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Thursday, April 7, 2016

Did I say I wouldn't have time to write until Easter?

File:Rembrandt, Hendrickje schlafend.jpg
A Young Woman Sleeping by Rembrandt (1654)

I seem to be always tired.  Especially when it's my time to write.

It is now Thursday, the 7th of April, two days after I created the above title and typed the following confessional narrative. Which is really for me, but I am trying to be open. 

Didn't I say I wouldn't have time to write until Easter?

Uh huh, I said after Easter. I was talking about my novel-in-progress, but here it is Tuesday, the 5th of April and I haven't written a blog post either. I've attempted a poem a day as April is national poetry month, but the real time consumer is being back on Facebook. I've got to get back on schedule! The early writing, half-hour worship, settling down to the computer until lunch, etc--all that worked!

This is why I arranged with my friend Jennifer to start Friday writing again, though she is still far away and engaged in parent care. I'm typing here the question and outcome of last Friday's writing, because if I can't get down to writing, maybe copying out of notebooks is where to begin—even a week after I actually wrote this.

What's Next For Alice?

My pen skipped when I began to write, a great symbol to begin with. I think that must happen for Alice.  She writes all of her known stories and she can't write more until the end of our time together when a story comes to her at the reunion.  Oh, yes, of course, she goes to the reunion, though finding a reason to go that will overcome all of the reasons not to is major.  I haven't discovered it yet. 
Maybe the story she tells at the reunion will be "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." I could write this ending next, I think, letting her find out that the dwarfs—the women she used to know—are just regular people after all. The dwarfs will not be dwarfs when the film is off her eyes. Is it the film of self-absorption and stuck-ness in the past? Something more than that. 

The Snow White who was sent out into the world by the dwarfs to be with her Prince had to learn to stand up for herself. They all had to learn that, actually, even the Prince. (That's been covered thematically in the musical Into the Woods.  But that show did not use Snow White's story.)  The dwarfs will all take new names. 
In the original Grimm tale, the seven dwarfs were unnamed. Using the names from the familiar 1937 animated Disney film (AKA first Disney film), they begin as Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy and Dopey.  And as in the Pixar film Inside Out, these separate characters can all be seen as parts of one person. I haven't determined the new names yet, but, for example, Sleepy could become Alert; Grumpy could become Happy ; and Happy could become Grumpy. 

Snow White will also undergo a transformation and take a new name. I don't know what yet. One thing is she'll learn that she has been Snow WHITE, a lesson in privilege that doesn't end. Will she learn to love the mistakes in her life that led her to her new knowledge?   Mistakes like taking the wrong side of European Imperialism in This River of Women when it came to the plays of ntozake shange?  Will she be content to get home again and stay there?  I think she'll still prefer to live alone in the life she's created for herself. She'll choose to be who she has always beenthe lovable companion to Miracle Kitty who we met at the beginning of the novel.

Have all ties to home died now that Alice's cat has died? OOHHH! I've leaked another bit I haven't written yet.  This is the huge tragedy of the second half of the book.  Given Miracle's place in Alice's life, what can matter after this? Will she still have her young friend Ricky? The one thing that all the women Alice reunites with have in common is animal companions. 
When Miracle Kitty dies, Alice's friend Sybil is there. I'll use the disease and feelings around Milla's death that Sheila and I actually experienced together in Berkeley, CA. I'll have to ask her what the cancer was.  

Moving backwards from the end of the novel, how does it happen that Sybil is with Alice? They haven't seen each other in decades. (And those long solitary vacation times I spent with Sheila—who is the model for Sybil in the novel—may be a sore spot. I’ll explore the ways it is both wound and blessing to have such a long-time friend.  Bits of Nancy and Tree are in there too.)  

Alice calls Sybil because she has now opened the boxes she's been storing in her locked closet. Alice will call Sybil to see if she is going to the reunion and if so, if Sybil will visit her on the way. This is approaching the climax of the main plot, and it is where I am stuck now.  

Why is it so hard for her to open the past? 

And why open it now?

I think I've established her love for boating on unruffled waters. She has been loving her life.  But now, her storytelling has had to change, and now there is Ricky.  His pain and openness and visit open doors that give Alice insight and courage to face her dead. She is able to step in to one of her stories.  I have to go back and be sure I've established enough suspense around this as I zip this lady open. But first I must write through this bump in the road.

What is in the boxes that would make her call Sybil? 

