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I just ran into a phone booth and switched identities, but I can’t get my mask on and these pants are too tight

June 21, 2010

I'm having a hard time figuring out who I am right now. I am KA Holt, an author for kids, but I am also a mama, a writer about kids, and someone who feels a kind of burden to share her experiences in order to help other people.

Those are disparate selves. One of them wants to entertain kids and grown-ups with exciting, funny stories that are not just relevant, but familiar – even if they are about spaceships or zombies. The other one wants to use bad language and bawdy humor and pathos to reach out for empathy, and to share empathy, too. Spaceships versus poopy diapers. Zombies versus ER trips.

I blog as a writer (not often, and I fear not well) and I blog as a mama. I share stories about hammering out a manuscript and I share stories about the ins and outs of Medicaid and sibling rivalry and getting kids to eat foods that have colors other than beige.

A Janus-faced woman of words. It sounds fancy, but right now it's kind of debilitating. I use two names as these two writers. Two Twitter accounts. Two facebook pages. Two blogs. One has no shame, one is more tempered. One shares greatly personal struggles, one talks of word counts and exciting new ARCs. One worries about the health of her fragile young son, one worries about how to create a book trailer with no budget.

These are two very different people. But they are both me. And because they are both me, neither are all of me. I can't be known as the Foul-Mouthed Children's Book Writer (even though that sounds sort of awesome, in an SNL-skit kind of way). But I can't fill my writer blog with tales of woe and diapers. Neither side is the whole me, and I am finding that very uncomfortable. Yet, I don't know how to compromise.

This identity crisis seems to be seeping into my work, too. My WIP has turned into a cathartic work of worst nightmares, fear, and hope. It's, frankly, a bit of a mess right now. As a first draft that's to be expected, but for a perfectionist it's hard to stomach. I'm afraid that one of the reasons it's a mess is because there's too much of the other Kari in it. Not enough spaceships and too many gut-punching fears. Of course, it's a book I started writing in the hospital, during a very dark time. It started as catharsis and as things in Mama-land have spiraled into the unknown it has continued to serve as a way to channel my anxieties. (To some extent, at least.) And now, as I work to revise, it's become a book that is painful on a variety of levels. I remember the time when I started writing it. I don't like to read those chapters. I catch my breath in certain chapters as I've written out some of my worst fears. I don't like to go back and read those, either. In the midst of all this, of course, I'm trying to craft a story that is not only compelling and interesting – but one that is a) for upper middle grade kids and b) darkly humorous. I think I have all these elements in the work, but I haven't figured out how to smooth them out.

So my struggle is with craft, yes, but it is also with identity. How much of my selves can I let seep into my disparate worlds? Do I want to write a book that mirrors (in a metaphorical and fictional way) raw emotions generated from very difficult personal times? Am I compelled to write a book like this as a way to cope? To attempt to control my fate? Should this ridiculous plan be executed as the bawdy mama writer, or should it continue to be executed as the middle grade (maybe YA at this point) author?

I'm finding that this is a particularly difficult book to write. It's raw and I'm too close to it. And yet – it's in that first draft state of malleability. A lump of words, it sits on my hard drive and I can turn it into anything now that the guts of the story are splashed on the pages. So why am I scared of it? Why do I shrink back at the thought of going back into the story and making it better, tighter, lovelier, sadder, funnier? It's a piece of fiction. I can make it more or less like real life. I can make it better than real life. I can make it worse. I can control the ending. I can seek revenge. Why would I NOT want to get into that manuscript and do these things? Why would I resist the power to control every outcome?

Because I know it's impossible to control real life in these ways.

Because I don't know which me is writing this story.

Because it's scary.

One of my selves is very powerful. One of my selves is very powerless.

But which is which right now? And why can't they both be both?

I guess I better figure that out.

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