Then build your house right on top of it

posted in: The Journey | 3

For a month I’ve been living with my manuscript-in-progress. I hung the pages on my bookshelves and every day, I tinkered. I revised individual poems, some of which had been revised many times before but whose flaws stood out so much clearer on the printed page at a discreet distance (as if they were no longer my own). I revised the order, grouping them one way, then another, then looking at the story arc, the seasonal arc, the form.

Yesterday, I spent a full hour reading them, one after another. At last it felt like a book, not a random smattering of poems or a family story of sadness and compassion. There are still two poems left to be written. I feel their absence clearly. And though I don’t know the exact words that will create them, I know they are needed and will come soon. I feel them like friends, far off, packing their bags and heading my way.

When I was done yesterday, I lay down on the floor and looked up at it. The manuscript-in-progress had grown and spanned all of the shelves, several years of work gathered and ordered. I put one arm beneath my head and admitted to myself that I had set out to do something and now it was coming to a close. I had kept my promise to myself. Even though last year ended up more topsy-turvy and sorrowful than any year of my life, I kept my promise to myself. And for those few moments, I felt solid and even at peace. I’m sure that in the future, I’ll fret over publication, more revisions, even the last few poems. But for those few moments on a sunny, cold February afternoon, I was home.

“I will always be safe from the random hurricanes of outcome as long as I never forget where I rightfully live…. The only trick is that you’ve got to identify the best, worthiest thing that you love most, and then build your house right on top of it and don’t budge from it. And if you should someday, somehow get vaulted out of your home by either great failure or great success, then your job is to fight your way back to that home the only way that it has ever been done, by putting your head down and performing with diligence and devotion and respect and reverence whatever the task is that love is calling forth from you next. You just do that, and keep doing that again and again and again, and I can absolutely promise you, from long personal experience in every direction, I can assure you that it’s all going to be okay.”

-Elizabeth Gilbert – TED talk March 2014

3 Responses

  1. […] fellow Quester Erin Coughlin Hollowell posted an update on her big project to her blog Being Poetry, including this quote from author Elizabeth […]

  2. Love this process post, Erin, and the visual. The architecture of a manuscript. I found it helpful to do this too, and to lay pages out in a shape. For me, pages in a rose, that lead to pages in a windmill shape that I realized were pointing to the next manuscript. It helped me winnow. So good to move poems around in a physical way. And appreciate them. And play. Here’s to the missing poems writing their way into the manuscript for you.

  3. What a lovely post and a lovely quote. Thank you, it’s such a simple thing that needs courage and focus but certainly worth pursuing. Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

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