The Journey to Writing


The weekend of June 3rd and 4th was the Antheneum’s final retreat. An educational ending to the year program. There was plenty of wine and amazing food. Each teacher/mentor spoke on something that they felt was important for us to take away with us now that we would be embarking on a post-writing school life. I proudly walked away with a Certificate in the Mastery of Writing, thank you very much, and I had a nice glass of champagne thanks to Paulann Peterson. Paulann had invited Berry Sanders and his wife to speak to us on our last day. Then we all said, good-bye and good luck.

One of the things that we were requested to do was to present a project as a sort of team effort (our teams were, fiction, poetry, and non-fiction) as a part of the fiction group I was asked to write a memoir. I decided to write about what it was like to finish my first novel, and since my first love is theatre, I couldn’t help but to compare the two in the world of endings.

Chico State’s Summer Stock Court Theatre production of The Great Cross Country Race

At the end of my tour with Inviting Desire I was relieved to have it finally end. I had traveled across Canada in an R.V. with three other actresses performing in a touring company. The play was an ensemble piece about women’s sexual fantasies. It was risky and daring. We either enlightened or frightened the audience, but that is another story.

I wanted more than nothing than to have my own space, control over my time, and control over my commitments. I hadn’t grown tired of performing. As far as I was concerned getting paid to act was one of the greatest jobs in the world, and by far the best job I had ever had, but I was sick to death of promoting the show, hustling for an audience, and singing Storm Large‘s song: My Vagina is 8 miles Wide. I was ready for it to end. I liked endings. After the end something new would start, you don’t get that kind of renewal in many things, so I loved the end.

Theatre’s intent is to share. A play is created to be seen. The production is not complete till there are people sitting in the seats ready to watch the performance. It is a collaborative event a collaborative process. Even if you have written yourself a one person play, and decided against all the best advice to hire a director, it still ends with a performer and the audience.

There are many joys in theatre, but for me the grand reward was never the positive reviews (although a positive review is far more rewarding than being told that you look like a Norwegian barmaid on a bad acid trip- at least he didn’t write that I was a terrible actor). The reward comes when the production ends. When the final curtain is called, the bows are taken, the lights rise, and the audience exits. After the stage is struck, and your costumes are returned to the wardrobe, your make-up is removed from the dressing room, and the lingering well wishers fade from the green-room. You can toast to your cast-mates and crew with that clink of the pint glasses or mugs filled with wine from the box, or if it was a particularly difficult show that was terribly received you have a blown-out house party that ends with one of your fellow cast-mates having sex on the high school lawn across from the house as you yell at a highly amused cop as you demand to know who exactly called the police: “Who was it!? Was it Normal street? That whole street is full of nothing but assholes!” But, that is another story.

At the end of Inviting Desire I said good-bye to my fellow writers and actors, and left with the closure of a completed, challenging, and rewarding experience. We started and finished a project a huge production. There was a celebration and the acknowledgement that something had been done, and we had been seen.

It is not the same with writing a novel.

To explain my writing experience I have to go to the beginning:

Emily and I at AROHO writing retreat

Although I had wanted to be a writer I never consider myself a writer, so, I journaled. I journaled from the time I was 16, sometimes daily sometimes with an absence of many months. When I turned 27 I moved to Europe, and I took a journal along with me. I spent two years living abroad sometimes journaling sometimes not, but it was during my short life in Prague that I had faithfully journaled, recording every moment every day. I had captured nuances and conversations, in fact, it may have been the first time I wrote outside of myself.

When I reluctantly returned to the states, I found myself sitting on my aunt’s bed in her one bedroom apartment hiding out from a hot Colorado summer storm, flipping through the pages of my history in Prague, longingly reading over the transcripts, and it was at that moment (eleven years ago) that I realized I had a story. It wasn’t an amazing story. It wasn’t going to save lives or change the way people felt about the world, it was in the words of Sylvia Plath, a potboiler. Yet, to me, it was a necessary story and it wanted to be told. Right then and there on my aunt’s computer in two to three days I wrote the entire first draft except for the end. I didn’t want it to end how it really ended, but how did I turn fact into fiction? Hell, I didn’t even know how to write.

Soon after I traveled across the western United States with a man, his dog, his depressed mother and her bottle of vodka, but that is another story. I carried a printed copy of my endless manuscript along for the ride, but the electronic copy had been lost. I shoved my novel in a folder and ignored it. Two years later, I decided to return to school. I applied to a community college because I had left my previous University giving it a big, “fuck you I hate math”, and decided to walk sans diploma, but never mentioning to anyone that I hadn’t officially graduated. Now I was returning to math to grab that diploma that I chose to leave behind. While at the college I decided to take a fiction writing class for fun, but I found with the math and working I didn’t have the time or the energy to write, but being the crafty procrastinator that I am I cheated, sort of. I began to use excerpts from my novel as class assignments. When I transferred to a new state college to study English full-time, I found that this technique aka “strange cheating” assisted me through out my academic career.

