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Question of the Month: Spring

by Susan Henderson on April 7, 2014

Spring really took it’s time this year, but look what pushed through the ground after all that snow and ice melted. It’s a good reminder, I think, of those projects and relationships that can’t be rushed. The groundwork and the strong roots are hidden. The incubation period is necessary, as much as most of us don’t like to wait. So talk to me about something you did or experienced that was in motion long before you saw or felt the results.

spring1

Those of you who know me best know how important walks are to me. I do my best thinking and writing as I walk. It balances my mood and my perspective. So being shut inside my office over the winter has not been easy.

Friends ask all the time, How’s the book going? If I measure it by whether it’s ready to share, it’s going too slow. I write or edit every day, and sometimes it feels like nothing’s happening, like staring at the ground in winter and trying to believe it’ll ever be spring again.

As winter dragged on through March and I passed the several-foot pile of gray ice every time I went in or out of the house, I found myself needing to look at bright pictures of flowers, needing to see color. It’s not so different for me with writing. I want to get to the end of a round of edits and say, That’s it! It looks like the idea I dreamed of creating! I can’t wait to share it!

Alas. It’s a process of patience and faith. Recently, I needed to look at pictures of early revisions of my book (I’ll post them in the next blog) to see if I’m really making headway. And I am. When I remember it all started with a blank piece of paper, when I remember the choices I made in earlier drafts before I really knew the characters, before I owned the setting, before I woke up in the middle of the night with the idea that made me say, Wow, I realize how silly it is to think of measuring things by whether there’s a finished product yet.

I planted the seeds, the roots are strong, I’ve tended to it almost daily. I’ve done this before. There’s no flower to show, not yet, but it will come, I trust that it will.

plant

Do I know exactly what I planted? No. And this is the fun part. Writing is sort of like planting a mystery seed. You know you’re growing something, but what? A tulip? A cactus? A peony that requires ants to chew the bud open and bends toward the ground with the weight of its flower? Dunno. But spring always comes, early or late, it comes, and I look forward to seeing those first shoots poke through the ground.

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In other news, I’m helping to judge a contest, so here is what you need to know…

In celebration of its 10th anniversary, DimeStories will publish a print anthology of 3-minute stories.  The stories can be deep or dark or funny or light. They can be true or made-up or somewhere in-between. All that matters is good storytelling. Stories will be selected by an editorial board, including these fine authors.

Stories must be submitted online (click right here) and may not exceed 500 words. There is a $5 fee to help defray costs of printing. Deadline:  May 31, 2014. If you have any questions, just post them in the comments section and I’ll find out the answers for you.

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Some thank you’s…

SteveEarsUp

… to Robbins Library in Arlington, Massachusetts for reviving this essay I wrote in 2010 for Powell’s Books, and to author Renée Thompson, for featuring my greyhound, Steve, in her blog, A Year in Compliments.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Renee Thompson April 7, 2014 at 12:33 am

Sue, it was my pleasure to feature Steve in my blog — he’s a beautiful dog, and you and your family were wonderful to take him in. (I was hanging over the fence the other day, telling my neighbor Ken about Steve, and his panic whenever you walked out to the mailbox; Ken agreed we need more Hendersons in this world.)

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Susan Henderson April 7, 2014 at 11:12 am

Oh, how sweet you talked over your fence about Steve! And thanks for including him on your beautiful blog… I love the idea of a year in compliments.

Found this blog I wrote long ago about Steve’s adjustment. Has some cool pictures of the destruction that happened during the panic attacks. Also, I didn’t even remember his face was once dark!

http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/shenderson/2006/09/a-dog-is-mistaken-for-computer-parts-a-painting-survives-a-panic-attack-and-i-may-never-become-a-great-artist/

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GC Smith April 7, 2014 at 1:28 pm

Spring sprang and I’m doing something different. I’ve recently completed the ms. of Mudbug Tales, a novel in flashes, wit’ recipes. It’s half stories about the Cajun folk of Acadiana or Bayou country Louisiana and half cookbook. Currently I’m negotiating with the McIlhenny corporation (Tabasco Hot Pepper Sauce) re possibly using some of their recipes and and a Tabasco cover banner and placing the book in their Avery Isle LA tourist store and other corporate outlets. They are interested and it may happen.

The Mudbug Tales are in Cajun dialect while the recipes are standard English. I’m doing one more line edit while waiting to hear from the McIlhenny folks, who are running my proposal through corporate divisions and who have said it may take a while to get back to me.

Wish me luck, a hookup with the Tabasco “could-might” mean a lot of sales.

