Jessica Ashley facebook twitter babble voices pinterest is a single mama in the city, super-savvy editor, writer, video host and shameless shoe whore.
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Chin up

Jess fingers crossedIt wasn't easy, pouring the last five years and a big sliver of my heart out on the page. Or on nine pages. I'd been laboring over what to write for weeks, making notes on Post-Its and in my phone and tucked into the folds of my brain.

It will come to me, I assured myself. But even as I whispered those words in my thoughts, I felt the emptiness. It was like the assurance was a sinking feather and the task at hand was the ocean below, ready to swallow it under the surface. 

Or maybe what I wanted to say was the ocean. This body of work was a body of water so immense that it thrilled and terrified me. I could only see it on the macro level, from above and expansive beyond view. I wasn't seeing it one wave at a time.

I was putting the pressure on myself, of course, to write something that pulled together my life as a single mom and before that, my life through divorce, and beyond that horizon to the months before E and I left the home we shared with his dad. That's a lot to write down, let alone fit into nine pages.

I'd been encouraged to submit a piece to a show of readings. It didn't take much encouraging. I'd heard about last year's show, had known people who'd performed in it, and I wanted very much to be a part of it. I knew right away that the piece I'd submit would be part of a much bigger whole. It would be a moment that could hold those five years in it.

And that is how it started -- as quiet moment between my son and me. And then I kept writing. And kept writing. And what turned up on my screen led to another part of the story. And that dovetailed into something else. I let it out. Then I kept going.

I cried as I typed. And I typed quickly so I wouldn't cry more. And well after 2 a.m., I pulled the covers up around me and did one quick-sweep edit on the whole thing. I only stopped because my eyes were too red and tired to keep on.

I gave it up to grace and submitted the piece, in all its rawness and on all of its nine pages. I got an audition. 

I was thrilled. Nervous and anticipatory and thrilled. See that picture above? That's me in my car, 37 minutes early for my call time, fingers crossed hopefully while Ira Glass talked over my speakers about love not fated to survive.

The night before the audition, I'd edited and edited and breathed deeply and edited more. I would have three to five minutes to audition and that would stretch two, maybe three, of my nine pages. I'd gotten it down to five, splintering off whole sections and then whittling away at phrases and words. I wasn't sure what else to chop. 

I am an editor. It's what I do most of my working hours of the week. Of course, it is the toughest task to edit our own work, particularly the words that hold meaning and emotion. My eye and my pen were not as sharp as they would have been otherwise, I am quite sure. But at some point, I would sacrifice more sections or sleep. I chose to exhale and go to bed.

The audition was quick. My piece was not. It ran nine minutes. Nearly double what I'd been asked to do.

Perhaps that shouldn't surprise me. My papers in high school, through college, in grad school and even my thesis stretched pages and pages beyond the assignment. Most of the time I was applauded for it by my teachers. Sometimes, I was instructed to be more concise, edit again, turn it into two papers or maybe an article. Those criticisms, however constructive and even wise, hurt. I had a lot to say. Sometimes about mid-century French socialist feminists. Here, about single mothering in the age of Lego Star Wars.

I teared up in the first few sentences as I read. Deep breath, I whispered as I paused, then moved on. When I got to the end, there were polite handshakes and brief discussion about suggestions of how and what to edit should I be chosen.

This is big, I thought to myself, walking to the car. This is really big.

I didn't mean the show. Wow, I wanted to be a part of that show, of a corps of readers offering up their own hearts and laughs and stories to a full audience. Rather, I meant the story was big. The events wrapped into those nine pages needed much more room to breathe.

A few days later, I got the word. I wasn't in. Kind words were included alongside the "thank you but...", as was the reason. It was too long. The producers didn't think my piece could be cut without losing the heart of it. And then again, a reminder of the length, encouraging me to apply next year with a "VERY SHORT" essay.

I was sad. I cried more. I called my dad and cried. The Not Boyfriend listened as I talked it through. I just needed a night to feel the loss as that excitement hurled down toward the ocean bed.

There's just one thought that didn't leave me. It's the thought that said, "Maybe this isn't the place for one little story. Maybe this isn't the time. Maybe this one is meant to be much bigger. Maybe bigger than you know."

I am sure the show will be magnificent and that every person on stage has a piece that is worthy of the spotlight, the applause and the rapt attention. I am happy for those performers. My piece is not where it needs to be. Not yet. Not there. Maybe next year, I really will submit again. A little something, anyway.

But for now, I have to ride this wave out. And it begins with adding back in all those pages.


« The day is not over. Yet | Main | Not red. Not yellow. Not a weird grayish-green »

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