First Book: A Typeset Reverie
October 28, 2019 § 8 Comments
By Jessica Ribera
Memoir writing is intense. I’ve taken the very hardest things that ever happened to me, dissected them, and laid them out on the surgical tray for everyone to see. No one forced me (well, I do feel that there was some spiritual prompting, but that’s different); I’ve done it with purpose.
I’ve done it so that I and my children will always remember the important ways I came to be who and how I am as their mom. I’ve done it to get the attention of a world that hurt me. I’ve done it, as my dedication says, for “young children with big ideas doing hard work.” And I’ve done it to give other people permission to do it too, to search and share from their hearts, to throw off shame and fear of worthlessness.
It’s bold, and I fear that I’m stepping into a role, grasping some right to empower others that no one ever said was mine. But maybe Someone did? Maybe the burning need to show and tell, maybe “a way with words,” maybe a romantic heart all add up to be a passport to step into other people’s thoughts and give them new language. So gutsy. So scary. Hopefully not so stupid.
I have read through this book so many times that I am often sick of it. All the editing and spelling checks, agonizing over word choice, choosing epigraphs, looking up rules can be tiresome. I grew somewhat numb to the content over the last few months. Then today, my editor sent me the typeset version to check and comb through.
My words, but more than that, my life, my capital “S” Story shone at me from my screen, looking like a book, something to be kept, to be shared, to be alive long after I die. I read for a while and saw it fresh: the story of a girl I learned to love. I felt so very proud of myself, the girl who had to live through all the crap before she could write about it, and I wept. I think about all the people I’ve fallen in love with, all the mothers, sisters, and friends I’ve clutched to my heart, writers of random books. I used to read the antique books my mom had out as decoration. I love to grab a used book I’ve never heard of from the Goodwill or bookstore shelf. Oh, how I hope to be someone’s sister-friend, to surprise them with how well I know them someday when I’m dead.
This process is hard. To be successful as an artist, you have to trust your instincts, try things that other people are too embarrassed to do, and make the offensive claim to the right to create. There’s an old ghost of a voice in my head that says, “Such a show-off. You should feel guilty for thinking so highly of yourself. How dare you tell the rest of us what to think.” I have to give myself some credit for these fears; even this year I’ve been called self-obsessed, navel-gazing. It felt so terrible; if that’s what I’m being by trying to be a writer, I’d honestly rather die (but not really because I figure my children would prefer a selfish bitch mother to no mother at all!).
So I fight the voices inside and the ones outside. I know the risk I’m taking. Some readers feel like cliffs. Sharing my words, my life is risky. It’s a jump off a bridge, and I won’t know until after I jump whether I’m headed into warm, Hawaiian waters or spiky stones. I might be hurt. I already have been. But not every time. Some of my advanced readers have let me fall into the bubble bath of their validation, their receptivity, their gratitude.
Writing cannot be about what other people think, and I fought through the whole writing process to listen carefully for my own small voice. But, now that the book is coming out, the first thing I have to do is try to get other people to think about it! I have to self-promote, to guess at how to curry favor and build platform while also staying committed to who I am. I have to humbly ask for blurbs and reviews. My ambitions yell, “the sky’s the limit!” while my budget and time constraints say, “oh, would you please calm down.”
But I’m loving it. Seeing these pages with their chapter headings and breaks, with my name and ISBN number feels like a miracle. “Launch” is the right word. I feel all the excitement and fear of a pilgrim voyager, eager to see the other side of the ocean.
Jessica Ribera‘s first book, The Almost Dancer, will be available this November from White Blackbird Books. Other work has appeared on Scary Mommy, The Mighty, Red Tricycle, The Brevity Blog, Fathom Magazine, and her own blog, jeskybera.com. She’d like to be a comedian someday.