Sunday, July 11, 2010

Patti Callahan Henry

“….And the river, even when frozen, arrives at the right place….” Thomas R. Smith

I didn’t write those gorgeous lines. They are from a poem titled TRUST by Robert R. Smith.

But if the subject this month is Writing Struggles, this is what I have to say about struggles in my writing – Even when it is frozen, it arrives at the right place.

Yes, it’s easy to trust in the metaphor when everything is working and the story unfolds and the plot offers me themes and wonderful words, but sometimes of course that doesn’t happen. Sometimes we stand on the riverbank of our story and can’t see anything while we’re stumbling and grappling for vision. The reason I love this river vision for the writing life is because I love rivers.

I don’t know why I love rivers – I didn’t grow up on one or raft down one (unless you count college and the Chattahoochee, which is another story). I wasn’t saved and baptized in the muddy waters. But rivers carve through my soul the same way they carve the land through which they move. For hours I  on a riverbank and watch the water moving by, going somewhere, to some final destination which is predetermined or…maybe not.

I swim in its waters without being able to see what is below the surface. Tidal rivers are my favorite – the way the water swamps the land and then exposes the mud, oysters and life below the surface. I watch it flow over rocks and barriers; I see it nourish the land and the life within. Rain falls into its waters and lightening flickers against the surface.

The river is a living thing, trying to tell me something, but I’m not wise enough or connected enough to understand its language. But every once in a while, in a quiet moment, I’ll hear that river.

So I realize – this is the same way I feel about my writing struggles. I show up on the writing riverbanks every day and hope to hear the words and story. Where is it going? What does it have to say? Are there turbulent or calm words to this part of the story? Is there a storm or a sunset? Is the water pink with twilight or grey and disturbed?

This is the way it is with my story: It might take me hours or weeks or months or years to find out what it is saying – but I still want to show up. I might not know the waters final destination, but I’ll keep going. I might not yet understand what the low tide will reveal, but I’ll wait. There might be rocks and storms and diversions, but my words will ‘arrive at the right place’.

It’s hard – the waiting and the struggle – but what is the other option? To not show up at the riverbank. And that, for me, is not an option.

And here is a picture of my favorite river. Now who woulnd't want to stand at that riverbank?


Her Holiday Novella THE PERFECT LOVE SONG: A HOLIDAY STORY, will be out October 12th.


Susan Cushman said...

showing up really is half the battle, isn't it? and I love the metaphor with the river. My river is the Mighty Mississippi... 10 minutes from our house here in Memphis. Nice post--thanks!

Anonymous said...

Lovely. I loved the metaphor.

karen said...

Patti: You don't know how much I needed this reminder. Thanks!

Peggy Webb said...

Beutifully said, Patti. And true. Showing up everyday is one of the most important things a writer can do.

It's amazing how often our muses take us toward the river. Just last night I was jotting notes for titles, and at least half of them featured the word "river."

Peggy Webb said...

OOPS....make that "beautifully."

After a lovely week touring the U. S. Space and Rocket Center with my 13-year-old grandson and taking in every movie we'd ever dreamed of seeing, I'm brain dead.

Peggy Webb said...

OOPS!!! Make that "beautifully."

After a week of touring the U. S. Space and Rocket Center with my grandson and taking in every movie we ever dreamed of seeing, I'm brain-dead. Happy, though! :)

Mary@GigglesandGuns said...

Great metaphor and beautiful picture.
Thanks for sharing.
I do love that picture.

Giggles and Guns

Patti Callahan Henry said...

Thanks so so much all of you. It's lovely to know that something, anything, I say might touch someone else!

LeAnne Benfield Martin said...

This encourages me, Patti, when I'm just beginning to stick my toe in the water of fiction. I should just take the plunge and let the waters flow over me, shouldn't I? Thanks for the little push.