What is writing? Is it an art form, a craft, an innate skill, something that burns to be released from the belly of the beast? When I read that question, the following visuals ran through my head: Renoir painting, a homespun art project made of pasta and Popsicle sticks, and Moby Dick.
Clearly the answer is “D: All of the above.” In every good book, not even a great book, there need to be moments where the writer and readers' souls surrender to the power of the word; the descriptions captivate and take the breath, cause laughter to bubble up, and tears to fall.
Like all of you, I pick up books and at some point I am either engaged or disappointed, because I see every book as the potential to travel and explore. It can be time travel, travelling to another world, exploring the hazards of tangling with a vampire or the social etiquette of Victorian England. For the most part, I will read any genre, so long as it moves me, because in every book there is self-discovery.
Ideas for books flit through my head all day long. It is extraordinarily challenging to figure out what ideas are worth pursuing, because every moment has potential. I recently read a book, Circle of Grace, where one of the main characters is introduced to us as a student at the Iowa Writers Workshop. To get to the meat of this part of the book, the director of the workshop helps his students realize that not only is it important to write what you know, you must write what you feel, you must be willing to explore and then expose your emotions to be an effective writer.
Last week I published Venus Rising. The original goal was to write as a comedic fifty page short story, yet when my fingers hit the keyboard the idea morphed into something quite different, because I listened to my heart and it needed me to write big feelings.
It was very important to me to really understand the world I dared stepping into. So many hours were spent researching the hows and whys of the world we live on. Venus Rising isn’t loaded down with dates and data. My hope is that my research pours you into the skins of Akshaya Bertrand and Jared Harrison; makes their journeys palpable and their travels tangible.
The following are the first two brief but critical chapters of the book. I hope you enjoy them.
Thanks for reading!
Early March 2011
His head pounded, he felt his eyes pulsing! His chest heaved as he gasped for air and there was nothing to be done. The strain on his body felt unbearable, and at some point the release of so much emotion was just too much. He fractured. The two pieces, body and soul, fractured. Never having been a spiritual person, he could only assume this was what an out of body experience would be. The body and soul were at war with each other. The soul’s way of accepting that the body had endured enough. He took in the visceral experience and accepted it for what it was. A death of sorts. Years of observing the world from a distance had led to this outburst.
And so he wept.
How long did he sit there? He had no idea. It was the shadowy flutter on the wall that attuned him to his body. He felt the easing of his balled up muscles and the last of his tears leaking. The last sobs wrenched from somewhere very deep. A quake echoed through his body and it was this echo that seemed to initiate the reconciliation of the two halves of himself.
In an effort to calm himself, he stretched out on the couch. It wasn’t lost upon him that he was finally doing as his therapist had been suggesting for months. He was lying down.
He chuckled, “Has this couch always been this comfortable?” His voice thick with emotion and mucus.
From a close distance a voice devoid of emotion said, “Yes.”
“God, I feel like shit.”
Silence sat in the room with them.
A final long tremor ran through his body, signaling that the emotional overload was at an end. He ran a hand through his thick dark hair and parked there, his other hand rested on his stomach, clenched. While he lay staring at the ceiling, he did what all people do, he counted the dark blobs on the white sound proofing ceiling tiles. When this proved overwhelming, he tried to sort out what he was feeling and what he wanted to say. It was all a jumble. The image of a tornado flitted through his mind.
Giving up on creating order from chaos, he sat up, blew his nose, and started collecting the pile of used tissues from the floor. The number of white wads scattered about startled him.
“What are you thinking?” He asked the other occupant in the room. Uncertain whether it was because he felt exposed and wanted to find out if he had finally revealed enough of himself or if it was because he was killing time.
“Both.” He thought to himself.
The bland face said, “I am wondering what you are thinking, what words you would put to your feelings.”
“That answer feels like part of the problem. Why is it that when I ask questions you always redirect them back at me?” Jared asked with anger in his voice. He put no effort into disguising it.
