It occurred to me the other day that I’m no longer fun. I’ve become incredibly focused, and intense; a little unhappy figure dressed in black, huddled over her laptop, projecting urgency and despair; sucking in anxiety through her cheekbones like a chain smoking existentialist. Exhaling le monde est totalement merde.
It could be said that I have never been fun – have never even come close; choosing to pretend that once upon a time I was carefree. The kind of girl known to bounce, hair flying, at a moment’s notice, hopping into convertibles for a malt or a sundae at any opportunity, all the while projecting radiance and an aura of indefatigable excitement – instead of the type of person who comes out (and then only resignedly) once confirmed via a tentatively pencilled date in the calendar.
Writing a collection of short fiction is not the whimsical trip I imagined. It has turned out to be brutal and gut wrenching: a nerve wrecking, cuticle-chewing year of thrills.
Perhaps a book isn’t supposed to be fun. Maybe it is more like childbirth, with the fear and anxiety making everything hurt twice as much. The suffering only forgotten when the rosy-faced finished product is finally evidenced.
I can tell you that the revision process is hell. Particularly the stage where I sit in front of my stories with a blunt pencil, questioning every turn of phrase and deconstructing each line of my story, until I am a neurotic mess, trying not to sweat or bleed over my keyboard, praying I don’t short circuit myself; part of me hoping I do get sizzled, so at least someone else can edit my work and publish me post mortum.
And the crazy part? The doubt never ceases. It starts like a tiny crack in the perfect alabaster of a story: a blemish, a dot, a misguided word or an earnest remark. I take my eraser and neatly rub it out. There, I say, removing the offending word or line. But all is not right, as Ms. Clavel says.
The satisfaction I had at finishing a story soon turns into a frown. If I made one mistake, surely there are more. The frown is now a permanent crease sitting in the middle of my forehead. I forget the careful eraser and I’m slashing and burning away with abandon. Phrases, lines, even entire paragraphs get hacked. I’m unstoppable, like some demented crop-infested farmer. I grow giddy hunting out inconsistencies.
I’ve turned into a zealot. Ha, I say to myself. So trite, so cliched, such average writing! Who will want to read this flawed prose? Who will believe my stories?
And I don’t stop at my writing. No. I wring my hands and second-guess the sagacity of ALL my choices starting from the time I wrote that story in the second grade, the one Mrs. Miller loved. Yes, I blame YOU, Mrs. Miller for encouraging me. Most of all, I blame my seven-year-old self for thinking I could write. It is her fault I am in this situation.
The afternoon is beautiful. I should be outside, but I’m here with my fingertips bruised, my insides seething. The dog gives me pitiful looks from his corner, but I ignore him because I’m too busying revising.
I can no longer stand my characters, even the decent ones. I hate their whininess, their needy ways, their desire and their inarticulateness. I hate my clueless friends who don’t understand. I hate my published friends, who understand all too well. I hate myself for being silly and tedious. Mostly, I hate the fallacy of having chosen a pastime that forces me to question myself constantly.
I make empty promises to the dog: Let me change one more thing. Don’t look at me like that. I’ll take you out when I’m finished.
At 10:00, the poor dog has given up and taken his self-pity to the living room, while I sit alone in my office, feeling depressed because I haven’t written anything new in months. How could I? I spend all day knee-deep in destruction.
At some point I have travelled so far from my original point, that all the time spent polishing and perfecting, now seems pointless. I sit on top of all that mess: a lopsided, trying too hard to be genuine, suspicious tasting cherry. And everyone knows, Twin Peaks stems and fancy sundaes apart, that artificial cherries are never as good as the real thing. For one, you can’t fall in love with an artificial cherry.