ROAR: wRiting On the Ravine
Posted on April 21, 2013
I started this blog in 2009 with the intent to document what I knew was a major change in our lives—mine and Dave’s, Mom and Dad’s. I knew we had committed to a job that could be described as “challenging”. Most of what I’ve posted here is directly related to multi-generational relationships, caretaking, or the natural lives of the creatures that live and visit here.
I’ve not said too much about my writing life. It’s time to work that into the story.
I hope to assemble a collection of the On the Ravine writings for a memoir—someday—but right now I’m writing a novel. I’ve been writing a novel for over six years, so it would not be a surprise that I’m much closer to finishing said work than I was six years ago, or even four years ago when we claimed this spot On the Ravine.
During the time that I have been working on the novel, I’ve been in four different writing groups. About two years ago, I found “The One”, “The Fit”. There are five of us, one leading, mentoring, and teaching the other four of us. We each started with a novel, mine the furthest along since, after all, I had written the thing three times already. We are five talented, smart, experienced, and wonderfully supportive women—and we know it. I also know that I am incredibly lucky to have found this group. I’d rather miss a party than to absent myself from our Monday night reading and critique sessions.
So why now? Why talk about the writing?
For one thing, I feel the need to explain the decreasing frequency of my postings. I have plenty to write about without bringing up my wannabe-isms, and I do make notes and journal entries about hospitals, gardens, and wild animals. You won’t believe this, but in the middle of that last sentence, I jumped to my window to make sure that I was really looking at a hawk under one of the bird feeders. It was, indeed, a Cooper’s Hawk—and he wasn’t there for the safflower seeds.
I started a piece on what happens when all the ravine residents get sick at the same time, a recent experience. I wrote a few paragraphs on the title “Comings and Goings” about a dear old friend’s passing the same week in January that grandson Jaxton was born. I made an account of a pharmacy clinic visit with Dad. I jotted a few lines to remind myself of several funny scenes from an overnight visit from Jameson and Carly. I may yet publish the hilarious story of the strawberry cake I made for Vicky’s birthday. Given some dedicated time, either one of those pieces could be posted.
I find that the story I am telling in long form just takes over. It leaves any personal accounts in unfinished condition while all spare energy is directed toward what happens to my make-believers, the characters; these are true friends of mine for some seven years. I go to sleep with them on my mind and I wake wondering what they’re up to. They invade my favorite TV shows and I think about them even when I am not writing but staring out the window which, any writer will tell you, is also writing.
There are other renderings about ravine life that will wait for months, or years, to be published. I avoid complaining about the weightiness of responsibility. I don’t mention the fear of the time when my parents will leave me, something else that is closer than it was four years ago. I do write about some of the more difficult issues, even the painful ones, but you don’t see those stories—yet. The words are only spoken, quietly, when I share these experiences with Dave or my closest friends, until it is more appropriate to include a broader range of readers.
There is another, not frivolous at all, reason to say “I’m writing”. This responsibility to my parents, my other family, and my husband, combined with the commitment to writing, creates a need for more hours than I can count on. I hold frequent sessions with myself devoted to developing a better routine, wasting less time, doing a better job of this and that. In the competing pulls and pushes, every whatever-sized thing is much larger than I ever imagined and something gets left out or dismissed.
It is difficult, and sometimes downright useless, to try to explain why I can’t often meet for lunch, and maybe not even for coffee. I’ve lost friends by my inability to explain, and by their inexperience and lack of understanding. There is no blame in my heart; I see what I might look like from the other side.
My husband keeps on trying, helping, doing, being, and there are those persons of soul-kinship who understand, and if they happen to not understand, they accept. It would be grammatically incorrect to say “They BE” but that’s what they do. They just be—with me, for me, around me. “They just be” seems so much stronger than “they just are”.
I won’t be talking about details of the novel or specific writing concerns, but I cannot help describing the feelings I got this weekend at the Celebration of Southern Literature in Chattanooga. There I was, not just close enough to touch, but sometimes actually touching writers like Dorothy Allison (Bastard Out of Carolina), Lee Smith (what didn’t she write), Arthur Golden (Memoirs of a Geisha), Jill McCorkle (Going Away Shoes), Maurice Manning (Bucolics), Randall Kenan (The Fire This Time), Allan Gurganus (Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All), Bobbie Ann Mason (Elvis Presley)… They talked about their work, they read from their stories and poems and plays. That list I just wrote—they’re just the ones that popped into my head as I sat here. There were so many more.
I toggled between two opposing responses: “I am a storyteller” and “Who am I to think I could possibly write?” Tony Earley was at the conference, too. (Jim the Boy, Somehow Form a Family, The Blue Star) At another event several years ago, Tony told us that he doubts his ability every time he sits down to write. I’m so glad he said that, and even happier that I remember it.
I like to summon him up from time to time, this Tony Earley.