Once, I was on the beach in a little town near Seattle. There was a storm. I remember not being able to see through the rain, which came down in such a way as to make the whole area seem unreal. The sand gave way under my right foot. I stumbled, but the ground kept pulling until I was in up to my knee, other leg folded under me at an awkward angle. There was nothing to hold on to, just wet sand that clumped under my grasping fingers. My father stood somewhere nearby, but for some reason he couldn't help me.
I have an easily aroused sympathetic nervous system. In modern life it isn't of much use, and serves to make me a panicky little creature that gets big shots of adrenaline for things like old ladies yelling at me and epic battles in video games. In situations like being eaten by the earth it sure comes in handy, though, because all I remember is howling and dragging myself free somehow even though it seemed impossible.
Revising this novel has been just like that, except its taking me months to free myself from the sand.
Revision is always work, of course. But this is something else.
I have a gift for assessing others, but I am completely obtuse about my own shit embarrassingly often. It took Vivien to make me understand.
When I started writing this book, my life was crumbling around me. I kept trying to grasp it, the same way I tried to cling to that sand, hoping for enough stability that I could at least not get further buried.
At some point, I stopped hoping I could drag myself out.
I won't bore you with the messy details but suffice to say that love is a fucking battlefield. And it's a particularly gory one when there's three of you and you never know where your rent is coming from or whether you can eat, let alone whether you can feed your pets, and everyone in the house has issues and mental illnesses they haven't properly dealt with. It takes fallen soldiers on that battlefield a long, long time to die.
The book was my escape. It made me feel like I had a purpose. Most of my major relationships were just so much sand. I had been unemployed for years. I put on twenty pounds. But when I wrote that piece of shit first draft, it didn't matter. I had a world that I had made, and I called the shots, and I had something to say that maybe mattered, just a little.
I believe in this story. It's good. There was a lot worth saving. But the revision hurts. Sometimes it's fucking agony. It took Vivien to remind me that when I wrote it I was standing in the middle of a storm. So much of my pain and longing went in to that thing. (don't worry. you don't have to read my embarrassing therapy if you pick up the book. I'm way cooler than that the second time around.) So of course, every time I picked it up that good old fight or flight response kicked in.
There's a phenomenon in psychology, where one forgets the link between a trigger and anxiety. I might get nervous every time I hear a seagull, but I might forget it is because there was one wheeling over my head the time the beach tried to eat me alive. And so it is with the book, where I'd forgotten that whenever I started to talk about these people I had created, it was because it felt like nothing else around me had any permanency.
That whole year, I listened to Neko Case more than anything else. Her music still makes me feel like I'm back in Bellingham, walking to the coffee shop. It was always playing in my headphones. So much of it, too, was connected to that longing, that pain. Armed with this knowledge of triggers and their links, I put on that same music and sat down to revise.
When that worked, I visited Bellingham. I put those albums on and sat on the same couch, in the same coffee shop, where I wrote the first draft. It helped.
During that visit, one of my friends asked what I wanted to get out of visiting. I didn't really know how to answer. Friends? Food? Coffee?
Everybody's talking to me
But they just can't explain
Disappeared from all the pages
And nothing seems the same
Neko Case, We've Never Met