working on my recently completed manuscript “The Book of Kelly,” eight years ago, I started reading memoirs like they were going out of style. I couldn’t explain it. I read “Liars Club,” by Mary Karr, as well as “Cherry” and “Lit” (just to name a few). I just knew that like reality tv shows, which I also watched obsessively, there was a draw to reading them. When I started writing, it made complete sense that I was reading memoir like a maniac and subconsciously doing something to help move the writing process along.
Flash forward to last year, after my break up with my ex, I needed something to really focus my energy on – so I did something that I had been thinking about doing for years: buying a rental property. I threw myself into working with my accountant to get my taxes together, finding a mortgage broker and a realtor team, to help make locate a rental property. I spent six weeks aggressively looking at properties and making offers that fell through or I was outbid. I finally found a property, bid on it and won.
After the homebuying process was over, I had some renovations to do around the property, so I found someone to work on ripping out old carpet, taking wallpaper out of a bedroom, painting and taking down an oddly constructed room in the garage that the previous owner had built. I also had to interview and locate a property management company since I didn’t want to handle the day-to-day operations of a rental. From start to finish, I spent five and a half months working on the project. I loved every minute of it and decided to start planning on buying a second rental (in due time).
I took a minute to breath and then was off to Portugal for a few weeks. When I came back from Portugal, something changed: I didn’t feel like I had to take on another giant project. Buying the rental property had served a purpose and filled a need.
My job got very busy and I placed a bunch of clients into jobs right before summer began. I took some time off from my writing workshop group where every week like church, I brought seven pages, read them aloud and received feedback on my writing. I was off and running, making sure my clients had everything in place: work uniforms, schedules, knew their job duties, how to clock-in to the time clock, etc. Once again, there was something to fill the void even though I was learning to live without it being filled.
I found an outdoor patio set around the fourth of July for half price. I purchased it and spent the holiday weekend reading on my new outdoor sofa. My cats came outside with me and we spent the sunny afternoons reading and laying around. Work slowed down a little bit and once again there was some room to just relax. The rest of the summer was like that: reading, riding my bike, and going to Powells or Broadway books to buy books. Sometimes I read 2 or 3 in a week. I started reading historical comic books and graphic memoirs. I read personal essay collections that were sort of like memoirs. I didn’t want the summer to end: it was the first time in a long time when I was just relaxed. I didn’t run around trying to “do.” I blended into the sofa cushion.
I went to Maine with my mom and stopped in bookstores in Portland and Freeport. I purchased 4 or 5 memoirs at a time. I continued reading at our airbnb’s or VRBO’s. I took a side trip to Boston and stopped at the Harvard Co-op in Cambridge and bought more books. I read in my hotel room after walking 10 miles around Boston.
While I was reading voraciously, I felt something changing – happening – within me. “I think I’m getting ready to write a follow – up to the completed manuscript but I don’t know what shape it will take or even what I’ll write about.” That thought kept running through my head. I told my mom about it on our trip. I told friends that I visited in Rockland, Maine about it. I told my maternal cousins about it during a mini-family gathering in Massachusetts. “I don’t know what the manuscript is going to be about yet, but I know it’s brewing,” I told them.
I came back from my New England trip and threw myself begrudgingly into a licensing certification for my job. I thought about buying another rental property. I started thinking about anything but that stupid, boring certification. I put buying more rental property on the back burner. I read some more in my downtime.
With the certification almost done I went back to the east coast – this time to New York to see friends. I went to Greenlight Books in Greenpoint, the Strand in lower Manhattan, Shakespeare and Co in mid-town, and McNally Rand in Williamsburg. I read six books in two weeks – mostly sitting on park benches in Riverside Park, Fort Greene, and Central Park for hours at a time. My outdoor sofa set not available, I settled on park benches. I watched the leaves change, runners, bikers and kids with families. I checked my phone, but mostly I read. This time, I found myself reading mostly, personal essay collections.
I had a lightbulb moment and decided I probably would be working on a personal essay collection as a follow-up to my completed manuscript. I came back from all the park benches in New York and re-joined my writers group – this time, I brought personal essays. All seven pages of them, like clock work.