The Prize

The other night when the image of Barack Obama as our 44th president flashed on screen, I thought it was a technical glitch. The music had cut out and there was a stretch of silence that usually comes when someone in the control room hit the wrong button. But then Tom Brokow appeared and he assured us that yes, we had a new president.

Some people wept with joy, others shouted and danced. Our neighbor blew off fire crackers in the street and I saw Ryan wipe a tear or two off his face (and he didn’t even joke that it was dusty in our living room). However, I couldn’t move. My throat was tight and my eyes a little misty but I couldn’t feel my face from the shock. I’m not much of a crier. I’ll do it in private or at the movies, but when everyone else falls apart around me, something snaps inside me and I’m the one passing around the kleenex box before going into the ktichen to make tea.

Ever since Tuesday night, I’ve been struck by moments of such intense emotion especially when writing. It freezes me in place. I’d like to cry just to flush it out of my system, but before I can it just settles back down, waiting in its dark corner to get me again. In fact I’m coming out of it right now after having written a scene between Anna and the man she loves. Not much is happening on the surface. But they’re face to face, half lit by a dim lamp. She’s crossed an emotional ocean to realize that even though she loves him, their life together is not to be. Oh I wish I could share it but half the sentences don’t have periods and I’ve probably misspelled their names.

I wasn’t sure I could tap into the intensity of what is happening inside her. I thought I’d maybe get it in the third draft but it came out of nowhere. I felt the same way when I wrote the scene between Tamara and Will on the Queen Mary, and again in Switchcraft when Nely and Aggie watch the ending of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

I used to think that the ultimate prize you’d get as a writer was the publishing contract and then the big check that came in the mail. Don’t get me wrong; they’re pretty cool and I’d like to sign another contract in the future. But the real prize are these moments when the emotion and the honesty is almost too much for you to handle. In a way, you don’t just write a scene or a book; you create an experience. Like Tuesday night, we didn’t just elect a president; we made good on the promises of the Declaration of Independence.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that
among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure
these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers
from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish
it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles
and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to
effect their Safety and Happiness.

I don’t know about you, but rereading those words in light of what happened earlier this week gives me chills.

Maybe I will go have that cry after all.

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