My kid is super-hot on Eric Carle’s timeless and much-adored The Very Hungry Caterpillar. He loves the book so much that I can recite it word for word from memory without so much as a hiccup, and he can fill in the blanks when I leave words out. (“On Monday, he ate through one…” “APPLE!”) Fantastic bonding experience, reading with the sprout, even if it exhausts me reading the same book night after night after night (it does, but you know, welcome to parenthood).
We’re reading the book tonight before bedtime and I have one of those HOLY SHARKNADO moments. If you’re not familiar with the book, basically there’s a caterpillar, he’s hungry, he eats through all this food at a picnic and every night he’s still hungry. Sort of existential in a way, actually (damn, there’s ANOTHER of those moments, okay focus). But I’m reading through the story for the sixtieth time and it’s right about the time where he eats through four strawberries (but he was still hungry) when I realize that I AM THE CATERPILLAR.
I mean, I guess we’re all the caterpillar, aren’t we? Chewing our way through the swollen fruits of life, gorging ourselves on the sweet meats of the vine, but at the end of the day, it’s not enough: we’re all still hungry. But it hit me today, like an unregistered immigrant flying through a red light when I’ve got a green (not that THAT ever happened to me), that the caterpillar is ME as a writer. I popped from my egg one day and started looking for food (writing). I chewed through apples, pears, plums (my novel, short stories, the blarg), eating so much at times that I made myself sick on it (yep I’ve definitely been sick of writing a few times on this little excursion). I’ve not yet turned into a beautiful butterfly: more likely I’m one of those guys that turns into a dusty, nasty moth that spirals into your porch light and fries himself before he can get a taste of the night. But man, if this realization didn’t resonate with me. I guess great literature does that, dunnit? No matter what age group it’s aimed at (you YA haters can suck it, Twilight is TIMELESS [no it isn’t, please kill me]) if the writing is sound it will appeal to virtually anybody in some way.
So I’m the caterpillar. I achieved the goal I set for myself four months ago: achieved it in less time than I budgeted for. And achieving it has tasted sweet, sweeter than I imagined it would, though not without its bitter aftertaste. But it’s now a week and a half later and my stomach is rumbling something fierce. The novel was fantastic. Delicious. Satisfying. But I’m still hungry.
I’ve got to find my next project.
Sure, I’m still writing daily — the blarg is keeping me honest on that front, and that’s not going to change — but the blarg is a completely different animal than churning out 900 words a day on ONE singular topic, one idea, one band of characters. The blarg requires the attention span of a coked-up yap dog: one moment I’m peeing on the carpet, next moment I’m chasing the neighbor’s cat through the azalea bushes, next I’m snoozing on the pair of shoes you left in the corner, and then I’m running under your feet trying to trip you down the stairs. There’s no focus, no throughline, no gravity. Last couple of days especially, the fact that I’m not writing anything of substance is irking me, burning in the back of my brain like I’ve left the stove on before leaving on a five-day cruise.
I guess that means that the break is over. I’d promised myself a bit of time off to decompress after finishing the first draft of the Project, figuring that if I tried any serious writing too soon I’d feel burnt-out and frustrated and stretched too thin. At the moment I’m torn between telling myself that I need a bit more time to really spin down — a lot has happened in these last few weeks — and embracing that sucking wound in my gut that’s gasping for more words, more ideas, telling me I need to write write WRITE. The urge to write is winning out at this point, I fear. The question is, what will it be?
Do I jump into the draft of another novel? I’ve got a few ideas on the burner for that and I’ve felt a couple of nibbles along the way writing the first one. Do I try my hand at writing an extended short story, a little novella perhaps of maybe ten thousand words? Go back to the stable where I first started this crazy gig and try my hand at another stage play or screenplay?
New resolution: By no later than Monday of next week I’ll choose a new project to work on, and set an acceptable deadline for its completion. I’ve got two weeks left in the summer and then it’s back to the teaching grind, and I’ll want something to anchor me creatively.