Monday, November 30, 2015

Interlude: Real Time

So, what am I doing? I'm publishing my journals in chronological order from age 8 up to the present (I'm 36). For almost 30 years, I have written about my family, my friends, boys I crushed on or loved or thought I loved; books I read, music I listen to, movies I see; nature, travels, being outside, and how I think and what I feel on the inside. I write about other people - my impressions of them and stories they tell me. I write about the mundane, the profane, the profound.
I majored in English in college and spent most of my 20s convincing myself I needed to be an editor or a lawyer (God forbid). I scrambled my whole adult life to be somebody, or to at least have a career that mollified people at holiday cocktail parties when they asked "What do you do?" I wanted something to tell the family. Something that conveyed that I was making it or on my way.
Plenty of peers and well-meaning loved ones knew I wrote but they wanted me to write novels or magazine articles or prize-winning poetry or at least ad copy. None of those fit me. None. But I kept writing.
At a girls' weekend in summer 2013, an old friend said, "What if you published your journals?" The seed was planted and in April 2014, I began transcribing the journals. I woke up every morning at 5 to type for a couple hours before work. At the end of the work day, I came home and continued plugging away. I edited. And edited. And edited and kept editing. I read and edited the first three volumes so many times that they wove into me. On certain days, I forgot I was reading shit that I had written and I got lost in the words. And I realized the writing itself was not even a tenth of the work ahead of me.
I have read countless blog posts and articles about what you need to do to succeed as a self-published writer. It can be overwhelming. I've had to break it down for myself so I don't become paralyzed in the face of my to-do lists.In addition to writing, transcribing, and editing, I also have to pick cover designers, learn formatting, become a saleslady, do my own PR, query reviewers, consistently post on here, tweet, and generally hustle if I'm ever going to get these babies off the ground.
All the books and websites tell you that being a writer is hard and you may never "make it." They tell you it takes work. They tell you it takes time. What they don't tell you is that you fall in love with the process. They don't tell you that you develop an absorbing patience for the work itself but feel snappish toward anyone who eats up a spare moment of your time that could be spent writing, preparing for publication, or doing market research. No one has quite nailed what a bitch is to navigate formatting and attempt learning HTML when you've never worked with it before. I stumbled on Derek Murphy a couple weeks ago and he has been an immense help while I've been in the weeds of formatting.
No one has adequately described the reverie and angst of publishing books you feel passionate about all by your lonesome. It's hard to express the blood, sweat, tears, and bullshit of it. It puts me to sleep with a smile on my face and keeps me up with anxiety on certain nights. Working on these books makes me feel gentle, patient, and graceful. It also ravages me, making me feel like an angry beast intent on a vengeance I can't name or define. Ezra Pound said publishing poetry in America is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for an echo. Such is the life of a writer but in the malady is the cure. Because I don't know about you but I can't afford to wait for the echo. I have to get after it like a lion taking down a gazelle, with ferocious insistence. Or I can go about it (as I kid myself that I do) with gentle determination, day in day out - just a sweet, quiet plodding. It's all in the mix. It's a roller coaster. My choice to become an author with a reading audience is rife with revelation, reckoning, and absolution. I feel transcendent joy once in a while and I feel laden with rage and filled with curses. I offer thanks and weep with gratitude. I spit and swear and sweat. So be it. I need to publish and share some mofo books because I can't stop writing them.

Minor: Volume One The Journals of Meghan McDonnell
Novice: Volume Two The Journals of Meghan McDonnell
Limbo: Volume Three The Journals of Meghan McDonnell

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Survival Camp, Day 7 (1994)

At age 15, my parents woke me up one morning and told me they were sending me to survival camp. It was one of the best experiences of my life. At the time, I was terrified, but 21 days in the Idaho desert straightened me out and influenced me deeply. It cemented my love of the outdoors, my need for discipline and my desire for a simple, low-impact lifestyle:

