I hate writing a novel. It is the stupidest quote unquote dream to have. Period. I wish, when I’d been sitting in Helen Nicholson’s junior advanced English class at Rocky Mount Senior High School that I had decided–instead of fulfilling my destiny as an alcoholic writer/adventurer with exotic lovers–to become a botanist. Or a lion trainer. Or a dental assistant. Something with a clear purpose, something that involves interacting with other animate objects, something–at the very least–that would ground me in reality instead of my own imagination, which is like being shipwrecked on an unknown jungle island for life.
It’s not going well, this novel writing. Not at the moment. If you have any romantic notions about being a writer or writing a novel or getting your vampire book published and making millions of dollars on the movie franchise and ‘tween merch, then let me just tell you that yesterday I spent six hours in my head watching four characters sit in a study lab and look back-and-forth at each other. I’m a grown woman. This is how I spent my day. Then I went to go see Life of Pi–by myself, which is a whole other aspect of my life right now that I am irritated about, all this loneliness. If you didn’t know, the movie is about writing, loneliness, God, and tigers—which also happens to be EXACTLY what my life is about right now–and I cried all the way home. Because, what?
You know, I’m not one of these people on the spiritual path who likes God all the time. I don’t. I don’t enjoy the spiritual path at times, like yesterday, when I’m confused and lonely and more or less the person who no one will pick for the team. Don’t feel sorry for me–that’s my job. It’s just the way it is because this is my path, and from what you guys have told me in phone calls and emails, you have these moments, too. God is working it out through me, and I’m trying to be humble and real trooper about it, but yesterday got to me.
So, I’m in the shower, I’m cussing, I’m ill as a hornet, and my feelings are hurt, and I’m willing to give up this idea of being a writer altogether. Just toss it out, and so I do. When I was getting my ass (read: ego) beat down in my early years of sobriety–this principle showed up in AA, Christianity, yoga, Buddhism, and some of that wacky New Age fun stuff I was doing, and again in Life of Pi: surrender and let go. Boom, that’s it. This principle is one of those Yoda-style riddles that is precisely, no confusion, the instructions for inner peace–1) surrender your ideas for how this is going to work 2) let go of the ideas and be open to what happens instead–and yet…seemingly impossible to do. No one can explain to you how to do it, you just have to try, fail, try, fail, try, succeed enough to know it works but not enough to master it, fail, try, succeed a little more, try, back slide, fail, go watch a movie by yourself and cry all the way home.
Sure, Yoda, let me just lift that X-wing fighter right out of that swamp muck. BRB.
So there I was, in the shower after saying awful, threatening, profane things to God, the love of my life, and I was literally staring at my belly button when I got to the surrender: fine, fuck it, what do I know, take the novel, take the writing, take everything and let me just be empty for you. The process leading up to standing in the shower watching Florida water and tears collect in your belly button hurts and, honestly, is just plain weird, at least for me, because nothing makes sense, especially myself, and I often consider the possibility that I might be truly insane. That never turns out to be the case, just as when I am lost in a new city, I never stay lost forever; I do eventually stumble upon the right way or get directions. Sometimes being lost is fun, but that is not the case at the moment, as I stare at a document called “novel draft,” all 166 pages, all 45000 words, and beg the four characters in the study lab to please do something.
Anyway, I don’t know what is going to happen. I may leave Logan Honeycutt and Salko Merdanovic and Mary Davis and Hannah Daniel suspended in perpetuity in the writing lab at Mercy Pass Community College. Maybe I’ll never get to see Mary confront her past as an African-American woman in rural Alabama with Logan, the Irish-American Iraq war vet cheering her on. Maybe I will never know if the earnest but conflicted English teacher Hannah will let Salko, her European poetry student, kiss her in the Carolina summer rain, what she wants more than anything but is afraid to have. I don’t know. Because in the shower last night I gave it all up.
