When I started writing last month in Costa Rica, I had no clue what I was writing about, why I was writing, whether it was or would be anything. I wrote because that’s what I do. If you’re curious, it begins here.
I said as much to Dick about halfway through the trip when he said he thought it should be a book: Books need to be about something.
All I had were verbal snapshots. But after a while, I noticed the snapshots were really of people, in this kind of interesting environment. After a little while longer, I sensed that there was coherence to it, even if I still didn’t know what the unifying principle was. Yes, it really does work like that.
I was sending it out to people I thought might be interested, and the response back was incredibly supportive. Not only was that favorable response a significant reason why I kept on, it forced me — you forced me — to include important visual details.
If you had not been there and I had waited, those details would have been lost, because I would have waited and then had only ideas, and the imagery, the environment that was so important, would have begun to fade.
But it still wasn’t about anything. It did not have a theme.
Two days after I got back I was trying to figure out a title for what was basically a collection. I think I’d written about the plane trip. Well, I know I had, because that one was actually written by hand on a yellow note pad when I could not connect to the internet in San Jose. I don’t know if I had transcribed it, though.
About that particular piece: I told “Valerie,” and also “Olivia” and “Alycia” while I was in Bocas, that I’d just realized I was going to have to subject myself to the same process. Not to do so would have been unfair, dishonest. Later I would tell one of my favorite readers, “I could not ask of them what I was not willing to give.” That’s all I knew, so I did it.
After I got to Oregon, I was trying to think of a title for the collection. I went through several possibilities while sitting in my chair and letting my unintentional chew on the problem while I looked at the mountains.
Journey? No color. Slide Show? No again, similar reason but closer, maybe.
Then all of a sudden, I got a huge shove right in the middle of my chest. It almost took the wind out of me. “Butterflies.” Of course. What an idiot. Obviously, I was writing about butterflies. These wonderful, incredible, occasionally tragic people were butterflies; delicate, resilient, often but not always beautiful, very different individuals with similar needs and desires.
With that came the answer to the problem posed by Dick when he said it should be a book. What’s it about? It’s about the life cycle: seeking, struggling, transition. Butterflies do it. We do it.
Is that original? Not even close; butterflies have been used as metaphors since long before we knew there were things such as metaphors. Are we butterflies? Of course not.
It would work.
I will reorganize things. I will probably take people from one place and put them in another to create “story,” an emotional beginning middle and end. I will flesh out some places where I left things too sparse.
I’ll do more research on butterflies themselves, so I can make the metaphor solid. I’ll add these sparingly — I’m not going to hammer readers with science. A paragraph or two in each “chapter” to illustrate how it fits into the whole.
Then, “Butterflies” will will be a book. Like a butterfly, it will have gone from being one thing to being something else, very different. It will hopefully retain the bright colors of the previous generation — which would not be there were it not for those of you who allowed me to send you what I was seeing and feeling as I was seeing and feeling it.
I won’t do much of anything for a month. It has to sit for a while, undisturbed, while I get some distance from it. Then I’ll tear into it again, change it, fix it, redo that a few times, and then it will be done. It will be a very small book that will hopefully cause readers to feel reading it was worthwhile.
I can’t thank you enough. All of you.