Friday, February 15, 2008
Me, the late great John Steinbeck, and a guy played by Johnny Depp
I've been spending the last few weeks slowly working my way through a book, a very good and famous book, one that I had never read before. I'm stunned that it took me this long to read it. I figure maybe I wasn't ready for it yet, that it means more to me now at this stage of my life than it would have earlier. It's a brick of a book, and I often re-read a paragraph three times. I've been carrying it around the house with a dictionary and a stack of Post-its and a pen. I can't tell you how many times I thought I should make the dictionary a reading companion and this is the first time I've actually done it. This book is doing something to my brain.
It touches on so many things that shaped me in my real life: Land, farming, a man with a plan, the philosopher farmer, the inventor who never gets rich, physical labour just to earn a meagre living. The Bible. The weather. Family. History repeating itself. The way the land can make you and break you, all in one lifetime.
The first Steinbeck novel I read was THE RED PONY, which I think now I read way too soon. I would have been about 11 or 12. I didn't really get it. There wasn't nearly enough pony in it for me. I've been carting that novel around with me ever since, and from where I sit right now I can see it on my bookshelf. I ought to give it another crack. In high school I went through a serious King Arthur obsession, and stumbled upon his retelling of the whole knights-round table- holy grail saga. A few years ago I finally read OF MICE AND MEN which was so slight and short but carried a heck of an impact.
Yet it took me until age 37 to pick up EAST OF EDEN. It doesn't matter that it took me so long to finally read it. The importance is that I'm reading it now.
Yesterday I closed the back cover of my 356 page manuscript. I still feel weird calling it A Manuscript. It's just a chunk of printer paper with words all over it, and now, pencil marks on every page. I thought it was done last August. I shuffled off my queries, got my rejections and decided it needed some clarification. I thought it was ready in October. I sent off more queries, got more rejections, and thought about it for a couple more months. And for the last six weeks, I've been going through it a few pages at a time, armed with a pencil. I examined it and scrutinized it and agonized over it.
Sometimes I was cautious. Sometimes I got bold and slashed out whole paragraphs. I drew arrows where things could be traded around. I asked myself if this all made sense.
Believe me when I say I've lost sleep over this thing. I'm not exaggerating.
It was by far the most difficult edit I've had to do. By the ninth time through, I'm tired. I'm anxious because I still doubt the whole thing. I found so many things to correct after eight previous edits. What if it's still not right? Could I spend another year on this thing?
I gotta suck it up and stay at it. I've been slow, I've been deliberate. I've been reluctant! I've spent too many hours in my jammies while my dog anticipated his daily walk.
But I keep telling myself that at least I have stayed at it. I was tempted every day to procrastinate the hell out of this project, and believe me, I have perfected the art of procrastination.
Wouldn't it be easy to give up? This is too hard. Even if I get it perfect there's no guarantee that it'll ever become anything. I could just give up and immerse myself in the horse world, forget about writing, and spend the rest of my life squashing down all those stories in my head.
I gotta do this.
Are all writers crazy? Varying degrees of crazy? Or is it just me? Is it totally disrespectful of me to place Steinbeck in a blog post alongside a character from a cheesy movie based on a Stephen King short story, just for the opportunity to post pictures of my favourite master of facial expressions, because after all it is Friday and that's what I do? Well, I'm kinda goofy that way.
It's my scheduled barn day, and I'm going to go out and ride between snowbanks, get some equilibrium back. Get some horse smell on my gloves. This'll all sort itself out. When I come home I'll wrap myself up in a Grandma-crocheted blanket and wrap myself around a really great book. It's all going to work itself out.
That's my reward for all the work, right? Not just that I did the work, all the rewriting and scribbling, and the manure raking (both literal and figurative) and braved the elements, but that I keep going, no matter how slow. Allowing myself to read a life changing book is my reward.
I hope you all have a good weekend.