Hey Internet, it’s me. Katie. It’s been a while since my last update. Whenever there are long gaps between posts, it’s safe to assume that I am in heavy-duty writing mode. This last stretch of radio silence can be attributed to the second (or third?) round of revisions of my memoir, Running in Circles.
For the past three months I have been posting pictures and updates about revising, to give friends and followers a behind-the-scenes look at the writing process. Now that the book is done (again!), it occurs to me that perhaps these Facebook posts haven’t really demonstrated what a writer’s life is really like. So, allow me to explain.
It goes without saying that writing from the outside is extraordinarily dull and involves a lot of sitting quietly alone or sometimes reading things out loud. Sometimes I use a cut and paste method that I shared with Xenith’s advice column, Writers On Writing. This process is only slightly more active than sitting in a chair. But it’s also a whole lot messier with pages taped together draped over all the living room furniture and arranged across the floor.
I have to give my husband a lot of credit for tolerating these antics, for patiently stepping over piles of papers, for not even complaining that it often looks like a book exploded in our apartment. But more than that, he has come to understand that, while I’m living a simple and happy life with him, my work as a writer often means that I am somewhere else entirely.
I wake up at 7am, rolling out of bed to make coffee from beans that were raised, roasted, and brewed in 2013. But, sitting at my desk, I am mentally and emotionally re-living events from five or six years ago– or even further, depending on where you are in the book.
Running in Circles takes place in 2007, when I was 22 years old and totally clueless. And insecure. Back then, I woke up in the morning next to my boyfriend who loved me and hated me at the same time. I worked with troubled teenage girls, girls who coped with their emotional problems by hurting themselves or others. And for most of my tenure at this school, I was the staff person they regularly targeted with verbal insults and physical attacks. And I believed that I deserved it, I didn’t think I was worth any better.
Friends who have read previous drafts have been alarmed to discover exactly how much I hated myself. When I was a teenager, I used to see my reflection and cry. I could see features that I inherited from my Chinese father, but they were muted by those features from my Irish-American mother. I never knew where I belonged, and people asked me, all the time, “What are you?” I replied by asking them, What do you think I am? which left me at the mercy of other people’s opinions.
This book is so dear to my heart, not only because it’s the first book I’ve written, but it is my story. It is about how I learned to love myself. And I hope that, by sharing my story, I can spare another girl some of the grief that I experienced. And if she already went through it herself, maybe she will know that she is not alone.
Somewhere around page 225, I admit to the reader that I can’t really capture the experience of working with the girls, of leaving my first love, of learning to love myself. In the past two years of writing, I have certainly tried. But I couldn’t include everything. And even with this latest version, I know that it falls short. I know that.
I couldn’t capture the uncertainty I faced walking in to work every day.
I couldn’t really explain the significance of the small joy of driving multiple times around a rotary to appreciate some blossoming purple bushes– just because I wanted to.
I couldn’t find a good way to include all the humor or tender moments of working with these girls. As crazy as they were, there was also something lovable about them.
Maybe as I continue to write, I’ll be able to close the gap between my experience and the telling of my experience.
I know that it’s good to be done with this book, that it is time to create new work. But I’m also a little reluctant to let go of this experience. I don’t want to forget what it was like to look in the mirror for the first time, and feel like I could love myself.
I don’t want to forget how far I have come.
I started keeping a journal when I was thirteen years old, around the same time my grandmother started showing signs of dementia. She was an incredibly strong and determined woman, and it was disturbing to see her slowly lose her mind. I started writing everything down because even little events felt tremendously important, and I didn’t want to forget my own life.
Yet at the same time, I don’t know if I will write another memoir. Writing a memoir is like being trapped in the past. Each time I’ve put Running in Circles aside, whether it’s for feedback or part of submitting to publishers, I feel a great relief to be able to live and enjoy my life in the present.
So that’s the plan. Living and loving and writing.
And in the meantime, keep your fingers crossed!