Fall Apart: Winter Revisions

Undone Weaving

Greetings friends,

Today concludes another writing retreat. I arrived with thirteen short stories to revise and have successfully completed that task.

Jessica's studio: view of the little window near the writing nook, the hobbit entrance, J's many books, the lovely porch, and an old photo of a woman writing.

Jessica’s studio: view of the little window near the writing nook, the hobbit entrance, J’s many books, the lovely porch, and an old photo of a woman writing.

My dear friend Jessica Henkle offered me her quiet little flat for four days. This is the third writing retreat that has come to fruition solely because I have some very generous friends. [Note to writers, artists, or PhD students seeking a silent space to focus: friends often leave town during winter or summer holiday and are usually looking for house-sitters, plant-sitters, or pet-sitters. Take them up on it! Unless they have a houseful of rabbits or ululating neighbors, you will likely get work done.] This time has been very productive. I loved waking up in Jessica’s studio, the writing nook awaiting. Also, a great boon to staying in the home of a bibliophile: all the books, quotes, broadside poems, and old photos displayed provided no shortage for inspiration.

As I mentioned, the focus of this retreat was to revise a manuscript of short stories. The concept for this collection—what I’m currently calling Fall Apart—came when I was driving to Eugene for a writing retreat last winter. Actually, it started with an image similar to the photo at the beginning of this post. Years ago, I saw an exhibit of textiles, and one piece—a weaving of a sunset, partially finished, with many colors of string dangling at the bottom—resurfaced in my memory during this drive. My idea was to write stories about people who are unraveling and to pay close mind to the beauty of both form (their organized lives) and chaos (the moments when they let go and fall apart). In keeping with this theme, I wanted to experiment with allowing the form of the writing itself to “fall apart”—in some stories this is subtle; in others it’s overt. Anyhow, now that it’s nearly complete, I’m excited to share the concept, and, with any hope, see it to print someday.

The writing nook, a view on a walk, and me with broadside poem and photos.

The writing nook, a view on a walk, and me with broadside poem and photos.

So much about writing process is about creating restraint and then breaking free of those restraints, but these past four days of revision have been an exercise in restraint and restraint only. I should have known that this retreat would be all work, no play. My time was spent reviewing feedback, revising paragraphs, rewriting introductions and conclusions, and meticulously editing each sentence and word to the best of my ability. The only “breaking free” I was able to manage was a glass of wine after dinner (Ha! A glass. The bottle I brought for the weekend was finished after the first evening). Despite all this complaining, today I am feeling at ease. I am glad I took some time to struggle through it all, and, ultimately, I am thankful for the privilege.

This privilege is largely due to having a wonderful full-time job and supportive fiancé—which brings me to my next update. Fall was a whirlwind for me with the new job and the engagement, so I have very little else to report except: Hey, I have health insurance! and Check it out, I’m getting married! That being said, I did spend the bulk of yesterday writing cover letters and submitting stories to literary journals. So, don’t worry. I’m sure my summer update will include lots of shameless self-promotion.

In the meantime, I will conclude with some of my favorite quotes on writing that best reflect my current mood:

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
 ―Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings 
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” 
―Ernest Hemingway 
“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.” 
―Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” 
―Robert Frost 
“Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.” 
―Franz Kafka 
“The true alchemists do not change lead into gold; they change the world into words.” 
―William Gass, A Temple of Texts
“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.”

 ―William Wordsworth