The Writers Life / Scarlet Cloak
I’ve been a writer from the womb. Probably before, actually…whole other story. When you’re born to the writing life your head is obsessed with naming, framing, defining your experience. Until you realize that among other things - like eating, sleeping and doing your homework - writing is what you should be doing with your life, you’re fairly neurotic, definitely self absorbed.
On that destined day when a teacher assigns a paper on Wounded Knee, or your mom gives you a journal, or you can’t seem to stop commenting on social media with embarrassingly lengthy posts, or the what-took-you-so-long Universe opens the door to a writing group, you flounder like…well…a flounder, flipping and flopping, hurling yourself upstream, feeling different and wondering why you can’t stay within the lines like everybody else.
Some of us are slow learners. Maybe stubborn. Or perhaps our human being-ness needed to season like fine wine or aged cheddar, ferment a little with the juice of life until we have something to share that is sweet, spicy and dark chocolaty rich.
When I get down to beginning a new piece, I often summon Rilke’s words for inspiration: For the sake of a few lines one must see many cities, men and things. One must know the animals, one must feel how the birds fly and know the gesture with which the small flowers open in the morning. One must be able to think back to roads in unknown regions, to unexpected meetings and to partings which one had long seen coming; to days of childhood that are still unexplained… to days in rooms withdrawn and quiet and to mornings by the sea, to the sea itself, to seas, to nights of travel that rushed along on high and flew with all the stars - and it is not enough if one may think all of this. One must have memories of many nights of love, none of which was like the others…
Yes. It’s a lengthy quote and requires going to my desktop for the whole. This is the line that sticks with me and sends me searching: One must have memories of many nights of love none of which was like the others….
To write a single line requires an open heart. Once open we see with the eyes of love, not the mind of confusion. Life is simple when we have eyes to see. Whether we find someone to love, something to adore, isn’t the point. To love is to create.
And so as my alarm went off at o’dark thirty and I tumbled out of bed, threw on clothes - all black, least likely to take on plane grit -- and my daughter handed me a cup of Joe for the ride to the Charlottesville Airport, my marvelous, magical mind was already tasting first phrases, nibbling at verbs and nouns, chewing on the experience of family. Something has ended…something new is pushing to be born…
Always-darkest-before-the-dawn blackness shrouded the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Shenandoah Valley, the Appalachian rolling peaks galloping north like wild horses at the edge of the grassy plains. I strain but cannot see. I am alone inside myself wondering where this feeling of anticipation originates, with whom, about what? I reach for inspiration, insight, a navigable reckoning. It will come. Always does. When the student is ready…
7A. My seat is by the window. I always book it this way…flights across the country a private retreat, no conversations please, just time to be. I’m fully alert, expectant, watching and waiting, perhaps the only one on the plane who isn’t crawling back into sleep. I sense movement and turn. The head of the young guy beside me, a black hoodie pulled low over his eyes, jerkily crumples onto his chest. His body slumps toward mine. I take him in with my eyes. Beautiful innocence. My heart beats open. With two hands I gently nudge him across my armrest, watch to see if his body holds; turn again to search the window on the black void.
I gasp. A violent gash, crimson flash across the face of the deep, erupts in the sea of black ebony, explodes, splits, spreads from horizon to horizon, dominating and transfiguring the darkness, cloaking the unknown with shapes, images…revealing themselves one breath at a time. I am on fire. Willing. Open. To what or how, dark as the night. Answers inconsequential. Alive to every cell in my body. Anything is possible. Oh what a feeling….