Kiele asks us to consider backstory, to recognize what’s germane and what’s too much. And I worry because sometimes it’s so hard to see what exactly the reader needs, which details actually do something (or even matter). She encourages us to get the whole story out and then be ruthless in our editing. And I worry if I have ever been brave enough in either.
She teaches that first drafts don’t always start in the spot that maybe they should and I wonder whether this one does.
Where does this story start?
Maybe in the salty ice of the Salish Sea. I am surprised by the salt as I let go of the hands I’m clutching on either side of me and dive out towards the bay. It had been cold on shore as the rain started to fall, but it is colder fully underneath the water. I open my eyes briefly but don’t see what it is that I’m searching for and close them before surfacing and turning back towards the beach. I’m not surprised by how long it takes the chill to leave my body as we drive back across the island to catch the ferry to Anacortes, but I am caught off guard when I find salt lingering under my fingernails many hours later in Seattle.
Maybe in a memory unlocked on a couch in the retreat house the previous afternoon. We are asked to close our eyes and let the music carry us where it will and I’m surprised to find myself on a catamaran in the Pacific so many years before that I can’t remember whose sadness I am carrying as the boat skims the water. The sun streams down and warms my face and I wonder how long I’ve been crying.
Maybe in the stillness of a conversation with the sunrise as I greet it standing on the point. Twenty years minus one day is 7,299 sunrises that I could have chased but I can’t remember the last time I did so with any sense of purpose. What would have happened if I hadn’t lived? What happened — what will happen — because I did?
Maybe in a moment of unexpected synchronicity when I realize that the mug I’m holding is from the man whose hands now grasp the one that used to be mine. How could he — or maybe it is she or they or the great I Am — know that I needed one that speaks of home and was ready to let go of the one that taught me what it means to really, truly do the work?
Maybe on the ferry to Orcas as I am taking a photo and a woman approaches to ask me if, by any chance, I am on my way to a writers’ retreat at Doe Bay. I am surprised and flattered that she so quickly sees me for who I really am. Do pilgrims always recognize each other so easily?