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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

hibernating, luffing

I really do mean to write posts more regularly. But when activities crowd into the later afternoon, I've decided I will not push myself. Today, having come in from buying our filtered-water supply (about 80 L), and having played--and, very luckily, won--a chess game at Waterland, it's 3:30 p.m. and I'm in good shape to write a post.

How many ways are there to say "dry spell" or "low period" or "doldrums"? In a recent e-mail to Warren I used the image of hibernation-while-awake: I feel like a hibernating animal who has not gone to sleep for the winter, but who is lying awake through his suspended animation, eyes open, quiet, and breathing very slowly as his body temperature drops and his heart rate slows to a couple of beats a minute. I'm quiescent.

Still, in this quiescent, suspended state, I try to nudge my project ahead. I sat here looking at my notes for chapter 23 for some time this morning. I keyed the dateline, then stared at the blank screen space below it. Nothing was coming to me. Uncomfortable emotions moved through me, disturbing me, distracting my mind away. I would come back to the blank screen.

I opened my journal and wrote something in there. Better to write something, I thought--just get the wheels going. I returned to the notes and stared awhile longer. I just didn't feel like writing anything. Nor did I really feel like reviewing the notes I had already written.

Eventually I thought, to hell with it, I might as well just start writing the chapter. Otherwise I will become depressed. So I opened up the document for chapter 23, which was already set up with its datelines and its header and so on, and let some words pop into my head--an important thought of my character (in this case, Alexander, the young would-be astrologer). I typed them, then just started associating from there, having a good idea of the zones I need to visit in order to cover off the material in my notes. In this unemphatic way I wrote my way to page 2 of the chapter, then broke to take a run in the sunshine.

I remember going sailing with my father when I was a kid. I really liked sailing, although I never developed Dad's passion for being on the water, especially windborne. Still, sailing was a sensuous feast of breezes and salt and rough lifejackets and gulls' cries. One of the moves in sailing is called "coming about", when the boat is steered across the wind to tack in a different direction. The boat turns and the sailor has to let the boom fly across the boat so that the wind can fill it from the other side. During that period, when the sail has lost the wind from one side and before it picks it up from the other, the sail goes slack and flaps loosely and uselessly. This is called luffing. The boat at that time is moving only under its momentum; it has lost its wind and is waiting to pick it up again in a new direction.

So, another metaphor: I'm luffing.

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  • Hello, Paul...I hope you come about and continue your voyage. By the way, your previous post about Jane Jacobs inspired me to order the book. I'm looking forward to reading it. d:)

    By Blogger Debra Young, at May 03, 2006 5:09 PM  

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