Monday, October 27, 2008

Integration Puzzle

Might we not say to the confused voices which sometimes arise from the depths of our being: Ladies, be so kind as to speak only four at a time?
~Anne-Sophie Swetchine

Reading from my yet-to-be-published novel The Girl Who Fell from the Sky at The Speckled Hen in Reading, PA last week was so much fun. The event was put together by Sue Lange with other Pennwriters Area 6 members including Liz Clarke, Pam Garlick, and Carol Haile. Yes, the food was great, yes, the room was packed to overflowing, and yes, I got a wonderful response from both friends and strangers. But beyond that, as I looked out into the audience to begin reading—and I had a long moment here, as a woman struggled to pry her four year-old daughter from the room against her will—the most amazing feeling washed over me. Of course this sensation wasn't random. While we can't always predict their arrival or intensity, feelings aren't buckets of water rigged by some prankster to wash over an unsuspecting stooge. Feelings have sources deep within our psyches that can usually be made available to those who seek them.

First came an awareness: Like many writers, I am not one woman. This was apparent to me in high school as I threw myself into gymnastics, cheerleading, dance, high school musicals, chorus, Russian club, student council, and a short and misguided stint in intramural basketball. I was painfully aware of the fact during my six attempts at choosing a college major that would lead to an outwardly desired career path, and even more so during subsequent years spent subconsciously avoiding said career path working low-paying jobs (in 1982 I was the highest-educated head waitress the Hotel Macungie ever had). Until my 40s, I never realized that as a writer, I can honor all my lives—on the page. I am a wife, a mother, a daughter, a stepmother, a neighbor, a co-author, a workshop leader, a book group leader, a former equestrian, a church member, an editor, a walking partner, and former dance critic. This kind of self-concept is the opposite of simple. On any given day, a little piece of me fits into a lot of other puzzles. Some days I feel spread so thin and yanked in so many directions my head starts to spin. But I love my multi-faceted life; it keeps all of my creative cylinders firing.

Then, an observation: The night of my reading, representatives from all of my various splinter lives were either with me in the room or with me in spirit to share in the first public reading of the project into which I've poured all that creative combustion for the past five years. For those 15 minutes, they offered pieces of themselves to me: they fit into my puzzle.

Oh, that feeling: I am no stranger to public speaking, and I have read several of my essays and short stories aloud to audiences of one sort or another. None of my previous experiences compared, though, to the feeling I had at The Speckled Hen on Tuesday as I shared part of my story with people from so many different aspects of my life. Familiar faces tilted up toward me in expectation, their bodies tipped ever so slightly forward as if offering themselves to the story. I felt a wave of glorious integration wash through me as I shared with them a project born of my passion and intellect, experience and imagination. That strangers connected with the material as well was motivation enough to keep slogging down the road to publication.

I re-read this entry and think perhaps I am making too much of it. Evidence of two more pieces of me—critic and child. But today I 'm going to let the child have her say. Part of being a writer is to recognize a "moment," and that's what I had on Tuesday. I know I'll be drinking from this replenished well of affirmation for quite some time, drawing from it inspiration and renewed determination to share my work.

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