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Susan Henderson April 7, 2014 at 1:46 pm

Whoa, that’s exciting! Sending all good thoughts your way. :-)

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GC Smith April 7, 2014 at 6:15 pm

Here’s a Mudbug website I tacked together.

view-source:http://mudbug.webs.com/

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Susan Henderson April 8, 2014 at 1:41 am

Great!

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billie hinton April 7, 2014 at 11:48 pm

So interesting that you wrote this post – all week I have been thinking about how useful it is to bring metaphors and knowledge from other areas of my life to the writing process. Gardening is such a great one – planting and watering and later on pruning and cutting back, watching the plants go dormant through the winter, often looking completely dead, and then they come burst back in their time.

I don’t save all the incarnations of my work, so I have to remind myself regularly that a book is growing and shaping and maturing. Right now I am working very differently than I normally do – I am doing three rough drafts very quickly, without any editing as I go. I’m taking about 3 months each and will start the editing process when I’m done. So I’m holding a huge amount of trust that when I get back to these drafts there is something there to work with!

We’re having a cool spell right now, and I see a low in the forecast of 30-something, so I’m also trusting that spring is really on its way. :) The dogwoods are blooming and the trees are starting to leaf out, so I think it might be.

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Susan Henderson April 8, 2014 at 1:45 am

I keep sane by grounding myself with artists other than writers (musicians, actors), as well as construction workers, repairmen, gardeners, mothers. Each brings wisdom and patience to the process, and also reminds me to live and to look out and up even as I work steadily on whatever I happen to be writing.

Love hearing you talk about your garden and your animals and your writing process. Spring showed a little glimpse of itself here and now it’s cold and windy again. I think it’ll be a couple more weeks before anything other than crocuses really start to bloom.

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billie hinton April 8, 2014 at 2:10 am

I love the thought of looking to other professions, other endeavors, to remind ourselves over and over again about the work of writing. It can feel so ethereal, and sometimes so serious, and it is both those things, but it’s also true that like any other job or art or longterm endeavor we must show up and do the work and deal with the rough spots, the stuck places, the frustrations. And seize and celebrate the joys. Since I posted the first comment here earlier tonight I learned that one of my cats might have killed two ducklings that live in our neighborhood. Right now I am trying to figure out how to keep a cowboy in a cat’s body happy inside the house, and sometimes that’s pretty much exactly how I feel when I’m working on a difficult scene! Sometimes the challenges of daily life make the writing feel like a vacation. :)

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Susan Henderson April 8, 2014 at 12:13 pm

Your post here is so fascinating and multilayered that it’s going to resonate with me all day.

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Maury Feinsilber April 8, 2014 at 5:49 am

I rarely talk about anything highly personal in a public forum and I wouldn’t share this on facebook, for example, but you’ve evinced some deep sharing here, Sue, and perhaps my story might be helpful to others.

I’m reticent to write this because I don’t want it to be fully true, and perhaps it isn’t, although I know, too, as time goes on, that it is. This weekend I said goodbye to someone I’m deeply in love with. In essence, our timing in getting together was off, maybe by just months or a year, but I, being single now again for a few years, was very ready to make a life with this person; she, who had separated from her husband only six weeks before we become a couple, came to realize that she wasn’t ready; not yet at least. I cannot blame her at all. I know she is right.

As our bliss changed over the winter, as she came to recognize that she wasn’t sure who she was in, or wanted from, her life, my own uneasiness was sometimes replaced by despair, but perhaps the most damaging collateral damage I’d experienced in the past couple of months was my own concentration being disabled when it came time to write, night after night after night. Writing, being my love and solace and such a fundamental part of who I am, and NOT writing, but rather just sitting there, thinking about her and me and us, became a vicious circle: the less I was able to do what I needed to do, the deeper my despair became; the deeper my despair became, the less I was able to do what I needed to do.

The day before yesterday was sunny and warm. I opened my bedroom window, lit a stick of incense, got a broom and swept with intention. I wrapped up her toothbrush and put it away in the side of the medicine cabinet I rarely use. I took the water glass from her side of the bed and washed it out and put it away. I disabled our friendship on facebook (how pernicious that wonderful site can be). I gathered the hundreds of emails we’d shared, which I purposely kept in my inbox — how joyous to see nothing but her name stacked in legion! — and no, I did not delete them, but put them away in their own folder. And then I told her how I love her, how I wanted her to be happy and fulfilled, but how I, too, had to do what was best for my own happiness. She said she understood, and I know that she did.

I am not smiling as I write this. But I’m trying.

