Friday, May 23, 2008

(on not) QUITTING

On a quiet Sunday my sister's cat waited patiently beside their pond, watching the clusters of Koi skirt the edges of the water. Orange, white and gold--so tempting in their gilded flickering that a few times it was enough to provoke the cat to crouch low and flex her claws on the stones. Once, the impulse to have the fish--right this minute--nearly set the cat tumbling over into the chilly water. In reality, though, jumping too quickly would have just forced her to focus on survival and give up the dreamy shimmering fish altogether. But, the cat restrained herself in Zenlike repose instead. Calm, collected, contemplative...

I watched her all afternoon, curious myself about whether she would ever manage to snag one of the prized Koi. Don't get me wrong, the fish were beautiful...when they moved en masse they were a halo underwater and I couldn't look away. I was not eagerly hoping for their deaths at the razor-edged claws of a sleek feline. But I was filled with admiration for the cat's determination and steady focus just the same.

Right now, I am learning the fine art of not quitting...and lessons like this "pondside sermon" are presenting themselves to me everywhere. I am waiting too: waiting for a signed teaching contract in one of my ideal schools for the fall, waiting for a signed contract with a dream agent, even waiting for my first book to actually be finished in every way (Wait, didn't I say just a little while ago that I was done with edits? Ha, the muses are laughing and rolling their eyes knowingly, "We've heard that one before, sweetheart.") I am waiting (half-nervously now) for my reading next weekend where my family and friends are sure to whisper to each other, "Oh, how does she know so much about a girl who is a cutter?" in reference to my Iris character or "Well, I guess she's going to run off to become a stripper now," thinking of the mother in my story. But rather than frantically scrambling to cast my nets and round up all of these slippery sentiments right this very second and explaining about *imagination* and *fiction*, I am taking a cue from the black and white guru in my sister's garden and just holding back.

I've had a couple of wonderful interviews about the job and the contract will surface for me once posts open up in the summer. If I jump too fast, fueled by impulse and uncertainty, I will wind up in over my head. If I reach in for the gold-flecked agent I want, I will likely only catch the jaded one who has given up sinking deeply into the creative process and instead skims along the surface of the water. This isn't what I am looking for. The book is gestating in its own time. No amount of plotting ahead with book two or my other writing projects is going to provoke a frantic "the end" response from the words. Writing a novel is the truest test of patience and willpower I've ever known (and I have three children). But, quitting isn't even something I consider anymore.

Calm, collected, contemplative...from my early years I held a thought of being a writer and teacher. I have been an adjunct instructor for eight years now and slowly, so slowly that I didn't even see it evolving--I have landed with my writing. I published my first essay, which led to me attending the year-long series with Natalie Goldberg. That year-long series and the connections I made with other writers inspired an impulse to continue to connect with creative and supportive community, so I started this blog and found many kindhearted and generous souls. The linking up online led to me wanting more connections in my off-line world, and I found myself re-connecting with old friends and meeting writers in first one group then another. I wanted an online gig to build contacts and wound up working as a book reviews editor. I wanted to start publishing poems, then the yeses rolled in one after the next. I wanted to switch gears and be recognized for my fiction and had a publication of a flash piece. I admired the writing at Literary Mama so much that I ended up working as a Columns editor with some truly amazing writers and colleagues. But, I was still angling for something else "big"-- something more visible. A state grant came in right then and swept me off-balance with museum receptions and an exhibit to come, a newspaper article about me and this upcoming reading (one of several I'm doing over the next few months). So, now, I am holding a completed, published book in my thoughts. I cannot say how long it is going to take, but I know my stubborn refusal to give up my vigil by the pond's edge, quietly and carefully observing what I want swimming by, will pay off.

And all I can say to the Koi in my sister's yard is watch out...I know a very determined cat is observing by the water's edge, taking detailed notes, quietly basking in the sun...and completely unaware that quitting is even an option.


Blogger Amber said...

You are not watching your dreams swimming BY, you are watching them swim AROUND. You know? Because they ARE staying within your grasp, and you will wait for timing just like that cat.

I could say so much about these brilliant and wise thoughts. I will just say thank you for putting them here, again. Because they mean something to ME... They make me see the way things happen.

I heart you so. You know.


4:13 PM  
Blogger Deirdre said...

Sometimes we see how the dots connect, and it's reassuring that life does indeed have a rhythm, that small (and large) reasons exist. I'm glad to hear wonderful things are coming together for you. xoxo

7:25 PM  
Blogger Frida said...

this is a delicious post. my dream is of more justice - more social justice in the world. and i know that if i race around after it i'll just wear myself out. sometimes i have to sit patiently like your cat and wait for the moment when my move is needed. when my little bit of energy will flick a switch or light a spark.

thank you for this.

2:44 AM  
Blogger rebecca said...

i loved the symbolism you used in this post - so apropos to your life right now. good luck to you and never, ever quit! i need to return to read more of your stuff, just this one reading, gave me inspiration....

p.s.-and the photo is gorgeous!


3:36 PM  
Blogger Granny Smith said...

Feline patience and concentration! A wonderful analogy. This is such a happy, satisifying post. Thank you for sharing it with us!

4:28 PM  
Blogger daisies said...

yes. i needed to read this today :) thank you my friend, xo

5:40 PM  
Blogger smith kaich jones said...

Loved this. Many lessons are out there for us to learn if we just let ourselves see - if we just let ourselves find them.

Debi (SKJ)

1:04 PM  
Blogger Melba said...

I hadn't been here in weeks and then something drew me here this morning. You flashed in my mind while I was washing my hands. I wonder how, why that happens sometimes. but it was delightful to come here and read your thoughts. How I understand the exposure an artist goes through because most family is supportive, but it does not mean they understand.

I wish you all the beauty of your most delicious dreams.


10:46 AM  
Blogger ...deb said...

What a wonderful essay, and encouragement. Thanks for that. Thank you , very much.

4:41 PM  
Blogger adi said...

when we are ready to learn, the world itself becomes the text book...
its another thing that there are no concrete answers, everything depends on us, what we choose to take, what we leave, what we understand and what we don't

6:20 AM  
Blogger Patry Francis said...

I feel so much excitement and CERTAINTY when I read this post. You are so right! Quitting isn't an option, D. Nor is the chance that it won't happen for you. It's coming, and like that vigilant cat, I can feel it all the way from Massachusetts.

8:46 PM  
Blogger Left-handed Trees... said...

amber: ah, that one word--AROUND--makes such a dramatic difference...thank you.

deirdre: i am looking for these connections always, without even thinking about it...when they do align it is always wonderful.

frida: you have already put your plans in motion with regard to social justice--and this inspires me!

rebecca: thank you for reading along!

granny smith: teachers are everywhere, aren't they?

daisies: you are always welcome, you know ;)

debi: thank you for the beautifully phrased comment, i agree with you completely...

melba: i am glad your thoughts led you this way for this post!

deb: thank you for the kind comment...

adi: i am just beginning to *really* get this

patry: if you can feel it, i will are a woman who knows some very *true* things and i'm at least wise enough to pay ATTENTION to your magical words!

Thanks everyone,

11:04 PM  
Blogger adi said...

:) so, did you?

2:10 AM  

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