Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Ghosts of Writings Past

I've been thinking a lot this week about where our writing comes from and where it goes. I have been thinking about the characters feeling trapped within the pages of a book -- bound, as it were, by the spine, crushed by the cover. Dead until a reader cracks the spine and breaks the chains, allowing for the merging of her imagination with the lives of the characters. Maybe there's a connection. Maybe there isn't. Inevitably, the book must close, the characters sprawled and pressed flat like dried flowers.

As writers, we give the gift of impermanence to our readers. We allow them to step into a world for a few hours or a few weeks, then step out, changed. We allow them to practice loving fully the people who dance in the sentences. We give them the practice of letting them go. Each novel a reader enters in to teaches detachment.

Each novel we write gives us these same gifts. We open our lungs, livers, spleens and listen to who speaks to us. We notice the ache in our femur and stop to talk to whoever is stuck there. We loosen our jaws to speak what we have been afraid to speak, or unwilling to speak. We relax our wrists, position our fingers over the home row keys, breathe in and exhale out with the sound of stories. We listen more deeply when we begin to get in the way. We find ourselves writing things we didn't know we felt, things we didn't know were possible. These characters, once awakened, swirl in our dreams. They influence our outward behavior, our interests, our hobbies. They pull us into unexpected shops or towns. We follow because it is what we who write do.

And then, these relationships, longer perhaps than many of our "human" ones, dissolve. They have spoken what they have to say. We have listened to what we can hear. We have built the bridge of letters between them and the rest of the world. What happens to them is no longer a part of our lives. We detach from them, or perhaps more accurately, they detach from us and we wander a bit lost for awhile missing them, wondering why we are missing them, wondering why they didn't want to stay longer. We haunt our own hallways searching for them.

But then, if we have practiced detachment, a new tickle appears at the base of our spines. A sudden obsession with peaches, or the Industrial Revolution, or ant colonies. We follow the breadcrumbs until the sound cracks through the surface once again and our fingers sing.

Among the countless reasons writing matters, this is the most important to me. It is impermanent. It shows us how to move with ease from one chapter of our lives to another. It is practice for our ultimate transition. It is the embodiment, on the recycled flesh of trees, of what is most beautiful, most holy, and most possible within us. Open the book covers wide and let my characters move. Open the book covers wide and let your hearts and minds expand. Open the book covers wide and step back with awe and gratitude for the part of all of us that creates, that risks, and that ultimately, bids us a most fond and joyous farewell.

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