Most of you know that I'm writing a book. Heaven knows I've made enough noise about it. I've written three books already, but this is different. Harder. Or if it isn't actually more difficult, I'm more insecure about it. The first three books were about things I've been teaching for years and know well how to explain, but this one is "fiction" — although I have to admit that that it feels like the story is already "there" somewhere, and I'm just writing it down. It feels true, like something I'm remembering.

My first beta reader, Davie, commented a couple of times on the delightful slowness of the story and the wonderful world that Marzipan (a principal character) lives in and how much he'd like to live there himself. Of course, that made me wonder if it was too slow, if it didn't have enough action fast enough. Annie, the second beta reader definitely wanted it to move faster. So I tried for that because I "knew" it "ought" to move faster, but it just wasn't happening.

What should have been the next bit with lots of action somehow just kept getting put off while the characters went on with their daily lives, caring for and about each other while we got to know them better. Finally, it had to be acknowledged that I simply didn't want bad things to happen to Marzipan! I only wanted her to be happy! Silly me... I told Davie this, and he replied, "Actually, I'll bet there are a lot of people who'd agree, and would be quite content if your book had no conflict. Especially with today's conflicted world whirling around us."

Reading this brought me to an abrupt halt. YES! But...

All of the rules you hear about writing stories are against this. As Davie and I talked a bit more about it, we realized that there was an important difference between "conflict" and "danger" and "challenges" — but even so I found it difficult to make her unhappy or to let her get hurt. Yet I knew she must have adventures and opportunites to grow. So I finally wrote the part where she gets frightened to bits. But this turned out rather like when I tried to make a tarot deck and the Lightning-Struck Tower kept being insipid instead of... well... lightning-struck. Same problem.

However, having recognized the issue, I can do what I did then — do it over and over until it's finally right. It doesn't have to be rough and tough enough at my first try.

Today, while looking for something else, I happened across a Youtube video. Jon Favreau, President Obama's speechwriter, was given the James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of the University College Dublin. He began with something very important, emphasizing how we are surrounded by "bad news" constantly. These are often things we can do nothing about — earthquakes, hurricanes, fires, climate change, seemingly endless wars, and all the rest of it. He went on to say that what we need is stories that give us hope so we won't just fold up and die. Such stories are what give us the courage to keep trying to do our best.

Right away, I got this. What all these people have done is to give me the courage to go on writing, and hopefully, ultimately, perhaps Marzipan's story will indirectly help others to have that same hope in their own lives and have the courage to keep trying.

When all we have is hope, it's very important to hang on to it. This is not the time to be a pessimist. So, I'm writing Marzipan's story partly to show us how, hopeful as we go, we can learn to be better and kinder to each other. There are small things each of us can do and attitudes we can hold that will help us make our own lives and the lives of our friends and neighbors better. It may not save the world, but who knows what difference it actually will make? How far can a smile travel? How far will a small kindness go, leaping from one person to the next?

A smile. Paying it forward. Holding the door open for the person behind you. A sincere compliment — "I really like that color on you" to the waitress. Small kindnesses. Smiling at children — and adults. In the supermarket, letting the person behind you with three things go before you and your full shopping cart. These little things are the glue that make a community out of a group of people.

And I suspect that it is these little things that create the strong social foundations on which we can build much bigger things that are solid enough to keep growing and perhaps even change the world. God/dess knows, our social foundations are badly shaken and are in urgent need of repair. This is something we can all do every day. Currently, I regard kindness as my most important spiritual practice — but that doesn't mean I can leave out the others!

Copyright © 2019 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.

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