The Answer Is Blowin’ in the Wind

Recently, we’ve had blue skies and sun with gusts of cold wind in Portland. On one of those days, I arrived a little early to meet a friend at a Townshend’s Tea, and because the tiny shop was packed, I decided to wait outside.

I plunked down my spiral-bound notebook on the picnic table, sat on the bench, folded my hands into my pockets, and enjoyed the sun in spite of the wind. It’s mid-November, so you make the most of what you get when you live in Portland. And, between gusts, it felt almost warm.

All of a sudden, I heard a snapping sound and turned just in time to see bright white, hear more snapping, and notice specks of black. This spectacle arced over my head and spiraled down Division Street. Beautiful, I thought. And then I realized what it was …

I’ve been working on an essay, off-and-on, for at least three years, and I simply cannot find the focal point. The essay just keeps swirling and expanding, repeating and then contracting. My latest effort to complete the essay involved printing all 20 pages and 8,780 words, cutting it up into individual sentences, tossing at least half of the sentence strips, then re-grouping what was left and taping them into a new order.  This resulted in two more enthusiastic introductions, both five paragraphs long, both ending in broad territory rather than leading me to my point.

That is what snapped and fluttered over my head and down the sidewalk: my essay.

I’d had the taped version tucked into the front of my notebook, and while the notebook was heavy enough to stay on the table, the muscular wind flipped the cover open and snatched my essay. It lifted the pieces and parts into the air, let them sift to the sidewalk, then lifted them again as each page followed the other in pretty white arcs and twists.

I watched the papers swirl, the sun refracting off the white corners. I stayed seated at the picnic table, content to let the pages go. Relieved even. I had my answer: give up, let it go.

The only reason I got up and chased each page down, anchoring some with my shoe, snatching others pressed against news boxes, was the thought of littering. I couldn’t let all that recyclable paper end up in the trash or caught up in tree branches with lost balloons and plastic grocery bags.

I folded the tattered mess in half, stuck it back into my notebook, and rested my elbow on the cover to anchor it down.

And now it sits on my desk, still folded, still tattered. Do I unfold it and hope the wind put it in the right order? Do I let it go? I’m tempted to let it go: delete the file and recycle the fluttered pages, leaving nothing but a blank slate. A blank slate to try again with a fresh start? Or room for new ideas, new essays?

How do you know when it’s time to give up on something? Not in defeat, but with the realization you’ve tried and tried and enough is enough?

Some tiny thread still attaches me to this essay. I feel it extending from my chest to the folded clump on the desk.

In a way, watching the pages whisk away from me felt like publishing — or at least how I’d like publishing to feel: the story is finished and eager to go out into the world to find its audience. Once a story has a reader, it doesn’t need the writer anymore. That was the kind of relief I felt–the piece had moved on; it was on its way to where it belonged and no longer needed me.

Maybe I should have let the pages continue down the sidewalk. Maybe each page or strip of sentence would have found the reader it was meant to find, like fortune-cookie fortunes.

Maybe I should have let it go.

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10 Responses to The Answer Is Blowin’ in the Wind

  1. hughesang says:

    I think your essay just found its focal point 🙂 Beautifully written.

  2. hughesang says:

    I think you just found your focal point 🙂 Beautifully written.

  3. Rose L. says:

    Sometimes I wish the wind would steal something I am writing as it seems it will never come together. Maybe this tossing around of your ideas will make a difference in how you look at it!

    • tristac says:

      It was a relief to watch the pages go. More has happened since that windy day, so I will post a follow-up story eventually. I’m thinking weather might be an important part of the writing process that I’ve never considered before!

  4. ryand says:

    So beautifully Buddhist! I really like this piece–it’s so freeing.

    • tristac says:

      Your comment makes me feel more free, too. Practicing non-attachment in writing … something I only now realize I should practice. Maybe tossing pages into the wind should be a part of my regular writing practice? (I could set up a fan in my office!)

  5. Cristina says:

    I love this. Evoked an image from long ago, the third film in The Apu Trilogy, when our hero Apu opens his hands and lets the wind take the hundreds of pages of a manuscript he has given years of his life to — that was a deliberate act, yours was by chance. Or was it chance? You could still unfold that “tattered mess” and see what you have, or toss it, or let it be, unopened, and contemplate, write anew about all the questions and possible pathways the wind brought you that November day. Whatever you do, please write about it. Inquiring minds…

  6. tristac says:

    Cristina — I always love your thoughts and writings! You make me realize that letting the pages go was not deliberate, but now that I’ve experienced it, I just might deliberately let go of drafts I’ve worked on off-and-on for years (there are a couple more). I will post a follow-up, I think, since more has happened since the wind got involved in my essay. Thanks for reading!!

  7. Pingback: Go Big or Not at All … not really, but it feels like it | All But The Kitchen Sink

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