Some strokes are deadly. Heaven forbid if you get a brain stroke or a sun stroke. But there is one kind of stroke that is a blessing. It comes as a sharp and clear vision. It falls as a flash of inspiration and insight. It is the stroke of prophecy. It can strike a writer. It struck Elizabeth Strout one day in her home. Suddenly she saw this imaginary stout woman by her dishwasher with hands on her hips, glowering at the author. That turned out to be her Olive Kitteridge. Though I am no Strout, that kind of stroke happened to me one day when I was being massaged with warmed oils on a healer’s table.
It was the 10th day on a three week purification regime, when an imaginary woman came to me gazing up at the fly trap she had hung from a tree. I knew at once that her name was Georgie. I did not intend to prophesize on that massage table or anywhere for that matter. I was not even thinking of writing a third novel, though I did miss the almost divine imagination and intuition that are required to create fiction. In the academic world where I had been thriving in some ways for 4 years, what I wrote had to rational, reasonable, well-argued and above all dry. And though I could be creative mentally, I had to express it in a way that would not smack of feeling or intuition. It was that totally cerebral way of relating to experience, that made me sign up for a Yoga teacher certification course at the same time that I was working on my doctoral thesis.
So I learned about the ancient Indian science of life, living, nutrition, cooking and rejuvenation called Ayurveda. One of its signature treatments is panchakarma for detoxifying body, mind and soul. It was my Ayurveda teacher who diagnosed me my feeling my pulse. He said that the quality of vata (air) in me was too great. It made sense. I was totally driven by my thinking and mental self. The purpose of the 3 week treatment was to bring balance air with the qualities of fire and water in me.
Now I do not know what Strout was eating when Olive K came to her. But I was taking herbs to detoxify me and infusions that made me urinate or defecate a great deal when I had a vision of this new protagonist. I was on a cleansing diet, just a little bit of basmati rice and lentils each day. And three times a week I got to climb into it a panchakarma body box– a wooden container shaped like a human body, though larger. You enter it by way of a tiny door which is then closed and you sit on a tiny bench. Only my head was exposed while the rest of me was steamed to release toxins and poisons. After ten minutes, I got up on the massage table in order that a female Ayurveda masseuse could work warm oils into my skin. She was massaging my back, the muscles and tissues near my spine when the stroke of prophecy began.
Dumbfounded, I listened as the story of a woman named Georgie an unconventional woman in her mid-thirties, began. And with it came a vision. She was gazing up at her fly trap, excited by the hordes of insects buzzing around. I did not push the vision away and say, oh my God, she is weird. Get her out of my head.
A good rule of prophecy is this. During its stroke, do not step in to judge and to condemn. That self-condemnation stuff will come later in the writing. Experience the vision in quiet. Personally, I was excited by the exhilarating feeling that a strange imaginary woman, a main character for a book was seeking life through me. She reached up, took down the trap, and hurried into her house where she placed the trap in the freezer to anesthetize the flies. After a few minutes, she took out the trap to tweak out one numbed fly. In order to bring it to the spider that she feeds. As she placed the fly, which was now just coming out of its numbed state, onto the web, suddenly details about her inner and outer life sounded in my head.
Her husband was a minister in a New Age church. Because he went on a rampage in his church with an ax, he and Georgie had to relocate and for that reason they had just moved in to this not quite spic and span, house in the countryside. She was taking a break from unpacking, gazing at the creature that was coming down the strand to eat the fly. She imagined that it was a female carrying spider eggs in her abdomen. Georgie longed to be pregnant like that spider. I felt her longing and her sadness and how much she loved life and all creation.
As soon as I got off the table and thanked the masseuse, I got dressed and rushed to a coffee shop to write down the first page of this novel, the only page I had heard. I learned quickly after that that a novel is not made by one page of a prophetic stroke. What about the following 300 pages? What will happen to Georgie Flagg? Right after the stroke of prophecy, I tried to continue from that first page. But that marvelous stroke was gone. That feeling of thrill had vanished. For the next 3 years, my writing about Georgie meandered about without the vision. It wasn’t a writers’ block. I was working on my doctorate, writing it as a book that I would publish and that was moving forward at a face pace. I cannot write two books at one time. But I promised that when I finished my PhD and that would be when I was 60, I would go back to writing a book about her with all my mind and heart and soul.
Aside from this protagonist Georgie entering my life when I was going through a purification regime, I received some intuition too.
What we eat and how we are living affects the quality of our prose. I have started keeping a special diary The Rebirth of Georgie Flagg (the title of my novel) in which I mark down what is happening outside and inside me and how it is affecting the flow and depth and movement of each chapter. Personally, I need to be clear in body, mind and emotions for me to get truly inspired. After the panchakarma, I went running back to coffee. I went trotting back to some poor eating habits. Sure, I can write alright even if I am not on a cleansing diet. But if I am in a negative state emotionally and mentally, I cannot write one true word.
So watch your life and observe–when does your prose shine more? What caused the stroke of prophesy you had one day?