Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Book

Many of my friends have asked lately about the progress of my book, THE BLACK PIT. As might be obvious from the dearth of recent entries in this blog, I haven’t been writing. I could give you a thousand reasons. But there’s only one.

The ending stumps me.

My grandfather died for a purpose…but what?

At one point, I thought the life of Paul Rusesabagina, and my experience meeting him at an Immortal Chaplains Foundation dinner, might hold a clue. Except Mr. Rusesabagina didn’t learn of the sinking of the USAT Dorchester or the Four Chaplains until long after his own heroic acts.

No real connection there beyond a memorable conversation, a few photos and a donation to Amnesty International.

Shortly afterward, my son and I had an opportunity to go to Chad to videotape a group assisting refugees from Darfur. Could this be it? All too quickly, our window of opportunity collapsed along with the few remaining remnants of peace in this torn and bloodied region.

Puzzled, I spent the last year nibbling around the edges of my book. A little research here, a little more there. A little plotting. A tentative first chapter. A whole lot of balled up paper in my wastebasket.

Some writers start writing and, as they write, eventually the story takes them to its ending. They remind me of 17th century explorers setting off across unknown mountain ranges until they reach their fertile lands. Very brave, indeed.

For better or worse, I write in much the same way as I take photographs. The story stews for days, weeks, months. In this case, years. When I least expect it, the story appears in my brain, like a landscape. Perfectly complete. As though it had been there all along, waiting for me to open my eyes and notice it. I see the story as it was meant to be written: every emotion, every character, every scene, from beginning to end. Sometimes, I see every word. Once I see the story, I write what I see.

My writing professors and friends shake their heads. Try to give me guidance on writer's block.

If only writer's block were the issue. When I try to write before I see the story, I end up with, at best, a meandering tale containing no human truth.

Right now, I see pieces of the story of THE BLACK PIT, but the ending is as dark as its name. And as long as I can't see the ending, the beginning and the middle can't take on a meaningful shape.

Some have told me to just write the dang thing. The story of my grandfather’s life alone is compelling enough, they say. And all but one of the books written about the sinking of the Dorchester are varied efforts toward achieving the same literary goal, leaving plenty of original territory for me to explore and for a publisher to publish.

Others say, "You need to write it, otherwise you'll just keep talking about it." But what I need now is to live the story.

Because there is more truth to this story. More even than the Four Chaplains, who crossed the borders of religion to die together so that others might live. More than my grandfather, who gave up a golden life to die with his men.

Hints to more truths lie in various substories of this story. The backdrop of the Allied forces’ near defeat during the bloody Battle of the Atlantic. The soldiers in my grandfather's command: farmers and fishermen who left their wives and mothers only to drown. The story of my family. Lt. William Arpaia. The survivors. The Coast Guard. Greenland. The not-so-noble actions of a few men aboard the Dorchester. Hitler. The Immortal Chaplains Foundation and the winners of its Prize for Humanity.

Disparate though these stories might seem there is a thread of truth that runs through them. If only I knew what it was.

And last, there is the legacy of World War II—the planet as it exists today. Which I can assure you is not the legacy my grandfather thought he was dying for.

The story will be clear to me one day. The day I understand my grandfather’s purpose—and my own. On that day, the book will appear as a picture in my brain, and I'll finish it.

In the meantime, there are lots of other stories to write.


Anil P said...

I can understand. I wonder what it would be like to actually beginning penning the narrative/story, maybe in doing so certain threads that lie in the subconcious might actually untangle themselves and unveil the 'unknown' or provide for a fresh train of thought.

Elizabeth Krecker said...

Such a peaceful thought, thank you for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Ah, you're back. I was just scanning my blogroll and on impulse decided to check in with you for signs of life and to see if another of my favorites had gone off into the blog night.

"Coincidentally" my impulsive visit comes on the heels of your fresh posting. I remembered some of your grandfather's story from before, but I went back and refreshed my memory to see if I could attach any tendrils of perspective.

And, perhaps, I can.

In Acts 20, verses 22-24, Paul writes of having to go to Jerusalem not knowing for certain what awaited him there other than danger. Yet he went anyway to fulfill the mission given to him, not counting his own life dear, other than it could be used to bring salvation to others.

