Recently I’ve had occasion to become vastly re-motivated to gain momentum with writing my book, you know, the one based on this Kickstarter project and the cross-country trip I took with Lily in the summer of 2014. I want to explain how this re-motivation came to pass, how I’ve gained inspiration from other writers, how I’ve done some crucial, time-consuming, emotional labor, and how I’ve created a plan for moving forward.
I think I reached a nadir last year. Some of you will remember that I had a bit of a freak-out in August, a crisis of confidence in just about every area of my life. At that time I reached out to my Kickstarter supporters in a fit of despair and offered everyone a refund. Nobody took me up on that.
And I’m glad, because my work isn’t done.
Nobody told me that the hardest part of writing would be when my fingers were not on the keyboard. Nevertheless, that’s what’s been true for me. There are tricky logistical challenges to writing for me, as well—not to dismiss those, especially carving out time and energy as a single, unschooling mom without enough external support. Despite those real challenges, by far the dominant ones have been dealing with my own messy thoughts and emotions: insecurity, fear, panic, feelings of worthlessness, melancholy, deprivation, dread—oh, what a list, and such words will never adequately describe the particulars of what I’ve experienced. I had particular blockages that needed to be sat with, cried over, kept company.
Patience is a much-lauded virtue. It seems palatable enough when it’s counted in days or weeks rather than years, or when you can see an obvious end in sight, even if it’s far-off. It’s a more grueling call when you can’t see or even grope your way forward. Sometimes the only way forward is to be absolutely still, to realize the merit of stasis. And along with that, to realize the merits of loneliness, of absence, of emptiness. If you avoid your Shadow it will always come around to demand its due, I’ve learned. I’ve spent a whole lot of time with my Shadow in the past several months. I’m not sure if we’re friends, exactly, but it’s a hard-won intimacy.
There was a stretch of time when all that was keeping me going with my book project was a sense of obligation and sheer stubbornness. Running a crowdfunding campaign is insidious in that way; it can start to feel very transactional, a tit-for-tat arrangement in which I-promise-you-this-in-return-for-your-support. But writing, and creative expression in general, does not necessarily fall in line with this essentially consumerist approach. I’ve learned that a solid motivation for creative work cannot be born from obligation alone; it sucks all the meaning right out of it. I had to re-connect with my original pursuit of meaning, had to ask again and again, “Why am I doing this? Who is this for? Why did this feel important, originally? Why does it feel important now?
At a pivotal moment, I read this essay by Rebecca Solnit, “Men Explain Lolita to Me.” Aside from being a fantastic description of the phenomenon of mansplaining, what moved me to tears were these words:
“You read enough books in which people like you are disposable, or are dirt, or are silent, absent, or worthless, and it makes an impact on you. Because art makes the world, because it matters, because it makes us. Or breaks us.”
It matters. That’s what hit me. It matters, because women matter. Because women writers matter. Because little girls matter. Because mothers matter, and children, and anyone who cares about life and sanity matters. Because sexual and relational minorities matter, and radicals matter, and self-emancipated wild-minded feral earth lovers matter.
It isn’t right that the voices that get heard or even make it to the point of being expressed at all tend to fall into a narrow band of what’s considered Worthy (mostly Straight-White-Priviliged-Guys™). It isn’t right, either, to expect that other non-Straight-White-Priviliged-Guys™ are going to do the speaking and writing for us (although there are many, and they are worthy of being listened to and read). There are real, daily consequences because of this. It’s about survival: not just in body, but in spirit.
It clicked for me, and keeps clicking, that if voices that matter need to be heard, then I’m damn well going to have to value my own voice and make it heard. I might not have the reach of fame or stature; I don’t have any MFA in writing, I don’t have a literary agent, I don’t have any writerly connections—none of that. But that’s not what matters. What matters is making my life, my art, visible, to the best of my ability. It can’t be nipped in the bud from the outset by all the issues that plague the less-privileged: lack of time, lack of money, lack of confidence, fears of mediocrity and vulnerability and humiliation, old traumas trying to pull the strings and keep me safe.
It doesn’t matter how far this book goes or who reads it. It doesn’t even matter if I think it sucks, or more likely, that I think it won’t be or isn’t good enough, or is purely embarrassing. What matters is that I write it. What matters is that I’m birthing myself all the time, and for some reason Writing tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Here’s your medium. Here’s how you, Jennifer Hartley, give meaning to your life.” And there will be one more book in the world that says, “You are not disposable. You are not dirt, or silent, or absent, or worthless.” I’m still making the world I want to live in, and it’s my sacred duty to encourage others to do the same, directly, and by example.
I’m almost done fleshing out the outline for my book; I had been playing with a number of structural ideas for a long time, but I’ve settled on the idea of a largely chronological narrative of the trip (including the events preceding it, so roughly a year’s worth of my life, from the fall of 2013 to the fall of 2014), interspersed with topical essays that could also stand alone.
I’ve also come up with three overarching, overlapping themes to help me organize my thoughts: 1.) the radical prioritization of relational being and intimacy, 2.) the reevaluation of notions of risk and safety and consequent impacts on living life fully and facing mortality, and 3.) confronting the culture of alienation.
I have a bunch of content that I’ve written since the trip concluded, and I’ll be examining it and seeing what fits and what doesn’t with the above frameworks/themes. And of course I’ll be doing a lot more writing.
It would appear that there’s a light over yonder.