Something shifted bigtime this week for me. One would think the near-death event with the semi might’ve done that, and it did, but heaps of papers triggered the big turning––intentions jotted on notes and pads burying nearly half my desk; stacks of books still too much in the way days after I unpacked them; the once small pile of ‘look at laters’ on a counter threatening to tumble sideways. Chaos mirroring my insides that screamed over things undone and my inertia with them, while buckets of unknowns & changes piled on top. Clearly I needed to create space. And it felt like a whack-a-mole joke, one thing pushed down, another popping up.
Prompted by an email from a friend that contained a link to a writing contest with her note, ‘this reminds me of you,’ I made a decision. I turned to what I’ve wanted to do for months: write fiction.
The deadline for the competition was two days away. I edited 25 pages from my novel ‘Flight,’ submitted it. I also submitted an avant garde poem I love about my father’s death & my childhood. I made it with 1 hr. 20 min. to spare. I don’t know which one got me Finalist. It doesn’t matter. My reward is a 25% tuition waiver for a 10-day writing residency in Kenya (writing, room, board, craft, consults), safari included! A week in the valley Karen Blixen wrote in ‘Out of Africa (!!)’ + 3 days in Nairobi. With frequent flier and the waiver, the daily cost is lower than a week at the beach. The magical part is I’ve been saying for months I’m going to Africa. Who would’ve guessed this way. l won’t be the same when I return.
May 1st, another triumph. My short-short story The Honey Hour was published in The Ekphrastic Review. I love writing to visual prompts. Some of my best work comes from these sorts. And I’m always surprised what emerges. The story was a free-write in a workshop I took that week I tangled with a semi. I like that it’s with an international company of writers.
This sparked me to edit the entire novel, again. The book’s garnered advance praise. I got a lit agent in 3 weeks of my first queries. I have a file with compliments on my writing from famous NY pub acquisitions editors. And it’s moved thru life with me since that first season of trying to sell it. Revisited as I hone my craft further as a writer. The last time I went in was three years ago. A lit agent contacted me after rejecting it the year before. She couldn’t get the characters and story out of her mind, she said. I was living in Florida at the time. I remember it well. Year four there. This detail is significant.
Editing is a process with it’s own level of creativity within the rules. It’s immensely satisfying to me. I find zen in the process, and experience the joy of feeling the work take shape in a more refined way. I’m ‘listening and feeling,’ as well as ‘doing,’ This time I’d go in with breath. Edit intuitively like I do others’ works. I thought it’d be easy.
When I came to the first lifeless passage, I was confused. I wrote rework this in the margin. As I read on, I saw a pattern. The story was there. The paragraph structure was tight. Every scene was on target. And the lyricism was gone. The magic entering the dream of the narrative missing. The complex weave of relationships and desires flatlined. I felt I was reading someone’s poor copy of my work.
I opened the previous draft, saw all the beautiful sentences I remembered. The ones I later extracted as if with an Exacto knife. As I worked on, I kept both drafts open. When I came to a place that rang hollow, I looked to see what I’d written before. I reclaimed sentences and phrases, wove them in, put flesh and heart back into the story.
In my book The Writer’s Block Myth, I say our writing goes as our life in the real world goes.
When I first finished Flight, I discovered I’d written elements of my life in it. Unknown to me as I wrote. Much later I realized I’d rewritten my story with my mother. Halfway through the edits this time I realized that last draft reflected my life at the time I did it.
Living in Florida, I loved the clouds, the dawn hours I watched the sun rise on the bay, the reflections on water, the magical walks through the historic neighborhood where I lived. At times I was inexplicably overcome with Love for the world. I had wonderful moments of connection with folks here and there, and a few acquaintances. And for the first time in my life, I had no steady friends or colleagues. I felt isolated. Plus, I was writing very little. Most of my hours were at the computer, studying the exploding online landscape. At the same time, in a way that may sound counter-intuitive, I couldn’t find enough solitude. My husband and I were together 24/7. The lyricism and juicy heart of life was missing for me. As it was in the novel when I finished editing it.
Writing a book is a relationship. . . with the material, with yourself, and with your life. And as with all relationships, things shift, evolve, change, grow, shrink, hold surprises. I learned a long time ago that you don’t really know what your book is about ‘til you finish it. You start with an intention, follow a story, and then, when you’re engaged in the process and actively present, things emerge that can’t be fully seen until the work’s a cohesive whole. That was true when I wrote this novel. And it’s been unfolding ever since.
This round I saw how much culture is a character in ‘Flight,’ playing a role in defining the story. As I write this, I see how the characters’ loss of connection with their culture, one by outside circumstances, another by leaving, reflects my own loss at thirteen of my Armenian cultural heritage. Like so many authors before me, I’m re/writing, consciously or unconsciously, some of my own stories.
These lines by Joseph Campbell caused me to pause:
“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive. . .so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”
Seeing my life reflected back in my writing, both the experience and stories of it, I think the meaning of life and the experience of being alive are one and the same. It’s why story is the shortest distance between two people. They’re about being alive.
Near the end of the book I cried at two scenes. I’ve cried at these scenes since I first wrote them. It’s a good sign they still touch me. Don’t you think? And I decided it doesn’t matter I wrote little new material this time. I was present, observing with awareness, understanding more, and they’re still all my words. This is Writing. I love it.
- Notice how you, and aspects of your life, are reflected in your written works.
- Notice how you, and aspects of your life, are reflected in the things you do.
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