Tag Archives: writing

Write On!

Credit: Tracy Walsh | Minnesota Good Age

My daughter, Beth-Alison, posts my blogs and quotes for me, and she calls me faithfully when I’ve failed to deliver what she needs according to the schedule we have agreed upon.  An interesting reversal of roles that is, no doubt, only the beginning of a much more substantial reversal that I prefer not to spend too much time thinking about.

So I’ve just hung up from talking to her and from justifying my tardiness in giving her my first-week-of-December blog.  Of course, I explained why I was late, like a kid explaining why there simply hasn’t been time to clean her room.

My explanation?  I’m moving into the final chapters of my latest revision of Sunshine, the novel I have been slogging through for entirely too long, and I’m building momentum, and I just can’t make myself put the novel down to pick up something else.  Even when the something else has a deadline, and Sunshine doesn’t.

“But I’ll do it,” I promised.  “I’ll get it to you very soon.”

Beth-Alison was kind, understanding, but she still needs the blog.

That being the case, I’ve decided to cheat.  An article just came out in Minnesota Good Age Magazine about me, about my turning 80, and about my work.  The author of the article, Julie Kendrick, did a very nice job of interviewing and writing.  The photographer, Tracy Walsh, has given me a lot of new photos.  (Posing for photos is one of my least favorite activities, ranking close to scrubbing floors.)  So why not take advantage of their good work?

Here is the URL for the article.

http://bit.ly/2KJZ93s

Happy reading.

This Blink of Time

Today is my birthday.  My 80th, would you believe?  I add “would you believe?” because I don’t quite believe it myself.  That’s despite the fact that I’ve been trying out the number for months, mostly inside my head, sometimes out loud.  “Hey!  You’re 80!”

I’ve been saying it when I do a full Pilates hang, suspended by my ankles.

I’ve been saying it when, despite that full hang, I find myself suppressing a groan when I rise from a chair.

I’ve been saying it when I dive back into the novel I’ve been working on for too long and discover that I’m repeating myself . . . again.  Do I do that when I talk as well?

I’ve been saying it when I find the world wearying, threatening, horrifying.  “You’re 80!  Perhaps you won’t have to live into whatever is coming.”

I’ve been saying it when I gaze out at the wonder of a new day, budding trees or swirling snow, and ask how many more such gifts await me.

I never expected to be 80, though the irony is that I don’t suppose I’ve been expecting to die, either.  Does any of us truly believe that inevitable, uncompromising end will be our own?  Every life is a blink between two unknowns, and as I have never tried to imagine my whereabouts prior to my birth, I don’t attempt to fathom what lies beyond these days I have been given.  But my death grows larger in me every day.

Along with the hope that I may arrive there with some grace intact.

Eighty seems such a venerable age that I tell myself I should have some wisdom to impart on this page.  But I don’t feel wise.

I have made a lot of mistakes along the way and learned a few things in the process.  The two are not unrelated.  Mostly I learned because I made mistakes.

I married almost 60 years ago, though I had little desire for the man I decided to marry.  (I had never desired any other man, either, and was incapable in that homophobic time of understanding why.)  I thought him a fixer-upper.  I knew he wasn’t all I wanted, but I planned to bring him around.

I learned that I am the “fixer-upper.”  When I finally realized how difficult it is to grow and change myself, I understood the futility of attempting to change anyone else.  I understood, too, that no one of his gender could ever meet my needs.

Now, in our mutual age, my one-time husband and I live a great distance from one another, but we come together often on Words with Friends and on FaceTime where we rejoice in and occasionally worry about our progeny.  We each accept the other tenderly, unquestioningly.  That acceptance represents an abundance of learning on both sides.

Fifty-four years ago, I gave birth to a son, a child so longed for that my desire for him, my need to mother him, lived in my bones.  And from the time he was very small, he defeated me every step of the way.  Lovingly.  Masterfully.

When Peter died at the age of 42 of a disease that robbed him of control of his body and of his intelligence and finally of his sanity, too, I learned, at last, that he had always been the only son he could be.

I learned, too, that the love that lived between us was enough.

