NOTEBOOK: Memoir Renovations Underway

NOTEBOOK: Memoir Renovations Underway

Today I had an appointment with my psychiatrist, but since we got there about an hour and a half early we popped into the nearby bike shop café for a bite of lunch. Michelle got busy with some tatting and I started in on the memoir rewrites.

First up is the chapter titled TIME TRAVEL, which discusses both the idea of time travel and my interest in it as a sf writer and fan, and how I thought about it as a way to explore my life, the way I imagined my whole memoir project. The publisher who rejected the book did nonetheless give me some excellent editorial notes on ways in which the book might be improved, and one was to bring this chapter forward and to develop it more, make the theme more explicit, so I’ve given the chapter a complete second-half rewrite, and made it, I hope, much stronger.

This is one of the most important renovation jobs required in the manuscript, so I’m hoping it turned out okay.

MEMOIR: TIME TRAVEL (Rewrite)

TIME TRAVEL

I have always been interested in time travel. My earliest memories include not just watching men in bulky white suits bouncing around on the Moon, but also Patrick Troughton as Doctor Who, battling Cybermen. I understood, even as a very little kid, that he could travel in time as well as through space. How I could understand, I do not know. It seems like an advanced concept to me now. Though I have written about fictional time travel many times (most successfully in my books about beleaguered time machine repair man Spider Webb, starting with TIME MACHINES REPAIRED WHILE-U-WAIT), I have no real grasp of how it might in fact happen, what it might look like, how it might feel, or anything. I’ve read lots of popular science books, and I can just about wrap my brain around the ideas of “closed timelike curves”, and the distinction between “timelike” and “spacelike”, but as I am lacking a grasp of the fundamentals of physics, I’m stuck. I tend to think of my time travel books as fantasy books more than science fiction because, for all that they go on about quantum this and nano-that, it’s plainly obvious that the stories run on magic. I need time travel to work to make the stories go, so here it is, working. And, oh look, here it is not working, hence the need for a repair guy.

I think about time and time travel a lot. I stand in places and imagine time passing. I imagine what it would be like to spend twenty-four hours in just one spot, watching time pass. I visit the same spot every day for several days, just to see how it’s different each time, how the passage of time has changed it. I think about car accidents, where but for a matter of seconds, or even split-seconds, everything would be different. If person A had done something just a moment earlier or later, how everything would turn out differently. Single moments when gigantic consequences pivot about like bank vault doors.

I have often thought about time travelling into my own past, generally with the intent of giving my gormless younger selves a kick in the arse. For one thing I would attempt to persuade my teenage, writing-mad self that he should allow for the possibility that there might be more opportunities in mainstream or literary writing than in science fiction, that he could do both, and perhaps introduce him to the work of Scottish writer Iain Banks, who wrote excellent mainstream novels, but who, writing as Iain M. Banks, wrote dazzling works of science fiction.

I have often thought, too, about my life, about my memories, the residue of what I’ve experienced, and it has often been dismaying how little remains, or seems to remain, from what I was pretty sure were rich and complex experiences. Why is there not more to show for all of that? Why am I left with these lousy snapshots? What do I do with these? When I think about these fragmentary bits and pieces, they often resemble, to me at least, fragments of film, or maybe very old snapshots (like the photos I remember from the 1940s-1960s, tiny things, smaller than a playing card, often black and white), random detritus of the sort you might find in a drawer belonging to someone who’s died.

What would it be like to time travel back across my life? To inspect the whole thing, from my earliest days, to now, my nervous present? What would the middle-aged grown adult novelist time traveller see when visiting the past that the poor bastard trying to make it through that day doesn’t or didn’t see?

And just how reliable is memory? Is it reliable at all? Is it more like what we have left of dreams after we wake in the mornings? How many times have I had (sometimes under the influence of amazing psychoactive medications) extraordinary, cinematic dreams that seemed, at the time, coherent and vivid, only to wake and find myself clutching at dissolving threads from a rich but inaccessible tapestry? Memories seem like this to me, the veil between now and the past like the one between waking experience and sleep.

