Is That You?

I love this quote, almost an explanation of writing, from James Baldwin’s 1955 Notes of a Native Son,

“One writes out of one thing only—one’s own experience. Everything depends on how relentlessly one forces from the experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give. This is the only real concern of the artist, to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is art.”

Whenever I tell people about my novel, they (strangers and acquaintances) always ask, “Is it about you?” No. Yes, the main character and I both drive fast and can cook up a storm. And though there are events that happen in the novel that might make my life a bit more interesting, nope, it’s not me.

I love characters that live on after a story ends, and I wonder about them as I would a long lost friend. I confess that there have been times that I’ve awakened in the middle of the night, or stopped in the middle of cooking or taking a walk and wondered what the heck happened to so-and-so, better known as a good character from the last book I’ve read. I’m hoping Lena Spencer Harrison, the heroine in Searching for Tina Turner, will be a character that sticks with you for a while, but more importantly I hope she inspires you to be unafraid of new beginnings. Whether I did that for her, or she did it for me, makes no difference. Freedom from fear was what I gained from telling her story.

My divorce was an emotional nightmare. There are snippets of those emotions—fear, insecurity, doubt, despair—in Lena. But as a writer, I did Lena the courtesy of letting her be her own person and stand up to those demons that were a larger component in Lena’s search, any woman’s search after divorce: What the heck do you do after your marriage is over? Who are you now? How do you navigate through the world as one, not two or four or five, after decades of being part of a family? Lena is part imagination and part inspiration from women I met who were going through the pain and confusion of divorce, the release that must accompany it and the focus—no, insistence—on new beginnings and reinvention.

It takes time, effort, introspection, good friends and maybe a little wine, or even a therapist or coach to figure out the next steps once a woman leaves her marriage, especially if it was a long-term marriage. And even with expensive wine, it’s still painful. You can’t wallow in self-pity. (Well, you can for a while, and Ben and Jerry’s New York Superfudge Chunk does help.) The most important thing to do is care for self, not to the point of exclusion or isolation, but to the point where you begin to put yourself first, make decisions based on how they will affect you. Because if you’re okay, those around you, your kids, your parents will be okay. Think. Take yourself back to childhood or high school when dreams were a dime a dozen, and you tossed them around freely and without a thought because there was always another dream to dream and the time to make them all come true. Think about what you’ve always wanted to do—paint, write, travel, act, sit with your child (no matter their age) and sing. Or go where you’ve always wanted to go—that city or country, that desert or seashore you see in your mind’s eye on a cool evening when the breeze gusts around you.

If you don’t see divorce as a new opportunity, then you’re allowing yourself to be a victim. And we all know what happens to victims.

This is what I like about Lena Harrison Spencer, fictitious character of my mind: she declares herself not as victim, but as survivor. A choice close to my own heart.