My Great Grandfather

My Great Grandfather

So I have this book in my mind that I want to write. Magical Realism. A family saga. It’s a piece that is deeply important to me because of legacy.

What do I mean by legacy?

I have always valued ancestral narrative, family stories–all the myths and lore that grow up around the things our parents, grandparents, great aunts and uncles, and other family members did during their time in the dash between birth and death years listed on their headstones (my heirloom stories idea is also a reflection of this, in shorter form). I had always dreamed of passing those stories down to further generations to come.

When I found out I was infertile, it was difficult. But, as those whose lives have been touched by it know, it’s not a closed door. Though in the wider parlance, “infertility” sounds stark and difficult and definitive, in modern medical speak it actually just means that a certain amount of time has passed during which a couple has been trying to conceive, and nothing has come of the attempts. So it’s more the naming of a question mark than of a final outcome. There are things you can do. Fertility drugs. IVF. Etc.

And I did them.

It was painful, intrusive and emotionally exhausting. My story “Katabasis”–so wonderfully and beautifully analyzed by Lorinda J. Taylor–was written after the last of our IVF attempts proved unsucessful. Though it is entirely fictional, and in many ways Elana’s reaction is very different to mine, it is in part a howl of grief, and in part a metaphorical documentation of depression (my own Underworld was the everyday elements of my life, but it was as if a scrim had descended between my consciousness and the world around me, as if I were inhabiting a juxtaposed but completely separate reality in which I was weighted, in which it was difficult to think or move, and I was barely able to communicate with those around me), of the heartbreak of disastrous, painful pregnancy (my arthritis proved a painful complication) and miscarriage. The endometriosis that caused all the trouble became, for the main character in the story, a toll extracted by Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld.

At any rate, the final result of all the needles and blood tests and expensive drugs has been that it seems I’m somewhere near the barren, not-a-hope-in-the-Underworld end of the infertility spectrum, for a variety of reasons.

Reaching even further back: my great, great grandmother in India, wearing a Victorian-era mourning gown.

Reaching even further back: my great, great grandmother in India, wearing a Victorian-era mourning gown.

Which brings me back to my point: legacy. It is possible that I will not have anyone to pass down the beautiful stories and memories that were bequeathed to me by those who have come before. Stories of psychic great-grandmothers, encounters with ghosts, mysterious spirits and even with Death personified, in India. Rumours of illegitimate children and secret scandals. And so many compelling, titillating question marks.

It was only in realizing that I would not be passing them down that I truly realised how much I had been looking forward to sharing those stories that had so enchanted me when I was growing up.

And so: this book that I want to write. All fiction, yes. Few of the family stories will be unchanged in the telling, such that only someone very familiar with the people and tales would recognize the fictionalized characters and incidents. But like “Katabasis”, which gets at an underlying truth wrapped in layers of metaphor, fantasy and fiction, this book will in part be about telling that story.

Since this will be my only way of passing these stories along–even if they are only to a very limited readership–the prospect of writing them has become all the more important to me, as part of a process of naming, of deeper grieving and of documentation.

And after putting it off for years, I decided about a month ago that I need to get back to it. There will never be a perfect time, when I am at the height of my literary prowess and ready to create a flawless and powerful narrative that makes a reality of my imagined vision. It will always be a matter of fumbling through unlit rooms full of jumbled words, ideas and images, lighting little areas at a time, trying to decide where is the best point at which to start, how to draw out the tension, whose stories to focus on, and when, and in which order.

So, I turned my mind to this–and promptly found myself working on everything else, everything but the book. That spectre of perfection, and of falling short of the vision, seemed to prevent me from even pulling up the draft and staring at it. I practiced expert avoidance.

When the Camp NaNoWriMo email arrived in my inbox in March, proclaiming April to be the month, I fence sat until the eleventh hour, at some level still hoping the book would emerge, fully-formed and perfect, like Athena from the mind of Zeus. But alas.

And so, on the last day of March, I signed up, donated, and braced myself.

I’ve already fallen behind. But where I managed to write perhaps 500 words on the book for the entire month of March, I am 3000 words further along in it, at the end of the first week of April. They are not the ideal words that perfectly encapsulate what I hope to express (if indeed, there is such a thing), and they are in far from the correct order. But they are out of my mind, written at last. A starting point. I can work with that.

Thank the magic of an imposed deadline, and a minor baseline of accountability to break the barrier of perfectionism. I know that I am.

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