Listening to the Chatter

Over the past three winters, I've been learning how to ski. Friends tell me that I spent that first winter learning, and now, two and a half winters later, I’m not learning anymore—I am doing. I am skiing. Honestly, I don’t feel qualified to say I'm actually skiing, but a revelation I’ve had this winter is that what’s holding me back from totally loving the ski experience is my fear of….chatter. Did you know that skis chatter? Well, they do—it’s the bit of bumpy bouncing they do on the snow and ice when you get going a little faster and particularly when you make turns. And here’s the thing I know about chattering: if skis didn’t chatter that would mean either you’re completely off the snow altogether and catapulting through the air, or it means that you’re pretty much glued down to the snow and ice—both somewhat dangerous situations in which to find oneself and not how I need to experience skiing.

Ski chattering takes me out of what I think my ski-comfort-zone is supposed to be—but I have to admit my expectations about what that comfort zone is supposed to be are not at all realistic to the whole process of skiing to begin with. So, if I want to get stronger and better at skiing, I need to stop fearing and blaming the chatter but recognize it for what it is—a natural part of the skiing process, a natural part of being in synch with the snow and the mountain,  a natural way to maneuver on the terrain. And the next time I’m on the slopes, it will be my challenge to not let the chatter overwhelm or distract me from what I’m trying to achieve—the fun, the rush, the completion of what I’ve begun.

And speaking of letting the chatter overwhelm us…so it happens when we’re writing, does it not? It’s rare to have a wholly quiet creative place, but when we do manage to get one for ourselves, how often do we rage at the fact that the chatter has seeped in and it’s the chatter’s fault that we’re not able to think, or write, or produce, or create? And we stop. We’ve let the chatter overwhelm and distract us from what we’re trying to achieve. 

There’s the sort of chatter that swirls around us every day in a cacophonous symphony—e-mails, phone calls, tweets, search engines, kids, spouses, parents, colleagues, bosses, doctor’s offices, repair people, traffic cops, junk mail, bills, to-do lists. And there’s the sort of chatter to which we often turn so we know we’re not alone in this process of life—friends, poetry, play, sports, books, films, music, pets, and, again, kids, spouses, parents.

The thing about chatter is that it’s life. It’s bumpy, it’s messy, it’s not always expected, and it’s wonderful, surprising, and enriching. And so, the only thing we can do is recognize life’s chatter for what it is—a natural part of our writing process because it is a natural part of our living process. We are ourselves part of the necessary chatter—for it’s from the chatter that our ideas flourish, it’s from the chatter that our relationships deepen, it’s through the chatter that we emerge as interesting interested people. And our characters whom we create and write are going to be that much messier and richer for the life we give to them because we’re letting ourselves experience all that life itself has to offer, even if it takes us out of our comfort zones. As we allow ourselves to maneuver varying terrains, so too do our characters.

So, the next time we find ourselves at the beginning of story—or in the middle, or near the end—it will be our challenge to not let the chatter overwhelm or distract us from what we’re trying to achieve—but to let the chatter itself be the means by which we reach for the fun, the rush, and the completion of what we’ve begun.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc


Let It Rain!

An author and I were talking about her new novel, which at the time was very much a work in progress. She was upset because she wasn’t as far along in the writing of the book as she thought she’d be by the time we met. Further, the story seemed to be taking some turns that she hadn’t expected and she was feeling challenged, forced to rethink characters, scenes, and the end of the story. I was quiet, letting her tell me about what was going on with her characters…and before long, she was sharing much of what was going on in her life.

Life was delivering some pretty rough blows just then—family illness, disappointments in loved ones, financial upset. Life was taking her on a twisting and turning journey, throwing up surprises, road blocks, and forcing her onto new and frightening paths. She wanted the characters in her book to be clear and level, she wanted her book to be her soothing solace, her nurturing escape from the roughness of what was going on in her life. But instead, just the opposite seemed to be happening. Her characters were revealing themselves to be complicated, multi-faceted, surprising, not always likable, but always human. Her story was becoming more complex, less easily resolved, messy. And so, in talking about her characters, we ended up talking about our own selves. We shared life stories; we railed against illness and death, we recalled our childhoods, we laughed about misguided relationships, we wondered about love, we talked about faith. We recognized that the very best stories—in books and in life—are those in which the characters make it through whatever happens, coming out the other side soiled or bruised or worse, but all the more strong and wise. And we promised each other that we’d take the same attitude towards our own lives…and if it rains, let it rain.

I've never forgotten that conversation and I think often of what it means to let it rain. It means allowing our stories and ourselves to learn and to grow from the changing weather. Allowing our stories and ourselves to ask for help if we seem at risk of drowning from the deluge. Allowing our stories and ourselves to rage and roar, then—when the calm comes (for there will always be a calm)—transform those storms into new landscapes with new horizons. Allowing our stories and ourselves to be flexible and limber while remaining confident in the roots we’ve got beneath and in the goals we’ve got ahead.

An author and I were talking her new novel, a work in progress. An author and I were talking about life, a work in progress. It was the very same conversation. Let it rain!

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc


Finding Our White Space

stillness in the white space
Poetry is one of my favorite forms of expression. It wields strength by virtue of its delicacy. It invigorates through its fragility. It expresses majesty in its simplicity. And in the seemingly quiet white space between and among the lines, poetry resonates with emotion, imagination, and universal truths.

The pauses at the end of lines or stanzas are as deep breaths – our way to fully absorb what’s come before in order to ready ourselves for what comes next. I find most often that it’s in these white spaces that the story can best be realized – not only the story that is being told to us, but the story of ourselves as our own story is revealed by and relates to what we’re reading.

Some people don’t like poetry because it’s confusing. Do these same people, I wonder, find it confusing to be still and quiet? Allowing ourselves to fully explore and experience the white space of poetry and of our own lives means exploring and experiencing ourselves. Such exploration is often difficult – shameful, embarrassing, uncomfortable. Such exploration, however, can truly be marvelous – soothing, revelatory, affirming. In poetry – which I feel is just another form of storytelling – we can find the comfort of knowing we’re not alone. And in the white spaces we can breathe in that knowledge that we’re not alone, we’re not lost.

A friend sent me these lines from a memoir by Bibi Wein, THE WAY HOME: A Wilderness Journey: “Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you / Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here…Stand still. The forest knows / Where you are. You must let it find you.” I have always appreciated the meaning of this passage, but these lines have recently come to mean something far more tangible to me than I could ever expect. Last week I found myself in literal white space – the only person on a morning-glazed snow-powdered ski slope. I paused. I took a deep breath. And as icy snowflakes fell onto my face, I experienced overwhelming joy at being a part of something larger; something majestic in its simplicity. I absorbed what had come before and readied myself for whatever was going to come next.

With each new experience, our own stories are enriched. Just as when we find ourselves in the white space of poetry and story. We pause. We take a deep breath. We leave something unsaid, but fully realized.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC