It’s hard to believe my book is only four months old. It feels much older and so do I. Why did publishing a novel feel so different from publishing two short story collections? I’m not sure there was much difference in sales or publicity, really; though there was a general tone of excitement around the novel that was never there for the collections. I know that I certainly had hopes for the novel that I never had for the short stories. A more experienced novelist, who was kind enough to reach out to me during this challenging time, asked what I had wanted most from my novel publication and without hesitation I crossed my hands over my heart and said, “I wanted love.”
I have two great passions in my life. Well, Bill, my husband is my passion too, but what I want to talk about here is passions outside the scope of the romantic. One passion is, obviously, my writing. I left Wisconsin when I was eighteen to pursue my dream of becoming a writer. As you may suspect, I had no idea what I was doing. I wrote my way through a lot of wandering. One day I wandered into a free Tai Chi class where I met a wonderful, generous man who became my teacher. He taught me everything he knew about meditation,tai chi and life. He earned his knowledge through the very difficult challenge of his son’s murder. He, who had suffered so much, gave so much; a great alchemist. Years later, when Bill and I got married in our backyard, Thomas officiated for us. This summer as part of my own minor financial investment in promoting the novel I went back to Saratoga to give a reading at Northshire Books. It turned out to be a lovely event, though at that time I was still so shy I had to read a prepared presentation rather than just talk, something I can now do, only three months later, with great ease. While in Saratoga I visited Thomas, in his nineties now. He has a lot of difficulty walking and it took him a long time to answer the door. When he did, he smiled and invited me in but later confessed he had no idea who I was, initially. He talked about Patty, his wife, who visits him every night since she died some years ago. His children had found a place for him in a wonderful assisted living residence. He could have an apartment overlooking the creek, with the light shining just right on his private deck for his plants. “It’s perfect,” he told me, “but I can’t go. I’m afraid Patty won’t find me there.” When I left he said, “At least tonight I’ll have something to tell Patty about.”
Even before I moved from Saratoga all those years ago, yoga became very important to me, and eventually I basically stopped doing Tai Chi. I have been practicing yoga for twenty years now. I consider it one of my passions and, while he was never officially a yoga teacher, I consider Thomas, the alchemist, my first yoga teacher and my writing teacher too because, I believe, all great teachings apply broadly.
I had such hopes for this novel! Such desire! Well, I worked on it for three years, and worked on several other novel attempts in the preceding decades. I was invested in it, you might say. Nothing has gone quite as I hoped. Publishing is a very weird business.
It’s October now. I know others fight the gloom at this time of year, but I get invigorated. I love the melancholy feeling! I love the falling leaves (especially the yellow ones) and dark mornings. I love closing windows and lighting candles. I love looking down at the empty page or the just unrolled yoga mat, in the blissful union of empty and full, receptive and generative.
At the beginning of my yoga practice we recite a chant of gratitude to our teachers. I have had an amazing amount of wonderful teachers. I mean, I am rich in teachers and I am grateful for all of them. But before the rest there was Thomas.
We had email-corresponded for years but suddenly the emails stopped. When I went to Saratoga I wasn’t sure he was alive. I was encouraged as I walked the pathway up to his house. There was a garden and statues: a giant blue heron, a Buddha. I was fairly sure this was Thomas’s garden, and as you already know, I was right. He opened the door, he smiled.
My new friend said, “What did you want from this novel?” and I crossed my hands over my heart and said, “I wanted love.” But truthfully, and I’m not proud of this, I wanted so much love! I was a hungry monster for love, which is weird because I have been given so much already. I met one reader who told me she planned to use a line from my novel on her tombstone. More than one elderly woman reader has spoken quite vehemently on behalf of the elderly characters, stunning me, actually, with their empathy. One reader wrote of how the theme of forgiveness in my novel changed his life.
And yet, sharing these moments with you makes me worry that I am feeding my ego! And yet, not speaking of them makes me feel that I have banished the heart and I get sad and wonder where the love has gone.
Throughout all this though, Thomas stands at the door. He is smiling, he invites me inside. He has no idea who I am or what I bring, but he invites me in. And this, I think, is a good place to start.
I unroll the mat. I sit before the blank page. What will happen next? I have no idea. Where is the love? It is here. It has always been here. I thank my teachers. I begin.