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Thursday, November 25, 2010

writing by moonlight

My favourite part of the film Dr. Zhivago is where the Russian doctor, played by Omar Sharif, sits down at a table in front of windows looking out over a moonlit field of snow and forest. Excited by the feeling it gives him, and that he is ready to write the poetry he loves to create, the doctor sets out clean white sheets of paper and a pen, once more looks out over the gleaming snow and dark trees, and, inspired, picks up the pen and begins to write.

I know this feeling so well. I have known it all my life, ever since I was a child. Obviously the script writers knew it too and - if they lifted the scene directly from the book - the writer Boris Pasternak knew it as well.

Last night I watched a waning moon, that is still more full than not, rise in the east over snow and forest from our breakfast nook windows. There shouldn't be this much snow down this time in November. I resented it when I returned from England on Saturday night. But now I am writing the last 20 or 30 pages of my novel, the sequel to ZO. This denouement takes place in late December in white snow and sharp cold amidst dark trees, just like the land I survey from the windows of my house, and having it all around me, gleaming under the light that rules the night, makes me feel like Zhivago, putting my white pages in order, and taking my favourite pen in hand, and - inspired and blessed - beginning to write the end of the longest story and novel I have ever written.

The wilderness has always transformed me from death to life and though I have many struggles within and without right now the moon over the snow gives me hope. I stood ringed by pines and bare branched cottonwoods a few nights ago with my two Alaskan Malamutes when the moon was even more round and clear and all the snow on the branches and our feet seemed lit from within. All the white blazed. Moreover, we could not see any houses or cars so it was just as if we had been transported deep into a northern forest. Indeed, 150 years ago, all there would have been around us was vast herds of bison and Blackfoot winter tepees and the tall trees. I stood in awe of the sensation all this gave me and the dogs and I watched the moon make mystery.

Writing a novel is kind of a long slow dance by moonlight anyway, a waltz with different partners - the characters of the story - that goes on all night on the terrace under the moon, carries on in sunlight and shadows, then continues in the moonlight once again. It is a beautiful experience. I have been writing this novel most of 2010 and have spent thousands of hours gliding over the polished dance floor. I have other books I wish to write immediately after I've finished this dance, but I must not hurry this waltz to a premature conclusion. The band is playing, the music is not yet done, there are more sure-footed steps that need to be taken. The moon is just right, and the long stretches of snow, and by the time this moon is gone and there is darkness while a new one is born, the novel will have been completed. There is no rush, there is plenty of time, and my various dancing partners all have their own beauty and grace. When you end something substantial, you must end it as well and completely and with as much joy as you began the work of art to begin with.

So I thank God for the Zhivago moon and the shining snow that lies beneath its unearthly light. And I thank God for the paper and ink. And I thank him that he made me a writer and a son.

2 comments:

Morganne Jones said...

it is a wonder and a gift for me to not simply 'exist' but to feel and experience the beautiful small things, like moonlight on snow. I'm glad to read about it through your eyes too. ps, welcome home. /m

murray said...

ah, so nice to hear from you - how strange for me to leave Alberta in fall weather and return to full blown winter weather - but, as I've mentioned, it suits what I'm writing now - and how strange to come to the end of such a long piece, well over 150,000 words, when ZO itself was only 46,000 - and you, Morgandy, are you writing? Tell me what's leaking out of your quill. Dr. Zhivago