This story is by Sandra Schnakenburg and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
My third eye was burning to write the story occupying my thoughts since I found the housekeepers ashes in my mother’s closet. I listened to the hum of ghostly discernment, recognizing the promise I made to our housekeeper, Lee. At least once in a person’s life, they say they want to write a book, but few people do it. Was I going to be one of the twenty percenters who do it or one of the eighty percenters who fail?
My house had never been cleaner on the first day of my new writing career. The second day my new Dyson vacuum cleaner got into those spots no one saw. It was dreadfully satisfying. By the third day, I cleaned the pantry and under the bathroom sink. The first weekend arrived, and I had no words on the page. My good intentions had been sprinkled with a sparkling clean apartment. This was my introduction to the enemy of creativity, I quickly learned procrastination was the invisible force that bubbled up to the surface whenever I attempt something tough, something that would challenge the very essence of who I am.
The resistance quickly became my adversary for creativity. Viola Davis gave an Oscar-winning speech in 2017 that inspired me to get serious about writing.
“My heroes were those with real stories, those who are now six feet under. The world needs writers to bring their stories into the world,” Viola said.
Bing. She was talking to me. The housekeeper’s story had to be told.
Resistance’s evil twin, lack of confidence, seeped into my head. I didn’t know where to begin. I typed into the Google browser ‘How to write a book.” My search returned many options, ‘Five steps to write a book,’ ‘Nine steps to become an author,’ ‘How to write a book in 30 days,’ and ‘Get an editor to help you write a book.” Poets and Writers magazine recommended seeking structural guidance.
The impulse to create the foundation of the story began, like building the foundation of a house. Searching for the right editor required an intuitive grasp of editors available. I started rummaging through the choices, developmental editors, sensitivity editors, copy editors, associate editors, betta editors, critique editors, chief editors, commissioning editors, and more. It made sense to use a developmental editor since the story remained undeveloped.
I eventually found Heather. On our initial Facetime call, she revealed a tanned, freckled blonde woman, early thirties, nose ring, tattoo’ ed arms. She listened intently while twirling her mono braid with her finger, emptying her mind while she focused upon my discerning request. Her words swirled into her receptive inner awareness with staggeringly low clarity and high velocity, a hum of psychic static. A professional writer with eight published fiction books, Heather spoke all about New Age. She insisted the astral forces of the universe will deliver the story when I was in spiritual alignment with the planetary constellations. I read my horoscope as a young girl and revered all the metaphysical, spiritual seekers of the world.
“How do I know if I am out of alignment?” I grinned widely, the corners of my eyes crinkling.
“If the story does not ‘throwing up’ all over the page – then you will know,” Heather said.
Was this the “woo” of writing, vomiting? The first draft was supposed to establish the story through powerful energetic forces telepathically interacting with the page. I had always believed forces beyond the visible eye-inspired creativity. I went with it.
“When all the planets line up in a particular formation at a specific time of the month, then “poof” the story would appear,” Heather said.
“Is this when I start vomiting the words?” I asked.
“You will know when it’s the right time,” Heather said.
I waited. One day, one week. Nothing happened. I wanted to start a ‘super’ outline.
Heather was convinced that it wasn’t time yet. If it was the right time, it would have already happened, and words would be flowing like the river. Umm.
“How would it happen if I don’t start writing?” I asked curiously.
“It just does,” she said confidentially.
A week later, nothing happened. Heather suggested the flow wasn’t manifesting because my energy was blocked, causing me to be stuck.
“I don’t feel stuck, just a tad misguided,” I offered with honesty.
All I needed was a little direction on how to plot the structure of my story, after all, it’s a great story, I secretly convinced myself.
On our next Facetime call, Heather spread out tarot cards, she decided to work her magic with these silly-looking cards. Heather tilted her iPhone over the cards arranged in an octagon style on a table with childlike pictures. Against all my personal beliefs, I sat quietly while she delivered the sour news that the middle card was the “hangman,” it hung upside down.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“It means you should look at your story from a different perspective. When a person stands on their head, they see the world flipped upside down,” she said.
“I get it. Everything would be different, the seasons would be opposite, and the toilets would flush in the reverse direction like they do in Australia,” I said.
I remained calm and unbiased. I felt refreshed after holding my inversion for an extended time.
“How was standing on my head going to help me write my story?” I asked while upside down.
She claimed if I change my perspective on the story, it will encourage me to think ‘outside the box.’
“What box?” I tucked my legs then slowly lowered them down.
“What perspective am I changing? The one I don’t have yet.” I asked.
“You will know which one it is when it comes,” Heather promised.
I attempted a few more inversions, while the blank paper stared me in the face.
A week later, a small box arrived in the mail. It was a present from Heather, ‘so this is what I am paying for – a gift – I love gifts!’ When I opened the box, I discovered a bag of colorful rocks.
I called Heather immediately.
“Thank you so much,” I said appreciatively, “but why rocks?”
Heather insisted they weren’t just any rocks, they were special rocks, each had a purpose. For example, when I become stressed about not writing, which was a new daily routine, the Amethyst would release my stress. Just like that, “Poof.” For grounding and stability, the Smoky Quartz; for hope and confidence, the Opalite; and for happiness, the Citrine. After running through the long list, I closed my eyes, grasping what emotion I was feeling at that moment.
“Was there a rock for feeling overwhelmed?” I asked with wide eyes.
I’ve always believed in energy healing with natural stones, but I had never seen any of these specific rocks. I struggled to understand fully how a bag of rocks would help me get the story written. Perhaps she sent me the wrong ones.
Two weeks after the rocks arrived, we had a progress call.
“I had some bad news; I did not reach my writing goal,” I told her.
I blamed it on the constellations and the wrong rocks, but she claimed the negative energy must be preventing me from writing. She said to buy Sage and Palo Santo sticks and burn them in my apartment.
“It would certainly do the trick,” she encouraged.
I hurried over to Whole Foods to buy a $50 bag of dead sticks. I had studied a great deal about the spiritual aspects of incense in the African culture and was inspired by their medicinal effects. At first, they wouldn’t light up. When they finally started to burn, the flame went wild, it quickly became too large to blow out. I blew harder, and nothing happened. The smoke alarm went off, screaming a repetitive ring throughout the building. A few minutes later, the fire department arrived at my apartment door. To my relief, the fire department prevented my apartment building from burning down.
“The sticks stay lit for only 30 seconds, then the smoldering is used to cleanse the air,” Heather said.
“Duh, didn’t get that memo!” I cringed.
The air in my apartment was thicker now, smelling of woodsy, smokey residual bonfire scent. I said nothing to my husband, whose eyes teared with redness.
“Have you written anything yet?” My husband calmly asked.
“Not yet. Apparently, the entire universe needs to collaborate in some feng shui astral summit and telepathically send me the words and structure to guide the plot for the exact timing the world is supposed to receive the story.” I said.
“Why don’t you just start writing?” He asked.
“That is great advice. I am going to stop working with Heather. She’s exhausting.
“Need I mention what I paid her so far?” I said.
“No, please don’t. My advice is free, take it.” He said with a chuckle.