Not According to My Plan

by Elizabeth Cunningham

I had planned (yesterday, actually, blog Tuesday) to ask Maeve to write a funny upbeat blog on being a fictional character. That may yet happen.

Instead I spent yesterday afternoon climbing a mountain with a new much younger but very wise friend. Many wonderful things happened. We made tobacco offerings to boulders the size of whales. We met a tiny blue-eyed snake who consented to let us hold her or him in our hands. An owl flew over us. Ravens made oracular pronoucements. When we got to the top, vultures and hawks circled above us, their shadows wheeling over a rockface riddled with crevices over thirty feet deep that sent up breaths of cool, damp air.

In the course of four hours or so, we enjoyed long talks and long silences. One of our many ponderings was on commitment. Someone had said to him that if you make a commitment, then a plan emerges. But without a commitment, there is no plan. I thought about my life, some thirty years longer than his, and I realized that I made a commitment to writing at very young age. I was ten when I knew I wanted to write, fifteen when I began a daily writing practice, twenty-two when I began writing novels, which I have been doing now for thirty-three years.

I have kept my commitment to writing. But my corresponding plan does not (from my point of view) seem to be working out. It was a simple plan, really, quite obvious and unoriginal: to become a widely recognized, successful writer, to be able to sustain myself financially with writing, and if possible (dear god/dess) to be on the NYT bestseller list. Would the #1 spot be too much to ask? (And don’t think I haven’t prayed for that.)

I don’t want to go into my publishing history here or anywhere. Suffice it to say that despite the best efforts of my current publisher and my own frankly herculean or sisyphissian (sp?) efforts, my publishing future is uncertain, as is the future of publishing itself. We are all caught up in huge societal changes. I do get that it’s not about me. But part of me is still stunned, wondering: what happened to the plan? And if that isn’t the plan, what is? And whose plan is it?

Yesterday I felt that question, or the pain that has accompanied it, absorbed into the rocks, drawn up by the warm sun into one of those rare perfectly blue skies. There was a moment when, in the midst of this wild place, we heard sirens in the distance, as if two distinct worlds had overlapped. Maybe that moment stayed with me, because that is my reality. I am alarmed and grieved that my plan hasn’t worked and so much has gone wrong in our suffering world, and I am also connected with something ancient and deep that is not alarmed, even though rocks may tumble, huge cracks open, lives and life forms come and go.

When I can let go of my own plan, however reasonable it may be, I sometimes get glimpses of another plan far more intricate and elegant than I could ever have conceived. Maybe it doesn’t matter whose plan it is. Maybe plan is too small a word, a four letter word and far from my favorite. There is more to say, but the words aren’t coming now. Thanks to my friend Yehoshua for our rich exchange on and with the mountain and to all my combrogos. Tim, I need to dedicate a whole blog to you and our story. I’ll close with words from Dwynwyn, one of the crazy old wise women in Magdalen Rising.

“Choose blindly with your eyes open. Walk and whistle in the dark. You’re not the whole story, only a part. Even the teller is changed in the telling.”

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1 comment

Meredith Gould September 3, 2009 - 3:49 am

No shortage of heartache and frustration for those of us called to write, but write we must and write we will. Publishers? Pfft!


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