I have come to Mexico on retreat, with the sincere intention of finalizing the edits on my novel. I am failing miserably.
An author friend of mine, Judith Gille, has allowed me use of her house in San Miguel de Allende for two weeks. I have brought my 12-year-old daughter with me, thinking I could combine our yearly trip together with a personal writing retreat. I take my daughter somewhere each year, just the two of us. This trip forms a cornerstone of our relationship. In my usual life, I lead a tech startup, consult on marketing projects for authors, run Kickstarter campaigns and organize multiple writing groups and organizations. I’m very busy. I spend days and evening on my computer and often rush off to meetings or events. It’s hard to get my attention. I sequester myself with my daughter for an extended amount of time each year so that she knows that her sole company and the adventures we create together are of utmost importance to me.
So why did I think I could bring a novel – the greatest attention hog of all – along for our trip?
The extraordinary doings my daughter and I embark on are but one obstacle in my writing progress. In Mexico, they say you must “live in your body.” I read about this in books before I came, but didn’t know what it meant until I had spent a few days in country.
The afternoon heat, the close proximity of private lives to public spaces, the altitude, the hill we must walk to get home, the constant cacophony of dogs and roosters and bells and singing and kids and cars, smells alternating savory and putrid — all these things draw my consciousness into my flesh. My shoulders and chest throb with sunburn. My thighs ache from holding tight to my mustang on the steep canyon trail. My ankles complain at the fast disregard I have for foot placement on cobblestone streets. My eyes burn from sand and sun block and sweat.
When we retire to our cool house in the evening (the very same featured in this book), a deep fatigue washes over me. Think? Turn thoughts into words into sentences into plot lines? How is this possible? The grand event of our evening is drinking water on our rooftop veranda, watching the sun slice the city into vertical bands of pink and gold.
I read a collection of Mexican literature I found on Judith’s bookshelf. All the stories presented tightly-drawn characters and memorable narratives, but not a single one conformed to classic story structure. Sure, things happened. They all had beginnings, some had middles, and few even offered endings. But these were mere illustrations of moments, events, characters. That all-important character change never occurred. Not in one. The authors would write right up to the moment of transition or change, and there the story would end. It’s as though all the authors collectively agreed, eh, that’s good enough. You get the idea. And then wandered off from their pages for a siesta, or to perhaps discover the source of the noise in the square.
My novel has been drafted. It’s been through a deep edit. All that is left for me is to implement the structural improvements my wise editor Tammy suggested. Maybe I should have retreated somewhere cold, somewhere my body pulls in close and tight. A temperate zone where my thoughts must rally, must act act as commander to spur my timid flesh into action. In San Miguel, my body propels me. My thoughts follow two-steps behind.
Tomorrow. Tomorrow I will command my conscience. I will wake up in cool hours, plant myself on our rooftop veranda, and fix one more chapter. But then… I hear there is a must-see religion procession tomorrow morning featuring donkeys and twelve apostles just one block away from our house. And one of the gauchos from our trail ride gave us a tip on lovely hot spring a mere eleven dollar taxi ride away….
I need a character change of a personal sort if I am to make any progress.