OTTOMAN Water Wheel c. 1550 - 1850 Hama. Syria ©Kathleen Cohen
Because I think in metaphors, this Syrian water wheel perfectly explains my absence from my blog. Since A Murder at Rosamund's Gate released a month ago (has it been that long already?!), I've barely done any writing. I've been so busy with my day job (faculty development), my night job (teaching), my all-the-time job (family), not too mention all the fun book-related events I've been doing, that I've been neglecting my super-late-at-night job (writing). And I miss writing. For me, writing is just fun. The problem-solving, the research, the dreamy imaginings, the discovery of character and motives, the joy of putting down the perfect word at the perfect moment...It's all a process I truly enjoy. Yet, I'm conscious of being like the Syrian water wheel above. Immobile. Fixed. Dessicated. (Temporarily, I hope!). Normally, as each of my little cups bearing water gets emptied, it will soon swish down through the water to be replenished. Right now, I think I've emptied one too many cups. As the noted psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi might say, my flow of creativity has been halted. (Check out his Ted Talk on the secret of happiness and connecting with your creative self.) But I'm excited. In a few weeks, the academic year will have ended, I'll have turned in grades, wrapped up the programs I run, completed some work travel, and then I'll have time to write--and perhaps more importantly--the flow will return, and I'll get that water wheel turning again.
But I'm curious...do you have a metaphor or mental image for how you think about writing, (or anything else that you particularly enjoy?)
I saw her somewhere around here...
Years ago, I was taking the 44 bus home from school, just moving onto the Schuyllkill expressway, when we passed a sight that still unsettles me today.
There, on our side of the river, a woman stood by a guardrail, tears streaming down her face, frantically throwing papers into the wind. She was flinging these papers--not triumphantly but in real anguish--so that they were wafting everywhere before disappearing into the waiting waters below.
I remember the woman was well-dressed, maybe in a suit, and her straw-colored hair was slipping from a loose knot at the base of her neck. What I really remember, though, was her seeming oblivion to the row of faces staring at her as we rolled slowly by.
I’ve thought about this woman many times over the years. What motivated this act? Fear? Revenge? Anger? Despair?
Fear. Back then--my head clouded with Tom Clancy and John Grisham thrillers--I imagined the woman had become embroiled in a massive cover-up at the corporation where she was employed. Literally running for her life, this was a last-ditch to be rid of the files she'd stolen in a misguided whistle-blowing attempt.
Revenge: Later, I thought maybe the woman had discovered she’d been on the wrong side of an affair. Casting her philandering husband's legal documents into the water, on the eve of a case that would make or break his career as an attorney--was her way of ruining him.
Anger: When I was in grad school, I re-imagined her story again. She was an embittered doctoral student, and those scores of papers had to have been her failed dissertation. Dumping the manuscript in the water was a final ‘stick-it-to-you’ gesture to grad school committees everywhere. (I’m sorry to say—that actually happens).
Despair: Now, of course, along the same lines as the angry grad student, I can see the woman as an author, and the stack of papers as the woman’s novel, rejected for the 37th time.
So I, and my fellow bus passengers, witnessed what may have been one of most traumatic, possibly cathartic, moments of this unknown woman’s life. We knew nothing of her, other than that oddly intimate experience. I've wondered too, whatever happened to her after that?
I suppose it depends on whether she’s the hero of her own story, or a minor character invented by me. If she’s the hero, I’d like to think she triumphed over adversity, and has long moved on past that terrible day on the bridge . If she’s a minor character in my life story, I’m rather afraid she didn’t make it. Right now, she’s just a plot point, a no-name character who's still hiding her story.
One day, though, maybe she’ll make it into one of my novels. Then, I’ll know why she did it.
What about you? What odd little glimpses into strangers' lives have you witnessed? Have you ever created back-story for these moments, in an effort to understand?
who are these people anyway
One of my favorite past-times is to imagine back stories for the people I see at coffee shops, parks, airports, you name it. I'm always speculating about their personal lives, the secrets they keep, their ambitions--either thwarted or realized.
I also like to imagine people in completely different historical contexts. I never make them actual known historical figures, but I might connect them with someone famous. For example, I often look at my eighteen-year old students as World War I soldiers, or the people sipping wine as Macedonians, or the woman strolling down the street as a Druid priestess (not really sure what that looks like though) or the person who cut me off a French aristocrat (sorry about your impending beheading...)
One of my friends for sure would be a disguised Han warrior, making tea for her family, then sneaking off to fight the Huns. (Or am I thinking of Mulan?) Another friend would have been an early suffragette, and still another, a village chieftain. A professor I know would have been an Abbott, living a scholarly life in a monastery. And so on. I always imagine my husband as a Viking ship-maker or one of Charlemagne's armor-makers. I wouldn't have met him, unfortunately, as I'd have been a servant in some great English manor or maybe teaching in a one-room schoolhouse on the prairie. Or taking bribes as a Chicago gumshoe. Something like that. A girl can dream.
It's fun to speculate what we might have been like 50, 100, 1000, 2000, 10000 years ago! (Cave-man anyone?) Or for that matter, if we lived 5000 years in the future.
What about you? How would you imagine yourself in a different time period?