There was a lovely story in Sunday’s New York Times. I laughed out loud when I got to the part where the author wrote, “my mother used to track me down in the event of my untimely murder; lord knows she has imagined plenty of gruesome ends for me. I can’t tell you the number of times that public safety officers showed up on my doorstep in college because I hadn’t returned her calls swiftly enough.”
She could have been writing about my mother.
While she never went so far as to call the police, she did manage to convince a friend of mine to become a search party of one. She (my mother) was convinced — because I’d been working late and was alone in the office — that I’d either been attacked, killed and shoved into the coat closet or was lying helpless, bloody and injured at the bottom of the elevator shaft, the result of an accident involving snapped cables. Yes, she missed her calling. She should have been a novelist.
Amazingly, in case you’re wondering, I was located. I’d gone to join a couple of friends for a drink at a nearby hotel bar and my friend — who was clearly an ace investigator-in-the-making — spotted us, comfortably ensconced at a window table, tossing back Manhattans. I was blissfully unaware of this Pink Pantheresque caper until the night my mother departed this world and a group of my friends came over and started sharing their memories of her. We had a good laugh, which she would have loved.
It’s interesting because my mother has been on my mind more than usual lately. I think it’s got something to do with some articles I’ve written for YouAreUNLTD. Here are links to the first and the second, should you want to read them. Two more are in the queue waiting to be published, which will be soon I hope (end of self-promotion).
The focus at YouAreUNLTD is on redefining what it means to get older. My mom’s attitude was to ignore it and keep on keeping on. I’m sure that was the reason why she was ever-present as I was writing. That, coupled with the piece in the Times and I thought, “this is a sign — time to do something.”
Not long before my mother died — maybe five or six months — I woke up and decided I wanted to write a book about her — one that concentrated on the wild ride she and I were taking as her health declined, the grace and humour with which she handled it and everything I learned along the way — about her, about myself, about us and about life.
Needless to say, I was too busy trying to run an ad agency and take care of her to even think about the book while she was alive. But without my even realizing what I was doing, I started writing notes on the way to Montreal for her funeral — she had moved to Toronto, but I was taking her home so she could rest next to my dad for all eternity.
To my amazement, the words just kept pouring out of me and progress on the book was swift. In just a few months, I had about seven chapters written, I was more than halfway done on a first draft. And then a woman I’d met at pilates, who was also writing a book, suggested I meet with her editor — who she raved about. So I sent her an email. She asked me to send her 25 pages, which I did, although I did wonder how she could evaluate anything other than my writing style with such a small sample of the book.
A couple of weeks went by and I got an email from her. It was pretty brutal, but not for the reasons you might think. She accused me of being dishonest, of withholding my true feelings, that surely I “hated my mother and resented having to take care of her.”
Nothing could have been further from the truth and I was hurt and angry at her assumption and the angry tone of her email. I called her on it and finally, she did admit she had been projecting her own feelings about her mother on to me. But we were done. I wanted nothing more to do with her for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was, feeling as she did, she would never have been able to understand or appreciate where I was coming from — she could not have given me unbiased advice or constructive criticism.
I must admit that it stopped me dead in my tracks for a while. Months went by without my writing another word.
When I was finally over it and ready to resume writing, I re-read the manuscript. I realized, that to some extent, the editor had been right — although not about my feelings about my mother. There were “details” I’d left out because they were personal (not to me, to my mother). But if I was really going to paint an accurate picture and also pay tribute to the strong, independent, feisty, funny woman who was my mother, they were important details.
Ironically, as unpleasant as my brief encounter with that editor had been, she did help me — despite herself.
Back I went to the computer, not to “massage,” but to start over completely. This was, I determined, more than an edit job. It was the right thing to do, of that I have no doubt. Trouble is, I was busy with other writing projects (for clients) and I couldn’t work on the book every day. Sometimes, weeks or even months went by; and every time I went back to it, I found it very difficult to continue where I’d left off. So I kept starting over from scratch.
The photo at the top of this blog post is of a partially-finished manuscript — one of about 10 or 12 different versions I’ve started and stopped over the course of the last 11 years. At some point, I just lost my mojo and parked the idea and it’s been collecting dust on a shelf in my brain for quite some time.
Which brings me back to the present and how I’ve decided that my recent articles and the one I read in the Times last Sunday — and the memories they’ve sparked of my mother — are signs that the Universe is at work and I have some unfinished business to take care of. I’m ready to give the book another try. I have no idea what the outcome will be, or whether or not this time, I’ll finish what I’m about to start, but I’m not dwelling on that. The point is, for now, I am going to set aside some time every day and, as for the rest, que sera sera.
Truthfully, I am a bit worried that an important element has been lost. When I first began writing — literally a day after my mother’s passing, my feelings were raw and on the surface. I was in pain and I was drained — physically, emotionally, even spiritually. And you could hear it in my “voice.” Now, all these years later, time has softened the sharp edges of my grief and sadness.
This will be a different book. It has to be, I’m in a different place. I’m aware that, for me to be able to write this book, I have to let the first one go, which I think I can do — but won’t know for sure until after I’ve typed the words “Chapter 1” and I’m staring at a blank screen. What I also can’t know, maybe until this draft is finished, is whether or not what was “lost” matters.
What I do know is, I want to give it a shot. And that brings me right back to the sentence I started in the headline for this blog post, which I will now complete: “If at first you don’t succeed” … try, try again. That’s my plan.