Look who came to visit! After years of FB messaging, sharing online reading, exchanging chapter reviews and comments about sewing, Deb Lacativa and I met in person. It felt as though we’d known each other for decades.
Deb was in town to deliver the key note speech at a writers’ conference in Salem. Her talk was what you’d expect: at once earthy, humorous, and inspirational. I was proud to be her plus-one.
During her visit, I made a bland chili, an alright chicken and potato dish, and an okay spinach salad. Why is it, sometimes, that my renditions of tried and true dishes disappoint when I have guests?
It rained one day but that was okay. Deb joined my class that morning and wrote along with us. That was fun. She also blew everyone away by reading a portion of her manuscript.
Regarding my own draft: conversations at the conference about word count have me all fired up. Today, I printed out a list of chapters and highlighted those that I either love or deem essential. That left about half as dross. Half! I’m eager to see a leaner, more narrative version.
The world is rather rusty and yellow right now. Still quite a lot of raking to do.
The collapsed vegetation offers the rough beauties of decay.
Here’s a fundamental question that goes to one’s basic nature, preferences, and tempos: do you sort by sameness or difference?*
If you sort by sameness you like constancy, routines, familiarity. Change is hard for you. A preservationist at heart, you might crystallize around things, in fact, to avoid change. If you sort by difference, on the other hand, you like change and variety, quicker tempos. You move readily from topic to topic in conversation, work on a dozen pieces at once if you’re an artist. Flexibility is your hallmark. Your need for movement can make you impulsive and careless with things and people. Lots of projects left unfinished.
Understanding that this sorting difference is both critical and immutable can be a life-saver in a marriage.
My husband sorts by sameness, I by difference. We could not be more different about matters like how often to re-arrange the furniture, how long to study maps on the ski slope, whether to chuck or save objects. And that’s the minor stuff. Viewing these differences as failures to accommodate one another or as character flaws guarantees struggle.
To blame someone for sorting differently from yourself is like getting mad at them for being tall or Chinese.
This week, prompted by (finally!) spending some time with Jude’s Feel Free class recordings (I generally read the posts, but the audios languish), I want to think about how sorting by change impacts my work and also to consciously practice her idea of treating ideas as questions rather than ways to solve a problem.
*Question posed in a lecture by Bill Harris, founder of Holosync
Can dropping down a rabbit hole be a necessary pursuit? Or does it always imply time-wasting?
Whatever the case, two deep rabbit holes yawn constantly at the writer’s feet. They are: research and editing.
My story begins in 1738. I had no idea how little I knew until I stumbled along, inserting obvious anachronisms like electric ceiling fans and ice cubes. Yes! But even once you get a certain fluency for your period, quick dips into research are needed — often to remind me of things I learned and then forgot.
How many rebels died the morning after the Stono Rebellion? How many were executed the following week? And the number rumored to have evaded capture, again – remind me?
How is Beaufort rice bread prepared?
What were the prevailing views on homosexuality in the low country in the 18th century? Surely not the same as in the Puritan northeast?
Editing is also necessary and can go on and on and then on some more. Few and far between are those golden passages that come out intact. Most require a lot of work — in fact, an astonishing amount of work — things like making a flashback stand on its own in real time, fixing inconsistent tenses, eliminating peripheral characters, and always — paring away words that clutter the page.
There’s always the danger that editing will keep the writer from the business of original writing. They use such different parts of the brain and one is so much easier to access than the other!
Editing also poses the danger of wiping out distinctive cadences and phrasing. That’s part of why when I back up my manuscript, I don’t write over the previous version (not that I go back and read them, but — I could).
Useful distractions include working in other media (and reading. Always reading!) Most creatives will tell you that switching media feeds the work.
This morning, I played with magazine scraps brought from home. Whether it was a useful distraction or not, I’m not in a position to judge. Here are the results.
The first one speaks directly to a storm scene I’m editing in which the slaveholder loses both an entire crop of rice and a key slave in a boat accident. The scene exposes dissonant responses to the loss (white vs. black). The white response wonders which is the greater loss — the twenty barrels of rice or the valuable slave? — highlighting in a sharp way the slaves’ status as property.
(In the era my novel describes, the enslaved wore ragged tunics and head rags. The portrayal of the two African Americans above, therefore, is to my mind, romanticized).
Today is Good Friday. The Christ figure removed from his cross last night will be processed from the top of the hill down to the Basilica of St Francis. People mobbed the statue last evening once it was in repose in order to touch it.
This morning when I attended Mass at San Rufino at the crack of dawn, the 500 year old wooden body was adorned with flowers.
My digs are a little cold, so midmorning I found a patch of sun near St Clare’s Cathedral and stitched for a while.
The beauty of this place fills me up!
PS. That moon picture was taken out of my window between 5:30 and 6:00 a.m.
How long before I realize that it makes me truly happy to feed the birds?
How long before I act as though kindness mattered above all else?
How long before I realize that I don’t need (or even want) most of my belongings?
How long before I fully recognize that working on a miniature scale is right for me?
How long until I feel that I have a right to the workings of my imagination, no matter how the cultural dialogue is unfolding (though ignoring the dialogue is impermissable)?
What if I could act as if everything was happening, not according to plan per se, but in its right and true time? In other words, what if all delinquencies were forgiven or rendered irrelevant? How liberating a thought!
** A huge thanks to all the recent lovely and thoughtful comments. Thank you. It really means a lot to me. Thank you, again.