The trouble with goals is that you’re constantly working toward what you used to want. ~Sarah Manguso from 300 Arguments
I keep this notebook of the memoir I’m working on, and it has sat collecting dust for the past two months because I haven’t really felt like working on this Big Project of mine. I worry sometimes everything I’ve done in the last year will sit too long. Like a tea bag that steeps too long and makes the hot water sour. If I don’t complete this thing, all the time I’ve spent will have been useless. Pointless. It’s not that I haven’t been writing. The jobby job brings quite a bit to the daily word count practice of writing, and I’ve participated in 74 days thus far of The Isolation Journals (I’m frequently one or two days behind, but I always catch up). I also record the passing of the day’s thoughts, such as they are, in my personal journal. So, if you’re keeping count, I’m writing in three physical journals right now. But this notebook has sat on the corner of a table next to my desk collecting dust. I wiped a layer of pollen off of it this morning. Whatever goals I had of where I would be now have disappeared. What I thought I’d have done; I’ve let go. Where I thought I would be is nowhere to be found.
I have, however, kept one promise and met one deadline with others. I have also kept and met one deadline with myself. I selected “The Kind of People Who Leave Dirt on the Floor” as my chapter for the anthology with my little writing group. I promised this group I would select a piece I wanted to work on more while meeting an aggressive deadline. Funny, now that I’ve worked in Start-Up-Land, what other people see as “aggressive” or “not a lot of time” or “a quick turn around” is actually quite a luxury. I don’t say a word about that, however, nobody cares. I take the time and get on with it.
When I got the file of my chapter from the editor, she had completely changed everything but three sentences. Maybe ten words out of three thousand were still in tact. Ten years ago, I would have collapsed into a self-loathing pile of flesh on the floor crying my eyes out with a file like this. Just the optics alone of so much red would have destroyed me. I made a promise to myself this time around I would write the best thing I could with everything these people taught me over the past year. I also made a promise to go with whatever the editor saw in my writing. Whether I liked it or not. A hard commitment for me.
Before I could even process how much she changed, altered, and rearranged, I clicked “Accept Changes” on every page. Deleted one sentence. Read her thoughtful comments about why she altered what she did. After about fifteen minutes or so of accepting all the changes, I reread my story and I liked it a lot more. It’s way better now. I chose this chapter because it’s the one I want to read aloud when we’re all finally together to celebrate this anthology. It’s the chapter that helped me see how I want to write about something else once this book is complete. It was the holy-fucking-shit-THIS-is-the-thing moment if you’re a writer. The fog clears and you see the next book in the distance. It’s like a one ton bell clangs. It’s a whisper to a scream. We are we are ever helpless…wait…that’s a song.
Okay, where was I? My book chapter. Of my unpublished book. Right. Here.
I don’t know this editor that well at all, but I like what she saw and created by rearranging my work into the story she wanted to read.
Today I returned to another chapter, and this is one makes me laugh. I’m using a letter form, but it’s something else when I post it here outside of the memoir. I think it’s a lie to say memoirs are true accounts of what happened. Memory, time, and all the challenges of who we are from hour to hour make creating a true record challenging. I’m comfortable with the essay, as a form, so I’ll leave it at that. Perhaps these are a collections of essays. For now, let this one be a blog post until it bleeds into something else. Becomes something else.
This experience with this editor made me think about how watercolor paints work. If you have ever seen the paint applied to water on paper, the color spreads and swirls seeming like it has a mind of its own. I have to admit, I love that about the paint, and as I’ve started to learn more about this style of painting, it’s surprised me that it’s the one aspect people dislike. You can’t control the watercolor paint. The ratio of pigment to water along with the pressure of the brush makes it really unpredictable. Hard to control. Impossible to predict. You can push and pull the paint in the water–and this is what I find quite lovely. You can guide the paint, but it’s really hard to know what it will look like until it dries. The way the paint runs or fades becomes part of the end product. I love that the finished product often looks like it’s a draft. A sketch.
I’ve painted the editorial process, and what I’ve learned, with broad strokes (hee hee). My mistake a decade ago was I wanted my words to stay the same and I couldn’t see an editor’s criticism for what it was; a push and pull to guide the story someplace else. I was too broken of a person to see my writing as separate from who I was. Who I was becoming. I don’t know, but I wasn’t open to the process like I am now. Maybe I’m less invested in the whole of being a writer and now I just write. Liberating.
This past week, a book arrived in the mail and I completely forgot what made want this book in the first place. Apparently I ordered a book from a bookstore that had it in stock, and it took so long to arrive I forgot why I wanted it. Who suggested it to me. Where I found it. I opened up the package, and I sat down and starting reading, and I read the whole thing in one sitting. The hours of that afternoon completely shifted into something else.
Here’s the quote that kept me:
Dutch dikes (dijiks) are arranged in threes–watchers, sleepers, and dreamers, named thus by their proximity of water. (same author and title from my epigraph above).
There’s something here with the connection of water, words, and watercolor paint, but if I don’t publish this post, I’ll keep trying to control it.
A quick note: Chapter 3 was written before well before the pandemic. Before the protests. Before I deleted my Facebook account, stepped way back from Twitter, and scaled down how much I’m engaging with Instagram. Understand that I can’t write a letter to my younger self–because I’m–we’re–still living through all of this.
The paint, so to speak, has not yet dried.