I've been in Sitka for three days and have woken twice to the optimism brought here by the sun. Yesterday, Natalie and her two-year-old twins and I hiked up above town, stopping to yell "poop!" at dog poop and to sling rocks into a trickling stream. At the end of our hike, we walked to the pebbly beach and plucked tiny black crabs from where they hid under helmet-shaped rocks. Nat and her boys had just taken a trip to Colorado and the boys did the same thing there as they do here--peeled stones half their size from mucky riverbeds and screamed "CRABS!!!" whether they saw any or not. I love how they love what's small, how their curiosity never stops them from stepping in shit or getting it wrong.
My favorite thing to watch them do is share things with each other. On the airplane coming to Sitka, Sage, the twin I was holding, wanted to give some dried mango to his brother, Stratton, who was sitting two rows behind us. "Give! Stratton!" he yelled, out of nowhere, through sticky orange teeth. Then he clambered up the front of me, popped his head over the back of my seat and stretched his little arm as far as it could possibly go until it the mango reached Natalie and then, at last, his smiling, expectant brother.
Before I left Colorado on that plane, I'd had a few meetings with literary agents. I pitched my book to them, I tried to tell them it was good without saying it was good. (Because who knows if it is.) I tried to explain the "narrative drive" of the book, but because I write creative nonfiction, narrative drive is an awkward thing to talk about. Narrative drive is the direction I have moved in my own life. It might be a quiet story, but it's the story I have. I said this. I think that might have been considered flailing, but at least if I flailed, I did so inside the truth.
The agents told me two things. The one from New York said that his biggest regret was that he didn't beat the shit out of his best friend who slept with his girlfriend. The second agent, the one I liked, said that he'd like to see my book in-full, but he also said that a lot of writers end up putting their first book in the drawer.
Which felt like a little bit of death.
I have worked on this project for almost ten years, and I don't know if it is loud enough (would I want it to be?) to be sold to a big publishing house (would I want it to be?) or if it has narrative drive. But I do know that I will continue to work on what it still needs, and that I will not put this stack of pages inside some musty rectangular compartment, into some space that opens, then closes, and snuffs out contact and light. Because if I did not publish these pages, that is where they would go--inside the dresser where all my childhood journals went, the one with the Serenghetti lions on the front, the one made of cushy green felt, the three that have one line written on the first page and then nothing else.
I don't journal anymore because I don't write for myself.
To put this piece of work into a drawer would be saying that I wrote this book solely for me, and I didn't. I wrote it for Kate and Ashley, for Michael and Brenda. I wrote it for everyone who has ever understood New Orleans and for everyone who hasn't.
Crab! I am shouting.
Mango! See me reaching?