Facts & Arguments is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.
When I was 12, I promised myself two things: One, I would become a newspaper reporter; and two, when I was 30 my first book would be published. I was a newspaper reporter for five years, but then marriage and jobs and babies – one of whom was chronically ill – got in my way.
I’ve been retired for three years now and my son doesn’t need me as much as he used to, so I realized it was time to fulfill my promise. And so I started my book. Every day I would go to my makeshift office in what used to be my son’s room, put a timer on for one hour and write until the bell rang. Some days I’d just keep looking from the timer to the blank screen in front of me; other days, I’d actually write for hours in a row. Following the adage of “Write what you know,” my book is a memoir of life with a chronically ill child.
I am a voracious reader, and my favourite genre is memoir, but about 50 pages in I started having doubts. Was I doing this right? I decided that what I needed was a course on writing a book-length memoir. In early July I found the perfect course. It begins this fall, is only two weeks long and is far from home in beautiful Banff.
For the next two weeks I ignored things I should have been doing and concentrated on completing the application. Part of the process included attaching my résumé. What résumé? I hadn’t required one in years. It took me three days to piece one together, but it looked great. Next, it was time to answer three essay questions. They weren’t easy, but after five days of polishing my words I was happy with my answers. Now I had to attach 20 pages of a current manuscript. No problem – I had 100-plus polished pages of my manuscript. I felt quite proud of myself. Finally, I had to attach links to previously published stories. I found my four most recent ones, but for somebody who is not computer-savvy, this presented a big challenge. I tried and tried to highlight the stories and attach them, but no luck. I swore once or twice – okay, maybe 10 times – and then I called my husband. He couldn’t figure it out either. I sent an SOS to my computer-savvy sons, but none had experience with the program I was using. I sent a message to the help desk, too, but that didn’t work. In desperation I called the course registrar’s office and asked if I could send hard copies – while praying this wouldn’t cause them to immediately put an X beside my name. But no, hard copies were not acceptable. I stewed and tinkered and swore a little bit more and finally figured it out.
I was pleased with myself. Everything was ready to go. But I decided to wait three more days before hitting the send button. In those three days, all I could think about was the course. It cost about $2,000; how would I pay for it? What would I learn? How would it help me be a better writer? Would the adjudicators read the first 20 pages of my book and beg me to send the rest? Would I finish the course with an agent, a publisher and a fat contract?
I’ve never been apart from my family for more than a few days. I couldn’t wait to have all that glorious time to myself. I actually took great pleasure in knowing I wouldn’t be home for Thanksgiving. I love the holiday, but after 33 years of marriage I adored the idea of not having to cook the bird, make all the trimmings and clean up afterward. My husband is great at many things, but cooking isn’t one of them. My sons and their girlfriends and some of my six siblings and their families often join us for Thanksgiving dinner. I love them all, but the thought of enjoying a dinner cooked by someone else while sitting at a table with my new writing friends was irresistible.
And so, on the third day I reread everything. I made sure every word sang. I said a prayer for good luck. And then I hit the send button. Immediately I received a message: My application had been successfully sent; the adjudicators would review it and I’d receive an answer by the end of July.
“You’ll get in for sure, Mom,” my youngest son said.
“You’re the best writer I know,” my middle son said.
“Who’s cooking the turkey?” my eldest son asked.
I love July, but I was eager for it to end so I’d know if I’d been accepted. But July 31 came and went and I didn’t hear a word. Finally, on Aug. 4, I received an e-mail from the registrar’s office: “Thank you for your application. … Please note that the results of the adjudication will be sent by e-mail by Aug. 24, 2015.”
That helped to settle my mind, but now I had 20 more days to wait. I kept myself busy, busy imagining myself in beautiful Banff, writing my little heart out and finally fulfilling my promise to write a book. Surely this course would help me to achieve my goal. What if my book became a bestseller? What if I sold the movie rights? Who would play me?
On Aug. 21, there was a message in my inbox: “We regret to inform you that we are unable to offer you a position in the program.”
I read it again and again, but the words didn’t change.
So instead of eating turkey dinner in Banff this weekend with my new writing friends, I’ll once again be sweating over the bird. As I do, though, I’ll still dream of the day my book is published.
Nancy Figueroa lives in Toronto.