There you are. I hoped you would come. I'm glad you did. I'm sitting by my fire this morning -- it has turned very cold for Atlanta, so I'm working in front of the fire with my laptop. Time to get back to work. Time to face the page.
I've got an essay in mind to write. As I finished up the '07 Tour Blog, I wrote about organizing my closet and putting away my clothes, and how it reminded me of my mother and what she taught me about laundry and ironing and clothes and life, and how I miss her... I think it would make a good essay, and I'm going to try writing that essay in this short first week of a new year.
The idea is sketched out on the tour blog, making that blog a sort of notebook for me, for that idea... so I copied that part of the blog, printed it, and pasted it in my actual, current notebook, and started doodling around it... it led me to search out some photos of my mother, which I copied and also pasted into my notebook. I included a photo of my mother sitting in a rocking chair, holding infant me. (Don'tcha love the mohawk?)
I don't know just how this essay will turn out, but I've made notes in my notebook about how it feels to be living in the world without my mother, how it felt when we were in the midst of battle, how it felt the times we really connected, how it felt to be the person with her the morning she died, how I've grown to see her as a human being and see myself that way as well... and those notes turned into sweetness, the sweetness of all that was good about our relationship...
... the secret goodness that ran underneath our quarreling and disagreeing and my constant pushing for acknowledgement of my truth, and my inability to understand hers, until I was much older and had grown children of my own and was in a similar position.
Any of those moments are worthy of essays. But that's not really what I want to write about. I want to write about that ironing scene I paint on the tour blog. I do want to write about my feelings of being motherless, but I want to show this through my closet, by telling about those two days I spent doing my laundry and thinking about my mother. Something like that.
My notebook is the place to figure out what I want to say, a place that helps me focus, and list what it felt like, smelled like, sounded like, tasted like, looked like, in that closet, and in those days my mother stood at the ironing board in the family room, pressing my father's boxer shorts and watching ANOTHER WORLD, and asking me about my day at school as I ate a butter and sugar sandwich, and how it has felt in the four years I have navigated the world without my mother.
I can see, I'm focusing on what I want to say. Now I'll go to the page. I'll fool around, starting with the closet scene.. in fact, I've got a particular moment I want to write about... the moment I began to button a blouse as it lay on my bed, on a hangar, and realized that I never did that anymore, never buttoned a shirt before I hung it up, but felt compelled to do it that day, for some reason, because my mother always did, and it's what she taught me to do. Perhaps I was influenced by the ending of a year and the beginning of a new one, I don't know, but I will add this idea to the mix and see if it's true.
What I know is that I began to slow down and button each button on each blouse, zip each zipper, tie each string, hang or fold each item of clothing as close to the way my mother did as I could remember.
As I write this scene, the rest will suggest itself to me, perhaps a first-line will come to me; I'll move it to the top. It will be my focus now. And the rest will shift. As I write this piece, I'll understand my mother better. I'll understand myself better. I'll reveal a little more of what's true about me, even the parts I don't want to see. Maybe I'll be brave enough to keep them in the essay. Or maybe they won't belong, and I'll have those pieces of truth for myself, exposed, and they'll inform my life... help me grow. It's a mysterious process, hard to talk about and make sense.
I'm already thinking "Mother's Day." I might be able to share this piece on Mother's Day in a newspaper or in a magazine. But that's beside the point, immaterial. It's not why I had this idea, but it's a logical extension of the idea, for a writer trying to make her living in the arts. Even so, I won't concentrate on market, even though the how-to books say to target a market or a particular publication. I don't do that. If I did, I'd not write a thing worth publishing. I do keep a reader in mind, I must, but I target a story. I target my heart. Then I worry about a market, if I decide the piece is publishable. And I try to remember that no writing effort is wasted.
I'll try to get a complete draft, probably less than 1000 words to sum up a lifetime, in a moment. I'll take a moment, remember it as best I can, and infuse it with meaning. Moments, memory, meaning. That's what I'm after today. So off to work I go. The soup is simmering, the fire is crackling, and I have three weeks home before the next travel. Soon it will be time to plunge into the novel. But a short piece first, to warm up.
How do you warm up? What is your process? Whether you are a writer by trade a writer by night, or a professed non-writer, you are a storyteller. What stories do you have to tell? Open your notebook. What moment in this past week might you mine? How can you connect it to a memory in your past? And what meaning can you give it? What personal yet universal meaning might it hold? I know you've had these moments that make you think, like I did in my closet, of a moment in your past... it's a matter of getting in the habit of connecting and thinking "story."