What Now?, Part III: The Infant

Campo Santo, Henry Rael

Committing to write every single day for a two-month period was a good start in taking myself more seriously as a writer. Knocking out the messy draft by finding a quiet studio to write was also a good start. But now the messy drat is here, and like a new mother after friends and family have gone back to their respective homes and day-to-day lives, taking with them their oohs and aahs, I have looked at this little baby that is my manuscript and wondered how to best care for it.

I confess that I have fantasized about mothering—in a less-hands on way—some other more fully-developed creature. These fantasies led me to finish a draft—a strong and solid first draft—of a short story I started writing in that icky period when the fire and my grandfather’s death loomed so large and heavy over my writing desk that I couldn’t find my way back into Vesels. I would sit at my desk, that was not the precious green desk I had lost in the fire, but the donated desk that had yet to become fully mine, and read lyric essays about my grandparents that I’d written in grad school and had no idea how to relate to, much less revisit and revise. Maybe they didn’t belong in the book at all. Maybe they were brilliant. Maybe I should rewrite the whole thing as a novel.

I wrote a short story, my first ever, about a waiter at El Gran Café La Parroquia in Veracruz. I filed it and tried to work on the book again. Then we celebrated K.’s fifth birthday and had to scramble to find a piñata at Pro’s Ranch Market the morning of the party. K.’s custom alien was not ready because the piñata maker’s wife had died in the days leading up to the party. Then Henry and I met my parents for green chile cheeseburgers in San Antonio (New Mexico, not Texas) to celebrate my mom’s birthday. On the way back, we passed an elaborate descanso in Socorro. I don’t remember how it looked, only that it was taller than most and made of iron, rather than wood. Henry said, “Wouldn’t that be a cool short story? About a guy who makes descansos, but is kind of tortured by the process?” I thought, Yeah, he’s really a piñata maker, but starts making descansos when his wife dies. The next day I started writing about Sebastián and Elena, the piñata maker and his wife, and for several glorious days, they led me through the streets and acequias of Atrisco, where the roads are always under construction, and the neighbor’s pit bulls jump up and down along a chain link fence each time the other neighbor’s peacocks take their evening stroll, and Canada geese and sandhill cranes fly low over cottonwoods and Chinese elms on their way to Bosque del Apache.

Then I got too busy to write anything but a weekly blog post. Then my writing coach and Henry and ArtSpark and the whole Vessels Team helped me find my way back to Vessels. So I knocked out a messy draft, and instead of panicking when it looked up at me as if to ask, “Now what?”, I remembered Sebastián and Elena. I remembered that writing a chapter or a short story or an article or a blog post or a grant application that articulates my vision all comes from the same creative source, and if I fully commit to one, I will always find my way back into another. I remembered that I like finishing things. So I finished “Descanso.”

Vessels is still a baby. I had secretly hoped it would find a way to raise itself while I was finishing another project, but now that I am back, I am glad the book is still messy. I am glad it still needs me. Like a new mother, I have never done this before; but I trust my instincts. I trust that this project is in my care for a reason. I trust that something deep in me already knows what to do.

Published in: on February 22, 2011 at 1:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

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