“Alright. I’ve been wondering when you’d get pissed. I think it is really sad that even now, in here, you still suppress your real feelings. I wonder if you do that to protect me or yourself.” Dr. Jackson answered.
Staring at the clock straight across from him, Jared saw that there were only a few minutes left. “I don’t like feeling this way. It seems pointless.”
Dr. Jackson followed Jared’s gaze and saw the time. “Do you think the Lexapro is helping?”
Evaluating his behavior from a distance he answered, “Yes, better than Zoloft. The headaches and nausea are gone.” He registered he hadn’t been feeling quite so overwhelmed by the past and felt like the future was, usually, manageable. “I’m sitting here wondering if I will feel like this in an hour or a day or a week.”
“Then it’s a good thing you’ll be here in a week. Unless you want to come back this week, I can check my calendar.” The psychiatrist answered. Similar to the couch issue, the doctor had been endeavoring to get his patient in more than once a week.
Attending therapy more regularly only added pressure to Jared’s life and it wasn’t a pressure he wanted but perhaps needed. Given the imminent future, maybe now was the time. He gave it a long moment’s thought and said, “Do you have any appointments open on Thursday?”
Minutes later he sat in his car and noticed that the trees all had tender lime green leaves tightly balled up, waiting to unfurl. A few more warm days were needed. His eyes surveyed the area and touched upon the bright yellow tulips and an unknown shrub with tiny white berries.
He blew out a long deep breath and fully absorbed winter was over and spring was now. Summer would be next and summer would be long.
Mid- March 2011
Grimacing at the clock, Akshaya realized it was time to pack up for the day. Thursdays! She had a love-hate relationship with Tuesday and Thursdays. Not always, just for the last four months. Four very long months.
She stepped out into the fresh air and smelled the promise of spring. Walking along the concrete path from her office to her car she searched for the sun and upon finding it squinted into the pale sunlight. She stopped and closed her eyes. She let the moment hold her and she felt buoyed by the promising warmth.
Giving in to what must be done, she continued on her way, gingerly stepping around a small pile of slush, a last remnant of winter. Quickly and efficiently she loaded her things along with herself into the car and headed away from the known, and steered herself towards the unknown.
On thirty-two occasions, over four months (twice a week, an hour each day) Akshaya had walked through the medical building’s double doors. Walked down a long gloomy hallway, passed through a dark wooden door, flipped up a switch, and then sat down in a lobby, waiting for the doctor. Dr. Meyers was usually on time, so the wait was short. Today, she scrounged through a pile of magazines, looking for something to read.
Flipping through a Smithsonian Magazine, she was surprised when she heard a door open, and heard footsteps approaching. Out of courtesy, she diverted her eyes back to an article on “The Wonders of Alexandria.”
There was muffled walking, the sound of a door closing, and then a few minutes later, the same door reopened. More muffled walking brought Dr. Meyers to the switch, which she pressed down, and greeted Akshaya with a smile. Once inside the doctor’s office, she said, “Sorry to keep you waiting. We’ll adjust your appointment and go later if that works for you.”
Inwardly Akshaya felt two emotions equally. Angry for being kept waiting, and unaffected because she really didn’t think she needed to be there anymore. Internally she knew that the real problem lie in the fact that she wouldn’t tell Dr. Meyers her true feelings. This is what kept her coming.
Dr. Meyers clearly understood emotions were unsaid because week after week she said, “I’ll see you soon.”
“That’s fine.” Akshaya responded politely. She spent her days with students and knew very well that appointments ran late, short, but rarely as scheduled.
Once settled, her eyes drifted to the clock to see what the actual time was. Their appointment was for 6:00 pm and it was now 6:14 pm.
Breaking the ice, she led with, “I will have to leave at the usual time. I have a massage scheduled.” Irritation now leaked into her voice.
“I usually have a massage on Thursdays after I leave here.”
