Crafting a Larger Story – The Writing Life in Story

Day Three

My cabin rested on the ledge of a slope, pinned in its place by a low split-rail fence that prevents it from spilling into one of thousands of crevices carved into the Himalayans by millenniums of rain and melting snow. The cabin’s main room hosted a rickety kitchen table that I’d parked in front of the large picture window facing the edge of the woods, a tattered but comfy reading chair, and a sooty, potbellied stove to take the chill out of the night air and rainy days. Today was one of those rainy days, with hailstones battering all sides, the ice balls pinging off the fence and disappearing into the forest.

I stared out the window a lot during the six hours I devoted to writing, struggling to concentrate on my work. Not only because Mother Nature and her playmates descended on me with all manner of distraction, but the work I’d set as my task for the day was difficult. Months ago, I wrote most of the two chapters I was working on: “Learning to Ride” and “Kali,” however, I’d never been satisfied with either, particularly the “Kali” chapter. Because I’d named my motorcycle after the Hindu Goddess Kali – a warrior and goddess of rebirth – I felt the chapter needed to include an explanation as to why I named her this.

At the time, I thought naming my motorcycle Kali needed to be explained through Hindu spirituality and beliefs – two elements I wanted to avoid bringing into what I considered at the time a story of my solo journey around India. I felt that thread would infuse an oooh-aahh-I-love-India tone in the book I wanted to avoid. My intention for the story was to be as real on the page as I could. The journey was a hardship at times, with events that twisted my thinking and changed my behavior, but they were all part of my story.

It’s the writer’s choice to decide what to include and what to leave out. I knew it would be a mistake to include much negativity, but also I knew those tough moments were learning moments and part of the story I had to tell. I hoped, however, that I could maintain a balance of the good and the bad on the page. It would be easy to loose sight of one over the other. The only way to make this work was to take a chance and expose myself, all of myself on the page.

Because the work was particularly challenging, I longed to leave the cabin but couldn’t because of the rain and the fact that I had no umbrella. I waited until the rain ceased at 6:30 pm before finally venturing down to char dukan (four stores), a knot of stores that sat between Mussoorie and my cabin at Landour. There were two tea stalls, a post office, and a one-window bank. The power was out all over the mountain top but at least at the chai wallah’s shop I had a view of a rippling valley being bathed in soft pastel as the sun slipped out of sight.

Over the years I’ve rewritten and cut many sections and chapters. The explanation of Kali remains but has been reduced to a short paragraph. The chapter in which I describe taking a motorcycle safety class and learning to ride has been cut and small details of it woven into the larger story. I want readers to be submersed in India from the start, and felt it was too jarring for them to have to straddle two continents and two cultures.

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