The book fell off my shelf and into my hands last month. It was a novel my sister read and passed to me in 2002. That was a tough year. I was newly separated from my partner, had lost my beloved Bluey whom I’d raised from a kitten, and I felt trapped in a job I hated. I couldn’t get past the first chapter of My Dream of You, by Nuala O’Faolain, a book described by USA Today as a “lovely heartbreaker of a novel.”
This summer, the timing was right. I devoured the book. Whole passages leapt off the page and stayed with me. I took the novel everywhere, hoping to steal a few minutes of extra reading. Fourteen years ago I wasn’t ready for O’Faolain’s words, but this time Kathleen, the main character, spoke in a language I understood with my heart. Single, a writer, afraid of never finding love, mourning the loss of her colleague and best friend, she returns to Ireland to research a story.
Back in her homeland, the pull of family and history can’t be ignored. The place, the village where she grew up, is buried inside of her, has never left her despite her long absence and her wanting to forget:
And then, with everything inside me trembling from shocks of remembrance, I parked the car…
She comes to understand that the “shocks of remembrance” involve not just personal memories but also deeper vibrations that come from a more distant past. They course through the blood, like living mementos of Irish history. Collective memories- of the famine, of domination by English oppressors, of the iron will of the Church, of a patriarchal system that discouraged male empathy and destroyed women’s spirits- bring pain, but also a new understanding of the forces that shaped her father and her mother. For Kathleen, the time has come to forgive and that forgiveness allows her to move on.
The right timing, meant I read My Dream of You when I needed to read it. The book has opened up new avenues of investigation for me in my search for answers about my Irish background. But it has done more than that; I have been reminded of the importance of reading. Of reading as a writer, marking up a book if it is yours to do so or copying sentences and whole paragraphs into your notebook so that you can return to them for inspiration again and again. My Dream of You reawakened my thirst for exploring the multiple layers of a novel. The long, delicious journey of travelling with characters for pages and pages. This novel and its words stood patiently upright on my book shelf for years, until I was ready.
Sarah Hampson, in a Globe & Mail story talks about discovering Emily Dickinson in college but not fully appreciating her words until much later:
And how beautiful is that- to have words travel with you through time, like a patient, loyal friend,
waiting for you to catch up, to experience enough of life…for you to fully appreciate their wisdom?
The words we need to write, travel with us as well, waiting for the right time to flow from our hand to the page. I could not have written the story I am currently revising, until this year. I needed to put some distance between myself and the events on which the story is based. Time brings perspective.
Waiting can be a powerful action but it is not something most of us do easily. I worry every month that I won’t have a topic for my blog post and when I do decide on a topic, I worry that the right words won’t come. But they do. And it happens when I let go, step back and allow the process to unfold naturally. Often my blog idea comes while I am walking, when my mind is relaxed and open to the world around me. I write, rough notes to start, but I keep writing and soon the sentences begin to form themselves into paragraphs and the piece picks up a rhythm.
It is not a one-step process. Sometimes I start a blog and discover it’s not working and I need to change topic, but as long as I keep writing, taking breaks when needed, to think and to jot down ideas, the blog develops. This is waiting as Natalie Goldberg describes:
Waiting is something full-bodied. Waiting is when you are already in the work and you are feeding it and being fed by it. Then you can trust the waiting.
But Goldberg points out that procrastination is not the same as waiting:
Do not us the excuse of “waiting” for the right idea or story, in order to begin. That is procrastination. Get to work. Know the difference between the two. Do not fool yourself. Be tough. But be tough the way a blade of grass is rooted, willing to learn, and at peace with what’s around it.
At peace. Would we write what we truly want to write, would we be kinder to ourselves, would we get more joy from our writing if we knew that timing is perfect? What if, as Melody Beattie says,
Believing that things happen too slowly or too quickly is an illusion
At this months’ Poetry Circle, I was introduced to the work of Peggy Freydberg, who began writing poetry when she was in her 90’s. Timing is not ours to control. So don’t be disheartened if there are days when the words don’t flow or you wonder if you will ever have a story or a poem published or you long to tackle a novel but are overwhelmed by the task. Keep writing. You can’t control the outcome, but you can choose to write.
- Take a fresh sheet of paper or turn to a clean page in your notebook and copy out a passage that makes you swoon, from the book you are reading now or from a favourite novel sitting on your book shelf. Savour the author’s words; look at how she/he puts the sentences together; listen to the music of the paragraphs by reading aloud. Be inspired by another writer’s gift.
- Draw a line on your piece of paper or in your notebook, under the passage you’ve copied out, and write for ten minutes without stopping. Let your reading be a jumping off point for your own writing. Write whatever comes to mind without editing or censoring.
Til next time, keep writing.