It is 4:18 a.m. Forty-five minutes ago my cat, bored and perhaps a bit underfed, woke me with a leap and a brrrowp! Demanding food and attention, he instead received exile to the basement. Adrenaline from the ambush and thirst kept me up while my mind slowly churned into wakefulness, despite my better sense that cried out “No! Stop it! Sleep now, think later!” Too late, in so many ways. Dark-of-night true confession: my writing is bugging me. My unfinished article for this month judges me from my desktop. The grim grind of begging to get Hollywood University noticed, of laying it out there for rejection is almost harder than I can bear, though with only ten queries down I’ve barely started. My unfinished novel, on the other hand, is past the charming precociousness of youth and is entering awkward adolescence. I want to nurture it to maturity and beauty but it just seems to be glaring at me with that “you don’t get me,” kind of attitude. I think of the grim grind and wonder, what is the point? Maybe the naysayer, the practical one who points out for my own good that my manuscripts will probably never be published is right. I keep telling myself that naysayer is speaking of statistical probability, and not making editorial judgments, but it is impossible to shrug off the suspicion that I suck. Especially at this time of the morning.
But here’s the thing. Stories are powerful. I remember that when I read books like Imaginings of Sand by André Brink. I admit, I had trouble with it at the beginning. Firstly it is an intensely feminine story written by a man, and at the start I was annoyed by how masculine the main character, Kristien Müller, seemed to be. By masculine I mean lacking in emotional intimacy and unconcerned about the feelings of others. Sue me. As the story goes on it becomes clear that these qualities are important facets of Kristien, who returns to South Africa after a self-imposed exile to attend to her dying grandmother, the one person with whom she seems connected. While the country around them is heating up for the first post-apartheid elections, Ouma (grandmother) fills Kristien with shocking, rambling legends of family “herstory.” (I hate that word, but is accurate-tales of the unremembered women ancestors, who are carried forward both in the stories and in the bodies of Ouma, Kristien, and her sister Anna.) There are dichotomies here: male and female, black and white, but the divisions break down as the individuals are revealed in their complexities. Brink strings together flawed characters, the history and culture of South Africa, and gender and racial justice, and if that sounds dry to you, I ask you to trust me, it is far from that. The writing is vivid, the tension builds palpably and most importantly, perceptions of reality and status quo are challenged. After finishing this book today, I am looking at my own past and present with new eyes, and that alters my vision of the future. Like I said, stories are powerful.
So I will carry on. Morning approaches, though the October dawn is still a ways off. Today is another opportunity to get patient Hollywood University into the right hands, to finish my article and to nudge Sleepers a few steps closer to completion. The cat, the naysayer, and the grim grind are all only parts of the whole; the story itself is much bigger and it awaits.