“Is it to relax or part of your treatment?”
“Both. I’ve had weekly therapeutic massages for years. It might help with the procedure.”
“How is that going?”
“Fine, I’m still floating the idea around.”
“Would you like to talk about it?”
“No. I need to think about it by myself for a while longer.”
“We could talk about it, together. That is one of the conversations we could have in here.”
“I know. I just… don’t want to. Honestly, I just need to process.”
For Akshaya, saying that she didn’t want something was a big step, so Dr. Meyer contented herself with, “Okay. How is everything else?”
“Fine, the same. Tension is high. The work is harder than I could have ever imagined possible, part of me wonders if I should have just bailed.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“Because, I have dreams, this dream I didn’t even fully understand until he made it happen. Now there’s the possibility and I’m unwilling to pass it up.”
“So why do you wonder about bailing?”
“Sitting here I’m removed from the stress, so I am unwilling to give up, but when he and I are together there is so much tension. What if all this time and effort is wasted?”
“But, that is what you do, your modus operandi, you have the mask that you wear that says ‘stay away’ and then you have you. The person that needs you to come here. You could talk to him. He doesn’t have to talk to you. Would that make you feel better?”
Akshaya began pacing the office. Not something she did often, but today she felt like she was in a cage, needing out, but leaving wasn’t an option. She tugged on the cuff of her sleeves, fiddled with the scarf around her neck, and paced. She was aware of the tension in her neck, her throat feeling squeezed shut.
“Which dream are we talking about exactly?” The doctor asked, sitting on a stool in front of an easel, blobbing paint onto a canvas. Painting something quite indeterminable.
Akshaya walked over, grabbed a sturdy wide fan shaped brush and set about blending some of the colors together. Unconsciously she loaded the brush with watered down ochre and started to blend a patch of darker brown with a golden splat. Dr. Meyer slid her stool slightly aside to give Akshaya all the room she needed to paint.
After a minute or two of muddling, Akshaya loaded a filbert brush with Robins Egg Blue and set about building swirling bands of color in the back left corner. When out of paint, she returned to the present, dropped the brush in a glass, and then sat in the familiar oversized chair in front of a window. She flipped her legs over the arm of the chair and pressed back into the cushions, staring straight ahead, at small patch of empty white wall.
“Dreams… I can’t even think about my dreams. Right now I’m angry. As if there weren’t enough complications, he told me today that he asked two contacts to check into my past. What right does he have? He should have asked me. What if these two idiots do something I don’t want, what if…” She stopped mid-thought, not entirely certain that she wanted to understand what might follow.
“What if what happens?” Asked the always pressing doctor.
“Forget ‘what if’. What about whom? Why didn’t he ask me if it was okay for people I don’t know to root around my past? Shouldn’t I be the one who gets whatever information they find out? Why does he get it first? They should be telling me what they find out and not him!”
“I don’t know. Maybe he is trying to protect you.”
“Fuck him. I don’t need protection. I can manage my own life.”
“When is the last time you sat down and truly talked to him?”
“Just after Christmas.”
“Do you think you are the same person now as you were at Christmas?”
“No, obviously not.”
“How obvious is it to him, when you haven’t had a personal conversation with him since Christmas?”
“I know!” She snapped! Anger rushed out with the response. Akshaya moved back to the easel. After letting go of the initial urge to pick up a palette knife and spread a thick layer of black, she kept her hands clenched at her sides, studied the painting and then decided that the blue needed a hint of grey.
“So?” Dr. Meyer prompted.
“He’s different. He’s not the same guy at all. To him I am just a woman who has skills he needs, nothing more.”
“Is it possible that he is simply treating you the way you asked him to treat you?”
Anger poured out of her and she let it loose on the canvas. She picked up a large paint brush, loaded it with white paint and brushed long powerful strokes from left to right. The bristles dug into the existing paint. The results were horizontal bands of color, white to brown.