Wouldn’t it be nice if the words just flowed from my fingers? And that books just flew off the shelves. And awards and accolades just happened to those of us who want them, not necessarily deserve them. Malcom Gladwell wrote that it takes about 10,000 hours to become accomplished at something. Why can’t that be 10? Just lop off a few zeros, and voila! Instant accomplishment! I mean, in accounting they do it all the time.
So I have been hitting the wall writing book 2. Tom and Emmy. It might be that the subject matter is too close to me—a fiction, yes, but based on my parents and in particular, my mother’s diaries. When we found the diaries in mom’s underwear drawer, we were cleaning out her house the week after she had died. My sister Kathryn came across them. She shouted, “Guess what I found!” I thought it might have been mom’s diamond ring that she had misplaced years ago. We knew it was in the house someplace, we just didn’t know where. Neither did she. She died not knowing.
But that prize was still waiting to be found. This was a far more precious prize. Kathryn came out of Mom’s bedroom with three books. Old, leather-bound diaries. Two were five-year diaries, but not all filled out. The third one was a one year—1942. They were filled with her perfectly formed cursive fountain pen writing. Some were in even print. 1942 wasn’t filled out completely. That was the year they went into the Japanese internment camp. It was also the year they married.
The early years—when she was 13 years old to about 15—were mudane. Waking, going to school or Sunday School. Talking with friends, describing classes, teachers. But as she got older, they got more interesting. Dances that she wanted to go to, but had no date. (I thought I was the only teenager that went through that agony.) Boys. Girlfriends. Clubs. Parents who fought. A brother who was a shadow, fading in and out.
The juicy parts when she and Daddy became intimate. My sister protested when I began to read those parts. I thought they were the best—she thought I was being invasive.
These diaries, that spanned from the time she was 13 to 21 were obviously important to my mom. When they were rounded up for internment camp, they could take only what they could carry. And she brought these diaries. She tore photos out of albums, taking pictures of relatives and friends from her life but leaving albums empty and abandoned. She brought a colander made by West Bend. A huge turkey platter. Some of it didn’t make sense. They buried precious items in the back yard in tin cans, thinking they would return and retrieve them, but of course they didn’t. and if they had, could they have found anything preserved? We will never know.
But the writing of the story is a difficult one. I think about it all the time. Of life in the 30s and 40s. Of being young and in love. Of being scared of FBI agents. Of a father being rounded up and taken with other old men—except they weren’t that old, maybe 40 or 50. When you are 20, everyone over 30 seems old. The block is large. I try to write everyday to push the block aside. It budges, slightly, then rolls back.
I think it is too personal, even though it is fiction. It is writing about real people in a pretend world. But the people aren’t really real. I only knew Tom and Emmy as my parents. I don’t believe parents really know or understand their kids at all. How can we? We are too close, we have too many biases. We have this overpowering emotional love that makes everything blurry.
So I have been thinking of another approach. A way to make this Book 2 something to look forward to, not a burden of responsibility, an anchor, a load.
I should be thinking that it is a special gift I have been given—to be able to write, able to read the thoughts of my mother and blend it with the myth that is my father. I should be picturing myself in a blooming garden with birthday presents spread around me—the anticipation of opening each gift, each story, waiting for me to pick and choose what brightly wrapped episode to tear into next. It is a happy picture. I am not an old woman attacking the presents, but a young girl, fresh with energy, wide-eyed with the wonder of the moment.
And each present, once opened, can be set aside for the next new wonder to unwrap in the next sparkly paper and shiny ribbons.
Pick a present, write, put the present aside. One by one, the chapters of Tom and Emmy’s life grows and takes shape. I don’t have to eat the whole elephant in one sitting. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do. Looking at this enormous elephant, wondering how I can possibly cut through the thick skin.
No, this is more like petits fours. Small gateaux to pop into my mouth and relish the sweetness, the delicate frosting, the tiny rosebud on each cake. Ah! Chocolate! Strawberry! Almond! Vanilla!
I can do this.
This blog was prompted by the song title, Wouldn’t It Be Nice? – The Beach Boys