But I’m trying to write about my life here. I’m trying to tell you the truth about it. I’m digging down into my emotional grease-trap to find you things I’ve told either nobody or only my psychologist. There are things I’ve been dying to tell, and here I am telling them–but are they true? Did they happen? Am I making it up?

I don’t think so. I hope not. I remember something like these stories, but often even as I’m writing I’m aware of selection and omission for the sake of storytelling. There are details I’m highlighting for dramatic purposes, and others that I’ve left out. The people I’ve mentioned, whether by their real names, false names, or no names at all, all did and do exist. The events did occur. But I worry. After I write one of these pieces, I stew and brood over it. Some of them I’ve rewritten, and some I’ve rewritten almost completely, and I expect to rewrite at least some of them again in the course of making all this into a proper book.

I’ve been reading a lot of books about writing memoir. They all talk about this problem, about dealing with truth, about trying to wrestle it to the ground, that it’s elusive because the actual truth is none of us remember everything in precise, encyclopaedic detail (such as, for example, the poor bastard in Borge’s story, “Funes the Memorious” who was cursed with complete, detailed memory of everything, all the time, ever). We all have gaps, sometimes big gaps.

How did it feel to be you in that moment when it happened? What was it like? How does it feel now, looking back on that draft of yourself? What do you do with that urge to warn your former self, to yell, “watch out!” Or “duck!”?

Time is a funny bastard. Some scientists would tell you there’s no such thing, that it’s imaginary, that it’s not a fundamental part of the universe, the way space is fundamental. Time is an illusion. Time is some kind of illusion brought about at least in part by the way we humans perceive the universe. That we create time in the course of creating the consensus reality we see around us.

I honestly don’t know. I’ve been reading all these impressive popular science books for years. Some of them are very choppy seas indeed. I read Stephen Hawking’s A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME about twenty years ago and am still in the recovery ward. I did manage to get through the thing, and “got” most of it, enough to make me angry I didn’t do better in high school maths and physics. I wanted to understand the real thing, not this dumbed down, talking-to-children account. I’d like to see the Schrödinger Wave Equation in person, and understand it, to follow its mathematics, see how it works, and why it works. It bothers me that I had such crappy teachers in school, and a head full of illness and noise, that I couldn’t understand this profoundly interesting thing. It bothers me so much, even all these years later.

Is time travel possible? Time travel to the future is certainly possible. You just have to approach the speed of light. The closer you get, the more time passes for the people you left behind back home. For you, time passes normally. But for people back home, ages pass.

Travel into the past? Nobody knows for sure. There’s a lot of research going on. A lot of intense mathematics.

But if you could time travel into your own past, would you? Should you? One of the essays in this book (“The Best Use of a Time Machine”) explores a hypothetical, the idea of a man who had an unhappy, guilt-ridden childhood where his parents were always fighting, and he always felt it was his fault, going back to visit that wretched boy, to tell him, to relieve him, to let him know that the house’s unhappiness is not his fault. None of it is his fault. He is not to blame. His father has an illness. He himself has the same illness. It’s okay. Where the Time Traveller comes from, Mum and Dad are okay and happy and together

But I thought, having written this essay, about my own unhappy past and my own comparatively happy present and happy elderly parents, why not write this up as a story? Why not start with this initial premise, but have it go wrong somehow? How could it go wrong? How could a gesture carried out with the best intentions lead to catastrophic results? This book is two-thirds finished. It’s currently on hold while I think through some truly catastrophic time-travel-related developments.

The lesson I’m mainly learning from writing about this specific scenario, though, is that it’s too glib and easy. The complex and messy people in the story, the whole family around the boy in question, are all affected by the Time Traveller’s attempted intervention. It’s like God leaning down into their lives. It’s like aliens from an advanced civilisation, or the Spanish intruding on the ancient Aztecs. There’s no safe, easy, simple way to do it. People are too complicated. They have complicated reactions. They have complicated feelings about things. They are not necessarily happy to hear from the “Future Bastard”. He does, in so many words, ruin their lives.

