I've decided to make a book.
It seemed like such a clear decision at the time, and so easy, too! After all, I had been gearing up to it my entire life, and by now I had lots and lots of raw material. I would just....
And here's where I got stuck.
Would it be a monograph of my pictures?
Would it be a blook, a collection of blog entries buffed and polished into essays?
Would it be a combination, pictures on the right pages and essays on the left pages?
Would it be an artful weaving together of the two?
Would it be a novel?
How could I possibly write a book about tango without ever having been to Argentina? Did I have the right? I didn't feel like I had the right. No matter what happened to me down there, whether it was earth-changing or just that much more grist for the philosophy mill, it had to happen, so I would know, right? And then I could write my book.
Or maybe that was nonsense and I just wasn't feeling ready. But I've noticed that in life we pretty much never feel ready for things. We have to do them anyway. The trick is you have to know when you're not ready in the right way, as opposed to not ready in the just-not-ready way.
Most of all, how could I, a woman, with a woman's heart, raised on a lifetime diet of Cinderella, write a book without knowing the ending? How could I write a book without knowing that in the end, Cinderella goes off with Prince Charming and becomes a well-dressed pampered housewife...ugh....
Did I even want to write that book? Maybe the question was not, “who does Cinderella end up with?” ….In fact, the more I thought about it, the more the question most definitely was not, “who does Cinderella end up with?” That was not the ending that would bring a deeply satisfying, surprising, yet inevitable sense of climactic resolution to the story.
So then what would?
A rather Algonquin Table friend of mine said, endings are everything. Write a book like you would write a joke. Better advice has never been given. When I tried my hand at mysteries, I understood that without being told. Figure out the ending, and the story falls into place. Everything builds up to that ending. So...what is this story building up to?
The thing about life is that it's raw material. It really needs an outside wordsmith to come in and shape it into something. Give it an arc. Endings are just where someone decides to cut the threads. You can cut them here, or here, or there. You can cut them anywhere. And where you decide to do it tells you what the story is.
I found myself floundering more and more as I thought about writing a book set in the world of tango in particular, because tango is so much like this raw life material. It's always leading...leading...leading...but does it ever really get anywhere conclusive? Isn't what we love about it the fact that it refuses to give final answers? Isn't a tanda a form of tension? The minute the tension between effort and surrender is over, the dance is over. The minute the mystery is spelled out, tango disappears like mist in the dawn.
I toyed around with different imaginary places that might make me cut the story threads, unhappened future moments that would get the official, “ok, that's the end of the book,” stamp. And until now, until there was a real hypothetical book to really get written for real, I always make-believed that my book would end with me ending up with some guy. After all, if I didn't, the audience would set fire to the ushers. Every woman would excoriate my name, after feeding my book to her pet rabbits.
But now that it's a real imaginary book, I think, “if it ends with me ending up with some guy, then I haven't been paying attention to a single word from the very beginning.” The whole book has quite clearly been not about ending up with a guy. Which is strange because at first, second, and third glance the book looks like all it is is stories that start, “so there's this guy.” Guy stories, endless guy stories, enough guy stories to make everyone barf. (Or, to quote CS Lewis talking to his old friend JRR Tolkein, “another fucking dwarf?”)
But if you look closely, you see it's not about the guys. It's about...wait for it....
So if it ends with some guy, that's an unsatisfying cop-out, a petering-out, and a let-down, and the audience will set fire to the ushers. The reason many stories with female protagonists end with them ending up with some guy is not because that's what has to happen to everyone but because that's what gives that protagonist a fulfilling sense of happy closure.
Oh, take your pick, I thought. Me at fifty teaching some dewy-eyed young thing with talent. Me looking gorgeous in an elegant black cocktail dress, perfect French twist, champagne flute in hand, adoring admirers trailing behind me as I sail through the opening night of my retrospective at a super-famous gallery in New York, people protesting that most of the paintings have been sold already and when am I going to make more. Me having a superlatively awesome tanda that is in some way of a significantly higher magnitude than any that have gone before it. Me autographing piles of books for queuing fans at the Barnes and Noble in Union Square in Manhattan. Me in a plane flying off into the sunset toward Buenos Aires. Me dancing at the Sunderland. Me showing up at Julio Nieto's milonga and him being thrilled to see me and introducing me to his friends, who all dance with me and I have a wonderful time. Me reading my fourth or fifth book review in the Concord Academy magazine. Me reading my fourth or fifth book review in the New York Times Book Review. Me paying off my mortgage and my student loans. Me dancing in the kitchen with Aviv. Me smiling and waving as yet another satisfied client of Jordana, Urban Witch, leaves my apartment in a Reiki-induced haze of peace and Alpha waves.
And yet...all these made-up scenarios...what if I cut the threads right here? What if this is my Happily Ever After?
I realized it surely did look like happily ever after on the outside. I have a perfect life, or as close to it as we can get without the gods envying our happiness and killing us. And I don't even mean “it looks like a socially prescribed model that we label Perfect.” I mean, I have a rich, happy, fulfilling life that's full of everything that matters to me and gives me joy. How much more perfect could you get? Try this: ...and it's this way because I have made it so.
Pretty damned good ending. I feel I'm doing my life's work. I feel I make the world more beautiful on a profound level. I have a solid and varied support network, I have the love of kindred spirits, I have people taking care of me, and I have people to take care of. I need and am needed. I can be my true self instead of hiding behind a double life. I can express myself and be free, and yet I also have steadiness and comfort, even luxury. I'm healthy and still young. For now, I have money and no financial worries. I have time to do what I need and want to do, but not so much time that I end up wasting it. I spend most of my waking hours engaged in meaningful spiritual practices. I'm in great physical shape. I live in one of the most beautiful, interesting, and salutory places in the world. I feel good in my skin and make "true to myself" the guiding principle behind every decision. And it turns out that not being the dancer I want to be makes me really happy: I love the constant chase, the game, the unfigured-out puzzle. I hope to God I never have good enough technique; how boring would that be! ….I feel accepted and at peace with the world. For now, I have a home I love. I don't know how much longer I get to stay in it, but for now, it's still mine and I feel safe and secure. I have dreams, and that's a lot nicer than the dreams-come-true. I have hopes and desires and challenges, and every day I find within myself the chance to rise toward them.
And they all lived Happily Ever After.