Similarly, your grandfather accepted his mission out of a desire to do good. Faith may not have been a large part of his life when he set out, but God used the coincidental (there's that word again) circumstances of the friendship and inspiration of the four chaplains to restore him to fellowship with Himself. So, one may ask, what was the use if he was only going to die anyway?

First, don't discount the value of that by itself - to God or to your grandfather! Beyond that, you (we) may never know the long-term effect of your grandfather's actions in the lives of people you'll never meet - the children, grand-children and great-grandchildren of the men who lived as a result. Those survivors may have been the ones who were able to tell the tale that in the midst of fear, chaos and desperation, some men where able to realize that this is not the life to hold dear and as a result, future generations can be encouraged and inspired.

My pastor often uses that phrase about this life not being the one to hold dear, and I wondered if those words might have some context to supplement the verses in Acts. I Googled those words and was, bizarrely, taken to the lyrics of my favorite song by the Waterboys (an 80s band). It's a song that I once glommed onto as a description of stepping away from my old life into something much bigger. Reading them again today, it seems as if they in fact may resonate with your grandfather's story (except maybe the "1973" part). Call it weird, call it "cosmos", call it something holy or whatever, but I pass them on as part of the sub-conscious jigsaw:

The Waterboys, "This is the Sea":

These things you keep
You'd better throw them away
You wanna turn your back
On your soulless days
Once you were tethered
And now you are free
Once you were tethered
Well now you are free
That was the river
This is the sea!

Now if you're feelin' weary
If you've been alone too long
Maybe you've been suffering from
A few too many
Plans that have gone wrong
And you're trying to remember
How fine your life used to be
Running around banging your drum
Like it's 1973
Well that was the river
This is the sea!

Now you say you've got trouble
You say you've got pain
You say've got nothing left to believe in
Nothing to hold on to
Nothing to trust
Nothing but chains
You're scouring your conscience
Raking through your memories
Scouring your conscience
Raking through your memories
But that was the river
This is the sea yeah!

Now i can see you wavering
As you try to decide
You've got a war in your head
And it's tearing you up inside
You're trying to make sense
Of something that you just can't see
Trying to make sense now
And you know you once held the key
But that was the river
And this is the sea!
Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah!

Now i hear there's a train
It's coming on down the line
It's yours if you hurry
You've got still enough time
And you don't need no ticket
And you don't pay no fee
No you don't need no ticket
You don't pay no fee
Because that was the river
And this is the sea!

Behold the sea!

Elizabeth Krecker said...


Wow! Wow! Wow!

I’m overwhelmed. Overwhelmed on so many levels.

First—that anyone, anyone at all, would bother to read my blog after six months without posting. But so quickly, Anil’s magical comment. And now this.


So many similes in these lyrics, in this song, to my grandfather’s life, to my life. So much richness in these short words.

It’s so apropos that I read this on Holy Saturday, the eve of Easter.

Nightwriter, I will treasure these words in my heart. Thank you SO much for taking the time to write this, for sharing these words and lyrics.


Anonymous said...

You're so welcome, Elizabeth, and I'm so relieved!

As I went to bed last night I was having trouble remembering the context and content of what I'd written and it all just seemed kind of weird. I even formulated a little rule for myself: no more writing or commenting after spending a day driving for 10 straight hours!

Re-reading today, and seeing your response, makes it all worthwhile. It truly was serendipitous; I really didn't have any plan to read your blog when I sat down and was, in fact, scrolling for something else when I saw your link on my blogroll and thought, "I'll just take a quick look and see if Elizabeth has returned, and if she hasn't updated I should probably drop her from the roll."

When a read about your block with the book some things occured to me, but I was tired from the day of driving and almost passed on by. Then, as I typed, I saw more connections and then the Google search - honestly, how does googling "this is not the life to hold dear" take you to a pageful of links to a somewhat obscure Waterboys song? - and it began to seem "ordained," if you will.

Lately I've been making strange and wonderful connections like this with people in the blogosphere on personal issues and it's one of the most amazing by-products of this hobby and a good (if not common) reason for me to continue. The things I post may never have much of an effect in someone's day-to-day life, but every so often a comment chain leads to amazing things.

You know, my wife and I were just in Scottsdale for several days a couple of weeks ago, and I never remembered that I "knew" someone in the area. It would have been fun to have gotten together for some nachos. Oh well, another time.

Now, go forth and post more often.