Every time I take a break from my memoir, I think it’s no big deal. I can’t work all the time, after all. But once I go on that trip, take that summer break, or make that family visit, it can take weeks — even months — to even be able to look at it again.
Making art is less like manipulating an object and more like being in a love relationship. When it’s most intense, I am holding hands and twirling around with my creative love. To let go is to fall, or to spin off into a dark corner of the dance floor. Trust is broken and confidence painful to repair.
When Heather Sellers, author of Chapter After Chapter, goes on a trip, she always brings assignments for each day that she is away. Little things that can be done in 15 minutes, each in a folder labeled with the date. Because “nothing is harder in the writing life,” she says, “than trying to start after stopping.”
I am determined to finish my memoir, so when we visited my parents in Ohio for Thanksgiving, I tried bringing the project with me. I brought tasks that were easy, like:
reading a stack of unfinished essays to see what is useable
dictating journal passages I had underlined
typing up novel worksheets into Scrivener
The first day on our trip, instead of sleeping in because I was on vacation, I got up early and started on the essay-reading task. I did it the next day, and the next day too. I never made it to the other to-dos, but compared to what I had done in past trips (i.e., nothing), it was a lot.
Driving back home over the Allegheny Mountains, I felt accomplished. Free of that vague guilt that I had betrayed my work, and that someday I would have to pay.
Re-entering regular life was just as challenging as leaving it behind. Piles of laundry, daily meetings, post-travel quarantines, mounting Christmas projects: I felt like I would never get back to my normal writing schedule.
When lovers drift apart, doubt can sneak in. I am good enough for him? Does he want someone else? Do I? Sexy new ideas walk by. Thoughts of being single beckon.
The secret to finishing a book is to always be thinking about it on some level, Heather Sellers says, to keep it with you all the time.
So when we go away this Christmas to Italy, I will bring my book too. Not the whole manuscript, but little ways to say, I’m thinking about you: reviewing outlines, brainstorming titles, going over my research.
I’ll be wanting to walk the streets of Milan decorated like a jewelry box, to linger over long dinner tables with family, to get lost in the medieval alleyways of Florence. But I can still be hand-in-hand with my creative dream, staying in touch even when we’re far apart.