Independent Girl Does the Hula: Why The Writing Life is worth it

Suzanne's Dashboard Hula Girl

My friend Suzanne’s dashboard hula girl! What’s cooler than this?

Recently, I was in Rhode Island with my college friends and fellow writers, Heather Sullivan and Kaitlyn Downing. Late in the night and deep into a few glasses of wine, the conversation turned toward disappointments in life, or more specifically, the disappointments in this thrill ride we call The Writing Life—you are up up up one day, and down down down the next.

In the past couple of years, my productivity has crashed, largely due to personal issues—there have been some publishing triumphs, but in terms of feeling the joy of writing, the joy of creating, since 2015, it’s been down down down. Every piece has been a struggle. Heather and Kaitlyn assured me that I’m one of the most prolific writers they know, and that the ease of engagement was bound to return at some point.

What they don’t know is that I’m not, actually, that prolific. I write and polish exceptionally slowly. For me, the works I create are more than just wild ideas that I bang out on a keyboard for fun, and they always have been. They are much, much deeper. They are the way I process the world, the way I resolve issues from my past and concerns about my future, the way I honor and preserve magical or destructive moments in my life. There’s something I’m trying to express so I can sort it out, or something I’m trying to say to the world. For this reason, very rarely is anything I write one and done. Stories will sit, unfinished, for months or even years, in files in my basement. Some become like forgotten Thanksgiving leftovers in the back of the fridge. But some are like those things you’re always saying you’re going to get to doing around the house, like painting the wall you primed last summer or cleaning out the garage. They hang over me like a Sword of Damocles, left painfully unfinished, gnawing at me even as I’m finishing a newer, shinier project.

“Hairless Girl Does the Hula” was one of those stories. I started it in January of 2008, shortly after my father passed away. That dark time opened up a lot of wounds for me, not just those that were associated with fresh grief. I looked back at my life and some of my choices, and at how stupid and damaging some of those choices were. What emerged was a picture of what I wanted in life. Like, what I really wanted, in the metaphysical sense: self-acceptance, and unconditional love from others. As much as the story is about those things, it is also about the lengths we will go to get them, even if those lengths are, at times, unhealthy—and how those unhealthy choices can haunt us for the rest of our lives.

For the past ten years, I’ve struggled to complete that story. It was always in the back of my mind, that sword I referenced earlier. Every time I pulled it out to work on it, I’d think, “this is worth finishing. I must finish this. This time, I will.” But I never did. Over time, I got it three-quarters of the way done—to the point of polished, done—but for some reason could never engage with the last scene, and how the piece should end. I’ve only realized, just now, that the reason I could never finish it was because I wasn’t satisfied with how the situations I was in—decades ago—crashed to a close. That I wasn’t going to find self-acceptance and unconditional love in those circumstances, and that no amount of ruminating over those horrible endings was going to change them. What I simply had to do was recognize them for what they were, close them out in all of their terrifying glory, and move on to a new beginning.

Today, I achieved that. I got up at five a.m. and hit the keyboard. And out came the ending. I said goodbye to all those painful things, and I’m looking forward to a new tomorrow without them.

Prolific isn’t about how much you write. It’s about how complete and resolved within you what you write actually is. Sure. I could’ve written a hundred meaningless, empty pieces with the energy it took to finish and craft “Hairless Girl.” But there was nothing more explosively joyful than finally, after ten years, typing that last line and knowing that I had said what I needed to say. That I had finally processed the more damaging pieces of my relationship with my dad, that I had finally processed and let go of the damaging pieces of a two-decades-old former relationship with a lover so that I could put those things where they belong—in the past, forever, and journey into a new beginning. I can forgive what was done to me by both of them, I can accept them both for who they were and the circumstances that made them that way at the time, I can forgive myself for the painful things I did and said in response and how inwardly ugly I was back then, and learn new responses and be a better person instead.

This July 4th truly is Independence Day.

And that, my friends, is why, despite the up up ups and down down downs, This Writing Life is all worth it.

 

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About kristipetersenschoonover

A ghost story writer who still sleeps with the lights on, Kristi Petersen Schoonover’s fiction has appeared in countless magazines and anthologies. She has received three Norman Mailer Writers Colony Residencies, served as a co-editor for Read Short Fiction, has judged both writing and grant competitions and co-hosts the Dark Discussions Podcast. Her work Skeletons in the Swimmin’ Hole is a collection of ghost stories set in Disney Parks; her novel, Bad Apple, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She’s also a member of the New England Horror Writers Association. More info: www.kristipetersenschoonover.com

Posted on July 4, 2018, in Deep Thoughts & Fun Stuff, The Writing Life and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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