Back when I was a beginning henna artist, I thought I was awesome. Everyone looked at my work and said so, and that I should start a business doing henna. I knew I wasn’t quite ready, so I fooled around with it some more for a couple more years, and then decided to start a business. About the same time, I got pregnant with my daughter, so that didn’t last very long.
A few years later, when I had more free time, I started doing henna again, though just for myself. Again, my friends were adamant that I was good enough to charge money. I agreed and began my business once again, armed with better art books from The Henna Page. It wasn’t terribly successful, but mostly because of the environment in which I was working, which had way too many henna artists in it already. Most of them at about the skill level I was.
All this time, I had been involved in a virtual community at the same website where I had been buying my art books. They had an annual conference in Las Vegas that I was just dying to go to. I planned on going in 2006, but it just wasn’t in the cards. I kept buying better henna art books and practicing, though.
Finally, in 2007, I was able to go. It was awesome. It was the first time, I was able to spend time with other henna artists. Despite the relatively large number of henna artists in my city, none of them would talk to me. They were all fiercely protective of their business and saw any attempt at outside communication from another artist as an attempt to steal it. This wasn’t my intention, but they were still tight-lipped. Understandably so, though, as our town was still overrun with mediocre henna artists charging way too much money.
In Las Vegas, however, I had the chance to watch some of the world’s best henna artists do their art. I learned all kinds of tips, trick, and techniques. While I did very little art while I was there (I was too embarrassed to do so amidst the company I was in), I was soaking in the knowledge around me. I went home with a full head, and got to work.
My art skill increased by a factor of five, I shit you not. After Las Vegas, though, I looked at every single thing I had ever drawn before, and it looked like ass. I was embarrassed to have charged money for it.
I feel similarly about my book project at the moment. I’ve been reading a small, but potent, book called The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing and Life. It’s only around 100 pages, but each one is a carefully cultivated garden of words intended to pass on its bounty to the reader, in the hopes that they will also be able to find the thrift and beauty in their writing that will ensnare their reader at the beginning and carry them to the end. I’m not quite done with it, but I’m already sure that I’m going to rewrite my book, probably more than once. What I’ve produced thus far is called “the vomit draft”, and while it contains everything that will eventually be contained in the final product, it is not worthy of other eyes yet.
Which is why I’m so embarrassed to have already given it to some friends to read and edit. I was stuck, though, and foolish enough to think that I had something mature enough to warrant the sort of attention I was asking to be paid attention to it. I think I was also really proud of what I had done and wanted to show it off. I mean, I had written, over about a decade, 100,000 words detailing the length of my life. It was quite an accomplishment, to be sure! It wasn’t one to share so intimately with others quite yet, though. I wound up creating a second draft that was 40,000 words shorter than the first because I removed things from it that really belonged in their own book, or at least as a separate appendix. Then there was a third draft that contained edits I and my husband had made. Now I’m on a fourth draft. And if that book I’m reading is any indication, there could be dozens of them, some of them complete rewrites.
This pretty much kills my goal of being done with this project by the end of the year, unless I’m able to do some incredible work over the next few weeks to a couple of months. I do need a deadline, though. If I don’t have one, it will never get done. I’ll have to make a project outline and divide the entire thing into segments with their own individual deadlines, and then glean a tentative final deadline for the whole project. Dividing it into smaller segments will also make it easier to work on. Right now, it’s so big. I keep looking at it as the whole book. I have to break it down into smaller parts.
I also need a goal for the project. Why am I doing this? Just for myself? For the family? To help others? Just to do it? For publishing? If so, do I really have aspirations for serious publication? Like, getting on the bestseller list sort of aspirations, or self-publish on Amazon sort of aspirations? I suppose all authors want to be successful. Who wouldn’t want to do a book signing at the New York Barnes & Noble? Will I be disappointed if my aspirations aren’t met?
I know I want this book to be helpful to others. If there is a message to my story, it’s that you don’t have to be defined by your past. That it’s possible, with enough muster and work, to break the cycles of even generations of severe dysfunction. So many people think that they have to do things a certain way because the people before them did things a certain way, that they are locked into a particular course, but they aren’t. Not if they don’t want to be. They have to want it bad enough to do the work, but it is possible to carve a new path away from the rut of stagnation and death. It also takes patience, because it takes a long time to carve that path. Sometimes I look back and it seems like that rut is still right behind me. Other times, though, it has long faded into the distance. A mere happy shadow against the horizon. I want to give other people the hope that they can have that happy shadow as well.
And if healthy people happen to be interested in my story as well, then that’s just fine, too.