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Birthing a Book
"The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience." -Emily Dickinson
I never imagined writing a book days before deadline to be as messy as a scene from Window Water Baby Moving. Though the experience may not have been as bloody, I did consider eating a placenta at the end of it all for nourishment. (Placentophagy seemed smart after the couple dozen 7-11 mozzarella sticks I had consumed that week.) Other than the reminder that procrastination has its consequences—namely in the form of sleep deprivation, binge eating and poor hygiene—this hellish episode reinforced that writing is a privilege.
I had the golden opportunity to lock myself in an ivory tower and pour my thoughts onto paper. So what if my hair was a little tangled? My thoughts would be printed, distributed, and made permanent. As the soon-to-be author of a non-fiction history book, this was my chance to make history herstory. Plus, I was getting paid to do this when, statistically, I should be a nanny.
I started the weekend before my deadline by packing up at the office and complaining to my co-worker that I'd be spending my Friday night parked in front of a computer. With such a “grueling week” coming to a close, I whined that I just wanted to rest. The complaint was met with a cold stare. At age 25, my dyslexic co-worker had not yet completed his college degree.
“At least you don't have to be outside laying bricks,” he said.
I cringed. He was right. I wasn't in danger of tearing a tendon. I imagined myself in the blistering sun forcing dexterity out of my calloused hands as sweat stung my eyes—more or less how this co-worker had spent his late teens and early 20s. Instead, I would be sitting in a cushy chair at a university library surrounded by art books. As I bobbed along to a soundtrack of Jewel and Pearl Jam, a white chocolate mocha was only a grasp away. Hadn't this been the dream since childhood—the life of an authoress?
The following week, my co-worker would explain how hard even basic spelling came to him and how the thing he wanted most was a college degree, but reading and writing made realizing that dream a slow and arduous journey. He could usually only manage one or two courses at a time without overexerting himself. Meanwhile, I had written 18,000 words in one week, not counting the writing I had done outside of the book. Sure, I could barely keep my eyes open. But even in my zombie state, I should've admitted how lucky I was to have finished a manuscript. I am lucky because I am capable and I am lucky because I have a platform. Yet our struggles always seem relative.
Because my social circle is largely comprised of journalists, and M.F.A. candidates, I sometimes lose perspective on my good fortune. Deadlines may seem “unfair.” Word count may seem “quaint.” Oh, groan, our editors are so inconsiderate. Let's check our privilege, shall we? The literacy rate of South Sudan is 27 percent. How many people there would feel blessed to read a book, let alone write one? Writing is not just something I do because I can; I do it because I must as my societal duty. I am educated and I am a woman and, to quote Debra Winger, “Women don't write enough.”
VIDA, a nonprofit dedicated to women in literary arts, performs an annual tally of “gender disparity in major literary publications and book reviews” to “offer up concrete data and assure women authors (and wayward editors) that the sloped playing field is not going unnoticed.” They call this the VIDA Count. They are currently in the process of tallying for 2013, but take a look at the 2012 VIDA Count for insight into gender inequality at The Atlantic, Boston Review, Granta, Harpers, London Review of Books, The Nation, New Republic, The New Yorker, and other major publications.
Writing a book is similar to giving birth in that it is time-intensive and painful. That being said, that suffering is beautiful. I distinctly recall one morning where I was grinning and typing away at 3 a.m., oblivious to the fact that I had to be at the office at 8:30 a.m. I was possessed, in flow, radiant.
Just as not everyone is lucky enough to be fertile, not everyone is lucky enough to be literate and college-educated and have a publishing contract. Throughout history, women across the world have especially found themselves in the latter camp. The next time I catch myself whining about a book I must write, I hope I remember that. Bookstores, libraries, and society as a whole needs more female voices. Adding to the conversation might be scary and overwhelming at first, but I am grateful to do it.
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