Over the last six months, I’ve been writing a long short story called “Healing,” a project that came from my trip a year ago to the Indonesian island of Bali. The story, as usual, went a different direction than I expected. I resurrected Jerome Slater, an oil painter, who first appeared in an unpublished novel, Chapter 6 of which became “Geneseo,” a short story in my collection, Silent Retreats. The story, “Healing,” runs 15,000 words, and is an attempt to “place” the reader in Ubud and environs without overtly writing a travel piece. Jerome has aged a number of years and is down there hanging out and painting in the compound of a lifelong friend of his. I’ve never read the recent Bali memoir nor seen the famous movie made from it; I intentionally deprived myself of all that so my memory and the writing tied straight to my own experience. I set the story among (fictional) expats living there, so that I didn’t accidentally appropriate or seem to.
I had considerable help finalizing the story. I ran it by my friends who were on the Bali trip with me, and several writer friends, all of whom rolled up their sleeves and waded in. It’s much better than it was because of that. It isn’t my style to solicit so much feedback while a piece is enroute, because I don’t like showing work when I know it isn’t ready to be shown. It might be addictive, however; the help stretched me and I wasn’t even, I discovered in the process, humiliated too much.
Why pretend. In a way, we’re beginners with each new story we write, especially the big ones. The craft humbles even the veterans.
And also, it is a good thing to not show a work until it is finished, but who the hell knows when a thing is finished. For me, it’s alive and fluid until it’s accept and the ink’s dry. But anyway. It’s very close now. I’ve begun to envision the interconnected next story, this one set in Buenos Aires where I visited last year with the Summer residency of the Spalding brief residency MFA program.
Meantime, Garrison Keillor read a poem from my poetry book How Men Pray on Saturday, June 18. Here’s the link to Writer’s Almanac for that day.
Keillor has read my poems four times on this program, actually three different poems and one of them twice two years apart.
Odd how the actual intensity of grinding out the Bali story, and the passive wonder and luck of sudden renewed exposure on Writer’s Almanac, all of it coming it has as I begin the sabbatical, has fueled my energy for getting after it in the coming months.