July Theme: Searching for Fireworks (Naomi Kinsman)

On the fourth of July my husband and I planned to go to a baseball game, mostly because they were shooting off fireworks afterwards. But when we arrived at the stadium the game was sold out. And thus began the adventure of searching for fireworks. Maybe because we live in the Bay Area, where it seems they shoot off fireworks on every other block, or maybe because the fourth of July is one of those days on which we allow ourselves to relax, to not plan everything out to the last detail, we find ourselves in this situation often. This year, though, the search reminded me a lot of my writing.

My first reaction was to be proactive, to google for fireworks locations, to strategize practical ways to be in the right place at the right time. Our timing was off, though, and I kept running into dead ends. So then, desperate, my mind started leaping to dramatic solutions. For instance, maybe we ought to sneak onto the roof of one of the highrises in the city. In the end, we decided to give in. We went home, sat in our darkened bedroom, and watched the sky outside our upstairs window. The fireworks were beautiful, startling as they lit up the sky, here and there and everywhere. We didn't need to buy tickets for a fancy show, nor did we need to desperately steal a view. The fact that we could watch the fireworks in our own home, in such an ordinary way, made the experience all the more magical.

Often, I forget to value the importance of the ordinary in my writing process. I plan for every last contingency, seek practical solutions from other writers, and even dream up desperate measures, trying to solve plot or character challenges. Still, the most startlingly clear ideas--the ones that untangle a plot line or blast through blocks--come in quiet, ordinary moments, such as the half-awake minutes when the alarm goes off in the morning or while I'm shampooing my hair. I know these sudden insights come partially because I'm not forcing them to happen. I think the answers also show up in the ordinary moments, though, because within the context of real life, my fictional world becomes more layered, more authentic. As I learn important things about my character or my story, I'm also learning about myself.

I've been reflecting recently on why I write. I've asked my students too. Their answers range from: "I like the adventure of being the first reader to discover what happens in my story," to "I like being able to control my character's lives, since I can't control my own," and many other answers between. But when I listen closely to what they are saying, and pay attention to my own heart, too, I realize that underneath the desire to slip into a fictional world lies the deep yearning to understand our own real lives. Through the lens of a character's perspective, we discover truth about ourselves, our own challenges and joys, that we might not see otherwise. These sorts of mental fireworks happen at home, in the ordinary spaces of our lives. And they're the most precious ones of all.


  1. Wow--beautifully said, Naomi. That's exactly what I often think drives my own writing--the desire to understand my real world...

  2. I suppose that's why they say writing takes such courage. You can't hide from the truths you'd rather not see.


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