Soup and Misery: What motivated me to write my first book
After my mother died on a cold January morning, I stayed in the hospice room for the next eight hours with my hand over her womb, contemplating my own impending death. No, I’d had no bad news test results, no aches or agonies. But in middle age, I was looking more and more like my mother. With a little imagination, that could be my body on the bed, empty of soul and out of time. In those hours of fresh grief, I sat with my oldest friend, Julie, and felt the last vestiges of my innocence about my own mortality fall away. For the first time, I knew with a pale, grim certainty that one day I would die.
Julie and I finally went out into the winter dusk for a bowl of soup, and there I poured out my misery. It wasn’t just my mom’s passing that engulfed me in mourning; it was that I saw myself for what I really was, a fearful woman who allowed that fear to rule my choices in lots of areas, and at the head of them all was the gnaw of my inadequacy when it came to my writing and the terror of trying to get published. To anyone who ever wondered what the most boring question in the universe is, it is this: What if I’m not good enough?
Well then, and what if I am? I’d been fooling around for a year with a short, humorous manuscript about my experiences discovering the Orthodox Church. Now that manuscript, and my lack of attention to it, began to haunt me. I wasn’t finishing the book because …. because what? Because I’m scared, lazy, easily distracted, and live under the delusion that tomorrow is as good as today, that’s what. I knew that unless I got serious fast and wrote as hard as I could for the rest of my life, I would never be my truest self. I would be committing psychological suicide. Everything changed then. Serial rejection by publishers every day and month and year for the rest of my life seemed suddenly less torturous than the bleakness of never trying. I decided I would write my first book and have some portion of it on an editor’s desk before Thanksgiving.
It’s a blessing that the stakes were high, and that death was looming. Out of desperation to stay alive, my motivation grew to the proverbial fever pitch. The lean, mean muscle of disciplined writing made those months exhilarating. I even met my self-imposed goal, literally running through the season’s first snowstorm because the roads were bad in order to get my manila envelope in the mail, full of precious chapters. It was very dramatic, very writer-ly.
The following year, Regina Orthodox Press published my book, Great Lent Unplugged (alas, that little experimental gem just went out of print). It was the rush of my life, right up there with other highly memorable rushes, all of which seem to have taken place when I as a teenager, like my first kiss and reaching the top of Mt. Rainier alive. Despite the book’s flaws, I still feel exhilaration when I pick up my copy to read favorite passages once again and look at the cover with my name on it. Note to everyone: one’s name on the cover of a book is a drug.
Of regret, British Poet Laureate Ted Hughes said this: “The only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart…”
Don’t die; invest enough heart.
I like your blog dear Jean. It gives the reader so much insight into why you are a writer. Keep up the good writing. :)
I remember all of this well. I need to heed these words and set my own life or death deadline.
Jean, I just started reading the book. Its John & Maydelle’s copy. I saw it laying on a table and week after week it called out to me, “Please, someone read me.” I obeyed.
Lisa, I hope you enjoy it! In case you’d rather read a more polished version of the story, a new edition is now available through Westbow Press.