My desk in Creek House--the two piles to the left of my computer are Bless the Birds.

Sculpting Memoir

My desk in Creek House--the two piles to the left of my computer are Bless the Birds.  My desk in Creek House–the two piles to the left of my computer are Bless the Birds.

Last week was my first full week at home. Monday morning, after the usual contractor consults, I pulled out my memoir-in-progress.

I haven’t looked at the manuscript I call Bless the Birds since late July, when I got two purchase offers on Terraphilia and it was clear I needed to focus on finishing that house, radically pruning my stuff and Richard’s shop-full of sculpture tools, packing, and getting Creek House finished enough that I could move in.

When I picked up the manuscript Monday morning, two-and-a-half months later, I wasn’t sure what I’d find.

Oh, I know the story. I lived it. But living the story and writing it are two very different things, as anyone who writes memoir can attest. When I finished the rough draft last spring, it was nearly twice as long as I wanted.

Richard with a basin in progress Richard with a basin in progress

My task is to cut away the excess, a process similar, I imagine, to how Richard carved his stunning basins from rough boulders.

First you find boulder and turn it over to study it from all angles. Eventually you “see” the basin in it. Once you’ve figured out where to start, you simply carve away the rock that isn’t necessary to reveal the beauty within–the story hiding under the rough exterior.

I have the boulder, I know there’s a story in it. I just need to carve away words and paragraphs, scenes and pages until the inner tale emerges, shot through with sparkling crystalline veins. Oh, for Richard’s diamond-tipped power tools!

When I started reading Monday, the 130,000-word manuscript felt heavy as a boulder. Friday afternoon when I tore myself away, I had excised 11,000 words.

At 300 words per page–12 point Times Roman, double-spaced–that’s 37 pages. I’ve got another 30,000 words to cut. I’m hoping to finish carving by November 27th, two years from the day Richard died.

Richard chisels the excess from a one-ton granite boulder. Richard chisels the excess from a one-ton granite boulder.

How do I know what to cut? I listen to the story, reading it out loud.

When I find my attention wandering, or want to skip a section, I go back to where the story last had me by the throat. Starting there, I listen carefully, metaphorically turning over the rock, searching for what needs to be chiseled away to reveal the inner tale.

When I know–it’s a gut feeling, I pick up my word-sculpting tools (highlight and delete, or cut and paste into another file if I can’t part with passages I’ve worked so hard on) and chisel away. Then I read aloud again. And repeat–until the words blur, and it’s time to do something else.

The stairs in progress, with risers and treads of recycled plastic and wood chip "lumber." Treehouse stairs–the risers and treads are recycled plastic and wood chip “lumber.”

Last week, that “something else” included laying the carpet tiles visible on my office floor in the photo above, a mix of two Flor® carpet tile patterns. They’re non-toxic, made in the US of recycled materials, and I could lay them myself. Perfect!

It also included consulting with Steve and crew of SKT Construction as they built the stairs up the outside wall at Treehouse leading to the studio.

And celebrating with my solar guy, Tim Klco of Peak Solar Designs, after my electric utility finally hooked my 3.0 kw photovoltaic system to the grid so my 12 panels could supply my house with their clean power.

Photovoltaic panels on the roof of Creek House from the top of the new Treehouse stairs. Photovoltaic panels on the roof of Creek House from the top of the new Treehouse stairs.

And picking rocks from the driveway after the crew from A-1 Concrete poured the apron by the garage so I could finally back my car inside its new home.

So yeah, I’m back to writing. And still building. It’s a good combination: sculpting a story and making a home.

I’d rather be living with the smiling guy at the top of the post, the sculptor holding one of the rocks he so loved. But he’s gone on to the next turn of the cycle we call life, so I’m making a life on my own.

Tonight's sunset from the deck at Treehouse--the roof on the right is Richard's former shop. Sunset from the deck at Treehouse–the roof on the right is Richard’s former shop.

It’s a pretty darned good one. I’m proud of that.

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