When I was a little girl, maybe nine years old, I started reading almost obsessively. The library was my personal treasure trove, giving me access to new worlds and ideas that came alive in the books I borrowed. At home, I would sit and calculate the time until the library would close and count the number of pages remaining in a book; I then averaged it out to a page per minute ratio. The aim was to speed-read so I could finish the book in time to borrow two new titles for the week (I was not good at math but miraculously, I managed this calculation just fine!).
One novel connected strongly with my imagination. Written by Federica De Cesco in her teens, this book was about a girl’s adventure intersecting with American Native people. Touched deeply, I felt a desire to write my own book some day. This wish never left me.
In Switzerland, where I grew up among snow-capped mountains, crisp freshwater lakes and vivid green fields and forests, I felt at odds with my heritage and disconnected from my parents. To accommodate my need for change I opted for a life of travelling, adventure and experiencing new situations and people. I kept reading, wrote jovial newsletters and later a blog for friends and family but forgot about my writing dream. The constant moving about distracted me from my inner state. But this underlying current was unsettling, and its origins were elusive. Accidentally I stumbled into a Caribbean adventure and subsequent romances tore my heart open and apart. Eventually my pain became overpowering and I was forced to stop and look within.
Years later, when life slowed down and I had the surprise gift of some free time, I remembered a palm reader in Auckland from when I was 19 years old. “You will write a book by the time you are 45,” he said. With a sudden urgency I noticed that within a few years this ‘deadline’ would expire.
At about the same time I found myself hosting a seasoned author over dinner and longingly confessed my dream of writing a book. Hearing my words, she put her fork down and gave me a somewhat stern look. “Regina,” she stated, “books don’t write themselves. But 1000 words a day will make it happen.” Feeling reprimanded I took a breath and absorbed her message. Yes, of course! I needed to commit and make time to sit and write. Lucky to have the gift of time, I vowed to write not 1000 but 2000 words a day. I didn’t follow through every day but most days I did.
I was afraid of writing at first. The thought of an audience reading my story was stifling and scary, and I had to reign myself back in. First and foremost, I wanted to write for myself. For two reasons:
1) I wanted to understand myself, my emotions, decisions and struggles throughout this period, and
2) I wanted to preserve the memories, beautiful and tough moments, my adventures, and experiences.
When I sat down to start writing my memoir, I began with this sentence: ‘This is my book. I will write it and enjoy the process. I am afraid, but I will not allow my fear to take this from me. This is for me.’
Nine months later I finished the first draft. This first attempt was a rough manuscript to say the least. When I typed I didn’t pay attention to grammar, punctuation, content, or if the phrases were long and complicated. I simply let the words flow to ‘get the story out’. At times this process of confronting my own self from years ago was tough. To reflect and witness, now so clearly, on my fears and insecurities, where I resisted and reacted. I felt proud of some of the good choices I made, and ashamed of the times where I diverged from my path. The experience of seeing my life unfold on pages in front of me was both raw and beautiful.
The first edit was probably the most healing of the process for me. As I delved back into the story, this time as much an observer as a participant of the story, I noticed I was increasingly coming to terms with my adventures and decisions. Carefully refining words and sentences (sometimes over and over to get them just right) I began looking at my feelings from a new perspective. Rather than getting drawn into my story I began to see it in new light, removed from my earlier emotions. This new perception helped me to recognise where I had got caught up, reacted and why at times I had felt confused and hurt. Most of all, I felt a deep sense of compassion arise for the woman I was back then. Because of her, I am now the woman I am today.
My memoir describes part of my life. I can’t change what happened in hindsight, But I am grateful for the greater perspective and understanding that has been my reward for undertaking the process of writing my story.
And, yes, I fulfilled the palm reader’s prophecy. I finished my book a few months before my 45th birthday. Whether I wrote it because I was destined to do so, or because I was spurred on by his prediction, that’s something to ponder another time….