Sunday, July 08, 2007

I half-assedly tried to organize a group of friends to go boogie-boarding in Bolinas today, but plans fell through as half-assed, ill-conceived plans are wont to do. Mercury is still retrograde.

I spent all day yesterday hunched over my laptop--six hours of it sitting on C's bed while he brought me coffee and breakfast and read the paper and commented on my drafts--writing the second scene of the musical.

I got ten pages, plus the beginnings of lyrics for two songs which could be a duet between husband and wife. But I haven't even gotten to the most interesting ideas, about service and sacrifice and the military and change.

I'm excited by this project--it's by far the most ambitious thing I've ever worked on. C ordered books from Amazon about how to write a musical, which he says are helpful. He says he feels like a do-it-yourself-er with the instruction manual in one hand and the tools in the other. That's how we're approaching this thing. He asked me if I ever worked on a big project before that failed. I answered: my novel.

I wrote a novel about Haiti called Where Spirits Walk in the late eighties. it took me two years, during which time I planned a big do-it-yourself wedding, got married, made a couple of quilts, wrote and published a lot of journalism, and struggled with depression.

I did not know how to write a novel. I never took a class on how to write a novel, or even read a book about how to do it. I just started. I wrote it from all different viewpoints, American, Haitian, male, female, in little pieces, like a patchwork. I even wrote a chapter from the point of view of Baby Doc Duvalier. Some of the pieces were good; a couple of them were published in The Sun during the nineties.

It was hard sledding. I worked in the little basement study I shared with Alan, who was cheerful and manic and ate pizza and talked and whistled and sang while he worked on his computer programming. It was just a hole in the wall with barred windows set high up, at street level, through which a little wan daylight filtered on summer afternoons. I worked on a Commodore 64 computer that we had bought at K-mart for one hundred and fifty dollars.

We also had a daisy-wheel printer that Alan had scavenged at a yard sale; it took up a whole wall and sounded like an airplane taking off. Very technologically cutting-edge. I wrote my first feature articles for the Boston Herald and the Boston Globe Magazines and the Boston Phoenix on that thing.

I worked on a desk made out of an old door that was propped up on crates and filing cabinets. Alan had a similar arrangement against the other wall. It was cozy; it was claustrophobic. I spent most of my time procrastinating and wallowing in feelings of worthlessness and meaninglessness and loneliness and isolation. Towards the very end of the novel I could not stand to sit at my desk at all. I remember asking Alan to tie me to my seat, which he did symbolically, with a loose bathrobe cord so that I could finish the book on April 28, 1988. Afterwards we went out to dinner. Kostly what I felt was a dull sense of relief and a desire to get out into the woods.

It wasn't a good book, although as a document of a time and place and experience it's vauble to me now. I needed to write in order to come to terms with everything I had experienced during my VISTA year; Haiti and Haitians and trying to come of age into this crumbling society. Poverty, injustice, mystery, spirituality, love, squalor and despair. And cockroaches.

I sent it out haphazardly to a few publishers and got no nibbles. I'm glad of the pieces that were published, and glad that I finished it, because no doubt it built character, but it's no big loss to the world of literature that the novel as is is not in print. I used to think about resurrecting it with all I've learned in the intervening years about structure and character development, and God help us, plot, but I haven't even had courage to reread it. C asked for, and received, a very dusty copy of the thing that I retrieved from my basement.

Am I scared that that will happen again? Another failure, another deeply-felt but poorly planned project that comes to naught? On a deeper level, am I scared that this partnership with C, which has begun with such generosity and imagination and willingness and cooperation, could founder the same way that my marriage to Alan did?

Well, yes. Hell, yes. My novel failed, my marriage failed, and here I am again, back at square one, with another hugely ambitious project, another sensitive creative man to negotiate and collaborate with...except it's decades later, and I find myself a little dented and lumpy and smarter and more scarred--and still willing. Willing and wary at the same time, because I know more this time around: I know that the musical is a long shot, I know that both C and I are complicated people and partnering is no walk in the park, I know that marriages always end in death or divorce, and that creative projects either never see the light of day or else go through so much blood, sweat, tears and change along the road to production that by the time they actually do come out you are often beaten down and wrung out and already engaged with the next thing.

I know that I'm signing up for a process with no guarantee of a product. So I'm trying to build in little rewards, little safety nets: I'm going to keep writing and publishing poetry and essays and other plays while writing the musical, I'm trying to keep my friendships and my independence front and center even as C and I spend more time together. But in the end, there's not much of a choice for me. I'm already signed up for this ride--I paid for my ticket ages ago.

1 comment:

Theresa Williams said...

Alison, it was so much fun reading the history of your writing life. I esp. like the description of the Daisy Wheel typewriter. The main thing about writing is just to endure, my friend. This writing is gorgeous. xoxxoxox