So project Angels book enters its final weeks (sort of) its due at the publishers on 1st October. And after a long long time working on it, failing, stalling, giving up. I might just have something to finally send. So I thought blogging these stages might be useful if only for me to look back and laugh-cry on. I’m doing a lot of laugh-cry right now.
I realised a few days ago, that what I’ve come to think of as ‘Angels Depression’ had crept in. It was something I talked about with Marianne Elliott, not long after the production had closed. We talked about the way this play seeps into your bones almost. And in a good way mostly. But also that when you work on it for an extended period, you start to feel quite depressed. I’d never quite realised it before but it’s true. Different to watching the play, where you get quite the opposite- the release and catharsis of the whole gives almost a euphoric, if exhausted feeling. But to just sit ‘in’ the piece for so long is quite draining. Much like what doing Millenium without Persestokia is for actors- you don’t get the resolution any time, you’re stuck in perpetual limbo a ‘rainy afternoon in March’ maybe. It’s a hard slog.
I recently described the second half of the book as ‘Like the second half of the play, she’s a messy bitch and nobody really knows what’s going on, not even the writer.’ and while we’ve now moved past that (more on that in a moment) I think it’s a really important thing to acknowledge that writing about this- if you’ll pardon the expression ‘messy bitch of a play’ is hard. There’s no sensible through line, because, well Angels in America. Ask me what my book on Rent will look like (oh yes I’ve got that waiting in the wings) and I could tell you even down to chapter breakdowns, without much issue, or likely much deviation as I wrote it. For every bit of progress on this, about 100 other options appeared. 100 other alleyways to go down. And wading through them was hard.
What I had to admit was a sense of defeat. I will never fit it all in one book. Does that mean there’s another book in it, by me? Maybe maybe not. Maybe it’s just a lot of things unsaid that will get said elsewhere. I just had to keep telling myself ‘that’s not my book’ (sometimes to the sound of The Ting Tings, you’re welcome for that late 00s throwback). Sometimes I have held onto things, and sometimes I’ve gone in a direction I didn’t know I would.
‘What you love will take you places you never dreamed’ as Roy says in the play and nothing is truer than that with this. What you love also takes you on very strange tangents that’s for sure. But, should what I’ve done work, I will one day tell the story of how procrastinating and one hell of a deep dive into an Instagram rabbit hole actually found me the quote that unlocked the whole thing. (let’s pray that quote survives the final edit so I can).
But also, while a long protracted version of writing this book isn’t ideal. And people churning out their PhD books 9 months after finishing can frankly judge all they want at how long its taken me if that’s all they have to do with their time. Because actually? I couldn’t have written this then. The distance from it, from the frankly trauma of the PhD, from being so tired and beaten down by academia. I’d have written a tick box PhD book. And like every writer I’m constantly growing. There’s bits of this I have said, with zero ego intended, are the best things I’ve ever written. And whether it survives peer review or not, I know that it’s good. And I will stand up and say it. I wouldn\’t have done that 9 months post PhD.
And for me too, I live with this play in me. And I know that sounds pretentious. But it’s so much a part of me now, it’s all incredibly personal, having lived with it in my head so long. And how I write about it changes with me, and me with it. And I don’t care how much of a wanker that makes me sound, it means this all means something to me. Which is why I get locked in a battle with myself to finish it. I finally unlocked something in a quote from Hank Green who said ‘the only reason I get so much done is I do everything to 80%’ so that’s what I’m aiming for, 80% good enough.
This is also never how I imagined writing the thing. I’m not sure it’s the best, most productive but also it’s the only way it was ever getting done. Short of ‘doing a Kushner’ and locking myself in a cabin in the woods for a week and coming out with Perestroika …though thinking about it that’s exactly what I’ve done.
I’ve not worked as focused, as long or as intensely on this play since my PhD. And it’s been wonderful. I can’t shake the guilt that I should be doing something else, something more productive, something that actually makes money. But also, perhaps, after everything else, and everything this year, I owe it to myself to be able to say ‘remember that time when you were a full-time writer, you dreamed of that.’ it’s not a think any of us get to really do full-full time in our lives. But maybe it\’s ok to enjoy the times life lets you do what you love for a bit.
