Wailing at the Wall

Life has been a whirlwind.

Let me tell you about the past few weeks as succinctly as I can. Nothing major has happened, not by certain standards anyway. But my brain and my heart have been on a strange journey that can’t quite be captured in words. Perhaps that’s the reason behind my blog-silence–it’s certainly never because I have nothing to say.

I was in the desert recently, physically and metaphorically. Creatively, I was all dried up, too terrified of a misstep to even crawl my way towards water. But then, I went to Israel. Really. For ten days, I traveled the country with a tour bus full of other 20-somethings, thinking about the history of the land, about our ancestors, about what it meant to be who we are. It was from a Jewish perspective, in many ways, but for me no deep thinking is possible without my creative self cropping up.

I looked out over the complicated border between Israel and Lebanon. I partied in Tel Aviv, and stuck my feet into the Mediterranean Sea. I felt an array of complicated emotions, complicated further by socio-political awareness, and my unwillingness to identify with a cultural pain-body. I wandered in the desert, stumbling over sun-bleached bones. I heard the call to prayer ring out over Jerusalem from the Muslim quarter, as the sun set over the holy city. I came to the Western Wall, as unreligious as I am, and cried. And I saw thousands of names at Yad Vashem, not knowing who among them I might have called family if history had not been what it was.

I am still unpacking that journey. I don’t know all of what I felt, all of what it means. But I do know that when I returned, despite having come down with the flu during the last days of the trip, I felt stronger and more resolved than ever.

I’d broken through something, managed to inch forward in my creative desert, and the moment I did that I found my oasis. I found the strength to recommit, and begin again.

The book I have been working on these past few months, the one that stalled after some intense interest from agents, for which I’d begun to put so much pressure on myself because of that interest, suddenly opened up to me like the arms of a loved one. “You have changed,” it told me. “And it’s okay for me to change, too. I’m ready to be what you want me to be. And you’re ready to write me as I am.”

Hopped up on decongestants, I began a total re-write of this manuscript last week, switching from first person present to third person present, and then last night I switched it again from present to past tense. I am okay with these sort-of-mistakes, and the work it takes to correct them. I am okay with the new scenes my mind is drawing up, the new ways the characters are showing themselves on the page, the new focus of the story as a whole. I’m okay with leaving behind the beloved scenes I crafted for the original draft. I’m okay, because at least I’m writing, and that will always feel better than standing still in the desert.

I am slowly peeling back the layers of this new manuscript, and at the same time peeling back layers of myself–as a writer, and an artist–as a traveler changed by my journeys. I’m no longer beating myself up for failing my “original” story, or beating my head against the wall trying to make it something safe, something appealing, something that fits into the mold of what an author’s first agented book should be.

Not only that, but my office is finally taking shape, after months of disarray. We moved into our house this past August, and just last weekend we finished painting the chalkboard wall, and I was finally able to set up my desk, move my bookshelves, unpack my reference books, run an extension cord so that all my electrical things had outlets. I finally have my own space, where I can slam on the piano keys and compose ballads on my ukulele, play movie scores on my cello, or do yoga without a cat scratching at my legs. Oh yeah, and I have a place to write.

Something about my trip to Israel has made me come undone, in an excellent way. I stopped fearing. I embraced the grace in my gracelessness, the thrill of each uncertain step. I found faith in things I cannot name. I came to terms with the fact that the desert will always be just beyond the border of the oasis, a fact both comforting and sobering.

And I understood, and understand, that I will learn these lessons again and again, until the day I die.

Here’s to finding an oasis–and the exotic fruits of a strange journey.