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Constance Alexander: At the end of a long, arduous literacy journey, the writer resists ground rush

The Irish Blessing poem begins with the line, “May the road rise up to meet you.” It goes on to hope the wind will ever be at your back, and that the sun will shine upon your face, adding a wish for “rains to fall soft upon your fields.”

In other words: May your journey be successful.

This little prayer comes back to me as I struggle to finish the last chapter of a novel I have been writing, on and off, for almost twenty years. What began as a labor of love and painstakingly morphed into a search and destroy mission, now resides in my laptop – all thirteen drafts – waiting for me to end it all.

The project had been a lifelong dream until the day in college when my Creative Writing professor scrawled this withering comment at the top of my last story for the semester: “There’s hope for you, Miss Alexander.”

I allowed that snarky sentiment to shred my fragile literary confidence and decided to stick to poetry. After all, I knew how to write poems. I had proof. In grade 4, I won first place in the diocese writing competition. The original, penned in my perfect Palmer Method cursive, is posted on my website.

Eventually, I mustered the courage to try fiction again during a residency at an artists’ colony. The earliest draft of my novel was aimed at young adult readers. In chapter one, the older sister tells the younger one she is adopted. “The gypsies left you on the back porch,” she says, adding that their parents tried to give the foundling back, but there was no place to return her.

The main characters, two sisters who were opposites in most every way, were further separated by their parents. The father seemed to favor the younger child, while the mother could be counted on to stand up for the older girl. The mother’s battle with cancer contributed to the family tension, and when she died, the family splintered.

With each draft, the story explored new territory and examined increasingly complicated issues. Clearly, this was not a simple tale for pre-teens. One version led to another. If I were to make a single column of the drafts today, one atop of the other, it would likely reach the ceiling.

Right now, as I approach the final chapter, I find myself slowing down, and finding all sorts of unique ways to interrupt myself. For instance, I’ve taken great pleasure in reading and re-reading the daily newspaper, even the sports section. This week, I have become enthralled with the Peanuts cartoon, doggedly following Snoopy’s progress as he reads “War and Peace” one word at a time.

Finishing this final chapter is a lot like that, a deliberate process, like a game of pick-up-sticks. I stack one word atop another, and then edit and rework each sentence, careful to keep the structure from collapsing. I remind myself of the concept of ground rush, a phrase describing the illusion of the earth rising up to meet the mesmerized skydiver. I cannot get so hung up on finishing that I forget to pull the ripcord.

Soon it will be over, and my main character will be free, but today she plunges toward the earth, hoping to land in one piece, or maybe peace.

The original handwritten copy of Constance Alexander’s prize-winning poem from fourth grade is on her website at www.constancealexander.com.

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Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

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