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How Following My Desires Led Me to a Memoir: Part 3, Contraction

Part 1: Genesis
Part 2: Expansion
Part 3: Contraction


And we were off!

Michelle got down to work on naming the book while I tackled the prologue. This piece gave me more trouble than Chapter One, since it had a bigger job to do in introducing me and my story, and pulling together the overarching themes of the book.

Saturday mornings, my sister Melody and I went to Caribou Coffee at 6 a.m. to work on our creative projects. I poked away at the prologue, and she tagged and edited photos for her scrap-booking. And we interrupted ourselves and each other to talk and show each other things. (Shit, I’m starting to cry in the middle of McDonald’s, writing this. Mel, I miss you.)

I remember one afternoon at the community pool. I had been trying to crack the code of that dang prologue, and it felt like my brain was tied in knots. I was thinking so hard about fixing the problems that I was hardly paying attention to the kids splashing in the water.

At last I asked myself, Do you really want to struggle with this instead of enjoying where you are?

Oh! No, I most certainly do not, I replied.

Then I let go, and the knots unravelled and the ropes slid away, and I looked up from the inside of my head and relaxed.

Too soon, our time in Grosse Pointe was over and it was time to move on to the overseas portion of Operation Hejira. At the beginning of September, I found myself on an airplane with Shawn and the kids across the aisle. Writers who are parents, you will understand that I took immediate advantage of this situation and booted up my laptop. It seemed perfectly fitting that the puzzle pieces of the prologue finally slid into place, and I finished it up before my battery died.

Running into turbulence

As soon as I got off the plane in Hong Kong, I was slammed with a cold that held me hostage for most of September. But I did manage to polish up the prologue with Brenda’s help in time to read the piece for people who attended my Virtual Birthday Party by telephone. And from their response, I now knew for sure that there was an audience out there for the story.

When the bronchitis cleared from my lungs, I turned my attention to The Field Guide to Truth and Beauty.

October and November were consumed with creating the product and doing the networking, guest posting, blogging, newsletter writing, and social media push to get the word out ~ a kind of warm-up for the memoir launch that was coming. Bridget created a project plan that outlined all of my tasks week by week, and I put my head down and worked the plan.

At first I was happy to get back to work after my illness. I was thrilled with the material that was coming together in Truth and Beauty. Michelle sent me a prototype of the memoir interior using the finished prologue and Chapter One, and I was walking on the ceiling for two days. My words had never looked so damn good.

But things started going pear-shaped in November. I was working a tech-writing contract in addition to doing my coaching work, and hours were short. I did the 5 am to 11 pm shift too many days in a row. I kept putting “Write Chapter Two” on my to-do list and then ignoring it. Shawn took the kids swimming alone, took them to church alone, took them to the park alone, all so I could work. I might as well have been in a padded cell for all I was seeing of Penang.

At the end of November, I booked a hotel room and took myself off for a mini retreat to sooth myself with a little progress on the book. This was a blissful interlude ~ I did yoga on the balcony, took productive naps, and polished off a chunk of Chapter Two.

I also reconnected with my desire to make the book real. I used Bridget’s Meet Your Inner You meditation, and the question I asked Inner Me, the question that bubbled up like a child’s, was “Can I have this book?” And Inner Me replied:

Only you can give the book to yourself. You need to allow yourself to feel how much you want it, ask for it, and give it to yourself every day. Ask for what you need for your work, and give that to yourself.

How can I know that I have what the book needs?

You can’t. That’s the risk you take. But you know that you have given yourself the best conditions, a supportive team and partner, and you know you have the skill and drive to complete the project. You know you have the creativity and stamina to meet the challenges. Outside of that, you just need faith.

No one can take the book away from you.

I found that my desire to write this book was as strong as ever and I was very happy to renew my commitment to it.

Calling a halt

I continued to try to do everything for a few more weeks ~ contract work, Truth and Beauty, memoir ~ but my energy plum ran out.

One of the benefits of my new stripped-down lifestyle was that it became obvious very quickly when things were off-balance. Operation Hejira was supposed to be about sharing adventures with my family, not chaining myself to my computer.

When I thought of moving ahead with my ambitious timeline for the memoir, which called for me to begin serial publishing in February, I felt anxious and overwhelmed. Shawn and I were starting to plan our travel in 2012, which meant four months of moving around in Europe and Canada over the summer, and I didn’t see how I would be able to keep up with everything and still enjoy myself.

So, after conversations with Bridget and Michelle, I put everything on hold.

I didn’t know whether the memoir project would move forward, or in what configuration. I decided to give myself a true break over Christmas and come back to the questions from a more rested place. And I decided to stop trying to force things to happen on an arbitrary schedule, and allow my intuition and natural rhythms to take the lead.

The messages I got during my break only reinforced my decisions. Everywhere I saw many other writers stepping back from their hectic pace. I chose Chillax as my word of the year for 2012, which captured my desire to let go, go with the flow, focus on a few of the most important things, and be really present to the beauty of my life and my family. I wanted the year to be more like birth ~ something growing slowly without me needing to make so much effort.

This process of stepping back felt really good and also really scary. The idea of having no goals, letting go of the imperative to produce a book in 2012, made me hyperventilate. But I knew it was the only way forward.

To be continued . . .

Next week I’ll be making a big announcement about the memoir! You can sign up on my mailing list or subscribe to the RSS feed if you don’t want to miss it.

{ 1 comment… add one }

  • Devon February 21, 2016, 11:53 am

    This is beautiful and important work, Alison.. Thank you.

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