“Can we tell our own life story with any sort of truth at all? Of course, we know we can’t. I mean, our life stories, whether we write them or not, are a tissue of evasions, or, perhaps, enhancements. So, that story that we carry around in our head, the story we call our life, we can’t know our birth and death, but we create them somehow, imaginatively. There are other parts of our lives in which we’re quite happy to erase. There are other parts that we want to touch up just a little bit. So what we end with is a fiction. Our autobiography is a form of fiction.”
Carol Shields

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Looking Back, Looking Ahead, Looking Around

Elena Dunkle with a very happy dog

For the last fifteen months, I’ve been pretending that Elena’s and my memoirs, Elena Vanishing and Hope and Other Luxuries, didn’t exist. It was just too painful to think of the darkest moments of our lives out there in bookstores for anyone to thumb through and judge. Reader mail didn’t upset me because it was comforting and positive. These were other mothers and fathers suffering just like I had suffered, and they made me feel less alone. But it was those other readers I didn’t want to think about, the ones who picked up a memoir just in passing and laughed over it and made some rude joke. I had left my whole family open to that kind of treatment. I’ve always been careful about what I share with the world, but this time, I shared everything.

Now, I just feel grateful. Truly, deeply grateful. The last year has brought wonderful changes to Elena’s life, and to mine. Elena is foster mother now to two amazing children who fill all our lives with joy and laughter. She is the heart of a very special home. The environment she has created for her family is a beautiful place, a charming place, a perfect setting for growth and happiness.

Elena's home

I have been blessed to watch my daughter not just struggle but succeed, not just react to the past but reach out and embrace the future–not just survive but blossom. What did I… she… we… do to deserve this? Nothing that countless other parents and other anorexia patients haven’t done too. Why should we find joy when so many others work every bit as hard and find heartbreak? Only God knows.

Elena doesn’t take anything for granted. She walks her path of recovery every day, and that path is lifelong.

But the scenery sure is looking better.

Elena's home

Text copyright 2016 by Clare B. Dunkle. Photos copyright 2016 by Elena Dunkle To read my latest blog posts, please click on the “Green and Pleasant Land” logo at the top of this page.

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The anorexia memoirs have been out for a year and a half now–a year and a half of busy todays that have helped me forget the painful yesterdays. Most of the time, those two memoirs seem as if they’re still just thoughts in my head: unseen battle scars that any busy mother might carry.

But sometimes, something happens to remind me that the memoirs are out in the real world and that they have an existence of their own. I might glance at my bookshelf and spot this beautiful origami unicorn with his flowing mane and tail, sent to me as a present by a gifted and sensitive reader. Or Elena might send me some of the poetry readers have written for her, or tell me about an Elena Vanishing tattoo. A tattoo! Someone’s body is wearing my words! Strange and wonderful evidence that the memoirs have developed their own life independent of ours.

Origami Unicorn Made by a Reader

A couple of weeks ago, Elena called me. “You’re never going to believe this,” she said.

Elena had just received a private tweet from a reader. The reader asked if Elena had ever been in Clove House–the real name of Clove House. Elena wrote back that she couldn’t recommend a place of treatment. It’s the most common question she receives.

“No, that’s not what I mean,” the girl wrote back. “I’m at Clove House now, and yours is one of the ED books we’re allowed to read. I just read the part where you’re describing lying in a Foof and looking around the main room… and then I looked up and realized that I’m in that room right now!

My brain has been trying to take this all in. I myself have been in that room, of course; it’s how I could describe the scene. But the scene hurt to write, so when I wrote about Elena’s first days at Clove House, I pressed that scene between the pages of a book so that I wouldn’t have to keep it in my mind anymore. I could forget all about it. That whole scene stayed folded up in the memoir, out of sight and out of mind. I could let myself move on.

