I think I have been going about this all wrong. Rather than telling the story I am thinking about the story, considering it, picking it apart before it is even a whole.
Tonight I was talking to someone very close to me about Unplanted. We were talking about some of the things that are bugging me lately, the usual life-producing anxieties. When K asked if there was anything else on my mind, I began to tell her that I am writing again. I didn’t expect this to come up in my conversation, but it did, and as I began to tell her that I am writing, I found myself talking more and more rapidly, trying hard to get it all out, trying hard to make her see what I’d gotten myself into. I told K about Mattie, and about how I know what Mattie’s future holds for her and how I dread writing her in that direction, but that I have to. I told her about Joe and his choices to leave. I told her about the kids, and what I imagine will happen to them after they are parted from their mother. I told her about my process, how I have been journaling and sifting through old material and posting it all on my blog. I told her about the late nights, the loss of sleep, the tired mornings. I poured it all out for K, in the span of no more than 15 minutes.
And then I stopped. I had nothing else to say about my writing. Nothing else to say about Mattie or Joe or Unplanted.
‘I think I just needed you to hear all of that,’ I told her. I didn’t ask her opinion about any of it (though I value K’s opinion very much). I didn’t want her feedback on anything I’d just shared with her. I was done.
K was glad I’d told her all of this, and she was glad to hear me speak so energetically about it all. I walked away from our conversation feeling even more jazzed, and closer to Mattie.
The other thing I noticed when I spoke with K is that I told her all about Mattie. Everything I said, every concern I shared, every plot point, was somehow tied to Mattie. That comforted me a great deal. Lately I have begun to wonder whose story this is. Does it belong to Mattie or Joe, or possibly Amy?
It is Mattie’s story. I know that now. I knew it before, but now I am reassured that it is hers.
K told me that I need to listen to Mattie, that she will tell me her story. That is something I forgot. I don’t know how or when I managed to forget that, but I know that the story comes from the characters. I need to listen to them. That is my job. My job is not to tell their story. My job is to hold the pen or hover over the keyboard until they are done talking to me.
I want Mattie and Joe to speak to me as I spoke to K. I want them to pour their story out for me without hesitation. The only way for them to do that is to sit still. I have to sit still and listen for them. Listen to them.
A couple years ago I was wrestling with my own demons, and much of what I had to say, the stuff I had to work through, wouldn’t come out in conversation with friends, nor would it come out in therapy. I could find no venue to voice my thoughts. So I wrote. I used some very experimental methods when I wrote. I wrote from multiple points of view, referring to myself in first, second and third person. I was reading a lot of Beckett at the time and I can see that influence when I read those entries. I read those pieces out loud in my therapy sessions and it was only then that I could truly hear my Self.
One piece in particular struck me last night.
I began by writing:
You come to your own voice. You fear your own voice and so you translate it into another’s, and that is how you write. That is the only way you feel you can write.
And then I asked:
To be productive, to be honest and rational and real, you must listen to your own voice. You must listen and give it space on the page. To be able to get the help you need, you must write in your own voice. You mustn’t censor or edit. You must be sure to write down all things real and imagined. You must be sure to write down all things occurring and felt. More than anything else, you must be honest. It is essential that you be honest.
From there I continue interviewing myself. Though what I wrote was very personal, I can see how this piece will greatly influence this story. Even more, I can see how this exercise, performing my own interview, could be a good model to follow as I listen to Mattie. So, I am taking that exercise and running with it tonight.
These are the questions I asked myself (they come verbatim from my journal entry):
Ask yourself: What are you doing? What are you hoping for? Who are you wanting to be?
And now? What do you fear now?
Who, then, do you want to be?
What do you want? Most of all, what do you want?
You must tell yourself this: It will not last forever. This pain will not last forever.
Make a small list, then. Make a small list of things possible, of things you want that you may be able to attain.
I have decided that tonight I will let Mattie answer these questions. I will move my fingers across the keyboard for her, but that is all I will do. It will be up to Mattie to tell me what she wants.