I told myself that I'd have it done, ready for the disseration committee, by 2/1/09. I worked 16 hours last weekend so that all I had to this morning was catch a few more small errors, add some thoughts that've been keeping me up at night, and batta bing batta boom. It's 240 pages with front matter and a 4 page bibliography. 75,506 words. 420,000 characters with spaces. 904 paragraphs. 5,334 lines.
I've written and researched around 75% of this book since June, though the idea for it came in the spring of 2004 in a nature writing course with John Janovy. In that class I had the beginnings--a 35 page essay--but I didn't have the drive. That drive came in May of 2006 when my grandmother passed away, and over the subsequent summer I lived the best time of my writerly life as I feverishly read about garden design and took hundreds of pages of notes. Well, best time of my writerly life until now.
I have never, ever, ever, worked so hard in my life. I am SERIOUS. I've never forced myself so hard in anything. On days when I felt sick, beyond exhausted, when I slept poorly, I made myself write. When I wanted to burn everything, wanted to bash it all to bits, I made myself write. When I wanted to be outside gardening, I made myself write.
On days when I should've been grading or lesson planning for classes, I wrote. This was a very important decision for me early last fall, and why my student course evaluations are some of my lowest since I first taught in 2000. I woke up one day and I said I couldn't fight this anymore--something had to give. I could not, not at this point in my life anyway, be both a devoted teacher and writer. It was pulling me apart. 9 years of grad school has broken me into too many little pieces, each of which everyone expects 100% from. So I put the book ahead of teaching. And I stand by this decision. I've been made whole again.
I love the book. I really do. Not just saying that in this 52 degree sunny euphoria. I've joined the ecological, environmental, philosophical, critical, lyrical, contemplative tradition of the writers I most admire. I think so, anyway.
I've never felt so much joy and so much pain at once while writing this book either. Writing is exhausting. I can't begin to tell you. I know plenty of folks think just sitting there sounds pretty relaxing, but I get less tired doing manual labor. Seriously. I put everything into it when I do something, ask my wife who says I "get on a mission." Writing this book has been far more intense than my first dissertation, a collection of poetry. That book came together easily, partly because 1/3 of the poems were written during my MFA years, partly because poetry is easier to write. It really is. And not just for length or the fact I've been writing it since I was 15.
Prose feels natural to me, too, but I think prose opens up a can of worms. In poetry, reflection is not really needed or wanted--it hurts the intensity of the image and the reader's full experience of the reading. Poetry is concise and focused, especially, and that precision is what makes it like a tightly coiled spring ready to burst with all that stored energy once the reader internalizes and experiences it. Poetry is like foreplay. (It may be the next thing too, actually....)
In prose, to a degree, the reader expects to be hand held a bit, and reflection is a greater part of that. The trick is to know when to stop rambling and let the description, research, and imagery do the work again and build the metaphor of experience--that's what poetry has taught me. Prose is spooning afterward.
So, see, I'm rambling even here, and getting a bit NC17. I believe in this book. I know a writer is supposed to, but think about all those years that "famous" writers spent writing books that no one likes, sometimes even the writer. This isn't one of those. And I hope I never write one of those. But this book is good. It is really really good. And now it waits for a talented editor to show me how much better it can still be.
For now, I bid you adieu, Morning Glory: A Story of Family and Culture in the Garden. As our cultures continues to clash with the natural world I hope, that in some small measure, you will begin to reconnect and heal that rift which has developed over time (unfortunately, ecological signs point to that rift needing to be healed overnight). I hope that as you settle back into me, as the dust of my research books and loose papers in the office nestle back in to files and on shelves, you will cool and harden like steel, you will extend your roots out into the new soil like a willow. See you in 2 months, my dear, dear friend. I can't wait to see what you will become in this moment of extended rest and rejuvenation. Perhaps, what I will become.