I’ve been reading Bonnie Gray’s Spiritual Whitespace: Awakening Your Soul to Rest. It’s easy to read, but I’m resisting the temptation to race through it. Instead, I’m taking it in small chunks, reading, thinking, pondering, reflecting.
Part of the reason I’m moving slowly through it is that I know part of the story. Bonnie has shared some it on her blog, Faith Barista. It’s not an easy story, and it’s not an easy story to share. Part of what she’s doing in Spiritual Whitespace is opening herself to long-buried pain, emotional pain. The book may be easy to read, but it is nonetheless difficult.
Reading about someone’s pain – reading someone being honest about pain – has a way of opening up the reader’s pain. And we all have it, because we are all broken. We can often work our way through brokenness, but I don’t think we ever reach a state of “unbrokenness.” If such a thing as unbrokenness was possible, we wouldn’t need God.
Bonnie describes panic attacks, anxiety attacks, insomnia. A counselor helps her to begin to deal with it, and find where it’s coming from. Your heart aches to read what she discovers.
I’m reading Bonnie’s story, and such is the power of what she writes that her story becomes my story. I start thinking about writing, and why I write. I start thinking about the disk full of fiction manuscripts, the continuation of the story I started with Dancing Priest and A Light Shining. An electronic pile of manuscripts site behind those two books, and I’m not considering them until I find some whitespace first.
Those two books (2011 and 2012), and the non-fiction book Poetry at Work (2013), took a lot out of me. Three books in three years. And my job turning to chaos along with my elderly mother’s physical problems that culminated in her death in February and, well, I feel spent. I need to pay some attention to the first three books. I’m trying to reinvent an entire function at my day-job. I’m writing for Tweetspeak Poetry and serving as Twitter editor for The High Calling (with an occasional article there, too), and I simply can’t take on any more.
There’s another reason I’m moving slowly through Bonnie’s book and not doing any work on my other manuscripts.
While it’s impossible to say that there’s nothing autobiographical about my fictional characters, a writer can’t help but put some of his or her own life and experience into the people created in fiction. I haven’t had the same experience as Michael Kent in Dancing Priest, but even I can see some similarities (mostly idealized ones).
But in the fourth novel manuscript, a character is waiting. The manuscript has about 70,000 words (90,000 is a good length for a novel). And a character is waiting. He’s already embedded in the story. He has a name, a history, a family, and a life. He still has some work left to be completed; I haven’t quite “finished” him yet. And he continue on in other manuscripts.
I know who he is. I recognize him. He’s the most autobiographical character I’ve created. What I don’t understand, or understand yet, is why I have created him in the way I have. His defining experience is not my defining experience, and yet I recognize it. I feel this character.
“We’ve been taught our feelings are not reliable,” Bonnie writes, “so we throw them to the wayside. Trouble is, there is part of ourselves we throw to the side, too. Sometimes the harder path to rest is following your heart and holding on to nothing but Jesus. Let’s not take the easier path.”
The character is waiting. It will be a while before he makes his debut. But he’s waiting. And I’m not quite sure what to do about it.
Photograph by Petr Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.