By Laura Moore

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For months--ever since we got the devastating news that our beautiful, 100 year old trees were infected with the emerald ash boar--we've been waiting for them to meet their demise.  

Hoping it would be the tree removal companies rather than mother nature, we've glanced out the window with each storm, banking our hopes on the strength of the branches as they filled with snow and ice, or began violently ramming against the aluminum siding, or tapping across the roof, or skimming across the surface of our office window.

Thankfully, they've remained steady through it all. Arcing their arms over our home, they've shielded us from intense heat in the summer, they've blocked 50 mph winds in the fall and spring, and they've prevented mounds of snow from landing on our roof in the winter. No matter how shaky they are, or risky they seem, those trees have been a godsend. Our air conditioner is so old the inspector couldn't even read the brand name. But it keeps chugging along because throughout the duration of its life, it has hardly been used; the trees have stepped up and shouldered most of the burden.

But all of that comes to an end today. Right now, as we speak, a crew of men are outside with a crane that extends three times the height of our home, and with several sets of pulleys and ropes and blades, they are carefully bringing down four monstrosities of nature, bit by bit by bit.

My husband and I thought we'd get a few more days with the trees since the ground is coated with snow, and the temperature is in the low 20s, but when I texted the tree company owner yesterday to find out when he wanted to reschedule, he told me that since we were going to have "reasonable temperatures today," they wanted to move forward as planned.

It's funny how your definition of "reasonable" changes when you've endured months of snow and sub-zero temperatures. Nevertheless, until we saw the entourage of trucks pull up in front of our house this morning, my husband and I were both in denial. We both chose to put off thoughts of those trees coming down, those trees that had sheltered this house for as long as its been standing, and had sheltered this plot of land for years and years before that.

Even though we've known this day would come for a while now, even though we've gritted our teeth through every storm, even though we've wanted these trees to make it to "cut down day," now that we've arrived, now that we're here, now that we know they will not fall through our roof,  it feels so emptying to see them go. It is so sad to watch them sway in front of my writing widow, dangling helplessly, when they had towered--for so long--with fortitude and strength.

The cycles of life are so sad sometimes, but like everything else, we have to take solace in the fact that ends lead to beginnings. That when the snow melts and the ground softens, when winter is past and spring has arrived, we can plant something new. In the meantime, I suppose we'll just have to hang on to the remains; we'll have to slice them up into logs so we can enjoy them one last time before they crackle inside the flames, before they break into bits, before the ash trees finally turn to ash. 

 
 

By Laura Moore

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I tried really hard to make my story fiction. 

I wrote down what I knew to be true and then I let my imagination sprinkle it with details. 

I changed the setting. 

I stretched out the timeline of the characters's relationship. 

I imagined a dramatic fall at the end, where the stranger reached out and caught the protagonist, uttering a poetically perfect phrase that wrapped up the tale with a tightly looped ribbon.

And in the end--despite the story being 75% real--everything about it felt false, forced, fake. It felt overly convenient and unrealistic. It felt all pie-in-the-sky, all naive, all sickeningly sweet. 

When I pictured it in the hands of a reader, I could imagine someone snickering. "That would never happen," the guy would say. Or "now, now, you unsavvy, little optimist. Do you really think someone is going to buy this [insert eye roll] little tale?"

Each time I imagined the story's reception, I returned to the piece and revised the living daylights out of it, spending hours word-smithing sentences, altering images, deepening my characterization, heightening the drama, searching for ways to resolve the issues, before tucking it into a drawer and starting the process again a month later. 

But no matter how many times I did this, no matter how many active and inactive months I spent, every time I read the story out loud, something always felt off.

Having been nose deep in writing books and articles and workshop notes, I wondered if perhaps this piece was hopeless. "Sometimes a story just isn't salvageable," a small press editor said in a workshop. "Before you invest a significant amount of time on a project, you need to decide if it's really worth it."  

If the story had been 100% fiction, I think I would have said it wasn't worth it. I think I would have pegged it as a troublesome pest. I'd have chalked it up to a learning experience, a part of the process, a step along the path to getting better.

But the story--the true story--was real and because I knew it was a good one, I couldn't let it go. It happened five years ago, and yet time didn't render it any less significant in my life. Even more, each time I told it aloud to friends or to strangers sitting around a table, people were moved, stunned, silent, as they listened to each detail. 

I knew there was something to it. There just was, and so no matter how immature or optimistic the story sounded, I couldn't bring myself to toss it into a slush pile of experimentation. I couldn't accept that it was an unsalvageable beast.  I couldn't close out the document for good. 

So I kept revising. 

For seven months. 

I kept trying to figure out what was wrong. I kept trying to figure out how to fix it. And the more I worked on the story, the better it got. The sentences were certainly crisper, the images were definitely more evocative and the story fit more snuggly into the plot arc.

But despite all of that, it still sunk flat on the page. It still didn't sound right. It still wasn't fixed it, and I couldn't figure out why....

Until two nights ago.

I printed out my latest round of revisions and gave the story to my husband. He offered me his feedback and then we discussed it. As we talked, something clicked and I realized what was wrong. I had been spending the majority of my revision effort trying to make the unbelievably real (although very much real) things in a fake story actually sound like they could happen. 

