the way it was

After two back-to-back weekends of travel for work, it took four days last week for my mind to come back online enough to tackle the copy-edited manuscript, and it was due on Friday last week. I asked for the weekend and promised it first thing Monday morning.

I had felt so smug, the week between the travels. I had addressed all of the copy editor's queries and had begun the read-through. Piece of cake! I'll get it back early!

Well, no.

I constantly have to re-learn a Mandrian Truth:

It is what it is; it's not the picture in my head of what it's supposed to be.

In work and in life. In all things.

The weekend became an exercise in having faith in my process and being steadfast in my commitments.

On Friday night, after a quiet date with my husband, I went back to work on the manuscript. This work involved cutting, smoothing, clarifying, adding a line here, choosing the better word there, shaping and thinking in a linear way about the story at hand, moving carefully and deliberately through the manuscript, page by page. This will be my last opportunity to revise. The next time I see the story, it will be in page proofs. 

On Saturday I attended a rain gardening class all afternoon at the Oakhurst Community Garden taught by Daniel Ballard of Edible Yard and Garden. I went to the farmer's market and restocked our almost-empty fridge with fresh vegetables. I was tired -- my mind was tired. I went to bed early without having made any novel progress.

On Sunday I had over 300 pages to finish, three songs to swap out because they cost too much or we couldn't get permission (Sam Cooke's "A Change Gonna Come" being the one we were denied permission to use), and snippets about the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Vietnam War to provide for the last two scrapbooks... I had run out of steam and had sent the manuscript in without those snippets on my last revision round. Now I would have to put in the work to create them and source them.

And I'd have to work hard to find some songs in the public domain, if possible -- freedom songs, protest songs, folk songs that matched the era and the scrapbook they were anchoring -- to offset what we were finding to be the prohibitive cost of some of our song lyrics. I reached for my headphones, began my search on Google and YouTube, strapped on my long-distance writer shoes, and went to work.

I had the day -- and the night -- to finish. I also had a concert/recital by a friend of mine that I had promised (and wanted) to attend, a phone texting/television date with my sweet cousin that I did not want to miss, and a lentil loaf I wanted to make, not to mention apples and tomatoes to dehydrate or make into sauces. I wanted to do it all.

And I had promised Scholastic a 90-second video of me talking about Revolution. Well!

It is what it is. What it is is what I had to work with.

The lentils got cooked and stayed in the pot. The apples and the tomatoes still wait for attention. The video got done, and it was filmed in the most inventive way:

Whenever I took five from the painstaking work with the manuscript, I did one thing, i.e., I scripted myself. I washed my hair. I dried my hair. I practiced my script and timed myself. I dressed up. I practiced with the flip camera. I erased that try. I practiced again. And again. I memorized the script. I figured out the best arrangement for the camera... and for me. I laughed myself silly trying to film and write, film and write.

Jim came home from his Sunday brunch gig at Einstein's, and I was ready for him to press record on the flip, which he did. Three takes later, we had a 90-second video fit to send in. It took me another hour to try to figure out how to upload it to Scholastic's FTP site. I ultimately sent it to them in an email.

I still had over 200 pages of Revolution to finish. I went to my friend Katherine's recital. I sat near the door so I could scoot out before my 8pm date with my cousin. I was so moved during the concert I couldn't hold back tears. I dashed home, wiping my eyes and texting my cousin at the longest stoplight: "Almost home."

We watched our hour of television together -- our weekly ritual, she in Mississippi, me in Georgia. I couldn't resist Boardwalk Empire with my sweet husband (everybody is sweet at this point).

Then I got back to work. I pulled an all-night -- there is something thrilling about a deadline all-nighter, actually, especially when you know you can sleep the next day. 

In the quiet wee hours, I went back in time. I sank into 1964, I was there. I was Sunny Fairchild, telling her story to young readers. I made sure my mind was clear and my heart was open. I gave everything I had in me to the reader.

I remembered I was a writer, too. Where there was a disconnect, I added back in material we had cut earlier -- just enough for clarity, a line here, a word there. I found my snippets and sourced them properly. I found three new songs in the public domain and swapped them for the ones that were too rich for our budget. I decided I liked them even more than my original choices.

I wrote a short note to my editor as the sun rose. I uploaded the 482 pages with songs, photographs, documents, archival materials, newspaper clippings and Sunny's story, to sendspace and I sent the link and the note to my editor. It was 6:39am. The heat had been turned down and I realized I was cold. I was also triumphant.

I took an extra quilt with me as I tiptoed down the hallway to the bedroom. "Now I can sleep," murmured my husband. I crawled between the covers. I was asleep as my head hit the pillow.

That's the way it was. Not the way it was "supposed" to be. And it was good.

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