5-Minute Memoir is exactly what it sounds like—a personal essay on some facet of the writing life, be it a narrative or a reflection, pensive, touching or hilarious. Enjoy this installment from Sarah Herrington.
I was trying to find magic. I had the opportunity to submit a story to a young adult magical realism anthology. But my tale was floundering. I had fragments: the girl whose two legs would fuse into a tail on the banks of the Jersey Shore. She would meet her boyfriend there on Monday nights and go diving, returning with handfuls of silverfish wiggling like extra fingers in her palms. But my fragments were just that—fragments. They were single windows not yet joined in the constellation of my characters’ backdrop, the New York skyline. I yearned for my pages to light up.
Frustrated and tired, I left my desk. I went to yoga.
The teacher led the class into the upside-down V of downward-facing dog. My thoughts rose and fell with each breath, then quieted. My heart illuminated with this steady rhythm, even hanging as it was, upside down. Next, in chair pose I sat as if a small kindergarten seat floated beneath me, only I wasn’t allowed to rest on it. My legs began to ache; impatience arose. I tucked my pelvis under and sank heavily into the challenge. Later, with headstand we were asked to change everything and go upside down. Afraid, I puttered, positioning myself near a wall. I took hops, false starts. Then, slowly, I began to flip. The room turned, the view was new.
Things were transforming.
Back at my computer a few hours later, I felt the effects of the shift. In yoga I had not only moved from one pose to the next, but from one state of being to another. My overly analytic editor’s mind was hushed, making palpable space for the subconscious to arise. Knots of frustration were softened and I felt a quiet stamina to go on, go on. Once I was more centered, words came forth as if from the sternum.
My story was set in Manhattan, an island of speed and light where so quickly one thing turns into another. The girl changed to mermaid and back again. The boy had fangs and used them. Swimming the streets of New York together they noticed the way the sidewalks glisten in bright light, the stacked stars of downtown windows. This story was about change, and the magic of everyday life if only we can slow down to notice it.
Lessons felt also in yoga.
By slowing to focus on the “small”—the placement of toes, the dip of breath—my mind had become more attentive. This led to a new relationship with words. They suddenly lit with their own currents of air and electricity. They themselves led the way.
Yet deep in editing, I began to feel the weary challenge of continuing.
I thought of chair pose. I tried to “write through” the itch to abandon the project much like I breathed through the urge to move away from challenge on the mat. Thinking later of headstand, I realized switching point of view would serve me in the story, too. I changed from first to third.
I revised. I kept investigating, rearranging. Eventually the story found a home in the anthology. And I found a home in this process.
Now I hit the mat before the page. Having a mindfulness practice helps me to shift to an inner space of creating and write from the heart. The “practice” part reminds me to show up, no matter what, to be consistent.
“Through repetition the magic arises,” the yoga teacher had said in class that day. She was encouraging dedicated spiritual practice. But she was giving writing advice, too.
Sarah Herrington (sarahherrington.com) has written for The New York Times and other outlets. She’s currently finishing a YA novel with mermaid themes while in mermaid pose.