August 11, 2020 § 19 Comments
I’d reached an impasse with my memoir of childhood mother loss. After several years of excavating memories, I’d compiled a 60,000 word manuscript and had it reviewed by a professional editor, but now the path ahead appeared murky. The editor’s feedback presented a monumental dilemma: Was I writing for myself to process the past, or did I desire to craft a story for public readership? To do the latter required significant revision, and I lacked drive for the task. Still, it pained me to think of abandoning my story. I wanted to tell the world about the long arc of childhood grief.
Reluctantly, I accepted reality and set the project aside, uncertain whether I’d ever look at it again. It was summer, and our garden plot and the local pool provided pleasant diversions. When fall came, I felt a void where the memoir writing used to be, but without corresponding energy to work on it. Then I received a notice about my friend’s upcoming Soul Collage series and figured, “Why not?” I refused to acknowledge the underlying doubt: “Am I nurturing creativity or procrastinating?”
Our project was to create collages on 5×7 cards. At the first class, the craft tools on the table in front of me stirred mild trepidation as I recalled a frustrating art activity in kindergarten that required cutting fabric into pieces and gluing them on cardboard. As an adult, I’d done scrapbooking and confirmed that straight precise edges were not my gift. We sat at tables of three, each of us with a large envelope of images to collage. The weekly selection provided an ample array of individual pages from magazines, art books, and calendars, all in varying sizes, and featuring landscapes, animals, paintings, the cosmos, architectural wonders, and people.
My friend Fabricia, the facilitator, offered guidance as we began, “Let the images speak to you. Follow your intuition, not your affinity. Just because you like butterflies or rainbows doesn’t mean they always belong on your cards. Sometimes what makes you uncomfortable is right.”
In the silent room I flipped through my images, noticing myself selecting figures of mothers, girls, older women, some sorrowful, some joyful. I also seemed called to water and sky and trees. As I began trimming them, I’d study each one, wondering, “What wants to be on this card?” To my delight, I loved using the scissors and X-acto knife. Their swift, sharp slices through the paper elevated the activity to a sacred rite of creation. My edges were seldom even, but enjoying the process superseded any worry about results. Too soon, Fabricia sounded the chime and asked us to clean up our work spaces.
The final step was to let each card speak to its creator. In small groups, we took turns responding aloud to prompts that elicited insights about each collage card. I usually completed three or four per session. Surprisingly for a writer, I felt impatient with this part. My absorption with the images seemed to bypass any need for words. At home, I propped my cards above my desk and gazed at them throughout the day. I looked forward to the weekly immersion into this intriguing process.
When the class series ended, I anticipated the next one in January and turned my attention to holiday preparations. Unexpectedly, as December drew to a close and I began to contemplate next year’s goals, the prospect of more Soul Collage held no spark. Instead, more and more, my memoir re-occupied my thoughts. I practically pined for it. Curious, I opened up my files and began reading the words I hadn’t looked at in five months, startled to rediscover a forgotten revision of the first 20 pages that I’d accomplished before setting the project aside last summer. It actually sounded pretty good. My writer’s mind buzzed with a familiar eagerness when I saw how the new opening actually set up the narrative to address the structural problems my reviewer had identified.
Intuition said to resume the memoir, so I did. Most mornings, first thing, I tapped away at my laptop for at least an hour, sometimes two or three when time permitted. I found myself cutting and re-positioning blocks of text, then filling in new passages like glue to smooth the narrative flow. Scene by scene, chapter by chapter, the pieces fit together, if not seamlessly, at least with a new guiding clarity.
My Soul Collage cards still graced the shelves above my desk, and I treasured them as a bridge to liminal space beyond words. Tactile gestures and visual elements had worked emotional magic, so the inner child’s lingering grief could yield to adult writing discipline. For the first time, I related to the story as something distinct from myself and grasped what a reader needed to appreciate its universal truths about mourning and remembrance. Over the next eight months, I completed the manuscript with help from an editor, submitted it, and had it accepted for publication in 2021. The Soul Collage class had not been an act of procrastination, but a wellspring for perseverance.
Peg Conway is a writer and energy healer in Cincinnati, OH. Her work has appeared at Manifest-Station and Elephant Journal, and her memoir of early mother loss will be published by She Writes Press in 2021. Learn more at pegconway.com.