I am feeling vulnerable. The pitch for my memoir is about to be sent out to editors, and I have spent the last ten years pouring everything I have into this book. It has evolved and grown with time, and thanks to rejections of past versions, it has become more refined, more complete, more honest.
Though I try my best to not take rejections personally (having worked in publishing has helped me a lot with this), it is still always a hard blow to the ego, with days spent feeling like a failure. I know my book has enormous potential, now I just need people in the publishing industry to see that too.
In vulnerable writer moments, the best author to turn to is Erica Jong. “Only if you have no other choice should you be a writer (Jong, 6).”
I have just finished reading her book, Seducing the Demon – Writing For My Life. The stories from her life are all hilarious, and told in nonlinear fashion. Most memorable would be how she broke up Martha Stewart’s marriage when it was already falling apart (picture Stewart’s husband as an emasculated chore boy).
Humorous stories aside, it seemed that Jong was speaking directly to me and everything that I am dealing with right now – death and the struggle of trying to capture life in words.
“Life is a dream, but the dream disintegrates unless you write it down (my father) reminds me (Jong, 253).”
I first began writing because I wanted to end my life. It was a common theme throughout my adolescence, but escalated when I was twenty-one. I always knew that I was not the person my family wanted me to be. Within my core, I was not a Christian, but I was told by everyone around me that if I did not follow I would lose their acceptance. I would be fallen, lost, going to hell. I did everything to make God real to me. But instead, I began to see that everything I’d been told was false.
In the process of all this, I was prone to deep depression and would fall into trance-like states where I left my body and began to ponder how I could destroy it. Looking back, it was symbolic, since the Christianity I was raised with denies the body.
Eventually, when that mode became an everyday issue, I had to enter therapy. The therapist didn’t sort my issues since I was still stuck within my Christian university and didn’t feel free to speak what I was really feeling. What really changed my life was writing.
“Writing is tough, but it’s a lot less tough than depression. Which basically leads to suicide. Unless you make a joke (Jong, 232).”
At first the writing was not good. It was melodramatic, sickeningly romantic, full of unnecessary flourishes and old-fashioned language. Through hundreds of poems, I attempted to express what I was feeling.
I experienced a real breakthrough while reading Allen Ginsberg’s poetry. Here was a man who bravely and beautifully wrote about gay sex in the 1950’s. If he could do that then, than I could celebrate sensuality in my poetry, turn it in, and risk getting marked down or reprimanded. Surprisingly, my teacher raved over the poem I wrote.
We normally looked at each other’s work anonymously. But at the end of analyzing my poem the professor said, “And the girl who wrote this…” (Everyone looked around since there was only one other girl in the class) “Ope! Sorry Lauren!”
The room full of boys twittered in embarrassment. But then my professor continued, “This is the first poem I’ve seen all semester that is ready to be published.” I sat there red in the cheeks, but brimming with pride that this professor who was such a tough nut to crack, who was known for yelling at people for using the word “deep” because it didn’t express anything, was now telling me I had potential.
“For the poet, the lover becomes the world. The exploration of love becomes an exploration of life (Jong, 66).”
Before poetry, I painted portraits, then realized I had more to tell. Poetry was vague enough to feel safe writing what I had to say. But then I wanted to tell the whole truth and share the whole picture.
To write I have sacrificed money, jobs, relationships, and security. But I have no choice, and wouldn’t be happy any other way. My book sits there like the holy grail, full of promises that might not be met. When I first tried to publish it, I was cocky, with no doubt that the first agent would snap it up and put it on auction, scoring a great book deal which would lead to it becoming a bestseller with a movie deal in the works. I literally did not doubt this one iota.
In it’s earliest version (not nearly as fleshed out as it is now) it was rejected by over a hundred agents and editors. Back then it was just a novel about a girl who parties too much. Now it’s a memoir about a girl trying to forget an oppressive upbringing through an underground subculture that turns dark quickly.
“People who most crave ecstasy are probably least capable of moderation (Jong, 134).”
The people I write about in my book will be both horrified and gratified to see themselves frozen in time. But the only reaction that really concerns me is that of my parents. I hope they can forgive the fact that I need to lay them bare to understand my life. Like many parents, it’s painful for them to allow their child to be their own person. They will never fully accept who I am because it doesn’t fit into their worldview. I am the reality that they find hard to face.
“If you want to be a nice person, don’t write. There’s no way to do it without grinding up your loved ones and making them into raw hamburger (Jong, 239).”
Now when I actually see the living people who embody the other characters in the book, I hardly know how to look at them, without only seeing our past. To me, they have become caricatures of themselves, mythology.
“Time and again I have found that once I have frozen a person in a book I can hardly remember what the real person was like (Jong, 268).”
At a memorial, I saw them all two days ago. I realized, that they feel the same way about me. They are completely unable to understand who I am now, unable to listen, and can only speak in jokes or insensitive diatribes. They have frozen me in time. I didn’t want to be there, but in coming together over the death of our beautiful friend, I came to the ending of my story.
“You are not doing it all alone. You are standing on the shoulders of the dead. You are writing love letters to the grave. The word is a link in a human chain (Jong, 61).”
I’m in those last years where you can be considered young. But I don’t feel young at all. I feel like time is too short and I have too many stories to share to fit into that shortness of life. Ideas keep popping into my head. I want to write them all, to share this thing I cannot stop. To live, I must write.