last may I began a project, a book about wolves. since that time I’ve traveled to montana, yellowstone, wyoming, idaho, montana again, yellowstone again. I’ve read a towering stack of books, and perused articles and op eds galore. I’ve interviewed dozens of people, from hunters to ranchers to conservationists, attorneys, retired schoolteachers, biologists. I’ve written, I’ve listened, I’ve reflected, I’ve written more. and more, and more, shaping and crafting it into something worth reading.
and yesterday, I took my manuscript–after giving it a thorough polishing–and put it down for a nap. it’s going to rest, now, for a few weeks. I’m going to leave it alone, no checking to see if its breathing, for I’m going to trust that it’ll be just fine without me.
a small period of dormancy is good for both of us. I’m going to focus on other projects, other areas in my life that might need a little attention, and I’m purposefully not going to think about wolves. I’m going to tidy up my living spaces, maybe go for a walk. catch up on all those things I’ve let slip to the bottom of the pile. maybe sing a little bit. sweep out a few corners. think about the cover of the published book, envision it on people’s tables and nightstands, in their hands, in their minds.
this period of enforced hibernation is a trick used by many writers, a way to view something with fresh eyes. it’s crucial to be able to step away from your work, to be able to see it from a witnessing viewpoint. to read it as if you were someone else. and this is impossible to do when you’re engrossed in the writing, the creation of it. some parts of my manuscript I wrote 6, maybe 7 months ago, and during my most recent full-manuscript assessment and edit, I had no memory of writing them. some parts I’d written just 2 or 3 months back, and I read them as if for the first time. I know when I pick the manuscript back up a few weeks from now I won’t have forgotten it all, but hopefully the time away will have dulled my memory enough to let it speak to me in a different way. perhaps parts will be less clear, perhaps new ideas will jump out at me, different ways to organize, to express thoughts, to make the story better hold together, intrigue, delight.
when I return to the manuscript a few weeks from now, I will read it from end to end, I will try to forget that I wrote any of it, I will let it speak to me. and hopefully it will howl.
I’ve done a lot of waiting in my life. in fact, I’ve become good at it. I am patient. I can out-wait a rainstorm, a winter storm, a teenager’s tantrum, my children’s father’s poorly-compensated job. an infected cut that resists healing, a lacrosse game played in a snowstorm, a home-remodeling crew whose priorities are radically different than mine.
I can wait. I am patient. but this doesn’t mean I like it.
when it comes to my writing life, patience seems to be its very foundation. and its walls are built of tenacity. I don’t believe there’s a ceiling, and the roof–which plays with the sky above and only provides a protective function when necessary–is made of joy, exaltation and delight loosely woven with thousands of whee‘s and woo-hoo‘s.
I have waited more than eleven years for a yes from an agent or publisher. and that’s counting backwards to the “completion” date of my first book-length manuscript, a memoir, which still resides in the proverbial drawer. (and on a cd: always back up your work.) and here’s the thing: I am not giving up. this is where patience and tenacity sit quietly together, doing their little subconscious work, changing atoms and cells from eager, impatient things to calm, faith-filled, dogged centers of groundedness.
I envision the day–hour–moment when I receive that first real yes. I’ve won a writing award; I’ve received oodles of positive feedback; I’ve heard yes-but not for us. the genuine yes is coming, I know this . . . but I’d sure like to know from what direction it’s coming so I could meet it halfway.
until then, I just keep working. I write, I edit, I write some more. I help friends with their projects, I jot down ideas when they flow and step away from my notebooks when my creative river dwindles. most days I carry my notebook around with me just in case. I begin drafts, I let them rest until they either find their way to germination or sink back down into fallowness. I am nothing but tenacious.
some mornings I wake up thinking today is the day; most mornings I don’t. most mornings I wake up thinking today is another step in the process. because even after that incredible yes will come days–weeks–months of continued patience. revision. adjustment. editing. more tenacity.
I didn’t choose an easy life. or rather, an easy life did not choose me . . . I’m quite certain my heart and soul have given me little choice in the matter. in being true to myself, there’s nothing else to do but continue being patient. out-waiting bad weather, out-waiting a fear-filled marketplace, out-waiting indecision. continuing to have belief in my path, remaining tenacious. tenacity, from the latin tenere, to hold. that’s me. patient, holding.
patient, holding, never giving up the dream. just watch me.
two weeks ago I stole a sign.
it’s now propped by my desk, reminding me to hold firm, be tenacious, keep on my path. it doesn’t bother me that I stole this sign, abandoned as it was, and it brings a smile to my face each time I look at it; I therefore think I did the right thing.
background: I first saw this sign 5 or 6 weeks ago while I was riding my bike. it was attached to a traffic cone, posted there by organizers of a cycling event called Wildflower Pedalfest, a women-only (I’ll delve into this topic another time) organized ride. riding with friends, I happened to be on the same road as this ride, and encountered this bright pink, boldly lettered sign a scant mile from the top of a steep climb:
1 Mile to Go
underneath the words was an outline of a female riding a bike, the wheels 12-petaled flowers.
my clairvoyant, clairaudient friend kat has, at times, described the place I am in my life as being a spot where I’ve come 999 miles, with just 1 mile left to go. this last, final mile often feels as difficult as the first 999, but it’s a time to hang in there, be tenacious and determined, and not give up.
so . . . four weeks post-wildflower-pedalfest, the sign still sitting there on its traffic cone, I decided to clean up the environment and bring this sign home with me. I un-duct-taped it, slipped it under the back of my jersey (yes, it stuck out a bit and was slightly uncomfortable), and rode the next 18 miles home with my prize.
which is now propped above my desk, encouraging me. telling me not to give up. letting me know the top of the hill is coming, that I just need to stay on track and keep pedaling. the even-better part of this story, the part that makes me grin, is that this sign was placed only a half-mile from the top of the climb. a sign might tell you there’s a mile to go, but sometimes it’s really only half that distance. which makes the victory of reaching the top a surprising delight.
1 mile to go. that’s it. guess we’d all better keep pedaling.