I was making excuses for coincidences. I was building a case for strange exceptions. I was ignoring what made the story good to begin with. By attempting to fictionalize it, I was standing behind a curtain with my hands and toes and head peaking beyond the edges. "I am real. I am here. Let me out," the veiled version of me was saying. And I was too focused on my mission to listen.

My story didn't need to be fictionalized or exaggerated or drawn out. It didn't need to be tidied up and I didn't need to make excuses for it.

I just needed to tell it. Honestly. In the form that best suited the purpose.

I just needed to let it be what it was.

How true is this about life? About ourselves? About every small thing we force fit into places it was never meant to fit? 

The minute I went back and erased the falsities--the minute I accepted the truths--the seemingly insurmountable barriers, the unsalvageable sentences, the naive images, they all fell away. And while I have no idea whether or not this story will ever get published, I do know that I fixed the problem. I do know that it no longer sounds naive. And I do know--without a shadow of a doubt--that it was certainly worth the effort to save it. 

 
 

By Laura Moore

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Sometimes it's really hard to be positive.

I've not only made it my resolution pretty much every year of my life, but I've tried to make it my mission, my mantra, my battle cry.

When I feel negative energy building inside of me. I force myself to step back. I force myself to sit down. I force myself to breathe. 

And then I run my mind through all of the reasons I should be thankful. I think about all of the people who are enduring far worse things than I am. I think about how lucky I am in the grand scheme of grand schemes. 

I grit my teeth. I make myself smile. I force myself to keep on keeping on.

It's not a big deal, I say: deal with it. Lots of people get sick. Lots of people are taking care of sick babies. Lots of people have bad skids, but it will all pass. At least nothing is serious. You will all be able to move on. You have problems with a light at the end. 

Some people would give anything to have that. 

So accept the help your family offers, eat your chicken noodle soup and cuddle your baby. Take your medicine, make the most of the sleep you do get, and look toward the light. It's there even if you are too frustrated to see it. 

 
 

By Laura Moore

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We fill journals and scrapbooks with what we value. 

We write poetry and stories. We take photographs. We paint pictures. We run our hands through clay and pull it up and around our ideas. 

We carve and chisel. We bend lines in and out of thoughts, in and out of emotions, in and out of memories.

We create artifacts, things that capture the intangible, treasures that connect us to others, to feelings, to places we can no longer hold. 

These artifacts are gems, and each time I hold one in my hand, I feel connected to something bigger than myself. I feel reverence and admiration. I feel humbled and honored and moved.

For a long time, I assumed they were necessary if we wanted to immortalize anything, and I feared that whatever we didn't capture--whatever we didn't write about, photograph, draw, sculpt or paint--would eventually be lost, buried beneath the burden of displaced sand, beneath the weight of present moments, beneath the heavy pull of time.

But yesterday, as simple as it might sound, I realized that some things just live on. Some people can survive without paper, or clay, or canvas. I realized--quite jarringly--that the human spirit doesn't necessarily need to be drawn or painted or described within the context of any one thing in order to stay alive. 

When I logged on to my Facebook account last evening, I saw that one of my former teammates wrote a tribute to her cousin, Robyn, who had died from cancer seven years prior. I had never seen a picture of Robyn before, and I didn't know she was related to my former teammate, but the moment I saw her name on my screen, the moment I read of her ailment, the moment I revisited her story, I knew exactly who she was.

See, another friend of mine, a friend who entered my life six years ago, happened to be Robyn's best friend. And as she and I grew closer, I got to know Robyn--or at least the memory of Robyn--through her. My new friend frequently told me about her old friend, sharing stories that acquainted me with a kind, bright-eyed young lady filled with grace and courage, bursting with ambition, emanating with a spirit that always felt bigger than words. 

Despite the fact I have never met Robyn, despite the fact she and I never physically shared any sort of space in the world, I still felt connected to her. I still felt like I knew her. I still felt like she was someone who needed to be remembered, and because of that, I have remembered her. My ears perked up with each story my friend told. They perked up when my husband's best friend earned an award boasting her name. And they perked up yet again yesterday, when my former teammate, a teammate I never knew had any connection to her, mentioned her in a touching tribute.

And so last night as I connected the dots, as I recalled all of the pieces of Robyn that I had unknowingly carried through time, I realized how alive she really was in me even if our paths hadn't crossed, even if I hadn't seen anything written about her before, even if I hadn't seen--prior to last night--her face staring back through pixels on my screen. I realized how emblazoned her spirit was in this world. I realized there was something more to staying alive than finding a space in artifacts, in pictures, in things.

I realized that the spirit inside of us--the spirit we give to others--is what remains, what carries on, what lives. It is what immortalizes us, it is what enlivens the art we leave, the artifacts we give, the things we hold. It is what expresses the intangible, what makes a young woman whom I never met rise to the tip of my thoughts. It is what connects us to something more, what feeds us, what inspires us. It is what makes us ethereal and substantial. It is what keeps us alive regardless of whether or not our heart beats, regardless of whether or not time holds us still, regardless of whether or not we can lift our lips and smile.

Rest in peace Robyn.