Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Bowl, Waiting To Be Filled...

"This story is about a bowl.

A bowl waiting to be filled.

If what I have just written makes no sense to you,
I am not surprised.

If I had known in the beginning what I was looking for,
I would not have written this story.

I had to trust there was a reason I had to write,
and I didn't have to have it all figured out in order to begin.

I would find what I was looking for
along the way."

~ Sue Bender ~
The Preface to Everyday Sacred

It is during this kind of time that I return to one of my favorite books. In fact I'd say that this book is in my top five lifetime favorites. As a woman who has read non-stop all of her life, this is saying a quite a lot. I have all of Bender's books and cherish them, but I have 3 copies of this one book because I always need it near me. I need to remember about the empty bowl. I need to remember that I don't need to have it all figured out in order to begin. I finally realized that I only had to begin.

I feel very soft and tender right now, and naked, like a Hermit crab just out of her old shell and not yet sheltered by a new one. Or perhaps like an oyster taken out of it's shell and laid on a plate, its edges quivering. Exposed. That's what happens when you write a book about your life. And I have been waiting to write this book for a very long time. It never seemed the right time. Now it seems I cannot stop.

Sometimes the words cut me like broken glass. I made the background of this page a soft pink tonight because I needed to have that cloud-like softness to cushion the blows of my own truths. It is a challenging and yet necessary thing to come up against all that you have denied, all that you have hidden, all that you have made excuses for, and look smack dab at the center of your own life. And so you pack a picnic basket and head out to a grassy knoll. You spread out an old worn quilt, set the picnic basket down, and lie on the quilt, running your fingers delicately through the blades of grass just off of the frayed edges. A ladybug lands on your nose. You take this as a good sign.

Today, you see, is part of my ritual when writing a book. I have to lie down in utter silence, save the sounds of Nature all around me, and look at the clouds, watch the shapes and forms and billowing pillows against the blue sky, I watch and I watch and I watch and then I see my life taking form. The clouds become chapters, they become people, they become a series of stories like prayer beads on a string. They become my life and the shape of the book itself.

I am a visual artist as well as a writer and when I write a book I don't just have an idea, a theme, a story I want to tell, no, I see it, geometrically. The words on the page, the shape of the paragraphs, the line breaks, the ellipses. I must imagine the drawings that will be at the top of each chapter. I must reach inside of the clouds with my eyes closed and feel my book, the paper on the cover, the lighter paper inside, the circumference, the container that will hold my words. Is is strong enough? I am not sure. I think I will write my book in a bowl and then ladle out the words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters onto the pages. I like that.

I have begun to see my life as soup. I have often remembered, and told my students, and shared with friends in melancholy moments, the old tale of Stone Soup. A gentle man was hungry, as were the poor villagers, and none of them, individually, had much to eat. The man started an enormous kettle of water to boiling over a fire and put a stone in it. That was all he had. Watching, the villagers went to see what they had. One had a carrot, one a piece of meat, one some herbs, and others came along and brought what they had and added it to the kettle. By nightfall there was a great soup, enough to feed the whole village, and they ate well and warmed themselves, together, by the fire. They learned a lesson that night, and I learn from them. It takes a village to write a book.

For me, the village is a lifetime of experiences, thoughts, moments of rapture set against times of despair. Joyful, dancing, whimsical moments, the miracle of birthing my three children. The sorrows and fears of my childhood set against the times I was sailing happily through the air over five foot jumps on the back of my horse, windswept hair, his mane blowing in the breeze. Glory, it was pure, unadulterated perfection. I was not happy in school though I got good grades, but I have been an ecstatic autodidact all of my adult life. I read and study non-stop, everything from literature to horticulture, the study of ancient art forms and how to grow African violets. I study Navajo weaving, and freeform crochet, dumpster diving for junk art and I study old houses and their history to try to find the past I never knew as an adopted child. I long for an old house with an interesting history. It will connect me back in time.

I like spaces between paragraphs and spaciousness in my life. Encounters with people, trips out into the wide wide world must be buffeted by a tremendous amount of silence and solitude. Time in the garden, a soft snoring pug in my lap. All of these things will go into my soup, the soup that will sustain me as I write my book, as well as the contents of the book itself.

It begins to rain softly and I stay on my quilt and watch the clouds cry. Suddenly the raindrops become the drops of ink from my quill pen. I love to write with old fashioned dip pens, and I collect old, non-functional fountain pens because you can also dip them and write with them. I will write words in my books. Hand write them. My drawings are watercolor plus pen and ink. Like the writing of my books, the colors drift onto the page creating a background, and the pen, dipped in the bottle and tapped gently on the side, finds it way through and around the color, intuits the forms and shapes and images in the swirls of color. The picture is there, the pen need only go on a scavenger hunt to find it. I am the pen, the paper, the writer, the watercolors, the water, the brush, the bottle of ink, the sketchbook, the air around me, the clouds overhead. I am the bowl that holds the words. I have been adding ingredients to the soup for fifty-five years. It's time to set the table.

Set your bowl on the table. Ladle in the rich soup you have made with your family and friends back through time. Gather them to you, if only in your mind, those living and those who have passed. Break off a piece of crusty bread and dip it in the soup. Savor your own life.


saoriweaver said...

Everyday Sacred - a favorite book of mine too....

Stone Soup - a favorite story...

And also, for me, the image of freestyle weaving (Saori) - what threads, what colors, what textures create the fabric of my life. Today, at this moment, where I am...which is of course inclusive of things past and things to come...

M.M.E. said...

So nice to meet another writer and illustrator. There seem to be fewer of us nowadays.

JT Locke -- The Frugal Housewife said...

I just wanted to let you know that you are an inspiration to me. I have nominated you for the Heart and Soul award. Please stop by my blog to pick it up.

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