Monday, September 16, 2013

The Really Beautiful Truth

My husband keeps a photo of me above his desk. It was taken the morning after I finished my first novel. I will never let you see that photo.

It's just not the picture I formed of myself as a writer, when I was in high school. Back then I'd seen authors on the backs of books. They looked intelligent. They wore the half smiles of those who know the sad truth about life and living. They hung out in shadowy places. They wore black a lot, and preferred their photos taken in black and white, because artists must reflect the dark world we live in. Writers never looked tired on their book jackets, only jaded. Their hair was softly tousled in a way that looks un-contrived, but actually takes a little work. I know.

 Sad to think I look nothing like that - except I do like to wear black (it doesn't show coffee spills), and my hair is tousled when I do the work, and just a mess when I don't. But I smile a lot, and I often look tired. Disappointing, isn't it? But I tell you this to prepare you for The Really Ugly Truth.

 To preface, let me explain that in high school I hated homework, even essays. I loved writing poetry in little books, and journaling, and writing stories, but the writing I had to do just didn't turn me on. The words stuck in my gullet. I didn't know what to write, and what I did write felt wrong. I got sleepy. I got restless. All at the same time.

 The writing I wanted to do was all different. When I wrote poetry and short stories, I felt like a flame blazed inside and the words fell like sparks from my pen and smoldered, spreading their energy across the paper in glowing lines that smoked like incense. In other words, the kind of writing I wanted to do for the rest of my life was the kind that felt good, and homework was not that kind.

The Really Ugly Truth: Once you are a writer, you are supposed to write. And that's homework.

To illustrate, let me tell you about the most difficult post I ever wrote for this blog. I didn't wait till the last minute. A day or two before, I'd done the research and written an outline, leaving just the composing, and that would be easy. My schedule was busy that week, but there would be hours of time Sunday night before the post was due on Monday.

 But Sunday night, on a whim, I took my mother to the movies. Then we had a late dinner. I got home later than I'd planned, at about 9:30. No worries. The blog post would take an hour or less, and then I would go to bed. But the minute I sat down to write, my body went limp and my mind went blank. The busy week had done me in. I was exhausted.

 Just look at the outline, I told myself. Write one sentence at a time, and you'll be done... in an hour and a half. In bed by eleven. My two black kittens, three months old at the time, were asleep on the footstool I kept under my desk. I liked it when they slept there, out of the way but within arms reach, so I could pet them between thoughts. Don't all writers have cats? These guys knew their part in the writing process. Except they forgot on this particular evening. When I began to write, the kittens began to tussle, and this made the footstool rock on my uneven floor, and that made an irritating noise.

Exhausted writers hate irritating noises, so I picked the kittens up, gave them a light toss and told them to tussle someplace else. But the tussle had been just a warm-up, and now their jets were hot, and they commenced to bounce off the walls. That's not a cliche - well it is, but it's also the literal truth. They ran back and forth in my office like they were on South American catnip, the good stuff. At one point I actually saw a cat run vertically up my bookshelf, clawing like it was El Capitan, pulling books out as he climbed, before he crashed to the floor, spun and ran the other direction.

 Me? I scolded, yelled, squirted them with my squirt bottle.

But I didn't write, at least not much. Finally - finally at about 2:30 in the morning, they began to tire. I looked at the progress I'd made on the post to that point, and realized I was almost done. Just finish up and post it, I told myself. In bed by 3:00. 

And then my computer blinked off. My work was lost. The blog post was still due Monday morning. And it was Monday morning. I looked down, and there a kitten sat sweetly beside me, his face all wide-eyed innocence, his foot on the surge protector's button.

I'd had times like this. In high school.

The Ugly Truth is that being a writer feels like having homework forever. But that leads me to the beautiful truth, and that is, it doesn't matter. The post got finished, and no one noticed I'd written it in a state of numbed exhaustion. In fact, it sparked a great discussion. .

And that leads me to The Really Beautiful Truth: Everything I have ever done has felt ugly in the middle. Too hard, too tiring. I wasn't good enough, and it wasn't going to end well. Only it did end well. I felt that way in the middle of raising my sons. I don't know how they grew up to be so wonderful. I felt that way when I endured trials - badly. I don't know why my life is so good today. I felt that way when I wrote my novels. I don't know why people I don't know send me emails to say how much my books mean to them, and then become cherished friends.

Except I think I do know. I think it has something to do with the loaves and fishes story. I bring my sorry sat-on bag lunch full of nothing, and the Lord makes SOMETHING of it. I recently read something a man named Adel Bestavros once said:
Patience with others is Love. Patience with self is Hope. Patience with God is Faith.
Isn't that good? Whatever you face today, I hope you'll be patient. Things are better than you think.


Sharon K. Souza said...

Beautiful, Katy.

Patti Hill said...

Yep, yep, yep. Writing is hard work and wondrous discovery and drudgery and angst released. Such a paradoxical art form. I love it. Thanks for reminding me, Katy.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

Thanks for this. Very timely! I just rewrote a section that was bubbly and casual. Now it is dark and revealing of more dark to come. I fear for my character even though I know what happens. This is the beginning of his middle.

Bonnie Grove said...

Good to know that if it's still ugly, it's only the middle. There's still time for beauty.

Anonymous said...

"I bring my sorry sat-on bag lunch full of nothing, and the Lord makes SOMETHING of it."

Thank you thank you thank you.

gadhill said...

What a great and inspiring post. Thank you.

Kathleen Popa said...

Henrietta, keep going. If you fear for your character, you must be doing it right.

Gadhill, I'm glad you were inspired. Thanks for reading.

Anonymous, why so shy? Wear the dark glasses if you must. We're glad you're here.

Bonnie, Patti & Sharon, I'm glad you're here, too.

Camille Eide said...

Oh, Kathleen.

I'm so glad I took time I didn't really have to read this post.

Thank you. Thank you.