Toward light

by Jennifer on February 23, 2009

I should have written this Saturday night, but I couldn’t quite get there. You know how it is when you’re really craving good cheese or strawberries or (let’s face it) Doritos, but you can’t bring yourself to drive to the store? So you decide that maybe you can hold off until tomorrow? It was like that.

When I left the reading with Christine, I was  still moved (and a little teary) by the passage that Alice Sebold shared with the group. She read for an hour, from Lucky (which I hadn’t read yet, just The Lovely Bones) and then she answered questions. I was impressed by her articulate answers, and by the ease with which she responded. Writers are solitary creatures, for the most part, and I have to guess that it takes some practice to develop that kind of comfort in front of a roomful of people.

At least two years have slipped past since the last time put myself in the middle of a group of (mostly) writers, in person. I quickened to it, as though a hand had brushed across my arm. Just being in a room where words and books were not only important but the whole reason for being there gave me a feeling that I’ve missed. Something in my gut that said these are my people, as hokey as that might sound. There was an energy in that room, almost as though we were leaning – all of us, Christine, me – like plants toward light.

And not just toward the author, though that was part of it. I mean, it’s hard not to see and hear a writer (especially one  you admire) standing there at the front of the room, all eyes on her, reading from the pages of her book, and not want to have some of that talent or grace land on you.

As if it worked like that.

And if you’re a writer, then it’s natural  to imagine – quite physically –  the feel of one’s own book in hand, some day in the future, the slick cover with a nice design holding permanent and whole all the words the you poured into it over months or years. Even though you know that’s not the point of writing.

So, there was that. But something else, too.

I sat there in that wooden folding chair, and I wanted so much to be a person who isn’t waiting for things to happen – for a move, for things to be unpacked, for certainty. Who takes hold of the pieces of my life that I can wrangle, that would yield to pressure if I applied it. Who makes the life she wants out of the pieces of paper in her hand, with writing on them that looks very much like her own.

Who wouldn’t let her dreams just sit there like furniture draped with sheets in a summer house. (Impossible to know the shape of things, when they’re covered like that, hulking masses of potential and someday and if only.)

Oh, and then, when Sebold mentioned how productive and beneficial she finds writers retreats? And that she’s spending two months at one, later this year? I could have cried. Because you know that just  two weeks – never mind two months – someplace serene and quiet with no kids or other people’s laundry, with nothing on the agenda but but to write…I ached with envy. Can you imagine?

(And then I packed myself into Alice Sebold’s suitcase. The end.)

Moving on. I’m not about to say that two hours over a weekend altered me for all time, or that this bus gets turned around from this point forward. But it brought me out of my February blahs, for sure. So, I begin again, today. What else is there to do, for any of us?

(Also – and this is important – there’s nothing else I know how to do. Unless she figures out how to monetize the playing of online Scrabble, and then I’m all over that.)


For all you writers, with love

This essay always sobers me up when I get a little too drunk on creative whining. I have it bookmarked and read it every couple of months. If I was a better person, I would have just told you to skip over that stuff up there and read this:

From Garrison Keillor on Salon:

Writers, Quit Whining

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Ducky February 23, 2009 at 11:20 am

Yes you can!

Emily R February 23, 2009 at 11:45 am

and then you finish the book, send it to your agent, and sit there waiting, imagining that book in your hands, while publishing houses fold all around you. oh, wait. that’s ME

Louise February 23, 2009 at 11:48 am

Take charge of what you can. Live for now. So much is possible now. Don’t wait.

KellyL February 23, 2009 at 1:22 pm

Funny, I just told someone on Saturday that I must have the February blahs! and the word “hopeless” was thrown out and I immediately said “no, not hopeless, not depressed, just blah!” Then she mentioned “burned out” and I connected with that immediately. My retreat is not 2 months, nor 2 weeks, but just 2 days/1 night in May (Mother’s Day!) doing something I love away from the usual. LOVE the sunflower in your blog today! THAT is hopeful!!!

