KAREN ENGELMANN

THE LABYRINTH, REVISION, AND A TON OF WORK

 

In the course of researching everything octagonal, I came across an image of an eight-sided labyrinth that was on the floor of the Reims Cathedral, coronation site of the Kings of France.
The labyrinth was installed in the late 13th century, but removed around 1779 as a symbol of superstition and irrational, outmoded thinking.

 

This octagonal labyrinth seemed an apt touchstone for my character Sofia Sparrow, and I made Reims her childhood home. The medieval Christian concept of the labyrinth reveals the slow, repetitive nature of the pilgrim’s progress — it is a long journey to the center, where illumination lives. This philosophy fit into Mrs. Sparrow’s process of finding your eight: it takes time, and not everyone has the patience.

 

But while Mrs. Sparrow embraced the philosophy, I took on the physical labor. I was facing a second, extensive round of revisions — a seemingly endless circling of the book. So I decided to build a labyrinth as a meditation on the faith and hard work that any creative endeavor requires. On regular walks in a nearby wood, a friend and I would pick up rocks (sometimes by the backpack full) and lug them home.

 

The largest of the seven rings was 22 feet in diameter, with 18 inch paths between the circles.
With approximately 280 linear feet of rocks, and a rough average of four rocks/8 pounds per foot, constructing the labyrinth was, like the revision, an arduous and seemingly endless, repetitive job. Literally, a ton of work (around 2,240 pounds, actually.) But about six months later, that
revision and the labyrinth were complete.

 

While I did not make another labyrinth, I did do
several more revisions. They were never so hard.
Walking the labyrinth on a regular basis reminded
me that eventually I would come to the center
and the end, then walk the spiral out and one
fine day begin again with a blank white page
on a brand new project.