Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Mid-Atlantic Turning Point in My Writing: Part 5

(This is part of a serialized story about a creative crisis on an ocean liner leading me to stronger writing. To begin at the beginning, go to the August posts and begin with August 10, then scroll forward for other segments.)

On deck, midway through the voyage: my manuscript in my lap, the sounds of deck tennis behind me, the passing waves pure navy blue. The thought of actually writing--doing the thing that has been for me a way of life--makes me want to sob.

Skimming a few pages, I jotted a note: cut to the chase faster, make it more visual, more concrete. ...Then pushed it aside, took up a novel of Doris Lessing's, Summer Before the Dark. I was too restless to read, moved to another chair that got more sun. Still couldn't settle; I gave up and started walking the deck, up and down steps, through hallways, out again into the air, covering many lengths of football field.

...And came unexpectedly to a stop before the door of the computing center, deep in the ship's interior. The room was quiet, between classes. I sat down at a PC, got out my notes, started to type: I'm in India, my city Varanasi has erupted in street fighting, been shut down by police and military troops. A million people forced indoors day and night. After six days, I've decided to break curfew, go outside; I've been assured that foreigners are safe. "Stepping out the gate in front of the flat," I write, "I looked up and down the empty road. I felt tentative, as if I were testing the ground to be sure it would hold me...."

Breaking curfew--that, I realize, is what I've begun to do in my writing. Stepping outside of confinement to see where that leads. ...A great stirring of talking and laughing behind me: the computer class had arrived. I'd written only three paragraphs. Yet I felt exultant. It wasn't because of the plain sentences I'd gotten down. Instead, simply by recognizing what I was doing, I felt as if I'd taken a step toward freer expression.