Sunday, March 29, 2009

A hallelujah moment

They are few and far between, these occasions of breaking through creative obstacles, and when they come they leave in their wake an amazing wash of feelings of relief, joy, renewal, hope, and, best of all, a flood of ideas and energy and an eagerness to get on with the work.

I'm so happy and, yes, I have to repeat because truthfully this is the dominant chord, relieved at what I accomplished this morning that I've got to report it. Even though this blog is primarily oriented outward, that is, toward the work of other writers and, beyond that, toward the world and the worldwide class struggle, on days like this my own writing life demands to have a say.

So here's the deal. Early last year I conceived a new idea for a second novel. I became excited about it, began doing research, jotted some notes, started daydreaming about the characters, quickly became committed to it, and applied to some arts colonies for a summer residency where I could get to work on it. To my amazement and gratitude, I was awarded a fellowship to the Saltonstall Foundation colony in Ithaca, NY. I spent a month there last summer. I worked on this new novel. Wrote about 65 pages. Not a single one of them came easily. Not a note of it felt natural. Not for an instant did I fall into the sort of fever dream/trance/all-encompassing creative obsession that I had experienced in the writing of my first novel. At the end, although I had in many ways loved my month in the country and found it wonderfully restful and rejuvenating, especially my early-morning hours out on my balcony overlooking pond, fields, hills, I felt fairly disheartened about this novel I'd begun. I had never tumbled into it the way I'd hoped to. I suspected it might be the wrong project. Most of all, I was convinced that what I'd written pretty well stunk. Sixty-five pages of dreck. I came back home and set it aside, intending to pick it up again after a month or so and try for a fresh assessment.

Instead I waited eight months. To be honest, I was frightened to pick those pages back up. To acknowledge, as I was sure I'd have to, that they were crap and therefore to have to decide whether the whole idea for this book was a wash which, too, I suspected I would. I did other work, finishing and revising some stories, although even that only sporadically, not at all with the sort of discipline and regularity that are necessary to accomplish anything decent, all of which in turn worried and disheartened me even more.

Throughout these months, I was constantly aware of that folder filled with 65 pages written last summer sitting on my desk waiting, daring me, in fact, to pick it back up. It took me until this morning to get up the nerve. Or to run out of excuses, perhaps. So today, after coffee and breakfast and some reading and some chores, I picked up those pages, I sat down, and I read them.

And now I am, as I reported at the top of this post, relieved, joyous, and raring to go. Because it's good! Maybe very good! Unexpectedly, unsuspectedly good! Those pages may have been difficult to write, not a one of them may have been composed easily, I may never have felt myself transported into that dream state of creativity I'd experienced when I wrote my first novel and oh so dearly desired to enter in the writing of this one--but guess what? Reading them now, I was engulfed in the world I'd imagined, impelled into the minds of the characters I'd created, I felt myself grabbed and pulled forward, page by, dare I say this, pretty darn well-written page. I'm aware that the writer herself is the worst possible judge of the worth of any piece of writing, so who knows, I may be just as wrong in now thinking it's good as I was last summer in thinking it was no good. For my purposes it doesn't matter, I think. What matters is that somehow I've found my way through to some kind of magic. I've recaptured what made me want to tell this story. I'm in its spell. And now that's what I will get back to. Telling this story. Which I now, again, hallelujah, feel compelled to tell.

First, this week, there's work; there's passing out leaflets to get the word out about Friday's "Bail Out the People" march on Wall Street and AIG; there's the demonstration itself. But after that, there's the writing that now, thank heavens, calls.