Oh, I'm just a writer. That’s what I say when people ask me what I do these days. “Oh, I’m just a writer ... you know.” Weeks revolving around deadheading petunias and reading novels on my Kindle fill the time too, but it is writing which absorbs me during this pandemic. The oh, I’m just a writer part really doesn’t let people in on how much work writing is, though. How many hours it takes. How writing is something that you either do, or you don’t. Sometimes, there aren’t enough hours in the day to write all you want to write.
As the pandemic rages, I've been thinking about Ava Stuart, the heroine in A Portrait of Love and Honor. The people she’s met, her memories of when she and Jay first fell in love, their son who would grow up and never get to know the man his father was.
I read an interview with novelist Elizabeth Strout after she reintroduced Olive Kitteridge in Olive, Again, a book I read this summer and loved, as I did Olive Kitteridge. In this interview in The New Yorker, Strout says:
"I never intended to return to Olive Kitteridge. I really thought I was done with her, and she with me. But a few years ago I was in a European city, alone for a weekend, and I went to a café, and she just showed up. That’s all I can say. She showed up with a force, the way she did the very first time, and I could not ignore her."
Like Olive, Ava has much to say as she ages, a woman alone. So, I'm putting my completed memoir on the backburner and writing fiction again. I feel free, letting Ava tell her story, instead of me.
Although I have written two memoirs, who can ever truly analyze oneself? I have begun to believe it is impossible, especially the older one gets, and considering the times in which we live, where there are more questions than answers. And how does one write with clarity about people with whom one is intimately involved, without in some small measure, at least, betraying confidences and making the whole business seem trivial through endless dissection? I know ... changing names, changing identifying characteristics, creating compelling scenes, all tools of fiction writing, anyway. I did this in both my memoirs and loved the process, but it seems a new story needs telling from another point of view.
Ava can speak about writing, because she is a writer. She can speak about growing old because it has been years since Jay died and her loneliness and her solitude are worth exploring. She’s acerbic and sometimes judgmental. Regret, disappointment, it's all there, and she doesn’t have to worry if her grown kid likes what she writes, or if an old boyfriend might sue her for libel because she reveals his inadequacies, and her own, at the same time, which can be sad. There's a freedom and energy in letting Ava tell her story. It’s not a watershed moment in one’s life, like chronicling an abusive childhood, hiking the high trails above the Pacific, grieving the death of a child, performing a unique job like trampoline artist ... just the ordinary days of a woman searching for meaning.
Although even when I wrote fiction people thought it was memoir, this move back to fiction feels freeing, gives me energy in the morning to write. It's all good, as people say. Writing is a force during this dark time. What could be better than that?