Although the notion might meet with disagreement from my friend who birthed a real live human this week (Mazel and welcome, little peach!), producing a piece of writing is, for me (and a few thousand others), a little like having a baby. Or at least like laying eggs. It always starts with a fertile idea. Some hatch; others don’t.
Talking with other writer friends, I know that the basic process – seed of an idea, dark nurturing, kicks in the middle of the night, fitful delivery – doesn’t differ greatly, even if gestation periods do. And then there’s the bit about how most of us need to escape with a little distraction during actual labor. (I played Tetris for 12 straight hours during labor with my first child; I rearranged all the furniture in my living room while drafting The Solace of a Southern Kitchen. Same thing, really.) Some of what we produce will go on to be raised and cared for by others; some will always live at home and never see the light of day. We produce it all anyway, in not dissimilar fashion.
Then there are the expectations. Every baby, real or metaphoric, is born into them, the great expectations intertwined with hopes and dreams. These are the real receiving blankets that parents hold, the expectations that something tiny and fragile will one day become brave and wonderful.
Eventually human hopes and expectations grow independently from within, too, and not always in tandem with those of their caretakers. A parent may groom a child for law school, dreaming of a Supreme Court seat while the child dreams of working pro-bono in South Dakota. They’re equal dreams, equally valid, each rooted in a different expectation.
Stories are not entirely different; they often (always, for me) tell themselves, and writers just dress them up. Here, perhaps, the metaphor splits. Human babies, once dressed in clothes chosen by a parent, grow up to choose their own party outfits, to have expectations of their own. Essays and novels and speeches do not; for them expectations are only external, frozen at the moment of delivery.
Expectations were top of mind three years ago when I wrote this blog’s seed post, 25 Ordinary Years and hatched this little jenny’s lark experiment, the one that has grown over the last three years to become my greatest personal enjoyment. What I wrote in 2012, what was then on my mind, was that I was expected to become a contender, to grow up to do grand things. But my own greatest hope was simply to grow up and be the real me, to be content in my own skin. Decades from now I hope my children will be the same, happy with whatever it is they become, a future version of themselves born of their own expectations, whether they are “contenders” or not. I hope that they’ll each have fire lit from within, that they’ll both grow up to be, if nothing else, decent human beings. I try not to expect more than this; this will be hard enough.
Similarly, what I hope and expect from my writing is only that it be complete in and of itself. Nurture it; birth it; let it be. And so it is with this book I’ve been working on, the novel that exists, pretty much full-formed, in my head, seeded by the lingering ghosts that live in this weird house. The ghosts are looking, I think, for redemption. That redemption will come from my writing their story is, perhaps, their expectation of me. Maybe I am making too much of it, but maybe not. In any event, I am writing the story they tell me as they tell it, as the scenes and characters appear. It is as surreal an experience as it sounds, but that is the nature of this particular baby. I am trying simply to enjoy it, not to let it be burdened with heavy, outside expectation. Butt in chair. Shitty first draft. Just get it all from my head to the page. This will be hard enough.
Food | Week of June 1, 2015
(I told you last week it was back, sort of; but for recipes you’ll have to follow Dinner Prompt where I’ll take each of these ideas below, Monday through Friday, and suggest different ways of preparing… and hope that I can keep up)