Alice will find the pictures of her and Sybil taking vacations together in Maine, maybe the actual Monhegan Island and Ogunquit that Sheila and I visited. Here is a friendship that wasn't dependent on the politics of the time.  Whether or not she goes to the reunion, she finds a yearning to see Sybil.  Her co-creator in theatre, Maya, was Sybil's sister.

What stories from each box should I tell?

Only the hottest and the sweetest ones, like the one I've already told from the Women's Music Festival.  

From the YWCA I'll tell two or three stories about (1) leaving so someone else will get the executive director job, (2) the conference of Women in the Arts and meeting both Bernice Reagan and Audre Lorde, and (3) Maybe include the story about the mission of the YWCA and the visiting members of a South African YWCA.

Stories from the Hagborn newspaper? I'm not sure. From the Black Hills Conference, only the story of my car going. More from the Women's Music Festivals? Maybe I've already told enough, though the story of Susan S and the crystals is also a good one. 

From This River of Women Theatre Company, I've already told the story of Maya and Alice conceiving of the company.  I've already told the story of the ntozake shange play, but I could tell the story of Susan Griffin's Voices which played at the Women in the Arts Conference at the Y.  Did I tell yet of It's Better to Speak? That would be a way in to talk about the Women's Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice.

And from the Women's Center itself, speak of music and dances and coffee houses and reading poetry and the nearby bar and FUSE and what else is there in the boxes?  How can I make these as lively as the stories Alice tells that aren't in the boxes?  She's got to include some of her poetry in the book she is composing from her performances.

Oh! The self-portraits from those machines that make a strip of four. I used to make one a year—that’s something Alice seems too introverted for. But PICTURES! Of the male lover and the female one. And many of friends and cats—Rosa was Tree’s cat and Milla and Emily were Sybil’s and Grasshopper was another and I will remember more.  And dogs.  And birds.

I remember a line from Thornton Wilder’s Our Town when Emily wants to visit the land of the living after her death, and the Stage Manager tells her “Pick a day. Pick any day. But make sure that it is an ordinary day because an ordinary day will be special enough.” Emily picks a birthday. 

What would Alice pick first as a special day to return to? Would she go directly to her women’s community box or work around it? Would she go directly to the Women’s Theatre Company box or would she leave that one for last? Which box first? Perhaps the Music Festival because she’s already remembered it? And all of that festival time evokes her female lover. Leave Julianna for last? Leave the question about why everyone left her for being with a man for last?

Wait!  No one left her. She left them. Why? And why did she feel abandoned? Was she ashamed of what she had done? Or was she that hurt by the theatre company? Who, by the way, did everything in its collective power to help her, including taking a disastrous journey to NYC to do a scene from Fefu and Her Friends as an audition in front of Carl Weber, the director of graduate studies at NYU.

Good golly.  

Maybe I need to unpack my own closet and start sorting through and tossing stuff to make this all happen. Should I include the covens? The women I knew there? 

The Peace Encampment should maybe be first as that’s when my lover and I were estranged. Versus the YWCA which is when/where we met. I remember how disappointed she was when I left my job as Director of Women’s Programs.

Tremble, but then start.

So, well, Chast, can you make a viable narrative out of this complexity or not? Start somewhere, anywhere, and juggle the parts together in a different order later. You knew you were coming to the hard part, the floodgates part. Let your reader stand in the swelling flood, the tumbling house of cards from Alice Through the Looking Glass.

Open your heart to it. Why grow silent now? Enter the Maelstrom. There is no other way to the other side. Interesting that Tanya’s prompt for today (Friday, 1 April) was to do something that I am afraid of. Do it, do it, do it!

To answer the question of what is next for Alice is to answer the question of what is next for me! Enter the closet. Sort. Note the feelings and stories. Let Alice figure this out in a new chapter where she is sitting on her couch—Miracle Kitty watching warily from the Dining Room table or the window sill or the Rocker—knowing something is wrong, afraid that they are moving again. An upheaval is coming. Is in process. Maybe Alice will decide to take one thing from each pile.

So how to move forward? 

Maybe open a box a day to sort. At the least do three boxes a week. This all must happen before summer. 

And so, do not duck out of going to Emma’s writing retreat by the sea next weekend. Gather the objects I want to make a spiritual altar for my character Alice—or what one of her friends might keep about her.

Do it.


Pray about it. Pray in color. Do it.