The Novice Author at Eighty

In 1994 I sat in a school auditorium filled with girls and young women, all of us listening to my dear friend share her wisdom.  She was being installed as President of their Academy. Her final comment before she left the podium was to quote the poet Mary Oliver:

“Tell me, what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”*

I give that thought to you, my reader, because it holds meaning across the decades of our lives. Those young women and girls on that day might have thought about their wild and precious lives from a youth’s window. What does a wild and precious life mean in our twenties when we might have a sense of beginnings, of taking new paths? In our fifties, our seventies? 

As our years accumulate will we hold room for the unpredictable and the wildness of unanticipated changes?  Will we make our lives bigger or will we become smaller?

When I heard Mary Oliver’s poem that day as my friend spoke, I wonder now if I paused to discover what I offered my carefully thought-out life. Was a faint inner voice speaking of possibility? Was I listening? 

Today, I stand at my window looking out over a snowy valley of junipers that stretch to the horizon. I’m considering what my wild and precious life is offering to me as I enter a new decade. At the end of last month, December 2019, I became eighty. 

There’s rich soil in imagination, and as my birthday approached, I puzzled over and reflected on the unexpected, the astonishing and the unpredictable. 

I’m an author. I haven’t always been one, and thus, the word novice in my title.Teacher, professor, counsellor — all these roles have nourished me and brought me to this place in time. And yet for many years, I pushed against the courage it would take to listen to my creative spirit. Perhaps even tried to silence her.

“I have to put a roof over my head; I need to be practical; maybe I’m only fooling myself, maybe I’m just being dramatic. When did anyone say I could write!”

I decided to let the naysayers in me have a rest and give more space to a spirit of being within me who is enlivened by story. I have a desire to write about the ordinary and the adventurous, to unravel the collective memories, the conscious and unconscious narratives of life’s journey. On this, my heroine’s journey, I decided to create a path beyond the expected and the comfortable.

 I pronounced my courageous, venturesome self in charge.

Life is a steadfast practice of growing into my own truth and urging my creative spirit to take the lead. I used to sing (still do, but no longer with others listening.) My inner naysayers sometimes railed against my song, but never enough to knock the props out from under my voice, my musical voice. Now that voice has become words on a page.

In my lifetime, I have taught little children to search out their imaginations. I’ve worked alongside teachers and gloried in watching them enchant, urge and inspire their children in classrooms. I sang my songs, taught little and not-so-little children. I encouraged teachers to listen to those moments when they and the children created the unexpected ‘ahas’ when pieces of  everyone’s learning, teachers and children, fit into the puzzle of discovery.  

Like those children and those teachers, my creative spirit speaks to me about the dance of discovery and learning.

The creative spirit does not dance alone. She and I are in step..

To Be Continued….

 * Oliver, Mary. The Summer Day. In Devotions: Selected Works. NY. Random House. 2017

Slashed Scenes: The Cutting Room Floor of a Novel

Scenes can end up on the cutting room floor in the film industry or deleted in this digital age. An overstock of books become remainders and sit on the table marked “Sale” in a bookstore. Yet sometimes, a scene on the cutting room floor might create another movie. Or that table in the bookstore could hold remainders of books that inspire a completely new story.

When writing a novel, what happens to those scenes an author revises, or edits out altogether? Where do those ideas land? Do they disappear somewhere into the story—or are they gone forever?

Yesterday, I discovered a journal I kept while I was writing my novel “Those We Left Behind.” A school composition book with bright pink and yellow poppies bedecking the cover became a holding place for scenes I created, “ahas” that sprung out of the air, and sometimes an intriguing word I wanted to save.

This notebook was a collection of whole scenes that never made it to the published story.  When I found it in a box of old journals.I found some pages I wrote when I first began to imagine Casey who would become the  main protagonist in  my novel. It was a scene that in my storyteller’s flight of fancy was to be the prologue.

 These pages depict a character, Kirsten, who is giving a eulogy at her mother’s memorial.  Her mother is Casey MacMillan, the main character in my final draft of TWLB.  Her daughter Kirsten ended up disappearing, written out of the novel. Casey MacMillan remained alive and well throughout the story.

I believe, as I reread this eulogy given by her daughter who never appears in the final version, that this is when I discovered my character Casey before she landed on the page.  This eulogy was my way of writing a character study. It was part of my need to do what I call, ‘blue skying’ letting my imagination take me to unexpected places which might or might not become part of the story.

Kirsten did not land in the story, nor did her eulogy, yet the time spent creating that scene was a deep-rooted way into the nature of Casey who was to become the main character.

Sometimes whatever hits the ‘cutting room’ may have already played an important role in generating the story.

 Click here to read Kirsten’s eulogy for Casey.