But then, along comes another girl, new to Clove House, walking her own path of recovery. She’s living through that same experience Elena lived through of getting to know the place and its routines. She curls up in a Foof, opens up Elena Vanishing, and that scene of Elena reading poetry at Clove House springs out of the pages and comes to life… and overlays and overlaps the life that girl is living now. Only now, instead of reading a book of Rupert Brooke’s poetry, this girl is reading my words. She’s holding the very pages into which I pressed that scene. Elena Vanishing has come back full-circle into its own story, like cunning origami folding in upon itself, like mirrors reflecting mirrors, revealing themselves to each other and scattering their own brilliant rainbows of broken light.

Strange and wonderful. Wonderful and strange.

Text and photos copyright 2016 by Clare B. Dunkle. To read my latest blog posts, please click on the “Green and Pleasant Land” logo at the top of this page.

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In the News

Last week, Elena and I worked up an 800-word article together. There’s nothing new about that: lately, we’ve been so busy fulfilling interview, blog, or article requests that I’ve had no time to update our websites. And there’s nothing new about the fact that we co-wrote it, either. We co-wrote her entire memoir over the course of years, so we’re very comfortable collaborating on texts. One of us will create the first draft or jot the initial ideas down; we get on the phone, read it out loud, and talk about it; and then that same person will revise the draft and send it to the other for proofreading. Sometimes, we’ll do several rounds of revisions like this. For the book, of course, we did dozens. These two memoirs are very much a family affair, and we tend to deal with them together. So far, again, nothing new.

But something new happened with this article. So far, it’s happened 1,500 times and counting. People are sharing this article across Twitter, through Facebook, on their websites, and in emails to their friends. The interest and support have left us humbled and awed.

Elena and I wrote this piece for The Guardian, a highly respected British newspaper. They had asked for something for their teen books section, so we wanted to create something a young teen could easily absorb. No statistics. No jargon. We wanted twelve-year-olds to read this piece and say, “I get it.” But what would a twelve-year-old want to know? We summoned our inner twelve-year-olds and asked them.

How about “What’s going on with you when you have anorexia? What does that mean? What’s it like?”

That was the piece we wrote: “Inside the Head of an Anorexic.” I don’t know if any teens have read it yet, but I certainly hope so. I hope it helps them identify their own inner critic and learn not to listen to its self-destructive lies.

Text copyright 2015 by Clare B. Dunkle. To read my latest blog posts, please click on the “Green and Pleasant Land” logo at the top of this page.

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“Someone finally put words on a page to describe my struggle.”

I was browsing the Internet for the latest news on Elena Vanishing when I found this statement. It brought tears to my eyes.

Years ago, when Elena and I first began this journey, she described to me the cruel isolation and disconnection she felt from everyone and everything around her. We agreed that writing her memoir would be worth all the pain it was causing us if it could only help another eating disorder survivor somewhere break through that isolation and reach out.

And today, I read this: “Someone finally put words on a page to describe my struggle.” It tells me our work was worth it. It’s the only review of Elena Vanishing I’ll ever need to read.

Thank you, Jessica of Reading Teen blog. It takes a lot of courage to speak up like you did. I’m so glad you got help for your disorder and that you’re doing well now. And I’m so glad that Elena Vanishing brought you comfort.

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A Question of Light

Last week, I had my photograph taken–for the very first time.

Now, it’s true that other photographs of me exist. Not many, I’ll admit, because I don’t pose willingly. Perhaps that’s because my career as a photography model didn’t get off to a very good start.

The earliest photo of myself that I remember comes from when I was two years old. I was wearing an adorable Easter outfit, complete with fuchsia tights, and my mother wanted me to pose for a few outdoor shots before coming into the house. I couldn’t yet speak, so I didn’t argue, but I remember very clearly my indignation at being separated from my Easter basket for a single extra second. I scowled furiously as the shutter snapped open. Then our rambunctious cat, Tom, raced over and clawed me right in the fuchsia tights. As I collapsed in a howling heap, my mother went on to snap several charming pictures of the cat.

If I admit to posing for photos before I could even speak, then why do I say that I haven’t had my photograph taken before? Because most photographs aren’t taken. They just happen. The press of a button lets in light, and whatever is in front of the lens freezes. But that isn’t taking a photograph. It’s opening a shutter. I’m here to tell you, there’s a difference.

