A Morning Insight

Carol A. Hand

This morning I realized that every word counts when you’re trying to tell a story. And perhaps, some words count more than others. They’re the links that tie things together and give the story meaning. Despite some moments of serious doubts about what I wrote the day before, I’ve continued writing without looking back. As I craft each new chapter, the story gains clarity and coherence. I realize what I need to add to my previous day’s work. Not wanting to get sidetracked by editing until the whole story is complete, I simply created a list of things I need to add.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to interweave community stories, my creative nonfiction memoire, and academic content in a narrative flow. This morning, I did go back to a previous day to add words. For me, they represent an epiphany even though they’re simple. Here’s the new ending for chapter 2 (with new words italicized).

When Thomas returned to the table, it was time to leave. As he stood at the table, he carefully folded the papers I had given him earlier and put them in his pocket. We said our goodbyes. As I was leaving, Xena called out to thank me for coming. “The center will be closed tomorrow,” she added. “There’s a community funeral so all of the offices will be closed.”

No one had mentioned this today. I feel a momentary sting of insecurity before I face reality. Why would anyone mention this or think to invite me? I’m an outsider. Even if some people in the community learn to trust me in the future, I’ll remain an outsider. My role here is as a researcher. Eventually I’ll leave. I don’t have a right to exploit their grief or traditions. I need to remember to respect community traditions and draw a fine line. It’s not about my personal needs – curiosity or meeting my needs for a sense of connections and belonging. I’m here to study families and child welfare. It may be that someday, I’ll be invited to participate in ceremonies outside of this narrow focus. I hope I have the integrity to resist and the skill to decline respectfully.

But I was grateful for a break, the chance to go back to my motel to type out my fieldnotes and spend some time thinking. It would also give me the morning to review my purpose here and explore places where I might be able to stay before heading home for the weekend.

My plan is to keep writing even though I know there are important decisions that I will need to make about structure and content for the next chapters. I’m grateful I kept writing through the fog of self-doubt.

crossroads

Image: Microsoft Office Clip Art

The challenge before me is to keep moving forward, just as I did when I entered a strange community many years ago with only a vague idea of where my research might lead.

[Please note: The names of people have all been changed in the preceding accounts to protect identity, and the names of states and towns have been removed. These stories could come from any of the states where Ojibwe reservations are located.]

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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18 thoughts on “A Morning Insight”

  1. “The challenge before me is to keep moving forward, just as I did when I entered a strange community many years ago with only a vague idea of where my research might lead.”

    “Rejoice! Rejoice! We have no choice but to carry on!” (Carry On: CSN&Y)

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  2. Carol … I’ve witnessed my own wife and partner, Francis, as she shifted from the world of academia and counseling, to novelist and grandmother. She goes up and down, with doubt and self questioning, about characters, messages, and common happenings and even to struggling with and defining so- called “success “…. in the end, her books (4 now) are almost always received with accolades – people often saying how her stories make have made them really think. I am sure your creative non-fiction shall do the same. All the best – Bruce

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    1. It’s so lovely to hear from you, Bruce. I appreciate hearing about the challenges a gifted author like Francis has continued to face and overcome. It’s comforting to know. I’m not sure where my work will lead, but at least I’m honoring a promise I made to myself long ago – to share stories people wanted to make known to help others. I send my best wishes to you and Francis 🙂

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    1. Thank you for your lovely words and blessings, David. This is proving to be such an amazing journey so far. Some days, I do feel the loving presence of ancestors. Other days I walk through the fog, hoping that it will clear if I walk far enough. Today, I need to end early, the next steps still a mystery.

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  3. Having been trained at a newspaper, one of the things I was taught is that if a word doesn’t count don’t use it. That is, if the meaning of a sentence is the same whether you use the word on not, get rid of it. I still think of that when I look over what I’ve written and end up dumping words that I decide have no value.

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    1. Good advice, Ken. Thank you. I’ll remember that when it’s time to edit, but I suspect it will take a while to get to that point. The structure and content are evolving as I write with only a purpose or endpoint as my guide.

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  4. Glad you’re seeing the value of moving on with your writing. As for the added feelings. I understand that. Even though I was working as a labor & delivery nurse, I never was really part of the communities. Even though, one CNA did invite me to her granddaughter’s naming ceremony. The Hopi did open their doors to their homes a bit more than the Navajo ever did. It is a strange feeling being a part of but apart from.

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    1. Thank you for your comments, Skywalker. I truly appreciate your willingness to share your experiences of being and “outsider.” In some ways, it makes if easier to see the bigger picture – if one can get beyond emotions. That’s one of the reasons why Gibran’s work touches me so deeply.

      I am making a little progress every day – six chapters drafted, the seventh begun (15,000 words, some new, some edited from past work). It helps me to have the structure of NaNoWriMo even though all I do is post my progress everyday. The thought of attending one of the local “write-ins” in a strange place with a group of people I don’t know baffles me. I can’t imagine writing in such a context. 🙂

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  5. One way kind of crazy, but in another you’re meeting people doing the same thing you’re doing. Might even find you have something in common. I’ve developed a friendship with a woman who participated in reading with me. What we have in common is love of writing. You know, it’s always good to step boldly out of your comfort zone. 🙂

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