We do not know today whether we are busy or idle. In times when we thought ourselves indolent, we have afterwards discovered, that much was accomplished, and much was begun in us. All our days are so unprofitable while they pass, that ’tis wonderful where or when we ever got anything of this which we call wisdom, poetry, virtue. We never got it on any dated calendar day. – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Experience
I love this quotation from Experience. I love the whole essay, in fact. You can read it online, here. Or, even better, find a musty, pencilled-in, yellowed copy of Emerson’s essays from the bookshelves or the library or a used bookstore, clear your schedule for a few hours (or months or years) and read them. Again and again.
But actually, today, Emerson isn’t so much on my mind (aside from the opening quotation). I’ll return to him another day. Today I’m thinking about the writing course I took.
10 weeks seemed like a long time when I signed up on May 13th. It seemed like a good amount of time to write deep, write daring, get somewhere. Although, where, I’m not exactly sure. But I thought I could walk away with a clutch of stories, like a chunk of change, and congratulate myself on my efforts.
I look back at the lists we all submitted when we first started – our story ideas. Some of them were written, dutifully crossed off the ‘to-tell’ list of tales. Other stories arose that we didn’t expect. Fragments appeared that surprised us with their urgency, their latent importance. Scenes we mistook for window decoration turned out to be doorways into worldviews. Maybe we wrote things we didn’t know needed to be written. I know I did.
As each week slipped by, I watched the stories arrive, like beads on a string, one by one, some brightly coloured, some reflective, some dark and somber, some with sharp corners, some worn smooth with word polish. I eagerly read them; they were glimpses into other worlds afforded me each week. And I loved it; I loved them. From New York to New Orleans, the South Pacific to South Africa, the highways of Texas to the streets of London, I’ve been hopscotching through decades and borrowed memories these past 10 weeks.
I find myself fingering the stories and notice how many of them turn on moments. Moments when a continental shift started inside, indicated by a crack on the surface. A moment when something caught our gaze and commandeered our imaginations. A moment that we couldn’t shake from our memories, only realizing years later that it marked a birth.
It makes wonder about moments I’ve missed – the ones that slipped by me silently and I’ll never be able to point to on a calendar – When did Juniper’s ‘J’s turn the right way around? When did Nick’s imaginary friend, Peter, stop coming to play? When did Juni shift her affections from Thomas the Tank Engine to Superman? When did Nick lose his memories of Seattle?
There are moments still to write about: how, 30 minutes before we boarded the plane leaving the US for the UK to stay indefinitely, I asked my husband for my passport. ‘You’ll come back, won’t you?’ he asked, joking, but worried, as he handed it to me. I just smiled, stuck it in my pocket, and walked off, strolling the airport for one last look before making a big leap across the pond.
So what do I walk away holding? A clutch of stories? I’m not sure. Maybe a notebook with a lot of scribbles. Some starts, some revisions, some scenes in search of an idea, some ideas looking for paragraphs to inhabit, a few colored threads to start weaving a tapestry. What lies ahead? More questions than answers. More roads to wander than destinations to reach.
And now, the curtains close on all those windows I’ve enjoyed peering into week after week. We all pick up our rucksacks and continue on diverging paths, I wish my fellow writers all the best. I hope to see more of them and their stories somewhere someday. I quite like the thought of looking back and saying ‘I knew that story when…’