Generation

Life has reached a turning point, one so well-timed it usually only happens in fiction. The A plot and the B plot have converged. This is a season finale minus the cliffhanger. If I were the producer, I would wait a month and cut to black right as labour begins. If I were a producer with poor taste and any real control over the script, I’d have the labour start with a dramatic gush of water while my husband Oli was across town with no battery left on his phone. But for me, Real Person Grace, the turning point is now.

After five years, I’ve just finished my book and have sent it out to the first round of agents. I’m due to give birth in one month. Even though I felt the very real deadline of this baby, I’m happy to say that it was a comfortable finish. I didn’t rush or cut corners and I’m very proud of what I’ve done. In fact, after I declared it “finished” the first time, I still wanted to do a pen and paper pass. I pictured myself leisurely drinking coffee and reading in the backyard, my pen twitching every now and then. Instead, every other page ended up looking like this:

But I took the time I needed, and I had the time to take.

There was a lot of luck involved in this that didn’t feel like luck at the time. Oli and I started trying in late 2019 and were unsuccessful for two years. Once we hooked up with a fertility clinic, work took me to Sydney for two months, and outbreaks and quarantines kept us apart even longer. But that gave me the time to write. Time to finish this thing the way I wanted to, and I’m extremely thankful for that. This baby’s coming not a moment too soon, and not a moment too late.

Despite all this, after updating the paper changes, I had to forcefully remove myself from the Word document. Different words hit differently at different times, and there’s no point at which I could read this book without wanting to change something. So I’m officially not touching another word until/unless a Professional Book Person, aka PBP, asks me to. And that would be a great position to be in. Another person can breathe life and purpose into a project which has frankly been really isolating for a really long time and, toward the end, became a bucket that drained faster than it filled.

This is about more than just this book. This goes back further than five years. Writing has taken up all, most, or much of my disposable time since childhood. I spent weekends on my mom’s typewriter at the age of 7,8,9. I envied, and wanted to emulate, those one or two authors I knew who were published at 13 (and actually, thank god I never was). I wrote under my desk in junior high and high school. I half-assed most of my homework to write.

In college, despite being a film major for some reason, I wrote and wrote and wrote. But by this time, writing had developed a combative relationship with life. They took large chunks of flesh out of each other. The blood sport only escalated in post-college adulthood.

The need to pay rent and bills, and the inordinate amount of work required to do that on minimum wage left me exhausted. The turmoil of the relationship I was in at the time took what little energy I had left. When I finally left, my focus was on rebuilding my life. Did I write during that time? Hell yes I did. But we’re talking journal entries and poems, short dark things that took the edge off my pain, but didn’t aspire to the kind of writing I really wanted to do: thought-provoking, imaginative, intricate, long fiction that requires sustained focus. The quality of that writing fell drastically behind. Even in the basics of language and truth, it just fell to shit.

The quest for financial stability and dignity in work became front and center. I guess you could have called me self-centered. Any attempt to describe a life outside my own felt hacky and false.

Then yes, by way of Australia, I found what I was looking for. Writing made a comeback. I didn’t start on Vaganto yet, even though it had been accumulating in my head since at least 2007. I knew I wasn’t up to the task. Instead, I wrote short stories – just practice runs really. Trying to find my way back to the level of skill and intuition I might have had if life hadn’t knocked me around like a shoe in a dryer for the past decade. This time, writing got its revenge on life.

I can’t count the number of invitations I declined, weekend trips I didn’t take, friendships I didn’t develop, hobbies I didn’t take up and initiative I didn’t show because I was writing. Writing, something absolutely no one asked me to do, no one patted me on the back for, and a fair few people probably rolled their eyes at.

That’s cool. I didn’t do it for social cachet (I think a lot of people inwardly cringe when you tell them you’re writing a book, doubly so if it’s sci-fi), and I sure as hell didn’t do it for money. I didn’t do it for the health of my marriage (hahaaa) and I didn’t do it to be published. Of course, I’d love to be published, but that’s very different from writing to be published, which in my opinion makes it very UnFun. And I can’t take on a years-long project with the mindset that if I don’t achieve something which isn’t in my control (publication), then those years would have been a waste.

I do it because it’s the one thing in this world that’s mine. I do it to fight the death of childhood. I do it to insist that I would not become exactly who life had tried to pummel and mould me into being – that I would always have one unsmoothed part sticking out and bending the blades.

Five years ago, after planning and executing one little wedding, the pain of not writing Vaganto became greater than the pain of writing it. So ready or not, there I went.

Now that it’s finally “Finished”, barring any comment from a PBP, I am deeply re-evaluating my relationship to both writing and life. I want them to lay down arms and call a truce. I want to do other things, and not feel like I’m “cheating” on writing! I’d like to run a marathon, for example (and not to toot my own caboose but I got halfway there over lockdown). I’d like to pay more attention to my garden. I’d like to keep my house a little cleaner. I’d like to learn piano! Maybe someday tennis. I’d like to read more! I’d like to look up things that are happening in Melbourne and go to them! Coffee with a friend on Sunday! I’d like to wake up on Saturday morning and wonder blithely what I should do that day. All of this will be super easy with a newborn I bet.

Irrational optimism aside, babies do have a way of forcing you into the present. I wonder what it will be like, over maternity leave, to have that singularity of purpose. My life, previously sliced into at least ten pieces, will now become one Whole Mummy Pie.

I’ve reached an inflection point in my career too. Not that I want to stop it or change it completely, but I want to build on it in new ways. It has taken me a shockingly long time to pivot from the now I’m financially stable phase, to the what else? phase. I mean what, really, is the best use of my short time as an active player on the court? I have ideas but it’s terribly scary when your family depends on you. I hope I’m brave enough, adaptable enough, and wily enough to make it work. I never want to jeopardise my kid’s sense of security.

But the great thing about all this is: he is miraculously arriving at a moment when I’m completely ready to receive him. I spent most of my twenties and early thirties stressin’ about whether or not I wanted kids, mostly because in the war between writing and life, children were life’s version of the atomic bomb. But I ended up choosing life that time. I realised I wanted a baby badly enough that I would accept whatever effect it had on my writing – which would be long-term but still temporary. If I had to write novels in my 60s then whatever, it’s fine.

Now it feels like both things will be fine either way. I wrote Vaganto, which I put everything I had into. Now, for a little while, I’ll be writing shorter things for pleasure. Blog posts, for example. Loose short stories. Poetry that I might read at an open mic. It’s all about going back to that original joy. And if I do start revisions with an official PBP, that would be very very very nice indeed.

I’m fusing my life together. That’s the goal at least. Just in time to bring this new life earthside.

And Now For: Things I’m Into Right Now

This Joni Mitchell cover by James Blake
This very topical Print Run Podcast episode about writing and having a baby.

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