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Riding a Bike with the Virgin Mary at 3 a.m.

my first college apartment--summer 1988

my first college apartment--summer 1988

I remember the Virgin Mary best. She stood at an attic window and glowed in the dark.

That summer work either began or ended at 3 a.m. I watched the front desks at different campus dormitories–answering phones, signing in guests, keeping an eye out for smuggled alcohol. I had no car.

To get through the Terre Haute streets in the middle of the night, I rode my borrowed bike on the yellow line. There was a drought that year and even at 3 in the morning I’d be a sweaty mess whichever way I was going. Most of the time I saw no one else. But on one street with houses pushed up to the sidewalk and attic windows over their front porches, stayed the Virgin Mary. At least, a large plastic light-up statue of her stood watch.

I could not help but look for her. One night she was turned off, and I didn’t like the idea of her owner not being home. Or maybe it meant the owner actually was home. Maybe before the owner had always been out. I considered taking a different street, but told myself I was being silly. I read too much into these things. I’ve an overactive imagination.

Do you ever look for signs (omens) that you’re meant to be a writer, that this book is the one, that this agent is meant for you? Maybe a story you wrote in the fifth grade got the highest grade in the class, you dreamed about the hero of your novel, or the agent you’ve queried has the same last name as your first crush. Something. Anything.

When it comes to your writing, do you have any superstitions or rituals? What symbols trigger hope or despair? Why or why not?

11 thoughts on “Riding a Bike with the Virgin Mary at 3 a.m.

  1. I think it’s apparent that I am a believer in omens. Problem is, when I pick the “right” path, it’s usually the “right” path for some reason other than the one for which I followed it. Did that make sense? For example, when I signed with my agent, I was sure she was the right one, for several different reasons. I thought it was because she would sell my book and be my best friend. Not! Now I still think she was the right choice, but instead of selling my book, she inadvertently taught me some stuff I needed to know, about my writing and myself and life in general. So, right? Yeah, but not the way I thought.

    That’s pretty disappointing, actually, being proved wrong all the time, but I’m finally able to recognize my tendency to solidify expectations, and try to remain flexible. And also grateful for whatever comes. Because really, isn’t it unmet expectations that causes unhappiness?

    • That’s the problem with signs and omens. We might see them, but what are the odds of understanding them?

      The game isn’t over yet. You might be proved right in the long run.

  2. I think I USED to have omens and signs that I looked for, to tell me that I was on the right path. Now I just think I have to do the work. I have to sit down and write. I have to be brave and send my work out. Unfortunately, I am doing neither right now. But I know it only takes the gumption.

    Hey, gumption! Where are you?

  3. I can find omens and portents in anything, but then I’ve been a tarot reader and practicing pagan for many years (although I’ve been ‘lapsed’ for the past decade.) I find suggestions from the universe in all sorts of things. I don’t think of it as superstition so much as my mind finding other ways of informing me of things it wants me to notice when I’m failing to listen. You can substitute the diety of your choice for the mind and it’s not that different from your average religion.

    I don’t have writing superstitions, though. At least none I let myself recognize!

    • Oh, I miss my Tarot card reading days. You’re right, I think about your mind trying to get your attention. That’s what most symbols, signs, omens seem to be.

      Maybe you should ask someone if you have any writing superstitions. Maybe someone else has seen.

  4. I look for signs and portents like that all the time. But then when I glimpse one — usually at a distance — I immediately dismiss its significance. Y’know, like, Pah! That doesn’t MEAN anything!

    Usually, when people ask me how I “knew” I wanted to be a writer, I tell them that the first story I ever wrote was a story about an ant. Which may be true — that’s all I remember about the story — and may have been in 6th grade (the story’s writing, not the ant). But I couldn’t tell you why I hammer in the benchmark at that point. By the time I’d moved on to high school, I know I was writing stuff not required by English teachers — like a series of “funny” reviews of things like WS’s Julius Caesar and Aesop’s fables.

    Mostly, I rely on momentum from whatever is the current project to carry me over the sometimes protracted stretches of doubt. But man, what I wouldn’t give to see the face of some deity on a cloud, nodding his/her/its head.

    Maybe I need to ride a bike around my own neighborhood, looking for things mysteriously out of place. Or mysteriously IN place, for that matter.

    • I do that too–dismiss things that probably mean something.

      The ant story moment is as good as any. Maybe you decided even before that but couldn’t articulate before then. You might not need to ride a bike–just look around at an hour you usually wouldn’t from a place you wouldn’t usually stand.

  5. I used to look for signs and omens for life in general, but I gave up on it a long time ago. I think it used up too much of my energy, and now I don’t think I believe there are any signs to help point us in the right directions. We just have to follow our gut.

  6. sorry I’m so late to the party; it’s been a hectic couple of days.

    I want to believe in signs and omens. I really do. I also have experience in seeing them, pointing the right way, showing me the right way. Some people believe they get them all the time for everything. Those people aren’t any better off than I am, so what does that say? To me it says there’s not always something to what we think we see.

    Humans have brains that love finding patterns in chaotic random things. So I think a lot of times we want something to be a sign that what we’re doing is right, is the right thing, the right choice, the best option for us, will benefit and never harm. And frankly, it isn’t always so.

    I think by being open to seeing signs in everything one can subject oneself to heartache, but at least one has something else to blame. (“All the signs said to do this, though! Anyone could’ve been fooled!”) I know I’ve done it myself. I think now, though, more than anything, I trust in my instincts, and I trust my Lord and Savior enough to know if He wants to give me sign, He’ll be obvious about it. I miss the subtle ones.

    Still … a dead dog falling out of heaven with a gold tablet of instructions in its mouth once in a while would be cool too.

    • How about a dead three-headed dog?

      Anyway, you’re welcome to the party no matter how late.

      I agree about people looking for patterns even when there is none. All part of human nature. Somewhere I head how people will create problems where there aren’t any just to have problems to solve–part of the problem-solving aspect of human nature.

      The thing about symbols is that if you are going to believe the good ones, you have to believe the bad ones. Some people use symbols/omens as excuses–the full moon told me to.

      Speaking of symbols–glad falcon is flying again.

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