Updated: Jul 24, 2022
After an absence this long, I’m almost embarrassed to post something again.
However, the absence was for a good reason, and since the year is half over at this point, this seems a good time to take stock of what’s happened.
First, the reason for the absence. I’ve been revising Vagabonder, and oh my god that was about the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. My agent, Stephanie Hansen with Metamorphosis Literary Agency, has been very patient with me as I’ve struggled to make my one, 140k-word book into two 80k-word books.
If you’ve ever poured your heart and soul into something, only to have to chop it up and reassemble it like a Frankenstein’s monster, you know how heartbreaking that is. I changed the gender of some characters, killed a few of them along the way, and completely revised the plot. There were times when I wasn’t sure I was even writing the same story, and there were times when I wanted to throw my computer through a window.
But it was the best thing I could have possibly done. Revising caused me to see the story more objectively, and the first draft represented my best writing at the time I started the book 6 years ago, it definitely wasn’t the best writing I can do. When I finished revising the first half of Vagabonder the weekend of June 16, I sent a stronger, tighter, and more polished novel to my agent. I emerged a more disciplined writer. I have a better understanding of how to use writing applications. And I’m just flat out a better writer. Taking these last 4 months to revise my first novel is one of the best steps I’ve taken to move my career as a writer forward.
It was hard, though, and not just because of the writing project. Writing doesn’t pay the bills (at least not yet?), and we have a lot of things to be accomplished on the farm. And these last few months have been just brutal with regard to what’s going on in my country. I’ve gone from being consumed by national news, to completely disconnecting from it, to being drawn back in because of yet another outrageous development in this ongoing political nightmare. I’m probably not alone in finding myself unable to function in a way that seems healthful both mentally and physically.
About three months ago, I started adding in a daily yoga practice in a desperate attempt to find something that wasn’t detrimental to my health and that could ease some of the anxiety and anger I was feeling. Although I’d been a runner for a few years, I’d been out of practice since my hysterectomy in 2015. And I hate running. Really. I got to a point where I could easily run about 3 miles, but I hated every single stride.
I started watching videos by Yoga with Adrienne without any real expectations for making it a long-term practice. She seemed like a good instructor, but my experience with following beautiful, skinny women through exercise routines on a long-term basis hasn’t been great. It only took a few weeks to get me completely hooked. Adrienne Mishler may be a goofball on the surface, but she’s about the most patient and genuinely supportive exercise guru I’ve ever followed. More importantly, though, is the slow change I’m seeing in both my body and my mind. I’m stronger, I feel more confident in my body, and I’m improving my ability to let things go that I don’t have any control over.
That last part is the hardest.
What can a writer do in the Age of …
I just can’t even write the name. Sigh.
When people and our institutions are being brutalized on a daily basis, how can a writer justify escaping into a fantasy world, indulging in what is essentially a selfish act of creativity? I should be marching, running for office, raising all kinds of hell. I see brave people doing all those things, and I deeply admire them. But those actions require talents that I do not possess.
What I can do is explore the issues that concern me in a way that may also connect with others who need that one book to open up a new way of thinking, a new way of seeing the world in which they live. That’s definitely a grandiose idea, but I think all of us want to make some kind of difference in the world.
James Baldwin said, “The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been hidden by the answers.” Now more than at any other time in my lifetime, we need this type of art. We need books and movies, music and series that challenge the answers being presented to us and get us back to the big questions worthy of being asked. We need artists. I can think of no better purpose for the last half of this year, and the rest of my life.
We’re 6 months into one of the most turbulent years in my lifetime, and I think we all know it’s going to get worse. But I also believe that these types of conditions end up producing some of the greatest works of art.
I certainly hope that’s the case.