“So, when we have made every effort to understand, we are ready to take upon ourselves the mystery of things; then the most trivial of happenings is touched by wonder, and there may come to us, by grace, a moment of unclouded vision.”– Helen Luke, Old Age –
One of my assignments in regards to working on my novel is to write an annotated Bibliography of books on the market that pertain to my subject mater. In my case, I am searching for books on aging artists, retiring dancers and the like. I don’t have to read these books, just know they exist and research them enough to know what is out there in the publishing world. I then must write a short annotation to prove I’m immersed in my theoretical subject.
Of course, once I began researching books on my novel subject, I couldn’t help but want to read them. Heck, the assignment is founded in logic. It is vital to grasp all you can on the subject you are writing about – for inspiration, revealing truth and to know what competition you might have. No reason to write a book that someone has beaten you to, ya know. I’ve always read history books, obvious vehicles for research, when writing a historical romance, but it wouldn’t occur to me to research those things I think I already know, like what it is like to be an older dancer. Duh. But I’ve learned that you can always probe deeper into the shadows with a fresh mind (author) to guide you .
So, last night I started browsing a book so I could write an annotation today. Dang, if didn’t have to read the entire thing into the wee hours. Good book. Vital. And just as my teacher no doubt knew, it will add depth to what I am working on. I’m sure not all books I research will affect me this way, but a few will. It is worth wading through many to find the pertinent few.
This is why I love being in this MFA program. It forces me to do more than just write – it forces me to think, to explore deeper messages and to study great examples of literature, which influence my voice. This gives me approaches and tools for writing a better book. At least, in theory.
So, I just wrote an annotation, and since I think it turned out relevant to several of my recent blogs (one about crows feet, admitting my age, and my noticing details and enjoying a simpler life) I thought I would share it. It isn’t a literary or academic masterpiece. I have to do 24 of these suckers, so there is only so much time I will devote to them, but it tells a bit about me and my project in a backdoor sort of way.
Autumn Gospel, Women in the Second Half of Life, by Kathleen Fischer is a book about the spiritual dimensions of a woman’s middle years. The book explores how society views older woman and how these views affect the aging female’s sense of worth, personal attitudes, and state of mind. The dilemmas older women face are portrayed through stories, philosophical theories, cultural examples and biblical quotes, but inspirational examples of these same issues follow to counteract these realities, encouraging a new attitude which will help women age with pride, grace and in the spirit of celebration for their contributions to the world.
Autumn Gospel gives insight to the mental conflicts women fighting the natural process of aging struggle with, making it a pertinent resource for my book, Diary of a Dancer’s Divorce. Not only does Autumn Gospel authenticate the struggles of Dana, the aging dancer in my novel, but this book offers a deeper look into the many levels of frustration my character is encountering, helping me to explore how and why negativity is associated to aging in a career focused on youthful vigor.
A central factor in the plot of my novel also happens to be Dana’s journaling (the diary) something, which this author, Kathleen Fisher, recommends all aging women try as a means to heal emotional, hurt.
She states, “I have observed two things about journaling. It is hard to begin, but once begun, the process develops a creative energy of its own. A woman who came to me for therapy discovered both these truths. She thought it might help her to keep a journal, but she resisted the process, finding numerous things to do with her time instead. Gradually she began making short entries in a notebook. These became longer and she eventually found herself filling whole journals. In the process she discovered the depth and range of her own inner life; creativity previously hidden from her. Her journal-keeping both mirrored her growth process and moved it in new directions.”
I found this interesting, for I am attempting to use my character’s journaling as a tool for introducing philosophical theory about dance as an art form and how it affects an individual’s human development, while also using it as a vehicle for Dana’s personal growth and understanding of what she is feeling and why. Her journal is significant in helping her evolve and come to terms with her art and her place in it as an older artist – the core focus of the novel. I introduced this element of the novel as something she does at the suggestion of a therapist. Now, I am content that this choice is realistic.
As a mature woman myself, I found Autumn Gospel a lovely book, inspiring in its message to embrace maturity and enjoy the chance to shed the fear of growing older. Fischer reminds us that, “A preoccupation with looking young draws energy away from a woman’s inner life and diminishes her attention to other projects.”
Such a message relieves pressure to fight our self-imposed limits and validates the dreams we dare to harbor as mature adults, such as attempting a new creative endeavor, (in my case writing). In this way, the book serves as a valuable resource for me as an author, not only because it give my central character depth, but because it embodies a message to me as an aspiring writer as well.
Fischer says, “Human beauty can take startling forms. At present society defines it in terms of the body’s conformity to set norms. However, the most compelling beauty emerges from the depth and texture of a person’s life and spirit, and the face seems to carry it in a special way. Our intense response to such beauty stems from qualities that evoke pleasure, satisfaction and wonder.”
With these words ringing in my head, I will attempt to add depth and poignancy to my novel’s main character, both in her appearance, thoughts and deeds. And I will sit at the computer attempting to accomplish this end with a belief that, because I have lived a life that taught me certain wisdoms, it is worth any and all effort to work to communicate this insight on paper.
Blah, Blah, blah.
Between you and me, I’ll say that one quote from the book struck me as memorable.
“Along with discernment, this phase of a transition calls for the simplifying of our lives. Simplicity is a creative response to the awareness of limits. Times of transition force us to trim away the nonessential. The novelist Isabel Allende explains this shift after turning fifty: “I don’t have any time to waste. I don’t have time for gossip or greed or revenge or undirected anger.” She says she is concentrating on the basics, which have to do with love.
Holly cow! I think this is the best example I’ve seen yet to explain what happened to me – the thing that forced me out of the dance studio and into the woods. It wasn’t about dance, or students or stress or money or wanting a donkey. It was about redefining priorities. Love.
Do what you will with that gem.
Now, stop distracting me, Blog Buddy. I have work to do and if I keep talking to you I’ll get in trouble. All play and no work makes Ginny a dull girl (in the MFA zone).