Wednesday, September 05, 2012

The Work: Two Years Later



It was almost two years ago to the day that I quit my sweet cushy job as the Creative Services Director for a national travel magazine in New York City. At the time, I had saved up enough money to live on for a year (or at least I hoped it would be enough for a year given the fact that I'd be paying little or no rent for a small apartment gifted to me by friends in Sonoma), and had big dreams of writing a novel, finishing the novel, publishing said novel, and then perhaps returning to New York City where I would go back to making a nice living, wearing pretty yellow heels, and working on poetry. Aren't dreams funny? Aren't they adorable? 

Despite having truly believed that I would be doing this all alone, having given up (I'm not being dramatic), on finding any viable partners in New York, or perhaps anywhere, the exact opposite turned out to be true. Five months before I left on my self-imposed writers exile to the valley I grew up in, I fell in love. He had been a friend for years and then, well, suddenly it seemed ridiculous that we hadn't been together the whole previous 6 years we had known each other. It quickly became clear that my journey to discover my inner fiction writer in silent isolation was going to transform into an entirely different kind of journey. 

Instead of spending all my time in California, I spent a lot of time in Kentucky, where my mister was working in the horse racing industry, having left New York City to follow his own vagabond dreams. Instead of locking myself in my cabin on the mountain, I now leave my office door open in our apartment (an old tobacco weigh station) in bluegrass country, so that our dog can come and go, and we can occasionally holler words of support back and forth down the hallway. Instead of shunning all my worldly possessions like some inconceivable monk of the written word, I started building a household. Instead of returning to our much-loved New York, we both decided we were marvelously contented (and a great deal more at peace) out here in the awesome nowheres. Instead of planning my life alone (and not unhappily alone mind you), we are planning a life together. All the obvious "what nexts" you might expect from a couple that fell in love in their mid-thirties and decided to runaway from the city where they made good livings are swarming around us like insistent needy bees. Instead of staying put in my little place of isolation and only writing my inner world, I've traveled extensively, verging on one big trip a month, including poetry tours that sent me all over the midwest and the northeast. In fact, I've traveled more in these two years than I did when I worked for a travel magazine.

And still despite all of these wonderfully unexpected things, a draft of the novel did come, and then another, and now I think we're on the fifth (though it could be 15, it's terribly hard to say what you should count as a draft or a rewrite). And a new book of poems is slowly forming, as well as new essays. All this is being done while I am supporting myself for the most part with freelance work as a writer, copywriter, speaker, etc.. It's been a good two years of being a gypsy, and a great two years of being a gypsy with my male-gypsy counterpart. 

But what I'm constantly shocked by, is the sheer mountainous work of it all. This may come as a surprise. As someone who has worked for magazines, and has written three book of poems, why would I be shocked that writing full time is a lot of work, to quote a good writer friend, a "shit ton of work"? The truth is, the pure self-discipline of it, the lock yourself in your room for hours of it, the don't hate yourself for getting it wrong of it, the if I have to throw this all away I will die of it, the if you don't tell me it's good I will kill you of it, all of that part of it, the pure emotional mess and wreck and wow of it was, and is, new to me. And it's terrifying.  For as long as I've been an artist, I have never experienced the pure, brutally intense work of day to day fiction writing. It's bring you to your knees humbling. 

Still, while you're crouched at the foot of the giant hairy fiction beast, ready to cut your heart out and give up, you still have to find a way to love yourself, to say, "Oh baby, you're doing great at this. It took so and so (insert many fiction writer friends' names here) ten years to write a novel, and he/she went to Iowa!" You still have to find away to go into your dark safe (and not so safe) place and keep creating, to love the mangy thing you've created and keep nursing it until it's healthy, despite its nasty tendency to bite. 

The other surprising thing to me, (you hear mothers and fathers say this about childbirth), is that people do this all the time. People are doing it right now. Look, that person right over there is writing a novel. And that person is writing a memoir because their life is way more interesting than yours. It's happening everywhere. Oddly enough, I find that extremely comforting. Look, he's doing it too! I'm not so crazy! I had lunch with my friend, the poet, Adam Clay last week and told him that despite all the evidence to the contrary, "I really believe that I can keep making a living as a writer." To which, he smiled, patted me on the shoulder, and went off to his job as an awesome professor because that's what smart writers do. 

In truth though, I am slowly becoming a smart writer too. And the past two years has made me even smarter. I'm smarter because I'm humbler. I'm no longer saying things like, "Oh yeah, I'm going to go write like an awesome novel and like, be back in the city in a year when I'm done." You don't take a year off to write a novel. Sometimes, you have to change your whole life to write what you love, the way you want to write it. Sometimes, you have to scrape by and let money troubles and insecurity and instability and anxiety in to your life and lie down with those poisonous pests and hug them because they're part of this fantastic choice you made. It's a lot like falling in love. Sometimes, you have change all your plans to make room for the best, biggest, messiest, sweetest unknown plan of all...your one lucky real life.  








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