The Times Magazine is serializing Elena’s and my memoirs, Elena Vanishing and Hope and Other Luxuries. They needed photographs for this, so they flew a photographer over to Germany, and we met at a rented studio in Frankfurt.

The photographer, Mark Harrison, is at the top of his profession, as a quick glance through his website will amply demonstrate. He has specialized in portraits from Day One of his career; lighting and photographing the human body is his passion. In his decades in the business, he has photographed too many celebrities and seen his work on too many covers to count. His portrait work is in the National Portrait Gallery, for heaven’s sake. Does it get any better than that?

I had read that Mark knows what he’s looking for from a subject and what he’ll be able to get within a couple of minutes of meeting that subject for the first time. I found that absolutely fascinating. Writing is what I do well, but I take that talent for granted. It amazed me to think about this prodigious talent Mark has that is completely alien to me, a gift for studying and lighting the planes of the face.

The two of us chatted while Chris, the lighting man, worked to prepare the set. Mark told me that it’s hardest to please his client when the client is also the subject. “We all have our own mental image of ourselves,” he explained, “and we may have a photograph that captures that–usually a quick, candid shot that matches in some way what we recognize from our mirror. But mirrors don’t give us reality. For one thing, the image is reversed.” And he talked about how hard it is to dislodge that mirror-image from the client’s mind when it comes to assessing a client’s own portrait.

I thought about that. My physical appearance has never mattered to me all that much; what I treasure about myself is my quick, scheming brain. I’ve never had strong negative or positive feelings about how I look. I’ve always felt that I look nicely average. My goal for my appearance is, to paraphrase St. Francis de Sales, to look in such a way that I give the young no reason to roll their eyes and the old no reason to gasp. This is a fairly modest goal. In fact, it’s the essence of modesty.

Beyond that, I don’t give my appearance much thought. I probably spend only seconds a day looking in a mirror. I’ve never been one to take myself apart and analyze each feature separately, either. Why bother? Features are a package deal. So I don’t particularly care whether I have a good or bad nose. My idea of a bad nose is the one Collegiate Assessor Kovalyov had in Nikolai Gogol’s short story. His nose went parading around the streets on its own in a gold-braided uniform, and when he told it to come back, it insulted him. Now, that was an awful nose!

Still, thinking over what Mark had said, I realized that I do recognize myself by one specific feature, and the photographs I most like of myself include it. It’s a certain twinkle in my eyes. My father has it too, and it’s the feature that unites all photographs of him, from age twenty to age eighty. Whatever haircut he might have, whatever mustache he might sport (he curled his whiskers with wax at one point), that twinkle renders him instantly recognizable, and it’s pretty much all I see of me too.

But, in keeping with the nature of the books, this was to be a somber shoot. No twinkle.

Tina, the makeup artist, took over half an hour to get me ready to face the bright lights. She too was a real professional. She’s successful enough to live and work for three months each winter in South Africa, which is the dream of a number of Germans I know. The thing that impressed me most was that she had about thirty different natural-hair brushes in a leather holder. They reminded me of Paul’s woodcarving knives from By These Ten Bones.

When Tina was satisfied, I donned the first of three outfits and stepped out onto the set. It consisted of a white curving space upon which a series of lights and reflecting boards had been placed in a highly technical and arcane arrangement. There were lights all around. That’s all I can say. It’s a statement about as profound and helpful as saying, “The liver-transplant surgeon held a knife.”

Mark showed me various ways to stand, and the shoot got underway. The pace was brisk. Mark took photos while Chris studied the results on a computer and made the adjustments Mark wanted to the set. Whenever there was a lull, Tina hurried over to touch up my makeup. Everyone was busy but me. I was busy standing still.

