"The famous saudade of the Portuguese is a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness." -A.F.G. Bell
I used to hate mainstream fiction. It always felt so manipulated or contrived to me. Maybe I've been ruined by memoirs -- mainstream fiction stories that actually happened. (for the most part) Once I'd read a poignant, angst-filled true story, it was hard to face one that was created and still feel any sort of honesty within it. And part of me was always angry at the author for making me love a character then putting her through hell for the next 200 pages.
So, two years ago, the greatest surprise of my life was finding a story inside of me that was completely part of the mainstream fiction genre. It didn't really fit into the type of writing I'd ever indulged in, but when you have a story to tell, I suppose you can't worry about the pettiness of genre or previous prejudices. And I needed to tell the story of Tori.
Writers like to play God, in a way. Maybe we're all a little high on the ego-centrism; maybe it's the need to control. But for whatever reason we take these characters and as much as we love them we put them in places and positions where they are forced to deal with the laughter, fear, love, and pain of the human condition. We prod them to grow, throw curve balls to watch them squirm, and then help them find peace in the storm.
But the coolest thing happened to me when I was writing about Tori -- I was the one presented with places and positions that compelled me to take the story in a direction I wasn't comfortable with. I was prodded to grow. I was thrown curve balls and squirmed in my seat while I wrote... and maybe I haven't found peace with it yet.
But in the midst of it all I was given a gift in the form of a word. A Portuguese word.
Maybe it's not just a word. It's a concept, or a life journey in seven-letters.
I don't know anything about Portugal or the Portuguese people, even though my dad's best friend is Portuguese. I remember, when I would go with his girls to their grandmother's house, she would speak in a language I couldn't understand half the time, and her husband wouldn't speak to us at all. But mostly I just remember that they had citrus trees in their backyard and they gave us silver dollars at Halloween.
Despite this inadequate knowledge, I made two pivitol characters in my story Portuguese. And when I was toying with a plot idea that went nowhere I came across the word Saudade.
It's one of the most difficult words to translate, because, I read, it's so much a part of the Portuguese culture that it's hard for people outside to understand the fullness of its meaning. Basically, the word's got baggage. It's connected to Fado, a music genre in Portugal that is ineptly described as "Portuguese Blues."
It means longing or yearning after something that is always just outside your grasp -- something that is probably unreachable. But instead of being defeated by the impossibility, Saudade keeps you in the middle of the struggle. It is the yearning, not the recognition of the struggle or the plotting or planning to reach the goal... it is the yearning.
I almost couldn't get my head around it. Is it my Americanism? My upbringing? Is it just my personality? What is it that compels me to ignore any struggle that doesn't have a logically attainable goal? Why do I focus always on the goal and never on the struggle?
The struggle, the journey, the yearning... doesn't that in itself have value?
Chasing clouds, wishing on stars, trying to find the end of a rainbow... an indolent, dreaming wistfulness.
Maybe it's never really been about the goal at all.
So, two years later, with that much space between me and Tori, I found the word again, and again it felt like a gift.
Amidst rewrites and angsting over endings that probably were too rushed to completion, I found myself flustered with the yearning to just be done with my project. I just want to have this polished amazing manuscript completed so that I can start the process of queries and submissions.
I want to reach my goal.
But as I was sitting down to reread a new addition to a scene, I started to find joy in the work again. And maybe because as much as I'd love to be a published writer... and eventually a writer who gets paid enough to focus solely on my writing... I don't write for that purpose. I write because I love it. I write because it helps me get through the days and weeks and months. I write and rewrite and edit to elicit the very best of which I'm capable. I write because it's a part of me.
And when this project is done, there'll be another, and another, and another... because it's about the writing, not the completed manuscript.
It's about the journey.