Sixteen year ago, I had my ass kicked by love and I’ve been trying to write about it ever since. In 1996, after a breakup with a woman named XXXXX, I attempted to write several pages of our story together. What I wrote didn’t capture what I needed it to capture; in other words, it was incomplete. What was our story together? Long-distance love? Unrequited love? Partially requited love? Breaking through mental and emotional barriers in the quest for love? None of those thoughts entered my mind all those years ago. I was much too close to the subject.
I began the story a as a form of therapy. I’d always enjoyed writing when I was a child and accelerated my writing efforts as an adolescent to cope with things that scared me, namely, dealing with panic attacks wherever I went – to the doctor’s office, at a restaurant, in a traffic jam (well, it was hard to scribble notes on a highway if I was the one driving.) By my mid-thirties, writing to help calm my debilitating emotional monsters was a crucial part of my therapeutic process. Apparently, writing also helped to assuage a shattered heart.
But writing for therapy is not the same as writing to craft a story or an essay or to have the piece read by an audience. Over time, I wanted to do more than write this piece for my own mental health. I’ve picked up the piece many times since 1996, dozens of times. I’ve added to it, subtracted from it, tried to find the storyline or the essay language that would move it beyond my own little written psychotherapy. There are still a few paragraphs that remain from the 1990s, and the piece has always been entitled “XXXXX Songs.” The popular music of the 1990s was thematic in the relationship with XXXXX: Alanis Morrisette, U2, Garbage, and Sophie B. Hawkins figured prominently into our fantasies and in our romance.
By the time I attended the Solstice MFA program of Pine Manor College in 2008, so much time had passed that the term “XXXXX Songs” had become more emblematic and less literal, a symbol of a love relationship that doesn’t work out, which it turns out, is one of the on-going narratives of my life. I now have a book-length manuscript about such love relationships entitled, XXXXX Songs, after the original essay.
Each chapter is about a love relationship that does not work in the long-run, but that I insist has its moments of true beauty or happiness. When I first arrived at grad school, someone implied that because two of my essays were about relationships that didn’t last a lifetime, that the narrator had an obvious history of failed relationships. I said, “Do you think because a relationship doesn’t last a lifetime that the relationship is a complete failure?” I think that opinion, coming from someone who had been in a long-term and happy marriage, fueled my desire to write a book – as well as to finish the chapter about XXXXX – in such a way as to find the redeeming moments in each relationship.
In addition, as in the essay, “XXXXX Songs,” many chapters depict the struggle to overcome my battles with panic disorder and agoraphobia, because those conditions have had major effects on my ability to have relationships. Some people find those passages about panic and agoraphobia the most compelling in the book. I prefer the passages about love, but that’s because I’ve had so little love and so much panic.
Recently, the wonderful editors at Connotation Press: An Online Artifact published “XXXXX Songs.” I’m not sure they have any idea how moved I was that they accepted the piece and that this story is finally out in the world. Last weekend was very emotional for me (in a good way) as I thought (more felt), “Oh my god, the story of XXXXX has been released to the world.” I was choked up. It is my truth and not necessarily XXXXX’s, but it sets my emotional record straight; it affirms and reaffirms one of the most intense years in my life. I’ve been grappling with the writing for a decade and a half, and while I would not say I’ve achieved “art” with this piece, I have achieved a certain level of craft. It is more than therapy. A terrific editor thought it was good enough to publish, that readers would want to read it.
While “XXXXX Songs,” is not my first publication, and hopefully won’t be my last, it may be my most significant to date, if for no other reason than I’ve been writing it for 16 years. After seeing it in print, I already note several places where I want to improve the language. This is typical of me, but I hope you will enjoy the essay anyway, if you haven’t yet read it yet.
The essay is the pivotal chapter in my book-length memoir that I will be attempting to pitch and sell in 2013. I call this essay pivotal because there appears to be a XXXXX before XXXXX and a Cindy after XXXX (XC and XC.) Our story is one of fantasy, longing, lust, love, disappointment and heartbreak, the usual stuff (hahaha), although I hope told uniquely. While I have suffered from some broken hearts since XXXXX and before, and unfortunately, have handed out a few of my own, there will never be a heartbreak quite like that one, because it was the first time I realized that dreams really can be shattered.
And yet, there was beauty.
If you have not yet read “XXXXXSongs,” and are interested, you can find a direct link here:
Thank you for taking the time. I appreciate it very much.
Cindy P.S. A special thanks to Elissa Rosenthal who suggested while I was at graduate school, I write a book about all those relationships I’ve had with women. I remember saying to her, “I can’t do that in two years!” Hahaha….