In All Weather, Under Any Circumstance-Guest Post
One of the great writing gifts of 2014 was connecting with Lisa Harris, an alum from Bard College. We are kindred spirits although I graduated from Bard in 1991 and Lisa in 1974. In February, Lisa gave a terrific interview about writing and the creative process. We have been corresponding ever since. Her guest post today is perfect for January as many of us are grappling with order and our intentions for a creative life.
In All Weather, Under Any Circumstance
by Lisa Harris ( ‘Geechee Girls-–2013, Allegheny Dream—2014, Ravenna Press)
My friend tells me, “You have a high need for order in your life.” Of course this is a relative concept, but she is also right. Open a closet, what tumbles out? Open a cupboard, what falls? Reach in a drawer to locate the correct pair of socks, only to leap back at the mess, then grab the first pair and shut the drawer. I unintentionally leave trails, not of breadcrumbs, but of wrappers and tissues and apple cores. In my gardens, grass root plants spread. At first I welcome them by letting them grow. But when they begin to overtake the bed, I yank them. Within days, they wiggle out from beneath stones, and push up through darkest mulch, defiantly resurrected.
In my studio, stacked papers appear as orderly, but peruse them, and you will discover unresolved drafts of poetry collections, novels in progress, sketches of life observed, a quagmire of thoughts and an abundance of observation. Order is an illusion that prevails until it is exposed by life. My true compulsion for order shows up when I write: I work to get the words in the correct order, based in my presumptions about sound and word weight, texture and effect. Try as I might to banish the poet in me, I cannot. No matter how many shields I put up, no matter my effort to block out the noise of the world, I am still held captive by cadences and melodies, the search for the perfect verb and noun, in an effort to reveal, compel and heal.
As writers we are drawn to the tumbling, falling, spilling, wheedling, charging disorder of creativity—in all weather and under any circumstance. If we could ignore it, we would, but we cannot; it is how we live.
Allegheny Dream, my second published novel, has been a work in progress since 1982 when I wrote poems about the former and formative landscape of my life, my childhood memories, my ancestors’ stories, the Appalachian culture of honor—the petty, lovely, and horrible. I had to recreate to release these ghosts and mine the emotional truth while avoiding memoir or autobiography. This novel had many previous forms: Collisions, a novella of linked short stories; Resurrecting the Quick, a hopelessly dark saga; and Boxes, the emergence of what it was to become—a study in shame and sorrow evolving into a picture of love redeemed. Allegheny Dream eventually stepped into the world whole, like its heroine, Eliza Schnable Friday, who used the Civil War, Gilgamesh, Hamlet and her ancestral knowledge as a compass to relocate herself.
So, here is the clincher. We cannot ignore the weather or circumstance, the earthquake or the mundane. In fact, we have to experience them, survive them, reflect upon them, and then report. We have to go for walks day and night, in the rain and snow and fog and sun; we have to sit and do nothing, or read, cook, play—all as counterpoint to the deep work of imagining, of making connections between ourselves and the gigantic cosmos—listening for the birthing cicada as it crawls from a rotten log, its wings still wet from emerging; watching the English ivy creeping back despite all attempts to discourage it; and feeling the insistent, finite thumping of our hearts.
And what about losing faith and doubting yourself when you are tired, rejection slips are piling up, and you are overextended with responsibilities? You need to do something visceral with Doubt; spit on it, or light a candle and burn it away. Do not let it prevent you from writing.
My daughter gave me a wall hanging, which reads, “Your story matters. Tell it.” Get a wall hanging. Your story, the one that teases you and nags you, that interrupts your sleep and mocks you, the one that cries to be held and demands to be let go, has only you to tell it. Sequester yourself; pick up your tools and begin.
Lisa Harris is a writer, artist and educator. She has many publications to her credit. Her poems have been published by Puerto del Sol, Fennel Stalk, Bright Hill Press, The Cathartic, Karamu, Stillwater, The Ithaca Women’s Anthology, and ginsoko. Her stories have been published in ginosko, The MacGuffin, The Distillery, RiverSedge, Nimrod International, The American Aesthetic, and Argetes. Two of her stories won the Bright Hill Fiction Prize, and one story was anthologized in The Second Word Thursdays Anthology. Her most recent novel is Allegheny Dream with Ravenna Press. Find out more about Lisa at http://lisaharriswriter.com/