Wednesday, September 12, 2012

When the Universe Speaks, it Speaks in Symbols

Fogbow: finding the unexpected in unexpected places.

I had not intended to take such a long break from writing anything on this blog, but, short story, I've been going through some stuff. Family stuff, novel stuff, life stuff, health stuff. Those kind of things.

For the most part, things have been going well, and I don't want to say too much right now, but I will say I have found myself confronted with some roadblocks as far as the novel is concerned (note to writer self: when you hear that voice telling you something is not-quite-right, LISTEN. Yeah, that kind of roadblock. The kind that happens when that thing in the novel you've been kind-of-sort-of-hoping-no-one-would-notice-and-you're-not-really-letting-yourself-know-you're-noticing-because-you're-really-hoping-you're-wrong-about-it-and-that-you're-actually-brilliant turns out to be yeah, that thing you should have fixed before the agent looked at it).

So I've been working to overcome the roadblocks, which has got to be one of the most frustrating things to do because it was all about thinking my way out of a writing problem. I don't know about you, but this doesn't usually work for me, but there didn't seem to be any other way to get done what I needed to get done. It wasn't about the writing. It was about what the writing was about and trying to come up with a succinct and snappy way to say it - which, of course, exposed a deeper problem that needed to be dealt with. Someday I hope to explain it all, but I'm saving it for when I actually master the problem so I can seem all brilliant. That day is not today.

Today is about process.

I am a kinesthetic person. Which means thinking my way into a problem from the outside is really difficult. When I'm confronted with a new thing to do, like trying to rewrite a novel, I usually know the first couple of things I need to do, but beyond that, it gets murky and I get confused and trying to think my way through the process makes me want to take a nap. But...once I get started, the path becomes clear. I am within the problem at that point and all the dots line up very nicely. Until that magic moment, when my brain kicks over into that space, though, I'm lost. (with my novel, seriously, I was having trouble even remembering what I'd written. I have no trouble talking about my novel, but when I need to manipulate the words, rearrange them or figure out the patterns of the novel - forget it. If I'm not in the creative space, it is just static going on inside my brain). Having gotten to the end of my third draft, my brain had pretty much shut down on the working through the problems of the novel and was being very reluctant to start the machinery moving again. It was like the whole manufacturing plant had gone dark. I was out of the story-telling space and not finding the entrance again.

So, I did the next best thing. I started a new project. I'm now about 20 pages into a fantasy novel I've been kicking around in my head for the past year or so. A fun little project. But it got the story-telling space going in my head again, and the wheels started to turn easier on Altar. But I was still having issues resolving the problem in the text itself.

Then came the day of the Metaphorical Bike Ride.

I've discovered that I like bike riding (again, I used to do it a lot when I was younger). It doesn't suck for the first 30 minutes as so many other forms of exercise do. Most days I ride at least 10 miles on the Bay Trail, which is a beautiful path that runs along the entirety of the SF Bay, and I do longer rides once or twice a week. I've been hoping to get to at least 25 miles, but I keep losing the trail at this one point and have to turn around, which puts me at about 22 miles. I'm not the only one who loses the trail at this place. I've seen other bikers riding around aimlessly in this area. The problem is that the trail is well-marked, especially when you're riding on the straight-aways with the bay or the marshland on one side and a residential neighborhood or street on the other. Not much you can do except keep going straight. Thanks, guys, those trail signs are very helpful. Then you get to this one spot where the trail suddenly divides in like five different directions and THERE ARE NO TRAIL MARKERS (just like where I was with my novel after Squaw - the trail suddenly branched and there were no markers to tell me which was the correct option).

On the trail, continuing straight took me either to a playing field complex (and there were two options here, one led me to some hotels and the other put me up on a surface road) OR over the 101 freeway and a total dead end a block later. If I went over the bridge, instead of going straight, I was on the campus of a high-tech company. If I turned right after the bridge, I went into a park and a dead-end or ended up on another street. For some reason, the "turn left" option never occurred to me. Either I didn't see the path to the left (I didn't the first couple of times I did this) OR it didn't feel right because it essentially made me back-track in the direction I'd just come.

In any event, I didn't turn left and I kept not turning left because it never occurred to me to turn left.

At least it didn't until I was thinking about it and playing it back in my head and realized turning left was the only option I hadn't tried yet and I should probably do it.

The day of the metaphorical ride started out with me getting caught in a rush hour traffic jam and getting to my starting point later than I wanted to. Which was a big deal because I had an appointment and thought I was going to have to cut my ride short to make it. Then, for some reason, once I got on the bike, I felt like I wasn't going anywhere. I have a phone app that tracks mileage for me and tells me when I hit each mile, how long I've been riding, and how fast my lap time was. A good mile time for me right now is about five and a half minutes. I was listening, but not really listening, to the app tell me I was clocking miles in at under five minutes, but it felt SLOW and like I wasn't getting anywhere. I'd also underestimated how far from where I'd started the bridge was. So here I am, feeling like I'm moving slow and not being able to get to the bridge to test out my theory, but I got close enough to see people running on the other side of the inlet, which told me that, yes, there was a trail there, and feel pretty confident that I was right. But I couldn't get there myself just yet. At the end of the ride, it turned out I'd done 13 miles in just over an hour, which was a pretty good pace for me, and much, much faster than I thought I'd been going (the converse of that is the ride I did yesterday that felt nowhere near as slow as the metaphorical ride and yet I barely covered 10 miles - I was doing 6 minute miles! Subjective experience is not a good way of gauging progress was the lesson I took from yesterday's ride.)

Here's where the metaphors come in:
1) I was actually moving much faster than I thought I was - probably the same way that, even though it feels like I'm not getting anywhere with the novel right now, I'm making more progress than I know.
2) I didn't reach the goal, but got close enough to confirm my suspicions - I wasn't quite close enough to the solution in my novel to actually see it, but I could have confidence that I was on the right track.
3) In order to find the trail, I had to do something that was 100% counter-intuitive and that looked like back-tracking - in order to figure out what I needed to do, I was going to have to do something that looked like going backwards and that seemed completely opposite to what I thought I was going to have to do.

Whether you think I'm reading too much into it or not, it worked. Two days ago, I confirmed my theory about the trail, and, that night, the piece that I needed to figure out popped into my head in a flash of inspiration. Everything fell into place and finally, finally, the idea felt right, felt organic to the novel and as if it was already a part of the novel, I just hadn't written it yet because I just hadn't seen it. I hadn't turned left because I didn't know left even existed.