It’s certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, after all.
As an avid reader I love language. I love that a sentence can be formed in a number of ways, each word adding something to the composition of the message one is trying to convey. The written word is miraculous to me. These little symbols are associated with unique sounds and, when grouped together, the symbols form words, and the sounds…pictures. Every word is loaded with connotation, with images that are unique to every individual. Despite the rules (oh, so many of them!) language is not precise. It’s actually a pretty clumsy way of getting one’s message across. And yet, when one does find the perfect grouping of symbols and words and sounds–and images–to paint an adequate picture of the story one is trying to tell… It’s magic!
I used to have trouble sleeping. I would lay awake at night and daydream about the books I was reading (mostly classics at the time) and imagine myself as one of the characters. I’m an unapologetic idealist and a hopeless romantic (textbook INFJ, me), and I would daydream about the dramas and romantic intrigues these characters would find themselves embroiled in. Other plot elements, particularly those that portrayed the disenfranchisement of women, would get my blood boiling! In such cases I would imagine all the little rebellions I would stage, if not to win my freedom, then at least to make my point. Hours later I might finally doze off, only to wake again in the early morning hours. Or perhaps I wouldn’t sleep at all.
One night I dreamt of a young woman entering a ballroom, dressed to the nine’s and looking the part but feeling completely out of place and alone, despite a room filled with people. The idea intrigued me, and I wondered what circumstances might induce someone to view their apparent good fortune with suspicion. Books are filled with avaricious schemers and hangers on. Surely not everyone felt quite worthy or deserving of the fortune that befell them–particularly if it arrived to them by surprise.
I began, instead of lying awake thinking about the books that I had already read, but dreaming up this new story. I would daydream of the various plot elements, the backstory, the characters that would add to this narrative in a compelling way. In the morning I would make a bulleted list of the events and plot points I had thought up. At first it was just something to do while I lay awake unable to sleep, but soon I found myself dozing off before I had had my fill of these new and exciting storylines.
But still I did not write. I didn’t think I was quite up to writing a book. I decided I would create an outline first, and only if I could come up with enough of a story line, with the appropriate story arch to carry it successfully from beginning to end, then I would begin to write.
Of course I had no idea what I was doing then, but in time I had an outline filled with plot twists and turns, lovers’ intrigues, stories of injustice and wrongs made right, manipulative men and misunderstandings between would-be heroes and heroines. And so I began to write. My first endeavor was a 300K word manuscript that was far too long and meandering, and displayed a lack of understanding of how to construct a novel that worked (I still struggle with plotting, to be honest). I shopped it around anyway, submitting it to agents, and had several who were interested, but they wanted larger revisions than I knew how to make at the time.
I wrote and rewrote, enlisting the help of friends to beta read and offer edits and suggestions. In time, Kentridge Hall became Cry of the Peacock, a story about an inheritance offered to the daughter of an estate overseer as a means of making up for a past wrong committed by the family of the landlord upon her own family. It was also about an arranged marriage. Having come to the end of that story (it would still require months of editing and revising before it was quite ready for publication) another idea came to mind. A similar theme, but sort of the other side of the coin. Another inheritance, another reluctant heiress, another arranged marriage–but with a far different outcome.
Where Cry of the Peacock was a pastiche of plot elements from my favorite books, an attempt to write the book I would most wish to read, Of Moths and Butterflies was a sojourn into my own history–albeit disguised behind a backdrop of late-Victorian culture and early feminist reform. I was writing again, I was exploring myself and my original pain, trying to come to terms with it. Most importantly, I was sleeping. Like…really sleeping.
I had just finished the rough draft about the time that Harper Collins opened up its peer review platform Authonomy.com. I enlisted another editor, a close friend of mine, to help me prepare it for posting on the website. I felt that Moths had a stronger beginning than Peacock, so it became my focus (and was ultimately the first to be published).
Of the many comments I received on the website regarding this MS was one by a user in England who felt that I wasn’t diving deeply enough into my protagonist’s backstory. They felt, in fact, that I was basically skimming over the top of my own experiences without really getting in touch with what that history felt like in my own psyche. It was at that point that Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way came into my life. It had been suggested to me previously, but this time I really felt I was ready to do the work. It was clear, at any rate, that I could not write the type of book I really wanted to without it.
What began was a decade’s journey into my own soul and psyche, a journey which has caused tremendous upheaval and indescribable peace and healing. Yet, it’s a journey far from over.
As an author, it’s our responsibility to share as much of our journey and our wisdom as we can through our websites. It’s taken me a long time to find my voice. Formerly I wrote about my expertise in the topics I write about. The website became an invaluable resource even to myself, but when I lost that website due to a virus, I decided to take some time out and figure out what it was I really wanted to write about. At last, I’ve figured it out, and, as usual, it was right in front of me all along. My books were always meant to offer hope and healing. But I’ve been waiting to be 100% healed in order to feel qualified to do it. I’ve recently come to accept that that will probably not happen in this lifetime.
As many have discovered already, the act of creating is in itself an act of healing and of self-discovery as much as it is self-expression. Writing, especially, is a profoundly powerful way to reunite with the self. Finding union with the self is the very heart of the esoteric journey to God, or source, or truth or… whatever you may wish to call it. That is, after all, what the word YOGA means, “to yoke, or to unite”. In Freudian psychology, the act of assigning language to experience and then of allowing the experience to reconnect with its appropriate narrative and associated emotions is precisely the sort of recipe found most conducive to healing trauma (this was in the days when Freud recognized trauma as the source of hysteria–I’ll write about that later). Thus “the talking cure” was born, but it’s equally as powerful in written form, particularly if we learn to truly listen to the wisdom within. My new dedication to this blog is in part due to Janet Conner’s book, Writing Down Your Soul, in which the author makes a convincing case for writing as an act of self-care and even attaining and tuning into the inner wisdom inherent in each of us. We all have everything we need, after all. Healing is just a means of regaining access to our wholeness–of remembering it and reuniting with it.
So answering the question, why I write, an exercise many if not most people would do anything to avoid, the answer is simple. I can’t not write. I’m not happy when I’m not writing. Writing has allowed me to heal. Writing offers me the opportunity to speak my truth, whether its veiled behind the set dressing of late-Victorian corsetry or neo-Victorian gaslampery. Or…when it’s the bald truth spoken in plain language, which I’ve committed to write more of.
My writing is about healing. My healing. But perhaps you’ll find something here that resonates with you as well. I hope so. That’s why, in future posts, I’ll be offering information on the resources and modalities that have been most instrumental to myself, I’ll be talking personality type and esoterica, yoga and meditation, the work and play of writing (if not the semantics), expanding my collection of short stories and essays (working toward the completion of Scatter Creek) and much, much more.
Until then, Namaste, and stay well, my friends.