Aftershocks and Seismic Creep

Somehow the word “aftershock” doesn’t sound nearly as threatening as “earthquake” or “tsunami.” Aftershocks are generally not cataclysmic. They can seem pernicious in their persistence, preventing closure and interrupting healing. But—though we wish they’d stop, already—in fact, they’re evidence of adjustment to a new alignment.

What causes shock in the first place? Resistance. Two tectonic plates, moving in different directions, naturally have to slide by one another. But where the two edges meet at the faultline, if they become stuck, pressure builds up until it’s finally released in a sudden slip. If the pressure’s built up over a long period, we experience this as a catastrophic earthquake.

While the scientists study these phenomena in the physical world, it’s my job as an author to dig through the rubble for the metaphysical, the metaphorical. So, in the Women’s Fiction I write, I deal with issues of stubborn resistance and feeling stuck, faults and blame, pressure and the emotional tremors that follow its release.

Doing seismic research for my Milford-Haven Novels—since they’re set along the California coast—I discovered something amazing. There’s one ninety-mile segment along the infamous San Andreas faultline—between Monterey and San Benito Counties—where the conjoined plates behave entirely differently from anywhere else. Frequent, but mild earthquakes allow the fault to creep at a rate just over twenty-five milimeters per year. Seismologists and geologists finally had the equipment to figure out why. Talc—nature’s softest known mineral—fills this segment of the fault. So the two enormous plates, the North American and the Pacific, slide by one another without resistance— thus, no “quake.”

Really? It’s as simple as . . . talc? Something soft that reduces friction. Yes, that does it. So now I can hardly wait to think on these things. What are we resisting? Where do we feel we’re stuck and can’t let go? Into what stubborn cracks can we sprinkle qualities of thought that are soft and yielding? How smoothly can we glide into what’s next? The people in Japan seem to be teaching us these lessons day by day.

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