By Teri Blair
I thought this directive, this encouragement, this heed applied only when things were going badly. You know, just keep going even though the chips are down on all fronts – when you have nothing to write in your notebook but garbage, when you just keep getting rejection letters from publishers, when you feel like the biggest fraud in the world trying to be a writer.
Now, I see it applies to the flip-side – continue under all circumstances even when things are going well. Because I see (in a string of days that are going well), that I am just as apt to toss myself away when abundance is coming into my writing life as when the horizon is bleak. It’s like the discovery a few years ago that I feel the same if I have 50 cents or 500 dollars in my wallet. I have the same sensation either way…always broke, never enough money. It has nothing to do with any dollar reality. Just the pounding voices in my head.
I’m in Holcomb, Kansas. I’ve returned for the 2nd time in six months to the setting of Truman Capote’s 1965 masterpiece, In Cold Blood. The first time I came out of curiosity, the 2nd from a series of serendipitous events that led me to discover forgotten and lost and distant cousins. Cousins who were raised here. Ones who knew the Clutter Family whose murder brought Truman Capote and Harper Lee back here to Kansas again and again to research their book.
And this time, instead of looking at the town with the eyes of an observer passing through, I am being introduced to people, one after another, who lived through the tragedy of ’59. Any one of them is a story. But there are too many. And it makes me want to hide under blankets or run away and definitely not continue under all circumstances.
But I will. Only because I was taught how. I will feel the bottom of my feet when I walk to feel grounded. I will sit still and not talk whenever I can. I will listen. Listen deeply. And I’ll try hard to remember that I don’t have to know anything. Be dumb. Just show up without the answers to any of my questions and listen.
To Janice, who sat next to Nancy Clutter in band. And her telling me about Nancy’s new clarinet that played like a dream, and how she was a little jealous that Nancy was going to get to go to college with that new clarinet.
To Sandy, who worked in the court room during the murder trial. And because she was so photogenic, she was asked to play Harper Lee in the first In Cold Blood movie.
To Marlene, who said she doesn’t want to keep reliving the tragedy over and over again.
To Eddie, who described to me Truman Capote’s pecking order of friends here, and what it did to the people when some were invited to the Black-and-White ball in New York City and others weren’t.
To Wanda, who looks very old and tired, who kept telling me she was far too young to remember any of the Clutters, but kept producing one yearbook after another from the library shelves for me to look at from Holcomb High School.
Continue today. That’s all. Just keep arriving in the next minute.
Continue Under All Circumstances is a writing practice written from the road while researching a story in Holcomb, Kansas.
About writing, Teri says: I began writing in a Quonset hut on a farm in Minnesota, dragging hay bales around a blue window to create a little haven where no one could find me…alone with paper and pencil. I was often bundled up in several layers in desperately cold weather. I guess on some level I was really serious, even back then. I wrote in journals and diaries faithfully, always finding refuge in the written word. Instead of sitting up and taking notice of these tendencies, I spent years investing time in things I didn’t care about, like taking piano lessons and jogging. It finally became too tiring to fight what I really want to do. So on most days, I’ve stopped saying writing is for someone else, and I let myself do what I love.
Upcoming pieces this spring will appear in Nursing Spectrum, Teachers of Vision, Liguorian, Senior Perspective, and Mushing.