“There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you.” -Zora Neale Hurston
I have to write. I don’t like to say this out loud, and I don’t like hearing other writers say it. It makes me cringe a little itty bit, like it’s some sort of claim to being special. This is not what I mean, and I’m willing to bet it’s not what Zora Neale Hurston meant either. Having an untold story inside you is like there is a very stubborn something residing deep in your being, quite beastly really, and it’s got you in its clutches and isn’t about to let go until you let it out. But it isn’t as simple as opening the door and saying “there you go”, or sitting down to release it with a gush of words every morning. It isn’t like that at all.
Here’s the scenario–me with my cup of coffee, after dogs, cats and chickens are fed, emails checked off, and a few quiet minutes of meditation, or more accurately, staring off into the yard —
“Hello in there? I’m here! Where are you?”
“Um— what’s that now?”
“I’m here, ready to go. But if you’re not up to it right now, I can go do something else. I need to start a load of laundry and empty the dishwasher, then I’ll be right back. ‘kay?”
Don’t leave. Sit down. Begin.
Now just what does this thing think it is, telling me what to do like that?
“Begin with what? I say, and dart off before there is an answer. In addition to the above tasks, I take stuff out of the dryer, fold it and put it away, answer a few emails, call Mom, look at Facebook, catch up on Words With Friends, and make some iced tea for the many hours of writing to come. All the while, it’s wailing at me like a baby crying in the next room, a little monster demanding all my attention!
Where are you? What are you doing? You said….
“Coming! Coming! Just this one last little thing and….”
“…I’m back!” Silence again. “This is my writing time, so tell me, what happens next? ” Nothing. This is so typical! I plan my life around it and then it won’t cooperate. I’m beginning to get that very familiar feeling of being unsettled, and trapped. There’s quite a rustling around in that deep interior space and I think I need to go pay some bills. But then it speaks.
Sister, you’ve got this all wrong–again.
“I’ve got what all wrong?”
You go through this every time. When are you going to GET IT?
“Don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m here, wanting to write you, but you’re not coming.”
That’s just it! The story is not going to come to you. YOU have to come to ME.
“But I have company coming and must get to the store and …”
Why don’t you just get out of your head and come on down now, come in and have a seat? Just take a deep breath and look around, take a load off. Let’s us get better acquainted.”
“Because I don’t know where this story is going, and I’m afraid. Also, I have responsibilities, I have a family and animals and a farm and…”
Oh, really? You have responsibilities?
“Don’t get snarky with me.”
So what are you so afraid of?
“Afraid that there’s really nothing there. Afraid I’m not a real writer.”
So what do you call me? This thing that won’t leave you alone?
“You know who you are! You’re the thing that came to me out of bloody nowhere and said ‘Do this!’ You’re the story that wants to be told.”
What difference does it make if you’re a writer or a baboon? A writer is just somebody who writes–that’s it. So do what you’ve been asked to do and don’t worry about what it’s called. Anyway, it’s not about you, it’s about ME! Am I nothing?
“Quite the contrary, mister–or whatever you are. You won’t shut up, except when I’m sitting here waiting on you! You have to be something, and not nothing, because when I try to ignore you it feels like you are eating me alive.”
Does running away help?
The beast speaks truth! I lower my head, once again humbled by the pure simplicity of it. I have been here so many times before, and as always, there is nothing to say.
You ready? Come on in, then. Come on in here and be quiet, be very, very quiet–and just wait.
I go, I breathe, and breathe some more. I feel my heart start to pound and I find myself starting to panic.
“HELLO?? IT’S DARK IN HERE! I DON”T KNOW WHAT COMES NEXT! WHERE ARE YOU? I NEED TO GO START SOMETHING FOR SUPPER! “
And then this strange thing happens. Way over in the corner, I begin to see a tiny light coming from somewhere. Slowly, I can see there’s a door opening where I didn’t even know there was a door, and it gets brighter and brighter until I see something coming through it. It’s a person, someone I’ve never met before, someone I didn’t even know existed, and she comes and sits down beside me and tells me her name. Then she begins talking, at first in a whisper and I have to strain to hear, but very shortly, I get used to the sound of her voice and she is speaking to me loud and clear, and she’s telling me her story, and I begin to see how her story fits into THE story and I’m writing as fast as I can and since I’m way down in it, I don’t even notice the hours slipping away and that the beast seems to be sleeping…until tomorrow.
And that’s why I have to write.