I love you enough to keep waiting like this
Some time ago a friend told me about a birthday or Mother’s Day card her now-adult son had made her when he was a kid. Not one for Hallmarkian displays of sentiment, inside it he wrote, “I love you more than five hundred bucks.” I always thought that was a pretty good approximation of how much love you can have for some people. Five hundred bucks is a lot of money whether you’re a kid or not; I don’t have anywhere near that in my wallet right now. I briefly had more than that in my bag a couple of weeks ago, after we’d sold a bunch of my deceased mother-in-law’s jewelry to a local guy who only paid in cash, but I only had to worry about it for about fifteen minutes or so.
- I love you more than how anxiously I drove to the bank to deposit that cash before someone realized they should rob me
- I love you more than the relief I had afterward (and the spinach and goat cheese crepe you bought me for lunch at Le Petit Valentien)
- I love you more than 7.5 hours of sleep per night, which I keep not getting because of you (JACKSON)
- I love you enough to spend two years knitting a sweater even though I’m worried it won’t fit you very well when it’s done
- I love you enough to watch three seasons of a show you adore even though I have to concentrate more than I’d prefer to follow the plot
- I love you enough to wash, dry, and fold your laundry, but I will not put it away because I am not your maid
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I finished the first draft of my novel on Monday, 49,000 words, all of them mine, every stupid last one of them. The manuscript is a mess and the ending is awkward and the number one thing that feels great about it, apart from the sense of achievement (I wrote a novel! No, you can’t read it yet!), is the fact that I went to bed on Monday night going, Hmm, well, now what? and I woke up Tuesday morning finally understanding the whole purpose of the thing and knowing everything I had to do next to get it into shape. I was just lying there and it came to me. Because I am magical.
And then I forced myself to take the day off and not think about it. (I have a lot of blogging, drawing, and knitting to catch up on.)(Oh, god, so much drawing!)
My blind hope when I started working on this book last September was that if I just trusted and typed out words that made English sentences, maybe something deeper would activate while I worked. I recommend this process if you’re interested in becoming more comfortable with uncertainty and don’t mind running around in circles for a year. It’s totally demoralizing, but in the end it kind of works. I also recommend Alan Watt‘s The 90-Day Novel, which totally spoke to me on the woo-woo level where I spend half my time anyway (though in my hands it became The 385-Day Novel).
When I started I didn’t have a plot, all I had was an interesting situation for two people to be in, a husband and a wife, with some sort of offspring (male? female? toddler? high school sophomore?) to be determined later. Almost as soon as I began writing I realized that the husband needed to be the wife’s character and the wife needed to be the husband. When that finally felt right, then the age (fifteen) of their child (daughter) suddenly became clear. Next, other characters began popping up and doing what they needed to do, situations began suggesting themselves and were duly explored, paragraphs were written and either kept or shelved, and third-person omniscient changed into first person halfway through and then back to third and I’m really not looking forward to sorting that out.
Some days I’d write 90 words, some days I’d write 2,000. Sometimes it felt like I was trying to build an air-conditioned birdhouse with no blueprints, or put together a jigsaw puzzle of the sky, or flex a muscle in my head that I wasn’t sure even existed. One day about six months ago I felt the barest glimmer of something new inside coming to life, and (I don’t know how to describe it without sounding like I’ve lost my mind) what I was doing suddenly felt so precious, felt so sacred, that I didn’t want to move or think or breathe for fear of scaring it away. I sat so carefully and gently, building my birdhouse so respectfully — because suddenly a bird that was supposed to be extinct was on my windowsill looking at me.
Along with that bird came a feeling that I thought was extinct. It felt like being in a kind of love. And I apologize for all of this if the book ends up being total horse shit, but it felt like finding the thing or the one who (perhaps? maybe? if I don’t push or get clingy and ruin it?) was going to fall for me, too, all the way. The feeling was completely mutual. It’s something that I haven’t felt for a very long time, not since I used to write poetry. It seems particular to writing, for me? It didn’t last for very long, maybe a day or two, but it was the luckiest, scariest feeling in the world while it was in bloom.
It faded a bit after that, but everything fell into a nice routine. I began to really trust myself now. It felt like I/we were building something with a lot of potential. Of course, there were times when I felt like picking a fight, or ignored it for days on end, but that all felt like part of the process. On bad days I was bored and just went through the motions. But I didn’t want to throw in the towel so I talked it through with a third party until I reached a new understanding. I apologized for being so distant, I resolved to try a different approach, to be attentive and adjust my pace, to take breaks when I needed them, but to keep showing up. And that’s how we made it work.
The Rules of Writing an Interesting Story say that you’re supposed to be throwing bombs at your characters all the way through so they can battle their way past every obstacle in search of their goal, their grail, their Rosebud, their Revolution, their Happily Ever After, and through this journey they refine their fondest wishes and grow and change and become worth following for 300 pages or so. Maybe that’s old fashioned, to tell a story like that, and that’s fine. I’m interested in seeing what happens when you follow those rules, and then maybe to see how far they’ll bend. As we all know, you need to learn the rules before you can throw them away, if you’re going to say anything new.
Now onto draft two! This post is too long! Here’s a photo from my dog’s Instagram account. Peewee always has something new to say.