I’m not very secretive about the fact that up until quite recently–say, five months ago, about–I wasn’t very happy. I wasn’t your typical “I’m a tortured artist” student writer, but living at home the year after college, working in textbook publishing and commuting two plus hours a day and realizing every Monday that the group of tenth graders you’re trying to teach about faith and God are never going to respect you, caused a certain amount of metaphysical angst–ennui, if you will. That’s one of the reasons I went to graduate school–to escape California and the rather worthless life I was creating (or not creating) for myself there, to meet some new people and learn some new things, and to get one step closer to my goal of living in New York.
But even in Chicago I wasn’t really that happy. I met a couple of good people that I ended up loving–Brigitte and Nickie, I could not have done that year without you–but most of the people in my program were vague and uninteresting, and none of them thought I was worth getting to know or befriend (other than the aforementioned, natch). I saw my family a lot, which was wonderful (the Molzab Experience is pretty lifesaving, actually), but that year was rife with disappointment. Not coincidentally, I wrote the final draft (well, not the final final draft, but you know what I mean) of AUT over those two years, and I’m incredibly, incredibly proud of it. It’s the best completed thing I’ve ever written, in the sense that I think the writing and characters are very good, but also it is a definite expression of myself. It takes all the pathos of my life at that time, amps it up several thousand degrees, combines my restlessness with my struggle to be optimistic in the face of the gradual realization I was having that maybe people are not all essentially good. I dragged my characters across hot coals for three hundred pages to see–and to show–what they were made out of, like Kurt Vonnegut rightly suggests, but I ended on a vaguely hopeful note, which is the exact place I was at the end of my year of grad school, when I turned AUT in for a grade. I poured myself into that book, filled it up to the brim with my ruminations on faith and people and crime and absolution and possibility and courage. I hope that someday people get to read it, because you can only talk to yourself about such heady things for so long.
The next book I planned was to be different. Still a mystery, but a little lighter (Saturday I said to Cambria, “Isn’t it sad that I think of MB as my ‘light, happy book’?” Knowing much about the plot and characters, she concurred), more romantic, funnier. It seemed like the right project–after all, I was finally happy, really happy, the kind of happy I’d never been before–the sort of happy that you feel when you make it yourself. I felt like everything in my life was falling into place spectacularly, which should’ve been my first clue that something was amiss, because things never happen to me in that way. But I let my desire to stop overthinking for once override my superstitious inclinations, that little nagging voice in my head that said “Look, this is really unlikely–OPEN YOUR EYES.”
I don’t want to go into it, but suffice it to say that I no longer feel this way. On Friday, before everything changed, I was actually on the train thinking, “God, if I really end up with the life I’ve always wanted, what am I going to write about? Sure, I’ll finish MB, but then what? How can I write GR (the project I have planned after MB, which is much darker than MB, sort of on par with AUT but maybe darker still? I don’t know, I have a hard time measuring the levels of darkness in my own work) if I don’t have any angst left?” This was sort of a silly conversation I was having with myself–of course my life wasn’t really perfect and I certainly didn’t ever expect it to be–but on the ride home on Saturday morning, devastated as I was, low and behold the first line and scene of GR came to me and I love them. I expected to have a burst of creativity after typing out about a paragraph and a half (just to remind myself for later) but I wasn’t really focused enough for that this weekend. But then, suddenly the fear set in: Can I write MB now, feeling the way I do? Is my ability to write so tied to my own emotions that I cannot divorce myself from how I’m feeling (embarrassed and worthless and generally low) and continue on with the story the way I meant to tell it? Will I be torturing myself by writing a splendidly happy moment for my characters when I’m feeling like this?
If you’re worried, don’t be: I can do it. I pushed myself last night and told myself, “This is the world you live in now; forget the other one; adjust and create accordingly.” And I did. I didn’t finish that splendidly happy moment, but I continued it, and eventually I will write past it and then I will get over how I’m feeling and I will go back for the second draft and either be proud of myself for writing outside of myself or if it feels insincere I will fix it. But I can’t help wondering how this will change MB–will the darker elements of the mystery come into play more than I had originally planned them to? Probably. But that’s a good thing, I think. And I’m pretty sure GR won’t suffer from my life finally being in order–thank God for small favors.