Several of our recent blogs talk about new beginnings. In real life, Julie enters a new phase with an empty nest. Toni's girls overcome a hurdle and find self-confidence through bike riding. As to writing, my fellow Femmes have given the best advice on getting through difficulties when beginning a project that I've seen. Most of us face one or more of the common roadblocks they describe on occasion. Thank you, ladies, for such clear, easy to understand examples of how to get on with it when we're having trouble.
In thinking about these, I keep remembering Shirley. Shirley is 59 years old. She is nine feet tall. She weighs 9200 pounds and lives in Tennessee at the Elephant Sanctuary, a 2,700 acre home for retired circus and zoo elephants.
Thirty years ago, one of Shirley's back legs was broken when another circus elephant attacked her. Her leg wasn't re-set properly, so it never healed properly. Still, she was made to do tricks for two more years before being moved to a zoo where she would spend the next twenty-three years, crippled and alone in a small enclosed space.
In 1999, she moved to her new home at the Sanctuary. She was first taken to the barn for a snack and a rest in an open-air stall next to another elephant, Tarra. The two became instant friends. Shirley showed Tarra all her scars from the attack and injuries from a terrible fire many years earlier. Tarra touched each one with her trunk, as if commiserating, and then the two caressed each other with their trunks.
What keeps coming back to me are photo images of Shirley at the door of the barn. When she saw she could walk outside if she wanted, she went to the door and stood there. And stood there. She looked out, took tentative steps near the threshold, hesitated, and stepped back. This routine went on for almost three hours. The caregivers at the sanctuary didn't pressure her, rather they wanted her to know she could decide for herself, to be where she liked when she liked. They waited, cameras in hand, to record the happy moment when Shirley realized the beautiful green valley before her was hers now, and that she was free.
What did she think as she hesitated all that time? Was she remembering the many other moves in her long life, being transferred from one cage to another? Had she dreamed of being free through the years, that maybe the next move would be to a happier place, only to find herself even more lonely and in more pain? Was she tired of hoping and being let down again?
This is where many writers find themselves when starting a new project. Yes, we're excited about the new ideas that make us want to create a story. But sometimes when we're about to begin, past hurts and disappointments come flooding in. They cause doubts that make us hesitate. Sometimes these are well-founded, from projects we worked ourselves silly over but didn't sell. It can be hard to work up the enthusiasm to try again. We know how difficult it is to get to 'The End' and that some rough times lie ahead. Sometimes personal hurts we thought no longer bothered us can come forward, maybe because of the particular story we have in mind. When we write, we stir up our insides. It's the blessing and the curse.
Shirley worked through her fears. She couldn't know that this time, she had no reason to be afraid or that on her first night, she would have a joyful reunion with an old friend. Jenny, another resident at the Sanctuary, was only a calf when she and Shirley were in the same circus one winter. It had been twenty-two years since they parted, yet when Jenny saw Shirley in the barn, she knew her right away. They roared with happiness at being together again and became inseparable.
We can't know what a writing adventure will bring when we first set out. We can only step forward in faith. It's hard sometimes, but we have to let go of whatever hinders our joy when we start. Doubts, disappointments, painful memories can loom large and overshadow our keyboards. If we can get those elephants out the door, we can be free and let our imaginations run wild again, far past the beginning to a happy ending.
For more about Shirley, Jenny, Tarra and the other girls in residence at the Sanctuary, click here.