It has been an odd time, this spring. Different threads of my life have been variously worked, unraveled, reknitted, and sometimes even finished. Others are stubbornly left hanging there, neither one thing or the other.
At the moment I’m sitting at the table in front of the patio doors that lead out to the deck of a house in the Indiana Dunes. The view is woodsy, trees just leafing out, mostly oaks, maples and cottonwoods. It’s very different than the view from the big window at home, which looks across the street at a massive plain brick wall, the swimming pool side of a former YMCA. It’s a bit of deja vu for me, as I’d once lived in these dunes for fifteen years. It’s also very different than the spring I’d originally envisioned, which was working and puttering under a shady arbor in my garden, and getting to know and play with a grandchild. I’m still getting my sea legs with the current reality, so that I can make the most of it.
The novel proceeds apace, and the first quarter is currently in the hands of my Reader Team. There are similarities between learning to write a novel and learning to knit well: the choices, the options, are vast, for one thing (pattern/plot, yarn/protagonist, color/style), and it takes a lot of practice to do it well, to get a flow going, and to have consistency in the gauge. Many writers say you have to write a million words before you get any good at it, and I think the same might be true of knitting (or crocheting or other needlework), although the speed at which my daughter-in-law went from knowing nothing to producing stunning sweaters could not possibly have added up to ten thousand stitches, let alone a million.
While working on the novel, I moved from hacking together a plot line and some characters to refining them, and became aware of elements such as dramatic tension and telling versus showing. My protagonist has become less and less like myself, taking on a life and attitude of her own, which means that when I now sit down to write, I must enter into her point of view, get inside her head. The other characters have become more real, as well, and the plot has shifted because the more they become distinct personalities, the more their motivations become clear, the way their threads of the story want to play out. I find myself no longer working to a formula, which is thrilling and scary at the the same time. Riskier, too.
Risk is relative. I will turn 58 this summer. It’s not old, but it’s not young. I’ve written my million words and knitted my million stitches, so even doing something new is not as new as it would have been thirty years ago, or not new in the same way. Some of the baby steps in learning something new can be skipped, while others can be real hurdles. But time itself becomes a more pressing factor. Over the winter, we were near as a close friend gradually faded out from a brain tumor, an inescapable reminder that time can run out before finishing the normal course of steps toward a goal. And the likelihood increases with time.
Time, too, increases the number of loose ends, incomplete story lines, unresolved plots. “You can’t go home again” becomes an echo that doesn’t end. “What happens next?” becomes an unanswered question. I used to have a bad habit of not doing the tedious finishing work with projects, the blocking and the weaving in of the loose ends; it didn’t matter back then, there was plenty of time to do it later. These days, however, it brings great satisfaction. Actually seeing something to completion, dotting the last “i,” crossing the last “t,” weaving in the last loose threads, finishing Act I, then Act II, and finally the entire story with Act III–it’s a gift, really.