The musings of a writing life, with and without libations

By Hedgebrook Guest

Categories: Alum Experiences, Women's Voices,

Writing chose me, not the other way around. I’m sure many people feel that way about their vocation or avocation. And just as many have experienced the ups, downs, and sideways moments that their work brings them. What those moments look and feel like are different for each person, and how each person handles them is also unique. Wordsmithing my way through life—technical/marketing writer by day and nascent novelist by night—I’ve experienced the full gamut of emotions.

The cheers when I published my first poem, completed my first novel, or was accepted as one of six women to join Dr. Deborah Harkness in her inaugural Master Class at Hedgebrook last spring. The jeers I was subjected to when early beta readers told me my story wouldn’t work unless I changed the gender of my protagonist from female to male or, when someone said I should “stick to your day job”. The fears I felt when I pitched agents at conferences, submitted query letters, or entered contests. The tears I shed after a month of research in Italy for my second novel was stolen and darkness descended or, when frustration arrived after a grueling rewrite, took up semi-permanent residency in my brain, and balked when I refused to accept its rent check.3-5-15_BlogPost_1

It may be cliché to say that writers and alcohol go hahandnd. I can only speak for me. Episodes of cheers, jeers, fears, and tears were occasionally accompanied by a libation to match the mood. Prosecco, a fave of my northern Italian ancestors, was de rigueur for a cheer. The best sake and sushi were often the cure for jeers. Rye and ginger, a nod to my Canadian heritage, eased a few fears over the years. Until recently, the occasional tear was drowned in whatever bottle of Scotch my husband had handy, but alas, the Irish understand us writers better than most. They created an oh-so-apropos version, Writers Tears, described as “a style of whiskey popular in Joyce’s Dublin.” Having walked in the footsteps of James Joyce in Trieste and visited The Cubic Meter and The Golden Key bars he frequented when he lived there and wrote The Dubliners, I could easily see him nursing a glass of Writers Tears.

Libations aside for the moment, the writing life is more than cheers, jeers, fears, and tears. There’s the ho-hum. The everyday. The days of doubt. The I-write-no-matter-what. The I-think-I-can-do-it. The I’ll-show-her. And my favorite: The Zone.

I cherish stretches of silence in The Zone. Sometimes I know when I’m in it, and I’m jazzed and pumped and rockin’ it until a freeloading purrball takes my keyboard hostage. Other times, not until I hit a big brick wall of tired. That clocking-out time when even industrial-strength toothpicks collapse under the weight of my eyelids. Those are the late nights or pre-dawn mornings that a smile hits my pillow right before the good sleep overtakes me. The kind of sleep that feels well-deserved after hours upon hours of solid writing.

Bliss is that wrinkle in time. Time that isn’t lost. Rather, a time envelope in which the Muses embrace you and infuse your mind with magic. Magic that flows out of your fingers and onto paper or a screen. Magic that manifests as words. Words that paint the picture of your story so effortlessly, it is as if the Goddess herself was writing through you. You who can look back at your artistry from your time in The Zone, and realize you were an instrument through which the Muses worked. That your talent was merely on loan from the Goddess. That the only payment She extracted was dedication to your craft. Craft that exponentially improved because you where jubilantly jitterbugging your way through periods of bliss. Of being in The Zone.

Athletes and artists talk about The Zone, and most would agree that bliss factors heavily when they wax poetic about their time in it. Some might coax bliss into creation while for others, it is a natural byproduct of their hard work. Athletes might have warm-up rituals or visualization practices they perform to get them there. Artists may only need coffee and uninterrupted silence to dive deep into their best space. Still others can get there with a steady stream of music or the TV droning on in the background. Regardless of their respective fields, successful professionals have figured out what they need to do to achieve their very best work and regularly practice those techniques. To each her own and more power to her when she figures out what works.

On my serious writing days, or what my Hedgebrook sisters and I like to call, “BIS” or butt in seat, I like to give bliss a helping hand. Copious pots of strong black tea and a few Hedgehogs or Victoria Creams (chocolates from home) in the morning. Jugs of lukewarm water and handfuls of almonds throughout the afternoon. A hearty dinner and stronger libations from the vine to get me through rare night owl hours. Not so much that Ovid’s prediction, “When there is plenty of wine, sorrow and worry take wing,” comes true, but a glass or two to mellow my overwrought grey cells after writing for hours on end.

On her website, in a reference to writing about wine, Deborah Harkness quotes Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote that “wine is bottled poetry.” She followed that quote with her own, “That may be so—but it is bottled history, too.” I love both quotes, because the authors have beautifully captured what wine means to them. I’ve known many writers who believe wine is the authoritative accompaniment for the writing life, whether they seek bliss or not. Even literati I don’t know, famous dead ones even, have been moved to write about wine and their enjoyment of it. In a Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway wrote, “Drinking wine was not a snobbism nor a sign of sophistication nor a cult; it was as natural as eating and to me as necessary.

While at Hedgebrook, we partook of the serious grape—at the end of the day’s class in the Longhouse or as the perfect pairing with dinner around the Farmhouse table. We were a small example of what John Gay meant when he said, “From wine, what sudden friendship springs! ” Perhaps the wine brought some of us bliss as we whiled away the hours writing next to the fire in the living room or, back in our own cottages late into the night. And even if we didn’t imbibe, we experienced the bliss of a different sort: writing in community. A few of us, present company included, had never experienced the power and wonder and blessings of writing in community, and we welcomed it.

3-5-15_BlogPost_2Sometimes at home, in the wee hours, during those moments I recognize as bliss, I think fondly of my WISH (Wild and Inspired Sheros of Hedgebrook) sisters and hope they, too, frequently encounter The Zone when they’re writing. Speaking of WISH, half of my sisters will attend Equivox this year where we’ll reconnect with our mentor that started it all.

Deborah helped cement a writing community that experienced many moments of bliss together, writing and otherwise, and that bond endures to this day. While celebrating World Storytelling Day at the Equivox lunch, some of us might even raise a glass of wine to toast Deborah in appreciation for her influence on our writing lives. The WISH sisters who will be there in the physical will also raise a glass to their sisters who can only attend in spirit, though they are in our hearts forever.

 

 

About the Author:

3-5-15_BlogPost_TessaFloreanoTessa Floreano is a freelance writer by day, fiction writer by night, unless she’s gardening, tracing her Friulan roots, or riding Vixen, her tricked-out motorcycle, alongside The Husband. After 15 years in the investment industry in Vancouver, she moved to the Seattle area and retrained herself as a technical/marketing writer. Her creative writing ventures into the realms of myth, magic, and manuscripts. She is currently at work on a historical fantasy trilogy set in northeastern Italy and two children’s stories. Tessa, a dual Italian-Canadian citizen with an ill-begotten green card (just kidding), holds a business degree plus certificates in technical writing and professional editing, and earned a Master Apprenticeship in Aromatic Medicine. Her poem, Ho Chi Minh Anew, about her time in Vietnam, was published by Line Zero. Visit her on her website, www.tessafloreano.com.

 

 


 

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Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily representative of the opinions of Hedgebrook, its staff or board members.

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