The Pie Was a Final Draft: Geologic Time

By Michaella Thornton

A long time ago I dated a man whose brother described him as “moving in geologic time.” As someone who had majored in anthropology and also studied geology, I was both baffled and amused by this description because humanity is but a blip in the more enduring measures of time.

What a curse to be born human with such laughably short lifespans!

I mention slowness because my brain is a wildfire, constantly thinking, processing, and moving. Wildfires, on average, move approximately 14 miles per hour, or 22.5 kilometers per hour for everyone else in the world. That may sound slow, but as anyone who has tried to outrun a wildfire can tell you, that’s pretty damn quick.

This quickness isn’t always better, and it’s an occasional curse when I have more ideas than time. Couple my fiery imagination with the solidities of work, home, parenting, and sustaining meaningful relationships, and something that is not inherently my nature⸺to go slowly⸺becomes an on-going challenge.

However, something I’m not entirely sure other writers, let alone readers, are aware of is just how long it takes to write something original and otherworldly, something breath-taking and layered.

I’ve known disciplined writers who bang out incredible working drafts in one long sitting, and I’m also friends with writers who approach their writing like a quilt, piecing together pieces of scene, dialogue, and action in their sweet, unhurried time.

There is, of course, the rest of us who vacillate between the tortoise and the hare. Some writing projects move more quickly. Others seem to stall or gather dust or feel possibly forgotten or neglected until we see a different path, a new way to make this story, this poem, this essay come alive. Also sometimes, many times, what we write never reaches an audience because we’re lucky and we just don’t know it yet. We often have to sit with something that isn’t yet ripe, may never ripen, to just get to a better, more nuanced place in our craft.

When I’m feeling especially disheartened with how long it takes me to write and revise an essay, I revisit Maya Angelou’s incredible Paris Review interview with George Plimpton (1990):

Nathaniel Hawthorne says, ‘Easy reading is damn hard writing.’ I try to pull the language in to such a sharpness that it jumps off the page. It must look easy, but it takes me forever to get it to look so easy. Of course, there are those critics—New York critics as a rule—who say, Well, Maya Angelou has a new book out and of course it’s good but then she’s a natural writer. Those are the ones I want to grab by the throat and wrestle to the floor because it takes me forever to get it to sing. I work at the language.

I’m a far cry from the incredible Dr. Angelou, and I love that she acknowledges the hard work, the elbow grease involved in creating prose that reads like an effortless dream.

So, when I exchange an essay with other writers that’s taken me four long years to write and revise, I allow myself grace. I let myself bask in one writer’s comment that “this is a diamond that took years and years of painful experiences and contemplation to forge.”

Precious gem metaphors notwithstanding, I think a lot about Charles Perrault’s French fairy tale, “Diamonds and Toads,” and the trope of the kind and unkind girl and who has gems and flower petals fall from her mouth and who has toads and vipers empty from her tongue.

As a slower writer, I’m reminding myself to be kind to my inner fairy disguised as a crone, to generously fill her cup with water and let her drink instead of talking shit. I’m reminding myself that in terms of geologic time, it takes up to 3 billion years for the earth to form a naturally occurring diamond.

So, if it takes us a little longer than anticipated to create something hard and beautiful and long-lasting, perhaps fast isn’t it. Perhaps consistency, continuous pressure, and time are a writer’s best friends.

Read more of Kella’s work here at Reckon.

Michaella Thornton
Michaella Thornton

Michaella Thornton learned how to bake at the hips of her mother and her grandmother Anna Lee. A lifetime ago, she baked professionally before realizing baker’s hours require early mornings. Kella’s prose has been featured in Brevity, Essay Daily, Fractured Lit, Hobart After Dark, Reckon Review, New South, Southeast Review, among others, and her writing has been nominated for a James Beard award and Best of the Net. Many moons ago, Kella received her MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of Arizona. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri with her daughter.

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