At least once a week, some kind, well-meaning person asks me when I am going to write a book. And inside, where you can’t see it, I flinch.
Now, the Current Me, the one you can see standing in front of you — she doesn’t flinch. She stands there with her smooth face and her smile, and she says thank you, she is flattered, and it’s true … I am.
But the Old Me — the smaller, hollow-eyed version of myself who still lives inside me someplace — that version cringes and looks away, and mumbles something nobody can understand.
I don’t always like to talk about the reason why, but I’m going to. And I’m going to do it now.
A few years ago, I wrote a book — or at least a draft of one. It was a book about my recovery from anorexia — which is the subject most people want me to say I’m writing about, when they ask me if I’m writing a book.
Like most good first drafts, this one was messy and imperfect, but it was truthful. It was truthful enough to be the kind of thing that would make you sit up, startled, and shut your mouth.
And then I started editing the draft.
And suddenly it felt like I’d opened up a box of darkness inside my house, and the darkness filled up all the rooms and smeared its gray over the windows so I couldn’t see out. I’d thought that the darkness was something I’d managed to contain a long time ago, but there it was, That Old Darkness, crashing around the bedroom in the middle of the night.
So I cut out words.
I cut out paragraphs, pages, chapters.
I scribbled the outline onto index cards and laid them all over the tables and floor, trying to figure out where the darkness was lurking so that I might excise it from the text.
And eventually, I figured out that the darkness was everywhere — in the editing process itself.
The same perfectionism that once had driven me to starve myself was now sitting there at the desk with me, wielding the red pencil — only the pencil looked like a knife.
I threw the book away.
If you’ve ever been in a 100-level creative writing class, you’ve probably heard some adjunct professor tell you to “write what you know.”
Which is good advice, to a point.
But I’ll tell you something that smart writers understand — something they know but don’t like to talk about.
Writing about the past, and especially any part of the past that’s deeply important to you? I mean deeply, viscerally important? That is a dangerous business.
I told you last week that during the month of November, I was going to begin writing once again about my body — its frailty and strength. Its astounding possibilities.
I was serious about that.
But you know what I won’t be writing about?
My eating disorder.
There are a lot of excellent anorexia memoirs out there, chronicling all the reasons why women (and men) make themselves small. Why they choose for themselves that strange and deft disappearing act: now you see her, now you don’t.
As for me, though, I don’t want to go back to that old subject right now — the darkness and starvation and drought.
But you know what I do want to write about?
I want to write about the joy of living in this fragile suit of skin. I want to go out and feel the wind in my hair and the chill on my cheeks — all the small capillaries blooming into a blush — and I want to tell you what that feels like.
I want to photograph myself half-asleep in the sun, drowsing, the yellow light warm on my eyelids.
I want to show you what it looks like to curl my fingers around a smooth river stone, or to touch a birch leaf to my lips, its skin speckled with autumn red.
I want to celebrate myself and sing myself — this Body Electric. And if that’s something you’d like to read about … well, then, you’ll know where to find me.
Let’s celebrate something beautiful together.