When I was at Vermont Studio Center in 2007 putting together the manuscript of The Truth About Death I created a map to figure out what I was doing. My mind couldn’t hold on to the 271 pages of poetry I’d brought with me to shape into a book. I was overwhelmed and stuck. One morning I woke up and knew what I needed to do. I read each poem and took notes on its images and ideas. Then I bought colored pencils and colored — light blue for any kind of water, red for the demon, gold for death, purple for birds, a deep green for trees. I’d been inspired by all the visual artists at VSC and understood that engaging the right side of my brain more directly would help me figure out how to shape my book.
I was right. Once I’d colored all the pages of poem notes, I hung them on my studio wall and started drawing connections between the poems, relying on the colors to lead me to poems that would hold together in layers across the book. It worked. And it was fun.
So I’m doing it again. I’m coloring. I’ve taken notes on all the different pieces of the story I’m trying to make into a book and colored the notes according to a color key: Eric is Ice Blue, David is Vermillion, Dark Green is Anxiety/Secrets/Impatience, Blue Violet is Grief and Wildness, Time is Bluish Grey, Poetry is Orange, Love is Bordeaux Red. I’m looking for balance — is there enough about each thread of the story I’m knitting together? Too much grief, too little anxiety?
I put the colored notes up on the bulletin board in my studio and studied the colors. Then I started making a timeline map on a big piece of paper hanging on the wall, using the same color code to write out scenes and themes. As I was putting the colored pencils back in their box I realized I could measure the balance of what’s going on in the book by their relative size. The pencils I was using the most were smaller, a natural graph. So far there’s an equal amount of grief and love in the book, a good sign I think.