The Whisper of Writing
Disembarking from British Airways' first class seat is always a bit of a shock. After 9.5 hours of lounging, watching TV, working on my book, snoozing in the bed in the pajamas the airline provides, and enjoying beef filet, complete with wine and appetizer, stepping off the airplane feels like a downgrade.
I wonder vaguely if I could just hop back on and spend my entire travels in the sky, working on Broken Timeand getting more work done than I thought possible without the distractions. I suppose I might tire of it after some point, but not yet.
I make my way through customs--fast pass, thanks to first class--but we all get stuck at the luggage belt waiting for our bags anyway. Thankfully this time, they actually show up. Last time my husband and I went four days without clothes. That was fun I don't care to repeat.
The first British voices I hear in London is like coming home from a long journey abroad. It's a return to the familiar, to the part of my soul that I suppress, back home in Alaska.
The traveler and wanderer in me longs for this unfamiliar and yet familiar surrounding, the escape from a childhood home into a soul home.
In a few minutes, I've purchased my ticket on the Heathrow Express, and I'm waiting with my one bag and one carry-on. After a dozen trips to Europe, I've learned to pack only what I need--mostly. And I know I'll bring back an extra bag for all those goodies that I find for others. Who am I kidding? For myself.
Sitting on the train, I watch the industrial buildings start to pass by outside as we make our way into London's Paddington Station. It's an eye-opening scrum of activity as I step off the train, more chaotic than Heathrow airport, but fewer bags and more certainty. Organized chaos, as people rush to their trains, or linger around the food stands and time tables. The handy little tape on the ground leads me directly from the Heathrow Express, out of the station, to a lift, to the waiting line of taxis. Although I easily could take the Tube a stop closer to my hotel, I'd have to get a taxi anyway, and I'm just too tired to deal with it. Instead, I soon find myself in a Black Cab, chatting with a friendly London cabbie about my travels and what I ought to do.
Everyone who hears me say that my husband sent me on a 10-day "Parenting Getaway" is shocked. And I know (it's not like I couldn't already know) I've picked a really good guy.
It's only noon, London time, but it's 3 a.m. to me on my screwed-up, jet-lagged Alaska-time-zone brain. I'm honestly not sure whether to be tired, excited, or a mixture of both. So I settle for being exited and check into my hotel only to leave right away again. It's in a nice little location near a lot of Middle Eastern food places. If I liked Middle Eastern food, I'd be in heaven. But I am, I'm sad to report, rather boring in my food choices, so I head off to find the nearest tube station and make my way out into the huge city of London. However, I am only five minutes from Hyde Park, and that'll be one of my first stops.
To this small-town Alaskan girl, London is gigantic, yet thanks to my prior travels, completely navigable. Honestly, I've been to London so many times that I've done a lot of the touristy things. But the one thing I've always wanted to do and haven't is visit St. Paul's Cathedral. So I soon find myself standing in their garden, staring up at the dome as I approach it from the back side.
It's refreshing to find greenery in London. Yet everywhere you go here, it's difficult, almost impossible to find solitude. It's shockingly different from home, a sense of isolation in the midst of a crowd. Disconcerting. I could know a thousand people in London and not run into them unless we'd planned to meet. In contrast, at home, I could know a thousand people and run into many of them in one day. Or, I could travel a few miles away from my home and not run into anyone at all for days.
It's the differences that makes any place worth visiting. Its own uniqueness, its own sense of identity. Do you ever think about the identity of a city? How it became what it is today? London is filled with beautiful buildings, world-renowned ones for their beauty and architecture. Then there are the forgotten buildings. The ones that are falling down from neglect, the ones that were built during that awful 1960s era, or ones that were purely functional and not meant to be beautiful in any way. That time in history when we couldn't afford to be worried about making something pretty when what we needed was functionality.
And I'm reminded how this architecture applies to my own writing. How much I long for a first draft to be pretty when what I need is functionality. It has to serve its purpose, it has to tell the story enough so that I can make improvements on it later. The structure must be sound, but the façade may not be pretty, in fact it may be pretty darn ugly.
St. Paul's Cathedral is the first church I visit on this trip. And as soon as I walk in, I know it'll be worth the visit. Christopher Wren's magnum opus. As I pay, however, my heart sinks. The clerk informs me that the dome is closed for three weeks, and I can't climb it. I happen to be traveling in that small window of time where the dome will remain closed. And so I will be denied that bird's eye view of London, one of the reasons I wanted to visit: to see the dome in all its glory. While they allow people into the "Whispering Gallery" but we can't climb up any further. Missing this significant part of the cathedral reminds me that this will never be my last trip to London. There is always something more to see, always something more to learn and experience.
Sometimes, when we want it the most, we are denied a sense of scope. This ability to step back (or up) and view our lives from above. We can't step out of the moment, we can't fast forward time to when the dome will be open, or when the clouds will be gone. Instead we must simply focus on what we are given in the moment.
I traipse up to the Whispering Gallery, joining the half dozen other climbers who have made the journey to see this muraled dome up close and experience the magical whispering properties of the dome.
And, although I visit alone, I witness the magical whispering properties of this dome thanks to some other tourists. One stands directly across from the other, leans against the wall of the dome, and whispers something. And miraculously, we can hear it on the other side, as clear as day.
And this little glimpse of the dome is so magical that when I remind myself it's a mere fraction of Wren's masterpiece. I could stand here all day and listen to the dome whisper its secrets to me, and I would never discover all the secrets of the cathedral.
As a writer, I find myself again applying this to my writing life. Writers are observers, first and foremost. It's only through those observations that we can share emotions through fictional characters. And I know that wherever I am in my writing journey, there is always another place to go, another spot to explore. There's another plot, another character, another story. Another way to write it, another perspective to tell it from.
There is always another whisper, whether it's to tell me that my story is done, or incomplete, or else the whisper of a new tale, a new character's voice in my ear.
And so when I leave St. Paul's, I go off in search of that next whisper.