Nearly two years ago, a friend of mine invited me to speak to his writing class about writing. At that time, I had six short stories published but still wasn't quite prepared to call myself a writer. It seemed more luck than anything, those published stories. In spite of my doubts, or perhaps because of them, I agreed to give a shot and I researched writing, the teaching of writing, anything and everything I could get my hands on that seemed remotely related. And somewhere along the way, I realized that I wasn't just taking cosmic dictation when I write. I wasn't directing everything either. No, my process was a sort of collaboration between the story and me.
As fate would have it, I didn't get to talk to those students about writing. Instead of being granted the mantle of writer, I was going to have to find my own way to it, the hard way. It's kind of how I roll. The experience though got me thinking about my craft, about the themes and purposes of my stories. I began to see that a well-crafted line, a twist that worked, an ending that flowed perfectly from a beginning were not just happy accidents. I'm not saying they were all me. There's a reason Homer spent time praising the Muses in The Iliad and The Odyssey. A wise writer understands the divine breath of inspiration, the divine hand that guides.
From that talk that wasn't came a growing awareness of space in a story and how it allows the reader to slip into a tale and become a part of it. I think all the best stories have that kind of spaciousness, not too much, not too little, but the Goldilock's dream of just right. I began to see and feel the space within words, between them, the gaps in a tale, all that is said and the so much more that isn't.
Lately I've been thinking a lot about inspiration - specifically story ideas that come seemingly out of the blue, if we write all that come, how we choose which to pen, what we do with the stories that fire us like blessings but leave us wondering, "Where do you belong?" Virginia Woolf touches on this in her essay "Professions for Women," The Death of the Moth and Other Essays when she writes that authors, "want life to proceed with the utmost quiet and regularity. He wants to see the same faces, to read the same books, to do the same things day after day, month after month ... so that nothing may disturb or disquiet the mysterious nosings about, feelings round, darts, dashes and sudden discoveries of that very shy and illusive spirit, the imagination" (p. 239). Okay, the quote mostly focuses on practice and regularity, yet there is in it this wondering at and reaching for these strange inkings and sparks, "nosings" and feelings, from which fiction is born.
Lately, my "darts, dashes and sudden discoveries" have been myths and fairy tales. I am retelling them, reclaiming them, wondering what happened after "happily ever after." I tell the tales. I have this sense that each story is a sacred trust. Yet even as I write them I wonder where they'll find a home beyond my computer. I'm glad I came late to writing. I'm past the point of have to or should. I am more than willing to write a story I know may never find a publisher. I value play, including worded play, even at 51, maybe especially 51.
Still when I was talking to my friend and writing coach, I found myself irritated, anxious. Stories were coming, praise be, but what on earth was I going to do with them? And why these stories? Why fairy tales and myths and ponderings about what come after happily ever after? That's when it came, the "a-ha." These tales were my synthesis of my collages and writing after my bypass. I was writing my heart, just what I was supposed to be doing, and it didn't matter where they went, they needed to be born, to thrive, for their own sake and for mine.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes: "Fairy tales, myths, and stories provide understandings which sharpen our sight so that we can pick out and pick up the path left by the wildish nature. The instruction found in story reassures us that the path has not run out, but still leads omen deeper, and more deeply still, into their own knowing" (p. 6). Not only was I old enough to read fairy tales again, but I was old enough, deep enough, knowing enough, to write them. They would lead me to my wildish nature. They would help me understand why I stayed, lived, when I could just as easily, have moved on.
Maybe I always wrote my heart, but I definitely write it now and pray I'll never stop. Whatever stories come, if they are heartfelt, heartstrong, I will joyfully pen them. Tell me, Oh Muse .... I'm ready. I'm listening. And I write my heart.