Monday, September 11, 2006

108 ways to just write the damn thing.

I've just returned home from an evening alone at the neighborhood coffee shop where I drank the most divine mocha ever made on earth from a glass mug reminiscent of a fish bowl.

I went there with the sole purpose of beginning eat, pray, love and am caught somewhere between feeling completely jealous and totally inspired. Mind you, I'm only on page 22 but, already, I can tell it's going to be a good book. Maybe my judgment is overly hasty; I decided this from the introduction alone. I was thinking about my thesis as I read how she formatted the book, in that it imitates a japa mala, a string of prayer beads (much like a rosary) used by the Hindus and Buddhists.

And if you don't mind, I'm just going to quote the author, Elizabeth Gilbert:

"The traditional japa mala is strung with 108 beads. Amid the more esoteric circles of Eastern philosophers, the number 108 is held to be most auspicious, a perfect three-digit multiple of three, its components adding up to nine, which is three threes. And three, of course, is the number representing supreme balance, as anyone who has ever studied either the Holy Trinity or a simple barstool can plainly see. Being as this whole book is about my efforts to find balance, I have decided to structure it like a japa mala, dividing my story into 108 tales, or beads. This string of 108 tales is further divided into three sections about Italy, India and Indonesia--the three countries I visited during this year of self-inquiry. This division means that there are 36 tales in each section, which appeals to me on a personal level because I am writing all of this during my thirty-sixth year" (1-2).

For this reason (based on her method of story structure), both jealousy and inspiration have reared their interesting little heads and captured my full attention. There is a part of me that is lit up by an extraordinary feeling of "ah-haa!--that's what I need! Structure!" And then there's another part of me that feels sunk by the notion that Gilbert used up the very last good idea, ever.

I am covetous of the thought of having something as real as prayer beads to hold on to while trying to write the most important story of my life. I mean, really, can you imagine sitting at your computer, completely lost...but never really lost because all the while your thumb is pushing those knobby, dimpled little beads over your index finger in continuous motion, reminding you to "keep going, keep going, keep going..."? Yes, it's true, I'm green-eyed with envy over the idea of having such an incredibly tangible, yet simple, instrument of focus and organization. I mean, focus? Structure? What's that? I don't know, but I need it. I feel desperate for it. 108 short, shorts. And maybe a 109th emergency spare. I could do that. But I can't because the idea has already been taken. Not that I would have ever thought of it on my own, but...(hence my jealousy).

Anyway, the still-tentative working title of my thesis is: Glass Bangles: [and then something more goes here].* That's it. Then I have a couple pages worth of a proposal and a few weak stories that could easily fizzle into nothing, but... it's the underlying theme I'm still grappling with and searching for. I suppose I could begin with just sitting down to WRITE, but who am I kidding? It's much more overwhelming than that. If I could capture the whole sky I would. The problem is that I try to capture it in one fell swoop, in a giant gulp, in a single sentence. The camera lens is never wide enough, or the canvas, or the paper, or even this computer screen. And don't pretend like it's easier than I make it sound, because if you've ever struggled with something that meant a lot to you, know what I mean.

So I picked up Gilbert's book and am blissfully stunned (or caffeinated) into thoughts of possibility. But still stuck. damn. This ever-lasting stuckness is hard to cut myself loose of. Yet, as I drove home, a street light shone through the car window, the shadow of street signs in the grass looked like a running rabbit, and I felt my brain lift, moonlight (or street light) illuminated the fogginess of my mind and I thought: "I've gotta get started--it's the only way!" Because, in the meantime, a second job threatens my writing time. And I've already wasted so many days and months (and years?)...

now if only I could only maintain the internal atmosphere that took hold over me a block and a half away from home. If only...

what if?

for those of you new to me or my blog, my thesis is to be a compilation of creative nonfiction essays based on my travels in India (including a seperate, more critical, defense for travel writing.) i traveled there 9 years ago and have been trying to write about it ever since.


Anonymous said...

oh jessie, while i can't completely understand what you're going through with writing about your travels, i think i can sort of relate -- i had something very incredible happen to me several years ago and i've wanted to write about it ever since too, but i have often been so scared and overwhelmed by it that i haven't started -- it's like i am terrified that i will not be able to do the expereince justice if that makes sense. and the mala beads that gilbert used to structure her book really hooked me too!!!! best of luck getting your thesis done, jessie -- you're a great writer and i know you can do this!!!!

Anonymous said...

oh Jessie-- first, I LOVE the new design of your site-- gorgeous.

Second, i, too, adored Eat Love Pray-- adored it. But do not fret-- do not worry-- savor the inspiration and KNOW that you will have your OWN perfect idea for you thesis-- structure is good and you will find yours. Remember, there is NO LIMIT to all the creativity and abundance out there for you to draw from-- there's not just one pink flower, is there?

You will totally do it and your book is going to be fabulous.


Kristine said...

I love this idea of the beads. I have not read this book yet and I am feeling SOooo OUT OF THE LOOP listening to others rave about it. I am not Hindu or Buddhist or even Catholic and yet this idea of holding beads has always sounded divine.
You will get the paper underway. Just breathe and then pretend you are telling your story to your best friend, and your best friend is blind ( which makes you really eager to share the sounds, textures, flavors, and tell him or her your stories with all of the senses involved.)

Jamie said...

Jessie, how important this is to you is just screaming off the page. And it is a huge deal that you are going to write this - and you can do it. You have a gift with words, lady. And you only have to coax one word out at a time.

What would your first little bead look like? If you were going to tell me something about your trip to India, what's the first thing you would say? Imagine we're sitting having that mocha together, and your mind casts over the experience. What's the first word that comes out of your mouth? Put it on the page. Let your story out.

paris parfait said...

I really enjoyed that book. And I know that you will take your travels and experiences and your wonderful ability to string together words in poetic fashion and create a beautiful work of art (aka as the thesis)! No doubt whatsoever, dear Jessie. You'll do a wonderful job, so don't stress. xo

sophie said...

well, i need that book like -
um...yesterday please and thankyou-
i mean the one YOU are writing
of course...

what do you think of my itineray
btw? (i have a little boy with

i am going to get that book
eat pray love
right away
and i have a set of those beads

alas, i lack structure - i just
cannot be creative with
structure - so far, anyway....


i love your blog, love your

kj said...

jessie, i so relate to the challenge you describe! i am writing a book with a subject i know by heart and another on a subject i love, and with both it is like wrestling an aligator to organize it, string it together in some sacred readable way. i write outlines, free associate, choose single words, phases, concepts....

and somehow i can't find the natural rhythm of it. it feels like i'm trying to learn to ride a bicycle by reading instead of doing.

all this said, maybe the doing is the guide.....


Colorsonmymind said...

Ah you make me smile and giggle and want to grab you and give you a big smooch on your cheek because you are so damn clever and honest and terrific.

How is it that you stole the very last witty words to describe feelings I feel like I myself have had at some time reading or looking at someone elses art?

tara dawn said...

I've been so horrible about reading blogs lately...catching up on yours this I'm commenting on many at once:)
I've heard good things about this book on multiple occasions, but I think you have now officially convinced me to read it. And there is more brilliant structure out there in the is deep within you, my brilliant friend. And it will emerge...I know that it will!
As for the loneliness of a new city (earlier post), I know that feeling. I, too, crave that person-to-person female companionship. Which is why I am deciding in this moment that we absolutely MUST plan a trip to meet...easier said than done, I know. But we need those long walks and late night talks with too much wine and lots of coffee.
I could write so much to you write now, but not the space or time at this moment. I promise I will write soon....I miss you dearly and love you to pieces sweet girl!!!