The Mystic Chords of Memory

I’m a miserable failure at nanowrimo. By today, I should have written 8000 words. But four days into nanowrimo I have no idea how many words I have written, but it doesn’t even come close to 8000.

happy frog

Frog reacting to the number of words I have written for nanowrimo

I settled yesterday for taking Ernest Hemingway’s advice: write until you’re ready to write tomorrow. That’s where I ended up yesterday; with a character showing up in a way I didn’t expect. And now I have to listen to him to find out why he did that.

That’s what will move the story forward for me.

I have tremendous respect for anyone who can do nanowrimo. I don’t have a clue how they can.

But here’s what committing to nanowrimo did for me: it got me to commit to commit.

I haven’t blogged for a while. As those of you who have been following my blog might know, I have spent the last several months rewriting my story. Not the one that will be published, but the story that I want to live.

autumn light2I had a flurry of blogs during that time. Epiphany followed epiphany; it was easy to write. But epiphanies fall all over themselves during a time of change. Eventually, things calm down. Change happens, and daily life becomes more – well daily. That means that the change has taken effect – and it’s time to integrate it.

For me, that means start living the new story.

I heard the phrase “mystic chords of memory,” as “mystic cords of memory.” Thought that it meant the things that hold you to your past – as if they were tentacles. But chords are much different. They do not hold you to your past so much as give it texture. path autumn light

When I hear Crosby, Stills, and Nash I am transported to the place in myself that felt the music when I first heard it close to forty years ago.

When I hear Mahler’s second (I’m listening to it now), I just get transported to a timeless experience of being human, of being resurrected after a period of loss and grief.

Resurrection is a difficult time for me. To rewrite my story, I had to experience a lot of grief. Grief over loss of what I hoped would be; grief over the death of parents and friends; grief over losing family members who were not willing to be with me in my new story, even though the old one was destructive for me. We want to think that family wants the best for us, but sometimes what family wants is for things to stay the same, for everyone to keep their place, regardless of the damage it may cause the spirit.

chairSuch can be the price of change – learning that those you love, might not have a heart large enough to include you.

As painful as grief is, what is equally hard for me is being willing to step back into my life knowing that I will no doubt experience grief again. Knowing that loss is a part of life and that I have to be willing to grab hold as if life will last forever, and then let go when life shows me that its definition of forever is more subtle than mine.

And so, yesterday, when I realized that I was not going to come close to meeting the goals of nanowrimo, I had to look at what I was doing with my new story. Writing it isn’t enough. I have to live it now.

I said I was a miserable failure at nanowrimo. I actually think I’m a cheerful failure at it. I probably won’t reach the 50,000 word goal this month. But, I am using nanowrimo to focus. Focus on getting the first draft of my novel done.

And that is how I am living my new story. I’m committing to committing. I’m committing to letting go of the mystic cords of memory that tethered me to my past, and instead paying attention to the mystic chords of memory – knowing that they provide texture to my life, and that by letting go, the better angels of my nature will touch those chords – and from them will arise a chorus as life-affirming as that in Mahler’s resurrection symphony.

Note: The reference to mystic chords of memory comes from the last paragraph of Lincoln’s second inaugural address: “I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will, by the better angels of our nature.”

Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Sarah Palin – pay attention.

And for you who are up to the task – Go nanowrimoers, go!

6 thoughts on “The Mystic Chords of Memory

  1. Karen, this is a wonderful post! You have come through the grieving process all the more ready to be who you are – bigger rather than smaller, a wolf rather than a sheep. Yay you!

    And I love that your are a cheerful nano failure (though I think it may be too early to call.)

    Now. I better get nano’ing. My word count is not indicative of success for me either! 😉


  2. Karen,
    I was wrong, i was in October, now November. I have always spoken outloud, here in my study, words I thought were great and inspirational. I am speaking yours now. “Life’s definition of ‘forever’ is more subtle than mine…” That’s good stuff there, right that down. I am a hero-worshiper, Mrs. Hogan. I love heroic humans. I find not enough of them among the living. There’s some hero in you, no doubt.

    ps you do know that palin, limbaugh and all the rest will NOT be listening, right?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s