Think back twenty years ago.
Can you remember who you were then?
What you were doing? Thinking? Feeling?
It's been almost two decades since the initial inspiration for my first novel, Surfacing, appeared in my life. Fourteen years since the first draft was completed. It's gone through numerous edits and rewrites (I stopped counting after twelve). The initial 1,200 pages have been whittled down to just under 400; at one point I completely gutted the last section and tried to piece it together again, only to find some major inconsistencies that had me back at the starting block.
I cut my novelist's teeth on this one and from its inception, Surfacing has forced me to push past old boundaries. To halt a host of horrible writing habits. To keep working on my own personal issues so I could clean up the manuscript and carve out those things that had no place or purpose in the plotline.
And throughout the process, a song by The Eagles has consistently spirited me forward.
Providence whispered in my ear in the fall of 1994, as the song "Take it to the Limit" followed me wherever I went. On the radio...in conversations with friends...in dusty mix tapes I found in the corner of a bookshelf. Over time I listened to the lyrics more closely, wondering if they held a message, a lesson I was meant to learn.
When I was inspired to write a short story in October of that year, "Take it to the Limit" coincidentally was playing on the radio once again, and I knew this was more than a synchronicity. When the story became a novel, I wove it into the manuscript, giving its influence to one of my favorite characters, Michael Schreiber. The last verse in particular seemed to echo his ethos, his never-ending search for freedom. And even though Michael struggled mightily with a host of demons of his own, even though AIDS was ravaging his body, he continued to push past his own limits. To find meaning in his abbreviated life.
Once the initial book was completed in the spring of 2000, I began the long search for a literary agent all the while continuing to do the often tedious work of creating my own autonomy. It would be eleven more years of growth, of healing, of becoming a better writer and a healthier human being before doors would open in the publishing world. In the meantime, I would often revisit Surfacing to glean more insight. To stretch my boundaries. To hone the manuscript.
And every single time I was knee-deep in rewrites, "Take it to the Limit" would surface to remind of who I had once been and how very far I had come.
In preparing the manuscript for publication this spring, I know this is not a book I would want to write today. And yet, having already written it, I doubt I would need to. Not that I remember writing it in the first place. I can recall sitting in this office in front of my little Mac back in the late nineties, drinking endless pots of coffee while I worked. I remember the days and weeks and months and years it took to finally put all of the pieces together.
But as I cut through the narrative over the weekend, much of it was a blur.
But isn't that life? We all move through our multitude of experiences, sometimes at a snail's pace, but more often than not, at lightening speed. Time and space can play tricks on our memory and much of what we encounter falls through the cracks in our consciousness. That's one of the reasons I still choose to journal. Why I feel an affinity for every character I've written, for each one has whispered their story in my ear, has shown me a different facet of humanity.
In once more sifting through Surfacing, I've revisited Allyson's narrative and remembered her distinct voice...sometimes disjointed, often watery. And even though it was painstaking to trim the redundancies, to cut through the scenes that weighed the story down, I saw the opportunity in recognizing how I've evolved. As a writer. As a woman. As a human being trying to live the life I've been given.
Now I can finally let go of this novel.
Let go of the past twenty years and all that has happened in that time.
Let go into a place no longer encumbered by expectations and judgments.
I can move on and embrace what is here right now. What I am creating in this moment.
At the end of this long journey, I can finally head out on the highway and look for new signs.
And I imagine I will always take my life to the limit...one more time.