 am #

      EXACTLY!! Are my thoughts in your head, girl? I feel the same way – we can be whoever we want to be!

  4. alisondeluca August 30, 2011 at 1:20 pm #

    I agree with Diane. And I love the picture at the bottom – indeed, we need to “Inquire Within!”

  5. Tess Hardwick August 30, 2011 at 7:49 pm #

    As always, love this post. I always think how nice it would be if I knew myself the way I do now when I was in my early adulthood. I would have been much more productive but then again, the experiences I had have certainly informed my writing.

    • Molly Greene August 30, 2011 at 8:06 pm #

      I agree, Tess. I wouldn’t take back anything and have no regrets, but it would’ve been great to have been a faster learner :-O

  6. Jeff Greene August 31, 2011 at 4:48 am #

    Your best post yet (at least the stuff I have read). I don’t have time to comment today but I would like to sometime later on. Thanks “Sis” for a most enjoyable read.

    • Molly Greene September 1, 2011 at 2:04 am #

      Thank you so much, my Twitter brother!

  7. Jolyse Barnett August 31, 2011 at 1:32 pm #

    My only regret about beginning to write seriously a year ago was that I didn’t start earlier. Your point about the significance of knowing ourselves hits home. I spent many years becoming the person I am today, the one with a wealth of experiences upon which to draw, in order to create my fictional worlds.

    Happy Writer’s Wednesday! 🙂

    • Molly Greene September 1, 2011 at 2:03 am #

      Jolyse, so true! I’m proud of who I am, in spite for the decades it took me to get here :-O Thank you so very much for the lovely comment, I appreciate it!

  8. Julie Glover September 1, 2011 at 6:35 pm #

    I wish that fictional time travel worked where I could tell my young self what I know now! My youthful aspirations were certainly off the mark. Funny, though, that when I finally wrote a novel (in secret, past age 40) and told my family, my mother’s response was, “It’s about time.” Perhaps others realized before I did that I had stories to tell. Great post!

    • Molly Greene September 1, 2011 at 7:41 pm #

      I agree, I sometimes think the people around us know our true selves better than we do when we’re young. Not so when we grow older, though. Thanks, Julie, for your read and wonderful comment!

  9. forbiddenhero September 5, 2011 at 6:53 pm #

    Wow. That’s a great story. It’s very insightful, not just onto yourself, but onto a lot of people in the right perspective.

    • Molly Greene September 5, 2011 at 6:57 pm #

      Thanks so much! I can only hope readers find something useful for themselves here, and I appreciate your read and comment!

  10. Pamela Beason September 25, 2011 at 7:21 pm #

    I can SO identify with this post! I always wanted to be a spy or possibly Indiana Jones. I studied languages, took up martial arts, learned how to until knots with my toes, etc. When I graduated from college, the CIA interviewed me. But they were much too weird to work for and translating all day didn’t sound too exciting. The only way I can make the world meet my expectations is to write it that way. I could not live without reading and writing fiction!

  11. Pamela Beason September 25, 2011 at 7:22 pm #

    Ack! I meant UNTIE knots with my toes!

    What do you mean everyone doesn’t practice that?

    • Molly Greene September 25, 2011 at 8:28 pm #

      I knew what you meant! Lol, I agree Pam, writing truly allows to be anyone, anywhere – it’s like a time machine!

      • Donna Brown October 28, 2011 at 7:05 pm #

        It’s that kinship to reading that makes writing so much fun! I love the idea of being able to go anywhere in the world, at any time and check out what people are doing! It’s like I’m not the one making all this stuff. It’s like I’m looking into the lives of other people. They have minds of their own, lives of their own. I am simply recording what I see.

        • Molly Greene October 28, 2011 at 7:12 pm #

          So true Donna! My characters are real to me, as well. Thanks so very much for the read and comment!

  12. Wendy Reid March 16, 2012 at 8:07 am #

    Great post (as usual) and very insightful. Just out of curiosity, what does it mean when you stand on the edge staring at the abyss and you jump? Just wondering…. 😛

    • Molly Greene March 16, 2012 at 10:24 am #

      … and you’re joking, right? Laughing as you free-fall?

  13. Lorna Faith May 15, 2012 at 5:44 am #

    I love what you said Molly “my philosophy is that the closer our own lives come to balance, the easier it is to recognize when others – even fictional others – are spinning away from center.” I totally think that’s true…now that I am a bit older I see that more in myself and others…and of course it is reflected in my characters 🙂 Great post Molly…thanks!

  14. Staci Mercadp June 9, 2012 at 7:39 am #

    Your experience is an echo of my own. “I’m a ‘cut a big swath’ kind of gal,” made me laugh with its familiarity! Thank you for sharing!

    • Molly Greene June 10, 2012 at 7:05 am #

      Staci, thank you so much for stopping by my blog!

  15. Larry Crane January 1, 2013 at 9:02 am #

    Hi Molly – I enjoyed your post a lot, particularly your insight that archaeology was your dream but was a little “off” for the long haul. It contained elements of your true calling but not the kernel of it. I immediately thought of my own experience with a sport called orienteering. When I was 30 and full of energy and big ideas, I discovered this sport which is a little quirky, certainly off the beaten trail, and good family fun. It’s about navigating the woods with map and compass in search of a series of flags that are set out in advance of the meet by the organizer. I pursued this sport as a participant but more as an organizer of meets, finally culminating in having my club organize and administer the North American Championships in the mid- eighties. It involved creating maps from scratch which involves spending endless hours in the woods plotting all the features of the landscape on the map. very detail oriented, and fulfilling but a little “off”. What it really was was an exercise in perseverance. So, now as I struggle away with my writing and blogging, I’m calling on this perseverance to see me through. Attention to detail? Well some, maybe not so much.

    • Molly Greene January 2, 2013 at 8:17 am #

      Larry, what a wonderful story! Sounds like a great character for a novel!