Week #5 Despair
Or: Dark Night of the Soul
(This is Part 5 of a six-part series. Here is Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)
How does one feel when one has invested hours of research, money for materials and glistening bits of self in a project? At some point the hour may come to bare all. If one decides to share.
My plan is in place and I’ve practiced the process more times than I am willing to admit. I stand before the big event and I feel like I’m coming out of a cave, into the open, to expose my soul to the rest of the world. I’ve finally mustered up enough courage to submit my story. And the guests are coming tonight.
The sun is setting as the year heads towards the dark and damp winter solstice. A door opens elsewhere in the apartment and a cool draft goes through the hot kitchen. I hear stamping boots in the hallway. I peek around the door. A sigh of relief escapes my lips. Thank goodness, it’s not an early guest, only my significant other.
The heat of the kitchen is stifling, tension is mounting. Self-doubt creeps up my spine. I’ve come this far: everything that needs to simmer is simmering, what needed to be baked is baked, what needs chilling is chilled. Except me. I need to wash up and get dressed. I wonder if I can really pull this off. Who am I to think I could actually show anybody else what I have done here?
Suddenly the soup tastes too salty. The gravy has the consistency of wallpaper paste, the salad is wilted. I prepared yet again another piece of venison and it hasn’t gone the way I had planned. My mood slips from less-than-confident into a downright panic. I wonder why I even attempted this in the first place. A blackout or an earthquake would be a welcome relief. I feel like I’m in my own ‘All is Lost’ scene towards the end of Act 2.
I should not, no, I cannot judge my project at this stage by myself. I am my own worst critic. I see problems where there aren’t any. My brain manufactures grave scenarios when I step back and look at what I have created. Heck, I do this with lots of things in my life, not only my projects. As soon as it becomes important to me I am afraid. Afraid I can’t trust my intuition, afraid that I can’t write, afraid that I can’t cook, afraid that oh my God, what will these people think of me when they see what I have done! I don’t want any guests. I don’t want anyone to read my writing. Everything just plain sucks!
Heat rises in my face and I smell like fear. Despair sets in. When I was younger and wrote on paper, it was easy to set a ream of poems on fire and watch them burn with an almost ritualistic fervor. Not so easy with a laptop. Somehow pushing the delete button just doesn’t satisfy like fire does.
And here I stand over my perfect savory chocolate gravy. My tweaked Mexican Mole. I have cured the sauce and I taste it over and over until my tongue is numb. Yet another piece of meat is in the oven at a low temperature and can stay there until I’m ready for it. But the color is all wrong. It smells like a cadaver. I thought the desserts were perfect but I am now unsure.
I am no longer in the position to decide these things for myself. I need a fresh set of taste buds, a fresh pair of eyes.
We all need someone we can trust to honestly tell us if we’ve been true to our goals. I want to ease my guests’ spirits with my aperitif. The pumpkin soup should whet their appetites and leave them wanting more. The meat should carry the basic theme. I need the potatoes to hold their own like a supporting character. And I want the gravy to make a walloping impact; a subplot that rises to influence the final twist. The dessert is the climax. Have I done that?
Hopefully we have someone who has the guts to tell us what we need to hear, no chocolate-coated, candy-covered input. A willing food taster. An objective beta reader. I personally need someone to say, ‘Why did this character do that?’ Or, better yet: ‘This is a muddle!’ Then I’ll know if I’m getting my point across and if my plan is working the way I see it unfolding in the little world I so often inhabit alone.
I want my story to weave a classic mystery–did my beta reader ‘get it?’ If the reader didn’t get it, then I haven’t done my job. An honest reader tells me I may have missed a snippet. For me, an external opinion can make the difference between me throwing a meal out the window, setting a story on fire, pressing the delete button, or, hell, giving up on the rest of my life! It could make the difference between me melting down or buckling down to finish the job.
I write because I do. I always have done. I write for myself, keep a journal and devise stories–it’s a great way to keep my bored brain entertained. But I want to share my stories. They come alive when someone else reads them. In the same vein, I eat to live. I can go weeks on boiled potatoes and carrots and a few handfuls of nuts. But the kitchen is the beating heart of the home and comes alive through the banging of metal pot lids, the smell of frying onions and a splash of sherry, the laughter of fed and watered friends.
Bring on the guests. Bring on the readers.