Photos: The Writing Attic

Dear you,

This is morning. Every morning, if the sun is not yet up. The room is painted in sunrise pink and when I’m up there working, the windows glow for the neighborhood.

 Mornings in the attic are a ritual. Coffee first, of course, but then straight upstairs to get to work. The kitten comes too, every morning. Her level of helpfulness waxes and wanes; some mornings she’s right there with me, watching me type. Most other mornings she’s playing with everything but the immense lot of toys I bought her.

I love this attic. It is my pride and joy, my own little slice of heaven. To have this space to stretch, toss papers around, be as maniacal as I want, is something that I still marvel at, even a year later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And of course, the kitten has her own desk, where she does all her important work.

I love this attic because it is filled with gifts and creations from my friends and family. The stained glass books are a gift from my mother-in-law. The antlers were a joint effort from my niece and my brother; she shot the deer and he created the mount. The picture of the lady is a gift I gave myself; my grandmother has a figurine of a lady in a similar dress. But this lady’s hair is tied back and proper, her hands are gloved and holding a bouquet. She is prim and small. The lady in the picture above (titled Vivacious) has her hair down. She is smiling and dancing. The picture is part of a calendar created by the local electric company, year 1950. 

The walls upon entering are decorated with an intentional purpose. Artwork from Texas, gifts from new friends, a photograph taken by my best friend from home during her first college photography class (her grown self now an accomplished photographer.)

Ahead are more reminders of how loved I am. There are photographs taken by my father-in-law when he was young paired with photographs taken by my husband when he too was a teenager. Macrame art from a friend named Lisa. A mobile of seashells, sand dollars, and petrified wood created by a friend on a whim and given to me because I happened to be there when he finished it. There is a canvas art print thrifted and created by my mother-in-law for my husband to outfit his first college apartment, something I vividly remember hanging on his wall when I went to this same apartment for the first time. We were sitting on the couch watching Commando. He laid his head near my lap. This was the night of our first kiss.

When I was four years-old, my mother used to dress me in my sleep at four am and take me to my grandparent’s house so she could work her shift at the hospital and still go to nursing school at the same time. My dad drove truck and was long gone by time the four am wake-up call rolled around. My grandfather waited for me in this chair every single morning. We would sit in it together and watch the weather news until my grandmother woke up and made breakfast. When we moved my grandmother into assisted living, she sat in this chair every day with an oxygen tank hooked to the back. After she died, my mom used it as her sewing chair but once I had room for it, she drove it to Nashville so I could use it in the attic, which tells you everything you need to know about our relationship and what kind of mother she is. Now, it’s the chair where I read my drafts.

There are mementos and memories strewn about this room that breathe life into every word I write. Here, my brother’s glass horse forever memorialized in the broken-hearted essay I wrote when we left Texas. Here, a stolen cup from Olive Garden pilfered for me by a boy with a crush on our high school band trip now used to store idea notes. Real good ones like “widowmakers” and “Do the lord’s work” and “artifacts” and “JUST DEAD INSIDE.”

old attic

And here it was before, the week after we were lucky enough to buy it, just a little dead inside but filled to the brim with potential.

This Is Evolution

Dear You,

A very kind friend of mine asked me to submit a story for a reading event she’s planning and I thought, sure. Why not?

The story I sent was one I had edited and finished not too terribly long ago — six months — and that I had since submitted to journals and felt fully confident in. I sent it off to her directly, a little excited that a friend who had read none of my fiction before would now have the chance to read a story I was proud of.

Except of course when I went back and re-read the story after emailing it off into internet oblivion, it seemed a little… different.

It was the same story I remember it being when I first wrote it. I was still proud of it. But as I read, I began to notice things — the voice was different than I remembered, the structure not as I would have done it now. The characters were still as I wanted them to be, but overall, the story I remembered writing slipped away and this new thing appeared before me.

