The Ancestors

I was a bit too hopeful in my last post. Getting out of my “editor’s block” has not proven to be a quick or easy thing. I was stuck in a section that didn’t work, and I couldn’t figure out why. I tried outlining. That didn’t work. I did some Vejibag stuff. That didn’t work either. I paid some bills, cleaned up a bit, ran some errands. Nope. Still stuck. My midday, I was near panic. Trying to edit caused panic. Not trying to edit caused panic. The previous day’s editing had been fruitful and satisfying. Today, panic. Have I lost my magic?

Finally, I wrote to Sally, who’s away, and told her what was going on, and gave myself permission to surrender. Then I gave up.

I saved and closed my documents. Got off the computer. Grabbed a book, and made my way down to the beach. It was cozily warm but very windy. My favorite protected spots were taken, so I just laid down a beach towel in the middle of the expanse of sand halfway between the water and the dunes. I laid on my stomach, put my book near my head, took off my shirt, and lay there in the sun.

Yeah, that’s what I needed. Recharge. Like a battery. Soak up some sun and wind. Pretend I’m a solar panel. It felt really good.

After a while I remembered what I’d said to Sally in my email about asking for help. It’s a way of surrendering, just putting a call out there, a distress beacon of sorts, trusting or hoping or imagining that there’s something available to us from elsewhere in the Cosmos, something beyond my limited abilities. So inside my mind I called for help, in a voice one might hear in a sitcom or funny movie. “Heeeeellllllppppp!” I called.

Such an interesting behavior for me. I don’t need help.

Except that I was stuck, and panicking, working on a book project I’d been struggling with in one way or another for five years, a project about which I’d received almost no feedback, and for which I have little reason, outside of my own mind, to think is worthy of such long, hard inputs of time and energy. Editing is all about what’s not working. It’s a daily “agonizing over sentences,” as Susan Sontag said. And it requires that I hold and maintain, in my mind and heart, and mostly on my own, that it’s worth the struggle. And that can be a really difficult thing to hold onto.

I thought about this “asking for help” thing. It’s something Sally does. Working with her ancestors, in a shamanic, visionquesting sort of way. Praying. Asking for input and guidance. Asking whomever might be out there to move some energy around, or whisper in an ear, or ease a soul, or flip a switch. I’d done my own shamanic journey work many years ago, and was familiar with the ideas, but rarely do I think to stop and ask. Maybe I rarely think I’m worthy of help. Maybe I don’t really believe that help is available.

But I did ask, in my Jerry Lewis way. And I began to imagine Sally’s dead, standing near me on the beach as I lay there, head down, eyes closed. Maybe I thought of them first because I’ve heard Sally speak of them so often in recent years. So when I think of ancestors, they’re who pop to mind. Maybe it’s because I never really knew them, so it’s easier to project on them that they are the smart, wise, helpful people I know who have crossed to the other side, and who might have an interest in me. Maybe it’s because I hold some residual anger at my own family’s dead, the grandparents and great aunts and uncles amongst whom I grew up, but who were never there for me in the way I needed them to be, and from whom I don’t really expect any help.

Whatever the reason, there were Sally’s parents and her sister. “It doesn’t last,” said her mother, who had her own struggle with anxiety. “You’re a good person,” said her father. “We know that.” Her sister agreed, and put a hand on my arm. I began to quietly weep.

After a while, I noticed that others were there, that my own family’s dead had come as well. Marge and Miles. Harold and Dorothy. George and Nettie. My grandmother Harriet was there, and my grandfather Seigel, whom I never met. Even Alman was there, the old hermit from the woods I played in as a child, whose name I don’t now how to spell, and whose relationship to me I never really understood. They stood around me, or knelt, crowding in, and laying hands on me, and murmuring sweet words of encouragement.

But the crowd got larger. My characters came as well. Linda. William. Cole. Mary. Keeley and Pooch. The kids. Obie. Utterpok and Sinaaq and Aamai. They crowded in with the others and lay hands on my back and legs and arms and feet. Mihos came and nestled in at my side and began to purr. Dennis lay near my head and laid his muzzle on my hands. I wept some more.

The Blue Lady came, she whom I refer to as “the Muse,” she who so often demands that I sit and write. Spud came, he who I met so many years ago on a shamanic journey to the Upper Lands. The Blue Lady put her hand in my right hand and said “Sshhhh…” again and again, as one would a crying child. Spud put his hand in my left hand and began to chant, a low, droning music. The others around me joined in. There was me, lying on a windy beach, quietly weeping. And around me was a crowd of droning, chanting, shushing people, and a purring cat, and a dog poised to lick my face should I lift it.

A seagull settled onto my shoulder. A formation of pelicans soared just overhead. A heron eyed me warily. I saw it. I saw it all. With my eyes closed, I saw it.

“You have all the pieces,” said the Blue Lady. “They’re all right there, already written down. All you need do now is put them together in the way they need to go, using words as glue.” I thought of the Japanese art of kintsugi, where broken pottery is repaired with resin mixed with gold or silver, in a way that doesn’t hide the repair so much as celebrate the object’s history, making it more beautiful for having been broken and then glued back together.

“But I need some magic!” I called.

“You don’t need anything that isn’t you,” said Spud. “You are already the magic.”

I wanted more, but they didn’t have more to say. They kept their hands on me. They droned and chanted and shushed. I rolled over onto my back and let the sun recharge my stomach and face, and let Dennis lick my wet nose. I lay there quietly. The crowd had pulled back as I rolled over, and now stood in a circle around me, not saying anything, but not leaving either. Eventually I dozed for a bit. When I awoke, it was just me and the sun and the wind.

I rolled back over, grabbed my shirt, shook it out and put it on. I stood and grabbed my unopened book and shook the sand from my towel and started back for the house. I took a shower, because sand and wind do not mix well with tears and snot. I spent the rest of the day reading and listening to music and doing a relaxation meditation and taking a short nap. I couldn’t go back to my document. Not yet. Not yet.

This morning, I’ve made a few notes about how to proceed. I think I may know what golden words to add, that’ll fix the broken pieces of my story. I’ll find out soon enough.

I don’t need anybody to believe anything here. I don’t even need myself to believe anything. I did what I did. I imagined what I imagined. I saw what I saw. I heard what I heard and said what I said. Silly questions regarding “reality” seem unnecessary. All I know is that the images and words and feelings are still with me, and will guide me and shape me somehow. It was an experience, and experience is always real. It may be, in the end, that reality is composed of experience and nothing else.

I’ll be interested to see how my experience plays out.


2 Comments for “The Ancestors”

Heidi Reidell


Another of the dead to consult. PAPA. The Ernest.

Write in Hot Blood.
Edit in Cold Blood.
Read What you wrote the day before, before carrying on.
End when you know where it ( and you) are going.
Write standing up–” You can’t go ten rounds sitting on your ass.”

Timothy Scott Bennett


Thanks, Heidi. I’ve never been much of a fan of The Heming Way. Too many rules to follow, not all of which suit me. (There’s even a Hemingway App you can use as an editor, if you wish!) That said, he’s got his uses. And the idea of “strategic ancestor work” surely has merit. I’ve used that before, in thinking in particular about one of my primary editors for All of the Above (and partial inspiration for Obie) who’s now deceased, and who could find useful work as an ancestor now, if only asked. I could remember to ask more often! He was a good editor. Take care, Tim

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *