I don't know when I fell in love with stories, but it had to be early. Real early. Maybe in the womb as my incredible mother, one of the few people I have ever met who both read and processed faster than I could, devoured books while waiting for me to exit and make her life miserable in new and inventive ways.
In any event, it had to be early. I can remember preschool, sitting in the corner reading while the other kids played. I can remember curling into a couch, looking up from books to steal homework questions from my brilliant older sister before I was even old enough to go to preschool. My childhood memories involving books outnumber my memories involving friends about 8,302 to 7.
So like I said, I have no idea when it happened, but I fell in love with stories early. Having somewhat recently reached my third decade, and diving into the requisite self-examiniation that benchmark demands, thinking about my relationship with stories. I think that it would not be unfair to characterize my first fifteen years as being devoted to reading stories, while the second fifteen were dedicated to trying to live stories. I wouldn't be upset about spending the third fifteen writing stories, but I don't want to get ahead of myself.
I always wanted to write. I loved the way authors could create worlds within my mind. I wanted to dream in text, and share worlds with others. Like an author I respect while not particularly enjoying once put it, great writing is magic, it's telepathy, it is the the recreation in the mind of the reader of a thought that was trapped in my head. I loved the magic, and I wanted to be that kind of wizard.
The only problem was that I couldn't write.
I'm not suggesting the I was incapable of stringing letters into words, and words into sentences. I did write, all the time. I carried little journals everywhere, convinced that if I just kept the pen moving, eventually something worth reading would happen. It didn't. Whatever ephemeral transubstantiation by which collected sentences coalesce into coherent and compelling narratives escaped me.
For a few years I tried to switch to poetry, finding comfort in the restrictions, the form. For everything that came out of that experiment, I apologize, and hope any copies are burned, ashes consigned to the closest available sewage system. I took classes at college, trying to learn the secrets, and producing some underwhelming drivel, the horror of which produced the first of a series of major depressive episodes that have shaped my life since.
After leaving college sans degree to chase the wind for a while, I stopped writing. For the most part. I would force myself to the empty page now and again. Upon the repeated advice of dear friends for whom even now I cannot find adequate words of appreciation, I sought counseling. Climbing an escalating hierarchy of analysis from free clinics, to sponsored counselors, psychiatrists, internal medicine specialists, and neurologists I accrued more diagnoses than I care to list, and cycled through half a dozen psycho pharmaceuticals.
The complicated venn diagram of opinions resulted in two conclusions: I am likely on the autism spectrum, and definitely on the bipolar spectrum. While at the high functioning end of the former, I am closer to the furthest from that on the latter. I didn't enjoy the medication. It felt like having life muted, the world covered in itchy, foggy glass.
Which I guess brings me to the heart of the problem: my brain. My brain has been the only thing that I really like about myself for as long as I can remember. I love thinking about things, remembering things, learning things, discovering things. Obnoxiously so, as almost anyone who has suffered through a conversation with me could attest.
I spent some time wallowing in shame that my brain didn’t work the way I thought it was supposed to work. I eventually decided that the things that I like about my brain are more important. I have always known that my brain worked a little differently than other brains. I just had to expand how I thought about that difference. Just. Hah.
My mother’s death shook me. Though our relationship was far from easy, my mother had always supported my writing. She gave me every damned one of those little journals I carried around, and promised that she would keep providing them as long as I kept writing. She was not thrilled when I left school, even less when I stopped lying about still writing.
Three years ago, in November, I got the worst phone call ever. In one of my frequent frenzied attempts to generate functional fiction I had wanted to write about a person who had a clear, unequivocal, medical death sentence. After doing a fair amount of research, I chose pancreatic cancer, so when I heard what they had found in my mother, I knew what I was hearing. I flew home for the last Thanksgiving I think I’ll ever celebrate.
While I was there, my little sister wrote a book. To be fair, my younger sister had already gotten a master’s degree by that point, and has always been great accomplishing that to which she set her mind. She was participating in National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo, which I had first heard of when one of my former college roommates binge wrote a novel while in medical school.
I had always told myself that I would write a book, and that I would finish school, someday. After burying my mother I returned to life in Tucson, but I knew that I would never do those two things living there. With the knowledge that we don’t always get as many someday’s as we might imagine fresh in my mind, I quit my job, moved to Seattle, and started taking classes.
In lieu of Thanksgiving, I spent the following November participating in NaNoWriMo, the steady flow of words to paper with that word count hanging over my head every day. I met my goal, but I hadn’t finished anything like a story, so I kept writing. I wrote through December, and most of January, and then I didn’t.
The demands of school intensified, and scholastic writing stole all of my generative thought. By the return of summer I had lost whatever muse had carried me through the first rush of production, and could not return to the narrative until this November. NaNoWriMo again, words pouring onto sheets, and there it was. Not a finished product, by any stretch, but a finished story.
Both November’s were miserable, from an experiential sense. One of the hallmarks of a borderline personality, in particular, is the fun of experience the heights of both mania and depression, at the same time. At my most productive I am also my most miserable, which makes November the perfect month for writing.
I think I might hate November, and Thanksgiving, which makes me a little sad, as I used to count both among favorites of either months or holidays. I’m ok with that, though. I think I might hate this book that I’ve written, too. I know my mother would have hated it.
But she would have loved the fact that I wrote it, and I do, too. I love that I am doing graduate research, and have written a book that may or may not be awful. I don’t always enjoy the experience of how my brain works, but I wouldn’t trade what I can do with it for anything under our or any other sun. The life I wanted doesn’t look the way I imagined it would when I was a kid, but I’m happy to be here.
I am going to try and push the book into the publication process, and I hope to blog about my experiences along the way, maybe sprinkling in some samples of the book. That’s the plan, in any event. We’ll see how things go.