For those of you who know me this title might seem alarming, so let me put you at ease from the outset by saying Dave and the kids are all fine. Well, the truth is as far as I know they are fine but I haven’t laid eyes on them for the past five days because I’ve been swaddled away in a magical place with marvelous and miraculous people. I’m at a writer’s retreat – a writer’s retreat – a stop that I never in a million years saw coming until all at once it was the only place my heart needed to go. And it was within the confines of this safe haven, where nascent ideas have grown from ethereal concepts into future international bestsellers, that I finally killed my darling.
You see, there’s a saying offered as masochistic advice to all authors that goes something like this: “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” There seems to be great debate as to which penman from the past first offered this teaching, as it has been originally attributed to everyone from Oscar Wilde to Chekov, but my favorite version of it is told in the unmistakable voice of Stephen King, “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
The advice comes not as a true call to arms, but as a necessary and excruciating step in the editorial process during which a writer must wrench her fingers from the delicious and seductive alphabetical keys so comfortably placed in the center of the keyboard to make the soul-crushing and physically awkward march to hit “Delete”, and then watch as passages brought forth with the best of intentions find themselves erased into oblivion for the simple offense of existing gratuitously.
Yesterday, the phrase replayed again and again in my head, but it’s meaning was literal when I murdered a dear friend on the page. Let me be clear, she is far from gratuitous, and in fact she is the heart and the soul of my story; she wasn’t deleted at all, but died just the same. As is so often the case in life and in art, sometimes we must part ways with those we truly love in order to witness our story unfold.
I’ve know for years that I would one day say goodbye. But it was not until I found myself in this sacred place – with nothing to do for days on end besides love her and then hold her close as she slipped away – that I summoned the courage to let her go. I had to remove myself from the common creative space we writers shared as a group to snuggle up in the dark and cozy cocoon of my adoptive bedroom so I could feel safe to sob out my eyes and where the repeated blowing of my nose wouldn’t serve as alarm or distraction for my fellow retreaters, but finally, finally, I killed her.
Now, in the bright light of a new day, I suspect that this might have been the whole purpose of my journey to this place. In my real life back home, I feel fortunate to string two consecutive hours together during which I can commiserate with my characters and do my best to genuinely record their stories on the page. A person can get a lot done in the span of two hours, but bidding a proper and soulful farewell to an old friend takes much, much longer than that. Here, however, I could stare as long as I like at the two tall cypress trees just outside of the window and listen to the sound of the Pacific molding the California shore. I didn’t have to cook and there was nothing to clean and no one needed my attention at all, as the dear women around me were as absorbed in the stories coming through them as I was in mine. There is no better place for goodbye.
So today I bid adieu to our enchanted treehouse and the spellbinding storytellers within it. Of course it’s sad – as goodbyes almost always are – but as I walk out of this door and gladly back to my life I carry with me the truest form of gratitude for this time and space, which will live on in my memory as a sweet wake for a lifelong companion and also the thrilling threshold for incredible things yet to come.