Which is not to say I have not been totally losing my mind. Of course, I have. In normal times, I would at least have more options for escaping my own four walls. Which is probably for the best. But book isolation on top of lockdown isolation is a lot. This play is a lot. The personal pressure I put on myself is a lot.
I’ve partly got through it with running and yoga. Full-on exercise wanker. But this coincided with taking on the ‘September Crew’ challenge set by my friend Jeff of big moose coffee. Which means running or walking at least a mile a day for September. Which has been amazing for both mental health and just giving me another focus for the month. Alongside that I challenged myself to do yoga ‘almost every day’ logistics of life have meant missing, I think 2 so far, but the routine of run and yoga morning or evening interchangeably has helped enormously with a feeling of balance.
What else am I doing? Balancing a load of other things mainly. Despite not having a job, I’m busier than ever. And for me, at least the old adage of ‘want something done ask a busy person’ rings true. The more I have to juggle the better I am at all of it…until something drops. And currently, I have; book deadline, two lots of teaching starting up, my project with Sherman theatre starting, and R&D of another play happening, being Chair of a theatre company trying to survive…oh and looking for a ‘real job’. Ok, the last one has gone on the back burner right now. These couple of weeks are the worst of it. And I\’m not complaining because it’s a privilege to be able to spend time doing things I love. But I also haven’t had a day off in 5 weeks now. And people think I’m unemployed and watching TV all day, and that’s hard. Because I’m exhausted, and a bit shit at being a human if I’m honest. But it’s temporary. And it’s all a privilege.
And how else am I surviving? Writing actually. Again in the ‘ask a busy person’ but it’s also a weird ‘left and right brain’ type thing. By writing something totally different for half an hour (hello this blog!) I refocus my brain by being productive. So instead of youtube breaks or losing hours to social media. I pause what I’m doing and write something else. So that’s been blogs, starts of articles, a novel idea I started working on, and I’m not even going to be remotely embarrassed about; a fuck tonne of fanfiction. All of it is just a little escape, a little refocus. And you know what, I’ve rediscovered a love of writing that, earlier this year I worried I’d lost. I’m rediscovering the bits I’m good at too. And they aren’t the bits I remembered being good at. So it’s useful and fascinating beyond just giving me focus.
And what else? Well, I\’m one of those people who write the same music over and over again. Amusingly two of the albums on that very short list have- I didn’t realise when I started using them to write to- have Angels related references. To the point, when a song opened with the lyrics ‘I’m wrestling with Angels’ yesterday I shouted ‘me fucking too mate’ at Alexa. (the other song sings about Mormons, at which point I just decided the universe was fucking with me). And anyway, I am seriously considering crediting these albums, Mormons and all in my acknowledgements.
Finally, if this is in any way a tips on how to finish a book (or how not to) I recommend old-fashioned bribery. I’ve offered myself no end of food-based motivations for small goals. But also the ‘you can go out for cake when this is done’ to the ever-classy ‘you can have a Nandos when this is done.’. The book is due 1st October, and the adaptation of The Boys in the Band is on Netflix on 30th September, so celebrating one Big Gay Book submission with a Big Gay film also seems right. Finally, most importantly, I told myself I am not allowed to watch the final season of Schitt’s Creek until it’s done. And that my friend Ryan is allowed to spoiler it all for me if I don’t. That alone right now (and cake) is enough to make me write.
I know submitting the first draft is far from the end. I can hear all the snotty academics telling me how I’m going to crash and burn at peer review. How it’s going to either take me forever, how it’ll never get published.
And you know what, maybe you’re right. We don’t know. But what I do know is, I’ve almost finished the full thing. And I never thought I’d get there. And I know bits of it are good. Really good. Even if they’re not academically good. They’re good. And that’s what matters to me. Telling the story I needed to tell, the way I wanted to tell it. So I’ll yell ‘fuck you I’m a Prophet’ and do something with it. Because at least I’ve (almost) done it.