March 14, 2009
. . . the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply.
— Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1892-1950
It was 75 degrees and full sun last Tuesday when I arrived in Georgia. I’d left my winter coat and my winter sensibility 700 miles behind and I was ready for adventure. I spent three days meeting new people, setting up my workspace, getting my bearings. By yesterday afternoon I had a work plan posted on a chart. After dinner I went with some of the other fellows to tour the studios of two artists who are leaving on Sunday. After their mini-shows we sat and drank wine and the other writers and I read some short pieces.
I spent today taking care of non-writing business. I drove to Franklin, North Carolina (13 miles) for a Weight Watchers meeting. (I lost 2 pounds on the dislocations of travel and the scrumptious vegetarian fare served up by the resident chef, whom we will not see again until Tuesday, but who has provided abundant leftovers.) I wrote notes in and mailed two birthday cards, one of them to singer-songwriter Tom Chapin, who, I believe, saved my life in 1974 and who once held my hand and sang Happy Birthday directly to me.
In the living room of the main house at Hambidge, the place where we gather for dinner and that has the Internet and landline phone service, I found a stack of Poets & Writers magazine from 1998. That’s about the time I started reading it, and I remembered some of the covers. I became interested in an article in the January/February issue about “Christians in writing,” mostly because of the letters to the editor in the subsequent issue that called the piece “garbage” and declared that Christian writing is nothing more than propaganda with the sole goal of closing minds.
I took the article with me to the nicest McDonald’s I have ever been in, on Route 441 in Clayton, Georgia. It’s got nice furniture, a fireplace, and jazz guitar and piano playing in the background, more like an upscale Starbucks than the typical House of the Clown. (I had a Big Mac. The vegetarian stuff is good, mind you, although the cubes of tofu pretending to be buffalo wings is a bit of a stretch, but sometimes a cheeseburger is just paradise.)
The article turned out to be not nearly as inflammatory, nor as doctrinal and didactic, as the protesting letters to the editor would suggest. Maybe that’s because I see myself as a Christian writer in the tradition of Flannery O’Connor and John Updike (and may I be forgiven for comparing myself to those two luminaries of the craft), a writer whose faith informs her work but who does not write the overtly moralistic and sermonizing fiction one might find on the shelves of a typical Christian bookstore. In fact, the article took pains to distinguish between the two kinds of fiction, favoring the first kind, and I wondered what bothered the letter writers so much. I left the McDonald’s thinking about the ways that differences in belief and practice are at the heart of the family conflicts in my novel. Those are the areas I must address, must begin to have my characters address, in the sections I will work on this week.
It was raining as I turned onto Betty’s Creek Road. It’s been raining since yesterday and the temperature has been a steady 40 degrees since then as well. Even the light of the just-past-full moon cannot penetrate the cloud cover, and it is solid dark at the end of the narrow road through the pine trees to where my cottage sits. I had left a light on in the living room, but still needed a flashlight to navigate the few steps across squishy forest floor to my door.
A certain loneliness and lostness has hit me tonight. The excitement of embarking and arriving and setting up and acclimating myself has given way to an anxiety that I really don’t have what it takes to write fiction worth reading. I miss my house, I miss my family and my friends, never more than a Facebook note or a text message away, I miss my ten o’clock dramas, I miss all the distractions I use to pretend that it is lack of time and not lack of talent that keeps me from achieving as a fiction writer.
The days stretch ahead of me, days on which I must deliver on the confidence Hambidge has shown in my potential. Tonight I am not at all sure I am up to the task.
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