i just finished reading a book called life would be perfect if only i lived in that house, by meghan daum. it’s essentially about one woman’s quest to own a house, set against the backdrop of other houses she’s lived in, and the story of her finally buying a house, and the relationships that ensue in and because of that house (that was a super long sentence, wasn’t it?). it has some kitschy charm, but it’s one of those books that makes me think maybe i should write a book, maybe about my kitchen utensils or some such thing, and it could be a big hit.
it’s born of the same urge that tells me i should be a doctor every time i go to the ER. it’s that feeling of observing a finished product and saying, “yeah. i could do that,” without actually appreciating the toil that went into creating that finished product. because, don’t get me wrong, i could be an awesome doctor. but could i be a lowly med. student taking orders from everyone on 10 hours of sleep a week? no way. could i be a resident doing all the scut work a hospital has to offer, getting paid next to nothing, and working 60 hours a day? nope. so yeah, i could be a doctor but in the land of reality i don’t have the currency to pay those dues.
i think there’s a similar phenomenon at work when it comes to writing a book. could i in theory produce a great finished product? maybe. in my finer moments i would answer with a resounding ‘yes!’- but the other day at the dollar store i saw one of my bad dreams in real life.
one of my all-time favorite authors- one of the most talented (yet perhaps unknown and unrecognized?) authors of our time, is thrity umrigar. if you own a library card, or have a friend who does, or better yet- if you have some spare cash you want to throw around- get your hands on one of her books. any of her books.
so guess what i saw in the book jumble on the shelf in the dollar store? a book by thrity umrigar. not a cheapy softcover that might have really cost $1. this was a real true hardcover book. and there were several copies, so it wasn’t a fluke- like someone was reading it and was so spellbound they couldn’t put it down so they brought it with them into the store to do their shopping but then their child fell out of the stupid undersized cart and had to be rushed to the hospital and in their hasty dash to the ambulance they left their precious book behind. no- this was an on purpose attempt to sell her books in the dollar store. i feel slightly sick as i type that just now…
the rescuer in me wanted to buy all of the copies and maybe give them out as gifts- anything to redeem them from the indignity of sitting on that dollar store shelf of shame. but not everybody loves good indian fiction, and we all know that i do love uncrowded space, so with a heavy heart i left thrity in the store (i’d make a lousy marine, i know). my only consolation is that i still wrestle with myself over whether i should go back and buy the darn books, which reassures me that i do indeed have a functioning conscience…
i will briefly digress here to tell you something mildly amusing. i tend to go through reading jags where i will latch on to a particular subject or author or type of books and then read piles and piles and piles of them. for a while, when i was going through my indian fiction phase, i would jot down words or phrases i wanted to know the meaning of. since *h worked in a company with an on-site tech department, he worked very closely with lots of very nice people from india. i asked him to ask a co-worker if it would be ok for me to send in my list for him to translate. he said it was fine, so *h gave him the list, and later that day the co-worker suggested we should all hang out some time. when i got back the list, i got a bit of insight into why he thought i might be a really fun person to hang out with: while a few of the things on the list were cheap indian snack food items, most were either curse words or sex terms. judging based on my apparent prurient interests in trashy novels, salty language, and raunchy pastimes, he must have thought i was one heck of a party girl! i guess that should serve as a cautionary tale somehow, but i haven’t figured out exactly how yet…
but back to the issue at hand- and that is my 1) fear of writing a book that winds up in a dollar store (i literally have exactly that fear!); 2) inability to stay with my true voice for any length of time before i start to wonder what this person or that person would think if they read it (which i believe is a killer of truly good writing); 3) lack of discipline/selfishness/commitment/? to carve out the time i would need to write an actual book; 4) unwillingness to hand over my writing- my personal stuff– to some person sitting behind a desk so they can cross out and rework and dissect and deconstruct me by deconstructing what i wrote (this last one may be largely irrational since a good editor will probably work with you and not against you. they will probably make your writing even better than you knew it could be. this fear is probably born mostly out of ignorance more than anything else); 5) plethora of excuses to hide behind rather than take a risk that i’d rather not take. let’s face it and call it by it’s true name: it’s easier to imagine i might be able to do something cool than to try it and fail.
isn’t that stellar?
this isn’t a pity party, and yes, it’s the opposite of what i teach my kids. but honestly guys, my kids are all potential. my kids are unfolding stories. they are fruits ripening on the tree of life.
i’m a wax pear with a few too many layers of dust sitting in your dead grandma’s fruit bowl that you can’t bear to throw out for sentimental reasons.
no- i just threw that last one in to keep you on your toes 😉
but really, i’m at the stage in life where there aren’t a lot of surprises left. truly, there ARE people who begin training for their first marathon at age 60, and i COULD be one of those people. i MIGHT write an awesome book in midlife, and honestly there’s no reason why not. but i don’t know that i’m as much aspirational as reflective at this juncture, and that just doesn’t provide the UMPH you need to kick-start a big project.
i have this weird thing where if something good is in the works i don’t like to talk about it because i’m afraid to jinx it. but a few months ago i was talking to some people at reader’s digest who were thinking about doing a story about the whole garden business. (on a side note- i sometimes meet people here who have never heard about the garden thing, and i’m always a bit shocked- i was so notorious in oak park- like america’s most wanted. here i’m just julie bass. i’m mellow me. it’s a reinvented smoother me. it’s kind of west coast groovy 😉 ) the article fell through- probably because i jinxed it by telling someone about it ;)- but the person i had been speaking to let me down gently by telling me that she’d really like to think about running it in the future. who knows- maybe one day i’ll do yet another cool thing? take THAT, world! 🙂
why do i bring this up here and now? because it really inspired me. i inspired me! during the interviews with the digest, i reread old documents and rewatched old news clips but this time with enough emotional distance that i didn’t break out in hives, and i was like, “go, julie!” that was a person i would want to know! that was a person who had spirit! that was a person i would want to be friends with!
and high from that high i wrote fan letters to both joel salatin (blog link is on the right side of mine) and roger dorion (KGI- link also on the side of mine, i think) and gushed to them in typical teenager fan/groupie style and then asked them both for advice about what to get involved in next. (haven’t heard back yet, and i actually found answers on joel’s website and in some of the interviews i’ve read subsequently with roger- but still kind of girlishly hoping that maybe they will write back one day…maybe i could, like, totally make a scrapbook or something… 😉 )
but that was the kind of thing that made me want to write. so i wrote on the blog. and that fills me up. and that’s awesome!
so, for now at least, this is my novel. you are my audience, and i don’t feel like i have to censor myself (although i do often feel a vague sense of guilt that i don’t try harder to use capital letters). you can read at your leisure, and i won’t even charge you $1.
and here’s another freebie book recommendation: cold zero by christopher whitcomb (but skip his fiction)
but start with the thrity umrigar. and let me know what you think…