It’s raining outside; quiet and grey at six am. I’m on the couch by the big windows, snuggled under a blanket, my laptop on my lap, and oversized mug of coffee and blueberry muffin nearby. Suzy Meow Meow sleeps by my shoulder. I woke an hour ago to the sound of sobbing and ran downstairs to see who had had the bad dream. But the house was still asleep, every room peaceful. It must have been in my head. There was nothing to do but write.
Yesterday I finished my book. In the evening, I wrote and submitted a final report to the Alberta Foundation of the Arts, the organization that funded its creation. The day was one of auspicious signs. During the final proofread of the manuscript, the lamp next to me shattered. A symbol of shattering illusions, of expectations, of a self-imposed ceiling? As I hit ‘send’ on the final copy, a knocking on my office window. A bat hit the glass and then settled on the fence opposite me, as if just in time to share the moment. I know why you’re here, I thought. It’s time to start the new book, the one I’m scared to write. Take courage, Batty says, you were born to face the darkness.
To say this book is “done”, however, is somewhat misleading. It is done in the sense that it is complete, having been written, revised, edited and proofread about a million times. It is done in the sense that all the promises and objectives I made in my AFA grant application have been achieved. It is done in the sense that anyone could read it and be taken from A to B and back again, all things circling back around. But a book is not really “done” until it’s printed. The manuscript has been submitted for reader critique and in the fall I will tackle the changes my reader suggests. After that I will no doubt meet an editor who will request new revisions, which I will strive to meet. Then, again, there will be proofreading. And hopefully, finally, then: it will be “done.”
But here’s what it felt like when I hit save yesterday:
I exhaled. I exhaled so deeply it felt like I was ridding my lungs of air held for five years. I put all the files littering my computer desktop into one of two folders: 2017 Book Notes or 2017 Short Story Collection. I took the chaos of tacked story notes off my walls and delighted in the empty space in front of my desk. I packed these notes between the torn pages of the moleskin journal I have kept nearby for months, the one that caught handwritten notes when ideas arrived while I was in bed or cleaning the house or away from the computer, and I put the package high up on a shelf. I looked around my office and tidied away empty cans of sparkling water, folded a blanket that had been tossed to the floor, vacuumed the broken glass. And then I began to shake.
I began to shake so much I had to cross my arms to hold myself together, goosebumps peaking under my palms. I felt a little sick but happy, like I was standing close to the edge of a cliff, but on a beautiful day. My heartbeat was slow and there was a bitter sweetness to the pace. I felt as though someone loved but difficult had gone away after a lengthy visit. I imagined, perhaps, parents dropping a child off at college might feel a sensation similar. So many hours, so many years. So much work and effort, pride, trepidation, hope, and yet an undeniable sense of something meaningful lost, ended. Thank god that’s over and Thank god that happened can both be true statements at the same time. I took the dog for a walk just to move, shake off that energy. The sun was hot at seven pm and I lifted my face too it, savored it on my legs and arms. I felt – I feel – new.
I heard an author once laugh over the question of which of her books took the longest to write. “Well, the first one, of course!” It had taken her whole life up to the point of its birth. In my case, But for the Streetlamps and the Moon and All the Stars took me thirty-one years to create.
While I wrote constantly as a child, I didn’t write in adulthood until my pregnancy with Eldest, during which I wrote The Joy of Being Kicked. After her birth, I abandoned writing for two and a half years, until my pregnancy with Littlest, when on a whim I revisited The Joy of Being Kicked and it became my first publication credit. I wrote steadily since that moment of secret editing – embarrassed at first to even let my husband know of my lofty hopes. But write I did; mostly crap for about three years. The babies grew and so did I. Things started to sparkle. Littlest started playschool and stories were published, a couple of awards were won. In the year Littlest entered kindergarten, I received my first grant, began writing fiction full time, both won and aged out of the WGA’s Youth / Emerging Writer Award. In 26 days, she starts grade one and I have a book, ready and waiting.
It is the end of an era.
It is the start of something new.