Last week, I received a compliment at work. It was a handwritten note from a colleague expressing her appreciation for my efforts. As kind and generous as the sentiments were, I had a hard time taking it seriously. The words were written on a pre-printed 5” x 8” card, specifically designed for giving kudos to co-workers. The top of the card featured a cartoon dinosaur – a friendly one, smiling broadly – and the words “I ‘Saur What You Did There.” It’s the kind of card – and terrible pun – I might choose to recognize the finger-painting talents of a kindergartener, but not the leadership abilities of a 48-year-old who has been in a senior management position for nine years. Frankly, I wouldn’t use it to recognize the efforts of the new nineteen-year-old guy in the mailroom.
I don’t fault the person who gave it to me, and I sincerely appreciate the kind words. She was just using a tool intended to encourage praise by eliminating the need to shop for an age- and experience-appropriate Good Job card. However, a convenient device is not necessarily an appropriate one. For example, I’m told texting is an expedient but unseemly medium for a break-up. My negative reaction to the card got me thinking about other forms of expression and the importance of ensuring form is suited to content.
For the past three years (or is it four? Ugh), I have made references in this blog to my efforts to write a book about my family’s three-week trip to Europe. It’s been excruciating trying to shape the manuscript into what I intended to be my third book. I’ve spent more time thinking – and fretting – about the book than I have writing it. Last week, I faced the truth: I don’t have a book, I have a collection of anecdotes strung together with a series of “It had been another great day” and “When I woke up the next morning…” statements. The humor and humanity of my European vacation is buried beneath mundane details associated with three weeks of travel through three countries. Aside from the eight of us who were there, no one will be regaled by a recounting of each visit to a gelato shop, of which there a dozen. My readers, I suspect, are not clamoring to know the respective orders of each family member at the more than 30 restaurant meals of which we partook. My best chance at holding your attention is to share a few stories that capture the essence of the experience: the places, people, frequent humor, and occasional misery. While I believe the tales will make for a good read, they do not amount to a full-length book, and that is heartbreaking for several reasons.
1. I’m letting down my family. I promised them a comprehensive account of our grand adventure, but I can’t muster the energy to turn ten thousand details into a compelling narrative. Sorry, folks, you’ll have to rely on the five thousand – I’m not exaggerating – photos to refresh your memory.
2. I’m not as close to my third book as I’d hoped. I figure this manuscript will amount to about half a book, so I’ll need to figure out ways to supplement it with a few other stories before I have enough to justify charging people to read it.
3. I’ll have to edit with an axe. Sanding and varnishing text is never easy, but, in this case, blood will be spilled. A writer friend of mine says, “Every word is my child,” and while he means it as a joke, all good humor contains truth. Deciding which of my true life experiences to delete will carry the same emotional turmoil as deciding which five fingers I would like removed. Those are not decisions I want to make.
I took the first step by reorganizing the chapters into one for each country instead of one for each day of the trip. Now that I have settled on an organizing principle, I’ll break out the chainsaw and get to work hacking some limbs off the overgrown tree of words. If I should manage to carve the manuscript into something publishable, I’ll be sure to let you know. I’d love for you to read it. Who knows, you might even like it so much you’ll want to send me a note expressing your appreciation. I know where you can get a pre-printed card for just such an occasion.