Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Zoetrope Dreams

I will begin by saying: this is the advice I write to myself. What follows is more my aspiration than my wisdom, but I pray it nourishes you all the same.

Before I wrote my first novel, I used to graze the center tables of bookstores, fingering richly illustrated covers, turning them over to read - not the back cover synopses, but the endorsements above and below them. "Magical" was a favorite word, as was "enchanting." When I read these things, I wove a dream that they were written about my book, the one I was going to write one day.

Imagine, then, how I felt when I spotted this from an issue of Pages Magazine:*

"If you know the novels of Steve Erickson... then you've glimpsed the dizzying zoetrope of history in all its shadows and light, drunk hard from a future that is mad and chaotic and a perfect extension of a past that is just as vertiginous, and emerged from the journey with a soul both wiped entirely clean - that is, redeemed - and with a greater sense of moral and spiritual obligation than you've ever felt before. You come out of an Erickson novel simply knowing what you must do, who you must be, how the beat of your heart and the burn of your dreams relate, almost umbilically, to a future that could be far off or almost already happening, but is certainly on a collision course with you."

I'll give you a moment to catch your breath. I certainly need one. It's the Mount Everest of all endorsements, isn't it? And here we stand gazing up from the valley with our Keds on.

I had to look up zoetrope**, and also vertiginous***.  I hold little hope that either word will ever have much to do with my writing.

The trouble with following big dreams is that they can grow so big that they cease to inspire and commense to frighten us. We mean to put on our boots and begin with a hey and a ho, but we feel suddenly, strangely tired, and decide instead to begin with a nap.

I'm going to buck conventional wisdom, now. Prepare for a shock. I'm going to suggest we let go of our dreams.

Can we drop them right now, just let them fall?

Of course we can. We are believers here. If we weren't it would be harder, because then who would dream for us?

But there is One who dreams for us. He said, "I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

See there? There is a future, and it is indeed on a collision course with us. It could be far off or almost already happening; we may not know exactly what it is.

ut it is good, and we will get there.

And meantime, what must we do?

I think we must write the next word. Make it the simplest, truest word we have in us, and then write the next one after that. And in the interest of simplicity and truth, we must resolve above all to pay attention. Take seriously the eyes to see and ears to hear thing. It is easy to let the commentaries tell us what's out there, but we must read and listen and look through our own senses until we know what those senses, our own, have told us.

I spent much of last week cleaning closets, culling out a mountain of stuff I don't need. It surprised me, what I was willing to let go of, and it surprises me still, how good it feels to have it gone, how this new measure of simplicity allows me to stretch and breathe.

I think I'll add my zoetrope dreams to the pile.

How about you? Do you have dreams that have robbed you of elbow room? What might happen, do you think, if you put them in the rummage sale and just sat down to write?

Do tell. We love to read what you have to say.

*Why did they cancel Pages Magazine? Why? 

**An optical toy, in which figures made to revolve on the inside of a cylinder, and viewed through slits in its circumference, appear like a single figure passing through a series of natural motions as if animated or mechanically moved

***Having or causing a whirling sensation; liable to falling


Megan Sayer said...

Ah, there's such freedom in this. I love it. I remember years ago, when I first finished uni and decided to pursue writing as a career, how it was my big dreams that stopped me from doing anything I was truly happy with. No idea was strong enough, and no theme was great enough, and when I finally got ideas and plots I was disappointed, because they weren't able to hold up my dreams.
That was a long time ago. I gave up those very early dreams, and after a while I started a new book, and embraced the dream that one day I'd write books that would be published and would impact people.
Now I've given up that dream, too.
Right now I'm writing a new book, and it comes with a very simple aim: I'm writing it because I wanted to tell a specific story to a specific friend, because I think she might find the same magic and wonder in it as I do. It's a simple dream, but unlike the others it's so very achievable, and when I get up in the morning and write it's this dream that keeps me going, and the knowledge that if I keep doing exactly what you said, write words that are simple and honest and true, then I'll get there. that crazy way that things work book for my one friend may even be publishable some day, and may even be good.
But in the mean time, just the other day, I realised that there was another friend waiting in the wings as well, and another story that I think SHE needs to hear. I can do that. I can keep writing one book after another, for one friend at a time, and it makes me happy.

The freedom in that is electrifying.

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Just jumping in on the tail end of Megan's comment...I think that her current WIP is going to knock our socks off. I haven't read one word of it, but we've talked and I couldn't be more excited about what she's doing!

The two or three has been all about me resigning my dreams. Looking back, I suppose it's been a tough time for my family. But it's also been a time of growth and healing and living in the mercy of God. My old dreams feel like a too-tight coat now. Too limiting, too restricting. All revolving around publication. How silly of me to make that the center of my dreams! I've learned that the dream is in the writing, in having someone (anyone) read what I've written, in letting my voice flow. Publication is pretty nice, but it isn't the whole of the dream or the whole of the writing life.

The dream is in the words.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

WOW, Katy - so true. I'm feeling this! I'm right up there in paragraph 7, taking a nap... :-)

You're dead right in every way.

Oh... and incidentally, how cool is the word "zoetrope"? Challenge for tomorrow: try to use this in a sentence to make myself sound really smart and literary.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

Sweet, sweet words! Thank you for the balm of encouragement. Only the truth that God is writing this book keeps me going. Like you said, He knows what will happen to it and that has to be, just insists on being enough for me.
With all the talk of editing I realised I have a story that I deeply love but I don't have a novel. I need a collaborator to mine the lode-stone. You guys have definitely been that to me! You are encouragement and wisdom.
Here is my dream: (imagine puff of smoke billowing into the air). Here is my Dreamer.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Yowzer good!

I'm being led through this exact thing right now.

Powerful post.
~ Wendy

Anonymous said...

Katy, what a beautiful, inspiring post, full of truth and wisdom.

Julia Robb said...

others who posted already said this, but your post was so good I want to say it again. Slogging through publicity will kill a life. It's never done, it's never enough. I am going to change the way I operate. Thanks, Julia Robb

Kathleen Popa said...

Megan, I do believe that you will one day be published, and that you will impact many. You're right about the crazy way things work. Giving up on the big scary dreams may actually help you to get where you're going, because you can then do what you can, where you are, with what you have. And you have more than you think. Writers do.

I wish for you electrifying freedom every day.

Susie, I wish God would work growth and healing through something besides pain, but it seems to be his preferred technique. I love what you say about your dreams being too tight and restricting. Who would have thought that our biggest dreams could imprison us? Abraham did not dream of Canaan, and he certainly did not dream of a descendent messiah. Could our biggest dreams be too small?

Karen, I can't wait to hear how you work Zoetrope into a conversation. Be sure to report in.

Henrietta, we are honored to be encouragement to you. Yes. Let go the dream. Keep the Dreamer.

Wendy: I've prayed that your letting go will be joyful and liberating.

Kathleen Popa said...

Oh my. I've spent the day checking this post, and, seeing that mine was the last comment, thinking there'd been no more. Somehow I missed Sharon and Julia.

Julia: Novel Matters has become our major means of publicity, and it's a joy. I hope you find a way to do it that you love.

Sharon - Mwah!

Know what? Bonnie pointed out I misspelled commence in both the post and on the poster. The poster is already being passed around, so it will stay as it is. The post? My husband's offering to take me out to dinner, so it's going to stay that way too, a while. Just try not to notice, okay?

Cherry Odelberg said...

Oh, that is profound. It takes my breath away; both what was written about Erickson's book (makes me want to read it) and what you wrote about your response (makes me want to clear out the clutter and write).