What the family in the story need in order to help their very difficult troubles is family therapy, and possibly some medication. They need proper professional help. They are in a big, serious mess. A well-meaning civilian, even if he is the grown-up middle-aged version of the teenage son in the story, is not equipped to help these people.

Which lesson might be why I’m having trouble with the book’s third act!

I suspect, though, that this missionary zeal among time machine owners would be a widespread problem. It might even bring about an entire subclass of actual religious missionaries blipping into the past to try to assist people in certain parts of the world. It might well be, though, that the people most in need of time machine-related help would be the owners themselves. Someone would have to hide the keys.

Because I think even if you’re declared intention was something as benign-seeming was “documenting my life” (or paying a videographer to do it for you), even that is going to be a problem. Not at all, you object, you’d never do anything so intrusive. You’d fly in some tiny drones with 4K telephoto cameras. Your kid self would notice and remember something weird. You as an adult would remember a weird feeling about visiting the beach, but not quite be able to explain why.

This book is about exploring my life as if I were a Time Traveller, especially as it has been affected by mental illness, my bipolar disorder and anxiety. All my life I have done my best to present myself to the world as if I was fine. As if I had no illness. Which is to say, I have been a liar all my life. Always pretending to be something I’m not and was not. And always feeling the strain of the pretence. This book is about that feeling, how it felt, and still feels. How it used to feel, when it was shameful and a secret, and how it feels now, when you can write about it and speak about it.

I imagine myself, middle-aged, married, man in possession a time machine, visiting my teenage self the night I had my first huge terrifying breakdown, the night I feared I die of crying. What might I see, watching from the corner of the room that teenage me, at the white-hot fragmentary centre of the event failed to notice? The smallness, the intimacy. The nurse and my mum, each holding one of my hands as I howled and screamed into the night. Wanting to tell the kid it gets better, but really, remembering back, remembering my own experience, it does get better, but it takes geological ages first. It takes many years, and much, much more pain. No amount of glib, “it gets better” mottos will cut it here. There is only one path ahead for this boy and it’s the hard path.

This book is about what that path was and is like for me.

NOTEBOOK: Peak Experience

NOTEBOOK: Peak Experience

I learned this new term today–peak experience–a phrase from the 1960s I’ve heard here and there on the margins of things–especially on the margins of things like the so-called “human potential movement” I used to read about in OMNI magazine in the 80s. There were these overpaid dudes, and it did seem to be all dudes, who were all convinced that there was this secret password or something in their brains, some mysterious key or thing or widget, that if they could simply access it or use it or, even better, OWN IT and license its use by the grubby proletariat, then they would become somehow superhuman, super-intelligent, possibly immortal, and certainly overcome their meagre, middle-aged, 1980s, humanity. They would ne born again, better, smarter, sharper, more like their imagined fantasies of themselves. Girls would like them at last. The guys who bullied them in high school and college would instead buy them drinks and maybe work for them in deliberately menial jobs. It would be sweet.

But yes. Peak experience. Also related to another buzzy term: “flow”, when you’re “in the moment”, when you’re “in the zone”. When you’re not tired and struggling a bit to write a blog post.

Today I saw my psychologist. I told her I was experimenting, while I’ve been having a hard time lately, with imagining what she would say to me if she were here, and then following that imagined advice. That advice worked previously, so it should work again. She liked this approach. I described what I’d been doing and how I felt it was helping. I told her I’d been thinking about the question of, “what can I do, on my own, that might help me?” I call it Self-Rescuing Princess Mode.

She loved all this. She loved that rather than give way to catastrophic thinking (everything is hopeless, I’m lost and nothing can help), I was instead curious, looking around for things that might help, and then trying stuff. And as a result, starting to feel better for taking some action.

I said I was trying to find my way back, if possible, to how I felt earlier this year when I felt so on fire, and was so extraordinarily productive and capable.

She said that experience was most likely a “peak experience” that was just shy of psychiatric “hypomania” and certainly nowhere near actual “mania”. I knew at the time that it wasn’t the latter. It in no way felt like that, but I had been worried about the former. I worried that I had produced a book under the influence of a sick mind.

