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Cloudy with a Chance of Crying

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.

Luke says:

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.

22 comments on “Cloudy with a Chance of Crying

  1. andreadupree
    January 18, 2011

    Oh, Meg-ly. Excellent post. I can SO relate to this right now (is it possible that Jennifer Egan, Jonathan Franzen, AND Steve Almond raided my hard drive and decided to shanghai all my material and disgrace me by handling it… five thousand times better than I ever could?). And am thankful to Luke (so glad you married this man) for his non-cheesy uber-helpful reminders to the less centered among us. Oh, that #3! Who doesn’t need to remember #3? Tell me one person. (Pass the kleenex.)

  2. tqtyson
    January 18, 2011

    Ah, Meg, I’m with you. The weather doesn’t make me cry, but writer-envy surely does. And, I know you’re not looking for compliments, but I’m gonna give you one anyway. I’ve not once heard you read that I didn’t think, “Oh my god! I have to read the rest of that.” There may have been some writer-envy directed your way, but I’m good at hiding my tears.

  3. andreadupree
    January 19, 2011

    Oh, crap. And now I have comment envy. I meant what TQ said!

  4. ilona
    January 19, 2011

    I confess, I have some writer-envy directed your way – not just for your words, but for your perseverance. 10 years on a project? So what if it isn’t done….you have not given up on it, either. That is huge.

  5. megnix
    January 20, 2011

    Right back at everyone else up there. Let’s all rejoice at envying each other! I think envy (or at least this kind) might be the knee-jerk reaction, but it usually turns to admiration. So maybe it’s a good thing–a motivator.

    And I meant It’s a *Wonderful* Life 🙂

  6. andreadupree
    January 20, 2011

    I’m sure y’all read this years ago when the Franzen/Chektovich thing was new, but this thread reminded me of the essay she wrote about envying him: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2003/jun/22/extract

  7. Emily Sinclair
    January 20, 2011

    Oh, Meg, I was so glad to read of your kindred spirit experience– and I laughed when I read that you hadn’t written for weeks and that it doesn’t come out right when you do–because I write *every day* and it still doesn’t come out right. The great question for all of us is, how do we get to that mystery place in our heads that we can envision but not seem to produce? Except that I’ve read the writing of nearly everyone who commented above and thought, I want to write like SHE does! And we’re off again on the round and round…..

  8. Cara Lopez Lee
    January 20, 2011

    I don’t know if you say the right things in your book, Meg, because I haven’t read it yet. But you’re definitely saying the right things for me here. I’ve been struggling with a chapter in my novel, when the others came out easily. I’ve had moments this week when I thought there was no way anything this hard to write was going to be much fun to read. I’ve had moments this week when I wondered, if the whole book is this hard, how will I ever finish?

    Then last night, I listened to Amy Tan’s TED Talk on creativity, and she said something about working on a story until you feel a transparency between yourself and the story. I haven’t felt the transparency yet, but at least now I’ll know what to look for and I’ll keep working until I feel it. Then today, I read your post, and realized that if someone as talented as you could be reduced to tears over the same things that reduce me to tears (I cry over Eggers writing, too, for the same reason), then there’s hope. And I thought of something I learned in Aikido: that the days when you’re having an off day and you train anyway, are when you learn the most. OK, so I stopped taking Aikido, but I started taking swing dancing – and that’s when I discovered the truth of that saying. After a day or two of my worst dancing, I usually have an epiphany and it’s better than ever. I trust the same will be true with writing.

    If not, let’s you and me go out and eat some rocky road.

    • megnix
      January 25, 2011

      I LOVE this–“The transparency between yourself and the story.”

      • Cara Lopez Lee
        January 25, 2011

        Me too, Meg. That’s all Amy Tan, not me. I’m actually finding the ethereal concept helpful in a concrete way as I write.

  9. ilona
    January 20, 2011

    Hey, Cara, well said, and if you do go out for some rocky road, I’d love to join you. 😉

    • Cara Lopez Lee
      January 22, 2011

      Thanks, Ilona. Mmmm, ice cream… I’m sorry, was someone talking about writing?

  10. Christy
    January 22, 2011

    Meg Nix: One day Dave Eggers will weep with envy while reading your words, just like I have, just like every writer who’s ever been in one of your workshops has. Honestly.

  11. Christy
    January 22, 2011

    Oh and if there’s going to be a Rocky Road outing, I definitely want in on it.

    • megnix
      January 25, 2011

      Me too!! Thanks, Christy!

  12. Cara Lopez Lee
    January 22, 2011

    Is it just me, or is everyone craving ice cream? Meg, Ilona, Andrea, Tiffany, Emily, Christy: I’m picturing a Rocky Road writing & eating girls night.

    Oh and I forgot to say this Meg: you probably don’t realize that I had to really work up the nerve to walk up and talk to you the first time we met, because I had read your writing & was already a big admirer. So there’s that.

  13. Cara Lopez Lee
    January 22, 2011

    Oops, I just realized that sounded as if I was suggesting eating girls. I meant rocky-road-writing & rocky-road-eating girls night out. You probably guessed that.

    • ilona
      January 23, 2011

      Sounds delicious to me!

  14. Brian Sheehan
    January 25, 2011

    Ditto on the Eggers comment, Christy. Plus I wouldn’t be surprised at all to find his name in the ‘advance praise’ comments on the backcover of Megan’s book!

    Too often I hold my writing up to the good-enough stick, using a measure of others as a gauge. With some writers, that leads to buckling my knees and giving up, at least for a little while; but then there are those whose words are like the strong arm of a friend that I can lean on and lift myself out of the muck. With Megan’s, it’s always been a turn of phrase or some penny-ante word like ‘niggling’ that keeps drawing my eyes to her writings. Niggling, gnawing, whatever you call it, who would have thought? But that’s what got me this time. (Okay. That, and the fact that on a post associated with the word ‘crying’ there were no comments from the male side of the rocky road!)

    As an eleven-year old boy I listened repeatedly to the song from ‘Free To Be, You and Me’ where I learned from one of Marlo Thomas’ friends, Rosey Grier, the hall of fame NFL lineman and former bodyguard to Robert Kennedy, that “It’s All Right to Cry” Indeed. That has not only helped my writing, but also kept me grounded an unashamed to want rear-back and let loose with a wail sometimes. And in the words of the song, crying takes the sad out of you. So come on, GUYS. It’s all right to cry. It might make you feel better.

    • Cara Lopez Lee
      January 25, 2011

      Well said, Brian. Thanks for having the courage to bring a male voice to the table. Admit it, you just don’t want to get left out in case we actually go out for ice cream. I can picture it now: Brian standing with his nose pressed up against the window of the ice cream parlor, crying… because he’s not afraid to share his feelings. 🙂

  15. megnix
    January 25, 2011

    Thanks, Brian. Here’s a secret: I think most women like men who cry. Not all the time, but when something moves them. 🙂

    • Brian Sheehan
      January 25, 2011

      Here’s a secret, by living with three women (i.e. one wife, two daughters — for clarity), I kinda knew. B-)

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