A few days into my new resolution to write for at least a two-hour block each day, six days a week, I’m feeling pretty peacock-proud of myself for actually sticking with this thing.
This has not been easy. My week so far has included a last-minute evening run to the vet for dog medicine, which is A Big Deal because the vet is three towns away. Cancer-Dog is now on five separate drugs, in the hopes that she will cease barfing on the furniture. Meanwhile, she has decided that the only foods that now merit her attention are chicken baby food and whatever the two-legged dogs are having. My Sainted Husband and I have become those people who have no infants but buy baby food in bulk.
My seven year old and five year old, known respectively as “The Mad Scientist” and “The Frat Boy,” have officially been uncivilized by too many snow days. As I stepped outside this evening to close up the chicken house for the night, The Frat Boy, who is almost 5, called, “Don’t worry, Mama, we’ll be good!” and then he and The Mad Scientist burst into a rousing chorus of the song they have been singing all afternoon, the lyrics of which consist entirely of “Spouting once, spouting twice, spouting poop soup with rice.” The Frat Boy has been literally climbing the walls. When I say “literally,” I do not mean it the way people mean it on Facebook. I mean that my four-year-old is actually climbing up the walls. He puts one foot on one wall in the hallway and the other foot on the opposite wall, and ooches his way up until he is looking down at you from the vicinity of the ceiling. It’s eerie.
I am battling a resurgence of my anxiety disorder, which, like Smaug, has lain dormant for many years, but has suddenly decided to rise from its bed of carefully hoarded neuroses and go torch the everloving crap out of stuff. Maybe I would be a little less anxious if I were not arranging dog medication the way some people choreograph ballets. Maybe I would be a little more stable if I wasn’t worried that a kid might fall from the ceiling onto my head.
Maybe it’s just February. Blah. The same snow that fell way back when is still clinging to the shaded ruts along fencelines, tracing pale claw marks across soggy fields of dead grass. Even the cows look miserable. I drove by a field of them yesterday, and every single one of them had a crusted patch of mud caked on its right flank where it had been lying on the sodden ground.
It was warmer today–in the fifties, no less, bringing the kind of hectic warmth that teases with hints of a still-distant spring. This is the kind of day when Percy Shelley whispers in my ear about the West Wind, the kind of day when the road seems to go ever on and on down from my front door, but I’m keenly aware that as soon as I set foot on it, heart nearly bursting with adventure-lust, a barrage of sleet will rain down out of nowhere, sending me scuttling back to my hobbit hole.
And I have killed Kate.
It wasn’t malicious. It was for the best, though. Nobody liked her.
Kate was the best friend of the main character in the novel I’m working on. My first couple of readers liked the story but weren’t sure about Kate. Then, my third reader clinched it. Kate had to go.
In a way, it was hard to get rid of her. Kate was a gossamer creature of pure nostalgia, an amalgamation of all my favorite things about my best friends growing up. In retrospect, maybe that’s why I created her in the first place–as a sort of homage, or maybe some desperate grasp at a simpler past, a past in which dogs did not require such substances as diphenoxylate and mirtazapine, and in which nobody ever sang songs about poop.
But Kate didn’t belong, and everybody but me could see it. I saw it, too, and fortunately it was sooner rather than later. I know my story will be better without her, but she was in so flipping much of this book that I’ve had to completely rewrite the first three chapters, and will also have to totally overhaul pivotal scenes later on, as well as surgically removing about a bazillion references to her. Killing Kate has made me dread returning to this novel, because I know that the ghost of this character is all over the place, and that if I’m not careful and deliberate in laying her to rest, she’ll continue to haunt my story.
I didn’t actually kill her, really. It was more like total, godlike obliteration. She was there. Now she’s not, as if she never existed.
But maybe she is still there, somewhere. I wonder sometimes what happens to the drafts of novels–if like spirits, they hover, ghostlike, in some half-realm of murdered words. I wonder what happens to all the words we write and speak and think, the ones that we put out into the air only to fade away. Can words disappear? After I’ve spoken a word, or deleted it, does it still exist somewhere? It can’t just cease to be, can it? What is a word, anyway? And where is Kate? Is she still out there, in some dimension of untold stories and unrealized characters? If I can still talk about her, then she must still exist. I think…..
I suppose this is why we write, when it comes down to it. Because no matter how much dog barf we are cleaning up, no matter how wild our children are, no matter how our anxieties and neuroses and assorted hangups batter at our souls, we still think, still wonder, still question. In my head right now, I am holding thoughts of what Cancer-Dog’s next dosage will be, how to love my kids back into human beings, what I need to do to master my own misfiring neurons. But I am also, in the midst of all that mental clutter, still wondering–what really happened to Kate?