I heard something once, and I can’t remember where…but it was the notion that children, when they can’t sleep and keep demanding your attention…the glass of water….the “I can’t get to sleep,” and on and on….what is really happening is they didn’t get enough of your attention during the day, so they are unconsciously, (or maybe deliberately) trying to get it at night.
So when Seth came down, unable to sleep the other night, I didn’t send him back upstairs. We’d technically been together all evening, but I hadn’t really “been there.”
For the last couple of months I’ve been revisiting my memoir. It started with my friend Tanya, wanting to fictionalize it for her new publishing company, and with me taking it off the shelf, and looking at it, and liking what I saw after some time and distance. Initially I agreed, and then as I went through it, the thought kept coming to me…. “this isn’t fiction.” It seemed inauthentic to pass it off as fiction. A friend teasingly called me “a reverse James Frey.” Fiction seemed like a good idea to protect some of my family members. But it also seemed like hiding, and untruth, and shame. The more I wrestled with it, I knew…I couldn’t pass it off as fiction. Tanya’s vision for her company is to only publish fiction, so we parted ways on the project. She gave me wonderful suggestions during the process which make the book stronger, and I appreciate her so much for getting me into it again.
So I’ve had a lot on my mind. I’ve been doing intense research on self-publishing. It is no longer merely the domain of those whose writing is not up to snuff, and can’t get published traditionally. The publishing industry is in a big period of transition. The way we read books is changing. There are writers making very deliberate choices to go it on their own, and who are reaping the financial rewards, particularly in ebooks. There are other writers I talk with for whom the publishing industry’s stamp of approval still means everything. For a lot of good reasons, I’m not so sure I’m one of them.
I’ve been studying and absorbing and learning. And in the meantime, I sent a few queries out, and got a request for pages from one agent, but by the time the request came, it was almost a disappointment, so jazzed was I about self-pub. Have not heard back from that agent, so I am going forth with steps to publish independently, (and in doing so, evidently I’ve been neglecting my little boy).
So, instead of sending Seth back up to bed, I took him onto our screened in porch and held him on my lap in the plastic green Adirondack chair, the back of his head against my chest. We felt the breeze and watched the clouds go across, in front of the moon. We talked about stuff. Summer camp. My book.
“Seth, for a long time I put my book away. I kept thinking about Law of Attraction, and I thought maybe a book about my childhood was focusing on what I don’t want, and maybe I shouldn’t do it. I didn’t want it to be a big victim story for the sake of entertainment.”
He nodded, with understanding.
“But over the last year I’ve really started to believe the role of the storyteller is a sacred one in our society. Stories connect people. They cultivate empathy. If we learn from them, our stories can be very important. They can heal. There are probably a lot of people who had childhoods like mine, and feel shame about it. When they read a book like mine, they see they are not alone, and the shame kind of lifts. Books can do that.”
Seth snuggled into me more, and let out a sleepy sigh.
“And even people who didn’t grow up like I did, reading it might give them more compassion and understanding for others. So, I’m actually feeling good about the book again. I just had to clear some things up in my head.”
“Mom. How old do I have to be to read your book?” he asked.
“Hmmm….I’m not sure. How about we revisit it when you’re fifteen and see if you’re ready? It’s definitely too old for you now. Where I grew up there was a lot of swearing, and I write like people talk, so that’s in there. And there are other situations in the book you are just too young to read about.”
He nodded, okay.
It wasn’t so long ago the thought of my children ever reading my memoir had me frozen. I felt it would be too much of a burden for them to bear if they read it. I didn’t even let Todd read it, in any of its many incarnations (and there have been many) until last year.
Now, somehow, all that resistance is gone. This is my story, and I am entitled to tell it. Something in me feels compelled to.
The book is in no way an effort to punish my parents. I had to really get clear about that. I had to know it in my bones. And I do. I did not write it in anger.
I’m also finally at the point where I believe the book should not be held back in an effort to protect them. It’s interesting how children protect their parents, even at their own expense sometimes. Even as adults. My mother has given me her blessing to go forth with the book, 100%. I cannot say how much that means to me.
I worked really hard on this book. I lived this life. I get to give the story meaning, and turn it into something beautiful, and share it. That’s what artists do.
And what’s wonderful is I no longer feel like the insecure “girl” begging and wishing a literary agent would snatch me up. I feel confident my book will land where it is supposed to, and don’t feel super attached to the outcome of how many sales it generates. (Though of course it’ll be great if it sells like crazy and I would love that).
Seth and I sat there a long time. Talking. Watching the moon, and the clouds. Feeling the breeze. He sang me a verse from the hip hop version of It’s a Hard Knock Life. They’re working on it at camp. He’s even got a couple of solo lines.
We snuggled some more, and I wondered if for writers, our stories aren’t a bit like children, not leaving us alone, until we give them time to be heard.
Frankly, I don’t know how people who don’t write survive.
I’ll keep you posted…