Since I couldn’t understand much about what was going on, I focused on Mark’s technique instead. Unlike amateur photographers (think of your mother), he never once used the words stop, no, or don’t. In fact, he made not a single negative comment of any sort during the whole multi-hour shoot. I several times pointed out that I had blinked, but Mark let those comments go by. The only things he said were positive: “Lovely!” or “Best shot of the day!” And when he needed to give me guidance, he took the time to put down the camera and come stand with me. “Here’s what people tend to do,” he would say gently, instead of the more obvious “This is what you’re doing wrong.” In fact, gentle describes Mark’s technique overall. Even his commands to the lighting man were gentle, as if he were trying not to break the concentration or tamper with the positive energy in the room.

Light was everything to the crew of professionals working around me. Chris worked constantly with them, turning on or off certain lights or sets of lights and reversing reflecting boards from white to black. Mark ordered minute adjustments to the boom lights: an inch this way or that. It fascinated me to think that he had already seen what he wanted while he was watching me talk earlier, and now he was working to pull that image out and make it a reality. That’s why it’s called “taking” a photograph, I decided: he had seen that possibility and was in the process of capturing it. I didn’t really have to do much except not get in the way of his work.

Elena saw my full-length shots when she went to her photo shoot and pronounced them amazing. I didn’t ask to see any of the full-length shots myself, though. I didn’t want to make myself feel self-conscious and suddenly start obsessing about my hands or shoulders. But Mark did show me the close-ups he had done, the classic “front of the book” or “cover of the magazine” portraits.

Sure enough, as Mark had suggested at the outset, I didn’t really recognize the woman in his photographs as me. Maybe it was because of the lighting or makeup. Maybe it was the missing twinkle. But I loved the woman he had found and brought to light. She looked wise and full of years, with a measure of grace and dignity that I don’t really associate with myself. This woman leaning close to the camera looked like a grande dame. She looked like someone I could admire.

“I love it that I look my age!” I said, and I meant it. Here was no attempt to hide the years of joy or suffering. This woman had come through hardship, but she hadn’t let it harden her. She had loved for many years–one could tell that by looking at her. The price she had paid could be seen on her face, but she didn’t care, and neither do I.

“You look lovely,” Mark corrected me, sounding slightly nettled for the very first time. But any fresh young face can look lovely. I looked better than that.

I looked like someone who loves.

Text copyright 2015 by Clare B. Dunkle. To read my latest blog posts, please click on the “Green and Pleasant Land” logo at the top of this page.

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The Times Magazine will be serializing ELENA VANISHING and HOPE AND OTHER LUXURIES next month, so last week, they flew a photographer out to Frankfurt to photograph me. What an honor! The Times is a venerable institution. It has had the same name and, indeed, the same logo since 1788.

Of course, when I think of The Times, I immediately think of London’s most famous fictional resident, Mr. Sherlock Holmes. It’s arguable whether more people around the world recognize Baker Street or Downing Street thanks to Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective:

“Sherlock Holmes was, as I expected, lounging about his sitting-room in his dressing-gown, reading the agony column of The Times and smoking his before-breakfast pipe, which was composed of all the plugs and dottles left from his smokes of the day before, all carefully dried and collected on the corner of the mantelpiece.” (The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb)

So there was a lovely bit of serendipity when I learned that Mark Harrison, the wonderful photographer who came out to photograph me, had also photographed Benedict Cumberbatch, the latest in an illustrious line of Sherlocks. I’m a Jeremy Brett fan myself, but I’ve enjoyed Cumberbatch’s Sherlock too.

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Crafts for Geeks

Elena Dunkle's Moogle cross-stitch

My daughter Elena loves to cross stitch. Occasionally, she uses patterns, but most of the time, she makes up her own. She favors retro designs that also pay tribute to the icons of her Millennial generation, such as this Welcome sign decorated with Moogles, a creature from the Final Fantasy game series.

