Fourteen legal-sized sheets. I scan each of them, remembering to translate what looks like a ‘p’ into a double-s. Jesse, not Jepe. Today, I’m looking for Creasy, or is it Creecy? Creasia? My eyes flit past names now familiar and friendly – Primus,Cato, Lucy, Peter. There she is, December 28, 1827 – married to Dick, daughter Anna. “Cresy” this time. But then, just a few years later, there’s Dick – “wife dead” and Anna “at school.”
This is how my writing practice starts each day – with a culling together of dates and references from 14 sheets of paper. The routine grounds me in these people, ties me to them, helps me remember my purpose in writing – to tell their stories. It helps me feel with them, even if all I have are blankets and lists of age spans. It’s amazing how much I can glean about a life from just a few pieces of information.
I think a lot of my writing could benefit from this – from this digging into the depths of a few moments, a week, an hour. I wonder if I don’t – in trying to talk about a life or a place or story – overlook all the experience that is in just a moment. What if I watched the smile on the face of the little boy who finds a caterpillar or took the time to notice an oak leaf spiral through the air like a ship on the sea of air? What if I stopped looking at the big picture because I can’t, after all, really see the big picture anyway and, instead, wrote to the moment, the fact, the chair? What would my writing be (what would my life be) if I thought small?
Creasy, in 1842, your daughter Anna is listed as a “woman.” I grieve because you did not see that – her face flushed after a first kiss, the way her shoulders set back when someone crossed her, the quietness that settled over her in the evenings as she sewed the hem of her father’s pants. So much in this one word – “woman” – so much that you did not know.
In what you are writing now, what moment, what place, what word could you explore more? What do you find? I’d love to hear.
Incidentally, over on my Facebook page, I’m giving away four books by women writers – Art and Lies by Jeanette Winterson, The Antelope Wife by Louise Erdrich, The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd, and Season of the Body by Brenda Miller. Just stop by and leave your email address (will be used only for this contest) if you’d like to be entered to win. Feel free to spread the word. Giveaway is open to anyone who is interested.