Metaphorical Matches

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Photo by Matt Malloy. Used with permission.

“If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.” ~ Anne Lamott

Even when you think you’re done writing a book, you’re not done writing the damn book. It was also Anne Lamott who said “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first draft. You need to start somewhere.” She wasn’t kidding—though she might have said shitty draft.

I’m spoiled by the instant press I have had at my fingertips for literally more than a decade. I think it, I write it, I publish it. For this book, it took 35 days to write my shitty first draft, and then four months of near constant revision, pain, adding, pain, editing, pain, refining, pain, revising again…

Yesterday I finally hit a wall and realized I just have to trust myself. I admit, I didn’t realize that until I called my editor in a teary panic from the grocery store parking lot, and he talked me off the ledge. But he was right—I have always trusted my own writing, my own voice, and my own experience. The fact that it’s a book instead of a blog post can’t be any different. I mean, it is, but you know.

So I wrote what was real. I hedged up against the impulse to clean it up. I fought with myself to write what was true, even when it hurt. I met myself as I dug into each uncomfortable realization that surfaced. I fought the impulse to shy away from places where I found my own faults and I leaned into the light to find beauty I had always unknowingly stepped over . I found more than I was looking for and far more than I expected.

I appreciate the work of the myriad of people—and their are many—who make books a reality. They have helped me be a better writer. I also understand now why every writer thanks their Editor in the beginning of every book. Every. Book.

Your Editor is your lifeline during the crazy-making time of mining the depths of your life for your material. Your Editor is who talks you down because you can’t stop fixating on this one paragraph. Your Editor is who calls you from home when you hit the inevitable point in every book where you think your writing is garbage and you should just do the world a favor burn the entire manuscript. Your Editor is who fishes the sheaf of papers from the fire if you’re dumb enough to actually light the match.

I’m grateful my matches are all metaphorical.

And I’m grateful for my Editor.

(The book will be here soon.)

…bounce…bounce…bounce…

Spring

When we left for Ohio five days ago, the trees still rattled like wet bones, their marrow quickened and promised, but not yet burst forth.

I return home to find the color green has been born.

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Happy Birthday David

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The other day I was in a store, and I walked by a display and caught the scent of amber and sandalwood, and you were right there next to me. Scent does that, you know—just like the perfume of jasmine floating on the wind takes me back to the seaside, sitting on the trestle with you while we watched the sunset, talking about God and the paths of severity and mercy. I don’t know who I would be without you.

Jon, with his vast and generous heart, recently suggested when I refer to you that I do so as my “late husband” instead of as my ex-husband. I was perplexed at first—we were divorced when you died, and I do not claim the space of widow. I know I looked confused, and he continued, explaining he felt referring to you as “ex” somehow diminished the deep and complexly beautiful relationship you and I had created with our lives. I’ve been thinking about that a lot. While our marriage dissolved, the bonds between us simply continued to transform, as they did our entire lives, and am beginning to suspect, they continue to beyond the veil of your death.

You always told me to write, so I started to do so seriously this year. In the first few weeks of 2017, I wrote a rough draft of my first actual book. It’s a tiny slice of our story, the sadder parts and how they transformed us. I cannot write your perspective, so I fear it’s mostly from mine, but the responsibility of painting you as a whole, complex person—despite how things looked from the outside—weighed heavily on me.

I want to attempt to tell more of your story, if nothing else so the kids will have a fuller picture of their father. Abby has so little functional memory of you, Bean only a little more. Jeffrey remembers the most—but those memories are fractured, dotted with sorrow and terrible images of overdose and loss. They are incomplete. The kids didn’t know the David I knew, and I want them to know why I loved you, and how remarkable a man you were before the demons chased you down and the physical world broke off pieces of you. I know this is pretty much an impossible task, but if we’re all stories in the end, who else can even begin to tell yours if I don’t? I hope I have your blessing, I hope you’re with me in some small way; I cannot bear the thought of your stories never being told.

We’ve decided to celebrate your birthday every year with a dinner you loved- Papa’s Pappas from Hobbee’s and Red White & Blue power smoothies. Then we’re going to walk to 7-Eleven and get a Blue Thing, while we tell stories about you. Last year, it was a lovely night, and we laughed a lot about funny stories, and there were a few tears, too. I hope keeping you a normal part of our lives will help the kids as they continue to process your death.

We miss you. Every day. Happy Birthday, dear one.

