The Indie Experiment-The Truth

Self Publishing, Writing Process

My Indie Journey From Start to Finish:
The Indie Experiment:The Beginning
The Indie Experiment:The Decision
The Indie Experiment:The Teacher

The Indie Experiment: The Truth

 …the thing about hiding, even if it’s just one small part of who we are, is that it doesn’t hurt anyone but us–I’ve been re-reading this line for the past half hour, trying to figure out a way to frame this part of my journey. It’s a scary part and a sad part and something I don’t know how to talk about because I never really have before. Not like this where anyone and everyone can hear me, not without ducking or dodging or hiding or making myself sick. I don’t want to talk about it but I have to. I know that. Because this is how it all began, how I wrote something down and it changed my life, how it changed me.

The Things They Didn’t Bury isn’t a story about a girl looking for her mother or a girl falling in love for the first time or a girl growing up and coming into her own. It’s about me and I didn’t even realize it until I was over 70,000 words and four drafts in. When I was sixteen I found out the man who’d raised me wasn’t my biological father. One moment I was whole and happy and safe and the next I was empty and full of cracks, pieces of me scattered in people and places and memories I’d never known. For a year I didn’t try to fill them or fix them; I didn’t acknowledge them at all. Instead, I did what my family did best, I buried that secret so far down that pretending it had never happened was almost as easy as breathing. But the thing about cracks, about pain, is that even when you can’t feel them there, even when you’ve convinced yourself that they never existed at all they still do. They are invisible and when they are invisible they are dangerous. Because when you can’t see the cracks you have no idea when they’ll split you in two.

A year after I found out that I was the family secret the man who’d raised me got sick. My father was dying and we didn’t even know it and suddenly that year of pretending was all waste. Because it only made losing him that much harder. I hadn’t dealt with things because I hadn’t known how and even when I started writing it wasn’t to pull me out of anything, it wasn’t to work through my feelings, or to serve as some kind of cure. I was writing for escape. And yet, I hadn’t escaped a thing. Because after finishing The Things They Didn’t Bury, after reading the final version of something that had been in a constant state of evolution for three years, I was faced with all of it. Everything that I’d felt, everything I didn’t want to feel, everything I thought and believed and worried about. I was faced with the truth of me. My truth. And I finally realized why I hadn’t broken down, why I hadn’t given up after being abandoned by one father and burying another. Because those things that were inside me weren’t strangling me anymore. They weren’t stewing and they weren’t ruining and they weren’t hurting me. Not like before. Because they were trapped somewhere else, in that story, in those words.

Words. That’s what saved me. Even when I wasn’t paying attention. Even when I was just trying to escape. They saved me anyway and they keep saving me. When I’m afraid of failing or I’m afraid of being rejected or I’m afraid of feeling. Writing lets me feel things without being cut open, without being destroyed. Writing lets me say anything and be anything. Writing lets me share and connect and discover. That’s why I write and why I can’t stop. Because writing frees me from the shame of secrets. Writing lets me tell the truth.

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The Indie Experiment-The Decision

Self Publishing, Writing Process

My Indie Journey From Start to Finish:
The Indie Experiment:The Beginning

The Indie Experiment:The Decision

The Things They Didn’t Bury was still in the Scraps of Incoherency stage by the time my first year of college rolled around. I sat down to work on it every once in a while, but the truth was, it was the idea of it that excited me most of all. Putting the pieces together was fun but using those pieces to build something with depth and meaning and, oh yeah, words, was hard. Writing was hard and even though every time I did it, something surprisingly good came out of it, I was still treating it as a hobby and not my life. I’d discovered this passion but there was still this part of me that was afraid to follow it. And it certainly didn’t help when everyone and their mother had the same opinion about majoring in the arts. That it was a waste. That it would lead nowhere. That it was only for self-indulgent hippies (even though most college students are self-indulgent hippies). So I was afraid. I was afraid of so many things–being vulnerable, being honest, being a failure. And I delayed the inevitable, keeping my consideration of majoring in Creative Writing all to myself, and even more than that wishing it would just disappear. But it didn’t. Even when I almost did.

November of my first semester of college my father was diagnosed with cancer. After six months of misdiagnoses they finally found the thing that was killing him and it was too late. It gutted me. For a year I watched him dwindle down to sharp edges and pale skin, my giant amazing father suddenly smaller than me in every way.  And there was nothing I could do about it.

My first semester of college was a blur. I dropped out of every club and missed every game and wandered from class to class without speaking a word to anyone. And when the spring semester rolled around I took the bare minimum, torn between wanting to hide at school so I wouldn’t have to see him hurting but knowing it would hurt me more if I didn’t. So I stayed home with my father while my mother worked, making him toast and eggs in the morning and fixing him lunch and showing him how to work the laptop, all while swallowing glass. Choking on it until I could be alone in my car, parked in some grocery store parking lot or waiting for the gas nozzle to click off, strangers staring at me as I screamed into my steering wheel.

But in the midst of all of that there was a bright spot. Just one. I took my first Creative Writing class that semester, the roll call only six deep, my teacher the spitting image of a girl laying on the grass at Woodstock, and I loved every second of it. We focused on short stories and the first one I wrote was about a single dad who lived with his two kids in some imaginary town in South America called Paloma. It was uber-literary, full of imagery and run-ons, and totally pretentious. But even through all of that muck my teacher still said it was good and the most revolutionary part was that I believed her.

When they moved my father to a hospice facility it was right down the street from my school and I would curl up in the chair next to his bed with my moleskin notebook and just write. For hours, for weeks, that’s all I did. I would sit and write about these strangers who were feeling what I was feeling or feeling what I wanted to feel and I could see every heart like it was my own. I could see the world in all its mysterious connectedness, the threads between us all growing slack and taut. I could see the world, ugly and broken, naked and beautiful. For the first time I could see the world. And for the first time I didn’t feel so alone.

When you watch someone you love die everything has more meaning and everything has more urgency. And I was filled with this sense of urgency to make a declaration–about myself, about my words. That I was full of them. That there was nothing in the world that made me feel as free or whole or brave or alive. So I made that declaration, choosing the arts when everyone said not to, choosing to follow my gut even when I was terrified. But I had grown so much in the past year, I’d seen so much, done so much. I’d sat by my father’s death bed and told him goodbye. Something I still can’t believe I survived but something that made me strong. And in that moment of standing in my truth, I needed to be. Because I’d seen my place in the world. I’d seen the world and I knew that I was never meant to stand apart, alone. I knew I was never meant to be one tiny blip, a place marker, a point of reference. But I was meant to be the thread between those points, weaving words into the holes and empty spaces between us. I was meant to be a writer. Because that’s all writing is at its essence, a declaration to the world that says, “I am here and I am with you.” And even though it doesn’t always feel that way, when I am writing I know that nothing is more true, for all of the people I’ve met, all of the people I’ve had to let go, and all of the people still waiting, I am here and I am with you. Even when our hearts are broken we are not alone.