Rebellious Worker-Bee Rides the Back of the Alligator — guest blog by Amanda Hale

The act of writ­ing is a fine bal­ance between hard work and inspir­a­tion. Personally I lean towards the work­er-bee end of this spec­trum and have spent many years slog­ging away, chained to my desk while put­ting in the neces­sary hours with dogged per­sist­ence. There have been spells of rebel­lion when I’ve sur­rendered to the seduc­tion of an inspir­a­tion which has usu­ally taken me over the top, requir­ing ruth­less edit­ing on the return to work­er-bee mode.

In recent years I have found my bal­ance as a writer by crab-walk­ing away from these two extremes to place myself some­where appar­ently quite dif­fer­ent, but iron­ic­ally in bal­ance. The essence of this exer­cise is that I catch myself by sur­prise. I will tell you a story.

Several years ago I trav­elled to Cuba, laptop in hand, for a three-month stay. My inten­tion was to write a nov­el I had been research­ing for sev­er­al years, a dark accu­mu­la­tion with­in me. The nov­el was set in WW II Europe and it dealt with a fam­ily whose absent fath­er was interned dur­ing the war as a fas­cist.

Baracoa, Cuba

I sat on the patio shuff­ling through papers and note­books, listen­ing to roost­ers crow­ing and pigs snort­ing nearby, frus­tra­tion build­ing in me as I tried to place myself under the dark cloud of Europe while all I wanted to do was jump on my bicycle and cruise the streets of Baracoa.

After a week I shoved my research papers back into my briefcase and began writ­ing stor­ies about the life going on around me – about my Cuban friends and their daily adven­tures, and about my own struggle to under­stand their extraordin­ary cul­ture.

Cuba, like much of Latin America and the Caribbean, is a sur­real­ist­ic place where North Americans and Europeans are con­foun­ded by the absence of that famil­i­ar logic which enables us to func­tion smoothly. Typically I hit the wall half way through my annu­al stay in Cuba, then I can sur­render and fully enter the Cuban real­ity.

Thus evolved my col­lec­tion of Cuban stor­ies – In the Embrace of the Alligator – Cubans call their island ‘el caí­man’ – the alligator. I did not intend to pub­lish a col­lec­tion of stor­ies about Cuba. I began to write those stor­ies out of des­per­a­tion because I have to write. That is how I make sense of the world. The stor­ies crept up on me, demand­ing to be writ­ten and shared.

Intention is a great and neces­sary thing — it gives dir­ec­tion — but enslave­ment to it is death. Everything must break away from its ori­gins in order to achieve full poten­tial. What I’m talk­ing about is let­ting go of con­trol in order to let the char­ac­ters breathe, to let the story live.

I believe that most char­ac­ters are eman­a­tions of the writer, and that there is a mys­tery which requires us to stand aside and wait to be sur­prised, chal­lenged, and enlightened by our own cre­ations. Writing at its best is a jour­ney of dis­cov­ery, and while the writer must be in con­trol she must hold the reins very loosely and be pre­pared to let the alligator take her deep, to the lim­its of her lung capa­city, with trust that she will sur­face to rewrite and edit what she has learned, and to cruise the streets once more for inspir­a­tion.

Amanda Hale

Paula’s note: Amanda Hale is the author of three nov­els, a col­lec­tion of stor­ies, and a novella. She is also a poet, screen­writer, and has recently writ­ten a lib­retto. Amanda  divides her time between Hornby Island, Toronto, and Cuba. To find out more vis­it www​.aman​da​hale​.com.




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