Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A day in the life of an unpublished author: Part 1

But first, a brief explanation of the title.

Someone once told me the difference between a writer and an author and explained why, in her opinion, I'm the latter. I don't quite believe her, but I do trust her judgment, and I certainly believe that if you tell yourself something is true for long enough, eventually it will be, at least with matters of perspective and matters of the heart. For example, let's say you find yourself worrying daily that something horrible will suddenly happen to someone you love. A heart attack, a car accident, spontaneous combustion. If, when the thought comes to your mind, every single time (and you must do it every single time) you immediately think to yourself, "No. Nothing will happen. And worrying won't help either way," even if you don't believe it's true at first, in time, you will begin to. That's because you're replacing one habit--worrying--with another habit--reasoning. One day, after a good while, I promise you, you'll stop having to tell yourself everything's okay because you'll know it is. Then the day something bad does happen (and that day will come), you'll just have that one day to survive and won't have also wasted all the years before it by dreading its coming, and you'll be less likely to waste all the days after it saying, "See there. I knew that would happen" because you'll have trained yourself to see reason even before you believed it...But beware, this game of tricking yourself until you believe a thing also works in the negative. If, for example, a husband tells his wife she is worth very little over and over every day, she'll begin to believe it. And that kind of conditioning could be very hard to overcome.

Now, about being an author. No, I don't really believe I'm an author. I think I'm trying to learn to write and picking up tricks here and there and doing my best to cultivate my particular voice. But someone I trust says I am, and she should know, and she doesn't say such things lightly, so I'll keep telling myself (and you, as it were) that I'm an author until both of us believe me. This is very important to do before I'm published because my published friends tell me there's nothing more daunting than having a book in print and wondering if it was just a one-off and hoping and praying to be able to come up with another story and get it on the shelves to prove writerly worth. I say it's best to know your writerly worth before getting published to avoid the temptation of basing worth on sales and critics and silly things like marketability.

Which brings me back to the title of the post. I thought it'd be interesting to describe a day in my life because at this point in my journey, I'm in transition: I'm thirty years old. I'm still a student. I'm married. I don't have a job. And I spend most every day alone reading or working on my writing. This time next year, I hope to be teaching, ideally creative writing, but most likely freshman lit and composition. Either way, life is getting ready to drastically change. For now, while all is calm and the future is bright, while I'm coasting along the edge of what's coming, the best I can do is live, record life, share it, hope it connects with someone, and try to remember these moments when they've all gone by. So, here goes--a moment in the life of an unpublished author.


Today began with a visit to a gastroenterologist. My family has a history of tummy problems which have caught up to me in this my thirtieth year. As a result of getting up at six in the morning and driving half an hour to the doctor and sitting around for over an hour, I was given a prescription for the lovely boxed present you'll see below and told to come back two days after Christmas for a colonoscopy and an endoscopy.

Apparently the stuff in that box is one of the worst things I'll ever taste and will make my insides clean and completely completely empty.

The doctor visit and pharmacy were followed by a quick trip to the post office, after which I drowned my gastric sorrows in an early lunch of homemade crusty bread drenched in butter. Jonathan, bless him, has taken up baking and I'm reaping all of the benefits. The bread below is like an English muffin loaf. It's moist, dense, and has a hint of sourdough flavor. Amazing.

It was so good I had another piece, this time smothered in spicy pimento cheese. It's no wonder I have stomach problems. (I now confess to following these decadences with black bean tortilla chips dipped in sour cream. I deserve that colonoscopy, don't I?)

After lunch, I let my dog stare up at me with his beagle eyes to confirm my godlike status to him, then crawled into bed with my kitties to make up for waking so early.

I got lucky and ended up getting the chance to have a nice long talk with a dear friend before falling into a deep sleep, induced by the curled cats around me and the gas heat in our house which, if you have gas heat, you'll know is a lot like that friend you have who's a bit overwhelming while she's around but sorely missed when she's gone.

When I woke, I'm sorry to say, it was already four in the afternoon and the only thing I'd accomplished was going to the doctor and eating. Like always, I regretted my slovenly ways and immediately began to make up for them by cramming in useful activities. First, I walked Harvey. He was very pleased to get on the trail of something at the end of the yard, probably another dog, even though, as usual, he never found the prize at the end of the hunt. He was also very pleased when I let him explore the barn so I could take a picture of our Christmas wreath. Red barns are so festive when they wear Christmas wreaths.

Once he'd sniffed the tractor, I shoveled his poo from the yard and we went back inside for his regular post-walk-spaz-fest. For some reason, after Harvey has had a good cold walk and sniffed the yard and marked his territory, he feels the need to exert his nonexistent dominance over the cats by running up and down the hall making pig noises. He's the blur in the picture below.

Though we'd had a good walk, I still felt I'd accomplished near nothing, so I began to clean the house with gusto. Well, maybe not gusto. I don't really do anything with gusto. Let's just say, I cleaned in earnest.

Feeling much better about myself and life in general (a clean house does that for me), I sat down for a cup of yogurt just like the doctor ordered, despite its awful texture.

With only about an hour before the hubby was supposed to come home, I decided to do a tiny bit of trip preparation by picking a book to take on the plane with me next week. To my joy and excitement, the independent study I'll be doing in the spring will focus on the following books, so I figured I'd take one of them along for company:

Anne of Green Gables
Little House on the Prairie
Mary Poppins
The Phantom Tollbooth
James and the Giant Peach
A Wrinkle in Time
The Boxcar Children
Treasure Island

Isn't that an awesome list? After just a little thought, and with the image of myself sitting in an airport for hours and hours stuck in my head, I decided the best traveling companion of those in the list would definitely be Anne.

With that task done and no daylight left, it was time to light the tree...

...and light the garland...

...and start the present making. I decided this year to copy an idea I learned this past summer from the wonderfully creative Candice Ransom. She taught us to make journals from Little Golden Books, so I'm making some for friends and family. This one is for my mom. Hopefully she doesn't read my blog so it'll still be a surprise:

After some book making (confession: I don't think I'll finish by Christmas), Jonathan came home and we had day two of one of his homemade stews. This one had carrots, red potatoes, onions, cream of mushroom, and special spices. We paired it with his yummy bread, but this time fried it in a pan with tons of butter. The outcome was delicious.

Sourdough toast + butter + honey + jelly = one more reason to live.

We ended our evening the way we often do, sitting on the couch watching Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations on Netflix Instant with our kitties snuggled up to us, bellies full, and chocolate and tea on hand. Just kicked back. The end of another day.

For an author, I didn't do much writing, did I? Well, there is this. But does it count? Does blogging about my day really count as writing, or more specifically, authoring? Absolutely. Here's why: because the best and most immediate way to find my voice is by writing whatever comes most naturally--whatever I can stream without having to think too hard--whatever I really know, no research required. That gives me the freedom to play with words and sentence structure and metaphor. It puts me in touch with what I believe is the foundation (no matter the genre) of truly universal literary writing: creative nonfiction.

And since I hear voice is what separates writers from authors, I'll keep doing what I can to cultivate that mysterious something that will set me apart. Besides, there's only one thing that will work better than telling myself I'm an author, and that's being one.