I’m in a scattershot mood this morning, so today’s post will be rather scattershot.
First, I’d like to give a shout-out to three colleagues with recently published books:
I’ve mentioned all three on Facebook, and Monica guest-blogged here a few months ago, but I must mention them again here. If I can bring even one new reader to any of these books, which deserve many, I’ll be thrilled.
About a month ago, my cell phone died. I had an old model, a decidedly-not-smart least-expensive model on the Verizon shelves. I used it as a phone – how quaint! – and took a certain Luddite pride in flipping open its clam-shell shape. No iPhone 5 for me! I didn’t text, and the only photos I took happened when, fumbling for the phone in my purse, I mistakenly pressed the camera button.
Last month, the phone broke – literally, in two pieces, on the floor. Uh-oh. Does Verizon even make a clam shell model anymore? Had the time come to jump on the smart phone bullet train, to join the 21st century? Would I create yet a monster checking email at stoplights and walking down the street hunched over my own texting thumbs?
Reader, I capitulated. I got an iPhone 4 for only $39. Yeah, it’s fun. Yeah, I’m one of those people checking Facebook on the bus, although not for long. Staring at a small screen on a moving bus makes me as queasy as sitting in the backseat of the Ford Torino on the twisty road to Stinson Beach once did.
As predicted, I check my email more often, just to see what’s there, you know—to delete the spam and make sure no fires need putting out. Yesterday, a new name sat in my inbox. The subject line gave the title of my book. I clicked the message open. A woman I’d met briefly had written to say that she’d just finished reading my book.
Seeing those words in her email, and typing them again here, thrills me anew, even though my book’s been out in the world for six years. Someone read my book! Isn’t that all we ever want as writers, when you get right down to it? Bestsellerdom, front-page New York Times reviews, movie options, translations into languages we’ve never heard of—all fabulous, I imagine, but what really matters? Reaching readers.
She’d had to find the book—not too hard, true. But still! She made the effort! She had several nice things to say, about how my book touched her—but what stunned me came at the end of her note. Keep writing, she wrote. Keep living.
My book, in part, describes depression. Major debilitating depression, the kind that made me hide my kitchen knives (I knew I’d remember where I’d hidden them; I just couldn’t bear seeing them any more for the thoughts they prompted in me) and spend hours curled on the bathroom floor. I emerged from that place ten years ago and, while I’ve had dips since, I’ve never plummeted into anything as bad as that fourteen-month-long hell again. Thank God. And, yes, I mean it literally.
But with those two simple words, Keep living, I feel the enormity of what her email told me. Not just its acknowledgment of the toll of depression and loss and addiction but its tone of connection, of intimacy. A near-stranger was moved by my words, enough to share with me some of her own story. Wow. I’d been battling a late-afternoon energy slump. I had been debating whether I really wanted to go to the gym or whether I should just hole up in a coffee shop and eat something loaded with sugar. Reading those words on my smart-phone screen didn’t just prod me to make the healthy choice (groan) or remind me of why I write; they reminded me of why I made the choice to, yes, keep living.
My new class started this week. I’ve taught this course for twelve years. I could do the first night blindfolded. And yet, as I entered the classroom I felt that tingle of what my former therapist used to call “good anxiety.” Twenty faces stared at me. Would I meet their expectations? Would I – could I – help them become better writers?
I often feel, three-quarters of the way through the first night of a new class, scattershot. I’m following a lesson plan, I’m staying on point, but the air in the stuffy room and the heat of twenty bodies makes me feel flushed, flustered. My skin shines and itches. I made my hands a lot, I drop the chalk, I smudge eraser dust on my dark pants. I’m used to all that, but it never feels calming. Nor should it, I suppose. There’s too much adrenaline in the room, too much anticipation—my own and theirs, upon hearing that I will expect them to read aloud and share their writing and write every day.
I work alone every day, for up to four or five hours. I futz over sentences and phrasing. Thinking on my feet in front of a room of strangers, even with my hair askew, has no room for revision. What you see is what you get.
I feel less scattered, now that I’ve written this. If I had more time, I could revise and fine-tune, home in on that main idea, the way I tell my students to do. But I think I’ll leave this post as it is. Jumping all over the place, okay. But underneath that, something else: connection. That’s what, after all, keeps us living.