I think about Emilie Loring’s writing life. She wrote every day at the Athenaeum, had tea with her friends, then went home to her husband, hobbies, and social life. Her writing was carefully compartmentalized, but it was also regularly scheduled. I think about how she managed to balance everything she wanted to do, everything she was committed to doing.
I think about these things, because I’m gearing up for the final push on this biography. I’ve said this before and meant it. That I’m saying it again shows that something got in the way.
A little bit of serendipity: I just opened a Dove chocolate and read the little message on its wrapper, “What are you waiting for?”
I’ll tell you: Everything else. If this is my one time around, I want a full life. I want to do well with every part of it. I want to live in joyful appreciation of all there is to know and to experience. I want to learn and discern, to judge wisely and make needed differences. I want time for family and friends, to garden and make a home, travel, create things on a whim, do genealogy, teach, keep myself healthy and fit, enjoy the outdoors, have adventures, live purposefully, and strive for excellence. Sometimes, I just want to poke around on a sunny beach and find sea glass and lucky rocks.
Life, what did it mean? To her it had meant a challenge to make it thrillingly worth while. We Ride the Gale!
I admire Emilie, because she kept a clear head, decided upon her goals, said no when she needed to, and got it done. I also admire her, because she failed at that sometimes, took the lesson, and kept on. Thanks, Emilie. You’ve got my back.
She declined hastily. “Can’t I’ve got to work. No one has to tell me that no matter how one’s mind sparks with ideas, unless one writes, nothing gets written. I’ve learned that still living truth.”
“Stalling, just stalling, aren’t you? Your story stuck yesterday and you dread to tackle it because you don’t know how to push it ahead. Go to it, my dear, go to it.”
Give Me One Summer
Thankfully, I haven’t often been stuck. Now that I know how this works—that I need to live with the facts long enough to let them coalesce into meaning and then a story—I know what to do next. What to say next is sometimes a mystery, but I know how to get there.
“Writers who get there don’t have hysterics. I’ve always claimed that success in writing—provided of course one had what it takes to make a writer—is like success in marriage, largely a question of good sportsmanship, of keeping on keeping on, of giving one’s best and trying, everlastingly trying to make that best, better.” Give Me One Summer
Emilie had her father as an example:
She could see him now, hear his gruff voice saying: ‘Jerry, the more you dread the thing you have to do, the more you should hustle to get it behind you. Make that a rule of your life and you’ll find you will have all the time you want and some left with which to speculate.’ He was a resplendent example of the working out of his own precept, his daughter thought. He was the busiest man she knew yet he always had an abundance of time for pleasure. The Trail of Conflict
I wonder if he, too, felt a time lag as he switched between reflection on the past, being fully present in the moment, and setting a course for future achievement. George Baker held a full-time job, gave public readings, acted in private theatricals, and wrote eighty-nine plays in his spare time. He clearly had something figured out.
I will put in just a tiny excuse for nonfiction writers—it would sometimes be ever so much easier to make something up instead of having to find the truth, corroborate it, record the source, faithfully interpret and incorporate it, and still tell a cohesive, compelling story that fits in with what came before and what will come after it. I have ideas for more nonfiction books, some of them even outlined and threshed out a bit, but occasionally I think, “Next time, I’ll just sit down and make something up.”
“I have a firm conviction that a person can put through any worthy thing on which he is determined; … The test is, how much do you want it? I’ve gone on that principle all my life and it’s worked, I tell you, it’s worked.” The Trail of Conflict
No problem there. I don’t remember the moment when I knew I must write this biography, but it had nothing to do with deciding that I would “be” something—an author, a biographer, an historian. Or that I would “get” something—royalties, a career, fame, fortune.
I am the person who knows Emilie best. It’s my responsibility to write her biography. That’s it.
Emilie’s biography sent me out on “uncharted seas.” I’ve been “riding the gale” of uncertainty– learning, groping my way, persevering, and figuring out how the heck to have the full, whole life I want while remaining steadfast in my pursuit of a humongous goal.
I wrote to an agent this week that Emilie had found her way past the Superwoman trap sixty years before it was defined. I could do with a little more contemplation of that. How did she do it?
“Rod, some day you’ll realize that when folks get into the sixties an’ have an important thing to do, they don’t stop to pick daisies by the roadside, they get it done. Whatta mean is, they don’t do no puttin’ off till tomorrow.” Hilltops Clear
“What have you been doing?” “Writing every morning.” Give Me One Summer
Next week’s story, We Ride the Gale! is about finding family, and I’ve been doing a whole lot of that lately. It’s going to be fun to write about. But the book’s title is what I need just now.
The story had come down through the generations that once when menaced by the fury of a storm, with his ship tossing like a chip in foaming seas, with wind roaring, spray hissing, the rigging rattling, moaning, creaking, splitting, he had clung to a mast, had shaken his fist at the mountainous waves, had shouted above the tumult: “Damn you! We ride the gale!”
I’ve signed on the dotted line—figuratively speaking. I had to. This is my chance. The chance for which I have been waiting for years. I couldn’t turn it down. I’ve got to try out my ideas. If I don’t, I may lose the urge and someone else will pick them out of the air. We Ride the Gale!
I quit my job early to write this book and get it into readers’ hands. The moment I signed the paper, I was assailed by doubt. I loved teaching. I loved my students and all of the parts of my job that had to do with learning and expanding, realizing potential and encouraging it in others. I cherished the purpose of caring for the world’s knowledge and passing it along, improved, to the next generation. And now, I would leave it behind to write this book, to get it done. Because I’d come to love that task and to look forward to it all day. Because I took an academic sabbatical that let me work on it full time, and I’d never felt so free, so joyful, so fully absorbed in a challenge. My inner self and my task seemed fully aligned. And yet… it was just one project, and maybe I wouldn’t succeed. I’ve never doubted my scholarship or my sense of Emilie, but what if I gave up all of this and then couldn’t get a publisher? What if no one wanted to read the book, if I did?
A terrifying moment. A moment at the crossroads. A moment patched with the grim shadows of possible mistakes and the glitter of traps for her hesitant feet. Everything was bound to change and never be the same again. We Ride the Gale!
Oh my, has that ever been true. I’m still reeling a bit at the change. A year ago, I could not have told you what WordPress was, but now my blog has been seen by readers in forty-four countries. Emilie Loring fans share stories about how they first found her books, how they and their mothers or daughters or sisters read them over and over again. Social media contacts ask where they can get the books, so they can read them for the first time. It’s crazy.
Yesterday’s sun has given way to cold. It’s a day for hot coffee and a good effort on Emilie’s biography. We need some Happy Landings around here. You’ll still find me here and on the Emilie Loring Facebook page,
“but business for business hours is my slogan.” We Ride the Gale!