It’s one year now since I decided to write a book. (It’s also my seventh wedding anniversary tomorrow, but there’s no need to do a State of the Union there. We’re slicing through the years with good momentum.)
How’m I doing? Well...ho. I’m still in it. I’m trudging forward. My momentum isn’t anything like steady, but words are accruing. The snowfall’s erratic, but what’s falling is sticking. That doesn’t mean that all or any or most of these words I’ve written will appear in the final text. (Final text! What a hilariously far-off term. Feels funny to even use it.) It just means that my understanding of this book is slowly taking shape.
Snowfall is maybe the wrong metaphor. Pregnancy is better. Because the accretion I’m talking about isn’t static. The substance doesn’t remain the same as it increases. The life force in the thing is growing along with its size.
Oh, I like this pregnancy metaphor. Yes, ma’am! You know why?
First trimester. Oooosh. That’s where I am, easy, and I’m still pretty early in it. The morning sickness. The occasional disbelief that I’m growing a book. The thrill and revulsion of facing the material. The amoebic nature of the thing itself, how it doesn’t look anything like a book in the ultrasounds. It’s not cute yet. And it’s still vulnerable: vulnerable to doubt, to inertia (the cells need to keep dividing and multiplying at a rate conducive to life), to the toxic chemicals in straight-up fear.
And this thing is a memoir, which is wicked radioactive. It’s a family memoir, too, and a spiritual memoir. So that’s easy. I bet it’s tough enough to write a “My Year in Tuscany Learning to Make Pasta” memoir. This is all teeth and murk and neurosis and slipperiness and heat.
I’ve written 102 pages of material to date, single-spaced. 57,000 words and change. I’m nowhere near structure. (Oh, structure. Someday, it’s you and me. That’s the second trimester. The golden trimester, where material becomes a draft.) (I think.) I’m writing for understanding right now. I’m writing to find out what the hell I’m trying to say. I’m writing to unearth the spine of the story. I don’t even know if I’m doing that yet. I’m just vomiting up material until my stomach’s empty.
Not empty yet. Not even close. And I resist sitting down to write the way you resist emesis, because while it feels great to have it over with, it feels like hell when you admit it’s going to happen. (Once I’m actually writing, I’m fine. It’s the moment before when my stomach lurches.)
I daydream about structure, though. I do. I try on various futures with this book. We’ll frame it like this! Oh, that’s beautiful! I pretend that I understand the story I’m telling already and I woolgather, arranging this piece here and that piece there and it comes together so neatly. And I admire it for a while, and then I remember....oh. That’s fake. I can’t build that. None of those pieces really exist, and they may never exist in anything like those forms. Damn.
Stop trying to pull the fetus out and cuddle it. It’s not helpful.
I’ll tell you what I do have going for me, and that’s midwives. Midhusbands? Bob Ray and Jack Remick, that’s who. These guys host a writing group at a bakery here in Seattle every Tuesday and Friday, and they’ve done it for twenty years. You just show up and write, and if you’re lucky (and I’ve been lucky), Jack and Bob will give you feedback. Head this way. Think about this. Try this. Beware of that. They’ve each published many books, and taught writing for years. A friend of mine pointed me in their direction when she asked how my book was going and I gagged in her lap. (As it turned out, Jack had met my parents through mutual friends -- even had lunch at their house! the house where I grew up! -- and is familiar with some of the people and places that show up in the story. I tuck that kind of synchronicity into my pocket like a talisman.) These guys are wonderful. Funny and wise and experienced and incredibly generous. And they both genuinely seem to care about what I’m doing here.
Now I feel like I’m not going to have to give birth in a taxicab, you know? There are people standing by who know what they’re doing, and want to see that baby come out alive.
And so that’s my report. I know this has been a record absence, friends. Between parenting and wife-ing and starting in on a new line of work and stabbing away at this book, the old Monkey’s had to lay fallow a while. I want to promise that I’ll be back soon, but I’d rather promise to finish a book for you. But I think I can safely say I’ll be back before then, because that’s a long way off.