Nothing is ever as intense as a first love. As adults, we smile and patronize our children who experience the superlative soar of their emotions and the depth of their angst as they navigate their way through new emotions.
Occasionally there is a fairy tale ending to this thing called love, but more often than not, our first love shatters. We walk on broken glass, bleed and find missing pieces that were not wept up by the broom. Every new cut reminds us of the exquisite agony of the all-consuming need for that other, the special one.
We are convinced we will never feel that way again.
I was reminded recently about my reaction to a story I finished. It sneaked up on me, a prompt that stirred my imagination. I had no idea where I was going with the structure or the plot.
If I were to expand this analogy between writing and love further, I’d remind myself of the song lyrics, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.”
As the story began to take shape and race across the screen, I became totally invested with the scene, the characters and their miserable situation. Time dropped away. For four thousand words my everyday, real life faded as I became consumed by my own creation.
My manic obsession with the story went uninterrupted. When I sliced through the final sentence, hit save and closed the computer, I immediately broke into tears. Hours had elapsed. The bright sunshine of the afternoon was twisted into evening shadows.
For days afterwards I stumbled around, convinced I’d given everything I had to that story. I didn’t think I’d ever write anything again. How do you top that?
Months later, I went back to my manuscript. My passion had ebbed. In between, I wrote some formula stories and essays that required technical ability and a minimum emotional investment. I wrote a few thousand words, simply to amuse myself and take my creative temperature, but I never forgot the story and the emotional toll it took to travel through, from beginning to end.
When I sat down and opened the file for the second time, all the old emotions came rushing through. I got a lump in my throat. I knew how it was going to end. And then, somewhere between the second and third paragraph, a strange thing happened. I began to edit.
Within minutes, I became my own critic, slashing through sentence structure, replacing passive language with firm style. After all, I knew how it was going to end. I improved my intent, solidified nuances that would become important and deleted insignificant trivia.
After I completed my first edit, I poured myself a glass of wine and silently thanked my grammar teachers. I experienced a smug satisfaction that I’d improved the story. I didn’t retrace my tears or the emotional connection with the characters I’d lived with that afternoon so many months earlier. No, I’d returned to my role as a writer. I preserved the passion, but put it into perspective.
I suppose, as parents, that’s what we do when our children fall in love for the first time. We sit in our lofty perch, knowing that time and distance can improve vision and put things into perspective.
And yet, the burning need to live the love story is never wasted.
ESSAYS BY INGRID THOMSON