Monday, August 17, 2015

Orpheus Checks His Email, by Anne Nesbet

"Sometimes writers travel and get jet-lag. The end."
                                    --the first version of this blog post

Life can be a very scattered and scattering thing. Over the last couple of weeks, I have felt that scattering at work on me: I had all these very important things to get done, but I was away from home, away from the internet, and had seven days' worth of driving to soldier through, not to mention abbeys to visit, cooking to do, gigantic windmills to walk up the hill to see--oh, did I mention I was on vacation? It's all lovely, a vacation, and yet when I'm distracted, even if the distraction is caused by wonderful things, I begin to feel a little desperate around the edges.

I begin to worry about THE STORY. What's happening to THE STORY?

We human beings like to take the randomness of the universe and make some bit of it make sense. Writers specialize in turning random pieces into a story, compressing the too-big spaces and messy ongoingness of time into something smaller, more focused, enveloped in the comfortable walls of a beginning and an end.

(A photograph does the same thing; so does a stone vase; so does a château: this picture
contains a ridiculous amount of human compression of the universe into art.)

When we are distracted and scattered and unable to do the work of making things make sense, it can feel like everything slips through our fingers and always will.


Really! If it's not one thing, it's another! When I had baby twins, I crawled through every day without ever having a moment to focus. What was happening to the story then? And of course we have an infinite number of other distractions: guests, students, internets, having to walk the dog, illnesses, soccer games, hot weather.
Dog distracted by turkeys

It makes me think again about poor old Orpheus. It's really a story about focus. Orpheus focused so hard he almost brought his beloved Eurydice back from the land of the dead: he almost changed the whole story of the world. And then he got distracted, lost his thread, checked his email, forgot himself, turned around, looked to see whether Eurydice was still following him up the path--and lost her.

(Then he was torn apart, which is about the extremest version of distraction ever, and an unpleasant way to go.)

THE STORY is our Eurydice, the love we go bravely down into the underworld to rescue. We have to focus like crazy to bring it back to the surface. This is tough. Distractions nibble at us and sometimes tear us right apart.

It occurs to me now that The Wrinkled Crown, coming out this fall, is in some ways a retelling of the Orpheus myth. Linny has to go to the ends of the world to save her best friend--she has to be brave; she has to stay focused; she remakes the world and changes all the stories.

We have to be brave. We have to stay focused. And we have to celebrate like crazy whenever THE STORY makes it all the way into the world.


  1. What a wonderful post. (I love that you are reading Martha Brockenbrough's book while walking your distracted dog!)

    1. It's such a good book! Everyone should quickly read THE GAME OF LOVE AND DEATH! Martha was clearly focusing all the way through when she wrote that book . . . . . :)

  2. Trying to focus to the end!!! Thank you.

    1. Yes, yes! Poor old O looked back just at the last moment--does definitely remind me of trying to finish a book.... You have to keep the faith that the story is still with you.


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!