Sunday, October 6, 2013
The Story We Tell Ourselves
It's been a while. It does not surprise me that the last time I posted was the start of July. I spent the summer studying the human condition in literature and in doing so I reflected on my own story and the story I am trying to tell. I became lost in it, as is necessary when plotting a novel. It was a meditative summer. One of imposed solitude and some focused discipline. I ran and I read and I wrote. I should have done more of the last, but I did spend a span of time sequestered on the lake I grew up on, in a small town in central Massachusetts, gathering evidence and inspiration for my WIP, in addition to writing. And all that I thought about, took in, and studied this summer ultimately will serve the purpose of making Cold Spring Fire a better novel.
What I Read: I read a lot of things, but the centerpiece, the tome that drove me mad with mix feelings and took up many hours of my summer was Anna Karenina. Have you read it? Or just watched the movie? I had wanted to see the new film, but thought I should read the book first. Or re-read it actually. I "read" it in college and not surprisingly, as is the case when you are given a week to read such a work, I remembered little of the details. So, I sat down and took it in again through the heat waves and slow afternoons of July and August. Periodically, I would toss the book aside in disgust at the double standard for men and women in the novel and at the breakdown of the title character whom I wanted to be stronger, to be more self-confident, to own her decisions without hating herself for them. In the end, I felt sad for her, but I was surprised when I did. Up until that point I was eager for that train to come. But that lack of sympathy told me I was fighting against the trope of the crazy woman, consumed with self-doubt and irrational emotions. I have known that woman. And I wanted this MC to be less...true. In all, the characters were fairly unlikable because they were so human, but this was the beauty of the novel and why I did come to see it as a true and remarkable work of classic fiction. It revealed, unabashedly, the good, the bad, and the ugly of the intimate human sphere. It was a great experience and I recommend it to anyone willing to take a long and serious look at the human condition. But what I wonder is how possible that is in contemporary commercial fiction. We, as modern readers, want our protagonists to offer us an escape, at least in much of the women's fiction I read. Men tend to read more realism, and how they can stand it, I don't know. "Good Fiction" is realism - right? I thought a lot about men and women in fiction this summer, and the variation of how they are portrayed by male and female authors. I also thought about the difference between men and women readers. But that is the topic for another post.
What I saw: I spent time in the Oxbow National Wildlife Reserve in my hometown. It was beautiful and looked exactly as I wanted it to, as if it could hold secrets and be the setting for strange goings on. I woke up every day (for a period) on a lovely lake with a heron perched on the dock, the sun rising behind him. I walked again in woods that smelled of earth and something like sandalwood where the knock of the pileated woodpecker marked the slow burn of an August day. I saw old friends come to the rescue when their own old friends were in need, listening to the darkness, to the irrational, to the dreams, the desires, and the sadness that consumes us all. It was interesting to see old friends and realize that after almost two decades, though our stories have gone in different directions, we were all experiencing some the of the same crisis of faith in ourselves, in our decisions, and in the paths we were on.
These are the threads that were already plotted for Cold Spring Fire and at every turn it was as if the universe was speaking to me, telling me I was on the right track, even when so much of it felt uncertain. And when lightening struck the tree next to my house in early September, it was again, an omen, that the story I am telling both in my life and in my WIP is meant to be.
One last thing that came from all of this - this truth that I have been sharing as much as I can ever since, is that the story we tell ourselves is the story the comes true. So, as a writer, and as a human, I urge everyone to always re-read and re-vision that story you tell yourself. When we chose to write our own stories we can avoid or at least re-arrange some of the old tropes and create something new and beautiful and right.