Waiting For Stories

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bikeI have this stark visual image of a character.

I’ve been seeing her for 5 years now. She rides a bicycle, a blue one, with wide chrome fenders, rusty on the edges, and upright handlebars. There’s a wicker basket strapped to the front and it hangs kind of crooked. Her name is Claudia and she’s wearing a fluttery white skirt with orange poppies on it. I always wonder how it doesn’t get caught in the chain or spokes. Everyone waves at her as she glides into the market square, and she waves back and jokes with the vendors by name.

The problem is, I have no idea what to do with her. I’ve been waiting all this time for her to tell me her story. I do know some things about her. That she’s ill, that she’s going to heal someone. I know her teeth are a little crooked and that all the old men of the neighborhood cafe admire her vitality, wish they were young enough to ask her to the cinema.

I’ve tried to introduce some people more intimately into her existence, but nothing’s worked out. I can’t make her stop being a loner. So I sit here waiting for the right person to show up, the one who will get her talking.

Frustrating, because as often as I’ve tried to leave her behind, she won’t go away. Almost every day, she sails through my mind and into the market square, waving, calling “Ciao, Umberto!” to the baker.

If she didn’t want me to tell her story, why did she come along?

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Pardon me, I seem to have a frog in my throat

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My blogging has ground to a halt, a dangerous thing to happen to a blog. The thing is, there have been a series of events that seem to have…stolen my voice.

(WRITER WHINING ALERT!)

First there was Camp NaNoWriMo. I was busy being a novella writer and, I know I’ve mentioned this before: I’m a horrible multi-tasker. So July, no blogging.

After the full month’s break from my romance novel, I decided to try a contest. One of those ones where you submit your query and first chapter and hope for…something. I had no illusions, no realistic thoughts that I would get picked. My bar was set low. Submit. Practice sending my work into the wider world.

But then, all around me, writers started hearing back. Acceptances, or reasons why their particular story wasn’t accepted. People who got accepted by one judge got feedback from others as to why that particular judge had declined the submission. People who didn’t get accepted received emails from their chosen judges anyway. Sentences, some even paragraphs, of feedback.

Now this is not “part” of the contest and I had no reason whatsoever to expect anything. Feedback is something extra the judges may or may not choose to do. But I let hope take over and my goal shift. I wanted feedback. Was it the query? The premise? The writing that didn’t click? I heard from one of four of the judges I submitted to, a one-sentence reply I clung to like a rescued baby mermaid, and I hoped I’d get a little something more from the others. Something. Anything.

But no. Crickets.

Hope turned to brussels sprouts in my mouth. I reminded myself I had expected nothing. Told myself I was being unreasonable, unprofessional. Admonitions morphed into the conviction that I couldn’t handle the rigors of the publishing game, where success equals an even lower batting average than in baseball. I wasn’t cut out for this, and obviously, my story was dog poo because no one could find the wherewithal to even send me a little note.

(I gather this bleak state is one writers sink into quite readily.)

I convinced myself nothing would come of my book, and stopped writing altogether. No novel, no novella, no blog. Intellectually I knew nothing could come of a book one didn’t SUBMIT. But like Ramona the Pest, I crossed my arms and stomped my foot. Figuratively, but still…Yes, I am childish.

And then, In the midst of this self-immersed, apocalyptic doomscape, I received a horrible text message. One of my sorority sisters, Maria, who had been battling a rare—and incurable—form of cancer, was in the hospital, her family by her side. My world stopped. Everything went into suspension.

I saw her in January, lively, vibrant, laughing, drinking wine with her sorority sisters and sharing a wonderful, loud, chatter-filled meal. It was as if we were back in the big dining room at the ADPi House eating, talking, laughing. That wonderful night I forgot Maria had cancer, that her prognosis was dire. There was no way the woman I saw was going anywhere but back home to raise her boys to adulthood. She’d outlived her diagnosis by more than a year, after all.

A day after the text message, confirmation came. Maria had taken her eternal flight.

What were my petty complaints compared to the death of my friend, for God’s sake? What of Maria’s sons being left without their mother, her husband left without his wife, her family left without their daughter, their sister. Grief grabbed hold of me and squeezed. Maria had bugged me and bugged me about reading my book; I’d wanted to have her read it before cancer took her away. Chalk up another unmet goal.

Where before I was childish, now I was breathlessly mute.

I’ve lived a pretty charmed life, haven’t often been touched closely by death or grief. I didn’t know how to handle it. I felt like the pebble that starts the snow ball that becomes the body of the Guiness Book of World Records-sized snowman. One thing after another just seemed to layer onto my woes. My words felt small and stupid and unimportant. I lost a dear friend. And my will to say anything.

It’s been a rough month and a half, but slowly the metaphorical sun has started to shine and I’ve started to poke my finger through the slush that was the snowball. The words are building up inside me again. I still have a frog in my throat, but I have a lozenge on my tongue.

I think the sunshine is Maria. Maybe she got in my subconscious ear to remind me of something important: I have to keep going. I can still hit a goal, albeit a revised one. She may not hold my book in her hands, but if I send it out into the world again, somewhere in the great universal ether, Maria will know she helped bring it to fruition. I’m holding on to that.

May the universe embrace you and wrap you in the joy you gave to everyone you touched on this earth, Maria.

Maria Sofia Rimkus 1964-2014.

Maria