It was during this time that I was sharing my novel with my classmates and pretending that it wasn’t a novel that I thought about finishing it, but it took me another three years before I sat down and retyped the entire thing out again, but still with out the needed ending. I had an incredible love hate relationship with my work. There were moments when I wanted to burn the thing and moments when I thought it was brilliant, but ultimately it was the characters that kept talking to me. They would interrupt my dreams and daily thoughts living out their lives as if I was still writing them. In 2007, seven years after I got my initial idea to write the book that I was now calling Zizkov, I started working at  a corporate office. It was the most secure job I had ever had in my life. I had actually made payments on my student loans, I could buy clothes, I could save money, but I didn’t write. I felt my experience of the artist fading into a nostalgic past. At this time my grandmother passed away and I received a small inheritance, and had saved enough money to quit my job for 3 months, and still live comfortably. Once and for all I was going to write this damn book. I was confident I would complete it in three months and then find another corporate job as a receptionist. I would feel accomplished and be safe and secure and sound. September 15th, 2008 was my first day as a full-time writer and it was also the day the stock market plummeted into the sea like a mobster in cement shoes.

I kept writing.

My Book Cover Idea

I rewrote the entire novel in 3rd person. I created charts and back stories for all the characters. I did research on Prague and read Czech writers in order to refresh my memories of the city and its feel. I fantasized about the money my book would make me once it was turned into a movie. I rewrote it again in first person (not recommended). I wrote the first half at least in six different drafts, but never found my way to the true ending. Simultaneously I was sending out my resume. I sent out applications to jobs, and resume after resume with no response, not even a rejection, till I ran out of all my savings, till I lost the room I was renting, and until I had to rely on the generosity of my friends to house me until I could find work. When I auditioned for Inviting Desire, I was literally auditioning for my life. It was a miracle of fate that the one job that would save me from homelessness would be theatre. It was almost ironic.

While on tour I wrote a half-ass ending for Zizkov. When we ended the tour  and talked about future projects I swore up and down that I would complete this book because although it had an ending it was not finished.

Another year passed, surviving by retail, and various jobs before I could really commit to working daily on my manuscript. On a whim I applied to the Attic Antheneum. At first I was rejected, but due to a drop out and me being next in line, I was accepted. My goal was to complete my novel. On May 27th, eleven years after I knew I had a story I finished the book, but it was not like theatre. There was no applause, no one to clink pint glasses with, and no one to drown in the amazement that it was finally fucking completed. There had been people to support me along the way, encouraging friends, friends that helped finance my schooling, my peers and teachers in the antheneum, but at the end of the road I was alone. It was my idea to take the journey alone and I ended it alone. Sitting in front of my computer typing the last words I whispered a “holy fuck it’s done” and felt a whoop rise up inside me like we just won the world cup, but then I looked around the room, and there was no ‘we’ there was only me. I felt empty, weird, almost apathetic toward my work. All those years of fighting and this was it? It was a who cares? And that was it in its entirety, who cares but me? I was a writer I didn’t need an audience to finish the book. I didn’t need anything but me, and what did I really want? What did I expect?

When you create a play, when you perform, you perform for an audience. Everything is for the play itself and the audience. I can write for an audience and a publisher, after all I did dream about the movie, but in the end that isn’t what it’s all about. It doesn’t take an audience to write a book, in fact, I can just put that manuscript in a drawer or erase it all because it’s finished already, working toward publishing is something completely different. So why did I write it? Did I write it to have my voice heard or was it that I wanted to return to Prague? Was it that I wanted to be someone other than me, and be purely me simultaneously? Does it even matter? The answers were not there for me. So, I turned off the light, closed my laptop, and took a walk to shake off the feelings of loneliness. I had felt like I had just gone through a mutual break-up; we both knew it was over, but why, we had so much love? And still it was over.

Learning to draw by copying Jacob Lawrence’s 1940 Painting Harriet Tubman Series Panel #4

As I wandered through the streets near my apartment I heard the following voice of a young girl as she crouched on a rooftop:

I watched as J.P. threw the television from the roof of Jesse’s parent’s house. I don’t know why he does those things. He’s not even drunk. J.P. is straight edge, he just fucks shit up purely because he’s an asshole, but I don’t give a shit, I’m an asshole too.

And I knew I was listening to the voice of a new character, she was talking through me, and she was completely fiction —well—mostly.

And as far as Zizkov and the audience, the publication… I guess I can start journeying toward that road, but that is a different story.

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