Writing a book is like standing at the edge of a cliff overlooking a giant abyss whose edges you can't even see. You stand there, take a deep breath, and then you yell. It takes a long time to get it all out. You begin with early notes on paper, which, for me, became a series of Scrivener files, then a giant Word file, then several thick print-outs, then PDFs, and finally a single bound copy that my publisher sent and that I'm still keeping hidden in its padded envelope.
All the while, the ideas and stories are still safely yours, shared with just a handful of trusted people. They haven't complained too much, so you keep loosening the line and letting the stories fly further and further away.
Then comes what they call "on-sale day," when the book goes from being listed as a pre-order to the day booksellers are actually allowed to sell it. Amazon times its shipments to arrive on people's doorsteps on this day. It's the day you take a big pair of scissors and cut that cord. Now, whatever happens is completely beyond your control. Terrifying, exhilarating, liberating.
From here, people begin to have their own opinions of your stories. And of your writing. And of you in general. And there isn't a goddamn thing you can do about it. I was trying to explain my angst to my friends Don and Robert (see the "Making Martha's Sandwich" essay), and everything I said made me sound more and more neurotic.
"What's the worst thing that could happen?" asked Robert.
As I pondered various doomsday scenarios, Don chimed in, "I think the worst thing for me would be if people said my life was dull." We agreed. I wondered if I hadn't added enough sex and drugs to the book. Then I remembered I hadn't added any.
In college I was tasked with writing my autobiography. It was for a women's studies class taught by Diana Russell, and the whole time I was writing I thought, "Boy, how much would it stink if my life got an F?" Thankfully, it didn't.
Still, all day long I've been doing laps in the kitchen, driving both Casey and Clare crazy. Like a chicken that doesn't know where to lay its egg.
I'm at the edge of the cliff and I've finished my yell, and now comes that exquisite, awful, tentative, interminable wait before an echo comes back. Of course what comes back won't be my voice at all, rather the canyon's response to it. Which is, in itself, another exquisite sound.
In the afternoon my mother came. We had tea, and I made a Busy Day Cake (from Edna Lewis, adapted here). It's an easy, soothing, trustworthy recipe that does the trick every time. It's not a keeper. You don't make it for a rainy day, you make it on a rainy day, and for that day alone.