Working as both a wife of nearly 29 years, and mother of 3, has prepared me in various ways to accomplish the work of a fiction writer.
Working as a wife and mother requires a lot of what an Islamic Imam described as grinding pepper.
Grinding pepper, from the perspective of the imam encompasses those activities that we here in the west describe as comprising the bane of our existence–mindless tasks, that we view as disrespectful of our intelligence and that devalue our worth as a person.
The world banal implies a lack of uniqueness.
Something that is banal possesses no originality.
It is like the wheel that begs for no reinvention, rather more unique and original ways of bringing a deeper level of presence and attention to the task(s) at hand–tasks that when practiced with a presence of mind and heart sharpen our skills and artistry in all areas of life, yield an original creation, and transform us as individuals.
Many activities in the life of a family, and children reflect this characteristic.
Cooking food, washing clothes, combing or brushing our children’s hair, cleaning the chicken that is to be cooked, sweeping the floor, washing linen, taking out the garbage, etc. are all necessary in maintaining home, and yet possess little, if anything, in the way of stimulating creativity except in perhaps devising ways of doing them more efficiently.
The road of anticipation and discovery lies before us.
And we, in our hubris set out writing fully expecting to push through any obstacles we encounter involving character, plot or both, with but a whiff of thought.
I think therefore I am.
And so it is.
Writing novels and stories comprise the necessary and banal tasks of revising, re-writing, revising, re-writing, and revising and re-writing some more.
We all know the excitement that accompanies writing those opening lines of a new novel that we have either outlined or simply started writing.
On approaching the middle of our novel, that dreaded place that enshrouds us like the dark night of the soul, we withdraw from the battle stations of our self-confidence and contemplate why we ever began such a perilous journey.
To be sure, planning a novel and providing a road map to guide our journey helps immensely.
And yet nothing can prepare us for weathering the terrain of remaining true and present to the visceral experience of physically getting up each day, going the computer or desk where we either place our fingers upon the keyboard or lift the pen and bring its tip to the blank page.
This is the banality of writing stories–the dull and boring part, the, if you will, grinding of pepper in the art of crafting and refining fiction.
Over time the beauty of your spouse–that spiritual other who, upon first encountering him or her, appeared the perfect prince or princess–fades.
The king or queen in to whom we have grown gains extra pounds, loses hair, and what remains turns gray.
We like to imagine that we have not changed. But truth, so close and clear in the mirror in which we view ourselves each morning, resists denial.
As a mother or father, we repeated ask our children, and sometimes husbands, to “….pick up the clothes in the bathroom…not leave dishes and food sitting in the sink, [but to] instead turn on the faucet, drain food into the disposal and wash the dirty dishes.”
Don’t leave your shoes sitting on the stairs at the base of the staircase. We say.
Brush your teeth. We urge.
Take a bath. We coax.
It’s time to do homework. —Awww, mom [they say].–Don’t mom me. Let’s get started. (Sad face.)
Take them up to your room of leave them by the front door through which they entered.
Do they listen?
Of that I am not certain.
Their actions, or lack thereof leave much on which to ponder, and to oftentimes conclude that they did not.
I know I spoke, and told them what I wanted them to do.
Then one day… they grow up, our children, simultaneous to our growing old, older, and hopefully wiser.
And you see that by some miracle, that you child or children are actually doing some, if not much of what I, you, we, their parent(s) have exhorted throughout the years.
Novels and stories are like people. They also chronicle people.
And likewise we, the people who write them, grow with them, even as and while we craft them.
So much of writing fiction requires patience, asks that we not give up so easily, nor abandon our dreams on encountering the first or the second of demons obstructing our attempt to slay that which separates us from the truth of our soul, the integrity of our intent, our quest to become the person we know we are.
The mixing of dark and light, yin and yang, that which is understood, and that we have yet to encounter, but seek to know.
What is the pepper of your life, the story you seek to write?
How might you begin to grind it?
What demons lay in the darkness that on grinding pepper you develop the strength to face?
Tags: banal, banalities, boring, character, children, creativity, dull, family, father, fiction, grinding pepper, hubris, imam, Islam, map, mother, novel, obstacle, originality, parent, plot, re-writing, revision, spouse, stories, terrain, west, wife, writing, yang, yin