Neither Holding On nor Pushing Away, by Amber Foxx

A yoga teacher I studied with years ago gave this guidance for how to be with one’s thoughts during meditation: Neither holding on nor pushing away. It helps me now with writing in addition to meditation and life in general—neither holding on to my old normal nor pushing away the present. I’m experiencing writing now as a balancing act, both a remembering practice without holding on and a letting-go practice without pushing away.

My work in progress, book eight in the Mae Martin series, is pre-pandemic. My books are always set several years in the past because I want to get the context right. While I don’t write directly about current events, they exist in the background and have a realistic impact on my characters’ lives. Eventually, maybe in three to five years, I might set a book in the spring of 2020. It’s too soon to write fiction about what’s happening now, and too soon for anyone to want to read it.

I’m keeping notes, though, and making an archive of how we live through this in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, since my stories take place here. Maybe I’ll never write the book, but preparing as if I’m going to helps me process everything and stay focused. As well as saving copies of statewide public health orders and keeping track of the news, I’m writing down daily observations on life in our community during our present challenges.

I haven’t decided what the mystery in that distant future book will be. My books aren’t about murder, but other types of wrong-doing. I’ll have a better idea by the time I’m ready to write it, in whatever kind of world we live in then. Preparing the background for that book is part of releasing both worry and expectations. I record the full spectrum of events, and then I can let go of them for the day. I can’t plan the plot yet, because I can’t know what the future holds. Meanwhile, I’ve sketched out possible scenes with my characters in a state of not-knowing and uncertainty, of real loss and potential loss, as they struggle with the sudden change. So far, a lot of the dialogue in these quick drafts is humorous, as are many of my conversations—on the phone or six feet away—with my neighbors and friends. Dark humor at times, but it’s part of how we cope.

Meanwhile, my main creative focus is on a book in which people visit each other’s homes, go out dancing, meet for coffee, take aerobics classes and college classes in person, and share hugs. This is my remembering practice. Not clinging to what was normal once, but honoring it.

 

The Fig Tree, Yoga, and the Middle of the Book

At first glance, the fig tree in the courtyard outside my apartment looks like a round mound of large green leaves and tiny green fruits. Today, I studied it longer, though, and began to see golden-brown fruit hidden in the green. The longer my mind was attuned to shape and color of a ripe fig, the more of them I discovered. Circling the tree slowly, I reached in and harvested the fruit, choosing only the figs that were perfectly ready. My four neighbors in our building had come out into the courtyard, and I enjoyed the sight of my cupped hands offering the bounty and my neighbors’ hands one by one taking their share. Chatting sociably, we ate sun-warmed, rain-watered figs.

Later, as I began my yoga practice, I chose the theme of doing it differently. Normally, I practice without music, so I selected a CD from the bottom of the stack, strange contemplative music with drones and drums that I hadn’t listened to since I moved over a year ago. I started with a pranayama technique I seldom practice, changed the sequencing of familiar poses, and replaced others with asanas I’d neglected for a while. The idea was to change the flow of my energy and open myself to new possibilities.

I did it as preparation for writing, getting ready to tackle the middle . According to my word count, I’ve completed fifty percent of book seven in my series. The chapter in progress will be a major pivot point, with revelations about the crime and about a ghost. It should set up future challenges for Mae Martin, adding to the necessity of a trip to a place she’d rather not go—her old home town. The problem is, it feels like the beginning of Act Two, and it should be the middle of it.

I’m not cutting until I finish the first draft, though. As a pantser, I don’t yet know which of the subplots in the first half will turn out to be integral to the story and which can be removed. Several of them surprised me, but then, my ongoing characters have lives of their own. I’ve never suffered for lack of material. This is where my notes on possible directions and loose ends come in. I get floods of ideas and record them in case I forget, but as the book progresses, some of those ideas may not fit. Some of the loose ends will turn out to be dead ends I can cut. At this point, I look at that list and see a lot of major events yet to come, a lot of little green figs, but that may not mean the book is going to be too long. The pace should be picking up. I might really be half-way through. When this draft is done and I can step back and study it after a break, I’ll be able to see the subplots that contribute to the whole, like ripe figs hidden in the leaves.

I may have to rearrange events, the way I did my yoga practice. Perhaps that pivot point in the middle would make a good beginning or a good chapter three. Maybe it’ll be the beginning of Act Three. Revisions like that would be hard but satisfying. In fact, if it’s difficult, it may be more fun than if it was easy.

And I have an end goal. Not just a story, but readers. I won’t see them the way I saw my neighbor’s hands taking figs from mine, but creating a new book leads to the same joy: sharing.