December 7, 2011

On Writing Again

I've been a dervish of tidying, which I fear is connected to the book proposal I'm mentally writing.

I'm cleaning out, nesting, and battening down the hatches all at once, a mixed-metaphor precursor to finding within myself the necessary levels of stupidity and forgetfulness that will free me to enter into a new book project.

Easier to pledge to scourge yourself once a day with a metal-tipped flog. You might convince yourself that a scourge or two is pleasing to God; but you can't bullshit about writing a book. The process demands utter concentration and a powerful indifference to other people, spiked with intermittent blistering annoyance.

The writing, editing and publishing of my 2003 book was one of the three worst experiences of my life.  My husband Fred died a month after I signed the contract.  My sister died two weeks before the book was released.  In between I had to listen to an insufferable agent tell me that I needed to put Fred's death in the book "for balance."

Yeah.  That's what she wanted out of my husband's death:  balance.

At the time I was still having to remind myself to tie my shoes each morning; and I'm not a whore, so eventually I advised the publishing house that rather than include Fred's death I'd return the advance and reclaim my manuscript. 

The agent fell off the face of the earth (I'd been warned but thought it impossible in my case); the editor was let go from the company; the publicity person got fired; the in-house make-it-happen person left
to be an agent ; and the book became that most useless creation, a publishing orphan.

To round things off, George W. Bush threw a war and newspapers threw out the reviews of Grace they'd planned to publish in favor of big photos of shock and awe.

I put 70,000 miles on my car, showing up for every signing, Q&A, book fair, symposium, and retreat I could get myself into.  (For those of you who believe in the book-tour fallacy?  I'm still paying off that credit card.)  And then the United Methodist Church -- a major character in the book -- refused membership to a gay person, making a mockery of every sermon I'd ever preached and every statement I'd ever made about the Church's goodness, mercy, and inclusivity.

The entire process was like every other death you endure.  I've kept circling my wagons and seeking shelter in the center, near the campfire.

A bigger man might have written a new nonfiction book sooner, but a bigger man can't write with the beauty and wisdom and rhythm and authenticity and metaphor that I do. A woman might have done it, but (no news here) we are still a sexist society, and women with any sense read the book, wrote to thank me for telling the truth, and put the book back on the shelf, after wiping off their fingerprints.

Regret?  Yeah, baby. I regret every minute I wasted on that book.

On the other hand, I'm going to sue a number of copies in a piece of performance art, as soon as I clear up a few questions about outside burning in the county.  I read Fahrenheit 451 years ago and have reread it numerous times since. Of course I'm opposed to book burnings; but in this case it's my book, my match, and my decision.

Meanwhile, I've got this book taking shape in spite of myself.  I know the first three paragraphs; and I'm experienced enough to know that when I write them down, the next 200 pages will emerge like a river overflowing its banks.  But it's December.  I have things to do.  I'll continue to put this project off until I have no other choice.


Anonymous said...

I couldn't exactly tell from this December 7th blog if you meant you're sorry you wrote Grace; A Memoir. I'm not a bit sorry. I adored that book, still reread parts (told about the baby chicks to kids lately and your message about them as well) and mostly glad because I got to know you. From Gloria in Fort Myers FL. (#100 Mail Art)

Mary Jo Cartledgehayes said...

It's possible I was in a bad mood the day I wrote that post. But it is also true that I put my entire life, and my family's life, into a book that became untrue when the UMC changed its polity. I regret that I'm still weary from the level of sacrifice the book took. But I made the best decision I could at the time with the information at hand. And I don't regret the beauty I offered the world, or the faithful understanding of God. And thank you for your comment; I'm glad it continues to resonate for you.