My longest relationship has a runtime of approximately seven years. No, it’s not a human relationship (though I am about to celebrate my third anniversary…but that’s a story for another time). My longest, most torturous, most wildly unstable relationship has been with the book I’ve been writing. It’s been a completely-and-totally-right-for-me, yet absolutely-taxing/exhausting/kill-me-now relationship. It’s fulfilled me in ways I never imagined: spiritually, emotionally, physically (umm…sure, why not?). It’s been a greedy, selfish lover, a drug I cannot quit. It’s given me serious stamina. I’ve wanted to delete the entire project too many times to count. It’s made me laugh, cry, feel utterly useless, want to run away screaming, but most of all, it’s made me feel whole.
It’s important to hold on to the things that make us feel whole.
I started working on my novel during my sophomore year of college. I remember the exact day, down to the smallest detail. It was Fiction Writing, and my professor decided to conduct class outside because it was one of the only days during the rebirth of Spring that wasn’t shrouded in the usual March-winds/April-showers clouds that Ithaca was well-known for.
We sat in a patch of grass right outside of the Roy H. Park School of Communications. The professor, a wildly eccentric woman with long, matted hair, black-rimmed glasses that dangled on the tip of her nose, and a baggy button-down shirt a brilliant robin’s egg blue (the kind you’d find in a hippy-inspired clothing magazine for the “free-spirited” adult), handed out small folded slips of paper. On the slip of paper was a haiku by Billy Collins:
Full moon on new snow,
and in the corner
an open can of white paint.
I sat and studied the words for a few minutes, unsure of what I would write. But it stirred something within me that I couldn’t ignore. Words swirled around my brain like a whirlpool, a tsunami of creativity was waiting to break on the shores of the notebook resting on my lap. The warmth of the sun splashed my face, tired and cold from the harsh Ithacan winter; the words crawling from the tip of my pen onto the slip of paper were the hot cocoa I needed to sooth my soul, a juxtaposition of pure sustenance and sweet inspiration.
I saw a white wall, no, a wall of bricks. A rooftop scene.
Snow Rain. Droplets of water running down the bridge of a nose of a character who, in one or another, has been a part of my very essence since I was 15 years old. Out of the corner of my his eyes, was a girl. Chocolate brown hair with, big, beautiful eyes, the kind that are easy to get lost in. His best friend.
It was the beginning of something, this scene. A turning point, perhaps, in their friendship. One way or another, there would be a loss of innocence. That much I knew. Maybe not in the traditional sense of, you know, [whisper] s-e-x. But maybe it would be about sex, because isn’t everything? To me, the snow represented purity, and the open can of white paint was a symbol of that loss, of an attempt to recreate that innocence, to repaint over the scuffs and cuts and bruises of adolescence in order to regain what was lost.
That was the beginning.
I couldn’t stop writing. I shut myself in my dorm room for nearly two months, going out for the occasional black-out drunkfest with my future roommates.
Until I had a complete manuscript. The title? Rooftops and White Walls. It was horrible. But at the time, I thought I had written the next Catcher in the Rye. I was certain that this was the next Great American Novel. I had tapped into a gold mine. I even submitted it to my Fiction professor, and she was blindingly supportive, calling it inventive and saying that I had an undeniable voice.
I had friends telling me that they wanted to read it. I was floating on Cloud 9 [if you’re unaware, Cloud 9 is an actual place; it’s located on the corner of Delusions of Grandeur and High Expectations].
Then I realized that it was completely and totally wrong.
As I was slowly coming into my own skin as an adult, I realized that the narrator, my protagonist, was a phony, unsympathetic character. I wasn’t writing him with any sort of authenticity. And that’s because I, myself, wasn’t yet authentic.
Somewhere along the way, the snow around me melted. I was exposed without awareness.
In front of me, an empty can of white paint.
To Be Continued…