does not describe me fully
it is where to start

Saturday, August 21, 2010

It’s Been Quite a Year

My Pilgrim Soul adventure started August of last year with a post about the similarities between authors Chinua Achebe, Ron Rash, and, I hoped, one of my novels. To my delight, blogging introduced me to a richly rewarding online community. What's more, for the first time the publishing decision about my writing was, for better or worse, entirely mine. Wow, what a privilege.

So here’s a great big thank you to those who have been with me on my pilgrimage as it evolved from focusing solely on my fiction to embracing broader issues of culture, religion, writing craft, and heroism. Because most of you were not here at the beginning, I am sharing an updated version of one of my earliest posts:

“How the Rediscovery of My Father’s Words Led to My Writing Fiction.”

The first novel I ever wrote was birthed in a time of great upheaval in my life. I had walked away from my business career the year before. My marriage had ended. My father died soon after. In retrospect, it is not surprising that I might try something new like writing fiction. How it actually happened though still astounds me.

After my father's death, I began transcribing his poetry, essays, and sermons to distribute to family and friends. It was challenging work for several reasons. Many of the audio tapes were of abysmal quality. Despite that, his familiar voice still rose above the scratchiness, and I grieved that I would never again hear him speak directly to me. More than once, I almost abandoned the project, convinced I was only prolonging my grieving.

As if that weren’t already challenging enough, my father’s sermons were all in Spanish, no longer my primary language. I found myself rummaging through his huge unabridged dictionary, trying to find words no one used in ordinary language. At least I never heard them. It was often frustrating as I was never sure I had heard a word correctly, given the sometimes awful quality of the tapes.

Several months later, having listened to the final tape and transcribed the last sermon, I sent out the material to family and friends. That was when I realized that, instead of prolonging my grieving process, my transcription project had actually eased my transition into a world in which I could no longer pick up the phone to talk to my dad.

That was not the only surprise. I woke up one morning with the lines of an unfamiliar Spanish poem swirling in my head. I wrote down the poem and, for the next few months, found myself writing poetry in Spanish, something I’d never done before. And, no, I’ve not looked at those poems recently. I’d rather keep alive the memory of how magical a time writing those poems was rather than think about editing.

The period of writing poems in Spanish lasted about half a year. One morning, as surprising as when it first appeared, the impulse to write poetry vanished. Soon after, though, I found myself, again, waking up with material sloshing in my brain that seemed to want to be written down. That turned out to be the beginning of a novel. And for the first time in my adult life, I felt I was exactly where I should be, writing fiction.

In the years since, my writing craft has improved, and I have come to appreciate how the hard work of creating a novel or story involves taking that initial magical spark of inspiration and, through dogged hard work, transforming it into something in which story, characters, dialogue, conflict, and style cohere. I wonder, though, if any of my subsequent novels and short stories would have been written had I not undertaken transcribing my father’s work.


Thank you, papi, for your marvelous gift of prompting me to write fiction. Thank you, readers, for sharing my pilgrimage over the last year.


Judy Croome said...

Judith, what a beautiful post and what a wonderful celebration of how the spirits of our ancestors continue to guide us and protect us even once they have crossed into the world beyond. I am blessed to still have my Dad with me, although he is more often frail than not these days. Your poignant post reminds me that he will always be with me in the most unusual ways.

Congratulations on what appears to have been a challenging year. May your brave new world continue to bring you many joys and challenges...and may your beloved Papi's spirit live long in your heart.

Judith Mercado said...

Judy, thank you for framing this in terms of the "spirits of our ancestors." That is such a lovely thought and in keeping with my very first post which highlighted, through Achebe's book, the Igbo people of Nigeria. As for my father, he remains a huge influence in my life. Always will.

Sun Singer said...

The birth of a novel is often painful though it makes us more conscious of who we are and who is important to us.

I enjoyed this post a great deal.


Mayowa said...

Thank you, Judith. Thank you.

Judith Mercado said...

Malcolm, that's a great insight.

Mayowa, you're welcome, you're welcome.

A Cuban In London said...

There're a couple of reasons why your post touched me in ways that you probably can't imagine. The first one is that I arrived from Wales last night and found your comment in my previous post. I popped by but I was knackered and I'd rather take a raincheck than leave a half-hearted comment. I read your post today again and I can tell you that I missed your writing a lot whilst I was away. Many thanks.

There's another reason why I felt emotional upon reading about how your ancestors have influenced your writing. It's the word 'papi'. It's the way my children address me. I've got moist eyes just from reading your beautiful post and that Spanish word at the end reminded me why we're so fortunate to straddle two linguistic words.

Here's to you, fellow blogger and to your first anniversary and to your 'papi', too. :-)

Greetings from London.

Judith Mercado said...

Cuban, your response was touching to me so we're even. Yes, there is something so evocative about seeing a papi instead of a Pop as a way of designating a father. Our roots are embedded deeply it appears.

Nevine said...

An awesome celebratory post of your blog and your father and your writing life, Judy, all three intricately woven together. It is always an enriching experience to learn of how writers "begin" to write... the triggers... the inspirations... where do they come from? Obviously, your papi was a huge influence in your life, and I think your unraveling of his words somehow did unravel yours. And I have certainly enjoyed my visits here, not to mention the wealth of new knowledge I picked up every time. I wish you all the best with another year and another and another of blogging and writing and sharing the treasured memory of your father.


Judith Mercado said...

Thank you, Nevine, I am a great fan of yours so your words carry special meaning. It is readers like you who keep me motivated to find and write well about topics that fit my particular interests of culture, religion, and the literary world.

loveable_homebody said...

Aw that's such a loving tribute to honour your father's memory by transcribing his work so others can enjoy it! I imagine reading his work is in a way like being with him.