This was the early morning vista from my bedroom window the other day:
While a snapshot doesn’t do it justice, you get the idea. The scene evoked the exotic, and it wasn’t long before the word “Xanadu” came to mind. I tried to remember–other than the Olivia Newton-John movie of 1980–what it meant, which led me to Google.
Among other locations, there’s a five-star hotel in the Aegean off the coast of Turkey on Xanadu Island that looked enticing, but that still didn’t explain the origin of the word, which I knew was lurking in my misty memory. I read on, and there it was: Xanadu was the summer palace of Kublai Khan, Khagan of the Mongol Empire, founder of the Yuan Dynasty, Emperor of China in the late 13th century.
His seasonal retreat was immortalized in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1797 poem, Kubla Khan. As the story goes, Coleridge was interrupted while writing the poem–the idea for which had come to him in a dream–by a visitor from Porlock, a village in the southwest of England. Coleridge was unable to complete his composition, the vision in his dream disappearing (a pesky possibility with opium users) with the arrival of the man. It was not until years later, in 1816, and at the urging of his friend, Lord Byron, that the work was finally published. The term “Person from Porlock” came to mean any unwanted intruder who interrupts creative inspiration.
There’s a lot to study about the meaning of the poem, but on the surface two issues are of interest to me: one is the interpretation that it’s about poetry itself, and inspiration, and creativity; the other is how the flow of that creativity can be interrupted.
Since April, many things have halted progress on finishing my manuscript: family illness, travel, even feedback from my editor, which, while invaluable, caused me to rethink my entire approach to the novel. Finally, there was another inevitable relocation. (A Movable Marriage, after all, is the title of the book.)
I’ve decided to make the ethereal shot above of the Portuguese countryside my screensaver for a while. It will remind me to not let the Person from Porlock get me off track. I will complete my book.
I just hope it doesn’t take nineteen years.