V-Grrrl February 23, 2009 at 1:49 pm

A person who isn’t waiting for things to happen. As someone who navigated enormous life changes in the last two years, I’m all to familiar with a sense that life is somehow on hold until I finish processing all the experiences right in front of me. I worried I would never finish, that I would spend the rest of my life Dealing with Things and not living.

But then, finally, the living part began again. The boxes WERE unpacked–and so was the life. The covers came off the furniture and I sank into a chair with relief.

I will tell you this–give yourself credit for all you do and all the ways you are inspired. The writing you do here that brings so many of us back time and time again is every bit as good and inspired and worthy as what’s printed between the covers of the books at Border’s. Whether you publish a book or not, you’re a writer. A Writer!

I’ve never gone on a writer’s retreat or participated regularly in writing groups because I’m with Garrison: those people are too serious, too tortured, too determined to suffer for art and to criticize everything that isn’t theirs.

I love to hang out with journalists, who by necessity have to get to the heart of an issue in as few words and as little times as possible. They don’t have the luxury of agonizing over their craft, they Just Do It. And in doing it day in and day out, they become amazing writers. (This is why I changed my major from English Literature to journalism. I have more hours in English lit though, which is funny since my degree isn’t in it.)

I met Garrison Keillor years ago when he came to my town. I felt sorry for him really, all those people orbiting around him, obsequious in their admiration. I love that piece of his that you linked to and enjoy the Writer’s Almanac when I catch it.

Slouching Mom February 23, 2009 at 1:58 pm

LOL at the Scrabble bit. (BTW, that’s not my site address, but close enough.)

You’ve no idea how much of this rang true for me as I sit here tweaking a piece, readying it for submission.

S – fixed now. Thanks for letting me know!

Ree February 23, 2009 at 7:27 pm

Will you someday autograph your work for me? I know you’ll get there.

Lisa Milton February 23, 2009 at 7:28 pm

I need to hop over to that article. February is long and hard.

(I know what you mean about these author readings. Love them. Love it more when I hear they write with PBS on, with legos underfoot, because really, that’s the only way it’s ever gonna happen for me…)

the mama bird diaries February 23, 2009 at 8:11 pm

I hope some of your talent and grace lands on me.

The waiting is difficult. I try to be present in my life and so grateful for what I have but the waiting, for things we want, is difficult.

anymommy February 23, 2009 at 10:09 pm

“Who wouldn’t let her dreams just sit there like furniture draped with sheets in a summer house. (Impossible to know the shape of things, when they’re covered like that, hulking masses of potential and someday and if only.)”

This is incredible. It’s exactly how I feel right now and it’s my fault. I let the little, every day necessities and distractions keep me from tackling bigger possibilities, even one little step at a time. But, something tells me you don’t, or you won’t for very long.

Jenn @ Juggling Life February 23, 2009 at 10:44 pm

I’d focus on the wonder of the waiiting and all the life experience you’re gaining.

I’ve loved everything Alice Sebold has written–it must have been amazing.

RiverPoet February 24, 2009 at 6:39 am

Well done, Jennifer. I love the writing here, the emotions, and the way I felt I was in the room. I also relate to that desire to go on a writer’s retreat; it’s something I’ve often fantasized about – me, a little room, my laptop or legal pads, quiet – sweet, blessed quiet.

Thanks for the link to the Salon article. My writing may be shoved to the side right now, but it is far from dead. Maybe if I took my blogging time and pushed it into my novel, I’d be done by now!

Peace – D

jenrantsraves February 24, 2009 at 8:31 am

Its not the writing that is hard, it is finding the time. I loved the line, “like plants to the sun”. That is exactly how I felt when I attended a writers conference. I get fed up with the waiting. It seems like I’ve been waiting my whole life. Waiting to get married, waiting to have a child, waiting to discover my dream , waiting to make it a reality. I wonder if I will ever get to a place where I’m 100% content. Then again, does anyone?

