In my family, the changing of the wall calendar was a ritual. Every December, my mother hunted for the perfect replacement calendar for the upcoming year. Prior to the New Year’s Eve’s midnight feast, she’d set aside at least an hour to transfer the notable events from the current year to the new calendar: birthdays— complete with age, anniversaries with the years of survival, and all the important upcoming events like graduations, weddings, recitals. She didn’t want to forget anyone, or anything. Cool, I thought at the time. But after witnessing her struggle with depression and battling my own, I believe her calendar ritual was a way to remind herself she had something to live for. But her focus on the future also allowed her to avoid addressing the issues that, once resolved, could’ve brought happiness in the moment.
My mother’s calendar ritual lives on through me. It’s harder to hunt down the perfect replacement these days because schedules are logged on computers and phones, and hardcover day-planners have dwindled on the shelves in office supply stores. But I always end up with exactly the one I need. I transfer the appropriate information just as my mother did; then, once the warm Greek New Year’s bread is sliced and devoured with oodles of butter at midnight, I hang the new calendar on the back of my bathroom door— to remind myself every morning and evening of all the upcoming blessings in my life.
2020’s calendar is filled with inspirational quotes. March’s quote gave me pause.
Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go. ~Hermann Hesse
The novel that’s under reconstruction— see I Might Be Virginia Woolf, Part 1— immediately came to mind. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, I’m a huge believer in signs, just like Mos Def’s character in 16 Blocks. So, on March 1st, since the notes from my editor had yet to arrive, I wondered if Hesse’s quote had appeared to get me to drop the damn New Orleans story. What made me believe a thirteenth draft would be worth the time and energy? Especially, since the growing pandemic made me feel as if a tragedy set in the wake of Katrina was no longer capable of gathering interest. Perhaps, the best thing I could do was drop it into the circular file and move on to something new. That’s how real writers grow, by writing one new thing after another.
Jump to the editor’s feedback, and how I realized I’d spent eighteen years circling the wagons around the wrong story arc.
Fast forward through the last five weeks, where I deleted and reinvented scenes in order to build the outline of the story that’s the true core of my heroine’s transformation. At the end of each writing session, I was— as they say in the romances of old— spent.
In my exhausted state, I started to review the last eighteen years. All I could see was a writer whitewashing a story. Of course, in the crafting of each draft I believed the changes to the manuscript were huge and groundbreaking— at least for me; but those changes were nothing more than the inchworm shifts necessary to get me to where I am today— back to the beginning.
Have I mentioned my slow learning curve? I apologize if it bores you. But remembering reminds me to offer more kindness to myself as I persist.
Jump back to the revision prep, where even as I happily deleted little darlings, I still wanted to hang on to as much of the twelfth draft as possible. But the more I reviewed the embedded notes from the editor, the novel started to recircuit in my brain, and I began to make my own embedded notes in the Triaged Manuscript: what’s useful from draft 12, plus all the new chapters that needed to be written, along with each lightbulb insight regarding characters’ intentions, motivations and emotional depth.
By the time week five arrived, the whitewashed story no longer held my interest. In fact, I saw it as nothing more than a convoluted attempt to impress. I’m not saying that to garner praise because the person I wanted to impress most was me. For some reason, perhaps because of my naiveté, I believed with enough twists and turns the story would transform me into a writer with a marketable tale.
Turns out Hesse’s quote was a sign. A preparation for the task ahead. The full impact arrived last week. I was in the midst of finalizing the outline for the revision and embedding additional notes into the Triaged manuscript when my fingers hit some random combination of keys. The document not only became unreadable, all previous notes were lost.
Jump to Command Z, Command Z, Command Z ad nauseum until my panic was so great, I added Command Y, then switched back to Command Z until I was so confused only one choice remained. Stop.
Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go.
In panic’s wake, I let go of more than twelve drafts of the novel. I also let go of all the expectations wrapped up in it.
The novel transformed back into a story. Nothing more. It’s a different story than the one I dreamed up during the writing workshop that set this entire journey in motion. It’s the story I need to explore right now because it deals with all the shit I’m finally ready to exorcise from my life. And because it’s personal, it has a chance of being true— as long as I keep my head down and listen to my heroine. Her journey is clear. And the only events needed are those that lead to her transformation.
And so, unlike my mother, who lived for each year’s upcoming events, Kaitlyn and I will capture life as it unfolds in the midst of letting go— that visceral experience of life that comes in the moment after which everything is different.