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Friday, January 21, 2011

Done... Perhaps

The sixth anniversary of my blog is coming up in February. I looked back a few weeks ago and saw that my very first entry was about “finishing” a novel… 30,000 words of “polished” rewrite. It’s funny how memory works. I didn’t have any idea what rewriting was six years ago. I was a draft it and be done kind of girl. Now I wonder if I’ve perfected the act of rewrite so completely that I’m simply writing myself in circles.

It’s not the same story, by the way, that I was working on then/am working on now, though this story was in the works then, too. That story was a painful piece wrought out of the processing of my mother’s death. It’s in an envelope on a shelf under my desk. I couldn’t bring myself to read it if you paid me. It was personal. It was an act of healing.

…Or maybe it was the same story. Because it was along about that time that I remember having the “epiphany” that I had finally created characters that were “not me” and that these were people who could carry off the telling of a story. But that was two different projects, surely. Two different stories, told at two different times.

Perhaps I really have been working on this story for six years now.

I think it is done. Yet, I can’t quite stop tweaking.

Shamefully, I must admit that even as I write this there are two versions of this story sitting on my hard drive. Two stories – same story – yet different – and I am trying to figure out how to determine which is it, the finished product. How I ended up with two versions I can’t exactly say, because this was the final time I was going to deal with this story, the final draft after chucking dozens of attempts at rewrites and voices and points of view…

My head is taken back to that other story, which may or may not have been the story I was working on when I first started this blog. And that story takes me back to thinking thoughts of my mother. The hubby and I were living in Houston. We knew we didn’t want to live in Houston forever. In fact, we started talking about where we would go from there almost as soon as we got there. It was an insanely huge city. I was so out of my element there—though I would not change my years there for anything… but I’m letting myself get distracted from the point…

My mother sent me her “bucket list” in a letter. My mother was always writing letters. She wrote daily, and then mailed them at least once a week. She probably always had a bucket list, but this one she decided to share. This was after the cancer had come back. This was after we knew, somehow, that the battle was getting big enough it would soon come to an end. We didn’t know how soon. We didn’t have predictions of weeks or months. My mother had defied all the predictions already anyway. It was more a question of how she was going to approach what remained of her life rather than how they were going to conquer the cancer. The cancer was there. It existed everywhere. There wasn’t much hope in turning it around, at least, from a doctor’s point of view. My mother was forever optimistic.

She wrote a bucket list, and it broke my heart.

My mother’s bucket list was full of things unreachable, such as attending graduations and weddings of babies that hadn’t even been born yet. It was my mother’s way of snubbing her god, her stubborn determination to live life as she imagined it regardless of the hurdles reality threw in her way.

And maybe my memory is off even here. It was a phone call from Mom that made up my mind where I was going. We were living in Houston. We were talking about other places we might like to try. I even had a file on other cities, other places; never Kansas. We were so free then; we could have gone anywhere. And I was talking to Mom one day on the phone and I suddenly knew. I had to go home. I had to be there with her; to make peace for all those teenaged years of turmoil, to ask forgiveness for all the times I had treated her so poorly and to thank her for all she had done for me.

Somewhere in that time between Houston and moving back to Kansas, there came the bucket list full of Mom’s unattainable wishes. I remember her saying to me—this was not in a letter—but in person, that as long as there are things not done, she had a reason to keep living.

I thought of this as we cleaned out her sewing room; bears half stuffed, a partially finished jacket on a hanger full of pins, ceramic doll heads and body parts carefully tucked in shoe boxes, never to wear the clothes my mother had envisioned for them.

Perhaps my mother left things unfinished as an excuse to defy the odds her life was giving her. That is not my excuse. I have my unreadable story in an envelope on a shelf beneath my desk. I have other stories, too. And now I have these two versions of the novel on my desktop and I think they are done, but perhaps they are not. No story is ever really finished, after all.

Even my mother’s story is still being told, and through those babies she never even knew, her story still goes on.


cheryl said...

Wow. A beautiful piece of writing here, Tracy, deep and meaningful. One of your best.

Anonymous said...

*sigh* Lovely. I will be one of the first to buy your book. Melissa

Anonymous said...

Every time I read your writing, I am more convinced that I must get an autographed copy of your first story, as one day, when you are absolutely rich and famous, I will have a precious autographed "first" to brag about!

LoryKC said...

(Put me on the list for an autographed copy of the book, K?)