Gestation and birth are words often used to describe the writing and publishing of a book. The book is the baby, the creation of it is a gestation, and the presentation of it to the world is a birth.
This is not an analogy I’ve ever used myself. Having gestated and birthed two children, it’s hard for me to associate these words with anything but children. What could possibly compare to the wondrous, sci-fi sensation of having a living thing grow inside your body, the hint of a foot or a fist eerily distending your skin as the thing inside performs its fetal gymnastics?
It’s an experience I can’t quite equate with the inanimate and, increasingly, the cybernetic quality of a book.
For me the analogy suggests a book growing in the belly, a book being muscled through the birth canal, a book dropping into the waiting hands of midwife, birth nurse or doctor to assess its health and vigor. Except in an unauthorized Far Side cartoon, I can’t picture it.
It’s easier for me to draw parallels between launching a grown child into the world and launching a book, even if the word launch suggests to me something hurled or catapulted, airborne by rocket boosters—which does not exactly fit the circumstances here. What is true is that the launching of both child and book have been years in the making.
This past weekend my younger daughter graduated from college, one of those milestones that can set off memories like a meteor shower in the brain, triggering lumps in the throat and excess moisture in the eyes. Naturally, one of those memories was of her birth, which had been calm and gentle—a thoroughly efficient arrival and no hint of the inevitable drama to come that I suppose is the necessary precondition to a launch.
She entered the world wide-eyed and unblinking. She hardly ever cried, merely looked wonderingly whenever a nurse shoved a childhood vaccination into her thigh or arm. Compassionate from an early age, she befriended the underdog, the outcast, the disadvantaged.
She wrote poems on my computer when I wasn’t looking, mugged for photos, sang at the top of her lungs, clung to me like a monkey to a tree, grew quiet one summer, dyed her hair a shrill red, acquired an illicit piercing or two, and subtly turned a wrist to display a tattoo that flared like blue neon. At age fourteen she skipped out on her Social Studies class and tried to board a Greyhound bus to San Francisco.
“Make good choices,” my husband and I entreated, intoning the parental refrain of our baby-boomer generation, wringing our hands, imposing punishments, crossing our fingers—our heads spinning as our daughter ricocheted between impulsive upstart and upright citizen.
She won the editorship of her school newspaper, garnered scholarships and awards, impressed teachers with her intellect, humor and creativity. She volunteered at the local food bank and the nearby retirement home. She easily landed summer jobs. She got accepted to the college of her choice and we packed her off halfway across the country to St. Paul, and all of us—parents and daughter alike—heaved a sigh of release. Yes, release. For Ana, from parental scrutiny. For us, from the opportunity to scrutinize. And the perception that we could actually control events.
Throughout the developmental years of both my daughters, I was plugging away at writing a book. I scribbled in a notebook while warming the bleachers at soccer and basketball practices, swim lessons and gymnastics classes. When my daughters were young, I pecked madly at the computer after tucking them into bed. When they were teenagers, I scrawled distractedly while waiting for them to come home at night from a party. When I finished the manuscript, I threw out all but thirty pages and started again. Then I revised over and over to fix the mistakes and do better. To make good choices.
A child. A book. You do your best to nurture it into being and then you send it out to find a place in the world.
Ana has decided to stay in St. Paul for now. She would like to volunteer at the East African Women’s Center and eventually return to East Africa where she studied abroad a year ago. She will continue to be bold. She will probably maintain a bit of rebellion, but I hope it will be tempered by a dose of healthy fear, restraint, and openness to counsel as she makes her choices in life—may it be long and joyful.
As for the book, if it happens to find its way into your hands, I wonder if you will sense somewhere deep in those pages something of my daughter’s journey toward adulthood, of my attempts to understand and embrace it.
If you’re in Seattle on June 21, stop in at the book launch party. We’ll have music and friendship and fun at the kick-off to the public life of this book, however long or short it may be.