The Memoir and the Amaryllis

This is the second year my daughter-in-law gave me an amaryllis for Christmas. Maybe you got one too. They come all packaged up in a pretty box—a disk of potting soil, a large amaryllis bulb and a pot to grow it in.

I followed the directions on the box, soaked the potting soil in water until it filled the pot then planted the bulb, pointy side down, and set the pot on my kitchen table where, each morning, I sit with my coffee and my notebooks and write.

These days I’m deep inside writing a memoir based on an around-the-world trip I took many years ago, after my husband died. I’m writing the notebook draft first, going to the blank page each morning and hoping to get down two or three or four pages. (Some mornings I settle for one.) It’s slow going. I think I might get discouraged at how long it’s taking me to get this first draft done, except for the amaryllis.

For several mornings after I first planted the bulb I’d lean over the plant, coffee cup in hand, and examine it to see if anything had started growing yet. Nothing… nothing… nothing… until one day: voila! a tiny sprout of green showed itself. I was giddy with delight. Of course, all along things were going on underground: roots were digging deeper, finding their way. It’s like this with the writing: nothing… nothing… nothing… and then, one morning, voila! just like that: meaning appears and I experience the same giddiness. But before that cracking open of meaning can happen, there must be the digging deep, the work of finding the way.

Each of these winter mornings since planting the Amaryllis, I go through the same routine: examine the plant and rotate it toward the light, then light my candle, get out my notebook and pen, and settle in to write.

Slowly, day by January and February day, the plant grew, leaves took shape, embryonic buds emerged. And day by day, in my notebook, the story grew, sentences took shape, paragraphs emerged. The Amaryllis and the memoir, both in the process of transforming.

Naturally, the cycle of the Amaryllis much shorter than the cycle of making a memoir, or a novel, or any long piece of writing. It will reach full bloom long before the memoir is complete. But for both, it’s still a matter of turning toward the light, digging deep, and allowing the process to shape what wants to emerge. Each must take as long as it takes.








Notes on Napping

Yesterday I took a nap.

OK that’s a lie. Yesterday I took two naps. One shortly after breakfast and one in the afternoon. Altogether I probably napped close to an hour, maybe more. I wasn’t timing myself or limiting the nap time by setting an alarm. I just arranged the pillows on the sofa, covered myself with the throw, let out an audible sigh, and closed my eyes. Each time when I woke up, I felt better.

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Why I Write . . .

In some of my books about writing I quote well-known writers on why they write. For example, in The Lively Muse Daily Appointment Calendar for Writers, I quote Carlos Fuentes:

“One wants to tell a story like Scheherazade, in order not to die. It’s one of the oldest urges of mankind It’s a way of stalling death.”

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