Last night I thought I’d finally sit down to my writing at my favorite cafe and try and engage again in doing what I most need to do. I’m in the absolute final draft of my novel, having now revised eight out of twelve chapters, and having invested years in its making. I must complete this book, and I will.

I did not, though, get any writing done last night. I did, however, do what we writers do: I told a story. I told the story of me and M to a couple of buddies whom I love, and who have stuck with me and, now, or for now, at least, have heard it all. Beginning, middle, and end.

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Susan Henderson April 8, 2014 at 12:09 pm

This is the beautiful and painful part of life, and all this that you described, I think, is why we write. To capture the glory of being loved, even as something within us breaks. And to sometimes let go, but so carefully that they are still accessible if we look in the right box or file. It’s why a person who may not be right for us or may not have arrived at the right time, is forever important in shaping us. I’m glad you each had each other in your lives and sorry that it didn’t last as you had hoped it would. I’m glad, though, that you listened to what was crucial about who you are in this world and that you sent that part of you a life boat. I have a feeling you’ll be writing a lot soon. Thanks for telling your story here.

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Maury Feinsilber April 8, 2014 at 5:37 pm

I adore the image of sending myself a lifeboat, Sue. Just as writing for me is so often a matter of tuning in to the words that come into my head, one at a time, in regard to M and me I also had some clear words that my instincts were insisting I hear. Thank you for all of your words regarding this, yes, painful and, yes, beautiful, time.

On a separate but, I believe, related note, last night I had a brief dream where I was John Dos Passos and I was with Ernest Hemingway, who had fallen down and asked me to help him get up again!

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Susan Henderson April 8, 2014 at 9:26 pm

I have the John Dos Passos trilogy on my shelf and have never read it. But now, imagining this dream of yours, I’m curious. That’s fabulous.

Hope you’re writing about lifeboats and tangled and complicated beauty and icons falling down.

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Maury Feinsilber April 9, 2014 at 6:05 pm

Sue, reading your response evoked these words in my mind: “She’s so damn brilliant!” Thank you for all of that.

I’ve not read the trilogy (yet), but also have it on my shelves. I did read MANHATTAN TRANSFER years ago and loved it.

The best p.s. to this message is that last night, thank God, the writing went very well! It was like waking up and finding yourself to be yourself after being in a not-quite-dream.

Russell Rowland April 8, 2014 at 12:04 pm

The thing that has always surprised me about writing is how often I find out what I’m writing about after I’ve written something. It happens with every novel, and it’s usually the result of someone else pointing out what the book meant to them. Something that hadn’t even occurred to me during all the many drafts and revisions and tweaks. It always makes me aware that this is a process of discovering what I don’t know rather than spouting off about what I do know.

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Susan Henderson April 8, 2014 at 12:20 pm

That is so true! Sometimes I begin by spouting off what I know and find quickly how much I don’t know, or I turn the people or the incident to look at it from different angles and find I no longer have the opinion that had kicked off the need to write in the first place. I also love how the subconscious will slip objects and characters and connections into the text, and later you realize you were writing about something much bigger or much more personal than what you thought.

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Susan Henderson April 10, 2014 at 5:51 pm

Maury, For some reason, I can’t respond to the thread you started. I guess there’s a set cap for how many follow-up comments you’re allowed to make. Anyway, I’m thrilled about your writing!

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Ric Marion April 11, 2014 at 4:10 pm

Interesting question. Many years ago, I noticed one of my parent’s friends listed in the local Sunday church bulletin as having a birthday the same day as mine. I did not know her well, but I wrote her a nice letter wishing her a happy birthday.
A couple months later, after I had just gotten laid off, yet again, from Pontiac Motors, I got a phone call from a neighbor. He was starting a farm newspaper, the lady who had gotten the letter apparently was so delighted she showed it to everyone. He could see I could write – and, more importantly, knew the working end of a cow, which was a problem with aspiring journalists. And so began my quasi career as an editor. I soon starting writing a weekly column and when the big daily in the town next over came to our little burg, I put together samples and went in. The editor said, the samples weren’t needed, she read my farm column. Ten years as a freelance columnist in the Flint Journal – I figure I made way more, in weekly payments than most first novelists ever see.
And it all started with a birthday letter to a near stranger. The seeds we plant.

Alas, the newspapers have pretty much gone away, the Journal did away with free lancers, but, occasionally, I still get recognized on the street. (my column had my picture on it). One never knows what will come of random seeding.

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Susan Henderson April 11, 2014 at 5:45 pm

That story’s incredible, the spontaneous reactions of both you and the woman who received your letter, and also the many year build up of your skill (both in writing and knowing about the farming community). Great great reminder about planting seeds and following instincts and just being a good human being.

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