The Getting There

27 November 2017:

I have been working on a book for the past six years. (It is time—with a sigh—that I confess.) Slowly, in fits and starts, the poor thing has evolved into something I am calling: a memoir in bits and pieces.

Snowballing since the winter I quit grad school, this memoir sits, fairly organized, in various folders on my computer.

All tallied and totaled, I have a hundred and fifty little essays and prose poems (from 100–1000 words each), with a scrap pile on the side of about thirty-thousand words I am not sure what to do with.

This, I know, is not worth bragging about—once you understand the marathons Hemingway or Thomas Wolfe managed.

Yet, I am proud, and I know this project is going somewhere.

I believe, too, that I am close to the editing/organizing phase, the framing, the building of the arc—which makes simple books like Naomi Shihab Nye’s Mint Snowball or Chris Offutt’s The Same River Twice ring with such poetry and sense. They are simple, beautiful books, and that is what I want of my efforts.

But, you see, I wanted my book done a year ago.

By the time you are thirty, I said.

Six years ago, that sounded easy enough. But now, having crossed into another decade, and still no book, each painstaking half-page, each gap in the story I try to fill, seems to do nothing but kick the can a little farther down the street.

Of course, games like kick the can are their own kind of joy, like rolling a hoop or skipping rocks.

But hell, where’s the end? Where’s the gulf at last?

It is of little comfort knowing William Stafford published his first book of poems, Travelling Through the Dark, at the age of 46. It doesn’t help, either, knowing Richard Hugo published A Run of Jacks at 38. One of my favorite writers, Judith Kitchen, published her first memoir, Only the Dance, at 53, and she didn’t follow that up until the age of 60 with Distance and Direction.

I do not want to wait that long.

There, with the beach just in view, is that the final river bend?

I know, I know. There is nothing to do but “stick to it,” as Kerouac said, “with the energy of a benny addict.”

For the past year or two, the working title for my book has been The Getting There. It is a phrase lifted from a Townes Van Zandt song. It is also a phrase that says as much about life as it does about the writing of a book:

“Where you’ve been is good and gone.

All you keep is the getting there.”

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