Tuesday, July 21, 2015

CHEWING ON LIFE


I’m stuck.  Alicia is stuck. My story is stuck. I can’t stand stuckness so I order a new sofa.

And pick up some paint chips.

And a can of varnish for the old dining room table.

But I’m still stuck, twenty pages into Alicia.  The diversive frantic renovation is also stuck, and I’ve lost the paint chips somewhere on this overflowing desk.

I can’t blame the stuckness on the heat nor travel exhaustion. I’m back to sleeping on West Coast time in an air-conditioned house. Nor on my wandering plot.  I never have outlined a story. The only reason I can come up with for this stuckness is my main character.

Alicia is a only a stick figure right now:  seventy, prim, single, wealthy in a moderate way, still has good cheekbones and hair, but she seldom smiles, never laughs, eats alone. No children, gone husband, few friends.  One night she opens a door and hears a street girl say, “Hello, Grandma.”

I don’t know what she does next because I don’t know her.  And I won’t know her until I slow down and follow the advice of Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones.

“As writers we live life twice, like a cow that eats its food once and then regurgitates it to chew and digest it again. We have a second chance at biting into our experience and examining it. . .”

I need to chew a while on my own life in order to find Alicia’s life. I won’t be able to write her story until Alicia becomes part of me and I part of her.  I don’t mean the high cheekbones and wealth. I mean our common experiences with loneliness, disappointments, tangles of regrets and losses, memories of loves and hurts, bad decisions, old pleasures, new hopes.

It occurs to me, not for the first time, that this is why I write and why the women I write about, so different outwardly, especially their hair and cheekbones, are so similar in their attempts at finding meaning and strength in their lives.  And they are also kind of old. Like me. 

Jo Barney Writes
Website: www.jobarneywrites.com
Blog: breakoutnovelarace.blogspot.com