It’s the fun of mixing tradition with the Now that most appeals to Elena. She and her husband travel all over the country for his job (along with their game systems and controllers), so she made this cross-stitch for their hotel room:

Elena Dunkle's cross-stitch, Home is where the PS4 Controller is

And while most people think of cross-stitch along with cats, afghans, teapots, and little old ladies, it’s hard to imagine a little old lady composing this cross-stitch, which features Jake and his Everything Burrito, from the television cartoon, Adventure Time:

Elena Dunkle's Everything Burrito cross-stitch

I can’t do what Elena does. I’m left-handed, and my fingers are clumsy. I can’t draw or cut a straight line. I never learned how to cross-stitch, and I have no patience for counting patterns in crochet or knitting. So, when it comes to handcrafts, I have only one outlet for my creativity.

And you’re looking at it.

My website is my craft project. Like a quilt in the making, it’s bulky and hard to work with and sprawls across a lot of territory. At the same time, it’s relatively tidy, even when you look at the stitching on the back. I’ve worked on it for over a decade now, and I’ve never hired help, not even for the multiple-choice quizzes under the trilogy pages or for the conversion of my WordPress blog to match the rest of my website.

Unlike Elena, I could never do this:

Mermaid cross-stitch by Elena Dunkle

 

But I DO know how to do this.

 

When I first started working on my website, I used a program that walked me through exactly how to set up a page. It was a couple of years before I started learning about how HTML and CSS codes work, but I’ve learned a lot since then. Now I spend all my time formatting the codes directly, without special WYSIWYG programs to hold my hand. The code for that cute text-shadow box, for example, looks like this:

style=”text-align: center; border: 6px ridge #8d68f4; font-family: ‘Mountains of Christmas’, cursive; color: #3f16b0; text-shadow: 3px 3px #629863; background-color: #a3d0b1; font-size: 2em;”

I regulate the 142 pages on my website with nineteen templates, one template for each section of the site. That way, when I make a change, I can be sure that all the webpages in that section will change in exactly the same way. To control the appearance of my webpages, I’ve created one massive file, called a CSS stylesheet. This webpage, which has clouds and sky as its theme, and this webpage, which matches its book’s rustic, spooky medieval setting, both take their appearance from that same master document. If it went missing, they’d be nothing but black words on white.

I like to think that my website represents my personal style. But I also created and maintain Elena’s website, which has some pretty fun style elements of its own. I’m particularly proud of how I incorporated entries from her diaries into the website by combining scans of diary pages with scans of torn paper and then matching their backgrounds to the background colors of the different pages. Her website has a fresh, informal feel that’s very different from mine.

Last November, if you had looked at my webpages on a computer, you would have seen almost exactly what you see now. But if you had looked at them on your phone, you would have had a hard time reading them. The section menus were off to the side and hard to read, and the text and images didn’t resize to fit on a phone screen. So I began an ambitious overhaul of my site to incorporate what’s called “mobile design” or “responsive design,” a website that looks different on your phone or tablet than it does on a computer.

In order to make that change, I had to scrap my old CSS stylesheet, a document that was 1,304 lines long, and create a brand new CSS stylesheet, a document that is now 1,816 lines long. In the process, I had to change hundreds of little codes like the ones in the white box above. And then, when that new CSS stylesheet was ready, I had to change codes on every single page on my website to conform to it. And once that was done, in order to make my blog work with the new mobile design, I had to take yet another massive stylesheet–the blog’s stylesheet used to clock in at 1,376 lines long–and change almost every bit of that. The final blog stylesheet is 1,825 lines long. And then I had to edit all the PHP scripts that govern the structure of the blog pages and finally edit codes in each of the blog’s 144 posts.

That’s a lot of coding! It took me three months. But today it all works, more or less. My website and blog still match in terms of style, and they should display properly no matter what device you use to browse them. So I can go back to writing posts, not just coding them.

Little Prince embroidery by Elena Dunkle

Elena had an extra scrap of cloth, so she created this delightful homage to The Little Prince. I could never do that. And I could never do this, either, which she whipped out in a couple of days with no pattern of any sort to send to her baby niece:

Once Upon A Time embroidery by Elena Dunkle

But, clumsy thumbs or not, I still have a craft.

And it’s right here.