Can I get back to this peak experience? I don’t know, and neither does the psychologist. It might be a rare thing. She does definitely believe I can “turn my own lights back on”, and use my various Recovery KPIs to bring myself back to life–and she says the reason I can do that is because I am in fact quite okay as it is. I have been feeling dreadful, but I have remained functional in important ways.

To show me what she meant, and provide context, she flipped back through my file to when I first went to see her last year, in July. I was a ship smashed against the rocks on a dark and storm-wracked night. I was broken. I was a teary, desolate mess, crying all the time. I believed writing was long since gone, that it had left and was never going to come back, let alone come back and hit me between the eyes like a sniper round from Zeus. I was also quite a bit heavier then, too. The medication change was going badly, I was in my second hospitalisation, and there was no clear path to the future from where I was then. I was lost. I could hardly talk without crying over some damn thing.

That, right there, is what a guy who’s properly sick looks like. A guy who is clinging for his life to the end of his rope. This past month or six weeks I have often felt lousy, felt melancholy, felt actually depressed and fogged over. I have felt my brain wrapped in cobwebs. I have been full of anxiety, and I have been full of the dead TV static the kid in my current novel talks about. I’ve had it all.

But I haven’t cried over anything. I’ve been able to wave Michelle off to work each day without having a meltdown over it. A publisher rejected my memoir and I was quite okay about it. I did later feel a bit bittersweet about it, but not crushed, not devastated, not crying fully-dressed in the shower. I was fine.

The psychologist says that when you have a peak experience, it’s a magnificent, magical thrill for as long as it lasts, but then it runs out and you move on to the next phase in the cycle, a necessary and normal down cycle, where you rest and gather yourself again. No word on how long this phase might last. But it’s fine.

She says I’m fine. I’m spending loads of time learning Korean language, which appeals to the part of my brain which enjoys games and puzzles. Since I started on Memrise in May, I have not missed a day. I’m getting pretty good! I’m also now doing Korean on Duolingo, too. I told the psychologist about this. She says the time I’m sinking into all this is good. It’s productive. I’m doing something positive and healthy. I’m not just vegetating on the couch. I’m learning. It feels that way to me as well. And I’m doing it with Michelle, too. We enjoy doing it together–it’s good for our relationship!

Already I feel better than I did even recently. I’m okay. I’d love to get another one of those peak experience thingies, but who knows? I suspect you can’t make yourself have them, and can’t order them up like pizza. But just regular, everyday doing-okay-ness would be just fine. I also suspect my psychologist would counsel me to concentrate more on “living more in the present moment” rather than concentrating on trying to bring about a future that may never come. You’d end up being one of those people I’m always rubbishing who are never happy with what they have, who are always after the next, better house, and the next, better car, and so on. Who can’t ever relax with what they have right now. Don’t be one of those guys.

NOTEBOOK: Two-Stroke

NOTEBOOK: Two-Stroke

Have you ever tried to start an old outboard motor on a boat, where you have to pull on a cord over and over until the motor “caught” and it coughed, spluttered, turned over and roared, stinking, into life?

Or maybe you’ve tried the similar move with old lawnmowers? Where the beast is so old and in such dodgy condition (to say nothing of one’s own dodgy condition) that you could pull on that cord for literal years and nothing would happen. And then, just as you think, okay you bastard, one more go, and then I’m giving up, and this time it works like a charm, and you figure all the previous attempts just primed it for this final go.

This is what I’m trying to do with my head at the moment.

I have been thinking, these past few days, feeling bleak and dismal (ultimately not that interested in exactly why), what I might be able to do about my situation to help myself.

I’ve thought, for example, about the sorts of things my psychologist might suggest. She would likely want to know what the nasty voices in my head are telling me, and she’d suggest various mindfulness techniques that we’ve explored over time for dealing with what the nasty voices. These techniques are pretty good. They are excellent because they’re about paying less attention to them, rather than trying to eliminate them. You’ll never eliminate them. They are hardwired into the foundations of your brain’s circuitry, so you have to find ways to live with them, and that means learning to ignore them as much as possible.

