Breakdown and ReconnectionFrom the beginning of the idea of the writing conference--When Worlds Collide, in Calgary--I resisted. Having just arrived from a trip overseas, I wanted only to settle into a comfort zone at home, get into a writing routine. I looked forward to the relaxing days of August, the last opportunities for sunning and swimming. But my publisher suggested it might be a good chance to get more exposure, by doing some readings and sitting on panels.
I could visit my daughter who lived in Nelson, halfway to Calgary, and connect with old friends who invited me to stay with them and visit. I could arrange a reading in Nelson at the Open Mic, Sunday evening in the park. A friend in Victoria counseled, "Why not do it all?" Finally I set out, making the leap.
Deja vus came thick and fast: the smells of the mountain air in the morning, the sight of faces from fifteen years ago, some aged, some looking the same. I suppose by now I have lived away from there for long enough to have assumed a new identity, from which it is now possible to reconnect, affirming the old bonds of friendship and shared experience.
Bound for an alpine hike with my daughter, we headed up to Kokanee Glacier on a steep gravel road, hottest day of the year. I neglected to monitor the car's temperature gauge. The clutch started going clunky, then quit altogether, as steam rose from under the hood. I stopped the car, waited a while, tested the clutch pedal, tried again. The clutch worked now, but we thought it best to park there and let the engine cool, take a short hike and then reassess.
On returning to the car, I added a liter or two of water to the radiator, and found that the car would now run, so drove a little way further to turn around. Heading down again, the engine suddenly quit, the warning light on. Now it was really cooked. I pulled over to the side and parked. Sent a passing car down to call for a tow truck. Waited an hour and a half with none arriving, so hitched down to phone, and found that the tow operator wouldn't come without a direct call from us. Now it could be arranged.
Was this result, the possible death of my car, what was prefigured in my gut resistance to the trip? Should I have listened to the gut instead of the "should" in going through with the plan anyway?
The lesson ties in with the message of Barbara Geiger in a conference workshop. It is all worth it in the end, but you have to make the effort. The first stage, where you are, might show your talent, but it won't get you where you need to go. That comes from, first, realizing the need to make your weaknesses stronger. You have to burn out and stall first, get towed to a competent mechanic, and start with a new timing belt and clutch, before the journey can be resumed.
On Being a Public FigureAttending a conference, doing readings, sitting on panels, visiting and staying with old friends and reaching out to make new ones... these are the activities of a public persona. Out of the comfort zone of the private writing space, into the public eye, putting on a public face.
Having a voice--like everyone--and using it. Standing up and asking a question in a workshop; offering insights from experience, on a panel; sharing crafted words, in a reading; sharing interests with companions of the moment.
Learning from everyone. Not in competition--though you are--nor commiserating, so much as celebrating the passion, whether hobby or career, and inspiring each to trust that voice. If this is our choice in stepping out of our comfort zone, we enter at any point, not to be "good" or point to another as "bad" for saying or not saying anything, but to write, and to work harder, for that audience to grow.
Barbara Geiger says it takes ten years from the Aha! moment, where you recognize the need for revision, the switch to making the reader's experience the priority; taking the craft seriously and committing to rework and prune. That is the period of growth, on the writer's journey--the laborious yet liberating process of addressing your weaknesses.
This is also, by the way, the protagonist's story: at the beginning of struggle, awaking to the need to change. From there, escalating tension--like the raindrops and thunder, now as I type in my tent, in the foothills of southern Alberta.
As the thunder builds; the hum of the highway reminds there's another option: keep driving. Lightning flashes across the sky. The thunder rolls. The traffic swishes by.
The thunder builds. There is a lightness in the darkening dusk. I sit cozy in my synthetic shelter, swaddled in nylon, down, blanket, sleeping pads. A comfort zone of the moment, in transit. A private time to reflect, before engaging in the world again. Landing in a new place, even if it's an old place, the other side of the leap.