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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