I’ve been preoccupied these past two weeks with the final edits on a creative non-fiction piece I am entering it into a contest. The essay is about finding my mom’s ashes thirty years after her death. While the writing of it was a journey and the editing, at times, epic, this story is also the culmination of my grieving process. Not to say that I have relinquished all my feelings about mom’s passing but I think I have finally come through the more intense parts. Then again, who knows? Losing a parent at any age continues to have direct and indirect ramifications in one’s life regardless of how much therapy, talking and writing one does. Their death becomes a reference point—a delineation of life where events are characterized by either happening before or after. Life changes, sometimes dramatically, and writing has been a tremendous gift in helping me transform the emotional shades of death into the creative process.
But coming back to this piece I am writing. Last week I sent the article to five people for a look over before submission. Except for one, my readers were a somewhat homogenous group in terms of age, gender, education, travel experience, birth country and social consciousness. With this in mind I expected their critical eye to captures more or less the same flaws. Wrong. Oh, there were a couple of glaring ones that everyone caught but other than that these friends found very different things on which to make comment.
In reflection I see this process as a metaphor for life. First, no matter what our similarities, we are all individuals with unique perspectives and interests. The differences may be subtle but nothing looks, feels or sounds quite the same as what the person next to us is seeing, feeling or hearing. From this angle I marvel how we manage to communicate our deepest thoughts and, for that matter, sometimes do it quite well. My friend, Carla Webb at Empowered by Horses uses horses to help people learn more about effective communication. Her work drives home the need for patience and compassion when trying to get a point across and, more importantly, when listening to another, especially one from a different culture and language. With writing, the challenge increases. Here there is no body language, facial expression or intonation of speech. It’s just ink on paper ready to be interpreted at will. This is where I learn humility. I cannot force others to see what I see or feel what I do. Sometimes I just have to face the fact that I don't yet have the skill to portray what I want. I trust that skill will come but, until then, I can do justice to the process by following my heart as it manifests on the page.
Second, this editing process reminds me of some excellent advice I once received from a professional writer, Pamela Mandel. She said that while it was good for me to get outside suggestions, at the end of the day the story will have my name on it. Take only what feels right for you, she said. In my training with The ARC Institute, we talked of this same process as coming into Self or coming into leadership of who we are and where we are going. In ARC the focus was on our internal parts—different aspects of who we are. These parts, just like my readers, all have unique perspectives on life, different desires and needs. Parts of me, for example, may want to eat another piece of chocolate cake, run naked down the street or quit my job, sometimes all at the same time. And, while it’s a good idea to acknowledge and listen to these disparate inner parts, decisions still have to be made that benefit the whole. It is up to my Self to take leadership and direct me towards the safest, healthiest or heart-centred route. While that may still mean having second helpings of desert, it won’t be done unless the whole of me (and, if appropriate, my community) is considered.
So, that is what I did. Over the last few days I considered the excellent suggestions I received: I incorporated some, revised others and deleted the rest. Some ideas I had to sit with for a while, searching deep inside to see where my truth lay and with others, it was more of a question of whether it my style of writing that needed clarity or just one reader's unique slant on things.
Regardless, as said above, all I can do is follow my heart and see where it goes.