Green Girl February 24, 2009 at 9:00 am

Ah, the peace and quiet of a writer’s retreat. I can only fantasize. Glad to hear Alice Sebold was lovely–I despise pretentious writers, and am always happy to hear when ones I like are nice.

Madge February 24, 2009 at 9:06 am

i keep coming back to the face in the toyota poem — feeling like everything is getting lost in the every day.

Jennifer Harvey February 24, 2009 at 9:15 am

In case you don’t know the poem Madge mentioned, here it is:

The Face in the Toyota

Suppose you see a face in a Toyota
One day, and you fall in love with that face,
And it is Her, and the world rushes by
Like dust blown down a Montana street.

And you fall upward into some deep hole
And you can’t tell God from some grain of sand.
And your life is changed, except that now you
Overlook even more than you did before;

And these ignored things come to bury you,
And you are crushed, and your parents
Can’t help anymore, and the woman in the Toyota
Becomes a part of the world that you don’t see.

And now the grain of sand becomes sand again,
And you stand on some mountain road weeping.

-Robert Bly

Daryl February 24, 2009 at 10:13 am

You can SO do it .. so .. do it.

Indigo February 24, 2009 at 10:40 am

Oh your just a royal pain today *winks*. I’ve placed both books on my to be read list. Sadly I couldn’t hope to benefit from a reading like that with my deafness. On occasion you can find an author’s blog online and have a comment session with them. I’ve found it quite enlightening.

As for ever being published…sigh…I wonder. These stories that find themselves expunges on the page in front of me are none other than my life. It’s one story out of thousands. If I would have but one talent, I can make you feel my words. Is it enough to ever find the perseverence to sit and write it into one solitary book? I believe only in dreams. In the meantime you and I continue to touch lives with friendship and understanding. That my dear friend is of more value than either of us know. (Hugs)Indigo

fancy feet February 24, 2009 at 11:47 am

I read the Lovely Bones…it must have been incredible to hear Sebold read.

I loved what you had to say. This reaches beyond the writing profession, I think. I can take this and apply it to my own life.

I wish you well in your journey…that you’ll be able to dust off your dreams and live them.

schmutzie February 24, 2009 at 2:19 pm
apathy lounge February 25, 2009 at 7:30 am

Love me some writers (talking with them/sharing ideas/picking their brains) and adore me some Keillor. Have seen him do readings…twice and he’s great. Considered naming a kid after him.

flutter February 25, 2009 at 12:50 pm

Thank you for saturday. Thank you for you. I sat in the glow of her and you and of almost losing my shit in public and lucky I am to have you as a friend. As an inspiration.

david mcmahon February 25, 2009 at 6:24 pm

One day – soon – people will be coming to see and hear you talk at an authors’ conference.

And do you know who can make it happen, Jennifer? Only one person. You.

Kimberly February 25, 2009 at 7:49 pm

I admire you so much for even starting. And I know you’ll finish. I can’t wait to read the finished product.

JCK February 26, 2009 at 2:11 pm

Getting out for an evening to immerse yourself with others on writing, the creative process of someone you admire, is powerful! The spark is lit, honey. And you’ve got the candle in your hand. Your writing BEGS to be bound and sold. BEGS.

OH, and if you don’t get going …Christine & I will come kick ass. 🙂 Just sayin’.

Pouty Lips February 27, 2009 at 5:43 pm

I can so totally imagine you in front of a room full of people reading from a book you wrote. Uh huh!! I am not a writer but I do feel a lot of what you are describing; some sort of a connection with writers and I can relate to your analogy of feeling like I’m leaning toward the light. Interestingly for me, is how many bloggers are talking about the February blahs. I think for the shortest month, February feels like it goes on and on forever. It must have something to do with the anticipation of spring. Cheers.

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