No matter how old I get, no matter how many books I’ve published, there’s something about the moment when the doorbell rings and the man at the door says, “Delivery for Davis, six boxes of books,” that just makes me giddy.
My new book arrived this morning! And like any new parent, I think it’s the prettiest book in the world. (Okay, I know it’s not, not really, not in the WHOLE world, but it is darn attractive, I think.)
I hold it in my hands. I turn it over. Read the back copy. Flip through the pages. Run the paper through my thumb and forefinger, testing quality. My Best Beloved bounds down the stairs, camera in hand, to record the moment, even though I’m still unshowered, in my sweats, with my hair in a messy bun. Who cares?
Year of work. Weeks of self-doubt. Days of frustration at not being able to get the dream in my head down onto the page. Hours of solitude and obsession. And now this. A book. Real. Hefty. Solid. Pleasing to my eye. Warming to my heart. A little momentary boost of confidence, which won’t last, but for which I am extremely grateful nonetheless.
The stories in this collection have been written on and off over the past, oh, seven years or so and it is strange and wonderful to see so many hours of toil, so many metaphorical breadcrumb trails through the dark wood, become a tangible something.
It’s also a bit odd to review the themes that have caught my attention over the past years. This collection, like all collections written over an extended period, rather than all-of-a-rush over a season, it is a sort of memory book. This story was written as my years living in Paris were coming to an end, this one was written when I was worried about a friend who faced jail time, this one when I was grieving the death of my brother, that one after a conversation I had about aging when I really did see a young man walk down the street wearing white wings, that one when someone I care deeply about struggled with mental illness… and so on.
I’m not saying these stories are autobiographical, but they are snippets of what I was thinking about at certain periods. On the other hand, as Somerset Maugham said, writers are not God, we do not create out of nothing. We mine our own lives, and the world as we perceive it, and we filter these people and events through our imaginations. Often, in fact, although a story may have been inspired by an actual experience we or someone we know lived through, by the time we sift it through our minds, mix it with the ingredients we believe make good fiction (pacing, conflicts both internal and external, significant detail,symbolic gestures and so forth) it bears little resemblance to the original idea/event.
But if the ‘true’ details of my live may not be decipherable from these pages, there are clear themes. What do we desire? What do we need? Can I trust that even if, as the song goes, I don’t get what I desire, I will still be provided with what I need?
How does the tension between these two things affect our lives? I see that I always seem to be wrestling with the question of whether the universe is a) neutral and uncaring, b) malevolent and annoyed specifically with ME, or c) benevolent and tilted toward creation. I say, in my day to day conversations, that I believe in response c) — however, I still seem to be asking the question, don’t I? Perhaps that’s because, depending which answer we believe, our perspective on the whole of creation shifts, and so does our response to it — our behavior, in other words. Competition. Despair. Self-defense. Aggression. Trust. Passion. Altruism. Compassion.
The Mohawks have a prayer I love, wherein each of the creatures on the planet is thanked for remembering their original instructions from The Creator, and for carrying them out. But so many of us, me included, seem to have either been given the wrong information about what those instructions are, or else we have forgotten them. This changes what we desire, and what we perceive as our needs.
Sometimes, desires leap out and grab us by the throat. We didn’t know they were there. We didn’t plan for them. Carl Jung said they are rooted in what he termed “the shadow,” and postulated that until we understood our own shadow side and tamed it, we would be forever at its mercy. This also fascinates me.
But, themes and literary analysis aside, just for today, this is a time of celebration around here. There will be time tomorrow for criticism and poor sales, for rejection and hurt feelings — all part of the publishing process, I’m afraid, let’s call it The Shadow Side, shall we? But today, I just want to say thanks to all the people who buy my books, and make my publishers happy enough to keep publishing me.
Thank you for encouraging me to live my life as a writer.