On Saturday, I finished the first complete draft of my new sci-fi novel. 156,000 words of dystopia, angst, love and loss. The villain is vile. Some of the good guys had to die. As I was reading the ending aloud to my husband, he started to cry.
Then last night, as my husband and son listened to the story from the beginning, they vied with each other to object to fine points. I was baffled. This is our fifth or sixth read of the first part of the book and it took them until now to voice complaints.
At first, I balked thinking that their objections were minute and irrelevant. Then, I realized they were right about most of the points they were making. Population density was an easy thing to fix. So were sections that didn’t make sense now that the book is complete.
The tricky one had to do with the heroine. My son doesn’t like her very much. After much discussion, he finally articulated what was bothering him when he suggested that she love a mangy cat.
It turns out, I spent so much time describing my character’s internal landscape that I ignored the actions that would make her whole. It was a profound realization that applied to me, as well as to my character.
Most of the time, I don’t pay attention to the small, every day acts that define me to those who are not privy to my internal dialog. When I divorced my first husband and was buried under the weight of grief, insecurity, and fear, I didn’t really pay attention to the little things that moved me forward. I just did them. I made sure our first holiday after the divorce was full of magic, even though I couldn’t afford expensive gifts. I played with my dog. I read books to my children in front of the fire every night. We sang songs, danced to “American Pie” and used our toothbrushes as microphones before bed. In short, my grief and angst were my own, private wasteland. They seldom saw daylight and those who knew me then did not see the person I saw.
As I rewrote sections of the book this morning, I incorporated the cat for my son. I also incorporated the cat for me. The small, starving, and ragged creature my heroine feeds every morning from bits of food she has stolen from herself is named — at my son’s suggestion — Hercules. He loved the irony of the name. In the end, I loved the name for different reasons. It was not just Hercules’ strength that enabled him to prevail. It was his courage and perseverance.
I wonder how many women, facing divorce or the loss of a husband, an abusive situation, or an intolerable work environment see only their internal landscape instead of the small acts that make them both whole and beautiful? What would it be like to hold up a mirror that lets them see themselves through the eyes of those around them?
My son gave me a great gift last night. This morning, I’m sharing it with you. What small things do you do everyday, regardless of how you are feeling, that enrich the lives of the people you interact with? Do you play with your children even when you are tired and stressed? Do you make time to take your mother to a doctor’s appointment or call a friend who is ill? Do you listen to your husband talk about his day and smile, even when he forgets to ask about yours?
Women are pretty amazing creatures. My son’s gift was a lovely reminder of the essential truth that our internal dialog, our perpetual self-critisism and self-doubt, are balanced and even overcome by our actions in the world. We love. Deeply. And often against all odds.
Hope you spend the day thinking about your small acts of courage and beauty. I know I will.