For most of 2019, I was a medical mess, and I took lots of notes.
In 2020, no longer a medical mess, I started working on a novel. The 2019 Notes became the stuff I worked on when I needed a break from the novel. I curated and cataloged The 2019 Notes out of a computer, a tablet, and four notebooks. Then, I did almost exactly what I do as a fiction writer — picking out stuff that seems like it could work, thinking, editing, putting it away for a while, taking it out again later, messing around with it until I think it’s messed around with enough, then sending it out to places I like, where I think it goes with what they do.
No one has wanted any of it, and I’ve been really embarrassed by how much those rejections bother me.
Unlike everything else I’ve ever sent anywhere, the stuff from The 2019 Notes really happened, and it happened to me. I’ve spent years and years as a reader of stories about other real people’s bodies without much interest in taking a turn myself…and when that (finally?) happened? Nope.
I might not be a big baby about fiction, but it turns out I’m definitely one about memoir.
The interesting part is that it’s made me look at the genre in a brand new light: How do memoirists even do that whole part of the process? How do they not see it as judgment of something with immobile parts that have nothing to do with craft? (Seriously, I’d love to know. I really think there has to be more to it than thick skin. DM or email me if you’ve seen a piece where someone talks about this. Even if they just say, thick skin.)
The uninteresting part is that it’s made me realize that I should add another genre to my list of Things I Should Only Try At Home. (See also: poetry of any kind.) When I’ve spent the last five or so years largely off the fiction writing grid and often feel the need to compose elaborate excuses for my absence, this one is rough.
I have a system that I use for exorcising failed fiction projects — it’s worked for me more than once, and it’s structured enough that I could teach it, hint hint. It might work for someone else for memoir, but I haven’t had much luck there.
So, I’m going to try something else: I’m publishing one right now, thereby making all other possible doors basically slam shut. Maybe then, I’ll be free!
Knees Over Toes
This will support you, the tiny physical therapist says as she pulls the bright orange belt around your waist. Is it too tight?
Three, you say, because that’s the number in How Bad Is The Pain when something else is upsetting you more than the pain does.
Do you want it tighter, she says, and starts to tug at the buckle.
You say no, you were confused. You usually only realize you are confused while you are looking at your phone. Your texts and searches and games, they burst instead of flow. No one else notices, but you know: time now slips.
You don’t say any of that because the tiny physical therapist who fastened the orange belt around both of you is now standing in front of you, and her face says you will stand up and walk across the room. She has worn the orange belt many more times than you have, yes, but.
Are you ready, she says.
Gray, you say. Gray is the see when you think forward and up, only a few inches in front of where you sit now. You can’t see how the view from the window you face will ever change. You can’t ever imagine the thincold cotton blanket on your lap further away than it is now. You can’t count the number of muscles and bones required to ever make you ready. You can’t even count to.
Remember what I told you, the tiny physical therapist says. One. Two, she begins to pull on the orange belt around you both in a way that, exactly twelve days later, you’ll learn is totally wrong. Three.