I’m sitting by the Nenana River in Healy, Alaska, just outside Denali National Park. My second season tour directing is underway and I have a couple rare, free afternoon hours on my hands. This spot is out behind the resort where my guests stay. I adore my job (it’s a perfect mix of my talents and interests), but I need to get away from the constant bustle and commotion whenever possible.
So I come here to listen to the river and watch spruce trees blow in the wind. It’s one of my favorite “personal spaces” along the six city (Anchorage, Denali, Fairbanks, Dawson City, Whitehorse, Skagway), two country (US and Canada) tour route.
Regular readers of the blog know that I spent the winter housesitting in Fairbanks getting the ball rolling on my first book. It’s about thru hiking the Appalachian Trail after my ex-husband upended my life, and what it was like dealing with this queer life transition in an overwhelmingly non-queer space.
I’m thrilled to announce the book is well underway! I’m nearly 80 pages into a first draft (right around the 1/3 mark), with a detailed outline through to the end. This is by far the most I’ve ever written. I started the AT with zero backpacking experience. Day Two was already the furthest I’d hiked. I’m getting similar empowerment vibes from reaching personal writing milestones. Every chapter is a huge new benchmark.
Unlike the finish line on the AT, I’m incredibly aware of how far I still have to go. Writing, editing, marketing, self-publishing. Oof. It’s so much, and I feel the weight.
The writing process has been…..jagged. I came to Fairbanks in late November with a romantic notion that the dark and cold of winter would provide all the free space I needed for a grand artistic outpouring. False. The severe seasonal conditions didn’t bother my much, but I realized how important community is to my process.
During the eight years I worked as a theatre professional in Chicago, I was constantly surrounded by other people hustling to realize their dreams. I took for granted the fuel this provided. My first month and a half in Fairbanks were largely spent alone. And to be clear, I love my own company. I just need to know when the next social fix is coming, even if it’s as simple as pizza and Netflix with a friend.
With January came a set job schedule (teaching afterschool theatre classes to 3rd-7th graders) and several new companions. I had places to be, and people to enjoy activities with at those places. Exactly what I needed to spark my imagination.
I built daily writing hours into my schedule, and stuck to it 70% of the time. I hugely struggle with self-set deadlines, so this is a win. Not perfect, but way better than my first month accomplishing next to nothing except beating myself up for being lazy, because God forbid I ever take a break.
Slowly but surely, the manuscript started taking shape. First the voice, then the structure, then a couple sentences in a document.
Before I left Fairbanks to start my tour season, I read the first chapter for the first time since writing it (I’m trying not to get stuck editing the same chunk without moving forward). It deals directly with my divorce and the initial AT spark. I started bawling. Not because it’s difficult reading about the most painful experience of my life. I’ve made peace with the vulnerability necessary to share my story the way it deserves, especially the deeply unflattering bits.
I started crying because I thought, “I’d read the fuck out of this book.” It’s raw and incisive and funny and has shit to say about commitment and resilience. It was startling to be such a fan of my own work.
And it is work. And I’m working my ass off.