The sky has fractured silently into millions of feathered shards. They fall earthward, and the first to touch ground disappear, melting into the still-warm earth. The temperature plummets, and the soil can no longer absorb them. They dust the branches of white pines, stamp soft pale stars against the dark wooden railing outside my window. The snowflakes, stark against the dark backdrop of earth and trees, remind me of the brightness of swans against the sullen green water of Parker’s Creek, the magical safe place of my childhood.
C. S. Lewis is sitting at my desk. I ran into him again on New Year’s Eve at a bookstore, and brought him home in the form of A Year with C. S. Lewis: Daily Readings from His Classic Works. I itch under the constraints of routine, but at the same time desire to have a shape to my days, so C. S. and I are hanging out in the mornings. I drink tea, he talks, and I listen. “Imagine a mystical limpet,” he says, and the gorgeous quirkiness of this request fills me with warm-fuzzies. We are kindred spirits, C. S. and I, across time and an ocean.
Of course, where C. S. Lewis is, Tolkien is not far behind, and this is surely an Anglo-Saxon day. Today is a day to laugh riotously in the mead-hall, flush with drink and cheer and the heat of too many bodies. And it is a day to step outside for a moment, into the swirling dark age winter, to watch the struggling flight of a lone bird across the sky as the cold brings a sharp shock to the senses after the clinging warmth of the hall. On days like this, the pale grey sky is endless, breaking off infinite flakes of itself without diminishing, until night creeps over the white western edge of the world.
Looking at the empty sky soothes my head. Sometimes I try to explain what it is like to be a writer, and often the best I can do is to say lamely that my head is full. It’s a strange and vast country, populated by stories and fragments of stories–story-flakes that sift downward and swirl around, that melt in the instant of contact or linger in an endless winter. I think that one of the great ironies of being a writer (and there are many) is that we word-smiths often seem to struggle with explaining to other people what exactly it is that we do all day, anyway, what it is that makes us tick, why we get so geekishly excited about narrative structures and character flaws and even the power of a well-played semicolon. I wonder if all the stories I will ever tell, all the words I will ever write, are already in here somewhere. I do not know if the ones that eventually come out are the best ones, or if they’re just the ones I’m able to let go of, the ones brave enough to face the light of day.
It’s a harsh light, nothing like the pre-twilight that hangs in the air outside my window at two thirty on an early January afternoon. Yesterday, a writer-friend who’s a published playwright asked me suddenly and unexpectedly, with that startling bluntness that writers sometimes exhibit, “Why are you so insecure?” I blundered through the usual things about How I Was Raised, and Being a Girl, and Introverts–Duh, and These Crazy Modern Times, Yo. I felt colossally idiotic, but at the same time deeply grateful that he’d asked, because it’s given me a lot to think about, and there’s nothing more delightfully brain-twisting than obsessing about something really reflective and introspective.
Why am I so insecure about myself as a writer? I mean, I don’t think my novels make my bum look fat or anything, and if my characters reject me, I can just kill them off. I think that I’m a decent writer, and it’s something I’ve gotten used to receiving praise for, though the praise always carries with it a little jolt of “Oh sweet heaven, somebody actually liked that thing I made.” It’s sort of like that feeling when you hold up your clay ashtray/pencil cup/mug from elementary school art class, and you know your parents are going to love it, but there’s just that slight possibility that it won’t be the most amazing thing they’ve ever seen, and then they love it, and your existence is vindicated.
So why the insecurity? I think many of us feel it. Maybe everyone’s is different. Perhaps it’s the ugliness of the publishing industry, or its looming subjectivity. Maybe it’s that in order to have stuff to write about, you have to have Issues, and those usually include insecurity. Maybe it’s the constant low-grade altitude sickness that comes from standing on the shoulders of giants. Or maybe it’s that writing is never finished, and so the instant we believe we’ve created something perfect, something inviolate, we begin to crumble, and then spend the rest of our lives telling the same story over and over again, changing the characters’ names and hair colors and alternating an adorable kid and a scrappy dog for the cute factor. Maybe it’s because we’re all secretly limpets, stuck fast to rock, hiding our soft vulnerability under brittle shells and longing for the sky.
I can’t answer the question. I find myself dreaming of the wisdom of a Mystical Limpet who will tell me not only what I am not, but what I am. But Mystical Limpets don’t seem to exist this side of the wardrobe, so I guess I’ll see if C. S. will give me a leg back up. I need a little perspective. Maybe I can find it from my perch on his shoulders.
And maybe someday, when he talks, I will have the courage to step through the wardrobe into another snow-cloaked land, and answer.