How are you doing? I don’t know about you but the world is just too much for me right now. Sickness and storms and countless other sorrows. I am back at school pretending that all is well. I feel like I am cycling through a week’s worth of emotions in minutes. There is sadness and anger and every so often there’s a sliver of hope.
When I get overwhelmed, I have a tendency to become paralyzed. We fiction writers are good at What-Ifing the world to pieces. I find myself simmering in the stew of news until, eventually, I say, Enough. And that’s when I focus on the day. The afternoon. The hour. So, too with writing. It can become overwhelming when I think about all the things I need to fix in this disaster of a novel. So many things I could add… So many possible paths. But if I focus on a chapter or a page or a sentence. If I tend these acorns, one at a time, this description here or this conversation, then it feels possible. Writing is one of the ways I feel connected, purposeful. Content, even. Though, certainly, I have to remind myself this is true.
I have two little stories for you today. The first, “Acorn,” by Danielle Dutton is a meditation on writing, and the second, “A Meditation on Grief: Things We Carry, Things We Remember,” by Crystal Wilkinson is a beautiful gut-punch on place and memory.
Dutton’s “Acorn” is full of questions about what it means to be a writer. How much of the real world goes into the work? How much of the body? Are we a writer if we aren’t doing it like so and so?
When she was writing, it was as if she were working from six inches above and in front of her own head.
Dutton uses the metaphor of washing the baby to describe the process of writing.
It was like trying to wash the water. Writing was like that. Like water. More like water than a body.
And some days it is like this, isn’t it? We aren’t sure if we are making any progress. It feels like a chore, a thing that needs to be done. We feel as though we are washing the water. A lot of the time, I think we focus too much on progress instead of process. On finishing and publishing. But some days, these days especially, it is enough to write for yourself. For the moment. As a place to put the worry.
Wilkinson’s “Mediation” is much heavier, a memory sparked by a place. Here she juxtaposes beauty right next to heartache. She does this through the repetition of motion. Yes, the creek, itself and the singing, but mostly with the image of fabric in the water which she uses and keeps building upon.
the mothers’ dresses float like blossoms
Then, they waft
out like sheets on the line
before they become blossoms again.
In the next paragraph, the narrator tells of her own near drowning. Her
grandmother’s dress blossomed around her like a sail.
That dead boy’s ghost haunts this place, dark water flowing like a deacon’s robe.
And then eventually, the image comes full circle back to the narrator
In this place where burdens washed away, I stood, my dress flowering, floating.
The ending circles back to the beginning, which makes sense thematically since it’s a meditation on the cycle of violence.
But here the mothers are always standing with water to their knees, their dresses billowing out like sheets on a line, praying because there was always something roaring in those trees, teeth gnashing, fathers killing boys for the sake of their daughters, eyes always watching, eyes always glistening in the dark.
Wilkinson’s story is a reminder that we can take what we find troubling in the world, those things we can’t control, and give it attention on the page. Maybe it turns into something beautiful like this. Maybe it doesn’t. But the page is there, waiting for me to spend some time laying down words. Circling back. Taking an image and letting it blossom.
Writing prompt. Write a short, 500 word meditation on a theme. Time, hands, worry, water, wind, laughter. See where it takes you.
Or. Take one of the stories above and make a black out poem.
Revision prompt. In revision, I usually edit out repetitive images or phrases. But what if we used them purposefully like Wilkinson has done? How could we revise a piece by using an image as scaffolding?
Ploughshares is looking for book reviews, interviews, and essay pitches for their blog.
Barrelhouse is also looking for craft workshop proposals for their Conversations and Connections conference in October. (Also looks like they will be opening soon for cryptozoology tales.)
A reader of the newsletter tells me that if you are feeling stressed, crayons are the most calming smell. So get you a box and get to sniffing.
That’s all I have, friends. Pencils up, blinders on, crayons by our side. Let us turn or meditation to the page ~