An author’s scariest moment is when the first advance copies of a book arrive from the printer. Also, this is an author’s most wonderful moment. But scariness precedes the wonderfulness. “Are the pages printed all screwy? Is the cover color wrong? What major typo did we miss?”
Yesterday Laurel yelled from the front door at me: “A box just came. It looks like books.” Oh, God, I thought. This is it. My writing life is over. And it is just beginning. Both. Neither. I couldn’t think straight. I didn’t want to go up and open the box. I dearly wanted to go up and open the box. Dearly finally won out over didn’t.
369 pages. I’ve read and re-read them so many times I almost know them by heart. But holding a real book in my hand makes all the words seem brand new. I’m 125 pages into “Return to the One.” Blessedly, I haven’t found anything really amiss so far.
My only scare came when I got to the First is Formless chapter, where I couldn’t resist quoting a poem my ten-year-old self wrote. It used to begin, “Look up to the heavens. What do you see? Tiny pinpoints of light. But is that all? Look past the stars, into the blackness of the void.” Hey, it’s pretty good for a kid.
But in the book it begins: “Look up the heavens.” A chill ran down my spine when I first read that. My poem had been changed!!! Stop the presses!!! Then I calmed down. I’m sure this change was in the galleys my editor sent back to me. I just didn’t catch the altered wording.
Then, driving into town yesterday, I began thinking about looking. “Look up the tree.” “Look up the river.” “Look up the road.” OK, that sounds fine. So why did “Look up the heavens” sound wrong to me? Because I was used to the way I had written it. Just like I’m used to so many other things in life that, when they change, I go, “Hey! What gives?! This isn’t the way things should be!”
I’ve got a chapter called “Philosophy as a Way of Life.” The theme is that a philosophy that isn’t consonant with our life isn’t real. It is just ideas, wordplay. Here I am, writing about how formlessness is the highest reality, and I get all freaked out when the form of the first line of my 45-year-old poem changes. How philosophical is that?
Well, if I really knew everything that I write about, I probably wouldn’t have a drive to write. I’d simply go around with a smile on my face, not saying a word. Until then, writing and reading is necessary.
Keep $17 open on your VISA/MasterCard credit line when July 1 approaches. I’m told that is when “Return to the One” should be available for on-line ordering. The book has to be held back for a while to give pre-publication reviewers a chance to look at it.