a month ago, i was asked to do a q & a for the biographers group newsletter. one of the questions: who will your next project be about?
for the first time, beyond this blog and a small circle of friends, i spilled the beans.
that q & a has not yet been published. that answer is not yet totally real.
yesterday, in a cafe, we're talking about networking machinations in advance of an application for a post-doc when N says, oh but you're going to tell them about the harding project, right? (N is very excited about my triptych.) and i say, no, no, i'm like three years away from being able to write that book at least. and N looks at me warily as if she knows something i do not yet know, and she says, i think you should at least mention it. say, hey, i have this other project. would you be more interested in that?
and i say, yeah, yeah, ok, i'll mention it, mostly to get her off my back, because i know myself and i know i'm three years (AT LEAST) away from tonya harding and i know we have to emotionally prepare ourselves to go to this event we've organized.
and because tonya harding feels like a scary place.
here's the thing. truthbomb. not yet two weeks ago, i found at that my student loans end the very minute i turn in my dissertation. a terror that is still a year and half away but which- with that revelation- came zooming six months closer. and so i spent the weekend manically producing this article about jackie and first ladies and silence, an endeavor that felt more like an exorcism than an exercise in rigorous thought and which totally destroyed my back. the end result is a draft of a paper that is either brilliance incarnate or totally ridiculous. that remains to be seen.
upon preparing to move to england, i wrote a lot about the trapeze. and about how, methodically, it seemed like the safety nets were being removed. the funny thing about moving is that it takes ages to feel at home, and just about the very minute you do, that homeyness gets shaken up by something like the notification that your loans are going to end the very moment you are taxed to the maximum because you're handing in a ginormo document into which you've been directing all your energies for three years. and so you are emotionally bereft and neither in a position to leave the country or support yourself financially. awesome.
the nets are being taken away again. only there's a year and a half of notice this go-round. which is both for the best and the absolute worst.
my impulse is always to go for the safe bet. the grants, the funding, the long term academic project that will produce something interesting and ground-breaking in the field of obituary and aging studies, two fields that don't even really yet exist. so it's dangerous in a way. even though it's entirely dependent upon timing and luck and might still wind up with me in debtor's prison or at my parents', it's still a career. it's defined. there's a template. there is a path.
there is, right now, nothing that feels nearly so dangerous as tonya.
tonya is the total absence of a path. because tonya is basically the breaking of everything i've spent the last twenty years learning how to do. the breaking and then the putting together of the pieces in a new way. tonya is painful. tonya hurts. not as much as hillary, but close. you guys, TONYA WILL GET ME SO MANY EYEROLLS.
you would think that i would've learned my lesson from that one time when i sat in a bar and told a guy i barely knew that the one thing i knew i would never ever do was to get a phd. the very day before i got the email about the program i am, at present, in.
you would think that i would've learned to shut my stupid mouth. that, in saying these things, making these giant claims, i only open up the most dangerous roads. and that, once opened, i can only walk down them.
there is nothing now that feels so dangerous as tonya.
nothing that feels so dangerous as trying to survive whilst writing about tonya.
yesterday, i sat in that cafe and i said, no, no, i'm like three years away from being able to write that book at least. because i am a terrible coward. because there are books that i do not have the courage to write. books upon which i fear i will not be able to build a life.
we tell stories in order to live, the wise, wise joan didion once wrote. and yet it is hard to live upon just stories.
there is a fork in the road. it's a year and a half away, but i can see it there in the distance.
there is nothing now that feels so dangerous as tonya harding. i am not ready. that book's at least three years off.
we tell stories in order to live. yes, we do, but we writers, we tell stories because they come after us. because we have no fucking choice. they hunt us down, as we lug the groceries home, trying not to further our injure our aching back, they hit with such ferocity that we have to breathe deeply and say no, no, i am not ready aloud to ourselves only to, in the next moment, relent. to stop in the middle of the street and pull out the paper and the pen and write down the two sentences that hit the mind like a bolt of lightening three blocks ago.
two sentences in the morning.
three pages tonight.
tonya harding is coming to get me. i am not ready. and i am not sure that matters.
because honestly, there is no fork in the road. there is no choice. when the story comes to get you, when the story is ready, when the story pushes through the resistance of anxiety and skin and bone and the story lands in the very core of your heart, when the story becomes an integral part of your own depths, there is no choice there. there is only a relenting, a giving in, acceptance. and so you pull out your pen and your paper and you put the opening two sentences on the page and you tell yourself, we are going to go here. because you cannot not go. the story bears down. the story picks you so that you might give it life.