I ran down the road, pants down to my knees, screaming, ‘Please, come help me, that Canadian shaman gave a little too much to me,’ and I’m writing a novel, because it’s never been done before…
…a line from Father John Misty’s song “I’m Writing a Novel”
I don’t get philosophical about New Year’s until the countdown comes on the TV. Then, with seconds to spare, I spiral into frantic introspection, trying to tie up every single mental loose end before it’s time to light glittery things on fire and spill champagne.
When the countdown appeared at the end of 2017, I was in a cavernous living room on a ranch in Albany, Texas. In that room were the following:
- trophy animal heads
- 2018 sunglasses
- beaded necklaces
- most of the 41 people I circumnavigated the globe with over 11 months in 2014 on the World Race, plus some spouses and one baby.
The countdown began, and I did not look inward. I just looked around.
After three years of only glimpsing each other at weddings and on layovers, C Squad was back together. These were the people I’d flown to Tegucigalpa with four years ago. These were the people I’d been at home with in 11 countries. These were people I’d been sick with, bickered with, cuddled with, killed big spiders with, shared clothes with, wept with, prayed with. Three of them, I’d dyed my hair with. Two of them, I’d taken a horrific road trip across Mozambique with. One of them, I’d made out with.
It wasn’t like the good old days because time had passed and things had changed, so it was a new type of good. All that divinely checkered history had compelled us to reunite for the one time of year we hadn’t shared yet.
We had spent 11 months together, but never Christmas and New Year’s. We had never sung Hark the Herald Angels Sing together. We had never relished the dregs of December together in a big warm house in the middle of America and welcomed the the final page turn of the calendar.
So midnight hit, and we all screamed and cheered and hugged and kissed and jumped and spilled champagne. Andrea started Auld Lang Syne and I belted it with her and soon all of us were singing, and of course none of us sang it right because no one knows the words to Auld Lang Syne.
We spent three whole days on Sharon and Bobby’s ranch. We looked cute and done-up when we got there and by the second day, we had relaxed into the sloppy familiarity of people who have already seen each other at their haggard worst.
We played games. We fired guns. We worshiped. We ate grits. We reminisced. We met each other’s spouses and partners and babies.
We asked, “How are you? What have you been up to?” and those old, tired questions were neither.
On the first day of the year, we were gathered for worship, and at the end of the time, I said, “I’d like to ask for prayer, real quick.”
I didn’t take a breath and said:
“I’ve already told a lot of you about this, but I’m writing a book about the Race, and I’ve been working on it for a while now, and I want to make something that tells the story of the year, and I know it’s worth doing because the best parts are the parts that glorify God and make life beautiful, and I don’t know how to publish a book or make money on it or anything, but I know I’m supposed to do it, and that’s why I’m trying to write, I mean, I am writing a book.” I didn’t expect to cry when I said that.
I’m writing a book. It took at least a year to say that without preamble or apology or wishy-washy synonyms.
Some people suggested I write a book when I got home from the Race, but I brushed it off and forgot about it. But, like the Race itself, the story of that year and the idea of making something lasting out of it stuck around for a while as a vague, daunting daydream, until at some point last year, I found myself transcribing my handwritten journals and blogs and iPhone notes and voice memos into one document on my computer and organizing them chronologically.
I was volunteering on a farm on Lopez Island in the spring, and my room was in an old barn covered in wisteria. The room was bare and the floor was dirty and the bed was creaky, but there was a heavy wooden desk with dusty volumes on seaweed and farming and philosophy, and as my eyes fell on the dusty kerosene lamp, I swear I heard someone say, “A writer should have a desk.” I wrote a lot at that desk on Lopez: a couple blogs, a furious rant about not having a boyfriend, what ensued when I agreed to “have a sauna” with eight strangers. I kept compiling my World Race content. I read it, and it was hundreds of pages long, and it didn’t make much sense, and I thought, I’m going to turn this into a… compilation… a project.
The word “book” felt presumptuous. Authors write books, I thought. I don’t write books. Besides, if I tell people I’m writing a book and then I don’t write a book, it’ll be humiliating.
But aren’t authors are just people who sit down and write a lot and let other people read what they’ve written? Anyone can do that. Maybe it’s hard but anyone can do it.
So I moved the piano out of my room and put in a writing desk that I found on the sidewalk. I edited and cut and filled in the journals I kept on the World Race. My goal was to produce a rough draft by the time I left for Spain at the end of August.
The week before I started walking the camino, Dad took me to his office and I printed a 271-page, 158,683 word hard copy. Long.
I left it on my parents’ coffee table, walked across Spain, came back, sat down, looked at it, and thought:
Kept editing it. Took the hard copy and a pen and crossed things out that were irrelevant. Circled misspelled words. Changed a couple names. Got confused. Got bored. People were asking how Spain was, and what I was up to, and I told them I was working at a coffee shop and doing theatre workshops and playing piano, but I only mentioned the “compilation of blogs and journal entries, some sort of cohesive… thing… to share… someday” when I felt brave. It was hard to admit that I was working at a coffee shop because I was writing a… a…
It became real when I named it before my squad-mates.
The people who made the story worth writing in the first place gathered around me and prayed for me and told me it was meant to be. In their prayers, they used the word “book.” All the little doubts about my ability and my dream’s worthiness got drowned out when they said “book,” “book,” “book.”
In 2018, I tell people I’m writing a book. My eyebrows go up and down when I say it and I giggle.
The book is a distillation of the journals I wrote as a 23-year-old, freshly graduated from college and going on a year of mission work with 40 strangers and Jesus in my heart. It’s got eloquence and crassness and nastiness and theology and conflict and adventure and romance and tragedy. It’s got a couple exorcisms and a miracle that still rattles me to ponder today. I blogged when I was on the World Race, and many of those are in the book, but the majority of it is material I never expected anyone else to read.
Of course, I don’t know how to do it, or how long it’ll take, or how to publish it. Of course I wonder if it’ll suck and no one will like it or read it. But I table the long-term concerns because through this whole process, I’ve never had a problem knowing the very next step.
In January, I finished a second round of handwritten edits on the manuscript. Now, I’m inputting them all on the computer. I omit needless words. I read entries aloud. I toggle to Google to learn when to italicize foreign words, the difference between en and em dashes, when to spell numbers and when to use numerals, if it’s “cinderblock” or “cinder block” (it’s “cinder block”). When I get discouraged I read David Sedaris’s Theft By Finding and Kurt Vonnegut quotes.
It goes slowly and strongly; it’s a whirlwind; it’s falling in love; it’s never been done before. And it wouldn’t be happening if I hadn’t spent 2014 with 40 of the best humans I ever met, and I wouldn’t be writing this paragraph if we hadn’t come back together and if they hadn’t prayed with me and bolstered my confidence, just like they did when we were circumnavigating the world, in auld lang syne, which you will be reading about soon, in a book.