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The Project Gains a Name

September 21, 2009

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Long, long ago, I sat down to write a novel. I hadn’t taken it seriously as an ambition until the moment I shuffled my chair back and forth, scree-scree, scree-scree, trying to assume the perfect Official Novel Writing Pose. I had no outline, no concrete sense of direction, not much to propel things forward except a last-minute agreement with a long-distance friend: that month, we were stepping out of everyday life, eliminating all but the most essential tasks, and cranking out  our stories without looking back.

For thirty-one days, that’s what J. did. It’s what I did, too. When it was done, I clipped the pages together, stuffed them into a desk drawer, and haven’t looked at them again. I know I wrote was pure heck, the exercise scorching the earth. Exorcising clunky ideas and pet phrases and cute little vignettes that darted like gnats, distracting me from the “real story” I want to tell. The problem is, I still haven’t been brave enough to tackle that one.

I think the time has come. Lately, I’ve been incredibly sad, incredibly angry, fed up with feeling let down. I’ve coached myself to have faith that most people are good, many are sweet, that there is someone for everyone, so to speak. In the absence of a supportive partner, I am the Little Red Hen: equal to the challenge of planting the seeds, tending the patch, reaping the wheat, milling the grain, kneading the dough, baking the bread, and then turning away those who want to jump in for a bite only once the work is done and the loaf is sliced. Also, I’ve coached myself that my heart is stout, my smile is lovely, my charms are many, and one day one day one day, the right one will come along.

I hate love stories; they make me feel a bit gaggy. I hate anti-love stories, too; they make me feel like shouting, “Oh, come on! The human condition is not that hopeless!” I hate plots that are propelled by people treating one another badly, where the tension boils from plain cruelty, where the people are distillations of simple, sad traits. But, I am drawn to the grotesque, the character at once hobbled yet impelled by a part of himself that he cannot deny, the character who is driven and retrained by the most passionate part of herself.

And so, cycling this morning through traffic and late summer air, I pulled to the curb and stuffed my sweater into my bag. Was about to kick off when a man deked around a parking meter to mutter, “You, you are a very beautiful lady,” then kept on walking. Similar things happened several times this weekend–dudes shouting from the windows of speeding taxis, men in the park calling out lewd things, one bartender pointing me out to another while a girlfriend and I dined, a clerk in a shop touching my hand as he passed me my change and, averting his eyes, telling me I smelled really nice. (As an aside, I agree–I smell fucking fantastic right now! It’s my new birthday perfume, which I bought on a whim last Thursday afternoon.)

An old friend came on to me the other day over poached eggs and coffee, and three men at the coffee shop–separate incidents, not working as a team–told me I look “hot”, or variations on that theme. This attention is largely meaningless but makes me feel strange; I don’t know what to make of it. It’s neither flattering nor offending. It doesn’t make me feel pretty, doesn’t reinforce something I already know or contradict hidden insecurities. I don’t feel good about myself because men compliment me, and wouldn’t feel worse about myself if they did not.

I don’t feel like these men mean anything by their words…and this is an interesting theme. In love, men have often told me things which, in my heart and with hindsight, I know they didn’t mean. Sounds to fill an awkward pause or expectation, words to keep moving forward when they wish they could apply the brakes. To end things with grace, only to have the truth come out later and trash the gentler, previously spoken explanation. Saying and doing, meaning and saying: things that pivot at strange poles.

And, at last comes the name and the boundaries and the core of my novel, the story I burnt that old ground to make way for. Three years later, it has struck me like a punch in the face, I am reeling from it still, and need to shake my head before shifting my chair, scree-scree, scree-scree, and settling down for tough work. I”m sure months lie between this moment and the one when I snap a bulldog clip around a stack of printed pages like in the photo above. But, as a teaser, and as evidence that this time the project really exists, its title came to me this morning, along with the opening scene.

“The Years of Being Your Idea of Me”…

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 21, 2009 2:31 pm

    I think that is a perfect title. I hope the writing is rough, nasty and exhilarating and the not-writing time is smooth and beautiful.

    I am sure that you have heard this over and over: You have to write a ton of terrible trash before you get to the good stuff. So, in that way, every terminated project, every cringe-inducing story is a step towards the project that makes the cut.

    I am thinking of you.

  2. Bronwen permalink
    September 21, 2009 3:39 pm

    Not sure if you’ve seen this already, but I think it’s a pretty interesting concept about “genius”. http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html

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