Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Hidden Life of the Story

The more I look back at my writing the more I am constantly surprised. 

If you ever have the opportunity to write a novel in a month I would suggest you at least give it a shot. It is amazing what can happen when one spends every waking hour possible eating, sleeping and breathing in the story. In November 2008 I wrote a novel in one month. It is to date such a raw draft I need to write another couple drafts before it will be what one might consider a normally thought out first draft, never mind a finished polished piece ready for submitting anywhere. However, because I wrote it so furiously and in such an uncensored way in order to get it out, it's raw emotion and chunkily drafted scenes have a flow and unity of plot and character it may not have had otherwise. I also got to experience the rush which happens at about 36000- 40000 words when all of a sudden the book pulls together and the ideas solidify, snowballing breathlessly to the climax and denouement. That truly was awe inspiring.

In that month my creative energy didn't just flow.... it boiled and, aside from the novel, I wrote a poem I'd been trying to write for months. Now anyone who knows me knows poetry is not my forté, but I managed to capture a feeling which had been alluding me in my prose and sprang to life on the paper as I listened to "KIng of Pain," by The Police, over and over again - freezing my thoughts and point of view in that one moment in time. I titled it "Strangers In a Coffee Shop."

Here we sit, the table between us,
Uncomfortable silence, an invisible wall, 
Separating us as we look at each other,
There’s nothing more to say,
Or is there….
How, can there be nothing?
When the time that fills the space,
The very air it takes up is fraught,
Our every breath, our every thought,
Ripped with inner tension….
How can one fein to ignore it?
What are these unspoken feelings?
So many words, there’s not
the voice, for which to say
all the things, untold….
Should we have been by birth-right
sisters? Siblings, mistakenly born
into separate families, our lives
like lines written across the page
forever drifting….
Our souls cut from one fabric,
Binding us, inexplicably drawing
us together in some mysterious 
and unexplainable way, or is it simply,
Fear of the unknown,
Fear of what we both don’t understand,
Thinking we’re unnatural, weird, or somehow
different? Each rejecting ourselves,
Afraid to try….
It’s simply easier to ignore the words 
as they hang, left unsaid, within the air
that surrounds our beings and to run, 
To hide, and make-believe, there’s nothing there
to say….
And to wonder if, perhaps someday,
When the past has somehow been erased, 
These words will cease to come, and should we meet
by chance, we’ll go our separate ways
with grace.

As I read it over today I realize how much it lacks in describing what I'd intended, how much I didn't know,  and how I disagree with the conclusion and would wish for something else - something better, more human. And yet, it is but a reflection of one moment in time... a moment from which my perspective has shifted, changed and matured. And I'm undecided on whether I'm going to revise it or not.

It's interesting the things which jump out at me when I look over some of the things I wrote. Sometimes when I think I know what a story is about I will discover, months later, it was about something totally different. I was working on my story Memory Files last week. At one point Simon asks Mindy, "Do you love Frank?" (Frank is Simon's brother). Mindy, Frank's wife, says, "Yes, but I love you too. I love both of you." In that moment I suddenly realized where the story had come from, what it was about and why I wrote it. It was like getting kicked in the head... awe inspiring and painful at the same time. 

It is these things, these pieces of genuine emotion, experience and momentary reality  which provide the life giving pulse to any story fiction or non-fiction and allow the reader to connect with the character, to laugh, to cry, and to be one on the journey together. And it was my experiences in Banff which solidified for me the ability to take several unrelated moments in my life and blend them into a story with fictional characters and events in such a way that fiction and reality become one and the story takes on a life of it's own.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Contemplations over Coffee

Coffee pots are indeed enablers for the use of language and the creation of connections between people. It provides opportunities daily for people to meet others. In stores where coffee is purchased, cafés, offices or even individual homes people connect over and through the consumption of this legal drug. 
I can't think of a single instance where two people meet over a pot of coffee and don't talk, write, read, surf the internet, or use language in some form. Yeah, I'm just going to pour myself a coffee, stand here, drink it and say absolutely nothing to you... not likely. 
Coffee shop regulars say, "Hi." to each other as they wait in line and forge relationships with local baristas, exchanging comments about the weather, fashions, personal information and complaints about the day, often coming to know each other by name. Others meet at tables and exchange life stories over cups of this rich brown liquid.
I walked into the coffee shop today and on one table were 8 napkins featuring calligraphy, square diagrams and doodles, spread out artistically amid two empty cups. Words such as hallway, books, arrows, and lists of items, reminded me of organizing house and spoke eloquently of the conversation which must have taken place. I reached for my pockets and realized I didn't have my phone, camera or any other means than memory to record this fabulous example of art, language and coffee. 
In fact, the vast impact of coffee on language and real life connections is greater than the local markets. This is apparent through ventures such as organic fair trade coffee and the resultant sharing of knowledge, lifestyle, culture and the investment in the livelihood of families in different parts of the world, potentially changing our worldview.
Coffee is such part of everyday life, I contemplate how many books are owed to this legal drug keeping us awake through hours of edits. And as I drink my next cupa and prepare to write I wonder where its smooth brown treasure will take me.