Oh dear, remember that song by the Spice Girls, “So tell me what you want, what you really, really want.” (Now I’m going to be singing that all night, sigh, sigh.)
Probably, you think you do know what you want. I did, and it turns out that I was wrong, and on so many counts.
I used to think that I wanted to write books, not popular women’s novels but deep, literary novels filled with allegories and stunning epiphanies, and other deep and literary people would read these novels and write reviews praising me for my insight and depth. I even imagined how my photograph would look on the book jackets of these deep and literary books: I’d be posed in front of bookshelves and wearing some type of flowing and poetic gown, and my hair would be loose and free, and I’d look pale and studious and clever.
But that’s not what happened. I wrote a women’s novel geared for people who read for enjoyment and insight but not necessarily deep and literary insight. I did this because when I wrote Dolls Behaving Badly I was a single mother and books were my solace, and when things became tough and money was low and I was exhausted and sure that I couldn’t go on, I’d sit in the bathroom and read books, and after a few hours I’d always, always feel better.
I wrote the kind of book I wanted and needed to read, and I’ve never been sorry. And by doing so, by turning my back on all of the literary techniques I learned in graduate school, I gave myself permission to be myself and write what I want–and literary success be damned (The college where I recieved my M.F.A. pretty much ignored Dolls Behaving Badly when it released and so did the newspaper where I worked for over eight years. I think the legs over the cover were a bit much for them, lol). It was a freeing experience, and I hate to get all touchy-feely, but I think it also helped me to grow as a person and to admit to myself that I’ve never been and probably never will be a literary person.
Don’t get me wrong. I love to write. I read all the time. But I’m not interested in the literary life so much as the writing life. I doubt I’ll ever go to the AWP conference or sit on panels and write pithy books on serious writing subjects. It just isn’t my thing. Yet I spent years (years!) feeling guilty that it wasn’t my thing.
I’m thinking about this because before I went to Tucson for a seven-week DIT writing residency (and yes, a post about how to do this cheaply and productively will be coming soon), I started looking at Tucson condos with my partner. We saw this as a place to spend the winters, to escape the worst of the Alaska dark and cold.We’d curl up on the couch as wind raged outside the windows and look at online real estate ads. We both agreed that we wanted a modern condo in the foothills, close to Sabino Canyon, and with a swimming pool and fitness center.
I was absolutely and positively sure that this is what I wanted.
Then I got to Tucson and stayed in a funky and wonderful little adobe house in a working class neighborhood. There was no swimming pool, no fitness center, and it wasn’t in the foothills either. Yet I loved it. I loved the neighborhood, which I found colorful and unique. I loved being able to walk to the university and the library and the Reid Park swimming pool. I loved running the side streets in the late afternoon, when the spring flowers filled the air with heavy fragrance.
So now my partner and I are looking for a funky little adobe house in a working class neighborhood and within walking distance to the university, library and Reid Park.
I like the idea that what I think I want isn’t always what I really want. It reminds me that there is so much more to any situation than what I allow myself to see. And who knows? While my second book, titled Waiting For My Daughter’s Ghost (if the publisher doesn’t change the title, that is), is geared toward women’s fiction/popular fiction, maybe my third will be literary fiction. And maybe I will end up living in a condo in the Tucson foothills with a swimming pool and fitness center. I doubt that this will happen but still, I love the sense of possibility, and the idea that our lives are fatter and richer than we can ever imagine.
–Loved this Salon piece by Anne Lamott about writing and god and family. I’m so jealous of her writing, and her hair. Wish I had the guts for dreads but afraid I might attract bugs while running trails.
–And this post by Occasional Soulmates author Kevin Brennan about the Clean Reader app that changes books to adhere to readers’ tastes (i.e., knocks out all of the juicy words and replaces that with stale substitutes). This is wrong on so many, many counts (I wanted to say that “this is wrong on so many, many fucking counts” but figured an app might turn my fuck into something lame and flat and totally take the punch out of my sentence).