Another writer asked me recently what gave me the chutzpah to attempt writing a novel. Her implication being: “I mean, you could try a story first.” Fair point. I’ve wondered myself, as I flounder around in the weeds of chapter thirteen, whither goest all this verbiage, whether there is a story in there trying to claw its way to the light. I have an outline, but for the most part, I’m winging it, following the lead of some inner gyroscope calibrated to the characters’ caprices. Last week I set up a spreadsheet to keep track of back stories, events, details. It’s a lot. How on earth did Tolstoy survive without Scrivener or Excel? I understand the subtext of my friend’s question: There is a kind of wide-eyed naiveté (or wild-eyed mania) to plunging into long-form fiction with zero experience or training.
The simplest answer is that I found both the confidence and the thirst to attempt a larger scale narrative courtesy of our annual Christmas letter. I am going to cast false modesty to the wind and proclaim from the rooftops: I was once Queen of the high concept holiday card message. I have written our annual letter in the form of David Letterman-style top 10 lists (remember him?!), true or false questionnaires, annual family statistics, dramatic dialogues, a theater company program. The year Nate was a junior in high school, our family news was delivered as a series of SAT-style questions; at the time, we were immersed in the inflated importance of standardized tests. (Can you hear the thwap-thwap-thwap of the helicopter parent hovering backstage?) To celebrate my 50th birthday, we took a family trip to Rome; the news that year came in an Italian menu, l’antipasto, il primo, il segunda, il contorno, il dolce. There was a Kania family news crossword puzzle, I regret to say. If you remained my friend after that obnoxiously interactive gambit, I am eternally grateful for your patience. I’m hoping most people just tossed it in the trash rather than actually attempting to a. answer the questions or b. decipher the answer key on the back. Daunted by my own cleverness, one year I sent the news as a job listing: “Seeking Copywriter to create Christmas card insert for Massachusetts family of five. Need to devise wholly original format, year-after-year, communicating mundane family news in fresh, readable way.” No one applied.
I’ve taken a couple of years off from any substantive attempt at a holiday missive, largely aided by the fact that Shutterfly lets you print limited text in the card, a game-changing advancement in epistolary brevity (the phrase “game-changing advancement in epistolary brevity” would never fit, for example). As a result, we all are sending and receiving far fewer multipage TMI holiday tomes detailing a beloved aunt’s botched gallbladder surgery (swear to God, one Christmas letter we received years ago went into granular detail on this topic) or grade school graduations. I’ve taken the time to develop other writerly muscles, namely, this blog, which began as a dare from my inner frustrated writer to my fraidy-cat, perfectionist self, one winter morning after John and I had gone on a meditation walk in the woods. As frozen pine needles crunched underfoot and our breath frosted the air, words tumbled unbidden into my mind: “Do the thing that scares you the most. That’s where the growth is.” And that “thing” was to commit to writing and publishing immediately. I felt compelled: The universe had just come calling for me, and I had bloody well better answer the door. Hence, abodystory.com. Feel free to browse the archives if you’re interested in watching me pedal around on my training wheels.
I’m still standing on that threshold, trying to answer the call to face down fear and self-doubt, now with a novel. It’s called “Shebang!,”a breezy yet barbed tragi-comedy of start-up social media, menopause, millennials and feminism in the Trump era, which seemed like an original idea a year ago when I began writing it. (If only truth wouldn’t keep being SO MUCH STRANGER than fiction.) Every writing session is a dance with the demons of uncertainty. I don’t know where I am going, which is daunting for someone who organizes the spices alphabetically by flavor, sweet, savory, international, digestive. I gird myself–literally, I’ve gained ten pounds–with snacks for the journey, I procrastinate (damn you, youtube), I bite my nails, I pace. This last year has been like that for a lot of you, too, a hard slog. Whatever your stance on the news of the day, it’s hard not to feel abused by repeated whap-whaps of anger, uncertainty and chaos. The key thing I’ve learned from my writing life is that no matter what, I have to show up and keep trying. Sometimes it flows and sometimes it doesn’t. On occasion, I laugh out loud. The work itself is almost always better than I think it is in the moment of creating it. But whether the prose is good, bad, or indifferent, the act of writing is my commitment to hope and growth. I remain steadfastly grateful for my many blessings–health, dance, friends, humor, kids, readers, courage, words, music, doctors and nurses, hospitals and therapists, pets, home. Despite a dreary year of relentless challenges for me and many people close to me, and even though tempers are short and our national discourse is rude and mean-spirited, I am determined to lead with love.
My holiday season/everyday wish for all of you, dear readers and friends, is that you keep showing up and trying in your life, whatever its challenges, wherever you fall on the timeline of cradle to grave. To quote the poet Mary Oliver: “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” I hope it will be something amazing. I know it can be.
Now here, without further ado, in less than 140 (to 280) characters because I know how busy you are and you know I couldn’t resist, is the Kania family holiday news for 2017, Twitter-style.
Quantified Comms @QuantComms What is #authenticity, and why is it important? #leadership #communication http://bit.ly/2z2Zjix Ask Nate Kania, he works here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/natekania/ HUGE data analytics. BEST DATA IN THE UNIVERSE. U WILL COMMUNICATE BETTER THAN ANY1 ELSE EVER!!
Austin Rowing Club @AustinRowing Is there a prettier boathouse than @WallerCreekBH? Nate says NO. #oldrowersneverdie_theycoach #plustheresabar
Tufts University @ Tufts University Lucy Kania graduates May ’17, Drama maj, English minor. Phi Beta K, Summa, big class prize, musical theater president, yada yada. SAD.
Noble and Greenough @Noble_Greenough We are pleased to announce Lucy Kania is our 2017-18 teaching fellow in costume design. #shoppingforaliving #lucykaniadesigns.com
Scripps College @scrippscollege 78 and sunny. AGAIN. Wish u were here. #SoCalcollege #Miainparadise
Scripps College @scrippscollege Meet Admissions Ambassador Mia Kania ’20, Environmental Analysis major, Music minor, a cappella singer. Hobbies include knit-flixing, word games, Cheez-Its, Petfinder.
FSG @ FSGtweets Collective impact, shared value, systems change, diversity, equity & inclusion–Global Managing Director John Kania still fighting the good fight. fsg.org/people/john-kania #socialchange #doesntgetanyeasier
Holly Kania @hollyhackkan Pls don’t follow my twitter becuz I signed up on a whim & I never tweet & if u follow me I’ll feel like I have to
Holly Kania @hollyhackkan & everyone knows the road to hell is paved with tweets.
Westley & Cordelia @going_to_the_dogs Like the bumper sticker sez: “Wag more, bark less.”
Holly Kania @hollyhackkan Why r u still here? Go frolic!
Heartfelt Holiday Wishes to You and Yours