Your sacred space is where you can find yourself over and over again.– Joseph Campbell
I have a handled sewing basket that sits on top of a green chest my friend Kathy and I found in Vermont. In the chest are sewing tools – crochet hooks and needles and fabrics. Below the chest, a hat box holds all the cross-stitch patterns I own, and across the room, balls of yarn are interspersed with antique books. Cross-stitch and crochets are two of the things in the world that give me great rest and joy.
Almost always, I have at least two projects going – one cross-stitch and one crochet. (I actually have about 5 cross-stitch projects underway; it’s a bit of a problem I have – liking to start new things). But in my “active” basket, I have only two projects – a ball of green, fawn, and rose yarn with a partially-hooked, cozy cat bed attached and a sampler that I started for Philip as a wedding present and hope to finish – egads! I only have two months – for our first anniversary. I alternate those two projects based on my mood and the urgency of the need.
Crochet is something I do when I need to think of other things, when I just want my hands to flow through something fairly rote, counting and turning, counting and turning. Cross-stitch is what I take on when I want my mind to be focused, to let thinking slip to the back where my unconscious can untwist the cords of fear and frustration.
The way I decide that evening’s project – I pick up the thread that feels most alive, the sparking one.
I’m in the midst of writing my first Young Adult novel, and I love it. I love Mary, the main character; I love the setting; I love the story. But right now, I’m not much interested in writing it. I’m not abandoning the project. I’m not even bored but it. It’s just that I don’t feel it yet, somehow. Or rather I feel it, but it’s not bubbling and sparking inside me just yet. It will though.
At this place, in this moment, I feel something behind my sternum spark when I think of my family story, the one where my great-great-grandfather left his family and began passing as white – that’s the story I am pulled toward at this moment, and I almost cannot help but move toward it.
I have often said that writers should focus on one thing, and I still hold to that if multiple projects keep someone from finishing any of them (just look at my cross-stich projects) Maybe that’s what’s happening here – I’m just resisting the novel; call me on that if you think that’s true. But I also believe that we should live our lives in the directions that give us energy, and I think that’s particularly true for art.
For me, all writing is health and gift and understanding. All of it helps me live better and more truly. Laying words down on the page helps me be most fully me. And I need to do it every day. So no matter which project I take on – the novel or the family history – I’m doing something important, something necessary in a very real way.
Just now, though, the tug of my breastbone is to the family story. The mysteries there. The people lived wide and hard and beautiful in my genes. The tales of legend and pain and great big gorgeous power in their lives.
Thinking about them makes my heart beat faster, and so I know – I know when I think of Noah Francis as I walk in from giving the chickens cantaloup rinds and almost want to run to my computer – I know that’s where the spark is, where the story whispers, where my life as a writer is calling me in this moment.
I expect you know that calling, too, the way something you have the gift to do quickens your pulse at the very thought, not with anxiety or fear (although those feelings may mean you should press toward them, too) but with a glowing presence I can only describe as joy. Maybe you feel or have felt that way about a person, or maybe you have a hobby that just sets your heart to spinning. Maybe you are blessed to feel that way – as I do – every morning when you go to work. Whatever that thing is, I hope you move toward it, every day in whatever way you can. I hope you edge other things – the dull, shadowed ones – out of your life to make more room for the shiny, sparking thing that makes you smile.
What projects or people give you that spark of life? What are you doing to make more room and time for them in your life?