I’m a little slow posting this week because I was away at a silent retreat – at a little cabin in the woods. I’ve done this before – gone off to the silence of the woods to slow down enough to clear my head. If you have never taken a retreat like this, I recommend it highly. What was interesting was that I found myself wanting to repeat my experience from last time, which had been exceptionally wonderful. But, of course, our experiences cannot be repeated – each moment is new into itself. This time there was a great deal of rain, builders were working away nearby, and Monday was mowing day at the retreat center – mowing that lasted most of the day. I was able to find my way through what I had idealized would be a close to perfect retreat and went with the flow – which, of course made it a nearly perfect retreat, because it was what it was and that attitude (when I finally got there) saved everything. Still it was the retreat I had expected it to be, but as it changed, in its own way, it was even better.
On the drive back home, when I was stuck in traffic that moved five miles in two hours, I started thinking about how the fact that things don’t work out the way we want them to is a constant part of life. And so it is for our characters as well. We send them on a journey (sometimes our own journey) and bring them to some kind of change or epiphany, however small or large, in the end. Often, we want their journey, and ours as the writers of the journey, to go smoothly. We plan it out: Start with conflict, face obstacle, overcome obstacle, face another obstacle, and come to an epiphany. But sometimes it doesn’t work out that easily, and I think that is a good thing. It’s more interesting for our characters not to slide through the story to a perfect ending; it’s good to show them messing up, having too high of expectations, not catching the signs in front of them at first. Sometimes they have to retrace their steps, come to small epiphanies along the way, find the journey is much harder than expected. That’s how life is. And it is certainly how the writing life is. As writers, our smooth plan for our story or poem rarely traces a smooth path. It’s how the character and we deal with all of these problems and either still pursues our goal or redefine what really is meaningful to us.