Sometimes, a writer will get really brave and will go back and read over the things they wrote in the past. Of course, re-reading work is an essential part of editing and re-writing. That’s not the kind of re-reading I am talking about here. What I am talking about here are things that have been waited on, edited, workshopped and vetted. Dubbed finished and submitted, even published.

Inevitably, when you go back and re-read all your finished pieces, published or not, the shimmering things you thought were there are usually gone. Some form of them may appear, but it seems as if they’ve transformed somehow, as if someone came in and edited in the night.

That was how I felt re-reading this story now thoroughly out of my grasp and whisked off to an inbox I had no access to.

I calmed myself as best I could.

I had done my due diligence with this work; I drafted, re-drafted, waited until I forgot the story, re-read and re-drafted again, workshopped, re-drafted, edited minutely, and had a trusted friend do one last beta-read before I pronounced it ready to enter this world. I put my name on it and saved it, moved it to the “Ready to Submit” folder on my computer and called it a day. All that not even six months ago and here I am, re-reading it again and feeling just a little sick that it would be the first fiction impression my friend would have.

This has happened to me before. A story I wrote years ago, that I stashed and then pulled back out during a critique session because I could still see the dull glimmer of its spark had betrayed me in the same way. I re-wrote this one, workshopped, edited, let it lie, edited again, beta-read — the works. I marked it finished and submitted it. And months after submitting it, I re-read it again and considered withdrawing it because was this really my best work on a page, really? The next day, it was accepted for publication. Oddly enough, all the worries about the piece then evaporated on the spot. (The universe works in mysterious ways.)

This has also happened to my poems, various essays, and other things that have not yet seen the light of day. I have several things out on submission right now that I felt completely comfortable sending out when I did. Now I’m afraid to look. Best to let the sleeping dog of anxiety lie.

Of course, it’s not the words that have changed — I’ve changed.

And sure, as I put in the 10,000 hours and write down the bones and stay with the early discomfort of not knowing what the hell I’m doing, as the taste gap narrows just the slightest crack, this change has plenty to do with improvement (god, hopefully.)

But so much of it is just the changing and evolution of my own life’s story. My voice evolves with my age and experiences. Characters and settings I was interested in last year are old hat now. Reading new things and discovering new artists affects how I structure a story. Life changes disrupt my sense of what is essential.

There’s something to be said here about when to re-edit or even when to retire works and move on from them. But then there’s the simple issue of insecurity combined with the powerful force of perfectionism. What must be remembered was that the you who wrote the old piece was still a valid you. So many times, it’s not that the piece is poor — it’s that the piece represents a you that has already moved on. There are plenty of old pieces of mine that still resonate with me as I read them now. There are many that do not. And there are some that make me cringe.

But that was me then and this is me now. Me now will soon be a me then. And so on and so forth.

We are always in active evolution. If we are people who care to learn and grow, then we are living a story that will never be finished. Which makes it very difficult to know when to deem a story finished. Today, I think it is finished. Ten years from now, I may think it is childish.

Writing is about communication; it’s a whistle in the dark. Is anyone there? Can anyone relate? How lonely. And how unfair — to only send out a certain approved you at a certain approved time when, certainly, it will all change give or take a few weeks and a few experiences.

If I were to give in to this perfectionist desire to only send out the me that happens to be me today and cast aside all the shades of me that have walked through this world, I would be left sitting as alone with my stories as I was prior to sending them out. It’s the same trap we fall into when we choose a start date for dieting or a day on which we will quit a bad habit. We promise to start on January 1st. By January 2nd, the year is shot and we have failed. But the opportunity to begin again is today, the next hour, the next minute, always. We have the luxury of learning and growing with each minute we have.

So, I did not pick up the phone and tell my friend to please, pretty please delete that email and let’s never speak of it again. I’m letting it ride. Because once upon a time, that story that a corner of me is still proud of still represents a corner of me on paper.

This is evolution. And I am here to learn.