And lately, I’m surprised to report, the most trouble I’ve had with my voices has been nagging about food and kilojoule maths. I am on a very strict “low-food” regimen where I try to stay under about 3500 kilojoules a day in order to combat the weight-gain effects of my medication. I get very anxious if I take in more than 3500. If it gets up around 4000 I get very agitated, and this gets expressed through my voices. I hear from them quite a bit. I do a great deal of kilojoule maths, adding up the kilojoules of everything I’ve consumed, and what I can and can’t “still afford”. Probably more than half my conscious thought in a day is taken up with this stuff.

But this, as awful as it sounds, is actually pretty okay. It’s better than actual abuse and screaming about how I’m gross and disgusting because I’m so horribly fat. During the period earlier this year when I gained back a lot of weight (about 13 kg) and ended up back at what I called “the Peak of Madness”, feeling like my weight-gain was out of control, this screaming in my head was very bad indeed. But now that I’m down to 111.5 and on the way down, I don’t hear that sort of thing anymore. Anxiety about kilojoule maths is fine.

What else would my psychologist suggest? The big thing she suggested last time, back in May, was that I start keeping a writing journal. At the time I’d been thinking about doing that anyway, so I didn’t need a lot of pushing. I’d also been doing huge amounts of reading. I felt very much as if I could sustain the concentration required for writing. What concerned me was whether I wanted to be a writer again. I sort of did, but also sort of didn’t. I was carrying a lot of nasty negative baggage about writing owing to years of unfortunate experiences as a fairly unsuccessful professional science fiction author. If there was a clanger of a mistake out there that a writer could make in the course of his career, I had made it, sometimes more than once. I was a man made of bitterness and depression. It was baked in. It was a lot of the reason I ended up in hospital last year.

But keeping a writing journal didn’t have to be about any of that. It could just be its own thing. It could be me, now.

I had been thinking, before this talk with the psychologist, that I would wait until I felt all right before starting. She suggested, well, you know what she suggested. Here we all are, on the Number 6 bus en route to Wellness. No idea when we might arrive, but it does seem to be taking a while.

Meanwhile, since I’ve been in a dreadful slump, as if I’ve run out of whatever amazing energy I had a few months ago, I wondered if it might be possible, in a manner of speaking, to restart the engine on my own. This is my crazy thought. This is why I’m thinking about two-stroke engines like outboards and lawnmowers. In my misspent youth I pulled a great many of those cords, and two times out of three, those machines beat me. But I was just a puny kid. But the image stayed with me. Man versus machine, hauling away at it, again and again, out on open water, trying to bring the thing back to roaring stinking spluttering life.

Could I make the outboard motor in my head roar back to life, once more to zoom through each day, writing thousands of words without even noticing it, cracking through loads of Korean language problems, reading fascinating books, and all the rest of what I had been doing and enjoying so much? Did I have to wait until I saw all the various doctors, or could I just do all those things anyway, and hope some sort of spark caught, and made the engine turn over? Could I switch on my own lights?

Initial signs are promising. I already feel better than I did even a couple of days ago. I’m having big new thoughts about the novel again. I’ve actually started in on renovations for the memoir, too. I think I will have to re-read that whole manuscript to do that job properly, among other things to remove a lot of the repetition that is an artefact of each piece being an independent blog post written for people who might not have read other posts. Whereas if you’ve got a nice bound book, you could have one master chapter in the front, laying out all the exposition, and then blast off through everything else!

I’ve also started, or re-started, walking up to the nearby 7-11 convenience store to get an iced coffee from the machine they have there. The coffee there is outrageously good, remarkably cheap, and very consistent. I’ve paid upwards of $6 in actual cafes for worse barista-produced coffee. And there I can get a better product for $2. And a very nice walk in the sunshine that gets me half an hour of vitamin D exposure. That was something else I realised yesterday while thinking about What Might Be Wrong: no vitamin D. Something I could fix.

