MAKE & THANKS: FOR THE BREAKING (A MESSY CHALLENGE)
This season, I am grateful for the way things break.
I’ve been writing fiction practically all of my life, and in October I finished the first draft of my fifth novel—which was, frankly, a struggle in every sense of the word. I work full-time at a nonprofit, write for other blogs, and occasionally feel inclined to have a social life (like, sometimes), but besides that, there was a stretch of time at the beginning of the draft when the story simply refused to come out. It didn't take long for me to realize that if I didn't make my writing a priority, I'd keep finding excuses to never do it.
So for six months, I woke up a few hours early every morning and brewed English breakfast tea in a mug the size of my head to keep myself from face-planting on my laptop. And over the course of those six months, something happened that I hadn’t expected.
I fell in love.
Those making mornings quickly became precious to me. A sanctuary before dawn. The place where I could write my heart out without the stranger in the coffee shop asking me what I’m working on, or the girl in the library gawking at my furious typing from down the aisle, or the little voice in my head reminding me that that’s not how you’re supposed to grammar.
Sentence by sentence, hour by hour, I built a strange little novel that tripped along like a creek in the woods, and without fully realizing it, I began to make my book into something of a safe house for my heart. I grew comfortable living there, in the first draft season. So when I got to the end of it, I found myself thinking, I will do whatever it takes to keep these mornings from slipping away.
I don’t know about you, but I have always had trouble letting things go. Letting life happen. Watching things change, when they inevitably do.
So I stared at the blinking cursor after the words “The End,” and I wondered how long it would take for this safe house to crumble.
I used to think that there was nothing remotely good about the way things break. I would cling to old friendships that were changing with the seasons, and fight for relationships that were slowly splintering under the weight of lofty expectations and unvoiced pain.
In the same way, I used to hesitantly share a piece of writing with beta readers who would poke at the holes I’d forgotten to close and pull at the seams to show me the loose threads. Then I would snatch it back, terrified that one more prodding comment would make my precious story fall apart.
It took me years to decide I couldn’t create like that anymore. I had to stop holding everything with closed fists.
A few days ago, I was thinking about this while running through my Los Angeles neighborhood. A light Southern California breeze was blowing a few fall leaves around my ankles—a total novelty in the land of perpetual summer—so I happened to glance down in time to see two names written into the sidewalk. Rosemary and Johnny.
The handwriting was fractured, forming fragments of gray stone that announced that two people had cared about each other. They had something special enough to carve into the ground.
Have you ever wondered why sidewalks aren’t poured as one long strip of solid concrete? In case you were curious, they’re made with cracks on purpose, to allow the concrete to expand and contract in the heat and the cold. So maybe years ago, Rosemary and Johnny’s handwriting had been steady and their letters round and self-assured, back when the concrete was wet and the sidewalk was new. But with time and weather come expansion and movement, push and pull—and yet their now jagged and worn names survived it all.
I don’t know Rosemary and Johnny, but I hope they made it through. And I hope that they, too, are more beautiful for the surviving.
Right now, I think my book is a safe house made of wet concrete. Maybe your creation is, too. Maybe you’re like me, and you’re sitting at your desk before the sun comes up, whispering, “Just do it. Break it. Make a mess.” And lacking the courage to begin.
These mornings, I seem to be sitting with my broken pieces. I try to hold them together because I don’t know what will happen if I let them go, but maybe you and I both need to give ourselves permission this season to be thankful for the way things break. Maybe there is some beauty in the way our safe houses shatter, the way we can become vulnerable and afraid and lost and found again.
The way we can become whole again.
The way we can make things whole again, more beautiful for the surviving.
I know the time is coming for me to dive into the awful, glorious plot holes that currently live in my draft. I can’t afford to hold it anymore. I have to let it go. I have to make a mess. So do you.
Break something. Because doing it will break you, and maybe you need to let yourself be broken. So tell me that you will shake the walls and rattle the sky. Come out from behind the locked door of your safehouse, and make an on-purpose disaster. Then rise with the morning light, a little bit torn at the seams.
And make again.
Samantha Chaffin writes Young Adult novels and manages the blog at L.A.'s Downtown Women's Center - a service provider for homeless and low-income women. She loves Jesus, books, and Batman, and believes you have a universe of stories in you. Her other writing has appeared on the Yellow Conference blog, and in Luna Station Quarterly, Lightning Cake, and Germ Magazine. Connect with her at HerInklings.wordpress.com.