Text copyright 2015 by Clare B. Dunkle. Photographs copyright 2015 by Elena Dunkle. To read my latest blog posts, please click on the “Green and Pleasant Land” logo at the top of this page.

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Books and New Beginnings

A bouquet of words

I didn’t write down a single story until I was almost forty years old. Until that day, my characters existed just for me, to keep me company and help me through my days. Even when I began to write, that feeling of isolation didn’t change much. For most of my writing career, I’ve been living in Germany, where no books of mine have been released.

So maybe it won’t sound strange if I say I often forget that people read my books. My characters lived with me so long that it can be hard to grasp that they have a life of their own.

Then one of you sends me a letter. You reach out to tell me what a book of mine means to you. That always astounds and humbles me. Something from my mind has passed into your mind, and now it’s growing there. New ideas have sprouted in your head because of those old ideas in mine.

And every now and then—very rarely—our combined ideas blossom into something so beautiful, it’s almost a miracle.

wedding with books

This amazing young woman got married not long ago. Instead of bouquets, her bridesmaids carried her favorite books. So my goblins got invited to this wonderful woman’s wedding. My old, ugly goblin King got to walk a new bride down the aisle.

WeddingD

And he was in very good company.

Just look at these photos! Aren’t they some of the most beautiful things you’ve ever seen? They’re some of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Each time I look at them, I’m in tears.

(That’s a book from the first printing, too. This goes all the way back to the beginning. Those books are scarce. Even I only have about five of them.)

When I wrote The Hollow Kingdom, I didn’t think of it as a romance. I thought of it as the opposite: as an anti-romance. I was thinking about something that I hope doesn’t exist anymore: marriage for the sake of society. It used to be the only thing that mattered when a girl got married: what advantages she would be bringing to her family, community, and country, not what she might want for herself.

Needless to say, I’m not a fan of such marriages. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to figure out what they were like. Writers often write books about battlefield courage—or cowardice. That doesn’t mean they’re big fans of war.

It should be relatively easy for us modern brides to find happiness. We have free choice. We can marry whomever we wish. But what about our great-great-grandmothers? What about their great-great grandmothers? They didn’t have the freedom to choose. Their societies picked husbands for them, and factors like youth and good looks didn’t rate as highly as prestige or power did. And then there’s the old African proverb: They were our enemies, so we married them. Yes, kinship is a great way to bring warring clans together. But how did those girls feel about that proverb—the ones who had to go live among strangers and enemies to forge that bond of peace?

Did they find a way to be happy?

The question struck me as very complex, and that’s what I liked about it. I like complex questions, ambiguous motives, and flawed characters.

So that’s what I wanted to know when I wrote The Hollow Kingdom: whether Kate could find a way to be happy. That’s why I gave her an enemy for a suitor. And none of that swashbuckling romance stuff, either: Marak is old and practically deformed. He doesn’t share Kate’s values or customs. He isn’t a member of her society or country. Marak isn’t even a member of the human race!

Yes, you could say I stacked the deck against poor Kate. But this shouldn’t be a simple question, nor should we simply ignore it. It isn’t enough to say that we’re modern now and we’ve moved on. We owe it to our foremothers to take a good hard look at what they lived through. They aren’t just DNA and dust. They were girls and women like we are. They had their bad times and good times; they spent sleepless nights in tears, they cuddled babies who grew up to be distant roots of our family tree, and they felt their hearts lift at the sight of a beautiful sunrise, just like we do. We should think about the strength of will it took for those long-ago women to be happy.

So that’s where Kate came from, and that’s where Marak came from. They were a kind of lab experiment in this mad-scientist writer’s mind. But that isn’t where Kate and Marak ended up. Almost immediately, they became their own people. They took their story into their own hands, and they made a life for themselves. They found their own way to be happy. And they don’t need me or my stuffy social ideas anymore. They’re finding their way into new stories now. They have their own social set—friends like this remarkable young woman and her bridesmaids. And I wish them and their wonderful friends a long and very happy life.