These are all things I had been doing before, but which I had allowed to fall away into neglect. I have still been doing Korean language lessons, and enjoying that, and I’ve been really struggling to write here when this should be pretty much the highlight of my day! This should be all, You guys! You wouldn’t believe the most amazing I saw today, or the most amazing idea I had today, etc! Well, let me tell you: this two-stroke motor thing, and the idea of trying to jump-start one’s own brain out of a depressive fog is my amazing idea for the day. It’s the thing I’ll be telling my psychologist about tomorrow.

Thanks for listening, and staying with me while I’ve been getting my head sorted out.

NOTEBOOK: Replicant

NOTEBOOK: Replicant

Today I found myself forming the thought, I wonder if more Nortriptyline might help?

Which, if you have read any of my earlier memoir posts about my struggle with medication, will come as a bit of a bombshell. MORE Nortriptyline? Up to this point I’ve been rather keen to find ways to reduce the amount of it that I take, because of it’s nasty weight-related side-effects. But this past 4-6 weeks have been sufficiently dreadful that I’m up for ideas and suggestions.

Not everything in my life is bad or not working. My weight-loss, on the “low-food diet” (heavy-duty fasting and one meal a day), is going well. And I’m studying Korean language, which is also going well. The brain-power that was going into writing is going into that. I had been doing some Korean language study and writing, but at the moment the language work is eating up all spare mental capacity, and other than the fact that it’s challenging and enjoyable, I’m not sure why. Likewise, I’m not sure why writing has gone away. But it has for the time being.

I feel very much like someone who, back around April-July went on a really fantastic holiday. Someplace sunny, with vivid colours, spectacular sights, challenging activities just barely within your comfort zones so you feel just barely like you can have a go. A truly thrilling, exciting, marvellous time in which you felt like your best self, or perhaps like you’d had a massive upgrade, or you’d gone up to a new, sharper level.

But now I feel like that’s for some reason run out or worn off. I’m still losing weight, and I’m still learning Korean, which tells me that some part of the brain upgrade is still in there. But the part of my brain where “I” live is back to feeling grey and drab, no longer on the exciting, saturated-colour, adventure-filled holiday. It feels much more like I’ve come home to East Germany.

Why has the upgrade failed? What could have gone wrong?

There are several possible reasons, I think, but no obvious fixes.

Most obvious reason is the one I’ve written here about previously: exhaustion. For months I worked very hard indeed. I wrote a whole book very quickly, while attending to all kinds of other things, including major weight-loss. All very demanding. Not surprising that living life at such a pace could wear someone down.

I had thought it could be entirely due to the weight-loss program. I’m living on about 3500 kilojoules per day (average human daily intake is 8700 kj), so it’s possible I’m malnourished. Am planning to see a nutritionist soon. I have one in mind. I don’t need recommendations. All I know is that I have no energy, and I fall asleep all the time. I am told that losing weight is a very stressful thing for the body, and doing it the way I’m doing it must be even more so.

I take a drug called Topamax, which helps with anxiety and other things, but my doctor gives it to me off-label to help with weight-loss. It does also have depression as a possible side-effect, though. I have asked him about this, and he says he doesn’t think so.

Then there’s what I’m going to call “background family issues”. I’m 54 years old. I have elderly parents. They have old-age problems. They’re living in their own home, but they’re having some problems. My dad “has falls” sometimes. My mum doesn’t see well. They’re both quite deaf. They have their ways. I love them madly and yet they also drive me nuts. My psychologist tells me this is very common. They are the best, most loving parents a guy could ever have, no question. When there’s a problem in the family, they rally round, they help out, they pitch in, don’t even have to ask. Whatever you need, there they are. It’s wonderful. And yet, when I visit, where I sit, I can see five clocks, and some I can hear ticking. The ticking! I worry about no longer having them. I know their time is running out. Worse, they know it, too. I know they think about it. They have taken to removing junk from their house, boxing it up and chucking it out, so it’s not a burden for me when the time comes. They think about me this way, trying to think ahead to how they can help me even in death.

And this gets to me. It haunts me. It’s a kind of pre-grieving. It’s a hard one to shift. My psychologist says she gets a lot of it.

