Thursday, April 15, 2010

Ode to Spring: Hyjack to Invention

Spring is popping – the azalea out my back window, perched on the hill, is a hoary explosion of magenta – it might as well be parading in my back garden wearing a g-string. I have to pull my attention back inside, to my dining room table, to some ideas I’ve got blooming at the intersection of life and creativity.

If life is this thing we are inventing (and that’s the path I’m trying to navigate right now), we must focus on the inventing, not on what’s invented - on the being not the doing. I heard that last night at a seminar and thought, huh, okay, that goes for writing life too - focus on the writing, the creative process, versus what we are writing – that’s only the result.

As a change agent, I'm all about process - I can resonate with that.

But when I get an email from my editor that includes a couple pages of hard-hitting comments that I have to read four times before they sink in...that's enough to throw me right off my path into a ditch. I go into depression mode for about 24 hours - the ‘mechanism,’ the IT, the ego, my internal editor, call it what you will, ready for an all out fight. She's done with this story and ready to move on to bigger and better things.

But that’s just not so. What is so, the doctor tells me, and I reluctantly step out of my own way to agree, is that this is a ‘bigger work’ – it’s going to require some time, some deeper thinking, she says, and some darker revealing, if I’m going to make it what it’s supposed to be.

And after recovering from my amygdule hijack, I took a look and reluctantly admitted: this is where the learning is. It’s about the writing, not the result. I know this, deep down. Isn’t it nice how the universe provides the opportunity to teach us this same lesson – over and over and over again? (Says I, with a serene grimace.)

So I've set aside my beautiful Chapter 1 (well-honed and perfectly formatted after four or five rewrites by now) - and I start with a clean, blank page.

For two days I gulp coffee, fidget in my chair, grope, and after a restless night, an image comes into my mind, those favela boys playing around the dock…and I go with it…let myself slide into the groove, my SELF on the page – lucid, direct, concise…and a little bit messy.

I stand at the river’s edge feeling my heart beating in my thighs, the Sanuaua slithering past me like a serpent, opening its jaws wide as it bends and eases its way east toward the Atlantic – at this most Oriental Point in the Americas to Africa. The hyper-tropical ball of sun hangs hesitantly above the treetops of the green, tangled island on the other side. The heat sears my white cotton pants to my legs. Stars of light, like tie dye, burst behind my lids – and when I open again, three favela boys are hopping barefoot across the splintery boards of the dock, shaking my camera; so I steady it on the rail. They stretch-out, bony bare chests against the warped planks, and hang their heads over the edge, peering at the fish, listening to their voices echo in the space between the water and the wood.

I snap the boys, the yellow soles of their feet facing skyward now, their limbs playful as puppets’, arms dangling, fingers splayed and skimming the surface, the currents running between them. I shift and frame the jangada drifting past, it’s curved Tupi sail silhouetted by the late afternoon sun, and I know I’m not in Washington anymore. My camera’s kept me company on this trip, allowing me to capture in images what I can’t seem to put into words. The paradoxes, the beauty amidst the poverty, the saudades – that word Gigi taught me, which the Brazilians celebrate in bittersweet bossa nova melodies that sting. Looking back on happiness with sadness. I’m rediscovering my eye in Brazil, hearkening back to my high school days, to black and white film shot on the canal, scrolled blindly around spools in dark closets, and images that appeared in chemical baths under orange lights; the days when I carried secrets through the halls in my backpack, and couldn’t wait for what was beyond.

Hey, may not be perfect, may not be the final cut. I may and up tossing it out altogether. But it's so different from when my editor was in charge and the thing read like a article in Travel & Leisure – the truth hiding behind the scenery – and man, can I write scenery - and buried in 'too many notes.' (Calls to mind Emperor Franz Joseph to Mozart in Amadeus: 'Simply too many notes, my boy. Just cut a few and it will be...perfect.')

Now today, I’m back there again, at the desk, stuck as ever, manipulating text like I’m rearranging bricks in a wall and the cement is drying fast. My editor has taken over again, and again, and again. Protecting my Self from the truth, from some inevitable rejection…and all I can do, and it's a start, is notice.

Thank the creative gods, tomorrow is another day of invention.