Friday, February 17, 2012

Books and Old Boyfriends

Next week I'll be getting KEOWEE VALLEY back from my editor at Bell Bridge Books, and my part of the editing process will begin. I can't wait. Literally, I'm itching to start. I picked up the novel two weeks ago, sticky notes and pen in hand, and began rereading for the first time in months. I was Sherlock without the faithful Watson, but on the hunt for content irregularities--like the fact that in one scene I'd given my protagonist a single chair, and in another scene she has two--and other mechanics mistakes: a doubled word, an odd sentence structure. Being an English professor, I'm a stickler for clean copy; it'll kill me if the final version of my novel has a mistake in it.

Breathe, my editor says. Put the manuscript aside for a few days; wait, she says, until you get it back from me. Then work. And after, let it go.

I've tried to back off from my novel, though review copies of it sit in a cardboard box at my feet. Sometimes, especially after a compliment from my publisher, or receiving a thrilling blurb from another writer, I pick up the novel and randomly flip it open, looking for what they see. At times, I catch a glimpse... at others, I see only potential, and I have to physically restrain myself from the primal urge to "make it better."

This is exactly how I used to be about ex-boyfriends.

In my past life, I was one of those people. You know: the person who wants to stay friends with ex-boyfriends. I could never understand how so suddenly I was cut off from this person I'd cared about, how I was supposed to remove him from my life and to forget anything we'd shared. Granted, I was a bit of a commitment-phobe before I met my husband, and so the person doing the "breaking up" was, 99 percent of the time, me. This puts a different spin on things, I know, but hear me out.

It's not just that I wasn't ready to let go of that person--that old love--it was also that I was second-guessingIt started in middle school with a boy I'll call Sam. Sam was a tall, dark, teen-idolish 12 year-old who began his pursuit of me by making fun of the size of my boobs. (I was a tomboy in every sense of the word, and at this point in my girlhood this type of male attention freaked me out and ticked me off. In essence, I'd no idea it meant he liked me.) Sam got better. Eventually he brought me roses. They were gorgeous. Still, I was confused. I liked him--alot. But I didn't know what to make of him.

Eventually, our young love was brought to a screeching halt with a three-way phone call in which I was forced to choose between Sam and my best guy friend, (we'll call him) Bart. My preteen intellect and hormones were flying around like the ball in one of those baseball machines at the arcade--you know the ones, where you stand and work the "bats" with your thumbs, and the little players twist this way and that, and the ball goes banging haphazardly into other plastic players and obstacles, and sometimes drops in the right hole. Mine usually flew completely out of the game into the "you suck at this" gutter. I didn't know what the heck was going on: I just knew that I liked Sam, I also liked Bart, and our little drama fueled the middle school gossip mill for months.

After I chose Bart--a whole other story--I couldn't help but wonder about Sam. I'd see him walk the halls--black-haired and brooding--or flirt with another girl, and I'd agonize over my decision. I still wanted to be friends! I still liked him. But he wouldn't talk to me.

Same thing happened in college, with my first real boyfriend. (We'll skip high school. That's a Sweet Valley High-meets-90210 boondoggle for another post.) We'd dated in high school, ended up at the same university. I liked this guy (we'll call him Alan) so much: he was cute, funny, and he liked the things about me that used to confound other guys. But freshman year, the whole college experience opened up before me like the deep end spreads below an Olympic springboard diver, crystalline, cool and sweet--with nothing to do but leap. And boy, did I leap.

Not long after my full-gainer reverse dive into the undergraduate experience, Alan started squiring about another girl on my hall. And suddenly, Alan--and our fun, heady, coming-of-age romance--began to look better to me than it had the first time. For a while, he responded to my emails, wrote me letters. He still cared about me, he said. After a  mountain weekend in Tennessee wherein a ton of Southern frat boys and amiable girls holed up in a big cabin together with free-flowing kegs, liquor, and music for three days straight (sorry, so sorry, Mom), we ending up kissing again. He kissed another girl the next night. It didn't hurt. But I was done. And yet, years later, I still want to be friends. It's an illness. 

Lastly, my first and only serious boyfriend before my husband--a wonderful guy, truly one of the good ones. This relationship, too, I broke (glad I did, or I wouldn't be married to my husband, but still... I broke it bad). And afterwards, I thought I wanted it back. Him back. I wanted his friendship, and I wanted more. But I wanted it on my terms, and he, I can say without a doubt, did not. He just wanted me. For months I tried to make him see that we could be friends; and, for a while, he came around--great guy that he (still, I'm sure) is--but it was too hard. Zoom in to us tailgating at a Clemson football game, both leaned up against the side of my parents' car, serious, me telling him I wanted to see him AND other people, and him telling me he couldn't and wouldn't. (At stage right are my parents and assorted family friends, trying vainly not to look like they're eavesdropping.)

And though I knew, somewhere deep down in my real self, that he wasn't the one for me and I certainly wasn't the one for him, I balked. I second-guessed. I wasn't ready to let go. 

The problem is, I want it my way, and I want it all. This has not abated since I was a 12 year-old brace-face or a 20 year-old co-ed. But it's my personality. And it ain't pretty.

Years later, I'm still, really, not friends with any of these guys, much as I'd honestly like to be. Two of them are "Facebook" friends. The last, I'm afraid, is gone for good, and any chance at friendship gone with him. That's my fault. And that's okay. 

My job, now, is to look at my novel like I look back at that last relationship I had before meeting my husband: to think on it fondly about once a year, remembering the good moments, and then to bid it adieu, wish it--and whatever comes of it--truly well.

To do this, I think I need balance. In my life, in my work, and at my desk. If I can achieve said balance, my life, my schoolwork, my next novel, and my desk will be better.

But currently, here's the state of my desk:

Would it frighten you to know that I cleaned it last night?

Here's another angle of my desk. My dog is the sprawling black animal on the right. She knows it's a non-preschool day and so we won't be hiking, and she's choosing to ignore me.

Looks all cozy and writerly, right? (In addition to being messy.) It is. Until you factor in the balance-upsetter, the game-changer, the love of my life: my two year-old. Can anyone achieve balance with a two year-old?

That's a ponder for another time. For now, here's what my husband and I got to try to distract the kid so I might find some balance in my writing life: (this is about three feet away from my desk)

Balance? Ba ha ha. Ha ha. Ha ha ha.

Happy Weekend, all!

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