Eh, crap. Who am I kidding? I’ll finish it, dammit. As soon as I wrote that above paragraph I knew I’d finish it–I have to, because I really want Hannah to let Salko kiss her in the rain, I really want to see Mary Davis bring the come-uppance to the history-revising villianess of this novel, the despicable Jennifer Hardaway. I’ll spend more days, more hours, more of my adult life trying to be patient with these characters who, for now, seem to be so into blinking. And small talk.
So what, then, did I release in the shower besides snot and tears? The outcome, I suppose. The pressure of desperately wanting this stupid novel-writing process to be over so I can move on with my life. Maybe? Probably some ideas that I had about the myth of myself that I’ve been steadily constructing since Helen Nicholson’s junior advanced English class when I realized that I was a writer and, by definition, could not be anything else to any satisfaction. Maybe I let go of some deeply rooted fears that my family will never understand me, that even if I never do anything important with my life I am still worthy of love; I am still worthwhile. How hard that last sentence was for me to write, so difficult to admit because confessions of that depth rankle my pride, but I did promise to be truthful, beloveds, and I have to see that stuff in my own words from time to time.
There is a tiger in my life now, Sam, a rescue who lives up in Punta Gorda with my friend Jim. Those of you who are friends with me on facebook have seen his picture and a short video of him eating a pork shoulder. I didn’t know I’d ever have a tiger in my life, and there’s also a wolf, Bear, who is 1/4 Alaskan sled dog, but you wouldn’t know it to look at him. The tiger sleeps at my feet when I go to visit him, and the wolf has a tickle spot between his ear and jaw on the right side, and he will positively fall out if you hit it just right when you’re scratching. In Life of Pi, one of the spiritual questions is about whether or not animals have souls, and Pi concludes they do, despite his father’s teaching that we only project ourselves into what we see in their eyes. Animals, and our connection with them, is moving into my life, and some of the importance of writing that I’ve created has to go to make room for it. I imagine some of that importance, which, let’s face it, is ego, probably washed down the shower drain last night, too. Hope so, anyway. I’d like a life that was full of animals, and language, and love. That’d be perfect.
When I moved to Florida, my purpose was to return to the wild, to write, to see what would happen. The antidote to the confusions and self-pity and loneliness brought about by the frustrations of writing a novel is gratitude, I suppose I’ve heard most people argue that gratitude is the Way, it is the method of practicing peace, inner and outer. Sam and Bear remind me about gratitude, and I can promise you animals have souls. Whether or not they show them to us is their choice, and this I have learned from friendships with a tiger and a wolf.
I am grateful that I’ve had the experience of watching a tiger fall asleep at my feet because it puts life into perspective for me, the same way feeling the wire of wolf hair under my palm makes me grateful to be alive. It’s humbling to connect.
These moments are not of my making, only of my willingness to say yes to an opportunity to be with these animals, and they are not of my imagination. But they are of God, or at least my understanding of God, and how the blessings show up in miraculous moments. Sam’s handler has suggested I write Sam a country love song, after I confessed in an email that Sam had a hold of my heart. You would probably be embarrassed for me if you knew how much time I spent thinking about Sam, about Bear. I hope in the blog after this one to go into more detail about them and the African Grey Congo parrot, Lucky, who has befriended me at the Skunk Ape Center. But I will tell you that I did get my guitar restrung, and I’m seriously considering writing a love song to a tiger, just to see if he would like it.
This blog entry has been a trip for me to write. I miss you all so much being down here by myself, and you know that part of the reason I keep up this blog is to connect to you and keep me grounded somewhere in writing that a few people actually read. I started this blog upset about my life and ended up profoundly grateful, which I think is a micro-lesson in why I have to keep surrendering. I can’t appreciate being in love with a tiger if I’m too busy being tortured about how stupid it is to write a novel. And I remembered that I have a love song to write.
night night, beloveds. To your tigers and wolves, and all the things worth writing about.