Exploring those mysterious, underlying forces fueling a writing life

Posts tagged ‘Obstacles’

Pushing Boulders

I had the speech all prepared.  I walked into the conference room with my group of six fifth graders, ready to console them when the principal would turn down their request to go on a field trip to visit the Mark Twain House. I had already been told that morning it would be a “no”.

Marktwainhouse

(marktwainhouse.org)

They call themselves the Mysterious Manning Society.  We started off with fourteen students, all interested in being part of a book club that met once a week during their lunch time.  I offered three choices of books based on their interests and we settled on The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

When we first started reading the book, I mentioned that the author had lived in Hartford (less than a half-hour drive from the school) and his house was now a museum. We all agreed it would be cool to go visit at the time, but didn’t pursue the idea.

We are now down to six members who have persevered through fence painting, Tom and Becky’s engagement, Injun Joe, runaway pirates, and Tom attending his own funeral, stolen treasure, and courtroom drama. The idea of visiting the museum had morphed into more than just an idea.

I explained to them that it was an unusual request – a field trip for only six students.  We would have to persuade the teachers, the principal, the curriculum director, maybe even the Superintendent.  But why not try? My consolation speech already began taking form in my head.

I was going to tell them to think of themselves as a river – the water that flows downstream to a destination.  The principal and others were the boulders in the way. The water does not stop, it simply finds a way around the boulders.  We would not get to go on the field trip, but we could always pick a day during the summer and tour the house together.   It would be a life lesson, a teachable moment for handling disappointment.

I was the one who learned a lesson. In perseverance and persuasion.  See for yourself:

The Mysterious Manning’s Society’s Magnificent Mark Twain Adventure Presentation

How could anyone say no after that?

The field trip is booked.

The river didn’t go around the boulders.  It pushed the boulder aside.

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Writers of the Rivers

Herring Run, Pembroke MA

Herring Run, Pembroke MA

The Wampanoag and Massachusett tribes used to call the area, Namattakeesett, place of much fish, because of the annual springtime run of herring in the rivers.  Although overfishing, pollution and the destruction of spawning grounds have reduced the abundance of fish, re-stocking and careful management help this springtime event continue.

Yesterday, my family and I were fortunate to witness the first day of this year’s herring run in Pembroke, MA.  We watched a couple of dozen of the river herrings try to make their way up stream toward their spawning grounds.  We saw their obvious struggle to go against the current.

At times, it appeared they were stuck, their wiggling bodies just moving to stay right where they were.  Some even flipped around, only to lose ground.  You wonder how did they make it this far.  Will they get to where they need to go?

Yet, inch by painstaking inch, the herring advance.

They are the writers are the rivers.

We writers continually struggle to find the right words to tell the story.  At times we flip-flop over what we’ve written, make changes, even go back to our original words or ideas.  And sometimes we get stuck.

Sometimes the herring appear to be going nowhere, but they aren’t really stuck.  Instead they are gathering their strength, focusing, getting themselves ready for the next push forward.

It is in the herring’s nature to make this journey, as difficult as it is.  Just as it is for writers.

Inch by inch.   Word by word.  The story gets written.

When we saw one of the fish successfully shimmy forward past a difficult rock step, we clapped and cheered (much to the surprise of the other visitors in the parking lot).

And while the herring may not need our encouragement to get to where they need to go, we writers do.

And I am so very grateful for every cheer I receive from friends and family along my way.

Over, under, around…

Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins is used in classrooms to teach preposition phrases in an entertaining way. Rosie has to go around the pond, over the haystack, through the fence, and under the beehives on her walk through the farmyard.

I had my own lesson on prepositions this past weekend, as I went on a “walk” – not through a farm yard, but a muddy motor cross course.  The Rugged Maniac race is a “5k obstacle course race that combines the most rugged terrain and burly obstacles to allow those with a sense of adventure to define themselves, then bask in glory…” (www.ruggedmaniac.com).

Rosie’s Walk may be about prepositions, and the Rugged Maniac may be about adventure and glory (and beer), but both the story and the race share an underlying message.  Life is full of obstacles.  And to continue on your “walk”, you must find a way to get past all those obstacles, whether it’s over, under, through, or around them.

Think of your writing life – what obstacles stand in your way?

Are there walls of your own creation, like the Wall of Self-Doubt; or are they real (your computer died, yet another agent rejected your novel, too many after school activities, not enough time)?  I had to climb over walls up to 12 ft. high (not so easy for this vertically challenged individual).  I had to get creative, use the posts holding up that wall to hoist myself up and over.  You may have to get creative to get over your walls (use the computer at the library until yours is fixed, write during those 15 minutes before the doctor is ready to see you, get up a half hour earlier). Find a way.  Get yourself over the wall. Keep yourself going.

Stay focused.  It’s necessary, especially when you’re crawling under barbed wire in muddy water.  Staying low also helps.  And when you are on your hands and knees crawling through a tunnel of complete darkness, just persevere.  You will finish that novel.  There will be a light at the end.  And another obstacle around the next corner…

Life is full of obstacles, full of mud – petty annoyances, dirty to-do stuff.  Mud is messy.  It’s there to slow you down, burden you.  Keep your eyes open.  Find higher, firmer ground, where not as many people have tread before.  And suddenly you may find yourself racing past all the others stuck in that mud.

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