So here I am. Wondering what happened to the guy who could do up to 4K of writing a day, plus reading, plus language study, plus going for a nice long walk, plus other stuff besides. Where did that obnoxious bastard go? Did he die of exhaustion? Was he a freak of nature? Did he burn out? Was he never meant to last, like a BLADE RUNNER replicant, good for only four years, but what amazing years! Maybe that’s it. I miss those amazing days. I loved being able to write like that.

And so I find myself thinking, of all things to think, maybe I need more Nortriptyline.

NOTEBOOK: Writer in Residence?

NOTEBOOK: Writer in Residence?

Today, for the first time ever, I’m actually contemplating the actual prospect of doing a writer-in-residence gig as part of a “career development” thing.

The publisher who rejected the memoir have nonetheless been great supporters of my writing and have been suggesting that I apply for a career development grant. One thing that I could potentially do with such a thing would be to do one of these writer-in-residence gigs. I was thinking Varuna, mainly because I hear it’s extremely good.

There are reasons I’ve never looked into them previously. One is that you generally have to do them on your own. It wouldn’t be the sort of thing where I could do the writer thing and Michelle could have a holiday. The thought of being away from her for an extended period bothers me, and yes, I am just that needy.

Then there’s the food. I gather that at these things you get fed, and you don’t get a lot of input into what you get fed. This is a deal-breaker for me. I would want a very great deal of input into what and when I get fed. In fact I would want to be left to my own devices to feed myself. I have, as anyone who’s read my memoir posts would know, severe food issues. Even if I could just about deal with the prospect of life without Michelle because Facetime, the thought of all the stress and fuss and anxiety and having to EXPLAIN ABOUT THE FOOD wears me out. I hate always having to explain about the food.

But all that aside, I’m sure it would be fabulous.

NOTEBOOK: Thoughts on GOOD INTENTIONS, etc

NOTEBOOK: GOOD INTENTIONS Thoughts

I’m still enjoying our quiet holiday long weekend. Mostly I’ve been studying the hell out of the Korean language course you can get in the Duolingo app for iPad. Between yesterday and today I think I’ve logged at least ten hours.

But that dedicated focus allows other parts of the brain to meander and chew things over. Among other things, I’m thinking about rewriting Chapter 28 of the novel. Since I suspended work on it–even before then–I’ve been thinking about why I lost momentum, other than just simple fatigue. One reason I’m thinking about is possible story issues. So I want to go back to the most recent complete chapter and do it again from scratch. Possibly others, too. Something might be a bit out of whack. When I think about the book, there are parts that strike me as quite okay, and others that make me go hmm. So that tells me I need to have a closer look.

Am also increasingly thinking about changing the book’s title from GOOD INTENTIONS to STATIC. Have not made any decisions yet, and may not change it. The title as it is does reflect the basic idea of the book, but also feels a bit clunky. Whereas the idea of static, as in TV static as a metaphor for various things has taken on a significant degree of meaning in the story, including as the title of Grown-Up Rob’s own memoir.

I won’t be getting to that anytime soon, most likely. This week coming up is set aside for the beginning of work on implementing the suggestions offered by the publisher in her rejection letter. They are the sort of clear, straightforward suggestions that should be relatively easy to do (one, for example, is a suggestion to move one chapter from where it is somewhere in the middle and make it the first chapter).

More later.

NOTEBOOK: Melancholy

NOTEBOOK: Melancholy

I told you my book got rejected on Thursday, and that was fine. And it was. I had a Plan B already in place, and I got that going right away. The whole day went by without any moping, even though that was the designated Official Day of Moping. I have always allowed myself, following a manuscript rejection, one day of downtime for wallowing in what has always on previous occasions been a simmering stew of disappointment, bitterness, sadness, and a dollop of, “okay, that’s it, I’m quitting this stupid business for real this time!”

