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Rewriting, Reliving, and Restoring the Yes

I am 45 pages into a drastic rewrite of my novel, which I am now calling The Grove of Thorismud.

I also happen to be coming out of the deep, life-transforming fog of early motherhood and kind of meeting my fully adult self for the first time. Oh hi there, Nux Gallica's mommy--I mean, Jeannie? Wait, the Jeannie that I used to know?

Yes... and no. I've spent my whole life wanting to become a mother, so this place in my life fulfills a deep sense of rightness for me. And unexpectedly, I feel so sated by the motherhood of one child that I believe I am done having babies. One and done. The only thing I want to go forth and multiply is books, which I have also wanted to produce since I unlocked the magic of literacy at the age of three. So I haven't changed at the core, right? I am still that little girl who wants a baby and a book deal?

In some ways, I feel so different now in personality and values and beliefs from that little girl that it's hard to look back and see any connection between her and me, even though I'm doing essentially the same things with my life that she always wanted me to do.

People ask me a similar question about The Grove. Isn't that the same story I started writing that year Christina made me do NaNoWriMo?

My fiction, my identity, it's all a Ship of Theseus. The journey has been continuous, but by now every part has been replaced.

I could say my book and I are both Works In Progress. Or that we have been "restored."

Are we new? Are we old? It's all a matter of perspective.

The other day, I opened up an old (yeah, definitely old) box of Polaroids in an attempt to reckon with some memories of adolescence that have come up to haunt me as I write from the perspectives of my teenage characters.

There they are, the same old pictures of the same people, but suddenly they are about something different than I thought they were at the time they were taken.

I realized that, for me, real-life mate selection and the revision of my romantic novel have taken similar paths of seeking and awakening a "sleeping yes."

Sometimes what we need is within our reach all along, but we (especially girls, but others too) are so successfully trained to subvert our own "selfish" wishes that our will to raise our voices and say yes to ourselves, as well as to the objects of our desire, with the wholeness of our body, heart, and mind, is put to sleep. The Sea Witch takes our voice. We swallow our defenses to save the Seven Swans. We wander in the wilderness of shame and terror until the breakdown comes in the king's old stove.

So, this concept is now what The Grove is all about. And now that I have a clearer understanding of the hows and the whys of the things I've always remembered happening in my own adolescence, I feel better able to write realistic (even though ridiculous, dishonest, delusional, naive, or otherwise complicated) motivations and feelings for my teenage novel characters, whose material lives bear little resemblance to my own. I feel that I've unlocked some truths about the way, as young people, we lie to ourselves, the way we grasp at hokey stories as lifelines to navigate the confusion of outgrowing a world whose moral and epistemological lines have been drawn out for us by mysterious and secretive adults, before our internal compass has matured.

I've thought about this in terms of my relationships in high school. Not dating wasn't an option for me. From the age of about 14, I became obsessed with male humans with the force of a demonic possession. If I had a boyfriend, I could be free to think about other things, like schoolwork and stuff, with at least part of my brain. And little Catholic schoolgirl me did think of my needs in that regard as a sort of demonic possession, one that I had to appease to get by, and which I also had to pretend happened to me from the outside, to protect my family's and teachers' view of me as a "good girl."

The story I told myself and my friends, only half joking, was that for unknowable reasons, I attracted bad boys, and it was my fate to take care of them, to be a good influence on them, to keep them away from the genuinely "nice girls," whatever. (As a sacrifice to all of womankind, I suffered through that guy in the #8 picture below playing that infernal Dave Matthews song on the guitar. Ladies who dated in the 1990s, you know what I'm talking about. Holy hell.)

My dearest friends saw through the ruse and tried to help purge the demons with mosh pits and sex toys, the latter of which I could never accept, as such objects were more difficult to hide from my parents than the bloody wounds sustained from crowd surfing over concrete and attempting illegal stage dives. Also, I know it's not PC and stuff, but the idea of using a self-pleasuring device seems as depressing as drinking alone to me. They don't kiss you for four hours straight and hold your hand at the movies, you know?

It took a complete change of scene, just after high school, to "wake up" to the truth that I was not a helpless victim of fate and men's desires and the violence of crowds, that I really knew what I wanted and had the power to get it, that I was not small and did not have to pretend to be someone else's kind of good to live the kind of life that felt good to me.

After high school, my best moshing partner Esperanzita took to me on a two-week trip to the middle of Mexico, which was kind of like going Through the Looking Glass for me. Suddenly, I was a giant! (Like, literally, a head taller than every sombrero in sight.) They took a picture of me at a storefront that humorously bore my name.

In most of the photographs from that trip, my face doesn't even show up in the camera flash. I'm like a vampire preying on tall dark and handsome men.

You know, an Anne Rice-style vampire frolicking in the Savage Garden. I got to be the bad influence. Rawr.

Speaking of the Savage Garden, remember the band of that name and its hypnotically saccharine crack sugar love ballads? Those were the jams of my youth, along with the soundtrack to Romeo + Juliet with Claire Danes and Leeeeeooooooo, the film fetishized by every teenage girl steeped in the morbid sentimentality of that era. I can see now how I was a product of my time, and I needed to be removed from my familiar context to break the spell.

Maybe it helped that none of those guys in Mexico could pronounce my name. "Yinni" was the best the could do. A Romeo-rockero called me all sorts of other things: guerita, reyna, linda, mi amor... 

So I got to be somebody else for a moment, someone worshiped and adored, powerful and alien, shamelessly happy to collect men at my feet.

I've always been ambivalent about my name. I like that it's uncommon and old-timey for a woman of my generation, calling to mind a furniture stereo grinding out a 19th century parlor song. I also like that it is pronounced the same way (in English, anyway) as "genie" or "djinn," the powerful spirits of Arabian mythology. Then again, it recalls the submissive slave-type "genies" in our pop culture, like Barbara Eden's character in I Dream of Jeannie, Disney's Aladdin's silly servant, or, later, Christina Aguilera's so-unfortunate-for-me song "Genie in a Bottle." Right now, the only other "Jeannie" I know is an acquaintance's pet goat.

What's in a name?

The meanings of words change slowly, but they do. Between Catholic school and now, I have radically altered my own definitions of good and bad, God and evil, love and romance, fortune and success. I've grown accustomed to growing. I've learned to redraw the maps of my reality and self as they change, so I don't miss so many opportunities to locate true goodness in my world and locate myself and join them in a whole-hearted yes.

Right now, I feel like I have caught up to myself in a quiet moment. For just a second, I am the person I want to be, and I am with the partner who makes my life whole. I'm here in the present, with a clear view of the stories I used to tell as well as the new ones I want to create.

My real-life romance is cornier than fiction. Like the hero of a cheesy rom-com, my husband was the guy who was there all along, beside me at every school dance, each of us on the arm of a different date. He was too good to play the aggressor with me while I played hard to get, and he was too bad for me to choose openly. (Instead of making a move on me, he French kissed my boyfriend in a stoned haze behind the mall.) He was the one I could never have until I learned to say yes to myself.

And now that I've settled down with my perfect muse, I have all this brain power to write about imaginary people's drama! So yes, I'm Jeannie, I grant my own wishes, and I'm writing a book called The Grove of Thorismud. And it's all just getting good.


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