Floods of information and inspiration poured forth from the AWP conference in Seattle. Thousands and thousands of writers congregated with editors, publishers, poets, teachers, and students. I recognized my tribe.
In packed rooms I scribbled notes as speakers addressed subtleties in spiritual writing, researching historical novels, nature essays, regional poetry. One night I heard Eva Saulitis, a marine biologist, teacher, writer, and poet (and beekeeper), describe long, cold months observing orca whales. She described how the boredom, the waiting, the emptiness were aspects of imagination, precursors of her work. The work, she said, came from the intersection of “data collection and awe.”
I arrived home with so much to think about. My craft and direction were reconfirmed. I found leads to publish work. I made friends, growing a community that suddenly spans the globe. I heard new models of writing and carted home pages of notes toward the New Book, skills in Twitter, goals for blogging, and a writing schedule to try out. And enough literary magazines to pull my shoulder out of whack.
It was an overabundance. I swam in it for three weeks after the conference.
* * *
Neighborhood crows flap heavier these days because their beaks are filled with sticks. They are building nests, of course, as I build scaffolding for my new book.
“Pairs function as highly synchronized teams, building large, stick-based nests, carefully lining them with fine rootlets or hair.” (Marzluff and Angell, In the Company of Crows and Ravens.)
An initial web of ladders and planks give workers safe access to transform all parts of a structure. For a book, scaffolding might include an outline, a timeline, a narrative arc plotted on a whiteboard or paper. I also build a schedule on paper and in Google. The schedule must include walks, library research, fieldwork, and snacks of music, books, drawing, museum visits.
“Crows take a great deal of time choosing the sticks they want to use in the construction of their nests.” (Haupt, Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom From the Urban Wilderness.)
The scaffold also serves to protects the act of writing itself, because life is so full with family, other work, events, friends. I keep re-learning that limits must be set.
“The crow’s nest is a remarkably intricate piece of work, belying both the rough exterior of the structure and the bulkiness of its creators.” (Haupt)
At this time, it's better for me to dwell inside the book for several days or weeks at a time, listening to echoes and characters, without forced interruptions to broadcast content. See you in a few weeks.
This week I'll join more than 12,000 other writers and editors, professors, agents and students at an extravaganza called AWP. It's my first one.
I'll bring a small rolling bag and a black daypack to carry snacks, my itinerary, aspirin, some old sweaters, and empty journals. But that's my toolkit, not baggage.
The things I will NOT be lugging around (and I was certain that I would):
There is, in fact, very little on the horizon. As though the Universe is sweeping everything from my path, with Infinite Love, and telling me to get to work on the art right under my nose.
I feel so untethered. Tomorrow I head north, and plan to go in a state of quiescent listening!
What makes you feel wealthy? I don’t mean measuring the size of your bank account, but the wealth of having enough, the feeling that as long as I have this, I’m OK.
One recent emblem of abundance for me has been having a bowl of coral-gold persimmons on my table. Especially when they come from a neighbor’s tree -- they can be expensive in the market! When I see the bowl, I know that I can have a sweet, luscious snack every day if I feel like it, and it will be good for me. The color just makes me smile.
I did not know how to eat fuyu persimmons until my friend, Jocelyn, modeled the proper fuyu eating stance. We were having a discussion and I watched as she took a persimmon and a small, sharp knife. She simply carved slices off the persimmon and handed one to me. I was shocked at how good it tasted. The other kind, the Hachiya pictured here, might need a long time to ripen into jelly, and can be eaten with a spoon.
Here is the other thing that makes me feel ready to take on the world: I realize how old-fashioned I will sound, but I feel wealthy when I can carry postage stamps in my wallet. Especially those with brilliant pictures on them of dancers or musicians, or wise men and women of history, or flowers. I know I can mail anything on the spur of the moment—an urgent bill perhaps, but more importantly, a fan letter or a thank-you note.
I hated it as a child when my Mom made me sit and write thank-you notes after Christmas and birthdays, but now I'm glad she did; years of experience have taught me how simple it is to jot a note, find the address, add a stamp, and pop it into the mailbox. You never know what a huge impact a little letter in the mail can make.
As I came to realize how many authors work in a vacuum of silence, just like me, and how their books get published to a little fanfare and then get swallowed up by even greater silence, I realized that fan letters are as important as thank you notes. It was a little intimidating, writing to the first author I admired, but I am so glad I did. She sent me a brief reply on a postcard that showed a watercolor painting of a French bakery. Nourishing indeed!
I think stamps mean so much to me because of times in the past when I was traveling and did not have the money to eat more than once every couple of days. I really wanted to send a letter to my family, but did not have the postage, let alone enough to place an international call.
So yes, my wallet contains two sleeves of stamps. And I have clean, warm socks on my feet. I feel like a million dollars, and I think I’ll go eat a persimmon.
I confess I have been stymied this past week as to what to write. None of my wedding topics seemed right, and I didn’t want to pull out a rerun yet. But for the first time I was blocked. Why? Perhaps it is because I am suffering from a terrible case of In-between-ness.
After thirteen months of steady work, I have completed one thing, The Book (about weddings). And not yet started the next thing. Soon the big push to publicize The Book will commence, but right now it is completely out of my hands. No-one from the publisher has requested anything for days. Copy editors are reviewing the manuscript, and in a conference room somewhere an editor and a sales expert are hashing out the title. So I don’t even know what to call The Book yet.
More shall be revealed. I am sure that one morning I will be called to hit the ground running. In the meantime, cloudless days come and go, my daughter jets back to her school life, and I struggle to reorient myself.
Writers have told me that the best antidote for post-book insanity is to start another book. Now I viscerally understand what they mean, and I agree. Publicity will bend my sanity. Good reviews and bad reviews and NO reviews will whack my ego all out of joint. The only joy I can count on is in the process of working through another book, and perhaps finishing that one, too.
Earlier this week I pulled about thirty resource books from my library and planned a sprawling, intergenerational saga, complete with geology and recipes. This book may yet arise, and I honor that, but something else happened and my path diverted.
It diverted so much from the original that I replaced my sourcebooks back on their shelves.
This new path fills me with excitement, wonder, and terror. So I think I am onto something genuine. But I can’t talk about any of it just yet.
During my travels in South India in 2009, I became acquainted with a goddess who has become perhaps my favorite. Her name is Aditi, and she is very, very old. “Mother of all the gods” is one description. Wikipedia says she is associated with space, and with mystic speech. You can buy little cards with pictures on them of Lakshmi, Durga, Saraswati, even Kali, but there seems to be no traditional portrait of Aditi, the unfettered, the boundless one. She has been symbolized sometimes by a cracked earthenware pot, and sometimes by an empty mirror.
Aditi governs the margins, the space between dark and dawn, the in-between times. I think that now is my fertile, awkward, wordless and uncomfortable Aditi time.
Guess I will go find a cracked vessel and look at it.
Here are some thoughts about weddings, writing, and the world. Enjoy.