Tuesday, April 29, 2014

In praise of Picasso

          In the fall of 2000 I was visiting Greenwood Elementary where I had taught for ten years.  Having been blessed to work there during what my friend (and our incredible music teacher), Alice, used to call "Camelot," I went back every so often to touch base with my former colleagues and students.  I read to the first graders, spent time in the teacher's lounge catching up on all the Greenwood gossip and eventually made my way to Jeri Madsen's art room to have a nice long chat.
          It was a bittersweet time for me that autumn...having finished the first draft of Surfacing, I was creatively spent.  My yoga business was just fledgling in the nest and so I worked diligently working toward the publication of my novel.  Time after time, doors were slammed in my face, and I wasn't sure if I had it in me to write anything more.
          I wondered out loud to Jeri, "I don't know if I'm even meant to write another book.  This one took everything I had...and then some."
          "Do you want a career as a writer?"
          I nodded.  "Yes, but I don't know what to do now.  My agent is dragging her feet.  The rewrites are done, but she's doing nothing with them.  I'm beginning to wonder if this is all just a pipe dream.  That Surfacing was supposed to be for me...for my own healing process...and that's it."
          Jeri considered this for a moment.  "Well, Picasso always said that the inspiration for this next painting was in the one he just finished."
          The thought percolated in my imagination for more than a year.  In the meantime, I taught yoga.  Cleaned houses for grocery money.  Hauled mulch.  Painted the interior of friends' houses to make ends meet.  I lived like a pauper, albeit one who had a modest roof over her head, warm clothes in the closet, and food in my stomach.  I wasn't exactly a starving artist, but I learned to understand what Picasso meant when he said, "I'd like to live as a poor man with lots of money." 
          Through living with the reality of vacancy, both in my bank account and as a writer, I learned the difference between being comfortable and being creative.  In living with a vacuum, I discovered the blessing of silence within the uncertainty.
          In the summer of 2002, I thought about the ending of my first novel and wondered what it would be like to be abandoned as a child.  I had taught many kids whose father had left them.  A couple whose mothers had disappeared even before they were out of diapers.  In doing research, I discovered that of all the abuses a child can endure, abandonment is the most damaging long-term. 
          What would that look like? I imagined.  What would it feel like?  How would a child learn to trust?  To not constantly be on the lookout for subsequent betrayal?
          And so Seven Generations was born...and after years of rewrites, years of waiting and wondering when it would be published, it's now available on Amazon.com.  As with Surfacing, this is not a novel I would write today.  It doesn't reflect my life.  It's not a fictional representation of anyone I know.  But it completes a story I had left undone.  It closes the circle of a mother-daughter relationship fraught with bitterness and regret. 
          And it provided the template for how I continue to write novels.  For in each one, there's a kernel of inspiration.  A character not fully complete.  A question left unanswered which opened the door to another story I could tell.  Another narrative to explore.  Two more novels in this series are in their final stages of editing and will be published soon.  And then I'll return to a manuscript I left in my desk drawer as a dangling carrot which had encouraged me to finish my memoir and get my novels into your hands.
          The idea for this new book was born out of the fourth one I've written, but if I look more closely, I can see that really had its conception in the first scene of SurfacingFaces of My Father will complete the series...and then, who knows what I'll write next?
          But I'm certain that, like the tiny little Morning Glories that have popped their heads above ground after a long and grueling winter, that which lies beneath my consciousness is already working its way toward the light.  Every time I sit down to write something new, I think of my dear friend, Jeri, and send her a prayer of thanksgiving.  A thought of peace...in gratitude for revealing to me words of wisdom that have touched my heart and freed my soul.

"Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life."
Pablo Picasso