It’s been a while since I’ve spoken about my novel, and there’s a reason for that.
Recently, another person informed me that they were unable to read my manuscript and provide me with feedback.
That’s the second time that’s happened to me in the last two years.
The truth is I am incredibly grateful that anyone would even consider reading my work during its not-so-pretty stages. And the truths is, I know they are being sincere and honest with me when they tell me that the events in their lives are so overwhelming that they simply have not been able to dedicate time to reading my work.
I do not blame them for this. After all: I am the one asking them for the big favor. I am the one asking them to cut out a huge chunk of their life (a huge chunk that probably could be used to realize their own dreams) to help me realize mine.
(And, honestly, I really should’ve passed my manuscript on to more people. It’s just so precious to me that its hard to hand it over to people I don’t absolutely trust.)
No, I just have to admit that this is just part of the journey. Maybe not a typical part of the journey, but it is certainly an important part of my personal journey that I just have to accept and deal with.
In order to deal with this current obstacle, I’ve been thinking a lot about what led me here in the first place.
I’m doing this in the hopes that by remembering my initial motivations, it might keep me patient and eager to keep trying.
You see, it’s been nearly four years since I first began this journey and, as I look back, I realize there was so much I edited out of my story when I initially told it to you.
I think it’s a good time to recovery some of those parts now:
How To Write A Novel During The Great Recession
I never told you what it was like after I had lost my job four years ago. How, as I was trying to find work, it was writing my novel that kept me afloat.
I lost count of how many resumes I sent out and how many “no, we are not hiring right now” responses I got. I lost count of how many interviews I had where the interviewer was cold and harsh toward me.
There was one job interview where the person interviewing me just stopped listening to me. His eyes glazed over. He looked past me, through the glass wall of his office, to stare at the lobby where a long line of people had gathered. I remember being so offended for being rendered suddenly invisible by another human being. But I now realize, looking back, that the interviewer had probably “checked out” because he knew he would be turning most of those applicants down—including myself—and he couldn’t bring himself to face that reality.
This was 2010, what was arguably the lowest point of The Great Recession. This was a time when folks like myself were desperate to find any job no matter what the pay, or what the hours, or what the job description. When hundreds of people, of all different back grounds, from college grads to ex-managers of recently collapsed businesses, were trying to land a single sales job at a local Barnes & Noble.
This was a time when we were all on edge, and the economy was so delicate, that a computer glitch or a single tweet was enough to send the stock market plunging.
What kept me grounded during that time, was that, at the end of the day, I could sit down and write one more chapter of my novel.
It was a little thing, but it meant so much to me.
As I look back at that same year, I realize that I also edited out the part where I tried to forget all about Y, my ex. I remember throwing away an album filled with pictures of me and him, some of my most cherished photos of us. There was this one photo of me and him standing next to each other at Half Moon Bay. The picture was taken at sunset. I remember how me and Y whispered to each other that day about how we never wanted that moment to end.
But I threw that picture of us away in 2010, along with so many others of us together. I performed this ritual in the hopes that, somehow, it would make me stop loving him. (For those of you who have been paying close attention, you know that, unfortunately, that ritual didn’t work.)
Back then, in order to sooth the pain of missing Y, writing my novel was one of the only things that kept me sane.
As I look back, I realize that I also edited out the part where it was my mother who was the one who struggled from depression. I think I didn’t share that part with you because it was hard for me to accept the fact that the person who was such a loving and supportive caregiver when I was growing up, had suddenly become completely absent during one of the most difficult and scary times in my life.
Depression, a terrible disease, had taken her over, and as I tried my best to take care of her, I had to learn one of the hardest lessons of my life: that I had to take care of my needs first, before I could help someone else with theirs.
During that time, my novel was the thing I felt I needed to take care of first before I could take care of my mother.
How Our Past Can Redeem Our Present, and Therefore, Secure Our Future
As I sit here, recovering all of these bits and pieces of my story, I realize what a dark and frightening time “four years ago” was.
These days, I see others going through their own crisis, similar to the one I was facing back then, and I reflect on how unfair life can be.
For instance: I know that although I am currently fully employed and doing well, there are many out there who are not so lucky. And I feel for them.
Because I know what it was like. How lonely it gets. How frightening. I know the panic you feel every time the gas prices go up because you don’t know how long you’ll be able to afford it. I know how it’s like to go out to dinner and frantically search for the cheapest thing on the menu; and seeing all your friends carrying the latest smartphones, while you pull out your rinky-dink old cell phone from the last decade (unsure if you’ll have enough money to sustain even that crappy phone for another month). I know what it’s like to be scared of what might happen if you get sick, because you don’t have health insurance. I know the sinking feeling you get in your stomach when the collections agencies keep calling and you have to tell them, once again, that you don’t have the money to pay them, because you can’t find a job.
I know what it’s like to have no money to do anything… except write a novel you don’t know anyone is ever going to read… and just dream of a better life.
And as I reflect, I can see that as much as we try to erase the vital parts of our past, these parts seem to always come back to us, forcing us to make more sense out of them. Maybe we can’t escape the past, but maybe we can recover that past in a way that validates our present and radically changes our future.
Maybe we need to stop editing out the harshest and coldest parts of our story and put them back on the page, for all to see. Maybe we can do this so that people can understand how deep our story goes, but also so that the sharing of our pain, shame, and guilt may help others feel less helpless and alone.
Life Doesn’t Just Get Wider—It Also Gets Deeper, Too
I often wonder why I always have this natural urge, whenever I see the ocean, to dive right in and touch its very bottom. I don’t think it’s necessarily because I want to see what’s down there, but because I want to be able to rise from the surface afterward, and shout to everyone that I’ve seen the deepest part of things, and have made it out alive.
Maybe you, too, feel that same urge whenever you see the ocean.
Maybe that urge is proof that we are all meant to go deep. That the depth of our story is far more important (and far more interesting) than its superficial qualities. Maybe that urge is evidence that what will sustain us—even when things seem locked in a standstill—is the depth, not the breadth, of our story.
Maybe this instinct to go deeper is proof that we are, each one of us, on this journey down to the depths of life for a reason. Maybe we all have this natural urge to go deep so that we all may resurface together later on, and laugh and sigh about how we were all so brave to withstand it all.
Today, I choose to dive deep into my story and recover the bits and pieces I neglected, overlooked, or left behind.
Today, I put it all back on the page, and share it with you, so that there’s something to ground me. So that I can remember—even now, when others seem unable to help—that pursuing my dream once carried me through the very worst of my story, and there’s no reason to believe that it can’t carry me through its very best.
Today’s Courage Exercise
Recover something you edited out from your story long ago. If it is something you cut out because you thought it was too sensitive, or because you treated it as less important than it really was, then remedy that mistake today: put it back into your story.
Realize that what will make your story fly is not over-decorating its superficial qualities, but by deepening its contours.
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