But this time I planned ahead to try to avoid all this, and it felt, on the day, like I’d done a great job. I felt fine. Better than fine. I’d been feeling very anxious and stressed about the fate of this most personal of my books. It was getting to me. I was jumpy whenever the phone rang, and I had taken to checking the missed-calls log when I got home after being out all afternoon. The phone ringing at all got me all excited. And I’m someone who, usually, hates the phone. I would get rid of it of I could.

Yes, I was disappointed with the final result. I wanted to sell the book very badly. But I did imagine it might be a long campaign. I did think it might be a tricky product for the market.

But I was fine, as I said.

Today, Saturday night, I’m feeling less fine. Am feeling quite melancholy. Not bitter by any means, nor even remotely angry. But definitely melancholy. I had been really hoping to sell it to that publisher. That would have been lovely.

But we’ll go on from here. I’ll be fine. I’m not exactly sitting fully dressed in the shower crying my guts out. For one thing, I found out I can write a coherent book again. That knowledge, to me, is worth the whole adventure. My brain works. I had been dreading a private message from the publisher very soon after I’d sent the manuscript, requesting a private meeting, where she’d quietly suggest that “this one” is really not quite fully baked just yet, that it needs rather a lot more work, or perhaps its author needs rather a lot more work. That’s what I’d been dreading, but no such message came.

My doctor will be pleased.

NOTEBOOK: Holiday Weekend

NOTEBOOK: Holiday Weekend

Michelle’s got a few days off work, so we’re attempting to make the most of it. This means it will be pretty quiet here, too, but I’ll try to keep it ticking over.

Today, for example, I can report that I’ve written to a new literary agent recommended to me by my former one, asking if she can help me sell my memoir. I know this new agent is terrifically good at what she does; she represents a number of fellow authors who all seem to have great careers, which is a good sign. I remember, long ago, the very first agent I had, a woman in the US, whom I engaged to help me with the contracts for my first books. I’d never heard of the authors or books in her website’s gallery of works she’d represented. If I’d had a clue at the time, I would have taken this as the Bad Sign that it was, and found someone else. All kinds of things might have been different.

Meanwhile, to finish, my favourite joke:

A horse walks into a bar.

The bartender says, “Oh, why the long face?”

I love this joke. Always makes me laugh!

NOTEBOOK: My Memoir Was Rejected And I Could Dance

NOTEBOOK: My Memoir Was Rejected And I Could Dance

My memoir was rejected and I could dance. It was the best rejection letter I’ve ever received, a big long page of the most wonderful guidance, suggestions, apologies, love and good wishes from a publisher who has long supported and promoted my work. The sort of rejection letter which leaves you just shy of the elation you would feel if she had said yes.

I have a Plan B already sorted, worry not. Plan C, too, and so on.

But the reason I feel as if I could dance is that I feel so relaxed now. I’ve been very tense this whole time. Part of that has been the issues I talked about yesterday: did I have an eating disorder? Was I risking my life with my weight-loss efforts? Was I seriously in trouble? etc.

And the other big thing was about the memoir book: I wrote it in a white-hot fury earlier this year in just two months. It felt, at the time, like a gift from benevolent Greek gods, a lightning bolt straight between the eyes and expressed through my hands directly into the iPad. It felt, in short, much too good to be true. I have worried, ever since finishing it, and sending it off to the publisher, that it was a “product of sickness”. I wondered if I’d written it while manic, or maybe hypomanic. Because when in those sorts of states your critical judgement is the first thing to go. You write reams of any old bollocks, but you thinks it’s allll geeeeeeenius daaaaahliiiing!

This marvellous letter from the publisher was also the first feedback I’d had on the manuscript from an outside reader–a beta reader, almost!–and she made it very clear: it’s a good book. It’s not a product of sickness. I was in my right mind. I can’t tell you how satisfying it is, after what I’ve been through, to have evidence that my mind works properly again. It’s a bit like when you’ve had abdominal surgery, and you finally have a dump: everything is working properly again and you can go home!

She encourages me to fix up a few specific points (detailed instructions included), and encourages me to send it on its way out into the wider world. I might have an Official Day of Moping first, though.

I am also now wondering if there are literary agents who specialise, or at least who handle, creative nonfiction or memoir?