Abandoning form, discovering a friend

My husband and I are having a little disagreement. It’s nothing serious, really.  I love him completely.  We talk every day.  Sometimes our chats are simple.  Shared appreciation for a good meal, an interesting show, the way our son is growing.  My husband is a philosopher, a seeker.  He has a brilliant mind and has survived bone shattering experiences, soul shattering experiences.  He has a rich imagination and could write amazing stories with incredible detail infused with intuitive perception and knowledge.

I love that about him.  Those qualities make for great conversations and a beautiful relationship.  He encourages my desire to write.  He probably wishes I would write a book.

So I thought, why not at least make an attempt. I started a novel that is well into a second chapter.  I feel incompetent, but he continues to be encouraging, showing enthusiasm for the subject and the concept and the way I’m working it out. He’s been a huge support. But the problem is that right now I want to give up.  The novel in question probably completely died after last night, when I discovered a pinterest story board created by a NaNoWriMo author.   Her fantastic idea (really, brilliant! No sarcasm intended) to use a collection of gathered photos to shape her novel was truly inspiring.  I loved the idea.  I loved her collection.  Then I began to notice that the entire board mirrored all the details of my novel in progress.

My novel is already being written by someone else.  Right down to the destroyed library and the cave home.

I showed the board to Richard.

Providing the example of romance novels, he reminded me that the same story is always being written over and over again.  And that it doesn’t mean I should stop writing my particular version.   He said that what I’m writing must already be in the collective conscious.

And I agree.  A common problem in imagining a future is that we also imagine an apocalyptic catastrophe. Futuristic themes are bound up in the fantasy of “end times.”

This is why I prefer to stay grounded in the moment.  I’m less anxious in the present.  And this shows through in my character development of a woman so bound up in anxiety that she fumes with resentment on the inside.  She’s exactly what I imagine myself to be if I were in her shoes.  I would be destroyed if the world stopped meeting my expectations.  I’d surely have a breakdown.  I might follow my husband into the wild for the sake of survival, but I would hate it.  He would love the adventure, I would stop appreciating the woods in about five minutes.  I’d want to go home.

So no wonder that I’m having so much trouble. I wondered, “am I writing this book for him, through him?  Was it really my book, or the one he could be writing?”

And although I agree that it’s likely that my story would be significantly different than the one that is being written by another imaginative soul, even significantly different than the one my husband would write, I need to write as closely to myself as possible, no matter that it feels unimaginative.  The truth is that  I enjoy the regular ordinary life that is unfolding, a life that is so rich and varied that it  doesn’t need a catastrophe to highlight my appreciation for it.

And that’s okay, according to Edna Staebler.   What serendipity to encounter this writer at five am this morning, a guide arriving from the past to hold my hand through this business of writing.  My happenstance encounter with Staebler sent a jolt of recognition through me, waking me up before coffee flooded my circulation.  Staebler was born five years before my Grandma—- and in the same town of Kitchner, Ontario. She lived to be exactly 100 years old. I wonder if my grandma would have known her before moving to Michigan. Their lives would have been different; my grandma left school after third grade to help her mother, while Edna continued her education and earned a degree.  Not content to just be married, she wanted to write all her life.  Yet traditional forms such as novels, plays and poems eluded her.  So she published cookbooks, which are now considered valuable for preserving Mennonite heritage. Despite her personal disappointment in attaining a body of work within a traditional literary form, she continued to write with clarity and truth in personal journals.  Her diaries became a work  now considered worthy of literary criticism.  Her example is an echo of what Brenda Ueland believes: “if you want to write, just write what comes. The river will begin to flow in you.”

Ueland would love Stabler (did she already know of her work?)  I believe she would have celebrated Staebler’s self-directed thoughts:

“Don’t try to become, simply search. Open your heart and your eyes and your mind. Writing is feeling and observation.”

From Must Write: Edna Staebler’s Diaries


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