“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
― Eleanor Roosevelt
“Do you think you could help deliver human babies now?” my daughter asked after I had to go in to help a mother ewe deliver her two lambs.
“I promise to be on hand when you deliver your first baby in future,” I joked.
Writing novels isn’t quite as sticky and yucky as rolling up your sleeves to feel around for limbs trapped inside a small space, but for some reason that was where my mind went while waiting to see if our ewe would sort things out herself. The longer it went on the more I was certain that I’d have to do what I didn’t want to do.
I was afraid to write for thirty years. I didn’t think I could.
There comes a moment in livestock birthing when time runs out, and you have to make scary decisions. We saw one foot seemingly in the right position bust out during the ewe’s weak contractions. Then I thought I saw four feet! Well, that didn’t seem right at all! The ewe had actually turned her butt to me and lifted her tail. She glared back at me as if to say, “Can you help already?”
You write out the first few pages of an idea for a story with high expectations and a sense of finally releasing pent up energy. And then you must wait in darkness.
I admire writers who outline, but it’s not in my nature. I couldn’t even get the ewes’ due dates right because I forgot to write down some of the breeding dates and estimated instead of using a gestation calculator. My husband just laughs at this point.
“I’d never make a good office manager,” I said this week.
“It never even occurred to me that you would.”
He put up cameras in the barn so we could check for babies every three minutes. It was like scrolling through Instagram endlessly for five days before the first babies came.
And so it is with writing. You have a vague sense of what the story will deliver, but each day is like going in and trying to get a sense of where the bones are at with just your fingers.
My husband was cheering me on. “You can do this. What’s going on?”
“I think I feel a face — oh my God — I feel teeth!” I pull my hand away. “I can’t do this!”
Halfway through my latest work in progress, I had the horrible feeling that I couldn’t finish delivering the story. By now I know the feeling is normal.
“You have to go in again or everyone’s gonna die!” my husband says.
I pull off my coat. My fingers are freezing. “Okay, there’s the other leg! No wait! That belongs to a different creature, I think! I have no idea what the hell is going on in here!”
At this point there’s no walking away, no excuses. You are the midwife to creation, like it or not.
You chose this.
We are all either bringing life to things or sitting around waiting for the world to bring life to us.
Walking up to the house after we dragged the two lambs out of their mother’s womb as she wailed, the entire ending of my novel came rushing into me. A miracle, out of nowhere. A gift.
I filled a bucket with water and molasses for the tired ewe and walked back down to the barn in the bitter cold with the stars flashing overhead. At the sound of the gate, my husband called out.
“You’re gonna be happy.”
The two lambs I thought had no chance of survival after the protracted labor and brutal entrance into the world had already gotten to their feet and found their mother’s teat.
As writers we stumble around looking for nourishment and listening for the whispers of our muses, our angels, our saints.
New worries enter in after the babies arrive. How will they fare in this cold world? Did you do everything you could to give them a good start? But for now under the twinkling sky, you believe in miracles — even two in a night.
For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist