Almost a year ago, I got incredibly depressed over my life’s direction. If you had asked me then why I was so depressed, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you why exactly. It wasn’t just any one thing. It was a whole lot of things. At my age, when it is usually considered unfashionable to be angst-ridden, I was very much ridden with angst.
One reason, I think now, for the depression was that, during that time, I was having an altogether nice life, to be perfectly honest. I had a great job which paid well in a company where my bosses all thought I was heaven-sent. Or at least amusing enough to keep around. My relationship with my then-girlfriend (now wife) had reached a comfortable level of understanding and compromise. She gets to boss me around and I get to borrow money from her for comics. Life was breezy and I had no cause to complain. So, naturally, I had to complain.
What, I thought, was I doing with my life? Sure, I was doing fine butÃ¢Â?Â¦ but I couldn’t help but feel that I was being complacent. That I was not doing what I was put here on Earth to do.
I used to have this dream, see? I wanted to be an author. I promised myself that when I reached the age that I am now, I should have written at least – at least – three international best sellers and an award-winning comic series like Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. Yes. Delusions of grandeur. And while most people think of such dreams as the kind you let go once you get past puberty, it was a dream that stuck with me like a stubborn spaghetti stain on a white shirt (Yes, I’m watching a detergent commercial as I write this). It was a fire in my belly that just kept on burning even when the reality of the real world had long sunk in. A burning desire. It was something for me, that I’ve kept only for me, and it fueled me.
And it felt then, almost a year ago, like I’ve let go of the dream because life was, finally, getting comfortable and the dream was too hard to follow anyway.
Needless to say, I was miserable.
And so, to prove to myself that I had not yet given up the dream, that I still belonged to me, I set out to write a book.
It was going to be a simple one. Two hundred pages, tops. Nothing as elaborate or as intellectual as James Joyce’s Ulysses or as emotionally taxing as Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone. This was going to be a fun book. A Terry Pratchett type of book. A romp ride plagiarizing Douglas Adams. Something I can finish in three months time if I slack off.
I thought about writing a space adventure novel. Something with a fairy tale touch to it, you know?
And I would have gotten away with it too. I’ve written down about thirty pages and it was moving along progressively. But then, of course, I hadn’t anticipated reading Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride.
Now, I’ve always liked Atwood’s works. Or, to be precise, I have always liked the concept of reading Atwood. My pretentious side loves seeking out works like hers. I’ve read, at different stages of my life, a number of her books including The Edible Woman, Lady Oracle, Cat’s Eye, and the science fiction-esque Handmaid’s Tale. And while all these books were well-written and full of passion, I usually walk away from them feeling I’ve been short-changed. Yes, they were okay reads. But that was the extent of it for me. They were, for obvious (and not-so-obvious) reasons, books written for women. It’s as if these books were written in a language men could not understand. Feminist? Perhaps. I don’t know for certain. I think feminism is just a word women like to flash around so they could be as rude as they want to be. A word men like to flash around for the same reason as well. But, yes, Atwood’s works were often described by critics and fans alike as feminist. This did not, however, deter me from approving, if not fully enjoying, her works.
Then there was The Robber Bride.
Imagine three people – women in their mid-forties actually – who are so close to one another that each person is an extention of the other two. Roz, Charis, and Tony. A triumvirate of knowledge, strength, identity, and more importantly, of sisterhood. Each is a distinct individual but very much a part of a union. Imagine that the reason for their closeness, this oneness of spirit, was a fourth womanÃ¢Â?Â¦ someone who took so much from each one of them – their husbands, to be precise – leaving them with a hurt as big as the world. That they had no one else to cling to for support but each other. Why? Because no one else would have understood what it means to lose a true love to someone as beautiful, as glamorous, and as mysterious as this fourth woman. Theirs was a friendship that grew out of the loneliness and betrayal and the hatred for a common enemy.
Imagine this woman, whose name is Zenia, being finally dead. The sense of relief the three women must have felt when they attended her wake. The belief that she cannot hurt them anymore, ever again.
Now, finally, imagine that the three friends are having lunch in a restaurant and Zenia – unmistakably her and no one else – walks into the room. Suddenly the wounds each one thought had already healed are opened again. Each suffering and betrayal, all the lies, come flooding back up and each one is destroyed all over again. And they discover that despite their closeness they must deal with their loss on their own.
The Robber Bride is cathartic, to say the least. Yes, it is still very much a feminist book. Atwood’s male characters are sometimes shallow to the point of offense. But reading the book, I can almost forgive the author this bias. I empathized with her female characters so much that I truly believed them to be realer than real. I hated the men they were with because they abandoned these women who loved them so truthfully. And for what? A fling. An adventure destined for destruction. And still, because I could also see myself in the men who’d betrayed them, I find it hard to look at myself in the mirror for the many mornings that I was in the process of reading (living really) the book.
Roz, Charis and Tony were as whole and as complete as any of my friends or family. And for the duration of the book, I shared their pains. And long after I had placed the book in my shelf, I still think of them, from time to time, wonder how they are doing now as if we were some comrades in a past war. How utterly like a woman, right?
And this book that Atwood had written in the early ninetiesÃ¢Â?Â¦ now, this was a book, I thought, the sort that is the right book for a lot of people, particularly those who are young and impressionable. I imagine that this book would have changed the lives of a lot of people. A book that mattered.
Not like the one I had been writing. Or trying to write anyway.
The right book at the right age, eh?
I don’t know why but after reading The Robber Bride, I couldn’t move on with my novel. I still wanted to write but the novel, with all its space theme and drama, just feltÃ¢Â?Â¦ shallow, inept. I wanted more. I felt like I ought to be able to do more.
And so, I found myself, almost a year ago, looking back and forth at the computer screen containing thirty five pages or something of the novel I was trying to write and Atwood’s The Robber Bride resting neatly at my desk. I reached a decision. If I were to do it, to write, I may as well go all the way.
I had to give all of me or nothing at all.
I then closed the doc file which contained my space novel, vowing to return to it given the right time and attitude, and opened a new one. I began writing. And writing. And even when I stopped to work on my day job or to eat or to sleep or to play, I still wrote things. In my mind. I created characters which are a part of me, who are the many dimensions of me and I fleshed them out. I followed Atwood’s lead in that I let things digress. Forget the plot. Forget structure. It will take care of itself later on. The important thing was that the characters breathe.
I wish I could end this essay by saying that I’ve triumphantly finished writing a complex, emotional novel to rival that of Atwood’s. I haven’t. A year later and I’ve still just barely made it to page 170. I don’t see it ending anytime soon. There is still so much to say. And it’s not as if the words are coming out like butter. It’s hard work. Sometimes I wonder if all that I’m doing is merely rambling, intellectually masturbating, needlessly feeding an already obese ego. Maybe I’m nothing but a hack, a no-talent, wasting his time on a dream that couldn’t possibly come true. Then I thinkÃ¢Â?Â¦ yeah well, so what? Would being a no-talent hack, if I really were one, make any difference at all?
Fuck no. I’d still be writing anyway.