I feel as though I am in a tunnel, which is perhaps a fitting metaphor, given all the flooding recently. Things are moving faster and faster. Things expected have dropped off and the unexpected looms beyond my vision, outside the tunnel where I can’t see. We are rapidly approaching some end with the divorce but that end is still very uncertain. One minute I have a secure base of what I’ll be left with, and the next minute something intervenes, like tax considerations or the availability of an apartment or, this past week, a basement flood that has soaked the carpets throughout my tenant’s home, and all spins wild in the wind again. It is sort like a slow motion disaster. Again and again I have to remind myself that in the end it will work out, no matter what, it will.
I am struggling now with what I want to take, hoping that my wishes and his wishes for this or that don’t collide. We still have no apartment to go into so I have to ‘imagine’ how much space we’ll have. I have made the girls full partners in the decision about where we will live, as it is important that they feel invested. It will be the new home, and I think the notion of ‘home’ is very central at their age when your sense of self is so in flux.
I don’t want too big a place. In fact, I am determined to go small in order to free us from the past. But what room dimensions, will there be carpets, will the girls beds and chests fit, should we bring the TV? I keep ranging through the house looking at things and asking: do we want this, can we donate or sell it, does he want it? There are also requirements: the girls need public transportation close by, and we are trying to stay within the school jurisdiction. It’s endless and drifts around me at all hours.
Things. A constant never ending process of ferreting them out of the imagination. The simultaneous shock of withdrawing from objects that once defined you and watching them suddenly become utterly meaningless. Who knew how powerful our imaginations were? If I wish for anything it would be for a counselor whose eyes I could look into when I am overwhelmed with trying to make one right but difficult choice after another. Someone Gandhi-like who would be smiling and gently shaking his head. “It will be fine, you are doing well.” I am often terrified. I am afraid that my “precious” will be his “precious,” or worst, that he needs a piece as much as I need it: a sofa, a dining table. I wish for a glimpse into the new home, the new peace, the new beauty, something to hold out in front of me and move towards. But there is nothing on the horizon right now. It will be okay.
I have signed up to start a writing class on Saturdays right through the middle of this insanity. I thought a lot about it. I signed up last fall but the instructor had to cancel and none of the remaining choices were exactly right. So I waited. Then in the winter my brother was so ill we weren’t sure how long he would be alive, whether one or more of us would have to travel to California. So I waited. This spring I hemmed and hawed. No course spoke to me. I waited. Summer, the divorce. The uncertainty. So I waited. All the time I am thinking that being in a class will give me the access to others who are doing this strange thing. Their work, our conversations, will inspire, answer questions, clear up uncertainties. Maybe. But above all else, it’s a matter of desire. I simply need this connection to the source, as though being in a writing course is being immersed in some life-giving water, or sitting down at a long table to partake in a great feast. The name of the course: Beginning or Revising Your First Novel. It starts Sept 24th.
Simultaneously, of course, a swirl of fear. What if? What if not a single person understands why I've persisted in unearthing these characters and their story? A writer and an actor, how prosaic. Will they think I am the writer, I am Toni? Oh no how horrifically embarrassing – the stumbling block of the inexperienced writer who is so unsophisticated she can’t see the enormous boo-boo she has created. I fear being dismissed as yet another purple prose writer of syrup, or as a dilettante, overly conscious of every word she writes, naively aping the serious craft the great writers. I want to be examined and pass some credibility test. My writing can need much work, the ideas can require some additional moving around, but what I have must be deemed worthy of the additional work.
I am probably not supposed to admit this degree of anxiety around my writing. It should help that I know all writers have these same hidden fears. But every day I have to re-commit to doing this thing. I have to re-assign the highest value, to review the words and say: yes, keep doing this. I have to agree to push the insecurity aside and plunge in.
I took several writing courses years ago, one on poetry that was enormously significant for me, although it took many years for me to realize that. What is different? I believed then I had a lot to learn. I wasn't a writer; I was a student becoming a writer. But now I have put on the cloak of the writer. I have named myself, claimed the title as my own. It’s daunting to face this first audience. But oddly enough, I think even if everyone there says I’m not a writer, I will still believe I am. I will go back to my desk and try again. One heck of thing to launch while shooting your old life to smithereens.
So the writing is idling. We are in a car parked by the side of the road and the motor is running as we search for the road map. According to the class description, all of us will be bringing our first chapters to share with the class. And of course I am still ruminating about how deep I should go. Deep is a significant concept here. We have light and racing across the surface writing like AC, very readable. Then we have the big boys and their descendants. They go deep even when the words are plain. I struggle to keep what I am writing in perspective. I can’t be AC. I can’t write for that length of time on that level. I've told myself that repeatedly, but wistfully too. I am sure AC doesn't angst. She gets on with it, slams it out, turns off the screen, and hits the bed. I am in the corner nibbling at my nails: do I have the talent to go deeper? Deeper? Construct not just a story but a story that says something about things, that lays out ideas and uses the characters and their words to explore them deeply. I think about this constantly. Where does my story belong?
Why does it matter? It has something to do with how the whole story stretches out in front of me. It’s like wandering around with one of those level things for hanging shelves. Straight on, a story that knows what it is. And then, circle back folks: can a story with heft be centered on a woman trying to get a manuscript turned into a movie? Forgive the ribbons of questions, but this is what I've been sifting through for weeks. I am hoping that meeting others who are writing will release this angst. I think of writers whose work I love. What choices do they make when positioning a story? Do they ever say to themselves the things I say? Do they say: it’s enough to write a good story, never mind anything internal?
But then: what I write is all about the internal, isn't it?
This is why I need other writers. Not for their answers, but the assurance that hearing their questions will provide.
Anyway. This is where I am.