Dear Nancy and Karen –
It’s raining in Santa Fe this morning. A gentle falling, welcomed in the desert. Different than the thunderstorms that turn dry arroyos into swift rivers littered with balls and trash cans and natural debris, or the deluges rivaling Rangoon’s I left in Florida. Every Thursday morning during the month I’m here, I attend a memoir class. I’m a fiction writer and poet, but I attend for the discipline and the prompts that a fictional character may or may not answer (I’m surprised when it’s me who shows up on the page). This week we started with “What goes through your mind when you first wake in the morning?” If I’m in the middle of a project, it’s the story, particularly the characters, I wrote. Or the sentence that needs changing, the paragraph that needs moving. The stuck place that means a walk’s needed, a step back so the answer can get past me, come in. And always, when I’m not working on a piece, how I’ll carve space in my long list of daily to-do’s, get back to it. I’m inhabited same as you, Nancy. Perhaps I’m the sort who’d do better if food was delivered to my desk already cut up like Vera Nabokov did for Vladimir. The accounting and household cared for by another like Nora Joyce so I’m free to walk other worlds like James. I’m challenged to let go, trust my relationships, trust this world and others I inhabit will thrive. Like Karen, I’ve defined, rediscovered, forgotten and remembered the word ‘Care’ to where it is now embedded in everything I do. So I ask, when words feel like birds I’m attempting to catch with bare hands, scatter with the briefest interruption, scatter with everyday life, how do I capture them?
Fall in Santa Fe means artist studio tours across Northern NM from late September to early November. After twenty years, I go for the journey of endless sky, mesas and vistas, yellow-gold cottonwoods, time shared with friends, conversations with artists. In Abiquiu of Georgia O’Keeffe fame, I had a conversation with Amando Adrian-Lopez. His work is seemingly born of dreams, and stories. Fantastical mixed media sculptures of angels, allegorical spirits and vignettes. Paintings of women with flowers, birds, and spirits clearly inspired by his Mexican Indian heritage. He told me about the novel he’s writing and illustrating. We talked a long time about the process of creating such work. How he needs solitude. How the space he inhabits while alone, the psychic space, allows him to see the visions, hear the voices of the materials he works with. How he’s conflicted because he wants his relationship and it’s so hard to be with his work and give to his mate at the same time. He could’ve been me when he said, “If I’m working, someone walks through the room, says nothing, I still feel him. It interrupts.” And I thought of this struggle I share with him. The question you both expressed: how do we care for our lives and relationships while also taking care of our writing? Because I know if I can’t attend to the work, the stories and characters become my neglected children begging attention, my puppy that scratches and whines. The characters have always come unbidden to me. To the page, to my shower, to my bed. They talk as I walk, fix food, wash clothes. I have not figured how to sit in comfort making them wait.
I attended a lecture about Esther McCoy last week. A largely unknown author with seven published books on architecture that helped make her subjects famous. Two things struck me. One, she called herself a failed novelist despite her other accomplished works. Two, and I paraphrase, she said all architecture is autobiographical. That it grows from parts of ourselves, out of people’s lives, from the physical world we live in. And so it is, everything we create. Then, I wonder, might we embrace muddling, that time when pen is not put to paper, that necessary and key element to our craft, without guilt? Call it our in-between space. Trust the spark will fly, launch us shoulder to shoulder with a character into story, or ourselves? Because perhaps it’s not until we’ve traversed the muddling ground that we see how we needed breath so the story could rise without resistance from any purposeful intent, from any thing that might mask our recognition that THIS is the story that chose me, THIS the life that made it possible. The only question, how do we dance?
I once heard each of us has an abiding question at the heart of everything we do. That we’re always seeking the answer. Mine is “Am I Okay?” Not ‘safe’ okay, but the okay that means acceptance. It’s strange I find so much satisfaction in writing, because nothing puts me up against my abiding question more than my writing does. Again and again, it forces me to answer ‘Yes’ for myself so I can continue my craft. Continue to reach toward that immaculate creation of work and my best self that I’ll never achieve.
Thanks for inviting me.
Heloise Jones lives in St. Petersburg, Florida after two decades in the mountains of New Mexico and North Carolina. She’s walked many paths, corporate to clay artist, but loves writing stories best. For her, writing a novel’s like living a good life. You settle into the world, get to know folks, ride through their ups and downs, feel their angst and triumphs, are touched in ways so something shifts inside you. And love flows because love’s what happens when you know people so well. She’s a Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize finalist with publications that include: “Blood on His Hands,” excerpted from FLIGHT, A NOVEL, in Soundings East; a contributing essay in WHAT I WISH FOR YOU by Patti Digh; a poem in The Wayfarer journal (Homebound Pub.)