In “Spirit of the Law,” a short story I’ve written, I wanted to explore life after death and something else—how the dead go on living or not living, if only in our memory, in the physical places where we’ve known them.
Of course, I’m not really capturing what life is like after death. It’s my imaginative portrayal of one woman’s experience, and it’s a way of articulating metaphorically how the dead live on in our minds.
It helped to read that Bernard Malamud would write eighteen drafts of a story, working until he got it right. It takes that kind dedication to find a story’s heart. To reach her readers, a writer needs the same kind of persistence as a religious person does in her determination to reach god. It’s quite a love affair, an unrequited one at that.
I’ve also been reading about creativity and commitment in Erica Helm Meade’s book Tell It by Heart. She talks about Eurynome, the Pelasgian creator, using that myth as a model for the cycles that artists move through. Meade describes Eurynome’s “grasping for form in Chaos, experimenting with raw materials, birthing creation, suffering betrayal, followed by her re-imagining creation, reworking it, offering it as a gift, and at last, taking time to rest….Eurynome means wide-wandering, and creativity requires us to cover a lot of ground” (55).
The most important element in this process, though, is commitment, “the ingredient required to brave the others” (55). The “others” Meade refers to are the nine major ‘regions’ of her [Eurynome’s] creation:
- Chaos, Disorder, and Confusion
- Improvisation; Experimentation and Play
- Ecstasy, Birth and Grandeur
- Betrayal, Exile, and Failure
- Contemplation and Reflection
- Revising and Reworking
- Presentation: Contributing to Culture
I’ve assumed that I have made a commitment to writing, but I realize it unravels regularly, daily even, just as happens in any relationship. I have to constantly recommit myself. I like what Meade says about commitment:
I recalled the good things which had come to me as a result of my commitment to tend the garden [i.e., life as a garden bursting with possibility], and I realized what Goethe meant in saying that when one commits oneself, providence moves too, and help arrives from inexplicable sources….I realized all the riches in my life—the love and creativity—had blossomed from commitment—from my ability to hang in and persist, even when I couldn’t remember why. The vow to the muse was like marriage: When the passion wanes, commitment sustains us until the juice comes flooding back. (58)
Or as the I Ching says: “Persistence furthers.”