(Originally posted September 15, 2009)
Vacation time. The idea was a relaxing get away: time to think about something other than the normal stuff that fills our everyday lives. It’s been a welcome break, just the two of us. Morning fog may hide the surf when we look out from our balcony, yet most afternoons have been just right for long walks on the hard sand next to the breakers. It’s been everything a vacation should be.
Why then am I so easily drawn back to everyday thoughts, the ones I’d planned to leave back home? Of course, there’s no way to do that: to leave the ordinary behind. The mind matter we pack around is too much a part of us to be set aside.
I don’t know about you, but there are times I wish that mind full of stuff I drag along behind me wasn’t so heavy. Why couldn’t it be more logical, or in many cases, more worthy? There are parts of it I’d like to erase altogether, though I suppose those are the very things I’m meant to remember, to learn from, and hopefully avoid the next time
However, that reservoir of experience is also a source of raw material: uniquely personal elements from which to assemble a story. I sift through the overburden of life impressions that clutter my mind, looking for bits that illustrate an idea or make a point. I’ll be looking for pieces that fit together, like parts of a jigsaw puzzle. Sometimes it’s one of those rejected snippets, the ones I wish I could forget, that bubbles to the surface, ready to serve in a unexpected way. That happens even on vacation, surrounded by so many attractive diversions: her good company, hours of uncharted mind wandering, or a good book. (Interesting how Nuala O’Faolain allowed the embodiment of a long ago dream to find a home in her story.) Though there’s no computer on hand, I have a couple yellow writing pads to fill.
For three days I’ve been filling pages with words that offer the promise of a new story. As always, it’s a casual, almost haphazard process: following an idea where it leads me, hurrying along, trying to keep up. There’s no need to spend time finding the exact words or perfect metaphors. The purpose is to capture the story as it arrives, knowing that whole paragraphs, sometimes whole scenes, will eventually be discarded or reworked beyond recognition.
For me, that first draft is a time for absorbing the feel of what the story is becoming. The ideas can come so fast that good ones, at least I think they were, escape before I can put them on paper. It’s easy to get sidetracked. If I pause to tweak a sentence before moving on, by the time I return to the story line I may have lost the stream of consciousness, that progression of ideas that I hoped would be my story. Other times I’ll try to hold a thought that just interrupted the sentence or paragraph I’m finishing. I’ll promise to return to it in a few seconds. By then, of course, it’s gone, lost forever.
Finally, it all comes down to the one question that matters most. Is there really a worthwhile story lurking in all those pages of scribbled notes? How many weeks, one time months, have I spent stalking an idea that led nowhere: a story that had no reason to be told?
I take all those bumps in the road as signs that after five years I remain a late life beginner: having my fun, stretching my mind, getting my kicks by stringing words and ideas together on paper. Then, taking advantage of today’s incredible technology, I send the results off into cyberspace, to either vanish forever, or be intercepted by a curious mind that I hope will find meaning in the words. It seems to me a fascinating concept. I launch my stories into space, never knowing whom, if anyone, will read them. And even at the cost of a disrupted vacation, I count myself fortunate for the chance to do that.
Anyway, if you’re reading this you can tell that; 1) I’ve had too much vacation time on my hands, and 2) I’ve cleaned it up enough to post once I get back to a computer.