Picking a thread

I am inside the fascinating and slightly torturous exercise of writing the synopsis of “Inside the River.” I have to summarize the entire book into one single-spaced page.  My book is over 94,000 painstakingly chosen words and I’ve just spent the last week writing out every scene in the book so I can start paring it down, and cutting out periphery characters and moments.  I need to find the one thread of the story, and let that thread capture the magic and entice the publishing world.

How to pick one thread? If we went through our lives, or even a year of our life, how can we pick the thread that wounds itself around the scenes of our lives propelling our story forward in ways memorable as well as full of mistakes.  Do we ignore the errors (we only get a page) or do we recognize how those choices led us to where we are now?  And what about the minor characters who were fun and exciting or memorable for their reasons…how hard it is to not mention them at all.

The skeleton of our life becomes those moments when we decided to do something or were terrified and did nothing and let others decide. What happens to a story or a life when that thread is not our own?  What happens to the thread when pulled ragged or left slack for so long? What happens if the thread doesn’t make sense by itself or is so complex that it ends up becoming a knot?

Oh, the thread analogy can go on for a long time, and so can this part of the process if I let it.  I guess I just have to trust the story I’ve written, and let the hook speak for itself:

Ana is forced to wear a cap to hide the blue in her hair because her mother believes she is a demon born from the river.  When the fish sing to Ana, she dives in and away from her suffering, washing the blood off her thighs. She becomes Ana the fortune teller, and meets Eloisa, a red-headed gypsy who has been searching for the one who made the fish forget their pact of silence and sing.

Emma lives in today’s world, with a young daughter and an abusive husband.  One day, she meets Antonio, a blue-eyed old man who tells her she looks like Ana, the story passed down through generations of his family –a son of sons, born beside a daughter of many daughters.  Emma becomes enraptured by the story that tickles her memory.  Was their meeting coincidental?  How comes she feels like Ana is real?  And why, upon hearing the story of Ana, does she begin to harness her courage to heal?

“Inside the River,” is the character driven story of two women, set in different times, seductively crossing the line between reality and magic.

So grateful for any advice….xoxo

 

 

Jose, “Inside the River”

Ana is a powerful woman and holds her gifts humbly in her lap.  Sometimes power is a soft wind, you know.  Beside her is Jose, the love of her life.  He is of the earth element, grounding; what you see is what you get kind of guy.

Ana asks him, “How did you find me?”

His reply: “I was a farmer of dry land.  It was hard and mindless labor.  I woke up, touched my feet to the ground, and the land was a stranger.  I packed my belongings in two bags and left.  I became a traveler and held my stories inside my heart.  I became an outsider in the world and people began to look at me with fear.  I was dirty and hunger at times made me forget that I was a man.  I walked and wondered if I had a choice.  What force was behind this magic that kept me walking?”

His gaze was far away.  I knew he didn’t want me to answer, only to listen.

“I stopped in a town beside the sea.  I learned how to work on a fishing boat and fell under the spell of the tides, the push and pull of the water.  I had spent my whole life on land and the water felt clean.  I would speak to the moon when the darkness came and I was alone.  I would say, is this it?  Was I only supposed to find the water?  Why wake up a sleeping laborer?  Why make a man fumble with his thoughts and risk it all?”

He suddenly reached for my hand, sending waves of longing throughout my body.  He looked at me in agony.

“At night, ghosts pass through you and you are left with their pain.  It can make a man lonely.  It can make a man search out the body of a woman, any woman.  I went out in search of her skin.  I thrust myself inside her and left my coin on her table.  One night, I asked if we could talk.  I was on top of her, my sweat chilling her dry skin.  She said I could talk, but listening was extra and she had nothing to say.  She sat up and pulled her dress down.  She was so young and already worn out by so many men like me.”

“Yes, I understand the wearing out.”

I looked up at his face.  He stared right at me.  He didn’t want to run away from the hardest part of his story.

…and so it continues, inside the river.

Why I reread Tess of the D’Ubervilles, by Thomas Hardy, every 5 years

Do you ever go back and reread your favorites books like you revisit your favorite restaurant or museum? Do you ever ask yourself why?

I reread Tess of the D’Ubervilles, by Thomas Hardy, every 5 years since I was twenty years old. He wrote the book in 1891 to mixed reviews because of its challenge to the Victorian ideals of his time.  In fact, after he finished his last novel, Jude The Obscure, to more criticism, he stopped writing novels altogether and kept to poetry.

His book is poetic and tragic and modern in his thinking.  His depth and compassion for a female character, in the context of his time period, is astonishing enough.  The censoring and revising and his need to add to the title  A Pure Woman is equally as fascinating and I recommend learning about the background of this book if that sort of thing interests you.  I think all books are historical and political in some way.

This book asks the ultimate question to its readers about Tess: was she raped or seduced, and is she responsible for what happened either way? Academics have pointed out different excerpts and there are many to point to both.  I can write long and hard about my views but that’s not why I’m writing this blog.

I reread Tess every five years, because although the book (I reread the same book each time, although yellowed and with tiny print) never changes, I do.  Every five years I reread the book with fresh eyes and with five more years of experiences and hopefully, wisdom.  I can tell you I thought she was definitely raped and ill-used by the men of the novel as well as the views of society at 20, 25, 30, and 35.

