Karen Rivers


Karen Rivers

Your life is like a Venn diagram of itself, with writing in one circle and in the other circle, your life itself, with its details like paperwork and love.  

Sometimes the circles overlap and sometimes they don't.  For a while, you stood between the circles and held them together with your hands, criss-crossing them like hula hoops and keeping them in place using only your will.  

If you stopped, what would happen?

Well, if.

When you stopped, they started moving further away from each other.  Then suddenly there you were, in the middle.  You reached out your hands but both circles were out of reach.   Then what?

You had to pick one.

For a long time, when things were particularly bad ("It was all a bit dicey," you say, "For a while."), you made the easy choice of standing in the writing circle. ("The book is going really well," you said.  "I love it.")  It was constantly amazing to be there, simply writing.  You stayed up all night, many many many nights.  The words and ideas were all around you like fireflies that you ritually and tirelessly caught in mason jars until the circle was so brightly lit that you became blind to what was outside of it.   Bills languished and taxes went unpaid.  Friends went unseen.   You didn't deal. 

It was like that.

Then things happened.  Eventually the neglected details demanded that you walk away from the writing circle, which you did, reluctantly.  You attended to things.   You needed a new house.  You needed money.  You needed to settle your arrangements.  You needed to attend to your taxes and sell your old house.   You needed to teach your kids how to read and tie their shoes.   You forgot about the Venn diagram of you and your days filled up with lists and chores.

"It has to be done," you said.

You went into the woods and walked to clear your head.  You listened to the rustling of the trees being pushed by the wind.  There were no circles anymore, you thought, until you realized that there were.  There was life, and you were living it.   It encircled you when you weren't paying attention, when you weren't juggling this and that together to make everything work.   Then, after a while, you weren't attending to anything.  Things settled and you were just living.  This was your life and you were in it.  Encircled.

But the Venn-diagram writing circle was still over there, near the left margin of the page, still well-enough lit from the captured fireflies.  The life circle filled up with beautiful details:  hummingbirds eating from a muddy bank and the scratchy sound of ball-point pens making signatures on endless paper.   The writing circle drifted.  It didn't need you, after all, to hang on to it, it could float around unattended and still survive. 

Now it does need you.


You go back.  The circle is not round anymore or well-lit for that matter.  You sit in the middle of it at your desk.  You are waiting for the fireflies.  It is getting dark in this circle and from far away, your life circle is illiuminated in ways you never imagined it could be again.  

Thank you, you say, to whomever may understand just what you mean by that.  

You sit and wait.  You flip through a magazine.

The furnace hums and something in the wall is dripping.  You look at photos on the internet and read what other people have said on Facebook, in case it's important, which it both never and always is.  It's one thing you've learned through all of this:  People matter more than anything.  They just do.  You listen to music and find the perfect shade of blue paint for your bedroom wall.  Then, and only then, do you begin to feel something familiar.  Only then do you recognize your own work.  The work you loved.  The work you still love but have neglected.  You remember your characters, detail by detail.   It's like running into old friends on the street, Hello! It's so good to see you?  How have you been?  Where have you been?

You imagine these characters having been on vacation.  You see them sweltering in the hot sun, plastic cups of lemonade clutched in their hands while they wait for their turn on the rope swing over the cold lake.   Waiting for the days to pass and for their break to be over.

Come back, you say.  And reluctantly, they do.   

You begin again to write, slowly at first, and then faster.  Your imaginary people again begin to inhabit your story, they give themselves over to you and your whims and the path you see for them. Now your fingers are moving faster and faster, the jars are filling with light.   The Venn diagram again intersects, and there you are in the middle of your life and of your novel, effortlessly.  Not even holding on. 

It can be like that.  If you let it.