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I’ve often thought that physical storms lead to mental ones. Which means if it’s raining or snowing really hard, I’ll probably go to sleep crying. I’m not depressed. In fact, usually, during moments when crying would be appropriate (funerals, public tragedies, anytime other people use Kleenex), my tear ducts buckle down, dry. There are two times when I can be counted on to become a mess: during sports-victory movies (Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken, Miracle) and during storms. Something about precipitation in the sky must create precipitation of the inner- and eye-related kind.
Last night was no exception. As 100 mile per hour winds tore across Loveland Pass, my husband Luke and I reserved ourselves to being trapped in the mountains longer than we’d planned. We had a place to stay stocked with books and board games, so it was more a mini-vacation than an inconvenience. The streets sparkled as two feet of black-and-white, It’s a Beautiful Life-style snow coated them. Inside, we played trivia, I curled up with a book, and we watched a Western. It should have been a perfect night. Instead, I refer you to the above equation again:
It was snowing. I ended up crying.
I’ve been reading Dave Eggers’s Zeitoun and that didn’t help—not only is the subject matter depressing (it’s about the horrible injustices that befall a Muslim man in post-Katrina New Orleans) but Eggers’s talent is depressing. In Zeitoun, Eggers relays one single, gripping story so smoothly, with such clarity of language, that reading his book filled me with the sad sense of envy that can accompany any self-comparison. I’m writing about New Orleans, too. When Zeitoun came out in 2009, I pulled it off a “highly recommended shelf” and for a half-second I was so bummed that a bestseller about New Orleans beat mine out the door, I actually felt like Eggers had stolen my idea. How could I ever write a book that would matter as much as his?
Last night, I held it together until I got in bed, and there, I was confronted with those niggling night caps of doubt and failure. I haven’t written for weeks. Even when I do write, nothing comes out the way I thought of it. (Blah, blah, nothing new here). When Luke came in to lie down, I thought I’d keep my crying quiet, but he could tell I was upset by the way my M’s came out as B’s.
I’ve been writing this book about New Orleans for what seems like all of my adult life. I’m young, so when I say that, I actually mean that I have been working on it for most, no, I guess it’s true—for all of my adult life: I’ve been writing this memoir for 10 years, from ages 18 to 28. Most of it, I wrote in bits and pieces when I lived in New Orleans from 2001-2008. Most of it, I lost. I wrote it again. Then I hated it and I wrote it again. Now I hate it and I’m writing it again.
Like most things I do, this project is neither moving along cleanly nor linear-ly. I’ve been working and in school ever since I’ve been working or in school. My book is like my car or my desk: even when I try to clean them up, I have too much going on for the façade of organization to last more than a few hours. I live messy. I write messy. Sometimes I feel like my book resembles a junkyard situated in a cool city: if you waded through, you’d find some shiny nuggets to bring home, but many of the words could disappear and go unnoticed. Really. I’m not looking for compliments here. If there were a sieve for writers, I would have waited in a five-hour Black Friday line for it the year it hit stores.
Anyways, I told Luke my two fears: that I won’t ever finish this book because reading other books about New Orleans makes me realize what it’s missing; and that if I ever do finish it, the book will never amount to anything. I married a good man, one who always says the right thing, quite possibly because he’s not always thinking of saying the right thing because he’s not a writer. He gave me three simple, but well-timed and honest pieces of advice—ones I’ve heard before, but I guess I needed a storm for them to settle into me. I offer these to you if you’re like me this time of year, weathering through an unfinished—or unstarted—manuscript, and turning over on your pillow so the other side of your nose can clog for a while.
1. The rocky road is where the insights come from (…whether ice cream or actual, he didn’t say, so I didn’t ask.)
2. You have time. You’ll be writing about what’s important to you until the day that you die.
3. The joys in your life will come from many other places, not just from the writing.