Breathing space

I’ve been taking a break from my novel.  And it’s been hanging over my head like a raincloud, showering me with reminders that I’m not working on it.  Not in any visible way.  It’s been curled up at the back of my mind, half-sleeping, like the stray cat who has insinuated himself into my life and onto my sofa.

A couple of weeks ago, when I decided to take a break from it, I was thoroughly sick of it.  I needed the break.  I had started to wonder what ever possessed me to think I could write.  My characters were getting on my nerves.  The plot had meandered off down a long prairie road in the general direction of a sunset not yet visible.

A story is like a loaf of bread.  For me, words are the staff of life, but well before the baking stage, the resemblance is still strong.  Choose the recipe.  Select the ingredients.  Blend them in proper order.

And then, wait.

Wait, while the dough rises, soft and fragrant, slowly billowing up the sides of the bowl.

Wait, while the ideas rise, flickering gently at the back of the mind, slowly surfacing from the subconscious.

And then knead and pound the heck out of it.

A shape begins to form–structure–meaning.  Those disparate elements, melded together, become something more than the sum of their parts, something that nourishes and sustains body and soul.

I haven’t been completely idle.  I never just sit and watch the dough rise.  There are a thousand things to do, most of them trivial.  But just sitting runs counter to my nature.  So I occupy my hands and my mind, while tucked away in a corner by the woodstove, or in a corner of my mind, the dough rises, safe and untouched, in a quiet place.

In this interim, I’ve been busy with all life’s usual demands, most of which aren’t really that important, and a few of which are.  Some good things are happening on the writing front.  I’m ridiculously excited to have been included in an online critique group, starting in June.  A new acquaintance to whom I will be eternally grateful clued me in to a local writers’ group–I had no idea there was such a thing so close to where I live!  I feel suddenly much more writerly.  And the dough is rising.

My story, tired and annoying, whining at me from the backseat, has begun to prickle at my imagination again.  It feels like the faint crackle of lightning, the distant throat-clearing of thunderclouds before a storm.  Something in the atmosphere has shifted, and I find myself catching my breath, a phrase or image hanging in my mind like a bolt of electricity burned for a moment onto my retinas.

There are moments of magic in writing, as in parenting.  Those moments are more precious for being rare.  Writing, motherhood, and life are not strings of pearls, shining moments laced together in a long unbroken strand.  The pearls are still in the oysters, buried in hard shell and slime.  Not every oyster contains one.  Not every day is perfect; few are.  Few days are really truly bad, and none are irredeemable.  But most of the time, writing, like motherhood, is work.  Routine.  And waiting.  Waiting for my boys to pick up five million legos (it would be faster if I did it, but that’s missing the point).  Waiting for the optimal time to leave the house (if we leave too early, we’ll get there too early and then have to sit in the nearly toyless waiting room for three years or so).  Waiting for two pairs of eyelids to finally, finally grow heavy and close (if we start the movie before they’re asleep, they’ll think they need to come join us).

Much of my life is spent waiting for the dough to rise, waiting for the words to come, waiting for the stories to surface.  Waiting for the magic, for the alchemy that transforms a finite number of ingredients into infinite possibility.