Friday, June 5, 2015

About the Size of a Mustard Seed

Twelve years ago, my friend Karen spent Sunday afternoon reading 230 pages of Crazy: A Diary. At that time, it had another title and was still being culled from my many journals. She called me on Monday evening and said:

“I’m going on the book tour with you.”

Among the words she used to enthusiastically describe my work were “wonderful”, “riveting”, and “honest.” She had read up to the part where I fell apart and took a mini-vacation to Bryn Mawr, the part I had the hardest time writing because it showed my warts quite clearly. I told her that I did not always come off looking so good.

“But,” said my friend, “you come off as human.”

It was not the story I wanted to write. I wanted to write of God’s faithfulness through our many trials, how His strength had upheld me and kept me from falling, and I wanted a neat and tidy ending, a “happily ever after.” I wanted to come to the end of the story.

Despite Karen’s bubbling comments and support, despite the fact that other friends who read snippets assured me that it was a story that needed to be told, I resisted. I finished writing it, sent it off to a couple of publishers who said I had a lovely narrative style but the manuscript would need work to fit the current markets, and shoved it into a bottom drawer. I continued to write in my journals, but I figured that perhaps someday a fictional character with more courage than I would live the story.

I entered a doctorate program.

I wrote a dissertation.

I taught college.

I saw my husband through a whole bunch more surgeries and hospitalizations.

And every summer, during a bit of down time, I pulled the damned manuscript out of the bottom drawer and tried to rework it into something that didn’t make me look so vulnerable. So human. So full of warts. So lacking in courage.

I failed. It was what it was.

Last July (2014), I gave it one more try. I sat on my newly constructed back deck and read the whole thing. I cried. And I realized that my dream of being a full-time writer was being thwarted by my own inability to accept that I was, indeed, human. I loved the idea of being a writer, the notion that my words would lodge themselves into the lives of other human beings and became a part of those people I might never meet. I carry words in my head, words read in novels years ago. Phrases and beloved characters, images and descriptions, all are vivid to me. I live inside my head, continually attempting to achieve a balance between my outward and inner lives. Even while I am teaching and planning and cleaning and cooking and sitting in hospital waiting rooms, I am writing the scene in which my protagonist arrives at a crossroads in her life.

But I wasn’t writing what I was supposed to write. I was cowering behind the masks of created characters, letting them live my life. And so I decided to try and be just a little bit braver. I had read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way two years ago. I decided to “step out and wait for the net to appear.” I gulped, took a swig of iced tea, and started blogging.

Within one day, Crazy: Diary of the Well Spouse had 38 hits. The comments people left on my Face book page were amazing. One woman admired my bravery in sharing the journey, the story it had taken me 14 years to face. But sharing it felt right. Being human felt right. A friend even called me in tears to say. “I had no idea what this was like for you. I wish I had known. I wish I had done more to help you.”

In the last 10 months, Crazy: Diary of the Well Spouse has been edited and trimmed down and read in bits and pieces over 900 times. (My slightly cynical older son says perhaps one guy has clicked on it 900 times; I sure hope not! That WOULD be crazy! ) The title has changed to prevent a lawsuit with the Well Spouse Association who told me, very politely, they owned the phrase “well spouse.” Two weeks ago, I had dinner with my friend Karen. I handed her the proof copy of my book. She took it in her hands as if it were a piece of Waterford crystal and said, “I’m ready for the book tour.”

So am I.

Warts and all. All it will take is a little bit of courage.

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