Tracy

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Fini

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On December 31, I sat down to begin a narrow-focus memoir covering 2009-2012. My editor told me I had a 6-9 month window, and I felt like I was ready to begin. So many of those memories had been radioactive for so long that I couldn’t go near them—but finally, time and place had formed so that I was safe enough to try.

It was like removing the keystone from a Roman arch. There was no gentle mining of memories; once I removed the key, the entire building came down, and I couldn’t stop it, I could only make myself the doorway through which it all flowed. In just under 35 days, I wrote nearly 67,000 words. This morning, I submitted the epilogue to my editor.

The feeling of being washed-out and exhausted permeates me. At the same time, I feel sanctified, as though there were forces unseen moving through my hands I was little more than the conduit, and the emptiness contains a sense of being whole again.

I do not know what comes next, but I need an Excedrin, and I need to check on my family, because I have been time traveling for a month and I miss them. Mama’s back.

Mid January

Two weeks and more than 30,000 words—100-plus pages—have poured from my mind into my computer. I still don’t know what it will all amount too, but it’s coming out. Doing deep dives into memory, talking to friends who were there to verify times, places and happening, and then spilling all the emotion onto the page. It’s catharsis.

I hold hope for the seeds planted these winter days.

2017

It’s 6 am the second day of the year and I am up alone, in my office. The sky is grey and dim out the window, the barest hint of the day on the horizon, silhouetting the bones of the dormant deciduous trees in the yard. If it were a Bob Ross painting, it would be a cool little winter scene using pthalo blue, liquid white, and van dyke brown. But there would a little golden light on in the tiny cabin.

My heater is at my feet, warming my space while the rest of the house still sleeps. I can feel the deep, rhythmic rumbling from Tiberius, snoring on the floor in the boys’ room.

My mind is overflowing. I’ve been writing. Seriously writing, more than I have in years, and while I am just beginning, it’s as though the tiny chink I chipped from the dam unleashed a flood. I go to sleep with words swirling around in my head, and I wake up with paragraphs and memories and sentences that require me to rise, and get them out.

There’s no telling  what’s good seed and what’s chaff, I suppose that’s to be sorted out later, but I’m more than a little surprised at the deluge of words cascading over me. I wasn’t prepared.

New York City, Part II

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So… Jon’s and Jeffrey’s Christmas present was their trip to Green Bay to see the Packers play at Lambeau. My Christmas present? I got a weekend in New York City! Jon held down the home fires while three of my girlfriends and I met in Manhattan to celebrate one of us having an important birthday. It ended up being an absolutely fantastic weekend.

Until this year, I had never set foot in New York. This year, I have been three times, and I am utterly won over, and I can see why people fall in love and move heaven and earth to live there. I still don’t think I’m a city dweller, but I can absolutely see the appeal- and if I were younger, and sans kiddos, I’d be easily swayed. I love walking everywhere, taking the subway, having everything, at any hour, at your fingertips. It’s a crazy, enticing, swirling, amazing place to be.

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This is the cheese counter at Mario Batali’s market. I stood there, the old California cheese commercial from my childhood running through my head, imagining if I won the lottery (if I played the lottery) that this would be one of my first stops. I did by a small wedge of Vela dry jack and carried it with me all day, snacking off it.

Midtown was a mess because of the Secret Service detail now assigned to protect the (unfortunate) president-elect. Part of the congestion was just Christmas foot-tragic, but here were also extra police, barricades, and a heavily armed assault presence visible. It was a little disconcerting, to be honest.

We went to Trinity Church for Sunday services, and were fortunate enough to be there for the fourth Sunday of Advent. I wrote up how I felt at BCC, if you like that sort of thing. It was stunningly beautiful, and we visited the famous inhabitants interred there prior to the service.

We walked about a million miles, managed to see two Broadway shows (because I know amazing people who have amazing connections, and I am so freaking lucky!), ate amazing food (street and otherwise, because serious, is there better food anywhere?), and spent a cold afternoon at the Met. The museum, not the opera. And I may or may not have burst into tears in the early twentieth-century American arts and crafts wing. I need about three days alone in the Met, just for future reference. One afternoon doesn’t even scratch the surface- I never even got to the paintings!

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But we had to be back towards midtown, where we had another show to catch that night, and it was pretty important…

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Yeah. I know. I know its not fair. I know. I do feel bad. I did honestly ask if there was another friend who might deserve the ticket more than me… but when it comes right down to it, you’d have probably said yes, too. I don’t regret sharing this experience with my amazing friends, celebrating one of their birthdays, crying and laughing together, getting late-night dinner after the show at Juniors. It was such a beautiful New York night.

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