The book 17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma came out this week (March 21st), and in honor of the release, writers are posting about what haunted them at 17. I came across Nina LaCour’s post here, http://distraction99.com/2013/03/22/nina-lacour-haunted-at-17/, but there are quite a few blogs linked at the bottom of that post, including Nova Ren Suma's own post (http://distraction99.com/2013/03/21/17-gone-and-what-haunted-me-at-17/), all of which include posts about being haunted at 17. This caused me to ponder my own haunting.
During my 17th year, I transformed from a teen thoroughly involved in all of the trappings of high school into an almost adult suddenly aware of the larger world. I was haunted by the discovery that the larger world was spinning at a dizzyingly fast speed, and I suddenly launched into that world, desperate to catch up with it and make myself part of it.
The first part of my seventeenth year, I was a junior in high school and I could not be more involved in that tiny world. But I felt that world collapsing inward on me, and I began to pull away. During that summer, I finally scraped together enough money after years of babysitting to buy a car (along with my parents’ support and contribution, since I was still a bit short): I paid $3,500 for a 1984 Mercury Cougar with 41,000 miles on the speedometer. That car, whom I named Talula (“Talula, Talula, I don’t want to lose you… But you must be worth losing to be worth something…” from Tori Amos's own "Talula"), changed my life. I was really into Tori Amos in those days, and I was also terrified that Talula would collapse and die at any moment, which would end my reign of freedom. I sang to her frequently while caressing her dashboard, though to be honest, with my terrible voice, I’m not sure if that affection helped or hindered. It was a legitimate fear—I was stranded and desperately checking and filling fluids on a relatively frequent basis.
With Talula, I discovered freedom. I got my first real job waiting tables, and I discovered what it was like to have spending money. I loved waiting tables because it actually paid to be good at your job. I worked really hard, and in a way that has never been true in my jobs since then, I was rewarded for that effort by making more money. I continued to perform well at school, but I missed out on most of the senior scene. I joint-enrolled (which meant that I actually went to a local college, since dual credit at the high school did not exist), so most of my days consisted of a brief stint at the high school (from 7:00 to 10:30—yes, we really did start then, though I was late more often than not), a trip over to the university, and then another journey to work, where I often closed the restaurant. I spent late nights unwinding from work and watching the Late, Late Show with my dad, who never slept.
The car and the job changed me. I was haunted by the larger world and desperate to be part of it. I suddenly realized that my life was on a pathway that I wasn’t sure I liked. My relationship with my then long-term boyfriend dissolved, which was undoubtedly my fault, and impressed no one I knew, especially my mother (since he was perfect and charming and I was impulsive and ungrateful). I saved enough money to take a study abroad trip with the university to France… which involved a lot of adventure and a new, terrifying haunting--a story for another day.
I’m proud to say that Talula survived with me for seven years (through college and on all of my roadtrips, including the summer I worked in Cape Cod and drove all the way from GA and back home). When I moved to Japan, I took her to Carmax, and the man came in after carefully calculating her worth. He looked at me straight-faced and offered me $25 for the car. I cannot repeat in polite conversation my objections to his insult, but needless to say, I did not leave her there.
I found her a nice home with a man who ran a scrap yard. He was thrilled because the A/C actually worked (by that point, my dad and I had disconnected the heater coil and salvaged the A/C, which was a good thing, since by then the only automatic feature of the car, the windows, had ceased to roll down). With new tires and functioning air-conditioning, Talula would be saved from the scrap heap and would become his new car. I like to think of her still there, queen of the scrap metal yard, carrying on her important business.
The luxuries and tortures of my job at the Cooker and the classes at the university, along with the trip to France all came later, when I was 18 and on the way to college and the elusive notion of “real life.” At 17, I was awkward and alone, different from my friends and on the fringe of everything—life at the high school, life in the real world. I was haunted by the urgent feeling that I was missing something. It wasn’t until many years later (perhaps only now, in these past few months of writing) that I discovered that in my hurry, I was missing myself. It’s taken me a long time and many, many miles to begin to find that self.
Writing this now, all of these years later, I find myself missing Talula like a long lost friend. I drive a Prius now, which is a phenomenal car and much more predictable and stable, but I’ve never been able to name it or even determine its gender. It’s a car—a damn good one—but it is nothing more. Talula was a friend and fellow adventurer. These days, I’m haunted by her and the memories she held.
The fear that haunted me most at 17, as articulated by Alanis Morissette: “Why is it such work to stay conscious and so easy to get stuck, and not the other way around?” That fear, of getting stuck, haunts me still, much in the same way that I was afraid of getting stuck on the side of the road with Talula.
Spring is coming! Despite the 18 inches of snow that we experienced earlier this week, spring is coming voraciously toward us. The sun is bright and the melting snow blinds me and sounds like rain as it drips off of the balcony outside my window.
Revisions are like spring cleaning—a task that I despise and avoid at all costs.
This revision really sucker-punched me. Just as I thought that I would see the end (I had about 20 pages left and I thought I’d finish that evening), a nasty, unbearably insistent thought crept into my mind. The order was all wrong.
So, in a fit of passion, I ripped my revision to shreds, opened a new document, and reconstructed the pieces of my manuscript into a new narrative.
I’m starting to think of the manuscript(s)—all of them, really—as an entity, rather like a human being. Or more like lots of human beings together in an unpredictable landscape that constantly changes… Those beings and that place meld together into a single life force.
That life force, the manuscript, breathes and thinks on its own. It has a will more powerful than mine, and it is not altogether benevolent.
We fight. Most often, I lose.
Revision, then, is like the catalyst for the evolution of said manuscript (i.e. life force). As with most catalysts, it also has its own properties, and it will yield an infinite set of possibilities.
My job is to weave my way through those possibilities.
It’s a journey that has no pathway, full of darkness and fraught with dangers—the most terrifying of which is that my very own composition of self seems at stake.
I’ve thought a lot lately about what exactly makes up this entity I consider to be me. And I’ve thought a lot—separately—about what I wanted my novel to be.
Neither line of thought does much good, so I try to push the meandering ideas aside like the dog hair tumbleweeds that clutter the floor—but like most issues that are the source of worry, they are not easily silenced.
I wanted my novel to be about A, B, and C (imagine, here, what those letters could represent)—it exists, and it breathes, but it’s about X, Y, and Z (create your own ideas, as long as they are the polar opposite of A, B and C) instead.
And yet, despite the blizzard in March, the spring will come. Despite the mess I’ve made of my manuscript, a newly constructive narrative is emerging with its glossy green leaves.
What I did accomplish this week is a second revision of a novel that is almost definitely better than the first draft.
And for today, as I hold out for spring, I will count that as a major accomplishment.
Ashley: 1 Manuscript-Destroying-Revision-Monster: 0
I’ll take a win any day, in whatever form it comes.
"that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we're all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we'll ever have..."
© K. Ashley Dickson and Teaching the Apocalypse 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to K. Ashley Dickson and Teaching the Apocalypse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All thoughts and ideas are the author's and do not represent any employer.