A number of new folks (a proportionally significant number though in absolute terms not especially large) have joined our ranks in the past couple of weeks. My plan was to welcome them (welcome! I’m so glad you’re here!), to write something explaining how we do things around here. But, as an introduction, what follows is probably the most appropriate because this is how we do things around here — life, my life, seems to dictate that certain things be written at a certain time. Often abetted by a friend or reader, life shouts: today you must write this! I try to follow suit when life’s agenda becomes plain. So without further ado…
One year ago from tomorrow, June 25, 2018, it was a Monday. I had last worked on my novel on May 14 when it had reached 78,858 words. In the time between May 14 and June 25, I had written three blog posts that had felt significant to me: Eating and other problems, 365 days, and the beginning. I had taken a break from the novel to write these, I had been to my 20-year college reunion, I had spent a week in Vermont with my family, and I had completed some paid contract work, editing a technical document about sustainability in forestry. It had been a longer break from the novel than I had wanted, it was Monday morning, the kids were in camp, I was sitting at my desk which by that time had moved to its present location looking out at the ravine and all of the trees. I can’t remember what brought it about, but I had an idea, I knew how the novel would end.
Not how the story would end exactly. But I knew that the heroine would receive a gift, a gift that any reader of the book would know was not the kind of gift she would have chosen. A gift that wasn’t what she wanted. Not only different from what she would ask for, but something that if you asked her in advance “would you like to receive such-and-such a gift?” — she would definitely say “no. that is not something I would like.”
She was going to receive this gift. And she was going to feel content, feel love. Not because of what the gift was at all. But, maybe, because what the gift was didn’t really matter. Because in looking at life and how messy it is and can feel she thought, this is good, or this is life and I accept. What mattered was the giving and the givers and the life all around her and somehow between where I was at 78,858 words and wherever this book would end, which had originally been imagined at 80,000 words but certainly, on June 25 of 2018, felt like it would take many more words, somehow she was going to learn to be part of the flow of life.
I wrote a note to myself about the ending. It is still there, at the bottom of the only saved version of the novel that remains. I can open the document now and see the note. I could tell you exactly what it says. But thinking about doing that, about opening that document, and seeing again what is not there, is so uncomfortable.
Last night my friend was sharing a story about an outing she took with her parents and her kids to the Spy Museum. She was talking about the tendency of grandparents to want to purchase stuff — any kind of stuff — for their grandkids when I remembered a forgotten scene from the novel. The grandparents tell the mother (the heroine) that they are taking the children to the library but instead they go to the bookstore and let the children choose one book each to purchase. One child chooses something like Spiderman and the other something like a book about Barbie, or maybe about volcanoes. I can’t remember. And then there is a conversation afterwards between the heroine and her mother, a sort of funny and exasperated conversation. It wasn’t a great scene. It would probably have been cut in the end. But I can’t read it again. Remembering that, last night, I felt sad. I wished that I could read it again.
So there it was, Monday morning, June 25, 2018. I had the idea about the ending. I was so excited. I opened the file where I was writing the novel, I scrolled to the bottom to write notes about the idea. And as I was typing the note, and after I was finished, I kept waiting for the tally of the total number of words, the word count at the bottom of the screen, to update. To move above 30,006. And it kept not changing.
Have you ever been at an outdoor movie, you are sitting on a blanket talking to a friend, your child is playing on the playground a little ways away? There are a lot of people, there’s movement and commotion. You realize it has been about seven minutes and you haven’t seen your son, haven’t checked for him. Okay, you think, I’ll just make brief visual confirmation that he has not wandered off into the wide world and then continue my pleasant conversation. Your eyes scan, relaxed. But his yellow shirt is nowhere to be seen. It’s bright yellow though, should be easy to spot. And then, a feeling comes into your chest and even if he were standing right in front of you you probably wouldn’t see him because you aren’t looking anymore, you are panicking, you are thinking of all of the possibilities, your eyes are searching everywhere at once and nowhere carefully, and you can’t quite breathe and you stand up and walk quickly over to the playground. He must be here, he knows not to leave, but no… You feel totally desperate and then, eventually, after probably just 200 super uncomfortable seconds, you find him right outside of the fence pretending to sword fight with three other six-year-olds.
It was like that on that Monday morning.
But I didn’t find it.
Most people reading this already know the story but, just in case, my novel was deleted, or at least 50,000 words of it. The version from May was gone. Unrecoverable. The only remaining version was from February. I thought the cloud was a treasure chest, a safety deposit box. It’s not.
What I understood, within days, was that I had not recognized what the novel meant to me. I had not understood how proud I was of what I was creating or how the act of focused creation was changing me. I hadn’t acknowledged this to myself, let alone to anyone else. I had not valued my work, not treasured it, not protected it. The loss taught me how much I cared. Maybe that I cared enough that I was ready to be vulnerable. Ready to say out loud that I wanted this and that I was going to do it, not on the side, not prioritizing everything else.
It’s been a year. Instead of a finished novel, I’ve published a different book, an unplanned book. I’m in a band now. I’m singing and I’m writing songs again. I started writing poetry in October. I’ve submitted several poems for publication and so far had no response, but I know it can take awhile, and I know I will keep trying. I have an idea for a new novel, or for a new direction for the old novel — and I’m really excited about the idea. I have new people in my life who talk about new things. I have old friends in my life who talk about new things, or help to remind me. I have opportunities for different kinds of work. I have people asking me to write for their blogs. I had someone invite me to speak at her bookclub, an acquaintance who heard about my book from someone other than me. I did a book reading over the weekend, reading my words aloud to a group of people who have supported me and encouraged me to keep going.
I was curious enough to be uncomfortable. I opened, just now, the file that holds what remains of the novel. I scrolled quickly down to the end, past the ghosts of all of those missing words. And now I’m going to share with you the note that I left for myself about the ending of the novel, the last words I jotted down, quickly, on Monday morning, June 25, 2018 before learning that the majority of the novel was gone:
It is totally broken, it is not what she wants, it comes together in a weird way from different unexpected sources, and it is magic and she feels love and that’s life – that’s the conclusion. She gets something that she didn’t want, from a weird unexpected source, there are conflicting emotions of joy and sadness and guilt and despair, and she feels love and connection and life.
I’m not where I planned to be. I didn’t want this gift. But this is life with its vast ocean of possibility, with its love and connection, if you choose to look for it, and I accept. With a thankful heart.
My first book, The Rise and Fall of Jenny Goodguts, is now available for purchase. You can learn more about my current work, including The Stuffed Project, or subscribe to the blog to get new posts directly in your inbox.