At 40, I still found her situation tragic and her choices stifled by the morals of her day.  Yet, during this reread, I didn’t spend much time looking for evidence in Hardy’s words for the proof of her rape.  I found myself letting go of the question, and sinking deeper into Tess and her victimhood, her view of herself as “tainted.”  I found myself rooting for her, even though her fate had been written over 120 years ago.  Although with each reread, I felt she deserved so much more, with this past reread, I felt she deserved to feel more deserved.

Why is it so important for me to reread this classic? It’s important because my thoughts evolve, my compassion expands, and my expectations lessen to allow Tess to shine through.  Hardy wrote about a marginalized woman, set against the pastoral poetics he was so adept at, and chose to let the reader decide.  And I think, less than a year away from my 6th reread, Hardy was hoping to force the readers of his time to accept her purity.  I felt like it didn’t matter whether seduced or rape, because she felt herself without a choice either way and the consequences of being without choice is the greatest tragedy.

Inspired continually by the courage of Tess and Hardy, I wrote Inside the River.  And to honor my devotion to this book, I wrote a scene where Ana reads the palm of a dairymaid who chooses poorly.  Ana asks her:

“Do you have a friend you can trust?”

“Yes, I work with Tess.  I tell her everything.”

“Tell her, word for word, what promises are uttered to you.  If they still ring true for both of you, then you can decide.  Do you understand?”

You see, I wanted Tess to help her friend, by sharing the story.

 

The Guest House, “Inside the River”

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Jelaluddin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks

“Every decision I make is a choice between a grievance and a miracle. I relinquish all regrets, grievances, and resentments and choose the miracle.” — A Course in Miracles

Before speaking, to others or to ourselves, we might consider passing through four gates.  At the first gate, we ask ourselves, “Are these words true?” If so, we let them pass on; if not, back they go. At the second gate we ask; “Are they necessary?” At the third gate we ask; “Are they beneficial?” and at the fourth gate, we ask, “Are they kind?” If the answer to any of these is no, then what you are about to say should be left unsaid. – See more at: http://jizoandchibi.com/stage2/four-questions-sufi-mindfulness/#sthash.GCMaEhTk.dpuf
Before speaking, to others or to ourselves, we might consider passing through four gates.  At the first gate, we ask ourselves, “Are these words true?” If so, we let them pass on; if not, back they go. At the second gate we ask; “Are they necessary?” At the third gate we ask; “Are they beneficial?” and at the fourth gate, we ask, “Are they kind?” If the answer to any of these is no, then what you are about to say should be left unsaid. – See more at: http://jizoandchibi.com/stage2/four-questions-sufi-mindfulness/#sthash.GCMaEhTk.dpuf

An old Sufi tradition advises us to speak only after our words have managed to pass through four gates. At the first gate, we ask ourselves, “Are these words true?” If so, we let them pass on; if not, back they go. At the second gate we ask; “Are they necessary?” At the third gate we ask; “Are they beneficial?” and at the fourth gate, we ask, “Are they kind?” If the answer to any of these is no, then what you are about to say should be left unsaid.

It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”– Gabriel Garcia Marquez

“A child can teach an adult three things: to be happy for no reason, to always be busy with something, and to know how to demand with all his might that which he desires.”― Paulo Coelho

“I dream. Sometimes I think that’s the only right thing to do.”– Haruki Murakami

If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”–Toni Morrison

I’ve written “The End” on my book. This blog is a homage to the writers whose words inspired me…thank you for being guests in my house!

I think people are universal– Ang Lee

 

 

My favorite Meditation

Imagine yourself resting beside the river.  You lay atop a blanket, your body relaxed. The sun dapples through the trees, a gentle breeze cools your skin.  You embody this moment and feel present, awake.  Your breath expands and contracts, fills up and releases.  Your mind is anchored to your breath, like the rhythm to its sound.

You look out to the river and notice the calmness of the water, and the way the sun reflects off its stillness.  You see your happiness in the water.  Your breath still calm, your mind still buoyed by the breath.

In a blink, the flow of the river changes, like some wind had formed underneath its surface.  Ripples and small currents reveal itself and you hear the lap of water against rock.  You see your anxiety in the water, as your breath doesn’t change, as your mind doesn’t dive in.

The flow of the river picks up, the ripples turn into rapids, lashing out at the unmoving rocks on the shore.  You see your anger in the water.  Yet your body is relaxed, your breath still long and deep.

And so the meditation continues, as each emotion shows itself in the water, and as your body rests beside it.  You don’t jump into the happiness or the anger.  You’re beside it, observing the emotions without standing up and diving in and drowning in its current.

For me, that is the un-clinging, the detachment as taught in yoga.  When I imagine myself beside the river of my emotions, there is space.  I don’t dive into the river and react, flailing my body around without any sense of control.  There is no stopping the winds, the currents, the stillness and calm, but you can choose to lay still beside it, one breath at a time.

For Ana and Emma, I dove into the river to get their stories and emotions.  I am almost finished with “Inside the River,” and then I will rest beside their water and detach myself from the emotions that will display itself in the flow.

I would love to hear about your favorite meditation, mantra, or affirmation that helps you stay close to your best self.