“There’s no party that begins with church.”
And there is no sabbatical that begins with filing taxes and writing a check to the Internal Revenue Service but that is where I am today. In my Pre Sabbatical time after I write in the mornings, I sift through paperwork and drop figures into a tax organizer for my CPA. But once I get on the open roads next month, neither the I.R.S. nor the Texas jury summons I responded to online will be given my attention.
The first morning of my first day, I did not wake up at my normal 5:30am but at 10:30am (noisy neighbors). I didn’t let a few hours lateness take me off course, though. I rushed downstairs, flipped on the coffee pot and sat my butt in the writing chair which for now is not my writing office but the dining room table. For the briefest second after opening the laptop, a bolt of fear hit and I said out loud, “Oh shit,” as in Oh shit, what did I get myself into. Why did I have to tell the entire world that I was going to write a novel? But I didn’t say novel. Did I say novel? I don’t think I said novel. Who writes a novel in a year? WTF was I thinking?
But that was only one-half second, maybe a full one, then I laughed and I started writing. It’s so much fun to be insane!
PBS aired a program, Stand-up to Sitcom, about comedians who successfully transitioned to television from the stage — Newhart, Burnett, Barr, Seinfeld, etc. Bob Newhart was an accountant before he became a comedian. Those familiar with his stammering style of delivery can picture him in a starched white shirt and office suit and tie. While tabulating figures and processing endless rows of numbers, Newhart scribbled out comedy bits at his desk throughout the day. In the evenings, he frequented clubs that would allow someone dry like him to stand and tell jokes. He was the most unlikely of comedians so that when he quit his accountant job to pursue comedy full-time, everyone including himself, thought he was crazy. The hardest lesson Newhart said he learned was how to become a comedian as he was being a comedian.
That’s where I am. I’ve no illusions about my writing. Well some. I can definitely picture Oprah interviewing me on a maroon velvet sofa while I say how I really got started. Like Newhart, I have to learn what I do not already know with grammar, prose, basic editing. I will be learning to write as I write.
It’s no secret that writers expand their craft and vocabulary by becoming not voracious writers but insatiable readers. As I mentally pack my two suitcases for my writing road-trip, I can share that the contents will look like this: One suitcase will be full of clean undergarments and a selection of clothes not falling apart. The other will be filled with books and maybe even one of Bob Newhart’s for inspiration.
The Rolling Stones
I had two wonderful writing professors when I was completing my graduate work. The first guided me in the art of free-style writing where you sit and let the words flow out, not worrying how they sound or whether they make any sense. (Apparently, I’ve mastered this.) The time for editing comes later she always said. The second professor was much more in love with the perfect prose and never held back on her critiques. She was the kind of mentor any struggling writer needed to develop a style. When my sentences didn’t make sense or inanimate objects performed action in my stories, a great deal of red marks showed up in my manuscripts. Her favorite phrase: “Show me, don’t tell me.”
The writing project I completed for the second professor ended up being more than a 52,000 word essay, but it took me 30,000 words before I found my writing voice. My final manuscript was good enough as a thesis, but for consideration by a literary agent, it needed to be re-framed. Even though I knew this, I still stalked writing agents at a conference in 2012. One asked to see my first fifty pages and after I sent off that manuscript, I received a pleasant, “I like it but I can’t sell it.”
I would have believed the agent more if she had said, It needs work, as it so obviously did. I realized my own truth when a month after the agent’s initial rejection, I received an email from her that began, “Dear Rosemary …” The email went on to read that she and her literary house wanted to publish my work titled – [something not mine]. The entire time I was reading the email, my heart was pounding fast but not with excitement as one might expect. I wasn’t saying Yes! Yes! Yes! in my head. My heart was pounding No! It’s not ready. It’s not good enough. It still needs so much work. And I was right because the agent wasn’t talking about my manuscript but someone else’s, and the attached contract wasn’t for me but for another Rosemary.
The color red filled up my cheeks from embarrassment but not the humiliation that comes from thinking you were picked for a team then they decided to choose the other guy. I was shy about my own work and I hadn’t realized how deeply until that moment. The problem was, I didn’t know how to fix the manuscript, how to do a full overhaul, how to build a whole new framework. I’m not even sure I know how to do this today. What I do know is how to go about trying, who to contact to figure this out, and I feel oh so much more comfortable admitting that I don’t know what I don’t know.
After the sad second rejection from that literary agent, I put that writing pile aside. I did email a few more anemic requests to other agents and when they did not respond, I shrugged my shoulders with indifference. Over time, I surrounded my writer’s pile on the desk until I almost couldn’t find the original manuscript when I walked into my writing room. All of this, of course, was happening simultaneously with Hook’s diagnosis. After a few months of dribbling words on the laptop screen in that old manuscript, I gave up. I gave up not because Allan was sick but because it was a great excuse to say, “I have writer’s block,” when really I meant, I have writer’s fear.
I turned inward to the only consistent, writing outlet I had, which happened to be a blog — this blog. This was a safe platform to dump a truckload of emotions, to share pieces of a world that made less and less sense, and to write and write and write. It wasn’t manuscript writing, but it was the lifeline that I needed at the time.
I vaguely remember a song playing at Hook’s memorial, The Rolling Stones, You Can’t Always Get What You Want. I’m not sure why he mentioned it during our awkward “which songs would you like played at your memorial” conversation. Whether it was for him or for me or for both of us no longer matters, because yes, we get what we need. Sometimes what we need comes in the oddest forms and timelines and when it reaches us finally, we have to answer that calling, we have to answer our truth.
Pre Sabbatical Update
What I really wanted to share were some of my writing projects — what they’re about, how far along they are. But, I am determined — Determined! — to reduce the number of words per blog post. Here instead is a quick and fast sabbatical update:
- WHEN: Pre sabbatical now; Road sabbatical July 15th.
- WHERE: Expect first landing spot to be the Outer Banks in North Carolina.
- WHAT: There is someone out there who has no pets but likes cats. You know you want to call me. Call me!
- HOW: Note to self: Call the damn realtor.
Until next Monday …