I sat in the driver’s seat of the car parked in our garage. A piece of a story unfolded—a movie—but one not in my head. It danced in that in-between place where the mind’s eye plays. As it receded, my shoulders relaxed; my knotted gut began to untie. The story was not lost; it was there.
The launch of both Scattering and Forging were successful. Not like rock star successful but respectable and, well, at least accomplished. The draft of my third book is ready for beta-readers—almost. I still need to give it one last edit.
But the next book lingered in a twist of apprehension, a sensation I suppressed. Vulnerability was not, I thought, a desirable attribute. When in doubt, pretend strength.
But lately I’ve been thinking of a family fable. We call it “One Stick at a Time. The story goes like this.
In the long ago time, when a man and woman first came to this land, an enormous mound of dirt and tree limbs and trunks and bramble, all in a muddle, loomed over them. The pile rose taller than one person standing on the shoulders of the other. It stretched wider than three cars, bumper to bumper…well, maybe two trucks. Say it however you will, it was a mountain; it was big. And overwhelming.
Then a Wise One visited the woman, this time in the visage of an old man. Grey of hair and beard, he hovered before the mound, balanced on a crooked cane. His eyes scanned the mass, his mind considered. He turned to the woman and smiled. “There is nothing,” he said, “that cannot be tackled one stick at a time.”
The woman told her partner what the Wise One had said, and he nodded. They stepped to the mound and each picked up a stick, then a shovel. Sometimes they worked together, sometimes alone.
At night the woman determined her next step. She imagined the new stick or limb she would lift. When dawn came, her imagination moved her, so she pulled and she dragged, until what she had imagined in the night stood before her, as real as light of day.
Then, one night at a time, the pile diminished and the greater vision unfolded: of a land cleared of debris, flourishing where confusion and doubt once reigned. And, while the work took place, birds flit through the bramble, the man and woman’s bodies grew strong, and they discovered how to clear a space where ideas could grow.
So it is with any story. At first, it seems a jumble, disconnected and unclear. No matter how much you plan its structure or talk through your ideas, you must step forward. You must pick up the first stick.
Every story I’ve written began with doubt. Then the story blew in, one scene at a time, its Wise-One presence appearing sometimes in a car, sometimes before an impossible obstacle, and always just in time. So I will trust that place where my mind’s eye plays, and I will carry on, as I hope you will—one stick at a time.