I started my life trying to fit in, seeking approval.  And I learned that I don’t fit in and that approval has very limited value.  I’m not made for the kind of coupling society demands.  The activities so many care about don’t appeal to me.  And my mind, while possessing a certain uniqueness, lacks some very basic skills.

Maybe no one ever fits in, truly.  Maybe we each feel in some way alienated and alone.  And maybe we all have to learn, as I am finally beginning to learn, that it is enough to be who we are given to be.

Who am I?  All my life that question has puzzled me.  I have no answer.  None.  I don’t even know what might make an answer possible.

But as I move into this end time, I am beginning to understand something else.  I am a human becoming.  I am a verb, an action, not a noun.  I am not, will never be, a static thing that can be labeled and explained.  Even to myself.

I am a human in process, making mistakes—oh, so many mistakes—and learning and moving on.  And learning again.

And while I’m learning, I rejoice in the love that happens along the way.

Finally it is only the love that gives this blink of time purpose and meaning and even holiness.

On Letting Go

Photo by Ankush Minda on Unsplash

I suppose I write about revising as often as I do because I spend so much of my time doing it.

I write about revising also because I’m convinced that the difference between the amateur writer and the professional one is rarely a difference in native talent.  I have over my years of teaching encountered any number of highly talented writers, some with gifts I can’t touch, and some of those highly talented folks are still unpublished.

Of course, being published may not have been their goal, and if it’s not and they write for the pure joy of the process without ever longing for an audience, they have my full support.

But most people who write want readers, and they want to do more than hand their work around, they want to hold a finished book.  If you are one of those, then the skill you need to cultivate is revision.

And the first step in learning to revise is learning to let go.

I don’t mean writing and writing and writing and then throwing it all out.  That’s too easy.  (Or too hard, depending on how you look at it.)

I mean taking something you love from the tips of your toes and being willing to ask yourself, how might I see this differently? And then letting go of the way it landed on the page the first time. Or even the second or third or fourth time.

The secret, I’ve found, is to throw away any trace of “I got it wrong and dog-gone-it, now I have to fix it!” and begin instead with “I love this! Now how can I make it better?”

But to make it better, you have to start with giving up your commitment to the way it is. And that can be scary.

I’m not talking about killing your darlings, that too-often repeated advice. Sometimes your darlings stand up and call too much attention to themselves and therefore need to be buried, and sometimes they are darling because they are beautifully written and a perfect fit in your piece.

I’m talking about seeking feedback from folks you trust—or folks who have the capacity to publish your work if you get it right—and letting that feedback give you a new vision.  (That’s what re-vision is, after all. A new vision.)

Sometimes for me that new vision requires hearing a suggestion more than once.  I’m revising a novel now about a boy who has an imaginary dog. Before we sent it to the editor, my agent said to me, “I wonder if we find out too soon that the dog is imaginary.”  All I could think of was how much I loved the moment of revelation exactly as it stood at the end of the first chapter AND the amount of work such a change would make.

I said, “I don’t agree. Let’s send it.”

He did as I asked, and do you want to guess what the editor said? Among other things, “I wonder if we find out too soon that the dog is imaginary.”

By the second time I heard the comment, I suddenly had a new vision of my story’s possibilities. So I said, “You’re right.  Of course!” And I let go of my love of that end-of-the-first-chapter revelation and went to work.

(I also ate a little humble pie in appreciation of my agent.)

But that’s only one of many examples of letting go.

To make this struggling story work, I’ve had to let go of my main character’s core motivation, turn it inside out. I’ve thrown out a bedrock scene and found something stronger to put in its place. And once I really let go, I was able to see that the most important things that happen in my story can work better if they happen in a different order.

Wow! That’s exciting!

And it’s enormously satisfying that I’ll end up with a story that works for other readers.

If I hadn’t been willing to let go, though, I would have ended up with a failed novel.

We Touch This Strength

Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

We touch this strength, our power, who we are in the world, when we are most fully in touch with one another and with the world. There is no doubt in my mind that, in so doing, we are participants in ongoing incarnation, bringing god to life in the world. For god is nothing other than the eternally creative source of our relational power, our common strength, a god whose movement is to empower, bringing us into our own together, a god whose name in history is love.

 

Carter Heyward

In the End

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, we will understand only what we are taught.

 

Baba Dioun