Some years ago, Hubby and I were invited to an artist’s house for her annual studio sale. There, we feasted on wine and snacks, enjoyed some charming chamber music from a string quartet, toured the artist’s delightfully quirky Victorian farmhouse, and met splendid people (including the artist herself). I bought a couple Christmas gifts and a kitchen sponge holder that I’ve trucked through three moves until we finally bought our house in 2012, where it sat happily on our sink for the past three years.
The piece had broken three times before. And because I loved it, I mended it patiently each time, hoping that this break would be the last. The memories of that sweet little date night brought me a spark of happiness, and I hadn’t been able to find a replacement that functioned as well or was nearly so beautiful. So each time it broke, I picked it up, took it to my studio, and glued it back together. Then, after letting it set, I’d return it to its role in the kitchen.
Then I dropped it in the sink yesterday. It broke. Again. Finally, at the fourth break, I decided I had to be done with it. I can only mend a thing so many times before I have to accept that, no matter how much I love it, the thing is just going to break on me, over and over, and become more fragile with each mend.
And I stood over the sink where I’d dropped this stupid little sponge holder and cried. I cried so hard that I had to sit down on the floor and catch my breath.
Because I realized something awful. I realized that’s where I am as a writer right now. I’m standing over something that’s broken, and I’m not sure if I have the emotional strength to pull myself together again, mend the break, and try to make something useful of it.
You must understand. Writing is breath to me. I’ve been telling stories since I could string a halfway sensible collection subjects, objects and verbs together. I’ve probably been telling stories since before that, because as a baby, I was a babbler. I didn’t care that no one understood; I’d talk to anything that would sit in front of me for thirty seconds and listen (including my audience of stuffed animals). Stories are in me. My dad would probably say that they’re as deep as my DNA, with a cultural heritage that goes back to the Eddas and Beowulf.
So I can say what many would say when asked. I write because I must. I write because it’s how I exist.
But I haven’t written anything of consequence in months. Maybe longer.
It’s not for a lack of ideas.
I’ve begun throwing the ideas away. Sometimes I reject them with an actual gesture of disdain as they come. Because what’s the point? Whenever I indulge an idea, I get a spurt of a few hundred words of productivity.
Then, I return to it later, attempting to squeeze something more out of it, and I feel as if I’m trying to wring blood from the Brooklyn Bridge.
Or worse yet, I get something “finished” and look back at it and realize the mortifying truth: I can’t look objectively at any of my work anymore. Time away doesn’t help. Nothing helps. I can’t see my own work anymore for what it is.
A part of me blames my goddamn book.
I finished a hundred thousand word epic, a behemoth that follows a monstrously feminine demigoddess across centuries.
But when I finished and started looking for readers, I passed a digital copy to over thirty people whose opinion I trusted.
Months went by. Years, even. No one read it.
I began to believe that maybe no one was interested. Or perhaps worse yet, maybe they had read it and it was so bad that they didn’t want to tell me how much they disliked it. Maybe I’m just that awful (on every level).
I think that’s when I started looking at my writing this way. That’s when I started disbelieving my own acuity. I can look at anyone else’s work with an appropriately critical eye and tell you why and how it’s good or inadequate. But my own work? It may as well be in Sanskrit.
Now I’m left with a gorilla of a book and a pile of half-stories sitting in the dark corner of my mind that I try to shove under the couch cushions so I don’t have to see my own inadequacies.
I try to go back to the draft, but every time I open it, I can’t get more than a few pages in without drowning in hot tears. I've edited it a number of times, but it still feels as broken as the unfinished stories.
I was published earlier this year. A story I never imagined would even appeal to anyone about a squirrel and my dad that was a backwards tribute to both Dad and Bartheleme. It was adored. But instead of being overjoyed about it, I asked myself what was wrong with me. How could I have misjudged my skill so badly? I didn’t put a word on paper for weeks.
I’ve tried other avenues, and I’ve created what, some people have said, are beautiful things in the process.
They’re nice. I’m proud of them. They express another facet of passion, I suppose. But they’re not what I dreamed of doing when I would lay crosswise on my bed and stare adoringly at their spines…
…when I’d watch them like one would watch a lover, envisioning all inside them that made me adore each and every one, and think about the worlds spinning in my own brain. When I’d imagine my own name on a spine someday, inspiring a girl like me to spin her own worlds.
But I’m beginning to feel that it’s not going to happen, that my stories aren’t worth telling. And while admitting it feels like cutting off my arm, I am beginning to wonder whether I have the right to be writing at all.
So, why do I write? Because I must. Because I breathe. Because I experience. Because it's been a part of me since before I can remember.
But I don't think I deserve to anymore. I don't think I'm worthy of the stories I want to tell.
I’m sorry. This isn’t inspiring. But it’s all I’ve got. I’m this broken, useless thing, staring at more broken, useless things, wondering how I’m going to exist without them, ugly or not.
I have no answers. Just a hopeless pile of clay and tears and an orphaned monster left to roam the countryside in search of a friend.