WeddingA

I just hope my goblins behaved themselves at the reception.

Special thanks to the bride for sharing her story with me and for giving me permission to use these photographs. Photographs taken by Jason Estel of Photos by Daddy. Text copyright 2014 by Clare B. Dunkle. To read my latest blog posts, please click on the “Green and Pleasant Land” logo at the top of this page.

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Coming soon…

Clare B. Dunkle and Elena Dunkle

I first started working on my daughter Elena’s memoir in May, 2009. Five years is a long time to give to a writing project, especially one full of so much personal pain. Along the way, her memoir became two: a memoir for her and a memoir for me. Altogether, they amount to over two hundred and eighty thousand words.

There was a time when I wandered through those words like a lost soul in hell, unable to find a way out. I would write a couple of pages and then go lie down, crushed under the weight of those painful words. Each time I revised either one of the two manuscripts, I counted down the number of times I would have to reread them: the final revision of each, the line edit of each, the copyedits, then both sets of first pass pages. I would talk about that gauntlet of words to anyone who would listen: “Twice for the line edit, maybe just once for the copyedit if I’m lucky, but probably twice there too. Then there’s the first pass pages. Twice, for certain. Once out loud. That’s only six more times, and then I’ll be free!”

Friends and family were polite about these interminable countdowns. It was all I could seem to talk about. Eyes would blink vaguely, and heads would nod supportively, the way they do when invalids list out medical procedures. I saw this, but I couldn’t seem to help myself. I couldn’t stop counting down to freedom.

But a funny thing happened on the way to my freedom. That hell of words… became home.

HOPE AND OTHER LUXURIES

Just last week, the advance reading copies of my two memoirs came out: Elena Vanishing and Hope and Other Luxuries. My daughter Elena flew out to San Francisco to give the very first talk about them. I know what that means. My words don’t belong to me anymore. After five years of constant heartache and worry, quite suddenly, they’re gone.

And now, I find that I don’t know what to do without them.

Reminders are everywhere. I’ll be making my coffee, and I’ll think, “This is in Hope. I put this in Hope.” I’ll pet my cat, and I’ll think, “She’s in Elena Vanishing.” It’s always hard to let go of a manuscript, but this time, it’s doubly hard. Echoes of these books are everywhere.

And I’m so proud of them–I can’t even tell you how proud I am of them! I hold these bundles of words close to my heart now and mist over as I think of them, and I want to grab strangers by the collar and make them look at them too, make them see how this one has my eyes, that one has my crooked grin…

I was in labor with these two books for a very long time.

ELENA VANISHING

Elena started this. Before these words were mine, they were hers as she struggled to tell me the devastating truth about her own hard existence. It’s fitting that she was the one who spoke out first, on the very first day our new books were between covers, the very first day those advance reading copies came out of the box. It’s Elena who showed me the path. She had the courage to lead. All I had to do was find the courage to follow.

I’m not following anymore. Now, for the first time in five years, I’m standing at the edge of something new. That’s not easy for me. These hard years have brought me pain and taught me to fear. It’s hard for me to face the unknown.

Even harder is facing my own hope.

But I can’t help it. I can’t help hoping. Something wonderful is coming! These books are going to soar. They’re on their way now. If I’m free, so are they. They’re tough and strong and beautiful, and unlike me, they’re not afraid. Nothing is going to slow them down.

So I live with the ache of their loss, and I find myself bursting into tears at odd times, and I wonder if this is how the cocoon feels after the butterfly has gone. But then again, I’ll wake up at night and realize I’m holding my breath because I’m listening for the sound of wingbeats, and the hope I feel in those moments hurts me so much, it’s sharper than any amount of ache or loss.

But I can’t help it. I can’t help hoping. Because it’s coming. I can feel it.

Something wonderful is coming.

To read my latest blog posts, please click on the “Green and Pleasant Land” logo at the top of this page. Photo taken in October, 2013, in Rodenbach, Germany. Photos and text copyright 2014 by Clare B. Dunkle.

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