15 March 2011

Shhhh . . .

***I wrote this whole post the other night, only to lose it to a stupid human-computer communication error. I hate it when that happens, because I can't recreate the post I wrote, only write a whole new one on the same topic.***

I have a secret, if you won't tell.

Promise?

Double-pinky promise?

Ok, then.

I'm writing fiction again.

I know, I know, I do that a lot. And I have a whole novel in desperate need of revision, but I don't know where to start. I've even written on the current one before, 50,000 in November for NaNo, even though I knew halfway through that I wanted to make some serious changes to it.

But every time I start again, it feels like a secret, like springtime is coming and colors are popping up everywhere and the bunnies are getting busy behind the bushes and I blush to look at them but I celebrate them, too. New life is always worthy of celebration, right? And that's what this feels like to me.

I love the first-draft stage, the infatuation stage. I love it when my characters pop up in my day, because they have something to say, something they're sure I need to know so that I can write them well. I love waking up in the middle of the night with their stories in my mind, working out the details even as I sleep. And I love putting the words on paper, giving them life, making them walk around and talk and see their world and enjoy it.

But the more time I spend writing, the more efforts I make at putting these people on paper, the more I shy away from it, too. As close as I come to describing the scenes in my head, they're never perfect, and my method of revising seems to be more like rewriting, like finding the places where the story goes awry and starting over from there.

It's not that I'm a bad writer, but I'm a terrible reviser, mostly because I can't ever stop wondering what would happen if . . . what if I started at a different point? what if someone reacted differently in a key place? what if something changed and the main character could fall in love after all?

And then I have to explore the possibilities, have to write out many different versions of scenes, even different versions of the whole story. I get overwhelmed by all those words, and I can't keep them straight for anything, so I quit, I walk away, I take my space.

That's why starting again feels like such a delectable a secret, I think, because it means I've become brave enough to jump back into that world again. It means I'm trying to tolerate the ambiguity, then inherent imperfection that comes when putting image on paper. And I'm trying again, starting again, taking that deep breath and trying again.

It's like trying to see again, not discerning shapes amidst darkness but finding the thread in a jumble of chaos. Writing is like a giant game of Where's Waldo?, where my job is to find and follow Waldo and only Waldo, not getting distracted by all of the places he could be but finding where he is and sticking with him.

All of the writing books I've read stress making the right decisions, about characters, about plot, about the words on the page. But sometimes I wonder if stories aren't more like real life - a little ambiguous. You make a choice and it changes everything, but it really could have been different. I feel a little like God must feel, when He looks down and watches us. Yes, we DO only one thing, but He sees all the possibility, all the could-have-beens, both good and bad.

I wonder, sometimes, what it takes for him not to jump in and change a story so it becomes something better. Because that's what I do, I think. I forget to listen to my characters, forget to stop and see what they do, and so I make them and their stories into something else. So revising is learning to listen, learning to hear them more clearly and follow their threads amidst the noise that surrounds them.

I feel tentative about starting again, because I wonder if I won't finish, just like I haven't finished before. The things is, a good story is worth figuring out how to revise. I love this story. I love it more than I loved the last one I wrote. And so I let the new life in, because trying and failing to tell this story is better than not trying at all. I don't think I could live with that.

08 March 2011

Baby Lessons

Yellow hair, like straw but much more frail, goes in every direction at the nape of her neck. In vain, I run my fingers through it, trying to make straight or curls, something other than chaos. But it doesn't matter. My efforts are futile and she doesn't care anyway.

She doesn't care.

I love how she doesn't care how she looks, doesn't care if I put her in a dress or a t-shirt, because it's all going to get dirty in the same way. And she doesn't notice her hair, doesn't notice it's crazy and runs wild with the wind and holds her food sometimes, when I wonder if she's saving it for later.

I knew another girl once, a girl who cared so much, too much. She tried so hard to make her own frail-straw hair do something other than hang straight and glint in the sun. Fingers and curling irons and enough hairspray to slick back a horse's mane didn't matter. It always ended up straw-straight, limp and shiny. It did whatever it wanted.

I keep saying that I can't wait until she can talk more, can't wait until we have conversations where we talk about ideas and Good and the stories we read. And I can't. But with that kind of knowledge, with knowledge of what she's thinking and how to articulate it, comes knowledge of herself. With the ability to discuss ideas comes comparing those ideas and, eventually, comparing herself.

To save her from that . . . oh, to save her from that. But already she sees what she does not have and strains for it. Now, across the table. Later, through the storefront glass that separates her from whatever she dreams will make her beautiful on that day.

I tell her every night that she is beautiful, and that she's loved no matter what. I hope it will make a difference, that somewhere in her baby-brain she holds that through all the years.  And I wonder how I know that, how I can say it with so much confidence to her. Is it because someone once whispered it to me, through yellow-straw hair that went every which way?

If only we believed the things we tell our children. I catch myself, sometimes, telling her things and realizing that they're true for me, too. I am loved and beautiful and held, chosen, a gift, so precious. But we lose those messages along the way. They get hidden, under layers born of the people we should be and the things we ought to do.

After a certain point, life is the peeling back of those layers. It's getting back to those so-early night whisperings, the ones we went to sleep to before the places our memory can reach. And the womb-whispers, the ones we may never remember as words but that warm us when life gets cold.

I want to live in the memory of those places, to fill myself with true words and not with things that seem easier to reach. But it's a journey, a slow uncovering, like getting out of bed on a cold, cold morning. Every day is a step, some forward, some back, but all going somewhere. And one day I'll wake up, warmed from the true center and not because I've successfully huddled under the blankets.