The Ides of March
--(or how girl can write her way to a new life)
Last week, snow and ice kept me housebound for the third, and hopefully final time, this winter. This snowfall felt different than the previous ones. It arrived glutinous and sticky and carried a surreal sheen of pristine clean. It seemed that nature had saved the most beautiful display for the last seasonal flurry. I felt that it was sent just for me.
The ice weighed down trees until many limbs plummeted to the earth, as if set free from unspecified burdens. As temperatures rose throughout the day, a glorious soundscape ensued. Imagine a cacophony of dripping and flowing water, the hum of melting snow and cracking limbs, and birds already praising the spring weather that would arrive the next day. It was like a grand tick-tock of a celestial clock, all gears grinding in full glory to mark the end of the year’s darker half.
In less than twenty-four hours, the final winter snow would be in gallant retreat. Along with it would go the last remaining moments of my old self. I stood in my doorway and listened to nature’s majestic regulator. It is now time, I heard this voice say from somewhere deep, to finally let go of your old life.
I knew this winter was going to be hard, and not because the Farmer’s Almanac had predicted unusually frigid temperatures. Intuitively, I sensed this time would be a personal “ground frozen” with necessary stillness.
Autumn quickly became a time of thick anxiety. In October, I reported my car stolen on campus when I had merely forgotten where I had parked. Once winter hit, high stress levels halted my menses for several months. I assumed that perhaps the only transition awaiting was menopause.
I felt that after two years post-divorce, the winter represented that tender cusp between my past and the emergence of a new trajectory. I hinted as much in a September poem I wrote to a friend. Here is an excerpt:
She understands death before rebirth. She smells such secrets in the morning air scented in your honor: crisp, feral, transitional. There is a tincture in autumn ether; the decaying fruit will later spill seed.
During the mournful months of decay and ground frozen will arrive The Discourses; the first will belong to the son’s father. Do you know why she left you?, it will ask. When the drafts emit the early fragrance of Spring will come the promise of warmth, peat, and the fertility of forgiveness, it will ask the second; Do you know why she loved you? Who put it there? Who put it there?
Ah, The Discourses, otherwise known as the “writing process.” During the time of ground frozen, I tried to delve into my memoir writing. Yet, like the sticky snow that weighted down tree limbs, I found my own writing path blocked by trivialities and the seduction of inadequacy (my memoir is partially about overcoming these perceived faults). I remained in equal awe and fear of delving into the material. The reasons were not rooted in the fear of failure; I knew I’d figure out the necessary elements of craft. What stumped me was the lack of a witness.
Memoir writing is wrought with pain and personal epiphanies. I had no one to watch me through this; no soul to mull over the eventual personal revelations that would reveal themselves in the process. Like the poem suggested, I needed a series of hard conversations with individuals who played a role in my journey. I also needed someone to be my cheerleader, to help mark my progress as I mucked through the material.
I had no one to hold me, and this is what scared me most.
I was fearful to go through a profound metamorphosis without anyone documenting my process. (And dammit, I deserve someone who wants to watch me grow.) I initially felt embarrassed about this desire, as if that itself was somehow an inadequacy. I internalized the absence of a witness as proof that I didn’t deserve one.
I came across clinical psychologist, Anne Paris, whose research shows that creative individuals benefit from witnesses. Even New York Times bestselling, six-figure-advance type authors need select witnesses and muses during their writing process. She stressed that such things are acts of self-care; a form of intuitive recognition that honors the creative process. I decided to assemble a small “committee” of fellow writers to serve as external readers. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before. Perhaps I didn’t realize that I was worth it.
Writing changes things; it alters our path in mysterious ways that can astound stoic minded skeptics. Writing hacks some secret cosmic code. I knew that if I just started writing, things would begin to happen for me. I can’t explain the alchemy behind it — I suspect subconscious magic is involved – but I know that a stubborn, transformative manuscript sits between now and the rest of my life. I have to write it to get to where I need to be. I realized it wasn’t merely a matter of me being ready to undertake the process; it was the process of accepting that I am worthy of it.
This winter was one of ground frozen, indeed. Yet, underneath the polar vortex of self-doubt, I started to tire of my long-suffering insecurities. I found it boring how I clung to them. I realized that I am warm, lovely, and resplendent with so many good things. (Just a few days ago, an intelligent female friend said, “You know, Deonna, you are quite a catch.” And for the first time ever, I responded, “I know.”)
I do feel the weight of solitude and the burden of those unfinished conversations that are necessary for my story. But I understand that writing will crack open these silences. The answers will arrive when it is time. The same goes for a life witness; someone splendid and brave is waiting to show up. I have to start writing his way into my life. I have to start writing my way towards a new life.
We don’t always know how to measure our personal transformations. Some of us wait for the big moments: the professional achievement, significant relationship or other stellar accomplishments to provide tangible proof that we’ve landed on new moons. But most often, these realizations arrive as quiet earthquakes. Just like one did when I stood in front of my door on a snowy March day, listening to the Universe tell me it is time to let go of what I once was, to steady forth towards the splendid bloom of what I am intended to be.
The next day, I cleaned out my closets (Spring cleaning!) and found forgotten journals and other writings that guided me back to the blank page. And with that, I started writing.
Deonna Kelli Sayed is a Love, Inshallah contributor and a www.patheos.com/blogs/loveinshallah editor. She is a published author and an emerging digital storyteller. Her work is also found at altmuslimah.com and Muslimah Media Watch. Deonna is currently working on a memoir with support a Regional Artists’ Grant from the North Carolina United Arts Council. To learn more, visit her website, and join her on Facebook and Twitter.