Thursday, June 6, 2013

Revisions, revisions, revisions

It's a lot like life, isn't it? And sometimes just as tedious.

Okay, I have abandoned this blog for a couple weeks. I was in Manhattan for more than half of May, personal reasons, and only managed that one post on May 17. I don't know why it was so hard to write in this blog space because Manhattan inspires a lot for a writer. I think too much input made it hard to reflect in a way that gives way to an essay or a poem.

But it did give me time for revisions...

The prologue and chapter four of the multi-generational memoir needed revising, not just the little ones, the bigger ones. Reading through the manuscript after the first set of revisions, the energy just kind of died in several pages of chapter four, so that's what I took with me to New York. Now I have to read through it again.

And again.

At some point, one has to let it go.
For this particular book, my third, it's a bit harder pondering that point, wondering if I will ever have that clear moment when I know it is finished.

And so yesterday I started again from the beginning. The revised prologue is much improved and meets the epilogue in a complete circle. But I know there is still some journey in between that needs to better cohere with that circle, with the book's intention.

For managing to "see" and "hear" this, my critique group has been crucial. My roundtable group at the Redbird-RedOak Writing community here has been a blessing and a challenge. From those "ah ha!" moments that they help me see, where something may not be working, to those places where I disagree with the critique but read again in light of it, they make me look at the writing through different lenses. They let me know how it resonates beyond the intimate perspective out of which one writes memoir. And they tell me those small places, the phrase or tone, where something just doesn't work, or the reader stumbles for one reason or another. 

Writing in community, out of community, out from community - to find a place where this is done well is a real gift (because there are many places where it is not done well, and can even do harm).

Revisions...and then more revisions. Which really is a lot like life. I have revised my life over and over again, several times in major ways. I think one of our biggest cultural errors is to ever believe we can sink into a certainty, a life that will not change, that we can somehow hold in place and stay anchored there. Even when we think we have done this, something always comes along, doesn't it? And if that certainty seems necessary to one's survival or sense of self, then that something that comes along can really shake up the foundations.

Right now, everything about our world is in flux, so the foundations of the old ways of experiencing life are also in flux. I can't look through the old cultural, ecological, spiritual lenses even of the recent decades of my own life and think that through those lenses I can "understand" what is going on, what all these changes are and what they will mean for my life. I can't organize them into a neat picture. I can't build a solid foundation on them because we have a hard time even imagining what life will be like in this country a decade or two from now.

So I try to build resilience - in my life and in my writing. I revise. I try to write in a way where the narrative, the syntax, the voice liberate a vibrant energy rather than settle it down into one understanding, or one world view.

I read an article a few days ago about how the new physics and its mathematics are leading more and more of our scientists to lean towards a multiverse understanding of creation, rather than a universe, that when the big Flaring Forth happened, the sudden Great Expansion, many bubbles emerged and we exist within the unfolding of only one of those bubbles.
Eagle nebula - Hubble Space Telescope

Try to wrap old cultural and religious understandings around that one and see how that works. Try to fit that into any framework of meaning of any cosmology that humans have come up with in our brief blip of time on this planet, and see if you can manage that.

Revise and revise. That's what unfolding does. That's what it means to live in a "uni"verse amidst other "uni"verses that are still in the process of the Flaring Forth.

And yet, we humans have evolved to search for meaning. People have asked me if there is any meaning in this journey at all, given what we know now about the cosmos. All I can say, and it is not a small thing, is that humans experience meaning, and therefore there is meaning. If we are searching for it, if we keep finding it then letting it go, finding it and then letting it go (because the search itself continues to outstrip any final answer we try to give to the question of meaning), then meaning - and the search for it - exist and are part of the truth of what is. If it didn't exist, we wouldn't be looking for it or experiencing it.

And so I write, and other writers write, and others paint or sculpt forms with their hands, and others study and teach, and others ask questions about truth and challenge failing orthodoxies that collapse under the weight of new knowledge, which will collapse again (one Copernican revolution after another now), and others sit on mountaintops - listening, peering into - and others take walks in the wilderness while others feed the hungry and shelter the homeless, and others work for justice and ecological healing, and still others (or many of these same people) go to places of worship and raise their arms up to the heavens... Energy unfolding, searching, connecting to whatever is going on here, which we will never fully understand.

If we believe the search essential, if we continue to open ourselves to revisions, then the search and the revisions ARE, and the meaning IS, and there is not a whole lot to hold onto, but a lot to surrender, a lot to let go, a lot of flow of which to become a part.

I don't have a clue what I'm talking about...

Okay, back to Chapter One.


Margaret Swedish

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