Day 7
I made it through the week. The handbook said “The first phase of this course is strenuous.” Maybe it gets better. I miss my parents. “Mother” and “Winter” by Tori Amos are stuck in my head. We stayed in a cool place last night and Stan was mean. Then he was cool and I think he hates me again now. I’m getting used to rice and lentils. This whole trip is like rice and lentils - one bite at a time. I get too overwhelmed when I see the full can.
Yesterday I gashed my hand with my sheath knife so Stan took it away from me. Sometimes I’m in desperate need of going home. Others, I’m cool about being here and two more weeks sounds fine. Is this program brainwashing me? I’m scared that I’m changing into a different person here and it won’t fit when I get back home.
We’re on a mini-solo right now. I just saw the tiniest squirrel. I’m getting better at some of the skills but I don’t know what to do since Stan took away my sheath knife. My lungs are cleaning themselves out and I need lots of water. Right now’s a good opportunity to quit smoking but I don’t want to. Maybe I’ll feel different later on. I’m sad to be missing Elizabeth, Emma, and Mom’s birthdays; also Tori Amos’s show. But I’m here now and that’s what counts.
My hair is getting nappy and my leg hair is growing out. I think I’ll shave my pits but not my legs when I get home. I’d love to be on Broadway right now. But I know that once I get home and go to school, I’ll wish I was back here. Am I going nuts? I’m lonely here. I feel like God isn’t with me.
(later on) I had a sudden breakdown and I went to talk to Emily. She said it was the first time she’s seen me show emotion and she knows I have what it takes to get through this. She’s right. I’m tired of the bullshit. I’m facing this. No more escapes and excuses. I can get through this. It’ll be good for me. I can’t fight the sadness, though. I have to let myself feel but I can’t let my grief or anger or self-doubt overtake me. No more weakness. If everyone else has been believing in me and depending on me, then why can’t I? Each of us in this group is going through it alone. We’re all alone together.
I have a new feeling about myself right now and it’s different than I’ve ever felt. Nothing’s going to stand in my way of finding peace, love, happiness, security, and ability in myself. This is the only place for me right now even though that is hard to accept. It’s easy to let myself be weak but I refuse to be from now on. I’ve always wanted the chance to get myself in shape and now I’ve got it. This is an opportunity, not a punishment. I can learn to do anything. I always thought of myself as a strong person but I was never put to the test. Now I’m being put to the test and I have to prove I can win. It gets lonely out here sometimes but that makes me stronger, too. I trust is that this is a great experience. Stan and Emily wouldn’t give up their time to something they didn’t believe in. I’m thinking less about home. I’m thinking more about survival. I need God’s help but this time it’s up to me. I’ll get home when I get there, but for now I’m here and I’m dealing with what I’ve got. Waking up to a new day here doesn’t seem so depressing anymore.


Excerpt from Minor: Volume One The Journals of Meghan McDonnell
Novice: Volume Two The Journals of Meghan McDonnell
Limbo: Volume Three The Journals of Meghan McDonnell

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Unraveling

The following entry hurts my heart. I was 14. I had just moved out of my childhood home into a new house and started high school in a matter of days. I didn't know how to cope with the stresses of adolescence and the changes taking place in my life. I began experimenting with cigarettes, alcohol, and pot. I was pretending not to care. It marked the end of my innocence and set the stage for turmoil to come:
Tuesday, September 7, 1993Dear Diary,I started at St. Mary’s. I’ve met cool people. Brady Lohrmann looks good. Gary is cute and so is Gill H. I’m in my new house and writing to you here seems wrong. I miss home. I can’t live like this. I don’t want to get used to these things.Here’s my problem list: I want to go home, I want St. Mary’s to get better, I don’t know Erica R. anymore, I don’t ever want to be with Oliver but I love him with all my heart, I miss John, I can’t adjust to changes, Shelby and I are different, and worst of all, I’m mad at God.MP.S. I got high three times this weekend.

Excerpt from  Minor: Volume One The Journals of Meghan McDonnell
Novice: Volume Two  The Journals of Meghan McDonnell
Limbo: Volume Three The Journals of Meghan McDonnell

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

7th Grade Dance, May 1992

When I began transcribing my first journal for volume one, I was struck by what my pre-adolescent self deemed worth writing about. I got a kick out of the entry below because I couldn't have made it up if I tried and it captures a moment of 1992 at a 7th grade dance that I never would have picked if I had been looking back and remembering rather than writing about it at the time:

Saturday, May 2, 1992
Dear Diary,
Dimitri Kohl asked me out last night. I asked him to dance and he said, “I will dance with you on the next slow song.” I said ok and then “Beauty and the Beast” by Peabo Bryson and Celine Dion came on and he was nowhere in sight. But I felt a tap on my shoulder and I turned around and Dimitri was there and we danced. Lance, Kyle K., and Erica Rylant all came up to us and were making fun of us but it didn’t matter. There were a few more songs and then “Jump” by Kris Kross came on and everyone jumped when the song said “jump.” We danced to “Rush, Rush” by Paula Abdul. After the dance was over we went outside and Dimitri told me to call him when I got home. I called him and he asked me out.

There's such an awkward and dorky sincerity in the songs I wrote about and my need to emphasize that we all jumped when Kriss Kross told us to. I like reminiscing on 7th grade dating rituals in Seattle in 1992. Essentially, you would be friends with a boy, he'd ask you out, you would stop talking during your week-long "relationship," and kiss or at least hold hands. Then one would dump the other and you'd go back to being friends and start talking and hanging out again. 

Excerpt from Minor: Volume One The Journals of Meghan McDonnell
Novice: Volume Two The Journals of Meghan McDonnell
Limbo: Volume Three The Journals of Meghan McDonnell