I remember very clearly the day it happened and exactly where I was. It was a rainy, late October afternoon. I was sitting in my car in the parking lot of the local rec centre. My kids were home with a babysitter and I was staring out bleakly at the ruins of an old factory, wondering whether I could get out of the place I was in, knowing perhaps I could not.
My story was stuck. And it was stuck in a particular place: between fiction and fact. I was writing this memoir of one of the magi and I had been freely composing the story, imagining what would make someone go off in search of a star. I had been writing for months. I had found the story’s voice and I knew my characters well.
But now they were approaching the biblical narrative. They were actually on the journey to Bethlehem, in the desert, getting all too near Jerusalem where they would — so the story tells us — meet Herod.
Every day we have to line up lots of things–the two sides of a zipper; a car within the lines of a parking lot space; a screw and a screwdriver–and many of us do it without thinking. I’ve never been great at this kind of hand-eye coordination. It takes a fair bit of sticking my tongue out in concentration to make sure I get those two parts together.
But lining up fact and fiction is harder still. I wondered whether I could even do it at all, whether my story should trail off just as we got to the historical record, whether I should simply insert Matthew 2:1-12 and leave it at that.
And then, I remembered something my friend Sheila had said to me many times. Sheila is a brilliant visual artist and art teacher. I would say I was tired and she would say, “write it.” I would say I was frustrated and she would say, “that’s your material.”
And so, stuckness. Writing stuckness became my way out of being stuck. I wrote of characters who felt stuck between the world they had known and the world they were entering, who felt stuck on a long journey that seemed endless, who felt stuck within themselves.
Whenever I reach that point in that book, I always feel grateful because that is the point where it all could have fallen apart and it didn’t. In fact, I think there’s an honesty in that moment of the story that is very real. We’ve all felt that feeling before. And when we embrace it and carry it along with us, our journey can take us to unexpected and unstuck places.