Time and Place


“The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet.  His problem is to find that location.” Flannery O’Connor

My novel is set in the 1980’s but my characters flash back to their childhood and college years in the 1960-70’s.  I am having fun writing the story, but there are times I must stop and think, “When did MP3 players become popular?” or “Would my character remember the moon walk that way?”  It is an interesting problem to have.  It becomes more complex the further into the novel I get.

Until now, I have been a non-fiction short story writer, so writing a novel is daunting and unfamiliar territory.  I am used to short projects that don’t take much time and don’t require my interest for very long.  I sometimes feel I have an element of attention deficit because I like to finish a project quickly and move on to the next idea.  Writing a novel takes more patience and persistence than I am used to giving.  I enjoy my characters, though, and continue to see what surprises they offer.

I began writing the novel after the suicide of one of my college friends.  He was my mentor and spiritual guide in those turbulent years of breaking away from home and finding myself.  When he committed suicide 30 years later, I felt betrayed.  Had all I had learned from him about faith and love been a sham?  I was very angry and used my writing to lash out.  I used my writing to organize my thoughts and to eventually forgive him for taking his life.  It was apparent in my prose that I was going through of the grieving process.

At first, I was in denial.  It couldn’t be true.  Maybe someone murdered him.  Maybe it was an accident.  I explored all the options that were contrary to reality.  I felt pain and guilt.  Why hadn’t I tried to contact him?  It had been several months since last we spoke and even longer since we had seen each other.  Maybe if I had called, he wouldn’t have taken his life.

Then I was angry and wrote about how betrayed I felt.  “How could he do such a thing?”  How could he put his mother and family through this?  He killed himself just before Mother’s Day.  What lousy timing.  He killed himself before his 52nd birthday.  Why?  I stayed in the anger stage of grief for a long time.  (I sometimes find myself returning to it, but for shorter periods of time now.)

Identifying the bargaining phase of grief has been harder, but I think I manifested it by thinking my novel might help my friend be redeemed.  In the book, my character commits suicide, then suddenly finds himself “attached” to a strange woman.  Everything she does repulses him or causes him pain.  The premise is based on Jean Sartre’s “No Exit” in which “Hell is other people.”  My character is suffering because of this woman.  But he will eventually be redeemed through her actions.  In the grieving process, as I understand it, bargaining is when we try to make things better by asking God (or our belief system) if we do this, will He make things better or have things return to “normal.”

As I write the ending of my story, I can see where I am in the depression/reflection phase of grieving.  I am trying to make sense of it all and tie up the loose ends.  It makes me sad when I write about the finality of death as well as the “what could have been.”  Acceptance is the final phase of grieving and I am getting there.

It is common to flip-flop back and forth through the grieving process.  I have seen it before in my professional as well as my personal life.  I have lost both of my parents and three siblings to early deaths so the process is familiar.  What is not familiar is the nuance of death by suicide.

Writing through my grief helps me deal with it.  My novel is fiction, but the emotions are real.  As I write the story, I find it much easier to imagine the times and places my characters are traveling through.  The story is leading the way now that I have dealt with my initial sorrow.


Inner Vision and Ultimate Expression

“Every creator painfully experiences the chasm between his inner vision and its ultimate expression.” Isaac Bashevis Singer
Isaac Singer book
Isaac Bashevis Singer was a Polish born Jewish writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1978.

A prolific writer with nearly 20 novels, 14 children’s books, numerous memoirs, articles and essays to his credit, this statement is attributed to him. It is interesting to ponder why a successful writer would say this. It gives me hope.

Isaac Bashevis Singer was born in Poland in 1902. He was well into his 80’s when he died in 1991. The son of a Hasidic rabbi, he grew up in a turbulent time in eastern Europe. During World War I, his family split up because of the hardship of the times. He lived with his younger brother and mother in his mother’s hometown while his father and older brother stayed in Warsaw. He returned to Warsaw in 1921 and entered the seminary. Not rabbi material, he left school and tried to support himself by teaching Yiddish. Failing that, he went to work for his brother who was an editor. Isaac became a proofreader.

In 1935, he emigrated to America due to the nearby threat of Nazi Germany. In 1939, Poland was invaded by the Nazis. Meanwhile, Isaac Singer settled in New York and became a journalist and columnist for “The Forward,” a Yiddish-language newspaper.

Many of his stories reflect his experiences as a child in eastern Europe and his Jewish heritage. Some of his stories became movies including “Yentl” a popular movie in the 1970’s starring Barbra Streisand as a young lady disguised as a boy after her father dies. She poses as a male so she can learn the Talmud.

As I contemplate the life of Isaac Bashevis Singer, I am amazed at his talent. Yet, he, too, expressed the angst that I have as a writer, that of putting down on paper the visions that are in my head.

Isaac Singer cover

Castles in the Air

Henry David Thoreau said, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be.  Now put the foundation under them.” 

How many of us write in our minds before we put ideas down on paper?  I often “write” in the shower.  I get some of my best ideas while getting ready for work in the morning.  It can be frustrating because I want to write immediately, but I have to leave and go punch the time clock.  So, instead, I jot down a few words to remind me for a time when I can sit down and put my ideas into words.  I sometimes fear I will forget, but usually it comes back to me as I sit and scribble words. 

As a kid, I was told to “Pay attention!”  “Stop day dreaming!”  “Stop doodling!”  Recently, I read that doodling is a good thing and that the mind actually remembers better when one doodles during meetings.  If my shower ideas aren’t as clear as they were in the morning, I start to doodle and they come back to me.

Daydreaming is underestimated, in my opinion.  Have you ever had an “aha moment” while daydreaming?  Daydreaming helps clear the clutter from your brain so creativity and imagination can work (or play.)  Slow- cycling brain waves called theta waves are active when you daydream. 

Dreaming, super learning, creativity, daydreaming and deep meditation manifest in the theta waves. These brain waves are also evident during emotional times, while making modifications, or changing ideas and during spiritual experiences. By spending more time in theta thought, a person can become better at problem-solving, be more spiritually connected, imaginative, calmer and relaxed physically.

Alpha or beta thought is a better state for concentrated, focused mental activity. Boredom makes it almost impossible to concentrate on your work. In the theta state, a person has to shift back to the normal waking beta state in order to focus. Most of us have no trouble shifting from theta (daydreaming) to alpha or beta (focused) when we need to concentrate

Daydreaming has been dismissed by many as a waste of time, but by slowing down the brain activity and letting go, a person can come up with wonderful ideas.  Daydreaming increases the ability to:

1.) problem-solve

2.) increase creativity

3.) self-motivate

4.) innovate (“What if…?”)

5.) provide hope and options

So, the next time someone accuses you of “daydreaming,” tell them, “Thank you!” 

Excuse me.  I was busy daydreaming.