Nothing goes to waste in the creative process, I continue to discover. On a larger scale, nothing goes to waste in life if pressed through as grist for the wisdom mill. But I am thinking of the writing life at the moment.
It is a delight to remember and weave into story a little memory such as shyly walking down the street as a 9-year-old, and having a couple of little girls call you a name. At the time it stung, but now it becomes a scene in a book or short story that enables the writer to explore the universal pain or fear of rejection. Or the first job I had as a 16-year-old at a Florida Burger King, hauling trash past the drive-through line to the dumpster while carloads of girls were heading to the beach. Another scene to share, touching upon teenage restlessness and a desire to be somewhere else and to not be dressed in plaid polyester. And perhaps another story could be the retreat I attended while in college, when we blind-folded each other and had to trust one another to guide us across the property near the water. Blind each of us are, the writer ponders, needing one another to more fully see and make the healthier choices.
I have loved and lost, been innocent and guilty, been full of joy and loaded down with despair, been full of health and quite ill, been profound and shallow. Grist, grist, grist.
“Listen to your life,” Frederick Buechner coaches. There may be some scenes we would rather not hear again. It might prove worthwhile to turn up the volume a little and play the scene again from where you sit right now. “Keep digging,” Buechner told me in a hand-written letter a couple years back after I had written him, “you might find real treasure.”